Room for Improvement

One of the many things I love about where I work is that there really is a demonstrated emphasis on work/life balance and self care. Case in point: 4th of July week. In honor of our organizational birthday, summertime, the end of one fiscal year and the beginning of another, and the 4th, we have what we call “Quiet Week.” The purpose of Quiet Week is to reflect and recharge. While many folks take vacation and are truly out of the office, those that stick around are encouraged to cancel meetings, work abbreviated hours, and/ work remotely as much as possible. (We have one other Quiet Week, which is the last week of the calendar year.)

For this year’s summertime Quiet Week, I took one day off, went into the office one day, and worked remotely two days. My Quiet Week to-do list included things that kept getting de-prioritized and pushed to a time when deadlines wouldn’t be looming and fires wouldn’t be burning.

On the list? A work area makeover. I recently moved to a new office at work, but there wasn’t much to be done there. I did put up some colorful art, though.

Tools office

Left and right: art done by me and brother, respectively, in elementary school (we peaked early); center: from

It was really my home office that needed some TLC. It was messy, used space poorly, and generally made me feel blah and unmotivated. It had become purgatory for the household items that I liked and didn’t want to get rid of, but also didn’t have a place for.

desk before

close-up of my desk

desk before2

took this picture after starting the makeover, but you get the idea

As much as I loved the desk-on-sawhorses look, it was time to grow up. (What really made up my mind was cutting my knee on a sawhorse’s raw edge just minutes before going live on a webinar I was hosting.) You know that day off I mentioned? I went Charlotte to, among other things, pick up some office accoutrements from IKEA.

I also recently won an awesome print of Santa Clara and Merced Counties in California on EVERYTHING BUT THE HOUSE and was itching to put it up.

So on one of my quiet work from home days, I made some time to clean up my office, put my desk together (including a little chest of drawers that doubles as desk legs), and hang up my new print.

desk after1

desk after2

so much cleaner!

Not a huge difference, but I already feel so much lighter and inspired to work! And I really have to credit Quiet Week for the opportunity to do it. Without having the breathing room to work on non-urgent matters, this sort of thing never would have gotten accomplished.

Posted in (d)well, organization, self care | Leave a comment

Succeeding Through Giving Up

I needed this today. Maybe you do, too:

 Some of my favorites:

8. Give Up Multi-tasking

“You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks.” ― Winston S. Churchill

10. Give Up On Saying YES To Things That Don’t Support Your Goals

“He who would accomplish little must sacrifice little; he who would achieve much must sacrifice much; he who would attain highly must sacrifice greatly.” — James Allen

12. Give Up Your Need To Be Liked

“The only way to avoid pissing people off is to do nothing important.”— Oliver Emberton

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January Cure 2017: not my fight

Last weekend, I had big plans to write another recap about the January Cure. This weekend, same thing.

But. The events after Inauguration Day, particularly the Women’s March and deluge of harmful executive orders, have made both doing and blogging about tidying up my house seem silly.

I did some of the tasks. They were helpful. Hooray.

But the fight against dog fur tumbleweeds is not the fight I choose right now.

The fight I choose is the one for humanity, compassion, science, equity, and equality.


At the Women’s March on Raleigh, 1/21/17


At Raleigh-Durham International Airport to protest the closure of our nation’s borders to refugees and the Muslim travel ban, 1/29/17


Here’s why I fight:



And this, too (via

Week 1:

