Art of the Debrief: #6 on the Roller Coaster of Shipping

September 20, 2013

Every Friday morning I ask myself 25 simple questions about my week’s activities and experiences. It’s an essential ritual that keeps me grounded in reality, my body, Time and the beauty all around me.

Here are few of my favorite answers from the week of September 16…

What did you enjoy about the doing (v. the finishing)?

- I didn’t.

There were things that needed to be written this week that I did not enjoy writing. In one case, sleeping on it brought needed clarity and ease – and a successful outcome. But the other was a total and complete slog. (If it hadn’t been for the Open Studio co-working sessions, it probably still wouldn’t be done.)

I usually discover the reason for my avoidance and resistance in the process of working (if you want to know, this is the best way to find out). But this time around, I’m still baffled. It was a straightforward task of modest size. And it kinda kicked my ass. All I can guess is this: finishing that meant doing the Next Thing. And that next step is intimidating the hell out of me. But for no good reason other than a bad case of nerves.

Since this has been going on for two weeks now, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about performance anxiety. About stage fright. About how the singer Adele vomits before going on stage – every single time. About how she’s not alone. About how common this is in a creative life. So common that I hardly know why I’m talking about it here.

Except that good time management is good energy management – and this type of energy is tricky to manage.

It’s tricky to outsmart your lizard brain, the part of you that just wants to keep you safe but isn’t always so great at recognizing what “safe” is.

And it takes some observation over time to see the pattern and rhythm of creation and recognize this moment of performance anxiety for what it is: temporary and meaningless to what you’re about to do. It’s just phase #6 of the roller coaster of shipping. It will pass.

And yet knowing all this didn’t make the doing any more enjoyable. (I mean, who likes barfing before going on stage?)

What worked? What needs a system? What systems need tweaking?

When I’m in a funk, I do 100x better when I have to show up in responsibility to other people. The more ways I can book this in advance, the better. This feels a strange turn for an introvert, but it doesn’t make it any less true.

And it’s time to revisit what I call my Interrupter Uppers – small, simple actions I can take to change my mood and direction when I first notice the slide into said funk. My list of emergency measures is a little stale and therefore ineffective. It’s time for a refresh.

What are you thankful for this week? Who do you need to thank?

Miriam at Ruzuku for solving my technical question by giving me a free upgrade. So kind and generous. Above and beyond. What people say about their customer service is true.

What moments of awe and wonder did you experience this week?

I am in awe of our celestial bodies. Bright full moons and the changing angle of the sunrise that momentarily blinds me in my favorite chair while sipping my morning coffee. Beautiful.

Tell me: What were the highlights of your week?

What did you enjoy about the doing?

What do you do to get yourself out of a funk?

What are you thankful for?

What moments of delight did you experience this week?

Organized under week-in-review. none

What transformation and celebration can look like.

September 16, 2013

The more I learn about effective time management, the more I’ve come to take celebration very seriously. Because pausing to acknowledge all the good in what you’ve accomplished – even if it’s less in quantity or quality than what you expected or hoped for – hugely changes your sense of productivity and your relationship with your work, Time and ultimately yourself for the better. Plus, it’s plain good fun.

It’s something I do at the close of each week, each work party session, and each course I teach.

In preparing for my Foundations course this fall, I came across my presentation for the Gala Event that closed a similar course I taught last spring. The Gala felt like both a commencement ceremony and the Academy Awards – packed with as much virtual pomp and circumstance and red-carpet glitter as we could bring to the party. It was wonderful.

And reviewing it three months later, I was as blown away by everyone’s transformation as I was when I first wrote it. I felt like a proud peacock – actually more like a proud mama – all over again and that feeling inspired me to share it with you.

Because nothing better illustrates the extraordinary insight and progress that happens when people come together to practice shaping and moving through Time on their own terms.

So without further ado [and with generous permission from two participants to share their experience] – here’s what transformation and celebration can look like…


Welcome to the Studio for our last gathering under the virtual skylights.

Everyone have their glass of virtual champagne? Comfortable? Then let’s begin the ceremonies…

• • • • •

Twelve weeks ago, we imagined ourselves here to today. What we had done and how we felt about it.
Now we are here. Having learned and done and felt so much more than we pictured in our minds back then.

We surveyed our temporal landscapes – and bravely explored them.
We remembered our futures and took care of our Future Selves.
And we crafted compasses that kept us from getting lost.

We dared to leave empty space on our calendars,
to rearrange our sticky notes – often,
and wiggled in our wiggle room.

We stood at the crossroads of our days and weeks and navigated the intersection of our plans, our energy and the unexpected with honesty and integrity.
We listened for the turbulence and heeded our warning signs.
We learned how much we are influenced by the natural world.

We left ourselves many breadcrumb trails,
and drove by headlights with courage and trust when there wasn’t a clear path to follow.
We captured ideas without being distracted by them.
We freed our minds by writing things down.

We each found our rhythm and shook our groove things in that groove.
We created even when our muses didn’t show up to help.
We bridged the gap between our vision and the various imperfect states of our projects.

We shone a light on our should’s and shouldn’t's – and called bullsh*t on all of them.

We now know that preparation is liberating.
That observation leads to efficiency and effectiveness.
That it’s faster to slow down.
That graceful exits make for graceful entries.

We stuck our landings,
found satisfaction
and celebrated.
We practiced practicing.

And most of all, we learned we need this. That all successful people plan ahead and use systems. And that needing this doesn’t say anything about us other than we have the maturity, intelligence, discipline and self-compassion to choose.

To choose in favor of what is effective even when it doesn’t come easily.
To choose in favor of our energy and capacity.
To choose in favor of what serves us and our work.

