Welcome to The Warrior Month

Raise your hand if you're not really feeling that new year sparkle.

Yup, that's right, I'm your favorite action-oriented life coach and I'm struggling to be all-in and get moving on 2018.

And you know what?

THIS IS REALLY OKAY.

When we returned from our holiday travel mid-week last week, I arranged myself at the dining room table with Susannah Conway's Unravel Your Year workbook.

I had four whole days to sink into the sheer joy of visioning! Four days to reflect on 2017, to remind myself of the new kernels of wisdom I'd located throughout the year, to embrace my agency in creating the 2018 I most desired.

But I couldn't make myself do it.

I couldn't sit still. Everything seemed more important, and by 'everything,' I mean: rearranging the contents of the guest room closet, checking in again and again with all the houseplants to be sure no one felt abandoned when we were away, scrubbing out old casserole leftovers from before the holidays, etc.

When I finally managed to ground myself, to sit at the dining room table (mind you, this was two days in to what I'd thought would be a four-day planning session), I couldn't turn over that first page of the workbook in order to begin the actual work. Instead, I chased shiny things around Instagram and debated multivitamins on Amazon.

Taking stock of my life and business had gradually become a menace. A thing I needed to avoid at all costs. Or so I thought.

Late in the afternoon on New Year's Eve, I finally ordered myself to march through the 2017 reflection pages of the workbook. I bargained with myself, Just look over this past year; you don't have to think about next year yet.

And so, I did. It was a struggle, but I looked at 2017 with my hands over my face, peeking through my fingers.

Prior to opening the workbook, I didn't know why I was feeling such resistance—and I'd say it probably didn't matter why, except for the fact that the not-knowing troubled me more than the resistance itself.

Once I started poking around and contemplating the past year, I figured out why the resistance was showing up: 2017 was the most turbulent year of my life.

Why am I telling you this?

Because I want you to know you're not alone.

If 2017 contained some of your highest highs (mine: we bought our first home together and finally retired our vagabonding status) and lowest lows (mine: one of our dearest friend ended his life in February and everything has lost its luster since), it very likely makes a ton of sense to some part of your brain to absolutely steer clear of past reflection and future planning.

Things feel chancy—at least to me they do.

And out of control. Which is nothing new (intellectually, I know I have but only so much control over my life), but the reminder of which has (I hope only temporarily) impeded my desire to look too far backward or forward. Better to keep my head down and my eyes fixed on what's right here. Today. January, a month like any other.

Even still: January's tough (tougher than the other months, I think). It's a challenging month for resoluteness.

Vivian Swift, author and illustrator of one of my favorite books, When Wanderers Cease to Roam: A Traveler's Journal of Staying Put, writes this:

January is the Warrior Month because it takes a warrior to soldier through these cold, dark, harsh January days. This must be why the Romans put January at the head of the calendar, the better to teach the most important lesson of the year, that: What it takes to get through January is what it takes to get through life. It takes a winter mind.

As I inch my way into the new year ('inch' being the operative word here), I'm focusing on winterizing my mind: that is, aligning myself with the season...instead of expecting myself or the season to be something other than what I am/what it is.

Here's a short list of winterizing experiments you might try as you get your January bearings:

1. Chase the sun around the house.

I'm doing this everyday in a desperate effort to revive an anemic houseplant. Each morning, I pull the shades in the front, south-facing windows, shout-sing "Good morning!" and position said plant directly in the sun's path. Then, throughout the morning and early afternoon, I move the plant as the sun travels the sky. This keeps me connected to the light, grateful for the light, regardless of how few hours of it we're getting right now.

2. Witness sunrise and sunset every single day this month.

This suggestion is from Vivian Swift and is similar to what I'm doing with my anemic houseplant: "The average night is 13 1/2 hours long. We spend most of January in the dark. Don't miss a minute of daylight." Brilliant! In these parts, the sun rises between 7 and 7:30 a.m. and sets between 4:30 and 5 p.m. How easy would it be to find a warm vantage point (I'm thinking our east-facing stair landing) and, with a hot beverage in hand, experience sunrise for the whole month? Add in a closing ceremony at the end of each day, and you can pat yourself on the back for soaking up every drop of sunlight that January has to offer.

3. Pull a page from summer's activity book and spend 30 minutes each day examining the frost patterns on the windows as though you're cloud-watching.

I'm hooked on this one mainly because the frost on our bedroom windows has been truly fantastic on these cold mornings (negative temperatures here in the northeastern part of Wisconsin) that I can't not document it.

4. Learn how to draw a tree.

Another one from the aforementioned Vivian Swift book, so I'll let her explain: "Now is the best time to see what a tree really looks like. Draw one a day." An over-breakfast activity? Maybe the same tree, the one that waves to you outside the living room window?

5. Give yourself a grace period.

Make the decision to treat the first week or two of this month as a time to work out the kinks, and leave some serious room for yourself to figure out how you want the year to look. When you move into a new house, everyone will tell you not to initiate any major renovations until you've lived in it a while, until you've gotten to know the house and how you function in it. Well, the same goes for the new year; live in it for a few weeks, and only then chart your course.

Be gentle with yourself in these early days of 2018 and know that not everyone is raring to go; there's room for all of us to have and share our own unique experience of the new year.

With love,
Helen

What I'm creating in 2018

Do you choose a word or phrase as a personal guidepost for the new year?

It's a practice I casually adopted several years back—'casual' in that I don't put too fine a focus on picking mine; I sort of let it find me.

In my opinion, the right word or phrase is always obvious. Something that's been courting me for months, maybe even for the majority of the year.

Declaring my word or phrase is my way of acknowledging what's already there, what wants to be recognized, what's waiting to come into being.

As I mentioned, I've sensed something new brewing in my business for a number of weeks now. I haven't been able to put my finger on what it is exactly, but I've been sure that it'll require me to be flexible and innovative and far more experimental than might be comfortable.

I thought for sure my 2018 word was PERMISSION. As in: giving myself the permission to explore whatever needs exploring.

However, a few days ago, my friend and colleague (and an epic source of delight and inspiration for me) Alexandra asked me for my 2018 word. In preparation for a course she's teaching in the new year, one which I'm thrilled to be enrolled in, she's collecting students' words and phrases and making some sort of as-yet-to-be-seen concoction with them (see what I mean about her? She's delightful).

In reply to Alexandra's request, I found myself writing a phrase that might not seem so different from my initial thought...but the nuance is important:

CREATE PERMISSION.

Given my action-oriented angle these past five months, it's no surprise the verb feels crucial.

'Permission' is not enough.

It's a fine noun, expansive really—but on its own, it seems to exist somewhere...out there...

It's something I'd have to track down and try to catch.

I don't want to spend 2018 trying to find permission.

What I want for 2018 is to take a more active approach, a truly creative approach, to permission. I want to embody self-permission. Wherever permission doesn't seem to exist (or whenever it eludes me), I will create it for myself. And I will create it for you. And I will teach you how to create it for yourself.

I want to show you—in real time, or nearly—what it looks like to explore who you are, to discover something new, and to create the permission you need in order to evolve accordingly.

Up for a bit of soul-spelunking in the new year?

(I knew you were.)

This is my last email of 2017; I'll be back here, connecting with you once again, on January 2nd, 2018.

In the meantime, I wish you a holiday season of joy, peace, comfort, rest, relief—or whatever it is you most need, whether or not you know it yet.

Thank you for being with me this year.

Love,
Helen

Labels, seeing, and the magic in dark days

What has stopped you, historically, from creating the thing you dream of creating?

For many of us—myself, included—it's a label that stops us.

Or the lack of a label.

Because not having a label usually indicates the absence of a specific degree or credentials or experience. And who are we to do a thing without that external validation in place?

To make this concrete, several examples from my own life:

I'm a writer.

