Happy New Year. I hope that you have had a nourishing holiday season. Welcome to 2017.
Any time to rest and read is sacred, I thought lots about what book to take on a long-awaited vacation last week with my daughter. Single mom to a 7-year old = not that much reading time on vacation. So I had to choose wisely!
While I typically love a great novel or biography – my new role has me thinking lots about scaling up and technology icon success stories. I have a list of 20 recommended reads in that genre (including suggestions by many of you – thank you and keep them coming). Though I will get to each (stay tuned for my synopsis of a great book once a month on this blog) none of those books felt just right for what I was looking for in this first precious week off after my first 90 days as a first time CEO.
I wanted to get inspired to use the calendar as an excuse to set for 2017 – to maximize my own performance and think about how I might best motivate and support my team and our members in doing the same.
As it happened, we interviewed some incredible candidates to join our AceTech team in a BD role to help us grow our organization smartly and amaze & delight our members, right before going away (Cinthia who has been with us this year, is moving to Vancouver in March).
I asked each candidate in their final interview to provide a bit of recommended reading for my trip (to see if they had been listening to who I am in the interview and what moves me). One of the candidates purchased Tim Ferriss’ Tools of Titans for me (amongst providing a fabulous collection of vacation-related creative materials, I was both amazed & delighted and she really modelled the “white glove service” I told her that I aim to implement at AceTech for 2017! Welcome to Stacy – who you will all meet soon.
I devoured it (all 675 pages) and it both inspired me, and brought me joy (as her inscription suggested it would). I will share lots of ideas I garnered from it, here. This piece turned out a bit more of an essay than a blog post. It’s long.
We all agree that there are some basic ingredients to entrepreneurial success: Have a great idea to solve a real & big problem + innovate + vision + fire in the belly + move fast + build a world class team + execute with dogged focus + grit to go the extra mile, to name a few. Or as Elon Musk might put it, refuse to take no for an answer, dare to be a dreamer, and then be a doer.
It’s easy in the hyper connected world we live in to think we always need to keep going. Never turn off. We work late nights, early mornings and manage the incoming at 1000 miles an hour to make the big plan happen.
We convince ourselves that we don’t have one hour a day to take care of ourselves (for a total of 7) + 9 extra hours a week to invest in ourselves, so 16 out of a total of 112 waking hours (14%) if you assume we are or should be sleeping for 56, or 8 hours a night. That all of those 112 hours (or even dipping into our we-should-be-sleeping-hours), would be better spent “scaling up” aggressively, working, working, working. We have all been there. Getting lost in the pursuit of success, and the pressure of NOW – at the cost of drifting from being our best total selves through thoughtful and consistent self-care.
It happened to me right before the holidays. I got so excited about the exciting Move the Dial Women’s event we are co-hosting with MaRS, DMZ, Communitech & the City of Toronto on January 16th (aside: register here if you have not yet, over 350 people have registered thus far and it is a great c-level crew of amazing founders, investors, influencers, leaders and up and coming talent – that all care deeply about advancing women in technology on the global stage, together) and determined to get the invitation out before Christmas, that I worked 20 hours a day to get it over the line. Thinking that was something to celebrate, e-mailing people on the team at 2 or 3 am as though that is a sane thing to do. I lost perspective – I was tired. With some rest under my belt, I can see that and laugh at myself. But it is a great example of why building rest, and self-care in is important. So we don’t get to that frenzied state. And bring the people around us there with us. I resolve not to do that again in 2017.
To be successful (and happy) and be in the best condition to operate from calm, thoughtful and mindful every day, steering the ship strategically versus reactively: you also have to fuel your mind, body and soul every day. The greats do, which enables them to achieve maximum performance, and the long-term healthy state required to enjoy the fruits of their work. And most importantly, to enjoy the journey and find peace and happiness along the way.
I would encourage and challenge you to spend a few minutes today, leveraging this new calendar opportunity to re-set.
To commit at the highest level, with gusto, to taking care of you. Investing in YOURSELF as PART of your scale up (and life) plan. Then take the time to build your commitment into your calendar RIGHT NOW, before it gets filled up incorporating a few daily and weekly tactics. If the commitment is made once, in a clear, simple and non-negotiable way – that single decision can be the most powerful tool you have in your toolbox. You will save enormous energy by not having to make small decision after small decision, (should I get up at 5 or not? Should I work out or not?) – if you just stay the course.
And, why? Because, if you don’t take care of you Ms./Mr. CEO, your chance of being the unicorn is less than zero. You can’t be a top CEO unless you are on top of your game. (And what’s the point anyway, if you are not healthy and around to enjoy the fruit later with those you love or are super cranky along the way?). But this is for YOU. Not your team. Your investors. Your shareholders. Your kids. Or your partner. It is for YOU (everyone else benefits from the who you become as a result, but the point is to gift this investment to yourself, first).
