A podcast intended to help busy women find the tools and encouragement they need to better manage their lives, their time, their stress, and their stuff, so they can accomplish the things they care about and make a life that matters.
This week we're considering leadership skills and whether we need to wait for someone else to give us a leadership title.
A conversation in the TPW Facebook community got me thinking about what it takes to lead effectively. I’m not an expert on leadership, but it's an important topic to think about. So, I did some research and wanted to share my thoughts and some of what I found.
What is leadership?
Definition: “The action of leading a group of people or an organization; the state or position of being a leader”
* guidance, direction, control, management, superintendence, supervision; organization, government.
* directorship, governorship, governance, administration, captaincy, control, ascendancy, supremacy, rule, command, power, dominion, influence.
Theories of leadership (source: Wikipedia)
“In the autocratic/paternalistic strain of thought, traditionalists recall the role of leadership of the Roman pater familias. Feminist thinking, on the other hand, may object to such models as patriarchal and posit against them emotionally attuned, responsive, and consensual empathetic guidance, which is sometimes associated with matriarchies. . . .
Comparable to the Roman tradition, the views of Confucianism on "right living" relate very much to the ideal of the (male) scholar-leader and his benevolent rule, buttressed by a tradition of filial piety.
The difference between being a leader and being a boss or manager
To understand leadership, it's helpful to differentiate between leadership and other “leader-like” roles. Regardless of the title, there are differences between being a boss or a manager and actually being a leader.
Difference between being a leader and a boss
One writer suggests that:
* A boss knows things and imparts them to the employees, while a leader is always learning, including from those she leads;
* Bosses give answers and directions, while leaders seek solutions from all sources
* Bosses talk more than they listen, while leaders listen more than they talk
* Bosses direct, while leaders coach
* Bosses require or demand results, while leaders inspire performance
Difference between being a leader and a manager
According to Forbes:
* “Leaders create vision, managers create goals.”
* “Leaders are change agents, managers maintain the status quo.” (“Managers stick with what works, refining systems, structures and processes to make them better.” While leaders will innovate
* “Leaders are unique, managers copy.”
* “Leaders take risks, managers control risk.”
* “Leaders build relationships, managers build systems and processes."
Can managers be leaders? Of course! These articles are not talking about the title, so much as they are about the reality of role. Whatever your title is, you can act in one of two ways, or at any given time, in a hybrid of the two. When we are at our strongest, we step into that leader role.
Areas where we lead
These differences were mainly discussed in the context of work but they also apply at home and in our other areas of life such as in friendships, in community organizations, and more.
Working mom Claire Kellems and I chat about how her own efforts to get organized led to a blog, a business, and more peace of mind. (Don't miss the link below for a discount on Claire's newly released ebook!)
Getting organized starts in our minds
Claire Kellems manages technology and data analytics in the financial services industry. She also blogs about productivity and organization and offers productivity coaching and organization services. Claire lives in Indiana with her husband and their two boys.
Claire is a long-time member of the TPW community. We met in person when I visited Indiana to help my son settle in for grad school. The more I learned about how she's working on managing her life and making a life that matters, the more I wanted to share it with the TPW community.
A typical day
A typical day for Claire is a workday/schoolday for kids. Her Google speaker wakes her up at about 6 a.m. each morning; she has to speak to it to turn it off. Not being a morning person, talking out loud helps her wake up.
The first thing she does once she's out of bed is make sure her kids are up and getting ready. (She lays everything out the night before to make things easier.)
Over breakfast, Claire does devotions with her kids and spends some time with them. If she has a little time before she has to head out, she soaks in nature on her back deck while journaling, enjoying a few minutes of peace before she heads off into a busy day. By 7:30 they're all out the door and Claire is on her one-hour commute to work, which is when she listens to podcasts or calls to check in with family and relatives.
After her workday is over, she drives back towards home, picks up her kids from various activities, and meets with clients of her organization business. By the time she gets home, her husband usually has dinner ready and they sit down to eat as a family.
After dinner, the children do homework while the adults tidy up the kitchen.
Her family abides by a "no screen-time school week" policy, which has made a huge difference for her family in behavior and expectations. She highly recommends this approach. After homework is done, they spend time as a family reading, playing board games, or hang out outside.
Once the kids are in bed, Claire has some me-time, reviews her calendar to see what she has going on the next day, sets reminders, and gets into bed.
Claire touched on so many interesting concepts during our discussion. I was particularly interested in finding out more about how she got her children to be self-sufficient, since this doesn't happen by accident.
Claire has always given her children chores, which are called "jobs" in her household. When they were old enough to not need constant supervision, she gave them morning jobs, which are written on a whiteboard on the refrigerator, so they know what they need to do. She's relied on alarms and timers, a lot of repetition, and visual lists to get this routine going.
Like anything else, her secret was to put time and thought and intentionality into building the habits so she could create her day closer to what she wants it to look like.
Claire has so many things going on in her life, so I was curious to know why she had chosen to take on a blog on top of everything. She explained that it was actually a byproduct of being overwhelmed. When she is stressed, she writes it all down. She found writing about the responsibilities and stress that came with family life and work to be therapeutic and realized she couldn't be alone in this struggle and stress.
What does it mean to give grace to others (or yourself) and how can we do it?
Grace, compassion, and productivity
At the end of every episode, I encourage you to extend grace to others and to yourself. I've been thinking a lot lately about what that means: what grace is, why it matters, and how we can extend it.
It's a concept I think is important, and as a result, I think it's important that we're on the same page on what we're talking about.
What is grace?
One definition of grace is 'simple elegance or refinement of movement.' Another is 'courteous goodwill.'
In the Christian faith, grace refers to 'the free and unmerited favor of God,' and whether you follow Christian beliefs or not, this definition has some value in what we're talking about today.
In the work I do as a real estate lawyer, the term "grace period" comes up a lot, and this refers to "a period officially allowed for payment of a sum due or for compliance with a law or condition, especially an extended period granted as a special favor."
Another definition I love is "a disposition to kindness and compassion."
The origin of the word grace comes from Middle English via Old French from the Latin word gratia, which means thankful. The term grace is related to grateful.
Think about that for a moment.
Synonyms of grace are blessing, courtesy, decency, manners, politeness, decorum, respect, favor, approval, approbation, acceptance, esteem, regard, respect, and goodwill. So, when I say extend grace to one another, I am saying extend favor to one another.
When I googled the word grace, most of the references talked about it in the context of the Christian faith: God’s grace to us being his unmerited favor. These articles talk about the difference between mercy and grace, where mercy is not giving a punishment that’s deserved, and grace is giving favor or blessing that is not deserved.
People of faith believe God has extended grace to us, and this creates an obligation to extend it to others. Even if you embrace a different faith, the concept still applies.
Grace does not mean excusing or ignoring fault or failure or bad behavior. Grace requires us to look at the recipient with compassion (which is defined as sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others).
When we are asked to extend grace to someone else, we are giving them favor or approval they haven't earned. In order to do that, we're going to have to look at that person with compassion, sympathy, and concern for their sufferings and misfortunes.
I think the quote above is a great example of what compassion calls us to do: to remember that we don't know what's going on in the life of a person who we believe doesn't deserve our approval or grace.
In order to extend grace to someone who is rude to us, for example, we're going to have to look at them with compassion and recognize that we don't see the whole story.
I believe the focus of grace should be on what we're giving rather than what the other person deserves.
The point here is regardless of what another person may do, we can choose to extend grace. There may still be consequences for their behavior, but it doesn't have to move in and live in our hearts. Grace is something we can generate on purpose out of compassion.
Why develop compassion in your life?
So why does it matter? Why do I talk about grace and compassion on a podcast about productivity?
Largely because, as we often say in The Productive Woman community, productivity is about more than getting stuff done, it's about making a life that matters. And the impact on our own life of developing the compassion required to extend grace is immeasurable.
Does isolation help or hinder productivity? What about loneliness?
Isolation, loneliness, and productivity
This episode was born out of conversations I've had recently. For example, a couple of weeks ago, I was trading messages with a colleague about how she was feeling lonely and about the isolation of working at home, and how it sometimes makes it hard to focus on work that needs to get done.
Isolation and loneliness are common consequences of working remotely, but it’s possible to be lonely even if you’re constantly with other people.
The more I thought about it, the more I thought it was worth exploring how it impacts our productivity, both in the sense of getting the things done that we care about and in making a life that matters.
Difference between isolation and loneliness
Isolation and loneliness can go hand in hand but they are not the same thing. Isolation is simply being separated from other people, whereas loneliness is a feeling that can come regardless of how many people are around.
Social isolation is an objective measure of the number of contacts that people have. It is about the quantity and not quality of relationships.People may choose to have a small number of contacts. . . . Loneliness is a subjective feeling about the gap between a person’s desired levels of social contact and their actual level of social contact. It refers to the perceived quality of the person’s relationships. Loneliness is never desired and lessening these feelings can take a long time.
Loneliness and isolation - understanding the difference and why it matters
Are isolation and/or loneliness a 21st-century epidemic?
Many people think they are.
“With digital connection increasingly replacing face-to-face human interaction, loneliness is spreading round the world like a virus.”
Is loneliness a 21st-century epidemic? Why we’re all feeling more lonely
In researching for this episode, I learned that the UK appointed a Minister for Loneliness in 2018.
“Yet loneliness is not a universal condition; nor is it a purely visceral, internal experience. It is less a single emotion and more a complex cluster of feelings, composed of anger, grief, fear, anxiety, sadness, and shame. It also has social and political dimensions, shifting through time according to ideas about the self, God, and the natural world.”
The history of loneliness
A lot of research, thought, and writing looks at this epidemic of isolation and loneliness and tries to identify the causes. Several articles I read recently point to isolation and loneliness as being the consequence of a change in our worldview, about our society, and the individuals, and the place of individuals in society as a whole.
“The contemporary notion of loneliness stems from cultural and economic transformations that have taken place in the modern West. Industrialization, the growth of the consumer economy, the declining influence of religion, and the popularity of evolutionary biology all served to emphasize that the individual was what mattered — not traditional, paternalistic visions of a society in which everyone had a place.”
“loneliness can exist only in a world where the individual is conceived as separate from, rather than part of,
Using even difficult experiences to find clarity on what matters to her has helped Jamie Lieberman build a career and life she loves.
Using experience to develop career clarity and autonomy
Jamie Lieberman is a practicing attorney of 15 years, podcaster, and entrepreneur dedicated to making legal stuff accessible to entrepreneurs and to sharing the message that legal stuff does not have to be scary. As the owner and founder of Hashtag Legal, she leads an all-female virtual team focused on providing clients with advice on a wide range of subjects such as intellectual property, contracts, privacy, FTC and general business law as well negotiation strategies. Aside from her professional endeavors, Jamie is the wife of another lawyer and mom to two active boys.
Not long after her first son was born, she came to the realization that it would be challenging to see her son and practice law in the traditional sense. She refused to accept that it was impossible to do both, and that is where her own practice was born. While launching her practice, she had her second son.
Her team and staff are all women with flexible schedules to enable them to enjoy family lives, personal lives and have balance.
She got her start in the influencer space when she started to freelance after leaving her job working for the U.S. federal government. Her freelance work started off as writing briefs for other attorneys using her background as a litigator. At the same time, she was running her own blog, writing about life in NYC and later, parenting. When she started this endeavor seven years ago, the word "influencer" didn't even exist in the social media world, and bloggers were just starting to make businesses out of their blogs.
About 6 years ago, Jamie was working for a company that ran conferences for bloggers, writing about legal and non-legal matters. One day, the owner of that company approached her and asked if she would give a talk about legal issues for bloggers. After the talk, several bloggers approached her and asked for help because they were struggling to find lawyers who understood the blogging business. That is how her practice was born.
As she worked with influencers, agencies, and brands, she realized there was a natural extension of her work into designers, creatives, online professionals, app developers, service professionals, which then turned into entrepreneurs. This area was very underserved by lawyers. Jamie saw this opportunity and structured her legal services so that clients are not intimidated by them. She and her team are transparent in their costs and have open communication. She is able to empathize in her clients' experiences because she had run and sold other businesses.