I use that label, and I feel confident using it, because I have a graduate degree in creative writing. A university determined, after I jumped through the appropriate hoops, that I should be awarded a master's degree. Do I feel like a master of creative writing? HELL NO. I feel like someone who has spent countless hours creating entire worlds out of words...and who has a hard drive filled with proof of a love of storytelling.

I'm also a coach.

I use that label, and I feel confident using it (though I don't particularly like it), because I have a certification in coaching. A seasoned coach, who created and runs a coaching school, determined, after I jumped through the appropriate hoops, that I should be awarded certification in her program. Does this feel like adequate endorsement? Eh. Yes and no. Coaching school equipped me with a skillset, but it's the actual coaching I've done since that has honed my technique and made me a good coach.

In creating Halcyon Days—a small, illustrated (in watercolor!) compendium of the rituals and comforts I'm holding close this solstice—I'm trying to learn to call myself an artist.

I don't have a degree in painting, nor do I hold any sort of certificate or award or even a gold star.

I found my way to watercolor this last spring, while grieving.

My husband and I lost a very dear friend to suicide last February. Without any warning, our whole world looked very, very different from how we'd imagined it looking.

This painting practice started as a way of keeping my anxious hands busy during all the mindless TV watching that happened in those difficult months, but it swiftly became an exercise in enchantment for me. I learned how to create something from nothing—and sometimes, that 'something' was so realistic, so full of dimension, that I floored myself with an ability I hadn't known I possessed.

I learned that I could make something exquisitely beautiful simply by seeing it.

(Even in a world that looked very, very different from how I wanted it to look, from how it I thought it was supposed to look.)

If that isn't alchemical, I don't know what is.

Interestingly, I coach people around the topic of labels. Around the idea of being who they are at their core and doing what they most need to do during this one lifetime of theirs.

I help these people to not get caught up on degrees and credentials; I teach them to value what feels most like their calling—even if it flies in the face of their education, of their formal training, of the career they're 'supposed' to be pursuing.

And here I find myself, offering up something personal and creative and wildly fun, and almost (almost!) supplying the caveat, I'm not saying I'm an artist or anything, so...

As my friend Doña, a fellow coach, says, "Here's where I admit that I teach this stuff not because I'm good at it, but because I'm still learning it."

I'm learning how to be an artist, but more than that, I'm learning how to tell you I'm an artist...and how to believe it, myself.

Halcyon Days, my inaugural artistic offering, is for sale right this way.

I'd love to help you tell the world who you are...and even believe it, yourself.

Hit 'reply' if this sounds like something you might want to explore with me in the new year. We'll set up a time to chat about how I can help.

Love,
Helen

What I want to create today

One of the better questions I've thought to ask myself is this:

What do I want to create today?

The fabulous thing about this question is that it gets right to the heart of the matter; it acknowledges the tremendous gift I have as a human being, both to imagine and to act upon my imagination. To dream up anything, and then to realize the thing I've dreamed up.

Today, right this moment, my answer is this:

Space to notice. As much joy and delight as is possible. Some comfort for myself and for another (or three...or a hundred; sharing some comfort during this time of year feels like a really urgent calling for me).

This was my answer last weekend, too, so I went about cooking up a small offering for you, which I'll tell you about in just a moment.

But first, I'd like to invite you to ask yourself what you want to create today.

Maybe an answer springs to mind immediately. You've been holding onto something in your mind, but you haven't seen it as a worthwhile thing to act upon. (Hint: It is. It always is.) The time doesn't feel quite right. (Hint: It never will. Don't let that stop you.) Still, you know what you want to make today.

Maybe nothing springs to mind. You feel the creative itch, but you've got no idea where or how to channel it.

Regardless of what comes up for you in response to this question, you might find some value in the creative action advent I've initiated on Instagram. We began on December 1st (and we'll continue on to the very end of the month), but you're free to join in at any time, for as much or as little participation as feels right for you.

What is it? I wrote a bit about it here...but for those of you who don't click (I see you ;-) here's the low-down:

I'm posting a daily creative assignment for you. They're tiny acts. The idea here is to make space for something new and somehow valuable to form (intangibly or physically) in a season that tends toward the frenetic and overcommitted.

Thirty-one creative overtures to anticipate (and celebrate!) the ending of one thing and the beginning of another.

Thirty-one creative investigations to discover, in real time, your tremendous ability to make something from nothing.

We're using our powers of agency and creation to play, see, pay attention, experiment, and make some magic before the year runs out. In short: We're having fun, out loud.

Okay, so, back to the offering I've cooked up for you:

Halcyon Days

What is it? An illustrated compendium of fourteen ways I’m creating comfort and joy for myself in this season, to be delivered one page at a time via email, beginning December 14 and ending December 28.

What might it inspire in its recipients? Feelings of peacefulness, calmness, warmth, joy, healing, merry-making, nostalgia

Why the name ‘Halcyon Days’? It’s from Greek mythology. When Alcyone’s husband, Ceyx, died in a shipwreck, Alcyone threw herself into the sea; the gods transformed them both into halcyon birds (kingfishers). When Alcyone made her nest on the beach, waves threatened to destroy it. Her father, Aeolus (the master of the winds), restrained his winds and kept them calm during seven days in each year, so she could lay her eggs. Later, the seven days before the winter solstice, as well as the seven after, became known as the "halcyon days," when storms do not occur. Today, the term is used to denote a past period that is remembered for being happy, calm, and peaceful.

Who would enjoy Halcyon Days? The curious (it’s a voyeuristic peek into my meditation on winter coziness!), the wonder-seekers, those who crave warmth and succor, inspiration enthusiasts and delight aficionados alike—and also, anyone who’s intrigued by the prospect of receiving fourteen opportunities for wintertime enchantment. If you enjoy my amateurish watercolor experiments, you’ll love Halcyon Days.

What is the cost? $13 USD (my lucky number)

Open to receiving something a bit different? Akin to whimsical pages torn from my journal? Super. Follow the gold link below.

Cozy up to the ordinary magic of Halcyon Days

Last, but not least: The second Get It Done Day is this Friday, December 8th.

Do you have holiday cards you're meant to be addressing?

Have you not made the time to track down those cookie recipes for this year's baking extravaganza?

Are you in danger of going another month without sending out a newsletter to your email subscribers?

Does it sound like a really nice thing to simply devote three hours (divided up by brief check-ins, so that none of us gets lost in the too-much-unstructured-time phenomenon) to something you actually really want to do, but haven't made time for?

Join us. We've got your back—because it's infinitely more fun when we Get It Done together. Full event details (tl;dr: IT'S FREE and starts at 9:30 a.m. CST) and registration here.

Love,
Helen

Your Jeopardy answer: Action and this are two sides of the same coin

For the better part of four months, I've been writing to you about taking action. About being a doer instead of a feeler. About prioritizing and getting it done, turning pro and finishing, pushing through procrastination and taking small steps.

Everything I've offered since July has come out of this action-oriented theme, because the topic's fascinating to me (obvs).

Another thing that's fascinating to me—but that's gotten far less airtime in my business—is creation.

Action and creation are two sides of the same coin.

When you take action, any action, you create a new reality for yourself. You bring into being another piece of your future. You contribute to the unfolding of your life with agency—by dreaming, committing, and doing. You empower yourself, put yourself in charge, take advantage of your will and desire. You make things happen. You make things exist that didn't exist before.

Several weeks ago, I began to feel that my professional marching orders seemed a bit flat. It was as though I realized suddenly that I'd been working on a drawing of a house instead of a model of a house. While I knew I wanted to keep inspiring and encouraging and coaching people to take specific actions in their lives (and my god, there's still heaps for me to share on this topic), some vital dimension was missing from my work.

I was craving an element of spark. Something expressive and quirky and full of possibility. FUN seemed crucial. Wonder was a no-brainer.

