Gauging Your Joy

Nope. This isn’t my Halloween costume. It’s a picture of me on my mom’s 70th birthday. It’s one of many pictures I keep on hand to remind me not to take life too seriously. How can I with a flock of flamingos on my head?

 Image by Leigh Whelpton

Image by Leigh Whelpton

One of my gauges of how things are going in my life is laughter. If I’m not laughing, something is off. My friends joke that my laugh is a Libby homing beacon allowing them to find me down winding hallways or in crowded rooms. I love this concept. I absolutely want to draw amazing people to me with my joy and laughter.

That’s why I know something is off when there’s a laughter shortage. Without fail it’s my indicator that something in my life needs to shift. This is especially true when the laughter has been swapped out for tears.

But how to shift things? As soon as I realize something is off, I check in with my body to see where I’m holding tension — because if there are tears there is tension. Our bodies know. So deeply. I start with three deep breaths feeling my body expand with the additional movement. Plus, it’s pretty common that I’ve fallen into a shallow breath pattern if I’m feeling out of sorts.

As my body relaxes and my mind quiets, I begin a slideshow of what’s happening in my life. Think of it like an awesome 80s montage of what you’re up to in the here and now. As each image flashes through my mind, I pay attention to how my body is contracting or expanding. If it’s expanding, awesome. High fives all around. If it’s contracting, that warrants a bit more introspection. Is there a specific spot in my body that feels tight? Am I pushing myself too hard in a particular area of my life? Have I been saying yes when really my answer is no?

The longer I sit with it, the more clarity that follows. Once I’ve gotten clear I can take action! What can I start doing? What can I stop doing? What brings me immediate joy? And lo and behold, things start to change and the laughter meter in my life goes way up!

How about you — how do you know when something is off kilter in your life? How do you shift things back to joy?

Adapted from Instagram.

This Day Intentionally Left Blank

Last week I returned from a month away from home. I’d driven across the country, talked to some dead people, had some incredible breakthroughs, helped my clients get clarity, and enjoyed two separate rainbows atop a rainy mountain. And that’s just a fraction of what transpired. It was a big trip to say the least.

I knew that the minute I walked through my door that exhaustion would hit me. I’m not one who can be on the road for extended periods of time without being impacted. I’ve learned that when I expend that kind of energy on travel, I will need some down time upon my return.

So I schedule it. It takes the form of blank days on my calendar. Nothing scheduled, not even social outings. I think of it like that page that comes with your bank statement showing, “This page intentionally left blank.” Nothing to look at here. Move on. This offers you peace of mind that there’s no additional information to track down. Having a blank day on your calendar serves much the same purpose.

Now, this is not to say that I don’t do anything on these days. Quite the opposite. My most recent blank day started with a leisurely cup of tea (as per usual) followed by a walk on the beach (because oh how I missed the lake) and then some reading. In the afternoon I got the itch to rearrange my living room which included pulling out the stash of jars I’ve been inexplicably hoarding. Staring at them on my coffee table long enough to wonder what would happen if I tried my hand at candle making with the supplies a friend gave me over a year ago. Turns out it’s a super relaxing activity I quite enjoy.

All this is to say, blank calendar days in no way mean you have to sit around doing nothing. But also, if sitting around doing nothing is what your body and your soul are craving, embrace it. They are days where you’ve created down time to follow your musings and see where they take you. They’re days without deadlines or agendas. They’re days to rest in whatever form that takes.

Do you schedule blank days on your calendar? What wonderful things do they entail?

Adapted from Instagram.

Vibrational Alignment of a Landing Page

Chatting up with a friend this week, she prompted me to catch her up on what I’m up to. So I shared with her that I’m working with companies to develop clear business strategies that enable them to take aligned action and build the empires they envision. I explained that many of my clients are women because at this moment my approach of bringing intuition and energetic balance into the mix seems to be attracting badass ladies looking to build a better model of the work they’ve been doing for decades. I shared that I love working with medium sized businesses that are at the precipice of their next phase of growth so that they can do so sustainable.

Her response, “Great! Your website says none of that.” I paused. Huh. She was totally right.

Since I had updated my website last, I’ve gained increased clarity on my business and my clientele. I’ve honed my summation of what I do. (I’m oddly reluctant to the term “elevator pitch,” but that seems like a conversation for another day.) I’m unearthed my tagline — Inspiring sustained growth through aligned action.

