Time Blocking

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I've been using the time blocking technique that Cal Newport describes in his book DEEP WORK, which was a great read about how to manage your time specifically to promote deep focus for sustained periods. Time blocking has been particularly helpful in eliminating online distractions. No more opening a web browser and getting lost in clicks, forgetting why I went there in the first place. Now there are designated blocks for that. (The small email/web blocks in the pic.)

Here are the basics:

  1. Use a dotted or a graph notebook.
  2. Write the time in half-hour increments down the left side of the page.
  3. Next to the times, block out every minute of your working day. Leave time for breaks, food, etc. Plan for things to take longer than you think they should.
  4. When your plan shifts, as it will nearly every day, simply cross out the remaining blocks, and write your new schedule just to the right of those.
  5. When your plan shifts, don't give into temptation immediately. For instance, if you are in the middle of a work block and find you need to go online to retrieve an email to continue your work, don't immediately do it. Adjust your schedule to start the email block five or ten minutes later, so that you are still training yourself to wait.

Why am I doing this?

As part of my fellowship, I was assigned an executive coach. One piece of homework from our first meeting was to list four reasons I am doing this fellowship. He said, "You're good at design. Make it a nice one-sheeter you can hang up." I didn't do either one of those things. Instead, I made a list of four things that I need from my work -- this work, and any work I do in the future. I made it a graphic I can use as my phone wallpaper.

Work is an area I am not willing to compromise on again. I need work that is challenging, makes a positive impact on the world, helps me grow as a person, and is flexible, so I can live the rest of my life.

What I want from work


My New Gig

Did you know that I worked at a business bank for six months this year? After I finished my MBA in February and was laid off from the marketing agency I was working for, I wanted to do something completely different, and decided to learn new skills while figuring out what that was. You should know, I can analyze corporate financial statements and recommend debt financing options now.

What I came up with was that I want to use the skills and experience I have gained over the last 20 years to do some good in the world, either in the public sector or the nonprofit sector.

Just over a month ago, I started with FUSE Corps, an executive fellowship program that partners with local governments to tackle some of our society’s most important challenges. FUSE works with cities across a range of issues, including health, public safety, economic and workforce development, climate change, equity, and education. My fellowship is a project in partnership with the LA County Department of Health Services to implement a strategic marketing function and lead a rebranding effort for the second largest public health system in the country.

It's a massive challenge, the kind of work I like best.


Leonard Cohen wrote the anthem we need

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Leonard Cohen (1934-2016), rest in peace. 

 

Anthem

The birds they sang
at the break of day
Start again
I heard them say
Don't dwell on what
has passed away
or what is yet to be.
Ah the wars they will
be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
bought and sold
and bought again
the dove is never free.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.
We asked for signs
the signs were sent:
the birth betrayed
the marriage spent
Yeah the widowhood
of every government --
signs for all to see.
I can't run no more
with that lawless crowd
while the killers in high places
say their prayers out loud.
But they've summoned, they've summoned up
a thundercloud
and they're going to hear from me.
Ring the bells that still can ring ...
You can

Zoë Killed Herself

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Today was my niece’s funeral. Her former band teacher gave the eulogy. His words were lovely, the passages fitting. I sat behind my stepsister and her husband and their children. My six-year-old on my lap, so someone else could have a seat I told her, but because I needed to feel her body, alive and warm.

The concert band from Zoë’s school played three pieces. The third, near the finish had a mournful note drawn out so long I was breathless by its end. A final gathering of notes trailed off, driven out by the grief of that one. The band director was motionless for a moment before he broke, his sobs uncontrollable for a few seconds. This day, that song, the reason. He quieted, but those few seconds were too much for the band composed of children, playing music for their dead friend. They sat in their chairs, or stood behind their instruments, alone but all together, except one.

The band director gave instructions. Some kids moved chairs to the side where family and friends were gathered. Some kids reconfigured the arrangement on the side where the band played. Zoë lay between, in a pine box, polished and perfect in its simplicity.

My nephew Evan, stood, waiting for this part to end. He tucked his shirt again and held his hands still in front of him. He was handsome, like a man too soon. His face betrayed an attempt at stoicism, every emotion shown, breaking my heart. He spoke clearly. “The last time I saw Zoë was a Thursday night.” He told us they’d argued and said awful things to each other, but had made up before the night ended. “I told her I loved her, and she said she loved me, too.” Then he was in his father’s arms, crying for us all.

