Struggling to “Do” It All? Try “Being” First

(Reclaim Your Time and Sanity in a Remote Working World)

This article was originally posted on the Optimize Yourself website which is a coaching and mentorship program that helps creative professionals do better and be better, founded by Zack Arnold. 

Debby Germino is the content producer and a coach for Optimize Yourself and she and I connected when I was offering my Productivity Through Presence course.  We quickly discovered the synergy between the Optimize Yourself coaching program and my own Optima Results program (I mean the names say it all, right?).  After having a great conversation with Zack on the Optimize Yourself podcast about aligning your values with your time, I thought this article would be valuable to share here.

I don’t know about you, but my brain is like an endless news ticker reminding me of the growing tasks, activities, ambitions, and must-do’s that I need to accomplish to prove my worth as a human. No sooner do I start one checklist item and I’m already thinking of the next. It’s been ingrained in me that striving, achieving, and accomplishing must be happening at all times!

No longer are we human beings. We have become a society of human doers. We glorify those who do it all. Our hailed celebrities aren’t famous for doing one thing. They are famous for doing a bunch of things.

If you look at Oprah Winfrey’s Wikipedia page, it says she’s an,

“American talk show host, television producer, actress, author, and philanthropist.”

They left out magazine publisher, network owner, and Emmy AND Oscar award winner.

We see this in the entertainment industry all the time: Editors are becoming directors, directors are becoming producers. Actors write, direct, and produce. There is no end to the skills and abilities we should add to our list of credentials.

And that’s just our careers. If we want a family, a social life, and a healthy body and mind, the time required to maintain these things is often in great conflict with our career demands. Even during a pandemic, with commuting being taken out of the equation (for many), we are still rushing around getting the household chores done, making sure kids and pets are settled, all while trying to make it to the next Zoom meeting on time. We’ve lost all boundaries between work and home life.

There is a perpetual OPEN sign hanging on our computers that taunts us all hours of the day inducing guilt if we ignore it, and burnout if we obey it.

Many of us are facing career transitions (either voluntary or involuntary) and the options of where to focus our time and energy are overwhelming at best and debilitating at worst. We should update our resumes, revamp our portfolio websites, reconnect with contacts, reach out to new contacts, but not before researching thoroughly the exact right person that can help us with our next career move. Oh, and that doesn’t even cover the technical skills we should brush up on or the interview skills we should polish.


My head is spinning just writing all of this.

One thing I’ve learned in over a decade of mindfulness training is that when there is overwhelm, it is helpful to name it. Having a term for what we are experiencing normalizes it and creates space around it so it’s not so constricting.

The name for this crazy, incessant pressure we feel is “Time Famine.”

It’s a real thing, and thankfully there are ways we can reduce it (that don’t involve cutting your sleep to 4 hours a night).

“Time Famine” is stealing your happiness…but there is hope.

The term ‘Time Famine’ was coined by researchers in 1999 and is defined as “a feeling of having too much to do and not enough time to do it.” That pretty much describes the feeling I’ve had my whole adult life. I’m encouraged to know I’m not alone.

The Forbes article, Is Time Famine Starving You? How To Satisfy Your Hunger For More reports that:

“… 66% of wage earners say they don’t have enough time to be with their children and spouses or to spend on themselves.”

And it turns out this feeling of time famine does not bode well for our mental health. Researcher and author Ashley Whillans, wrote a book titled Time Smart, on the research she conducted and her findings show that people who feel time famine:

  • experience lower levels of happiness and higher levels of anxiety and depression
  • experience less joy and more stress
  • laugh less
  • they exercise less and are less healthy
  • their productivity at work is diminished
  • they are less likely to help others
  • they lose sight of what’s truly important to them

I can attest to many of these results when I feel overwhelmed and strapped for time.

So what do we do about this?

Hope for a time-making machine so we can have 32 hour days?