And though taking action is the stepping stone to all those things and more, the lexicon and logistics of it definitely leave a bit to be desired.

Thanks to the reflective abilities of my own coach and my glorious mastermind group, plus some serious research into archetypes, what I've realized lately is that I'm an alchemist and a creator. I facilitate personal transformation and I'm vibrating with creative energy. I'm a change-maker and an innovator.

As we move toward the end of one year and into the beginning of another, all I see are exciting opportunities to help you use your imagination in concert with your agency.

No doing for the sake of doing; no to-do list ticking. That stuff doesn't fascinate me (and who wants to pay a coach to strategize on the ho-hum, anyway?)

We'll look at doing as a means to becoming.

Think of me as your enthusiasm catalyst, your creative solutions architect, your joy detective, your permission slip. We're going to have a bunch of fun changing and creating, growing and manifesting, together.

Love,
Helen

How I feel about sharing this, in emojis: 😳😖😕😬😌😄😊

I buried the lead in last week's note.

This was brought to my attention after I hit 'send'—and, having sat with it for a week, I can't help but think I ought to explore what happened there.

What am I talking about?

My offerings.

Specifically, the fact that there's now two ways to work with me: in a six-month intensive (by application only) or in single sessions. Instead of highlighting this new and exciting development (you don't have to buy a whole coaching package if you don't want to! You can experience profound transformation for a mere three hundred dollars!), I tucked it into the 'Work with Me' section in last week's note. I padded it. I played it cool. Inadvertently, of course.

(But maybe not?)

I was of two minds—and I see this now, only after it was pointed out to me that my Big Announcement came across as more of a parenthesis than a thesis.

My two minds went as follows: 1. This is an amazing opportunity and I feel really good about offering it to my people, and 2. What if my people are offended by my suggestion that three hundred dollars is a great deal?

Oof. That's kind of a lot to unpack. But here goes. In four parts. ;-)

Part 1: Transformation isn't always difficult and it doesn't always require a long span of time.

For some people, a coaching program makes sense; there's work they want to do that can't be done in one conversation.

I've witnessed exquisite transformation over the course of three-, four-, and six-month coaching programs.

For others, however, multiple conversations aren't necessary (not to mention the fact that committing to three or more months of coaching at a price point that exceeds their rent payment just isn't feasible).

I've witnessed exquisite transformation in a single 90-minute session.

Part 2: While it isn't always difficult (and this is something I say often), transformation isn't for the faint of heart.

What do I mean by that?

Shifting a mindset has the capacity to change a life—and not everyone is ready or willing to have her life changed.

Change can feel scary and even painful. Change can mean letting go of something we don't want to let go of...in order to make space for our becoming. Change can be really beneficial for us at the same time that it's profoundly lonely.

Part 3: Very little in life is, or should be, one-size-fits-most; coaching is no exception.

My previous service model started to seem one-size-fits-most-y...and that's when I knew I needed to reconsider my approach.

Part 4: In telling you about my new offering, I'm not at all suggesting there's a 'good deal' here.

In the past week, I've had to remind myself that I'm not even in the business of good deals. That's the job of Walmart and Dollar General (and Kohl's, but only if you remember to bring your coupons).

I'm in the business of transformation.

And transformation is an investment. Of money, sure. But also? Of energy and thought and action. You have to want your transformation more than I want it for you. Which is where a fee can be a useful filter.

That being said, I never wanted my fee to preclude someone's ability to experience transformation. At twenty-two hundred dollars, however, I was absolutely out of the realm of 'affordability' for many folks—folks who are ready and willing to change their lives. 

So, while three hundred dollars is hardly pocket change, it is a way of making my service accessible to more people.

Why, then, was I of two minds in sharing my new offerings with you last week?

(Rather: Why was I of that second mind, that 'what if' mind, that money-fearful mind?)

Because, in my own life, I revere thrift and abundance simultaneously. And they're two tricky things to reconcile.

I squeeze out every last bit of toothpaste before tossing the tube and unscrewing a new one and I believe absolutely in my ability to create regular income for myself.

I don't want to ask for more money than I believe is mine for the taking and I absolutely believe that an edgy fee inspires commitment in my clients.

I want you to make good decisions with your money (incidentally, this is none of my business—isn't it fun to watch me coach myself?) and I believe absolutely in my ability to co-create a massively impactful, 90-minute conversation with you.

...

You can see this is a many-layered thing. An onion of a second mind.

If you've stuck with me this long: Thank you! Also, I'm curious: What's your take on fees for services? What makes a service 'worth it,' in your book? Do you tend to bring more of yourself to the thing when you've invested more money in the thing? How would you quantify impact or transformation?

Hopefully, you got your fill of me this week with this massive note, because you won't be hearing from me next Tuesday. I've given myself the week off for some travel and family time—but we'll pick back up with each other that last week of November. If you celebrate American Thanksgiving, here's wishing you a beautiful day of gratitude on the 23rd.

Love,
Helen

What's love got to do, got to do with it?

A question I receive often (and relate to like WHOA) is this:

How do you get yourself to take action, day in and day out, on the things that don't bring you any immediate gratification? Or even any obvious results? How do you stay motivated to keep on with those actions?

Oy. That's that age-old question, isn't it?

Right now, I can think of several tasks I don't particularly enjoy, but I do them daily because I know they're good for me.

The first that springs to mind? Flossing. GOOD GRAVY FLOSSING IS AWFUL.

And I wasn't always a flosser. (Mom, you didn't read that.) About three years ago, after a sad trip to the dentist, I started flossing in earnest. Having survived twenty-something years without a cavity, I was sure I didn't need to be the daily flossing type, so I reserved my little spool of waxed string for the night before a dental appointment (which, I'll admit, I scheduled few and far between), and that was that.

But at age 31, I got a cavity. And then another. And another. (I won't tell you the exact number of and anothers that should follow because that's just flat-out embarrassing. Suffice it to say: I need two hands to count my fillings.)

(Ugh, I think I may have just embarrassed myself.)

Anyway, the upshot here is, I became a fanatical daily flosser once I had proof that 1. flossing is necessary for my dental health, and 2. not flossing is actually a way of hurting myself.

A good portion of the damage is done already. I got cavities; I have fillings. It all could've been avoided.

But there's a part of me that knows I need to keep up this newish habit—because abandoning it could lead to more cavities, sure. But also because I want to be the Helen who takes care of herself.

You see, what really changed my perspective on flossing wasn't the cavities or the fillings or even the dental bills.

What changed my perspective on flossing was a reframe I happened upon.

That reframe was this:

I love myself enough to [fill in the blank].

I love myself enough to floss tonight.

Simple and profound, all at once.

When I view the task before me as an act of self-love, the task is transformed. Motivation is irrelevant. Readiness is neither here nor there. Energy plays a part only insofar as I might be really damn tired, barely capable of keeping my eyes open... But c'mon, flossing takes all of, what? Three minutes?

(You'll remember motivation, readiness, and energy as the Three Fallacies that Stand Between You and Taking Action.)

So, it comes down to loving ourselves enough to do what we don't feel like doing.

This isn't to say if you don't floss tonight, you don't love yourself. It isn't quite so black and white as that.

If the question, though, is how to persist with relentless action-taking when the task feels inconsequential (or unrewarding, or boring as hell) in the moment, try finding its connection to your self-love.

Try reminding yourself that you deserve to have the thing that's on the other side of the seemingly thankless task. To have happy gums (gums that don't betray your not-flossing secret when you finally go to the dentist and they bleed...) To have healthy teeth.

Because really—when it comes to flossing, or whatever else it is that has us falling off the wagon periodically, good teeth is actually something we can provide for ourselves! We have a hand in it! We can give ourselves the thing we want! So, then: Why wouldn't we?!

Try it on for size: I love myself enough to [fill in the blank]. And let me know how it goes. What shifts?

