Tag Archives: work

What’s your One Thing?

Yesterday I took an opportunity during my monthly operations meeting to present to my team a concept I had discovered that intrigues me, from The One Thing by Gary Keller.

In preparing for the presentation, I realized that I can indulge my love for teaching and training in my current job. It was totally fun to prepare, and I enjoyed challenging my team with a new idea. It was a bit of a risk, and I had not discussed it with my director first. But he has been open to my creative streak, and when I finished (in about 20 minutes) he actually came up with the perfect picture to capture the idea of what we do now, versus what we might prefer to do.

one man band

“One man band” – photo taken in March 2018 by my boss

What is perfect about the photo is that it showed empathy for the struggle of my teammates, and it illustrated the point I had made during the presentation.

The basic idea of the book is that we need to work on ONE thing at a time, sequentially rather than simultaneously to achieve extraordinary results. When we multi-task or spin in a list of to-do’s that has no main priority, we dilute the focus and the quality of our work. So the book has a number of suggestions for how we drill down from our “someday goal” to a 5-year, then one year, monthly, weekly and daily goal.

We are asked to use a focusing question: “What’s the one thing I can do such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

This can be applied to goals at work, in relationships, goals for your physical health, personal life, money and business. You use it both on a temporal level: “what’s the one thing this week, or today or in this moment…” Then you plan time blocks on a daily basis so you get your one thing done first, before you slide off into more shallow work, like answering emails, attending meetings and other tasks.

Nothing should distract you from your one thing until it is done. Those time blocks can be protected. This is similar to the concept of Deep Work, by Cal Newport.

After I concluded, I asked the team: How can we apply the concept of “The One Thing” to the work we do every day? A couple of them had some ideas, and one had a great example. One thought it would be very hard to do this in the world we live in now, which was when my boss pulled out that great photo. We often feel like “one man bands” in our group, serving so many business units.

I believe the concept has merit, and though we a.d.d.-oid folks struggle with doing just one thing at a time, and many need to have shorter “time blocks” than the average person, I know when I do it well, I generate amazing results. I like to think of my one thing right now as my morning writing practice. When I do it, I feel a nice surge of energy, and that makes the rest of my day more productive as well.

What’s your ONE THING? Or if you prefer a more focused question: What’s your One Thing today?

Happy Friday, amigos!

 

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Pausing, resting and noticing

On Thursday this week I opted to sleep in instead of blogging. Since I’d had some insomnia on Sunday (slept 2 hours) and Tuesday (slept 4 hours) it felt really good to get 10.5 hours of sleep. It was really good, juicy sleep. I know that I dreamed, but I did not write down my dreams right away, so they faded quickly. But the sleep felt cleansing and nourishing, so I know my psyche was working out whatever needed processing.

I was fortunate to be able to work at home so I had some “think time” in between my conference calls. I took a little extra time to meditate, and to work on planning during my quiet time. I wrote in my journal. It is a handwritten, old-fashioned sort of practice for me. It is a way I slow down my brain long enough to process thoughts and feelings, to pay attention to what is going on in my body.

Our bodies can provide a necessary “compass” for the messages in our soul, but so often we forget to observe our reactions as a visceral process. We are in go-go-go mode, always trying to learn something new, read another book, listen to another podcast or audio book. I certainly love to indulge in all of these “treats” as I think of them. But then I need to allow for it all to settle, and for my personal truths to emerge.

As I tuned into my body’s messages today, I discovered I do not want to go to Boston in May for a trip to a conference that is typically an annual event for managers on my clinical research team. The week after that trip I am scheduled to travel to Belgium for another meeting. Then I am planning a trip the week after that to Mexico, to work with a colleague to help orient and train a new team member.

First off: three trips in 3 weeks is an easy NO for my body. More like a “shit NO!” if you pardon my French…  Is it that Boston trip itself causing the objection, or just the idea of traveling 3 weeks in a row?

I’m not wild about the Belgium trip honestly (even though I have enjoyed past work trips to Europe). But since I am on a “farewell tour” of sorts in my current role, that trip is part of my closure process in orienting a team member who may be taking on some parts of my role after I leave.

