Last month I held SMASH, my monthly administrative meetup at thinkspace, and invited my cohort of executive assistants, senior assistants, office managers and the like, and we explored a topic that drew in great discussion: wellness at work. Though I support the CEO and Founder of thinkspace, I also work as a holistic health and running coach. I work both one-on-one and with groups sharing how to add joy to your life. The idea that wellness is bound to eating health foods or going for a run is simply wrong, and joy shouldn’t be reserved for after-work hours. I think it’s fundamental to fill your day with more joy and that this type of self-care extends beyond the walls of your home.

To me, being joyful in the workplace means clearing away stress and getting sh*t done. When I’m productive and collaborative I feel best and I can’t manage doing those things when project goals aren’t clear, I’m worried about all the tasks on hand, or I feel unorganized. During my talk at SMASH I set out to explain three bullet points to support yourself in de-stressing and decluttering your mind so that you have the room to be productive, feel full, and allow for positivity to run through your veins while at work. I’m here to share them with you too.

1. Make your to-do list. Studies have shown that people perform better when they have written down what they need to do. Lists dampen anxiety about the chaos of life; they give us structure, a plan that we can stick to; and they are proof of what we have achieved that day, week, or month. Simply writing the tasks down will make you more effective and free the space in your mind from these tasks. Try doing this as the last thing you do before you leave the office for the next day. Whether you’re using tools like Trello, Asana, or a pen and notebook, use a system that you enjoy and that works for you and watch your productivity sky rocket.

2. Breathe. Deep breathing is one of the best ways to lower stress in the body. As an entrepreneur, or as someone who supports one, this is something we should all be practicing. This is because when you breathe deeply, it sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax. The brain then sends this message to your body. Deep breathing combats the actions that occur when stressed, things such as increased heart rate, fast breathing, and high blood pressure. When you are in that relaxed state your decision making skills are heightened, you command a stronger presence, and creativity can flow.

Next time you need to relieve stress or clear your mind step away to a huddle room, close the door to your private office and sit on a cushion, or head outside for a few moments and try this:

Breathing Activity

  1. Sit or lie flat in a comfortable position.
  2. Put one hand on your belly just below your ribs, the other on your chest.
  3. Take a big breathe through your nose and let you belly push your hand out. Your chest should not move. Breathe out through pursed lips, like you are whistling. Feel your hand on your belly go in, and use it to push all the air out.
  4. Do this breathing 3 to 10 times. Take your time with each breathe.
  5. Notice how you feel at the end of the exercise.

3. Have Gratitude. The purpose of this exercise is to focus attention on the positive things in your life. Studies suggest that feelings of gratitude may even possess mental and physical health benefits. Take a moment to yourself, either first thing when you get to the office, or when needing to take a break for refocus. Founder of Huffington Post and CEO of Thrive Global, Arianna Huffington shares “Gratitude works its magic by serving as an antidote to negative emotions. It’s like white blood cells for the soul, protecting us from cynicism, entitlement, anger, and resignation.”

Gratitude Activity

  1. Take a moment to let the tasks and atmosphere of the day go. Take three full belly breathes.
  2. Think about what the positive things in your life. Write down two things in your life (work or non-work) that you are grateful for. (Is it a partner, friend, child, teacher, the weather, nature, a book you’re reading?)
  3. Write a third item on the list: something you love about yourself.
  4. Reflect on how this activity makes you feel during and after. Did you smile, feel awkward, or happy?
  5. ** You don’t have to be experiencing a chaotic or stressful day to practice this.

Returning to work after completing these exercises should be reenergizing. Though eating a nutritious lunch (or eating a lunch at all) is definitely part of a healthy routine, de-stressing and decluttering your mind at work will encourage your success as an entrepreneur. Holistic health presents an opportunity to connect a less-stressful state and being able to feel stronger and encouraged throughout the day. This supports an increase in joy and permeates your being. Do you practice other self-care techniques while at work? Share them in comments and help create a discussion about what healthy living looks like.

I go in phases with my yoga practice. I love a 30-day yoga challenge and sometimes extend it for another 30-60 days. Then I often stop making it a priority because I’d rather go for my morning run or because that extra 30 minutes of sleep is enticing, but it’s not just my flexibility and ability to touch my toes that is effected by this, but my energy and focus at work as well.