The seats on the other side of the grave were occupied by a string ensemble after that. They played pieces of which I remember nothing but that they seemed the perfect soundtrack for the grief of my stepsister’s family, incomplete in front of me, the rest of my family behind me, all the strangers to me who knew Zoë, and for myself, waiting for it to end.

Her  father spoke. “I thought I had a lot to say.” I was amazed he could speak words at all, could function in the world. “From there to here,” he pointed to the hearse, “was the longest walk of my life.” How was he standing upright, breathing? “Thank you for coming.”

I wanted everyone to leave. I wanted to sit there with my family and watch my niece be lowered into the ground. That’s not what was planned. The ensemble played as we all watched Zoë pass into the earth together.

A man from the funeral home announced the location of the wake. People dispersed. I collected my daughter, who’d gone to stand with her grandfather. I said goodbye to my stepsister, told her I wasn’t attending the wake, but to let me know if she needed anything from me. I said goodbye to my sister and my aunt and my stepfather and other faces. I cut the line of kids waiting to talk to the band director and thanked him for what he did and what he said.

I took my daughter’s hand and asked if she was hungry and what she wanted for lunch. Would she like to go out? No, she wanted to go home with me and have peanut butter and jelly before I brought her back to her dad’s house. I buckled her into her seat, and we drove through the cemetery gates, back into our lives.


I'm Back

A couple years ago, I took down all of my blogs. I worked for a conservative company, I was concerned about my professional appearance, and I followed bad advice. (I broke up with that guy.)

I miss my blogs. I miss the outlet. I don't write enough now.

So, I am putting this one back. I uploaded the archive, but there are lots of broken links and pictures. I'll fix them eventually, and I will delete some posts, and import posts from my other blogs. It will be a work in progress for awhile -- a slow work in progress because I have started a new job.

I missed you people.


Why do I have so much self-esteem? I work at it.

Self esteem. Pass it on.

Clearly, I would not be friends with people who are not awesome, so I am mystified by one friend's low self-esteem. I told her that, if I could, I would gladly give her some of my self-esteem because sometimes I feel like I have too much. We were chatting online with a few of our other girlfriends at the time, and one asked why is it that I have so much self-esteem when they have so little. I didn't always.

Why do I have so much self-esteem? Innate narcissism is the most likely answer. Thinking that I am better than most people I meet can't be hurting either.

Kidding! Mostly.

It's much easier on yourself if you are kind to yourself and think nice things about yourself. You can stop thinking negative thoughts about yourself. There's a psychological technique called thought-stopping that is rather simple to master. If you Google it, you'll see that it doesn't work for panic disorders or chronic worry, but it absolutely works for replacing negative self-talk with positive self-talk. Have a couple of positive phrases about yourself worked out in advance. Every time you catch yourself thinking something negative about yourself, say, "STOP!" in your mind, then think the positive thought. It is that easy.

I am not the prettiest, or the slimmest, or the smartest, or the funniest, or the anything-est, but I am great. I like who I am. I like most things about myself, and I am actively trying to change the things I don't like. That is the best that I can do, so there is no need for me to be the one to berate myself for anything. I am a pathological overachiever. This makes me come down very hard on myself, but it is almost always about how much I can achieve, not who I am.

Rejection is difficult for anyone, myself included. It stings, but I shake it off with no damage to my self-esteem. When I am rejected (for a job or a potential client, by a man...), I chalk it up to fit. I don't take it personally, at least not for too long. I like who I am, and I can't be anything else other than that, so if I am rejected for something about who I am, it's fine. It means I was not a good fit, and that situation would not have ended well.

It does not mean I was not smart enough, talented enough, pretty enough, funny enough...

I am more than enough. I am awesome.


2 Years, 5 Months After Weight Loss Surgery

I have friends now who have never seen me at my heaviest, or even close to it. They don't know me as a formerly very fat person, only as I am right now. For the people who have known me longer, my struggle with weight loss was so very visible, as was my success.

I'm almost done. That's a scary thought.

120 Pounds Gone

With weight loss surgery, you get two years tops of weight loss benefit. After that, you have to try twice as hard to lose weight half as quickly. In just under two years, I lost 120 lbs. I went from 296 to 176. For the past six months, I have been maintaining my weight between 176 and 169. (Side note: I've been at 169 once before, when I was 24. I've never weighed less than that as an adult.) I wasn't trying to maintain, but I didn't realize that I needed to change my behavior again in order to keep losing weight.

