I went through my files and looked at every single assignment I’ve ever given one of my Pathfinding coaching clients. I found some interesting patterns, a few really funny ones, and many that could help you find your path, too.
Here are the top 100.
All of these are actual assignments I’ve given to actual clients, with any identifying information removed. Even if the specific details don’t apply to you or your situation, see if there’s something in there that might help you.
The 4 most common assignments
I see variations on these four assignments in almost every client’s file. The details are personalized based on what works for each client, but the themes are the same.
- Daily spiritual practice! This is the most important thing. I’ve attached a 5-minute guided Remembrance MP3 for you.
- When you find yourself not entirely wholehearted about a decision, use the HeartCompass technique. Notice what happens. Are you resisting doing it? If so, why?
- If things get bad, ask yourself, “Is love available even here?” sincerely + curiously in your heart.
- Practice saying “no”. Practice saying “let me get back to you” instead of making a decision on the spot. Practice taking care of yourself, THEN taking care of others only after your own needs and comforts are met. (It’s okay if it feels selfish. Trust me, it’s okay.)
The first two I wasn’t surprised by. They’re specifically listed on the Pathfinding webpage because I know all Pathfinders need ’em. But I was surprised by how frequently 3 and 4 popped up.
Trust me, these all made sense in context.
- Don’t treat your Great Work as less important than cat shit.
- Put a picture of a crock pot on your wall!
- Do The Thing. All these tiny animals (and plants) believe in you!
I noticed that I adjust the way I speak and write for different clients. With my geeky clients, I use phrases like “any-time algorithm” and give them assignments like this:
- Maximize the new information to effort ratio.
- Noodle/journal on this: what are you optimizing for when your brain says “this makes sense”? Your old criteria are stale – what do you want to optimize for now?
…and with my clients who are energy workers, I give them assignments like this:
- Flow energy from your third eye to your throat chakra before writing
- Deepen your tree’s roots to access Divine compassion directly from the spiritual plane
The most frequent theme that arises is compassion:
- Take every opportunity you can for self-compassion. Remember that every pattern your brain gets stuck in is something that’s trying to help you but going about it in an unhelpful way.
- You feel like you need to educate the whole world about [your cause], and that sets you up between a rock and a hard place: either you remain silent and feel guilty, or you speak up and risk being wounded. Fight and flight are not your only two options. Neither one is a good choice. When you find yourself between that rock and that hard place, pause and take three deep breaths. See if you can find compassion (for yourself and/or the other person) in the moment, and journal about it afterward to see what underlies those feelings.
- Practice feeling compassion. for yourself, for your business partners, for animals… it’s all good.
- Have compassion for your inner control freak. She just wants to feel safe.
- Feel compassion for your past self who chose to go to grad school
- When you notice yourself taking others’ words personally, remember the visualization and compassion exercise we practiced. Feel compassion for the other person and realize that it’s not really about you at all.
- Optimize your environment to help you remember to bring spaciousness and compassion into your day-to-day life. A bracelet? auto-DMs? desktop background?
- Remember, the backup assignment is always “feel compassion for yourself”, and that’s totally worth practicing.
And it’s worth saying that we discuss all these assignments during our coaching session and agree on them, and these notes I’m sharing are just reminders. These aren’t just things I make up afterward and surprise my clients with!
Pathfinding often involves letting go of deeply held beliefs. But you can’t erase a belief, you can only replace it with a different one, like re-recording over an old cassette tape. Here are some of the tapes we’ve worked with:
- Practice rerecording over your old, stale, false tapes. e.g. “you’re a finicky eater” → “I have permission to have preferences”
- When an old pattern arises, remind yourself: “The past is the past. I do not have to succumb to feelings that are automatic responses. I am capable of dealing with chaos in a productive way.” (Write this mantra down and put it somewhere you’ll see it every day.)
- When you notice yourself thinking “If I’m not the best, then I’m not good enough,” remind yourself: “I am good enough because I am.”
- Whenever you think, feel, or act in accordance with the belief “If I am imperfect, I’m not worthy of love”, say: “I am joyful. I am worthy. I am love.”
- When you feel like you don’t know, say this in your heart: “I am enough, regardless of how much art or how much money I make.” and then look at the situation again.
- Each time you think “I am responsible for the emotions of others,” say out loud or to yourself, “I trust people to be good caretakers of their own emotions.”
- When you find yourself falling into your old habits, have compassion for yourself (these are years-deep habits, after all) and remember “I don’t have to change the world by yelling at it.”