Love,
Helen

What Halloween can teach you about action-taking

Much like your next-door neighbor's kid—the one who'll come to your door tonight, demanding a fistful of candy while dressed as some hero or villain, a clever mask obscuring her dimples and a bulky costume stuffed within a winter coat altering her gait dramatically—our best action-taking occasionally looks quite different from what we're accustomed to seeing.

We hear 'action' and 'productivity' and 'to-do list,' and we think 'move' and 'go' and 'more.'

Being action-oriented is equated with never sitting still. Or at the very least, sitting still insofar as it allows you to accomplish your next five goals.

But what if the next right thing for you to do is nothing?

(And by that, I don't mean 'nothingness,' as though there's a blank space where your next right action should be; I mean the act of doing nothing might be your best next step.)

What if you're someone who needs to get better at taking action when the list becomes unmanageable? What if you need to take a red pen to the meetings and appointments and commitments? What if you need to practice doing less? What if you need to do better, not more? What if you need to be choosier when it comes to your actions, because taking all the actions isn't giving you the results you want?

You know how they say indecision is a decision within itself? And it's a semi-snarky way of saying that by not making a choice, you've made your choice? Well, the same is true here, minus the snark. Inaction is an action within itself—and it's a viable one at that, when it's the result of a choice.

I'll say that again:

Inaction is a perfectly legitimate choice.

For the record, indecision is, too. The problem arises when either of these, inaction or indecision, isn't chosen, but is your passive response to something. That's how you wind up disempowering yourself. You forfeit your agency.

(Similar, but different: Listening to your fear is a choice, too—so technically, it puts your agency to use. However, when you choose fear over your other options, when you listen to what your fear has to say about why you shouldn't pursue a certain dream or ambition, that's just a slightly more convoluted way of disempowering yourself. But make no mistake: It's still a way of disempowering yourself.)

Choosing inaction doesn't imply you're not action-oriented. Quite the opposite, in fact.

If you're willing or likely to take practical action to deal with a problem or situation, you're action-oriented. If your practical action is to take an item off your plate, to shrink your to-do list by choosing not to do a thing, you're action-oriented. If it's to lie down for a nap and try again tomorrow, ditto. What about back-burnering that album of songs you want to write because you just don't have it in your right now to create something from nothing? You guessed it—still action-oriented.

Bring your consciousness and your agency along for the ride, and you're just as 'productive' as the taskmaster beside you. Her actions might be more obviously doing-related while yours are not-doing-related (being-related, perhaps?), but both require evaluating what's next and making a decision about how to be here now and how to move forward.

Just because that little trick-or-treater doesn't look the way your neighbor's kid usually looks doesn't mean she isn't your neighbor's kid, you know?

Love,
Helen

P.S. Whether you're doing-focused or being-focused, there's a place for you in my free Facebook group, Action Oriented. If this subject matter (and all its nuances!) appeals to you, come join us.

P.P.S. My friend, Vanessa, wrote something yesterday that reminded me of how badly I wanted to address this topic in the midst of all the focus on 'doing,' here and elsewhere. Check out what she wrote after a week away from her two-years-running daily TinyLetter. A big thanks to her for providing the inspiration for today's post.

That thing you're avoiding wants to get a date on the calendar

Without exception, I use my time far more efficiently when I know someone else is paying attention.

If I go to the bookstore on my own, to hunt for a particular book, you can bet I'll wander to my heart's content, remembering this book and that book and detouring myself the entire time. An hour or more can be lost like this.

Sure, I've got a goal (to locate that one book), but it's pretty meandering as far as a plan is concerned, and it's definitely aimless in the sense that it doesn't live on a timetable—so, I've more or less made it forgettable from the outset.

If, on the other hand, my husband's waiting out in the car and we agree I have 15 minutes to find my book, I'm focused first on accomplishing the mission at hand, and only then would I permit myself to wander around with any remaining time.

As with the first example, there's still the same goal (to locate that one book); however, this time it's set within a specific context—a husband waiting patiently and an increment of time that's trained squarely on the objective, not on the experience.

An important aside: I absolutely believe in focusing on the experience much of the time. In fact, I'd go so far as to say I'm someone for whom the experience is often prioritized over the objective.

But, when it comes to doing what I know I need to do with this one life of mine (and when it comes to doing what I want to do and staying married to the person I want to be married to, lol), I try to remember that focusing my energy on the objective is sometimes undeniably important.

And in many cases, dealing with the objective first (and positioning it within a meaningful context—on a timetable, as part of an agreement, etc.) actually affords me the opportunity to be present for the experience.

This is where I want to help you.

Enter Get It Done Day.

Get It Done Day is a free virtual event that's held on the SECOND FRIDAY of every month. Throughout the course of a day, we call in using a video conferencing service called Zoom (it's free to participants), on five separate occasions. Between each call is a 60-minute productivity session (there's also a 60-minute lunch break). Together, we'll be working on our respective Thing We've Been Avoiding.

Get It Done Day is for anyone who struggles with procrastination—whether it's a work-related task, a personal project, or something that seems inane but needs doing (e.g. organizing an out-of-control closet). If you suspect you could benefit from a bit of accountability, some group camaraderie, and a designated time to finally complete That Which You've Avoided For Weeks, please join us.

For details on the event schedule and to register for the next Get It Done Day, go here.

These events are free, though I do require all participants to register in advance. While this helps me to get a sense of interest, it also serves as an important accountability step for you; if context is what you've been missing from your goal-setting, this is a fabulous opportunity to get what you need through a group commitment.

Commit to doing that Dreaded Thing with the bunch of us on the second Friday of each month, and you'll see that it isn't so bad when you're in good company (and we're all right there with you, doing our Dreaded Things, too).

Questions? Hit 'reply.' Otherwise, I'll see you there.

Love,
Helen

Three things that feel like productivity 'hacks'...but aren't

Taking action is rarely, if ever, a thing that can be hacked.

Save for 'to kill two birds with one stone'—which is really more of a statement about the fact that occasionally, we're lucky enough to have one action accomplish multiple objectives—our best and most reliable action-taking isn't particularly sexy or clever.

In fact, it's usually pretty banal.

It's a matter of doing the thing now as opposed to later (or never).

It's heroic only in the sense that choosing to do anything (e.g. bathing) is heroic.

Someone who takes action consistently is no more special than someone who struggles to take action consistently; the difference between them is that the action-taker isn't stopped by her feelings on the matter of the undone thing.

However, there are folks who buy into the belief that the action-taker knows something that the rest of humanity doesn't; these folks further complicate things by attempting to 'hack' productivity...only, they do so in some pretty self-defeating ways.

Here are the top three faulty 'shortcuts' that seem to show up regularly:

1. Multitasking.

Successful multitasking isn't possible, so I beg you to please stop trying for it.

So many of us are absolutely convinced that we're the exception to the rule here. "But I'm actually really good at multitasking!" No, you're not. You believe you are, but what's actually happening here is, you're not giving anything your full presence.

While you might be doing multiple things at once, maybe even finishing them and checking them off your list, 1. it's obvious to anyone with whom you're interfacing that she doesn't have your complete attention, 2. you're very likely doing one or more of these things sloppily, in a way that would probably embarrass you if you were aware of it, and 3. your concept of time is getting more and more screwed by the minute.

Full presence is a time bender; you know this from your own life: how time seems to slow and actually, oddly, expands when you're all in (whereas when you scramble around and rush and give only half of yourself to a thing, the clock's hands seem to mock you by moving twice as fast).

Slow down to speed up.

2. Operating on a wide-open timeframe.

Ever wondered why an easy-breezy thing like writing a three-line bio for an article takes all damn day?

Psst: It's because you gave it all damn day.