1000 Calories Is Not a Lot

I have an end goal in mind. I'm not there yet. I need to work much harder than I have been to get there. Since I had logged onto Livestrong to get that weight chart, I decided to track my food today. I was SHOCKED to see that in order to lose 2 lbs/week, I should be consuming an 1100 cal/day diet. At my highest weight, to lose 2 lbs/day, I could consume twice that amount. It takes fewer calories to keep this smaller body running. I don't even know what an 1100 calorie day looks like. Not really. I need to diligently track my food intake again until I get a handle on it. I consumed 1300 calories today, and exercised a little. I only took half of my supplements, but I had 109g of protein. Tracking what I eat does more than help me lose weight, it makes me focus on nutrition.

Bombshell Unfinished

At the beginning of the year, one of the three words I chose to help me reach my goals was "Bombshell." I thought that focusing on my looks (because I am oh so vain) would keep me on track with weight loss. I was able to stick with what I'd been doing for two years, but I didn't realize that I needed a new plan. I know it now.

There's another piece to this body puzzle -- a few extra pieces that don't belong. An unpleasant byproduct of massive weight loss is extra skin. Oh, the skin. My arms look twice the width they are because half of that is skin. Naked, the rest of my body looks like a melted candle. And, I hate when I talk about this to someone with a mom belly or chubby arms, because she says, "Wear a tank top if you want to wear a tank top," or, "I have a pooch, too." It's not the same thing. This is not normal wear and tear. I can hide it with foundation garments and clothes, but until I have this extra skin surgically removed, I am going to feel like I am unfinished.

I plan to have three procedures done in two separate sessions. I am hoping to have the first two surgeries in August, and the third in November or December. I'd like to schedule them around school vacations so that my aunt (a teacher) will be available (hopefully) to help care for my kids during the hardest part of the recovery. I'm waiting until August, so I can fill this skin with more muscle and lose more fat.

Now for Some Pictures

Before

This picture was taken at my highest weight, in 2009.

Before 296lbs

After

This picture was taken within the past month.

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2013: Bombshell. Marathon. Pen Pals.

2012

Last Year, instead of resolutions, I had two themes, and I called it the "Year of Good Health and Money." There were quite a few goals to accomplish in those areas, but my main focus for the year was getting my health in order and getting our family's finances under control. I give myself a B for Good Health. I worked out pretty regularly for six months and then came to a dead stop, but I got my supplementation worked out, got my anemia under control, found a new dentist, and lost 20 pounds. I give myself an A for Money. I cut expenses, took care of some scary tax stuff, eliminated our credit card debt, and created a budget for 2013 that allows me to continue to work for myself.

2013

This year, as I was contemplating my themes (I was leaning toward Vanity and Business), I came across Chris Brogan's Brave New Year program. It takes my themes idea and goes so much deeper. I am going to accomplish big things this year and I am going to need guidance to do it. So, I joined up.

Similar to my themes, is Chris's idea of three words for the year. The three words you choose provide a framework for your goals and, ultimately, all of your actions throughout the year. As with last year, before making a big decision, or when I finding myself stuck, I will ask myself how does what I am doing right now align with my three words. If it doesn't, then I need to do something else.

My Three Words

Bombshell

There are two definitions of "bombshell." First is something that is sensational, shocking, surprising, or amazing. Second is a very attractive woman.

I hope that I am able to balance my vanity and narcissism with my intelligence, humor, and generosity, but that doesn't make me any less vain. The part of "Good Health" that I failed last year was physical fitness. Fitness is measurable, but it's impact on my overall health is not as apparent, so it was easier to focus on the things I could see measured with a simple blood test.

I know myself very well and I know that appealing to my sense of vanity is one way to get me to do something. (Now you know it, too.) Working out (to fit into a smaller size, to be more attractive, to have slimmer legs) and taking better care of my skin (so my face is prettier), and eating well (to slim down, to keep my hair shiny, to keep my skin clear) are going to be easier for me to do on a regular basis if I think about how it makes me look in the near term rather than how it affects my health in the long term. Is that messed up? Yes, but that's how I work.

Going back to the first definition. I intend to be the sort of person who makes an impact. I am going to be introducing my company and our products to many people this year. I am going to be asking a lot of people for their advice, or assistance, or money. I intend to leave those people amazed and impressed so that they want to do business with me.

Marathon

This word is not about running, it is about continually moving and doing. I intend to accomplish big goals this year and the only way I am going to get that done is continue to take the next step, even when I don't want to, even when it hurts, even if I am pretty sure I am going to fall on my ass when I do.

