3 Things that are Simply Uncool

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While most of us don't try to be assholes, there are certain things we can do that take us down that road fairly quickly. 

Here are a few of them.

1. Disparage Others on a Group Email Chain 

I have been appalled recently to witness well-educated, grown adults (many with masters degrees and even PhDs), publicly disparage each other via the dreaded "reply all" button on a group email chain. Snide comments, harsh criticism, and public shaming - aired as dirty laundry for a chain of 50 or so people to see.

Before wading into the dark waters of disparaging group emails, I invite you to ask yourself:

  • Should this be a "reply all" or just a "reply?"
  • Would I proudly say what I'm about to type, in person? 
  • Should this be a conversation or a phone call instead of an email?
  • Is this reply constructive and helpful? 
  • Will I be proud of the virtual footprint that this email chain leaves? 
  • Would I feel good about my (kids, partner, friends, loved ones) seeing this email? 
  • Is this email nurturing, or damaging, relationships? 
  • Have I walked away, breathed, paused, and thought about what I'm about to say before hitting "send?" 

Spend some time reflecting on these questions before hitting "reply" and certainly before hitting "reply all." I promise, you'll be happy that you did. 

2. Ask for a Favor, and Neglect to Say Thank You Once the Favor is Complete

I recently heard from someone who I hadn't heard from in about 7 years. He was a colleague who I had worked with for a short period of time. He asked for career advice, as he was looking to make a transition. I spent about an hour putting together a long, thoughtful email which included suggestions; resources and links; companies in the area to check out; and the best round-up of virtual support I could put together for his situation. 

I heard nothing. 

My two cents: when you ask someone for a favor and they go out of their way to help you, say thank you. At minimum, send an email or a text. Better yet, send a hand-written note. While I believe in abundance and I believe in holding a perspective of generosity for all that I do, I also believe in manners. Show some manners, and send a simple thank you.

Note: if you ask for a favor during a time of crisis - dealing with loss, dealing with grief, or from a place where you are focused on meeting your basic human needs, you are exempt from this rule. 

3. Ask someone, "Can I Pick Your Brain?" 

The first few years of my business, I said yes to these meetings constantly. I'd hear from people who (similar to the above situation) I hadn't heard from in years, who wanted to "pick my brain over coffee." Wanting to be helpful, I said yes. When we arrived at the coffee shop, I learned that they specifically wanted to pick my brain on "how to start a business that looks exactly like yours." Often they used these words. 

Again - I'm all about abundance. I'm all about generosity. 

And, to ask for someone's time, energy, and free advice so that you can go replicate their business as your own (which several of these people did, following our meetings), is simply not cool. 

Before asking for a "pick your brain" meeting, I recommend asking yourself:

  • What does "pick your brain" really mean to me? Am I trying to use this in place of what should be time with a paid professional to figure out the strategy and core offerings of my future business?  Note: I personally hate the term "pick your brain." If I want help with the strategy and core offerings for my business, I call my coach (who I pay) or my executive mentor (who I pay). If I want legal advice, I call my lawyer (who I pay). If I want free advice, I check out the SBDC or the many other resources available online. 
  • Have I taken time to think about what feels authentic and true for me? Before looking at what everyone else is doing, have I taken time to get quiet, go inward, and think about what I want for my business? As I often talk about, we need to stop looking around and start looking within. This needs to be the first step in starting any new business, any new offering, and any new endeavor. 
  • Am I offering to buy someone a $3 cup of coffee when instead I should be asking to hire them for an hour of the services that they actually provide? Have a heart to heart with yourself. And proceed accordingly. 
  • What is my intention for this meeting? Am I clear on what I desire for the meeting? Too often, I see new entrepreneurs identify "meet with XYZ entrepreneur to pick their brain" as an early step in starting their business. When asked what they want to get from the meeting with XYZ entrepreneur, they say, "I don't know." This is a waste of everyone's time. 

All of that said, there are some great reasons to ask someone for coffee, which include: getting to know someone better; connecting and sharing; catching up; and simply enjoying a cup of coffee together. While the list of reasons to ask someone to coffee are many, "picking your brain" will never be one on my list. 

What do you think? Are there any items you'd add to the "things that are uncool" list? Or do you have thoughts on any of the items above? I'd love to hear from you.