I have found that writing down my commitment to my self-care + each tactic I choose to use in a single “note” on my phone, (an added sticky note on my mirror never hurt) AND putting the plan in the calendar, makes it happen.
Shay Carl, who sold Maker Studios to Disney for almost a billion believes that the secrets to life are in the simplest of cliché’s. Things like eat more vegetables. Drink more water. That we hear these things millions of times, and ignore them because they sound too simple. But simple, is often best.
So here is a collection of tried and true (not super original, BUT hopefully helpful), simple ideas to get you thinking about your own plan – some low hanging fruit with immediate returns – to get your mind, body and spirit into shape for a successful January – and 2017.
#1: Join the 5 am club – How you start your day sets the tone for how you’ll live that day. It’s a fact that the most productive achievers in the world actually use the hours from 5-8 am to set up their days for success, just a few examples: Tim Cook, Apple CEO and Richard Branson, Virgin Group CEO. I learned this from reading the Greatness Guide (my favourite book of all times, which is my go to “gift it” book) and watching videos by global leadership expert Robin Sharma.
Robin created the 5 am club, a morning ritual that I live by and love. Like Robin says, while the rest of the world is sleeping, you already have an edge because you’re preparing your mind, body, and heart for the day. When you walk out the door, you’re already unstoppable. I use these early hours to exercise, journal about my intentions/plans for the day and for meditation and reflection, or learning. These “golden hours” get me in the zone for the day and empower me to be my best SELF. For his blog or his podcasts, which I often share with CEOS looking for some rituals and inspiration – click here.
While we all might think that if we are up, early morning time is best spent clearing e-mail or doing “focus required work” (and admittedly I do both at times) – I try hard to think about it as “prep time”. Ferriss wisely points out that whacking trees with a blunt axe is no way to go through life. “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I’ll spend the first hour sharpening the axe”. Abraham Lincoln
#2: Move (I like how that sounds better than saying “exercise”, but I do mean exercise). If you have stopped, just start again. It’s actually not harder than that. We waste a lot of energy beating ourselves up for being or getting out of shape. Better energy spent just starting. And sitting is the new smoking. It is bad for you.
Ferriss suggests that you can do 5-10 reps of something when you wake up to get into your body and your blood flowing (he likes push ups).
Get out and walk. At a minimum – just walk. Take the stairs instead of the escalator. Try getting off the subway a few stops early. Take a break in the middle of the day and get some music going and = just walk.
For the real work:
If you want your butt kicked into high gear, try my strength trainer & lifestyle coach Wayne Williams whose motto is difficult, but not impossible. He motivates me and pushes me. Texting me daily to check in, often calling to support me in achieving my goals. His own life story incredible: janitor to uber successful training & coaching business owner who trains some of our AceTech CEOs and many media/tv personalities. He will be speaking at an event we have coming up in February all about how to be your best self as CEO. Alison Beder Solway is also one of my incredibly inspiring trainers. She has never taken “I can’t” as an answer and I attribute much of my current good fortune to her belief in me and pushing me to be my best self. I always have her “yes you can”, “you have a little more” with me. I am happy to connect you to either if you want to get going!
If you are looking for a fabulous hour of both psychical and mental inspiration in a group setting, try Rocket Cycle. Founder and friend Dana Rocket is hugely inspiring. When she reminds me to put “victory in my pocket” and “keep climbing, the only way over the mountain, is over it” at 6 AM, my day just goes better, as I bring my A game. Seeing her 4 x per week gives me strength, mentally. The physical is just a side benefit. She has inspired strength and confidence in me when I needed it most in my life, and I just love and admire her. If if you would like to try a class but don’t want to go alone – ping me. I will go with you, at 6 AM and set you up on the bike myself.
If you want to use an App and not need a gym, I like Sworkit. I love it and often use it when I am on my own.
#3: Journal. Many successful people swear by journaling, but not a “dear diary” situation (says Ferriss). The purposes of journaling include: getting unstuck, problem solving, prioritizing, finding gratitude and cleansing the brain. Some ideas:
Get your thoughts out onto morning pages right when you wake up so you can face your day with clearer eyes and get your priorities clear (Julia Cameron). They changed my life.
