3 Systems to Simplify Your Schedule

clockSometimes we make our lives way more complicated than they should be.

And it usually starts with our schedules.

I remember sitting across from my slightly frazzled and yet still amazing admin pouring over the month ahead while reviewing the list of requests for my time and input. We were frantically trying to figure our how in the world we were going to squeeze everything in without requiring me to pull all-nighters for the next four weeks. She was doing her best to help me keep it all together when she could tell I was fraying at the seams.

Frantic. Frazzled. Fraying at the seams.

This mess was not working. We needed a new plan.

We stepped away and strategized. We reduced our collective stress, refocused my efforts, and streamlined my life. No more frantic, frazzled, fraying at the seams leadership. (Or at least not all the time.)

All this from simplifying my schedule. Want to try it for yourself?

Here are 3 simple systems to simplify your schedule:

1) Determine your ideal week. Using your powerful observation skills, review a typical week in your life and leadership. Notice what responsibilities and demands fall when. Consider when you have the most energy and feel most productive during the day and the week. Now look for where your time and energy are less than ideal and at a mismatch. For example, if you have the most energy first thing in the morning and yet find yourself working on projects requiring a lot of energy and focus in the late afternoon, you’ve got an opportunity for improvement. Map out a schedule that would allow for a better alignment of your time and energy with the regular responsibilities in your life. (For more info, check out Michael Hyatt’s ideal week post.)

2) Batch similar activities. Similar to the myth of multitasking, when we allow constant interruptions, our brains require extra time to shift gears. Batching allows us to stay focused and give our best to the task at hand. On a weekly basis, this might look like planning all your outside the office errands for the same afternoon. For me, it looks like having blocks of time on Tuesdays and Wednesday for appointments with my coaching clients instead of sprinkling those meetings throughout the week. On a daily basis, this could look like responding to your voicemail/email/Facebook/text messages a couple of times a day instead of as they come in. (For more info on the concept of batching, check out this post and quick video from Fast Company.)

3) Create templates for repeated tasks. If you find yourself doing something more than once, create a template to make your efforts more efficient. That request you receive at least three times a week? Customize one of your best responses to use on a regular basis. Planning a monthly event for your organization? Prepare a checklist with to-dos, deadlines, and agendas that can be referenced and revised each month. Our family has even brought this concept into our weekly dinner menu: Fish on Mondays, Taco Tuesdays, Breakfast Dinner Wednesdays, etc. Templates not only reduce the number of decisions we have to make, they also save us from wasting time re-creating the wonderful wheel we already developed.

By streamlining our schedules, we give ourselves tremendous gifts: Time. Margin. Space. Flexibility. Freedom.

Which system will you use to streamline your schedule this week?

The Secret to Sticking with Your Leadership Boundaries

green guardrail boundaryEven though I have pretty healthy life and leadership boundaries around my time and talents, it’s not always easy to stick with them.

I really want to help a potential client tackle their problem this week so I stack on more nights away than what my family has agreed to. Or I give up my workout to squeeze in an extra meeting.

Good people. Good opportunities. Good investments.

But not my best yes.

A boundary does no good for our leadership if we continually bulldoze through it or blow it off.

So what’s the secret to sticking with these healthy guardrails?

Communicating our boundaries with our community.

Sure, we’ve got to properly communicate our new standards or schedule with our family and teams. But we often miss including peers, friends and mentors who can hold us accountable. Our community can help us keep our boundaries in check by cheering us on and reminding us of why we put the boundary in place to begin with.

I’m thankful to have several close leader friends who know my limits, my strengths, and my filter for decisions. These same leaders also know my disdain for letting people down, my fears, and my weak spots.

In other words, these friends have permission to blow the whistle when it’s obvious my boundaries have gone out the window and I’ve bought my first class ticket to ride on the crazy train. (Do crazy trains even have first class? Never mind.)

Like when I finished sharing an incredible volunteer opportunity with one of these friends recently, she quickly jumped in with, “You told them no, right? Because that is going to suck up way more of your time than you’re admitting.” And I confessed to her I really wanted to say yes because I loved the organization that was asking, but that she was right, I needed to turn down the offer.