  • On January 20th, 2017, President Donald Trump (DT) ordered all regulatory powers of all federal agencies frozen.
  • On January 20th, 2017, DT ordered the National Parks Service to stop using social media after reweeting factual, side-by-side photos of the crowds for the 2009 and 2017 inaugurations.
  • On January 21st, 2017, DT brought a group of 40 staffers and followers to a meeting with the CIA to cheer for him during a speech that consisted almost entirely of framing himself as the victim of dishonest press.
  • On January 21, 2017, DT personally phoned National Park Service director Michael T. Reynolds and ordered him to produce additional photographs of the previous day’s crowds on the Mall, in order to show that the media had lied in reporting attendance had been no better than average.
  • On January 21st, 2017, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer held a press conference largely to attack the press for accurately reporting the size of attendance at the inaugural festivities, saying that the inauguration had the largest audience of any in history, “period.”
  • On January 22nd, 2017, White House advisor Kellyann Conway defended Spicer’s lies as “alternative facts” on national television news.
  • On January 22nd, 2017, DT appeared to blow a kiss to director James Comey during a meeting with the FBI, and then opened his arms in a gesture of strange, paternal affection, before hugging him with a pat on the back.
  • On January 23rd, 2017, DT reinstated the global gag order, which defunds international organizations that even mention abortion as a medical option.
  • On January 23rd, 2017, Spicer said that the US will not tolerate China’s expansion onto islands in the South China Sea, essentially threatening war with China.
  • On January 23rd, 2017, DT repeated the lie that 3-5 million people voted “illegally” thus costing him the popular vote.
  • On January 24th, 2017, Spicer reiterated the lie that 3-5 million people voted “illegally” thus costing DT the popular vote.
  • On January 24th, 2017, DT tweeted a picture from his personal Twitter account of a photo he said depicts the crowd at his inauguration and will hang in the White House press room. The photo is curiously dated January 21st, 2017, the day after the inauguration and the day of the Women’s March, the largest inauguration related protest in history.
  • On January 24th, 2017, the EPA was ordered to stop communicating with the public through social media or the press and to freeze all grants and contracts. EPA scientists were ordered to stop publishing their data unless cleared with DT transition personnel.
  • On January 24th, 2017, the USDA was ordered to stop communicating with the public through social media or the press and to stop publishing any papers or research. All communication with the press would also have to be authorized and vetted by the White House.
  • On January 24th, 2017, HR7, a bill that would prohibit federal funding not only to abortion service providers, but to any insurance coverage, including Medicaid, that provides abortion coverage, went to the floor of the House for a vote.
  • On January 24th, 2017, Director of the Department of Health and Human Service nominee Tom Price characterized federal guidelines on transgender equality as “absurd.”
  • On January 24th, 2017, DT ordered the resumption of construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline, while the North Dakota state congress considers a bill that would legalize hitting and killing protestors with cars if they are on roadways.
  • On January 24, 2017, DT’s director of strategy, Steven Bannon, said “the media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while. The media here is the opposition party. They don’t understand this country.”
  • On January 25, 2017, DT signed an executive order to begin building a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border that would cost an estimated $20 billion to $35 billon, and insisted Mexico would pay for it.
  • On January 25, 2017, DT tweeted “If Mexico is unwilling to pay for the badly needed wall, then it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting” with Mexican president President Peña Nieto.
  • On January 25, 2017, Mexican president President Peña Nieto cancelled his meeting with DT.
  • On January 25, 2017, DT said he thought torturing terrorism suspects was justified. “Do I feel it works? Absolutely, I feel it works,” he told ABC News.
  • On January 25, 2017, the entire senior level of management of the State Department — many of whom had served under previous Republican as well as Democratic administrations – resigned.
  • On January 26, 2017, DT’s press secretary said DT will slap a 20 percent tariff on all imports from Mexico in order to finance the wall.
  • On January 26, 2017, DT’s vice president told congressional Republicans that the administration will initiate a “full evaluation of voting rolls in America, the overall integrity of our voting system in the wake of this past election.”
  • On January 27, 2017, DT closed the nation’s borders to refugees from around the world, ordering that families fleeing the slaughter in Syria be indefinitely blocked from entering the United States, and temporarily suspending immigration from several predominantly Muslim countries.
  • On January 27, 2017, DT established a religious test for refugees from Muslim nations, ordering that Christians and others from minority religions be granted priority over Muslims.

What will Week 2 bring?

More fighting.


Posted in inspiration, rant | 1 Comment

Retreat Reflection (and an activity!)


My organization had its third staff retreat last week, and I think it was a success!

The first one (in January 2015) was about getting to know each other and individual projects that contributed to the larger vision. We learned some training content, wrote professional bios for each other, and selected and started on Ship It projects.

The second one (in January 2016) was something some our staff had to fight for. We were in a real nose-to-the-grindstone phase and it was hard to stop to come together for a couple days to hash things out. But we had to. We were growing, and we needed to change some things in order to keep up. I shared The Logic of Task Pursuit from Robert E. Quinn’s Deep Change. During that retreat, we talked about what was broken and proposed and adopted fixes. It remains one of my best memories of my career there so far.

