Are You Really THAT Busy?


Long hours. . .  are often more about proving something to ourselves than actually getting stuff done. --Jessica Stillman, Why Working More than 40 Hours a Week is Useless

Over the past few years, I've come to realize that I have about 8-9 hours of work in me per day. That's it. Occasionally, if I'm really engrossed in a project, I can push for more, but usually I pay for that later with needing 4-5 hour work days that don't require a lot of mental energy. 

There was a time when I felt like this was problematic. After all, I work for myself and true entrepreneurs are all about the 60 hour work weeks. Anything less suggests that you aren't that committed to your work. So I would dutifully sit at my desk for 10-12 hour stretches of time, feeling like anything less was "not being serious" about what I do.

But here's the problem I observed--no matter how long I actually sat at my desk, I still didn't really do work past about 8 hours. The rest of my "work time" was largely swallowed up by mindless web surfing that always began as a "5-minute break" and ended two hours later with me wondering where the time had gone. It could also be chewed up in social conversations and shuffling of papers as I tried to figure out where I needed to go next. 

What I came to realize is that working a 55+ week was really a myth. I wasn't doing it. I was just thinking that I was because it was important to my identity that I be seen as "hardworking," which I defined by the number of hours I sat at my desk. Somehow this made me feel important to always be able to report to people I was "busy," and "stressed" and "overworked." 

In working with people on their career and professional development, I've seen that this issue of time--or more accurately our perception that we don't have enough of it --is one of the greatest barriers to growth and development. We have bought into the idea that our worth is measured by how many hours a day or a week we are "working," and because this notion is so important to us, we cling tightly to the fact that we are "too busy," without even looking at whether or not this is really true.

Laura Vanderkam in a fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal reminds us that how we spend our time is a choice and that saying we are "too busy" removes from us the burden of making those choices. When we are "too busy," we can act as though our time is something out of our control, rather than something we can choose to spend in different ways.

Aside from asking us to look at how we are REALLY spending our time (a very worthwhile activity), she makes the case for us to change our language around time so that we better understand the choces we are making:

Instead of saying "I don't have time" try saying "it's not a priority," and see how that feels. Often, that's a perfectly adequate explanation. I have time to iron my sheets, I just don't want to. But other things are harder. Try it: "I'm not going to edit your résumé, sweetie, because it's not a priority." "I don't go to the doctor because my health is not a priority." If these phrases don't sit well, that's the point. Changing our language reminds us that time is a choice. If we don't like how we're spending an hour, we can choose differently.

To this list I would add, "I'm not going to spend time on figuring out what I want do to next because that's not a priority." Or "I'm not going to take an hour a day for my own growth and development because that's not a priority. Watching television is a bigger priority to me."

When we say that we don't have time for our own growth and development, what we are really saying is that it's not a priority. We are choosing to spend time on other activities that somehow seem more important. That's OK, but we should be intentional about that, reminding ourselves that we are choosing one activity over another. 

For me, what I've realized is that growth and development, time for personal projects and time with my family and friends are important to me--important enough for me to give up the ego stroke I used to get from perceiving myself as "hardworking," because I sat at my desk for 12 hours a day. It feels better to me to say that other things are on my priority list too. Some days I back slide. The culture of work as measured in hours is a hard one to resist. But most of the time I'm clear. And it feels a lot better than it did before. 

So what are your priorities? How are you choosing to spend your time? 

Do You Want to Do the Hard Work of Knowing Yourself?

Know yourself ?

This morning I ran across an excellent post by Penelope Trunk on New Ways to Find a New Job. She began with what I think is probably the most important piece of career advice I could ever give you:

When you see someone who has a career you want, it’s a safe bet that they spent the majority of their career clearly defining themselves and then differentiating themselves from all the other people who defined themselves the same way.

Self-knowledge is a huge career tool, but most people find it onerous and try to skip it. The problem with skipping over self-knowledge is that people hit a career ceiling, not because someone put it on top of them – we put it on top of ourselves by not knowing who we are.

A few points here. . . . 

First, most people see developing knowledge of themselves, their strengths, etc. as a difficult job that they'd rather avoid. Sometimes they want to avoid it because they just don't want to know the answers. But more often they see it as somehow "frivolous," less important than the tasks at hand. Knowing yourself is seen as so much navel-gazing when there's more important work to be done. 

