Category Archives: Think

How (and Why!) To Create a Mini-Retreat for Yourself

The Women’s Leadership Forum (WLF) experience is built on three pillars: (1) a community of peers, (2) a cutting edge curriculum, and (3) reflection about what matters most.

We often talk about the importance of our shared community; and our curriculum is at the center of everything we do. Today, we’re focusing on that third pillar: reflection about what matters most.

In addition to facilitating retreats for alumnae of the WLF program, I am also very intentional about carving out time for my own retreats and reflection.  In one particular personal retreat, I went to Boulder, Colorado, where I spent a day working one-on-one with a wonderful coach, Sara Avant Stover.

Sara asked me to answer a series of questions, from “What do I care most about?” to “Who do I want to become?” to “What is success on my own terms?”

It wasn’t that I couldn’t come up with these questions on my own. The true gift was the freedom I felt to contemplate the possible answers in this still, “unbusy,” and supportive environment.

Today, I invite you to create the time and space for reflection by arranging a “mini-retreat” for yourself or for a group of friends or peers.

When asked to describe a retreat, many people first think of a place and describe its environment (quiet, surrounded by nature). Others think of a scheduled, contained period of time (weekend retreat). These all paint part of the picture.  But a retreat is not simply a time and place – it is an environment and mindset that encourages reflection and contemplation for a specific purpose. Above all, it is whatever, however, and whenever works for you.

Here are things to consider:

How To Create Time and Space for Reflection With a Mini-Retreat

WHO:

Mini-retreats can be solitary or shared experiences – or any combination of the two. Perhaps you need time alone to reflect. Or perhaps you feel the need to reconnect with people who make you feel supported and loved. Consider who can both benefit from and contribute to a contemplative retreat experience.

WHAT:

Consider all of the elements that will contribute to creating a contemplative environment just for you. Is it nature – and if so, what kind (e.g., trees or water)? Is it a need to avoid literal noise (cityscape)? Or figurative noise (distractions)?

Do you need support from external experts (e.g., a yoga or art class, a masseuse, or a meditation coach)? What does an ideal experience look like? Do you REALLY need your laptop or tablet, or will a pen and notebook do?

WHERE:

While we may dream about that luxurious spa getaway on a tropical island or a log cabin in the woods, that may not always be feasible. The most important aspect of “away” is changing your routine and shutting off distractions to gain perspective. Your own guest room, a coffee shop, a park, a hotel, or even a local monastery are just some of the myriad choices available.

WHEN:

There is no set formula for the timing of a mini-retreat – it can last anywhere from a few hours to an entire weekend. Consider not only when you will have the time and the resources to schedule time away, but also when you most need it.

Is change on the horizon? Are you feeling frustrated, burned out, and exhausted?  Or, conversely, are you feeling inspired, pulled in a new direction, or open to new opportunities? There are many times and multiple reasons our “true selves” call.

WHY:

Set an agenda and a specific intention – i.e., something specific to contemplate and achieve clarity on. Otherwise you are planning a mini-vacation or a mini-escape; not a mini-retreat!

Begin the experience with a simple centering/presence exercise to prime yourself for the most conducive contemplative experience.

HOW:

Recognize that less is often more. Think of interspersing enjoyable activities that encourage contemplation and reflection rather than trying to “force” deep thought during large chunks of time.

For some this may be journaling with words or images, interspersed with an enjoyable, healthy meal. For others it may be visualizing opportunities and outcomes interspersed with setting specific goals and action steps. It can even be stillness interspersed with movement (e.g., a peaceful walk). Use your agenda as a guide (again, to avoid slipping into that “mini-getaway” mindset). But DO include activities that you find enjoyable (e.g., reading, sketching, etc.).

Don’t be surprised if you are tired at the end of your mini-retreat. But hopefully you will also find yourself inspired, energized, and even just a little more self-aware.

Are you an alum of the Women’s Leadership Forum? We’d love to keep in touch with you! Request to join us in our private Facebook group here, or connect with Susan on LinkedIN here and send me a note that you’d like to be part of our exclusive LinkedIn group.  Also follow us on Instagram for frequent reminders of WLF content!

Photo by GemWebb on Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Retreat

Is Action Addiction Getting in the Way of Creating the Life You Want?

Women’s Leadership Forum Alumnae Retreats (like the one we held at the Salamander Resort) always remind me of how important – even essential – it is to take time for reflection. In my experience, the first thing to get lost in our busy lives is the time for reflection about where we are going and why.