This made me wonder, as we are constantly growing and evolving and becoming even stronger powerhouses in our businesses and careers, how often do we update the external indicators that bring the rest of the world up to speed? When’s the last time you updated your website or LinkedIn profile or résumé?

And is it important?

Here’s my take. Yes and no. Yes, because those are the outward confirmations that others sometimes need to cement whether they want to work with you or hire you or reach out to strike up conversation. And yet, no, because I firmly believe in the Law of Attraction and that vibration speaks way louder than words.

But! What if we can harness that and have our words reflect our vibration!?! Best of all worlds. So I spent today updating my website and now the above image is the first thing you see. Bam! Outward persona reflects inner vibration.

Adapted from Instagram.

Joy Magnet: Mandy Lancia of The Glossary

First face I saw this morning at Create & Cultivate Chicago — Mandy Lancia of The Glossary! So clearly my day is off to a fantastic start. She gives the best hugs and has a smile that lights up a room. True story.

She even indulged me and took some adorable photos of us staring at each other — which inevitably resulted in laughter.

Want more of her radiance? Follow The Glossary. You’ll meet a lot of other incredible women as well.

Adapted from Instagram.

Celebration of Life

Every summer my community compiles a Celebration of Life list — in one column, all of the births and in another all of the deaths. I’ve always loved that it celebrates the start of life and the completion of life equally and acknowledges that there can be joy in both.

I say this because, connection doesn’t end when someone dies. In some ways, the connection becomes stronger than ever. The nature of the relationship changes when someone is no longer in an earthly body and this requires a period of grieving and adjustment. The way in which we relate to that person changes.

Instead of walking into the kitchen and seeing your loved one there or picking up the phone to call, we discover new ways to connect. Often they are less tangible — a feeling, a sign, a memory.

 Image by  Kerstin Ax

Image by Kerstin Ax

I interject when I hear the phrase “I’ve lost so-and-so,” in conversation There’s no loss — only a shift. Those Spirits find news ways to communicate with us. Each of us receives those messages in our own way. Many of my dead loved ones embrace birds as symbols to remind me they’re around.

Hummingbirds and cardinals signify that my grandma is checking in on me. Hawks, especially during long drives, feel like a wave of acknowledgement from a childhood friend. Herons, in all their majesty, evoke a feeling of comfort as though my entire lineage is signaling that all is well.

This summer hummingbirds are cropping up everywhere. Everywhere! One greets me each morning at my lavender bushes drinking in the sweet nectar of the flowers while I sip my tea. Carved hummingbirds pop up in store windows and in the homes of friends. Others zip by the windows of friends’ homes while we’re inside engulfed with laughter over a good meal. Each sighting a nod that I am loved.

I relish these greetings — these little living love notes. They remind me that our connections live on long after our bodies retire. How do you feel the connection with your loved ones who have died? Are particular signs popping up for you?

Adapted from Instagram.

Making Aligned Connections

Connection. It takes on many forms. Connection to self. Connection to the Divine. Connection to each other. Connection to the earth. Connection.

Yet at its core, it’s all the same. Vibrational resonance. Connection to the vibrational energy that is coursing through each one of us. By nurturing any one aspect of connection, you are deepening your relationships in the other areas of your life. You and your business are inextricably linked. The way you show up for one is the way you show up for the other, whether you realize it or not.

This is top of mind for me this summer as I engage with people at conferences and retreats. I am the walking embodiment of my business. 👋🏻 How I show up in a room speaks volumes about who I am and in my work.

Are we drawn to each other? Amazing! Let’s see where that might lead. Does conversation feel laborious and forced? Wonderful. Now is not our season to work together. Let’s honor that. No need to force a relationship when it doesn’t feel natural.

I’m also incredibly intentional about what events I attend. No surprise there. I seek out communities that feel expansive and inclusive. Spaces where I feel supported and have the opportunity to support others. Environments in which I can hold meaningful conversation and skip the small talk. Places where I walk away feeling fueled instead of drained.

How do you navigate what to attend and how to expand your circle?

Now's your chance to see more incredible work by Libby VanderPloeg! Sharp Edges is on display at Finlandia University [435 Quincy Street, Hancock, MI] in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan from July 26 – September 6, 2018 with a closing reception on Thursday, September 6, 7:00 – 8:30 PM and an artist talk beginning at 7:20 PM.

Gallery Hours are 8:00 AM – 4:30 PM Monday–Friday

Adapted from Instagram.

Slow down. You move too fast.