But as Penelope points out, when you skip the self-knowledge step, you run into all of these self-imposed limits. You try to do work for which you are not well-suited, to fit your round self into that square hole. Or you are completely unaware of the beliefs you have about yourself and your capacities, so you continually undershoot and let opportunities pass you by because you're afraid to own your awesomeness.  

When I begin career counseling with people, I always start with the self-knowledge piece and find that most of the time, this is where people resist me the most. They want to start talking about what jobs interest them or what the market is looking for. They don't want to go inside and do the difficult work of figuring out what they have to offer and where their passions are. 

The other piece that is important in what Penelope says is the idea that we have to differentiate ourselves from the thousands of other people who do what we do. We are all unique snowflakes, but the problem is we don't take the time to really look at the ways in which we are unique. We keep focusing on our snowflake qualities and all other people see is that we're snow, like everyone else. 

It's only through doing the ongoing and arduous work of looking at who we REALLY are that we are able to appreciate, refine and put out into the world those qualities that make each of us different. We have to keep asking ourselves, "what is unique about how I do what I do? How can I build on that?" 

Self-knowledge is a critical component of career and professional development, but it's something that most of us shy away from doing. Then we are disappointed when we do not progress in our careers as we'd like to.  If we want to find success, we have to be willing to take a good hard look at ourselves on a regular basis. Self-knowledge is the key to finding the right work and to making ourselves uniquely suited to do that work. 

Are you ready to buckle down and know yourself? 

Changing Joyfully


Change is hard--or so we believe. But what if it isn't? What if we just make it that way because that's what we believe? 

Yesterday I was reading this post by Megan Thom who writes about how burnt out she was in her work. Until she had an epiphany that for change to happen she must make it joyful and bring to it her authentic self:

In my burnt-out, disappointed and thoughtful state, I resolved that henceforth all activism I engaged in would involve at least one of my favourite activities: growing food, cooking food, eating food, bicycling and singing. All of these activities are inherently change-making in that they all have positive effects on our ecological, social and emotional environments. All of these activities are also fun. I figured that if I focused on these fun activities I would be both an effective agent of change and also a happy person. In fact, I would argue that one cannot be the former without also being the latter.

One of the things I tell people when they are exploring their next career moves is to "follow the energy." By this I mean to stay alert to those activities and interactions that feel inspiring, engaging, joyful and fun. Identifying these moments and then intentionally bringing more of them into your work is one of the basic activities of career exploration and change. 

What I'm finding, though, is that we have a hard time with this. Somehow if it doesn't feel like "work"--that is, if it doesn't feel like a struggle and a challenge and something we have to make ourselves do--then we dismiss it.  And asking someone to purposely bring more joy and fun to what they do? Let's just say I spend a lot of time trying to talk people into believing that this isn't "frivolous" or "impossible." 

I understand this because by nature, I am not playful. I am more serious than I'd like to be and have a tendency to see the struggle, not the joy. But I'm realizing more and more that for change to happen and for work to have real meaning to me, I need to find the joy--to find how I can bring fun and play and my best self to what I do. I need to do this not only for me, but also for the people I work with. If I think that change is hard and act accordingly, then how will they be able to see it another way themselves? 

So lately I'm asking myself, what would happen if I saw change as easy and joyful? How would changing this frame change for me what is possible? How would it change the tools I use and the ways that I interact with people? How could I build joy and play and fun into what I do and how can I help others find that joy and play in themselves?

Right now these are questions for me. The answers are still hidden. But they feel like worthwhile questions to explore. While change can be hard in the sense that we are transforming habits and ingained behaviors, one thing I've learned is that I cannot beat myself up in order to transform. Real change only happens when we act from inspiration, not desperation, when we use joy and fun to motivate ourselves to move in a different direction. 

How can you change joyfully? How can you tap into what most deeply engages and interests you to transform your life and career? I'd love to hear your thoughts and comments on this. 


Build Your Career on Three Hopeful Trends


As I dive ever deeper into the rabbit hole of what I call Positive Professional Development, I keep thinking about how to harness what's positive in our lives, rather than spending so much time with the negative. How do you increase the awesome

Today I was reading this blog post on hopeful trends for 2012 and it got me thinking about how to build a career on hopeful trends--what would it look like if we did that? 

