Posted in Planning

Power in Connecting with People

Have you ever seen someone across the way and thought to yourself “I’d like to talk with them.” How many times have you followed through, walked across the room, and introduced yourself? None. Once or twice? Why so many missed opportunities?

If you’re like me it’s because you have no idea what to say, how they’ll respond to a complete stranger walking up to them, how much time you’ll have to talk, or even the point in making the connection to begin with. You never get a second chance to make a first impression, right? So, why risk it and add to the population of people that know of you peripherally, but don’t connect with you?

I’d like to challenge you to step outside of your own mental crisis of “what will they think of me?,” and think about the blessing you could be to them. If you put yourself into the world to serve others then they need to know you. Their life will be better for having known you.

Some of the most meaningful relationships I still have today were prompted by an awkward “Hey, I’m Emily Anne. I noticed that you ____________ and I wanted to ____________.” For example, “Hey! I’m Emily Anne. I noticed the tag on your shirt is out. Do you mind if I fix it?” They say thank you and regardless if they fix it or I do, they appreciate the gesture and their response opens the door to something else around them. “I read that book last year. It was great! What part are you on?” Sometimes there’s no intro other than “could it be more humid out here” (or something else about the weather) to get them talking.

My boss today whom I adore working with was one of these awkward conversation scenarios at first. She grew up in DC and is now a California girl. I’ve been a Carolina girl my whole life. She has no kids and I have two high-energy Tasmanian devils living with me. She’s beautiful and blonde, I dye my dark hair now on the regular as my kids stress the pigment from tresses. On the surface we had nothing in common and I knew that I would be reporting to her in the coming weeks. I called her one afternoon just to connect – on nothing in particular, but wanted to learn more about her. She asked about my kids, I shared. I asked her about California vs. DC and she shared her perspectives on both and how each of them blend into her personality and outlook on life. I asked if there was anything I could help her with. She knew that I was looking to grow and do more. I didn’t care what it was if it would allow her to see what I could do, allow me to learn something new, and alleviate some burden from her I was game. Our call was nearly 45 minutes of random, at times awkward, get to know you conversations and she couldn’t think of anything I could help her with at the time. [She’s since come up with all kinds of things. :)] I can honestly say that job aside – she will be one of those people that have had a big impact on my life.

Learning to connect with people can be one of the most powerful skills in your toolbox. Maybe they have your dream job. Maybe they seem to have this whole parenting thing down. Maybe you’ve seen then running in your neighborhood every day and you’ve noticed how they’ve gotten faster or dropped pounds. Whatever it is. My former boss used to tell me “No matter what the question is, the answer is always in the room.” When your “room” extends beyond the physical walls of the building you’re in and into the community(ies) where you live/work – every question has an answer.

Posted in Planning

What you do matters. Right?

When you wake-up and think about your day ahead are you pumped? Are you excited for what the day has in store or for what you’re going to contribute? If not, I would argue that you need to spend some time today reflecting on really matters to you and coming up with a plan to make this your best day ever.

Morbid thought, but if you died today would you be satisfied with how you’ve spent the time that you had on this earth? If not, then you need to get busy living your life.

2019 started fast and furious. Work dominated much of January and February and I was left most days and weeks feeling like I was failing as a wife, mom, race director, blogger, everything else that I am or do. When I had this continual gut feeling that I was climbing the hamster wheel (read: going no where fast) I would stop my day and take out a sheet of paper. During this time-out I would start by asking myself if the way that I’m feeling is a pattern or a new “normal,” or is this just what I need to be focused on right now? I would itemize what was generating the most anxiety, what I was spending the most time on, and what needed to be done and how much time I thought that was going to take.

Being busy at work is nothing new. I love the company I work for and the work that I do. I’ve been here nearly 15 years. However, in late December/early January our entire team changed. There was some turnover, but more so every person on our team’s role changed. Some were really excited about new opportunities, some nervous about what lies ahead, all of us knowing that our work over the past 7+ years had stagnated and that we needed to shake things up. Shifting roles and responsibilities around allowed us to retain thought leadership across our team and get different eyes on processes and procedures that govern our work to find fresh ways to package our program or more efficient ways to deliver. There were other value-adds as well, but I’ll stick to theme here.

After doing this “time-out” session with myself seven times over six weeks my notes told me that this busy season of learning a new team, learning new people, learning a new delivery model would be over soon enough – this is just what I had to do right now to set myself up for maximum success.

As a leader it’s said that you won’t be able to satisfy 100% of the people 100% of the time. That’s a challenge and one I’ll happily stand-up to because the work that we do is meaningful to me on a personal level.