Brains have been exploded. Patterns shifted. Skills developed.
We have discovered self-acceptance. Confidence. Stability. Resilience. Pride.

We have been transformed. And each in our own ways…

• • • • •


Shannon discovered that working in 30-minute blocks is so ideal that maybe it should be tattooed on the inside of her eyelids so she never forgets.

She has learned that 90 minutes is all the time in the world when she is well-prepared. And that the more prepared she is, the more she gets done.

And that preparation and percolation creates not only ease, but anticipation and excitement.

Answering the question of what – having Clarity – is her key that unlocks the door that opens all the other doors. And answering the question of why – feeling the Love – is what fuels her work and gives her a sense of synergy and wholeness.

She has shifted from resistance to acceptance to embracing the truth that:

“To do this much planning, to keep checking in and to create those containers – all of that stuff that I feel I shouldn’t need – brings so much ease into my life. It’s so supportive and it makes such a huge difference.”

Shannon “well, that took less time than I expected” Wilkinson – please step forward to accept your award for Best Performance in Mise en Place Is My New Religion!

[ much applause and fanfare + heartwarming acceptance speech ]

• • • • •


In this course, Lisa discovered something more useful than calculus. Even her Time Monsters agree.

She has become the Queen of Checklists – both creating them and then checking them off. No longer demanding that that it remember the details, she has freed her mind for better things.

She has learned that different phases of a project require different containers. And learned to add those transitions to those beloved checklists.

Answering the question of what – having Clarity – is her key that unlocks the door that opens all the other doors.

She has given herself the gift of rehearsal. She has practiced practicing. She has learned to appreciate steady progress, choosing it over hurry-up-and-finish. She is cultivating steadiness. She is allowing herself to be supported by stability. She is allowing reflection to support her mission.

She is no longer willing to pay the price for pulling it out of her ass at the last minute. She is no longer willing to just get by. She is choosing self-kindness instead.

She discovered that Love isn’t enough; you actually have to do the work. And even when the work doesn’t go as planned, she now also knows she can make lemonade from some pretty sour lemons.

And she has learned how to celebrate that work. Instead of plowing ahead to the next thing, she now can pause a moment and enjoy the relief and accomplishment that come from completion even when there is more to do.

On her horizon is an excitement and readiness to explore more distant temporal landscapes and new projects.

Lisa “there will always be more chocolate” Gillispie – please step forward to accept your award for Best Performance as a Phoenix Rising from the Ashes!

[ much applause and fanfare + heartwarming acceptance speech ]

• • • • •

Thank you.

Thank you for showing up even on days when you didn’t feel like it.
For greeting me and each other with those silly Julia Child hello’s. [ hellloooo! ]
For laughing together.
For being kind to each other.
And mostly for trusting me.

This has been as huge and meaningful a learning experience for me as I hope it has been for you. And I’m deeply grateful it.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, you have been the most calm, engaged and productive group I have ever led through a course. It has been a delight and a privilege to share this experience with you and I hope we have the opportunity to meet under the skylight again very soon.

Now go forth and party. [ching ching!]

I’d love to celebrate your own transformation with you.

If you’d like to be smashing a virtual bottle of champagne over the cornerstone of your new foundation twelve weeks from now, please join us. Foundations gets underway just a week from today. Learn all the details and register here.

Please write back soon and tell me…

-  in the comments below, by email [ hello at thirdhandworks dot com ] or postal service [ address at the bottom of the page ]

What award would you give yourself for what you’ve learned and done in recent months?

peace and love,



Organized under celebration. none

Art of the Debrief: The Movie-Marathon Hangover

September 13, 2013

Every Friday morning I ask myself 25 simple questions about my week’s activities and experiences. It’s an essential ritual that keeps me grounded in reality, my body, Time and the beauty all around me.

Here are few of my favorite answers from the week of September 9…

What was the worst thing about this week?

- The post movie-marathon hangover.

I should have known better. I should have seen it coming. But I was fighting the first inklings of a cold and staying put on the couch while indulging in a Harry Potter movie marathon was very appealing. I had recorded the series with the idea of watching it over the space of a week, but I got so caught up in the story I couldn’t stop until I had seen it through to the end. And pulled an unintentional all-nighter in the process. Oof.

Of course, I had to drag my caboose through the following day. And staying up all night did nothing to help me fight that cold virus. But I was also reminded of what that cold-virus made me forget: Binging on fantasy-fiction is almost always an unhealthy form of avoidance. And it almost always turns me into a moody 14-year-old who is much less able cope with what I’m avoiding than my older, wiser self.

As soon as I recognized what had happened, I hauled myself to my favorite neighborhood café, not for the coffee, but to shake off that strange mood as quickly as possible. Because doing what needs to be done as a moody teenager is nearly impossible. (I mean, do you think of ninth grade as a particularly organized and productive period of your life?)

That’s what I should have seen coming. That’s why I consider the appeal of any sort of fantasy fiction to be one of my early warning signs that something is way off.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with fantasy fiction when it’s the right thing at the right time. But when it’s not, it’s what Jennifer Louden would call one of my “shadow comforts” – a comfort that isn’t comforting, rather a way to numb out or hide. And hiding I was. Like any performer about to step on stage, I was nervous about the Open Studio Open House two days later. Was I prepared? Did I know my lines and cues? Would anyone come? Would they like it?

There were any number of ways I could have calmed that case of nerves (which were probably unavoidable – no matter how prepared you are, if you care, you’re going to be nervous), but obviously fantasy-movie-marathon is not something that should be my list of remedies. Escaping into a magical story gave me temporary relief, but it also left me in that cloudy, depleted funk. That was the shadow side. That was the hangover. And like any indulgence, it just wasn’t worth it.

Note to Self: Don’t go there. Just don’t.

What was the best thing about this week?

