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

Art of the Debrief: I Love Back-to-School Season

September 27, 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 23…

What was the worst thing about this week?

Being so excited/nervous about the opening of the course I’m currently teaching, I didn’t sleep properly for several nights in a row. Sleep deprivation is the worst. Thank goodness that passed.

What was the best thing about this week?

The opening of the course I’m currently teaching! Talking with people about Time is pretty much the best thing ever. And I am so loving getting back to basics and revisiting this foundational material that I haven’t taught in years. I’m geeking out on it all over again and feeling so inspired to deepen and widen my understanding of this most favorite topic.

What did you learn?

Again: that nervous moment before you go on stage (literally and metaphorically) is temporary. Once you’re out there all your preparation will kick in and you will be more than fine. Note to Self: plan for this predictable period of wobbliness.

Also, while I could watch Tim Gunn teach all day long (make it work!), there’s something about Project Runway that leaves me a neurotic mess. Perhaps it’s the tense music that underscores the entire judging process. Perhaps I’m identifying a wee bit too much with the designers. It doesn’t matter why. All I know is it gets my Worried Hurried Mind Hamster on its Wheel to Nowhere and, like broadcast news and crime dramas, it has got to go (even though I’m super curious about who will be going to fashion week).

And in a moment of celebration involving rice krispie treats, I was reminded why I don’t make them: they are just a sticky mess that results in a total sugar bomb. Ick. Lesson (re)learned.

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

That big stack of library books on my desk about time, willpower, transitions and habits says it all. I also want to explore using more improv skills in daily life.

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

What became immediately clear this week was that my existing system for tracking student progress is not up to the demands of what I’m currently teaching, especially given that this group is three times larger than any I’ve led before. It’s not just time to update, but to scale up. Systems crafting!

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 ]

Now that I’m over my annual Not-Ready-For-Summer-To-Be-Over! whine, I’m remembering even more of what I love about autumn: the changing light and colors, especially of the trees, migrating geese, cozy sweaters and blankets, fleece pajamas, pulling out your favorite boots from the back of the closet (the brown buttery leather ones and the pink polka dot rubber ones), resuming knitting projects, chai lattes, apple cider and hot chocolate, dinners baked in the oven, roasted squash and pumpkin muffins, and classical music (that was a new and unexpected association).

I’ve even lit up the digital fireplace. (Don’t scoff. It’s surprisingly effective, especially when combined with a few candles and the simmering of something evergreen.)

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

I am blessed with the most delightful, intelligent, well-read, thoughtful, self-aware, curious, inspired, ready-to-do-this, hilarious clients a gal could wish for. You teach and inspire me. And I adore you. Thank you for including me in your lives. I’m so grateful you’re a part of mine.

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

When picking up that stack of books from my neighborhood library, I was treated to the sight of kids playing at the elementary school across the street. Recess! Why-oh-why do we have to give that up once our age reaches double digits? We grown-ups could all use a little more recess in our daily lives.

Tell me: What were the highlights of your week?

What are you exploring and learning more about right now?

Where are your own systems are in need of an update?

What do you most love about autumn?

What are you thankful for?

What moments of delight did you experience this week?


Organized under week-in-review. none

What Your Time Snark Is Doing To You

September 23, 2013

Time Snark: you know, those snide and sarcastic comments we make about Time.

Like this gem left on my Facebook page about a year ago…

 “Don’t know what the big issue is — give me some time to manage and I’ll manage it.”

On the surface, it’s funny. Because we all know that feeling. But only for about a second. Then… not so much.

Given my livelihood, all I really see when I read something like that is someone who feels powerless in the face of their own overwhelm, in their own life.

And that breaks my heart.

Well, after my blood pressure drops. And I take a few deep breaths. Because along with compassion comes frustration – and such statements will get me on my soapbox faster than anything else.

First, because it’s such a gross mistruth. Time is the dimension in which we exist. It’s impossible not to have any Time. (Duh. I realize every Snarker knows this – it’s sarcasm after all – and yet it still cheeses me off.)

And thank goodness we do have it. Without Time, nothing would ever happen. And life would not be possible in a world in which nothing ever changed (think: evolution, for instance).

And without its flow in one direction (that thing that makes Time feel like a force rather than a dimension), everything would happen at once (as Einstein famously pointed out). We wouldn’t be able to understand cause and effect and therefore make sense of the world.

Time itself and the way it works is a good thing. It’s one of the miracles of the physical universe. It serves us well. For that it deserves our respect, not derision.

And it’s not its fault for failing to be so infinitely malleable that we can shove anything and everything we want to do into a day or a lifetime.

It’s just an innocent, neutral fourth dimension that isn’t doing anything to us.

We can’t blame Time for our own refusal to make choices.

And that’s what bothers me about Time Snark. Not the disrespect. That’s just a cultural bias around busyness (it’s a badge of honor to be busy, but it’s also something one is expected to complain about rather than express pride in) combined with an outdated understanding of Time that’s stuck in the Newtonian age of science.

No, what concerns me is how Time Snark, and the habit of thinking that fuels it, keeps the speaker in a victim relationship with the events and activities of her life.

For the Time Snarker, life is something that happens to a person, not something that can be co-created.

[ Hat-tip to Molly Gordon for teaching me that you can be stuck in the Drama Triangle not just with people, but with more abstract realities like Money and Time. ]

Sure, much of what happens in our lives is outside our control. Yet there is just as much within our control. And we always have a choice about how to respond to what is beyond our power to direct.

So stop throwing Time under the bus. Own your life. Own your choices.

The more you relinquish responsibility, the more practiced in your victimhood you become. And the more victimized you feel, the less Time you’ll perceive available to you (amongst other unpleasant consequences which I leave to the therapists and life coaches – I’m just concerned about your relationship with Time here).

That’s what your Time Snark is doing to you. And I know you don’t want to play the role of victim in your life. So let’s do something to change that.

During this first week of Foundations, we are practicing being more honest in our statements about Time.

Rather than being shocked that it’s the last week of September, or expressing disbelief that it’s Monday already, we could observe instead our lack of presence in our daily lives – whether from stress and overwhelm or creative flow.

Rather than wishing it was Friday instead of Monday, we could note instead what’s so unpalatable about the present moment.

Rather than using a lack of Time as an excuse for not doing that thing, we might say instead that we didn’t have the energy, we chose other priorities, or we overestimated what we could do in a day or a week.

Join us and try it for yourself.

Try to catch yourself when you make sarcastic comments about Time, express disbelief or displeasure at where you are at on a completely predictable calendar, or blame a lack of Time or busyness for not following through on a commitment, and say something more honest instead – in your emails and on social media, in conversations with family and friends, wherever Time comes up (which is pretty much everywhere).

Note: This exercise falls into the simple-but-not-easy category. Bonus points if you actually say these things out loud to other people, not just in your head.

Notice what changes in your life when you change your language. Just this simple act of integrity can begin to shift a rushed and grumpy powerlessness into a more positive and empowered creativity in your life and a sense of calm spaciousness in your days.

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 ]

… about the results of this experiment. I’d love to hear how it changes things for you.

peace and love,

Organized under choosing. 2 comments.

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.

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