Reflection can be done by anyone, anywhere, at any time.  Yet so few of us take time to do it on any regular basis.

It can be hard for us to value “reflection” as much as getting a brief done, developing new business, or spending time with our children. And slowing down, spending time with ourselves, and being truly reflective can be both physically and emotionally uncomfortable, because we’ve become accustomed – or even addicted – to action.

In today’s fast-paced and technology-driven work environment, we are constantly in reactive mode and habituated to being busy all the time. We believe that the act of DOING is what creates value.

We feel “itchy” or “antsy” when asked to wait. As we work through our “action items,” (which sounds so much more glamorous than “tasks!”) dopamine “hits” surround us with feelings of importance and gratification.

Checking things off our lists makes us feel productive and successful. And it becomes increasingly hard to slow down and lose that brain chemical-induced “high.”

But when we are busy making ourselves busy, we only see what is in front of us, and our overall sense of self can begin to erode. Action addiction numbs us to our true feelings and has other consequences, including diminished goal orientation, poor prioritization, and even decreased performance.

We may even wake up one day wondering – Where am I, and why am I here? From a speeding car, the outside scenery appears blurry. Similarly, when the pace of our lives is so fast, it is easy to lose sight of the things that are most important to us.

Does everyone need a full-on retreat? Not necessarily.  (Though I’m a huge fan of creating a mini-retreat for yourself.)  The most important thing to remember is that giving ourselves “white space” for reflection – in any form – is the only way that we can truly regroup and reground. It isn’t always easy.

Acclimating to a slower pace can be disconcerting, and like weaning ourselves from ANY addictive substance, it needs to happen gradually. But nothing should matter more than taking some time to think about the direction our lives are taking.

As author Annie Dillard once said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

Are you an alum of the Women’s Leadership Forum? We’d love to keep in touch with you! Request to join us in our private Facebook group here, or connect with Susan on LinkedIN here and send me a note that you’d like to be part of our exclusive LinkedIn group.  Also follow us on Instagram for frequent reminders of WLF content!

Harnessing Your Brain to Control Daily Overwhelm

This week I’m excited to share some amazing insights from Dr. David Rock’s Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long. It’s a guidebook on how to survive – and succeed – in today’s overwhelming work environment while feeling energized and accomplished at the end of the day. I particularly like this book, because it provides very practical, science-based strategies to gain control over your daily life.

Six Key Brain-Disrupting Challenges

Dr. Rock first identifies six key brain-disrupting challenges we can all relate to in today’s workplace:

  1. Email overload
  2. Highly complex problems in need of creative solutions
  3. Competing deadlines for multiple projects
  4. Distractions (and finding ways to shut them off, or say no!)
  5. Pressure to perform
  6. Mental roadblocks (getting stuck, or getting in our own way)

Many of us build up myths around our ability to overcome these challenges, believing that our mental endurance is limitless. We acknowledge that it is impossible for any of us to lift a one-ton weight, yet we falsely believe that we can hold onto tons of different ideas at one time. And while we know it’s physically dangerous to over-exercise, we are blind to the harm we are doing by trying to “push through” our mental limits.

Here are some of the things I hear most frequently from women lawyers:

Myth 1: I Can Multitask!

The Truth: I have spoken extensively about Cal Newport’s book Deep Work on the scientifically-proven benefits of focus. We all think that we can multi-task. But the truth is that it is the least efficient and most exhausting way to work.

According to Dr. Rock, at most we can hold four ideas in our heads at once – and the reality is more like one or two. Moreover, we are ALWAYS slower when juggling multiple tasks. And switching between tasks significantly increases the probability of making mistakes.

The Solution: Avoid multitasking by prioritizing and delegating. Remember the mantra “do what you are doing.” Be very disciplined about focusing on one thing at time. The only instances where multi-tasking can be effective is when you can pair a more thinking-intensive task (e.g., talking on the phone) with a more automatic, routine task (e.g., emptying the dishwasher).

Myth 2: I Can Power Through!

The Truth: Your best thinking can only be sustained for a short period before your performance drops off. Moreover, when you’re overloaded it’s easy to lose track of your overall intent. Also, when you become overly fixated on a single idea or solution, you may miss key connections that can result in true insights.

