Crazy: A Review of April

May 16, 2013 by

April was…crazy. Personally, professionally, in all ways absolutely crazy. It seems like every month this year has been crazy, which makes it doubly hard to focus on maintaining peace in mind. Nevertheless I’ll continue working on it.

April’s review

Here are a few key things that happened this month:

  • I went out eating, dancing and drinking with a couple of my best girlfriends on a weekend when Dan was out of town. We ended up closing down a bar at 2:30am which hasn’t happened in a long time. Even though I was really tired the next day it was so much fun! I really love to dance and often forget how important it is to me.My_neighborhood_in_bloom.
  • Dan’s birthday was this month so I took him out for a Caps game and a night on the town. Again, we had so much fun. Hockey is absolutely my favorite sport to watch in person and it was a great game. As always, spending dedicated time with my hubs was the best part of this trip.
  • I presented at a conference on supervisory skills (and then wrote a blog post about it). I haven’t presented to this audience before, so it was a great opportunity to get to know some new people and continue building my business.
  • We hosted our housewarming party – finally! It was great to see so many old friends and meet/play with their little ones. There are more and more kids among my group of friends so our parties have changed quite a bit since the old days 🙂
  • I attended and participated in several meetings for my usual transportation groups and commissions as well as the short-term parking group I’m on.

All in all, it was an exhausting month, especially because work was very busy as well. The biggest personal milestone that happened this month was the housewarming party and finally “opening” the house up for visitors. Several people hadn’t seen our place yet, so it was great to show off the new kitchen and all the work that went into making the house ours.Farragut_Square__dreaming_in_the_sun_while__zachsmith_101_and_I_grab_lunch_at_the_food_trucks.

The biggest business milestone I accomplished was to get my new website design and header launched (after far more hours of work than I originally intended to put into it). Getting that launched was sometimes an exhausting and frustrating process, so you can bet I won’t be doing it again soon! But it did allow me a chance to more clearly highlight the coaching work I can do with people (you maybe?) and the great content already on the blog.

The most valuable lesson I learned this month is that I need to take advantage of mental downtime whenever and where ever I can. There were, quite literally, almost no hours of any day in April when I wasn’t working, traveling somewhere, reading in preparation for something, cleaning, cooking or any number of other things. So when I had a chance to walk slowly home a couple of times through the beautiful spring foliage in my neighborhood or just stare out the window during my bus ride instead of doing work, it was a real balm to my mind and soul.

Next month

For the rest of May, I’m going to focus on taking time to relax whenever I can. I’m also going to work on trying to parcel out my time carefully so that I can try to preserve some of it for relaxation while still getting my work done.

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Attitude (is everything): A Review of February

Mar 5, 2013 by

Though its only been a couple of weeks, (since my January review was a little late) it’s time for my monthly review. This is the second in my year-long series exploring my professional and personal accomplishments each month in order to be more intentional and thoughtful throughout the year. Hat tip to Rosetta Thurman for the monthly review idea and template – seriously, if you haven’t checked out her amazing blog, workbooks and tools, you are missing out.

Valentine's Day flowers from my wonderful husband.

Valentine’s Day flowers from my wonderful husband.

February’s review

Here are a few key things that happened this month:

  • I attended and spoke at a conference held in Kansas City (for my full-time job). For a variety of reasons, my attitude toward this conference was really negative right from the beginning. While I didn’t particularly enjoy myself for most of it, I did think the session I led went very well and it was fun to train people (as usual). I also got to interview several people on camera for a video series we’re doing at work and that was really interesting.
  • After I got back from Kansas City, I got very, very sick. In fact, I didn’t really leave the house for five full days because I was so out of it. As a result, I’m still pretty behind at work and in my business since I couldn’t get much done that week.
  • Had a lovely “stay-cation” with Dan. It was my birthday a couple of weeks ago and we rented a hotel in DC, ate Ben’s Chili Bowl (it was Dan’s first time) and went to the Air and Space Museum. We rarely get to enjoy the more tourist-y aspects of our city and it was great to walk around, appreciate the beauty of DC and just hang out.
  • My sister came down for the weekend. Though we didn’t do too much beyond going out to dinner, it was nice to hang out with her and her puppy dog Sweet Pea.

    My sister's adorable dog Sweet Pea.

    My sister’s adorable dog Sweet Pea.

While I can’t say that was a milestone in the true sense of the term, if I had to identify one pivotal personal thing that happened in February it would be our little mini-vacation in DC. We tend to be pretty constant in terms of the places we go and the people we hang out with so getting away – even if only a couple of miles – was a step forward and in line with my goals for this year. I also moved forward with some crucial business milestones including starting the process of getting a new header designed for my website and implementing a more formal editorial calendar for the blog.