Again, it’s important to note that the client is the one who comes up with the new message to record; I just guide the process. Otherwise that would be creepy!
A lot of Pathfinding is about getting clear about what to do. That leads to assignments like these:
- When making choices, ask yourself, “If everyone else would be thrilled by whatever decision I made, what would I choose?”
- Practice “all in or no deal.” Then, wholeheartedly accept the consequences when you make the decision – in advance.
- When you feel that “should” come up, take 2 deep breaths before choosing what to do. Be aware of that “should” feeling and be present with it before choosing.
- When you’re about to defer, like “We can do whatever you want” or “I don’t care,” instead make up a preference and state it as though you cared.
- Ask yourself “how do I want to feel tonight?” each evening when you get home.
- Focus on your own art. If you want to add anything else in, it must pass the Spaciousness Test: how much positive spaciousness and how much negative spaciousness? Is it a net positive?
Perfectionism is one of the most common obstacles that keeps Pathfinders bogged down in the muck instead of moving forward on their path. Here are some assignments to help with perfectionism:
- Futz! Try things out. They don’t have to be perfect, just headed vaguely eastward toward your intention.
- For the next month, try making things only 80% perfect and see what happens. It’s an experiment!
- Put stuff out there even if it’s imperfect. Lower the quality bar until the Universe says, “that’s not good enough.”
- Give yourself an advance permission slip to fail just once… then say yes to self-care – ALWAYS – until something bad happens. This will help you solve actual problems instead of worrying about imaginary future problems.
- Be yourself! Remember your note to yourself: “People are going to resonate with you whether your twitter background is perfect or not. Stop getting bogged down in the details and do what’s feasible.”
- Let three people down
My own resources
Sometimes, what my clients need is something I’ve already written, and we don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
- Try an Oberon Hour practice
- Read The Usual Error – especially Part II: Boundaries. I sent you a copy; it’ll arrive on Friday.
- Try check-ins (as described in The Usual Error) for communicating with your husband when you’re feeling vulnerable or just want to feel heard.
- Read and work through Unmask Yourself
- Do this short exercise: http://pacesmith.com/mot-reywas/
- Work through the ideal customer exercise on p.6 of the 2012 World-Changing Writing Workbook
Other times, what my clients need is something someone else has written or created, and we still don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
- Extra bonus assignment: Read “Red Hot and Holy” by Sera Beak. It’s all about an embodied experience of the Divine. I’ll give you a copy.
- Try the practice to get your etheric body back on kilter after a meds change. I’ll send you a link.
- Work through the first 2 sections of the Heart of Business Heart-Centered Websites workbook
- Read Refuse to Choose by Barbara Sher
- Read Renaissance Business by Emilie Wapnick
- Read The Wisdom of the Enneagram (shipped, due to arrive on Thursday)
- Read this. it’s about self-care even when you’re not feeling like it at the moment, and it applies to everything, not just body care.
- Explore spiritual paths. Start with Susan Piver’s Open Heart Project.
- Look into grief counseling. Cath Duncan’s site is http://www.rememberingforgood.com/
Nourishing your heart
There are many different ways to nourish your heart, but you’re going to need at least one of them! Try these on for size:
- Whenever you feel frustrated, angry, or impatient, take a moment to connect with your heart. That’s your heart feeling thirsty. drink.
- Fill in this blank with anything and everything that feels true to you: If I remembered ___________ every day, my life would be so much better. Then create some ways to remember it. Keys, necklace, calendar, etc.
- Dedicate your knitting, weaving, and spinning to something greater than yourself – a devotional practice
- Comparison is a yellow alert! If you notice yourself comparing yourself to others, check in and see how you’re feeling. If anxious, take a breath, do Remembrance, recenter.
- Repeat to yourself “I don’t know what the hell is going on, and that’s okay.” when you find yourself beginning to freak out
- Compassionate Witness is your archetype, and that means you need to _receive_ witnessing in your heart, directly from Source, so you can reflect that infinite light out to others.
- Create a short version of the energy work we did in our Pathfinding session to remind yourself “your clients are held in the light. what they’re feeling isn’t yours to fix.” Then do that energy work before each client session.
- Take your salary into Remembrance. What does your heart need to feel good about asking for what you need?
Letters to your future self
Write a letter to your future self, then open it when you need to remember.
- Write a note to your future self “If you never want to trust your heart again, read this.”
- Write a letter to your future freaking-out self, reminding yourself that if you follow your heart, things just kind of work out. Then remember to read it the next time you’re freaking out!
