22 May 2018

Creating More Time: The Self-Care You Didn’t Realize You Needed

Notebook open to start planning how to create more time.

Photo by Studio Ease on Unsplash

Each of us gets 24 hours each day to use as we will.  It’s a renewable resource — the next day we get another 24 hours. But it’s not an expandable resource — you can’t get 28 or 36 hours in your day no matter who you are, who you know, or how excellent your credit score is.  So what do I mean by Creating More Time?

I mean that if your life feels like you never have enough time to get everything done, or you feel like a drone because all you do is work, you could decide to change a few habits that would allow you to feel less harried and behind. Change a few more habits and you might begin to feel like you had some breathing room and even a bit of (dare I say?) leisure.

Here are some habit changes that can make a huge difference in the felt experience of your life. Start with one that seems the most do-able and see how that goes. Then you can try another.

  1. Under-promise.  If you think you can get something done in a week, say you’ll get it done in 2 weeks.  That way, when you remember all the other things you’re responsible for this week, or when a “surprise” happens, you won’t feel the pressure.  You can ALWAYS over-deliver.  My husband and I went to dinner at a restaurant where the host told us he could seat us in about 40 minutes, did we want to wait?  We said yes.  About 20 minutes later, our “buzzer” went off — there was a table for us. The host was our hero!  He had managed our expectations, and then he over-delivered.  Even if you never over-deliver, under-promising and simply delivering what you promised is a great way to create more time.
  2. Give yourself 2 hours of “protected time” each day when you can focus on one thing at a time without interruption. Tactics that help: headphones, go to an empty conference room or a public library, don’t take email or phone calls, let people know not to interrupt you now.
  3. Start overestimating how long things will take you. Most professionals underestimate how long things will take, and then feel ineffective when it takes longer.  We can spend hours discussing how this bad habit came into being, but it’s actually not as important as learning how to correctly estimate how long things will take. Here’s an easy rule of thumb for how to change the habit: if you truly think something will take you a week, then plan for it to take at least a week and a half, maybe two.  This is a lot like under-promising, but it’s between you and yourself.  In time, you’ll get better at estimating.
  4. Get more help somewhere in your life.  At work, see if you can make the case for hiring a temp, or hiring a whole new permanent person. Delegate more effectively to people you can delegate to — stop protecting them at your own expense. Outside of work, see where you can get help with household work, yard care, food shopping, and all manner of errands.  There are apps such as Task Rabbit, Uber Eats, and Instacart that provide useful services. Neighborhood listservs such as Nextdoor.com allow people who need help to find local people who can help, for a fee (or not).  Are you using professional resources effectively or are you trying to do everything yourself: your own taxes, your own financial plan, your own will, etc?  Getting good professional help usually means there’s much less on your plate and hanging over your head, AND in most cases they’ll do a better job than you will because they’re experts and you’re not (sorry).
  5. Reduce your daily To-Do list by 2/3. Having too many items on your list day after day takes a toll on your sense of yourself as an effective person and contributes to your feeling perpetually harried and strapped for time. You can keep all your To-Do items on your master list so you don’t lose them. But on a daily basis? Get real.
  6. Stop underestimating the value of time OFF the To-Do list! See cartoon, at the top. Have you ever found a solution to a  seemingly intractable problem when you were not actually working on it?  Or had a flash of insight, intuition, or creativity when you were out for a run or reading a novel?  Our hard-driving pre-frontal cortex is not the only part of our brain that can solve problems. When we’re relaxed and at leisure, it’s easier to hear from some of the other parts of our brain.
  7. Fire your Inner Perfectionist — she’s become way too controlling. You don’t need to do A+ work in every, every, every aspect of your life. For example, try delivering a B+ job next time you have friends over for dinner and notice that you all have a good time together anyway (which is the point, isn’t it?). Or at work, consider dialing down your word-smithing — there may be emails you can send without multiple re-writes. Chances are there are some aspects of your life and work where you can be less than stellar and not lose your edge.