Parkinson’s Law states “work expands to fill the time available for its completion.” To put it simply, this tells us that longer days would not solve our problem. Luckily, we don’t need a time machine to reduce time famine. All that is required are three simple practices that will help calm the mind and increase your happiness:

  1. Align your values with your time using the “ABC’s of Meaning” framework
  2. Practice ‘being’ over ‘doing’ with mindfulness practices
  3. Create a ‘Time Windfall List’ so you have healthier ways to spend pockets of time when you’d otherwise waste it

1. Focus on ‘Doing’ things that fulfill you (using the ABC’s of Meaning)

For centuries humans have been contemplating the meaning of life. Aristotle and the Stoics bestowed the virtues of eudemonia – the search for dignity, authenticity, and meaning. Victor Frankl teaches that seeking meaning is humanity’s prime motivation. Carl Jung wrote:

“Meaninglessness inhibits fullness of life.”

When we align our time with the activities that give us meaning and fulfillment we naturally feel more relaxed.  The trouble happens when we are out of touch with what gives us meaning. Our values get murky with external influences that create misalignment leading to time famine.

Although there is no single formula for determining our values, there are some key ingredients that point to a well-balanced life. By finding the balance of each, time famine transforms to time affluence. These key ingredients come from author Bruce Feiler in his book Life is in the Transitions. He calls them the “ABCs of meaning”. He breaks it down simply:

  • A= Agency: Autonomy, freedom, creativity, mastery; the belief that you can impact the world around you.
  • B= Belonging: Relationships, community, friends, family; the people that surround you and nurture you.
  • C= Cause: A calling, a mission, a direction, a purpose; a transcendent commitment beyond yourself that makes your life worthwhile.

Each of us needs all three categories for a well-balanced life. But what he found in his research is that we are constantly weighting and re-weighting these elements in response to life events. Not only that, but we each prioritize one over another so that one person may be agency-first, while another is belonging first, and still another is cause-first. Naturally, they are followed by a secondary and a third priority. For example, one person may be a CAB while another may be a BAC.

After reviewing the ABC’s of meaning below, which most resonates with you?

AGENCY-FIRST: An agency-first person is someone who wants to feel in charge of their life and wants a sense of control. They are planners, builders, creators, and doers. Pablo Picasso is a good example of an agency first person. He wanted control over his work, to create in his own way, and on his own time.

BELONGING FIRST: Belonging-first people are defined by their relationships and connections in their lives. They are dominated by love, community, and personal support systems. Jimmy Stuart’s character George Bailey, in It’s a Wonderful Life is an example of this. He sacrificed his own desires to stay home and run the family business while his brother went off to war.

CAUSE-FIRST: Cause-first people are driven by passion and purpose. They believe in a higher power, even if that higher power is the universe or a higher version of themselves. They prioritize supporting causes, mentoring, care-taking, and volunteering. Martin Luther King Jr. is an example of a cause first person. He sacrificed his own well being and many of his family needs to fight for civil rights and race equity.

Once you recognize your dominant category (while still knowing you need all three), you will better understand how to balance your time.

If you are feeling time famine, it is likely that these elements are out of alignment for one of the following three reasons.

  1. You’re not spending enough time on the dominant category.
  2. You have goals that are competing for time.
  3. You are transitioning to a new dominant category.

If you are a belonging-first person and you are spending all your time at work and very little time with friends and family, you will naturally feel time-deprived because you aren’t getting meaning where you primarily need it. Sometimes this is an easy fix once you realize where you need to reallocate time to feel more balanced. But other times, it’s more complicated.

A research paper published in 2015 in the Journal of Marketing Research found that when people perceived that their goals were conflicting for their time, that stress led to a feeling of time scarcity. For example, maybe you’re a belonging-first person that is trying to get a promotion at work, which will ultimately serve your family better, but in the meantime it’s cutting into the time that you spend with them.

Researcher Jennifer Aaker proposes a solution to this in CNN’s article How to fight ‘time famine’ and boost your happiness:

“When you feel time pressure, try to reframe the goals you have, so that they are less competitive with each other. Or identify activities that satiate multiple goals at once. For example, volunteering at a non-profit with a friend allows you to strengthen friendships while also doing service.”

In the case of the belonging-first person wanting a promotion, you might look for ways to ensure quality time with family as opposed to quantity of time. Make sure when you are with family, you are only focused on them for that period. Leave any devices, phones, and distractions out of the equation and fully engage with them. Being present and mindful will provide more meaning so that when you are at work, you won’t feel the void of disconnection.

