Time tracking: two big rocks

Prior to this era of personal time tracking, if you told me I had two hours to myself, I would make a list of 20 things I hoped to get done in that time. Then one of two things would happen: I would either work frantically to accomplish as many of them as possible (and feel entirely spent at the end), or I would become frozen with the immensity of the tasks before me. i would waste the time and get none of the important things done. 

What I found myself saying this month is, “My priority in the next two hours is to get x and y done.”  It didn’t mean I stopped after I got those two things done. I often got much more done. But focusing on those two priorities helped me to feel less frantic, anxious and overwhelmed (surely, I could get two things done!), and I was less exhausted at the end of that time. I usually got those two priorities done, and they were the two Big Rocks in my mayonnaise jar. The rest of the sand and pebbles fit in around them.

The mayonnaise jar analogy, if you don’t already know it, goes something like this:

A professor brought a mayonnaise jar, some large rocks, some smaller rocks, some pebbles and some sand to class. He asked the students if those items could all fit into the jar. The students thought it wasn’t possible.

The professor then proceeded to put the big rocks in first, followed by the smaller rocks, the pebbles, and finally, the sand. It all fit, after he gave it a good shake and let all the small things settle inside the jar.

He told the students that time is the same way. If you start with all the small, piddly stuff, you’ll never fit the big, important rocks in. But if you get the big, important rocks in first, you can shake down the contents and find that the smaller, less important stuff fits into the smaller spaces.

May you get those two or three “big rocks” in today!


Rigorous Time Tracking…sort of

This will be a short post.

You know all those New Year’s resolutions you’re breaking by now? Well, my time tracking has not been quite as rigorous as it was in the beginning.

First, my son had a violent stomach flu, and we both lost a night of sleep over it. Two days’ later, I got the same bug. We were both largely out of commission last week.

And then, I remembered that I had a provision for this. See, I knew it was impossible to catch everything I did in my time tracking. I knew at some point, I would fail to capture something because of sickness or some crisis or higher priority. But my husband reminded me from the beginning that even snapshots give more information than no tracking at all. My good friend, Lauryl, who is the Queen of Tracking, reminded me that capturing three days’ activities in a week was better than none. 

So last week, I captured some information. I wrote down activities almost every day. I have more information than I would have had before. In my next post, I’ll share what I learned in a week of imperfect time tracking!

Lessons from Rigorous Time Tracking: Timing of Interruptions

As you may know, I’m practicing a year of rigorous self-tracking: time, money and feelings. This morning, I had a great lesson come out of my time tracking.

I’ve been dog sitting for a friend for a few weeks now, and I arranged with her to pick up the dog at 10:00 “or any time after that.” I had a plan with my time before 10:00, then several things I wanted to get done that weren’t actual appointments after that. I figured since I was home and could work until she got here, it wouldn’t matter if she came at 10:00, 10:15, 10:30 or 11:00 – I would be able to get work done in the interim and would simply put myself and my work on “pause” while we met, got all her dog supplies back to her and checked in on the past few weeks’ experience.

At 10:08, I started to feel tense. I realized that what I wanted and needed to do involved writing (and, therefore, some focus on my thoughts), phone calls (which would require not answering the door while on them), calendaring (which involved focus on my overall schedule, goals and not losing my place while getting the items in). Basically, I found that I put my entire task list on hold and puttered on the internet because I felt I couldn’t dive in and get anything I wanted to do done right. 

The first thing I realized about this is that I did not value my time or take my own process into account here. My time was “flexible” when it really didn’t need to be. Why didn’t I just say, “I need to do this at 10:00 sharp, or we can reschedule for later in the day?” I wanted to please her and give her all sorts of lee-way (without any very good reason – she hadn’t asked for flexibility; I just offered it). 

I also realize I have some very ADD ways of approaching life. Distractions really distract me. I need to have blocks of time in place in which I can work without interruption. For whatever reason, I forgot that about myself, and I didn’t give myself the space I needed to work. I gave myself short-shrift this morning, and I did it not because there was some terrible crisis happening but simply because I thought my time was expendable and others’ was not.

It’s a small thing, but I can already extrapolate this because I know it will show up time and again, if I don’t change it. I can see that this is one of my huge time and energy “drains.”  It was a small thing today, but it happens multiple times each day, everyday. I’m beginning to consider how I might “capture” these potential interruptions and put them on hold until am ready, instead of putting myself on hold until others are ready! And I’m really looking forward to harnessing some of the bleeding energy and diffused focus and putting them back to work for me in 2014.

