Hack your very own productivity system (and get things done, your way)

Move beyond overwhelm to sustainable work habits that help you sleep at night with three essential ingredients

I wondered about posting this in the midst of, you know, the world burning, but I reckon whether you’re holding on to your job because capitalism, or if you’re organising for social and climate justice, you still need to know how to filter all the stuff you could be doing and decide what you’re going to do, right?

It is not straightforward knowing how to deal with the demands of complex jobs and complex lives. Overwhelm and procrastination are natural outcomes of not having systems in place to handle too much input for the tiny pipe that human beings are.

Overwhelm

Task overwhelm is when there are too many things-to-do for us to hold in our head at once. It makes it really hard to decide what to do and what not to do and can lead us to unhealthy habits: freezing, overwork, random efforts, procrastination…

Procrastination

Procrastination is when there’s something we feel like we are meant to be doing, and we are avoiding doing it on that timescale. Some of its roots are simple and some of them are complex.

I have a complicated history with ‘productivity’, ‘time management’ and procrastination.

I found myself teaching productivity but had secret, chronic, debilitating procrastination.

Many years ago, i was the internal training office at an IT training firm. I got the job because I just loved the internal training manager but she left after four months on maternity leave, leaving me as basically the internal training department.

That meant I was responsible for all the soft skills training on any topic: selection interviewing, disciplinary interviewing, assertiveness (bless), business communication, coaching… and, yes, what we used to call ‘time management’.

So, I did what I normally did and went to Borders (sob), hauled 12 books into the cafe, took notes, bought the best two and created a one-day course. It was a pick-and-mix approach, where I took loads of ‘tips’ and people could choose the ones that made sense to them, plus I nagged people about how much time they spent doing ‘urgent but not important’ things, when they should have been spending time on ‘important not urgent’ things (yeah, right). Not a coherent approach.

Several years later, I became Europe’s lead trainer for a system called Mission: Control (yes, we used to call it Mission: Impossible).

It had been a pretty static course with loads of PowerPoint so I and my mentor recreated it so it was much more dynamic and suited to British/European culture (I also de-cultified it as it came from a funny organisation).

This system was comprehensive, getting you to think about everything you had to do, wanted to do, dreamed of doing and had committed to do. It was super strict about scheduling and lists and lead me to have a portable dictaphone with me at all times so I could capture things whatever I was doing - even when driving or if I woke up in the middle of the night and thought of something.

I often spent my morning replaying scary, indecipherable whispers.

My secret during this time was: I was a chronic procrastinator.

I hid the fact I wasn’t getting stuff done - particularly stuff to do with my business, particularly sales and marketing and finance and a whole bunch of things. It lead to some dark times in our life.

I really tried to implement this system, but it was made for people who were different to me, plus: emotional stuff can’t be avoided forever (this book and this book really helped me with the darker side of procrastination.)

Fast forward to several years after that, and I was listening to Merlin Mann’s podcast Back To Work and they talked about David Allen’s book Getting Things Done and I thought it was time to get my shit together. I did a full GTD implementation - quite similar to Mission:Control, but a bit more realistic, plus, after years of meditation and therapy, I think I was a different person by this time.

It was enough to get me going and I used a half-assed-but-works-for-me version of GTD on Evernote for the past six or seven years.

A couple of years ago, I came across Bullet Journal, a way of using a paper notebook to track what needs doing and what you’ve done. I cycle between that and digital notes. I love analogue, really, despite the fact that my phone is glued to my hand at every waking moment.

I’m also immersed in reading on complexity, chaos and emergent strategy, so I’m well aware that pretending we’re robots in a factory isn’t going to fit complicated, ever-changing project-based jobs.

All this to say: I’ve looked a lot at productivity and to-do lists and procrastination and I think I’ve mainly come out the other side with some basic patterns that you can use to create a system that works for your brain and routine and job, and that can flex as things change.

(Non-neurotypical people - people with ADD/ADHD or other conditions or disabilities that affect short-term memory and your style of focusing - sorry, I’m definitely coming from a neurotypical position here. My hope is that the principles I introduce might have enough flex in them for you to adapt them to the way that you work. Let me know if there are things that would help for me to include and I’ll edit them in.)

There are three main practices that seem to be common to most systems that help you get on top of stuff.

1. Capture

2. Capacity

3. Review and reflection

1. Capture

One of the major mistakes we make when we’re swimming through the world is trying to hold everything or nearly everything in our head. (Remember, I speak as a recovering chronic procrastinator - please know I’m writing this with a major dose of self-recognition.)

Either you never make a list, or you make one for that day just to get the few things that are totally on top of your mind in front of you or you have several lists in several places.

Result: the feeling that important things might be falling through the cracks.

Also: open loops burning cycles in your brain at all times.

This is exhausting.

You want to close loops but you can’t close the loops by getting everything done. You never get to the end of your list. Not whilst you’re in work.

I think there is, however, a collective sense memory of when you finished school or university or a job and for a brief few days/weeks, you had nothing on your mental list. I have a theory we’re unconsciously chasing that feeling again. But it never comes - we think that having a bunch of unfinished stuff is bad and if we only just GOT IT TOGETHER we’d hit that halcyon task inbox zero again. But our heads always feel so FULL.

The first thing we need to do is get all that stuff out, and into, here’s the kicker, ONE place.

Yep, I’m going to be momentarily hardline and say: you need one place to capture EVERYTHING that goes through your head to do.

Life admin, work stuff, big stuff, small stuff, things you mean to do, things you dream of doing, things people request via email or slack or whatever, things to buy, send, get rid of, fix, sell, say, write, read… All of it.

This means you need what we used to call in my Mission:Control days: a capture tool. It needs to be accessible at all times and very simple to use.

That probably means: a notebook, an audio thing or an app on your phone. If you can make it work with index cards or butterfly postits where you KNOW it’s all gonna be in one place, you’re not going to lose anything and you can capture things at pretty much any moment? Go for it.

Whenever something occurs to you, you capture it.

The idea is never to hold ‘Must do x, must do x’ in your head. You know when you go ‘OH! CRAP!’ as a loop from the back of your mind leaps above the waves momentarily? You capture it RIGHT AWAY.

After a few days, the relief is massive, knowing that nothing is slipping through the cracks. (This isn’t the whole piece of getting out of overwhelm, but it’s a good first step.)

I recommend you start out with just one massive long-ass list, no topics, no sections. We can refine it later, but I think it’s important for you to only add structure in as you find you need it, not go for preemptive structure and get lost in the implementation, losing the reason you’re doing this: to be taking wise and timely action!

Lots of the productivity systems recommend that you do a massive sweep through your life which takes hours/days: go through all your emails, Slack messages, Trello tasks, pieces of paper, and transfer all the tasks onto your list. To a certain extent I’d recommend this, but don’t put it off waiting for that day when you can do it thoroughly. Up to you as you understand your psychology, but something is better than nothing.

Go for imperfect.

So that’s the first part: a massive list of things you could do.

The next thing to think about is: capacity.

2. Capacity

Stupid time/space continuum. Stupid body. We are not infinite unicorn spirits with built-in time machines. We are tiny monkeys who need to sleep. So there are human limits to what we can do. Even if you didn’t sleep, there would still only be 24 hours in a day.

I am willing to bet almost anything that the amount on your list is wa-hayyy more than the time you have available. And that’s not including what’s going to go on it tomorrow and the next day.

So the next step is to look at your capacity.

To start with capacity means: how much time do you have available to do stuff on your list?

It may be that you have a diary or a calendar and you can look at what meetings, etc are already scheduled. It may be that you’ve been holding that in your head. Or maybe you don’t have anything scheduled as you don’t really have a meeting-filled life.

Sketch out: When you start work. When you finish work. What’s already in your diary for the next few weeks.

Add up the hours. That’s how many hours you have IN THEORY. (Look at your list. Cry.)

Yes, in theory. Because there are at least four aspects I can think of off the top of my head that we need to add in.

1. Biorhythms

You are not a robot. There are times when you have more cognitive surplus and times when you have less. For me I have more mental capacity in the morning. My Golden Hour is 10.00-11.30ish. Sometimes I have a second wind at 3.30/4.30/5.30 but not always. A coaching client of mine is the opposite. She (mentally) wakes up at 4.30pm - has all her best ideas, is the most creative - so she schedules meetings in the morning and does her best to keep that time free (or talks to me *waggles eyebrows*).

Evidently, your capacity is not a simple maths problem. Some activities require more juice, some less. Each hour is not the same.

