What Would Dalai Do?

On one of my favorite podcasts, Happier in Hollywood, the hosts recently announced their theme for 2022: “What would Dolly do?” I was impressed by the story they shared about Dolly Parton refusing to give up her song “I Will Always Love You” to Elvis Presley because he only sang music he had rights to. I can’t imagine passing up an opportunity for a legend to perform something I’d created.

But, as you probably know, her decision was fruitful decades later when it became the theme song for the movie “The Bodyguard” performed by Whitney Houston. The song topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart for 14 weeks and became one of the best-selling singles of all time. Parton made $10 million from Houston’s cover of the song, an amount she ironically referred to as  “enough money to buy Graceland.” She is an outspoken proponent of Black Lives Matter and has donated some of the proceeds to supporting efforts for social justice, literacy, COVID vaccine research and in investing community development in Nashville.

Generally, I don’t think of music icons as sages or exemplars. I’m more likely to see wisdom from another “Dolly’.” In my case, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who said “Once a positive goal is chosen, you should decide to pursue it all the way until the end. Even if it is not realized, at least there will be no regret.”

When making difficult decisions personally or professionally it can be helpful to think of what your mentor, elder, friend, or even your wisest self would say. How would you complete the sentence “What would _________ do” when looking for guidance?

Tamara Torres helps busy professionals and solopreneurs take control of their time and energy to maximize productivity, rejuvenate relationships, balance work-life, and live in alignment with their core values. She is also a compassionate bridge-builder for those navigating multiple roles and personally identifies as a multiracial, second-generation immigrant in addition to being a changemaker, advocate, parent, and entrepreneur. 

Photo Credit: Heidi Fin on Unsplash

9/11 Remembrance

I woke up in my Queens apartment like any other Tuesday morning. Everything changed when I turned on the TV. NY1 News was showing live footage of the World Trade Center. A plane had just crashed into the North Tower. It seemed too unbelievable to be true. I had to get into the City to get to my job as an EMT.

Through the window of the 7 train, I could see the Twin Towers and a moment later only one. Then all Manhattan-bound trains were stopped. Passengers were rerouted to the outer boroughs via bus. As the second tower disappeared in a plume of smoke, more than a million workers and residents south of Canal Street were evacuating, mostly on foot.

There was no cell phone service. I didn’t know what was happening at work. I learned later that a few of my coworkers had grabbed their gear and made their way to the World Trade Center. I was able to get back into Manhattan the next day and went to a hospital to volunteer. They were already inundated with busloads of medical personnel arriving from New Jersey. I never found out what would have happened if my fragile heart had experienced Ground Zero first-hand.

For days no planes flew overhead. Buildings were closed out of respect or fear of further attacks, not just in New York but as far as Los Angeles, London and even Kuala Lumpur. For weeks the streets were plastered with photos of lost loved ones. “Have you seen my son?” “Have you seen my wife?”

The City was somber under a cloud of mourning. Yet we all felt a little closer and more united as a Community experiencing the same crisis. Our rough New Yorker exteriors softened a bit and I witnessed more kindness. There was also a palpable collective grief and anxiety. My meditation practice helped keep me grounded and life felt more precious. I experienced this interconnectedness as I took slower, deeper breaths and repeated mantras silently on the train.

When the pandemic began it had a similar feeling. Except it wasn’t an experience shared by just a city or a country. This was shared by a planet. Life changing. An indelible mark on a timeline forever separating “before COVID” from everything else. I wonder to myself when we look back in another 20 years, what will we remember and what will we have learned?

Tamara K. Torres, ND, coaches busy people to lead fulfilling lives by spending time where it matters most. She teaches Productivity with Heart, managing time mindfully by aligning with your values. Tamara now lives in Minneapolis, MN.

Photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash

Torn in Half

As Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month draws to a close, I’m sharing this essay on my Japanese roots. 