Tasks take as much time as you have available for them. I'm telling you, this is so much a thing that there's even a name for it: Parkinson's Law (anyone who's been with me from the beginning will remember my writing about it here and here).

When you swing to the opposite of multitasking by giving yourself unlimited time to accomplish something, you're actually slowing yourself down to the point of inefficiency. Even if it seems like a good idea not to schedule anything for the day you write your weekly blog post ("I think most clearly when I don't have any commitments on the calendar!"), unless you truly want to kill an entire afternoon on that one task, consider scheduling it for a decisive pocket of time.

In other words, tell the task how long you have for it—don't allow it to decide for you.

3. Forgoing your humanness.

Skipping dinner, and, instead, wolfing down tortilla chips while editing client photos? Staying up into the wee hours after everyone in the house has gone to bed to reply to the eleventy-bajillion emails in your inbox? Not leaving the house for two or more days to create that email series for your new online offering?

Nuh uh, not good. ("But I only do it once a month, before deadlines! No big deal!") We've all been there—remember pulling all-nighters in high school or college?—so we all know this isn't a sustainable method for taking action consistently.

Sure, in the moment, this absolutely presents itself as The Remedy to The Not-Enough-Hours-in-the-Day Phenomenon. I'll give you that.

But—and this is a big 'but'—it feeds into an insidious belief system that's very dangerous to foster: that your basic human needs for adequate nutrition, sleep, and exercise are negotiable. (And once your requirements for living well become negotiable, you can pretty much kiss efficient action-taking goodbye.)

Draw a line in the sand and decide, once and for all, that your basic needs aren't called 'basic wants' for a reason. Honor your humanness instead of looking for loopholes and ways around it.

Are there any proposed 'hacks' or 'shortcuts' out there that trigger your goggles of skepticism? Hit 'reply' to share them with me, and let's see if we can bust through them together.

Love,
Helen

Why taking action ISN'T the be-all and end-all

I'm all for breaking a project down into its tiniest steps...and then, oftentimes, even halving (or quartering!) that first step to make it smaller and more doable and a surefire way to experience a quick victory.

This is a superb technique for easing ourselves into some new undertaking. It allows us to get a little bit of traction on our project, and that little bit of traction helps us to see that we don't have to allow overwhelm to take over.

At the same time, not all of us are able to take action all the time.

Many of us, at one point or another, will experience a genetic predisposition to something or a stressful life situation or the untimely loss of a loved one or a traumatic event.

As with our physical health, our mental health can absolutely preclude our ability to take action.

This is never a failure on our part.

We are worth so much more than our productivity.

We aren't machines. We need rest. In some cases, medication. In other cases, therapy or in-patient treatment.

Our mental health dictates the way we move through the world, so caring for it needs to be more than an afterthought.

I'm someone who has coped with an anxiety disorder since early childhood. My brain chemistry is such that, without medication, inexplicable and often unbearable anxiety is my default setting.

And I'm a coach. You know this. I'm a coach who believes in the power of thought. I believe we have the capacity to, as Jamie Smart writes in The Little Book of Clarity, "create literally any perception using the incredible power of THOUGHT, and then experience that perception as real. This is how our experience is created, and we're using this capacity every moment of our lives." I believe this, and—simultaneously—I believe mental illness is an entirely different can of worms. One that can't be fixed by simply deciding to think different thoughts.

Although I feel vulnerable sharing this with you, it's really no different than letting you know I wear contact lenses—because, without them, I see faces as indistinct blurs and street signs are flat-out unreadable.

I have a medical need, a solution is available to me, and I choose to take advantage of that solution because it's what's right for me.

Today is World Mental Health Day.

As your favorite action-oriented life coach, it's important to me that you know this:

It's okay if the only thing you did today was breathe.

Nothing is more important than your mental health. So, please, take care of it. Get help if you suspect you need it. You're not alone.

And for the love of all that is holy, set aside your to-do list and your goal-setting, stop berating yourself for not doing or being enough, and go make sure your mind's in good shape.

Love,
Helen

What my tidy bookcase has to do with you

The first week of October was National Get Organized Week in the United States.

The National Association of Professional Organizers (yep, that's a thing) started it back in 1992.

I say 'was' because, in 2005, they moved National Get Organized Week to National Get Organized Month (January, big surprise).

So, here we are, in the final quarter of 2017, with the ghost of a national awareness week hanging around, collecting dust and convincing us that we don't need to concern ourselves with order until January 1, 2018.

I'd probably let it go except this past weekend proves that synchronicity is alive and well in my neck of the woods.

Also: As your favorite action-oriented life coach, it'd be a shame to pass up any opportunity to shower you with encouragement to Do The Thing Now! And a national awareness week, ghost or not, is one such golden opportunity.

Anyway, back to synchronicity:

For those of you who are new here, my husband and I bought our first home together this summer—after two years of living on the road and keeping our possessions in storage and in the spare closets of our generous parents. We've been unpacking steadily since early July, but made our most impressive progress in the past four days.

Our shared office now houses two desks (which we picked up and assembled Saturday evening) and a bookcase (which means our books are no longer living on the floor, trading stories with the spiders); lamps are arranged (bulbs replaced for efficiency) and in use; a filing cabinet is ready to receive the stuff that's been living in plastic totes in my mother-in-law's closets; the printer and speaker and internet cables are coiled and twist-tied into submission.

In short, we got organized.

Then, as if to say, Keep going, Helen!, my own coach announced her free, week-long Turning Pro Challenge, which began yesterday.

In today's email, she writes about creating sacred space: "Where you work has a huge impact on how you work."

She goes on to quote Steven Pressfield, whose book, Turning Pro, is the inspiration behind the challenge: "When we raise our game aesthetically, we elevate it morally and spiritually as well."
Huh. So, I guess there's something to be said for this environment thing after all.

You see, I used to care A LOT about how my surroundings looked and functioned. Too much, I'd say. And not in any of the ways that might've mattered where my career was concerned.

I was a writing student, enrolled in an MFA program and avoiding my little writing table and writing chair because my closet was a mess. Or because I needed better kitchen storage solutions. Or because my plants needed dead-heading.

My neatnik tendencies could've been innocent (maybe? I'm still not entirely sure about their true innocence), except that they kept me busy—they kept me from creating, from being prolific, from turning pro in the one area of my life where I was supposedly wanting to turn pro.

I fussed over the details instead of immersing myself in my work.

I fussed over the details so that I didn't have to immerse myself in my work.

That's quite different from the pro approach of squaring away a sacred space (read: not perfect, but dedicated—and, more importantly, functional) in order to really up one's attention and focus and performance.

Living on the road for two years was HUGELY instrumental in my turning pro in my working environment.

I had to learn to work everywhere.

I had to learn to alter a space just enough to meet my immediate needs...but not to get lost in rearranging and adjusting.

I had to learn not to be so precious about my stuff (most everything was in a storage unit in central Virginia).

I had to learn to stay focused on the thing I was creating—my service-based business—even and especially when I wanted to make it about something, anything, else (such as finding and purchasing the holy grail of all planners, creating my perfect logo, tweaking my website fonts for the umpteenth time).

Those two years on the road, I got organized somewhat inadvertently: by removing from my field of vision all the normal noise and stuff to the point that there was nothing to do...except my work.

And even now that those things are back in my field of vision—the bookcase filled with books, the filing cabinet and the plastic totes of files, the washi tape, the round pebble collection, you name it—they don't distract me as they once did (or as I once allowed them to).

What's different now is that I'm committed to my business. I'm committed to making my vision happen. So committed, in fact, that I won't let my fear stop me.

Now, just to clarify: You don't need to become nomadic in order to turn pro. You don't need to get all #tinyhome or #vanlife in order to clear a sacred space that's devoted to your work.

You need only to decide to turn pro. You need only to commit to making your thing happen. You need only to refuse to let your fear get in the way of taking action.