If you’re not sure, do a time/mood diary for a couple of weeks and you’ll soon find out (I used for a bit Daylio).

2. Transition time

You can’t move from one task to another without a break - not for long, anyway. There is always some attention residue that means some of your mind stays with the previous task.

Plus, if it’s a significant shift in gear, you are not a car. Your mental clutch takes more than a second to deploy (ok, whatever, I’m not mechanical, shut up you know what I mean).

For example, if you’re an introvert and you’ve just spent a bunch of time with people, you need decompress time.

If you’re moving from one project to another, you need time to reorient yourself.

3. Surprises

If you ever do a time log (yes, I would recommend it) you’ll find that a lot of your time is spent in things you just couldn’t have predicted at the beginning of the day.

Some people call them asteroids or interruptions, I call them surprises.

For example, I had someone on Mission: Control who worked on reception. She found from her time log that literally 75% of her day was unplannable so really she could only rely on maybe 90 minutes of schedule-able time a day (but her boss expected her to do, maybe, six hours…)

Your capacity is definitely affected by the amount of surprises you can realistically expect. (Yes, you can try and reduce the amount of interruptions/asteroids/distractions in your day, but best to deal with reality right now and then aspire to change things.)

4. Willpower

We use willpower whenever we don’t do what we really want to do in a given moment.

Thing is, all the research suggests we only have a limited amount of willpower and when it’s gone for the day, it’s gone. This is why I’m easily able to have a healthy breakfast, but all I want for dinner is chips and ice cream.

The only way to renew it is either sleep or (less effectively) food.

If you get on with something you’re not loving, or have to really pay attention in a meeting, or have to do something that makes you nervous but you do it anyway, or you do something that you really have to concentrate to do, or you resist checking the notifications you’re getting, or you’re trying to ignore distractions… all of those are examples of you spending your willpower.

Let me repeat: there is a limited daily amount of willpower!

If you’re in recovery, or eating differently, or have caring responsibilities, or are dealing with a less-than-conducive working or living environment, you’re already spending some of your budget just living. This also counts if you’re a Person of Colour, trans, disabled, or have another marginalised identity and you’re navigating this world not built for you.

So it can be a helpful idea to think about a willpower budget in your day. Look at your day as it is spread ahead of you and think:

What is going to require me to be focused or what am I going to have to really get myself in a particular mindset to do?

Are you being realistic about what inner resources are available to you?

If you’re not getting good enough sleep, or you’re working on a different lifestyle challenge or you’re really having to wade through hard stuff in the rest of your life, well, you’re already spending some of your willpower outside of work, so you may need to be compassionate to yourself about how much you can get done in the rest of the day.

This is why you used to be able to do a thing with a level of ability, but you just don’t seem to be able to do it like that right now. YOU ARE NOT A ROBOT.

This concept is also linked to the idea of Deep Work - the ability and habit of spending chunks of 90 minutes or longer totally absorbed in one task without distractions. With our fractured, notification-addict way of approaching things, we are training ourselves out of the ability to do this and it’s where a lot of our ‘real’ value-add work comes from, often.

3. Review and Reflection

So, you’ve got your list and you’ve got capacity.

Now what?

Review

There is no magic formula for this - you have to review what you want to get done, what has to get done and what capacity you have to do that work - and then consider if you need to lower your expectations based on your capacity.

A major guiding principle here is that you are probably overcommitted so much that even if you didn’t sleep and you were an unwavering automaton you’d still not get it all done.

So a big part of being a person who gets things done is deciding what you’re not going to do: today, tomorrow, this week, next week, not for a long time, ever.

You might find this article on having a F**ks I Give List helpful to decide on big-chunk priorities.

It can be a really good discipline to keep a time log - making note of what you’re actually spending your time on and when - so you can review what your intentions were and what actually happened. Not in a punitive way, but as a clear-eyed picture of what happens in your day.

You can just have a page in a notebook with the half-hour segments and set a reminder on your phone or whatever to fill it in. You could also use an app like Daylio for this.

A question I ask myself is: What is the open loop that most needs closing right now?

Other possible questions are:

  • What task has the biggest ramifications if I don’t complete it today?

  • What will I be most relieved to get done today?

  • What am I neglecting that could do with some attention?

  • What will Future Me be glad I did today?

  • What is the wisest action right now?

  • What would be the next step on this project?

  • What's the cold porridge on my list, that’s only going to get more congealed if I leave it? (Nicked that from a coaching client)

In combination, of course, with:

  • What do I realistically have capacity for, bearing in mind my energy levels, environment and motivation?

List buckets

It may be that you need to start sorting your list into a couple of different buckets.

Maybe you need categories like:

  • Needs doing in the next week or so (this one has to be done in combination with the question of capacity and with your diary in front of you)

  • Doesn’t need doing in the next couple of weeks

  • Probably not going to happen for at least a year/is a dream I don’t want to forget

It’s cool to copy things onto a ‘list for today’ as long as everything is still captured in your master list. Pay attention to tension in your body though - are you being honest about your capacity today or is there an internal dialogue that says ‘Well, that has to get done today, so I’ll have to find time, I’ll just be super-focused,’ when the truth is that you’re only going to get half of it done and you need to have some awkward conversations with people?

Difficult conversations are actually an important part of getting clear with your work habits.

The part of us that says ‘yes’ to things is often not in contact with the part that knows capacity. Also if you’re being assigned tasks, no one else has as clear a picture of your capacity as you do.

A coaching client of mine talked about her inner labrador who just said yes if the project sounded interesting or exciting.

When she came to me she was in theory working 8 days a week for different clients! Just having a view of her capacity (a really simple monthly planner, in her case) helped her to have more nuanced conversations, and she learned to set expectations better.

The decision to commit to doing something has to be based on more than just a feeling - you are a human with human limits (dammit) and also with a swirling set of priorities, only some of which will be visible to other people who want you to do stuff for them.

And probably you’re way overcommitted now, so looking honestly at what’s on your plate vs your capacity probably means that you’ll need to get clear with other people.

Estimate time

The other part of review is looking at complex things on your list, maybe breaking them down into smaller tasks, and estimating how long they’re going to take. Humans are notoriously rubbish at estimating how long something will take. Mostly we err on underestimating (apart from things we dread, which we sometimes overestimate - ever had that thing where you finally get around to doing something you’ve been putting off and go ‘Well, that was a lot simpler than I expected!’? That.)

I know it doesn’t feel like you have space to leave space in your diary, but the truth is that things will take longer than you expect so often you have to rejig your day (and therefore tomorrow and the day after) based on surprises or based on the fact that something took much longer than anticipated. A plan is just a place to start.

So reviewing your situation daily and weekly is super-important. And don’t say you don’t have time - seriously, the gains are huge from getting more conscious, even if it feels uncomfortable at times.

Reflection

I think of reflection as a bit more in-depth than review - more like something you do a bit more globally to go, ‘How’s it all working?’

Questions:

  • In what ways is this system working and in what ways does it not suit my working day/brain/personality/current demands?

  • Is my way of capturing working, or is it getting fragmented (including: Am I holding things in my head that aren’t captured on my central list)?

  • Is my way of estimating capacity working? Am I underestimating or overestimating my daily capacity?

  • Is my way of reviewing working?

  • What could I do to give myself more capacity? Can I change when I do things, where I do them, how I do them?

  • What has worked in the past for me that maybe I could start doing again?

  • Are there conversations I need to have with people?

  • How much ease do I feel in my body, looking at my list and my schedule?

  • Am I sleeping, eating, drinking enough water, exercising, having enough time with others/on my own?

So there you go.

If we’re going to get stuff done in the world, we need to know how to get stuff done, but in a way that really works in a sustainable way.

Take time to think about these three aspects and make a system that works for you and get out into the world, doing what needs to be done.

A 90-second script to help people state their pronouns in a group

If you want to make a space feel safer for trans and non-binary people, getting people to declare their pronouns along with their name is a good start. This is exactly what I say when I’m kicking off a new group to make this happen.

You’re doing this because

  • it’s great role modelling for other people to copy you in other groups

  • if you’re cis (not trans), it’s such a relief for the trans/non-binary people in the room to not have to lead this conversation

  • there have been several times I’ve realised I would have guessed someone’s gender wrongly and I’ve been very grateful I’ve put this in place

  • even if there are no surprises, you’re signalling that this is a space where trans and non-binary people are to be respected.

I’m not going to do a bunch of context-setting, as I want you to see how the words stand on their own. Feel free to adapt to your context.