The 5-Minute Journal (Intelligent Change)– suggested by my dear friend Reva Seth, 5 minutes in the morning and the evening, using prompts like, “I am grateful for 1.___ 2.____ 3.______. What would make today great? 1._____ 2._____ 3. ______. Daily affirmations I am 1._______ 2. ________ 3.__________” and in the evening: “ 3 amazing things that happened today…. 1.________ 2._______ 3.________
Keep a “pride” journal. A wonderful executive coach I worked with about 2 years ago Rachel Weinstein encouraged me to do this, and it stuck with me (she is fantastic, by the way!). Keep track of things you accomplish that you are proud of, ranging from getting your workout in, to a big work win, to an act of kindness that made someone’s day, to achieving a big life goal… or making a change you are proud of. This tactic significantly enhanced my life. I keep it in my phone. And read it when I need a hit of self-love. My daughter’s teacher loved this idea so much she implanted it in her grade 2 class.
#4: Drink lots of water – When I say lots, I’m talking 3 litres per day. This is a thank you to Wayne Williams, who stays on top of me on this all day by texting -how much water have you had today Jodi? All that fluid keeps YOU fluid, helping everything flow through you properly, from your blood, to what you eat to your ideas and focus. And that’s not all. Water helps to energize your muscles, and let’s your kidneys cleanse you. From experience, I can tell you all that water makes ALL the difference. I moved from lots of coffee to LOTS water – and my work is 1 million times better. If you hate drinking water, put lemon or cucumber slices in it.
#5: Do not forget to eat. And eat smart – Food is fuel. It arms you with the energy you need to lead, think and create at your absolute best. So while your day is packed with meetings, emails, texts and the like, you MUST make time to eat and make smart food choices. Sometimes when I am busy, I end up eating “easy” instead of “eating smart”. Here are some tips on healthy foods to eat each day (and many small meals is healthy!):
Fruit – Apple: Loaded with antioxidants and tastes awesome
Nuts – Almonds: Full of rich nutrients like iron, calcium fibre and magnesium.
Vegetables – try Broccoli, raw or steamed or any which way: Packed with potassium, folate and vitamin C
Fish – Salmon: Salmon and other oily fish like sardines are all about heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids
Carbs – Oatmeal: Cut oats have been shown to cut the risk of cardiovascular disease (and you can even grab it at Starbucks – with some great toppings, though avoiding the sugar is a good thing).
#6: Practice mindfulness – It’s a buzzword, but it’s true that being MINDFUL, which means living in and appreciating the moment, is key to both professional and personal success. I would strongly encourage you to try meditating (even if you think it sounds crazy), even for just 5 minutes per day, for a week – and observe if it makes a difference for you. 80% of the successful people Tim profiled in his book have a daily mindfulness practice of some kind. It helps us channel drive toward the few things that matter, rather than always “reacting” to the incoming. Not responding to all that can trigger us and take us off course. According to Ferriss, daily meditation or mindfulness practice are both thought of as “cultivating a present-state awareness that helps you be nonreactive”, and a “meta-skill” that improves everything else.
An extensive buffet of meditation options exists. Just a few to consider (thank you Tim Ferriss):
Use an app like Headspace (free Take10 will guide you for ten minutes per day for 10 days) or Calm.
Mantra based meditation (2-syllable word for 5-20 minutes in the morning). You can hold something in your hands to touch if you find that easier. This is the meditation practice that I have found easiest, when I am working hard to turn off the noise and focus on my mantra: FO-CUS, with my own theme of 2017 being to find laser-like focus on the things that matter most and will have the greatest impact.
#7: Sleep tight. Long days and nights working can cut into your sleep time, but sleep is ESSENTIAL. It’s not necessarily quantity, but the quality that matters – though trying to get enough is a good idea. As the most decorated Olympic swimmer in history Michael Phelps told Men’s Fitness, “Sleep is a big part of my recovery. It’s really important that my body gets enough rest so that I’m ready to go for my next race or training session.”
Thoreau says, “Ours is a culture where we wear our ability to get by on very little sleep as a kind of badge of honour that symbolizes work ethic, or toughness, or some other virtue but really, it’s a total profound failure of priorities and of self-respect”. Can’t really say it better than that – so, I encourage you to focus on getting more and better sleep. A few of Ferriss’ ideas to improve your sleep:
The ChiliPad – a sheet that circulates water to your ideal temperature under you while you sleep – many of his Silicon Valley friends have said this one tip has had the greatest impact on their quality of life.
Honey & ACV before bed: 2 TBSP apple cider vinegar + 1 TBSP honey, into 1 cup hot water.
REAL Dark and quiet! Try an eye mask or ear plugs to get there if you need it, or a sound machine if you need to block out noise.
