Julie Mitchell's CoachNotes



Boost productivity: Make footprints in the sand

Footprints in the sand lead to better work performance!

Footprints in the sand lead to better work performance! Photo by J. Mitchell (Location: British Virgin Islands)

Feeling stuck? Stressed when you need to do your best? Is your creativity blasted? Are you distracted? If you’re mobile and near water, get back on track with a beach walk! Any outdoor trek is a step in the right direction, but my preferred path to better work begins with surf.

In 2003 my International Coach Federation (ICF) colleagues beached their routines for a lakeside CoachWalk experience. They were eager to learn about integrative coaching (connecting mind, body, emotions, spirit) and I wanted to test-walk my theories with respected peers. Also, it was fun to hit the beach in the name of professional development.

Since then, an ocean of evidence affirms what we discovered, and what trailblazers have known for ages. Walking in nature improves attitude, creativity, mindfulness, clarity, strategic thinking, learning, problem solving, focus, mood, and more. It’s good for you and your work!

Curious about taking your work for a beach walk? Here are 7 tips to get your feet wet:

  1. Be safe. Make sure you’re fit for walking on coastal terrain, e.g., uneven sand, rocks, or shells. Beware of hazards and be prepared to call for help. Once, while barefoot on silky white sand, I stepped on broken glass. Ouch.
  1. Choose the right time. Consider whether others will be crowding the coast. Show up early for sunrise. Try “not good beach weather” days, off-season, or less popular spots. Avoid distractions (the fascinating range of bodies on display, roaring jet-skis, volleyball games).
  1. Give your brain a break; have no objective. Allow your mind to be empty, free and open. Let your thoughts meander, coming and going like the waves. Trust you will feel restored, energized, and more focused following the walk.
  1. Alternatively, have a realistic, next-step agenda. (Yes, I’ve contradicted no. 3, above.) A beach walk rescue and recovery talk may be just what you need when facing an unexpected event or sticky situation. Invite a colleague or thinking partner to help you “walk through” the issue.
  1. Be present and engage your senses. This will come naturally if you slow down and pay attention to nature’s wonders. Stop, look, and listen. Enjoy glorious shades of blue, green, brown or gray. Feel the sun, see the clouds, hear the birds, and breathe in fresh air. Appreciate the soft sand or cool refreshing water.
  1. Explore pace and space. Weave in and out of the surf, stay close to the water, or make tracks through nearby dunes. Vary your stride or stop altogether. First steps may be heavy with fatigue, but later you may feel invigorated and inspired to stretch, skip, or jog. Have fun.
  1. Maximize walking momentum. If an idea popped into your head mid-walk, note it before you forget it. Return to work immediately. You’re likely to be more awake, inspired, efficient, accurate, and focused.

I encourage you to experience the wonders of beach walking. Your footprints in the sand may lead directly to better work performance!


The upside of down time: Work less, accomplish more

Crazy-busy and working to death? Take a break before your eternal rest.

Crazy-busy and working to death? Take a break before it’s time for eternal rest.

NOTE: This post was revised on August 21, 2015.

Down time is looking up. What a relief! Mainstream publications, best-selling books, TED talks and social media reflect what should be obvious (but we humans can be so stupid): It’s not healthy to work too hard. It’s dangerous to be sleep deprived. It’s counterproductive to skip vacations or never take a break.

In honor of long-overdue attention to these issues, I revisited what I wrote two years ago on overwork, down time and the sad contest of being overwhelmed. Here it is, for your reading pleasure:

“I’m too busy” is a worn out phrase I wish we could retire. Growing up in a culture that venerates working hard, being a go-getter, and doing whatever it takes, I, too, have engaged in stupid, competitive, winning-by-losing “I’m too busy” conversations.

How often have I been caught up in boasting — disguised as complaining or commiserating — about who’s the most buried in work, stressed, overwhelmed, swamped, slammed, exhausted, wiped out, ad nauseam? Ugh.