- Open Studio Open House!

That case of nerves aside, the first week of the Open Studio Open House was delightful. I love co-working!

It was so much fun to connect with clients old and new. And get things done we did. Articles were drafted. Paintings painted. Feedback reviewed. Piles sorted and filed. Receipts entered. Desks cleared. Taxes filed. Phone calls made. Errands run. Mind maps sketched. All with flexibility and good humor, and a few insights and aha moments along the way. What could be better?

Given the stupidly rocky start to my week (and that pesky virus), I was even more amazed than usual by just how much I got done in the last five days. And I know that wouldn’t have happened without the energy and focus of these work parties.

[ sigh of infatuation ]

What did you learn? What do you now need to explore or learn more about?

- Twitter.

While I don’t miss anything about Facebook and my hiatus will continue there – after two months away, I’m feeling little tugs and pulls to return to Twitter. It just feels weird not to thank people for doing kind things in that space, say hello to new followers or share what I’m working on and excited about. I miss composing a good, pithy tweet. I miss the banter. Whatever my issues with social media, total silence isn’t the response. Just what is the answer is what I now need to explore and learn more about – because it would be easy to slip back into the same-old-same-old and end up right back in the grumpy place where I started.

What did you observe or experience that should be added to your almanac?

[ an "almanac" being my notes about seasonal changes in myself and the natural and social worlds around me for future reference when planning my year ]

That annual urge to shampoo the carpets. A sure sign that some part of me knows I’m about to spend much more time indoors, so I might as well make that space pleasant.

Also my annual Not-Ready-For-Summer-To-Be-Over! whine. But then I remembered how beautiful autumn can be, the deliciousness of apples and pears and dinners that come out of hot ovens, and how I’ll finally be able to wear the fabulous shawl I found just when it was turning much too warm for such things.

What are you thankful for?

- My immune system.

What moments of awe or wonder did you experience this week?

- An exquisitely prepared meal. Chefs that know what they are doing are a treasure.

Tell me: What were the highlights of your week?

What do you do to calm your performance anxiety (healthy or otherwise)?

What are you looking forward to about autumn?

What are you thankful for?

What moments of delight did you experience this week?

Organized under week-in-review. none

Forget work/life, it’s about balancing creation and maintenance.

September 9, 2013

Just like that, it’s starting to feel like autumn. I’m waking to my sunrise alarm clock rather than the actual sunrise. I’ve heard the first honks of geese migrating overhead. I’m craving oatmeal for breakfast. The first leaves of that tree on the corner are changing color. It smells different. The light is different. And yet there are still plenty of tomatoes on the vine and a very summery forecast for the week ahead. We’re in that beautiful, liminal space in between seasons. And that has me thinking about the seasons of work and balancing creation and maintenance.

Forget work/life, it’s about balancing creation and maintenance.

The distinction between work and life has never made sense to me – not even when I was an employee. Clearly the latter includes the former. While you are working you are also living. They aren’t two separate things. So how can you balance them?

And the uselessness of this distinction seems to be common amongst my clients and colleagues as well.

Between doing work that holds meaning and having a greater degree of flexibility in our jobs, our personal and professional lives tend to feel pretty integrated and whole. Except where healthy boundaries are necessary, the lines between work and life are blurred. And most of us understand intuitively that these things can’t really be separated – each affects and supports the other. Yes, sometimes we get so busy running our businesses that we don’t take care of ourselves as well as we should, but even in those moments we aren’t usually thinking about the problem in those compartmentalized terms: gosh, my work has really gotten out of balance with my life.

Where the challenge of balance really lies is between creation and maintenance – between the making of things and the routines of everyday life. In that moment of missing self-care, for instance, that’s what has gotten out of whack.

Though the fantasy of spending the whole of every day making things is very compelling, we all know that isn’t how it works. Without some nutrition, movement and hygiene we don’t have the physical energy to do the work. Without some housekeeping we don’t have clean space to work in. Without some admin, email and marketing there’s no cash flow and no one to do the work with. Creation can’t happen in a sustainable way without maintenance. And yet the one so often seems to come at the expense of the other. For most creatives, there’s tension between the two.

And what makes resolving that tension even trickier is the way creation changes things.

Of course, that’s usually why we make things, why we do the work we do – we want something to be different. And our efforts to change things for the better are usually pretty effective.

And so a cycle forms.

You make something. It’s grand. It changes things for you and the people you serve in all the ways you imagined. And in other ways you didn’t anticipate – some good, some maybe not so much.

One thing you couldn’t see coming was how the very systems and support structures that made that creation possible, now no longer work in these new expanded circumstances in which you find yourself. [more specifics on the ways this happens and how to address them in future posts]

Because creation changes the maintenance you need to engage in further creation.

And until you stabilize what’s no longer working – until you update or craft new systems that are effective in this new reality – creating your Next Thing either a) simply won’t happen or b) will just add to the chaos.

It’s a rhythm. It’s like breathing. Exhale. Inhale. Creation. Maintenance.

We are always moving through cycles of establishing a foundation and building on it – then reinforcing, widening and deepening that foundation and building again. Level upon level, story upon story. Season upon season.

We are organic beings who live and work seasonally. We cannot remain in a constant state of creation. Periods of birth, growth and bringing something to maturity (think: spring and summer) are always followed by turbulence, release and hibernation (think: autumn and winter).

Just as the routines of everyday life (the flossing, email and vacuuming I mentioned above) make our daily creativity possible, regular periods of updating those routines are what make our long-term creativity possible. You have to occasionally maintain your maintenance.

If you’re experiencing a lot of turbulence and chaos – if the systems that used to work no longer do – if you used to feel more organized, prepared and in control than you do now – those are strong signs you’ve stayed in the season of creation too long. It’s time to pause, take a breath, and return to the season of maintenance and reestablish your foundation.