She got clarity on the type of law she wanted to practice based on a podcast she was on called "The Happy Lawyer." The host of this podcast asked her, "Is it the work, or is it the client?" She realized it was her clients that got her up every morning. It's the counseling and helping people that is her driving force, not just in her career, but in life in general.
Her experience of running her own practice was completely the opposite of working for a large law firm or the government. In the latter, there was very little room for creativity because things were simply done a certain way. There was no opportunity to distinguish yourself or do anything that would change the way a project was viewed. Having no autonomy was stifling for Jamie. She wouldn't take back her experience for anything, though, because it was through this experience that she was able to figure out that autonomy is very important to her.
A typical day
Jamie tends to stay up very late and starts her day...
Millions of people move house each year. Getting ready to move to a new home is a project that can be made easier with a little thought and planning.
What do you do to get ready to move?
I’ve moved house many, many times. When I was growing up, my father was a bit of a wanderer, so we moved often. I never liked it, but after I grew up and established a home of my own, I realized how much tougher it must’ve been on my mom, moving a household and a bunch of kids.
Mike and I have moved quite a few times in the 40 years we’ve been married - across town, but more often across the country. Right now we’re contemplating moving again, to downsize a bit now that our kids are all out on their own.
Keys to getting our house ready to sell, and getting ready to move into a new house
* Plan ahead
There are tons of resources online to help with the planning, including a number of checklists you can download to make sure you stay on track (like this one: Moving Checklist - Printable To-Do List For When You're Moving Homes). Think through what needs to happen, and start a notebook or other resource to keep all the info:
* Movers? Or moving trucks and friends if doing it yourself
* List of utilities, subscriptions, and other vendors you’ll need to get address changes to and/or line up for the new home
* Kids’ school records and family medical records
* Get rid of stuff!
We visited an open house at a house we liked a lot, but I left feeling like the house needed to be cleaned. We realized it wasn’t dirty, but it felt that way because every closet was packed with clothes. That was a lesson for me about the effect of over-filled spaces on the way a house looks and feels.
Your house might not look or feel cluttered, but . . . do you really want to pack and move everything you currently own? We don’t, so we’re looking hard at the stuff we own, pulling out items we don't use or need or love to find new homes for. We're offering it first to our grown kids, then everything else will go to charity. You could also choose to have a yard sale or sell on eBay or Craigslist, or Poshmark for clothes.
Some things to consider rehoming:
* Dishes, utensils, small appliances
* Furniture, lamps,
* Cosmetics and other bathroom items
* Craft supplies
The less you keep, the less work and expense is required to move it
The more you get rid of now, the easier it is to clean and touch up the house for sale
* Gather manuals and paperwork for any appliances or systems you’ll be leaving. Put them together in a folder or binder for the new owners, or put them all in a single drawer in the kitchen.
* Evaluate and schedule repairs or touch-ups needed before listing the house. Label any cans of leftover paint with the color, brand, and which room each was used in, and leave them all together in one closet or cupboard or shelf.
* Pack in stages - start early to pack out-of-season clothes, decor, bedding, books, and specialty kitchen items you don’t anticipate using before the move.
* Designate one space for all the boxes to go such as an unused guest room or the garage
* Label boxes by the room they’re supposed to go into, as well as indicating weight (heavy, medium, light), fragility,
What can we do to maximize our productivity at work, wherever our workplace might be?
Productivity in the workplace
Many of us spend a big chunk of our waking hours at work. Just like everything else we do, we want to make the most of those hours doing a good job and being as productive as possible. But not all work environments are set up to maximize productivity, and in fact a lot of workplaces have set-ups or customs that actually interfere with productivity. Not only that, sometimes we don't take the tools and habits that make us most productive to work with us.
So this week, I'd like to talk about how to be more productive at work, what interferes with it, how we can get past the interferences, how we can give our best at work, whether we are working from home or from an office, and whether we're the boss or the employee.
Workplace productivity defined
“At its most basic, productivity is the amount of value produced divided by the amount of cost (or time) required to do so.”
“The Paradox of Workplace Productivity”
In other words, workplace productivity is not the time spent on work, but work produced in time. It really is about how much value you are adding while you are there.
Tim Ferris wrote a book titled "The Four-Hour Workweek." Though I don't agree with everything he has to say in there, he does make some good points about the fact that we are often not being productive while we are at work, not adding value, and not producing what we were hired (or formed our business) to do.
If we can be more productive--that is, add more value for each hour we are at work--in whatever environment we are working, perhaps we can spend less time working, and have more time available for things that are equally or more important than the work we are doing.
What interferes with workplace productivity?
“Typical motivation killers include toxic people, abrasive personalities, lack of organizational vision, absence of opportunities for professional development, poor communication systems, autocratic management styles, and the feeling of lack of appreciation. Addressing each of these requires a variety of approaches. . . .”
6 Effective Ways to Enhance Workplace Productivity
* Phone calls, emails, and people stopping by
“According to a recent study by Udemy, 69 percent of full-time employees reported being distracted at work. This is for a variety of reasons, but things like social media, noisy offices, unnecessary meetings, and chatty coworkers are some of the main culprits.”
Workplace Productivity: Promoting Well-Being, Efficiency & Effectiveness
Using the wrong tools
“You’re only as good as the tools you use.”
* The tools you actually use to do your job - hammer, computer, scientific equipment - whatever tools you use
* Ancillary tools that help make work more efficient - copy machines, communications systems, software, etc
Jana Arellano has made more than one big move in her life. Her next move is helping other women develop the confidence to make their next move. How she makes it happen is the subject of our conversation.
Systems help Jana make her next move
Jana is a healthcare professional with over 15 years in Radiation Oncology. She created her organization “Her Move Now” as a platform for women to learn from the experiences of other women, build relationships and confidence to make their next move. Jana currently holds a position as Administrative Director for a healthcare organization. She is a Co-treasurer for the Greater Riverside Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and serves in several positions for the local Toastmasters organization, and she is working on her second Master's Degree in Healthcare Informatics. She is a mom to 3 children and a grandmother to two beautiful girls.
As Jana progressed in her career, she realized public speaking was a weakness, to the detriment of her career. At a manager's meeting in Las Vegas, Jana was given an opportunity to speak in front of the audience. She was so nervous that her knees literally started to shake, to the point where people in the audience noticed it.
She came home and went to a Toastmasters meeting because she was determined to work on this skill of public speaking, and this effort has changed her life. She not only learned public speaking skills but began to build the confidence to speak up in different aspects of her life.
With that newfound confidence, she began to train and teach healthcare organizations on leadership. From there, her next move was to launch her organization, "Her Move Now," where she brings in women to learn from other women
A typical day
Once Jana is up in the morning, she gets herself and her child ready to leave for work and school. After dropping off her child, she'll spend the rest of the day working, and reverse the order once her workday is over.
Along the way, she created systems to make things efficient in her life. She would ask herself questions regarding her lifestyle so she could build her life around her answers. She took her training and experience with standardization systems and efficiencies in radiation oncology and transferred it into her life.
Because Jana's son is autistic, Jana had to become accustomed to using checklists and doing things the same way every single day. Working with her son's therapist, she taught her son how to get ready and get things done. It really is about doing the same things in a standardized way every single day because one change in her son's routine will result in him having a complete meltdown. So her son knows the sequence of activities he must do to get ready for school each morning.
Jana has routines in place to make each week easier. She will pack a week's worth of lunches on Sunday nights, and choose outfits for each day of the week and hang them on hangers so she can just grab and go rather than spend time figuring it out each morning.
Pre-planning is another method Jana learned to implement in her life when she changed her career completely and went through a steep learning curve. She chose a job that was in alignment with what she was doing at "Her Move Now." Instead of having to learn a completely new set of skills, she took stock of what skillsets she would need to learn to make "Her Move Now" successful and took a job where she could learn those skills and carry them over to her own business. She incorporated a lot of the tools she uses in her business, such as the Join Me App or Smartsheet, a project planning tool, into her personal life as well so that she could streamline the ways she man...
We can't make a life that matters without making decisions, but some decisions are harder than others. How can you make difficult decisions a little easier?
How do you make difficult decisions?
In the past few months, I've received a lot of questions in emails and in the TPW community about decisions, especially difficult ones. These questions really resonate with me. I have struggled with making certain big decisions myself.
The thing is, unmade decisions are stressful. They leave us feeling unsettled, uncertain, distracted, and torn between the options.
You cannot make a life that matters without making decisions. If we can make those decisions--even difficult decisions--with less anxiety and stress, then we can be more productive, both in the sense of getting things done and in the sense of making a life that matters.
What makes a decision difficult?
* Cost - time, money, effort
* Perceived impact on ourselves and others
* Anticipated reactions of other people - Disappointment? Anger? sadness?
* Choosing among good options - The difficulty isn’t choosing one thing, but giving up all the others
What kinds of decisions are difficult?
* Changing jobs
* Starting or ending a relationship
* Moving to a new town or a new house
* How best to care for a sick child or an aging parent
What difficult decisions do you struggle with?
There are steps we can take to help when we face a difficult decision.
* Schedule time to think quietly
* You can’t think well when you’re going at 100 mph
* When you feel like you can’t take the time to think is when you most need to
* Consider getting away for a day or two to get some rest as you process the decision at hand
* Talk to someone, but choose your advisors wisely. It's not helpful to delay decision-making by seeking advice from everyone you know.
* Trust your instincts
“When the answers aren’t clear, what we want more than anything is peace, clarity, and a nudge in the right direction. The problem is we are often looking for direction in all the wrong places. Often the clues to our next decision remain within us, unheard and undiscovered.”
from The Next Right Thing by Emily P. Freeman
That’s why scheduling time to think is so important. We cannot hear our heart, our own wisdom, if we never give ourselves the time, space, and quiet to listen. Get wise counsel, but trust your instincts.
* Be honest with yourself about the decision's true significance. Is it worth the amount of time you’re spending thinking about it? How much will it matter a year from now?
* Know your values, and let them guide you. Know and admit to yourself what you want most.
“If you don’t take the time to admit what you most long for, decisions will still need to be made. But instead of stepping forward in self-awareness, you’ll base your decisions on other outward things like expectations, habit, or some other kind of external pressure.”
Productive women need to take into account the effects of our hormones on productivity during certain important life stages. (And men who care about productive women ought to think about these things too!)
How do hormones affect our productivity?
There have been conversations in The Productive Woman community about struggles with being productive at certain stages of life, specifically, during perimenopause, pregnancy, post-partum. I wanted to talk about these stages of life, what they are, how they affect us psychologically and physiologically, how they affect our productivity, and things we can do to stay more productive during these stages of life.
Please note that I am not a doctor. If you are going through these stages of life, please consult your doctor.
The median age for when menopause occurs is 51.4 years. One interesting article explains it this way: “During menopause a woman’s body slowly produces less of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. This often happens between the ages of 45 and 55 years old. A woman has reached menopause when she has not had a period for 12 months in a row.”
We talk about going through menopause, but it’s more correct to say we reach menopause. Menopause is a moment in time, and the 3-4 years surrounding that moment in time are called perimenopause. Most of the symptoms we hear about actually are perimenopausal symptoms.
Menopausal (perimenopausal) symptoms are triggered by changes in our hormones.
Hormones are the messengers in the body that travel through the bloodstream to start, stop, speed up or slow down your physical and chemical functions and processes across all body systems. Your ovaries are the source of estrogen and progesterone, the two key hormones that control the reproductive system, including the menstrual cycle and fertility in women. You are born with all the eggs you will ever have. The eggs are in the follicles, which are found in the ovaries. During menopause, the number of ovarian follicles declines and the ovaries become less responsive to the two other hormones involved in reproduction—Luteinizing Hormone (LH) and Follicle-Stimulating Hormone (FSH). As your ovaries age and release fewer hormones, FSH and LH can no longer perform their usual functions to regulate your estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. These inevitable changes in your hormones and natural decline of estrogen levels during menopause can significantly affect your health for years to come.”