And you might need to tidy up a little, to make space for your pro self to work.

Start now. Hit 'reply' and share with me how you're getting organized this week.

Love,
Helen

Your fourth and final distinction for making the most of September

To jog your memory: We're using the month of September to bust our mental blocks—you know, those thoughts, belief systems, and inactions that stand between us and our creating the thing we want to create before the end of 2017. If you missed it, here's where I give the full scoop on what we're doing, here's the first distinction, here's the second distinction, and here's the third distinction.

Well, this brings us to the last week of September and our fourth and final distinction of the month:

The Overwhelmed/Strategic Distinction

When you've got a pile of things to do and not much time in which to do them, you have two choices: You can be overwhelmed, or you can be strategic.

If you choose overwhelm (yes, it really is a choice, and you'll see how in just a moment), you're deciding to be defeated completely before you've even begun. You're allowing the list of tasks, projects, and commitments to be larger than life—hell, to take on a life of their own and to overcome your emotional and psychological state.

You're saying, I'm a victim to this list! These to-dos are bigger than me! I'm weak and powerless—so much so that I'm going to surrender right now, before I've even attempted to make sense of this situation I've created for myself!

If this is what you mean to say, then by all means, go lie down and see if the doctor makes house calls. Perhaps you're coming down with something, because the average person isn't usually quite so feeble when it comes to a list of lifeless tasks.

If, on the other hand, you choose strategy, you're deciding to stay in control of the inanimate pile of to-dos by applying a particular plan to them, a thoughtful course of action. You're remaining solution-focused—hell-bent on completing the tasks before you instead of indulging in your emotions about the tasks before you.

You're saying, I brought this list into the world and I can take it out! I'm an owner, not a victim! I have agency here! And a brain in my head! I'm capable of creating effective strategies to deal with any mess, my own included!

To choose strategy over overwhelm is to choose yourself over your fear.

To choose strategy over overwhelm is to bet on your own capability instead of betting against it.

It means using your imagination to conjure a plan for doing what needs to be done, not using it to worry over worst-case scenarios and possible future misery.

It means relying on a plan that keeps your eyes trained on the very next challenge before you...completing it...and only then advancing to the next challenge. It doesn't mean scrambling around, attempting to multi-task as though it's actually possible to give your attention to more than one thing at a time (it isn't).

While overwhelm turns everything into life or death, strategy transforms the situation into a game.

Now, for your challenge:

Where are you choosing overwhelm in your life? (Still don't think you're choosing it? That's probably a good indication you could use a perspective-shifting conversation.) Where are you choosing strategy? This week, your mission is to use what you know about strategy to tackle the mess of things that feel overwhelming to you. Not sure you know much about strategy? Think again. Ever come up with a travel plan, like a flight or long car ride, that takes advantage of your children's usual nap time? What about that shortcut you use in order to make it to both the bank on one side of town and the dry cleaner on the other, all during your lunch hour? Boom. That's strategy. If you feel like sharing a bit about your experience, or you'd like to receive some direct support, come join us in the Action Oriented Facebook group and start up a new thread. We're in there, rooting for each other every single day.

Love,
Helen

Your third distinction for making the most of September

To jog your memory: We're using the month of September to bust our mental blocks—you know, those thoughts, belief systems, and inactions that stand between us and our creating the thing we want to create before the end of 2017. If you missed it, here's where I give the full scoop on what we're doing, here's the first distinction, and here's the second distinction.

All right, you're up to speed! Let's dive into the third distinction of the month:

The Busy Action/Clarified Action Distinction

This one is deceptively simple.

To be busy is to be occupied. To have lots to do—often some combination of tasks and time commitments—and to focus your attention on the thing at hand (with, perhaps, a peripheral awareness of all the things that need your attention next).

When you're busy, your overarching objective is to strike through as many items on your list as you can, and to do so as efficiently as possible.

You might say the objective is to become less busy.

It's pretty vague as far as intentions go (and it's such a fleeting outcome!), yet we're all guilty at some time or another of using it as our sole guidepost when making our daily and weekly plans.

(After all, why do you think so many stationery companies create those adorable little weekly to-do lists for us to buy? Because we love to collect all of our busy-ness in one spot, then tick through it like the efficient go-getters we want to be.)

The problem here is less about our method (I love those Monday through Friday notepads as much as the next gal) and more about our mission. Rather, more about the absence of a real mission.

Let's look at the other half of this distinction for some contrast.

To clarify something is to remove its impurities. To refine. To eliminate confusion. To filter.

When you clarify your intentions for the day, you get really clear on what it is you want to accomplish (and we're not talking a whole list of things—pick a maximum of three) or who it is you want to be in the world (both your given and chosen roles), and you ensure all individual actions you take are in service to those intentions.

You apply discernment because you already know there's no end to the things you could do, chores and errands and fulfilling other's expectations of you.

The objective is to stay in alignment with some greater mission. To view the individual daily and weekly plans as stepping stones to achieving the bigger picture—the long-term goal, the long-range plan, the higher purpose of your existence.

Clarified action is supporting action. It's conscious action. It honors your big mission, whatever that might be, because it prioritizes your must-dos (instead of your infinite to-dos), all while maintaining the ever-present awareness that you have this one lifetime. And that's it.

If you don't feel high purpose when you think about your existence, fear not.

All you need to know is this:

Your reason for being is far more magnificent than the sum of your to-do lists (and your ninja-level ability to tick through them).

'Become less busy' is not your big-picture objective, even if it feels like it is in this season of your life.

You can shift from busy action to clarified action by bringing more consciousness to your planning. By contemplating what your mission statement would be if you had one. By setting aside the adorable Monday through Friday notepad in favor of a different approach, one where your guidepost is a single question you ask yourself:

What would I like to have achieved a year from now?

I can guarantee you that 'make the bed 365 times' won't be what springs to mind. Nor will 'write all birthday/holiday/event thank-you notes.'

What might spring to mind is something you started, but eventually abandoned because your time was hijacked or you had to pick up a side-gig to pay the bills or you just plain got scared. Something like, 'finish writing the novel.' Or 'host private dinners for small groups.' Maybe 'book a solo art show.'

If you're stuck in an endless loop of small-fry to-dos, what behaviors need to shift today (this week, this month) in order for you to get closer to achieving your dream thing a year from now.

Now, for your challenge:

It's time to refine! Imagine running your task lists through a filter, one that separates those future-vision must-dos from the myopic (and perpetually regenerating) to-dos. This week, your mission is to make time to accomplish as many of the former items as you possibly can. Between now and next Tuesday, put the latter items on hold (it's only seven days!) and observe how your relationship to your dream thing changes. If you feel like sharing a bit about your experience, or you'd like to receive some direct support, come join us in the Action Oriented Facebook group and start up a new thread. We're in there, rooting for each other every single day.

Love,
Helen

Your second distinction for making the most of September

To jog your memory: We're using the month of September to bust our mental blocks—you know, those thoughts, belief systems, and inactions that stand between us and our creating the thing we want to create before the end of 2017. If you missed it, here's where I give the full scoop on what we're doing and here's the first distinction I shared, just last week.

Wasting no time at all, let's dive into our second distinction of the month:

The Obligation/Accountability Distinction

As you're already well aware, an obligation is an action or a task to which a person is bound because of a legal arrangement, a personal commitment, or a sense of duty.

When I think about what an obligation is and how it shows up in our world, the word 'debt' comes to mind—as in, owing someone something, be it the fulfillment of a promise, the execution of a particular course of action, etc.

Oftentimes obligations involve a penalty for non-fulfillment.

Defaulting on your student loans might mean having a percentage of your wages garnished.

Not meeting a writing deadline might mean tarnishing your professional reputation with the newspaper or magazine.

Failing to turn up for a scheduled and confirmed appointment might mean damaging an important relationship.

