@ the intersection of working, learning & becoming
Nobody Is That Busy (Even in Silicon Valley)

Ask anyone running through the halls of a high-tech company how they’re doing. The informal poll I did on a random Wednesday resulted in 99.9% answering “Crazy busy,” or some version of that. When I dug deeper and asked what was causing people to be so “crazy busy,” they offered the typical responses: back-to-back meetings, hundreds of emails in their inbox, and no space in their days to think.

But when you scratch the surface of what “everybody knows,” a deeper truth that contradicts the surface appearance often emerges—we are not that busy. We have all the time in the world.

I used to be just like everybody else in the Valley (and in the spirit of full transparency, I still am that person sometimes). I was literally jogging from meeting to meeting all day long. I thought it was a sign that I was important. I finally made it to a place where everyone wanted a part of me. I assumed that having a full calendar, sending emails late at night, and getting five hours of sleep was the rite of passage to becoming not just an executive, but an important executive.

But if being crazy busy is a mark of success, how come everybody seems to hate it?

As Head of Learning & Development for Twitter, I’m asked at least once a week whether we’re going to offer a time management class that will magically solve the too-many-priorities-emails-and-meetings problem. Yet it’s not our lack of skill with focus or prioritizing that keeps us from achieving the lives we long for. It’s not our full calendars, email, Twitter, or <insert latest app here> that’s distracting us.

It’s us.

In a world of infinite distractions, we need to be better curators of our time and energy.

I recently read Laura Vanderkam’s book 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think. Vanderkam interviewed dozens of successful, happy people and realized that they allocate their time differently than most of us. The big shift for these people was defining and making time for the important stuff.

Inspired, I started tracking my time. I discovered that, within the 168 hours that make up a single week, 60 percent of my time was spent in reactive mode: responding to emails, attending meetings, and drifting through random time-wasters (like half reading the newspaper while picking up the house) in dozens of five-minute increments. I also spent a lot more time watching The Daily Show on itunes than I cared to admit.

None of this was much of a surprise. What was surprising was how little time I spent on “future work”—thinking strategically, reading, and writing. This kind of creative, productive work occupied only ten percent of my time. Ouch.

One solution is to actually schedule future work—to block out time in your calendar to escape from random busyness and focus on the big picture.

Some people are scared of putting space in their calendar to think. Our calendars are symbols of how much we’re getting done, so leaving some of that precious space “empty” for thinking feels wasteful. Yet the most productive people I know aren’t in meetings all day. They rarely declare anything “urgent.” They attend only the truly necessary meetings—and when they do attend those meetings, they are quietly asking the questions that no one else wants to ask. They are creating the future while the rest of us are responding to our emails.

One senior executive I work with strives to carve out two hours every day to focus on strategy and building for the future. Sometimes when you walk by his desk, you can see him at the whiteboard by himself or simply sitting quietly at his desk, thinking.

Another executive recently declined a calendar invitation meeting with me. After I reminded him that he had asked for the meeting, he emailed me back, “I know, but I can’t handle that much face time with people today.” That was the most brilliant email I had received in a long time. It was real, transparent, and a great reminder that even when our days seem “open,” we need to align them around our real priorities rather than our task list.

Our busyness is a result of our culture glorifying “doingness” vs. “mindfulness.” A lot has been written about mindfulness lately, much of it adding unnecessary layers of mysticism to the topic. I define mindfulness simply as the ability to live intentionally. When I spend 15 minutes each day intentionally planning, I am less likely to fall into the “crazy busy” patterns of my past.

So, now when I review my calendar weekly and daily. I ask questions like:

“Do I need to attend that meeting, or can someone else on my team do it? If I need to attend, does the meeting need to last an hour?”

“Where can I add thinking time?”

“What is the one priority I need to get done today?”

Driven by these questions, I block out open spaces in my calendar for future work, coded with the color green.