Or another time when I had just “laid down the law” with my youngest son and he proceeded to do what I had just told him not to do while looking over his shoulder at me with a “what-are-YOU-going-to-do-about-it?” face. My leader friend raised her eyebrows and gave me her own “what-ARE-you-going-to-do-about-it?” face. All I wanted to do was ignore both of their faces, but I got up and did indeed do something about it.

It’s impossible to lead well in isolation. We need leader friends around us for support and encouragement, especially when choosing to make healthy changes. By communicating your leadership boundaries with your community, you’ll unlock the secret to sticking with those guardrails for good.

Who can encourage you to stick with it today? Who in your leadership community needs to hear about your boundaries?


4 Ways to Say No to Multitasking and Yes to Productivity

desk with journalWomen leaders are multitasking mavens.

We return phone calls while running errands. We prepare a report while attending a meeting or cooking dinner. We send a flurry of texts or social media updates while at our child’s game. We go to our dentist/doctor/haircut appointment while on a conference call.

We give everything and everyone a little piece of our attention all at the same time. Which constantly results in:

  • Missing your exit and driving to the wrong location because you were so distracted.
  • Wasting precious minutes trying to regroup and refocus with what all you’re trying to accomplish.
  • Having your hair stylist/doctor/pharmacist/trainer/dentist/photographer ask you to get off your phone so they can actually help you with what you’re paying them for.
  • Double-booking your calendar on a regular basis either by choice or by accident.
  • Making simple or “careless” mistakes on tasks you’ve done a million times.
  • Saying, “I’m sorry, what was the question?” or “Could you repeat that?” when you get caught not paying attention to the conversation.
  • Setting off the smoke detector (again) because dinner is burning.

Note: it took me all of 4.3 seconds to come up with the list above from previous personal experience. No imagination necessary.

I’m reading an excellent book titled, The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan (of Keller Williams Realty). Their chapter on multitasking includes significant research that shows multitasking doesn’t save time, it wastes time. The research also shows the damaging effects constant interruptions and switching tasks have on our stress, effectiveness and our relationships. 

But more than research, the multitasking chapter holds powerful gems like these:

“In your effort to attend to all things, everything gets shortchanged and nothing gets its due.”

“It’s not that we have too little time to do all the things we need to do, it’s that we feel the need to do too many things in the time we have.”

“The people we live with and work with on a daily basis deserve our full attention. When we give people segmented attention, piecemeal time, switching back and forth, the switching cost is higher than just the time involved. We end up damaging relationships.” Dave Crenshaw

Well. When you put it that way.

Here are 4 ways I’m saying no to multitasking and yes to productivity and presence:

  1. Have one project open at a time. I don’t need to know what’s trending on Twitter while I’m writing a blog post. If I can see the email count in my inbox while I’m writing, I’m tempted to pop over and respond right now instead of when I’m finished.
  2. Disable notifications and sounds on all devices. If I open my phone to text and then see 47 notifications from different apps, I check those apps and then never send the text.
  3. Put up a sign on my office door to stop well-meaning interrupters. Your sign can be sweet or sassy, just make sure it communicates the point: “You are so important to me I want to give you my full attention. My full attention is focused elsewhere right now. Please send me an email or come back at X time when I can give you my best.” (Or if you lead in ministry, maybe you add a little sass and quote Nehemiah 6:3.)
  4. Only schedule one appointment at a time with travel/decompress/runover time around it. We do not have teleportation devices yet. So why do we think we can be in two places at once?

A final quote from The ONE Thing:

“When you try to do too much at once, you can end up doing nothing well. Figure out what matters most in the moment and give it your undivided attention.”

What helps you say no to multitasking and yes to productivity and presence?

What’s on Your Never Do List?

Daily OrganizerI have the best sister-in-law in the world.

Lori is so witty and generous and spontaneous. She’s a terrific listener, an engaging aunt, and responsible for quite possibly the best chocolate peanut butter cookies on the planet. Hands-down.

A couple of years ago, Lori’s mom asked her why she didn’t take more pictures of her two daughters and all of their activities to share with out-of-state family. Lori responded with what has now become a classic line, “Mom, I can take pictures for you or I can make sure my children are clothed and fed. You decide.”