Next to my plate at the dinner table is one-half of a clean paper towel. Since childhood, I’ve felt compelled to make sure we don’t waste anything in our household. Tearing our paper towels in half before doling them out to my family as a napkin is a perfect example. Even though we have a fresh 12-pack of paper towels in the basement.

If you walk through my home you will see other “halving” examples. There’s the kitchen sponge, cut in half before the first use. There are tiny slices of soap worn down to a final use and then plastered with water to a new bar. I peel a mandarin orange retaining the exterior in a single blossom shape like a tiny platter, something I learned from my mother. I eat half and pop the other half in my daughter’s mouth. She says “thanks” barely looking away from her anime program.

“Hafu” meaning half or mixed-blood is how my mother would be called in Japan today. She was born and raised in Japan with her Japanese mother. Her American G.I. father had returned to the States before she was born, with no knowledge of her birth. Growing up in a racially homogenous country, my mother’s non-Japanese lineage was obvious to everyone that saw her. She was sometimes teased and ostracized and other times fawned over and exoticized. She was photographed as a magazine model but paid only with candy. Her large Western eyes held value but she often paid a price for looking so different.

My mother moved to the U.S. with her mother and new American step-father at the end of high school. Within a few years she married a man who was also the child of an immigrant and they eventually had three kids. I was the youngest.

Growing up, I spent a lot of time with my grandmother, or Obaachan. She and my mom continued to speak to each other in Japanese. Despite not capturing much of the language, the culture was infused in us.

Over the years I’ve realized that what I learned from my mother and grandmother was not just about some aspects of Japanese culture but more significantly immigrant sensibility. Work hard, study hard, be resourceful and help your community.

What’s difficult for others to grasp is why I am different. I have a strong identification with my Japanese and immigrant roots. But based on my appearance, I am perceived as white.

When I share my heritage with someone for the first time, a common response is to look at my features more closely. So often someone will tilt their head and say, “oh, I can see it a little in your eyes” or “yeah, maybe a bit in your cheekbones.” For a long time these comments were gratifying because I wanted others to see me how I saw myself.

More recently, as I connect with others who are mixed race and reading about our unofficial Bill of Rights, I am learning that my identity does not need to be validated by anyone besides myself. Despite the convention that says you are quarter this or half that, in truth, I am always whole. I integrate my Japaneseness and my non-Japaneseness without needing to split them into disparate racial or ethnic categories.

Embracing our Identities is a crucial facet of wellbeing. In fact, research shows that teens who have a strong sense of their ethnic and racial identities are more academically engaged which can contribute to their success later in life. . Adults, especially Asian and Black, who have positive associations with their racial identity have less psychological distress and better mental health. As we blossom personally and professionally, it’s important to continue to acknowledge our roots.

Tamara K. Torres, ND, is a coach and facilitates workshops including “Productivity with Heart: Aligning your values with your schedule.” Her values include Wellbeing, Connection, Inclusivity, Growth and Autonomy. Tamara helps busy professionals prioritize time and improve habits to create joyful and fulfilling lives.

Photo by JJ Ying on Unsplash

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.



Small Steps

My theme for this month is “March Forth.” The goal is to walk every day for 30 minutes. Knowing that time or weather would make this hard on certain days, it’s helpful to frame this as 210 minutes per week.

As the end of the month nears, I was pretty confident that I met this goal most days. Checking my FitBit app for confirmation, I’m actually getting 30 consecutive minutes five days per week. Other days I may be walking 15-20 minutes alone or with my family. I often add a second short walk when I can or a longer walk on the weekend.

Not sure how you can find 30 minutes of walking into your day? Here are some strategies that worked for me:

Time-blocking – scheduling a time each day working around appointments. Looking at my calendar for the next day, I’m deciding where the exercise would fit. Being proactive helps to make my walks a priority.

Scheduling with my family – we actually have times scheduled Monday through Thursday to get outside for some activity together either midday or around dinner. This has been a wonderful routine to intentionally connect while we have all been working and schooling from home. This is also helpful for those that need some extra accountability.