A few ideas that came to mind. . . 

  • Start (or Join) a Worker Co-Op--Worker co-ops are companies owned by their employees and we're seeing a rise in their numbers.  According to this article, "some 130 million Americans, for example, now participate in the ownership of co-op businesses and credit unions. More than 13 million Americans have become worker-owners of more than 11,000 employee-owned companies, six million more than belong to private-sector unions.”
  • Engage in Social Enterprise--"A social enterprise is an organization or venture that achieves its primary social or environmental mission using business methods. The social needs addressed by social enterprises and the business models they use are as diverse as human ingenuity. Social enterprises build a more just, sustainable world by applying market-based strategies to today's social problems."
  • Think Local/Sustainable--This PBS documentary popped up in my Netflix recommendations the other night and it's a fantastic description of the kind of economy we could be building that focuses on creating vibrant local/sustainable communities. It transforms your sense of what's possible and how work coud fit into that. (As a side note, it also has great info on time-banking, which is a way for us to share our talents in a sort of barter arrangement. I love time-banking values, too. )

I know there must be more, but these are the three that come to mind for me.  

What other hopeful trends can we look to for building our careers? 

Diagnosing and Treating "Stuck"

Last night I did an Image Center session with a friend who is going through my Getting Unstuck course. I had her do two images--one that shows where she is now and one that shows where she'd like to be. 

Here's the image for where she is now:

Picture 27

And here's the image for where she wants to be:

Picture 29

It wasn't hard to figure out why she feels stuck. She has too much going on! That first image is just an explosion, radiating out from the explosion of fireworks in the middle. She's being pulled in 50 different directions and has a hard time putting focus into just a few of the most important places. 

Working with my friend reminded me that being stuck comes in two different varieties and that it can be helpful to know which is your personal brand of "stuckness." 

Diagnosing Your "Stuck"

In my experience, there are two distinct types of "stuck"--the stuckness of the over-thinker and the stuckness of the over-doer. 

Are You An Over-Thinker?

The first type of stuck is the muddy slog of inertia that is the domain of the over-thinker. Often (but not always) these are the introverts who are naturally drawn to thinking before acting.

When these people are stuck, it's because they are so busy worrying about making the "right" move, they make no moves at all. They are the perfectionists and the worriers, the people who need to do just one more piece of research or talk to just one more person before they feel comfortable making their next move. But somehow they never actually move. They are stuck in the reflection part of the Act/Reflect cycle

Or Are You an Over-Doer? 

The other version of "stuck" is where my friend is at. It's the obsessive do-er's type of stuck. These are often the more extroverted types who thrive on activity and being in the outer world. 

In this brand of stuckness, I find people who are constantly moving, taking no time to reflect on what they are doing or why. Action is what counts and they have a hard time creating the space for reflection so that their actions are more intentional and in alignment with what they want. These people are stuck in the action part of Act/Reflect. 

When you're stuck, it's helpful to try to figure out which camp you fall into because treating your stuckness will depend on whether you're an over-thinker or  an over-doer. Your stuckness is really an imbalance in the Act/Reflect cycle. 

Treating Your "Stuck"

 While both over-thinkers and over-doers can benefit from doing some de-cluttering, moving out of stuck is essentially a different process for each type. The over-thinkers need more action and the over-doers need more reflection. 


If you're an over-thinker, then the way to get out of "stuck" is by bringing more action into your life. Over-thinkers need to make a commitment to just doing things, rather than thinking about doing something. And that action cannot be doing one more bit of research or asking one more person what you should do. It has to be action that is in alignment with your vision of where you want to go and that is designed to actually move you in that direction. You need to experiment with different identities and trust the mess that comes with action. You have to let go of the need to do things perfectly and just embrace doing anything at all. 


Over-doers have a different task. You need to create space for yourself for more reflection so you can be more intentional about what you are doing and why you are doing it. You may need to start saying "no" more often and streamlining your life to make room for more thinking. Try incorporating some reflection rituals  to create a reflection habit. Your task is to put some real intention and focus behind your actions, rather than being caught in an endless loop of mindless activity that doesn't really go anywhere. Embrace your power to do, but put some mindfulness behind it. 