Last week’s retreat was centered around rallying our troops to support the implementation of the changes and initiatives we decided on last year. We’re making great strides (and by “great” I mean both large and wonderful), and we’re in another nose-to-the-grindstone phase. But this time, no convincing needed to be done; we all understand the value of the retreat now.

While I’m proud of the progress we made on our work last week, I’m particularly proud of a team building activity we incorporated. In planning the retreat, we looked to nonprofit leadership consultant Joan Garry’s blog post on nonprofit staff retreats and I borrowed this activity from her:

Ask every participant to write a two-page bio.

These are the guidelines:

  1. This is a personal bio, not your formal professional bio.
  2. It cannot be longer than 2 pages.
  3. If it takes you more than 2 hours, you’re overthinking it.
  4. You must include at least 1 photo, which cannot be a professional headshot.
  5. There must be some reference to the roots of your commitment to the work of the organization.
  6. The format is entirely up to you. I’ve had a finance staff member prepare his in an excel spreadsheet. I’ve seen a board member make a collage with statements under each image. One program staff member wrote a spoken word poem.
  7. Let folks know there will be a quiz. This is important. Make a joke about it. No grades, no judgment. But it ensures that folks read the book. What book? I’ll get to that in a moment.
  8. I always include an example when I send out the assignment. Give folks a frame of reference about how they might approach it.

Garry’s version dictates that the bio be submitted 3-4 days before the retreat (so that you can make the book and write the quiz). Because we didn’t want staff (beyond team leads) to have to prepare anything in advance, I modified the guidelines:

  1. This is a personal bio, not your formal professional bio.
  2. It cannot be longer than 2 pages (single-sided).
  3. You must finish by 1:45pm. (We started at noon)
  4. There must be some reference to the roots of your commitment to the work of the organization.
  5. The format is entirely up to you.
  6. This will be shared.

I provided sheets of paper and markers and colored pencils, but we also had access to our computers and a printer. When folks finished, they hung up their bios in a designated area. Everyone read each other’s throughout the remainder of the retreat.

The result was an amazingly diverse collection of off-the-cuff personal stories (and drawings!). Lots of them were funny, some were somber, and all of them were incredibly touching. I learned something new about every single one of my teammates–even the ones I’ve spent a lot of time with, driving across midwestern states.

If you decide to try this with your team, I highly recommend giving folks a limited amount of time to work on their bio in real time (not as an assignment to do on their own time). While some people finished the task in less than an hour, others took every single second allotted. Because a lot of people tend to overthink and aim for perfection, springing this activity on them (hopefully) forced them to go with the flow and settle with what they had–in a good way!

Since Joan Garry is generous–and brave–enough to share her bio as an example, I’ll share mine, too.

And please share your best staff retreat memories and favorite activities in the comments!

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January Cure 2017: Week 1

Remember when I said I was going to do Apartment Therapy’s January Cure? I’m doing it! Are you?

If so, we made it through Week 1! Here’s the recap:

Assignment #1: Pick one drawer–any drawer–and clean it out.
I selected the top drawer of a dresser in my office that contains cards, envelopes, stickers, and of course some stuff that doesn’t belong there (like crafting supplies that belong two drawers down). It also contains some cards that loved ones have sent me over the years. This assignment didn’t take me long, and I even found my Strangers with Candy buttons that I thought (feared) I left at my cubicle at my old job!

Assignment #2: Going room by room, make a list of projects to do throughout the year.
This was easy because there wasn’t any real work, but hard because of scope creep. For example, in the guest room, I want to remove the wall decals (which is an appropriate thing to write down), but I also want to redo the half-bath (which is too big a project for this year).

Assignment #3: Purge your pantry.
I gave myself a pass on this one because I did it a few weeks ago.

Assignment #4: Create an outbox.
“From AT: The Outbox is not garbage; it is a halfway house where things sit while their fate is being decided.” I already have an outbox, but I took the opportunity to move it somewhere out of the way (but accessible) so that I can really let loose and throw things in it with wild abandon without making the bedroom look like a mess.

Assignment #5: Buy flowers and clean your floors.
I always have fresh flowers–and lots of houseplants–so I was fine on part one of this doozy of a weekend assignment. But cleaning the floors? Oh boy. That was the very first assignment last year, and I’m sure its dauntingness (not a word?) contributed to my inability to do the Cure. They were really wise to start with something easy and confidence-boosting this year! Anyway, I did it. And the house smells and feels fresh. It also helped me to identify more little projects from Assignment #2.