- Write yourself a letter, to be opened only in case of emergency, about how you feel now and how you want to get back to it
Stories have the power to change your life.
- Write the story of how this chapter of your life (e.g. this job) fits into your Big Story. You can create wholeheartedness with your stories.
- Come up with fictional stories, as unrealistic or fantastical as you wish, a sentence or a paragraph, in which you are the main character and in which one or more of these puzzle-piece qualities flows into your heart, nourishes you, and then flows out into the world to nourish the heart of someone else. Write down as many as you can until they feel like they’re basically repeating. Read them out loud in sacred space and notice which ones make your heart sing the loudest. And tell me what you notice!
- Write about what’s scary about being perceived as a weirdo – a new-age hippie freak. There’s something juicy in there. you’re a writer – dig it up.
- Ask those who love you and those who respect you to describe you in 1 or 2 sentences.
- Have a dialogue with your inner scientist. Work out a peace treaty.
This special kind of storytelling only came up twice, but both times, it was very powerful. Change the win condition of the game you are living.
- Define for yourself what game you want to win. And remember that you don’t need to stifle your competitive urge, you just need to harness it to win the game you REALLY TRULY DEEPLY want to win. (e.g. winning the game of feeling the way you want to feel as much as possible, as strongly as possible)
- Choose your new victory condition. State it in sacred space, then remind yourself of it day to day. Ways you can remind yourself include: saying your mantra when you notice your old groove; affirmations; vision board; etc.
Sometimes I teach a multi-step technique during a Pathfinding session. All of these are very useful and very powerful.
- Practice noticing your feelings without judging them and without immediately reacting to them. 2 steps:
- “I feel ______. I feel ______. I feel ______, and that’s okay.” Repeat until it really feels okay.
- What is my heart needing right now?
- Practice the time travel technique I showed you: talk to your past self about any traumatic event that comes up for you, and then put yourself into her shoes and listen.
- When intense emotions come up, practice the intense-emotion Remembrance:
- Take some sacred space for yourself and get still.
- Drop into Remembrance; begin calling the Name into your heart.
- Feel the feeling without judgment. Be fully present with the feeling without needing to act on it.
- Bring the Love, the Divine presence into your heart alongside the feeling.
- If you feel overwhelmed, confused, or burdened, ask for guidance. Here’s how:
- Offer up any burdens/shoulds. share with Spirit
- (If needed, ask to be shown what your heart needs to let those burdens go)
- Ask to be shown what your heart needs in the situation
- Ask to be shown your next action
Other times, the techniques are more practical:
- First, brainstorm lots of possibilities of things that would be fun. Don’t censor yourself. Then, create 3 columns:
- What would I love about this?
- What would be hard about this?
- What does my heart say about this? (use the HeartCompass technique, place it into your palm and near your heart)
We’ll talk about the results next time.
- Try out the morning routine we discussed:
- What did I do yesterday? (and compare with your plan)
- What could I have made better? (or could make similar things better in the future)
- What did I love?
- What am I going to do today?
Ask your wife if she’d like to do it with you.
- Write a draft of a manifesto. This is a bold overview of:
- What’s wrong
- Why it matters
- The way forward
Prepare your manifesto as a brief presentation. Imagine you’re at a convention of organization leaders, and you want to make the case for why this is a problem. Record yourself making your presentation. Then transcribe it and edit it to create the written form of your manifesto.
Bridging the practical and the profound
One of the things I love most about Pathfinding is how we weave the profound and the practical into a braid. We make progress on the practical, then when obstacles or resistance arise, we do spiritual or emotional healing work. Lather, rinse, repeat. Here’s a nice sampler mix of the practical and the profound:
- Put all your iPad games in a folder on a separate page
- When you come up with a great idea and you’re having trouble setting it aside, say “not now” instead of no
- Set aside 10 minutes, 3 days a week, with no distractions. You can write, think, or resist writing, but you can’t do anything else for those 10 minutes.
- Continue remembering to focus on how you want to feel (the journey, your heart) instead of the One Right Thing To Do (the destination, your ego & superego). Keep returning to that feeling, and everything else will work out.
- Create a sharing spreadsheet like your writing spreadsheet, to track what you shared, how you feel about the feedback, what helps, and what hinders.
- Make a list of things that are worth doing even if they’re totally not impressive.
- Burn your NaNo novel slowly and rescue the bits that absolutely must be rescued. Start over and have fun!
- Create a Worry List. It’s the drainage gutter for your worries. Set aside a time to be Executive Director and review the worries, and the rest of the time, let it go!