"How Hormone Depletion Affects You"
All those hormonal changes impact us both physically and emotionally in ways that can affect our ability to be productive.
* Typical first sign: Change in patterns of periods
* Hot flashes/night sweats
* Sleep disturbances
“The main sign of the menopause starting is often noticed as a change in menstrual period patterns, which can last up to four years but in some women can be much longer. Around 80% of women suffer from some additional menopausal symptoms, though some women have few symptoms apart from the ending of menstruation. The most common menopausal symptoms are hot flushes (termed hot flashes in the US) and night sweats. These happen most commonly within the first year after the last period, although they can occur earlier. If severe, these can cause weakness and loss of energy, particularly night sweats, which may disturb normal sleeping patterns.
Speaker, author, wife, and mom Mridu Parikh minimizes overwhelm by ordering her days intentionally.
Beating overwhelm with intentionality and simplicity
Mridu Parikh is a speaker, author, and coach who loves to help ambitious women feel in control of their time, energy, and habits, even when they're overwhelmed by demands and distractions. She’s also a wife and the mother of two sons. She and her family live in Nashville, Tennessee.
Mridu began her career as a professional organizer, so she's always been into simplifying, streamlining, and organizing. As her family and business grew, she evolved from organizing her home into organizing her time. Now she helps other women who are overwhelmed with all the demands on their lives to become more streamlined and efficient.
A typical day
Mridu's "typical day" has evolved over the last couple of years. Her biggest productivity challenges come when the children are home. Right now, it's summer break, and the kids are home, so she tends to fall off her routine more often.
A purposeful morning routine
That being said, when the kids are in school, Mridu gets up around 5:45 a.m. and starts her day around 6. She spends the first 15 minutes of her day to wake herself up and get ready for the day. At 6, she'll sit down with her cup of coffee and meditate for about 5-10 minutes using a guided meditation app (Insight Timer).
Next, she gets some type of physical activity in, with anywhere between 7 minutes of Yoga to 45 minutes of walking.
Finally, she'll write down her top goals for the day in her journal.
Doing these three things helps her tremendously in setting up her day. Any time she misses these routines, she feels a bit off.
The rest of her day
After her morning hour, Mridu loads the kids in the car and drive them to school. When she gets back home, she showers, dresses, and gets ready to start her day by 9 am.
She tries to keep the first hour of her workday (which she calls her Power Hour) free of phone calls or appointments. This is when she tries to get the things done that she knows won't get done later in the day. It's her time to focus on the things she knows she'll procrastinate on later.
Her workday ends somewhere between 3 and 5 depending on her kids' schedules. She spends her afternoons usually driving her kids around to different activities.
Once they're back home, they'll have dinner, clean up, and often sit in the same space to work or do homework together.
Before going to bed, she spends about 20-30 minutes tidying up and looking at her calendar to see what she can do that evening to prepare for the next day. She sets her coffee to brew, and she also goes into her Gratitude app to record the things she's grateful for.
Using a move to a new city as a chance to re-set
Prior to becoming a personal organizer, Mridu worked long hours at a corporate job and seldom got to see her children. The family's move to Nashville was her opportunity to start something new. She thought she would enjoy her new work as a personal organizer because she loved organizing, but she quickly realized she didn't enjoy doing it for other people. Not only was the job physically taxing, but the people she helped were unable to maintain the organized space, and she would go back over and over again to organize the same space multiple times.
What she realized was her clients weren't learning from her, but rather leaning on her to do it for them.
That's when she realized she had fallen out of love of the work she was doing, and she wanted to be a coach so she could teach women strategies and skills to organize for themselves.
Whether you want to focus on one thing at a time or simultaneously pursue multiple goals, make sure you like the life you're creating.
The choice to do it all
We’ve talked more than once on the show about the idea of identifying what’s most important to you and focusing your time, energy, and attention on that.
We’ve considered the principles Greg McKeown discusses in his excellent book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (e.g., TPW032 - Choose What’s Essential, Eliminate the Rest) -- the idea of less, but better, for example.
We’ve discussed Gary Keller’s book, The One Thing, and his concept of refining our goals and tasks down to the one essential thing.
I do believe, personally, that a more peaceful and productive life will come from eliminating commitments and activities and focusing on the few most meaningful things. Spreading myself out over multiple areas is a recipe for stress and a feeling that I’m not giving adequate attention to any of them. I need white space in my calendar to feel good about my life and to be at peace.
But that’s me.
Others prefer to fill all their days with activities in the multiple areas that are important to them.
When we talk about these ideas of finding the “one” thing or pursuing only the “essentials” and cutting other things out, there are those who object, who say it’s not workable for them. And they have reasons why--reasons that are meaningful to them. They have lots of ideas, lots of things they want to do and accomplish, and they feel they’re all essential.
I would never suggest they shouldn't pursue everything they've identified as important, but there are some things to consider.
Human beings can't do more than one thing at a time. Our brains are not meant to be focusing on more than one thing at a time.
Furthermore, time, energy, and attention are finite resources. There is only so much you can do in a day, week, or month, and the brain can only focus for a finite period of time.
That being said, I don’t believe one approach to goal-setting, to goal-pursuing--to life--is better than the other, or best for everybody. We are unique human beings, and we get to choose. It's about creating the kind of life you want. Nobody can tell you what that should be or has to be. I just encourage you to be intentional about it.
If you're the type of person who likes to pursue multiple goals at the same time, thoughtfully consider these questions.
* Do you want to fill every day and hour with tasks for the various goals, etc.?
* Are you willing to sacrifice sleep, self-care, time with friends, to accomplish ALL the things?
If so, that's okay. I'm not saying you can't. If that's the life you want, then go for it. Love the life you're living.
Develop the skills of organizing your time and materials and space so you can maximize every minute. Also, be sure you’re okay with making slower progress on each goal, project, or task than you might if you focused on each one at a time.
But if you're tired, constantly feel behind, and stressed, perhaps you'd like to consider a different option.
Sometimes when we're looking for ways to get work done, it helps to hear about tools and techniques that have been effective for other people. This week I'm sharing a bit about the tools, systems, and approaches I use to get work done.
(Some of) The tools and systems I use to get work done
Like you, I wear more than one hat. I have a full-time law practice, host a podcast, and work with coaching clients, as well as having a family I love and personal interests. Trying to get all these things done can be a challenge. I try to be as efficient as I can with respect to my work. I like hearing from others how they get their “stuff” done, so I thought I’d share some of the tools, systems, and routines I use to get my work done.
Backdrop: If you’ve listened to the TPW podcast for a while, you know a couple of years ago I changed my law practice to a different firm and moved my office to my home. (Check out TPW154 - Working from Home to hear more about that).
I like working from home for a lot of reasons. But because of where we live, I have a real problem getting reliable internet that’s fast enough for the things I need to do. So early this spring I decided to look for office space in the small town near where we live. It turned out to be much more affordable than I expected. I found an office in a building downtown, 10 minutes from home.
I miss having the ability to toss a load of laundry into the washer or get dinner started early, but having fast, reliable internet has made a huge difference in my productivity during working hours.
Universal systems & approaches
Some of the approaches I use to get work done both for my law practice for TPW include:
* Batching: Doing like tasks together so I only have to set up/clean up only once rather than multiple times
* Block scheduling: Allocating chunks of time to specific tasks or types of tasks
* Single-tasking: Focusing on one task at a time
* Problems of multi-tasking:
“Research conducted at Stanford University found that multitasking is less productive than doing a single thing at a time. The researchers also found that people who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information cannot pay attention, recall information, or switch from one job to another as well as those who complete one task at a time. . . . Multitasking reduces your efficiency and performance because your brain can only focus on one thing at a time. When you try to do two things at once, your brain lacks the capacity to perform both tasks successfully.”
The same study looked at people who feel they’re good at multitasking:
“They found that heavy multitaskers—those who multitask a lot and feel that it boosts their performance—were actually worse at multitasking than those who like to do a single thing at a time. The frequent multitaskers performed worse because they had more trouble organizing their thoughts and filtering out irrelevant information, and they were slower at switching from one task to another.”
Multitasking Damages Your Brain and Career, New Studies Suggest
We discussed the detriments of multi-tasking in TPW111 - Time Thieves. Another article I suggest reading is "
Empty-nester Jill Valdez is creating impact and helping others do the same.
Creating impact through structure and empowerment
Jill Valdez and I had a great conversation about creating structure through tools like time-blocking, task management, and the good old reminder alarm to tackle the various areas of our lives, and also about encouraging leaders to empower the people on their teams to create lasting impact.
Jill is a new empty-nester mom of three adult children. She spent 17 years as a full-time executive of a non-profit corporation while building a life with her family, pursuing her degree, and volunteering time on a woman’s leadership team. After spending a few years in the for-profit sector. Jill’s passion for helping companies has led her to the launch of her own business, called LINK. Today Jill balances growing her business, a job as an Executive Director of an organization that provides groceries for 325 families every week, volunteering at a newly started church, and exploring new adventures with her husband.
A typical day
A typical day for Jill depends on which hat she is wearing.
She works as the executive director at the food pantry organization on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. On Mondays, she works with the team to set things up for food distribution to families in need. On Tuesdays, they actually distribute the food. On Wednesdays, she takes care of administrative tasks.
On Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, she works on her business.
She finds that it is helpful to look at the days and know what type of work defines that day. She allocates specific time periods to various components of her business.
When she works with clients, she asks them to do the same thing, penciling out what their ideal week is using the "block scheduling" approach to know which pieces of their businesses they'll work on specific days.
That division of her weeks between the food pantry and her own business defines what her "typical" days look like.
On Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, she leaves home at 6:30 am and gets back around 7 pm. Her work on those days is very focused on food distribution.
During the rest of the week, she works for herself, so it can be easy for her to say, "Maybe I'll work today, maybe I won't." Still, she gets up early, jumps on the treadmill to get some exercise and listens to a podcast while exercising, and catches up on housework that got neglected. Then she'll go into her office and sit down to attack her task list for the day.
Most of the time, she doesn't allow her work to bleed into the evening. There's always something she and her husband can be doing in their respective career paths, but they've made a commitment to one another not to allow work to consume them. They treat their business endeavors as a job (surprise!) and set a time to stop so they can spend the evening as a couple.
Jill is a "late-to-bed and early-to-rise" type of person. She decompresses from the day by catching up on the news and social media or occasionally having friends over. On days she's not at the food pantry, she tries to make dinner and spend the evenings quietly.
Saturdays are reserved for the fun stuff. There are a lot of things for them to discover because they are new to Arizona. They work intentionally at keeping that time open. In fact, on Jill's calendar, it says "protected and dedicated time for us," and they don't schedule anything else on that day unless it is an emergency.
Sundays are for church. Jill and her husband are both ordained ministers and they've started a church in the area they moved to. After church, they'll go out to have lunch with church friends and hang out. Sunday evening is reserved for downtime and preparing for the rest of the week,
If you're looking for a good summer read, I recommend Michael Hyatt's book, Free to Focus, which is the subject of this latest installment in our recurring Productive Reading series.
Free to Focus - the next in our recurring Productive Reading series
For former Productive Reading episodes, please follow the links below!
* Episode 133 - The ONE Thing by Gary Keller
* Episode 147 - The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
* Episode 166 - 3 books written by Brené Brown
* Episode 182 - Soulful Simplicity by Courtney Carver
* Episode 211 - The Free-Time Formula by Jeff Sanders
* Episode 230 - Atomic Habits by James Clear
This time I’m sharing some of my most important takeaways from Michael Hyatt’s newest book, Free to Focus--a book I sincerely recommend. All quotes below are from the book.
Who is Michael Hyatt?
According to the book's back cover, he’s the CEO of Michael Hyatt & Company, a leadership development firm. Formerly he was chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers. Michael is also a New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today bestselling author of several books, including Living Forward,
5 years ago this week, The Productive Woman (the podcast and the community) was born. I am grateful beyond words for all that's happened in the past 5 years.
