Archive for category Productivity

Transitions Drag Me Down

Transition creates a huge drag on my ability to be productive.

New staff members have to be hired and trained. People have to pick up work done by former staff members while the new person is coming on board.

I know about this concrete drag. But there is also an emotional drag as well.

I have to process my sadness that good people are leaving. I have to grieve and bury the dreams I had shared with people who are leaving, as those dreams were built around the particular talents and skills of people who will no longer be central to the organization.

I have to process my frustration about picking up extra work. I have to process my overwhelm at having extra work to do, and less help to do it.

I need to make space for building trust and camaraderie with new staff people. We need time to dream our new dreams, laugh at our new inside jokes. We need to explore and find the magical sweet spot that speaks to our common interests and our particular mix of skills, that sweet spot that will make our work not just good but amazing.

All this work doesn’t just take time. It also requires a measure of emotional labor.

I have had a practice of excluding emotional labor from my regular work day. If I’ve had a hard day, I talk with a friend over dinner or call someone who I know will have a good insight. I don’t count this as work hours, even if I spend an hour talking about work.

When I only have the occasional hard day, this works okay. My friends don’t get tired of hearing about my job; they usually have their own stories that we process. There’s a mutuality that works.

But when many days are hard, for weeks and months on end, the emotional labor starts to take a toll on both me and my social circles. The hours of unpaid labor add up. I start to resent my job. My friends start to ask pointed questions about whether my job is bad for my health.

How do we build emotional labor in to the work day, particularly in times of transition when we know it’s absolutely necessary? How does the offloading of emotional labor to our support circles contribute to an unsustainable work place? Does keeping all the emotional processing within the workplace actually work? Or does it just turn into a social worker mess of over processing?

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What To Do Next? The Magic of Random

I am constantly seeking new ways to manage my to do list. It can regularly throw me into a panic.

Even when I write down all the things, there are so many. Should I work first on a blog post? Or something for work? Or maybe call a friend I haven’t talked to in ages? Ugh, I can’t even see the top of my desk – maybe I should clean that off first. Crap, I also need to clean the bathroom!

It doesn’t take long for me to start spinning. Which means I’m getting exactly nothing done.

Not Sure What’s Next? Pick at Random

It seems so obvious in retrospect.* If I can’t find a good reason for choosing the next right thing, and if it’s not intuitively clear, the best option is to do something. Anything. And trust that even if it isn’t exactly the right next thing to work on, I’ve at least done one thing instead of getting stuck in an endless loop of stuck. Plus it’s likely that working on one thing actually helps me work on all the other things too.

How To Randomize a To Do List

Step 1: Write down all the things I have to do. Only include ones I can actually do right now.

Step 2: Label each item with a number, starting with 1.

Step 3: Use a random number generator to pick one of things.

Step 4: Do it.

Repeat as long as I want. Building in some breaks is advised.

Watch the Magic Happen

I am consistently amazed at which tasks randomly get picked for me. Like the day I didn’t want to meditate, even though I’m trying to meditate every day for 30 minutes. I put meditation on the list, and figured if I was meant to do it, it would be selected. Of course, it was the FIRST THING selected.

Or the people I’ve contacted when normally it takes me weeks to connect with people. Or the proliferation of blog posts that happen when I can put several ideas on a list, and just wait for them to get selected at random.

I’m not completely beholden to the number generator. Sometimes I still pick my own tasks, when it’s clear to me that one feels more important or urgent. But the only reason I can skip a task is if it’s actually time to go to bed.

*I am eternally grateful to Beth Wodzinski for suggesting the random to do list! It’s totally changed my world.

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For When I’m Too Terrified to Make My To Do List

The past few days, I’ve found myself feeling a little lost and unable to focus. I’ve gotten into a groove with my new job, even finding time to hang out with friends and getting in some (crazy fun pop dance) exercise.

I know I’m a little off – I’m just returning from a week hanging out at the lake my parents which slows life down with a lot of lovely simplicity.

But – I’m also finding myself checking Facebook obsessively. And playing crappy online games (please tell me I’m not the only one who gets obsessed with the sparkly gems of Bejeweled).

Tonight I found myself drawn to these distractions and tried to track what was happening just before I got the overwhelming desire to read every Facebook post from every one of my friends for the past 15 weeks.

It was a familiar problem. I’d thought of one thing I could do – I should call back that friend that called me earlier! And instead of just doing it, I got dumped with an avalanche of other things I should be doing. But! I need to return that other friend’s email! And! I really need to plan for my trip next week! But! What about those six appointments I’ve been avoiding making! Those must be done! Right! Now!

And that’s just in the first millisecond.

I know I’m not alone in this, where “do one thing” becomes “DO ALL THE THINGS!