Being "stuck" is really about imbalance--choosing either reflection or action at the expense of the other part of the cycle. To get unstuck,  you have to restore balance to the cycle of Act/Reflect. Knowing your own tendencies towards one or the other can help you quickly figure out how to get moving when you find yourself stuck in one place.  

The next time you feel stuck, consider whether your stuckness is a result of over-thinking or over-doing and then look at what you can do to restore the balance. 


If you need help getting unstuck, you might want to try one of my Career Clarity Image Center session packages. We can explore what's keeping you stuck, where you want to go and how you can get there. 


Be a Career Inspiration, Not a Cautionary Tale

Inspiration Pics

Throughout my working life, I've encountered people who made me think, "Kill me if I ever start acting and thinking that way." Generally these are people who are bitter and angry about their work, or who are so disengaged as to be practically dead. While I most notice those people who are aggressive about their career unhappiness, there are plenty of other people who simply disappear, I guess hoping to escape notice as their souls slowly shrivel up. 

At times, I've felt myself start to go down that road of deep unhappiness and pessimism. I see mostly problems, not possibilities and I focus on the suck, not the awesome. When my snark quotient goes way up and I find myself complaining constantly, I know that an attitude change is in order. 

As I continue on my journey to be more mindful and to engage in positive professional development, I find myself wanting to be more of a career inspiration, rather than a cautionary tale. I don't want people to walk away from interactions with me and think, "Please don't let me turn out that way. . . " 

In that vein, these 18 Ways to Inspire Everyone Around You gave me some good food for thought. Some of my favorites:

  • Be authentic and true to yourself.
  • Express your enthusiasm.
  • Care about people
  • Make people feel good about themselves
  • Articulate what everyone else is thinking
  • Share lessons from your successes and failures.
  • Help people heal--instead of judging people by their past, stand by them and help repair their future

These aren't always easy for me to do, but I'm committed to the idea of being the inspiration I want to see in the world. 

How do you inspire others? What has inspired you? 


Are you looking for a way to get support and more accountability in achieving your career goals? I'm running a bi-weekly Virtual Career Clarity Circle starting on February 27 that may be just what you need. Details and sign-up information are here

The Power of Positive Peers


Although we don't discuss it much, one of the most powerful influences on our personal and professional development is our peer groups. The people with whom we engage in regular conversations and interactions shape the questions that we ask, the problems that we see, how we approach our work and our sense of identity as professionals.

One thing I've been paying more attention to in the past year is the quality of my peer circles and the impact that my professional colleagues have on me. I started noticing that some people were really energizing and inspiring to be around, while other people tended to pull me down into the suck. Some people exposed me to new ideas, new ways of thinking, new questions and a focus on the awesome, while others seemed to see only the same old problems and no real solutions. 

Since I started paying attention to my professional peer networks, I've started becoming more intentional about my connections. I've begun limiting the amount of time I spend engaging with people who can only focus on what sucks and have been actively seeking to expand my connections to people who want to work on creating what's awesome. This has had a profoundly positive influence on my work and my thinking.

What I've realized, though, is that if we are not consciously thinking about what is going on with our peer networks, it's very easy to be pulled into a negative orbit. This is especially problematic if we are in a negative workplace and the majority of our professional interactions are with our co-workers. It becomes mission critical for us to find and connect with people who have a more positive perspective--those who want to work on building the awesome. 

For me, connecting with positive peers has been a two-step process. First is noticing the influence that different people have on me. I pay attention to how I feel when I interact with them. Do I leave an interaction feeling excited and energized and ready to follow-up on something we've discussed? That's a person I want to connect to more. 

The second thing I've been doing is looking for new people who share the qualities of those people who are currently in my network that have proven to be positive influences. Typically this means people who are curious, creative, focused on positive questions rather than on "problems," and who want to make a real difference. If I see people like this in a LinkedIn Group or some other on-line network, I try to make a special effort to reach out to them. I'm also intentionally looking for these connections in face-to-face interactions and purposely seeking them out to connect. I even tell them WHY I want to connect--because I see and value these qualities, which automatically improves the connection. 