Certainly part of my yoga life-goals is about achieving the headstand, or at least mastering crow pose, but part of the reason I get called back to practicing is because of how I feel throughout my day post-session. Don’t let Instagram fool you; yoga has nothing to do with how flexible your body is or what poses you’ve mastered, but about meeting yourself where you are and breathing into your movements. Whether I practice for ten minutes or an hour, the method of breathing in and out in rhythm brings focus to my body as a whole, and I feel more centered during my day and able to center that focus on my tasks, projects, and relationships.

Yoga has a plethora of benefits. Though it unfortunately won’t prevent difficult plights at work, it can certainly help entrepreneurs manage their stress and anxiety. Cash flow problems won’t be resolved by mastering the firefly pose, but what it can help is how to approach these problems with a clear mindset. Most entrepreneurs I know understand the importance of staying physically fit, but not as many commit the same time for their mental health.

Lizzie Brown, highlighted by Forbes, is the co-creator of Yoga Wake Up, an app that teaches busy entrepreneurs how to practice meditation and basic yoga postures. She shares that “yoga is a practice that adapts to whatever challenges are going on in your body and in your life.” The benefits of yoga for you as an entrepreneur are all about managing stress. When your day is inundated with employees asking questions, or you’re working around the clock to secure funding, a mindfulness practice can root you to the ground. This mindfulness and meditation is what yoga is at its core and your consistent practice, whether through an app or in a studio, will aid you in keeping control.

Yoga helps you let go of control, slow down your mind, practice patience, and take a moment away from screens and work to be with yourself. We’ve been fortunate at thinkspace Seattle to practice weekly with Jackie Lea as she leads member yoga each Wednesday. During our session we take extra time to stretch, open up our breathe and work out the kinks from sitting at a computer all day. After each session I’ve left feeling refreshed, re-energized, and ready to tackle my next project, whether for work or at home. You have so many options to practice yoga, via app, instructor, or online (might I recommend Yoga With Adriene?). You can do yourself and your business a favor – try challenging yourself to 30 days of yoga and be shocked at what more you can do.

By now you’ve probably at least heard the name Marie Kondo, the Japanese decluttering expert who’s been trending all over social media. People are binging episodes of “Tidying Up,” her Netflix Original series and if you haven’t been able to follow along, you should definitely watch this clip of her with Colbert on the Late Show, surely to give you some insight. Dubbed the KonMari method, Marie reveals that the root of decluttering is in finding joy, not just in the items you own, but within your heart.

Marie begins each episode greeting and thanking the home, a silent moment of gratitude, before she helps her new clients prepare for the journey ahead of them. She takes a simplistic approach when it comes to spreading awareness of organization: “the KonMari Method™ encourages tidying by category – not by location – beginning with clothes, then moving on to books, papers, komono (miscellaneous items), and, finally, sentimental items. Keep only those things that speak to the heart, and discard items that no longer spark joy. Thank them for their service – then let them go.”

In addition to tidying (and teaching Americans how to fold their clothes so that their dresser drawers look incredible) Marie also speaks to productivity: the art of being organized doesn’t just lie within the walls of you home or your workspace, but within your mind. In one of her blog posts Marie explains to maximize productivity and be most efficient, she sets up routines that spark joy and align with her goals, currently of which include being able to spend more time with her children. From a macro perspective on long term goals, she begins with how to spend her time in years then progressively works toward quarters, months, and weeks- and finally works through daily routines. If you don’t have time to read through her whole blogpost here are her five tips that keep her productive while balancing work and family/personal life.

  1. Start Your Morning With Good Energy- Examples include opening the windows for fresh air and getting dressed in something that makes you feel confident.
  2. Make a Daily To-Do List- Include everything on your list, from folding the laundry to answering emails. If you’re anything like me, you’ll feel incredibly accomplished after seeing all the checkmarks next to each completed task.
  3. Coordinate With Your Partner- If you have a roommate or significant other, discussing a household to-do list is a helpful habit. Not only is it a way to share what you’ve already accomplished so it doesn’t get repeated, but it also allows you to express gratitude towards each other. Though a spreadsheet might be useful in the beginning, establishing your rhythm can be helpful to figure out which tasks are best suited for each person.
  4. Clear Your Mind- When I have too many thoughts I’m trying to focus on, I like to write down everything, creating a place to hold all the information and free up the space in my head. Other activities to clear your mind might include exercising or cleaning.
  5. Create a Nighttime Routine- Bedtime isn’t just for kids. Creating a routine for winding down in the evening has many benefits, your health included. When everything has a designated home (laundry bin, papers in folders, etc) you get to head to bed knowing everything is where it’s supposed to be. Marie even suggests thanking them for their hard work. Your evening routine can also involve reading, diffusing oils, or writing in a journal.