The Books I Recommend Most

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Often, when leading a workshop or event, I provide large resource lists of my favorite books, podcasts, videos, and articles. People often ask, "but which are your absolute favorites? What would be your top 5?" So, as difficult as this question is, I'm attempting to share my list of favorites. While I first started with five, I realized that it meant that I forgot two, so I'm landing on my Top 7. 

  • Essentialism: I joke that I just keep reading this book over, and over, and over again. In fact, I just bought another copy last week. It makes so much sense - *and* can be difficult to implement in everyday life, especially for people who a) have a natural instinct toward saying yes (insert hand-raising emoji), or b) who like to do a lot of different things at once (insert hand-raising emoji again). When implemented, I believe that this book has the ability to be life-changing. I recommend reading it once, and then revisiting regularly to keep the philosophy alive in everyday life. 
  • Better Than Before: many of you who work with me know that I'm a big Gretchen Rubin fan and that I reference her research often. Better Than Before is one of my favorite books on creating, maintaining, or changing habits. It's also where she first introduces the concept of The Four Tendencies - a framework I've found to be game changing for many (including myself). 
  • Start with Why: I first read this book and watched the related TED Talk waaaaay back in the day in the corporate world. It's a concept I've regularly used, and loved, ever since. I believe that starting with Why is a concept that we can all apply to every area of our lives....and that if we don't know why we're doing something, it might be an opportunity to pause and tune inward before proceeding.
  • Peace is Every Step: this was one of the first books I read about mindfulness, many years ago, when I was still working in the corporate world. It is a beautiful, easily digested little book - great for reading a few pages at a time - and can serve as a helpful reminder to be more present in our everyday moments. 
  • The Big Leap: this is probably the book that I lend to clients most often (in fact, it's out and about right now!). While there are many great things in this book, the two concepts that I find most powerful are: The Upper Limit Problem (again - this has the power to be life changing if we truly work with this concept) and Einstein Time (weird in a good way, interesting, and highly recommended for anyone who struggles with calendar-related stress and feeling like you never have enough time in the day).
  • The Four Agreements: Disclaimer - I don't love Don Miguel Ruiz's writing style. However, if you can move beyond the writing style, the content of this book is pure gold. I have watched countless clients and workshop participants find game-changing/life-changing impact by implementing some of the concepts in this book. 
  • The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: an oldie but oh-so-goodie. I find that many popular and wildly successful books of today are (either directly, or indirectly) based on the concepts that Covey lays out in this book. This is another book worth reading over and over again. I recommend buying a copy and revisiting chapter by chapter, concept by concept.

What do you think? What are the books that you read and recommend most frequently? I'd love to hear your "top 7" list!

3 Ways to Create More Freedom in Everyday Life

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In celebration of Independence Day, let's talk about freedom. As those of us in the United States celebrate our freedom as a nation and the many freedoms we're afforded by living in the US, I've been thinking about what freedom feels like to me in small everyday ways. 

Freedom is not only something I'm grateful for, but it is also one of my values. When I feel free, I feel happy, and often when I feel happiest is when I feel most free. 

So how can we cultivate more freedom in our everyday lives? Here are a few things that I find helpful.

1. Ask Yourself: What Makes Me Feel Free? Write it Down. 

For me, I feel most free...

  • In nature
  • During the summertime - and in the presence of sunshine and warm weather 
  • When I have time and space on my calendar to breathe, zoom up, think strategically, and be creative 
  • When I have some level of flexibility for impromptu plans throughout my weeks and months
  • When I create time early in the morning to think, plan, reflect, and write 

I have found that I feel least free when I feel trapped by my calendar, trapped by commitments that don't tie to my values or my higher purpose, or trapped by too much back-to-back work-related travel. Identifying what makes me feel free (and what makes me feel least free) allows me to make choices that align accordingly. For me, my feeling of freedom ties directly to my feeling of creativity - and ultimately helps me serve my clients in a more impactful way. 

2. Free Yourself From Your Inbox

Over the past 5 years, I've had the opportunity to offer leadership-based workshops and courses to thousands of successful professionals across many different industries. Regardless of role, tenure, or working style, one of the most common things I hear is that people feel trapped by their inbox - a constant flood of incoming emails each day, taking their attention away from the things that matter most, and causing them to feel as though they can never catch up.