Another reason for misalignment and time famine could be that you are shifting dominant categories. Feiler refers to this as “shape-shifting” and reports that it happens several times in life. Frequently these shifts happen during life transitions or big events, such as a wedding, an illness, a new career (or…ahem…living through a pandemic). An example of this would be someone who is career-focused and agency-first who becomes a parent for the first time and finds that he/she’s now shifting to belonging-first.

With the pandemic causing production shutdowns and reduced work opportunities, many of us are scrambling to find any work we can which causes shifts in our values. Or maybe we’re taking this moment to explore another career or a new genre of work we’ve always been attracted to. No matter the case, it’s useful to keep in mind the ABC’s of meaning as we navigate new territory. Understanding where we derive the most meaning in life (agency-belonging-cause), can help guide us in the right career direction and point to where we may be misaligned.

If indeed you are shape-shifting, it’s natural to feel out of balance when this is happening. You’ll feel a pull towards the new direction but it feels awkward and uncertain, causing more time famine. You’ll be recalibrating your ABCs of meaning and it will be an adjustment to find your new ideal balance.

  • The first step is to acknowledge the shift and practice patience with yourself as you make the transition. Honor the feelings that come up and give yourself permission to be uncomfortable.
  • The next step is to find help if you need it. Coaching is designed to help you navigate this new terrain with strategies tailored to your specific needs.

Whether you are shifting shapes, reconfiguring your goals, or finding new ways to be more present, the transition won’t be immediate and time famine will still be present. During this time, mindfulness can help alleviate the pressure, release anxiety, and even bring some joy into life.

2. Focus on ‘Being’ more mindful (and doing less)

As a culture that glorifies doing, it’s very difficult to sit and do nothing. As contrarian as it sounds, it takes effort to do nothing. It feels uncomfortable, and quite frankly it feels like a waste of time.

But what if the very idea that we have to be “doing” all the time is the reason we are so stressed?  The Forbes article, Is Time Famine Starving You?, makes a case for this idea.

“When you take occasional pauses, a calm state nourishes your famished mind and body, providing you a chance to rest and digest. Your heart and respiratory rates slow down, your mind clears, and you’re more productive.”

Giving yourself permission to do nothing without accomplishing, achieving, or striving for just minutes a day will go a long way in alleviating time famine.

For example, what do you do when you get an unexpected pocket of time? Maybe a zoom call ends 20 minutes early, or you’re waiting for a producer to give you notes in half an hour.

Do you fill that time with other work, catching up on email or paying bills?

Or maybe you fill that time surfing the internet?

Or (more likely) doom scrolling on Twitter?

Filling these little pockets of time with endless tasks makes us think we are accomplishing more, but in reality it’s keeping the nervous system cranked up, perpetuating the feeling that we have to continue being “busy”.

These small increments of “busy-ness” are the equivalent of junk food for our time (and our brains). This is a phrase that Dr. Laurie Santos, Yale Professor, and host of the Happiness Lab podcast, refers to when she talks about time famine. Things like doom scrolling and fitting in one last email between editing sessions are not healthy ways to spend our time. Instead, she recommends healthier options like taking 10 ten deep breaths, stepping outside for fresh air, or even doing stretches at your desk.

The idea is to engage in activities that allow the nervous system to rest and recover. The brain functions best when it’s relaxed, producing the ideal environment for creativity and efficiency.

Finding healthy ways to promote this state of mind will decrease that underwater feeling that your perpetual to-do list induces. Research suggests that experiencing moments of awe help to expand the perception of time – things like watching the sunrise and sunset each day, or gazing at the night sky for a few minutes during an evening walk.

The game-changer for me in helping relax my mind and reduce overwhelm has been practicing meditation. I notice a distinct difference in my mental well-being when I take time to meditate in the morning as opposed to when I don’t. This doesn’t have to be a huge chunk of time to have noticeable effects. Pausing for just a few minutes to focus on the breath or the body is enough to signal the brain to relax and reduce the volume on the relentless monkey mind.