How sad to feel inferior — a loser in the non-stop energizer bunny at work game — because I need 7 hours of sleep to function well, when famous biz gurus brag about clocking 4-5 hours. I’m weary of feeling judged or resented, too, for my favorite path to renewal and productivity: a daily walk. I recently heard this unhelpful comment: “Well. Lucky you. Must be nice to have time for a walk. I’m way too busy to even consider it!”

I’m coming out as a person who needs quiet time to accomplish my best work. I’ve learned something about time management and goal setting. “Down time” steps up my creativity, clarity, and connection with clients to achieve their goals.

I can put nose to grindstone when necessary. I’ve had happy periods of extraordinary energy, productivity and flow, being so absorbed in business matters that I lost track of time. I have climbed and conquered mountains of work, but I’ve also suffered altitude sickness, and worse.

Through painful consequences of over-work I’ve learned I require breaks, from a few minutes to clear my head, nurture my heart, and rejuvenate my body and brain… to vacations, retreats and even sabbaticals. (During a sabbatical in 2002 I founded Coachwalks, cared for a friend in need, took courses to enhance my skills and did the most rewarding volunteer work of my life.)

An important note: I’m aware of my privilege in this unfair world of unequal opportunity. I’ve been able to afford sick days, vacations and the occasional sabbatical. “Take a break” advice is pointless and absurd for too many people forced into working their butts off to survive, buy groceries, or pay rent. Policies need to change, wages need to go up, and I could go on, but not here, not now.

I’m simply inviting other fortunate people to take a stand for down time (a rare and courageous stance when it’s more popular to pursue lots of stuff and money).

Years of “way too busy” times taught me I never win through wiping myself out. I need to be thoughtful, open-minded, rested and not overwhelmed if I’m to be a helpful consultant, communicator, teacher, learner, friend and human being.

A final thought: It’s dangerous to admit I don’t live to work (yet I love my work)! Self-employed folks are drilled in laboring harder, faster, better and longer. The argument I hear most often for a relentless focus on business is this: How else can an entrepreneur succeed in an era of rapid change, customer demands, and intense global competition? Well, it helps to redefine success.

I don’t have millions of dollars, but I’m grateful to have extraordinary, rich work/life experiences and to enjoy loving relationships on my “down time.” My best ideas and creative business solutions come up during walks, vacations and times of rest.

Is this true for you, too? I welcome your comments.

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Snow day and a winter walk

IMG_2938My plans changed today, thanks to a bit of wintry precipitation and below freezing temperatures closing schools, canceling business meetings and evening events. What to do with an unexpectedly quiet January weekday in my home office?

Lately I had been thinking about how open, distraction-free time (i.e., away from digital screens, devices, clutter, responsibilities, and “to do” lists) is increasingly rare for me and everyone I know.

Suddenly, I had extra free time, but additional things commanded my attention (ranging from tax-related documents in need of organizing to an intense desire for a homemade treat, which sent me straight to the kitchen).

I looked out the window at one little inch of snow and recalled my peaceful winter treks through much more of the white stuff when I lived “up north.” I know how walking in any weather calms anxiety, stimulates creativity and gives me the energy, space and time I need to be more sane and effective.

Yet, I felt lazy: Aren’t snow days about staying warm and cozy, inside? Fortunately, I discovered words I wrote 11 years ago, encouraging clients to embrace winter walking:

COACH-WALKING IN WINTER? (YOU CAN DO IT!) Walking in the winter is a magical experience, and I am not one to wimp out because of a little snow! Working and walking with me is an opportunity to move forward, tap into your strengths, listen to your intuition, and focus on here, now, and where you want to be, one step at a time. Walking, in fact, is a perfect metaphor for the coaching process. You start off in a particular direction, toward a desired destination, result or outcome. An experienced partner on the path can facilitate your arrival, through helping you identify opportunities, alternative routes, or obstacles along the way. 

This was all it took to get me moving… I’m all for magical experiences, and figured I might burn off some calories from the chocolate-chip pumpkin bread I baked earlier. I enjoyed making fresh tracks and picking up a stick to mark my “snow day” (photo above).