It goes:

  1. Pronouns

  2. Why

  3. They/them

  4. Demonstration

Script for introducing pronouns to a group

“Let’s start by going round and introducing ourselves.

[What are pronouns?]

So, say your name, and also your pronouns — when people refer to you, do they say:

she/her?

he/him?

they/them?

or something else?

[Why is this important?]

We need to create spaces that are inclusive of trans and non-binary people. It’s important that we state our pronouns as we are essentially guessing people’s gender (and therefore their pronouns) all the time by the way they look, how they dress, what their voice sounds like, and so on.

Most of the time we get it right, but sometimes we guess wrong and then it becomes awkward for the person to correct us.

Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry about to use they/them pronouns.

Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry about to use they/them pronouns.

[They/them pronouns]

So there’s she/her, he/him and also they/them because some people don’t identify as either male or female (they don’t identify with either side of the gender binary, so they are non-binary) so they may use they/them prounouns.

We actually use they/them to refer to individuals a lot, we just don’t tend to notice..

If you’ve ever watched The Great British Bake Off, in the Technical round the bakers’ bakes are judged anonymously. The judges say things like, ‘This baker needed to leave their cake in the oven another ten minutes. They needed to make their ganache smoother. They’ve been a bit heavy-handed with the icing here’ or whatever.

Similarly, if we found a phone or a random set of keys, we would say ‘Oh gosh, I hope they come back and get them. They must be so worried.’ We wouldn’t say ‘I hope he or she comes back and gets them.’

We use ‘they’ to refer to a singular person all the time.

[Demonstration.]

So go around and say your name, and your pronouns. Are you she/her, he/him, they/them (or something else)?

I’ll go first.

My name’s Meg. My pronouns are she/her.”

Simple, right?

Notes:

  • I do all of this in a very matter-of-fact, and actually at quite a brisk pace (hence some of the rather long sentences!). I’ve tried to show where I put emphasis, too.

  • Obviously, if Bake Off isn’t a reference that works in your culture, either put in a different show or just skip it altogether and go with the phone/keys thing.

  • Sometimes, people run out of steam part of the way through, so if someone doesn’t say their pronouns, just smile and say ‘And what are your pronouns?’

A little-known awareness practice for evolving leaders

Try this mindfulness practice to grow your capacity to face complexity and mess.

I’ve been practicing a particular type of awareness practice for the past few weeks and thought I’d share my notes from the field.

It comes from the work of Bill Torbert, who writes and teaches about Action Inquiry and the Seven Transformations of Leadership. His model has been really useful to me as a leadership coach not as a typology of personality types but as a guide to the tectonic shifts that (can) happen in adult life as we (potentially) evolve our capability to take wise and timely action in the face of complexity, uncertainty and mess.

Action Inquiry is about growing the ability to see that every action is an inquiry, an experiment, and how we can, rather than separate them, develop the consciousness to be take action and reflect at the same time.

One suggestion that Bill makes for cultivating this awareness is to practice paying attention to the ‘four territories of experience’.

awarenessleaderspic.jpg

Here’s how I frame the practice:

Outside

Body

Inside

Up

Outside — What can I see and hear? What’s happening around me right now? What are others doing and saying?

Body — What’s happening with my body? How am I breathing? What’s going on in terms of comfort and discomfort?

Inside — What am I thinking and feeling?

Up — What are my intentions right now?

Here’s how I remember

I got the MindBell app and set it to go off every 20 minutes or so from 8am to 8pm. It has a lovely gentle, but audible sound that was just right for me.

You have to set it so it doesn’t get shut off by your battery optimisation settings — a couple of times I noticed it hadn’t gone off all day and my efficient Android had put it to sleep.

You can also get it to pause for a set time if you’re going into a meeting or (more likely for me) having a nap. I don’t bother turning it off much anymore. If it goes off in a workshop or something, I just go, ‘Oh, that’s my mindfulness bell’ and that seems to make sense to people who know me?

Here’s what each territory does for me

I’ve tried for YEARS to remember throughout the day to be conscious (I actually don’t love the word ‘mindful’ as it’s totally been stolen from its Buddhist roots and I’m not a Buddhist either so, there’s THAT). I’ve been meditating every day for 15 years, and we’re meant to bring our attention back to a certain part of energy throughout the day. I still regularly go through entire days (weeks) where I forget, despite having the best of intentions when I come out of meditation in the morning.

This practice seems to have done something different — maybe because it’s so… complex? thorough?

Each part is important.

Outside

What can I see and hear?

I’m sitting in my house looking at the garden, eating dinner with the people I love.

I’m in Manchester at a trans festival.

I’m sitting on the bus, typing about stuff I care about on my Mac.

I’m washing up watching Grey’s Anatomy.

I’m reading a fab sci-fi book in my super-comfy bed.

This question surprises me a lot by making me wake up in my life and be grateful.

It either reminds me that everything is, generally, fine in that moment or that, actually, it’s more than fine.

I’ve realised in the past few weeks that I’m living aspects of my life that I longed for years ago. That things are genuinely not bad.

Note: Not just looking around me, but hearing the sounds is also particularly powerful at bringing me into the moment.

Body

What’s going on in my body? What am I doing and saying?

This often helps me realise: I’m hungry, I’m sitting with bad posture, I’m dehydrated, I need the loo… basically I’ve been ignoring something my body has been telling me for several, sometimes tens of, minutes.

Sometimes I notice the physical symptoms of an emotion. I’m swirly in my belly or my heart’s beating fast. Noticing this as a physical symptom gives some space to the feeling, sometimes.

Note: Just realising as I’m typing this that the doing/saying part has often been prompted by the ‘outside’ question.

Inside

What am I thinking and feeling?

This is a super important question, as I often come to notice that I’m actually feeling anxious (that’s my habitual emotional groove) — many times about something that happened minutes (sometimes tens of minutes) ago and I’ve stopped noticing.

It’s also a joy when I notice that I’m feeling steady and content.

Note: It tells you something about me that I don’t think I notice what I’m thinking very much, just what I’m feeling. Your mileage may vary, obvs.

Up

What is my intention right now?

This has been, I think, one of the most powerful questions at resetting me.

For example, the bell went off yesterday when I was sitting with my people eating lunch and watching a problematic old Will and Grace episode. When it got to ‘What’s my intention?’ I realised that my intention was to have a break.

I had been, however, thinking about work and slightly tensing to be ready for The Next Thing. When I reconnected with having a break, I softened into the moment.

This question works even when I haven’t set an intention. In the moment I get to decide on an intention.

I’m doing my exercises for planning my next six months of my business. What’s my intention? To feel clear and coherent about what I’m going to be doing.

I’m emailing meetups about potentially speaking. What’s my intention? Oh, yeah, getting more speaking gigs which I love.

I’m on Twitter. What’s my intention? Oh, yeah, to be holding a coherent energy online.

Pretty much every time this question connects me to something bigger, more expansive, more coherent, more conscious.

Super super helpful.

Warning: Awareness practices are NOT easy

Two pieces of advice.

1. Actually ask yourself the questions

I find I get the most mileage when I ask myself the questions with my inner voice. Like, with words.

As a long-term meditator, I’ve learned to distrust practices that are very ‘mind-y’, that operate from Ordinary Mental Consciousness.

But this one seems to benefit from being explicit and overt, not just from a wordless place. There are times when I do it just ‘sensing’ the four territories at once, which I suppose is maybe the goal? But it seems like a step too far, right now.

2. Keep coming back

I’ve spent years trying to be aware of my awareness during the day, but the mind wants to distract you, and life, especially modern life, is built to conspire with it.

I did ok with this experiment for a couple of days, what with New Project Enthusiasm and all, but even then it was maybe five or six times a day (remember the bell was going off every 20 minutes for a 12 hour stretch!).

Some days I hear the bell and go, ‘Oh, that’s the awareness bell’ but don’t do the practice.

Sometimes, most times if I’m honest, I hear the bell and don’t do anything at all.

So don’t beat yourself up if this doesn’t come ‘naturally’ or it doesn’t ‘work’. You have to keep coming back to it again and again.

As Natalie Goldberg, the famous Zen writing instructor says,

‘You don’t drink just one glass of water. You drink glass of water after glass of water.’

Give it a go. And keep giving it a go.

And let me know how you get on?

Why you need a ‘F**ks I Give’ list (NSFW)

Life is huge. You are finite. Boundaries are needed.

FucksIGive.jpg

(This post is a bit sweary - definitely Not Safe For Work.)