Celebrating 5 years of lessons learned and relationships built
Those who’ve listened for a while know I’m big on milestone dates. To me, this is a big milestone. When I launched The Productive Woman podcast on July 1, 2014, I wasn’t sure how it would turn out. I just knew I wanted to start, to put this out into the world, and see if I could connect with a community of women who cared about making a life that matters.
As I approached The Productive Woman's 5-year "podiversary," I did what I often do at milestones: pondered what I’ve learned and considered where I want to go next. I wanted to share a bit with you as well as invite you to be part of this episode. So here are 5 lessons I’ve learned, 5 dreams I have for the future, some feedback from the TPW community, and 5 questions for you.
5 lessons I’ve learned
1. What we have in common is more important than our differences
There are amazing women all over the world who want to make lives that matter, who think about how to balance the various roles they play, who want to reach their full potential and make their best contribution to making the world a better place. Although we each have our unique traits and come from different countries, religions, backgrounds, and life stages, the things mentioned above seem to be common among us in the TPW community, and I think it's important to remember that the things we have in common are far more important than our differences.
2. There is enough time to do what matters most
We tell ourselves otherwise, but the truth of what matters most to us is in what we actually do. I don't say that as a judgment; it's just a reality. If I’m not taking action toward accomplishing something I really want to do, then it’s because something else--such as sleep, security, avoiding fear, ease, or time off--is more important, whether I acknowledge it or not.
3. I’m not the only one who cares about making a life that matters, nor am I the only one who struggles to manage it all
I’ve heard from so many of you, both in the Facebook group and via email, on coaching calls and in mastermind groups, sharing your struggles and hopes. Honestly, this has consoled me when I struggle to do the things that I want to do. I don’t wish the struggle on anyone, but the truth is . . . struggle is part of the human condition, and there is comfort in knowing I’m not alone. So I appreciate you sharing your struggles and concerns in the community Facebook group, and that we can support and encourage each other in the journey.
It’s okay to be vulnerable and open about who you are. Doing so opens a way to true connection and gives us the opportunity to learn from each other and grow individually and together.
4. I was right when I thought women could come together in community and support each other.
The TPW community amazes me. I love it when a woman from somewhere in the world reaches out to the community and others from all around the world jump in with a word of encouragement and suggestions even before I have a chance to give feedback.
I am also so pleased to see women from past mastermind groups who’ve connected so deeply that they continue, months and years later, to support and uplift and encourage each other and hold each other accountable.
5. You don’t have to be perfect or an expert to make a difference
I am neither perfect nor an expert, yet you have told me that what I’m doing has made a difference in your life. I encourage you to do whatever’s on your heart, big or small, and let it make a difference to those in your world.
Feedback from the community
This week's episode features my conversation with Australia native (but current Singapore resident) Susan Comiskey about how she makes time for speaking, teaching, and doctoral studies while making a life that matters with her husband and daughter.
Susan Comiskey structures her life around the things that matter to her
Susan Comiskey is an enthusiastic speaker and teacher. Together with her husband, she has pioneered and led churches all over the world. As a family, they've lived and ministered in Tonga, Uganda, East Timor, United Kingdom, and Singapore, where she currently lives with her husband and their young daughter, whom she calls a miracle of God after 22 years of infertility.
A typical day
Susan has two different types of typical day depending on whether her husband is in town or not (he travels about 50% of the time). When he is in town, he and Susan get up around 5 am. She does her devotions, has a cup of tea, reviews her day, makes lunches, and preps breakfast. At 6:30, they wake up their daughter and have breakfast together as a family. At 7, her husband takes their daughter to school.
From 7 am to 2 pm, Susan has a chunk of time to either work at her desk, to meet with people, or to teach. When she's at her desk during that time, she's either studying for her Doctoral degree in ministry or preparing for a speaking engagement or lecture, to meet people, or to teach. Woven through those hours, she thinks about what they're going to eat for dinner and does household chores.
At 2 pm, she gets on the public transit to commute an hour to pick up her daughter and spends that time reading. She'll turn around and make the same commute back home with her daughter and spends that time to bond with her.
They'll get home around 4 pm. From then until 7:30 pm, they spend time getting homework done, eating dinner, and preparing for bedtime. Once their daughter is in bed at 7:30, Susan considers her day done. If she has a speaking engagement the next day, she'll prepare for that. Otherwise, she'll try to relax by reading. But by 9:30, she is done with her day.
If her husband is in town, they'll make a cup of tea and sit down together to have couch-time and debrief one another of their day. They try to cool down from their day and sometimes listen to podcasts together.
When her husband is traveling, she has to be more organized because she is trying to do alone what usually takes two people to do, and that tends to be more fraught. Everything is a bit more compressed because she doesn't have the luxury of tag-teaming with her husband. All the routines stay about the same, but she simply cannot fit as much into those days because she doesn't have the time or emotional bandwidth to do all of it.
During these periods, she has the car, so taking her daughter to school and back is a bit faster, but she does try to build appointments near her school to reduce the to-and-fro. She'll also exercise (swim) and study at a library near her daughter's school rather than near home.
Intentionality is key not only when it comes to running her life but also to managing her daughter's life and emotions as well when her husband is away. She's learned to plan carefully and focus on things that matter. She also thinks about what sorts of things bring joy to both her husband and her, such as people they could spend time with, or people they could be helping.
She's learned to be careful about the words she uses to describe her husband's absence in front of her daughter and uses those opportunities to explain what her father does and how they could be praying for him and to teach her about the countries he happens to be in. She doesn't try to be super-mom during these times. If they have to eat fast food a couple more times that week, it's okay.
Some productivity principles are worth being reminded of from time to time. Here are a few that I think are important.
A good time to remember some key productivity principles
I had a birthday recently, and I'm also wrapping up the fifth year of The Productive Woman podcast. These kinds of milestones have me pondering where to go next, which leads me to thinking about where I’ve been, what I’ve learned, and what I think is important in the area of productivity and making a life that matters.
I thought I’d share with you some of the productivity principles I think are most important to keep top of mind. Most of these I’ve talked about before in past episodes, but they are worth reiterating and reminding us all as we work on our individual journeys toward making a life that matters.
1. In order to get anywhere, you need to have a destination in mind
If you don’t know where you’re going, how can you possibly get there?
Similarly, in order to accomplish anything, you have to have an outcome in mind.
For me, it starts with thinking about who I want to be. This is more important than what I want to do because it goes to what I value and what legacy I want to leave behind.
What I do should reflect the kind of person I want to be. The goals I focus on, and the actions I take to achieve them, should grow out of the kind of person I want to be. If they don’t, I’m living a dis-integrated life, and it will be hard to find satisfaction.
2. Our calendar and checkbook tell the truth about what we value
Where we spend our time and money says a lot about what’s most important to us, because we always make time for what really matters. This ties back to last week’s discussion about why we do what we do. If the way we’re spending our time and money doesn’t reflect our values and priorities, we need to think about why that is.
What value are we getting out of what we’re doing and buying?
When we act in ways that are not consistent with our values, what are we actually getting out of it? Is it security? Is it buffering? Do we want to address it in another way to make sure our calendars and checkbooks line up more with our truest values?
3. What you do matters, but you are not what you do.
Your value as a person is not in what you do, not in what you produce. It's not in the results you come up with. Here in the US, people often judge each other based on what we do. Often one of the first things people ask each other when they first meet is "What do you do?" We define ourselves based on our jobs. And if we are not successful or are not producing the kinds of results other people think we should or we think we should (or we think other people think we should), we tend to believe that reflects on who we are as a person and the value that we're contributing.
That is NOT true.
You are valuable and worthy as a person regardless of what you do or don't do. That’s why failure isn’t fatal. It doesn’t define us or our worth, so we can try without fear of failure as long as we don’t make it mean something about who we are as a person.
What you do matters. Setting goals, taking actions to achieve them, doing our best work, putting ourselves out there.. all these things matter. But there is more to who you are than the work you do and the results you put out.
“I have no interest in turning myself into a hyper-efficient automaton of productivity. I aspire to work hard, create wonderful things, and cultivate deep and meaningful relationships, which are the core of a happy life experience. My work is a big part of who I am, but it is not everything.”
Rick Smith, from “My Morning Routine”
There are reasons why we do what we do. If we become more aware of those reasons, we can live more intentionally.
Thinking about why we do what we do
I often talk to people who are frustrated because they do things that don’t seem to make sense in light of their goals or values, or they don’t take action on goals they really want to accomplish. That puzzle got me thinking about motive--why we do what we do.
Much of what we do is habitual
Habits are actions we take without conscious decision. But they started with choice and became habits because of the reward we got for making that choice
Charles Duhigg, in his book The Power of Habit, describes habits as “the choices that all of us deliberately make at some point, and then stop thinking about but continue doing.” He also talks about the habit loop: cue - routine - reward.
James Clear, in Atomic Habits, adds a fourth element by breaking the routine piece into two parts: craving and response. As a habit is developed, the cue triggers a craving (for the reward), and we take an action in response to that craving.
We’ve talked about habits before, the part about doing things without conscious thought, in previous episodes.
* TPW147: Productive Reading: The Power of Habit
* TPW230: Productive Reading: Atomic Habits
* TPW114: Mindset Matters: Productive Habits
* TPW179: Motivation and Habit
This time I’m curious about the first part: the choices we deliberately make, and why we make them
We do things for lots of reasons--for survival, for example, and for the benefit of others, or for our own benefit--but often we are not actually conscious of the reason we’re doing something.
What motivates us
Whether or not we’re conscious of it, everything we do is motivated by a feeling--either what we feel in the moment, or how we think we’ll feel when we do it. We want to feel satisfied, or proud, or we just want to feel better in some small or large way than we do right now, and that motivates us to do something to achieve that feeling.
This is an application of Clear’s description of how habits work: A cue triggers a craving, and that leads to action. Clear says, “Every craving is linked to a desire to change your internal state. . . . The thoughts, feelings, and emotions of the [person who experiences the cue] are what transform a cue into a craving.” We take an action in an effort to gain the reward (satisfy the craving).
Most of us are not truly aware of our feelings and how they are driving our action; we aren’t good at feeling our feelings. Rather, we're more likely to try to stifle them (what Brooke Castillo calls buffering) or redirect them...
For fashion designer Nina Means, structuring her days with intention is a key to making a life that matters professionally and personally.
Designing fashion and life with intention
Nina Means is a wife, a new mom, and a fashion designer with her own clothing line under the Nina Means label. In addition, she's the Director of the Austin Community College Fashion Incubator in Austin, Texas, a brand new program that supports the development of the growing fashion industry in the area.
Nina came into the fashion industry from a completely different life. She grew up in Durham, North Carolina, where there are a lot of researchers, engineers, scientists, and doctors. As a young woman, when she told people she wanted to go into fashion, no one understood what she was talking about. So she chose to go into public health, which is what she studied in her undergrad at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She worked in bilingual patient services, interpreting for doctors and nurses. She continued on to get her Master's degree in public health and worked on international health metrics and domestic breast cancer issues in Washington D.C.
Though she enjoyed what she was doing, from time to time she wondered what would've happened if she had pursued her interest in the fashion industry. She wanted to try it out, knowing that she could get back into the public health field if she didn't enjoy it. If she succeeded, she would be getting a chance to do something she was truly passionate about.
Once she jumped in, she realized she was where she was supposed to be all along. A lot of opportunities opened up to her. She worked for brands such as Rebecca Taylor, American Eagle Outfitters, and H by Halston for QVC. Her career was going well in NYC when she and her husband decided to relocate to Texas about 3 years ago. She wasn't sure how to continue to design in Texas, so she started her own line. A few specialty stores in Texas, as well as online stores, carried her designs, she became a professor at the Art Institute, and things started coming together in ways that she never expected it to.
To the woman who has gone down a successful career path but whose heart is in another area, and yet it's scary to give up the familiar to go after this dream, Nina advises:
Your regrets are going to be louder than your comfort. If you prefer to be comfortable, don't feel bad about that. But if you absolutely need to find out where something goes, remember you only live once and your time is precious. There is never a time you can't start something new."