I believe there is a better way!. And this better way involves putting ourselves back in charge of our inboxes. Here's how:

  • Determine how often you need to check email each day in order to be effective and responsive. I've found that for most roles and industries, people self-identify that the sweet spot is around 4 times per day. For some it is more, and others is less. 
  • Determine, based on the above number, the optimal times to check email. I typically recommend morning - but not first thing, late morning/midday, mid-afternoon, and end of day.
  • Schedule 20-30 minutes at each of these times to check email. Pull out any tasks, to-dos, or follow-up items into a separate list. 
  • Start your day free of intake (this includes your inbox!). Give yourself at least 10 minutes each morning to reflect on your highest priorities for the day before opening your inbox. 
  • Turn off all notifications for your email and your inbox. In this new model, you are now in control of when you check your email; those notifications are no longer in control of you!
  • When you're finished checking email during your pre-determined blocks, close out your inbox entirely, and back away slowly.

I recognize that this entire process may sound terrifying - especially if you're accustomed to having your inbox open all day long, and responding to emails individually as they come in. The process of checking emails all day everyday can have a huge hit on our productivity; research from Gloria Marks at the University of California-Irvine has found that we are distracted, on average, every 11 minutes - and that it can take us 25 minutes to return to our original task after interruption. If we think about this data in the context of our inbox, we can quickly start to understand why it's easy to feel like on some days, we go to work for 8-10 hours per day but get nothing done. 

I've had many clients go through this process, and the impact has been tremendous. (even for clients who were very resistant at first!) Almost immediately, my clients have noticed decreased stress and frustration, and an increased feeling of productivity. 

3. Get Rid of Commitments that Feel Like Obligations 

Do you dread going to committee meetings for the volunteer group that you're a part of? Did you renew your position on the board because you felt obligated to, rather than because you wanted to? Have you filled your calendar with meetings, scheduled months into the future, that don't actually align with your highest purpose at your job, in your business, or overall?

Time is our most precious and valuable resource. It's a resource that we never get back once we spend it. And yet often, we give away our time in ways that we would never give away our money or other resources. Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, when we are doing things out of a feeling of obligation, we are simply not having the greatest impact possible - because we are not operating from a place that is aligned with our passion and our purpose. 

When saying "yes" to things that we put on the calendar, I invite you to reflect on the following:

  • Is this a "hell yeah?" In the words of Derek Sivers (and many others since), "if it's not a hell yeah, it's a no." 
  • Does this commitment align with my values? 
  • Does this commitment align with my higher purpose? Am I creating some sort of positive impact through this commitment? 
  • Do I know why I'm here? This is especially important if you're working within an organization that is facing meeting overload. When planning meetings, each participant should have a clear understanding of why they are being asked to participate in the meeting. If you receive an invitation to a meeting and you're not sure that you need to be there, I invite you to be empowered to ask! Several of my clients have been able to reduce meeting fatigue within their organizations  by consistently asking this question for every meeting they schedule. 
  • What is the cost? If I say "yes" to this, what is the trade-off? And am I okay with that trade-off?

If this is hard for you (it's still incredibly hard for me too - even after practicing this diligently for the last five years), I recommend reading the book Essentialism. And then, if you're like me, reading it again...and again. :)

Note: May we remember, as we celebrate our independence, that we are, and always have been, a nation of immigrants.  If you are looking for ways to support families separated at the border, you may consider reading this article for ways to get involved and concrete steps you can take to contact your representatives, and/or supporting one of the following organizations. 

I hope that these strategies are useful to you as you consider ways to create more freedom in your everyday life. I'd love to hear from you if you try some of them out, or if you have other strategies that you find useful. 

My Current Weekly Review Process

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Those of you who know me, or who have been following along for awhile, know that I love all things reflection-related. Journaling, visioning, intention setting, morning reflection - I love it all, and I do most of it regularly as part of my daily and weekly rhythms. 

That said, I'm not an incredibly structured person - meaning that I often do what I feel like doing, when I feel like doing it, within a general framework that I'm committed to, when it comes to these things. Sometimes it's my favorite notebook and a pen in the morning. Other times it's the Desire Map Planner or the Five Minute Journal

One thing that I haven't been terribly diligent with recently is an in-depth weekly review. I've done various forms of a weekly review over the years, but I hadn't found one that really stuck. Inspired by this article, which my friend Megan sent to me, I decided to revive my weekly review in hopes of creating something that a) would be deeply impactful and b) I'd look forward to doing each week.