I am breathing through this decision and validating it by noticing the lightness I feel when I imagine skipping that trip. While I enjoy travel, I have come to appreciate sleep and a certain “life rhythm” in living well throughout my days and weeks. To be my most energetic and authentic self, I must respect that rhythm and notice when my body sends me these signals. When I ignore them, and press on, things tend not to go well.

In all honesty, there is no real reason I need to go to Boston for that conference. I have been to Boston before, and I enjoyed it, but I have no desire to go this time. My boss knows my career path is leading me to a new role. I have been upfront with him about that. He may not understand that my personal deadline of August is regardless of whether I have a job lined up specifically, or if I will simply take a break before my next gig.

I will honor that amazing compass of internal wisdom. It never leads me astray. Time to write the email to let him know my decision on this one…

Cheers & happy weekend, amigos!

Surrender

This morning I woke up very early (3 a.m.) , a byproduct of the time change perhaps, or maybe that 2 phase sleep that humans used to undergo in ancient times. Some historic investigations of human patterns in sleep indicate that we did not expect one long sleep prior to the invention of electronic lighting and an industrial economy. Typically there was a “first sleep” at night for about 4 hours and a period of wakefulness for a couple of hours followed by a “second sleep” or morning sleep of another 4 hours.

When I learned about this pattern, and as I have really worked on getting better quality sleep in recent years, it relieved some anxiety about the morning wakefulness I sometimes experience. I am a morning person, and these beautiful, quiet, spacious times are actually welcome for me, when I get to bed early enough. Today I will attend a meeting on behalf of my boss, who opted not to travel here from Miami on Health Economics and Value Based Healthcare from 9-5.

Since my director volunteered me to attend this all-day meeting on his behalf, I was not able to turn down the opportunity. I am trying to get myself psyched up for it, since I will likely see a few of my less favorite colleagues there, one in particular that always seems to challenge my patience.

So instead of trying to get back to sleep this morning, I surrendered to the wakefulness, knowing I love my morning solitude, my writing time, meditation and personal journal time. I am unwilling to sacrifice these when called upon for professional responsibilities, so sleep is sacrificed for a day. I can cope in the short-term, and I will be gentle with myself.

As I consider what my day will involve, I open myself to the possibility of learning something new. I am very interested in value based healthcare conceptually. Though sometimes the economists cause me to grit my teeth in the way reduce human health to cost effectiveness models, I strive to be open to an understanding of how we best can serve patients while creating sustainable health care.

The concept of surrender came to me again in a recent insight I have had regarding an issue I want to solve with my family. I have been obsessing and tossing and turning it about in my mind, looking for a solution. It has kept me up at nights, and clearly it agitates me. But when I was lying in savasana on Sunday night yin yoga class, I had this strong sense of an inner voice asking me to surrender that problem. Surrender it? To whom? To what? Permanently?

Some inner knowing may be nudging me toward backing off from the problem, and allowing it to unfold. I am not sure, but some of us with a tendency toward worry or anxiety can allow our minds to run rampant with playing out scenarios. I realize I have a tendency to do this, probably a learned tendency from parental figures.

We have to acknowledge sometimes that we are not in control of everything. No matter how much thought and energy we put into some outcome we may want, at some point we need to allow things to unfold. Some people put their trust in God. I am not sure how I feel about that. I do believe there is some higher power, some creative and loving force in the world. I have felt this presence at times, and it is nothing less than miraculous.

Right now, and considering other obligations I will handle today, I will surrender the worrying on that particular issue. I will pay attention to my distractions, and notice when my mind wanders. And I will stay mindful of being in the present moment with the intention of learning today. Now that I have gotten my writing done early and prioritized the daily routines I most treasure, I can move on.

Have a happy Wednesday, peeps. Remember, it’s pi day – 3.14! Treat yo’self! 😉

 

 

Simple Abundance

This morning I was trying to find the charger for my smart phone, and I had a small ’bout of de-clutter urgency. I get these now and then (though my husband may say not nearly often enough). So I was going through a few stacks of items, trying to figure out what room I inadvertently must have set down the cord.

simple abundance

A book caught my eye from the pile on my nightstand that I had pulled out from my big bookshelf recently, by Sarah Ban Breathnach entitled Simple Abundance, and it had been a going-away present from a group of coworkers back in 2000. I had decided to quit working for a bank after two years as a project coordinator, and was heading back to school. My intention to work in the social service field, or for a nonprofit. (I did not realize yet that life had something different in store for me).