This is true no matter how long you’ve been in business. Establishing a foundation isn’t something you do once at the outset of becoming an entrepreneur. Your sustaining foundation is something that needs to evolve along with your creative work. You need to give your systems some time and attention between each big creative push and stage of development.

And that’s one of the reasons I’m so stoked to be getting back to basics. Getting this administrative stuff right makes all the difference to your creativity and growth.

If it’s time to pause, take a breath and return to the season of maintenance in your business, I invite you to join Foundations this fall. The program gets underway two weeks from today – and it could be just the thing you need to set yourself up for success in the new year and fuel your Next Thing.

a few reminders…

The Open Studio Open House starts tomorrow

Virtual co-working is one of my favorite things ever – mainly because, when it comes to boosting your focus and productivity, nothing works better. Try it for yourself and see if it makes a difference! Come to the Open Studio Open House: Tuesdays and Thursdays from September 10-19. Learn all the details and register here.

You can still help me warm up my end-of-year planning muscles…

Speaking of changing seasons, now is the perfect time to step back and make a plan for the last quarter of the year that will allow you to complete the last of what you set out to do at the beginning of the year and clarifies the year ahead and how you can best prepare for it. If you’re ready, willing and able to join me for a Vista Field Trip between now and September 20, you can get crystal clear on the coming months for just $97. Learn all the details and book your session here.

Shaping December is back…

Yes, it’s wrong that stores have holiday merchandise on display before Halloween, but this is different. Now is the perfect moment to identify how you want to engage in completion, celebration and reflection at the close of the year – from a distance that gives you perspective, control and time to prepare. This sweet little planning guide will show you how to create the December you want and the autumn that will get you there. Think of it as a gift to your Future Self (she will thank you for it). Learn more and get your copy here.

Please write back soon and tell me…

-  in the comments below, by email [ hello at thirdhandworks dot com ] or postal service [ address at the bottom of the page ]

How do you balance creation and maintenance? Is it easy or a struggle?
What do you do to restore stability and flow after a big creative push?

And how are the seasons changing where you are?
What are you noticing in yourself and the natural world around you?
How are you honoring and celebrating that shift?

peace and love,


Organized under maintenance. none

The Art of the Debrief

September 6, 2013

For several years now, I’ve made a practice of closing each week by asking myself a series of questions about that week’s activities and experiences. The questions have evolved over the years and I’ve gone back and forth between answering them on paper and on my laptop, yet this Friday morning ritual has remained essentially the same: an hour + a nice breakfast + the end-of-week playlist + the week-in-review.

The ritual (ahem, system) has stuck because it works. I remain committed to it because of what happens when I skip it. If I don’t take time to review my week…

  • I focus on how much remains to be done rather than celebrating and finding satisfaction in what I have accomplished – which is almost always way more than I remember before I start my review.
  • I focus solely on my productivity, forgetting my creativity and the pleasure of the process of realizing an idea.
  • I miss the signs that I’m working beyond my capacity or drifting out of integrity.
  • I lose sight of what’s working and where I my systems need attention.
  • I lose sight of what I’ve learned and where I need more training and practice.
  • I forget to clear out the old to make space for the new – which just gums things up.
  • I forget that I’m surrounded by wonderful people and a beautiful, wondrous world – and to be actively thankful for that.
  • I forget that the unexpected is normal.
  • I bypass rest and get stuck all up in my head, forgetting I have body.
  • My perception of the passage of Time feels very rapid.
  • And I enter my coming week totally unprepared – which is rather unkind to my Future Self.

As you can see, there’s a pretty big payoff for investing an hour each week in answering 25 simple questions.

And in the fine blogging tradition of the End-of-Week-Wrap-Up, I’ll be sharing highlights from my reviews to illustrate the power of this ritual and share examples of how this right-brain time-management stuff works in real-life.

[ The Art of the Debrief is something we'll practice regularly in Foundations. If you want to develop your own week-in-review ritual and questions, please join us. ]

• • • • •

highlights from the week of September 2

What did you complete this week?

In addition to announcing all sorts of new and revived goodness, I’m especially pleased to have finished this new summary of my programs and how they all fit together.

In part because I think it’s super useful to you. Also because it’s the sort of thing I could have set out to write only to discover my work was much less cohesive than I imagined. But mostly because I was a bit stunned by the quantity and quality of programs I created during a period I tend to think of as unproductive and murky. It was like compiling the Anthology all over again: Though there is more to write, the truth is a great deal of good writing has already been done.

Just as I usually discover in these weekly reviews, once again I’ve completed more than I think I have. And that will be celebrated.

How did the unexpected show up this week?

Cold cooties brought home by my sweetheart from his workplace. I am appeasing the gods of productivity with a great many supplements. My prayer: Please spare me the snot. Because my plans aren’t as common-cold-proof as they should be and bed-rest would be really inconvenient right now.

What is the overall state of your energy?

Despite the above, my energy level is better than last week when I was proud, but vibrating with exhaustion. How tired was I? At the time of last week’s review, I was so tired I forgot I ordered a bagel in the space of time in took the barista to toast and butter it. I was genuinely, though pleasantly, startled when she brought it to the table. Now that’s a warning sign you’re working beyond your capacity. Thank goodness for a long holiday weekend of doing next to nothing. Lesson (re)learned.

What worked? What needs a system? What systems need tweaking?

The last two weeks have been a reminder that K.I.S.S. always works. As does listening to and obeying my intuition. And to-thine-own-self-be-true. It keeps things so easy and straightforward.