🎶 Slow down. You move to fast. You got to make the morning last. 🎶

These Simon & Garfunkel lyrics came to me this morning as I set a tea towel on fire while preparing tea today. I was feeling scattered and was attempting to do too many things simultaneously. That never works. As I lifted my kettle off of the burner, the tea towel graced the still hot metal and burst into flames.

Stunned for a moment I held the towel in my hand watching the fringe burn off realizing I needed to slow down. My focus came back to the kitchen as I submerged the towel in a pot of water in the sink then promptly sprayed it down with water.

I am unscathed and the towel is only a little worse for wear. The fringed edges are signs of love and use in my opinion.

 Image by  Carolyn V

Image by Carolyn V

Pouring my tea into my mug, I took a deep breath. Breathe. Slow down. Breathe. Slow down. Breathe. Feel my body relax. Breathe. Pause. Realize I don’t have to complete everything at this exact moment. Breathe. Go walk outside to sit in the garden and enjoy the tea. Breathe. Smile at the hydrangeas. Breathe. Remember sometimes slowing down is the best way to get more done.

Ah, yes. That golden realization. Slowing down allows me to accomplish more. Tuning into myself, my breathe, Source propels me through my day with deep, grounded energy. I stop flitting about feeling like there isn’t time in the day for everything I want to accomplish. Suddenly the day opens up and I steadily check off everything on my to do list. Expansion. Ease.

Adapted from Instagram.

A Bookshelf of Friends

There’s something truly special about looking at my bookshelf and seeing the names of friends smiling back at me from the bindings. Each book evokes memories of a time I’ve shared with the author. Late night existential conversations (or so we thought) in a high school dorm. Russian Literature class in the dead of winter watching the sun rise across the snowy campus. Weddings and salons and literary adventures. Long walks enjoying nature together. These books are storytellers beyond what’s on the pages.

And with that, suddenly authors are no longer elusive creatures who magically create bound books for us to enjoy. They’re humans who have an exquisite talent for crafting the written word and are generous enough to share it with us. Knowing a few of them is my glimpse behind the curtain — a reminder that for all the magic that is involved in crafting a book there’s a hell of a lot of hard work too. And that we’re all capable of great things if we’re willing to put in the time.

All too often we’re quiet fans from afar of the work our friends are doing. I’ve fallen prey to this. Some of these books have been sitting on my shelf for years waiting to be read despite my desire to devour them. We get caught up in our own lives and forget to share our enthusiasm and high fives with those whose work we value. The act of getting a book publish or launching a company or presenting an art installation is no small feat. Let’s cheer on the people who are creating incredible works in this world.

When’s the last time you high-fived a friend, figuratively or literally, for what she’s up to? For that matter, when’s the last time you reached out to anyone you admire to let her know you value her work? (I sent Zoë Comings a little love note this morning to tell her I wear her earrings almost daily and get a constant stream of compliments for them.) Sharing your enthusiasm with people feels fantastic!

Writer friends, my hats off to you for the talent encapsulated on my bookshelf. I’m using this summer to catch up on some overdue reading. Congrats on the fruition of your labors and thanks for sharing your incredible talents with us! I’m cheering you on whether you know it or not. Let the reading commence.

Bookshelf collection listed alphabetically by author —

  Lies You Never Told Me  by Jennifer Donaldson

Lies You Never Told Me by Jennifer Donaldson

 The Marginalized Majority: Claiming Our Power in a Post-Truth America by  Onnesha Roychoudhuri

The Marginalized Majority: Claiming Our Power in a Post-Truth America by Onnesha Roychoudhuri

Speaking of supporting people you know, here are a few of my favorite local bookstores where you can pick up these books — Brilliant Books [Traverse City, MI] or Powell’s Books [Portland, OR] or The Strand [NYC].

Adapted from Instagram.

Joy Magnet: Strawberry Moon

Last night, seated at a bonfire and fresh out of an evening swim, I watched the moon rise over the lake. I audibly gasped it was so beautiful. [Pictures, even this one, do not do it justice.] We waiting as it crept over the tree line and was engulfed by clouds. Bright, powerful, soft. Simultaneously a reminder and permission that we can be all three.

 Image by  R oss Whelpton

Image by Ross Whelpton

We made our way down the road in hopes of seeing the Northern Lights, rumor had it they were going to make an appearance. Lying on the breakwall I stared at the sky with the lighthouse looming overhead, backlight by the brilliance of moon rising higher in the sky. My heart filled with happiness. The harmonies of Ballade to the Moon by Daniel Elder came to mind knowing this is the moment to which I'm transported whenever I hear this song no matter where I am. I weep with joy beneath the moon.