With an obligation, there's a sense that something's at stake because there is, actually, something very real (and often external) at stake—and perhaps it's that very fact that drives us to make good on our word: We don't want to suffer the consequences of not meeting our obligations (obligations which we resent because we're perceiving them as expectations placed upon us; this is a stance of passivity).

Accountability, on the other hand, is the fact or condition of being responsible. It looks at the end result—regardless of whether or not the commitment is ultimately fulfilled—and states firmly, I'm willing to take responsibility for myself.

When I consider the concept of accountability and how it shows up in our world, the word 'agency' bubbles to the surface. Agency, meaning the capacity of individuals to act independently and to exercise their ability to choose.

Accountability doesn't live in fear of penalty because accountability is about responsibility for the self.

Knowing that alcohol tends to bring out a side of you that's loud and clumsy and unkind might mean you decide not to drink at your sister's wedding.

Preventing debt might mean paying the credit card bill in full each month, instead of carrying a balance (which might mean never charging more than you can afford to pay off within any four week period).

Dating with integrity might mean being completely (and perhaps uncomfortably) transparent about your desire to keep it casual or make it exclusive.

With accountability, the commitment is to ourselves. Nothing is outsourced—not the debts, not the failures, not the disappointments, and certainly not the responsibilities.

Accountability places great faith in agreements, personal or interpersonal. And because of that, being accountable for something or to someone has the direct effect of empowering us to rise to the occasion.

Now, for your challenge:

I'm inviting you to reconsider a commitment that has you showing up passively (e.g. I'm obligated to drive carpool this week, or It's on me to run the daily meetings until my boss is back from vacation, or I have to be up at 5 a.m. because I promised my neighbor I'd walk with her before work). This week, your mission is to bring an ounce of accountability into the picture. Between now and next Tuesday, reframe your commitment so that you're clear on how and where your agency factors in. If you feel like sharing a bit about your experience, or you'd like to receive some direct support, come join us in the Action Oriented Facebook group and start up a new thread. We're in there, rooting for each other every single day.

Love,
Helen

Your first distinction for making the most of September

September isn't messing around when it calls itself Self-Improvement Month: Already, tomorrow, we have Fight Procrastination Day.

(Not sure what I'm talking about? See last week's post for the full scoop, but in essence, we're using the month of September to bust our mental blocks—you know, those thoughts, belief systems, and inactions that stand between us and our creating the thing we want to create before the end of 2017.)

How fitting, then, for me to introduce you to the first distinction of the month:

The Procrastination/Awareness Distinction

Procrastination is the avoidance of doing a task that needs to be accomplished. You know this. I'm not telling you anything new there.

Have you ever considered the purpose of procrastination, though?

To avoid discomfort.

The discomfort of starting something new or finishing something difficult, the discomfort of being a perfectionist who might not be able to do the thing perfectly, the discomfort of working on an undertaking that elicits some level of stress.

Understandable.

But there's often a bit of a fight against procrastination. We do it and we self-flagellate at the same time. We know it's not serving us to procrastinate because we're not getting any closer to completing our tasks or achieving our goals...and yet, we can't seem to stop ourselves from avoiding the discomfort that we know the work, whatever it is, will entail.

So, we have a problem.

When we perceive our procrastinating on a project as problematic, we believe there's something to be fixed. We need to find a solution, some tool or trick or tip that will make us do the thing we're actively avoiding.

Or we need to just push through our resistance by forcing ourselves to take action.

Although we don't want to feel discomfort, we also don't want to feel guilty, lazy, inadequate, or undisciplined—and those are our other options if we go the route of procrastination.

What I'm proposing this week is to bring some awareness into the picture.

Instead of procrastinating blindly, thoughtlessly...

And instead of railing against your procrastination—fighting it, obsessing over it, trying to force your way through it...

Shine a light on your procrastination. Focus your awareness on the why of it. Examine it—as well as your perceptions, sensations, thoughts, and emotions about it—without judgment.

When you notice yourself picking up a novel to read instead of researching that grant that could finance your painting career for a full year, do just that: Notice it.

When you keep telling yourself you'll begin writing your website copy just as soon as you've cleared out your email inbox (but you haven't yet put down that novel in order to tend to the email, let alone the web copy): Pay attention to yourself.

This awareness will become habitual, inserting itself earlier and earlier into the chronology of events, so that you'll start to observe yourself as you're following the distractions and avoidances, not just after the fact.

Then, you can introduce some gentle inquiry to your procrastination-in-progress:

Why am I avoiding this thing?

Where is there discomfort for me in this undertaking?

Am I sure there's discomfort, or might it be just that I'm fearing possible discomfort?

And that's it. No cajoling or strong-arming necessary. This focused awareness is enough.

Now, for your challenge:

Think of that project, big or small, that you want to bring to life before 2018 is here. Now, bring into your consciousness the associated task you've been procrastinating on thus far—no matter if it's the first step or the hundredth step of your particular project—because you're avoiding whatever discomfort might come along with it. This week, your mission is to begin this task. Between now and next Tuesday, direct your effort toward accomplishing it, just this one step...and see what comes up for you. Welcome the procrastination, if it's there, but remember to shine your awareness on it, too. If you feel like sharing a bit about your experience, or you'd like to receive some direct support, come join us in the Action Oriented Facebook group and start up a new thread. We're really keen to learn from each other.

Love,
Helen
 

Why September is the perfect month for winning your inner battles

I was pleased as punch to learn some weeks ago that September is Self-Improvement Month. While this doesn't mean our self-improvement should be reserved only for those four weeks out of the year, it does mean we can kickstart a few useful practices (or jumpstart any of our fallen-by-the-wayside good habits) during back-to-school season—which, for many of us, tends to function as 'January Lite'.

What is it that you want to bring to life before the end of the year?

Do you want to have written the first draft of your novel? (Obviously November is NaNoWriMo, but why wait until then when you can start now and have more than a single month to write it?)

Do you want to finally open the doors to your virtual creative residency for mothers?

Do you want to fashion a fitness program for the kids in your community?

Do you want to get the ball rolling on planning your Summer 2018 tour of the national parks?

Do you want to put together your first exhibition proposal to send to galleries?

Do you want to raise $50k in charitable donations to your nonprofit organization?

Think about your thing right now. Seriously—take a moment to hold it in your mind, to name it and give it a shape, to envision its actual becoming this year.

In preparation for all the good, juicy stuff you're going to create in the final quarter of 2017 (notice I didn't say 'hope to create'—that's right, you're an action-taker), I've got a plan to help you make the most of this month.

Each week, beginning in next Tuesday's post, I'll share with you a distinction that will up your doing game and render your feeling tendencies moot (at least as far as your particular project or ambition is concerned).

I'll also invite you to participate in a specific challenge around each week's distinction, so you can have some fun with these concepts in real-time.

Can't wait until the first week of the new month? Looking to begin right now? (Damn, you're good.) Join us over in the Action Oriented Facebook group, where doing is already kicking feeling ass.

Love,
Helen

Developing a bias for action (even when your default is usually analysis)

This past Saturday morning, I held my first Facebook Live broadcast. It was very much unscripted and totally exhilarating.

For weeks now, I've been toying with the idea of live video; the reality of it, however, scared the socks off me. 'I don't do video' would've been an easy refrain to keep myself from trying something new (and possibly failing or looking like a fool or being laughed at)—and, perhaps, if I weren't a coach, I wouldn't know to call bullshit on myself right there. So, early last week, it became really clear to me that my most urgent personal and professional edge was located somewhere in the act of being recorded and witnessed live, without the option of editing.

As with double-dog dares, I can't turn down a good challenge, even (and maybe especially) if it's a challenge I give to myself. And when it comes to modeling boldness and decisive action for my clients, I really can't turn down a challenge.