That said, Basecamp (which I already use and love) needs to become my new best friend – you know, the kind you talk to every single day. My brain is too full of ideas to trust things to memory. And there are many, many moving parts that need tending to right now – and knowing exactly what they are and when they need to be handled will be the difference between finding god or the devil in those details. Systems!

And speaking of a full brain, I need I also need to do more to help it stop spinning when it’s time to rest and maintain my equilibrium and integrity during this time of growth. It would be so easy to let things get moody and wobbly. Meditation, prepare to be resumed for ten minutes a day.

Where did life take you this week?

The post office – where there was snail mail! I am so in love with this revival of correspondence with you. Keep ‘em coming.

What moments of awe or wonder did you experience this week?

Thunder and lightening! They’re not so common in these parts, so always seem extra spectacular.

What do you want from next weekend?

I still don’t know how I want to celebrate this week or what I want from this weekend other than “a Sunday that feels like a Sunday,” but here’s what my Wiser Future Self said about next weekend: Keep pacing yourself. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Note: this is the same thing as trusting yourself.

I’m not sure exactly what it means yet, or if it’s even true, but I like it…

• • • • •

Your turn. Tell me: What were the highlights of your week?

Organized under week-in-review. none

I’m getting back to basics.

August 26, 2013

I’ve been nostalgic for the past lately, for days when things seemed simpler and more straightforward. Of course, the good old days weren’t always good and I’m editing a lot out of my memories. And yet I sense I’ve accidently lost something valuable along the way. So I’ve been retracing my steps, hoping to find what feels missing.

I’m getting back to basics.

I’ve been reviewing my early work, circa 2009, and dang it was good. Not in a way I can copy/paste – my understanding and approach have improved so much in the last four years it wouldn’t make sense to reuse that material word-for-word. No, what I loved about it was this: it was unapologetically about business administration. I mean, I regularly talked about how to create business manuals fercryinoutloud. (It was a smart recommendation. Still is.)

These days I describe my Blues-Brothers-Mission-from-God as bringing about a world where creatives are as skilled and enthusiastic about organizing their time and to-do’s as they are about crafting the work that is their calling. But back then I would have said it was simply to help people stop hatin’ on their administrative grunt work – and I still like that mission a lot. And it points to what seems to be missing: basics.

Basic organizational and time management techniques. Fundamental principles. Simple instructions. Core strengths. A solid foundation. The primary elements that create stability and sanity, productivity and confidence, profit and enjoyment in your livelihood.

Right-Brain Time Management 101

And so, after a much-too-long hiatus, I’m bringing back Right-Brain Time Management 101, aka The Way of the Time Disciple, and this time around simply titled Foundations.

It’s the first of a three-part program designed to help you master the art of moving through your days and weeks, then months and quarters, and finally through your year.

By the end of our twelve weeks together, you’ll be clear about what needs doing when and able to shift smoothly from one task to the next, balance creation and administration, roll with the unexpected, and complete what needs finishing in the average week – while remaining consistently fueled and, dare I say, enjoying yourself.

And you’ll come away with easy-to-use and remember-to-use systems for your daily life that will stick over the long-haul because they actually work.

If it’s time to develop or reestablish your administrative foundation, I hope you will join me this fall. The program starts September 23. You can learn all the details and register here.

Let’s take a field trip!

As summer winds down (not that there aren’t still plenty of tomatoes to be picked and s’mores to be enjoyed) and it slowly dawns on us that we’re entering the final months of the year – now is the perfect time to step back and make a plan for that last quarter.

  • a plan for an autumn that will set you up for a lovely holiday season
  • a plan that will allow you to complete the last of what you set out to do at the beginning of the year
  • a plan that clarifies the year ahead and how you can best prepare for it

Crafting such a plan requires perspective, some height and distance from your everyday life. So before we head back to school, I invite you to join me for a “field trip” – a half-day planning session during which we get away from it all and have some serious fun with calendars and sticky notes.

And I’d love to warm up my planning muscles with a handful of you. If you’re ready, willing and able to join me for a session between now and September 20, you can get crystal clear on the coming months for just $97 (sessions are regularly $280). You’ll find all the details here.

Better than your favorite café.

I’ve been hosting virtual work parties of various kinds since those early days and they remain one of my favorite things to do – mainly because, when it comes to boosting your focus and productivity, nothing works better – not even stepping out to your favorite cafe.

And while there are many online communities out there where you can connect for camaraderie and accountability, they all come at the price of being part of a larger program – extras you may not want or need. You just want to get things done.

So I’ve created the thing I want, but can’t find: a basic alternative with no curriculum, no library of resources, no discussion forums – just a space that asks: What will you do today?

You declare it. The Studio will support and hold you to it. You get your essential work done. Rinse and repeat. Simple as that.

Try it for yourself and see if it makes a difference. Come to the Open Studio Open House – Tuesdays and Thursdays from September 10-19. Details here.

You’re the best.

Lastly, I can’t close without thanking you for your lovely and thoughtful replies to my announcement that I was taking a hiatus from social media. They confirmed a few things:

  • the ways we are expected to connect online feel uncomfortable, confusing and broken to many of us;
  • the collective rejection of those expectations is creating change, and I do believe there is a Movement underway;
  • and I am in the most let’s-get-real, true-to-ourselves-and-what-works, willing-to-change, encouraging and appreciative circle of people a gal could wish for – thank you.

Please write back soon.

Last time I asked: What kinds of real-world experiences do you want more of? (And I’d still like to hear more about that.)

This time, I’d love to know: What have you accidently lost along the way that you’d like to find again? And: How would you like to get back to basics?

-  in the comments below, by email [ hello at thirdhandworks dot com ] or postal service [ address at the bottom of the page ]

peace and love,


Organized under Uncategorized. none

I’m taking an indefinite hiatus from social media. Here’s why.