- Move one of the Buddhas off the bookshelf and onto your desk in front of your computer.
- Turn off email notifications, on both your computer and your iPad. After two weeks, if it feels right, start checking your email only twice a day.
- Harness your ego’s natural inclinations. Give yourself gold stars for spiritual practice!
- Do one tiny thing. Put one free video up, teach one thing (just the Mac version – make it as simple as possible), and get one person to watch it.
- Time management by tokens – 20 tokens per week. Start tomorrow (Wed). Let me know each week how many poker chips you spent.
- Think about the bare minimum needed to engage your desire to stick to the commitments you make to others. Would it help for me to create a fake “Creative Endeavors” class that meets on Saturday nights? Then you can say, “I can’t. I have Creative Endeavors class then.”
- Make the Big Commitment to follow your spiritual guidance throughout your life. To hitch your wagon to the Spirit-train, so to speak. If you don’t feel ready, journal about it.
And sometimes, there’s nothing that needs to be done right now. Sometimes, what’s needed is rest, integration, gentleness, and ease. And sometimes, it’s helpful to make rest an official Pathfinding assignment for my clients who have a hard time slowing down. (Not that I would know anything about that…)
- Just be. Don’t worry about doing.
- Do a creative practice that you love! Draw pen and ink cartoons! Or if it’s not too cold, take an aimless walk with a camera! Take the pressure off – the operative word is playfulness!
- Your only assignment is to allow. Let your protector and your muse work their magick while you sleep, while you rest, while you work, while you play.
- Take some time to savor and celebrate your success!
- Live your own ashram that you carry around with you always. Slow down! (:
- rest rest rest flow > slog slog slog slog. If you notice yourself slogging (forcing yourself, avoiding, procrastinating), rest instead! Chill out and/or do something nourishing.
- Let it be easy!
…and that’s 100!
As I compiled this list, I noticed how much of what I teach I learned from others. Deepest gratitude to all my teachers: Mark Silver, all my Reclaiming teachers, Julica Hermann, Danielle LaPorte, Martha Beck, Brene Brown, Chip and Dan Heath, Stephen Covey, Kelly Kingman, Gretchen Rubin, Emilie Wapnick, Katy Koonce, Jon Morrow, Ealasaid Haas, and of course, Kyeli.
I hope these 100 suggestions have inspired you, nourished your heart, and given you a taste of what the Pathfinding Program is really like.
Want to get some of this for yourself?
What would #101 be if it was written especially for you?
Let’s find out.
If you want to get some of this guidance and transformation for yourself…
January 1st, 2015
On January 1st, we made a big decision.
We decided to start looking for a new place to live, but in our experience of Portland, landlords move fast. They don’t ask, “Can you move in 30 days from now?” but are more like, “Can you move in a week from today?” So if we waited to give our 30 days’ notice at our current home (we have a month-to-month lease), we’d end up paying rent on both places for most of the month.
So instead, we went ahead and gave our 30 days’ notice at our current home. But we underestimated how challenging it would be to find a place in Portland that’s wheelchair-friendly. Two of our Pantry Year goals are to help Kyeli be more empowered and in less pain. That means a new wheelchair (which will arrive soon!) and a place to live that’s Kyeli-friendly.
January 22nd, 2015
We’ve got 10 days left and we don’t have a new place to live yet. We have a couple of awesome rental agents on the lookout for us, so something might turn up soon! And if you know of a place in Portland that meets our criteria, let us know. (Here’s Kyeli’s awesome craiglist ad.)
Our backup plan is to put most of our stuff in storage and live in a hotel for a few weeks until we find a great place to live. We’ve lived in an RV before, we’ve packed all our belongings into our Honda Fit before, we’ve traveled the country and lived in hotels with no permanent address before. It’ll be an inconvenient adventure. (:
But I wanted to share this story with you because of the lesson it’s taught me about wholeheartedness.
Making wholehearted decisions
On January 1st, when I decided to give our 30 days’ notice, I accepted the consequences of that choice up front. I knew that it would mean an inconvenient adventure if we didn’t find a place quickly enough.
So I’m not beating up on myself for choosing the “wrong” thing. I’m not complaining about how unlucky we are. I made the best decision I could at the time with the information I had. I checked in with my heart, and my heart said, “Go for it!” So I know that everything will turn out okay.
Accept the consequences of your decision up front, when you make it.
Then later, when you’re tempted to second-guess yourself, remember that you did the best you could at the time. Later, when you’re tempted to be hard on yourself for being wrong, open up to feel compassion for your past self… and for your present self, too.