Another meditation technique that will increase focus is to use a mantra. You can choose one specifically to remind yourself that time is on your side. A simple phrase, such as “create space” or “be where you are” can be a gentle reminder to slow down, loosen your contracted muscles, and open your heart to a more abundant attitude. The mantra can also be used outside of meditation and can be repeated any time of the day when you’re feeling time-strapped and anxious.

These simple practices will relax the nervous system, allowing you to increase your creativity, and reduce the time pressure that sucks your energy away.

3. Become Aware of How You Spend Your Time And Make Small Shifts from ‘Doing’ to ‘Being’

Now the obvious question is:

 “How do I find time to do these practices when I already have too much to do?”

Like we say here at Optimize Yourself,

“You don’t find the time, you prioritize it.”

The first step is always awareness. You have to be aware when you are caught in time famine. Then you have to remember the practices that will help reduce the feeling. Without that, it’s too easy to reach for the “junk food” activities and forget about the more “nutritious” ones.

One suggestion to help with remembering is to create a Time Windfall List. This idea comes from researcher Ashley Whillans in her book Time Smart. She suggests writing a list that consists of healthy ways to spend your time and keeping it handy so when unexpected time arrives (like waiting for notes), you have a quick reference for some healthy options.

Example Time Windfall List:

  • Take ten deep breaths
  • Get some fresh air outside
  • Do 5 minutes of stretches at your desk
  • Watch the sunrise or sunset
  • Meditate
  • Recite a mantra such as “create space” or “be where you are”
  • Listen to a song that makes you happy
  • Spend 30 minutes free from media, internet, tv, phones, or music
  • Go for a short walk outside
  • Play with your dog (or cat, or child)
  • Memorize a favorite poem, quote, or passage from a book
  • Do 20 jumping jacks, push-ups, or squats
  • Do some gardening
  • Draw or doodle on paper

Once you have the list, keep it somewhere handy like on your phone, at your desk, or posted on the wall so you’ll see it and refer to it throughout the day.

Then, start small, and commit to doing just one item per day. At first, it’s best to pick a specific time during the day that you’ll do the activity. That will start to create the habit and get you thinking about how you’re spending your time. It’s no different than keeping healthy food around when you want to reduce the amount of junk food you’re eating. Make it obvious and clear so the choice is a no-brainer.

Slow Down and Do Less

The pace of society is constantly signaling to us to speed up and do more. This has created a habit of being busy. But this habit is just another part of the hedonic treadmill that will never be satiated. If we perpetuate the habit, it will only lead to burnout and exhaustion.

The antidote is to slow down and practice the steps outlined above.

  • Determine your order in the ABCs of meaning. Are you agency-first, belonging-first, or cause-first? Plan your time accordingly. Be conscious of shifts and transitions that may be causing imbalances and competing for time. Try combining activities to fulfill two categories at once.
  • Practice “being” over “doing” with mindfulness. Meditation promotes relaxation of the nervous system which will enhance creativity and reduce anxiety. Experiencing awe will expand your sense of time.
  • Choose “nutritious” activities over “junk food” for your time and create a Time Windfall List so you remember what the healthier choice is.
  • Prioritize your time to try one activity per day from your Time Windfall List.

Time will expand as you slow down and you’ll appreciate the small pleasures of simply existing in the world. If we all learn to strive a little less, “be” a little more, and align our time with our values, we could shift the zeitgeist of our culture and enjoy the freedom of time.

Debby Germino is a film and television editor (Fargo, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Smallville, Genius), endurance athlete, and author of the Happiness in Training publication on Medium. She writes about happiness, health and mindful living. She has studied mindfulness for the past 10 years and enjoys helping and supporting others in creating happy and fulfilling lives. Happiness is a practice best strengthened through training. If you would like to become more resilient, less anxious, and enjoy more ease in life, Download Debby’s Happiness in Training Starter Kit today.



Get Your Tech in Check

Technology is a great servant but a poor master. Here are three quick tips to get your tech in check and create some focused time for productivity. I encourage you to implement at least one of these tips, every day this week.

#1 Put your computer and phone on do not disturb. Ideally put your phone out of reach and out of view. Research shows that just having your phone in sight can be distracting.

#2 Set a timer for 45-55 minutes and do not check email or social media or anything not 100% related to the task at hand. On your mark, get set, go! When time is up, take at 5-10 minute break. You earned it!