Lori is very clear about what’s on her to do list. She’s also crystal clear about what’s at the top of her never do list.

Leader friend, what’s on your to do list today? Work projects, home maintenance, errands, soul care, children’s activities, volunteer responsibilities, social gatherings, personal care…did I miss anything? Are all the things on your list really meant for you? Or have you taken on some “shoulds” out of guilt, obligation, or other people’s expectations?

Now let me ask a more important question: what’s on your never do list? What are the things you’ve taken off your list because they simply don’t make sense right now? (Or maybe ever.) What activities have you outgrown? What choices for your time, talents and treasures are “good” but not “great”?

Never heard of a never do list? Afraid to commit to “never”? Here’s a peak at a few things on my never do list:

  • Accept meetings with complete strangers: No matter how nice they seem via email or how much they desperately need face time with me, I have been burned too many times by these requests. Now, I only accept meetings with people I don’t personally know if they are recommended by a mutual friend.
  • Sewing/Crafting/Quilting/Knitting/Scrapbooking: Handicrafts of any sort are supposed to be an enjoyable hobby or a thrifty approach to homemaking that leave you feeling proud. I end up feeling stressed and discouraged. Enough said.
  • Event planning: Early on in my career I planned a plethora of ribbon cuttings, business lunches and networking events for a Chamber of Commerce. While I enjoyed the end result of coordinating multiple vendors, producing checklists and organizing registrations, my heart just wasn’t in it. While I can produce an elaborate event from start to finish for organizations I love, I choose not to.
  • Running: I have passionate runner friends. I used to hear them talk about their latest race and think, “I should do that!” And then I would enthusiastically start training and remember, oh that’s right: I HATE running. I love playing sports and walking. Now I embrace my boot camp classes and smile at runners as they pass by.

Just as no two to do lists look the same, our never do lists won’t look the same either. The point is not to judge my list or shame yours; the point is to have one. Take some of those ridiculous “shoulds” off your to do list and put them on your never do list for good.

What’s on your never-do list?

If you want to read more along this theme, check out the last few posts about boundaries, the 5 mistakes you might be making with your boundaries and overwhelmed schedules and our best yes. 

5 Mistakes You Might Be Making with Your Boundaries

stockvault-after-the-storm99111In my last post, leader friend and professional counselor Tiffany Ashenfelter shared a great foundation on the topic of boundaries for leaders. She provided a quick overview on what boundaries are, why we need them, and how to implement them. 

Let’s be honest: sometimes we blow it with our boundaries. I know I have.

  • I’ve glared at the clock telling me it’s time to shut down my computer. I squeeze in just two more quick emails that make me run behind and end up apologizing for my tardiness. (Again.)
  • I’ve attended fundraisers for causes I believed in, which meant I was out every night for two work weeks in a row.
  • I’ve re-arranged my packed schedule to accommodate someone at the last minute, which meant 5 other people had to re-arrange their packed schedules.

Our human nature craves boundaries, and yet my natural instincts are to mess them all up. Based on my excellent experience with boundary blunders, here are 5 mistakes you might be making with your boundaries:

  1. Respecting other people’s boundaries and disrespecting your own. “I can’t possibly give this project to Lisa right now. Her cousin’s brother’s birthday is this week and I don’t want to impose on her family time. I’ll just take it home with me and knock it out this weekend while my husband takes the kids to their games.”
  2. Failing to communicate your boundaries. To anyone. This mistake leads you to continual frustration and despair when people seem to force your hand at every turn. It’s true: they have no clue what they’re doing to you. YOU didn’t clue them in.
  3. Adapting the “just this once” approach. You make an exception to the rule every day. Because if you don’t, the organization will fall apart, or she won’t get her raise, or he will never find true love. Wishy-washy boundaries are really no boundaries at all. They’re like good intentions and lame excuses and belly buttons. Everybody’s got them: they’re cute but perfectly pointless.
  4. Judging others for not adapting your boundaries for themselves. You assume that everyone on your team would benefit from putting into place the exact same protective fencing around their time, talents and treasures. You mistake your formula for good health as the prescription everyone should be taking.
  5. Outgrowing your boundaries. As you mature and face new seasons of life and leadership, adjusting your boundaries can allow for growth or protect a particularly vulnerable area. “Set it and forget it!” does not apply here.