We’re snowed in right now (that’s what 2″ in Durham, NC will do!), and I wish I could get a sneak peek and head start on the rest of the assignments, especially since I’m traveling a bit toward the end of the month. Oh well, I suppose I could relax a little instead!

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New Year’s Resolutions for 2017: Habit How-To

Welcome to the final installment of my New Year’s Resolutions for 2017 series!

You’ve probably caught on that while a lot of my resources are resolution-specific, that’s not necessarily the point of this series. I’m not a fitness guru, a professional organizer, always at the peak of awareness, and without habits that I want to break.

The point is that there are things you can do to change your behavior—regardless of the resolution—and that some of those things might work for you, and others might fall flat.

I was pleased to discover that one happiness expert, Gretchen Rubin, already came up with names for a lot of those behavior change strategies in her book Better Than Before. I’m by no means trying to rip off Rubin here—I’ve been working on a lot of these habit strategies for a long time—but I will borrow some of her terminology.

Let’s review.

Scheduling: Setting a specific time for something to occur
While the timing of my workout might vary from day to day (which I’ve discovered I have the self-discipline to allow without it derailing me), I write down what workout I’m going to do in advance. Beachbody programs are incredibly helpful with this because all of them come with a calendar. I usually follow the calendar, but sprinkle in or substitute similar, non-program workouts for certain days. I also have my gym classes on my calendar just like any other appointment.

In terms of getting organized, Apartment Therapy’s January Cure utilizes scheduling since each weekday has its own assignment.

Accountability: A system of consequences
My Beachbody coach and Facebook group expect a check-in or a post-workout selfie from me almost every day. While I might not face any form of real punishment if I don’t do it, wanting to avoid the feeling of letting the hardworking group down is real motivation.

Last year, there was no accountability for me to do the January Cure. This year, I want to blog about my experience, so you, readers, are my accountability system. If in early February, you don’t see at least a “here’s what happened” post, call me out on it!

If you’re going to get woke, remember that The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. It might be helpful to join an organization that requires your participation—even a book club could do the trick.

To break a bad habit, I urge you to get creative in setting up some sort of accountability system to help you break your habit. Only you will know what will work for you, though!

Pairing: Doing an activity you want to do with one you don’t want to do
In Get Fit, I mentioned pairing socializing with a friend after my gym class. I actually usually want to go to those classes, but knowing that I’m meeting a friend at the gym and then getting dinner afterward sometimes gives me the push I need. (And I should point out that I don’t consider the social time a reward for my workout. More on that later.)

When Season 2 of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt came out, I only watched while I rode the stationary bike to prevent a serious binge. I was spent after two episodes and had to wait to watch more until I was ready to ride again.

Pairing is a useful and common tool for exercising more but I’m sure you can come up with some pairings that will set you up for success in other goal areas as well. Maybe “get woke” with one of those social justice podcasts on your next drive to work?

Rewards: Giving yourself a gift for your effort
I made the clarification in “Pairing” that socializing after the gym was not a reward. Why not? Because rewards are tricky. So often, we reward ourselves in a way that undermines the thing we’re rewarding ourselves for (dessert for successful dieting, shopping for saving money, you get the idea). But progress without a reward is a sad life, right?

Not if your success is your reward.

But if you absolutely need to reward yourself for a job well done (and for the record, I think that’s okay!), try to make it thematic, but something that bolsters your effort; not undermines it. For each of the resolutions in this series, consider:

  • Fitness gear for exercising (I love to buy crazy workout pants)
  • A label-maker, attractive storage bins, or a notebook for organizing your life
  • A new book or magazine that challenges the way you think
  • Something to make your drive more comfortable or entertaining (without your phone) like getting it detailed or buying an audiobook.

Another idea is to treat yourself for no particular reason from time to time, instead of tying your treats to your efforts/successes.

Convenience: Make the thing you want to do the easy choice
This is something I think about all the time. I’m always looking for new ways to “hack” my home into being healthier (remember my coffee tables?). I also mentioned getting Beachbody On Demand so that I can stick to my workouts while traveling (which is especially helpful in Airbnbs or hotels with gyms that leave something to be desired).

Think about your day and all of the hindrances to creating a new habit in order to reach your goals. What’s in your way (literally and metaphorically)?