There are times when those green spaces on my calendar are sanity-savers. In the office the other day, I got a call from my doctor that caused me to pause—potential bad news that made me feel the weight of the world on my shoulders. My first thought was to run home, get under the covers, and just listen to Jon Stewart make jokes about the rest of the world. Instead, I took a deep breath and opened my calendar. When I saw that my next hour was green, I slowly closed the lid to my computer. That hour of time allowed me to center myself and even take a short walk outside.

Within a few hours, my doctor called back with good news—her earlier warning had been a false alarm.

She asked, “How are you doing?”

“Relieved and grateful,” I said.

Now, this is a commencement speech

Dick Costolo, the CEO of Twitter, was the commencement speaker for University of Michigan yesterday. It was one of the best I’ve heard. He had three main messages: 

1) Impact: Nobody can tell you to make an impact

"Believe that if you make courageous choices, and bet on yourself and put yourself out there that you will have an impact". 

2) Be Bold:

"Make courageous choices for yourself—be in the Keebler elf factory—what are you afraid of?"

3) Your Path: There is no script

"You cannot draw your path looking forward. if you’re just filling a role, you will be blindsided. Don’t always worry about what your next line is supposed to be”. 

"…be in this moment, be in this moment, be in this moment"…



Meditating on the Slopes in Zermatt


So I wasn’t meditating exactly, in that I wasn’t sitting cross-legged on the snow at the top of the mountain, but I did have a meditative experience on the slopes this time like I never have before. I think it was because of the transformational meditation weekend I did with Jon Kabbat-Zinn—two weeks before but I also think it had a lot to do with the book I finally read, “Inner Skiing” by Tim Gallwey and Robert Kriegel. The concept behind the book is my concept on learning—learn from you mistakes and leverage them to do better in the future. Like any sport, skiing is such a wonderful life metaphor. As skiers  and lifetime learners, we are always trying to improve our game. We take the blue, easy runs but know that we need to challenge ourselves on the black runs too—at least those of us who don’t want to sit still and let life happen. I’m talking about those people who make life happen—who see the line they want to ski, and carve that line as hard as they can—regardless of what happens. So,here’s what I learned—in my usual three:

1) Feel vs. Think: Tim writes in his book, “Many skiers assume that if we neglect technical info in favor of increasing body awareness, we will sacrifice proficiency” yet the reverse is true. What I got from paying attention to my body—my toes, my feet on the edge of my ski, my breathing—was much more useful than thinking about leaning forward, bending my knees, planting my poles.

We would benefit more if we slowed down, took a breath, and felt what was going on around us on a daily basis vs. being compelled to always do and think our way through the next task.

2) Lean in:Every time I leaned in and looked up in the mountains, I had a great run. When I resisted the run—thought it was too steep, too crowded, too icy, I lost my footing.

If we lean in more to what’s happening and stop resisting I think we’d find that life not only gets easier, but much more fulfilling.

3) yes to the blacks: I used to resist black runs. Even though my husband told me I was good enough, I didn’t want to push it. It felt good on the blue runs. I felt confident and then… I got bored. I got frustrated with the crowds. So this time, whenever my husband asked me if I wanted to take a black run I said “yes”. My heart was beating fast, and my fear was always there like an old friend waiting for me to lean on her, but I always left her behind. I trusted myself that I could get down and I always surprised myself on how easy it was.

And so it is in life—we get bored with greens and blues. Despite the flat light, the ice, the fast Russians skating out of control behind us, we point  our skis downhill and look up at the Matterhorn.

There is so no time for fear anymore. Feel, lean in and say “yes”. I promise it will be the most exhilarating ride, the most exhilarating life. 

New Roles of the Learning Practitioner & How Learning is Evolving 

You are capable of making a difference, of being bold, and of changing more than you are willing to admit. You are capable of making art.
- Seth Godin, The Icarus Deception

I try to be healthy. I work out, eat fairly well, and pay attention to the food I put into my body. I plan for the times when I know I’m going to eat more, and eat less after a big feast (like turduken over Thanksgiving!) I think what we’re doing with technology is a great metaphor for eating and diets. Maybe if we managed how, where, what and when we connected to our devices more consciously, we wouldn’t have to go on extreme “digital detoxes”.  I love the idea of the digital detox camps that are popping up, but how we can make this part of how we live vs. having to go on yet, another diet? 