I'm feeling quite excited that so far, it seems that my revived weekly review process is a winner. I've typically been doing it on Sundays, and it includes deep reflection on the week prior, as well as planning and visioning for the week ahead. 

Some of the key reflections in this weekly review include:

  • Successes and Things to Celebrate 
  • Things I Wish I'd Done Differently
  • Things I'm Stalling On and Why I Might Be Stalling 
  • Brutal Honesty about Things that Didn't Get Done 
  • Progress on Top 3-5 Priorities from the Week Prior 
  • Identification of Top 3-5 Priorities for the Week Ahead
  • Project Check-In: Are All Projects On Track?
  • Logistical Check-In: Have I Taken Care of All Logistical Items for the Week?
  • Values Check-In: How Have I Honored Each of My Values This Week?
  • Things I Learned
  • My Why and My Stake for the Week Ahead

I've been amazed at the way in which this process has helped me to simplify my weeks, and also get more done, in the time that I've been using it.

Do you have a weekly review process that you like?

Or would you like a copy of the worksheet that I am using for this process? If so, feel free to drop me a note at sarah@zingcollaborative.com and I'll happily send a copy your way. 

Happy Reviewing!

 

 

Lessons I've Been Learning This Year

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This week, I embrace another year of life - a gift I am so grateful for, and something I do not take lightly. What an amazing opportunity we have to live on this earth and continue to create our lives each day.

This week, between eating lemon cremes, lemon macarons, and lemon cupcakes (there’s a trend happening here - it's been my strategy to deal with the April Blizzard we've gotten here in the midwest), I’ve been reflecting on some things I’ve been learning over the course of this past year of life.

Do It Your Way.

This is a lesson I’ve been both teaching, and learning, since I started my business. It doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing, how anyone else is running their business, or what anyone else’s website looks like. What matters is that we are creating in a way that is 100% aligned with who we are and what we believe, in a way that serves the world from a place of our unique genius. If ever I find myself even 2% adrift from this place of pure alignment, I know that it is time to pause, tune in, get quiet, and shift accordingly. And for everyone out there who is building something and has the urge to go look at other people’s websites “for inspiration,” please - I beg you - don’t do it. I promise you, your energy is better spent with your head down and your heart open to your own version of truth and inspiration.

Schedule it First. On the Calendar. Otherwise, It Almost Certainly Won’t Happen.

This goes for time with girlfriends, trips to see family, vacations, yoga classes, date nights, weekend adventures, and all the other things we say we want to do but can’t find time for. We will never find the time. We must create it, and we must create it first.

Go for the Comfortable Couch.

While the mid-century modern apartment sofa looks cool in the living room, nobody (including me) actually wants to sit on it.

When Working with the Right Clients, the Business Model is Easy.

“Work with amazing clients who inspire me” is the majority of my business model, and has been for the last several years. It’s a part of my business model that I never plan to change.

Vibes Matter.

The energy of spaces and places matters. I spent two years searching for a new home yoga studio, visiting almost every studio in my city. I finally found “the one” - based almost 100% on the energy and vibes. A studio that smells like feet, has a crumbling ceiling, or has a waiting area that feels like a sardine can is not a studio that I want to hang out in. Acknowledging the importance of vibes and energy allows me to more easily make decisions about where to spend my time and my money.

Enthusiasm Can Have a Dark Side.

My top Strength in Strengthsfinder is Positivity. All of my other assessments cite “creativity, visioning, possibilities, and enthusiasm” as top traits. All of these things have major gifts - especially as an entrepreneur and someone who likes to create and start things. However, they also have downsides; it can be easy for me to get wrapped up in an idea, a possibility, and the potential for what something “could be” versus the reality of what it really is or how much time it will actually take.

We Often Need to Take Our Foot off the Gas to Realize How Fast We Were Going.

2017 was a year of velocity for me. I didn’t realize the speed at which I was driving until I finally paused and took my foot off the gas in late December. Upon doing so, I realized that it had been a thrilling ride, but that the car would eventually run out of gas if I kept driving at that pace. I needed to take my foot off the gas in order for this realization to occur; I didn’t notice the danger of running out of gas while I’d been driving, full speed, with the windows down and the music turned up high. While driving at full speed is exhilarating, I realized that I also need to build in time to take the car in for a tune-up, refill the tank with gas, and even take the slow scenic road at 25 mph once in a while - ideally, before the last week of the year.