Breaks – when a window of time shows up in my calendar or a meeting ends early, I grab my shoes and coat and head out the door. Sometimes I only have 10-15 minutes so I just set a timer to turn around and get back on time for my next appointment.

When it’s hard to pull yourself away from your computer due to projects, remind yourself of the benefits of a break. These include clearing your mind, getting sunshine, and returning to your work refreshed. Since we all benefit from regular breaks for improved productivity, you can also consider this an investment of your time.

Did you join the “March Forth” challenge or are you trying other ways to get more consistent with your exercise? Share what’s working for you!

Photo by Kseniya Petukhova on Unsplash

Reflecting on Our Work

American author Margaret J. Wheatley says “Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.” Wheatley is a kindred spirit who teaches about how we can accomplish work, sustain relationships, and serve others.

After several busy months of speaking engagements, I was ready for an intentional pause. The month that celebrates Black History, Valentine’s, and Heart Health feels like the right time to reflect.

Usually my Upholder tendency urges me to push forward with a goal no matter what. A perfect example is when I ran a marathon despite a knee injury. I was too stubborn to give up even with the potential consequence of never being able to run again. Years later, I was forced to reevaluate, if not running, how do I shift to lower-impact alternatives?

On a greater scale, as the world changes and circumstances outside of our control arise, we must reevaluate. When COVID-19 struck, many of us transitioned to working from home. Entrepreneurs, organizations, and businesses of all sizes pivoted to accommodate a changing landscape.

Then, the tension in America from centuries of racial injustice boiled to the surface. I live in Minneapolis just a mile from the sites where Mr. George Floyd was murdered and where protests made international headlines. For days, helicopters circled our neighborhood and the smell of burnt buildings filled the air.

Americans from all walks of life joined the fight for racial justice. Not feeling comfortable protesting during the pandemic, it wasn’t immediately clear how I could contribute. While often perceived as white, I am mixed-race and raising a brown child. This identity, however, does not make me an expert. I chose to question my understanding of race in America, and turned to books, workshops and podcasts to unlearn and relearn about our county’s history.

My workplace, like many others, accelerated its Diversity, Equity & Inclusion practices. I formed a DEI workgroup within my coaching team and facilitated a training to understand implicit bias. Spoiler alert, we’ve all got implicit biases. The key is to address these with awareness and education. Taking a free test from Harvard’s Project Implicit is a simple first step to identifying some of your biases.

Each of us can make a difference in our own unique way. As a productivity coach, I help busy people clarify their values and create intentional time for what matters most. My hope is that we can each take moments to pause and reflect asking ourselves “What is my work (personally and professionally) and how do I contribute to positive change?”

Why you should create your 21 for 2021

“Trying new things and breaking out of your routine is a great way to improve your satisfaction with life.”

– Dr. Leslie Becker-Phelps

Since January 2019, I have been making a list of things I could do to bring more joy and greater satisfaction to my life each year. I hope this year in review will inspire you to plan your highlights for 2021. This activity is fun and overall less goal-oriented than the Annual Review and planning. Like me, you can always do both since each process has its own benefits.

I recommend ordering your list so that one-time items are at the top and recurring activities are at the bottom (as I did in 2019). Since some of these items are easier to complete, you get the satisfaction of marking them done sooner. It felt like an accomplishment last year to immediately check off the purchase of a bag for my yoga mat and using natural tooth whitening strips for the first time.

By spring, however, it became unclear how many more items I would be able to complete during a pandemic. I had added “Get my first colonoscopy and complete all recommended preventative care/screenings” not as a highlight but to share for accountability. Ultimately, I decided a mammogram was the only screening I felt comfortable getting in 2020. This has been the year where each of us must evaluate the risks versus benefits of our plans.

I was motivated to reorganize the basement to create more space for exercise during the colder months. I also knocked my reading goals out of the park. But vacationing in a new city was not something I was ready to do during COVID. I also had to let go of biking to my office and coworking space because I wasn’t comfortable being indoors with people outside of my household.