Like good fences, good boundaries take care and maintenance. In my next post, we’ll talk about how to call on your community to help you do just that.

For more reading on this topic, I highly recommend Boundaries for Leaders: Results, Relationships, and Being Ridiculously in Charge by Dr. Henry Cloud.

What other mistakes have you made with your boundaries?


Boundaries for Leaders


In my last post, I shared a few thoughts on overwhelmed schedules and our best yes. Today, I asked leader friend and licensed professional counselor, Tiffany Ashenfelter, to give us some background on why boundaries are so important and how to implement them. Enjoy!

We live in a world full of boundaries: like fences, the lines in a parking lot, our office space etc…But what does it look like personally and professionally?

To put it as simply as possible, boundaries are a dividing line between what is you and what is someone else. 

One of my favorite books on the subject is Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life written by Cloud & Townsend (a must read for everyone!). They describe personal boundaries this way:  “in the spiritual world boundaries are just as real (compared to property/fence lines) but often harder to see.” They are “an ever present reality that can increase your love and save your life.  In reality, these boundaries define your soul…” Now to me, that is such a powerful statement about the importance of healthy boundaries in our lives. Boundaries give us personal identity and help us to protect ourselves.

There are 4 main areas in which we create boundaries for ourselves:

  1. Physical – think personal space
  2. Emotional – managing your emotions and how you respond to the emotions of others
  3. Mental – having the freedom to manage your own thoughts and opinions
  4. Spiritual – how you manage and maintain your spiritual life

While often times we think that boundaries keep people out, or are selfish, the reverse is actually true. When we have established healthy boundaries with those in our life we actually gain a greater sense of safety and freedom. Without boundaries, anger and resentment build up and actually hurt our relationships.

So how do we set boundaries?

The first rule to setting healthy boundaries is to know yourself. Our definition of boundaries is the dividing line between what is you and what is someone else. To set and follow through with healthy boundaries you need to know what they are and clearly communicate them. (Check out my blog on healthy communication skills to learn more about how to effectively communicate your boundaries.)

So, we’ve set the boundary. Now what?

Once we’ve identified our boundaries, we need to establish a consequence for if/when the boundary is not respected. A boundary with no consequences isn’t really a boundary at all. When it comes to creating a consequence, we need to make sure it’s realistic and something with which we are willing to live. We also need to be prepared for the fact that as a result of setting healthy boundaries our relationships will likely change. This isn’t always a bad thing, especially if the relationship is fraught with unhealthy boundaries. Remember healthy boundaries create freedom and safety within ourselves and our relationships. I won’t pretend this easy to do; it can be very difficult but the result makes it worth it.  (Be sure to check out my 3 tips to having a difficult conversation as you prepare to communicate your boundaries.)

Remember, without boundaries we are at the mercy of others. Healthy boundaries allow us to live and lead without resentment or guilt.

Tiffany AshenfelterTiffany Ashenfelter is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Board Approved Supervisor in private practice in Dallas. Tiffany works with women and teens struggling to manage and overcome the many curveballs life throws at us. She also partners with her husband Michael, a counselor as well, to help couples work through the many challenges they face within their marriage on both a joint and individual level.  Tiffany has served on the leadership team for Polish: Refining the Details for the past 5 years.  You can follow Tiffany on Twitter @AshenfelterAsso and find out more about Ashenfelter & Associates counseling practice online. 


Back to School for My Boys and Back to the Blog for Me

School Supplies 3Happy Back to School Leader Friend! Today is the first day of school for my boys. The less-structured days of summer are over and the regular rhythm of fall is here.

You may have noticed I took a bit of a blogging break. I wasn’t planning a break. I had high expectations of carrying on this summer just like nothing had changed at all. (Except that everything had changed.)

I was reminded by my friend Jennifer Lefforge that no matter how you prepare for summer with kiddos, summer never really works just like you planned. And this summer was no exception. Oh, I tried to dig in my heels the first month or so, but by mid-July, I was beat down by trying to fit everything in. Something had to give and regularly posting to my blog was it.

