Monthly Archives: September 2017

Establishing Boundaries and Priorities

glenn-carstens-peters-190592By Karen Starns 

Starns is a seasoned global brand and marketing leader who is poised to begin her next chapter. She has held senior positions at Pearson, Amazon and Microsoft and is a friend of Simple Intentions.  

The first time I read Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown was the Spring of 2014. At the time, I wasn’t ready for how it would eventually transform my outlook on priorities and contributions. The premise of being disciplined about where to invest energies and where to step away resonated, but I’d allowed my time to be swallowed up by other people’s needs and agendas for years. As a leader, family member and friend driven by accomplishment, I felt the need to do it all. This modus operandi had become so ingrained and rewarded, the reason for change wasn’t obvious enough. 

Several months later, I took on a new global job that required 50% travel – a good portion of it spent in London. This professional change spurred a complete reset of how I spent my time. The juggling that had been challenging became infeasible and I realized that if my in-person relationships with my husband and kids had to get packed into weekends and every other week, I was going to need a system to support me. Having less time at home was catalytic in helping me take that first critical step toward committing to the things that were most important to me and becoming aware that embracing other people’s expectations and drowning in to-do lists was taking me off track.  

With the premises of Essentialism as underpinning, developing a system that works for me has been a 2 ½ year process of discovery and fine-tuning. While having very little time flexibility, I’ve found more balance and internal peace than ever before by investing in the fewest number of important things. As I prepare for another career transition, I’m delighted to celebrate how full my life is. These are the steps I took: 

I first clarified my “non-negotiables.” This included creating a clear distinction between those things in life that were most important to me and separating those from everything else. My list was intentionally short: family and work. Deep relationships with my husband and kids, coupled with rewarding work that I love is where I make the highest contribution. Energy and time devoted to my non-negotiables come first. 

 I then examined “everything else.” This is a huge bucket and it probably goes without saying that all things in this category are not created equal. I’ve further segmented this into “to-dos,” “opportunities,” and “personal priorities.” 

There are a lot of “to-dos” in life and if we’re not careful, the tasks and errands on our lists can run us ragged and leave little time for anything else. I’m a list maker and have spent years measuring progress via scraps of paper and piles of note cards. Today, I embrace the realization that while there are must-do tasks, crossing things off a list every day does not move me toward my highest contribution. 

There are also “opportunities,” invitations, and possibilities. These are optional. They are not obligations and it important to remind yourself that you have a choice. Not wanting to disappoint someone else is not a good reason to say yes. If they are aligned with your priorities, make them priorities. If they are not, let them go – even if they are good opportunities. While I devote just a couple of sentences toward this topic, it is huge. Greg McKeown has a lot of provocative and useful commentary on this if you struggle with this like I do. 

The third category I created to sort through everything else has provided the most upside for me: “personal priorities.” The label itself has been incredibly empowering and the things I’ve put here have enriched my life. This category and what I’ve done with it has been the difference maker. 

Personal priorities are a mix of the aspirational “someday” things that rarely get attention and some really important things that are easy to let slip. Here’s my current list: 

  1. Side Project (I have some business ideas to cultivate) 
  2. Write (like this article, I want to write/publish more frequently) 
  3. Read (for pleasure, for knowledge, and to escape) 
  4. Board/Advisory Work (I’m on a non-profit board and mentor a woman leader who runs a social enterprise and a non-profit) 
  5. Learn Spanish (my mentee’s organization is based in Mexico and I’m using Duolingo every day to learn Spanish) 
  6. Marathon Training (I’m in the midst of a 20-week program training for the NY Marathon, this is a big mental and time commitment) 
  7. Career Planning (meetings, correspondence, and network engagement) 
  8. Time with Friends (an important thing that I’ve let slip) 

While eight personal priorities may seem like a lot, I am actively working on all of these. I’m using a reminder app that allows me to establish a prompt and track momentum for each priority. For example, I want to do 15 minutes of Duolingo every day and write 3 times a month. 

There are other things that I’m not doing because I have my two non-negotiables and I’ve also declared my eight personal priorities. This is not just ok. It is great! Having this level of clarity has been tremendously freeing. As Greg McKeown says in Essentialism, “Essentialists see trade-offs as an inherent part of life, not as an inherently negative part of life. Instead of asking, “What do I have to give up?” they ask, “What do I want to go big on?” 

Being unapologetic about establishing non-negotiables and personal priorities has been a game changer. Now more than ever, I am confident in my ability handle curveballs that come my way and embrace new opportunities in life that are aligned with what’s most essential to me.  