 Image by  R oss Whelpton

Image by Ross Whelpton

Ballade to the Moon by Daniel Elder

On moonlit night I wander free, my mind to roam on thoughts of thee.
With midnight darkness beckoning my heart toward mystic fantasy:
Come, dream in me!
How beautiful, this night in June, And here, upon the velvet dune;
I weep with joy beneath the moon.

The path lies dark before my sight, And yet, my feet with pure delight
trod onward through the blackened vale beneath the starry sky so bright.
O, share thy light!
These woods, their weary wanderer soon in awe and fearful wonder swoon;
I weep with joy beneath the moon.

And as the darkened hours flee, my heart beats ever rapidly.
Though heavy hang my eyes with sleep, my singing soul, it cries to thee:
Come, sing with me!
The twinkling sky casts forth its tune—O, must I leave thy charms so soon?
I weep with joy beneath the moon.

Adapted from Instagram.

The Freedom of Unplugging

After pulling up to Camp Wandawega and texting my friends that keep track of me to let them know I’d made it in one piece, I switched my phone to airplane mode and slipped it in my bag. Freedom. From that point on, I only touched my phone to set a morning alarm. Had I remembered my alarm clock, I wouldn’t have touched my phone the entire weekend. But, I required an alarm to get up early enough to jump in the lake before the festivities of the day got going.

 Image by  Jaclyn Simpson

Putting my phone away allowed me to be fully present with the other women attending Let’s Camp, a creative women’s retreat hosted by The Glossary and Feminest. It meant deep, heartfelt conversations without leaning over and pulling out my phone to check if the outside world needed me. The outside world could wait.

Being unplugged meant not caring what time it was and not actually needing to know thanks to megaphones and dinner bells. It meant being fully in a moment by not trying to taking pictures and yet now being able to close my eyes and remember every aspect. It meant counting my weekend in laughter instead of likes while truly being in the moment. It meant late night conversations, cross-legged on bed, sharing stories with women I just met but felt like I’d known for ages. And not once did I wonder, “What’s happening elsewhere?”

I shared that weekend with so many talented photographers whose lenses captured the moments better than I ever could. I acknowledge this as a gift both that allowed me to be fully immersed and that their images embody the feeling of camp. A heartfelt thank you to Jaclyn Simpson, Momoko Fritz, and Stephanie Bassos for being my camp eyes.

This experience, and camp as a whole, felt like a luxury in this day and age when my phone is often permanently glued to my hand. It was an incredible reminder of the simplicity that comes from unplugging and the happiness that accompanies it. My connection to myself became stronger as did my connection to others.

 Image by  Momoko Fritz . Meditation by  Chill Babe Alma .

Image by Momoko Fritz. Meditation by Chill Babe Alma.

As I hoped in my car and switched my phone out of airplane mode preparing for the drive home, I reflected on how I could incorporate the freedom of unplugging in my daily life. I reminded myself that my walks along Lake Michigan are partially unplugged since I don’t get reception on the beach though often I stop to take pictures of the sunset. But I want something more intentional.

So I’m trying an experiment — each week I am going to set aside time where I am without my phone when I switch my phone off and enjoy the presence of the moment. This might be an hour a day or a day a week. I haven’t felt that out yet. Perhaps I’ll start small and then begin unplugging for longer and longer periods. Maybe I find that those small periods are all I need. We shall see.

 Image by  Jaclyn Simpson

I do know that I’m going to continue to leave my phone in my purse during meals and tea dates with friends and be fully present for myself and for them. I’m going to remember that the experience happened whether I captured it on camera or not. And I’m going to continue be grateful for the opportunities to completely unplug while reminding me how wonderful it is to be connected.

Adapted from Instagram.

Joy Magnet: Letters to Lake Michigan

Living in a small town means those handling your mail know you by name and vice versa. It makes for a lovely experience when popping into the Post Office to pick up my mail or snag some more stamps. Rarely is anyone in a rush. Folks catchup while waiting in line and see the act as a social outing. On any given day, it's an enjoyable experience.

 Postcard Image by  Mae Stier

Postcard Image by Mae Stier

Today was filled with extra joy. Excited by the new Frozen Treats scratch-and sniff-stamps, I wanted to make sure I got a few. I did. I'm a big believer in snail mail. It helps us feel connected in this digital age. And that's why I was thrilled by this beautiful postcard at the top of my mail pile.