#1: Book Self-Care Time – 3 HOURS – As Robin Sharma says, “things that get scheduled, get done.” This means if your calendar holds sacred time each week to devote to self-care, you will actually use this time appropriately and work on getting yourself prepared to achieve clear goals. My advice is to make this time slot RED – if it stays WHITE, it’s like a welcome sign to get booked up by other things! Your RED time is YOURS. Whether this time is to get a massage, or go to a yoga class, or see a coach, or be in nature like a ravine or park, or simply getting a pedicure with a great mindless magazine – whatever nourishes you, but it is NOT about work. BOOK IT. EVERY WEEK.
#2: Keep learning – Every week, outside of my “Self-Care” time – I make one evening that is just mine to read, listen to podcasts and do anything I can to learn. Whether it’s reading an autobiography about someone who developed a world-class product or listening to a podcast about positive thinking, I keep on learning. This kind of learning will help you see you really can achieve ANYTHING you believe in. And you will share your energy, focus and vision with the people who work with you, so that they too will be motivated and inspired by the same goals. AND if you block a night for it once a week, you force yourself to have a quiet night to rest, and recover. Some great ideas:
Read: Psych (Biasiotto) – how to manage your on and off switch, Deep Survival (Gonzales) – on dealing with fear (from a Sillicon Valley CEO book club), On the Shortness of Life: Seneca on Busyness and the Art of Living Wide Rather than Loving Long (Seneca), Henry David Thoreau’s diaries or Autobiography of a Yogi (Yogananda) – which Steve Jobs had passed out at his funeral.
Watch anything TED (also a go-to can’t sleep get me out of my own head tactic for me)
Read anything Alan Watt
Devour the Sunday New York Times (I have ordered myself a hard copy subscription – happy almost birthday self – and will save it for my learning/relaxing nights, I can’t wait!)
Read Maria Popova’s https://www.brainpickings.org – her one woman labor of love is a inquiry into how to live and what it means to lead a good life. She often reads a book daily, and distills the most timeless wisdom into her posts.
#3: Grateful time – It’s easy to look at your workload and be overwhelmed. The litany of emails. Challenging colleagues or clients. Not enough time to get things done. But there are plenty of good things that get ignored easily and they shouldn’t. Each week, take some moments to think or journal about what you are GRATEFUL for. It could be big things like your career success or your home. But it could be things we often take for granted, like being grateful for a good friend, or something cute your kid says. The more you think or talk about what you’re grateful for, the better you’ll feel. And that positivity will make you a happier, healthier and better CEO.
#4: Stay social – When you’re immersed in work, your social life can take a real hit. I believe and the studies show that staying connected to your friends and family, especially when work is seemingly out of control, is vital. You can talk to them about your problems and they can offer good advice. Or you can simply have some fun time with friends to feel good again.
#5: Book your “No time” – Book some time with yourself each week to reflect deeply on your big goals (work and personal). One of my incredible mentors who is the first female CEO of the Canadian operation of a public company with over 7000 employees, and one of the most admirable people I have ever met – encouraged me to create 3 hours of time in my calendar to do this every week.
To reflect, and ask myself, what do I need to say to say NO to, in order to say YES to what I have already decided matters most? Do you need to say no to media interviews? No to speaking invitations? No to coffee dates? No to requests for advice? No to meetings to explore new opportunities? We all like to be nice, and accommodate and explore every opportunity that comes our way – and YES is easier than no.
But taking care of yourself includes protecting the very work people want to talk to you about getting done well, and you achieving your own goals FIRST. Remember the oxygen mask analogy? Do you ever feel like you run around like a chicken with your head cut off after saying “yes’ to too many meetings, to advance other people’s agendas, at their preferred locations? I do. Some of that is important, all I am suggesting here – is to be mindful.
I learned a great trick from an incredible leader who runs the Canadian operation of an MNC. I met him last year, when I was just starting to think through my career transition and I respect of my Sick Kids Foundation board aspiration for some advice. He is generous with his time, in that he takes the meeting. But, he books meetings like the one he had with me (i.e. where the purpose was about me getting some of his advice/brain once a week on Tuesday afternoons, in 30 minute increments). When the Tuesday slots on a given day are gone, the people have to wait. I waited 6 weeks.
This is an uncomfortable system for me to implement in my own life – as I have always seen myself as a “yes” sort of gal – generous with my energy, time and advice as part of my constitution and core identity. Not entitled to ask people to “wait” to see me when they “want” to see me now. But the truth is, what I have learned, is that I can’t continue to be generous at the expense of achieving my own goals. SO, I am implementing my “NO” time in 2017 and the “Tuesday” happy to give you my time meeting rule. Wish me luck. It will NOT be easy for me. I might have to tattoo NO!!! on my arm (because saying yes is like breathing for me).
Wishing you the very best of success, joy and mindfulness. Stay tuned for some new and exciting AceTech programming to come this year on this topic! Welcome any and all feedback and suggestions! Happy 2017.