2014 – The Year of Rigorous Tracking (Part II)

Yesterday, I shared my goal with you regarding “rigorous tracking” in 2014, and I invited you to join me for the journey. In today’s post, I’ll share with you some of the tools I’m planning to use in 2014. In the comments below, please feel free to share the tools you’ve found to be useful in self-tracking.

The best tool is the one you use

Principle number one: the best tool is the one you use. If you have any internal resistance to tracking, perfectionism is a great way to keep yourself from diving in. Is it better to use computer spreadsheets? iPhone or Android apps? Paper (and pencil? or pen?)? Spiral bound or 3-ring? It doesn’t matter, and you may very well change directions mid-stream. The best system you can use is the one that works for you, period. Pick one and do it. If it’s the wrong one, you are free to change systems at any time.

With that said, I’ve got some tools that I either have used in the past or will use in 2014, and I’m happy to share them with you here. And again, I welcome anyone to share their tracking tools below in the comments.

  • Underearners Anonymous is a group that helps people track use of their time in a really effective and compassionate way. The have a website, and one may find spreadsheets there as well as principles for how to work with one’s time (http://www.underearnersanonymous.org). 
  • FlyLady.net offers a binder system (at a cost) for tracking and organizing one’s household, finances, dietary and exercise habits. 
  • I use a few different resources for journaling guidance. Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way offers a system for journaling that is lovely and in-depth; I also use Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones to prompt my writing, and Rose Offner’s Journal to the Soul. These are all great prompts to get the pen (or keyboard) moving in the right direction.
  • I also have a spiral bound art journal that I use to create graphic expressions of my emotional world. I have used Betty Edwards’ Drawing on the Artist Within to help me find tools to express emotions, and I have used the services of Alchemy Art Labs here in Boulder (CO) to teach me and provide a safe place to do this work (https://www.facebook.com/alchemyartlabs).
  • I found an app for my phone that I will use to track food, when I’m tracking that. It’s called MyFitnessPal, and it’s free. There are lots of these kinds of apps out there, so see which ones work with your technology and your needs.
  • For my own personal expense tracking, I’m using https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.expensemanager&hl=en. It’s a free google app that works on my phone. 
  • Your bank may also have a tracking system. I like ours, but I am also tracking cash expenditures (which aren’t captured on our bank system) and business expenses, so this works for on-the-fly tracking.

What are your tools? Let’s hear about them!

2014 – The Year of Rigorous Tracking (Part I)

This blog will be part of a series in 2014, and I am starting it off with a little background before we kick off the New Year.

I’ve become a fan of “tracking” in the past year, though the actual habit of rigorous tracking frightens me. Tracking for both personal and professional habits includes writing down the things we do, the resources we use, and our experiences of them. Some folks may need very little tracking in order to stay “on-track.” Others of us need considerably more.

This is my professional coaching site, but this is a decidedly personal process. So I’m going to share the content with my readers for their own personal use and challenge, and I’m going to share the personal experience because human change is often difficult, and it’s a disservice to pretend it is not. I’m not a coach because I have everything mastered; I’m a coach because I’m walking the talk and sharing the journey with those who wish to join me on it.

A little more background: the Good Mother and the Good Father

A long time ago I realized that the parent’s job is to help the child internalize the principles that help them to self-regulate later. In other words, we learn from our parents how to parent ourselves. For some people, the gaps in that information of how to parent themselves are very small; they had good parents, and they may tweak the parenting they live out, but they essentially have it down. For others of us whose parents were mentally ill, addicted, abusive, or otherwise largely checked-out, we have more work to do to fill in the gaps.

I never understood what people meant by “working with archetypes,” until recently. I suddenly realized that I knew what the Good Mother was enough that I could embody that not only for my child but also for myself. I started dialoguing on paper with the Good Mother, and I found that I knew how to access the nurturing, playfulness, compassion, and safe space I could provide for myself. I often have done so with journaling and art journaling practices.

However, as soon as I tapped into the Good Father, all hell broke loose! The Good Father’s job is to guide the child into the real world and teach the child how to show up. The Good Father knows that if you’re late for work, you’ll get fired; if you don’t work, you don’t get paid. In essence, there are actions and consequences.

All my life, I have struggled with structure. I have rebelled against structures, even if I put them in place for myself! There is a certain undeniable insanity to rebelling against the very things we decide support our life goals, mission and purpose! Yet the feelings that come up for me around structure are so intense and shame-laden. I have decided in 2014 to take the bull by the horns and enter into The Year of Rigorous Tracking for those areas of my life where I have tried to deny reality and make it somehow work differently for me.