August 1, 2013

At first I thought it was the same thing that happens every summer: that irresistible urge to go outside as often and for as long as possible.

Over the past month I’ve planted everything from tomatoes to ferns, cucumbers to columbines. I’ve pruned, dug up sod, moved bricks and rocks large and small around our yard. I’ve cycled daily on my sweet new-to-me cruiser to my vacationing parents’ house to water their garden. I’ve eaten piles of fresh-picked berries, peas, beans and lettuce – often al fresco. I’ve picnicked at summer concerts at the island farm. I’ve had coffee dates that turned into four-hour conversations over lunch. There have been s’mores around a fire.

I’ve been very much in my body, with people, in my city and in nature, enjoying an unplanned vacation away from my business and offline – simply because I couldn’t make myself go inside.

It’s been completely, deliciously real.

So real and so engaging I forgot things I never forget, like my regular mastermind call. So real and so satisfying that I didn’t much mind falling behind on the professional work I had planned for the quarter.

And yet. A part of my mind was still busy figuring out if and how to post that delicious reality to social media – what to include, what to say, how to photograph it.

And then I realized just how angry I was about that sense of obligation to share my activities in real time and the distraction and brain drain that went with it, how much I loathed the way even thinking about it was altering my very experience. As in: it’s a good thing I had weeds and heavy rocks to take that fury out on, otherwise I would have had to beat my mattress with a tennis racket.

Given that no one was actually forcing me to do anything, I had to ask myself where that peer-pressure was coming from, along with that huge upswell of resentment and resistance to it.

Fortunately, in trying understand it I was reminded of a recent missive written by the always thoughtful and observant Sarah Bray. It included a link to Uncommon, which referenced a brilliant essay by Jack Cheng on the Slow Web movement.

That was the lucky bit. The concept of Fast vs. Slow Web explained everything I was experiencing. And let me know I wasn’t alone in that experience.

Such is the power of the internet.

That’s its good side – the side that remains a wonder to me, the side I acknowledge with delight and gratitude for all the useful and beautiful experiences, knowledge and people it brings into my life.

But there is another side – the side that foments voyeurism, comparison, conformity, false expectations, narcissism, distraction, information overload and a house-of-mirrors unreality. The side that keeps us on a dopamine high of random rewards that never satisfy. The side that siphons our energy for its own purposes like the Matrix. The side that fuels our fears of missing out and the-grass-is-surely-greener-over-there. The side that creates distance while promising connection. The side that keeps us clicking clicking clicking instead of living.

The side that reminds me of that frenetic early scene in Baz Luhrman’s Moulin Rouge when all the top-hatted patrons sing that Nirvana song: Here we are now, entertain us… The side that feeds my ego instead of my ideas. The side that has been insidiously turning me into a wanna-be celebrity instead of the educator, organizer and craftsperson I am called to be.

That’s what I was bucking against.

Once I understood that, I realized it wasn’t just summer. I wasn’t just avoiding work to be in the sunshine. I was also avoiding work because, while I love what I do, I no longer love the environment in which I do it.

Here in the delicious reality of summertime – while I’ve essentially been living Slow Food – the shortcomings of Fast Web feel painfully obvious. It’s time to change my location.

“Not long ago I Skyped with a friend who was driven out of the city by high rent and now has an artist’s residency in a small town in the south of France. She described herself as happy and relaxed for the first time in years. She still gets her work done, but it doesn’t consume her entire day and brain. She says it feels like college – she has a big circle of friends who all go out to the cafe together every night. She has a boyfriend again. What she had mistakenly assumed was her personality – driven, cranky, anxious and sad – turned out to be a deformative effect of her environment.” – Tim Kreider, “The ‘Busy’ Trap”, The New York Times

• • • • •

I reread Sarah’s letter because I remembered her saying people who are most successful on the internet these days are the ones who are helping people to have real world experiences and I wanted to get the quote right. Turns out she didn’t actually say that. It was somewhat implied, but really I had drawn the conclusion I wanted to hear.

Because that’s what I want to do. I want to help people – me and you both – to have better real world experiences, to be fully present and engaged in our lives and work.

Of course, in a digital age “real” gets pretty tricky to define pretty quickly – and will vary from person to person. That said, if you’re still with me, if you’re nodding your head as you read this, if you think this commercial is funny – I’m confident you know what I mean by real.

• • • • •

To have better real-world experiences, to stay on the good side of the internet, I am embracing the qualities of the Slow Web movement: timely not real-time, rhythm not random, moderation not excess, knowledge not information – and deepening my commitment to my own guiding principles.

“When people say, ‘You really, really must’ do something, it means you don’t really have to. No one ever says, ‘You really, really must deliver the baby during labor.’ When it’s true, it doesn’t need to be said.” – Tina Fey, Bossypants

Starting with breaking the rules by taking a indefinite hiatus from social media. I don’t care how fun and essential “everyone” says it is, no amount curation or systems-crafting has kept Facebook and Twitter from being tedious and draining spaces that fail to bring out my best. [Especially Facebook. If Fast Web is like Fast Food, I consider Facebook to be the Monsanto of the internet. If you are among those who thrive there, feel free to disagree and carry on.] This is one of those times when the best system is no system.

Next: It’s one thing to criticize Facebook as a space designed to keep you addicted to the dopamine high of random rewards and clicking clicking clicking to fuel its own purposes – it’s another to realize you’ve done the very same thing on your own website. So I’ve removed things like the eight or more self-serving links you had the option to click on at the end of every blog post. I’ve pared down my sidebars and deleted entire paragraphs and pages of information you don’t need to know to understand what I do.