Sangha of Super heroes

Sangha is the Sanskrit meaning for community.                                         

I just got back from two extraordinary Sangha weekends filled with super heroes who welcome adversity as an opportunity to positively change the world .

Both weekends were about connecting to a larger community of global leaders.

Both were inspiring, confronting, and life-shifting. 

Both were colorful, juicy, and insightful.

Both were far away from my normal surroundings of San Francisco—one in Washington D.C. at the Institute for Peace and the other on the West Coast at the Stillheart Retreat Center in the mountains above the Pacific Ocean.

Both weekends illuminated what matters most.  

Here are the three things I  learned:

1)    We are all dancing super heroes

2)     It starts with yourself

3)    The power of space

We are all dancing super heroes

What is  your work?  What  would  you say if  you had 18 minutes to speak on whatever you wanted?  At the TEDx Women’s conference,  women from 15-70 years old spoke about what  made them frustrated,  the different kinds of questions they had to ask themselves , and how they found the courage to create a change.  I was especially moved by the  session  about “Stops and Starts”: The space between disruption and moving on.

Bob and Lee Woodruff shared their inspiring love story of how they persevered through the aftermath of Bob being nearly killed by an explosion in Iraq. Through laughter, courage, and resilience they got to the other side .


Then there was  Lourds Lane.  She told her story of how she found herself through a violin, rock & roll and her grandmother.  When she was little, she would drown out her father yelling and hitting her mother with music.  What most inspired me was her courage and persistence to keep finding what made her happy, where she was real. She was a rock & roll girl at heart and never strayed from that path, even with the momentum of a Harvard degree under her belt. She sang and rocked her violin saying that we can all be super heroes with special powers if we want to be.


 Being a super hero showed up a little more quietly  for my west coast retreat. I was still called to be my own wonder woman, but the dance showed up inside my heart. As I sat quietly, I could feel the flutter in my heart—and this time it wasn’t because I just drank a Red Bull (none allowed!). It was the flurry of excitement, of anticipation, of knowing that I was dancing on the edge of my path. In fact, I wasn’t as far off as I had thought…none of us are far from it—just a little lost sometimes in the morass of our daily lives. If we just take the time to look within, we’d realize how close we are to our path—and most likely, realize we’re already on it. Yet, we resist the path because it’s so much easier to be confused than to take action. I realized that my path was and continues to be all about how we leverage work as an opportunity for growth.   Jon Kabatt-Zinn, one of our leaders for the weekend, shared that there are many doors in to the same place. Sometimes I think we see others go through one door and think that’s the only way. Then we stop dancing. Being a super hero is about picking a door and opening it. Once inside, there’s a lot of dancing going on. I danced as I realized yet again that “work is the retreat” and that’s my path. That’s my door to keep opening. 

It Starts with yourself

Charlotte Beers was another great speaker at the TedX women conference. “She is fierce”, as my friend, Janet, said. I loved how Charlotte talked about her work:


That’s what I get excited about. How can we use work to help us grow personally? Charlotte went on to say that we should all keep a journal to get to know ourselves. We can’t wait for someone else to say who we are.

Back on the west coast, 20 executives from Silicon Valley gathered in a circle silently, letting the ‘to-do’ lists, the daydreams, the ideas bubble up and then settle back down again—nothing to email, nothing to tweet, nothing to say.  Google and Facebook executives, former CEOs, entrepreneurs who made millions,  investors who had everything in life, but realized that all that “stuff” didn’t make them happy.  We all want to change the world but we were reminded once again that it starts with us. I want to make an impact in the world, help others use work as an opportunity to grow and learn, but first, maybe what I can continue to focus on is showing up for meetings on time (been working on this one for awhile!) and spending 10 minutes in the morning meditating.  Jon Kabbat-Zinn reminded us that “nothing is different out there than here”.