I know that one thing that has helped in the past is a brain dump. I make a list of everything that occurs to me that I need to do. I write it down, one thing per line. There is no categorizing. There is no deciding if a task should be done now or next Tuesday. There is no judging about whether it’s really that urgent to inventory all the items that are currently being stored in my closet.

At least if I get all of the things on to paper, the yelling and screaming and jockeying for position that’s happening in my head simmers down a bit.

But I often resist the brain dump. It’s scary! There will be so much! And I’ll see how many things there are, and be completely defeated. There is not enough time! And I will fail!

Dynomite is seductively calling my name, just thinking about doing a brain dump. If I’m sure to fail, why bother doing it?

Until I remembered the sage advice of my friend Emily who is my personal organization savior. When I first balked at her suggestion of a brain dump, she counseled me, “How much you have to do is the EXACT SAME AMOUNT whether it’s held in your head or on a few sheets of paper. At least if it’s not stuck rolling around in your head, you’ll have a chance to use your newly freed up brain power for sorting out what can be done, delegated, or dropped.”

And I remember that she is right about this. My to do list does not magically become a longer list when I write it down. And the 27 things I wrote down tonight look possibly doable. Hey, I’ve already done 4 of them, about to be 5 when I press publish on this post. Not bad for a night that was about to be lost to the internet.

I might have to play a round of Tetris to celebrate.

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Minimum Living

I’m participating in the #trust30 challenge to reflect on quotes and writing prompts from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self Reliance. I hope to develop more trust in my writing, more self reliance that what I write is worthwhile, even if just to me.

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“Resolve to only do what makes you come alive.” – Jonathan Mead

I spent most of the day Saturday at TEDxSF at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Not a bad day’s work to be sitting in a room full of smart people listening to some brilliant TED-style talks. The day’s theme “ALIVE! Maximum Living as a Human” made me ask a lot of questions – what makes me feel alive? What squelches my aliveness, which I feel as this heavy, tired, foggy sensation in my body? What outright makes me grumpy, frustrated, and unhappy in my day to day life?

Since moving to San Francisco, it has been my ongoing question – what should I do here? There are so many opportunities, so many potentially interesting, engaging, and amazing things to be doing every night of the week. Which should I do? And more importantly, which longer term commitments should I make – to work, to community organizing, to community building, to personal development and education? The choices seem endless, and every attempt to choose one thing leads to a profound loss at all I will be missing out on.

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman

I love to be of use, but I also know that I get burnt out quickly if I’m not doing what makes me come alive. If I’m not doing work that gets me out of bed every morning, that makes me cry when I think of the difference I am making in this world. Social change work is too hard to also have the heaviness and lethargy of work that makes you feel a little more dead inside every time you show up.

“Today, let’s take a step away from rational thought and dare to be bold. What’s one thing you’ve always wanted to accomplish but have been afraid to pursue? Write it down.” – Matt Cheuvront

How do I know what makes me come alive? I know for me, time spent without purpose is critical to feeling in to what makes me come alive. I usually need quite a bit of it to get through all the jitters after coming down from the adrenaline high of being on all the time, but I know that when I finally have enough I start to feel in to what feels good in my body, what gets me excited, what makes me smile and get giddy and start plotting and call friends to get them involved too in the coolest thing ever.

So my bold, irrational pursuit? Do nothing. Take some serious time off, make space in my schedule for long uninterrupted stretches of nothingness. Pursue boredom, that empty yawning Grand Canyon that opens up before I can find that small speck of aliveness. As the brilliant Nina Wise said, in her  talk that hilariously summed up TEDxSF, “Perhaps instead of maximum living, what we need is minimum living.”

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Say No so you can Say Yes

I say no to new opportunities at least 10 times each day. Hundreds of time each day, if I count every time I say no to buying the extra iPhone accessory the sales guy is pushing my way or say no to the guy on the street corner who asks me to spare fifty cents.

I am terrible at saying no, so each time I have to muster up the energy to say it, and each time there’s a lingering dread – should I have actually said yes? The pain is even greater when it’s something I would actually love to say yes to, but I’ve reached my limits of time or money – like when I have to say no to an invitation out with friends because I’ve got another commitment that I can’t get out of.

Moving to San Francisco, I’ve had to quadruple the amount of times I say no. I moved here because there’s so much cool stuff to do, but there’s SO MUCH cool stuff to do. It’s impossible to do it all. In Durango, most of the time it WAS possible to do it all, if you were willing to do a bit of party hopping or show up to a meeting 20 minutes late. In San Francisco, the sheer volume of activities and the travel time to get from one activity to another make it impossible to do everything I would love to do.