In her conclusion: “Prioritizing what sparks joy is at the heart of all the tips I shared above. Keeping this philosophy at the center of everything I do helps me focus on what I value. If you are struggling to figure out what sparks joy for you, my first piece of advice is to tidy your home. Once you are done tidying up, you will find it easier to keep your home – and mental space – clear and focused. By being surrounded only by the things that spark joy, your life naturally begins to achieve clarity.”

If you’re interested in reading other things about KonMari, I really enjoyed this article as well. We’d love to hear your thoughts about how finding joy has been influencing your day. Drop us a comment!

thinkspace Seattle has stand up paddle boards for members that were launched this summer. Peter Chee, founder of thinkspace, demonstrates how non-intimidating this can be for the beginner.

One of my favorite things about thinkspace Seattle is that I can see so clearly over Lake Union to Eastlake and no matter today or in five years, it will be the same or similar view; that is they won’t be building on top of water anytime soon. I also find watching the seaplanes taking off and landing fascinating not to mention the fancy of all the yachts, sailboats, and rowers I see daily. While sitting in the coworking space I find that I am oftentimes inspired to write, to create, or brainstorm with my team and apparently this isn’t unique. According to marine biologist and author Wallace J. Nichols, “a mildly meditative state characterized by calm, peacefulness, unity, and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment” is triggered when we are in, or near water.

Wallace explains “When we step away from our high-stressed lives and step into nature, we get a shift. Physiologically, our brains and bodies change. We relax, and the quality of our thought changes. A different brain network activates. That brain network is available for a completely different kind of quality of thought which is much more introspective and self-referential. Oftentimes it leads to feelings of connectedness and that can lead to innovative thoughts.”

Life and work might seem high-stressed but at thinkspace it’s juxtaposed to nature, so harnessing that balance is accessible. When I’m perplexed or feeling confined, I’m literally a doorway away from the patio, or a walk along the waterfront. As I write this I’m looking at the water investigating my own thoughts, which are indeed introspective. If anything else, I’m inspired to show up because I love where I get to spend my day, and the work will come. If you’re interested in reading more about Nichols’ book here’s a great article from The Washington Post.

I recently read the book Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull (President of Pixar).  The book’s tagline is to overcome the unseen forces that stand in the way of true inspiration.  Chapter by chapter, Catmull unlocks creative leadership ideas by effective (and vulnerable) story telling.  He shares his own journey in detail – through the lens of job transitions as well as different projects (like various Pixar movies).  The book reads more like a page-turning biographical novel, with the added bonus that it has golden content on leadership.  David Slocum, writer for Forbes magazine, says “it’s one of the half-dozen best books that have been written about creative business and creative leadership. Ever” (source).

One key takeaway that I had from the book was on time management.  I’m a organized+creative+visual person, so I loved this idea that was sparked by a producer on the Pixar team.  The idea was simple: popsicle sticks stuck to a wall of Velcro.  Each stick represented a person-week (which equals the amount of work one animator could accomplish in a week’s time).  The sticks, in various amounts, would get placed next to a particular project (in Pixar’s case, a character from the movie The Incredibles).  The popsicle system gave the team a visual representation of their resources.  Here’s how Catmull described it working: “A bunch of sticks would be lined up next to a particular character for easy reference.  A glance at the wall would tell you: If you use that many popsicle sticks on Elastigirl, you’ll have less time to spend on Jack-Jack.  And so on.” When a manager would approach the team and say “This needs to be done today” the team would reference the Velcro wall and explain that they would then need another “stick” or ask where they’d like to take a stick from.  Catmull called it “a great example of the positive creative impact of limits.”

pixarI was so drawn to this example of time management and resources, that I made my own popsicle stick Velcro wall (see picture).  For my own work purposes, each colored Velcro line equals a key goal in my job (e.g. project management, 1:1’s with direct reports, etc).  And the popsicle sticks equal 1 hour of work.  So by glancing at my mini-wall, I can see where my week’s resources are being placed, and if I need to adjust in any way.  An added bonus is that the color-coded key goals correspond to the different category colors represented on my Outlook calendar (yes, I’m a bit of a nerd).