So, I took a step forward. I announced a date and time for my live broadcast, and I tried not to seriously entertain the voice in my head that really wanted to know, OMG, HELEN, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!?!

Oh, and on top of that, I didn't prepare. Nope. I decided this would be an exercise in showing up boldly by bringing just myself.

(You know how, when you're invited to someone's home for dinner and you ask, "What can I bring?" and they say, "Just bring yourself!"? I don't know about you, but, for me, that's the cat's meow, being told I need not bring anything but myself; it's a cozy feeling, and I try to revel in it for a moment by really appreciating my own enough-ness.)

So, you're wondering, how'd it go?

It was enough. I was enough.

 

(You are enough, too. You might be a chronic over-preparer or an I'm-not-ready-er or someone who has a really tough time being a beginner at anything. But you are enough. And it is enough for you to simply show up and learn by doing.)

 

Anyway, the live broadcast is available for viewing in the Action Oriented group. I'd love to have you in this community, if you feel called to participate.

Once you join, you'll have access to future Facebook Live broadcasts and you'll get accountability, community, and otherwise-unadvertised offers from me. Good deal.

You can take my word for it or you can take a member's:

Here's to taking a first-step this week, toward a first of your own.

Love,
Helen

Prioritizing, part two

Okay, so, since last week, I've done some fine-tuning of my sticky note method, and here's what I have to share:

1. Color coding. It helps! So do mnemonics.

  • I'm using blue for commitments and agreements, and also for business-related tasks that are important to my overall mission and to developing my work.
  • Green is for anything that is, or might become, a source of income. This makes it really easy for me to spot the activities I need to focus on during whatever hours I've dedicated to work. Money is green and so are the to-do items associated with it!
  • Social correspondence and connection, essentially everything that falls in the personal realm of my life, is pink.
  • The days of the week get orange, but that's only because it was the last color left in the four-pack I had on hand. ;-)

2. Once complete, tasks are plucked from their assigned spots and stacked in the lower corner; at the end of the day, they get moved to the trash. Currently, I'm using a glass window as my board for arranging and rearranging the sticky notes (fingerprints and smudges abound!). I like to keep the completed tasks up on the window until the end of the day, because then I'm able to track how much I actually accomplished. Otherwise, it'd be all too easy for me to whine, "I got barely anything done today!" because #chronicoverachiever and #victimoftime. I'd much rather have hard, irrefutable data that allows me to assess how ambitious I was at the start of my day and whether or not my strategy was solid enough to achieve those ambitions (and, also, I'd rather be a #timewarrior). So, each completed sticky gets stuck to the previously completed sticky until I have a nice little chunk of stickies in the lower corner of my office window. Right before I sign off for the day, I review the chunk (as well as whatever I didn't get around to) before tossing it in the trash can and situating the following day's tasks.

3. A sticky note that keeps moving from one day to the next is probably a sticky note that needs breaking down into its smaller components. I'm finding that there's two sticky notes that have covered some serious territory on my window—traveling from Monday to Friday and back again. What does this tell me? I put too big a task on the sticky note and need to determine what mini-steps I can take toward it each day (and create sticky notes for each of those mini-steps), rather than hoping the overarching task will somehow transform into something that's easier or more doable to tackle tomorrow.

And there you have it. Those are my three biggest takeaways from almost two weeks of using this particular self-devised time-chunking method.

Thoughts? Questions? Best practices? Keep 'em coming—I'm learning a lot from your replies.

Love,
Helen

Prioritizing doesn't have to be so hard!

You want to take action, you want to dive in and complete something on your list (because it's gotten really old, really fast, to keep dragging the same tasks from one day to the next on your Trello calendar or in your bullet journal or wherever you keep track of what needs doing).

You know that once you kick it into gear, very often something becomes somethings nearly effortlessly, so it's really just a matter of starting.

But you haven't got a clue how to prioritize when everything feels urgent or when the list is so long, it feels impossible to discern what's urgent and what isn't.

This cluelessness has a big impact. It means you're either 1. starting by tackling some arbitrary task that isn't necessarily important in the big picture of what you want to do with your life, or 2. not starting at all.

A few of you have reached out and posed some iteration of this concern.

And while I can't promise to know your right answer, I can certainly share what's working for me at the moment.

If you're in the clueless camp, my hope is that you'll take my method and make it your own.
First of all, I don't believe prioritizing has to be hard. I even think it can be fun (and enlightening!) to move things around until there's some resonance in the arrangement.

Yesterday on Instagram, I mentioned a new time-chunking method I'm using that involves sticky notes. Lots and lots of sticky notes. Here's what I'm doing, using the 1.5 x 2 inch size in a variety of electric colors:

1. I take my time to think of All The Things that are crowding my mind and I write them on sticky notes. This is perfect for those days when I arrive at my desk without a plan, but with what feels like an overwhelming list of things that need my attention.

2. I assign just one task per sticky note. 'Answer emails' is not one task. 'Reply to Emily' is. 'Reply to Sarah' is another. 'Reply to group message with availability,' and so on. One per sticky, no exceptions.

3. I arrange the sticky notes based on a hierarchy of two questions. Once I've gotten down everything that's top of mind and my desk's surface is covered in neon tiles, I ask myself two quick questions that help me to get clear on what actually needs to get done today. I rearrange the tiles accordingly.

Now, my two questions are particular to me, as a married and self-employed woman without children. Yours might be really different based on the particulars of your life. There's no shame in whatever your guiding questions might be; the important thing is to be honest with yourself about your overarching goals for this season of your life.

  • Do I have a commitment to or an agreement with someone to do something here? For me, this might mean my husband and I agreed I'd call for an electrician first thing; it might mean I've a paying client who emailed me in a tizzy the night before and requires a reply; it might mean today is the first day of a self-care commitment, and I need to get outside for an early morning walk. It helps me to first consider my commitments and agreements, and then to make sure those sticky notes get moved to the top for immediate attention. Even as a particular relationship is important to me, if there are no explicit agreements in place, I set aside its associated tasks for later. (Note the difference between agreements and expectations; someone might expect you to reply to an email or might desire a returned phone call, but there's no explicit commitment on your part to do so. Here's a fantastic article on this exact distinction.)
  • Is this, or might it become, a source of income? Because I'm self-employed, my priority throughout the work week must be growing my business. As much as I adore being in touch with family and friends on a regular basis (and need to be in touch with them in order to have a meaningful life!), I don't allow my personal life to outrank business-generating activities when I've got myself on the clock. This means that all those sticky notes that are decidedly personal in nature get moved to the bottom.

4. I create header sticky notes (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and so on) and then I distribute the individual sticky notes that didn't make the cut as commitments/agreements or sources of income. I only concern myself with Monday through Friday because this system is about managing my work week as someone whose personal and professional lives intersect quite a bit; your needs might be different. It's worth noting that I don't distribute these remaining tasks arbitrarily; I rank them based on nature of relationship, urgency of request, and order received.

If this sounds heartless (spelled out, it strikes me as being a bit more matter-of-fact than I've ever actually copped to being), I suspect it's because there's a distinct discomfort around not operating from a place of accommodation (at least for some of us; fellow people-pleasers, I'm looking at you). I am someone who'd like for everyone in her life to feel they are a priority—and, if there were enough hours in the day and my business ran itself, I've no doubt I'd try to ensure that! (Though whether or not that's a good thing to need/want to ensure is an entirely separate conversation.)

Having a system that acknowledges the fullness of my life and doesn't have me chained me to my inbox until bedtime is crucial for me.

So, if you're clueless, start here. Tweak as necessary. Report back.

If you have a system that beats mine in spades, don't hold out on us. Share!

And finally, hit me with any questions you have about time management, taking action, prioritizing, or starting and/or completing your Big Thing. I always answer, and I may even feature our Q&A in this space (provided I have your permission, of course).

Love,
Helen