My friend Mae Stier, incredible photographer and human, has embraced a project titled Letters to Lake Michigan. Mama Lake, as many of us call her, is an integral part of our lives here in Northern Michigan. She reminds us of the constant of change and the beauty therein. She's a source of relaxation on a worrisome day and a source of happiness, well, always.

When I signed up to receive postcards from Mae, I failed to read the fine print that I would be receiving postcards — plural! So this little guy was a happy surprise. Each postcard carries with it a handwritten poem written by Mae. It reads as follows:

A Glimpse by Mae Stier
We expected a sunset but instead the fog rolled in and we could only see the edge of the water, the pollen collecting in the shallows. Gray skies hung low, obscuring your blue. Sand disappeared into nothing down the shoreline, the Bluff was gone. Nothing felt familiar, yet you still kissed the shore, quietly lapping in from oblivion.

💛

Adapted from Instagram.

What I Know to Be True

On the closing night of Let's Camp 2018, hosted by The Glossary and Feminest at Camp Wandawega , we were given the prompt "What I know to be true…" and invited to share our thoughts during ice cream and feelings.

Seated at picnic tables, delirious from a day of 90+ degree heat, heart-felt conversations, canoe races, and workshops full of insights, we were each invited to stand in front of the group, microphone in hand and share our insights. Let me tell you, it was virtually impossible to take the mic in hand and not immediately burst into tears. The love and support radiating from every woman there was palpable.

 Image by  Jaclyn Simpson

On my way home, I got to thinking — if I had to boil down the weekend to a bite sized version of what I know to be true, what would it be? And here's what came of it. What are the truths of your heart?

 Image by  Momoko Fritz

Image by Momoko Fritz

Adapted from Instagram.

Setting Up Your Name in GoToMeeting

When working remotely, be it with coworkers or clients, considerate communication is key. The other day while on a GoToMeeting, my virtual conference room, I noticed that a co-worker had included his name and our company in the Attendees view. Brilliant!

How often do we get on these calls and wonder who everyone is — even amongst our own team? When a new name pops up, do you ever wonder if that person is a new addition from the client side or a co-worker you’ve never encountered before? And if we’re wondering these things, our clients certainly are. Let’s cut through the confusion.

There are two things I now ask all of my clients and teammates to do when setting up their names in GoToMeeting. (Note: I’m specifically calling out GoToMeeting because that’s where I spend much of my day. These principles apply to any remote meeting app.)

Use Your Full Name
It’s easy to figure everyone already knows which David or Jennifer you are. While this might be true, take the guess work out of it and type out your full name. Then there won’t be any confusion should a second Jennifer join the call.

Include Your Company Name
Take things one step further and include your company name. After your full name, use a visual break of some sort and then type your company name, i.e. Libby Brouwer | Appirio. It will end up looking like this in the GoToMeeting Attendees list.

Have you already set up your name and are wondering how to make an edit to it? Go to the GoToMeeting list and select Preferences. You’ll see a section titled “Display Name” where you can edit how your name appears.

Now when you’re on a call with people who may not know exactly who you are, you’ve given them more contextual information from the start. Who knows, they may even track you down on LinkedIn now that they know your full name and where you work.

Ideas are best when shared. How do you format your name to make virtual meetings feel more personal?

Seeing the Forest for the Trees

You’ve spent months working with your client to sort out exactly what fields they need on which objects and where they are placed on the page. Phew. That was a lot of work. Now you’re rolling out the build to a broader audience and getting a bombardment of questions or objections or the dreaded, “This doesn’t do what I need it to do.” And for a moment, you believe it. Even though every execution is backed by careful deliberation, you begin questioning, “Maybe this doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do.”

But then you take a step back and a deep breath, and you realize that while the granular decisions were being made, you lost sight of the bigger picture — the why behind even launching into a project of this scale.

You’ve lost sight of the forest for the trees.

The tree is beautiful up close. The bark, the leaves, the roots shooting through the ground. Stare at the tree. Admire it. Celebrate how amazingly strong and huge it has become. Now take a step back. Now another. As you step away from this specific tree, you begin to see how all of the trees work together. Their root systems share the same water source. Their branches rustle against each other. The richness of the forest brings out attributes of the tree you couldn’t see when you were standing next to it.

You guessed it. The tree is a metaphor.

Up close your fields operate the way they were intended — they auto-populate where they should, roll-up appropriately, and even have the proper help text to guide the user along. The page layouts provide context for how the fields interact, grouping them together in a way that facilitates data entry. The objects relate seamlessly, after all, a great deal of thought was put into their architecture. You’ve agonized over mapping the data correctly until your import was finally clean. Still the tree.