Inside the front cover, they had all written very lovely things, and it brought tears to my eyes to remember them. Some of my favorites:

“Good luck with everything! Follow what you believe in. I’m so thankful I had the opportunity to work with you – you are a special person.”

“Best of luck in all your future endeavors. You are a wonderful, kind person and deserve all the happiness you find.”

“Good luck with your plans to return to school and enter the social service field. You will make a big contribution wherever you go.”

I share these not to brag about what a great person I am (though I do claim that I can work with almost anyone, and I tend to get along with people in every workplace). I share this because I worked with that team for only 2 years when I first moved to Minnesota. I had gotten a temp job placement for a bank in Downtown Minneapolis, only a 20 minute walk from our little garden-level apartment.

The job itself was actually pretty boring to me and largely administrative, but after I had been there for a couple of months, I received an offer for a permanent position. Since I wanted health care benefits and I liked the idea of some stability while I was figuring out what to do next, I accepted the position. In the meantime I had applied to grad school because it was fairly clear to me that bachelor’s degree in Psychobiology was not really enough to get me a “science” job.

Also, it can be hard to make friends in Minnesota! School has always been an easier way for me to meet people with whom I have things in common than the workplace. Even though I had family in Bemidji, I did not really know anyone in the Twin Cities. My spouse at the time had moved with me to the Twin Cities shortly after my grandmother had heart surgery. It seemed a good time for me to be closer to family after 6 years away (4 years at Swarthmore for  college and 2 years in the Bay Area of California). My parents lived in Wisconsin and grandma lived in northern MN, so we split the distance.

After living in San Francisco for two years, we decided we could not afford to keep up with the lifestyles of our mostly engineer and I.T. geek friends: they liked to go out a lot and we were going into debt trying to keep up. Rents were high and we did not have the kinds of jobs that could compete with the high cost of living there.

After arriving with maxed out credit cards and no jobs, we had to figure out what was next. We did not know what type of work we would find, but temp jobs in offices had always been plentiful in the 90’s, so I had little doubt I could find SOMETHING. When you’re in your early 20’s and a recent college graduate, I believe it does not matter that much what you do. Just get some work, learn some skills on the job and figure it out along the way. It helps if you know what you LIKE to do, and if you know that, by all means: do that!

But if there are a lot of things you like to do, and your biggest priority is not having to move back in with your parents because you prefer your independence, just find SOMETHING not too awful, and work hard at it. Develop a reputation for being reliable and getting things done. Pay attention to those internal signals you get when you need to move on, and those moments of joy which help you find a better path for you. If you have kind coworkers and a healthy work environment, life will really be okay, even if you have not yet figured out your larger story or mission.

Reading those kind words from the gift book from 18 years ago, I realize that I have always made friends wherever I go. I am kind, and I am approachable and things just tend to work out for me. There have been difficult times, and tough choices, but I realize this is the meaning of simple abundance: what you have in this moment is enough. When you have people around you that you love, and that love you, you will always have enough. Recognizing the great abundance around you and within you is your treasure. 

 

 

 

Getting ugly

Yesterday I read a piece in the Guardian by Barbara Kingsolver entitled “#MeToo isn’t enough. Now women need to get ugly

It was a thought-provoking piece and I am still mulling it over today, in light of world news, and in light of experiences I have had in my life and career.

“Patriarchy persists because power does not willingly cede its clout; and also, frankly, because women are widely complicit in the assumption that we’re separate and not quite equal.”

She explains how we are so embedded within the patriarchy that sometimes it is difficult to perceive it. I have heard patriarchy likened to being a fish in water, but not knowing what “water” is – it is the stuff we swim around in every day. We do not know what it is because we have never been without it for any length of time. Patriarchy is like water: it envelopes our lives in such a way that it becomes our reality.