What stayed in my summer schedule was: meeting new leader friends, working on a book proposal, making countless trips to the local library with my boys, visiting family, eating lots of pie, and launching two resources and an online shop. This season was full yet not crazy-train-paced like some summers past.

I’m excited to share in the coming weeks some of the leaders I met, some of the projects I’m working on, and some of the lessons I learned. As usual, we’ll talk about how life and leadership collide together and how our faith guides it all.  And as your coach, I’ll be hear to challenge you to go further and remind you of your potential. And of course, it wouldn’t be coaching without a pep talk now and then to encourage you to keep going when hard parts of leadership have you running for the bleachers.

So tell me, what did you love about Summer 2014? And what are you looking forward to this fall?



4 Essentials for Effective Leadership Development

SONY DSCPreviously, I shared a post about how sometimes our efforts to develop leaders actually produce something totally different: a Mini Me, a Knowledge Glutton, a Bright-Shiny Addict or a Flat, Skinny Manager. (Click here to find out what in the world those names mean and how that happens.)

Over the years I have talked with a lot of leaders, and so many of you have shared the same message: You know leadership development is important. And you really want to invest in the people you lead – you just don’t know where to start.

How about starting with the basics? Here are 4 Essentials for Effective Leadership Development:

  1. Begin with the End in Mind: The old saying is true, “if you aim for nothing, you’ll hit it every time.” What does an effective leader look like? How would you describe them? What do you want to accomplish with this effort and how will you know when you have been successful?
  2. Develop an Intentional Strategy: Having identified what you want to accomplish, now you can build a plan to help you get there. The key word is intentional. You can have a strategy that doesn’t get implemented or that is actually not all that helpful in getting you to your goal. The next two essentials will help shape your strategy.
  3. Build in the Leadership Basics: Every organization has their own group of leadership basics – the foundational leadership principles you build on over time. My list of basics includes communication, conflict, decision making, soul care, and change.
  4. Customize with Their Potential: Each leader is unique and has their own strengths, experiences and potential. Once you include the leadership basics in your strategy, it’s time to layer in pieces that will be customized to leadership sub-groups and individual leaders.

Applying these 4 essentials to your approach will help you effectively invest in the growth of your team and your own leadership. I often coach individuals around their own growth plan and consult with teams on how to create a development strategy throughout their organization. If you would like another perspective to help you think this through, feel free to contact me at julie@empoweredbypierce.com.

What other essentials would you recommend?

How to Detox Your Leadership and Fuel Your Growth

Green Spinach & Kale Protein Smoothie from Flickr via Wylio

The mere mention of her name would bring back the knots in my shoulders and the twitch in my eye. I lay awake countless nights reliving our explosive outbursts heated conversations. I kept beating myself up with the “what if” and “should have” scenarios.

The six month ministry crisis had taken its toll on me emotionally, physically, relationally and spiritually. When it was all said and done, I continued to experience the side effects of such a season: fear, distrust, doubt, and exhaustion would shake my confidence time and again.

I was a hot mess.

A healing combination of counseling, coaching, community, spiritual direction and time helped me let go and move on. My circle of coaches helped me do what Dr. Henry Cloud calls “metabolizing an experience.” In his excellent book, Necessary Endings, Dr. Cloud shares that we need to do with experiences what our bodies do with food: keep what will fuel us and eliminate the waste.

Every experience, whether amazing or awful, needs to be broken down and processed through our system in order to keep our leadership healthy and thriving. As leaders, we often move so fast that we miss the opportunity to celebrate the win or grieve the loss we just experienced. And just like with our bodies, waste that is not eliminated makes us toxic.

As a leadership coach and communicator, I often have the privilege of walking leaders through this process. If you would like to try it for yourself, carve out some time alone with your favorite journal or notepad. Invite God to join you in the exercise. You might want to pray or meditate on Psalm 139:23 which says, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.”

When you feel your heart and mind are prepared to begin, the first question I recommend answering is, “What recent experience or ending do I need to metabolize?” Write a summary statement of this experience across the top of your page.

Next, divide the paper into two columns. At the top of the left column, write the following question, “What aspects of this experience will fuel my growth?” You might include things like lessons learned, results achieved, boundaries implemented, and strengths recognized; anything making you a stronger leader in the long run.