The Year of Rigorous Tracking

I’m going to carefully track and pay attention to two categories of life: behaviors and emotions.

In the behavioral category, I’ve got two big areas to track, and a third that I will periodically track. They are time, money and food. By no small coincidence, these are areas where I will express emotions, rather than dealing with them directly. Expressing emotions through wasting time (or being too busy), spending money (or hoarding it) or eating too much (or too little) will be destructive. However, a lot of emotion comes up around these issues, so I’m adding tracking in the emotional category to support success in these other areas.

In the emotional category, I will use two primary tools: journaling and art practice. These are the two ways I will be most likely to identify and work with feelings in a constructive way.

What’s the Point?

I’ve been a meditator for years, and the practice I follow is to observe the breath and body sensation without attempting to change them. What I have learned there is that the things we pay attention to naturally change. It’s a proven fact that the people who write down everything they put into their mouths lose weight. They don’t even have to consciously change their eating habits. I’m trusting that the same thing will happen here: by writing down where I spend my time and money, the accountability and visibility of that action will change the behaviors. By attending to the emotions directly and with compassion, I will find healthy expression of them.

Want to Join Me?

One of the most powerful tools I’ve found for any kind of change is companionship and the encouragement and accountability that go with them. If you’re interested in joining me in this Year of Rigorous Tracking,  feel free to follow me here and leave comments/questions about your own journey.

Tomorrow, I’ll share some more about how the tracking will work for me, and you may use these tools (or others) as you find them supportive.



What’s it going to take for you to be successful in 2014?

What are your goals for 2014? What do you want to accomplish with your business, your creativity, your family, your health?

A lot of folks wait until New Year’s Eve to determine their goals for the following year. We all have a sense for how effective that is, don’t we? We all know that most New Year’s resolutions are long forgotten within the first 90 days of the year.

If we want our goals to become reality, we’re going to need to step up our game. If we want to reach our goals in 2014, we’re going to need to start planning. Now.

What do we need to have truly effective goals?

First of all, goals share certain qualities that differentiate them from dreams, hopes and visions. Goals are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Sensitive. Saying, “I want to make more money in 2014,” is not specific or measurable. Saying, “I want to make $100,000 in 2014 via my freelance writing work with a particular type of writing client (you name it) working 20 billable hours per week,” is specific and measurable. Why do goals need to be SMART? If they don’t have these qualities, there is no way to assess whether we’ve reached them! They remain vague, and we can wiggle out of accountability about our goals: if we aren’t too specific about the goals, we don’t have to be specific about our successes or our failures.

The “attainable” portion of SMART is about knowing ourselves. Are you able to work the hours you need to work to meet your financial goals if you are also a single parent with health problems? You may need to prioritize which goals come first and whether they happen this year or next or the year after that. You’re the CEO of your own life: you have the power, and you also have the responsibility that goes with it.

“Relevance” is an interesting one, too. This is where your goals intersect with the reality you live in. Is it your goal to go on a family vacation to Disney – with your high school children? Is that goal relevant at this point? Is your passion for cassette tape technology relevant to your technical writing goals? Are your goals directly linked to your passions and values, or are they simply co-opted from your parents or teachers?

A goal also needs to be time-sensitive. When will you earn that $100K? When will you reassess your progress (weekly? monthly? quarterly?).

Next, goals can be broken down into tasks that go into our calendars. They are translated from ideas into the actions we take in time and space. Our task list for the day should be directly linked to the goals of the week, month, quarter and year. If they aren’t, we have to ask ourselves why those things are in our calendars. Life is short, and the things we choose to do for work, for play, for connection and for growth should be in alignment with our ultimate goals and callings. If they aren’t in alignment, then we live a reactive life: we follow the agendas others set for us and the next shiny object to cross our paths, rather than the agendas we set for ourselves. Some people are very happy to do this, and it’s entirely up to them. However, if you don’t want to be that person, then it’s time to work on those goals and their subsequent tasks.

What happens when you hit resistance – either from within or in your surroundings? What happens when you set goals, you break them down into tasks, and you find yourself procrastinating, feeling anxious or overwhelmed, or you’re failing at reaching your goals? Or what if you’re the kind of person who is paralyzed at the goal-setting level: there are so many options, how do you choose?

First of all, welcome to the human race! If you haven’t already read my blog posts on procrastination, fear, overwhelm and perfectionism, now would be a good time. The question isn’t about whether you will experience a breakdown but rather when. And it’s okay. Take a deep breath and allow yourself a big dose of compassion.

