Your Life Is an Ecosystem

July 21, 2014

Again, given summer’s undeniable pull to go outside and play, you may be feeling greater tension than usual right now between what you want to do and what you have to do. This week’s excerpt from the Foundations program can help you resolve that conflict, so you can both enjoy the season and still finish what needs doing.

Summer also calls us to slow down, recover and prepare for the more ambitious energy that will arrive with autumn. It’s a season well-suited to adjusting to the growth and changes that resulted from whatever you created in the spring and to make space for the new to come. Decluttering is part of that preparation – and so in this week’s mini-guide, I share my thoughts on what happens at the intersection of Space and Time.

Foundations, Week 3: What Needs Doing

foundations-sidebarIn the third week of the Foundations program, having gained a fresh perspective on Time, Systems and You, we then shift our focus to everything that is demanding your attention, all the activities you need and want to do and the relationships between them.

Finding those connections is key to shifting that no-win sense that whatever you’re doing now comes at the expense of other things you need and want to do – and ultimately learning to work within your capacity and feel satiated by your activities.

One way we explore those connections is by redefining work.

Exercise: Redefining Work

Many years ago I read a magazine article about work/life balance, and the author made the compelling argument that dividing your life into these two halves and weighing the one against the other was the wrong way to go about achieving what we like to call “balance.” Our lives are much more like interdependent ecosystems, he said, with each person’s individual “habitat” being quite unique. The combination of activities one person needs to feel satisfied can be very different from another. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution and trying to conform to this 50/50 concept only leads to problems.

Or as Molly Gordon later pointed out more succinctly: we don’t want to be balanced so much as we want to feel whole.

A healthy, sustainable life is an ecosystem in which all the elements are interconnected and interdependent, each part contributing to and supporting the others in some way.

To further explore this interconnectedness, in this exercise you’ll redefine what counts as “work.”

We associate various qualities with the word work: activities that require significant effort, that which is the opposite of play or leisure, what one has to do v. what one wants to, and so on.

In this instance, I want you to redefine work in its sense of what counts as a legitimate activity.

For the most part, we tend to think of work as the activities an employer would pay us to do or what would be considered “billable” time. Anything an employer would discourage or prohibit in the workplace, isn’t work – a definition that can cause us to devalue many significant aspects of our lives.

That devaluation can seriously erode our sense of satisfaction with the way we move through our days and lead us to dismiss certain essential activities altogether.

So let’s redefine what counts as work by first defining work.

For myself, I define work as anything that directly brings money into my household or makes that effort possible.

Which means nearly all of my activities count as work. They are all legitimate uses of my time and energy.

For instance, writing the words you are reading at this very moment is clearly one element of my livelihood – what I’m doing right now is work. But so was preparing and eating the lunch I enjoyed when taking a break from this writing because I cannot write without fueling my body. In fact, anything involving food – from grocery shopping to cleaning the kitchen – counts as work.

Same goes for sleep. I cannot be sustainably productive without getting consistent and sufficient rest. So does that make sleeping part of my job? Hmmm…

Similarly, if I get my best ideas in the shower, digging in the garden, or when taking a walk through my neighborhood, then those activities are work.

And while ironing my sweetheart’s work shirts is probably the most prosaic thing I do in my week, it does fulfill a requirement of his job. It helps to bring money into our household, so it also counts as work.

I could even make the argument that participating in trivia night at my neighborhood pub is work because, as a contrasting activity, it refreshes my abilities to engage in other activities. And the same reasoning could apply to any social engagement, vacation or form of R&R.

And so on.

Play with this exercise long enough and you may find yourself challenged to come up with something that doesn’t contribute to making your livelihood possible and isn’t work.

The point of this exercise isn’t to turn every aspect of your life into a job or to only choose activities that directly contribute to your financial bottom line. And distinguishing between your professional and personal life likely will remain useful in many ways.

Rather, the point is to notice how everything you do is connected and supports everything else, has value and helps you to feel whole.

• • • • •

To discover this for yourself, start by choosing how you want to define work. (You can use my definition or something of your own invention.)

Then mind-map all the areas of your life that you want or need to give your time and energy to. You can group or organize your activities any way you like.

Once you’ve completed your brain-dump, ask yourself how each activity and each area of your life contributes to your livelihood. If you stopped doing something, what would be the effect on your professional life? On other areas of your life? Conversely, what would happen if you devoted more time and energy to an area?

Use lines, arrows and circles to illustrate the relationships you discover. Observe what falls outside that web of connections. Consider removing such tangents from your life. They are draining rather than contributing to the whole.

When you are finished, check in with yourself. How has giving yourself an objective picture of the interconnectedness and interdependence of the activities that make up the ecosystem of your life shifted that internal conflict between what you have to do and what you want to do, that tension between creation and maintenance, and that sense that whenever you’re doing one thing, you’re robbing yourself of something else?

On Decluttering: What I Know About Space & Time

There is a plethora of advice out there about how to organize everything from your closets to your inbox, purge your unwanted stuff, and keep your house clean. I am not an expert in such things and this is not that kind of how-to manual.

What this 9-page mini-guide does cover is what often gets discussed when students bring decluttering tasks to our co-working parties. These are my observations and experience of what happens at the intersection of Space and Time: how your belongings relate to change, how your possessions affect your energy, how your stuff is connected to your calendar, and how your worldly goods shape your experience and perception of time.

If you’re already subscribed to the Aerogramme, On Decluttering is probably already waiting for you in your inbox. If not, you can become a subscriber by entering your contact info below the airmail envelope in the top right of this page, then clicking “sign me up.”

Missed last week’s giveaways?

You can read last week’s Aerogramme and learn how to download last week’s gift, Never on a Sunday, here.

And for those of you who have been playing along, what happened when you spent a day away from mechanical time? How are you taking back your weekends? Share your insights here on the blog. I’d love to hear from you.

Featured Self-Study – To Hold in the Hand:
Ten Ways to Make Peace with the Ordinary Work of Everyday Life

MPWM-sidebarThe tensions between creation and maintenance can seriously erode your sense that your life is a healthy ecosystem in which all its parts contribute to the whole. And they can definitely lead to clutter! In To Hold in the Hand, I share ten ways to erase that sense of conflict and show you how to craft systems to stay current with the routine tasks of your daily life, rather than repeat endless and stressful cycles of catch-up.

And this week, in honor of my second foundational system-crafting task, changing my shopping cart service, To Hold in the Hand is pay-what-you-want through this Friday (7/25) at noon Pacific. If a lack of funds has stood between you and peace, please seize this opportunity!

“There has been something deeply healing for me about making peace with maintenance, especially understanding it as essential to the rest of my goals, and part of achieving those goals. What a relief to know that maintenance is important and urgent and that it’s okay for me to spend time on it. I have been feeling so much more loved by simply taking the time to care for myself through cooking, putting laundry away, changing the sheets & bath linens, and balancing my checkbook. So thank you for this ebook. It has made and is making a huge difference in my life.” – P.P.

Next: The Role of Fun & Games in Time Management

Next week I’ll share what I’ve learned from my favorite games about how to better manage my time, along with a mini-guide that shows you how to do the same.

Because “fun” probably isn’t what you think it is. And the ball is happening all the time, not something you get to go to until after you’ve finished an impossible list of chores.

Hope your summertime livin’ is easy…
Peace and love,


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Who are you when you aren’t watching the clock?

July 15, 2014

me at 10In considering how I want to honor Third Hand Works’ tenth anniversary, I’ve been thinking about other milestones – like when I actually turned 10. The transition to fifth grade was a rough year (and, wow, that Dorothy Hamill haircut didn’t help). I’m so thankful to be in the midst of an occasion significantly less awkward and confusing. The clarity and confidence gained from experience is also something I’m celebrating.