You may not be able to implement all of these tips, but picking a few that address your biggest culprits is a great first step.  It’s hard to escape a constant feeling of being on the edge of burnout when we are fighting the clock all day every day. Taking back some of your time is the self-care you need.


10 August 2016

Feel the Guilt But Take Time Off Anyway

Let Go Of Guilt and Take Time For Yourself to Replenish

Feel the Guilt But Take Time Off Anyway

Taking some time off the treadmill, whether it’s a week’s vacation, a day off, or an hour to yourself, makes a lot of people feel guilty. We live in a culture of rampant busy-ness, and so many people have significantly more on their plates than is actually do-able. Taking any time off can seem irresponsible, like you’re letting down the team. But feeling guilt doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing anything wrong. In this case, you’re just out of your comfort zone.

The reality is you need the down time in order to be as productive as you can be. Just like in music, where the rests are as important as the notes, so it is in a professional’s life. Down time enhances your productivity. It’s counter-intuitive, but it’s true. You certainly know that the opposite is true: when you’re exhausted and burnt out, you’re not the best you can be, creatively or productivity-wise.

There is great restorative value in allowing yourself some free and clear time off. It will reduce your stress level and lighten your heart. Here are three recommendations for powerful actions you can take, starting immediately:

  • Once a month, take a half day to yourself, with no “results” required: spend the time however you really feel like spending it. If this is truly impossible, start with 2 hours or even 1 hour — whatever you can pull off.
  • One day a month, allow yourself to wake up on your own, without an alarm. If you have young children or pets who need early morning attention, find someone else to take your place that one morning.
  • Every week, allow yourself at least one hour, somewhere during that week, when you are NOT RUSHING, when there is no time pressure on you.

When you practice these small “time-outs” from your usual pressured existence, you will probably feel guilty for not accomplishing something or for not leveraging your time to the max. That guilt will be a good sign — it will mean you are really taking some time out. And that’s a good thing for you.

Try at least one of these recommendations in the next 30 days. It’s a way to have a micro-vacation in the midst of a busy time. You will more than make up for it when you get back into busy mode: you will have replenished some of your personal reserves and will have more of you to bring to your work.


1 November 2013

A Caregiver in Her 20s Shares Her Story

Many of us assume that we won’t have to become caregivers for our parents until at least our 30s or 40s. Often that’s true. The average age of a caregiver is 48, according to research by AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving.

But caregivers include many younger adults like Samantha Burkett, who describes her experiences in in the November 2013 issue of Better Homes and Gardens. In her 20s, Burkett has full responsibility for overseeing the care of her widowed mother, who had a brain aneurysm ten years ago and lives in an assisted living facility. That adjustment hasn’t always been easy. “My mom understands why I make the decisions, but she has trouble accepting the situation,” Burkett told the magazine. “It’s frustrating when she questions my choices, like when I tell her she can’t just hop in a cab without telling anyone where she’s going.” 

 As challenging as such moments can be, Burkett gained perspective on them when her mother’s doctor told her: “You need to take care of yourself, so you can take care of your mom.” Burkett began working with a counselor “who taught me how to step back when my emotions get too intense and to ask for help when I need it.”

Two other women also share their caregiving experiences in the Better Homes and Gardens article “Take Care,” and although it isn’t online, you may want to look for it on newsstands or at your library.  The message of their stories? For all the rocky moments it can involve, caregiving can lead to personal growth and stronger relationships with the people we love.


4 June 2013

Ordinary Blessings

Two powerful, recent experiences have shaken up the way I see things. 

First, the 26-year-old son of friends collapsed and died of a fluke abnormality that had been invisible until then; he was otherwise in perfect health, thriving in every way.  Unspeakable grief and shock. 

Second was the Boston Marathon bombing, and the 18-hour lockdown and manhunt in my town, Watertown, MA, where the suspects had fled, and where one was killed. The other was apprehended finally, one neighborhood away from mine.  All of it, including seeing on television the vast law enforcement presence in my little town, was very unsettling. So are the the regular newspaper updates on the people recovering from their bombing injuries.