One of my people started reading a book about giving less of a fuck about stuff and the concept certainly appealed to me. I have pretty porous boundaries sometimes (especially when people I care about are feeling less than positive) and I get climate and Planet Pain Paralysis very easily.

I also run my own business, am great at starting new things, and care a lot about a lot of things.

I couldn’t get on with the book that he’d chosen — just felt harsh to me. A couple of days later I had an afternoon in Manchester and was working from the cafe in Waterstones. I picked up a similar book, written by a very different author, and (sorry author royalties) skimmed the whole thing in an hour.

It was nicely written and had very clear instructions, but seemed to be about stopping caring about stuff that I didn’t care about in the first place. Baby showers and co-workers charity appeals. My boundary issues are a bit deeper than that!

It did prompt me, however, to make a list of what I do, actually, give a fuck about.

Somehow it makes it easier for me to know what I do care about, and exclude everything else, than the other way around. Maybe the same will be true for you?

So I got a piece of paper and wrote ‘Fucks I Give’ in the middle and started a mind map.

First off came: Work and Money, Relationships, Friends, Being Myself, Social Justice and Climate Crisis as my big categories.

I quickly went into more detail on each.

For example, Work and Money included Clients, Ex-Clients and Resonance Momentum (Who likes ‘marketing’? Yuck. My coaching clients find me because they resonate with me and my work.)

Resonance Momentum goes down to: videos, Medium posts (hi!), website, contacting people, cups of tea, monthly public/private leadership group (in the planning stages).

Under Friends I noted down my super closest people, then literally went through my phone/Facebook and made sure I didn’t miss anyone else I truly give a fuck about in a big ol’ list.

Chunking down from the freeze-overwhelming categories like Climate Crisis was key. What do I actually give a fuck about?

I realised I cared about: supporting the Doughnut Economics project, writing, working with leaders in climate organisations, and convening groups. Some of that is aspirational, some of it current.

Social justice was: reading, writing, amplifying and convening.

I soon hived off Being Myself onto a new page as that corner was getting a little crowded!

Being Myself lead to

  • Transition

  • Fitness

  • Sex

  • Wellbeing

  • Therapy

  • Magical/Spiritual stuff.

Transition was: voice stuff, clothes, medical, talking to trans friends and being in the thick of trans community.

Wellbeing included:

  • cooking

  • bookshops

  • being near or on water

  • reading

  • writing craft

  • languages

  • naps

  • talking to friends

  • sex

  • queer community

  • making/listening to music

  • hanging out with my people.

See how it works?

It’s so comforting to look at a spread of two pages and see, ‘Yep, that’s everything’.

The Fucks I Give list serves as a reminder of things I might be neglecting, and reinforces that if I’m spending time on any of this, I’m spending my fucks (and therefore this one wild and precious life) wisely.

It also hones your ability to judge ‘Am I just putting that in out of duty?’ If the energy of some things doesn’t feel coherent with the rest of the items, they don’t go up.

I figure this is a work in progress and I’ll come back to it as I and my life changes.

Feels solid. Coherent. Has boundaries.

What are you waiting for?

What do you give a fuck about? Make a list!

Realising I was trans has saved my life

Name: Meg Amber Lightheart

Pronouns: She/her

I’ve had a sense of melancholy since I was a kid. Whilst never genuinely thinking of doing anything drastic, if you’d offered me a choice, I’d have preferred to not be alive.

Always thought it was just existential ennui.

On the 4th March, it literally went, and hasn’t come back.

I searched Impact Hub Brum’s What’sApp group and turns out I put a message in on 23rd March 2016 about experimenting with my gender expression (‘think Eddie Izzard, not Caitlyn Jenner’ - bless).

Then last year I went to Trans Vegas in Manchester, organised by Trans Creative, Kate O’Donnell, a festival by trans people for trans people. As well as hearing the incredible CN Lester sing, I met Kate, Juno Roche, Kate Hutchinson, Charlie Craggs and Kuchenga.

Here were a bunch of trans women who seemed to be living their lives and were comfy in their skin. 

I weaselled my way into the speaker dinner on the first night and was able to be part of a conversation with other trans people like I’d never had before. Me in my dress and my beard, living my best non-binary life.

The next day, saw Kuchenga interview Charlie about her book To My Trans Sisters. I stood at the back of the room sobbing, feeling a shift in my bodysoul, a deep sense of recognition.

I walked up to Kuchenga in tears afterwards and said, ‘I think I might be a girl.’ 

‘Ok. I’m with you,’ she said. And ever since she has been. She also called me ‘sis’ and it was like a deep pool of longing just opened up in me.

Flash forward six or seven months of conversations with my people and I realised I needed to work out exactly what I wanted, separate from other people. I then spent a couple of months talking to a lovely therapist who specialises in talking to trans people.

Two things happened.

I had messed up my timings and was in Brum town centre for my phone therapy appointment, so ended up wandering around Pigeon Park, the busy grounds of the cathedral. We’d been exploring authenticity and Marianne The Therapist asked me ‘If you’d woken up this morning the most authentically you, would you be wearing these clothes and would you be using these pronouns?’

Everything in me said ‘No.’

The second thing was I was reading The Art of Being Normal, by Lisa Williamson. I was reading the end on the 4th March, having breakfast with Zed and Dan. The end is pretty happy for the trans girl main character and that happy ending just BROKE me. I sobbed and sobbed.

It lead to a big conversation where I realised my last worries about transitioning were about Zed and Dan’s reactions. They assured me that they loved me and fully supported me and wouldn’t be embarrassed or disgusted or anything else my mind was scaring me with.

Somewhere between first and second breakfast, I made the decision that I wanted to pursue a binary transition.

And the melancholy just WENT. It’s gone. My whole life just lines up, so much of my childhood (and adulthood to be honest) makes sense, and I want to be alive. I am alive.

In the past few weeks I’ve been telling my close people, all of whom have been so wonderful, including my Mum (who sent me a card),  my Dad (who said he felt relieved and only wanted me to be happy) and my Auntie June, my Nan’s sister (who said she must be a witch because she’s been waiting for someone to tell her since I changed my name to its most recent incarnation).

Meg Amber

I was off work on Wednesday which led me to going through name list websites to see which names pinged. I’d been pretty sure it would be Amber, but wanted to check to see if there was a name I hadn’t thought of. Arwen was a popular contender on my Facebook wall, but I’m not really a graceful elf.

It was Zed who said ‘Have you thought about books you love?’ which was his sneaky way of getting me to think of A Wrinkle In Time (he quickly left the room and got busy doing something APPARENTLY.)

A Wrinkle In Time was my favourite book in my childhood and formed a lot of my morality. I always identified with Meg, the awkward girl who didn’t believe in herself but found courage to fight the shadow and the dark.

It feels so good to be called Meg, so good I can’t believe it’s actually allowed. I’ve kept Amber as a middle name as (a) I do love it and (b) it gives me the social media handle of MEGALIGHTHEART.

Today on #TransDayOfVisibility, I’ve changed my name by deed poll so it’s reeeaaal.

I’m having laser hair removal on my face once a month to stop the hair growing and I’m exploring hormones. Everything else is up for exploration and, well, pretty private really. Happy for you to ask any questions you have by private message/email - if I think they are relevant to everyone, I’ll post things about them.

Tl;dr: I’m a girl and happier than I’ve been since I was a kid. 

#TDOV #TDOV2019

March's Circle of Curious Complexity

Hey Brummies.

The next Circle of Curious Complexity - a space for leaders/doers/deep thinkers with their feet on the ground and their eyes on the horizon - is tomorrow night (Weds 13th March) at Impact Hub Birmingham

Let me know if you're coming (so I can order food for you - it's normally burritos which I pay for so it needn't cost you anything).

6.30 for 7.00-9.00pm.

Everyone welcome - even (especially?) if you've never come before - I run a very inclusive space with no BS of any type - marginalised people are centred here.

Have something in your life in mind that you feel could do with some thought.

Here's what happened last month

http://andrewlightheart.com/blog/feb2018circleofcchope

Join the list if you'd like to know when Circle stuff is happening:

http://eepurl.com/dLVj5-/


Access: The Impact Hub has step-free access to all areas, including loos. You arrive and ring a buzzer and I answer the door. You can message me if you'd like me to meet you somewhere nearby and walk in with you. The space has no background music and plenty of space to wander around. The meetup is super-chill and quiet, with really thoughtful people.

20 questions to explore your relationship with hope

Exploring hope

After reading about Brexit and the insects and all that, I was feeling pretty lacking in hope.