This is what Pathfinding is all about. Making wholehearted choices, following your heart… and remembering to open up to compassion. It’s a simple (but not easy) recipe for a wild, crazy, meaningful life.
Here’s to the path ahead!
To-do lists suck.
To-do lists get long. They turn into a big ugly bag of tasks, with no useful ordering. They often grow faster than you can complete them, leaving you with this endless burden of things you feel you ought to be doing but can never finish.
NaNoWriMo insight – writing without editing is way easier and faster, and you can always edit later.
Whenever you add an item to Tier 1, check to see if you could break it up. For example, my Tier 1 item from earlier, “come up with headline”, could have been renamed to “come up with good-enough version of headline”, and then we could have added a Tier 2 item “revise headline to make it awesome”.
Split as follows:
- Tier 1: make it look like it wasn’t created by a highschool student from the noughties who was just learning HTML
- Tier 2: make it look professional and on-brand
- Tier 3: tweak all the little tiny things that probably only I care about or even notice
Tier 2. Nothing bad will happen without them, but it’s good to show people what others’ experiences have been. It’ll help them feel safe to sign up and also give them a better sense of what they might get out of it.
Tier 3. Sure, this would be nice, but would it be awesome? I don’t think it qualifies for Tier 2.
Tier 1. This is really bad if it doesn’t get done.
Tier 2. This one is tough. I want to make it Tier 1, because I would be really embarrassed if someone signed up and then I gave them incorrect or poorly worded instructions. But it’s a solvable problem. Maybe someone gets confused or upset, but we can sort things out and it’ll be okay. I guess this is really Tier 2.
Tier 2. Those tables are awesome for making it really clear what you’re buying and everything you’re getting.
Tier 2. Kyeli often catches an important thing I overlook.
My example 3-Tier To-Do List
Putting it all together, our 3-Tier To-Do List looks like this:
Tier 1: Must-Do
- come up with good-enough version of headline
- come up with headline
- write subheaders
- write a crappy first draft of the copy, just barely good enough to be non-embarrassing
- make it look like it wasn’t created by a highschool student from the noughties who was just learning HTML
- make sure the buy button works
Tier 2: Would Be Awesome
- revise headline to make it awesome
- come up with subtitle
- one editing pass to make any changes that would make the copy significantly more clear and compelling
- make it look professional and on-brand
- round up some testimonials
- make sure the buying process makes sense and goes smoothly
- make a cool table with checkmarks near the bottom
- ask Kyeli to review it
Tier 3: Would Be Nice
- tweak the copy until I’m totally happy with it
- tweak all the little tiny things that probably only I care about or even notice
- record a video
Isn’t that awesome? Now here’s how you use it.
How to use your 3-Tier To-Do List
Tier 1: Must-Do
First, complete everything on your Tier 1 list before moving on to Tier 2.
When you finish those items, you’re Tier 1 Done.
Breathe. Take a break. Relax. Now, you know that nothing bad is going to happen, because you put all the “something bad might happen if I don’t do this” items in Tier 1, and now they’re complete.
Night of the Rabbit and the Blackwell series, which came to a satisfying conclusion. Our favorite speedrun was Skyward Sword 100% by Tlozsr and Testrunner at SGDQ. My favorite non-fiction book was What to Do When You Can’t Decide, by Meg Lundstrom and my favorite fiction book was Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, by Lois McMaster Bujold.
In November 2013, Kyeli and I celebrated our 8th anniversary, our friend Amanda flew up from Texas to celebrate Thanksgiving with us, and Kelly came to visit for KellyCon 1. It was awesome!
In December 2013, we had a transformative spiritual staycation, I began leading a new Pathfinding Group, I tried working with a new assistant but it didn’t work out, and Kyeli and I went trampolining with Charlie, Angela, and Cory Huff. Everyone got injured but everyone recovered. We were totally the oldest people in the building. (: Last but not least, I created an epic Yule quest for Kyeli.
In January, Kyeli got hit by a car. This is when she stopped being able to walk normally, and her ability to walk continued to decline over the rest of the year. I started working with Margie & Liz, my two new assistants. You two rock!
In February, our son Dru came to visit.
In March, Dru’s cat Kady died. We celebrated Kyeli’s birthday, and I taught Choose Wisely, which will be renamed “Pathfinding 101” when I teach it next year.
In April, I started doing a couple of things to help me sleep better, which greatly improved my productivity and the quality of my life.