A typical day
Every day is different, but Nina tries to keep her days somewhat orderly by leaving at the same time, picking up her son and spending time with him, turning off email, and including some downtime with her husband before turning in.
Nina's day actually begins at night. She's found through experience that if her night is set up well, her morning goes well. Right after her baby goes to sleep around 7:30 pm, she tries to make sure her baby's bottles are washed and prepared the next day. If she goes as far as packing lunch for her and her husband for the next day, the morning is a breeze. Having a general idea of what they'll wear the next day also makes the morning easier.
When morning comes, she gets up around 5:30 am, gets herself together, and brings her baby a warm bottle around 6:15 and gets her morning cuddle time with him. Nina and her husband take turns doing this. After she gets her baby ready for daycare, her husband leaves with the baby around 7 am. Another 15-20 minutes later, she'll trail out the door to get to work by 8:30.
What can we do to ensure a fun and safe summer?
Summer fun and safety for you and those around you
Here in the northern hemisphere, we're heading into summer, which means kids are getting out of school and warmer weather is coming. I thought it would be a good time to talk about how to make the most of the summer and stay safe whether you're going away on vacation or just staying home.
Activities to enjoy when the weather is warm and kids are home
* Leave some downtime
When I was a kid, summers were generally unplanned time. I would spend maybe a week at camp, another week going to a nearby church’s Vacation Bible School, but summertime was mostly free time. We would take off after morning chores with the other neighbor kids to explore, ride our bikes, play games, and make up elaborate scenarios.
This seems unthinkable to me now. Is the world really more dangerous now than it was back then, or are we just more aware of it now? Share your thoughts on this with me in the comments below, on the TPW facebook group, or email me. In any case, I'd encourage you to leave some free time for yourself and your family. Do what works for you and your family.
* Find alternatives to extensive screen time
Public libraries often have summer programs for kids. Check out your local library to see what they offer. (And check out their offerings for adults while you're there!)
* Switch things up!
Have meals outside if the weather permits. Take it to a park or just your back yard. At work, take your lunch outside instead of eating it at your desk.
* Get outside
Backyard camping can be fun for the kids. Let them ride their bikes, and set up water play in the yard even if you don’t have a pool. Get a cheap play pool from the store, or just let them run through the sprinkler.
* Explore local attractions. What do people from other places come to your town to do?
I’ve lived in the Dallas area for a couple of decades and haven’t visited the 6th Floor Museum or the Dallas Aquarium. Even our small community here in Greenville, Texas, has some potentially interesting places to explore. We have the Audie Murphy/American Cotton Museum, a winery barrel room tour, Splash Kingdom, a seasonal farmer’s market. A nearby community also has a children’s museum that I'll be taking my grandkids to.
If you don't want to spend the time or money on a big vacation this summer, take a staycation and explore what's close to home. Google “tourism in [your town]” and see what comes up.
* Find ideas for fun things to do
Google “Fun things to do in the summer” and you’ll find all kinds of articles filled with suggestions. Look for links to some of those articles below. Below are some suggestions I found:
* Volunteer at a nature center
* Have a luau in the back yard
* Have a picnic at a nearby state park
* Have a water balloon toss (or a water gun fight)
* Visit a museum you’ve never been to.
* Visit a county fair
* Go to a free music festival
* Play mini golf
* Make sure everybody knows how to swim. Swim lessons are a great activity for kids and adults. They can have fun in the water while learning a skill that could save a life!
* Learn CPR and basic first aid, and teach it to your kids where appropriate. (This could be an interesting summer activity: take a first aid/CPR course - yourself or as a family)
Does distraction interfere with your productivity?
Celebrate with me
The Productive Woman turns 5 years old on July 1, 2019. I'd like to celebrate by putting together an episode featuring feedback from the TPW community. Would you consider sending me a message I can share with listeners in the upcoming episode and tell me a little about what The Productive Woman podcast means to you? Feel free to share why you listen, what your favorite episode is, or what key lesson or takeaway you picked up from the podcast. You can also do this via voice message--use the voice memo app on your smartphone to create an audio file you can email to me, or click on "Send me a voice message" on the right side of this page. I hope you'll participate--send me your email or voicemail message by June 5, 2019. If you send a voice recording, please keep it under 2 minutes and make sure to introduce yourself so I know who to be grateful for!
Understanding and managing distraction
I've noticed lately that I’m more easily distracted from work, from personal tasks, and even from conversations. I started thinking about how easy it is to be distracted and decided to do a little investigation into distractions and how to deal with them.
What is a distraction?
A distraction is “a thing that prevents someone from giving full attention to something else” or (according to Webster) “something that distracts: an object that directs one's attention away from something else.” Synonyms include diversion, interruption, disturbance, intrusion, interference, obstruction, hindrance.
Notice the definitions don’t assign value to the thing that’s distracting or the thing that’s being distracted from. Both are neutral. Good things can distract from good things, or even from better things. Good things can also distract from bad things, as in the case when medical professionals using distraction during painful or uncomfortable medical treatments. But when it comes to being productive, distractions come with a cost.
The impact of distraction
Digital distractions, for example, come with an economic cost. According to one source, social media alone costs the US economy $650 billion.
In another article, The True Costs of the Distraction Economy, the writer points out the economic costs of the “distraction economy," described as “one where people have prioritized technology over people.” According to this article, our efforts to connect through technology result in us disconnecting as we’re focused on the tech rather than the people we’re actually with.
This particular article was written in the context of business and talks about the risks for leaders: setting a poor example for those we lead and failing to establish focus. I thought these ideas could be applied in our homes as well.
“If a leader is constantly distracted and not paying attention, they're telling the rest of their team this is an acceptable standard. . . . Leaders operating without focus and intentional attention risk damaging relationships, missing key performance objectives, losing top talent to other organizations, [and] customers choosing other companies [and] vendors taking advantage of their distracted state.”
Seeking solutions to a daily parenting challenge inspired Joanna Parker to launch a business helping other moms. We chat about how she balances motherhood and entrepreneurship.
Balancing motherhood and entrepreneurship (and helping other moms do the same!)
Joanna lives in Englewood, New Jersey with her husband and three children. She is the founder of a company called Yumble, which is a weekly subscription service of fully-prepared, healthy meals designed just for children. Between spending time with her family and running her business, her days are very full.
A typical day
Joanna starts her mornings with an early workout. She gets back home in time for her children to wake up around 7 am. From 7 to 8:30, she is 100% in "mom-mode," having breakfast with them, getting everyone dressed, talking about their day ahead, and driving them to school.
At 8:30 am, she comes back home and puts her Yumble-hat on she commutes to New York City with her husband. She spends all day with her team in SoHo and drives back home around 6:30 pm. She has her end-of-day meeting with her husband/business partner on their drive back. They arrive at home around 8 pm and temporarily take off their Yumble hat to give their two older children some attention and check their homework.
Yumble really is a family project. She and her husband run the company together, and their children are the inspiration for the products. The family subscribes to the meals as well, so they like to talk about the meals as they come in the mail. Yumble was born from Joanna's own efforts to get food on the table for her family. She knows it's a big challenge to prepare healthy food that the children will actually eat, so mealtime can be stressful with children. One of Yumble's missions is to alleviate mealtime stress.
At her wit's end about meal-planning, Joanna threw out a question to a mom support group on Facebook to see how people would respond to the idea of having a week's worth of cooked meals for their children. The response was overwhelmingly positive, so she cooked about 30 meals for her first 10 customers and put everyone else on a waitlist. A follow-up survey revealed that each customer wanted repeat deliveries the next week, and that's when it dawned on her that this product needed to be a subscription.
Yumble is not a meal-prep kit service. Instead, it provides fully cooked meals, which allows moms to have healthy meals ready in 90 seconds or less. The idea was a solution to Joanna's own struggle, so the resulting product is genuine.
Biggest productivity challenges
Joanna's children are still young, which means she feels the challenge of balancing motherhood and entrepreneurship. She had stayed at home with her two older kids, so she cooked them dinner every night and tucked them into bed, but she doesn't get to do that for her youngest. With a routine set in place, though, she finds that her youngest child knows what to expect and embraces it. Setting up reasonable, reliable expectations for her children has allowed her to feel less guilty about not being present at certain times.
Joanna realizes that the modern-day mother faces the pressure to be a juggler. She recognizes that balls will be dropped, but that's okay since she can pick the dropped balls back up or simply set aside the ones she can't handle that week.
Her biggest challenge has been accepting that it's okay to mess up. In the end, she knows her children will be stronger and more independent and competent because she's not always there. (That being said, it doesn't mean children won't be independent because moms are at home.) What works for one person doesn't necessarily work for another. Everyone should be confident that they are doing the best they can...
As we approach Mother's Day in the U.S. and many other countries, it's a good time to ponder whether/how motherhood and productivity are connected or in conflict.
How does motherhood factor in to a life that matters?
This episode is being published a few days before Mother’s Day in the U.S. and many other countries. Mother’s Day is celebrated annually in many countries (not all on the same day) as a day to honor mothers and mother figures. This got me thinking: how do motherhood and productivity interact? What does it mean to be a productive mother? Or a mother who’s productive?
I have raised five children with my husband. They're all grown, so we're now empty-nesters. But for many years, our lives were consumed with kids in the house. I stayed home with my kids for a number of years, homeschooled for 10 years, and it was a challenging and rewarding stage of life. Thinking back on those years made me ponder what it means to be productive as a mother. Does having children interfere with productivity or does it motivate us to be productive? These are some of the questions I was thinking about as I prepared for this episode.
My first thought: motherhood matters. Raising small humans to be happy, healthy, well adjusted grown humans is a noble and meaningful undertaking. It is worthwhile. Mothers' role in their children's lives is immeasurably important.
I do recognize that not all listeners have children. For those who don’t have children, the subtle (or not so subtle) elevation of motherhood can make us feel “less than.” Motherhood is important, but it’s not a prerequisite to a life that matters.
Whether or not you give birth to children, adopt children, marry into a family of children, or share all or part of your life with children of extended family or friends, any role of care and influence over children (whatever their ages) is a vital role in our society.
On the other hand, knowing the role is valuable and valued doesn’t make it easy. There are high expectations placed on mothers -- those imposed by society and those we impose on ourselves.
“The natural state of motherhood is unselfishness. When you become a mother, you are no longer the center of your own universe. You relinquish that position to your children.”
- Jessica Lange
To a point, I agree with what Ms. Lange says. Yet I cringe when I read this quote because it voices the ideal we all carry around in our minds, that makes us feel bad when we don’t feel unselfish, when we want something for ourselves. We feel like we're less of a mother if we want time alone or an accomplishment separate from our children. I think we need to take quotes such as these with a grain of salt knowing that it's expressing an ideal, and if you don't feel that way all the time, that doesn't mean you're a bad mother.
“A mother is a protector, disciplinarian and friend. A mother is a selfless, loving human who must sacrifice many of their wants and needs for the wants and needs of their children. A mother works hard to make sure their child is equipped with the knowledge, skills and abilities to make it as a competent human being. Being a mother is perhaps the hardest, most rewarding job a woman will ever experience.”
“The Meaning of Being a Mother”
Again, I agree with a large part of this quote, but my first thought reading it was, "No pressure, right?" It's as if everything rides on us as a mom, and most of us feel like we don't measure up most of the time. What if you don’t feel like this all the time? Does that mean you're not being a good mother?
When evening (or other "off work" time) comes, do you use it well or let it fritter away?
What do you do with your evening time?
This week's topic was inspired by a conversation in a recent mastermind meeting about using our evenings well. We talked about the feeling of coming home from work, having no plan for the evening and frittering it away, accomplishing nothing of value, and going to bed thinking, "Well, that evening's lost."
What does it mean to waste time? How do you define whether your time was wasted or used well?
I looked up the definition of waste online and it said, “causing someone to spend time doing something that is unnecessary or does not produce any benefit.”
Laura Vanderkam, author of Off the Clock and our guest on TPW217, offered this definition in an article a few years ago:
“Time is wasted when it’s neither enjoyed, nor spent in pursuit of some larger life goal.”