Because, again, what I most want you to do after reading something like this is to incorporate the useful bits into your life, not end up down the rabbit hole of the internet only to come up for air hours later feeling unsatisfied and less-than and wondering WTF you’ve been doing all day. [And yet I acknowledge this post contains many links. I see the contradiction and can only say: I'm still figuring this out.]

Effective time management is good energy management, so I also don’t want to burn through your limited and therefore precious cognitive resources. Our abilities to process information, solve problems and exercise self-discipline all come from the same well – and even though we’re total braniacs, that well is far from deep. Every decision we make degrades our ability to make subsequent decisions. If I’m going to ask you to make choices, they’d damn-well better be worthwhile. Asking you to click to tweet is not a good use of your cognitive resources. Nor is pointing you to the latest video that made me LOL or cry. Those things are just french fries. And a digital storefront with an overwhelm of information and options does nothing to nourish you or bring out your real-world best.

• • • • •

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

That simplification is also finding it’s way into my upcoming programs. From content to structure, pacing, platform and pricing, I’m asking myself: what is the most straightforward way I can help you to change the things you want to change and do the things you want to do? How much tangible reality can I bring into a virtual business? Is it possible to create online co-working spaces that embody the same energy as your favorite local café? (Stay tuned for developments and announcements about that.)

• • • • •


“Heart-to-heart conversation in a world of chit chat.” I’ve had this postcard since high-school. It never gets old.

Lastly, though I am giving up social media, I don’t want to lose my connection with you. And though email can be just as pernicious, it still has that lovely quality of person-to-person correspondence. So, I’m shifting the Aerogramme from being an e-newsletter to something closer to an old-fashioned letter (remember those?) – occasional updates about what’s happening with me to which you’re enthusiastically invited to reply in your own time with what’s happening with you. Because I really, truly want to know. I just can’t figure out how to have such conversations on Facebook…

• • • • •

So that’s what’s been happening with me lately. Now go forth and apply any useful and beautiful ideas you found here to your real life. Form hypotheses and test them (e.g., what happens when you drop out of something popular?). And then if you’re so inclined, write back and tell me…

-  in the comments below, by email [ hello at thirdhandworks dot com ] or postal service [ address at the bottom of the page ]

  • What have you been up to this summer?
  • What kinds of real-world experiences do you want more of?
  • And what do you think about this Slow Web thing?

peace and love,


Organized under choosing. 4 comments.

The Big Secret of Effective Email Management

June 17, 2013

[ an excerpt from Easier Email ]

The various sources of the email you receive is largely what determines the way you categorize and prioritize messages.

Some potential sources (review your own inbox for types of senders):

  • clients/customers
  • potential clients/customers
  • colleagues/partners
  • teachers/mentors (from newsletter to course content)
  • financial institutions (notices of transactions, statements, etc.)
  • service providers
  • friends and family (or family-related communications, e.g. from your child’s school)

And those categories point to all the other systems that your email system is connected to, the systems that are generating all those messages.

This is hugely important because the relationships between email and those systems are very symbiotic. If those other systems aren’t clear and well-established, that will show up as a backlog in your inbox. And if your email system is murky, that will introduce confusion into the larger systems it supports.

This is the big secret of effective email management. Yes, on the one hand, you do need to have a system specific to handling email. You need a way to care for this space and keep it organized and tidy.

On the other hand, there’s no such thing as an email system. In the end, it’s not about this space. It’s about the larger efforts that require you to come to this space for information and connection. Email is just one tool, one step, one location in your other systems. Get those running smoothly and many of your email problems will resolve themselves. Don’t mistake the shared location for the real work at hand.

Your reasons for seeking out specific types of information are often a better way to organize the timing of when you process certain types of messages than attempting to handle them all at once.

Lumping everything together requires you to switch contexts many times within a single processing session. The mindset and energy required to answer a question from a client, review a financial transaction, and reply to a note from your mom are very different – and shifting between them can be draining and keep you from handling each one as well as you could have had you processed similar messages by group separately.

Each type of message you receive, each of those categories, points to corresponding activities on your schedule. And each one of those activities has its own system. The time of day, your environment, and how you support your energy will be different for different categories. They each require their own approach.

For instance, what shows up on my to-do list or schedule is not “process email, ” but “bookkeeping” and bookkeeping includes the step of processing any financial information that’s in my inbox. Or another example – “answer client questions” – which includes the step of checking for and processing any related messages or notices I’ve received via email. See the difference?

Newsletters or course information can handled during the time you’ve committed to training and education. Messages from friends and family can be handled during social/personal time. And so forth.

Again, don’t mistake the location for the tasks themselves. What unifies a group of tasks is not where they are, but what they require you to do.

• • • • •

If you liked this excerpt, you can read others here and here. And of course there are 70+ pages of hands-on practical guidance like this in Easier Email itself.

Organized under systems. One comment.

Have nothing in your inbox that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.

June 12, 2013

[ an excerpt from Easier Email, from the chapter: Unsubscribe! ]

Now turn your attention to removing the subscriptions and notifications you receive, but no longer need or want.

And by removing those messages I mean unsubscribing, not just deleting them. In the end, it’s more efficient to say no once, than to say no over and over again.

Some subscriptions and notifications may be easy to say no to. They are the messages you already delete unread – or read, but find boring or annoying. Others may present more challenging decisions.

In the case of the latter, ask yourself:

  1. Why is this here? What was my original motivation for giving someone my email address or checking that opt-in box?
  2. Is that reason still relevant? (Sometimes we don’t notice we’ve evolved until we look.) Does it meet a current need? If not, unsubscribe.
  3. If it does meet a current need, is there a better place or way to fulfill that? Can this same information be found on a blog with an RSS feed? Is social media a better way to stay connected? Is using the “recent activity” features of a forum a better way to stay up-to-date?
  4. Do these subscriptions/notifications require decision-making? If so, are they decisions I want to make in this space? And are they opportunities I can even say yes to right now? If the answer is always no due to lack of time or funds, for instance, why present yourself with the choice?