If I let myself get overwhelmed by the size of my goals or the length of my task list, I freeze. I get stuck where I am and I do not move foward. This word is to remind me that I can't stop. Yes, the goal is big and the steps to get there are many, but I only need to take one at a time. When I am starting to feel overwhelmed, I need to pull back from the big goal for a bit and focus on the next step. A crucial piece to this is to have a well defined plan so that I always know what the next step is.

This word is also here to help me get through those tasks that I simply do not want to do. As co-founder of a bootstrapped startup, there are a lot of those tasks for me to do right now. We don't have the funds to hire someone else to do them.

Pen Pals

This word took the longest for me to decide. I was looking for something about developing deeper relationships with people in my network. I have built a broad network, but I tend to maintain only shallow relationships with the people in it. Sadly, this includes family and friends.

I rely on social media so much for communication because it is quick and easy, but it also allows me to continue on with shallow interactions. Writing real letters is something that I used to love to do, and it enabled me to get to know someone more personally, and share more of myself. I had a pen pal in Lithuania when I was in grade school. I remember so many details of her life, and I can still picture her unique style of printing.

This word is not about having literal pen pals. It is included in this list to remind me to go deeper with my communications. I intend to form deeper relationships with the people in my personal and business networks, no matter the method we use most to communicate.

Your Turn

Do you make resolutions for the year? Do you set goals? Have themes? Make vision boards? Want to try this three words thing? I'd love to hear about it.


[Final Update] The Year of Good Health...and Money

At the beginning of the year, I didn't make any resolutions, but I declared 2012 to be the Year of Good Health and Money. Sounds exciting, right? I wouldn't go that far, but it has been rewarding.

The update you saw three months ago wasn't looking good, but a lot has happened since then. Three weeks from the end of the year, and I've ticked off everything on the list. It took me all year to do it, but I DID IT.

Health

  1. Weight: I lost 20 of the 30 pounds I wanted to lose (120 lbs total in the past two years), and I wear size 12 jeans. The last time I wore size 12 jeans was for about a minute in 1999.
  2. Anemia: The supplements weren't increasing my iron levels fast enough so I had IV iron infusions (FOUR OF THEM) and I am no longer anemic. Hopefully, I can maintain this level with supplementation.
  3. Dentist: Cleaning scheduled! I am not usually one to procrastinate going to the dentist, but when I left my job in June, we had to switch to my husband's insurance and my old dentist isn't on it. I don't mind going to the dentist, but I hate finding a new one.
  4. Weird Leg Thing: It hasn't come back, so let's consider it no big deal.
  5. Physical Activity: Well, four out of five isn't bad, right? This is still a struggle for me.

Finances

  1. Taxes: We met with the new accountant and got everything taken care of and, for the first time in years and years, I am not dreading the end of the year and the taxes that need to be done.
  2. Credit Card Debt: PAID OFF
  3. Budget: I never did get around to making one for 2012, but I made one for 2013 because I had started panic-checking the job boards. We will be fine for next year, with me continuing to be self-employed. I could use a couple more clients for Bossy Interactive, but I don't need to seek employment elsewhere.

What's in store for 2013? I'm thinking it will be the Year of Organization and Business Growth. I need to get this house, and the stuff in it, organized. To be fair to myself, I am one of the most organized people I know, so it's not that bad, but I want it organized to PERFECTION, or pretty damn close. On the business front, I need to set clear goals, and objectives, for 2013. Also, I need to look up the difference between goals and objectives again.


[Update] 2012: The Year of Good Health... and Money

Remember about nine months ago when I said this was going to be the year I take control of my health and my finances? If I were in school, I'd probably have a C- in Health and an F in Finance.

The good news first. I lost 20 more pounds, for a total of 120. I am eating much better and taking (almost) all of my supplements every day. I at least get the iron in every day. At the three-month check mentioned in the original post, my iron levels were up a bit, but still lower than normal. I am waiting on the results of my most recent blood test. I am hoping my levels are high enough that I at least reduce the amount of iron I have to take, if I can't stop taking it altogether.

The weird numb spot on my leg went away. Then came back. Then went away again. I still haven't had a mole check or the breast cancer gene test. Oh, and I am overdue for a dental cleaning because I need to find a new dentist.

On the financial front, I haven't done a damn thing. I left my corporate job three months ago and have been working for myself ever since. Business has been good, but I could use more work. In that time, I haven't made a budget, or projected how long our money will last, set any sort of threshold for deciding find another corporate job. I estimated that I have until the end of the year, but I stuck my head in the sand when it came to actually doing the math to verify that assumption.