#3 Set an out-of-office responder at the end of your workday. Let people know you are offline and will not be checking email until the following morning Then, follow-through! If you respond to emails in the evening you’ll continue to receive emails in the evening. This is an important part of boundary-setting, respect the boundaries you set for yourself and others will learn to respect those boundaries as well. Boundary setting is a must when growing our business and trying to maintain work-life balance!

Photo Credit: on Unsplash

A Simple Strategy To Jazz Up Your Team Meeting

How often have you been exhausted by back-to-back meetings with little to show for it at the end of the day? There is lots of data to support that meetings waste valuable time and money.

Optimal meetings facilitate the synergy of participation, further the objectives of the team, and leave participants with actionable next steps. So how can we have more effective meetings? The key is to have clearly defined roles.


Share the agenda with the participants at least one business day in advance of the meeting. Every agenda should include:

1) Specific purpose and objectives

2) Time allotment for each meeting topic

3) Identify meeting roles

Invite only the individuals that absolutely need to attend. There may be others that don’t need to attend but can be kept in the loop by receiving the meeting minutes.

Primary meeting roles:

1) Facilitator: creates and shares the agenda and moderates the meeting. Traditionally, this role has determined the success of the meeting. But this doesn’t have to be the case if everyone else understands how to contribute.

2) Recorder: takes notes.

3) Timekeeper: ensures the meeting is progressing as planned.

4) Contributor: can be everyone else but ideally, each of these individuals is clear about their responsibility. Contributions can be made by sharing research, updates, perspectives or brainstorming ideas as determined in advance by the meeting agenda.

Additional meeting roles may include:

5) Decision-Maker: responsible for confirming and stating the decision or clarifying the next action and the Directly Responsible Individual so it can be documented before the meeting ends. This may also be covered by the recorder in smaller meetings.

6) Agitator/Inciter: asks the questions that others may be afraid to ask. Giving a title to this role creates some psychological safety and encourages the participant to step up and fulfill the responsibility stating “since I’m the agitator, I think we should consider XYZ.”

7) Observer: may be less active during the meeting but their superpower is to step back and provide some perspective on process improvement. Was the meeting too long, did one person dominate the discussion or were all voices heard?

During the meeting

We’ve seen that stats, and have experienced firsthand, attention spans are short. When we don’t have a clear sense of our role, it’s easy to go into a passive mode and mentally check-out. It seems like the other attendees have it covered, and you may ask yourself, “Why am I even here?”

It’s not unusual to find ourselves multitasking during a meeting. We can minimize distractions as easily as we can minimize our windows, but having clear roles and responsibilities helps us to avoid the temptation of checking our email, texts, or social media. Every attendee should view themselves as a key participant and with valuable contributions to make.

The best teams take turns filling each meeting role. This means that each individual contributes to and is accountable for the success of the meeting. In addition, rotating roles allows participants to practice developing new skills and share diverse perspectives.  It’s a low-risk way to practice new skills.  Let’s use a weekly team meeting as an example.  Many of us could use a little more jazz in our weekly meetings.  What happens if we switch up who has the roles in our weekly team meeting?

Think about it- if you aren’t normally the person taking meeting notes, you might kick back and relax.  But if today you are responsible for the notes, you will be paying very close attention to the conversation. This is a great way to change it up for your brain.

If you are not normally the time-keeper, you might let conversations extend too long and have the meeting run over its allotted time. If your role is to make sure the topics are covered while ending on time, you’ll start watching for this.

If you are a more junior team member, you might not often get a chance to moderate or facilitate meetings.  If the roles on say your weekly team meeting rotate, this is an easy way for you to start practicing that skill. You can learn and see where and how conversations might go off track and practice navigating to get them on track.

Clearly defining roles is one of the most effective ways to execute meetings. These meetings also conserve valuable time, energy, and resources. Optimal meetings facilitate putting ideas into action and leave participants and teams confident there was time well-spent.

This article was originally published on BellaScena’s Blog.