In May, I attended the Wealthy Thought Leader traveling coaching salon, I began another Pathfinding Group, and I spent a weekend on the coast with some of my best Portland friends, and Kyeli took her 1000th consecutive selfie.
In June, I closed Spiritual Rollercoaster Academy, and I finally reached the income goal for my business that I had been striving toward for years, which we celebrated with a trip to the coast.
In July, we spoke at App Camp for Girls about how to handle getting trolled online. Hundreds of awesome people converged on Portland, I got to hang out with a few of them, and Catherine Just stayed with us. I launched my lovely new website. I created a sequel to the Pathfinding Program, with awesome results. And Kelly came to visit for KellyCon 2. It was life-changingly rad.
In August, we gave our App Camp presentation to a new and differently awesome group of girls. I stopped using the Like button on Facebook, and I wrapped up the 10-month Spiritual Development Program with Mark Silver. It was awesome, and gave me what I needed to take the next step on my spiritual path (see October).
In September, Charon came to visit to tattoo Kyeli with her snake/rose/jewel, Kyeli got a wheelchair, and I created September Safari, a series of 30 daily photo prompts. I created it to help Kyeli stay engaged with her photography, and a few other people played along too. (:
In October, I taught One Perfect Dollar, Kyeli and I judged the annual IFComp (our fav was Creatures Such As We), I took hand as a Sufi dervish in the Nur Ashki Jerrahi lineage, and Kyeli and I got legally married!
In November, I taught my first Desire Map + Enneagram Workshop, live and in-person! Kyeli and I celebrated our honeymoon (and our 9th anniversary) by going on a sacred, heart-led road trip, and we shared Thanksgiving with our dear friends Angela and Charlie.
In December, I moved my website to a new hosting service, Dru came to visit, and Kyeli and I chose our words of the year for 2015. I created a mostly-online Yule quest for Kyeli, and you can play along and solve the riddles if you’d like! Here’s the first clue:
Your presents are all on the net.
(Except one; you don’t need to sweat.)
So give this a try:
Type bit dot l y
slash kyeli, and then the word “threat”.
In summary, 2014 was a year of struggle, surrender, and delight.
I was given enough success to keep me going, and enough failure to keep me humble. I asked myself “How do you want to feel today?” every day, and I found delight in between every crack and underneath the couch cushions.
I struggled with feeling tired or exhausted much of the time. I struggled to adjust to Kyeli’s disability and my new responsibilities.
When I responded by working more, I collapsed. When I responded by praying more, everything turned out okay. Or rather, I remembered that everything was already okay, which gave me the presence of heart to fix the things that needed to be fixed.
When I responded by turtling up and closing off, I felt even heavier and more exhausted. When I responded by reaching out to Source, to Kyeli, to my friends, and to my allies, I was encouraged and lifted up.
I kept striving hard to make my dreams come true, then remembering that my dreams are already happening. I’m doing what I love for a living. I’m married to the woman of my dreams. I live in the city of my dreams. It’s so easy to get caught up in the struggle and forget the wonder and beauty that’s happening right now all around.
2014 was a year of forgetting, of remembering, of forgetting, of remembering.
In 2015, I’m gonna build a fucking alarm clock. (;
Photos by Kyeli Smith
Remember when I told you how I separate all my tasks into two piles: chocolate and vanilla?
The Third Pile
I lied! There is a third pile. Since the other two are called “chocolate” and “vanilla”, would you like to guess what the third is called?
If you guessed “strawberry”, you’ve obviously mistaken me for a normal human being. The third pile is called “Oberon.”
Oberon: A task that I’ll avoid, procrastinate, or resist if given half the chance.
Examples of Oberon tasks
- Pay the IRS the $7.84 I owe them (I resist this because I hate checks, and I hate mailing physical things)
- Set up HootSuite (I resist this because it’s new and unfamiliar)
- Call Comcast to figure out why my internet bill went up this month (I resist this because I don’t like talking to customer service people on the phone)
- Do the dumb things I gotta do
- Touch the puppet head
Resisting is exhausting!
The Oberon tasks are the ones I’ll resist doing if I mix them in with the other tasks. If I have any leeway to make decisions, I’ll take advantage of that leeway to decide that everything else on the list has magically become more urgent and more important than the Oberon tasks.
Some people can do this really cool judo move where they redirect the resistance into productivity. I can’t. I find resistance exhausting.
I solve this problem by setting aside an “Oberon Hour” and firmly committing to it.
I set aside a dedicated time for me to process my Oberon tasks, and I make a solid commitment to it.