Inconvenience: Make the thing you don’t want to do the hard choice
The flip side of convenience is inconvenience and it’s just as important, especially with breaking a bad habit. I suggested keeping your phone out of reach while you’re driving (or working, or at the dinner table, or sleeping, if you suffer with checking your phone at inappropriate times). Figure out how you can make your bad habits a little less convenient.

Distraction: Think about or do something else
Distraction is a great strategy for the break a bad habit resolution, especially when it involves quitting something. A few years ago, I did a Whole30 (when you eliminate grains, dairy, sugar, legumes, and alcohol from your diet for 30 days). Whenever I got a craving for a glass of wine or something sweet late at night, I busied myself with something else: I read, colored, or folded origami until the craving passed.

 Try: Make an effort
All of these resolutions/goals/habits involve the same thing: trying. It might seem obvious, but when getting started is the hardest part, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and give up before you even try. Get clear on what your goal is, why you’re doing what you’re doing, what success looks like, and what strategies might work for you.

My alarm clock analogy in Get Woke is something you can apply to all kinds of resolutions. For example, breaking a bad habit:

When I was in college, I was addicted to sugar. One morning, I stopped at my usual coffee shop and started adding milk and sugar to my usual large coffee. At sugar packet number 13, I realized I had a problem (and I had no idea how or when I got to that point). I decided that the next day, I would use half the sugar, and the day after that, I’d cut it in half again. But when I tried my coffee with six packets of sugar, I figured adding zero packets couldn’t be much worse, so I stopped adding sugar altogether. Over time, I got used to unsweetened coffee and haven’t looked back since.

My point is that you might think you’re a baby steps kind of person, when really you’re a cold turkey kind of person (or vice versa). And the most important thing about all of these strategies is knowing yourself and what will and won’t work for you. Oh yeah, and trying.


I wish you the very best of luck on whatever your New Year’s resolutions may be. Please keep me posted on what tried-and-true and new strategies work for you in the comments. (Just don’t do it while you’re driving.)

Happy New Year! Here’s to a successful 2017!


Hey! This post is part of a series. Check out the rest of them here:

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New Year’s Resolutions for 2017: Break a Bad Habit

While there are plenty of bad habits out there that a lot of people want to get rid of, I want to zero in on one that’s got me all riled up: distracted driving.

A couple weeks ago, I was driving the less-than-10-minute ride home from my chiropractor. I noticed a car swerving ahead of me, and I thought to myself, “I bet that person’s texting” (let’s be real: I probably said it out loud). As I passed them, I confirmed that their face was looking down at that little glowing screen, with occasional glances up at the road.

Curious (and furious), I decided to try and look into the windows of as many other cars as I could for the rest of my drive and saw three more people clearly busy with their phones while driving. That’s four people in less than 10 minutes, on a road with a speed limit of 65 MPH.

One of my favorite podcasts, Note to Self, recently aired two episodes about tech-related distracted driving: Distracted Is the New Drunk and Meet the Textalyzer each feature sobering statistics on this dangerous habit, plus a need to create a stigma around it, like what happened to drunk driving.

So distracted driving is bad, and we shouldn’t do it (but a lot of us do). Cool, cool. Now how do we stop? Here are some ideas:

  • Put your phone away! I keep mine in my purse or laptop bag, on my passenger seat. But the fact that it’s within reach sometimes is too much of a temptation. Try your glove box.
  • Put your phone on silent and/or turn off notifications. If you don’t hear it chime, you’ll have no impetus to look at it (I know, I know: in theory).
  • If you listen to podcasts in the car and often finish one mid-commute, take some time before you start driving (or before you even get into the car) to set up a queue so that the next one plays automatically.
  • Distract yourself with something else (like the road!). Sing along to the radio; count roadkill; pretend you’re a professional driver on a closed course.
  • Be a present passenger. We’ve all been passengers in cars where the driver seems to think that they can handle the road and their phone—and it’s not pretty. Call them out on it. (And also recognize that you’re no better at multitasking than they are.)

Do you concentrate in your Camry? Are you focused in your Focus? Attentive in your Audi? (I’ll stop now.) These ideas can be translated to quitting other bad habits, too. I’ll cover that in the final post of the series tomorrow.


Hey! This post is part of a series. Check out the rest of them here:

Posted in (d)well | 5 Comments