Are you a winter walker, too? If not, I encourage you to give it a try, with or without a coach!

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Want New Year wisdom? Get moving to boost your brain.

Want to be healthy, wealthy and wise? Get moving!

Be a wise old bird in the new year: Walking boosts brain power, at all ages.

Here’s inspiring, good news as we step into the new year: Scientists have found more evidence for the wonders of regular exercise, above and beyond weight loss, disease prevention and perfect “six pack” abs.

If you’re over 50 (like me), the reasons to get moving intensify and multiply. A sexy, lean body may be nice, but what about having more energy and maintaining a sharp, active mind as you age?

Whether you’re young or old, exercise improves memory (including test performance), regenerates brain cells and stimulates creative thinking. Want more information? Check out these words of wisdom about how physical activity benefits the brain.

I favor walking, but any movement lowers stress, improves mood and enhances cognitive ability. For centuries deep thinkers have noted how problems are solved by putting one foot in front of the other.

Now, nearly every day I find another article summarizing research by neuroscientists, physicians, biological anthropologists and others. More organizations and business leaders are becoming walking evangelists and I say “HOORAY!”

No matter your age or fitness level, I encourage you to open your mind and do your body some good. Find a way to move more often in the new year, with colleagues or in solitude.

Happy new year and happy walking!

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Respectful Communication at Work: Beware of Rude Bosses!

Good bosses care!

Do you have good thoughts about your boss?

This week I’ve heard sad tales of mean, nasty leaders at work. Disrespectful managers tend to be clueless and/or uncaring about the consequences of their bad behavior.

For instance, a group of savvy investors in my community chose not to buy stock in a growing company because of widespread stories about bullying bosses who shame and blame hard-working employees. A friend advised her sought-after son not to apply at this organization.

While they are “desperate” to hire new workers — in part to replace those who quit after being treated poorly — people in the know are staying away, opting to work for a competitor instead.

Too often, I’ve observed CEOs and other leaders who seem to advocate (or willfully ignore) low morale, high turnover, and other signs that might cause alarm among more enlightened bosses.

Here’s a good article about bad bosses and rude role models, courtesy of Harvard Business Review. It’s challenging to be respectful and caring in toxic organizational cultures filled with rudeness and overwhelming demands. Respectful communication matters, and it starts at the top.


Distracted in your office? NYT article to the rescue.


I wish my office looked this serene (NC Botanical Garden).

I’m sitting in my disorganized office, feeling overwhelmed. I see stacks to file, documents to process, potentially “useful” information to throw away.

It doesn’t help that I moved personal items into this space while a room is being remodeled. It doesn’t help that I’m reading news online, checking email, and anticipating a text message. Distractions are more compelling when I have important work to complete! Sound familiar?

I’m a fan of David Allen’s work on “stress-free productivity” and here’s a reminder of his wisdom from the New York Times. Time to get busy on what matters, now.


Mindfulness and intentional communication: good for your health

Last week, I attended a fascinating presentation by a psychologist and his physician colleague from Duke Integrative Medicine on a favorite topic: mindfulness. Since 1989, when I discovered Ellen Langer’s book on Mindfulness, I’ve attempted to integrate it into my life and work. I need more practice and wish I could be more consistent, but I know this much: when I begin my day mindfully, everything works better. Sleep, for instance, and my ability to manage interruptions, break-downs and other challenges. Although my experiences have demonstrated the value of mindfulness, like many folks,  I’m often mindless (i.e., unfocused, unaware of the not-helpful ways I’m thinking or behaving, feeling out of control, stressed, or a victim of circumstances).

The Duke presentation inspired me to PAY ATTENTION to mindfulness again (in fact, that’s what mindfulness is about – attending to the present moment, without a judgmental attitude, with the intention of letting it be what it is). Researchers are documenting health-enhancing changes in brain chemistry, the body, emotions and behavior as people in all walks of life and states of health learn to reduce stress or pain and improve well being through meditation and other mindful, daily practices. Continue reading