If that’s all part of the tree, then what is the forest?

The forest is how the instance of Salesforce that you built fits into the larger picture of your client’s business needs. It’s the reason you decided to architect the database the way you did. It’s migrating 100+ different instances onto one platform. It’s moving off of spreadsheets tucked in people’s drawers so that all of the data has visibility. It’s breaking down silos from department to department to give greater meaning to the data being collected. It’s a smoother platform that’s user friendly and adaptable as needs change. It’s reports with live data instead of monthly, or worse yet, annual reports.

And guess what, if you’ve lost sight of the forest, so has your client. No matter how you slice it, this is major change for them. Even when you’ve been talking about the impact and the next steps after they go-live with their new system, it’s hard to grasp if you’ve never been through this scale of a migration before. That’s why you’re there. It’s your role as a consultant to aid them in this transition and remind them of the reasons they’ve undertaken the project. Help them take a few steps back and survey the forest. It’s really quite beautiful when you stop and look.

Ideas are best when shared. How do you help your clients remember the benefits of the disruption and change that comes with a new database? What are your tried and true ways to put them at ease?

Be Duck Like

I had just moved. My life was still in boxes. Not all of the boxes had arrived. I could barely find a spoon in my kitchen. My desk was a repurposed baker’s rack as I awaited my real one. A box on the floor was standing in for my dresser. I was sleeping on an inflatable mattress. Things were completely disjointed, and it showed.

But guess what, you have to save your flusteredness for your off hours. Some call this putting on your game face. I call it being duck like. Your feet may be moving furiously under the water, but above the surface is poise and grace. But if you’re scattered, your meetings will be too. Recognizing that you’ve fallen into this pattern, regardless of the reason, is a helpful first step to getting things back on course. When I’m in this frenzied state, here are a few of my tell-tale signs.

Loss of Vocabulary

My generally articulate nature vanishes. In its place, a cadence of fillers tumble from my lips — ummm, uhhhhh, yeah, and so on. It’s dreadful to hold a conversation with me. Luckily, I hear myself. This can also take the form of people being baffled by what you’re explaining. If people with whom you generally have rapport are suddenly mystified by the words coming out of your mouth, pause and assess. Chances are it’s you who’s suddenly unclear.

Running Late

Not only are you prompt to meetings when you’re on your game, you get there three minutes early in order to be settled and ready when the meeting begins. Yet suddenly you find yourself constantly late. When life is throwing you curveballs, things take more time. And that means you’re late — a lot.

Impersonating a Ping-Pong Ball

I’m going to work on this. Now this. Ooh, that thing over there needs some attention. I’ll work on it now. Sound familiar? Ping-pong ball.

Once you’ve identified that you’re a bit scattered, what can you do to craft an air of composure when yours feels far, far away?

Space Out Your Meetings

Give yourself some breathing room. Literally. My day is often filled with back to back to back meetings. Generally I love this. Grouping my meetings together gives me a larger chunk of white space to work when I’m through talking for the day which allows me to be more productive. When I’m having a harder time gathering my thoughts, it’s imperative that there’s a buffer between my meetings. This gives me time to transition from one topic to another or to stand up and refresh my tea before drawing focus again.

Breathe

And while you’re at it, breathe. Take those extra minutes you’ve added between meetings to sit quietly and breathe deeply. Those diaphragmatic breaths will remind your nervous system that it’s okay to chill. There are no wild animals chasing you. Your emails will still be there after your next meeting. Pause. Breathe.

Script Your Agenda

On a normal day, I am able to hold my meetings with a loose outline and the bulk of my notes and topics in my head. (We can talk about whether this is a solid strategy later.) When things are operating a bit less smoothly than normal, that’s no longer a viable plan. To counteract the crazy, I compensate by carefully scripting out all of the items I need to cover in my meetings. For morning standups [brief daily meetings common in the tech world], I jot bullet points of what to mention. Longer meetings require more thought so an outline format does the trick.

Drink More Water

It’s always a good idea to stay hydrated. Keep a water bottle on your desk and sip throughout the day. Your brain will be sharper and clearer.