The most valuable lesson I learned this month was that you get out what you put in to every experience. I brought negativity to the conference in Kansas City and ended up exhausted and sick at the end. I brought optimism to my weekends with Dan and my sister Amy and had a great time, even when things didn’t go the way I planned.

Next Month

In March I want to stay focused. We have two major work events coming up which will make it very difficult for me to keep my eye on my goal of maintaining peace of mind as much as possible. I want to bring a positive attitude to my work and home lives. It’s going to be busy and stressful, but I’m looking forward to it!

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Practicing: A Review of January 2013

Feb 21, 2013 by

I was inspired (yet again), by the lovely Rosetta Thurman to start writing monthly reviews in 2013 in an effort to get more intentional about my life and especially my business. I’m a little late for the January review, but since I’m trying to be kinder to myself this year, I decided that late was better than never.

When I look back at January, I must admit that its already hazy. It was a very busy month, but it still worries me when time passes so quickly and I’m not always ‘present’ while experiencing everything. Being present in the moment and maintaining some internal peace is not easy for me and just like any life change it requires practice in order to perfect. That’s why January’s theme is PRACTICING.

Introducing my coworkers to NOLA and the famous Hand Grenade.

Introducing my coworkers to NOLA and the famous Hand Grenade.

January’s Review

Here are some of the significant events that happened in January:

  • Re-connected with some good friends I haven’t seen in a while. In particular, I saw my friend Lisa whom I love dearly and was just about to have twins at the time we met up (they were born at the end of January and they are beautiful!). I know it will be a little tougher to get together with her now that she’s busy with her job and the twins, so I was really grateful to see her. I also caught up with Ms. Rosetta – we hadn’t seen each other for a really long time so it was great to hang out and chat about business, food and her wonderful new roommate.
  • Went to New Orleans for a conference I had been helping to plan. It was a great trip for a few reasons: I got to introduce my coworkers to NOLA, one of my favorite cities in the world; ate tons (and tons and tons) of great food; got to see the event go very smoothly after months of planning; and provided training and technical assistance to those that needed it, which is one of my favorite things to do.
  • Attended a concert with my father-in-law. In all the time I’ve known my husband, I’ve never spent any time alone with his dad, who is a wonderful person. It was nice to do something fun together and get to know each other better.
  • Started participating in a Commercial Parking Working Group under the auspices of the Arlington County Manager. While the work is super wonky, its also an important group that I’m privileged to participate in. The group’s recommendations will have a real impact on transportation in the county and it always feels good to me to contribute to my community.

    I love you NOLA, especially your food.

    I love you NOLA, especially your food.

The biggest personal milestone I reached last month was deciding that our house was ‘done’! I set the goal of getting it done at the beginning of year/month so while it sounds like I accomplished something huge very early in the year, I actually decided that obsessing over all the stuff that I can do or want to do or somehow think I need to do was actually completely counter-productive to my mission of gaining internal peace. I (and my husband) will do what needs to be done whenever the need arises and I will stop trying to check invisible boxes.

My greatest professional accomplishment (in my business) was finalizing my 2013 strategic plan and identifying tasks and milestones for January and February.

The most valuable lesson I learned last month was that letting go of things – especially those things I can’t control – feels great. It feels light, liberating and sweet. I need to keep learning and re-learning it.

Next Month

Obviously, we’re more than halfway through the month already, but I want to keep focusing on being peaceful. I’ve already caught myself creeping toward unnecessary stress too many times so I need to keep up with the practice of releasing stress, not taking it on in the first place and being peaceful in my mind.

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You can lead kickass meetings and trainings

Sep 13, 2012 by

I’ve ranted about crappy meetings and conference presentations in this space before, but I needed to come back to it in light of the somewhat ridiculous number of meetings, conferences and trainings I’ve been planning and attending lately.

Designing trainings and other adult learning experiences is one of my deepest passions and I spend a LOT of time thinking about how to make them interesting, fun and useful. The same came be said for meetings I lead (though to a slightly lesser extent – its hard to make most meetings fun, no matter how great you are at planning them).

Here are a few suggestions for making your next meeting or training as kickass as it can be:

  • Plan, plan, plan and be prepared – You’re shocked right? The Queen of Planning suggests you plan yet again? Why yes I do. Whether you’re giving a conference session or a training, you should spend AT LEAST double the amount of time the actual session takes planning for it. Along with a coworker, I’m giving a full two-day presentation in early October. Even though each of us have presented on similar topics before, we’ve already spent at least 10 hours prepping and we’ll spend at least 15 to 20 more before we’re done (all for a total of about 12 training hours). For regular meetings that I lead, I spend anywhere from 10 minutes to a few hours prepping for them – the prep includes following up on action items from the last meeting, developing an agenda and making sure any key documents are close at hand before we step into the meeting.
  • Decide on outcomes and goals – This fits into the ‘plan’ category above, but deserves its own separate mention. You should NEVER walk into a meeting, training or conference session without some idea of the goals and outcomes you want to come out with on the other end. It can be as simple as “people will feel they’ve learned something” and as complicated as developing a full workplan for a project you’re doing. Either way, you need to know what is coming out of the meeting and communicate it to others OR cancel the meeting before it even starts.
  • Customize and be Flexible – At this point, I have a few standard trainings that I’ve given several times. While I love designing new trainings, giving a tried and true presentation is so much easier and can be just as fun. The key is that you’ve got to make it relevant to the audience to which you’re speaking. Each training, presentation or meeting should be customized based on that audience and you should also be flexible in case of changes. One never knows what may come up: someone gets sick, a new person joins your meeting at the last moment, the projector won’t work, etc. If you’re prepared and know what your outcomes are, you can flex and bend with the changes.
  • Go with the Flow – This one is a bit more difficult to learn admittedly, but if you think about meetings or trainings you’ve sat through where you jarringly moved from one topic to another or the speaker didn’t explain how an example connects to the overall theme, you’ll know what bad flow means. Try to think of your training and meeting like you used to think about writing papers in college: you start out with a thesis statement, provide some evidence points and then conclude by reiterating your thesis. A meeting or training should be the same and it should make sense.

Now: go forth and kick ass in all of your meetings and trainings!

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Stressed to the point of breaking

Aug 27, 2012 by

The next 3 months are going to be the most stressful of my life. I tend to handle stress pretty well, but I’m a little worried about it nonetheless.*

In the next three months my husband and I are going to buy a house, renovate the kitchen in that house, as well as paint and do a bunch of other smaller repairs, and then move into the house. That would be plenty, but throw in work travel to no less than five places – Omaha, Knoxville, Portland (ME), San Francisco and Denver, most of which require me to lead trainings either single-handedly or with one other person – and you have a recipe for a very, very, stressed out Elisa.

It’s gonna suck and its gonna be great at the same time.

The suck – in a word: exhausting. Traveling is exhausting under the most ideal conditions (like when I’m jetting off to the Caribbean). Traveling for work seems to exhaust me even more because of well, work. While I don’t feel obligated to spend every spare second that I’m on the plane or in the hotel working, I do need to spend a substantial amount of time writing, answering emails, taking calls, etc. And then after I arrive, I often go straight to a meeting or training where I need to stand up in front of a bunch of people and put my best self forward. As a result, I consume far too much caffeine, tend to socialize with those folks over too many drinks, eat all kinds of food I wouldn’t ordinarily, and avoid exercise in favor of sleep (but still don’t get enough).

Buying a house, renovating it and moving are also sucky; each in their own special way. Giving up my life savings and the next 30 years of my money to a mortgage company is terrifying and involves more paperwork than I’ve dealt with in my entire life combined. Renovating brings paralyzing fear of screwing things up or having a contractor do it for you, spending even more money and then potentially having to live in a house where you have to wash the dishes in the bathroom tub. Not fun. And of course moving: packing, purging, cleaning, breaking, losing, organizing, re-organizing and so much more.

I’m so tired just thinking about it.

On the other hand…there are lots of great things here too.

The decision to buy a home is a direct fulfillment of one of my themes for this year: to shit or get off the pot. After much discussion and weighing the pros and cons, my husband and I decided that, in the short term, buying a house was a better decision for us than me going to grad school (I’m still planning to go in a few years once our savings have recouped). The place we’re buying is a great deal and it feels even better because we stuck to our guns through a really tough house hunt to get what we wanted. We’re finally going to have a second bedroom, the opportunity to have pets and a little piece of the American dream.

All the travel I’m going to be doing for work is actually very exciting since I’ll be doing what I love most: training and teaching people. On top of that, I get to train them on some of the skills that I have the most experience in and passion for: organizing, outreach, stakeholder engagement, messaging, communications and coalition building. The trainings will allow them to do their work better, thereby improving thousands of lives all over the country; it’s everything a dyed-in-the-wool idealist could ask for.

How am I going to handle all of this?

I’m going to focus on getting enough sleep, eating right, and exercising whenever I can, even if its just for a short while. I’m going to take lots of deep breaths and moments to myself whenever I can. I’m going to ask myself constantly: “What is the most important to do right now?” And then I’ll do it. I’m going to rely on my support system of friends and family. And I might just cry once in a while – its a great way to release that gigantic stressball for a bit.

What other suggestions do you have when dealing with stress? What should I do to keep relatively happy and healthy? Let me know in the comments!

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*I may not post as frequently for the next few months, so bear with me. I am thinking about some posts around the training topics I’m working on for my travel, but I’m always open to ideas and suggestions from my readers.

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