Julie Mitchell's CoachNotes

ACHIEVE YOUR VISION . . . ONE STEP AT A TIME.


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Power failure: More learning in the dark.

Another dark room, reminding me of the only (natural) light this morning during a power failure.

Another dark room, reminding me to appreciate light during power failure.

Today, I imagined, I would hit the ground running. After being out of town and out of touch, I was itching to reconnect.

 

Motivated with Monday Morning Mojo, I would guzzle my husband’s excellent, dark roast coffee! I would read something inspirational! I would catch up on email! I would blog! I would sort the pesky pile of papers and unopened mail! I would conquer self-doubt and sleepiness!

 

Instead, we had an inexplicable power failure. Outdoors, it was cloudy, but not stormy or windy. Why today, of all days? I lost a few moments to crankiness, but caught myself: Perhaps this was a good thing. Continue reading


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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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Goals on the rocks? Be realistic about time.

IMG_1796

Door County, Wisconsin.

It’s mid-March, already! Where has the time gone? I’m sensitive to this issue as I’m helping a client with time management while tracking my own goals and hours I’ve lost, found, re-scheduled, wasted, or invested.

Some goals may be “on the rocks,” but I’ve reached others by committing the necessary time. I’m learning by looking into and beyond my piles of unfinished business. This process reminds me of an awkward, rewarding walk my husband and I took on a stone-filled beach (see photo): Treasures may be found, but it’s not a smooth, easy path.

I’m happy about meeting my fitness objectives. This has been relatively easy, because daily movement evolved from goal to habit two years ago. However, I’ve faltered on other fronts, including publishing a blog post every month (oops). Most noteworthy is my positive attitude shift about what I have not accomplished.

I’m less judgmental. I recognize the impact of circumstances beyond my control. I understand more about being a human being who can’t do everything. I’m less likely to feel defective because I “should” be doing x, y, and z instead of a, b, and c. I’m more likely to be a detective, finding clues in how I spend and experience time.

For instance, I’m not at my best playing the role of driven SUPERSTARPRENEUR — I believe I just made up a word — in a rush to do more and seize every business opportunity. I admire go-getter, focused, high energy types and when I’m inspired I can “turn it on” and burn through projects with the best of them. Yet, deep down, I’m inclined to slow down in a world of “more, faster, bigger, better.” I advocate a strategic, one step at a time approach for better understanding of complex issues. Fortunately, my clients appreciate this perspective.

Instead of wishing for more energy — whining about needing  7-8 hours’ sleep when best-selling, TED-talking leaders, authors and others accomplish amazing feats on much less — or  falling into despair over requiring quiet, introspective breaks to fuel creativity, I’m becoming more realistic, honest and respectful of my unique time and energy limits.

I’m recognizing the truth about what I can (or want) to do in a day, week, month, or year. This feels better than idealistic, I-can-do-it-all fantasies, or comparing myself with “more productive” others who zip and glide through the rocks!