So on Wednesday night at the Circle of Curious Complexity face-to-face meetup, we started a month of exploring hope and what it is. (The Circle is free and open to everyone with their feet on the ground and their eye on the horizon. The physical meetups are in Birmingham, UK, but you can participate online by writing or creating on the monthly theme - tag me in! - or just using the theme to reflect.)

After each person checked in with their mood and reason for coming (obvs!), I placed a card with ‘HOPE’ written on it and we stood in the room where our body wanted to place ourselves in connection with it. (Thanks to my pal Rachel Donath for introducing me to the the world of embodied learning - finding out what our bodies know that our minds don’t. We added this after an experiment last month with time.)

Two people stood quite close to the card - one on the left, indicating their politics - and said that hope was present for them, and that it was what gets them out of bed. Another person sat far away and a bit sideways on: ‘I know hope is over there and I see it, but I’m not very close to it’.

I stood as far as I could get and kind of squinted at hope in suspicion. At least I didn’t turn my back or walk out of the room, I suppose…

We then gathered and, in true #CircleofCC style, wrote questions that might help us to explore our relationship with hope.

20 Questions to explore your relationship with hope

  1. Is hope the same as desire?

  2. Is hope always in the future?

  3. What links hope and faith/trust?

  4. What’s the difference between hope and belief? If I’m in a hole and someone jumps in to help me, do I hope they can help or do I want to believe they can help?

  5. How do we hope in the face of enormity and overwhelm?

  6. Does hope need to be based on something concrete?

  7. If hope were to go missing, how you salvage your relationship?

  8. Do you carry hope, and how much does it weigh?

  9. Are there different levels of hope?

  10. Is it more meaningful/useful to think about purpose?

  11. How do we take action when we are hopeless?

  12. What is the opposite of hope?

  13. Is hope created from intentions?

  14. What or who personifies hope for you? If how were a mythical character/theme what would it be?

  15. Is hope just a feeling?

  16. What are you expecting hope to do for you?

  17. Why do we need hope?

  18. Where has hope been in your life?

  19. Does someone else’s relationship with hope change yours?

  20. If I wish really really hard, where does it become hope?

We did not talk about all these questions but even laying some of them out on the table helped us to map what hope is for us.

2019-02-13 20.58.08.jpg

Hope is a flimsy basis for action

The main dingdingding for me was realising that, in a way, hope is just a feeling, which makes it kind of a flimsy basis for continuing action. If I can’t take action when I feel devoid of hope, then the change I want to see in the world definitely won’t happen.

It’s maybe more beneficial to think about purpose or meaning. Yes, it’s important to focus partially on ‘What change do I want to see in the world?’ but also ‘What kind of person do I want to be in times of crisis? What am I actually here for?’

Weirdly, ignoring whether something seems likely or not (one basis for the feeling of ‘hope’) means I’m more able to take action which, paradoxically, may make the outcome more probable. See what I mean?

We also discussed how infectious hope or hopelessness is - and how maybe we should talk more about where we are hopeful.

At the end of the meetup, I stood nearer to hope, but kind of side-on to it. I see hope as a bit of a red herring, now. Something that’s far too ephemeral and out of our control to focus on. Purpose/meaning/being seems more robust.

Of course, this has left me feeling more hopeful than I have for months.

Exploring hope - February's Circle of Curious Complexity

The Circle of Curious Complexity - the space for humane leaders, doers and thinkers with their feet on the ground and their eyes on the horizon - meets again tonight at Impact Hub Birmingham.

This month, we're going to explore the theme of hope - at the meetup we'll do this through conversation and a little bit of gentle embodied work (not scary, lol).

Meetup is open to anyone - Impact Hub Brum has step-free access and you know that I don't put up with any BS.

Timings

6.30 - arrive for food (message me what you want - it's normally burritos which can be veggie/vegan/gf)

7.00-9.00 - checking in, exploring the topic, checking out.

If you can't make the meetup tonight/

...you can participate by thinking about hope over the next month, and/or writing something about it. Tag me in and I'll email the other Circlers and generally spread the word.

Here's what we did last month, exploring the theme of Time:


http://andrewlightheart.com/blog/circleofccjanmeetup



27 writing prompts to explore your relationship with time

At the Circle of Curious Complexity in January we explored our relationship with time.

We all came up with some questions that would help the conversation and only got through five of them.

So here they all are in case you want to use them as a start point for thinking or creating something.

27 writing prompts to explore your relationship with time

  1. Are we running out of time?

  2. If you cannot remember an event, did it exist?

  3. How do you slow time down?

  4. Imagine time as a packet of Skittles. What could each colour represent? Is there a dominant colour in the packet?

  5. Do our children inherit memories?

  6. What was your favourite age? What if you could go back?

  7. How is time distributed in the home?

  8. How do you decide what to do?

  9. What are the times and places where time feels like your enemy… or your friend?

  10. If we enjoy a ‘timewaster’ is the time wasted?

  11. “I don’t have time.” An unwillingness to make time, or a sensible gatekeeping of a limited resource?

  12. Have you ever experienced the Mandela effect?

  13. If death is certain and the time of death is certain, what is the right thing?

  14. How do you know it’s the right time?

  15. Is time consumable? How can we measure this?

  16. How much does the past matter?

  17. How do the seasons influence how you feel about time?

  18. Time is a gift. Who deserves your gifts?

  19. Where does time come from?

  20. Can you put a value on an hour?

  21. Would you ever go a day without looking at a clock to know what time it is?

  22. Do you worry about how much time you have left?

  23. What is your most loved possession?

  24. Have you ever experienced deja vu?

  25. How do you feel about legacy and things lasting after you?

  26. How do you feel about time?

  27. Imagine time as a town. The present is home. How often do you visit other places in the town? What’s the furthest you’ve travelled?

If you write/create anything with these, tag me in and/or use #circleofcc and I’ll let other Circlers know. :)


January's Circle of Curious Complexity

January Circle of CC meetup TIME

A few evenings ago at the Circle of Curious Complexity, a space for forward-thinking leaders/doers and deep thinkers - we reflected on: TIME.

After checking in with names, pronouns and what brought us here, a group of us, most of whom hadn’t been to the Circle in-person before, wrote down questions, one per card, that we thought would help us have a conversation about our relationship to time.

We shuffled the cards, turned one over, and talked about it.

Then, when the time felt right, we turned over another.

There were twenty-seven (I’ve posted them here as writing prompts) and we didn't get through even a quarter of them!

Questions we explored were:

- How do you feel about time?

- How much does the past matter?

- Imagine time as a town. The present is home. How often do you visit other places in the town? What’s the furthest you’ve travelled?

- What are the times and place when time feels like your enemy? Or your friend?

- What was your favourite age? What if you could go back?

The conversation ranged across really different perspectives on time (‘You see it as a FRIEND?’), our relationships with our past and future selves, trauma, what the past and future are like for trans people, how far we can ‘safely’ look into our own future… It was a LOT.

As always, at a Circle meetup, the mood of the conversation is thoughtful, tender at times, warm, kind and, well, curious.

We did a bit of reflecting on this format of meeting - discussing a topic via questions as a whole group (it was the first time) - and we said it uncovered a lot of intriguing stuff, it felt a times a bit ‘heady’. We might involve some more embodied activities - maybe walking whilst contemplating a question, or placing a question card somewhere and feeling where we literally stand in relation to it

The Circle - always experimental!

If you want to be part of the Circle you can do two things:

(1) Participate virtually by focusing on the theme - either in your head or by writing/making etc. If you do write/make something, let me know/tag me in and I’ll spread the word.

(2) If you’re in or near Birmingham, UK, come along to the in-person meetups. We have a more structured meetup once a month (like the one I just described) and because getting to know each other is also important, we have a Circle supper too.

The next Circle supper is this Thursday 31st Jan from 6.30ish-9.00pm at Comptoir Libanais, Grand Central, which is part of Birmingham New Street station.

The venue has step-free access and there’s an accessible loo on the same floor. Also if you need/want to go for a walk at any point, it’s in the middle of the mall, so plenty of warm space to go for a wander. You can turn up whenever and go whenever. :)

I’ll lay on some mezze for the table, so coming along won’t need to cost you anything, but if you want extra, feel free to order your own food.

Suppers are super-informal - we’ll maybe explore some of the questions about time that we didn’t get around to at the Meetup, but mainly it's hanging out with lovely people.

Look forward to seeing/reading you soon!

Birmingham's Learning Marathon showcase

Brummies! This Tuesday!

I've been part of a cohort of 12 people following their curiosity over a period of six months.