Photo by You X Ventures on Unsplash

The Evolution of Productivity

The workshop “Productivity with Heart: Aligning Your Values with Your Schedule” has been one of my foundations for teaching time-management. This is the perfect starting point for entrepreneurs and busy professionals who want to create more time. I’m looking forward to sharing this event as part of Twin Cities Startup Week (TCSW).

As the world changes and priorities are shifting, some people have more time than ever. What’s lacking is presence. It can seem almost impossible to focus on work while you are trying to help your kids through virtual school. Or maybe you are working more because your home office makes it hard to create boundaries between work and home life.

After 20 years of meditation practice, I’ve seen the benefits of improved clarity to focus my time and presence to connect with myself and my loved ones. Now I’m sharing what I’ve learned and helping others bring more mindfulness to their personal and professional lives.

I’m excited about these upcoming collaborations with Luis Moreno and Sylwia Borowy:

Emotional Intelligence and Mindfulness for Personal and Professional Relationships

And the first TCSW event in Spanish:

Cómo aprovechar la Inteligencia Emocional y la Atención Plena para Tener Relaciones Profesionales y Personales Más Efectivas

Another event that will be a fun way to bounce back this year with some positivity, is the Collaboration Coaching Group’s 2020 Reset!

I know you will love the insights and perspectives that Susan Kavanaugh shares when we discuss mindfulness and conscious communication on 9/22.

I can’t wait to connect with each of you at these upcoming events. And, stay tuned for details on my mindfulness for productivity course launching this fall!

Photo by Brad Neathery on Unsplash


The 52:17 Rule for Productivity

Have you noticed that the more time you have, the more likely you are to waste it?  Since I started creating time blocks for meetings or focused projects, time feels more finite and I am more productive. If I only have two hours before my next meeting, I want to make the most of that time.

In 2019, I started tracking my time. Using the Toggl app on my phone or Chrome extension on my computer, I tracked everything in categories from work, to sleep, exercise, family time and commuting. I shared on my blog the experience of discovering where my time went. One unexpected advantage was that the simple act of tracking improved productivity. Especially when working on my own business. When I hit the timer button it was like I was clocking in and I wanted to make the most of this time, even if I wasn’t billing for those hours.

In 2020, I implemented a modified Pomodoro Technique. I had resisted this method because working only 25 minutes before a break did not feel like enough time to get into deep work. However, revising the method to 50 minutes of work and 10 minutes of break added a huge boost to my productivity. I downloaded the Focus To-Do app which not only improved focus, but also improved clarity by forcing me to identify my task for the next interval. According to Nir Eyal, author of Indistractable, we can’t claim to be distracted unless we are clear about what we are being distracted from. Preparing a presentation, for example, could include tasks like outline, research and slide creation. This technique got me back on track after a slump at the beginning of sheltering in place during COVID-19.

My modified Pomodoro technique was validated by research from the  Draugiem Group. Their DeskTime product tracks the logs of users’ computer programs throughout the workday. They studied the workflow of the most productive employees by analyzing data points from thousands of logs. These individuals didn’t get more done by working longer, but rather by working smarter with more frequent breaks. On average, this meant 52 minutes of productive work followed by 17 minutes of break. The key to making this work is 100% dedication to the task at hand, without allowing any distractions such as email or social media, followed by a 100% break.

Ideally, a break should be stepping away from your computer. The best options are a walk outside or brief period of exercise along with socializing with colleagues or grabbing a healthy snack. You can also meditate, listen to a podcast or read a book. Checking your social media or watching cat videos can be considered a mental break but these options don’t have the added benefit of reducing eye strain and may not get you out of your seat.

But wouldn’t we get more done if we worked 8 hours straight? In reality, working for longer periods decreases engagement with the task and increases cognitive boredom. Whereas breaks refresh our focus and attention. Or as DeskTime puts it “Concentration is like a muscle – it needs to rest to be able to function, and it shouldn’t be overworked. Otherwise, it’ll simply burn out and take longer to get back into the swing of things.”

In recent years, health researchers have dubbed sitting as the new smoking by increasing our risk of heart disease and diabetes. Trading two minutes of sitting for two minutes of light-intensity activity each hour lowered the risk of premature death by 33 percent, according to a study from the University Of Utah School Of Medicine. Moving throughout the day can reduces stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. Walking or gentle exercise also stimulates endorphins, which are the body’s natural mood elevators.