“How to Figure Out What Is Really a Waste of Time (Laura Vanderkam)”
How do we decide if time is wasted? That's never somebody else's call. It's not determined by what you did or didn't do. The question is whether you are satisfied with the results you're getting.
No one should spend every minute working.
In the United States, where I'm based, most workers don't use up the vacation time they're entitled to. Americans tend to work too much. When we're talking about the best way to make use of our evenings (or any other non-work time), it's important to keep in mind that working all the time is not healthy, helpful, or productive
“Humans are only wired to be focused on a specific task for an hour or two at a stretch before the mind gets fatigued and can't absorb new information, so mental rest is crucial. There are different types of brain waves: beta waves are present when the mind is alert and focused on a task and alpha waves when the mind is relaxed, free to wander or daydream. In that important alpha state the brain is processing all the info it's recently taken in, learning from it, storing away memories to make room for more information, and making new connections that spark creative ideas.”
“Is Watching TV Actually a Good Way to Rest Your Brain”
There’s nothing wrong with the occasional evening spent on the couch with popcorn and Netflix
“Watching TV and surfing the web are often low-value activities, but they’re not automatically wasted time. These things sometimes bring pleasure, and pleasure is a good in its own right.”
“How to Figure Out What Is Really a Waste of Time (Laura Vanderkam)”
But the effect of these kinds of activities is the subject of studie...
I hope you're as inspired as I was by my conversation with humanitarian aid & community development consultant (and wife and mom) Jennifer Choi, who shares lessons she's learned about (and from) making a multi-faceted, multicultural life that matters.
Living a multi-faceted and multicultural life
Jennifer (Eunchim) Choi is a humanitarian aid and development sector consultant of Korean descent, wife to Saula, and mom to three kids under 10. Raising 3rd-culture kids (meaning they don't belong to or identify with one particular culture) is a lot of fun and challenging at the same time. Jennifer met her Tongan husband while they were both working in East Timor.
Jennifer's family is also a church family. She is a pastor's wife as well as a ministry leader herself, and she likes to say she's in the people business, as a lot of the work she does involves mentoring, counseling, encouraging, hosting, and entertaining people.
In terms of her professional life, Jennifer is the founder, owner, and co-director of The Mangrove Collective, an international humanitarian and development consulting firm she started in 2018 with a few of her ex-colleagues who all have experience working for not-for-profit organizations or organizations in the international development or aid sector. Many of them are working moms who worked full-time. Though they loved their jobs helping people and countries that lacked resources and levels of support, they realized it was hard to feel fulfilled in their family lives after committing full-time hours, passion, energy, and commitment into this intense field of work. So they decided to band together and launch this consultancy together about a year ago.
There are currently 9 consultants within the Collective who take on shorter-term work contracts and assignments from the same types of organizations they used to work for. Many are working moms with children's ages ranging from newborn to teenage. Jennifer enjoys working with other working moms because it brings a new dynamic and perspective into the work that they do.
A typical day
Jennifer's family just made an international move from New Zealand to Singapore, so they are still in the process of settling down and re-establishing a routine.
Typically, Jennifer gets up around 6:30-7am and gets the children ready for school. By the time everyone has had breakfast and been sent to school, it's about 8 am, at which point she starts work. Her youngest is in Kindergarten and his classes are over at 11 am, so she gets about a three-hour window to spend on work.
It takes about an hour to pick him up, settle him in back at home, and feed him lunch. Then she spends another two and a half to three hours on work, then picks up her two older girls from primary school around 3:30 pm.
Once everyone is home, she spends time helping them with homework, playing with them, cooking and eating dinner and generally relaxing until the kids' bedtime at 8 pm.
Once the kids are in bed, or at least in their bedrooms, she spends time catching up with her husband, surfing social media, checking email, and organizing for the next day. Her day usually comes to an end around 10 pm, but from time to time the nature of her work requires her to stay up until 2 am putting in more hours or even to pull all-nighters to meet deadlines.
When they lived in New Zealand, her son stayed in school all day, so she had an uninterrupted stretch of time to focus on work, but since moving to Singapore, she's had to adjust her work schedule into two separate blocks of time.
Being a minister's family, their weekends are packed with activity, so Monday is their day of rest (but the kids still have to go to school).
Can I encourage you to believe there's nothing wrong with you if you struggle sometimes to make it all work the way you think it should?
Even when things go wrong, there's still nothing wrong with you
This episode was inspired by (too) many conversations over the years with women who’re trying to “fix” themselves, who feel like they’re doing life “wrong” while others have it all figured out. I confess I've felt that way myself and still do sometimes. But what I want to tell these women and myself is:
"There is nothing wrong with you"
The problem: prevalent feelings of inadequacy and failure
Annabelle, a member of the TPW Community Facebook group recently shared an article titled “Mothers are Drowning in Stress.” In the article, a sociologist is quoted as saying,
“I want American mothers to stop thinking that somehow their conflict is their own fault, and that if they tried a little harder, got a new schedule, woke up a little earlier every morning, using the right planner or the right app, that they could somehow figure out the key to managing their stress. That’s just not the case.”
Though the article is aimed at American women, this epidemic of stress is certainly not limited to only American women. The article talks about how women blame themselves for feeling this way.
We feel we can’t keep up.
We feel frazzled and overwhelmed.
We feel that we don’t accomplish goals.
Other women seem to be doing it all (or at least doing more than I am).
We think, "What's wrong with me that I can't do what she did?" Sometimes we realize we have so much, and yet we feel sad, unfulfilled or anxious, and we feel guilty for those feelings.
These thoughts contribute to feelings of isolation because we feel like we’re the only one struggling with these thoughts. Everyone else seems to have it together in ways we don't.
One manifestation of this is Impostor Syndrome, which we talked about in Episode 63.
One article notes that “over 70% of people report experiencing Impostor Syndrome at some point in their career.” Imposter Syndrome is something lots of people, particularly women, struggle with. Ironically, research indicates that highly-accomplished women are likely to suffer from imposter syndrome.
I've had those feelings too, and I catch myself thinking that way when things aren't as together at home or I feel like I should do a better job of managing it all.
When I feel overwhelmed or feel like I’m not getting things done well, or can’t get myself to do something I want or need to do, I feel like a failure and a fraud. People assume I know something about productivity since I host a podcast on the topic.
What I do know has been learned from years of trying to figure these things out for myself. And yet, I still ask myself what is wrong with me and why I am not doing better.
What I recognize, though, is we all have areas where we do better and areas where we struggle, and that doesn't mean something is wrong with us.
The sources of struggle
These struggles we have come from various sources. Most of them are from personal expectations that were communicated to us in our upbringing from our family of origin, such as things we ought to be doing or things we should be capable of doing,
My list of essential productivity tools might contain a surprise or two.
What are your essential productivity tools?
When you Google “productivity tools,” most of what comes up are lists of apps. I love apps, and use them all the time. But there’s more to being productive than choosing apps. So I thought I'd share 6 tools - 3 “practical” tools and 3 “general” tools - that I think are essential to being productive in the sense of getting the things done that matter most to you, but also living a life that matters.
Why it’s essential
* It helps you avoid missed appointments, meetings, and commitments that are important to you.
* It adds to your awareness. To make the best use of your time, you need to know when and how it’s committed. A well-used calendar gives you a visual of that AND a record of how you’ve spent your time.
How to make it work for you
* ALWAYS use it. Every day and/or time-specific appointment goes on your calendar; don’t try to keep any of it in your head.
* For actions you decide to take on important goals, schedule an appointment with yourself to do it at a specific day and time. Then keep that appointment! You need to honor the promises you make to yourself just as you would honor a promise made to somebody else you respect.
* Record relevant information in the calendar entry: address, who you’re meeting with (and their phone number), and other specifics. For example, input “phone conference with X to discuss Y” rather than just “phone conference.” If it’s a phone conference, include dial-in info or who’s going to call whom and at which number.
For business calls, if we’re discussing a particular document, I attach a copy of it to the digital calendar entry so it’s right there when I’m ready to make the call.
* If you use a digital calendar, set alarms/alerts ahead of time for your appointments. Most digital calendars allow you to set default alert times for various kinds of appointments. My defaults are 15 minutes for most appointments, a couple of days for all-day activities, a week for important events like birthdays & anniversaries. (Allow time to prepare!)
* Color code your entries. If you want to see how you’re allocating your time among your various priorities, assign a color to each and use that for your entries. This is easy to do with paper calendars as well if you use colored pens/pencils or highlighters. At a glance, you can see if you’ve filled your calendar with work commitments and made no time for family or friends or personal projects or self-care.
* Leave white space between entries to give yourself time to breathe, think, and prepare.
* Consider shared calendars with your assistant or spouse, etc. It can be helpful when you need to involve other people or consider their schedules when making commitments.
* Paper - Wall calendars work best if you spend most of your time at a primary location. A pocket/purse-sized calendars is good if you’re mobile, so you can always pull it out when needed. There are lots of options for paper planners that include a calendar with different views such as monthly or weekly or day at a glance.
* Digital - There are TONS of options such as Google Calendar, iCal, and Outlook. There are also many 3rd party apps such as Fantastical and BusyCal (both Apple only). These are easy to share, easy to color-coordinate, easy to see if you’re over-filling your days, easy to set alerts, easy to create recurring events,
Consuming content - learning new things - is valuable, but to achieve our goals and make a life that matters, we have to do something with what we learn.
Balancing consumption with creation and contribution
I love learning new things. I've always been one to spend a lot of time reading, watching, listening to resources that provide new information.
But I’m also aware that the pursuit of new knowledge and information can be a procrastination technique (conscious or not) to avoid taking action that feels overwhelming or scary to me.
I know I’m not alone in this. I’ve had conversations with others who do the same, and I’ve seen discussions of this in The Productive Woman Facebook community, so I thought it was time to talk about this topic.
Consuming information is important. We always should be learning and growing, and there's so much great information out there, but it also needs to be balanced by creation and contribution.
What do I mean by consumption?
I'm talking about reading, watching, listening, attending . . . in other words, taking in information and ideas. Consumption of information and content is valuable and important because it helps us learn and grow, improve our skills, and expand our viewpoint and perspective.
There are lots of resources from which we can consume information, ideas, and direction for things we want to learn about or get better at, including books, journals, blogs, YouTube videos, conferences, podcasts, coaching, and webinars.
As important as it is, we must consume wisely and not allow it to take the place of more important things.
One risk of consuming information in the 21st century is we may always be consuming, but never doing anything with it. There is so much good information out there that we could spend all our time taking in that information. But if we don't do anything with it, we run the risk of fooling ourselves into thinking we’re making progress toward our goals because we’re always studying, researching, gathering information. Remember that consuming information is not accomplishing the goal itself, but rather getting ready to accomplish the goal.
Another risk of consumption is that we can succumb to unthinking consumption to fill a void in our life and avoid thinking about what’s driving the restless need to consume. If we are spending most of our time taking in information, we might only be consuming all day every day filling up the space around us with noise. Even the best types of information that inspires and motivates us, and gives us lots of ideas, isn't a substitute for taking action.
I don't mean to trivialize the value of these resources. They all have their place, and they all provide something for us. But why are we filling up that void? Why do we feel that drive to get more information and allow consumption to become a default for us? Why do we spend time consuming rather than taking action that would make us more productive?
“Marketers do a great job convincing us we need more: they establish a void so we will try to fill it. This is no secret; in fact, we take it for granted now: amongst the bombardment, we realize what advertisers are doing, yet we still give them carte blanche with our attention—we let them into our homes, onto our screens, and into our personal lives via Facebook and other outlets—and when we do, the void grows deeper.
For most of us, however, the void has nothing to do with a need to consume more; in fact, the opposite is true: when we consume too much, we experience stress, anxiety, and depression, effectively deepening the void. Our possessions possess us. They weigh us down mentally, physically,
Decluttering is a hot topic in many circles. For some, the logical outcome of decluttering is minimalism. But who we are matters more than what (or how much) we own. Finding a balance between clutter and convenience can contribute to a productive life.