The Solution: Make knowing when you need a mental break as natural as recognizing when you need a break from physical activity – and take it.

Myth 3: Stress Makes Me Perform Better!

The Truth: Yes. . . and no. Optimal performance is fueled by just the right amount of stress. Too little stress, and we are not motivated and can become careless. Too much stress and we become overwhelmed. The happy medium is different from person to person.

We all need some stress to perform. But in high-pressure environments, the adrenaline-rush actually becomes counterproductive.

The Solution: Know your own peak performance balance. Identify times when you feel an uptick in your alertness (a sense of urgency) and interest (a burst of energy/excitement) and experiment with different levels of stress to calibrate your “zone.”

Learn from and encourage what motivates you.  And if you are responsible for managing someone else, understand that their optimal level may be significantly different from yours.

Neuroscientific Best Practices for Maintaining Control of Your Day

I’ve summarized five practices from Your Brain at Work below, and I challenge you to try them for two weeks.

  1. Consider when and where you are at your best for different types of activities or tasks.

    We all have a natural “groove” for different mental processes. Maybe your most creative ideas come in the evening, while your most accurate, detail-oriented work is performed first thing in the morning. Maybe you hit a slump at 2:00 pm, meaning that this is a good time to perform routine activities that require less thought and energy. Plan your days accordingly, and you will be amazed at how much more you can accomplish in less time.

  2. Get things out of your head on a regular basis.

    This is one of the easiest and most effective ways to increase control over your day. Getting things on paper clears valuable space in your head for creativity and problem solving. It also helps quiet that interrupting “What if I forget. . .” voice and is a great way to acknowledge distracting thoughts and ideas without letting them get in your way. Even if you have the world’s best memory, I guarantee it takes far more energy to summon action items from the deepest recesses of your mind than to note them down and later refer to a written list. Take time to try different approaches and find what works for you.

  3. Prioritize, re-prioritize, and prioritize once more.

    This is my personal favorite. Do you often start the day by turning to the most urgent things on your to-do list? Or even worse, the loudest things on your email? If so, you may be missing the most important time of day for accomplishing what matters most.

    According Dr. Rock, the act of prioritizing uses a lot of energy from the prefrontal cortex of our brain (the brain’s C-suite.) While ticking things off a linear to-do list can give us a sense of immediate satisfaction, we often then never get to the things that matter most. We end the day feeling exhausted, wondering if we accomplished anything that actually matters. Every morning, make prioritizing your priority. When your brain is at its best, decide what matters most to you, and prioritize these items according to importance, urgency and relevance. Then commit real time to accomplishing those tasks – maybe even first thing (if this is your peak brain time). Use your calendar as a central tool for proactively living your life according to your priorities.

  4. Simplify!

    Simplify complex new ideas by focusing on just one or two salient points until you become more familiar with them, and group information into chunks of similar items. This not only helps to reduce overwhelm, but just as importantly, it keeps you from becoming bogged down in details and getting stuck.

  5. Minimize Distractions.

    Research shows that up to 30% of our time is expended on distractions! We distract ourselves with flyaway thoughts. We allow ourselves to be distracted by others, who bombard us with ringing phones, blinking emails, “just stopping by with a ‘quick’ question. . .” and more.

    Train yourself to focus by turning off distractions and doing what matters most when you are at your best. And those pesky emails? Schedule (and try to stick to) specific times to respond to emails so that you can stop worrying about them. Remember, even 10 minutes of distraction-free time is better than none.

If you are curious to learn more (we’ve barely scratched the surface here!), I highly recommend Dr. Rock’s book.

Are you an alum of the Women’s Leadership Forum? We’d love to keep in touch with you! Request to join us in our private Facebook group here, or connect with Susan on LinkedIN here and send me a note that you’d like to be part of our exclusive LinkedIn group.  Also follow us on Instagram for frequent reminders of WLF content!

Twenty Questions to Improve Your Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is such a critical leadership skill.  At WLF we love sharing resources we find helpful, and our favorite today helps increase your self-awareness skills.

Darius Foroux published a wonderful list of 20 questions you can ask yourself to increase your self-awareness.

Here’s a sneak peak:

Ask Yourself…

  1. What am I good at?
  2. What am I so-so at?
  3. What am I bad at?
  4. What makes me tired?
  5. What is the most important thing in my life?
  6. Who are the most important people in my life?
  7. How much sleep do I need?
  8.  What stresses me out?
  9. What relaxes me?
  10. What’s my definition of success?