These experiences have made me very grateful for ordinary days when nothing remarkable happens. I understand the great privilege of feeling safe.  I’m treasuring all the more the people I love and their health and wholeness, having been reminded how things can drastically change in a second. 

I encourage you to notice the ordinary blessings in your life, and to be sure the people in your life know how precious they are to you.

At the risk of sounding pretentious or preachy, I want to share with you a tiny bit of the gratitude I’ve come to regularly experience since these events.  It feels like a risk to share this — I think it’s the superstition of the evil eye — if I speak publicly about my good fortune, I will lose it.  Does anyone reading this have a superstition like this lurking in your consciousness?

  • I’m grateful for my whole, unharmed, able body that gets up every day and energetically goes about her business, and for the wholeness and health of my immediate family — we are all living Spring 2013 without terrible interruptions, just regular ups and downs and age-appropriate challenges. How fortunate we are for this.
  • I’m grateful to my 4 grandparents who put themselves through the whole challenging immigrant process coming to the US from Central Europe, and as a result I raised my daughters without the spectre of hunger and pogroms, and I live a middle class life.
  • I’m grateful to have meaningful work with people I genuinely admire and enjoy, and to have the privilege of being trusted by them with their pressing issues.  I’m grateful to have enough work that I’ve been able to be self-employed for so long. 
  • I’m evaluating multiple health care insurance policies in order to choose one for the coming year.  I’m grateful to have the mental bandwidth to do this task, and to have the time to do it.  In a past life I would have squeezed it in at midnight a few nights in a row.
  • And the blessing being married to my husband for close to 40 years — don’t even get me started.

When I was a sullen, moody teenager it used to annoy me to no end when my father expressed gratitude for simple things in his daily life like the birds in the back yard and long distance phone calls. And mail delievery!  It drove me nuts that he would be thankful for mail!  I would think the 60’s equivalent of “Get a life!”  But I get it now.  He had a life, a really good life, and his appreciation of it only made it richer for him.  So if my thankfulness annoys you, I understand.

At other times in my life, a daily view of my blessings was often eclipsed by my Inner Task Manager, who keeps me on a short leash and always, always on task, and my Inner Perfectionist, who would notice that the phlox still haven’t recovered from years of neglect and really should be replaced, and too bad that’s not going to happen. 

But this year is different.  


20 May 2013

Stress Management 101: Focus on Solutions

I met with a prospective client recently for an initial consultation.  She wanted help addressing her uneven professional performance: she used to do A+ work all the time, now she finds herself doing “so-so” work some of the time for no apparent reason.  She wants to go back to A+ all the time but sheer will, intention, and “positive thinking” aren’t making it happen, and it’s stressing her out. 

I asked her several questions, including, “What else is going on for you on the so-so days?”  That turned out to be the key to what needed to happen next.  She hadn’t ever really looked at that.  She decided to hire me as her coach, and her first assignment was to notice what else is going on for her on the so-so days.

[Shameless plug: a coach can ask questions that approach the problem from a wholly different perspective from the individual’s, and THAT can get things moving again.  To paraphrase a quote from Albert Einstein: We can’t solve problems using the same mindset from which the problems arose.]

The “what else” that might be going on for you in your off days can be on any level, and if you experience a similar unevenness in your work, looking at the list below might be useful to you as well.  Here are some micro-questions for looking at “what else.”  If you have other good questions to add, please leave them as a comment.

