Do Good Things Come To Those Who Wait?

dont-waitYes! Absolutely they do. But here’s the catch:

Those good things that come while you’re waiting? They aren’t always the good things you were hoping for. The vacation you patiently waited for someone else to arrange was lovely, but it wasn’t the destination you’d had in mind. The promotion at work? Certainly a sign that they value your contributions, but you’d been dreaming of moving to a different department.

Good things may come while you wait, but if there is a specific good thing for which you are waiting, then don’t confuse waiting with patiently and persistently pursuing a plan. If good things come to those who wait, and if patience is a virtue, then the path of patient planning is road that truly leads to the good things for which you are waiting.

As an acronym, Patiently, Persistently Pursuing a Plan, may cause some laughter. PPPP! Say it out loud and you may at first think it sounds like a spluttering car engine. I prefer to think of it as the revving sound you make because you’re so excited about your plan that you can’t hold back from the starting line. Go ahead, try it again. Don’t you feel like a race car, ready to roar?

Once you’ve hit the ignition and your engine’s roaring and your tank is fueled with your plan, it’s important to ease your foot off the pedal and slow down. If you continue at breakneck speed, you’ll miss a turn and crash you plan. Patiently, persistently pursuing a plan means giving yourself enough time to see each step and adapt as needed.

Here are 3 more Ps to keep you moving, slow and steady, toward your goal.

  1. Planning tools are essential, whether they are simple T charts for evaluating pros and cons to make a decision, or elaborate SWOT analysis for making a long-range strategic plan. They can be digital, or they can be pen-and-paper. They can be expensive systems that connect to communities of users, or they can be one-offs that you design for yourself. Whatever they are, none will be perfect. Pick one that fits your basic needs and then modify it to make it fit. A friend just gave me a planning journal system that I think looks exciting and I’m going to try it out myself. I’ll be sure to take notes on what i needed to modify, and if the tool seems valuable I’ll share it with you at the end of the 13 week trial.
  2. Partners are key to planning success. I have a client who believes herself to be very resistant to planning. She is a very adaptive, reactive person. She lives very in the moment and thinks in kind of a big-picture, stream-of-consciousness way. But get her talking to someone who thinks strategically and long-range, and all that big-picture, stream-of-consciousness brilliance can be turned into a plan. Sometimes planning requires a partner. Even when we’re good at making our own plans, sticking to them often requires the kind of accountability that can only be provided by others.
  3. Plasticity is another P you can add to your revving-up. Your plan needs to be flexible enough to allow for change. Commitment to your goals is key to attaining them, but a willingness to evaluate along the way will help you see whether your goals have shifted. You don’t want to patiently and persistently pursue a plan that takes you to someplace you’d rather not be at the end.

In my next post, I’ll give you some tips on making plans, but I’m also interested to hear from you about the planning tools you find useful. Have a system you find particularly helpful? Leave a note in the comments!


Not sure how to get started with your own plan? I can help!



“Don’t Wait” sign image used courtesy of an Creative Commons license: Title
CC BY-SA 3.0

Two Mantras To Help You Make More Time For Yourself

How often do you find yourself looking at your calendar and wondering how it got so overwhelmingly full? How frequently do you look at an item on your to do list and ask yourself “Why did I agree to take this on?”

One of the biggest time management challenges – especially for women – is saying no to things that people ask us to do. Sometimes it’s that we enjoy being needed and we take pride in our ability to juggle a thousand things and while still producing high quality work. Other times it’s that we really want to focus on our own work but feel guilty or selfish about guarding our own time.

The truth is that, either way, we can’t be very helpful to others if we don’t protect ourselves from burnout and from being taken advantage of, and that requires that we learn to say no. But saying no is tough, especially in conversation, and especially when our ordinary inclination is to jump in and save the day. Here are two mantras you can use to help you say no when your schedule is really too full to take on that extra task.

1. “I’d love to help with that, but let me check my calendar first.” This is my favorite because all it does is break the pressure that comes from the face-to-face or over-the-phone interaction itself. You aren’t saying no right away. You’re just buying time to really examine whether or not you want to take the new thing on. Give yourself that time. And then, if the answer is no, send an email apologizing for being unable to say yes, but explaining that your schedule just can’t accomodate whatever you were being asked to do. If the person who made the request follows up in person or on the phone, you’ve already said your “no” and you can repeat your reasons if necessary.

2. “I can’t take that on this time, but please keep me in mind in the future.” Sometimes we know right away we can’t do something, and the first mantra isn’t necessary because we don’t need to buy time to think about it. I often get email requests to do peer-review of research articles for academic journals. Sometimes I can say yes, but other times I know that I have too much work to do. By keeping the door open to say yes in the future, this mantra allows me to say no in those moments when I have to put my own work first.

I’ve used the word mantra intentionally here. A mantra is a repeated utterance that helps to focus the mind in meditation. The mantras I’ve shared above need to be repeated and practiced so that you can focus your mind on strategically organizing your time and your work. Repeating them will help you establish discipline with your time and control over your schedule. That discipline will go a long way toward allowing you to help others as much as you can while still getting the time you need for yourself and your own work.