Throughout all of this, I've also tried to be more aware of how I am connecting to other people--am I being the change I'm looking for in my world? This shift has forced me to look at the ways in which I'm negative, problem-focused, uninspiring, etc. I have had to look at how I can shift my own habits of interaction to be a positive peer, rather than a negative one. 

This process of forming positive peer networks and looking at my own actions as a peer has been one of the more important professional development practices I've engaged in this year. 

How are you forming the connections that are going to be most supportive for you? And how are you looking at your own behavior in this process? 


Feeling stuck? I'm running another 7-Day Getting Unstuck session starting February 27. Details and sign-up information are here.


3 Tips for Increasing the Awesome at Work

Awesome Stuff Inside!

Last week I wrote about increasing the awesome vs. decreasing the suck and how I think that the only way to decrease what sucks is by focusing on what's awesome. Since then I've been thinking a lot about how to increase the awesome in my work life--what is it that we can do to bring the awesome? 

Here are three tips I came up with from noticing my own practice. . . 

1. Tune into the emotions of Awesome. 

The surest route to the Awesome, I'm finding, is to tune into my emotions. Whenever I feel curious, inspired, energized, hopeful, engaged, connected, and/or like I'm having fun, I know I'm accessing the Awesome. When I feel unmotivated, frustrated, irritated or apathetic, I'm most definitely living in the Suck. 

Each day I'm trying to begin with attuning myself to the feelings I want to have during my work day, reminding myself about the feelings of the Awesome. I also set the intention of trying to notice my Awesome emotions throughout my day, acknowledging them to myself and others.

It's been especially interesting to acknowledge a shift in energy to other people. They immediately know what I'm talking about and become even more energized, tuning into their own emotions of the Awesome and wanting more of that. I'm trying to be more purposeful in in doing this, as I find that this acknowledgement increases my chances of having Awesome converations (see below). 

2. Ask Awesome Questions

In the past 6 months, I've become increasingly interested in the power of questions to move me and the people I work with toward the Awesome. I'm firmly convinced that the questions we ask are at least as important as the answers. And I've found that asking Awesome questions actually is part of what increases our connection to and feelings of the Awesome. 

Some of the questions that have been working for me:

  • Why do I care about this situation? This reconnects me to purpose which connects me to Awesome. 
  • What possibilities and learning do I see? Seeing challenges and problems leads me to the Suck. When I look at possibilities and learning, I find the Awesome.
  • What do I want more of? When I tune into the emotions of the Awesome, I also notice what I'm doing at the time. Who am I with? What is happening? If possible, I will try to tune into the moment when the energy shifts from the Suck to the Awesome. Then I try to figure out how I can get more of whatever it was that created the Awesome. How can I inject it going forward? 
  • If success was completely guaranteed, what bold steps would I take? This may be the surest route to the Awesome. Usually I find that what is keeping me in the Suck isn't that I don't know what to do. It's that I'm afraid to do it. Or at least to try. So asking this question leads me to take the bold steps. . . most of the time. 

I've also been trying to find the "big questions" underneath the smaller ones. What is the REAL quest that I am on? I look for the forest, not the trees and often this leads me back to the Awesome. 

3. Have Awesome Conversations

Although the Awesome can sometimes be a solitary pursuit, most of the time it is not. Even if I'm going to do the work alone, having the right conversations can help me better articulate my vision of the Awesome. They can also help me connect to people and resources that help make the Awesome happen. 

This year is my year of conversation and I'm finding that the more I seek out and lean into creating Awesome conversations, the better I feel and the better my work is. 

To me, the hallmark of an Awesome conversation is that it generates Awesome emotions. If I'm feeling the energy of inspiration, hope, and possibility, then I know I'm having a conversation that will lead to the Awesome. If I'm feeling like I want to stab my own eye out, I know I'm mired in a conversation that supports the Suck. 

Awesome conversations mean that I'm talking about what really matters. I'm engaging with the Awesome questions and I'm noticing and acknowledging the awesome emotions. Most importantly, I'm acting as a host, creating a space for the Awesomeness to occur, being open to what happens and giving up my pre-conceived ideas of how things should go. 

I have found that some people are more amenable to the Awesome conversation than others. While I believe that everyone wants to have Awesome conversations, I'm not as skillful as I'd like to be in drawing people into those if they aren't at least halfway there. That's actually one of the areas I want to work on--how to help people who are really stuck in the Suck to find and access the Awesome. 