  1. What’s the content you are working when doing so-so work, and is it different from the content you’re addressing at more effective times? 
  2. What’s the process you’re engaged in, and is it different from your process on better days (or hours)?  For example, are you doing a lot of writing today, or is it a day of interacting with other people?  Is it a day with 4,672 interruptions?
  3. Who are you interacting with today?
  4. What are you wearing?  I once worked with a woman who (it turned out) had a bad day every time she wore a certain pair of shoes. She hated the shoes because she thought they made her look matronly and sexless, so she felt bad about herself the whole day. But she’d paid a lot of money for them and made herself wear them.  [When she saw how much it was costing her (in the quality of her day and her output) to wear them, she got rid of them replaced them with a new pair that she loved. Problem solved.  I kid you not.  Alas, it’s not always this simple.]
  5. A total aside: my father was a primary care physician and ace diagnostician.  Once, he cured a patient’s daily headaches by having him get all new underwear that was looser.
  6. What took place prior to your noticing your meh performance — consider everything, including what you were thinking about. Did you have a conversation earlier in the day with your spouse (or child, nanny, colleague, boss, client, doctor’s office, etc)  that’s distracting you? Are you beating yourself up for not having finished the annual report?  Are you comparing yourself with a colleague or with Marissa Meyer or Naomi Watts and coming up short? Are you worried about an upcoming interview?  Are you worrying about something else?

Having a next step to take toward solving a nagging problem can be a huge relief.  My new client was so happy to have an assignment that would move things forward, knowing we would talk about her observations in next week’s coaching call. I don’t know what she’ll observe in the coming week, but we’ll look at it together and I’m confident something useful and actionable will come out of it. 

Effective people don’t stay stuck.  For more on this, see another recent post

Feel free to add to this topic with a comment here.


20 February 2013

Getting More Exercise: And How!

Someone sent me a link to a fabulous piece in the Harvard Business Review blog: http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2013/01/sitting_is_the_smoking_of_our_generation.html. It’s short and compelling — take a look!

A couple of weeks before reading the HBR post, I took an excellent daylong workshop called The Paper Room.  I learned a great deal about the automatic, internal “systems” in my head that interfere with my effectiveness.  I ALSO learned that I need more physical activity in my life.  Of course, we all do, so on a certain level I already knew this.  But during the workshop I realized that as a result of  not-enough physical activity,  my core being is not adequately nourished.  I got it in a way that was deeper than the usual.

During a partner exercise in the course, I came up with the idea of inviting one of my in-person clients to have our next coaching meeting while walking.  She readily agreed, and I’m looking forward to our walking meeting, which is tomorrow. 

Here are some ways that people I know are getting more exercise — maybe there’s something in this list what will appeal to you and allow you to turn up the volume a little with your physical activity:

  • Instead of having coffee, lunch, or an after-work glass of wine with a colleague, take a walk.
  • Take a class that gets you moving. Having to be at a specific place at a specific time can be a miraculous alternative to “I’ll go for a walk later.”  Paying for a class makes some people more motivated to get their money’s worth by GOING.
  • Take your spouse out for an exercise date.  Go dancing.  Many cities and town have ballroom, Latin, Swing, Folk and other dance events, many of which are preceded by a 1-hour lesson.  Take the lesson, stay for the evening.
  • Plan outdoor active activities ahead of time and get them onto your calendar, however far in advance you need to to make them happen. For example, plan a manageable local hike.  If “hike” sounds too strong, replace it with “walk.”
  • Learn something new.  Take a cross-country ski or snowshoeing lesson.  Allow yourself to be a beginner. Or become a better kayaker or canoe-er.
  • Find out what local hiking, biking, birding, and other such groups have scheduled.  You can trick yourself into a lovely walk by going birding with a group.
  • Visit a botanic garden or even a museum.  You might not break a sweat, but you’re upright and moving!  Still better than spending that time seated.
  • Here are some organizations in the Boston area that organize events that get people moving — you may have such things local to you as well:

What motivates you to get moving more?  How are you getting more exercise?  What do you like to do? Please share your thoughts and ideas in a comment.


8 November 2012

Reflection: A Practice for Keeping Your Batteries Charged

The most important ingredient in keeping your balance over the long haul is making sure that you recharge your batteries.  There are about a zillion ways to recharge your batteries, and it’s your job to figure out what you need at any given time.  Some classics: reading fiction (even 15 minutes worth can make a difference), spending time with friends, hearing music you love, getting your head out of your to-do list, taking a short nap, or walking in nature.