“Too Busy” image by Alan O’Rourke of WorkCompass.Com and used courtesy of a Creative Commons Attribution license.

Buffy, The Medical Advocate (or, some helpful thoughts on role conflict)

lego figure juggling blocks“Be the daughter,” the oncologist told me as I sat with her, the chaplain, and the oncology social worker. We were sitting in the family waiting room and they were helping me navigate a difficult moment about five months into my mother’s lost-cause battle with cancer. These women felt like part of my family by now, and I was stung by the words even though I could feel the truth inside them.

At issue was my mother’s sudden bout of paranoia, during which she had accused me of conspiring with her doctors to keep her in the hospital. My initial reaction had been to try to argue logic with her, which had only made the situation worse. I’d left the room to collect myself, and that’s when her care team found me in the family waiting room.

“Be the daughter?” I thought to myself? “I am the daughter. What have I been doing here for five months if I haven’t been being the daughter? How can she say that to me!”

But she was right. So much of the time I spent by my mother’s side was spent in the role of medical advocate, and not in the role of daugther. This might seem like a strange distinction to make at first, especially given the fact that the role of medical advocate for aging parents so often falls to adult daughters, but it’s important all the same. What my mother’s doctor was telling me was that I needed to pay more attention to our mother-daughter need for affection, love, comfort, and the sharing of vulnerabilities. For at least the next few days nothing bad would happen if I let the task of collecting and organizing information about the tests, prescriptions, procedures fall to the side. Right now comfort and trust were more important than record-keeping. My mother needed a daughter, and not an advocate, right now.

We are often faced with exacly these kinds of competing demands on our time and attention. Sociologists call this role conflict. We occupy many positions in our lives, and the expectations that go with each are frequently inconsistent. In the memoir I’m writing about my mother’s last years, this “be the daughter” story is told in a chapter I’ve called “Buffy, The Medical Advocate“, in honor of Buffy, The Vampire Slayer, whose myriad role conflicts were legendary: high school student, daughter, friend, saver of the world, vampire slayer, vampire’s girlfriend… the list goes on.

On a less fantastic level, as I read the assignments my students just submitted, detailing their time use over the course of a week, I’ve been struck – as I am every time I give this assignment – by how much role conflict they experience. Bosses expect them to be available for shifting schedules even though their professors expect them in class. Parents expect them to take care of younger siblings when something comes up at work. Their own children get sick and have to stay home from school on the morning we have an exam. When we talked about their findings in class last week one of my students said “I was surprised to learn how much of my time is spent doing things for other people. No wonder I have such a hard time getting my schoolwork done.”

In my case, the solution to the conflict was to temporarily put down one role so I could focus on the other. This was possible because I had the support of others who could help me negotiate role expectations (my own, mostly!) and shift gears. Sometimes that’s not possible. For many of my students, putting down work or family responsibilities to focus on school is not an option. For them, the solution needs to be creating a more realistic expectation about how many classes they can reasonably take without putting their academic standing in jeopardy. It means accepting the hard reality that if they want to do well they will have to move more slowly.

Solving the role conflicts that stress us out isn’t always easy, but seeing the roles for what they are, sets of expectations, is a helpful start. Negotiating role expectations can create a lot of freedom, but only if you know what you have to negotiate with. Some expectations can be changed or or set aside for a time. When we discover that they can’t, we see at least that the barrier we are facing is not a failing on our part, but a structural reality of our lives. We then need to look at the other roles we play to see if there is any adjustment possible. Figuring out when to delegate a role responsibility, when to ditch a role altogether, when to modify expectations associated with a role is tricky stuff, but it is essential to achieving happiness. There is little more frustrating than an unrealistic expectation. Our lives require triage-style decisions, and when we are doing that triage it’s important that we see all the pieces as clearly as we can.

What role conflicts do you face? Do you need to transition out of a role that no longer serves your needs? Do you need help transforming a role that you’d like to save but need to change? Is negotiating role expectations difficult for you? Drop me a note if I can give you a hand!


Image of the Lego juggler is by kosmolaut on flickr, used courtesy of a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license.

How Will You Know When You Have Enough?

Image of a tree growing out of coins held in a pair of hands

Image of a tree growing out of coins held in a pair of hands

Enough might just be the most radical word in the English language. It’s certainly one of those slippery words that many of us have a hard time really getting a handle on. Even it’s meanings can be confusing. “I have had enough!” is a very different statement than “I have enough.” The first signals frustration and the second signals contentment. The difference? A single change of verb tense. Unless you’re speaking, and then tone of voice no doubt conveys a great deal.

A few weeks ago I gave my students an assignment. I told them they needed to record how they spent their time for a full week. Everything from sleeping to sitting in class to commuting to work to hanging out with their friends. Then I asked them to analyze their data and answer some questions about how much control they have over their time, how well the way they spent their time serves their needs, and how often their time use actually gets in the way of their achieving their goals. I ask them to think about what they’d change if they had a magic wand (in the past many have said they’d work fewer hours), and I ask them to think about what they’re most likely to be able to change if they needed to make more time for something that’s getting short shrift (often studying). My goal in the assignment is to help them examine the amount of individual power they have to attain their goals, and to see where social structure, cultural expectations, or economic realities get in their way. Once they’ve done that, we can talk about social changes that would be useful to them.