I encourage you to experiment and see if the 52:17 method works for you. Or, if you’re like me, you may want to round those figures down to 50:10 to create hour-long time blocks. The bottom line is, in order to get more done, get completely engaged and focus on the task at hand. When it’s time to take a break, give that 100% of your presence as well. To learn more, attend the Impact Hub’s virtual event on 7/27/20: Productivity with Presence: Discover the Mindful Advantage for Work & Life.


Photo by Bonneval Sebastien on Unsplash

Productivity with Heart

February is heart health month. There are tons of articles that emphasize diet and exercise for a heart healthy lifestyle. These are definitely important, but I propose Productivity with Heart to not just be “heart healthy” but also “heart happy.”

What does this mean?

This means being productive not just for the sake of “getting stuff done” but with the greater intention of having the time and energy to create a satisfying life.

Why is this important?

Research shows, and you’ve probably noticed for yourself, our best or happiest days are those when we connect with others or do something to take care of ourselves.

The way we spend our days and weeks becomes the way we spend our years. If time is not spent where it really matters, this leads to life dissatisfaction. At the end of life, according to hospice nurse Bronnie Ware, some of the top regrets of the dying include:

I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

I wish that I had let myself be happier.

How does it work?

Productivity with Heart is the process of:

  • Clarifying your values
  • Identifying actionable values
  • Prioritizing these values on your schedule

For example, you identify “Family” as an important value. The value in action is “time with family.” To make this happen more often, you have to block off the time on your schedule. This could be having meals together, game nights, date nights or activities out. This may require shifting schedules to leave work earlier (or arrive later) some days.

The same can be done for the value of health and creating time for activities like exercise and cooking. And, of course, the more you can be productive with work and other responsibilities, the more time you have to make your values a priority.

Pro Tips:

  • Schedule recurring calendar blocks for each week.
  • Treat these appointments as you would a business meeting or visit with you doctor. This is a commitment and you do everything you can to follow through at the scheduled time. If you absolutely cannot make it happen one day, you do not delete it from your calendar, you connect to reschedule.

What are the benefits?

The more consistently you are spending intentional time related to your values in action, the more you are living life in alignment with what matters most. This helps you to have a happier, healthier and more satisfying life.

Tamara’s passion is helping busy professionals align their values with their schedules to have the time and energy for what matters most. To this end, she founded Optima Results Coaching and launched the Productivity with Heart series. Like many of her clients, Tamara fills multiple roles as parent, partner, employee and entrepreneur.

Her background in psychology and integrative medicine, along with 10,000+ coaching interactions, has honed her unique skill set to help her clients achieve results. Her personal values include: Family, Presence, Connection, Service and Growth. Connect with Tamara to strategize your next steps for Productivity with Heart for yourself or your team!


The most important way to achieve work-life balance

I recently read a Forbes article on work-life balance that validates exactly how I help my clients. Kevin Kruse writes, “Tips From 24 Entrepreneurs Boiled Down To 1…Reflect on your top core values and then create recurring time blocks on your calendar.” The way we spend our hours and days becomes the way we spend our months and years. Nobody wants that time to pass without being present for what really matters in life.

Sounds simple, right? However, it’s not always that straight-forward. The first step that I recommend is to track how you are currently spending time. One benefit of this is to create a visual of the potential disconnect of your values and how you are actually spending your time. In business as in science, you must have a baseline measurement that is quantifiable in order to create a process for improvement. The next step is to create small incremental steps to make shifting your schedule more achievable.

For example, if your office values late afternoon meetings or evening face-time, it may be difficult to be home for dinner every night. An alternative could be to carve out more intentional time with family in the mornings. This may mean spending time together over breakfast or driving the kids to school some days instead of rushing out the door to be at work at 8:00 am. If you want to exercise without sacrificing sleep, block out your calendar for a longer lunch break and fit in a brisk walk.

If your job puts an emphasis on metrics of productivity, schedule time on your work calendar to focus on a project undisturbed. When the task is done, allow yourself to leave a little early. Plenty of research shows that more time at work does not equate to increased productivity.