What time management tools do you use?  I’ll look forward to connecting with you in the comments section.

standing_ozy-2Last week, I axed a weekly meeting.
The three other people in on this weekly meeting are incredible, and I’ve learned a lot from our time together.  But, besides enjoying their conversation, there was no reason to keep on meeting.  What we had set out to achieve had been accomplished.
 
Canceling this meeting got me wondering, if I hadn’t cancelled the meeting, how long would we have still met, simply for the sake of meeting?

Meetings are effective and necessary. But not all of them.

When deciding to accept or decline a meeting – run it through this checklist first.

  1. Agenda: Does the meeting have a planned agenda? If it doesn’t, consider opting out until one is established. I’ve attended way too many agenda-less meetings that could have been accomplished in 15 minutes instead of 60. Consider responding by saying something like: “Thank you for inviting me to this meeting. I’d like to attend, but before I accept could you provide me with an agenda of what will be discussed? As a rule, I only attend meetings that have objectives for what’s to be accomplished.”
  2. Content: Are you having the meeting to make a decision? Decision-based meetings are necessary. If no decisions are being made or discussed, there’s a good chance the meeting isn’t worth your time.
  3. People: Are the right people in the room? Only the people needed to make a decision should be invited. People attending to just be in the informational loop should be dismissed. Having the right people in the room makes for quality conversation. Having too many people in the room makes for a quantity of conversation.
  4. Brainstorm: Is the meeting a brainstorming session? Creative meetings are fun, and are meant to be less-structured and more free-flowing. But beware brainstorming sessions that are completely unstructured. So, run it through #1-3 first – make sure the meeting has some objectives (agenda), ask what outcome is needed from the meeting (content), and make sure all who needs to be there is present (people).

Do you have other criteria for accepting or declining meetings? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section!

So, I gotta be honest.  Up until writing this post, I actually didn’t know the history behind Labor Day.  Why question a 3-day weekend, right?  For the majority of my teens and twenties, Labor Day was simply the weekend I saw Dave Matthews at the Gorge before heading back to school.
 
But the history behind Labor Day is as interesting as it is empowering.

Labor Day was first celebrated in 1882 (pictured: a lithograph of the parade in New York City on Labor Day).  In 1887 it was established to be celebrated yearly on the first Monday in September to honor the American Labor Movement and the contributions that workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of their country (source).  A group of the key players within this movement called themselves The Knights of Labor. The Knights believed in the unity of the interests of all producing groups and sought to empower not just laborers but everyone who could be truly classified as a producer (source).

For most of us, work is a commitment that takes up most of our time.  But, though work dominates most of the hours of our week, it is also the one thing that we can routinely do week in, week out.  Think about your work week rhythm.  Now replace your work with something else.  Can you imagine doing something else for 40-60 hours, week in, week out?  Exercising?  Watching television?  Reading books? Playing golf?  I’ve heard people say, “When I retire I’m going to play a lot of golf.”  But 40 hours a week of golf?  Or television?  Try keeping that up for a few weeks.  We aren’t made to do that.

But we are made to work.  We can handle work in large quantities of time, unlike other activities.  We are made to be creative.  We are made to produce things.  Just like the Knights of Labor believed in the late 1800s, the movement wasn’t just for laborers, but anyone who produced anything.  I have a friend who is a project manager, but her passion is baking cupcakes.  She spends time dreaming of flavor combinations to try.  She carves time out of her schedule to carefully craft and decorate them.  And then she lets me eat them.  She is a “laborer” (project manger by day) and “producer” (cupcake creator by night).  You take away her labor and she is still a producer.  Take away what she produces, and she’s still a laborer.

The point is this: we are made for work.  We are made for Labor Day.

Happy Labor Day everyone!

 We all have times when we feel very unproductive and have a hard time focusing on our tasks. Finding inspiration can turn into a major problem if you don’t fuel and rest your brain from time to time.

But–to the rescue!–there are some easy ways to “unstick” your brain:

restaurant-person-woman-coffee-large1. Take a pause

If you have thought the situation through, and there is no way out, then it’s time to take a pause. Grab a coffee, have a little snack and do something else for a while. Refocusing elsewhere and returning to your problem later will allow you to see things from a different angle, and may help you resolve the problem.