So these are my 3 tips for increasing the Awesome. What are you doing to increase the Awesome at work? 

Tough Questions for Your Professional Development

Everywhere questions

Through a friend, I discovered the In Good Company blog and this excellent post on 5 tough questions entrepreneurs should be asking themselves.

Reading through the questions, I thought they could easily be adapted to anyone, whether they work for themselves or for someone else, so here they are. Just replace "business" with "job" if you're working for someone else.  

1: If you could wave a magic wand to instantly fix three things in your business, what would they be? 
(be honest, don’t just say “get more clients”…what do you KNOW is broken)
* What prevents you from fixing these things on your own?

2: What three things would you stop doing for the business if you didn’t have to?
* Why don’t you? What would make doing them better?

3: What are you doing only because you feel like you “should”?
* What would happen if you didn’t?

4: What important thing do you never seem to have “time for”?
* Why? What makes it hard to prioritize?

5: What have you given up for your business or to be an entrepreneur?
* Are you OK with that sacrifice?

How does answering these questions create movement for you? What new questions open up for you? 


I have another career visioning session coming up on February 21. It's a great opportunity for you to get a clearer picture of your career in just a few hours. More information and the sign-up form are here

Emotions and Your Career


With my Career Clarity Camp, we're entering the home stretch and starting to integrate the lessons we've learned. One of the things we're working on this week is looking at the emotions we feel about the work we've been doing, which got me thinking about the power of emotions at work. 

Emotions at Work

One thing I've learned about work is that being "professional" often (usually?) means being unemotional. On a regular basis we are asked to check our emotions at the door, especially any negative emotions we may have like sadness, fear, anxiety, confusion, etc. But positive emotions, like joy, aren't often welcome at work either.  I think it's because emotions have a way of getting messy and "out of control." They are also distractions from just getting things done.  

The other issue with emotions at work is that so often we are rushing to DO things that it's hard to notice what we are feeling in the first place. We are just dealing with the the next thing on our "To Do" lists and it's hard to stop for even a few seconds to reflect on what we may be feeling. 

 All of this blocking of emotions, though, takes a toll. Emotions aren't really amenable to blocking. They just go underground until they explode in some way we would prefer they hadn't. Or they coil up inside us, clogging our creativity and our connection to ourselves. This blockage, in turn, leads to boredom and apathy. 

Working with Our Emotions

It's unfortunate that we spend so much time keeping emotions out of our work because they can be some of the most valuable clues we have to work with. Noticing where I feel energized or inspired or where I feel frustrated or anxious can tell me a lot about what I want more of and what I want less of at work. My emotions show me where there are problems or issues I need to deal with--work relationships that aren't' working or tasks that need to be looked at more closely. 

One thing I've encouraged the Career Clarity Campers to do is to make time in their days to pay attention to the emotions they're feeling as they go about their work. I've suggested that they stop once per hour or even 3-4 times a day to check in and ask themselves:

  • What have I been doing? What activities have you been engaged in? 
  • How do I feel about it? Note particularly the things you do that leave you feeling energized and interested. These may be things you want more of. 
  • Who am I doing it with? See if there's something about the people you are working with or the conversations you are having that feels energizing to you. Or are you doing things alone? What does that tell you? 

 They then write down these experiences and their reactions and look for trends and themes over time. 

Tuning in to your emotions this way can be a great 30-day experiment.  Paying attention in particular to the things that are inspiring or energizing so you can bring more of it into your work is also one of the best ways to increase the awesome.

I've found, too, that when I focus on the emotions I'm feeling in a work day, I do a better job of connecting with people and with building richer relationships. I notice when an interaction feels particularly positive and I can acknowledge that with the person I'm talking to. This always creates an even deeper bond. I can also see where emotions like boredom or frustration are telling me that I need to revisit how I'm handling something. This often leads to more fruitful conversations on how I can revise what I'm doing. 

Our emotions should not be left at the door when we go to work each day. Not only does that not work anyway, but our emotional lives are rich sources of learning and connection. They are our authentic selves communicating with us about our experiences and relationships. We need them to do our best work and to have conversations that matter

So what role do your emotions play in your work life? Do you bring them with you to work or do you check them at the door? 


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