The Power of Space

The theme of the conference was  “The Space Between”.  It was perfect for me as I’ve been inquiring a lot lately about polarities. How can we live more in the “and” of our lives? How do we be powerful leaders and have down time? The idea behind the theme is that the world is not made up of polarities, but of spectrums—not structured like a line, but of a web. We can have challenges and opportunities, fear and resilience,  not knowing and knowing. And we can face these challenges if we create the space to address them. We can have busy days if we create the space to think in between meetings. We can have big goals if we make the space to take the small steps to achieve them.

Eve Ensler  ended the session with The Rising: the space between seeing and doing; between knowing and responding; between staying in the dark and seeking the light about her passion for breaking the chain of violence.


Lots of space was created at the meditation retreat as well. Jon talked about how musicians always take the time to tune their instruments. We know that when we’re listening to a symphony, the artists didn’t just rush to their seats and start playing. They took at least 20 minutes to tune, listen, situate themselves in the right position. We need to take the time and create the space to “tune” more so we can make the kind of music we’re meant to make. One person shared how she “tunes herself by reading something inspiring like this classic Jon wrote before she opens her email each morning. 

Sanghas on the east and west coasts.

Two life-shifting weekends

Inspiring leaders changing the world…

one dancing breath at a time.


for your superhero dance of inspiration today, watch this

"Sure, I’ll Present…"

I just got back from presenting at the HCI Leadership & Learning Conference. It was something I agreed to do eight months ago. It sounded like a great idea at the time. I am always looking for ways to stretch myself and speaking qualifies as a “stretch goal”.  I commit to speaking engagements as a forcing function to make this happen. Yet, two months before the conference, I still hadn’t outlined what I was going to share. 

Earlier in my career I took Toastmasters and completed all ten speeches.  I recommend this group to everyone, regardless of where they are in their career.  The group pushes you to not only present more effectively, but also think on your feet.  I’ve presented throughout my career and have been speaking at conferences over the last few years. Yet, speaking is one of those skills that I can always hone.

For this conference, it was especially important that I do well, since it was the first time I was presenting in my new role. I wanted to create real value for the participants. I wanted to be provocative.  I wanted to share my lessons. As with everything I do, I turned the experience into a learning opportunity. Here are the three lessons I learned that I will leverage for the next big presentation. Hopefully, you will be able to leverage them as well. 

Support: Create your support system. This is the group of people with whom you can bounce off ideas, validate that you’re on the right track, and be available to check in. My network consisted of four main people: my husband, my coach, (http://jenniferlouden.com/), a presentation skills trainer (http://www.grahamcomm.net/)and a good friend (http://www.paulnlarsen.com/). They all had different points of view, but here’s what they all had in common:

                      It was a no-brainer that I was going to “kill it.”

Of course I didn’t believe them. Half of their time spent with me was convincing me how I was going to do just that.

The night before the overview of my presentation was due, I still didn’t feel right about it. I shared it with my husband and he told me that he had no idea what I was going to present based on the description. It was too “abstract and full of corporate-speak”—the two very things I was trying to avoid.  He started asking me questions.

What do you really want to share with people? What have you learned these past eight months? How would you do it differently next time? How has your role changed from the last company?

As I answered the questions out loud while nervously scarfing down white cheddar rice cakes, my husband typed. Within one hour, I had the overview done.  I shared it with the rest of my support team the next morning and they loved it. My passion finally came through. Without that team, my presentation would likely have consisted of a few matrices, some circles, arrows, and great graphics, but no passion or authentic sharing. I would’ve been lost behind the slides. 

