I recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of my abdominal surgery to remove my gallbladder. It got me thinking about what it was like to have several medical issues and injuries over the past year (just as I was fully recovering from that surgery, I fractured a bone in my foot… my first bone break – ouch!), and particularly, what I learned from that experience. I realized that the lessons I learned are not only important ones, but are universal. It doesn’t matter if you are not at your peak because of a medical issue or injury, a family problem, a natural disaster, or any other transition or matter that interrupts your life and work. The point is that you are not at 100% and will almost definitely need to ask for help. And that leads to Vulnerability.

I don’t know about you, but I have always been a bit of a control freak (those of you that know me well are now nodding your heads… I see you!). I pride myself on being an independent, self-sufficient, and ultra-productive individual that gets things done. Indeed, I like to tease my clients and audiences that I am recovering from CFS, Control Freak Syndrome. Notice I wrote recovering, and not recovered. I have become better and better at delegating, collaborating, and not doing everything myself over the years, but I recognize that I still have some issues with this area. It was tough at first to ask for help in the days, weeks, and months following my surgery and injury. A few things happened along the way. It got easier, I sometimes had no choice, and I saw the positive aspects of it. I learned some valuable lessons and now I want to pass them onto you. If you have always seen Vulnerability as a sign of strength and never a sign of weakness or a taboo word or idea, good for you! But if you need a little help in this area, read on.

Recognize You’re Vulnerable

As with many areas that you want to change or improve, the first step is recognition. You have to acknowledge that you are indeed vulnerable and learn to be okay with that. If you aren’t, spend some time thinking about what it will take for you to become more comfortable with that concept. Being vulnerable does not mean you are less than in any way, need to apologize, or are not showing up for people fully. For me, recognizing my vulnerability made me feel more human and connected to others instead of weak.

Prepare Your Team at Home and at Work

One way to get more comfortable with vulnerability is to prepare for it. Let your family, friends, co-workers, and colleagues know that you will be (or are) facing a trying time. They will most likely appreciate your honesty and willingness to be vulnerable. I advised my close family members and friends of my surgery and injury, as well as my private coaching clients, and any speaking engagement contacts that would be impacted by my recovery.

Relax Your Definition of Control

Vulnerability can signify a loss of control to many people. In fact, it kind of IS loss of control. The key is to accept, and sometimes even embrace, this loss of control. This is easier said than done, of course. But it is sometimes when we hold on too tightly that we, in fact, lose control. I am not advocating for a complete surrender of control, just a relaxing of it. When it comes to control, somewhere in the middle seems to be the best compromise. Set things up as best as you can, rely on those that have stepped up to help, and then lean back and let it happen.

Ask for Help

This one can be very hard for high-achievers, but is so important. Give others the chance to step up, in big and small ways. At work, this could be the beginning of someone on your team taking on more responsibility that could improve his or her professional development and provide long-lasting positive changes to his or her career. At home and in your personal life, this can help others develop new habits, or form an appreciation for how much you normally take on (without you having to toot your own horn about it!).

Two weeks after my surgery, I had to go on the road to Charleston, SC for a speaking engagement. Based on my condition and where I was in my recovery (not being able to lift or pull more than a few pounds!), I had no choice but to ask others for help. I politely asked for doors to be opened, luggage to be lifted, and many other requests. No one thought I was rude or even questioned my requests. I also carried a pillow on the plane to cover my abdomen, skipped some social activities at the conference to go rest in my room, and even mentioned my surgery and recovery from stage without being embarrassed about it. Instead of thinking that I was less than, my audience members and the team that hired me to speak were impressed that I was there!

Give Yourself a Break

We have the imagination to find creative ways to deny ourselves the time to heal and be less-than-100%-healthy. You should hear the convoluted excuses my high functioning, success-minded coaching clients devise as to why they couldn’t possibly, say, sit and read a book for an hour and rest and recover. It’d be funny if it weren’t so sad that they are denying themselves such basic human treats.

Even though I know better, I would sometimes catch myself doing the same thing during my recovery the past year. Why do we do it? Sometimes it’s guilt (a sense that you don’t ‘deserve’ to be vulnerable), or because you put everyone else’s needs first. Sometimes it’s a societal dictum or a limiting belief like, “I have to work hard and reach a certain milestone before I deserve a break,” or “I have to do it all myself.” Whatever the reason, the truth is that not only do we deserve to be vulnerable – it’s essential for our health and well-being.

A few months ago, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO) for it’s podcast series. My topic was Let Go to Grow: Focusing on Your Strengths. Below is a description of the podcast interview, as well as a play button for you to listen in. Hope it helps you in your business!

NAPO Podcast: Let Go to Grow – Focusing on Your Strengths

If the legal aspect of starting or growing your business has you intimidated, lost or overwhelmed, we have got the expert for you. From legal documents to the ins and outs of everyday business, today’s expert has us covered. With a background as an attorney, mediator and trainer of entrepreneurs, Lisa Montanaro is a sought after business expert. She is the owner of Lisa Montanaro Global Enterprises, the umbrella organization under which she offers productivity consulting, success coaching, business strategizing and speaking to individuals and organizations. Lisa is an inaugural certified professional organizer and a member of the Golden Circle of the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals.

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • Transitioning from another career into professional organizing
  • Pros and cons of subcontracting under established organizers when you are just starting out
  • Great PR starts with believing in what you do, then letting media and other influencers know about it
  • How to grow a speaking and productivity coaching business
  • Tips on getting your name out there when you move to a new area
  • How raising your profile begets more opportunities to raise your profile
  • Understanding different kinds of legal business entities and which one is right for you
  • How to protect both yourself and your client in a business relationship “Let go to grow”
  • Why delegating and outsourcing tasks is a path to exponential growth in your business.