Some look at my job superficially and see project plans, Excel workbooks with color coded tabs, folders of standard operating procedures (SOP) that document our delivery protocols, list after list of things to do so that we deliver high quality work on time… It looks boring or mindless to an outsider. Someone very close to me has described my work to others as “pushing paper.” To me, if I don’t have statements of work that ensure our subcontractors come to the table prepared to deliver high-quality work, or have team members with development plans that help them connect their day-to-day with the larger picture of this program so that they are growing both personally and professionally, or I have an Excel sheet with errors or gaps in content that open our program up for risk – it’s a big deal! I take it as a personal failure if something with my name on it is plain wrong or if the team that I work with don’t understand the importance of the work we do. I do have SOPs, and project plans, and Excel sheets – many not out of necessity, but out of that being the way that I process the work we deliver. Another project/program manager may come in and run this show a whole other way, and that’s fine – actually, it would be welcomed.

The point though is that it’s not about how the work is operationalized – the mundane checklists that just help me ensure it’s all there aside. There are lots of ways to do any single thing. The point is that the work is meaningful.

When you get out of bed in the morning and think ahead to what this day holds and what you’ll contribute do you feel empowered to bring your A-game or do you just plan to be a warm body taking up space for that paycheck? Stay-at-home mom, police officer, electrician, project manager, lifeguard, nurse – all the professions apply – do you see CLEARLY how what you do matters? If not, I would argue that you need to take some time to re-evaluate or do something new.

Posted in Planning

5 ways to start your day

Every day is a chance to start over. You have the power today to be someone completely different than you were yesterday. Isn’t that amazing?!? It can also be scary. I have so many ideas in my head of what I want to do in this next year figuring out what to do today can be paralyzing. Don’t let that stop you. Here are 5 things you can do today to start your day in the most intentional way.

  1. Hydration and nutrition – Start your day by drinking a glass of water and eating something. This will kick-start your brain for the day.
  2. 15 minutes of You Time – Start your day by spending 15 minutes solely focused on yourself or a practice that you hold dear. If you generally get a workout in first thing in the morning then you’re already on track for this one. If you have more time – then go for it. I like to spend my 15 minutes in the shower listening to my daily devotional and praying. If you want to sit and meditate, if you need to wake-up earlier to get it in before the kids get up – then do it. It’s so valuable to start your day with something that fills you up.
  3. Tidy up – I find that I’m more productive when my work space is tidy. I work from home and tend to move from room-to-room as well so that I don’t get pressure ulcers from sitting in my desk chair and I get a new perspective. Moving my “office” around the house can be a draining practice because the total volume of clutter is directly proportional to how much time my kids spend in that same space. If I can take even a few minutes to straighten up a few things it yields big returns on my productivity.
  4. Make the list – I have a plan of the categories of work I want to complete each day. The things that have to get done that day (they can’t be moved out), the things that I’d like to get done (but if they need to move they can), and the things I want to do (things that aren’t a necessity but energize me or have a larger value proposition). Beside each item I make a notation of the type of work it is by the category and then I note how much time I expect it to take me. It’s important that you keep into perspective the number of work hours you have in each day. If you have 16 hours of work that need to get out of the fray. See this earlier blog post [Save yourself, Get out of the Fray] on how to accomplish the seemingly insurmountable.

    I start my work day with the most pressing, deadline-driven to-do’s first. Then I give my mind a break by focusing on one of the more creative to-do’s, then get back to the grind for a bit. It’s helpful to not stay in the trenches for the duration of a complete day.

  5. I set the timer – When I sit down and start working I set the timer on my phone for 50 minutes. When the timer goes off I get up for at least 5 minutes to walk around. It doesn’t have to be for long, but to get the smallest physical break helps energize me. If I’m not doing this during a conference call then I will also close my eyes for a quick mental break to.

We all work differently and we are all energized and motivated by different things. I believe these 5 practices are universal. Maybe your a firefighter and can’t set a timer for every 50 minutes to change your current environment – but you can set a timer to be intentional even if it’s to take notice of where you are and how you feel. That practice in and of itself can be energizing. I encourage you to think through these practices and which ones you can implement. In total this practice takes me less than 45 minutes in the morning and 40 minutes throughout a typical 8 hour work day.

You’re definitely worth 90 minutes each day to be intentional about how you want to show up for that day and to energize yourself throughout each day.

Posted in Planning

How to Start a Daily Planner

I’ve been asked more often here lately about my thoughts for planners. I think it’s a natural response at big transition points like a new year to want to set yourself up for success. No one wakes up each day aiming to be mediocre, right? We want all the resources we can find that set us up for success each and every day. The first question I like to ask people when they ask me about my planner preferences is – Are you going to use it? You can spend all kinds of money on planners, but if you aren’t going to use it then that money would be better spent elsewhere (or saved).