For many people, the essence of the re-charge process is getting space to breathe and decompress.  There are a lots of ways to catch some breathing room, and you don’t need a weekend at a spa.  You can “stop the world” by taking a walk, having quiet cup of tea, taking in the sunset, getting a massage, spending some time in a hot bath, or . . . (your favorite chill routine here).

In our landscape of ever-increasing speed it takes a concerted effort to slow down, to embrace the moment, and to allow yourself time to think. Making a choice to turn off the noise in your head is  a great way to get in touch with your heart’s yearnings.

These actions (or inactions) of self care are important as they give you a moment to be still, quiet, and spend time in reflection. Reflection is a path to growth. It allows you to examine all aspects of your life from another vantage point to gain perspective.  It allows you to pick up on some of the quieter messages from your intuition.

Writing in a journal can be a useful reflection tool. As you write about your day, about an experience, or about how you’re feeling, notice the tension leave your body as your pen moves across the page or your fingers move along your keyboard. The act of writing down your thoughts can clarify your thinking and open your heart to  possibilities.

Creating this opening allows you to listen to both your heart and head, to acknowledge your unique self  and what you bring to the world. Pay attention to what doesn’t serve you any longer and start to think about letting it go to move forward. Likewise, listen for what you want more of in your life and make that a priority.

Reflection can help you reveal your next steps, but only if you listen and allow the integration of your head and heart.


22 May 2012

The Back Story: Effectiveness Coaching

I recently worked with a client who wanted some coaching on how be more effective in her professional and personal life. She had a nagging sense that in her paid work, she was just not as sharp and efficient as she had been only last year, and that her communications, which had always been pretty stellar, had become fuzzy and mediocre.  Outside of work, she also felt her effectiveness as a communicator had taken a nosedive, resulting in misunderstandings, missed meetings, and other annoying and unnecessary outcomes.

As a life coach, I regularly help people become more productive. Often, effectiveness coaching involves looking very carefully at the individual’s routines, at where the flows and snags are, where their strengths and challenges lie, and then working at a very tactical level to streamline and optimize.  But that was not at all what turned out to be needed here.

In our first coaching session, it became clear that something much more urgent was going on that needed to be addressed as a first priority.  She had sustained a serious back injury months ago in a hiking accident and was still in a great deal of pain a lot of the time.  She had taken herself off the pain medication because she “didn’t want to be on pain medication.”  She had been doing the exercises prescribed by the physical therapist but not seeing any progress.  This had been going on for months.  The injury had not healed, the pain had not diminished, and she was not sleeping well, night after night.

If you have ever experienced chronic pain, then you know how enormously distracting and exhausting it can be.  It was entirely possible that if she could clear up her pain and once again fully present in her life (outside of the pain), she would automatically return to her old level of effectiveness.  But regardless of the impact on her productivity, she needed to take care of her still-injured body as an immediate priority and be done with the pain!

There were so many things on her plate that she just hadn’t seen this.  To her credit, when I made the case for moving “healing the back injury” up to the top of the list, she was open to doing so.  She would — immediately after our call — contact her PCP, the orthopedist, and her physical therapist.  She would also contact a friend to get the name of the physical therapist who had done extraordinary work with her.

In short, there was a back story to this person’s experience of poor performance at work and elsewhere.  Her back story actually WAS about her back, but people’s back stories can be about anything going on behind the scenes that distracts them in a major way from what they’re currently engaged in.

I ask you to take a look at whether you might have a back story going on right now.  Perhaps . . .

  • You’ve developed sleep problems in the last few years and your new norm is a serious sleep deficit.
  • You’re being sexually harassed at work and you’re terrified to deal with it. (Maybe you’re imagining it, right?  Maybe it’s really no big deal, right?)
  • You’re preoccupied with concern for your middle school daughter who’s gone underground suddenly.
  • YOU have untreated physical pain or some other medical concern that you’re not dealing with.
  • You’re frantic with worry that your rapidly declining mother-in-law will set her house on fire.
  • Your marriage is drifting into oblivion.
  • You’re rip-roaring furious at ______ for ______, and you can’t get it out of your head.

