Foundational Habits

Foundational Habits

“All great achievements require time.”

—Maya Angelo

I have a brilliant girlfriend, Denise, who is an expert in organization.  She has grown into this skill out of necessity – where life became her teacher.  Her quest for constant improvement and a wonderful self-awareness led to an intense analysis of what was working in her work and her life and what wasn’t.  She identified organization as a culprit that was keeping her from being as efficient and effective as she wanted to be.  Her solution became learning how to master her habits leading to greater mastery in many areas of her life.

She tried many things along the path to being better organized.  She went back to a system which had worked for her in the past – a paper system.  She identified colleagues who could check in with her on tasks. She coordinated with administrative staff to confirm the flow of appointments and tasks to complete each day.  All of which contributed to refining her approach.  It was however a combination of her growing organizational talents and her commitment to developing ‘habits for routine tasks and practices’ which combined has propelled her into mastery.

Denise, like so many of us, found herself juggling a long ‘to do list’ filled with a mixture of daily accomplishments and longer term tasks supportive of achieving bigger dreams.  The conundrum, of course, was how to wrangle all on the to-do list into the usual work day without the urgent items completely crowding out accomplishing bigger objectives. An educator at heart, Denise always seeks meaning in her work and naturally seeks a way to describe what she learns – so she can teach it to others.

The day arrived when Denise’s passion and enthusiasm bubbled over into an announcement.  She was teaching a workshop on organization in her community.  All of her efforts had finally coalesced into a program she could offer. She had developed strategies, tools, and a way to deliver her organizational resources to others in a package she knew would change lives.  At the heart of it was establishing sustainable habits; habits employed daily, weekly and monthly which were anchored so deeply into her routine that she eventually could be freed mentally to trust they would be accomplished and not fall through the cracks. The result was that her conscious attention could shift – to focus on other organizational details attached to strategic tasks and projects. This freed her mind to be more aware of additional information, emotions and intellectual inputs.  The latter allowed her thinking to be better, deeper and more complex because it included more nuances.

Essentially, she discovered that when habits were so deeply embedded into her approach for managing time/projects/tasks each day that her mind was freed to focus on other details.  My key take away is that at the heart of true mastery lies solid habits.  According to Daniel H. Pink in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, mastery requires flow.  Denise achieves ‘flow’ when she doesn’t have to stop and wonder or worry about a routine habit.  Denise made a habit list and then over a 30 day period stuck to her list.  As she mastered a habit, she added other ‘to do’s’ to the list, some of which were more habits to embrace and other items were strategic to her bigger objectives.  Since the learned habits were already part of her day, she didn’t need to re-list them.

Over time the volume of Denise’s accomplishments has been great.  It makes me wonder how much I could get done following her example.  I think I will…what about you?  Here is my take on Denise’s process:


Take no more than 20 minutes to write a habit list. Include:

Daily items
Weekly items

  • Each day track your accomplishments also include 3-5 strategic tasks to achieve specific to that day
  • Each night record results for both habits and strategic tasks; cross off accomplishments an add new for tomorrow (or carry over)
  • When you’ve achieved 30 days of victories with a habit remove an item from the list and replace with new ‘to do’. Continue with the acquired habit and the new ones.
  • If a habit falls off or you stop doing it, put it back on your list

Mastery equals doing and doing until you’ve got it. It is a mindset. It requires grit and tenacity. The result is deliberate persistence.  When you get your habits down you more easily get into the flow of mastery – what do you have to lose?

Accomplishments equal many when you free yourself to do more. Think about it.

Check out this tool called WorkFlowy to assist with your organization.

When you get, give.

When you learn, teach.

            —Maya Angelou

Cheers! And thanks to Denise for being the inspiration for the Maya Angelou quote.

Get clear, gain confidence, make it happen – live your true calling. At Work, At Play, Everyday



“What lies in our power to do, it lies in our power not to do.”


We all have the same 24 hours each day – no more, no less. If you think about it objectively, how we invest those 24 hours is mostly of our choosing. Some invest more time in sleep; or in exercise; in meal preparation and many seem to spend all their time at work. Others dash home from the office to enjoy vocations or hobbies. We all juggle and divide our time between moments in those 24 hours. I’m not a soccer Mom, but a softball Mom.  So part of my time investment each week lies in connecting my kid with her sport. No matter the distraction or perfectly valid time use detour; I would wager that most of us believe we should spend most of our time on average work days investing in ‘work’.  Makes sense huh? I also hope that most of that work time is invested in activities which bring us satisfaction and allow us to use our talents and creativity.

Those who are passionate about what they do find time to do that thing. But, upon closer inspection we may also discover that any number of things impinge on that time.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2011) American Time Use Study we spent approximately 1/3 of our 24 hours on work or related activities.  As you can imagine over a lifetime, this compounds into a huge investment.  Logically, how you feel about what you do and how you value this ‘time’ investment dramatically influences your sense of wellbeing.