Them: One of the things I highlighted in my presentation was the importance of THEM—the employees. I told a story about a breakfast I had with one of the engineers when I first joined Twitter. I was so excited about doing all these cool new things with learning technologies. He then asked me if we were going to do any live sessions about how to have effective 1:1s. The point being that I need to focus on what the employees need—our customers—rather than what I want to do. We know this. We’ve read the books on this, yet we still lose sight of it. So, that’s what I did for the conference. What would I want to know if I was listening? What do they want to hear? What could be helpful as they go back to work in their jobs? How do I make sure that I’m not telling them things they already know? How do I share things with them as a colleague, assuming they already know, but perhaps haven’t thought about something in this way? How do I make sure I share points that are “tweetable”—-short phrases or key words that they can remember and integrate back into their lives? (and tweet if compelled to do so!)

           As I created my overview, I kept my audience in mind.       

           As I deleted slides, I kept my audience in mind.      

           As I built out my stories to share, I kept my audience in mind. 

           As I  included a video, I kept my audience in mind.

Energy: I’ve been to a lot of conferences—as a speaker, a panelist and an attendee. I know when my energy is up, when I have an intention, people listen differently. In those first 30 seconds, they look you in the eye and  lean in more to see if you’re really excited about what you’re about to share. Suddenly, the space opens up. I wanted to create that space. I wanted people to have fun and feel energized while also learning.  

I got to the point where I was excited to do my presentation—that’s right where you want to be. If I’m excited, then it’s hard for others not to want to be part of that excitement too.

Now, go sign up to speak at that next conference.  No doubt you’ll help someone else learn and I guarantee you will learn as well. 

Why I Hired Niki

After 4 months, hundreds of resumes, and 15 in-person interviews with amazing potential candidates, I finally found a Sr. Org Effectiveness & Learning Specialist. People have asked me what it was about Niki that made her a perfect fit for the role, the culture, and the team.  I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the importance of “and” –the dance between two extremes. Great work happens when we dance between these extremes.  Same is true with people. Those who can dance within that space of polarities can do great work. Here’s why I hired Niki: 

 1) Strategic & Scrappy: We have big goals and I need someone who is not afraid to fulfill on them while also getting the foundational stuff done. We need someone who can think about our management development strategy AND help us create awesome handouts. We need someone who can be innovative in how we think about learning AND help set up the learning calendar. She’s worked as an external consultant and an internal practitioner. She can toggle between the big picture, idea world and the scrappy “execute on all the details” world.

    2) Traveler & a Learner: One of my good friends says that there are two kinds of people in the world: Travelers and Tourists. Travelers are those people who are open to change, experience different cultures and integrate those experiences into all that they are. Tourists are people who see a lot, but don’t really learn anything.  Niki studied abroad for a year in Rome, she moved cross-country and had no qualms about moving from Southern to Northern California. People who have lived in different places and have experienced living in other cultures are travelers.  But it’s not just about travel. I know people who haven’t traveled much physically, but create space daily to think outside of the daily momentum. They explore new ideas and aren’t afraid to try them.

Travelers are also connected.  A colleague knew Niki and couldn’t say enough good things about her and her work. 

Tourists follow a path and do things right. Niki is a traveler who creates her own path and does the right things.

3) Confident and Humble—The best part about my interview process at Twitter was when my potential manager said, “This is what I can promise you and this is what I can’t. This is what I know and what I don’t…but despite all of that, you can always trust me to have your back”. She embodied the culture—she knew her strengths, she had a point of view, and she was real. Niki did the same. She shared the things that she could contribute based on the job description and the areas in which she would still like to grow.

I’m thrilled to have such an amazing, strategic, humble, confident, “get it done” learner and traveler on my team. She has already shined on the first few assignments and I know we will create great things together as we continue the dance.

What are your “ands”? What are the ones that you want for the people on your team and/or in your life?

good & great

good coaches based on experience; great coaches based on possibilities.

good does things right; great does the right things.

good controls; great lets go.

good creates strategy; great re-imagines how it could be done.

good shares with each other; great learns from each other.

good strives for perfection; great launches at happy.

good asks others how you’re doing; great asks YOU “how are you?” 

good is there when you need her; great is there even when you don’t. 

good talks. great listens. 

good knows its crowded; great knows there’s room for everyone.

good pretends to be happy. great is happy.

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