Increasing My “NO” Capacity

I’ve been struggling to increase my capacity to say no, especially because my life is already overflowing with projects and activities. I have two jobs, which combined could take up 26 to 60 hours of my time each week. I also participate in the Anne Braden program which is a minimum of 15 hours per week, with cool extra opportunities each week which could involve an additional 2 to 20 hours easily. So I’m at 41 to 80 hours of activities, before we even talk about all the tasks associated with moving to a new place, connecting with old and new friends, writing this blog, and all those basic self care activities which I find so easy to neglect. It’s all great opportunities, but it’s a lot.

A couple weeks ago, I had two different people ask me how I manage to juggle all my competing responsibilities. From their perspectives, I do it well and they wanted more insight on how they could apply it to their own lives. I’m always better at giving advice to others, and then realizing it all applies directly to me and what I most need. So this is what I discovered I needed myself in the process of thinking through advice to others. Hopefully some piece will be helpful to you too!

Know What Your Big Rocks Are

While I have used a lot of different time management tools over the years, my current problem is less a time management problem and more a problem with setting clear priorities. One of my favorite books in setting clear priorities is one of the time management standards – The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I always cringe a bit in recommending this to others, because the author, Stephen Covey, has been accused of deceptively repackaging religious ideas into business language as a way to spread Mormon ideas to the general public. I don’t want to be a part of that, and at the same time I’ve found some of his metaphors and tools to be extraordinarily helpful to me.

My most well-worn chapter is for Habit 3 – Put First Things First. You may know the analogy of filling a glass with rocks – if you put a pile of pebbles in first, there’s no way you can get any big rocks in later. But if you put the big rocks in first, the pebbles will easily sift down between the crevices to fill in the remaining space.

Get Out of Crisis Mode

Covey also talks a lot about prioritizing the important but not urgent tasks. Especially in my work at a rape crisis center, I could have spent all day every day simply responding to the crises that came my way. Yet when I worked like that, I never had the time for strategic planning, building relationships, community organizing, and self care. And even work that I could anticipate – grant reports that were due or a press release that needed to get out for an upcoming event – these became last minute emergencies that got done right on deadline or were delivered with apologies for being late (again). I was always in crisis mode, and I never had time to do important work that would make a long term difference in ending sexual violence.

I got fed up with this mode of working. We deal with ENOUGH real crisis in our work. The shit that doesn’t have to be a crisis should be organized and produced with ease.

Who Are You Going to Be This Week?

So, how do we work differently? The most effective tool I use is weekly planning, with a clear set of goals for the week. I often don’t know day to day what I’m actually going to work on, but when I have a pocket of time, I have a clear list of what to work on.

Yet this list must be manageable – if my list is “Write a novel” and “Raise $30,000” – I’m probably not going to reach those goals all in one week. Most time management tools will tell you to break these down into smaller goals, but what size is right? It’s hard to know.

Covey switches the planning from task-based to role-based. A person can only manage about 7 roles in your whole life at any given time. Usually my job is more than one role as I’m juggling fundraising, marketing, organization development, and production.Yet, I also have personal roles that are important to me – like being a good friend, getting my new house set up, organizing a social justice project.

For me this week, my 7 roles might be:
– Person who just moved to a new place
– Data analyst
– Anti-racist training participant
– Fundraising & development planner
– Bookkeeper
– New roommate
– Friend

Each of those roles might have 2-3 important goals to achieve this week, and I can kind of map out when those things might get done during the week and still have a lot of space in my week to deal with whatever else comes up. The container of having a maximum of 7 roles forces me to be very selective about what’s most important to get done and then clarifies that the rest is over capacity and needs to be pushed off to next week, delegated, or cut back. Next week my roles might look totally different, or some of the same and some new ones.

Know What You Want to Say YES To

It’s hugely helpful to me to have to define the most important roles in my life and have that drive what I do, rather than try to randomly cut tasks from my to do list. I’ve seen this work tangibly for me when purging out old stuff. When I look at a previously treasured item and ask, “Do I want this or not?” the answer is usually “yes! I want this! It’s been important to me!” But when I change the problem to, “I get one box of treasured items – what are the most important ones to keep?” it seems effortless to send off to Goodwill a lot of things that I no longer treasure that deeply, so that someone else can enjoy them.

Seeing my most important roles clearly each week helps me see what I’m saying YES to when I’m saying NO to other activities. It makes saying no much easier because my own limits are much clearer and visible to me. It also helps me say yes to new opportunities that come up that fit with my top roles for the week. So I may not have any social activities planned at the beginning of my week, but I know that it’s something I will need and want. By including it as a role, I leave space to fill in fun social activities to meet that need.

Getting ready for a lot more “NO” in my life … so I can have plenty of space for all that I want to say “YES” to.

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