Continuing yoga on a weekly basis was a repeat I was looking forward to. When my gym closed, I started a month-long daily yoga challenge in April. I enjoyed this so much that I changed my yoga plan to three days per week. While I didn’t return to the group outdoor yoga class, I enjoyed being able to do my own yoga practice in my backyard. Shout out to Yoga with Adriene for facilitating my at-home yoga practice by offering thousands of free videos!

My goal of meeting 20 new business contact for coffee quickly converted to Zoom or phone calls. By the end of the year, I had met with more than 50 people. As an extrovert, this helped satisfy my desire to converse with new people as well as expand my network. I was off to a good start with my live event goals with over 100 RSVP’s for Productivity with Heart in February. After a March event at Fueled Collective, it wasn’t until July that I transitioned to events online. I was eventually able to facilitate over a dozen virtual workshops including three events for Twin Cities Startup Week, my first 6-week course, and multiple collaborations. I am especially proud of myself for creating the modules for my Productivity Through Presence online course without a single call for technical support!

My intention to regularly meet with friends became less spontaneous and more organized. As I share in my workshops, if something is a priority for your time, then it should be on your calendar. I started scheduling monthly recurring phone calls with my friends in New York and weekly socially distanced walks with my local friends. Having these times on the calendar meant we not only followed through, but we also had these touchpoints that we could count on and look forward to during times when so much else felt uncertain.

For 2021, I am keeping the categories of one-time, ongoing, and upping my game. For January through June, I am adding a monthly challenge. I’ve left out ambitious travel goals and changed from visiting new museums to visiting new parks. And, if there is one thing we have learned from 2020, it’s that life can be unpredictable. My list this year will only include 19 items leaving space for two new items that may develop once my family and I have all been vaccinated. Some have also shared that creating a longer list each year is daunting and this year 11 for 2021 might feel more doable.

What items are on your 21 for 2021? This year I’m sharing my list on the Optima Results Coaching Facebook Page and I invite you to join the conversation!

Thanks to @GretchenRubin for this activity to help our year become “happier, healthier, and more productive.” You can listen to her podcast episodes #304 and #307 and on the subject.

Photo by Ibrahim Boran on Unsplash


Planning for the New Year

For most of us, this has been an incredibly long year. I remember my optimism in January for kicking off “2020: the Year of Vision and Clarity.” Then we were blindsided by COVID-19. While 2021 will be a fresh start for our goals, we’ll need to consider the next several months while continuing to stay safe at home and imagine a transition to the “New New Normal” post-pandemic.

My 2020 personified what many will remember as the “Year of the Pivot” and “Year of the Zoom Call.” By March, I was halfway to my goal of giving four workshops for the year. Which was actually a stretch goal for me. In April, my in-person professional development training for a medical device company was cancelled. It took me three months to pivot to online webinars. Without a nudge from the Impact Hub MSP, it could have been much longer. In September, I gave my first workshop for Twin Cities Startup Week. The following month, I started facilitating the 6-week series of Productivity Through Presence workshops. Transitioning to online formats allowed me to do more events and reach more people. That said, there were several other goals that became unattainable and had to be scrapped during the pandemic.

Prior to COVID, the top reasons why so many people failed to achieve their New Year’s resolutions were:
1) they didn’t have a clear plan of action
2) they didn’t assess their progress

When a colleague introduced me to a unique process more than a decade ago, it intuitively made sense to me. Chris Guillebeau, author of The Art of Non-Conformity, addresses these challenges in his Annual Review. While it sounds like a retrospective of what you’ve accomplished this year, this resource facilitates planning for success with clear and actionable steps.

Guillebeau, along with a high percentage of entrepreneurs, is a Rebel. He is also a perfect example that Rebels can do whatever they put their minds to. To learn more about leveraging the Four Tendencies framework for goal-setting you can watch the Owning Your Success workshop.