Our learning questions range across: supporting Black woman to heal and grow, death dying and grief, citizen empowerment, nurturing humane leaders, embodied learning, sustainable creative practice, attribution, veganism and human evolution, ethical data, notetaking and journalling, creative identities, and developing a spirituality practice.

This Tuesday we're having an evening of sharing our journey. I'd LOVE it if you come (and share the event/tell people!). Tickets are priced so money isn't an obstacle.

Lots of us have 'stations' around the room with various interactive experiences where you can explore our work, plus there'll be some 5-min talks in the middle.

Loads of food - including veggie and vegan - and chill, warm vibes.

I'll be talking about my exploration of interdependent human and humane leadership that lead in part to the Circle of Curious Complexity, which is very sweetly growing.

Please come! https://www.eventbrite.com/e/enrol-yourself-birmingham-learning-marathon-showcase-tickets-53780277257

Here are the other learning questions:

  • Can storytelling and meaningful conversations help Black women to heal and grow?

  • How can I show that death, dying and grief can still mean life, love and hope?

  • How might citizen empowerment form the basis of changes in the urban environment?

  • How can I keep using embodied learning in how I work and coach?

  • How to stay in love with your creative calling when it becomes your vocation?

  • What is attribution and how can we use it as a tool to empower ourselves and others?

  • Where could veganism as a manifestation of spiritual connectivity to the Earth take our social, cultural, and cognitive evolution?

  • How might we gather and share ‘Ethical Data’ to help us build better places to live?

  • How can I continue supporting myself and communicating about the process?

  • How might I cultivate a spirituality practice?

  • How can we make creative identities for ourselves, as artists?

***

Accessibility: Impact Hub Birmingham has step-free access throughout. We couldn't raise the money for BSL interpreters, or palantypists for the presentations, sorry. There is a detailed printed booklet talking about the journey of each person.

Circle of Curious Complexity - TONIGHT!

Tonight is the Circle of Curious Complexity meetup - a space for forward-facing leaders and deep thinkers to get together.

At Impact Hub Birmingham 6.30 for 7.00-9.00 and I'll lay on a bit of (hot, vegan/gf - probably mezze or burritos?) food so it needn't cost you anything. Feel free to bring your own supper, though!

Here's more about it:

https://paper.dropbox.com/doc/Circle-of-Curious-Complexity--AVs_aHUmFGc04YI58r2~GieNAg-0ssq5pTN1DDwv0zMCS62g

And a bit about what happened in December

http://andrewlightheart.com/blog/decembercircletheme

Theme this month is our relationship to TIME (yes, I know, ironic as I'm letting you know at such late notice...)

Message me if you're interested/coming - andrewlightheart@gmail.com - or on twitter/FB so I can plan food.

Impact Hub has step-free access throughout. It's 14 mins walk (according to Google Maps) from New Street Station. Circle meetups are quiet and chill.

Theme for December is: Relationships!

2018-12-04 20.10.54.jpg

Last week we had December's Circle of Curious Complexity meetup, the open space for interdependent leaders and deep thinkers.

The theme for this month (till the next meetup on 15th Jan) is: RELATIONSHIPS.

Could be personal relationships, work relationships, relationships between things...

2018-12-04 18.36.53.jpg

Six of us shared situations that were going on for us around friendships, marriage, work partners, gender... One person only heard about it minutes before and decided to stay! We listened, wrote questions, asked for advice, ate burritos...

I want it to be even if you can't make the meetups/suppers in Birmingham (UK), you can be a member of the Circle, so I thought I'd tell you the theme so you can use it as a focus over the next few weeks.

If any of this sparks thoughts, the hashtag is #circleofcc!

What happened in our first Circle of Curious Complexity

I’m holding a regular space for a thing I’m calling a Circle of Curious Complexity for interdependent leaders and deep thinkers to get together, hang out and get support each other. Even though I had some trepidation, the first one happened a few weeks ago and it was, well, pretty bloody great.

There is a Circle meetup once a month and a Circle supper.

For the first meetup, four of us… met up in my lounge to hang out and do a thing.

We started with M&S ready meals (I know how to treat you proper) then checked in with a colour for our mood (thanks Suriya!) and why we’d wanted to come.

Then we experimented with a process I’ve been meaning to experiment with from The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures.

The Process

Basically, the… client?… has a thing they could do with more time exploring. Could be a problem, but also could be an opportunity, a situation, a challenge, a thing.

They talk about it for two or three minutes. People in the coach role can ask clarifying questions.

Then the client sits in silence whilst for ten minutes coaches just ask whatever questions they can think of that might be helpful.

The client goes on to reflect back what their experience was, and what changed.

First go

Well. The first person tried it and it was really strange. They said it was hard to have a smart question that made them think deeply followed swiftly by another one. Then another one. Then another.

As question-asker, I think we had all felt it too.

Here’s the bit that made it magic

We then moved into a mode of thinking ‘What could make this work?’

Would it be better if we recorded our questions for you to listen to afterwards?
Would it be better if we recorded the questions and you were OUT OF THE ROOM?
Would it be better if you signalled when you were ready for a new question?
What about if we wrote down the questions?

That become the next iteration.


The client described their situation, took clarifying questions, then in silence we wrote down our more probing questions on index cards and put them near the client. When they were ready, they picked them up one by one.

This worked really well. There was no pressure on the question-asker or the question-receiver. Plus no worry about forgetting a question as you knew you were going to walk away with all the questions literally in your hand.

Then we added in an extra step with the next person - as we came to the end of the allotted time, someone asked ‘What’s the one question you’re censoring yourself from asking? Write it down.’

We realised that 10 minutes was actually way more time than was needed. Six minutes was plenty.

After everyone had been a client we reflected on the whole process

We talked about how useful it was to hear the reflections from the client after they’d received the questions - that we would like the option to ask one more question.

Someone said, ‘Well, the thing that I’m missing is… you’re smart people. I don’t just want your questions. I kind of want your advice too.’

New format for getting help with A Thing

We suggested next time we would do:

* Client describes their situation (1-3 mins)

* Coaches ask clarifying questions (1 min)

* Coaches write down questions on index cards (6 mins)

* Client reflects back what has shifted/what was useful (1 min)

* (Optional) Client can ask for one piece of feedback or one more question from each coach - written or spoken (3 mins)

Total of 15 minutes of, like, incredibly helpful intervention.

My experience

My partners are going to be away for a few weeks at a time, several times a year and I asked about how I could make that time positive and nourishing, rather than something I just endure (or feel like I waste).

The questions were WILDLY helpful. So many things I hadn’t thought of.

This whole experience really demonstrated the beauty of the Circle

Not only was the intervention deep and light, but also the form was held lightly and we experimented and iterated on the fly. It was fun and emotional and engaging every minute of the two hours.

This won’t be the format of every Circle meetup but maybe once a quarter?

Anyhoo. EXCITING!

If you’re in Brum here’s a description of the whole Circle concept

https://paper.dropbox.com/doc/Circle-of-Curious-Complexity--ASheLqBhb36tPb3tPtVFDxe6Ag-0ssq5pTN1DDwv0zMCS62g

If you’d like to come to the next meetup on Tuesday 4th December here’s the link

https://attending.io/events/cofccmeetupdec

Feel free to share with other human-and-humane leaders/deep thinkers who might want a some warm company.

Why questions and silence are important

Andi Lightheart Enrol Yourself

Ever had that moment where someone says something and it’s such a profound truth the room goes silent, but filled with presence?

That happened to me on Monday, and I was the one speaking.

I had been guiding the Enrol Yourself Birmingham team through some exploration of how to grow our capacity to deal with complexity. We’d moved through extending timelines, increasing the breadth and depth of empathy, and pattern-spotting.

Then it came time for me to get the brains and hearts of this really smart group on my area of inquiry.

The moment came when we had been talking about a circle I’m holding twice a month for humane leaders and deep thinkers. I was feeling a strange mix of pretty sure it was a good thing, as well as holding back from committing.

We’d been talking through a bunch of stuff and then Rachel asked me the pattern-spotting question we’d been practicing: ‘What does this whole situation remind you of?’ I closed my eyes and felt into it.

And suddenly I got it. ‘It’s like when I’d be in school plays that I was convinced were amazing, and when I look back they were awful. I’m scared that I’m going to think the circle is great and then later find out that everyone was rolling their eyes at me.’ Profound silence.

Luckily this group is, as my friend Jane identified, an amazing mix of both smart and vulnerable. We aren’t scared of silence.