And, we haven't caught up on our taxes yet. However, I made an appointment with an accountant and by the end of next week, all that tax crap should be in progress. I got the referral for the accountant from a friend who uses him as her business manager. I may have to go that route, especially now that I have two businesses.

Anyway, I have three months left in the year. I can still get this under control. I'm a procrastinator, but I (usually) make my deadlines.


20 Months After Gastric Bypass

I haven't been posting about my progress lately because it hasn't seemed like I have made any progress. I don't like to post about the minor backslides, or plateaus for the same reason I only record weight losses on my chart. With weight loss, I absolutely have to focus on the positive, or I get caught up in a vicious cycle of self-sabotage. Rather than try to figure out why or how I end up in that cycle, I just avoid it altogether. I only post when things are good. I only record my weight when it's down.

Speaking of which, I broke a months-long plateau and finally broke out of the 180s. Today, I weigh 179.8. I recorded my weight on Livestrong.com, where I track everything. This is the chart showing my high weight, a few months before my surgery. It's hard to believe that two years ago, I weighed nearly 120 pounds more than I do now.

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Entrepreneurial Kinks

I never realized how many things in my life, besides work, were tied to a regular work day. Even though my schedule was flexible, and I worked from home a couple times a week, there was still a rhythm to my day that dictated how and when I did certain things. Now that it's gone, there are a few kinks I'll need to work out. For example:

  • If I don't have an office to go to, or a business-related appointment, I will wear the same outfit every single day.
  • Without my usual morning work routine, I don't feed myself until early afternoon.
  • My skin looks better. There is no explanation for this.
  • I need to get a serviceable laptop. I used my work laptop for everything, so I only have a desktop for home. I HATE working at my desk.
  • A new laptop isn't in the budget right now, so I need to get a new desk chair instead. My husband and I share a desk chair. He works from home a lot, but he always works at his desk. I always worked from the couch (or my big leather arm chair), so we never bothered to replace our second desk chair when it broke. As much as I love my red wooden dining chairs, they were not made for work.
  • I used my work calendar for everything, too. Now I have to transfer all kinds of stuff to my Google Calendar, and I need to make sure my Google Contacts are up-to-date.
  • Just like they wanted the laptop back, my former company also wants the iPhone back. (Cue weeping.) At least they are letting me keep it until I get my own phone.

It will all work out. These are nothing. Tiny, insignificant details compared to the huge weight that has been lifted off my shoulders. I felt such a sense of relief the moment I left my job. I have no fear or anxiety about what's going to happen next. I have only plans to make and work to do and life to enjoy.


Take This Job and Shove It

A big, big thing happened last week. I left my corporate job. I had been working toward that goal for a few months and was planning to make it happen at the end of the summer. Circumstances changed and it happened sooner. NOW I GET THE WHOLE SUMMER OFF. Not really. I get exactly two weeks off and then it is back to work, even harder than before, but with ONE THOUSAND TIMES the amount of enjoyment I will derive from it. Most of my effort will be going into Sprawl3, a start-up I co-founded with a couple friends and former co-workers. We are developing white label mobile apps for small businesses. I will also continue to take on projects through Bossy Interactive, my consultancy.

Right now, though, I am not thinking of that. Here's how the past eight days have gone for me:

  • Saturday: Move to a new house
  • Sunday: Unpack like a fiend
  • Monday: Run one thousand errands
  • Tuesday: Unexpectedly leave my day job
  • Wednesday: So many boxes
  • Thursday: Why do I need to go to Target so many times
  • Friday: Spend the entire day getting ready for my three-year-old's birthday party
  • Saturday: Happy Birthday!
  • Sunday: More birthday things, a couple boxes unpacked, start writing this post instead of going to bed like I should have

I could not have left my job at a better time. For the next two days, I have  Sprawl3 work to do, and more moving-related things to take care of, but then I am on vacation for a few days with my husband for our 10th anniversary. When I return from that, it's back to work. For myself. And, take it from me, I am the best boss ever.


What I Wore: 6/13/12

What I Wore: 6/13/2012

 

I haven't done one of these posts in awhile, mostly because you have already seen everything I own and there are only so many ways I can put those things together. But, summer is nearly here, and I am buying some new things. Not that you would know it from this outfit, which includes a tweed jacket I found at a thrift store for $18. We get "June Gloom" here in SoCal. It is gray and chilly, usually burning off in the afternoons, until after Independence Day.