I’m about to give myself the same kind of assignment, only I’m going to do it with money, not with time. Here’s why: As I think about making big changes in my work life, and as my partner Will moves into retirement, I need to know how much is really “enough” when it comes to monthly cash flow, savings, and long-term security. I’m generally pretty good about keeping my check register in order, but I know there are lots of small cash expenditures I never remember to record. For one month, starting tomorrow, October 1, I’m going to make an effort to record every penny I earn or spend. I’m not going to make any effort to restrict spending, but just to record what comes in and what goes out. At the end of the month, I’ll analyze the data to see where my money goes, and after that, I’ll ask myself the same kinds of questions I asked my students: How much of this spending is within my control? How much of it is directed toward meeting immediate needs? How much is directed toward saving for longer-term needs? How much of my spending is on things that matter a great deal to me, even if they are not “basic needs”? How much room is there for me to shift spending from one category to another if I realize that I need to do that? And finally, how much could I cut back if I wanted to earn less and have more time for other work or other activities?

Many of us work long hours, or at jobs we don’t love, because we can’t meet our basic needs any other way. But some of us work long hours at stressful jobs because we don’t have a sense of whether or not we have enough. It’s that latter question I need to answer for myself. How much do I need to earn in order to be happy? Happiness is not all about money, though we need money to fund large portions of our happiness. Figuring out the balance between earning and enjoying, between accumulation and leisure, between long-term and short-term needs, these are the challenges.

How many of us would give fewer of our hours to our employers if we had a sense that we really could be happy with less than what we’re earning? How will we know whether or not we can unless we collect the information? It’s that knowledge that makes “enough” a radical word. It has the potential to inspire two kind of radical actions. One is the stepping back from unexamined work expectations. The other is a clarity that the system is rigged, unfair, and needs to be changed in dramatic ways. Either way, our current economic structure and cultural expectations are limiting many of us. Examining the question of “enough” is one of the first things we can do to fuel change.

If you’ve never done anything like this before, I encourage you to join me for the month of October. Let’s collect some data and then really analyze it. Don’t look away. Numbers are scary, especially when they’re connected to dollars, but we can’t make meaningful change or meaningful plans without real information.

I’ll post updates throughout the month and will share my results early in November. Join me!


Image of plant growing out of coins held in hands is by user 401(k) 2012 on Flickr and used courtesy of a Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike license.

Asking for help

Yesterday I was on the phone with a friend who was feeling paralyzed about a project he’s working on. It was one of those things that happens to me sometimes. I have a task to do that I don’t want to do. I make it much bigger in my head than it really is. I avoid it, and then I feel guilty about avoiding it. Then I can’t get anything else done  because I know I should be working on the original task.

In my friend’s case, it was a matter of writing a proposal for a job, and there were good reasons why the proposal was daunting: the job involved a some variables that would be hard to control, and the working relationships of the people involved were strained. Every time he sat down to work on it, he said, he’d get paralyzed and end up on Facebook. He also said that he knew he could explain the project to someone else, but he was just having trouble writing it down. He hates paperwork, and doesn’t work well alone, he said. My friend was so self-aware that he understood all the parts of the problem he was having. He just didn’t see the solution: Ask someone to help. I offered to spend an hour on the phone so he could talk out the project and get it out of his head and onto paper. Today he’s going to get that proposal done!

Asking for help can be hard for a lot of reasons. Sometimes we think we shouldn’t need the help or that we don’t deserve it. Other times we think that the help we need is too much to ask someone to give. Sometimes we forget that there are people we can actually ask. This is especially true for those of us who work alone.

Who can you ask for help when you need it? It’s easier to ask for help when you know who you can count on. Which friends or coworkers or family members are good at the kinds of things you might need help with? Who do you trust?

Another thing that can make it easier is to be able to offer something in return. When we pay for help we don’t think twice about reciprocity. The cash exchange makes it unnecessary. Social relationships, though, are built on reciprocity.

Helping one another strengthens relationships, and the strongest of those relationships are generally the ones where the help flows in both directions. Know who you can reach out to. Know what you can offer to others. And most of all, know that you deserve the help you need and that you are not alone in needing it.

Find your niche!


I love pigeons. Pigeons are everywhere in NYC, and it’s easy to disregard them as a moving greyish mass of messiness. But when you take a moment to really look at them, they are quite beautiful, each with a unique pattern, and they fulfill a variety of niches in the city’s ecosystem. 

The pigeon in this photo was nesting in a niche in the wall of El Moro, in San Juan, Puerto Rico. I took the picture for a friend of mine who says if she is ever reincarnated she wants to come back as a pigeon.

As I look at the photo now, back in NYC, I think about it as illustrating the creativity we need to find our own niches. The hole in this enormous city wall was not made for this pigeon. But this creative little creature has adopted it and made it her own. 

We need to find our niches where we can, and we need sometimes to look in unlikely places.