But fortunately humans are not fish. And our breathing is not dependent on the existence of the patriarchy, though it may seem like our livelihoods indeed depend on it for many.

I realize part of my aversion to corporate life these days reflects partly an exhaustion with a patriarchal system that does not value work based on merit. It privileges the contributions of one gender over another. It does not value people and their multiplicity of contributions, the range of what they could bring to the table when given an opportunity.

I am fortunate to work in a company that places a high value on employees as people, and usually lives up to that tenet of our mission. But looking at a wall of inductees to its highest scientific honor society, counting the ~70 people’s faces and realizing that just 10% of them our women, I sigh and wonder.

There are so many barriers to women attempting to enter realms of work like science, engineering, politics, higher management. Some of these barriers are internal: we lack  confidence or we are not sure we have the competence to enter. We erect higher standards for ourselves than men have to try these positions, and worry more about making mistakes.

The socialization of women and girls has evolved a bit in the 4+ decades since I was born. The availability of sports teams and competitive opportunities has allowed more of us to challenge ourselves and take leadership in new areas. And yet when we lack critical mass, we must work much harder to build professional alliances and networks.

getting ugly

The “old boys club” is very much a reality in many of the corporate environments where we work. My own experience has shown me that men who mentor and sponsor us at work can be professional and appropriate in their behavior. But patriarchy functions subtly here as well.

My boss treats me a bit like a daughter figure – I can tell he is proud of me and my achievements. He wants me to “brag” more and to make sure others know about my accomplishments.  He allows me to make my own mistakes and learn from my experiences. But he has also been protective of me in a way that may be different from how he has treated his male proteges. Whether that is an aspect of personality or of systemic bias, it is impossible to really separate out. We swim in patriarchy so clear vision is obscured.

This morning I will return to a project group of mostly men (25% women) to work on a design project for technology that needs an upgrade. I found myself wanting to share more of my creativity yesterday during the “ideation” phase of our human-centered design process. But I found myself holding back. I was not sure why. The group is unfamiliar to me, and that is a barrier sometimes.

It does no good to blame the patriarchy when we struggle to get our ideas out, when there are also internal barriers as well. But it does help to understand the context of why women are less confident putting themselves out there. Kingsolver notes: “It’s really not possible to overreact to uncountable, consecutive days of being humiliated by men who say our experience isn’t real…” 

Exactly. This type of rape culture makes working “outside our comfort zone” a regular and daily occurrence. Is it any wonder that taking risks in business or engineering feels so dangerous? While many of us learn to live and even thrive in these environments, we also realize women are disproportionately attacked and thus we remain on guard for more of waking hours.

I am contemplating the the notion of getting ugly as Kingsolver recommends. I definitely think we need to dispense with making ourselves pretty and “acceptable” and comfortable for men. It simply does not serve anyone, ourselves or the wider world, to neglect the gifts and talents of half the world’s population.

Men have been ugly to women privately in ways that are now becoming public. And it has caused some seismic shifts in the way women realize how non-personal and cultural all of that behavior has been. I agree that we must never tolerate this behavior, and if that makes me ugly, I am fine with that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Imaginary delegation

Last February I read a book that changed how I think about women in leadership, and the gap between household responsibilities for men and women. It was called Drop the Ball by Tiffany Dufu, and I have written about it before.

One of the concepts that hit home for me was the idea that we sometimes get resentful of our spouses, partners or even coworkers about things that have not gotten done, even when we never made a specific request about those tasks. We all have those times. Maybe you wish your spouse would decide on the meals and grocery shop for a change. For some reason, you have always done it (maybe like me you are pickier about the foods you eat than your husband) and things get busy at work, so you do not have the energy this week to do it.

But rather than ask your husband to do it, you just sigh, feel sorry for yourself and think: “Why doesn’t HE ever make the decisions about this stuff and offer to shop?” Well, probably because you are the one that usually does it, without any prompting. You may think, “nobody has to ask ME to do this!” and sulk because you know that it saves money to shop at the grocery store instead of eating out.

