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!

Posted in nonprofits | Leave a comment

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!

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

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:

Posted in (d)well | 5 Comments

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

New Year’s Resolutions for 2017: Get Woke



My friend Christa sent me this amazing holiday card this year.

The time is now and the first thing you can do is try.

Let’s start with a definition, and this Bustle article is a very good place to start. To get a little deeper, check out Charles Pulliam-Moore’s article. Both call-out the Urban Dictionary definition of “woke” as being aware, and “knowing what’s going on in the community,” specifically relating to racism and social injustice.

To me, “woke” refers to a consciousness of deep-rooted, consistently perpetuated societal advantages bestowed upon white people (specifically white males) that have created and continue to create disadvantages for people of color and other marginalized communities.

How did I come to that definition? My personal experiences and those of my family and friends; conversations I’ve had with others; media I’ve consumed; workshops I’ve attended; boards I’ve served on…you get the idea. And I have to keep reading, and listening; I have to keep trying.

If you’re just starting out (or need a reminder), check out my What Can I Do Now? post, which featured a list developed by my colleague and shared just after the tragic deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling.

Since I obviously find curated lists extremely helpful in endeavors such as this, here are a few others (this list of lists is so meta):

If you’re overwhelmed by all of the things you have yet to learn, try to frame it as, appropriately, an awakening. You could try to do it all at once, like setting an alarm clock with a sudden wail, or try it as if you set one of those Zen alarm clocks that mocks a sunrise and gently stirs you to wake up. Figure out what works best for you and proceed as necessary. And then keep going.

Tomorrow, we break a bad habit.


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

Posted in (d)well | 5 Comments

New Year’s Resolutions for 2017: Get Organized

Organization is a topic I enjoy thinking about, writing about, and experimenting with (I got a Moleskine planner for 2017 and am both excited and wary about my to return to a hardcopy system).

Since getting organized can apply to so many different aspects of life (your desk, your finances, your home, your schedule), I’m not going to try to tackle a list of tips or tricks here. Instead, I’m using this post as a plug for Apartment Therapy’s January Cure. From AT: “Each weekday in January we’ll be sending an email assignment to inspire and inform you on how to get your home in great shape; clean, organized and working for you.”

I meant to do it last year (and blog about it), but just ended up letting the emails pile up in my inbox before deleting them without acting on the assignments. This year, let’s try it together! For those who need accountability, here it is.

Tomorrow, we’re getting heavy with the resolution of getting “woke.”


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

Posted in (d)well, organization | 6 Comments

New Year’s Resolutions for 2017: Get Fit


One of my recent “post-workout selfies”

When I finished grad school, I realized that my body had stealthily become a Grad School Bod and I needed to whip myself into shape. I had a gym membership, but I craved more guidance and structure. So, I did two main things that I attribute a lot of my fitness success to:

First, I joined Beachbody and got a coach. I had never heard of Beachbody, but some friends had success with and spoke very highly of it, so I figured I’d give it a shot. Beachbody is a multi-level marketing company, which might make you raise your eyebrows, but their products—particularly their workout programs—are excellent (P90X and Insanity come from Beachbody).

Through Beachbody, I picked out a couple workout programs (I need variety) and also joined an accountability group (run by my fabulous coach, Tawny Stephens) on Facebook that provided support, inspiration, and motivation.

On my one-year anniversary of joining, I got Beachbody On Demand, which allows me to stream workouts on my computer instead of messing with DVDs. It’s been great for travel, which used to be a serious exercise roadblock for me.

Second, I started tracking my macronutrients. My husband read Bigger Leaner Stronger by Mike Matthews and when I expressed interest, encouraged me to get the book tailored to ladies, Thinner Leaner Stronger. In it, I learned how many calories and grams of protein, carbohydrates, and fats I should get everyday in order to “lean” and get stronger (which was my goal, but you can calculate your macros for any goal). Using the book and Matthews’s website (which is written in a very clickbait-y way but has some great stuff), I found a balance that makes me feel amazing while also seeing results. I also don’t feel locked into a rigid routine.

Beachbody and Mike Matthews taught me to love strength training and to stop doing so much cardio! Now, my weekly workouts are all about variety. I still have the my YMCA membership and I’ve found a couple classes that I try to get to every week. One thing that’s worked for me is combining my fitness classes and social time—I go to class with a friend and plan to grab dinner or drink and catch up afterward.

Looking for something free?

I love PopSugar Fitness videos (use their Fitfinder to find one that will work for you), and they have a structured 2-week plan that kicks off on January 1.

And SELF Magazine has a 4-week plan.

I should point out that I get nothing from Beachbody, Mike Matthews, the YMCA, PopSugar, or SELF by plugging their offerings (except the joy of potentially helping someone!).

Tomorrow, we’re tackling the resolution of getting organized. See you then.


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

Posted in (d)well, self care | 5 Comments