But enough with the past. Let’s get back to the present – and the presents! – and get on with the party. There’s a lot to unwrap this week…

In honor of summertime and its undeniable pull to go outside and play, this week’s Foundations excerpt and mini-guide giveaway are all about trading chronos for kairos and taking back your weekend.

Foundations, Week 2: Understanding You

As I mentioned last week, while the Foundations program is nothing like a boot camp, and I’m certainly not tearing anyone down in order to build them back up again, the opening weeks of the course are about separating what is yours from what doesn’t belong to you, so you can build your foundation on what is solid and true. With fresh perspectives on Time and Systems, in the second week of the program, we then turn our attention to gaining a fresh perspective on your own experience, history and innate talents and preferences.

One way we explore that is by finding out who you are when you aren’t watching a clock…

Exercise: A Day Without Clocks

At some point during the next few weeks, move through one full day without once looking at a single mechanical clock.

Since mechanical clocks are everywhere and are essential to our modern connections with others, this takes some planning.

For starters, you need to choose an appointment-free day as arriving at a specific time without being able to refer to a clock probably isn’t going to turn out very well. It’s easiest to do this on a weekend or sabbath day, but I strongly encourage you to also try it on a work day if possible.

The evening before your chosen clock-free day, go through your home and/or office and turn off, cover or otherwise hide all the clocks. (Just inventorying how many mechanical clocks are in your everyday environment is an illuminating exercise in itself.)

In my home there is a clock in the living room, one built into the thermostat, one built into the stove (we don’t use the one in the microwave), one in the bathroom, and the sunrise alarm clock in the bedroom, among others. Of course, clocks show up in our computers, telephones and smartphones, not to mention the TV. There is a clock in the car. I stopped wearing a watch when I became self-employed, but if I still did that would need to go too.

Having removed all the mechanical clocks, you’re now prepared to experience a day shaped only by your biological clock, senses and intuition.

Sleep until you wake.
Eat when you are hungry.
Move from one activity to the next as your energy and attention shifts.
Rest when you are tired.

There are no clocks to tell you what you should do.

That you should get out of bed.
That you should eat lunch.
That you should start or stop working.

You’re going to have to figure it out for yourself.

Though you may pine for the opportunity of unstructured time, removing this ubiquitous device can be a bit discombobulating. But that’s okay because it’s chock-full of useful information.

About how well you hear, understand and trust the signals and feedback your body, mind, heart and environment are giving you. About how easily you give yourself permission to act on that information. About what your personal daily rhythms actually are. And about how many rules you live by are tied to mechanical clock-time.

Also notice, in the absence of clocks, if you have more experiences of kairos.

The ancient Greeks distinguished between two concepts of Time, chronos and kairos. Chronos refers to numeric or chronological time. Kairos, literally “the right or opportune moment”, describes metaphysical or Divine time, a time between, an indeterminate moment in which something special happens. While chronos is quantitative, kairos is qualitative.

• • • • •

Kairos. Real time. God’s time.

That time which breaks through chronos with a shock of joy, that time we do not recognize while we are experiencing it, but only afterwards, because kairos has nothing to do with chronological time. In kairos we are completely unselfconscious, and yet paradoxically far more real than we can ever be when we’re constantly checking our watches for chronological time.

The saint in contemplation, lost to self in the mind of God is in kairos. The artist at work is in kairos. The child at play, totally thrown outside herself in the game, be it building a sand castle or making a daisy chain, is in kairos. In kairos we become what we are called to be as human beings, co-creators with God, touching on the wonder of creation. – Madeleine L’Engle

• • • • •

Chronos is clocks, deadlines, watches, calendars, agendas, planners, schedules, beepers. Chronos is time at her worst. Chronos keeps track. Chronos is the world’s time.

Kairos is transcendence, infinity, reverence, joy, passion, love, the Sacred. Kairos is intimacy with the Real. Kairos is time at her best. Kairos is Spirit’s time.

We exist in chronos. We long for kairos. That’s our duality. Chronos requires speed so that it won’t be wasted. Kairos requires space so that it might be savored. We do in chronos. In kairos we’re allowed to be. It takes only a moment to cross over from chronos into kairos, but it does take a moment.

All that kairos asks is our willingness to stop running long enough to hear the music of the spheres. – Sarah Ban Breathnach

• • • • •

Reflect & Note

Does this exercise feel impossible? If so, why?

If you completed this exercise, what was your experience? What did you learn about yourself and the effect of mechanical clocks on your experience of Time?

In the absence of chronos, did you have a greater experience of kairos?

What do you gain and lose without mechanical time?
How you would organize your time if clocks remained permanently absent?

• • • • •

Course participants have gained a wide range of insights from this exercise – from discovering how essential clocks are to their relationships, to a greatly lowered resistance and sense of peace about their work – even a whole new way of organizing their daily activities! Try it and see what you discover…

Never on a Sunday:
8 Steps to Taking Back Your Weekend

We have the best of intentions when it comes to taking time off. We want to do it, we make plans to do it, we try our best to follow through on our intentions – and we often fail. We either remain fully engaged in our work more or less seven days a week or we end up doing that even less satisfying in-between thing that’s neither rejuvenation nor work.

And even when we do give ourselves time off, our minds can be preoccupied with work throughout our entire weekend or vacation. There’s no shaking that nagging sense that we should be doing something else. And that mental distraction does nothing to help us rest.

In a culture that values productivity and considers busy a badge of honor, unplugging turns out to be something of an advanced skill. Even clients who have studied with me for years, when asked how they are going to celebrate and recover from the work of the week, at best have a wishy-washy answer and at worst don’t have any answer at all. And sometimes I can’t do any better.

Giving yourself some much-needed R&R actually takes some know-how, commitment and practice. So I’ve created this 16-page mini-guide to taking back your weekend.

If you’re already subscribed to the Aerogramme, Never on a Sunday is probably already waiting for you in your inbox. If not, you can become a subscriber by entering your contact info below the airmail envelope in the top right of this page, then clicking “sign me up.”

• • • • •

For a whole lotta years, I worked seven nights a week, three and four shows a night, and… I got a little tired. I think that everybody deserves at least one day a week off, even this lady

Oh, you can kiss me on a Monday,
a Monday, a Monday is very very good.
Or you can kiss me on a Tuesday,
a Tuesday, a Tuesday – in fact I wish you would.
Or you can kiss me on a Wednesday,
a Thursday, a Friday, Saturday is best.
But never never on a Sunday
a Sunday, a Sunday ’cause that’s my day of rest.

Most any day – c’mon be my guest!
Any day you say, but my day of rest.
Just name the day that you like the best.
Only stay away on my day of rest.

You can kiss me on a cool day,
a hot day, a wet day – which ever one you choose.
Or try to kiss me on a grey day,
a May day, a pay day and see if I refuse.
And if you make it on a bleak day,
a freak day, a week day – why, you can be my guest.
But never never on a Sunday.
A Sunday’s the one day I’ve got to get some rest!

Missed last week’s celebration?

You can read it and learn how to download last week’s gift, The Systems De-Ick-Er, here.

And for those of you who have been playing along: What happened when you said something more honest than you “didn’t have the time”? What have you discovered about the nature of systems that has surprised, delighted or comforted you? Share your insights on the blog. I’d love to hear them.

Featured Self-Study:
How To Get Out of the Quicksand of Overwhelm

If your to-do list is so overwhelming that you can’t begin to imagine taking a day off (with or without clocks), then you need to grab the rope!

This handbook is the missing set of emergency instructions – the stop, drop and roll – for getting yourself out of the quicksand of overwhelm and back on solid ground.

And this week, in honor of my second foundational system-crafting task – changing my shopping cart service – How To Get Out of the Quicksand of Overwhelm is pay-what-you-want through this Friday (7/18) at noon Pacific. If a lack of funds has stood between you and relief, please seize this opportunity!