Now head over to his blog to read more detail about each and to see the rest of the list!

Are you an alum of the Women’s Leadership Forum? We’d love to keep in touch with you! Request to join us in our private Facebook group here, or connect with Susan on LinkedIN here and send me a note that you’d like to be part of our exclusive LinkedIn group.  Also follow us on Instagram for frequent reminders of WLF content!

Increase Your Self Awareness With
One Simple Fix

Self-awareness has countless proven benefits:

  • stronger relationships
  • higher performance
  • more effective leadership

Sounds pretty great, right?

Here’s the bad news: 95% of people think that they’re self-aware, but only 10-15% actually are!

Luckily, Tasha Eurich has a simple fix. I highly recommend you check out her video below!

Are you an alum of the Women’s Leadership Forum? We’d love to keep in touch with you! Request to join us in our private Facebook group here, or connect with Susan on LinkedIN here and send me a note that you’d like to be part of our exclusive LinkedIn group.  Also follow us on Instagram for frequent reminders of WLF content!

Thought-provoking Ted Talk on the
socialized box for men that leads to
abuse of women

 

Here is another take on this important topic:

 

Are you an alumni of the Women’s Leadership Forum? I’d love for you to keep in touch with the WLF community. Request to join us in our private Facebook group here, or connect with me on LinkedIN here and send me a note that you’d like to be part of our exclusive LinkedIn group.

This Holiday Season, Give Yourself the Gift of Self-Compassion.

To augment your self-compassion practices from last week, try Kristin Neff’s 5-minute self-compassion break.

Listen to the mp3 here.

If you want more, here are links to her TED talk and longer guided meditations.

Listen to longer guided meditations here.

Are you an alumni of the Women’s Leadership Forum? I’d love for you to keep in touch with the WLF community. Request to join us in our private Facebook group here, or connect with me on LinkedIN here and send me a note that you’d like to be part of our exclusive LinkedIn group.

The Secret To Finding 30% More Time
In Your Day

The ever-present problem of time management haunts every client I have – it also haunts me!   There are over 6,000 books on the subject on Amazon – evidently, we are not alone in our search for the silver bullet to address the problem of being overwhelmed.

For those of you who have participated in the WLF Sessions: Working Smarter Not Harder, you know that we recommend dropping the idea of time management and picking up the idea of managing your energy. This principle is based on important research from Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, which you can read more about here.

This month I am excited to introduce new and related research that makes a compelling case for what might be the closest thing we can find to a silver bullet for time management: time blocking focused work, a theory introduced in Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work, Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.

Cal’s book focuses on two big ideas: deep work and shallow work. Let me explain.

1. “Deep work” is using your skills to create something of value. It takes thought, energy, time and concentration.

2. “Shallow work” is everything else – all the administrative and logistical stuff, like emails, meetings, calls, expense reports, etc.

Our daily lives are defined by constant opportunities for distraction: responding to emails, calls, meetings and other seemingly endless interruptions. Much falls into the category of shallow work. The tricky thing is that shallow work often makes us FEEL like we are being extremely productive but at the end of a day of shallow work, while we are exhausted, we find we have accomplished very little that really matters.

This problem is heightened when we try to multitask between deep work and shallow work.  Neuroscience shows that multitasking actually diminishes performance; brains can in fact only focus on one thing at a time. When we try to do more than one thing at a time (other than something like emptying the dishwasher while waiting on hold for the repair man) we are less efficient than if we did each task separately.  That is because our brains need to adjust to the new tasks.

Cal calls this adjustment period, “attention residue.”  He explains that when moving from one task to another, part of your brain is still distracted from the original task (e.g., reading an email) and you aren’t giving your full attention to the task at hand (e.g., writing a memo).

It’s easy to see how shallow work gets in the way of being productive on deep work. But you may be alarmed to hear that Bridget Schulte’s sites research in her book, Overwhelmed: Work, Love, Play When No One Has the Time, stating it takes 10 to 20 times the amount of the interruption to get back on task.  So, after a 30 second interruption it can take 5 minutes to get back on task.  Think of how many interruptions (e.g., times you check email) you might have in one hour – scary!!

I highly recommend both Cal’s and Bridget’s books. Their excellent perspectives and tips, if practiced, can have a significant impact on your productivity—and sanity. You may even get 30% of your time back!