If you want to convince your employer that you can be just as productive working remotely, experiment with completing a project while working from home to demonstrate the benefit of a flexible work environment. Working from home means less time getting ready and commuting and ultimately more time for your personal priorities.

Want to get started applying these changes in your own life and have some accountability along the way? My passion is helping busy professionals like you. Together, we create strategies to align your values with your schedule so you have the time and energy for what matters most.


What I learned from tracking my time

Photo by Kevin Ku on Unsplash

According to Laura Vanderkam, time management and productivity author, if you want to be more productive or intentional with your time, you need to know how you are currently spending it. I decided to put this to the test.

In July of 2018, I tracked my time for two weeks. I used a paper log to track 15-minute increments. Since my daughter was visiting her dad and I had a break from parental responsibilities, I knew I would have plenty of time to dedicate to my business.

Indeed my tracking showed a lot of time was spent on my business. However, without a set stopping point to help get my daughter to bed, I found myself doing work some nights right until the moment before I brushed my teeth at night.

In August 2019, I experimented with tracking again. Instead of using a paper tracker, I downloaded the Toggl app. This made it easy to track my time from my phone or laptop. Toggl also shows your time use in a colorful pie chart and sends a weekly report.

Since I am employed by a corporation almost full-time, my goal was to dedicate only 6-10 hours per week to my coaching business. I was surprised to discover that I was actually spending 18 hours per week. However, these were the final two weeks before announcing the September launch of my new coaching program.

At the same time, I was pleasantly surprised to see I was spending even more time with my family. Time with my daughter or my partner individually or together as a family totaled 24 hours per week. Much of the time spent with my daughter was helping her get ready, transporting her to activities or running errands together. However, since we were listening to an audiobook together in the car and discussing the story, the time often felt richer and more enjoyable.

Over the year between tracking periods, I have made several changes to ensure that the way I spend my time aligns with my personal values and goals. For years I have been scheduling just about everything I do on my Google calendar. I already had a recurring Friday Night Date with my partner. But we all agreed that we wanted to have more intentional time as a family. So, we scheduled evenings for playing cards or watching a movie together a few times per week at home. This was in addition to longer activities on the weekends such as bike rides, trips to the lake, outdoor music and festivals. With the exception of occasional networking events, I have also committed to protecting family time by not scheduling work tasks evenings and weekends.

Thanks to Gretchen Rubin’s idea of the 19 for 2019, I created a clearer vision of what I wanted to do on a regular basis to bring greater enjoyment to my life. These included activities like eating at a new restaurant each month and visiting a novel museum or theater venue each quarter. I set a goal to meet with friends monthly and found that I was actually meeting with friends much more often than I realized.

In the last few weeks, I’ve found that reading to my daughter as she gets ready for bed is a ritual she looks forward to. My daughter is 12 years old, and it had been several years since I stopped reading to her nightly. She chose a young adult novel. I was curious about the book and thought it would be fun to read together. After a few nights, she was asking me to read to her without prompting and it felt like a good way to slow down and connect before bed.

Another major shift was deciding to carve out a longer period of time to unwind at night. There is so much research that demonstrates the negative impact on sleep caused by the blue light from our computers and phones. Light from these devices suppresses melatonin for longer periods of time than natural light so we don’t feel as sleepy as we should. My bedtime has been consistently around 10:30 pm for several years. However, I’m now aiming to get to bed earlier to dedicate 15 minutes to reading a paperback book. As much as I love self-improvement books, I decided that my bedtime reading had to be purely for pleasure. Reading this book only in bed has created some anticipation for my bedtime. Since the evening wind-down has lately begun with reading to my daughter, I have created an even longer buffer of time between ending my work tasks, disconnecting from devices and going to sleep.

Laura Vanderkamp emphasizes that we are allotted 168 hours each week and it’s up to us to choose how we spend them. Even after 56 hours of sleep and 50 hours of work, there are still 62 hours where we can be intentional with our time. It’ not surprising that when I track my time I am more productive. Tracking helps me stay focused on a single task and make better choices, just like when I track my foods I eat better. Just as importantly, I discovered that by making some small changes I am dedicating my hours, days and weeks to the people and activities that matter most.