“This should be required reading for every entrepreneur and, well, every human being. It’s filled with so much smart stuff and so beautifully done. Loving it! THANK YOU.” – Fabeku Fatunmise

Next: A Mini-Guide to Decluttering

Next week I’ll share a way to resolve that conflicting, no-win sense that everything you’re doing comes at the expense of other things you need and want to do, along with a mini-guide to decluttering. Because between the lemonade, gardening and concerts in the park, summer is a great time for the essential work of cleaning up our messes.

“Whether you’re trying to garden or take a picture or write a book, your ability to make a creative mess is your most productive state. You want to be able to throw ideas all over the place, but you need to be able to start with a clear deck. One mess at a time is all you can handle. Two messes at a time, you’re screwed. You may want to find God, but if you’re running low on cat food, you damn well better make a plan for dealing with it. Otherwise the cat food is going to take a whole lot more attention and keep you from finding God.” – David Allen

That cat food will also keep you from taking time off and enjoying summer…


[ raising my glass of strawberry lemonade to yours ]

Peace and love,


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It’s THW’s tenth anniversary! Let’s celebrate.

July 9, 2014

This month, Third Hand Works celebrates its tenth birthday.

Ten. As in: a decade of self-employment. As in: my business is now a fifth-grader.

Though I find this astonishing in many ways, and my feelings about this milestone are as mixed as the ups and downs of the last decade, I feel surprisingly little desire to reflect on and summarize my experience. To write letters to my past and future selves. To tie things up in a neat little bow – for myself or for you.

I just want to make stuff. And to celebrate.

The present I’m giving myself (it’s not tin or aluminum).

I know how to do it. I’ve helped others do it. But I’ve never done it for myself. Not really. It’s a case of the cobbler’s children having no shoes.

I’ve never gotten all the way from fully realized idea to fully realized systems to sustain that idea. It’s one thing to complete a body of work, it’s another to craft systems that turn that body of work into reserves of time, energy and money.

I don’t think this is uncommon amongst creatives. It’s yet more finishing for a group who generally prefers beginnings to endings and is typically impatient to start work on the next idea.

Yet this second layer of completion makes possible what creatives crave most: freedom to improvise. I have yet to meet a creative who doesn’t feel somewhat trapped by a schedule or a to-do list. On any given day, we’d all prefer to follow our muse, a mood, or wherever the energy wants to flow. But we can’t do that without the spaciousness created by the kinds of systems that allow what sustains our livelihoods to run more or less automagically in the background.

Creating such systems requires focus. It requires saying not now to all those new ideas. It requires tenacity during a phase that’s short on discovery and long on chop wood, carry water. It requires keeping one’s eyes on the prize. That doesn’t mean it’s a process without invention or interest – it’s not as unsexy as it sounds – but it does require some discipline.

And so I’ve cleared my calendar for the next few weeks to engage in this uber-systems-crafting. Because I sense that if I don’t do it now, there won’t be another ten years. I’ll end up far too burnt out to keep calm and carry on. It will also allow me to become a better, more engaged teacher. Between that and freedom, well, I can’t think of a nicer present to give myself (seriously, it’s gonna be like an Easy-Bake Oven and a Barbie Dream House combined).

I’ve also set myself up to make a lot of observations along the way. Because one question I’d like to answer this summer is this: how many hours does it take to create a system that reduces your work day by an hour (or more)? It’s easy to imagine what you’d do with a four-hour work week. What’s not so easy to visualize is what it would take to create it. And I want to know in concrete terms. I want numbers. And if I get them, I’ll share that case study with you. (Stay tuned.)

There are presents for you too!

For better or worse, saying not now to anything new means nixing my plans for the Just One Mess series of co-working parties devoted to decluttering. [ sad face ]

But I think you’ll like what I’m cooking up in its place even better.

Starting today and for the next ten weeks or so, as I craft foundational systems for Foundations (could I get more meta?), I’ll be sharing excerpts from the program, along with a few bonus tools and real-time opportunities to put them into practice.

It’s all free to my readers as my way of saying thank you for being such a splendid audience over the years. It’s cliché, but true: I couldn’t have come this far without you.

Foundations, Week 1: Understanding Time and Systems

While the Foundations program is nothing like a boot camp, and I’m certainly not tearing anyone down in order to build them back up again, the opening weeks of the course are about separating what is yours from what doesn’t belong to you, so you can build your foundation on what is solid and true. That process starts with exploring fresh perspectives on Time and Systems.

You’ll find one of these perspective-shifting exercises about time here my blog.

And you’ll find another set of perspective-shifting exercises in the Systems De-Ick-Er.

The Systems De-Ick-er

Even if you are eager to bring more cosmos to your chaos, that doesn’t necessarily mean you think of systems as beautiful and wondrous things.

Your left brain might be all over Systems Crafting like white on rice, yet your right brain might still be wincing at the mere mention of the word system and thinking ew, gross.

Part of you may feel wary of recreating the very bureaucracies you’ve been fighting and avoiding most of your life. Or you may feel worried about ending up with yet another awkward and uncomfortable system that will fail you. If you are a Quick Study who is very used to getting nearly everything right the first try and with little or no preparation, crafting systems may feel a waste of time and energy. A part of you may even feel that getting organized will somehow thwart your creativity, turn you into a sell-out, or set you apart from the circles where chaos isn’t just normal and acceptable, but cool.

Yet until you get past feeling squeamish and mistrustful about the very concept, you won’t be able to build your organizational skills – and you will continue to suffer the consequences of too much chaos.

The Systems De-Ick-Er is designed to help lower that resistance and reframe and expand your understanding of systems so you can feel fully ready, willing and able to engage in crafting them for your business and life.

If you’re already subscribed to the Aerogramme, the Systems De-Ick-Er is probably already waiting for you in your inbox. If not, you can become a subscriber by entering your contact info below the airmail envelope in the top right of this page, then clicking “sign me up.”

Next: A Mini-Guide to Unplugging…

Next week I’ll be sharing what an experiment in unstructured time can reveal about how to structure your time in ways that bring out your best, along with a mini-guide to unplugging – because it’s time to stop doing that half-work/half-play thing, especially during summer. (Want the mini-guide? Be sure you’re subscribed to the Aerogramme: just enter your contact info below the envelope at the top right of this page.)


[ that’s me blowing my paper party horn ]

peace, love and party on,


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Ratios, Not Recipes

April 10, 2014

A couple years ago, I was introduced to Michael Ruhlman’s book Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking though Shauna Ahern’s blog Gluten Free Girl.

In it, Ruhlman explains what professional chefs learn in their training that the home cook does not: ratios, not recipes.

Once you understand ratios, you no longer need recipes. Once you understand ratios, you can have fun improvising with ingredients because you know what you’re preparing has the fundamental ingredients, in the correct proportions, to become what you intend it to be. Sure, maybe those rhubarb muffins would have been better with a little more orange zest and a little less vanilla – but because you followed ratios, there was never any doubt that they would be muffins and not pancakes or cookies (or something weird in between).

As an improvisational cook who rarely follows a recipe to the letter – even the first time making it – learning ratios was a godsend to my creativity in the kitchen. Also, as someone with an eclectic range of food sensitivities, it made substituting flours, dairy and eggs much simpler and much more reliable (which is why Ahern was writing about the book so enthusiastically on her blog).

In short, learning cooking ratios gave me flexibility and reliability. I can now make what I want to make from healthy-for-me ingredients and my favorite flavors – and feel 95% certain I won’t be tossing an experiment into the trash.

I can also now review a recipe and understand why it works (or anticipate that it won’t). I can then adapt that recipe or use it as inspiration to create one of my own. And that kind of knowledge is both liberating and powerful.