Everyone made eye contact with me, smiled gently. 'When you look back now, do you feel the same?’ I realised that of course I looked with much more compassion. ‘I was just a kid. Plus… I wasn’t the director…' Then Mikayla asked the killer question, the one that pulled a whispered reaction out of me. ‘What did everyone else in the play feel?’ ‘We all thought it was great.’ ‘SO the people it was FOR thought it was great?’ Oooooh.

That was the one.

The people it was FOR thought it was great.

The circle will be great FOR THE PEOPLE IT'S FOR. 

Such a beautiful confluence of the right group, the right questions and the capability to listen in silence. 

First circle is tonight at mine, btw. Email me for details. 😊

A third of the way through my six-month learning marathon

Yesterday I hung out with ten incredible people who I’m on a six-month learning journey with (there's actually twelve, but two were on holiday).

We’re a third of the way through our journey and we were sharing our progress, by each presenting our evidence tables, talking about what we’ve done and what we’ve learned. Five minutes of the learner sharing, ten minutes of questions from a whip-smart group of supporters, couple of minutes of writing feedback, questions, thoughts, encouragement.

Each participant at some point in the twenty-six weeks runs a session based on their expertise (we dot-voted on which topic we wanted each person to teach). Afterwards, they get the group's attention on their learning question for a good 90 minutes, helping contribute to the research or giving feedback or whatever the person wants.

Yesterday Rachel did a session on embodied learning - working off a hunch that our bodies know stuff that our minds do not, and that doing embodied work goes faster and deeper than just talking.

WhatsApp Image 2018-09-02 at 18.38.01.jpeg

One of the things she guided us through was an inter-psychic exploration of parts of ourselves. 

In pairs, we picked an object to represent our learning question, then wrote on pieces of paper selves - mine included my activist self, business self, academic self…

Then we intuitively placed them where they were in relation to the question.

Funny thing was, they were all quite far away from my question!

Uncovered some worry and stuckness.

I think this comes down to two areas:

1. When we lived in Singapore, I threw myself into some side projects which I thought would give me more business, but it didn’t end well. When I was doing Open University study (and writing the book) it took over my life.

2. I’d decided that I needed to get to a certain place by the end of the marathon and that would entail massive amounts of work.

I really need to be focusing on my business right now, being more visible, finding clients who really resonate with my new phase of work, and new phase of identity.

So if I were to really throw myself into my question in a huge way, a part of me was understandably worried that I’d take the eye off the ball, business-wise.

As soon as I realised all the above, I felt a release in my body.

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I’m going to narrow my question.

At the mo it’s basically: what’s all the scholarship on the transition between independent and interdependent logics, how does it compare, and how do I interview a load of people from both marginalised and non-marginalised identities to have data to analyse to see if there’s a difference in the way they/we transition.

I definitely want to do all of that. A million per cent.

And it’s unrealistic in the next four months.

So I’m changing my question to something like:

How do I develop a more instinctual understanding of the transition between independent and interdependent logics?

This way I can focus on the scholarship, plus the interviewing, but it does become about my understanding - not necessarily a comprehensive piece of scholarship… YET.

Then/at the same time, I can move on to see if there are differences in the people I’m interviewing.

What this feels like is giving myself permission to do all three of the things I presented on the evidence table - going through the scholarship, learning about Subject/Object interviewing, interviewing interdependent leaders - a BIT, rather than complete all three in four months.

When I was doing the embodied exploration, I kept coming back to

‘How do I hold this question as I move through the world, rather than it be a separate thing?’

This, I think, might be how. 

Where I'm at with gender

A couple of weeks ago made a post on Facebook that my name and pronouns had changed to AJ or Andi and either ’they’ or ’she’. I intended for this to just be a small thing, but was blown away by the love I received in response. 

The post I made about my name/pronouns was more of a… triage post. I just wanted people to stop calling me Andrew and ‘he', and I had to supply alternatives. I think it came across as a big, final announcement when from my perspective it was more of a ‘Can you stop doing this thing that feels jarring? Oh, and I suppose these are the less-jarring alternatives’.

I’ve been sitting with it all and I would like to clarify a couple of things. EVERYTHING I’m talking about applies only to me, and I’m in no way judging anyone else who makes a different set of decisions. I’m also aware that all of this sits inside my protective cocoon of being white, able-bodied/neurotypical, middle-aged, financially okay, and happily married. 

For me there are three overlapping aspects to my gender.

1. My internal sense of my gender
2. How I want to express that
3. How I want to be ‘read’ by the world.

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1. My internal sense of gender is complex.

If we’re going to assume/pretend the boy/girl gender binary is a thing, I’ve discovered I feel kind of 70-90% girl, 10-30% boy. Feeling that in my body has been a revelation, a sigh of relief where I can let go of this level of masculinity that I’ve been unknowingly working hard to maintain all my life, particularly my adult life. Things just line up when I feel that. What that doesn’t feel like (and this may be some deeeeep misogyny/transmisogyny but I don’t THINK so) is ‘woman’. i just feel profoundly not-man. In the binary world, not-man = woman, but #ithinkyoullfinditsabitmorecomplicatedthanthat.

When I say to myself ‘girl’, it’s like I can pick up young, soft, vulnerable bits of me that got lost on the way. ‘Woman' doesn’t match my internal sense of self, but ‘man' is (currently, often) dizzyingly wrong. Maybe if we had more mainstream concepts, I could just go ‘Oh, I’m that’. Somehow non-binary/genderqueer don’t really fit my concept of myself, even though probably objectively they are a description of what i’m saying here? Non-binary femme?

I’ve had moments recently with trans women where I felt incredible sisterhood, uncovering a longing I’ve had all my life. 

I also remembered that, right up until my late teens, that I would have to remind myself that I wasn’t a girl. And one day let me tell you about the two years I was in an all-girl PE group. 

In my twenties, I mourned not having a womb. My trans mum says that’s a standard experience for trans femmes.

Some days i feel a little bit more up the ‘boy’ end, but only within that 10-30% kind of range. 

There’s also the added complication of having done a particular type of meditation every day for 15 years, and the eternal ‘soul’ aspects of my self are not gendered, so what the heck am I talking about anyway?


2. How I want to express my gender changes on a daily basis. 

Literally I sit in bed and think, ‘What do I want to wear today?’ I’ve been experimenting in both directions. 

  • What is it like to shave my face and body hair, cover my stubble with makeup, wear dresses/other clothes/shoes/bags coded as ‘female’ in our current society?

  • What is it like to let my face hair grow, wear ‘boy’ clothes?

  • What is it like to combine the two?

  • Which aspects feel most like me?

  • More annoyingly, how long can I be bothered to spend getting ready (I’m a bit of a stay-in-bed-reading-to-the-last-moment kind of person), where am I going, what am I doing, who am I meeting? The weight of patriarchal gender expectations really fall on femmes, right?

Currently I can deal with a day’s stubble but two days makes me go ‘bleaurgh’. I feel really happy with some subtle makeup on, especially covering my stubble, but don’t feel like i need it every day. I feel such a sense of relief to not have hair on my hands, arms and legs. Like, DEEP sigh of relief. 

I love how I look and feel in a dress that suits me, and i also like the look of a dress and skinny jeans. My heeled Doctor Martins are awesome. I like the thought of heeled shoes and tailored office clothes. Also just casual femme clothes - doesn’t have to be ‘high femme’/glam. If I’m not working, I seem to default to femme clothes, if I have them. I haven’t worn ‘boy’ jeans for months. 

Funny thing is I don’t mind wearing ‘guy’ clothes sometimes, but it feels more like dressup, like, well, a girl wearing boy clothes. 

So, yes, there’s an aspect of finding the external expression that helps me feel comfortable in my body, but it feels connected but different to my internal sense of gender.

I currently have no thoughts of changing my body with hormones or surgery, but who knows what Future Andi might do.

3. How I am read by the world seems to be less important to me. 

I played with the idea of wanting to be read by strangers as a woman, and it was freeing. And, maybe if I was going through this as a young person now, I might be someone who’d want to transition socially and medically. 

But I don’t.

I’m bothered by the pronouns people close to me use, but I’m less bothered by the pronouns a barista uses, even though it can be jarring. (Please can we stop gendering strangers, though?)

I am currently growing my hair, and it is fun to play with makeup, and, yes, I like the thought of sometimes going ‘full femme’ and being read as a woman in public, but it’s the aspect I’m less bothered about.

So what the heck does this mean?

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When you refer to me, please say ‘they’ not 'he'. "They said... they wore... they are... they went to... " And it's cool if you don't get it right every time, intention counts here, for me.