Research shows the simple act of making decisions degrades one’s ability to make further decisions. It’s why something as seemingly straightforward as grocery shopping is so exhausting. You need to make the most of your decision-making energy by being selective about the choices you present yourself with – and when and where you make those decisions.

It’s why I have a No Soliciting sign on my front door. It’s not that I’m uninterested in politics, religion, home improvements, planting trees or handmade tamales. It’s just that I’m not interested in having conversations or making decisions about those things on my front doorstep on someone else’s schedule. I prefer to research my options when a need arises. And I apply the same proactive approach to my inbox (which is also a threshold) by keeping my subscriptions to a minimum.

Ultimately, I only subscribe to what genuinely delights me, to what I read eagerly the moment it arrives, to what doesn’t feel like a chore or an obligation. William Morris’s excellent advice to “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful,” applies here too.

As you weigh your choices about what stays and what goes, if worry about missing out on an opportunity or being “out of the know” comes up, remind yourself how much you’re already missing out on by having to handle an overflowing inbox. That’s time and energy you could be giving to the opportunities right in front of you! Also, consider trusting the Universe to bring you what you need when you need it. If you’re meant to know or do something, unless you’re living under a rock, you’ll hear about it one way or another.

If you’re really struggling to let go, remind yourself these aren’t permanent decisions. Make a list of what you’ve unsubscribed from. Revisit it three to six months from now and rejoin any lists you’ve genuinely missed (if any).

And if a sense of rejecting someone and their work comes up, remind yourself it’s unlikely they will even know that you personally unsubscribed unless they are unusually vigilant about their list. And in any case, it’s more important that your inbox remain uncluttered and for the sender to reach the right audience than for you to save someone’s feelings. And keep in mind this may not be a rejection at all, just a changing of channels. Keep things in perspective.

Use this step of clearing your inbox as a way to practice boundary-setting in your business and life. Use it to build your choosing muscles so you have the strength to lift the heavier stuff when the need arises.

• • • • •

If you liked this excerpt, you can read others here and here. And of course there are 70+ pages of hands-on practical guidance like this in Easier Email itself.

Organized under systems. none

On Filing

May 14, 2013

Other than the backlog itself, it’s clear from my conversations with y’all that filing is a huge source of confusion and a big challenge for many of you when it comes to your email systems.

So here’s an excerpt from the forthcoming Easier Email guidebook about organizing and filing your messages.

[ Tip: Everything you're about to read applies to organizing your paper records as well. ]

• • • • •

First and most importantly, in order to make your filing work, you must distinguish between active and reference-only messages. Trying to organize both types in the same way is the root of most filing problems.

Active messages are in-progress and requires some sort of action. There’s something specific you want to do with them.

Reference-only messages are records of past actions or communications you need to save for future reference should the need arise (but likely won’t). Most messages in this category are financial or other transactional communications that you need to keep for legal or similar reasons. In contrast to active messages, they are passive.

Because you don’t need to do anything with them, reference-only messages are easily archived by project or sender – what or who generated them. Drop them into an appropriately labeled digital file folder and you’re done.

When filing reference messages, avoid getting too granular with your categories. Start with broad groupings. Your records will tell you when it’s time to divide (usually when it takes a bit longer to find something you need than you’d like it to). In the meantime, put things where you would first look for them (not where you think you should put it because that’s what someone else told you to do). Trust and rely on the ever-improving powers of the search features of email programs and services. And match your organizational efforts to the likelihood that you will ever need to find this thing again. Keep it simple, sweethearts.

Active messages, on the other hand, must be organized by the actions they require – and grouping them by project or sender likely won’t tell you what to do with them. Plus, filing is a form of out-of-sight-out-of-mind. Active messages must remain visibly in front of you in some way.

And keeping them visibly in front of you – or at least the actions they require – may mean moving them into a different space than your inbox.

For me, any message that requires more than a straightforward answer (something needs to be decided or coordinated before I can reply) is forwarded to my favorite project management program so the action can be added to my weekly to-do list (otherwise that mini-project will never get done and then *shazam* I’ve got a backlog). You could create a “pending” or “in progress” folder to hold such messages until they have been handled if you like. And once completed, they can be archived like all other reference messages.

For instance, filing a potential testimonial by sender doesn’t tell you what to do with it. Creating a folder labeled “testimonials” would be better. But unless gathering testimonials is a regular part of a marketing routine that points you to that folder, its contents are going to be forgotten. Getting that action – “request approval to share comments as testimonial” – on to your to-do list gives you the best chance of follow-through. And your in-box can’t effectively function as your to-do list because it isn’t action specific and it can’t show you this task in the context of everything else you need to do.

If you’re getting bogged down in active messages, this is likely an indication that the systems that feed your email aren’t as clear as they need to be. This is not a filing problem, but a lack of clarity about where email fits into the larger processes of your business and life.

Similarly, messages that don’t require immediate action or need to be saved for your records – a newsletter with useful information that you want to reference in future, for instance – also likely need to be moved to a space other than your inbox in order to be useful rather than forgotten. I prefer a service like Evernote over a project management service for creating such a centralized “library” of materials, which can also include snippets from the internet, and my own notes.

Again, the information you keep must correspond to and support other active systems and endeavors (learning, marketing, content development, etc.) – otherwise they have no reason to arrive in your inbox in the first place, or to be saved there or anyplace else. To do otherwise is a recipe for overwhelm and guilt.

• • • • •

If you liked this excerpt, you can read others here and here. And of course there are 70+ pages of hands-on practical guidance like this in Easier Email itself.

Organized under systems. none