Before learning ratios, I couldn’t understand my baking failures. There was no way to know what to change except through tedious experimentation (and wasting a lot of food).

Now that I understand ratios, on the rare occasion that something is inedible, it’s pretty easy to figure out where I made my mistake and how to make my next try a delicious success. Hallelujah.

• • • • •

What does this have to do with time management? Everything.

Many of the popular time management books and programs you encounter – along with the calendars and planners, project management software, and guides, tips, tricks and hacks – are recipes. Recipes designed by and for more linear thinkers.

As a right-brain creative, trying to follow and adapt those left-brain recipes is a lot like trying to turn a dessert that hinges on the chemistry of wheat, butter and eggs into a gluten-free vegan delight. If you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s going to be a time-management disaster. A failure that is both frustrating and demoralizing – and a colossal waste of your energy.

To become effective in managing your time as a creative (not to mention have more fun with it), you must learn the fundamentals of time management – the basic and essential building blocks and the relationships between them – that allow you to craft your own recipes.

Learning those fundamentals is what the Foundations program is all about.

Once you understand the six Elements, four Seasons and three Transitions of every system – combined with clarity about your innate preferences – you can craft any support structure you need and know that it will work.

(A handful of elements, seasons and transitions may not sound like much, but keep in mind every baked good comes down to these five ingredients: flour, liquid, fat, sugar and egg.)

Does it take practice to become skillful in applying those fundamentals? Of course. But it’s effort that actually leads to something useful and enjoyable rather than the many dead-end paths you’ve already tried.

I know you want both flexibility and reliability in your calendar. I know you want to feel both freed and empowered by your plans and systems. I know you are more than smart enough to make that a reality with the right information and support. And I know you’re sick and tired of the dead-ends.

So put down your recipes – and your frustration and embarrassment along with them – and join me to learn some ratios instead.

Just like my baking, your time management will never be the same. In a very good way.

peace and love,



P.S. My favorite cooking show, Alton Brown’s Good Eats, was inspired by Brown’s desire to bring together Julia Child, Mr. Wizard and Monty Python.

Though my lineage is different, you’ll find much the same enthusiasm, know-how and humor in the Foundations program. It’s a place where both your inner artist and inner science geek can thrive. And I’d love to get to know both sides of you – and help them both get organized.

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‘Cause we got the right foundation…

March 28, 2014

After closing a very delightful Gala Celebration for the students who just completed the Foundations program, I stopped for a snack – really to pause and take in all the wonderfulness that had just been shared.

And as I often do in such moments, I queued up a little break-time music. And as also so often happens, Pandora serendipitously served up something just right.

Moments after honoring what everyone had learned and accomplished over the previous twelve weeks of foundation building, Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell were singing…

Cause we got the right foundation
and with love and determination
You’re all I need to get by…

I’m occasionally tempted to make writing a Love Letter to Systems part of my curriculum – and here was a love song! Imagine feeling that way about your systems…

• • • • •

We were certainly feeling the love during the Gala. There was a great deal to celebrate, but what most struck me was the way radical self-acceptance – of your strengths and weaknesses, the nature of your work and creative process, your current circumstances – were at the heart of the biggest transformations.

Combine that understanding and acceptance with some solid know-how about organizing your activities in a right-brain way and next thing you know you’ll look back on how you used to do things without recognition. Who was that? What was I thinking? Thank goodness that’s not how I do things anymore!

It’s not that students graduate from the program different people, rather that they become more themselves. Having stopped trying to work like everyone else and learned to create the unique conditions that bring out their best, their innate awesomeness emerges.

You don’t have to change who you are to become more efficient and effective in how you use your time. In fact, becoming more comfortable and productive with your time hinges on the radical self-acceptance of your quirks and superpowers, lifestyle and preferred ways of working.

I’d love for you to experience the same affirmation and transformation in your relationship with Time and what needs doing.

The next term of Foundations begins Monday, April 14.

Early registration dollar-stretchers are available through noon Pacific tomorrow, Saturday, March 29.

Click here to learn all the details and register now.

• • • • •

I leave you with this groovy cover of You’re All I Need to Get By.

In a love duet with your systems, which lyrics would you sing and which would you want your systems to sing back to you?

• • • • •

Now go forth and celebrate all you have learned and accomplished this week and quarter – because rest assured you too have done something fabulous.


Organized under systems. none

On Kryptonite and Keeping Promises

March 20, 2014

This week I was reminded of a blog post written by the always insightful and to-the-point Alexandra Franzen that can be summed up with this:

“People, we need to stop flaking out.
… We need to stop. Because it’s gross.”

Like Alexandra, I was tempted to keep this thought to myself. [I had a completely different topic in mind for this essay – a fun one about the role of games in developing time management skills. Why make things so heavy?] And yet I reached the same conclusion that something needs to be said out loud. Now.

I was reminded of her words because I was on the receiving end of a broken promise this week – a long string of them, in fact. And it did not feel good. At all.

Besides having to feel those not-so-nice feelings, the situation also forced me to clarify and communicate a boundary in my business I never dreamed I would need. And, quite frankly, I’m a little sad it’s something that needs to be said between adults. On the upside, because I’m generally surrounded by mensch-y people, I doubt I will have to enforce that new policy again any time soon. But it still has to be communicated from here on out.

[Note: Unfortunately, this is how a big chunk of our systems end up being created: lessons learned from unpleasant experiences we really don’t want to repeat. It’s just the nature of Systems Crafting.]

The Woman in the Mirror

And because I was taught not to throw stones unless free from sin myself, I’ve since been wondering if this is how other people feel when I break my promises.

It happens far more often than I want to admit to myself (let alone publicly) and it’s something I never feel good about, but neither do I think about it having the kind of impact I’ve experienced this week, especially when those failures of commitment seem relatively small in the big scheme of things.

But just because they’re not a violation of big commitments like my marriage vows or formal contracts like my mortgage agreement with the bank doesn’t mean they aren’t significant.

We enter so many small social contracts, explicit and implicit, every day of our lives. And it’s easy to forget that with those responsibilities comes tremendous personal power to affect others for good or ill. It’s easy to forget how our own small actions have a ripple effect. How my broken promise to you prevents you from keeping your promises to others, who in turn can’t keep their commitments – and so on and so on.

Or how a promise kept leads to many promises fulfilled and communities built on trust and confidence.

This is yet another reason George Bailey is my hero. His story has a happy ending because he upheld his social contracts over a lifetime. And the people of his community upheld theirs in turn.

We love to talk about our big dreams and world-changing ambitions, but it’s choosing and keeping our everyday promises that actually brings about transformation.

And it’s the harder work. Showing up and doing the ordinary things you’ve promised you’ll do day in and day out can be quite challenging.

• • • • •

“The real trick is to realize that the excuses you make for small things are exactly the same as the big things. And they ALL feel bad.”
Amy Hoy

• • • • •

Kryptonite Konditions

Before this happened, I was already thinking about the notion of personal kryptonite, our individual Achilles heel. That is, a particular type of situation that, when it arises, not only causes us to abandon our systems but also causes us to rationalize poor choices as acceptable ones.

I’m not talking about situations outside our control, when the Universe throws something unexpected our way that requires amending our commitments. Nor am I talking about proactively and respectfully changing your mind about something. I’m talking about situations of our own making that bring out our most selfish and shortsighted behaviors.

One of the things we talk about in the Foundations program is knowing our Top Ten Early Warning Signs Things Are About To Go To Hell and having a way to notice and act on them long before a hellish situation actually develops.

Somehow, a Kryptonite Kondition (I just made that up – like it?) feels distinct from the general hell of overwhelm and chaos. Making selfish and shortsighted decisions under those circumstances is just the result of exhaustion. A tired mind makes poor choices after all. Refill your well and it’s pretty easy to put things right again. But a Kryptonite Kondition brings out a part of ourselves which can rationalize any kind of breach of personal standards or the boundaries of others – long after we’ve gotten a good night’s sleep.