Clutter, minimalism, and something in between
The recent launch of a Netflix series featuring Marie Kondo, author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, has triggered a lot of interest in decluttering. It's also made this a great time to visit thrift shops if you're looking for some finds, as lots of people are getting rid of things as a result of this craze.
Observing this trend has gotten me thinking about the value of decluttering and minimalism. I'm an advocate for reducing the amount of stuff we own, but how much decluttering is too much? Is there such a thing as getting too minimal?
What is Clutter?
“When I ask clients what they long for, the most common responses are “peace,” “space” and “freedom.” Clutter keeps us from achieving these goals, and we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars buying larger homes. Empty space is more valuable—psychologically and physically—than almost any object.”
from “The Best Decluttering Advice We’ve Heard”
The physical impact of clutter
Studies show clutter can contribute to lower feelings of well-being, unhealthy eating, poorer mental health, and less efficient thinking (from “5 Reasons to Clear the Clutter Out of Your Life”).
Stress hormones spike when dealing with clutter. “Similar to what multitasking does to your brain, physical clutter overloads your senses, making you feel stressed, and impairs your ability to think creatively.” (from “How Clutter Affects Your Brain” )
The infographic on “12 Surprising Ways Clutter is Ruining Your Life” shows ways clutter decreases both our productivity and our quality of life
We’ve discussed this in past episodes, such as:
* TPW163 - Clutter, Stress, & Simplicity
* TPW014 - Conquering Clutter
* TPW016 - Conquering Clutter, Step by Step
* TPW083 - The Art of Decluttering: an International Conversation with Priscille Livenais of France and Julie Sheranosher (now Julie Bareket) of Israel
Clutter is personal
Clutter isn't measured by the number of items you own.
Christiane Kenny and her family have made several international moves in the past few years. She shares her thoughts on making a home, and being productive, across borders.
Making a life across borders
Christiane Kenny is a Chartered Company Secretary working for a corporate services company affiliated with a law firm that provides services to Bermuda companies in the insurance and reinsurance space. She is originally from Canada but currently lives in England with her husband, daughter, and pets. They are planning to relocate to Bermuda soon for her husband's career.
A typical day
On a typical weekday, Christiane is up by 6:30 am. She spends the morning getting herself organized; she gets dressed, makes herself a cup of coffee, does a few things around the house, and reviews her plan for the day.
Around 7 or 7:30, she wakes up her daughter and makes her breakfast and gets her daughter to finish up any homework or violin practice that didn't get done the night before.
Around 8:30, she drops her daughter off at school. After that, she'll either go for a run with a friend, walk the dog, or go to the gym if she didn't go for a run, or work out at home. After her workout, she takes a quick shower, sits down with her coffee and breakfast, and gets down to work for the day.
Her job entails overseeing a team of 10 based in Bermuda and working directly with clients as well. She emails with her team, reviews the work her team had done, is on many board meeting calls, prepares minutes of the meetings, and has strategic management discussions. Because of the time difference between England and Bermuda, her mornings are quiet, but she can get very busy in the afternoon.
With her upcoming move, she's cut her work back to part-time. She got a lot of her work done ahead of time so she can focus on moving preparation such as school paperwork for her daughter, preparing all the necessary requirements to move her pets overseas, getting movers quotes, and tying up all her living arrangements such as utilities. Preparing to move internationally is almost a fulltime job in and of itself.
Around 4:30 in the afternoon, she picks her daughter up from school, supports her daughter to do her homework, practice music, go to swim practice, and they are back home by 8 pm. Once her daughter is in bed, she'll spend some time with her husband, and if she's had a particularly rough day, she'll stay up a little later to watch a tv show. Usually she'll drink some herbal tea and be in bed by 11 pm.
On weekends, she is still up early to take her daughter to swim practice, and she runs with a friend one day and goes on a walk with her husband and dog to grab coffee on the other.
Tools Christiane uses to manage a team from overseas
To manage a team from another country, Christiane uses Zapzap Chat messenger app, Skype, Zoom, and email. Her firm is on a Citrix server, so her laptop looks exactly the same as her desktop computer in the office. When she visited the Bermuda office, she maximized her time there, almost like time-blocking, bonding with her team members by going to lunch or having coffee so she could still have that relationship with them when she was back in the UK or Toronto.
Biggest productivity challenges
The biggest productivity challenge for Christiane was allowing her work to take over her life. She felt personally invested in the company as she had pretty much grown it from the time it was set up, and it felt good to her to do anything for her clients at any time.
But once she became a mom, and once she started working remotely,
How do decide what matters most, so we can make a life that matters?
What matters most?
We talk a lot on this show about making a life that matters, and about accomplishing what matters. In fact, just last week, we talked about making a life that matters as you define it and some of the things that get in the way of doing that. We talk about how intentional living is necessary in order to make a life that matters--living on purpose, choosing intentionally how we spend our time, energy, and attention. These are all important parts of what this podcast is all about.
Over the years, I've often gotten questions about how to figure out what matters most, when there are so many options and commitments available to us. The question is often asked as if the answer is “out there” somewhere, when in fact I believe the answer is within us. I thought it was worth talking about what that means and how we figure it out so we can apply it to our lives and actually create a meaningfully productive life.
Can we really rank our priorities?
Often, we want to come up with a list of what matters most that applies to life in general, with priorities or roles ranked in order of importance, that will guide all our decisions going forward. However, this is something I've always questioned. For me, it doesn't make a lot of sense.
Can we truly rank our faith, self-care, husband, children, jobs, or other important factors in our lives? The idea that we can create a list of priorities to govern our lives may not be realistic or practical. What I don't like about it is that it puts important things in competition with each other. Is our husband more important or our children? Is our job more important or is it our family? I really struggle with the idea of what it means to create a list of "priorities" and rank them in order, deciding which one is most important, which one is second, and so on.
What does it mean to put these things in order of rank? That we spend most of our time on the thing that matters most--or that we should be doing so? Self-care is important, and maintaining a strong marriage is important, but at certain stages of our life our young children require more of our time, energy, and attention. Does that mean that our kids are more important than our health or our marriage?
Work requires a certain number of hours a week, so most of us spend more time at work than with our families. Does that mean work is more important? Or if family is more important, does that mean we must adjust our time so we spend more time with them than at work? Again, for most of us, this isn't practically achievable. So is time spent the measure of what matters?
The challenge is there when the way we spend our days, time, energy, and attention doesn't match up with the rank order of our lists and we end up feeling like we've done something wrong.
Furthermore, priority is and has always been a singular word. In the article “Priority vs. Priorities”, the writer explains that the concept of having multiple priorities has only been around for the last 100 years.
For me, there are two components to figuring out what matters: the first is to find out what matters, and then to figure out what matters most. But I'm not sure that we can pick one thing that matters most overall that will always apply in the sense of governing how we use our time.
I think the concept of priority of asking what is the most important thing is useful in a very limited, specific area.
What is the priority at this moment?
In any given moment we can only do one thing. To give our best, to be our best, in any given moment, we can really only do one thing. So the question of figuring out what matters,
You know I like researching and trying new productivity tools and systems, but they're just tools. They're a means to an end, not the end itself. The end we're going for is a life that matters, as each of us defines it for herself. And no matter how popular a tool or system is, it's only worth using if it makes your life better.
How do you make a life that matters?
This episode was inspired by recent conversations in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group about various productivity tools and systems and whether and how they might work for one person or another. I thought it was important to talk about this issue: whether and how and why to make changes to our lives to adopt an approach or perspective that’s raved about by others.
One of those conversations was about Greg McKeown's book Essentialism--one of my favorite productivity-related books of the past few years. Lucy commented that though she had read the book multiple times, she found it incredibly difficult to implement. My response to her was:
I think each of us has to decide for herself what she wants her life to look like. Although I see a lot of value in what McKeown says in this book, the bottom line is if you like how your life is working, then there's no reason you have to change it to conform to what McKeown (or anybody else) teaches! Making a change based on a book (or podcast or webinar or any other teaching) is a good idea only if the change addresses and improves something you're not content with in your life.
Another conversation with Ruth reminded me once again that we need to decide for ourselves what to do, how, and why. Ruth commented on a group discussion about my conversation with Natalie Eckdahl (Episode 225 - Mindset Management) and said she is going a different path from Natalie's methods of childcare and household chores because she has different values and is creating a different life for her family. What a perfect reminder that there is no one-size-fits-all solution!
Does it work for you?
There are countless good resources out there, but no matter how good they are, what matters is whether YOU want to incorporate the concepts or principles into your life. If your life works for you, it doesn’t matter what anybody else does or what any expert says.
Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and her new Netflix reality show have made decluttering a big thing recently. There are lots of benefits to decluttering, but you don’t have to get rid of a thing if you don’t want to. If you are happy with your space, that’s what matters.
Essentialism by Greg McKeown and
Jane Andersson recommends the Swedish concept of lagom (just enough) as a key to making a meaningfully productive life.
A meaningful life with just enough of what matters
Jane Andersson is a journalist at Swedish Television, Sweden’s largest television network. She is also a wife and a mom to two daughters. She enjoys reading, traveling, and planning.
A typical day
Jane works with local news, so she gets up very early in the morning--as early as 3:15 am. She jumps into the shower, gets dressed, makes herself a few sandwiches, and goes to work around 4 am. At 4:30 she starts work, which is to create four editions of local news for a large part of southern Sweden. She has some stories pre-made, but others she has to do on her own. She reads all the other news outlets, select stories from her area, selects clips from their archive, edits, records, and broadcasts the show.
Jane works on the first versions between 4:30-7 am, makes updates to the news between 7 and 9 am, and then works on other tasks such as responding to emails and supervising interns and new staffers between 9 and 11 am. Her workday ends at 11 am, which is the upside of getting to work at 4 am.
After work, she runs errands, has lunch with friends from time to time, goes to the gym, and then goes home to sleep for a couple of hours. In the evening, she spends time with her husband and reads a lot.
She’s an early bird so you'd think she would go to sleep early, but that isn't the case. Surprisingly, she gets into bed around 11 pm and reads for about an hour before actually going to sleep around midnight. Then her day starts all over again around 3:15 am. You can say she divides her sleep into two chunks, and it works for her.
When she wakes up from her afternoon sleep, she feels refreshed and she can do a lot of things, even hang out with friends or go to the movies. With her schedule, she feels she's able to have more quality time than with a schedule that requires her to work during the daytime. Every fourth week or so, she has to work both days of the weekend as well. But when she doesn’t have to work on weekends, she gets a lot more sleep.
Biggest Productivity Challenges
Jane’s biggest productivity challenge at work is that it's virtually impossible to plan because the news determines everything. All those great productivity advice that you shouldn’t multitask, or that you should check your email only twice a day doesn’t work for her. Sometimes, she feels like she’s doing everything all at the same time. She advises that journalism isn’t for the type of person who likes knowing what she has to do in advance.
When I asked Jane how she does manage to work with unforeseen events that call for her attention at work, she responded that that’s a hard question. When she goes into work in the morning, she is well aware of what she needs to do, but she doesn’t know how she will do it or what the content will be. Having been a journalist for three decades, so she’s learned to just go with it.
When she uses her planner, she uses it to make her "real life" outside of work go more smoothly. She says that work is a big part of our lives, but it is not everything. There are a lot of logistics outside of work that you have to take care of, and she likes to plan for those parts. We agreed that having a plan and order in our lives makes it easier to go with the flow.
At home, Jane’s biggest challenge is clutter. She and her husband have been living in the same house since 1989, so they have accumulated a lot of stuff, but they have agreed to spend this year decluttering.
Nowadays she doesn't have a hard time saying no, but she did when she was younger. Like a lot of us, she wanted to show that she was good enough and that she could achieve things,
In this latest episode of our recurring Productive Reading series, I share my key takeaways from James Clear's outstanding book, Atomic Habits.