I set an hour-long timer. I start with the Oberon task at the top of the list. I work my way down, and when my timer goes off, I’m done.
I wasn’t surprised to find that after just a few days, I felt far more peaceful. I had been stressing out over all these Oberon tasks not being done, even when the stress was too subtle for me to notice. I felt so much more mental and emotional spaciousness. My overwhelm melted away.
I was surprised to find that I actually started looking forward to Oberon Hour! Possibly because I had been suffering from decision fatigue, and Oberon Hour was a time when I didn’t have to decide what to do. I just start at the top of the list and work down.
Be the boss you’d be thrilled to work for
When you’re about to put something on your Oberon List, think twice. Double-check to make sure it’s actually important. Your time, oomph, and joy are precious. Oberon tasks are the tasks you don’t enjoy, so be sure that they will be a true gift to your future self before adding them to the list.
In other words, be the boss you’d be thrilled to work for.
The death of a thousand cuts
Each time you avoid Oberon – even if it’s subconscious – it’s like getting a little paper cut. If you give yourself the gift of Oberon Hour, it can be a true kindness, a huge relief.
Try it out – just for a little while (maybe 30 days?) and see if you feel more peacefulness and ease in your work.
If 30 days feels too daunting, how about just one week?
If an Oberon Hour feels too daunting, how about an Oberon Ten Minutes?
Photos by Kyeli Smith
My oomph is a precious resource! I treat it as such by unswirling all my chocolate/vanilla swirls.
If that didn’t make any sense to you, then let’s unpack it:
Teaching is chocolate/vanilla swirl
Teaching is chocolate/vanilla swirl, so I separate it out into:
- Decide what to teach and create an outline (chocolate)
- Show up and teach the class from the outline (vanilla)
Podcasting is chocolate/vanilla swirl
Podcasting is also chocolate/vanilla swirl. I separate it out into:
- Decide who to invite and decide on a topic. Invite them. (chocolate)
- Show up and record the podcast with that guest on that topic. (vanilla)
Writing is chocolate/vanilla swirl
Writing is chocolate/vanilla swirl… actually, it’s chocolate/chocolate/vanilla/chocolate swirl. I separate it out into:
- Create a list of ideas of what to write about. (chocolate)
- Pick one. (chocolate)
- Write drunk. (vanilla)
- Edit sober. (chocolate)
I’m quoting Peter De Vries (not Ernest Hemingway) on the “Write drunk, edit sober” bit – what I mean by “write drunk” is to write without revising, write without deciding what to leave in or what to leave out. To write NaNoWriMo style.
Aside: This is how NaNoWriMo works – by putting the oomphiest bits beforehand (deciding on characters and outline in October) and afterward (“December is for editing”), November is freed up from a lot of progress-blocking decision-making.
This is why writing an outline can help so much – it separates the chocolate into one big bite, instead of having annoying little chocolate chips getting in the way of your vanilla flow
Remember Einstein’s Theory of Chocolativity
What’s chocolate or vanilla for you might be different than what’s chocolate or vanilla for me. A task that takes a lot of oomph for me might come easily and oomphlessly to you. What’s important is to know yourself and accept what’s true for you. Pretending that something is vanilla when it’s actually chocolate for you will only lead you to exhaustion.
What’s your swirl?
What’s a chocolate/vanilla swirl in your work? How could you unswirl it?
In Roman Krznaric’s How to Find Fulfilling Work, he says that the 3 things you need to find fulfilling work are freedom, flow, and meaning.
Autonomy and freedom are pretty much the same thing.
Mastery is an important component of flow.
Meaning and purpose are pretty much the same thing.
It looks like we’re on to something here.
Let’s start with autonomy/freedom.
Yes, it totally sucks to have no freedom. The biggest complaint employees have about their jobs is that they always have to do what they’re told, they have to do things in a specific way at a particular time. They have no room for creativity, no autonomy, no freedom. They can’t decide what they do and they can’t decide how or when they do it.
But it also sucks to have too much freedom.
Economists call it “The tyranny of choice.” Give people too many options, and they’ll panic and choose none of them.
Writers call it “The terror of the blank page.” Staring at that empty page, knowing you could write anything… but having no idea where to begin.
Unschoolers know it, too – if you don’t give children any guidance or direction at all, they may sit around and be bored instead, overwhelmed by too many choices.
It’s the reason so many entrepreneurs are suckered into step-by-step, paint-by-numbers “make money online” programs that claim to tell you exactly what to do. They’re overwhelmed with all the options and exhausted by decision fatigue, so they’re willing to believe that someone else can take all the decisions away from them.