Let Your Team Know

They call it a team for a reason. We’ve all had moments when we’re a bit distracted. Sometimes it’s a move or a kid going off to college or a sick spouse. Your team knows the quality of work that you hold yourself to and deliver. Chances are they’ve also noticed that something is a bit off. Acknowledge it so they know you’re aware. Then let them help you pick up the slack. Ask someone else to lead a meeting you generally lead while you take notes. Talk through something that’s tripping you up to get a second opinion. Hold a working session to hold your focus. You’re all heading in the same direction, and you would do the same for them if the shoe were on the other foot.

Ideas are best when shared. When do you find yourself a bit off kilter? What behaviors serve as indicators for you? How do you get yourself back on track?

 

Staying Present During Remote Meetings

You dial into a meeting, say your hellos, then promptly start multi-tasking in the background. Be it responding to emails, shopping for the perfect dress for your weekend, or browsing Facebook, your attention is elsewhere. Then someone asks you a direct question and you realize you weren’t actually multi-tasking. You weren’t paying attention to the meeting at all. Cue deer in headlights.

It’s hard enough to pay attending when you’re at a meeting in person. Multiply that exponentially when it's just you and your computer sitting alone in a room.

So how do you stay present during a meeting?

First things first. Ask these questions to make sure you’re not holding a meeting for the sake of holding a meeting. It happens more than you might think.

Does the meeting actually need to happen? Some meetings become obsolete because you’re holding them out of habit long after the matter at hand has been resolved. Others are a result of feeling like you have to have a meeting even if there’s nothing to share. Pause and assess if the meeting truly needs to happen, especially if you’re the one scheduling it.

Do I need to attend? Okay, so the meeting does need to happen. It’s an import topic that needs to be addressed. But wait, there’s a chance that this pressing matter can be discussed without you in the [virtual] room. If you’re not the one scheduling the meeting, and you’re feeling like you’re not imperative to the conversation, ask the scheduler if he or she would mind if you didn’t attend.

This is especially helpful when it feels like all of the white space has vanished from your calendar and there are so many meetings that your work isn’t getting completed. When my calendar is awash in blue (because that’s the color of my meetings) with not a bit of white space to be seen, I’ll pass my updates to my project manager and keep cranking on other items if I’m not integral to the topics of the day.

Another option is to address the items for which you need to be present at the start of the meeting. Points covered, now you can bow out. It’s the best of both worlds.

What’s the appropriate length? Calendar invites generally default to 30 or 60 minutes. Perhaps your meeting could be wrapped up in 15. My team holds daily standups where we all share what we’ve accomplished, what’s in process, and what’s blocked. If everything is smooth sailing, we don’t need the full 30 minutes of the meeting so we hang up after the ten or fifteen it actually takes to talk through things. Sometimes we linger to talk about the latest release on Netflix or our favorite beverage to have on our desk while we’re working. The important things.

Now that you've established that the meeting needs to happen, and you need to be there, and it’s the appropriate length — let’s discuss how to stay present.

As a remote employee, I spend a lot of my time dialed into meetings. This has given me the opportunity to figure out how to fully show up for meetings instead of zoning out. And yes, there are times when my attention wanders because I am far from perfect. But the majority of the time, these strategies keep me dialed in, literally and figuratively.

Remove distractions. This is more than just a meeting strategy. Keeping your desk tidy and your workspace clean will help you focus. This goes for your screens too. On any given day you’ll find me with a slew of windows, tabs, and desktops open. [Though that’s a whole other conversation.] When I launch a meeting, I make sure everything else is cleared away. That way I don’t see an open window behind my meeting window tempting me to click through to read my email or review a document, unless of course that’s what the meeting is about.

Fidget. Here’s when it’s an advantage that you’re not in a room with other people. Fidget away. I have a smooth stone on my desk that I often roll around in my hand while conversing. A friend of mine keeps a Koosh Ball (yes, they do still exist) on his desk. Whatever your preferred object, have something with which to occupy your hands so your mind is free to pay attention.

Take notes. Speaking of paying attention. If you’re taking notes you’ll be following along with everything that’s happening. Maybe the notes are to share with everyone or maybe they’re just for you. Regardless, they’ll keep you on point.

And if all else fails:

Turn on your video. Us remote meeting dwellers sometimes forget that we really can see the person on the other end of the line if we so desire. And when we do see each other, it’s so nice! It’s like a breath of fresh air to not have to decipher someone’s reactions based on speech pattern and intonation. You get to see them. So maybe this isn’t so much of a last resort as a way to remember that we’re all connected even if we are miles apart staring at individual computer screens.

Ideas are best when shared. How do you stay present when engaging in remote meetings?