Productive reading about how small habits can make a huge difference in our productivity
In this episode we’re continuing our recurring “Productive Reading” series, this time talking about lessons I’ve learned from James Clear’s new book, Atomic Habits. In past Productive Reading episodes, we talked about Gary Keller’s The ONE Thing (episode 133), The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg (episode 147), 3 books written by Brené Brown in episode 166, Soulful Simplicity, by Courtney Carver, in episode 182, and The Free-Time Formula, by Jeff Sanders, in episode 211.
Who is James Clear?
According to the book's cover copy, "James Clear is an author and speaker focused on habits, decision-making, and continuous improvement. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Time, and Entrepreneur, and on CBS This Morning. He is a regular speaker at Fortune 500 companies and his work is used by teams in the NFL, NBA, and MLB.”
You can learn more about Clear and his work on his website at jamesclear.com. Atomic Habits is Clear’s first book.
What is this book about?
The book's subtitle, “An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones,” caught my attention. Atomic Habits is about how very small actions, taken consistently over time, will “compound into remarkable results.” Clear defines a habit as “a routine or behavior that is performed regularly and, in many cases, automatically.”
The book's framework is Clear's “4 Laws of Behavior Change.” If you want to develop a new habit or create a new behavior and turn it into a habit that serves you, Clear says you start by doing these things:
* Make it obvious: For example, lay out your gym clothes the night before if you want to develop a habit of working out in the morning.
* Make it attractive
We might not be able to stop bad days from coming, but there are things we can do to make a bad day better.
We can take action to make a bad day better
No matter how positive we are or how productive we are, everybody has a bad day sometimes. Recently I had one of those days, which got me thinking about what we can do to turn a bad day into a better day. In this episode, I share ideas and resources I researched as well as some wonderful ideas the women of the TPW Facebook group shared with me.
What makes a day bad?
I want to be clear that I'm not talking here about a true crisis such as a death in the family, major illness, natural disaster, 0r job loss. Although many of the ideas we’ll discuss will help in a situation like that, these are more complicated than what I talk about in this episode.
A bad day, as we discuss in this episode, might be a physically bad day--perhaps you don't feel well, or you are sore or exhausted--or an emotionally bad day--perhaps you feel sad or down (whether or not because of some event or situation you can identify), or feel shame because of something you did (or think you did), or you may be annoyed or crabby.
How to make the day better
If the bad day is a result of a mistake we've made or a problem we've caused, we can often make the day better by finding a solution to set things right (rather than just dwelling on our mistake) and creating a system to prevent mistakes from happening again.
Sometimes we need to simply push through. We can’t always just check out when the day is bad since children still need to be cared for, our job still needs to be done.
Often what's needed to make the day better is to change our mindset. As a starting point, we can remember to focus on the things we can control:
* Our attitude
* Our thoughts
* Our behavior
* Our reactions
* Our words
Several members of the TPW community find it helps to take action - do something good for yourself, something productive, or something nice for someone else to shift your focus off yourself. (Natalie Eckdahl, in episode 225, mentioned this as something she does when she’s having "one of those days.")
Consider getting outside. Even if it’s cold, bundle up and go for a walk. The writer of 11 Scientific Benefits of Being Outdoors explains the benefits of being outdoors, which include an energy boost, the effects of natural sunlight in mitigating pain or alleviating Seasonal Affective Disorder, the free aromatherapy of nature's scents, restoration of focus, and more.
Taking time for self-care, both physical and mental, can vastly improve a bad day.
* Pamper yourself - Take a bath or shower, read a light book, sleep, cuddle with your pet, drink a glass of wine.
* Sleep - When we're not rested, everything is harder to cope with. Many of the bad days we have are at least partly because we don't get enough sleep.
A key to improving a bad day is managing our own thoughts. I get a lot of help in this area by listening to Brooke Castillo’s The Life Coach School Podcast. Her recent episodes on modern mental health (
Karina Hayat shares how she makes time for making a difference through focusing on her professional and personal priorities.
Making a difference at work and in the world
Karina Hayat is based in Vancouver, BC, where she is the president of a healthcare firm and a philanthropist dedicated to important causes and organizations such as 100 Meals a Week, and SHeAccelerates, a mentoring initiative focused on aspiring and early female entrepreneurs. She’s also a wife and a mom of 3.
Karina met her husband when they were kids. They started a business together in college. They initially started out as an e-commerce platform for natural products which evolved into a health media firm that caters to pharmacies and medical equipment providers across North America. Their goal is to help those with chronic conditions by connecting them to health care services at the point of need, thereby reducing the time it takes to get access to medication or healthcare services.
Karina and her husband are committed to the pursuit of purpose, so they do everything with the intention of helping someone else and leave a positive mark in another's life, whether that's through business or personal relationships.
Running a business with her husband
Karina says working with her husband works for three reasons:
* They are best friends. They have a pact of honesty in their relationship and in their business that states each person will let the other know if one is not carrying their weight. This has worked for them well because they are able to give each other constructive criticism, and they make sure to act upon these observations.
* They have a very strict boundary between work and home. It is a huge rule in the Hayat household to separate time in the office and in the home and to be present when they are with the kids. This doesn't happen all the time, but their children will act as referees and tell them when they start to talk about work-related topics.
* They work off of each other's strengths. Karina's strengths are in the written and verbal parts of the business and her husband's strength is strategy, so they collaborate with one another. When neither has a strength in a certain aspect, that's where they will hire it out.
Outside of work, Karina and her husband are passionate about supporting certain causes and initiatives, such as the 100 meals a Week program. In 2006, they were invited to come out to one of the local malls during Ramadan to distribute food in Skid Row, and they saw how impactful it was. When they asked how often this event took place, they were told once a year. Knowing that people are hungry every day, she and her husband decided to do it every weekend and committed to doing this for their entire lifetime. In the winter months, they also drive around looking for people who are in need and distribute blankets and clothing. The two of them started this initiative, but they also invited family members and staff to participate. They also bring their kids along often so they can see the impact this effort has on other people.
Starting in early 2018, Karina was able to block off Fridays to be dedicated to volunteer activities. She uses that time to prepare for 100 Meals a Week and other volunteer efforts, including a mentoring initiative called SHeAccelerates. Through SHeAccelerates, Karina helps women who are new or aspiring entrepreneurs by coaching and mentoring them. Karina takes on about two mentees on a yearly basis. It can be a meeting over a cup of coffee, a request to look over their business plan, or even an inquiry to invest in their business. It was done informally until recently, but for the past few months she's been collaborating with another woman ...
Are you making progress on your goals for this year, or has progress slowed because you're not consistently taking action? This episode offers ideas on how to reignite your fading motivation so you can keep moving forward to accomplish what matters most to you. Find more at TheProductiveWoman.com/227
Entrepreneur, business coach, and author Natalie Eckdahl talks about the importance of managing our mindset, and shares how the support of an intentionally assembled team helps her accomplish what matters most to her.
Find more at TheProductiveWoman.com/225.
Last week we talked about resolutions and goals--things we plan to start doing this year. This week, let's consider some things to stop doing (and what to do instead). (Find more at TheProductiveWoman.com/224.
As the new year begins, are you making resolutions, setting goals, or both? What's the difference, and how can they work together to create the results you want? Find more at TheProductiveWoman.com/223.
What matters most to you, and how will you make room for it in your life in the coming year? In this last episode of the year, I share some thoughts I'm pondering as the year ends and a new one begins. Find more at TheProductiveWoman.com/222.
When our days are full, it’s easy to get lost in the day-to-day, just trying to get through the days with minimal drama. The hazard is that we end up always playing catch up, being reactive instead of proactive. A little bit of forethought and planning can make a huge difference. How do we make time to make it happen?
Some of us (raising my hand) tend to focus so much on the future that we forget to be present today. On the other hand, it's easy to get so wrapped up in our day-to-day commitments that we forget to step back and look at the long-term big picture. A challenge for many of us is to plan sufficiently for the future without letting worries for the future cloud our present.
"Time keeps passing whether or not you think about where it's going." In our conversation, Laura Vanderkam, author of Off the Clock & other books about productivity and time management, encourages us to be intentional about how we use our time.
Is your to-do list getting the better of you? Let's review some task management basics that will help you get your list under control and make real progress on the projects that matter most to you. Find more at TheProductiveWoman.com/215.
"If you’re having a hard time getting things done because you're anxious and totally depleting yourself, maybe it's time for you to spend some time on yourself in quiet." Katie Krimitsos returns to The Productive Woman to share lessons learned about the value of silence and solitude in making a life that matters.
Why is the Productive Reading series a part of The Productive Woman podcast? Because reading can contribute in a big way to making a life that matters. This week we look at why reading is important, and how we can make time to read.
Wish you had more free time? Get some practical ideas and wise advice from Jeff Sanders in his newest book, The Free-Time Formula. This is the next installment in our recurring Productive Reading series.
"Wealth is about more than money." This week's episode features my conversation with "America's Money Maven," Patrice Washington, about living intentionally, creating a better mindset about money, and making a life that matters.
At TPW we define a productive woman as one who orders her life in such a way as to maximize her positive impact in the world. How does that play out in everyday life? What can we do to expand our influence and make a positive difference in the world around us?
Wife, mom, entrepreneur, and U.S. Naval Academy graduate Tauria Catlin shares how the challenges she's overcome in the past give her the courage to face today's challenges and make a life that matters to her.
In both the northern and southern hemispheres, a change in seasons is upon us. Whether moving from summer to fall, or winter to summer, what are some steps we can take to prepare to make the change of seasons go more smoothly?
When our children grow up and leave our nest, the transition can be hard. How can we make launching our kids a positive experience for them--and us? Episode 202 of The Productive Woman podcast offers suggestions from the TPW community.
Curious about podcasting? About how I manage a legal career & 5 kids? About productivity tools I recommend and techniques I use? I invited listeners to ask me anything. My answers in this milestone episode 200 of The Productive Woman podcast.
Juggling two very different careers requires careful balancing and self awareness. Professional organizer and singer Kay Patterson (known on social media as The Organized Soprano) shares how she does it--and has a lot of fun along the way.
Tracking and measuring personal metrics as a tool for self-improvement has benefits for individuals and groups, but those of us interested in the quantified self should be aware of potential risks as well so we can use these tools wisely.
Engineer and leadership consultant Coryne Forest shares tips on how she manages multiple roles and multiple passions--a fulltime day job, a business helping women excel in STEM careers, her family, and self-care.
Broadcaster and CFO Natali Morris is intentional about creating a life that matters through financial freedom, and she shares with us how she and her husband worked to make that a reality for their family by bringing her business skills home.
I’ve been inundated with email lately from the various areas of my life, including my law practice, The Productive Woman podcast, and personal stuff. I like email because I use it as a mechanism to communicate and I especially love getting emails from listeners, but I have lots of other stuff coming in as well and it gets hard to stay on top of it. So I thought I’d do a little research to find out ways to get a handle on it and share my findings with you.
Jodi Womack is making a life that matters, as she defines it, using discernment, self-care, and tools she's developed in her practice as an executive coach. She shares some of them with us in this episode.
Courtney Carver's newest book, Soulful Simplicity, makes a compelling case--and offers practical tips--for clearing the clutter out of our schedules, our homes, and our minds to make space for a meaningfully productive life.
Lawyer and yogi Tyree Ayers is constantly balancing the demands of her law career and passion for living a healthy and fulfilling life and encouraging others to do the same. She shares how she makes time to pursue both her vocational and avocational passions.
We humans are relational creatures, and relationships have an impact on our productivity (and vice versa). The Productive Woman community has some ideas on how we can make time to nurture the relationships--professional & personal--that mean the most to us.
Delegation is a key productivity tool. So why don't we do it more? In response to a listener question, we take a look at how delegation can help us to be more productive, and how we can improve our delegation skills.
It's easy to fall into the traps of self-criticism and negativity when your productivity isn't where you want it to be, whether the cause is self-inflicted or out of your control. Author and speaker Liz Curtis Higgs shares how she overcomes these challenges with grace.
As we kick off the new year, we can all learn some lessons on financial empowerment and productivity from financial advisor and podcaster Hilary Hendershott, who shares how she manages her time and a busy life that includes leading a financial advisory firm, hosting a podcast, and enjoying her family.