When I asked my husband if he could go to the store, he willingly and cheerfully did so, and asked what was on my list. Instead of spending energy being resentful and getting annoyed about it, I could have saved myself the trouble and just asked for help, instead of assuming I had to do it. Since people have an easier time hearing your actual words than reading your mind, opening your mouth to graciously ask for help is a better option.

We all have habits and patterns in our relationships and roles which we play both at home and in the workplace. Sometimes these roles and “job descriptions” need to shift and change depending on our overall workload. When we take on a new challenge at work, or commit to something important to us, we may need to ask for help from our spouse on household tasks. This is very hard for me, I realize.

I grew up in a household where Mom stayed home until going back to work when my sister was in middle school, and I was in high school. She and my Dad had a very different division of labor than I aspired to in my life. So I sometimes forget that women are not necessarily “supposed” to grocery shop, plan menus and take responsibility for food prep at home. Indeed I know a lot of households where the opposite is true.

At work this applies when I have a task that could easily be done by a colleague and perhaps they are better at it too, but somehow it ends up on my to-do list. I realize that, if I do not ask anyone else to do it, nobody will “take it away” from me and get it done. I need to use my words, not my imagination to ask for help, and I need to be specific about what needs to be done, though not necessarily how to do the task. I do not enjoy micro-managing, so delegating the responsibility involves stepping out of the way to allow someone else to bring their own approach to the job.

Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength. It allows us to do what we are best at doing, without getting bogged down in a lot of details or menial tasks that may deplete our energy and time. But some of us who are still learning how to not take on too much, or who lived happily as single people, need to question our assumptions about who does what at home and at work. If we have a spouse or partner that supports our growth and development, and someone who understands that household management is a shared responsibility, we can probably negotiate these matters.

I am working on recognizing those times when I feel resentment but the real battle is going on in my own mind, rather with another person. I have a situation at work where I realize I used to take on responsibilities that are actually the job of the other manager. He has been blissfully ignorant and relying on me to do these tasks, but I now aim to be more specific with him about his responsibilities. I realize this will go against my “go along get along” attitude at work, and my concept about being a “team player” but I have enabled his blissful ignorance for too long.

As I am less tolerant now about certain things at work, given my overall dissatisfaction with the role I am in, I realize I have less to lose. So what if he gets annoyed that I am asking him to do his job! I respectfully do not care. Wow, there’s power in that.

 

 

 

Intention vs. Attention

I was reflecting this weekend on the topic areas I have written about for the past few months on this blog versus the original intention I had at the beginning.

Sunrise from my window

Sunrise from my window this morning as I wrote – gorgeous!

One intention was to comment on politics and privilege from my unique perspective as a bi-cultural Latina woman. I still do that now and then. But more often, I have shared about topics like mindfulness and taking care of my health. So I wanted to consider why the blog morphed as I committed to more of a daily routine of writing. Here’s what I came up with. I would love to know what you think.

  1. It is best to write about what we know. Since I know myself better than I know anyone, writing about my own experience, and my own journey seems to be a good way to start. It limbers up my writing practice, and allows me to reflect on what I have learned from a personal perspective.
  2. “Research is me-search.” I am a clinical researcher by training, but the topics I find most interesting are my own little n=1 experiments in health. For those of you not familiar with this terminology, “n” is the number of subjects/patients you include in an experimental sample. When I experiment with a new wellness practice, I am the sole participant so n=1. There is no control group, so it is not a “valid” sample in the methodology we typically use. But of course, there are subjective measures we can use to validate our own experience. I rely on those rather than on statistical work to conclude whether I will continue particular wellness practices I try.
  3. Taking care of ourselves well is a radical act. I believe we do not live in a culture that does not properly value taking care of ourselves, and women struggle with this most. We give lip service to taking care of ourselves, but we also cut corners on sleep and fill our lives with unnecessary obligations and distractions. We must step away from the “busy-ness culture” that is supposed to signify our importance in the world. This helps us have space to truly thrive. But so few truly commit to this path.
  4. Until we care for ourselves, we will not have long-term resources to help others. I began finding in my personal life about 2 years ago that I was putting my work and family ahead of taking care of myself. It was taking its toll on my health. I did not like the results. I did not like constantly feeling tired and strung out. But I felt desperate to make a contribution “to the world” because I saw political and economic systems I did not feel were serving people. A decade before that I had been very involved in political campaigns. But that had burned me out, and required much personal sacrifice that I simply could make at this stage in my life.
  5. We are in this for the long haul. Any type of societal change is slow-moving, and requires sustained effort. What is done in one day has fairly little impact. But what is accomplished over time, with many small efforts (and many people) daily is what creates a movement. If more of us were to look inward, take care of ourselves and our needs, and thrive personally, we would likely have more time and energy to care for others. This includes our families, our communities, and our society as a whole. Not that we can stop caring for others as we care for ourselves, but just that we cannot care for others at the expense of our long-term health. This will serve nobody.