Problem is, you can’t rationalize breaking a promise without making yourself and everyone else involved smaller. Telling yourself it doesn’t really matter is the same as telling yourself I don’t matter and oh-by-the-way neither do they, nor does what we are exchanging. It might seem arrogant on the surface (Who do you think you are?!), but underneath you have to diminish yourself somehow to feel justified in your choice.

Talk about gross.

• • • • •

• • • • •

So the question is: how do you recognize this when it’s happening and put a stop to it? More importantly: how do you prevent a Kryptonite Kondition from developing in the first place?

Prevention starts with identifying your particular Kryptonite Kondition. I’m pretty sure mine is Urgency – as in: Something Needs To Happen Right This Second So To Hell With Everything Else. This Kondition is especially pernicious because whatever I’ve delayed becomes the next urgent thing and the cycle just perpetuates itself ad nauseam leaving a trail of broken promises in its wake.

That Kondition can’t develop unless I over-commit and under-prepare. It can’t develop when I make choices with brutal honesty about my skills and capacity.

It can’t develop when I remember that small actions are what change the world. And it can’t develop when I remember that I matter, that all work matters, that everyone matters.

In vetting a plan, I clearly need to double-check that I haven’t created an optimal environment in which my Kryptonite Kondition will likely arise and thrive.

And so do you.

Because, lovelies, we need to stop flaking out. It’s gross. And, to echo Alexandra once again, completely unnecessary.

But using your personal power for good? That’s a beautiful thing. And totally worth the effort.

• • • • •

I dictated my first draft of this essay down by the river. This is for those of you who like it raw…

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 are your Kryptonite Konditions?
How do you recognize and prevent them?
What systems help you to keep your promises?
What is your experience of flaking out – as both flaker and flakee?
Wishing you flow in all your promise-keeping,

Organized under choosing. none

On Sacrificing Boredom

February 19, 2014

I’ve been thinking a lot about boredom lately.

About what boredom looks and feels like. About what I do to avoid it. About what I do when I am bored.

Also about what boredom looks and feels like to my clients. What they do to avoid it. And their behaviors when they are bored.

And this much seems clear: boredom does not bring out our best.

Not unlike Sherlock Holmes. When the great detective is bored he abuses drugs, the people around him and his very walls.

For us, boredom can result in some decidedly odd self-destructive behaviors.

In the absence of properly engaging and satisfying challenges, we do things that are not at all in alignment with our values or talents.

We might not be shooting up ourselves or our houses, but that angsty restlessness and resentment about what’s on our to-do lists? Our overactive Worried Hurried Mind Hamsters? The unnecessary dramas and crises that come from procrastinating until the last minute and letting the little things pile up until they can’t be ignored? The distractions and shadow comforts of games, tv or social media? That’s often boredom at work.

Just as I’ve discovered much of my occasional resistance to work is a simple case of the zoomies due to a lack of sufficient exercise before I sit down at my desk, I’m now wondering if much of the remainder of that resistance is just self-induced drama manufactured solely to alleviate my own boredom, to create needed novelty and challenges where I haven’t given myself a sufficient stretch.

I’m also thinking that if I’m not occasionally relieved and grateful to have nothing more challenging to do than enter a few receipts, answer a few emails, fold some laundry or load the dishwasher – that’s probably a sign that I’m not spending enough time on my leading edge.

I’m becoming so convinced of this phenomena that I’ve moved boredom to the top of my list of Top Ten Early Warning Signs Things Are About To Go To Hell.

Turns out I’m not the stereotypically moody and neurotic artist I sometimes worry I’ve become. I just need to go on a lot more walks and do more things I’m not sure I can do.

What if Pierre feels he must sit, not from the mistaken belief that his art is better for a little suffering, but because he’s just plain bored?  [Postcard brilliantly observed and illustrated by Everett Peck.]

• • • • •

Given the nasty side effects, boredom is clearly something to be avoided. The obvious thing to do instead is to seek out properly engaging and satisfying challenges.

But in doing so, we encounter a couple pesky problems.

First: Properly engaging and satisfying challenges are goals and projects we can’t get right the first try.

And me and my little tribe are generally used to getting things right the first try. At least that’s how things typically have gone down, especially in our early years. So any attempt that falls short of that expectation can both bruise our egos and leave us confused about our very identity. Wait, that wasn’t supposed to happen, I’m a Quick Study!

To choose properly engaging and satisfying challenges requires us to drop the egos and identities that are built around instant success and immediate gratification – egos and identities to which we may be rather attached.

To choose such challenges requires us to enter the unexplored and unfamiliar territory of practice. Of get back up and try again. Of 10,000 hours.

And that brings us to our second dilemma: entering the territory of practice requires repetition – repetition that looks like it might be pretty boring.

• • • • •

The thing is, we do often choose properly engaging and satisfying challenges. We do enter that territory. For many of us, the opportunity to have such challenges is a key reason we chose an entrepreneurial path.

We really don’t want to be bored. The easy A hasn’t done it for us for a long time.

But that doesn’t mean we always recognize that territory for what it is. Nor does it mean, though we are attracted to it, we know what to do once there.

We tend to be Quick Studies in everything but the skills and techniques of consistent persistence.

Ironic, isn’t it?

• • • • •

So if we are to choose engagement over boredom, that’s our homework: becoming skilled in the techniques of consistent persistence.

Those skills and techniques are many, varied, and largely foundational – far more than I could cover in this already lengthy missive.

But here are the four strategies topmost in my mind right now as I think about how to remedy my own boredom.

Raise your bar.

I know that’s not the advice I’m supposed to give to people prone to perfectionism and over-commitment. I’m supposed to tell you to lower your bar. I’m supposed to be lowering my own bar.

And while we do need to shift our expectations of instantaneous success, I am discovering that I am much more willing and able to engage in the small repeated actions of consistent persistence when I am working towards an  audacious (and well-articulated) goal than when I am faced with a project I know I can do.

The uncertainty of I-wonder-if-I-can-actually do-this? gets me to pay attention. To prepare. To think through the details. To stop being so cocky. To stop resting on my laurels. To pace myself. To take care of myself. To practice.

Raising my bar forces me to stop doing it in my sleep. It forces me to turn off autopilot.

And the uncertainty is what keeps the necessary consistent persistence from feeling boring. While the creative tension of an audacious goal isn’t exactly comfortable, it is exciting. Like the plot twists of a really engaging novel or movie, one can’t help but wonder: What’s going to happen when I do this? How’s it all going to turn out?

Raising my bar automatically plugs me into curiosity and puzzle-solving, two of my core motivators. But lower the bar, lessen the creative tension, and that curiosity is lowered along with it. I know how it’s going to turn out. Yawn.

Lower my bar and I fall back asleep. Lower my bar and I slip back into the dysfunctional behaviors of boredom.

Find the sweet spot of flow.

Low challenge + high skill level = boredom. High challenge + low skill level = stress.

But high challenge + high skill level = flow. Flow is found in that sweet spot between too easy and too hard. And it’s pretty much the best thing ever.

Flow is never, ever boring.

Flow has it’s own energy and momentum. It seems to fuel itself.

And when we’re in flow, we’re so engaged we lose all sense of time, surroundings and self. It’s all about exploration and realization of the idea. Ego and identity don’t matter. You don’t have to do any sort of pop-psychology anything to leave them behind, they just fall away.

Just as raising my bar automatically gets me to pay attention and plug into my curiosity, finding the sweet spot that is my leading edge (but not my bleeding edge, that would shift eustress into distress) automatically gets me to drop my Quick Study identity and her problematic expectations.

Gotta love that automagicness.