I thought I might really like ‘she’ but it doesn't quite fit right now. I find it too awkward in our gendered society when I, you know, don’t appear like a non-trans woman, or even to be making any ‘effort’ to do so. So despite my internal sense of being very femme, 'they' it is.

I like AJ. Kinda neutral.

I really like Andi. It feels sweet.

Do with that what you will.

This is all in flux. 

All I can say is: I’ll keep you posted. 

Culture change starts somewhere

I've been working as the 'Culture Gardener' at Vanti for about a year, helping them to move towards a scalable, agile, inclusive culture whilst preserving the great things that already exist.

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I wrote about it in five posts on their site. We thought it was important to mark where the company is starting from, so that in months and years to come everyone can look back and see the distance we've traveled. It can be easy to look at successes and think 'It's easy for them,' so these posts are reference points for how things are now.

Thought you might want a window into a tech company that is doing groundbreaking things to become an amazing place to work.

1. We’re brewing some exciting culture stuff…

This post lays out the framework we're working towards.

https://www.vanti.co.uk/2018/07/culture-kick-off-2018/

2. Vanti’s strengths

Vanti has a lot of strengths already. Here's where I outline them from my perpective.

https://www.vanti.co.uk/2018/07/vanti-strengths/

3. Some big challenges we face

There are some big external/slow-moving challenges that we're facing.

https://www.vanti.co.uk/2018/08/big-challenges/

4. People questions we’re looking at

I split the questions we're working into two sections. People questions... 

https://www.vanti.co.uk/2018/08/people-questions/

5. System questions we’re looking at

...and system questions.

https://www.vanti.co.uk/2018/08/system-questions/

I am LOVING working inside a company rather than just visiting. Culture change work is fascinating - you have to have long timelines in your mind, listen a lot, and start from where everyone is. I'll keep you posted as we do more. 

Embarking on my learning marathon

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Today is the first Get Sh*t Done Sunday for the Birmingham Enrol Yourself Learning Marathon. Twenty-six weeks of exploring a learning question as part of an exquisitely curated cohort of twelve.

I'm exploring the transition from the independent leadership that comes from a very results-based form of mind to the type of interdependent leadership that comes from a less certain, more fallibly human, inclusive form of mind.

I have two hunches.

The first is that multiply-marginalised people go through this transition in a different way than people whose identities belong more in the dominant narrative.

The second is that we need more leaders who come from an interdependent lens, if we are to survive as a species through the massive ecological crises that are already happening, whilst creating a world that balances the wellbeing of ALL humans.

More immediately, if business and society want to actually walk the equitable talk, siloed results-based thinking isn't gonna cut it.

It's part of my job to help leaders evolve to a bigger form of mind that can look at inequity and turbulence in the face and still be able to take wise and timely action. You need to be able to unclench around the chaotic mess of world! 


I have five months to dive into the scholarship that already exists, do some interviews, think a lot, write a bit, peer at it all and see what emerges.

So: time to get sh*t done!

Framing the meeting

This is something that I’ve ended up talking to a lot of senior coaching clients about in different formats recently. I see people coming to them for meetings and not using the time wisely, and these are people whose diaries are incredibly full - I know because they have to battle to keep their appointments with me! This practice comes from a few patterns that I noticed in conversation with them:

  • leaders making forays into collaborative ways of running meetings but not getting the results they wanted (or secretly wanting people to collaborate, ahem, in a particular direction!)

  • meetings overrunning, to the detriment of the leader’s mental health/effectiveness

  • leaders wanting to grow a culture of collaboration but not knowing how to really grow different behaviours and attitudes

  • leaders developing into a more tuning-fork sense of being a leader, but people around them not really getting it.

 

A lot of my inspiration for these ideas is rooted in the incredible work of Sam Kaner and the Community At Work team. Their book “The Facilitator’s Guide To Participatory Decision Making” changed my life as a someone who holds the space for groups. Some of the idea of creating a process sequence and sharing it comes from my reading of Roger Schwarz, particularly his take on Unilateral vs Mutual Learning (itself an evolution of the work of Argyris and Schön, et al). He also influenced my thinking on the transparency of meta-comments (“I’m aware I’m not saying something to you, so I’m just going to come out and say it…”).

The Practice

Implemented well, Framing The Meeting allows for more productive and timely meetings that achieve their aims, but also more peace of mind for all concerned. Over time, this practice can build capacity and capability for more consciousness during meetings, for people interested in leading leaders.

This is how you do it.

I see two main ways of starting with this practice.

A. Being the framing guardian

There are many aspects to this.

Type: What type of meeting is this?

Is it a chat? Is it a consultation? Are you giving information? Is it a communal consensus-building meeting?

Outcomes and Decisions: What are you hoping is going to happen by the end of the meeting? Will there be a decision made, and if so, how?

Are there particular questions you are hoping to have answers to? Are there agreements that need to be put in place? Is it ‘just’ that you have both heard each others’ thoughts? Will there be an action plan?

If there is a decision to be made, who will be making it and how? Will you be consulting but ultimately making the decision? Will people vote? Do you have the deciding vote? If it’s by consensus, then does that mean everyone’s enthusiastic consent (ie can anyone veto it?) Or will you summarise and then check for any deep concerns, and otherwise go ahead?

Process: What are the big process chunks?

How do you see the meeting going? Is there an input phase? Who’s going to go first? Then who? Will there be discussion? If there is a decision/plan to be made, how much time will you need to keep for that?

(Although this seems complex and unwieldy, in most situations it just takes seconds.)

Reality check: Are we all on the same page?

If it’s been you laying all this out, now it’s time to (genuinely) check: Is that what the other people expected? Do they want to add to/alter the plan in any way?

Time: How much time have we got?

I always check with the other person how much time they have  - sometimes things have shifted, or one or the other of us was late. It’s important to know that in advance. Also, as the process guardian, its your job to neutrally say how much time is left maybe half-way through and as you’re nearing the end of the allotted time. If things are taking longer than planned, you transparently adjust the plan.

B Jointly design the framing

Jointly designing the framing involves the same aspects as above, but encouraging everyone to build the framing together. Many if not most people are unaware of the process of meetings, so you may need to build their process consciousness over time via being a visible process guardian.

But if you put out feeler-questions at the beginning (“What are you hoping is going to happen by the end of this meeting? Is there a decision to be made?”) and people respond well, it can be good to get their input - maybe before yours - then co-designing the process to include everyone’s inputs.

(How are you holding yourself to truly welcome co-creation? Do you have any tension around it? Some meetings need to be sharp and to the point - that’s part of your framing!)

Maybe after a time, people come to expect that when they have a meeting with you, they need to come prepared with these kinds of process thoughts. And perhaps they can then take them into their own meetings.

Again, I’m making this sound cumbersome, but it really can just be a couple of minutes at the beginning of the meeting which make sure you’re all aware of each others’ expectations. And sometimes you both agree you just want an unstructured chat and that’s what happens!

Applications

Even if you don’t have many meetings, you can practice this with conversations.

Timing

Simple things like “We’re half-way through our time. How are we doing, do you think?” or “You said you wanted to ask me some questions and i’m aware we’re ten minutes from the end. Do you want to ask me them now, or would you prefer to continue as we are and leave them for another time?” can introduce aspects of framing without being too cumbersome.

One of the ways I started was by starting a meeting or conversation with “Can I just check how long you’ve got? We’ve got this booked until 11.30. Do you need to run away at that time?” Knowing in advance that there is a limited time allows you to not leave things for when the other person might be distracted.

Signposting

Adding in signposting comments can be a simple way of introducing consciousness, even in a traditional meeting with an agenda as well as conversations. “So we’ve just covered points one and two… are we still okay to move on to point three?”

Checking in

I find that pausing and finding out how the other person is doing can really help bring awareness back up to the framing/process level.

Come clean

An inner practice that I try to implement is noticing when I’m hiding what I’m thinking or feeling and somehow ‘managing’ the other person. I then try and step out of the meeting by saying something like, “I think you’ve gotten a little reticent in the past couple of minutes and I’m avoiding asking if you’re okay. Can i just check: Is everything okay?”

This level of transparency often allows a deepening of the conversation so neither party are wearing heavy masks. Even coming clean about the fact you’re practicing framing meetings better can help you do it better!

How does this sit with you?

This was published in an edited form in Street Smart Awareness - a collection of practices that focus on developing in-the-moment wisdom.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/38088800-street-smart-awareness-and-inquiry-in-action