Meditation • Instantly Finding Your Calm

Running through airports week upon week, inevitably you have one of those days where it knocks the energetic wind out of you. Your flight is delayed. There’s one too many crying babies on your plane. You were up long before the sun, and now you’re running on empty. And even though you take precautions so that you won’t end up feeling like this, it happens.

So how do you quickly rebound from it?

I’ve recently been reminded of one of my favorite ways. I first read about the technique in Donna Eden’s book Energy Medicine [link]. That was years ago. But the things that need to find you have a way of popping up in your life to rekindle their relevance. Sitting on the plane scrolling through articles I had saved, I read back to back posts about the power of placing your hand over your heart, breathing deeply, and focusing on positive words — the first from the Tao of Dana and the second from Colette Baron Reid.

This was a little nudge as if to say, “Remember that conversation you had about this last week? Yeah. Listen.” That discussion was with Joan D’Argo, an incredible energy worker, who suggested tapping or massaging the center of my breastbone as a way to decrease anxiety and return to a place of calm.

Here’s my take on how to instantly find your calm amidst chaos.

A Moment to Sit —
Find a spot to sit. I often pop down by the gate in one of the rows of chairs and draw my legs up to me to sit cross legged, unless I’m wearing a skirt — then I keep both feet on the floor.

Take a deep breath and exhale slowly.

As you do so, bring into your mind a word or image that epitomizes how you would like to feel in this moment. Often this is the opposite of your current feeling. For me the word is often calm as I’m feeling frazzled and scattered or an image of sitting on the shoreline of Lake Michigan watching a sunset.

Gently place your hand over your heart. Continue breathing deeply and slowly exhaling. Feel your hand and your chest rise and fall as your nervous system relaxes. Sometimes you’ll feel the shift in your body happen almost instantly. Some days it might take a bit longer. I know I’ve relaxed when breathing deeply feels natural again and my shoulders have relaxed and are no longer reaching for my ears. It’s a bit different for everyone. Trust your body to tell you.

When you feel a renewed sense of calm, take a final deep breath deeper and slower than those that have come before and release it as slowly as possible. Squeeze every last bit of air out of your lungs. Pause and embrace the feeling of constriction. Breathe in a quick and vibrant breath and as you’re doing so open your eyes. Know that you’re ready to handle whatever the day throws at you.

When On the Go —
When scooting through the airport, there’s not always the luxury to sit down when things feel frenetic. If that’s the case, there’s still a version of this practice you can use. Place your hand over your heart, begin to breath deeply and continuously, and keep heading to your destination. Keep your eyes open this time. You don’t want to topple over at the end of the moving walkway. As you’re walking, use each step to deepen your breathing. If it helps, time your inhales and exhales with each step.

I have a hard time holding a word while on the move so in this version I skip that part. If you are able, hold a word or an image in your thoughts that describes how you would like to feel the way you would if you were sitting in place.

As you approach your destination, take a prolonged deep breath, relax your shoulder, open your chest, and know you are ready for what lies ahead.

This practice is for more than just airports. You can spot me doing this walking through bustling streets of a big city (that’s you New York) or while riding the subway. Find Ikea overwhelming? Give this a try. A bigger crowd at the concert than you anticipated? This works there too.

Ideas are best when shared. What keeps you going in your hectic airport moments? Share your tips so that we can all move through life, and airports, with a bit more ease.

Joy Magnet • Krohn Conservatory

The long weekend brought with it a trip of the non-work variety, a perk of working remotely. I took a quick jaunt down to Cincinnati to visit friends and the city in which I grew up. Much has changed over recent years and some neighborhoods look nothing like I remember yet most of it is exactly as I left it.

The weekend was filled with a host of epicurean adventures. Many a beverage was sipped at Collective, {m5}, and Cheapside. Copious amounts of food were eaten at my all time favorite Indian restaurant, Ambar. Flights of juice were sipped at Off the Vine. Ye olde turkey legges were devoured (though not by me) at Ohio Renaissance Festival. (It really hasn’t changed since the last time I was there twenty years ago.) And Charley Harper glasses were purchased at Mica 12/v for use in my own kitchen. And of course some ice cream was enjoyed at Graeter’s.

What made me especially happy, in addition to all of the fresh air and sunshine this weekend had to offer, was a trip to Krohn Conservatory. A site for many field trips past, I hadn’t been in years. Turns out, a building full of beautiful plants and flowers still makes me smile.

 Air plants at Krohn Conservatory

Air plants at Krohn Conservatory