So these are my initial thoughts on why my blog has morphed from its original intention. I may come back to writing more about politics and other topics about which I am passionate. Right now, I write about what I most want to learn and master. That is where my attention is most focused, and writing about these topics clarifies my thinking.

Thanks for reading. Hope you have a wonderful week!

Sunrise 2 from window

Sunrise a few minutes after the other photo – I just LOVE the colors of morning!

Flowing vs Overflowing

Do you ever have a sense of marvelous ease in your day? A sense that you are in a “flow state” and things are proceeding exactly as they should. You just ride along as the current carries you.

You look up hours later and realize you have been so engaged in a task that you have lost awareness of time, and maybe it’s already dark out. Or you suddenly realize you are hungry, but you were absorbed in something so deeply that you did not notice at the time. It is kind of a beautiful experience for someone like me (or maybe you?) who struggle with distractions.

But how often to we achieve this state? How often do we give ourselves the opportunity to do uninterrupted work? How often do we single-task, instead of spreading out our focus?

deep-work-cover.jpg

According to Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, we do not do this nearly enough. When I first read the book summary, presented by my “GetAbstract” subscription at work, I felt immediate resonance with the concept. Then I heard an interview with him on the Hidden Brain podcast last July, and I knew I would need to figure out how to do more deep work in my career.

In the age of social media, overflowing email boxes and communications technologies like WhatsApp and Jabber (my company’s instant messaging platform), it is a challenge indeed. But I like a challenge. And I think the ability to focus deeply and intentionally on things we care about is worth it. Some may argue that this is what makes a happy life.

So how do we make that more possible? For me, it has involved cutting WAY back on my daily consumption of social media. I used to turn on my phone in bed in the morning, read facebook posts and the news from the coziness of my bed (it was -12F when I got up this morning -26F with windchill – ugh). Then I would usually open up the email, first personal and then work to see if there were any urgent items.

This would put me into “reactive” mode, taking in all of this information before even giving myself a chance to truly wake up. Not the best way to start the day. That practice shifted to consuming podcasts rather than FB and news about a year ago. I decided my emotional state was not equipped to consume news in the same way I used to devour it daily. I really love public radio, and I still listen sometimes in the car on the way to or from work.

We all have choices about what we do, and how we engage with the world. It is pretty mind-blowing to realize we have more control over our thoughts and emotions once we learn to separate them out from circumstances. Learning this has helped me understand when my “anger” button has been activated, or in neuroscience terms, the amygdala. Anger can be a useful emotion, when we are fighting injustice, but rage tends to be destructive. Fear can be a useful emotion, when we are outrunning a predator or facing a potentially dangerous situation, but panic is rarely helpful.

So I choose to cut back. I need to keep flowing, keep working toward things I believe in. I work toward more peace, more justice, more access to the rights and freedoms I enjoy for more people. Overflowing with inputs, distractions, material possessions, entertainment, and other “over” indulgences does not serve me. So I make deliberate choices about how to spend my time.

Distractions may always be a factor for me. My mind runs and plays like a puppy, roaming around, picking up random scents and running down those trails. But that is also conditioned behavior, following the urge of distraction. And it can be unlearned with practice, thankfully. My meditation and yoga practices are teaching me that.

May you be clear-headed and focused today. May you engage in whatever deep and important work you are doing right now, with full mind and heart. Thank you for reading, and now go get back to your creative effort. Namaste.