The truth, though, is that an entrepreneur is a professional decision-maker. Systems and blueprints can help, as long as they leave room for creativity and your own unique touch.
But if you give away all your decision-making power, you’re no longer an entrepreneur, you’re an employee.
It’s hard to find the balance.
You want autonomy… but you’re terrified of the blank page.
You want to make the decisions… but you’re exhausted from decision fatigue.
You want more freedom… but not too much.
I hear you. It’s tough.
Oomph! There it is!
The thing that has helped me the most is to treat my decision-making ability (I call it “oomph”) as a precious resource, and to manage it just like I manage my other precious resources like time and money.
I have the most oomph first thing in the morning, so I put all my decision-making tasks at the beginning of my day, and all my other tasks in the afternoon.
Chocolate and vanilla
The first thing I do each day is plan my day, because planning takes oomph.
When planning, I separate my tasks into “chocolate” and “vanilla”. Chocolate requires oomph, vanilla doesn’t.
Oomph: Decision-making ability.
Chocolate: A task that requires oomph.
Vanilla: A task that doesn’t require oomph.
I do my chocolate tasks in the morning, when I have lots of oomph, and my vanilla tasks in the afternoon, when I’m often low on oomph.
Boss and employee
A reasonable person might call chocolate “Boss” and vanilla “Employee”. You put on your boss hat, make a bunch of decisions and queue up to-do items for your employee-self, then put on your employee hat and do them.
Boss: A task that requires oomph.
Employee: A task that doesn’t require oomph.
If that metaphor works better for you, go for it. I, being a thoroughly unreasonable person, find chocolate and vanilla far more delicious than hats.
Example chocolate tasks:
- Create an outline for this month’s Ice Cream Saturday teaching topic
- Reply to J’s invitation (this task is really hiding the task “Decide whether to say yes or no”)
- Plan the schedule for Peaceful Productivity launch and classes
Example vanilla tasks:
- Teach (once I’ve got an outline, teaching puts me in flow and doesn’t require oomph)
- Get to inbox zero (actually, only 80% of emails are vanilla, the rest require oomph)
- Record a Wild Crazy Meaningful Life podcast (deciding who to invite or deciding on the topic to cover is chocolate, but actually doing it is vanilla, so I separate those out)
- Do the audio processing for the latest podcast
- Pathfinding coaching (for some reason, this doesn’t require oomph. maybe because I’m in flow, being a conduit?)
Einstein’s Theory of Chocolativity
What’s chocolate or vanilla for you might be different than what’s chocolate or vanilla for me. A task that takes a lot of oomph for me might come easily and oomphlessly to you. What’s important is to know yourself and accept what’s true for you. Pretending that something is vanilla when it’s actually chocolate for you will only lead you to exhaustion.
Let’s talk about oomph, baby!
Do you struggle with decision fatigue? How do you manage your oomph? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!
It’s a cloudy day in Philadelphia, 1976. Rocky Balboa sets his intention to become a champion. “Eye of the Tiger” begins to play, and we see months of punching things and running up steps condensed into a two-minute-long montage.
It’s Day 91 of the montage.
Rocky Balboa’s alarm clock goes off at the butt-crack of dawn.
“Shit,” he mutters, and rolls out of bed groggily. He eats a breakfast burrito, then drags himself over to the gym and punches some things.
“My legs feel like spaghetti,” he grumbles, but still he works up the motivation to go over to those steps and run up them for the 91st time.
Are you in the middle of a montage?
In real life, setting your intention doesn’t magically condense months of hard work into two minutes. And if you want a soundtrack, you have to create it yourself.
In real life, the middle of a montage can feel like a grind, or a slog, or like you’re running in a hamster wheel.
How to know if you’re in a montage or a hamster wheel
The difference between a hamster wheel and a montage is that in a montage, you’re going somewhere.
You’re working toward a goal, you’re building up a skill, you’re gathering the resources you need for your upcoming journey.
In a hamster wheel, you’re spending all your energy to run in place and go nowhere.
The trick is that Day 91 of the montage feels a lot like a hamster wheel.
Eye of the Tiger
That’s why it’s important to remind yourself of what you’re working toward – to taste your motivation.
Make your own inspirational soundtrack. Create a vision board. Add your “why” to the top of your daily to-do lists.
Whatever your Eye of the Tiger is, find it and remember it each day of your montage.
You’ll need that motivation to go the distance.