A summary of the steps to complete your Annual Review:
1) Make a list of what went well and what did not go well
2) Choose categories to focus your plans on such as Business, Friends/Family, Health and Service
3) Identify “Actions Required for Each Goal”
4) Plan for monthly and quarterly assessments of your progress and add them to your calendar
5) Optional: Choose a theme for year
7) Optional: Metrics you want to track such as Income, Charitable Giving, Number of Books Read, etc.

For a spreadsheet and more details on how to make use of this exercise, read Guillebeau’s original post.

If this sounds like a lot of work, it is! I am setting aside a few blocks of time to complete this process in December. This is an investment of time that will provide great returns by clarifying your goals in order to more successfully meet your personal and professional objectives. Having an accountability partner can help. Reach out to someone in your inner circle and invite them to complete their own Annual Review.

Cheers to a New Year! If you’d like support in completing your first Annual Review, message me on LinkedIn or schedule a complimentary Strategy Session.

Photo by Waldemar Brandt on Unsplash



A Quiet Thanksgiving

Knowing that we wouldn’t be celebrating with extended family, we planned to take the Thanksgiving weekend to drive south. While we are working and learning remotely, why not take a break from the Minnesota winter and go someplace warmer? When the CDC warned against travel, we knew we had to cancel our plans. Even though the intention is not to visit family, it didn’t seem right to drive through half a dozen states as if the COVID rules didn’t apply to us. After all, our travel was not essential.

I wasn’t up to the task of cooking a turkey for the three of us. Fortunately, my partner saw a social media post that a local restaurant was making individual Thanksgiving meals with all the fixings. I had never eaten at this 24-hour Diner, but the line outside told me it was a popular place. It seems like life has slowed down in so many ways during COVID and waiting on long lines is just one example. Growing our patience can be seen as another way we are building character during the pandemic,

Dinner was delicious and clean up was as simple as putting the compostable takeout containers at the back door. After eating, we played some card games, had a Zoom call with the local extended family members that we usually celebrate with, and watched the movie “Home Alone.”

Being home for the holidays means not just that we HAVE to slow down but that we GET to slow down. After canceling our hotel stays, I felt somewhat relieved that we wouldn’t be spending 8-12 hours each day driving the next leg of our trip. There’s finally time to organize the basement and take a load of clothes to be donated. I can’t follow the usual rule of “if you didn’t wear it in the last year, you don’t need it.” There are several items that I wished I had worn but never had the occasion while staying safe at home. I’ll need to queue up a good audiobook as I’ve heard the donation lines at Goodwill are also quite long.

The season of Thanksgiving also reminds us to be grateful for what we have. In my case, good health, a comfortable home, and my family so I’m not “Home Alone.” While we definitely drive each other crazy being in close quarters practically 24/7, I remind myself of their endearing qualities. My partner is generous to laugh at my jokes that only merit a groan. He’s also taken it upon himself to insulate the windows and doors and improve our home security. My 13-year-old daughter is spending a lot of time connecting virtually with her friends on video games, something she never did pre-pandemic. She has decided that she wants an archery set for Christmas and is determined to practice in the backyard through the cold weather. At this point, we would consider practically any alternative to screen time.

Like many teenagers, my daughter can go from sunshine to surly in an instant. Fortunately, she tends to have a naturally happy disposition. I’d like to think some of my attempts at humor are helping her hone her own comedic skills. She’s been doing virtual learning since March but last week we drove past her school on an errand. “Remember when you used to be here every day?” She quipped, “Oh, Mom, school is so last year!” Turns out this was an original thought, not a meme or a TikTok video. I couldn’t be prouder.

Tamara Torres is passionate about helping busy professionals align their values with their schedules to have the time and energy for what matters most. Her background in psychology and integrative medicine, along with 10,000+ coaching sessions and 20 years of mindfulness meditation has honed her unique skill set to help her clients create purposeful productivity and meaningful time. Her personal values include Connection, Wellbeing, Inclusion, Growth, and Autonomy.

Photo by Kyle Head on Unsplash


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: Christina@wocintechchat.com on Unsplash