We all know someone who claims to ‘hate’ his/her job. Given the number of hours spent in work, I can’t imagine doing a job where I felt badly much of the time. But I do know, that even if there are tasks in my career that cause me stress; there are other aspects which I love, which inspires me and I know I’m contributing at a high level as I should and desire. When I am honestly interested in what I’m doing, engaged and in the flow of my work; time falls away and the world falls silent. Often too quickly, I find myself needing to move on to another less engaging task.  Know this, those moments of flow are what sustains me – and I suggest – you too.

It is in those moments of flow; when our creative genius is fully engaged and focused, that time seems to stand still. It is in those opportunities I call ‘cathedrals of time;’ where the accomplishment in those blocks pays homage to our core genius and allows us to harness and worship that creative spark within.  Protect those ‘cathedrals of time’ at all costs. It is when you are most productive. Block and protect your calendar: tattoo a note on the door, tie up the kids (not really but do something), silence the phone, indicate that a seminar on ‘death and dying will be offered’ by anyone who disturbs you in that protected window of time. Do whatever it takes to assure you have that lofty space to create, to innovate, to work your craft, to nurture your genius.

When you find you spend more time doing work you adore – you like your work more.  Work, works better in your life and when that happens with the approximately 1/3 of the time we invest each week – you win all around.

Cathedrals of time.  When is your next planned worship service?


Success does leave clues – live your true calling. At Work, At Play, Everyday



 “Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.”

                    ― William Penn

I know I’m not alone when I tell you that I meet myself coming and going most days….I know many of us do. I am a working parent without a partner and can complain about that all day long. But, I’ve been inspired these last few months to rethink my concept of time.  Up until recently, you might have overheard me saying, “There just never seems to be enough time” followed by a big sigh.  But, guess what?  Time levels the great playing field for us all because simply – we each only have 24 hours a day. You, me, heads of state, the pope, the richest person in the world; each of us has the same amount of time available; some just use it better.

“It’s being here now that’s important. There’s no past and there’s no future. Time is a very misleading thing. All there is ever, is the now. We can gain experience from the past, but we can’t relive it; and we can hope for the future, but we don’t know if there is one.”

                                                                                              ― George Harrison

Byron Katie, in her book, Loving What Is challenges the concept of pushing hard against the myriad of issues that arise in our lives and instead suggests ‘embracing’ them just as they are….raw, less than perfect and real. Once we ‘open’ to what honestly is and drop the drama and frantic energy around our struggle against things; then we may have a different experience if we allow ourselves.

I’ve always been a great list maker and I love crossing things off. Although, I had noted that I wasn’t getting to cross off as much as I wanted for most of 2012.  Responsible organization inevitably calls for a list of priorities of some sort; however I would find myself stressing as I leaned into a deadline and threatened to implode if I blew through one.  Don’t get me wrong, some deadlines require leaning into; but my habit had become imaging the worst about my use of time ALWAYS.  So, rather than rewarding myself for effective use of time when that in fact happened, instead I was mentally castigating myself (complete with painful mental flogging and more big sighing) over ‘what ifs’ such as ‘what if I was late,’ what if things didn’t go as I have planned,’ what if my colleague didn’t get info to me as promised,’ ‘what if it took longer,’ what if what if what if……

So, one day I pledged ‘no more’ to what if drama.  No more push, push, push.  No more cranky Mommy shuffling behind a slower than molasses and resistant kid, harping ‘come on move on.’  Instead, I’ve been practicing a new discipline with TIME in my life and had rich results. I’ve opted to feel differently about TIME and the demands on my TIME. I’ve snuggled up against it; I’ve decided to enjoy time more than I did in the past. So, I stopped cursing its passing and laude the pockets of it that I protected to use in a dedicated way. I’ve allowed myself this shift each day – I value time and honor it by having a schedule; I respect my priorities by looking at them each day, but most of all I take care of myself by taking my foot off the gas (WINK; most of the time – old habits do die hard) and with intention I allow the flow of the day to take me from task to task. With my master schedule, I build in ‘cathedrals of time’ for my work and know that at the end of the day I will review, revise, and recommit to my top priorities moving on without castigation or dwelling on what ifs………

What if you tried something like that too?  What if?

Cheers – to your success.



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It’s the end of January and the first month of the year is almost gone. I host a monthly meeting and have been reflecting about our discussion on effective goal setting. With a faint lingering hangover of New Year’s Resolutions and the sad fact that 97% are abandoned by January 24th; we were confronting the sober reality of wanting to have meaningful goals which would be sustainable and attainable. How to do that successfully was high on everyone’s list of expectations.

In our cars, or on our phones, most of us have a GPS which we use to get to places that are new and unfamiliar – outside our comfort zone.  We plug in our destination and the GPS spits out road maps and ‘hopefully’ proper directions to have us arrive at our destination.  I am sympathetic to the fact that all of us have arrived somewhere expecting a different outcome – cursing the GPS gone awry.  Majority of the time however, in computer monotone (we’ve named ours Maggie Magellan); it effectively guides us turn by turn to the place we want to be.

Well, goal setting is much like that when it works well.  Turn by turn we eventually arrive at our destination.  Unfortunately, for the 97% who give up by January 24th they don’t realize their goals. So, what’s keeping them from arriving at the terminal of their desire?  Perhaps, it is just that there’s an overlooked an important ingredient for the recipe.  Perhaps they’ve not added the secret ingredient of desire to keep their feet to the fire.