Learn to work with creative tension.

To work with creative tension, we first have to learn to recognize it for what it is.

Our resistance to that stress and the stresses of boredom can feel much the same, yet there is a discernable difference between wondering if and how you can do something and wondering if and how you can make yourself do something. If it’s the latter, you’re probably more bored than challenged.

Creative tension will also eventually resolve itself. With some consistent persistence, it will turn into something tangible, useful, beautiful, satisfying and worthwhile. The stress of boredom, however, will just turn into, well, Sherlock Holmes shooting holes in his walls.

Once you’re able to recognize it, learning to work through creative tension that cannot be immediately resolved is largely an act of discipline.

Discipline is about creating working conditions that bring out our best, keeping our eyes on the prize, a willingness to be uncomfortable, and the ability to bring ourselves back over and over and over again.

Discipline requires a solid, stable foundation. With a foundation comes the self-care and emotional skills that give us patience, resilience and tenacity in the face of repetition, setbacks and shifting moods and energy.

If raising the bar is what forces us to pay attention and take better care of ourselves, having a foundation is what helps us to know exactly how to do that.

A foundation is what allows us to be fueled rather than stressed by a prolonged creative tension that we’re not yet used to.

See yourself as more than a Quick Study.

If you’re working on your leading edge, you’re leading – a role that might be as uncomfortable as the creative tension itself.

To work from your leading edge, you have to get honest about the actual magnitude of your intelligence, talents and abilities relative to others.

And working from your leading edge probably means letting your light out from under the bushel of easy A’s you’ve been using to dim it down. And letting your light shine more brightly may not get you the same applause and rewards as those easy A’s. In fact, you’ve likely already had experiences that have taught you to be cautious.

Yet we are oh-so-much more than Quick Studies. Underneath that identity is something – someone – much more true and whole and needed.

But we can be neither authentic nor of service when we’re walking on eggshells lest we inadvertently trigger doubt, fear, anger, disappointment or pedestal-putting in others. As always, Marianne Williamson says it best.

“Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.”

Like learning to work with creative tension, getting comfortable with leadership has its challenges, but it also comes with rewards – not least, rarely being boring or bored.

• • • • •

Of course, this is all easier said than done.

As Richard Bach points out in The Messiah’s Handbook: “In order to live free and happily, you must sacrifice boredom. It is not always an easy sacrifice.”

  • It’s not always easy to sacrifice ego, identity, immediate gratification, and ready applause for pulling rabbits out of our hats at the last minute.
  • It’s not always easy to identify a truly engaging sense of purpose that is feels better than all that, one that makes creative tension bearable and can fuel a challenge until the reward of the results are achieved.
  • It’s not always easy to find the sweet spot of flow that’s neither too easy nor too difficult.
  • It’s not always easy to stop using initial setbacks as the sole measuring stick by which you choose whether or not to continue pursuing a goal.
  • It’s not always easy to practice patience and master the skills of consistent persistence.
  • Nor is it always easy to let go of the fear of threatening and alienating others.

And thank goodness for that! Because if sacrificing boredom was easy, well, we’d find the problem too tedious to bother with!

So, my friends, I’m throwing down the gauntlet. I’m challenging myself to knock off the boredom-induced drama already and find some engaging ways to stretch myself.

And I’m challenging you to do the same.

If it’s possible that your lack of productivity is not caused by overwhelm or disorganization, but primarily because you are under-challenged in some wayexplore that!

If the suggestion that your distraction, resistance and angst are simply the byproducts of boredom rings true for you – do something about it!

Experiment with raising your bar and finding your sweet spot of flow. Learn to work more skillfully with creative tension. Stabilize and solidify your foundation. Expand your sense of identity and purpose. Embrace the responsibilities that come with all of that.

Let’s sacrifice our boredom. Let’s offer it up in exchange for more freedom and happiness.

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 ]

I’d love to know your thoughts on boredom.

  • What does it look and feel like to you? What do you do to avoid it? What do you do when you are bored?
  • How do you think boredom affects your productivity and satisfaction?
  • What would you have to let go of if you chose to sacrifice your boredom?

Hope you are feeling the stirrings of spring wherever you are,


Organized under energy/how. 2 comments.

George Bailey Is My Hero

December 23, 2013

Years ago I worked with a coach who taught excellent annual classes on choosing a theme for the coming year and I’ve loved having one ever since.

This past year my theme was inspired by Tina Fey‘s Rules of Improvisation “that will change your life and reduce belly fat.” This year I’ve been practicing Yes, And. As in: Yes, I’d rather throw myself into the holidays. And, I’m going to finish writing and sending this article anyway. It’s really just a formula: Yes _____ [insert seeming impediment]. And I will [insert chosen action or commitment] anyway. While it hasn’t turned me into a rock star of productivity (though, come to think of it, it has reduced some belly fat), it has very effectively dialed down the drama – which is a very real impediment to getting things done.

In the coming year, I want to dial down the drama even further by really embracing ordinary, everyday life and finding not just momentum but useful beauty in small actions taken frequently and consistently.

While I’ve been a huge fan of immersion and working episodically – something the creative process so often seems to need – I suspect that approach has shifted from preference to necessity and now to routine. And the habit of all-in/all-or-nothing is not creating the stability and spaciousness I want in my life. It’s creating chaotic and reactive drama of last-minute-rabbits-pulled-out-of-hats rather than the harmonious and proactive thrill of genuine achievement built over time.

While the latter is far more satisfying, it’s not as sexy as the former (at least not on the surface). And I’m coming to recognize the razzle dazzle of all-in/all-or-nothing as the siren-song of my ego, as the music coming out of the right speaker of what Anne Lamott calls Radio Station KFKD.

“If you are not careful, station KFKD will play in your head twenty-four hours a day, nonstop, in stereo. Out of the right speaker in your inner ear will come the endless stream of self-aggrandizement, the recitation of one’s specialness, of how much more open and gifted and brilliant and knowing and misunderstood and humble one is. Out of the left speaker will be the rap songs of self-loathing, the lists of all the things one doesn’t do well, of all the mistakes one has made today and over a lifetime, the doubt, the assertion that everything one touches turns to sh*t, that one doesn’t do relationships well, that one is in every way a fraud, incapable of selfless love, that one has no talent or insight, and on and on and on. You might as well have heavy-metal music piped in through headphones while you’re trying to get your work done.” — Anne Lamott

There are many good resources out there for turning down the volume on the rap songs of self-loathing, for quieting the mean voices of the inner critic/gremlin/monster. So many resources you would think that fear is the only thing that ever gets in anyone’s way.

But my reality is this: my ego and the heavy metal of self-aggrandizement get me into far more trouble far more often than my fear. The confidence that comes from my sense of giftedness often turns out to have been overestimated. The arrogance that comes from my sense of specialness often results in avoidance.

And another reality is this: true confidence comes from actual accomplishment. And something special is built by small, ordinary actions taken over time.

My ego loves the voices of affirmation that populate my online world. When Fabeku says: Use your superpowers! my ego says yes! When Leonie Dawson says: Ride your wild donkeys! my ego says yes! When Charlie Gilkey says: Do epic sh*t! my ego says yes! When Jen Louden says: Be a shero! my ego says yes!

And while that’s all genuinely great advice (don’t get me wrong, I admire and respect the bejeezus out of those people and I doubt any of them would fundamentally disagree with the gist of this essay), these days it’s George Bailey who is my hero. A man with dreams and ambitions prevented by circumstance and conscious from pursuing them, who ends up creating a substantial legacy anyway built from the ordinary actions and decent choices of everyday life.

And like most of us, he’s blind to what he’s created until shown what could have been had he not been alive to make those decent choices and take those ordinary actions.