The bottom line is, we all get hijacked now and then by something going on in the background that we’re too busy or too distracted to see or deal with. These thing are typically knotty and not easy to solve (or we would have solved them when they first arose).  But there’s a price we pay for not addressing these things, and at some point the cost of not dealing with them is greater than the cost of dealing with them.  But by then we’ve done quite a bit of suffering.  I’m a big fan of not suffering. I want to make the case for noticing when you’re about to place something on the back burner, hoping it will go away.  And instead — getting it handled.  Or at least getting it onto your calendar: “Deal with back pain — call Dr. Bones.”

If you could use some assistance addressing your back story, or if your stellar communication skills have gone south, consider getting the input of some effectiveness coaching.  Sometimes people just need some traction and then they’re off and running again.  Email me with some dates/times when you could schedule a 30-minute no-fee initial consult by phone, and I’ll get back to you asap.

Say no to suffering!


15 February 2010

Overcoming Overwhelm and Depletion

Fourteen years of coaching professional women have taught me some of the most prevalent patterns of imbalance and the interventions that can restore a sense of well-being and sanity.  


I don’t mean to sound facile about these solutions.  The details are always unique to the individual and difficult for her to see from within the experience.  Moving forward generally happens very slowly.  I don’t believe in a happily-ever-after kind of unconscious happiness, but I passionately believe that some kinds of suffering can be alleviated. 


Here are two patterns of imbalance — experienced as unhappiness — I’ve witnessed with my clients, my friends, and myself, and the course corrections that can make a difference.



1. Feeling out of control, overwhelmed, powerless.  The solution for this  generally involves:  

·     naming it as such, and thereby differentiating it from the feelings of despair, failure, and self-loathing that often accompany it

·     taking back control, increment by increment, wherever possible, by renegotiating agreements, selectively jettisoning obligations, re-prioritizing, and whatever else it takes

As a result, the individual regains firmer ground and some level of control in her life, and feels back in her own power again.  


2. Feeling drained, exhausted, depleted, even sick. 

·     Here too, the place to start is with awareness: name it for what it is, and separate it out from the sense of shame, emptiness, and failure that people often feel as a result of no longer having enthusiasm or passion FOR ANYTHING.  The no-enthusiasm-for-anything syndrome often shows up in people who are very drained and exhausted.

·     Generally what’s also called for is serious rest, recovery, and replenishment which often means cutting back somewhere in order to make room for this. 


In my experience, once people GET that this is what’s going on, that it’s not about personal failure but rather about personal depletion, the reframe is very empowering and they quickly figure out what to do.  They often need support thinking through the pragmatics of it and then implementing it.  Cutting back is particularly difficult for women with a habitual pattern of pleasing others.


As the depletion and exhaustion are replaced with a sense of being nourished and re-charged, at least some of the unhappiness recedes, leaving a generally happier camper.   And a more effective one.


Adequate self-care often results in greater effectiveness, across the board.  This ripple-out effect often surprises the individual, who may feel “selfish” in administering the self care (often as a last resort).  But it does make sense.  Who’s likely to be the more effective manager, parent, or creative problem-solver: the person who’s exhausted, frazzled, and running on empty or the one whose batteries are charged and whose focus is unambivalent?


If you won’t do it for yourself, do it for your work or your kids.



3 February 2010

Making Things Difficult

In a recent conversation with several people about blogging, I realized that I’ve been making things unnecessarly difficult for myself by requiring that my blog posts be about 500 words long.   Of course I’ve read other people’s posts that are shorter, but I never made the connection that mine could be shorter too.

I know I’m not the only person who makes things more difficult than they need to be, but I’m the one I know the best. 

For a long time I thought that work was supposed to be hard.   If it wasn’t hard, it didn’t count, I thought: it wasn’t worthy somehow.   Once I became aware of that thought pattern, I was able to see that it didn’t serve me, and I started the process of learning how to allow things to be easier, which is turning out to be a lifelong process. 

This is iteration number 99 of “it doesn’t have to be difficult.”  My posts at this blog can be be as long or as short as they need to be.