 

 

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Abundance

robert-wiedemann-273670By Lara Gates, Managing Editor, Simple Intentions  

The town where I live has a loud fountain and beautiful landscaping at the freeway exit. There is a prominent sign that says “Life in Abundance” greeting guests and neighbors as they cross the threshold into suburban living. Ever since the sign was erected I’ve been uncomfortable with this term “abundance.” How is life here abundant if there are families who still need the food bank or can’t pay their mortgage this month? Some days the word “abundance” feels presumptuous because even in a country as rich as the U.S., there are still people in need. So many people. In so much need. Shouldn’t we be satisfied with just enough? Is it just me?  

Lately I am coming across this word “abundance” more and more often. And I continue to wrestle with the meaning. The lesson here is not to focus on the lack (of time, of money, of support) but rather to see that there is enough. We need to really notice, welcome and even expect our needs to be abundantly met. It’s a difficult shift for some (read me) who were raised to focus on hard work with an emphasis on hard. When we expect a job to be stressful and difficult, guess what? It is. But the shift in perspective is possible with some practice. 

By flipping my inner dialog to focus first on the positive, and the “haves” over the “have nots” I am noticing the abundance more and more. There is a print that hangs over my desk from Brian Andreas that says “Everything changed the day he figured out there was exactly enough time for the important things in his life.” I bought this almost 20 years ago but I think only recently began to truly believe it. There is enough time. I do have an abundance of support from friends and family. And my team at work will always have my back when I reach out and ask for help.  

Here is a light bulb moment. Having abundance means I can share. I have more than enough to meet the needs of my family. I can use the surplus to seek out ways to help people who are struggling. The collective community has an abundance of what we need. I just need to focus on the “we.” When I come across a client or neighbor with unmet needs, it’s easy to lend an ear, a hand or an idea when I have already recognized my own abundance. We are not meant to simply survive. We are meant to thrive. And when we get to that place of thriving – that place of realizing true abundance – it is incumbent on us to reach out and share. Share the knowledge, share the inspiration, share the wealth and the many opportunities.  

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How to Manage Energy at Work

090717_EnergyCommon themes in the workplace that zap energy from a person or a team.

By Jae Ellard, Founder, Simple Intentions

What gives you energy at work? Odds are strong an answer quickly sprang to mind. Now consider what drains your energy? Likely a feeling came to mind before the root cause of that feeling did. For many people gaining clarity around what drains their energy and how to redirect it can be a tricky. Having worked with thousands of people in over 50 countries teaching the skill of awareness, I’ve noticed five common themes in the workplace that transcend geography, gender and job type when it comes to zapping energy from a person or a team.

Drama. You might be attracted to it or you might create it – either way the purpose is to use it as a distraction to avoid unpleasant issues. As a way of dealing with fear or uncertainty (or procrastinating dealing with it), it’s common for people to invent “stories” to fill in missing details in an attempt to create certainty. It’s ok we’ve all done it. Next time you see it happening, make an attempt to “see the story” and go back to the facts. Ask yourself or the people involved “is this true?” Asking this question can interrupt the downward drama spiral that can kill productivity and morale.

Perfection. This is the belief that there is no room for mistakes. When people feel they are working in an environment where their best is not good enough, it can not only be demoralizing to each individual but impair innovation as people will avoid taking risks if they believe there is no room for mistakes. The way to redirect this energy drain is to know what you know and own it as equally as you know what you DON’T know. Letting go of the idea of perfection and being open to failure is how we learn.

Control. This shows up as a compulsive desire to know everything and control outcomes. (Also known as micro-managing.) When we employ controlling behaviors likely it’s coming from a place of fear – either of the outcome not going our way or fear of being “exposed” as not good enough – both of which can deplete energy by focusing on incomplete or false data (aka drama). The way to get the energy flowing is to allow the natural flow of action to occur, take a step back and reflect when something feels forced. Releasing control doesn’t mean you stop caring, it means being able to see things from many points of view and assuming positive intent from all involved.

Boundarylessness. This use of energy creates a state of confusion in knowing what is and what is not acceptable, comfortable and tolerable. When we don’t know the limits we don’t know where we are in relation to them. Setting and communicating boundaries, individual as well as team, helps redirect energy by creating clarity for all parties involved about what is and what is not expected and allowed.

What’s not working. The habit of focusing on what is wrong, flawed or not working is downright exhausting. More than that, if a person stays in that space too long it can lead to a state called hyper vigilance, which creates feelings of helplessness and deep anxiety. Recognize and celebrate what is working, start each day by reflecting the “wins.” This doesn’t mean avoid or ignore the issues and challenges that need to be addressed, rather start with what’s going well first.

There is no right or wrong way to shift the energy of a person or a team – what matters most is the willingness to see when energy is low and the courage to redirect it.

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