“If you knew of the differences you’ve already made, you’d now see yourself as wildly successful. It’s time” – Mike Dooley

Since an intervention from my own guardian angel doesn’t seem imminent, it’s up to me to stop being blind to the beauty of the ordinary, unable to see the verdant in my life for gazing at the greener grass of if-only-then.

It’s up to me to stop seeking the drama and the high of all-in/all-or-nothing, thinking that’s where accomplishment and satisfaction lie. It’s up to me to stop dismissing small actions and decent, everyday choices as not enough – as not epic, sexy, rapid, lucrative, challenging or special enough to be satisfying or worthwhile.

So I’ve been experimenting with turning my day upside down and ignoring the conventional advice to do my most important work first, in part by redefining what my most important work is.

“Hey, artists? Note the way George Harrison looks at the floor and sees it needs sweeping, but does not ditch his guitar to go find a broom.” – Lisa Baldwin

Conventional wisdom – at least in creative circles – is to go to your garret studio and make what you feel called to make before you do anything else. Nothing else is considered more important. Everything else is considered a distraction or form of procrastination.

But I’ve been wondering. Because the garret-first guideline hasn’t exactly made me a prolific creative. Instead, I suspect it has just turned up the volume on the heavy metal of my self-aggrandizement. And it has resulted in a backlog of maintenance that is distracting and has created the wrong sort of drama (drama that is totally avoidable and unnecessary).

“Whether you’re trying to garden or take a picture or write a book, your ability to make a creative mess is your most productive state. You want to be able to throw ideas all over the place, but you need to be able to start with a clear deck. One mess at a time is all you can handle. Two messes at a time, you’re screwed. You may want to find God, but if you’re running low on cat food, you damn well better make a plan for dealing with it. Otherwise the cat food is going to take a whole lot more attention and keep you from finding God.” – David Allen

I think Allen is right. One mess at a time is all you can handle. Until you’ve reduced your non-creative messes, maintenance is your most important work.

That’s the hypothesis I’m testing anyway. And my initial experimentation seems to be proving this theory true.

In turning my day upside down, I’m starting with caring for my body, then my immediate environment, then my finances, then my professional work, with communication coming before content creation.

That’s right, creation is last on my to-do list.

It feels backwards and vaguely wrong. This experiment definitely requires breaking a rule and a habit.

And it also feels great.

The shift in the frame of mind with which I enter my creative work is markedly different. I enter my garret much more fueled and confident and far less distracted.

For me, that floor really does need sweeping before I can make my guitar gently weep or create anything else useful or beautiful.

And – another hypothesis – it may take me less time to get into flow (my favorite state) since so much less of my energy is going into trying to focus because I’ve handled my legitimate distractions. Immersion may not require the large swaths of time I’ve always assumed.

In short, this upside down approach to my day is turning me into a rock star of productivity.

Except rock star is completely the wrong metaphor. Because, again, it’s George Bailey who is my hero and guide for the coming year, my reminder that world-changing legacies are built from small, everyday actions taken over a lifetime.

Or as Patti Digh would say: “Put down your clever. Pick up your ordinary. Because at your ordinary, you’re at your most potent.”

And so with the turning of the year, I will shift from asking myself How can you say Yes, And today? to What would George Bailey do? I’m not just going to pick up but love up my ordinary. Because I suspect that’s how you love up your extraordinary.

foundations-sidebarIf you want to dial down your own unnecessary drama, reduce your own non-creative messes or experiment with turning your own day upside down to find greater stability, spaciousness and creativity, please join me in the new year for Foundations: Right-Brain Time Management 101.

This is just the sort of thing we play with.

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 ]

Let’s talk about this fear vs. ego thing. Which gets you into more trouble? (Be honest.) How do you counterbalance or keep yourself from straying too far into one or the other? How do you quiet both speakers of Radio Station KFKD?

What was your theme/word/song/image/color for the past year? What new one is emerging?

Sending you lots of warmth, peace, rest and love during this liminal season,

Organized under maintenance, time/when. 2 comments.

You Don’t Suck, You’re Just In Transition

November 21, 2013

Throughout the second half of 2013, I’ve been aware that change is afoot in my life. Of course, this is always happening in some way, but some periods of change are more fast, deep and wide than the average – and you can’t help but notice that a more significant transformation is underway.

This is one of those periods.

It didn’t exactly arrive out of the blue. I tend to shake the snow-globe of my life every four to five years, as though I’m perpetually graduating from college. It’s a rhythm as reliable as my mid-afternoon slump. I can generally feel it coming on and sooner or later recognize it for what it is.

And what initially gets me to turn that snow-globe upside down and let those flakes settle anew on the little scene that is my life, is this: things stop working.

My professional activities, my systems, my comforts or my social connections don’t have the same outcomes they used to. Sometimes that creates chaos and exhaustion. Sometimes crickets and tumbleweeds. Sometimes I just notice it as boredom; nothing feels engaging anymore.

So I start tweaking – mostly by simply dropping what no longer works and seeing what wants to fill that empty space.

And in that liminal space between knowing what doesn’t work anymore and discovering what does, when I’m not feeling all that curious and open-minded and patient about the process, when I feel irritated and less than competent in my daily activities, it’s easy to forget that I don’t suck, I’m just in transition – and that it’s not me, it’s my systems.

I’m especially apt to forget this when dealing with tasks that I can’t drop. My commitments require me to see them through. So I slog away at them, feeling stupid and at a loss, or ignore them altogether and suffer the consequences.

And in evaluating the systems that used to work for those tasks, that should work, it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees. In being so focused on the steps of the thing, looking for the one that’s broken or out of place, it’s easy to forget that everything is connected.

A task and the system that supports it don’t exist in a vacuum. Our lives are ecosystems of interconnectedness. Systems are web-like in structure. Changes elsewhere that don’t seem like they would have an effect on this thing actually do.

And so the detective work isn’t about finding the broken part, and it’s certainly not about asking what’s wrong with me? It’s about figuring out what has changed? and how that’s affecting being able to follow through with a task in an efficient and effective way – you know, like you used to be able to.

Some changes and their effects are more obvious. A birth or death, entering or leaving a marriage or partnership, a health diagnosis, moving to a new home, or a career change are going to mess with your routines and systems.

But sometimes the connections aren’t so clear and direct, and it’s not so easy to identify where the fallout began or what’s missing.

Sometimes improvements have unintended consequences.

Let’s say you’ve been forgetful and moody lately – two things that could certainly leave you feeling sucky about yourself and lead you to download the latest to-do list app or make an appointment with your favorite therapist.

But when you step back and look for what has changed you might also remember that recent switch to eating a vegetarian or vegan diet. That change might have left you feeling better on so many levels it didn’t occur to you that the forgetfulness and moodiness might be the result of a lost nutrient.

But it is a significant recent transition. So, as an experiment, you add a B12 supplement to your diet – you address what changed – and shazam! the fog lifts. A minor tweak in your nutritional systems eliminates any need to adjust your other systems – and suddenly you don’t suck at everything anymore. Hallelujah.

[ True story that perfectly illustrates my maxim: Health before self-improvement! ]

Sometimes you’re in a boat on the river Nile.

For instance, in recent years, my bookkeeping habits have eroded – resulting in a backlog of receipts, unopened envelopes and unfiled paperwork that has me wondering, “I used to be so good at this! What the bleep is wrong with me?!”

So what changed?

At first glance, it’s easy to point to a shift to online/paperless banking that led to updating the old, kludgy bookkeeping software I had been using (YNAB, I love you), and just not yet being used to that routine. But that made things easier, so those clearly aren’t the changes at fault.

Stepping back from those trees, I can see the grove of unstable cash flow. A system based on steady cash flow doesn’t work well with the ups and downs of a prolonged period of unpredictable income and expenses. My timing was all off. But adjusting for that would hardly have been rocket surgery…

So when I step back even further and really look for what changed, what becomes clear is the forest of good ol’ denial. I didn’t want the events that led to the roller coaster cash flow to have happened, so they didn’t happen. And if they didn’t happen, then I don’t have to change the way I do things. Lalalalalalala.