 



 

landscape-nature-sky-sunset-large2. Fresh air

Take a walk outside, preferably into the green. Your eyes will be thankful for the pause from your computer screen, and some fresh air will help your body and mind to recharge their batteries. If you’re living in the city, don’t go the usual way, but try to explore new streets and areas.

 

 

 

person-woman-music-pink-large3. Surround yourself with nature

Research shows that there are cognitive benefits to surrounding yourself with greenery or images of nature. Try to choose a workplace where you’ll have a nice view outside, some plants nearby. Not an option? Listen to some soothing background sounds in order to boost your creativity.

 

 

 

Brooklyn Bridge4. Exercise

Sitting in front of your computer all day is not only bad for your health, but it’s also bad for your brain. It’s scientifically proven that people who exercise up to four times a week have better creative thinking skills than people that don’t. If you’re commuting to work, it’s great idea to walk or bike. Try to use lunch breaks to fit in some exercise.

 

 

 

1CB98C9DF85. Talk

Often we tend to immerse ourselves in our own problems, and we feel that we shouldn’t bother others with our issues. However, it can really help if you talk to somebody else. It can help not only to talk about your problems, but also to listen to other people’s problems and try to help. By doing this, you will get a different point of view. Perhaps while helping others, you will also distract yourself from your own problems–a win-win for both sides.

 


unnamedStefano Merlo is the CEO and founder of Noisli, a service that helps people to focus and boost productivity by blocking out annoying noises and creating a personal sound environment. Stefano has a Degree in Product and Visual Communication Design. A curious mind, always craving to learn new things. Find Stefano on Twitter at @stefanomerlo

no ex
I’m a planner.
I’m a goal-setter.
I love the strategy that goes along with discerning a five-year strategic plan.

But in addition to my goal-setting-strategic-planning posture, I’ve found that I also need to embrace the discipline of having no expectations.

The things that frustrate, anger, and irritate me have one thing in common:  I don’t like it when what I expect to happen doesn’t happen.

I have expectations of how other people should drive…how my husband should load the dishwasher…and how my boss should respond to my job performance.  And more often than not, my expectations prove to be a fanatical fantasy.

Unfulfilled expectations create disappointment.  But no expectations equals no disappointments.

Growing up, I learned to “expect the best” and all will work out.  And even as an overly-optimistic person, that mantra has not panned out all the time.

Setting zero expectations means that we are open for more creativity in the moment, as well as the unexpected surprises that never disappoint.

I recently got married.  The other day, someone asked me what goal I was excited to accomplish during my first year of marriage.  I thought for a moment, before happily realizing that my main goal for my first year of marriage is to practice not having any expectations.  But to take it day by day.  And learn, and grow as a couple.

William Shakespeare wrote that “Expectation is the root of all heartache.”  By minimizing unneeded expectations, I hope to minimize heartache at home, as well as in the workplace.

 

Yes NoI’ve tried my hand at time management.
Which I’m okay at.
But at times, I still busy myself and over commit to things.
Part of me really likes being busy.
And another part of me has a hard time saying “no.”
And I know, I know…saying “yes” to one thing means saying “no” to something else….so I should say “no” to good things so I can say “yes” to better things.

But at times, those “better” things add up.  So I renegotiate my priorities, in hopes to lessen my busy schedule.  And start the cycle of time management all over again.

Lately, I’ve been reading this book that completely changed the way I think about time management.
The author states the following:
“I use to be afraid of failing at something that really mattered to me, but now I’m more afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.”
This was an ah-ha moment for me, and I completely resonate with what the author is getting at.
I’m afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.
Time management isn’t as much about what I’m saying yes and no to as it is about what I’m putting my energy towards to succeed at.

So this week, I’m looking at my schedule differently.
I’m focusing on the things that do matter – like my speaking engagement on Tuesday night, a soft launch for a mentoring program, cooking dinner for my fiancé, and watching Veggie Tales with my nephews on Friday morning.
And I’m setting aside the things that, when it comes down to it, don’t really matter – like the petty differences between my top three choices of charcoal tile for my kitchen remodel, the dirty dishes in the sink after cooking my fiancé dinner, checking my email every few minutes (thus distracting me from my super-cute nephews), and Dexter (which I absolutely love…but I’d rather be successful at life rather than watching television).

Join me, in fearing success at insignificant things.