At the top of the right column, write the question, “What aspects of this experience will be toxic to me and need to be eliminated?” Examples of things I have written in this column are unconfessed sin, unhealthy habits or relationships, bitterness, unforgiven debts, shame, fear, a critical spirit, and unrealistic expectations. Capture here anything weighing you down and holding you back from being a healthy, thriving leader.

When you finish writing, you may recognize further work needs to be done to eliminate some of your toxins from your system. Consider what specific actions you need to take for each one. Consider also who you need to ask to help you take these steps. Maybe you need to have a tough conversation with a co-worker. Maybe you need to invite a spiritual friend to help you shake your critical spirit. Or maybe you need to contact a professional counselor or support group to finally find freedom from a hurt, habit or hang-up. Before you leave the metabolizing process, decide how and when you will take each step.

Metabolizing experiences is not easy work, my leader friend. However, doing the tough work of sorting through the fuel and the waste of your leadership experiences will leave you energized and ready for your next challenge. And who doesn’t want that?

What experiences do you need to metabolize today?

© 2014 Robert Gourley, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

*This post was originally featured on the Gifted for Leadership blog.

**For more on this topic, check out this post on leadership growth.

From “No Experience Necessary” to “Your Experience Necessary” in Leadership

1 peter 4-10Every job I have applied for, or hired for, has required experience of one kind or another. Software experience. Task experience. Leadership experience. I can’t think of one job description I have ever written that included the line “no experience necessary.”

Because, let’s face it: we don’t want to take a risk on someone cutting his or her leadership teeth on our projects and our teams. We know everyone has to get experience somewhere – we would just prefer it be somewhere else. And, yet, “no experience” may be exactly what is necessary in order to access what is perhaps the greatest untapped resource out there: young women leaders.

Because of the intensity of our world’s challenges and the pace at which they are changing, young leaders’ voices, ideas, and perspectives are needed now. Their collaborative, connected, and complex approach to life is a different kind of “experience.” And we simply don’t have the luxury of waiting 10 to 15 years for them to get the experience we think they need.

When I was leading a ministry to women, we hired a seminary student in her early 20s. Aubrey had zero ministry experience but was passionate about theology and eager to learn how that played out practically. She was a little rebellious and outspoken compared to her seminary peers. And, yet, Aubrey went silent when she joined our team.

I took her to lunch and asked her why she never spoke up in our team meetings. Her eyes filled with tears. She shared with me how her dad was a former pastor and had advised her to keep her head down, work hard, and keep quiet. He told her we were the experts, and she was there to listen and learn; to be seen but not heard. I quickly told Aubrey that success in this role depended on not taking her dad’s advice. I assured her our team not only wanted but needed her input on decisions and ideas for improvement.

Maybe some of our job descriptions need to change: from “no experience necessary” to “your experience necessary.”

So, if we take the risk and engage young women leaders, how do we do so without all of the “green” mis-steps that come with them? Simple answer: we don’t.

When Aubrey began to speak into what we were doing, she was like a breath of fresh air for our ministry. But, admittedly, there were times when she misjudged her timing or audience. She was a driven, hard worker who had to learn some new “soft skills” around communication, conflict, and change. And, as she benefited from our leadership experience, we benefited from her life experience. The bumpy processes, the bruised egos, the leadership mistakes are unavoidable – they are part of each leader’s journey. But, as the more seasoned leaders at the table, we can help bring out the best of the experience they do have. We can empower young leaders through our intentional investment in their growth.

Let me share what this looks like for me. Through one-on-one coaching, I help young leaders identify their strengths, gifts, and perspectives – their unique leadership styles. And in a group context, I equip young leaders to accelerate through some of those leadership bumps by combining my experience with their potential. Through it all, I share my leadership story filled with catastrophic mistakes and surprising successes. I share the lessons I have learned and am still learning. I encourage them that their leadership experiences are drastically different from mine – and that is exactly what is needed.

I believe in this generation of young women leaders. They are poised and ready to change the world. We can either tell them to come back in a decade, or we can empower them to lead alongside us now.

What young leaders are in your sphere of influence? How will you empower them to lead today?

*A version of this post originally appeared at Gifted for Leadership.