If you’ve never used a daily planner before I suggest that you get yourself a cheap $0.79 spiral bound notebook or any other notebook you can re-purpose for 14 days. Think about what you want to capture in your daily planning. Do you need to capture meetings by time block? Do you need a quick view of the month or week? Do you want each day to have it’s own page or spread, or have a spread with multiple days? Do you need a to-do list? Do you want a weekly theme, affirmation or inspirational quote to be included? Are you introducing new habits (like meal planning) that you want to track progress with? Are you using this as a productivity tracker? What other things do you want to plan for daily (workouts, water intake, kid’s appointments, Bible reading, blogging)? Maybe you know you want to have a habit of planning each day, but you have no idea what to include. In that case Google “daily planner” and do some research on content different daily planners include. You can look at images online for different planners to spark ideas.

Don’t want to create your own daily planning pages? There are lots of free printable templates you can test in this process. Google “free daily planning template.”

In your cheap or re-purposed notebook, or on the printable template you selected, set the intention to plan for 14 days. If two or three days pass and you find that you want your daily planner to include something new – then include it. If there are things you thought you needed to track daily that you find you aren’t tracking then take those things out. This is YOUR planner and you can customize it every day until you have the core of the elements you want to plan for. Now that you’re at the end of your 14 days answer these questions:

  1. Did you find that you set your plan for the day in the morning or were you retrospectively reviewing the things you did/didn’t do that day?
  2. Did you find the daily planning exercise meaningful or was it just another “to-do” added to your list?
  3. Look back at the past 14 days of entries, are there things you wish you had captured or things you captured that you don’t need to?

Daily planning is an opportunity each day to set your intention so that you stay on track with your goals. If you don’t have a vision for where you want to go and a plan for how you’re going to get there – chances are you’ll never have the opportunity to live that vision. In question 2 above, if you didn’t find this daily process valuable, failed to complete your daily plan for each of the 14 days, or found it to be just something else you needed to work into your already busy day – I would encourage you to re-evaluate why you started the process. If you have a desire to create a new vision for yourself, to re-program habits, to track progress in a plan you’ve already started – make daily planning a priority. In my opinion, planning is best if done first thing in the morning because it sets your intention for the day. You can then keep a pulse on if you’re meeting that day’s intention as day progresses and flex as needed when issues or other priorities arise.

There are literally thousands of planners available on any budget. If you don’t get in the habit of using a daily planner and know what you want to plan for then you can waste a lot of money buying all of the wrong planners. So, again, if you didn’t complete your daily planning each of the 14 days and you’ve re-assessed the need for daily planning then try again. Before you spend any money on a planner, get in the habit of using a daily planner and know what types of things you want to plan for and track each day. Start again. Plan daily for 14 days making adjustments to the template you’re using. Keep doing this process of restating why you’re planning daily, understand how you like to plan your day until you have a clear vision of what you like and what you don’t like in a daily plan. You have your daily entries from your notebook as a guide for things you tried that didn’t work out and things you wanted to incorporate and maybe changed how you captured that each day.

Now that you’ve established a daily ritual of planning your day each day and know how you like to plan each day – now you can start looking for planners. WARNING: This process of finding a planner can be overwhelming. Don’t get frustrated and settle for a less than perfect planner. You’ll be back to square one – not using it – in no time because it doesn’t work for you. Here are a few questions to ask yourself when you start looking for a planner:

  1. Does it matter if my planner is hard cover of soft cover?
  2. Do I like a wire-bound notebook or do I want a solid, lay-flat spine?
  3. Do you want a re-usable planner cover that you can purchase and switch out the inner contents as needed?
  4. Will this planner stay on your desk or will you want to throw it in your bag and carry it with you?
  5. *Don’t freak out* Do you not want a physical planner at all, but maybe an app you access on your phone or computer?

Again, there are thousands of planners available – do your research and find one that will work for you. Google “planners”, “daily planners”, “productivity tracker”, “goal setting planner”. Visit your local bookstore or office supply store. Michael’s and other craft stores also usually have a great stock of planners at the start of a new calendar or school year. If a virtual planner or planning application is what you’re after read reviews, you can search for planning and productivity apps to see what’s out there. If you have friends or co-workers that have a daily planning habit, ask them what planner they use. Don’t settle. If push comes to shove take some time in Microsoft Word to put the planning template you created for your 14 day test period into a template that you can print copies of and put those copies in a spiral bound notebook or have them bound at your local office supply company. Who knows you may perfect that template and introduce a new planner to the world.

December 3, 2018 Workout

Walk ladder on treadmill. 30 minutes total. Start at 3.5mph and increased by .1 mph each minute to 4.3mph then decrease by .1mph each minute. 2 times. Incline at 1.0.

Bicep curls with 20lb bar x15 x2
Front to lateral raises with 7.5lb dumbbells x10 x2
Overhead press with 20lb bar x10 x2
Back raise with 20lb bar behind head x10 x2
Free form machine: woodchoppers 13lb x10 x2
Free form machine: tricep extension 13lb x10 x2
Free form machine: dual cable cross 13lb x10 x2

December 2, 2018 Workout

Running plan: Walk 5 minutes, run 2 minutes x3, 2 minute walking cool down.