In the end, it’s addressing the gaps in the skills and systems that help me to navigate change and keep me from arguing with reality that will resolve my neglected bookkeeping routine.

And sometimes our evolution is so gradual we don’t even notice it – until things stop working.

Like the snow-globe tipping period I’m in right now.

Seemingly overnight (though of course it wasn’t) many of my familiar forms of R&R and comfort (both shadowy and healthy) have stopped working. Not in a way that has created horrible outcomes, but in a way that has left me … eh. Like food that didn’t make me sick, but neither did it taste good. Those activities are somehow no longer satisfying.

That has left me un-rested and un-nourished. Which is a problem come Monday morning.

I’ve not been one to gripe about Mondays since becoming self-employed, but when my weekend R&R isn’t restorative, Monday morning moves at about the speed of molasses. And when my evening R&R isn’t either, by Friday I’m in a bit of a caboose-dragging hell.

Which throws everything else off.

The morning’s peak creative time that I rely on for writing content: not so peak. Overall productivity and follow-through: down. Time wasted by going back to usual forms of R&R again and again hoping for a different outcome: significant. Length of to-do list: getting longer by the day. Level of stress and frustration: way up.

And in that stress and frustration, I’ve tended to focus on the trees. I’ve tinkered with procedures, I’ve planned in more detail, I’ve put more post-it notes on my wall calendar and tried to become BFF with Basecamp. But it’s all band-aids. And the fundamental problem keeps coming back because I haven’t been looking at the forest.

I haven’t stepped back and asked myself: what has changed?

In this case, my best educated guess is this: I’m no longer in healing mode. The years of this last “college cycle” have been peppered with health scares, surgeries and lifestyle-altering diagnoses. (Okay, that sounds alarming when I type that. In the end none of it was serious or even unusual. I’m totally fine now – and in some ways healthier than I was before it all began.)

I’ve been in healing mode for so long, I really didn’t notice I had mended until all my here’s-what-I-do-to-rest-and-nourish-myself systems stopped being restful and nourishing.

What my mind and body are craving now that I’ve regained some resilience is apparently much different than what they needed before.

It has me rethinking the basic framework of my days – when I do things and in what order, how I fuel my work, my environment, and how I connect with people – even the ratio of my intellectual pursuits to hands-on activities.

Good thing I teach a basic right-brain time-management course. I really need to do my own homework.

Save the dates!


foundations-sidebarSpeaking of… Registration is now open for the winter term of Foundations: Right-Brain Time Management 101.

Follow up your annual review and visioning by developing the energy-management, planning and systems-crafting skills you need to turn those plans into achievements – and in a way you can sustain throughout the year (you know, without your enthusiasm fizzling out by February like usual).

I’d love to help you build a solid, stable foundation for your ambitions for the coming year. I hope you’ll join me. Learn all the details and register here.

• • • • •

openstudio-sidebarYou can also sign up for the f.r.e.e. Open Studio Open House happening Tuesdays and Thursdays from December 3-12.

Virtual co-working is one of my favorite things ever – mainly because, when it comes to boosting your focus and productivity, nothing works better, not even stepping out to your favorite café.

The Open Studio program is a space that asks only one question: 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!
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 ]

We’re entering that liminal time of year when we reflect on the past and plan for the future. What has changed for you? How are you in transition? And what do you need to do to accommodate those shifts?
peace and love,






Organized under transitions. 4 comments.

Art of the Debrief: Just Move

October 4, 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 30…

How did the unexpected show up this week?

Those awful side affects. I firmly believe in self-compassion, nevertheless, this item falls under the I-Am-An-Idiot category. Last weekend, in an unthinking moment of a really bad headache, did I choose one of the two over-the-counter medications in the cupboard? No. I spied the prescription drug leftover from a long-ago surgery and chose that instead. I listened to the devil on my shoulder that said: Yessss, let’s obliterate this thing! - completely forgetting the drug was a narcotic and narcotics and I don’t get along well. They are to be used only when absolutely necessary and under supervision. In the end, I just traded my headache for some pretty awful side affects. Like I said, I am an idiot.

And my response to that reaction. And why don’t narcotics and I get along? Because in addition to the typical nausea and general wooziness, I don’t breathe right. It’s a decidedly unpleasant sensation. And while the wooziness seemed like a good reason to go lay down, the breathing thing seemed like a good reason to stay upright and moving. Not just moving, but hopping on the elliptical on the back patio and really getting my circulation going for nearly half an hour.

Somewhat to my surprise, it worked. Moving was the much better choice. It still took another three days of hydration and movement to flush it all out of my system, but I’m pretty sure that process would have taken longer had I chosen the prone route (not that I’ll be testing that any time soon).

In the end, the real surprise isn’t that moving worked, but that I chose it. A year ago, the option wouldn’t even have occurred to me. As I gradually become less and less of a couch potato in the second half of my life, the more often I find myself choosing motion as a solution.

And that brings me to…

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

Feelings are feelings. I’ve always thought of emotions as a special type of thought – a thing of the conscious mind. But what if emotion is a special type of sensory, physiological experience? – a thing of the mind as an organ, as a part of the body?

Maybe there’s a reason they call feelings feelings, you know?

It explains why exercise is as or more effective in changing mood than medications. Why I feel mentally refreshed after a massage. Why I can’t talk or journal my way out of a funk.

Now, you may be reading this thinking well, duh, but for me – a gal who pretty much lives in her head – this is a revelatory shift in perspective.

You’ll often hear me say good time management is good energy management – and that there are five types of energy you need to take care of: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and financial.

In working to better care for my emotional energy, I’m curious to find out just how much that’s tied to my physical energy. So I’m conducting an experiment to find out just how far that connection goes by treating them as the same thing.

I’m pausing to notice what’s going on in my body about once an hour.

Shoulders tense? Might be the way I slept or my posture where I’m sitting. Then again, I might be stressed about deadlines. Stomach tight? Maybe I’m hungry or maybe I’m excited about a presentation. Foggy? Maybe I didn’t get a good night’s sleep. Then again, maybe I’m sad about a loss.

In this experiment, the reason doesn’t matter. The only thing I need to do in the moment of noticing it is to move in what ever way seems appropriate to the sensation. Emotional or physical, the remedy must stay in the physiological, non-thinky realm. (I wonder how much this will expand my repertoire of what-to-do-when responses?)

But here’s my real hypothesis: Will this approach help me to better travel the middle way between drama and repression, neither ruled by emotion nor buttoned-up, but living in the space in between that fuels my creativity, integrity and satisfaction? Stay tuned for results…

And speaking of motion…
Thanks to Pandora, I also learned She’s a Bad Mama Jama is a great workout song (and everything Brick House is trying to be). She’s poetry in motion, a beautiful sight to see… Just sayin’ in case you want to add something new (okay, old) to your own playlist.

Where did life take you this week?

The farmer’s market. It might be even better in the fall, when all the fair-weather shoppers stay home and there’s more room to explore and savor. Plus: crepes for breakfast. Yum.

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

Shannon. For setting me on this experiment in the first place. (You didn’t think I’d be doing something so radical alone, did you?)

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

That extraordinary spider. Despite being disturbed by the mailman every afternoon, a huge glorious spider found shelter from the fall storms and spun an extraordinary web by our front door almost every day this week. Amazing.

Tell me: What were the highlights of your week?

What are you exploring and learning more about right now?

How do find and navigate that sweet spot between emotional drama and repression?

Where did life take you this week?

What are you thankful for?

What moments of delight did you experience this week?

Organized under week-in-review. none