Next, identify where the breakdown occurs for you, and begin to work with it with curiosity and compassion. We often can’t solve our problems because we’re too busy berating ourselves, hiding the struggles and feeling bad about them. If we can stop that reaction, we can begin to look at the nature of the problem and to look for solutions.

Lastly, curiosity and compassion will take you worlds beyond the possibilities that exist in shame and hiding, but they will only take you as far as your own perspective will allow. The next important ingredient is to open up your situation to others who can provide new perspective. Go to your wise friends, advisers, therapist, coach, social networks, and start opening up your problem to others. Get feedback. Get outside your own head and see your problem from a new angle. From there, you will discover opportunity open to you and your future that you never imagined possible.

Your goals and the tasks associated with them will bring up every fear you ever had; every type of resistance you’ve ever encountered; every fault you’ve ever hidden. The difference between the successful person and the unsuccessful one isn’t that they don’t have faults: it’s that they were courageous to try something new, despite their flaws. They gave themselves permission to pursue something worthy of pursuit without waiting for someone else to give them permission.

And if you’re waiting for permission, allow me to help: go for it! It’s time to set those goals for your next year.

When we’re sidetracked from our goals

One of my coaching clients recently shared that she felt like an “imposter” because she wasn’t meeting her freelance business goals. She went on to share how her family dynamics had changed recently, due to her husband’s job change; how her childcare was not as reliable as she’d originally expected; how resistance to her requests for help from family made her feel under-valued. Her daughter was having problems in preschool, and Mom was worried about the girl’s sense of well-being. There was more, and she listed what was happening around her.

I started off by validating that she had a lot on her plate. Many of the women I coach share similar stories: they carry the lion’s share of the household responsibilities, the emotional well-being of their children and spouses, the childcare coordination and, on top of that, they’re trying to build a business. It’s a lot to manage.

Perhaps the saddest part of the story, however, was that an instructor in a class my client had recently taken brow-beat the attendees: if you aren’t working daily toward your goals, you’re failing, she’d more than implied with her instruction. My client walked away feeling guilty and unsure whether she could even call herself a writer.

Are our goals important? Is it essential to work toward them daily to bring them to fruition? Are we imposters if we have to set aside some goals for others?

Are our goals important? To this question, the answer is a resounding “yes!” Our goals and all the tasks that are necessary to fulfill them are important. However, I frequently encounter clients who use their goals as yardsticks against which they find themselves continually falling short. Our goals are important, but we need to remember that they are our goals. We make them. We make them in order to build a life and a business we can love and that will satisfy our callings and financial needs. If our goals aren’t fitting with our existing lives, we are the CEOs of them: we can change them, adjust them, put them on hold. The most important thing we need to do, if we do adjust them, is to do it intentionally and to keep the dreams alive that fueled them in the first place. 

One client I coached wanted to revive a side business, one that was based on her primary career. However, in our coaching, she had a heart-to-heart with her heart. It told her that the two deaths and another life-changing tragedy in her immediate family (in a very short period of time) still needed some time to heal before she launched into a new venture. She decided, as a result of this work together, that she would write her ideas on pieces of paper and tuck them into a box, to use later, when she was ready. Her solution kept her dream alive, but it also gave her time to wrap-up unfinished emotional business, first. 

Is it essential to work toward our goals on a daily basis? My answer is this: yes and no. 

Our goals, if we’ve done them well, include more than our business success. We have bodies that sometimes have health problems; we have families that sometimes experience emergent challenges; we have hearts and spirits that sometimes need us to slow down and pay attention to their needs; we have unforeseen financial challenges that require us to take a part-time – or full-time – job in order to address the problems. We are more than a one-track goal machine. We have many aspects to ourselves, and our goals need to reflect this. Do we need to work on our goals daily? Sure, we do. But sometimes the part of our lives that requires attention now may not be our freelance writing. Work on your goals daily, but know that it’s no less legitimate to focus on your health and well-being or your family’s well-being for a time so that, later, your freelance writing business can have your full, energized attention.

Are we imposters if we set aside some goals for others? My previous answers address this question, in part. One other thing I would add, though, is that the “imposter” label also reflects our paradigm for how we view ourselves. Our language and our perspectives that fuel it are essential elements to weathering a change in our immediate goals. When we have to change our goals or their timing in order to deal with something else, we may grieve the loss of that goal. How do we treat our friends and colleagues who are grieving? Most of us tend to feel compassion. My questions for the “imposter,” are these:

How can you see yourself, your current situation and your newly-adjusted future with compassion and kindness?

What words would you use to describe a friend or someone you love dearly who found themselves in a similar situation? Can you give yourself permission to use the same words for yourself?