High heel squats x10 x2
Deadlifts with 20lb bar x10 x2
Side-to-sides (laying down) x10 x2
Leg ups (laying down) with a lift at the top x10 x2
Short bridge x10 x2
Side-to-side crunch with 10lb dumbbell x10 x2
Side-to-side lunge with 10lb dumbbell x10 x2
Calf raises with 10lb dumbbells x10 x2
Leg press machine 115lb x10 x2
Calf rotary machine 104lb x10 x2
Leg extension machine 52lbs x10 x2
Leg curl machine 60lbs x10 x2

November 29, 2018 Workout

Running Plan: 5 minute walk, 2 minute run x3 with 2 minute cool down

Free form machine – dual cable cross 13lbs x10 x2
Free form machine – tricep extension 13 lbs x10 x2
Free form machine – lateral pull down 10lbs x10 x2
Free form machine – wood choppers 13lbs x10 x2
20lb bar bicep curl x10 x2
20lb bar deadlift to overhead press x10 x2
5lb dumbbell lateral raises x10 x2
Push-ups (knees) x10

Posted in Planning

Being the “bad guy” can be a good thing

The company that I work for is in the process of becoming DCAA compliant. I won’t bore you with what that means. You can Google it if you have to know. I tell you this to tell you that recently I have assumed the role of timesheet cop. Part of a company being DCAA compliant is ensuring you have strong timekeeping processes. Therefore, every day I run reports that show me all the time that was logged for a certain historical timeframe. I make sure that our team members are logging their time each day, make sure they’re logging all of their time each day, and making sure that they aren’t changing their time day-to-day. Yep, I’m the guy from Office Space running reports that literally no one else will look at but need done every day. Don’t get me wrong these reports take very little time to run and pivot. The soul drain comes when I send a message out to my teammates that didn’t log their time, changed time for a day in the past or entered time but forgot to enter a complete day’s time. I get GIFs of Lindsey Lohan shrugging her shoulders and rolling her eyes, I get middle finger emojis, most don’t respond at all – I’M THE BAD GUY. I totally get it.

I’m also a rule follower and when I get a list of criteria to check for I operationalize the heck out of it and I love a good ol’ Yes/No the criteria were met. It’s holding people accountable for having met said criteria that sucks. Many of these people on our team are my friends and we’ve worked together for years. I send my message in the nicest way I know how even anticipating the reaction, for example “_______, __________, ___________ [insert eye roll], This is a friendly reminder to enter your time for yesterday, Wednesday, November 28, and make sure that you’re entering your time each day. Thank you.” While we are no longer in the infancy stages of becoming DCAA compliant, we aren’t yet to the point that not meeting these criteria is punitive. At our recent in-person team meeting me and our VP of Operations did our little song and dance of why this is important and letting folks know that we would be reviewing timesheets every day, but it’s a big shift in business operations and I get that, but if we want to continue winning work (aka having jobs) then we have to change.

DCAA compliance aside this could be about anything. Me playing the role of the “bad guy” is me being victim to how I perceive other’s perception of the new task I’ve been given. No one asked me to play that role and it certainly has no merit. I’m personalizing reactions as if they have those reactions towards me and they’re not, the reactions are to the new process.  My job is to run these reports and send out the requisite messages. It would be a far bigger disservice to my team, my friends, if I didn’t do my job, we failed our DCAA audit, aren’t eligible for future work, and we all lost our jobs. My real friends will still invite me out for drinks after work timesheets aside. It’s not personal, it’s business. Occasionally business rules don’t make sense but if you want to win you have to play, and that’s why my new bad guy title is Chief Winning Officer (CWO). I’m willing to play the game so that we can continue to win the work.

Moral of this story: Next time you’re feeling like the victim or the bad guy – go high. Look for the bigger picture and ask yourself “what would happen if I didn’t do my job/this job?” Then think about the alternative scenarios that could play out if this new thing didn’t happen and you kept on business as usual. If you can’t answer this question or see the alternatives then talk with your supervisor and get to the root of why this is so important. Knowing why we do things as opposed to just doing them will build your credibility as a leader within your team and help you establish the changes that need to be made.

November 27, 2018 Workout

Running Plan: Walk 5 minutes, Run 1 minute x3 with 2 min walk cool down.

High heel squats x10 x2
Squats with 20lb bar x5 x2
Balance: bend over with one leg straight back with 10lb dumbbell in each hand x10 x2
Free motion squat machine: Single-leg squats with 30lbs x5 x2 (each leg)
Free motion squat machine: calf raises with 30lbs x10 x2
Alternating side lunges with 7.5lb dumbbells in each hand x10 x2 (each leg)