Desire is a teacher: When we immerse ourselves in it without guilt, shame or clinging, it can show us something special about our own minds that allow us to embrace life fully.

                                                  Mark Epstein, Open to Desire

Danielle LaPorte’s Desire Map     has been a great source of inspiration for me this resolution/goal setting season.  Danielle reasons: “Something phenomenal happens when you start to examine your desires.”  I so agree.

I believe that the blueprint for goals and resolutions is how we feel in our body and heart AND that our joy is the architectural rendering. That said when building our ‘structure’ for successful resolutions and goals there must be the following elements:

The foundation is framed by asking ‘what do I really want more of in my life’?

The roof of our ‘desired 2013 structure’ comes from examining carefully ‘if I were to take 5% more action on this goal/area of my life, what would that look like?

The outside walls of our desired 2013 goal oriented space is the built from the material of, ‘what one thing can I do routinely?

The inner design of this sacred space is crafted by answering, ‘how can I make these actions come together in specific and measurable steps?’ Or what can I do to track my successes.

The landscaping around this inspirational building then is grown, nurtured and shaped by ‘how will I be accountable and to whom’.

These are the design elements for our ‘desired’ experience in 2013.  And now I wish you action, action, action and remember to check in with your feelings and heart to assure you stay on track.



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At a recent meeting with a large group of job seekers, I was heartened to hear how many have positive activity occurring in their search.  However, in contrast, I am also struck by some who have worked hard to get something-anything to happen that once they finally land a lead; if it doesn’t pan out they become even more frustrated.  I know from experience, this is a vicious cycle and one that has to stop in order for them to move ahead.

Yesterday I discovered I had not seen an important email on a financial matter.  After a nudge from the sender, I found the message and promised to get it handled as soon as I was back in my office and could print the document.  After it was printed and signed, I talked with the sender and confidently ‘knew’ I was tracking ‘just as I should’ to get the document in his hands by the deadline. The document had all the T’s crossed, X’s X’ed and the I’s dotted.  I simply needed to run to the bank for a notary’s signature and a quick dash to the post office to pop the document into an express mail envelope and it would be off winging away from here to arrive in time by the deadline.

However, my confidence evaporated and the feeling of imminent success for completing this task became twisted as soon as I entered the darkened garage and noticed dim car headlights beaming feebly.  Feeling sick to my stomach, I offered a hasty prayer to the car battery gods, hopped in the car and turned the key.  Zilch.  Breathing deeply, I tried again while fumbling with my other hand for my wallet containing the AAA membership card.  After connecting with the AAA roadside care specialist (who always assures I’m in a safe place – I blush as I reply ‘yes, I’m safe, I’m a garage’), I sat there contemplating my situation while waiting for the battery technician to arrive.  I switched up my thinking on the task at hand. If I could only get the car started and on my way quickly, I would still accomplish my goal – or so I thought.

I was doing everything as ‘I should’ similar to the frustrated job seekers; when what I thought was a sure thing evaporated into a seeming disappointment.  So, where is the risk in this line of thinking which we all seem to succumb to from time to time?  It was in the expectation of experiencing success and being attached to accomplishing it.  Similar to my job seeker friend, I was making assumptions about things beyond my control.  Not only did the AAA battery technician give me a jump, but I got a new battery promptly installed too.  The entire battery event took 83 minutes.  By the time I wheeled (yes only on two) out of the driveway bound for the bank – I was back to thinking I could save this yet.

As my daughter later said to me, ‘sometimes Mom things happen for a reason and you may not know why’. I chuckled from the front seat and thought about another friend who says, ‘be slow to conclude.’  Turns out that even though I did get my signature notarized; and I arrived with the document in the envelop ready to rapidly ‘express’, the express mail deadline had passed an hour before; unbeknownst to me while I was watching Battery Technician, Danny do his magic. I had burdened almost every step in the process with an expectation and an attachment to an outcome beyond my control.

I had counted a success in my win column before its time.  The takeaway here is: no matter the endeavor, be aware of expectations placed on process steps for we can implicate an outcome with more than it ought to carry.

In the case of my job seeker friend, just because he had a lead didn’t mean he would be able to talk with a hiring manager inside that company based on that lead alone.  He overestimated the success of the outcome which ‘might’ arise from having a lead within that company.  Like me, he burdened the activity (only a discrete part of the process) with an expectation and was attached to his expected outcome. We talked about how to reframe for future calls and how he will manage his responses to the next leads he mines in his search.

For me, I’ve checked the tracking number on my package.  My document is still on its way set to arrive a day later than intended.  I’ll consider that whole process to have a successful outcome once I learn that it has arrived – and I’ll not stress anymore one way or another about the result.

So, if you’re a job seeker or if you’re in a career – your view of ‘the work’ makes a difference in how you perceive your outcomes and success.  Success does leave clues…..

Career candy clarity……

Whether you have a job, a career or hail to a calling we all have a voice to share in this world.  Most of us do that in the context of our work.  Cheers to clearer perceptions about the world of work and how it can serve us better.




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