NAPO Podcast

There is a practice that I have been using for years when it comes to my schedule and how I allocate my time. It is a habit I started doing years ago because I am very calendar-focused. I pretty much put everything on my calendar. And by everything, I mean even activities that most people wouldn’t think belong on a calendar. Most people schedule in appointments and planned phone calls, both personal and professional. They also layer on social events, such as parties to attend. But they almost never think to add activities on their calendar such as exercise, meals, sleep, hobbies, errands, etc. Those activities often seem too personal, or are solitary activities and, therefore, often don’t get precious space on the calendar, which means they get placed at the bottom of the priority order.

For years, it seemed natural to me to give space on my calendar to activities that most people typically don’t include. And I started mentioning this to my clients when doing time management and productivity coaching. I also started teaching this tool to my audiences when conducting a speaking engagement about time management and calendar planning. And what I have noticed is that it resonates with many people!

I’ve seen clients and audience members adopt this practice and it has resulted in major shifts in the way they spend their time. It gives them permission to focus on the activities that often don’t get enough attention. They wind up getting more sleep, eating healthier meals (and not skipping meals!), getting their exercise in, and engaging in hobbies and passions and other pursuits that they don’t usually make time for.

Could a simple practice of putting an activity on your calendar really make such a difference? The answer is yes. A resounding yes. But don’t only take my word for it.

Neil Fiore, the author of the book The Now Habit (which is a great little book about how to beat procrastination) calls this practice The Unschedule. Unscheduling is a massive shift in thinking from how most of us use calendars and schedules. It gives structure to unstructured activities and tasks. Instead of starting to build your calendar out the typical way, which is to first place the structured activities on your calendar (meetings, appointments, social obligations, etc.), you reverse your calendar and begin with the unstructured activities.

The premise behind the Unschedule is that you need (and deserve) at least one hour of play and relaxation a day, and at least one day off of work a week. You schedule the unstructured activities first, such as sleep, meals, exercise, commuting to work, hobbies, and other blocks of time you must expend each day. Then you layer on top of those activities everything else. The everything else activities are often the need to do, have to do, should do types of activities, whereas the Unschedule activities are often the want to do and love to do activities.

Can everyone do this? Yes, but to an extent. To be fair, if your calendar is so chock full with work, obligations, and other activities that there is no room for unstructured activities to be added, then this would be a tough practice to try to implement. However, let that be a wake up call. You could start a small version of the Unschedule by at least adding a proper amount of sleep and actual meal times so you no longer eat on the run or skip meals altogether. In time, you could aim to add in some exercise and other activities to start giving yourself some more me-time on your own calendar.

The key to the Unschedule really working is that you don’t only add the unstructured activities to your schedule, but you honor them. My clients and audiences have heard me talk about this often. Honor appointments with yourself the same way you would honor an appointment with anyone else. If you see a slot on your calendar is taken up with an unstructured activity that only involves you, and you immediately give that slot away because it is only “me time” after all, then the Unschedule loses its effectiveness. That’s really the beauty of the Unschedule. YOU get to be a priority on your own calendar, in your own schedule, and in your own life. That is the true power of the Unschedule as a worthy time management tool.

Try to Unschedule your calendar by adding in some unstructured activities and see how it feels. I hope you love the results!

Around this time of year when we flip the calendar from one year to the next, most people make a long list of New Year’s Resolutions. It is a noble idea in theory, but often in practice, doesn’t amount to much. Resolutions often get cast aside and discarded, making their creators feel inadequate and unproductive.

So why not skip the New Year’s Resolutions altogether this time and opt for an alternative New Year’s ritual: the One-Word Theme!

I find it helps me to choose a word to give me an over-arching theme for the new year. For many people, the one word approach feels more manageable and powerful than a laundry list of New Year’s Resolutions which can often feel like another to-do list. One word is ideal. It gives you focus.

I believe that choosing a word for the year is so compelling because it takes the “should” out of our wish for personal and professional development. Our word serves as a gentle (but powerful!) reminder, rather than a drill sergeant barking orders at us.

I’ve been following this one word theme for years now.

  • In 2011, my word was Implement. Boy, did I implement that year as I changed my business brand and model, and went with my husband on 13 interviews around the U.S. to choose a place for him to do a residency and for us to relocate to from NY.
  • My word in 2012 was Change as we relocated across country from New York to California and completely changed our lives and I expanded my business.
  • In 2013, my word was Discover as I acclimated to living in Northern California and embraced our new life. I took Italian classes, became a “real” cyclist, got back on stage with local theater groups, and more.
  • In 2014, my word was Presence as a reminder to live in the moment and savor all of the experiences personally and professionally that I was blessed to have in my life.
  • In 2015, my word was Adventure. My husband finished his 3-year veterinary residency and we spent a month in beautiful Italy. What an adventure indeed!!
  • In 2016, my word was Savor. It was a great reminder to slow down and enjoy life more. I renewed my life-long hobbies of reading and writing. I read 84 books that year and started writing creatively again.
  • In 2017, I chose Creativity and loved it! I started writing my first novel, attended some amazing writer conferences, and brought a creative flair to everything I did, personally and professionally.

For 2018, I’ve chosen the word Embrace. It took a little bit of time to reveal itself, but once it did, I realized it was the right word and theme for this year. I plan to embrace my favorite hobbies such as reading and writing, embrace my health, embrace my marriage, embrace my business, and yes, even embrace my age (I am turning 50 at the end of January… yikes! How did that happen?!).

I love how Embrace makes me feel like I am enjoying what I have, while reaching for what I want. It feels positive and proactive. It feels like it will push me outside my comfort zone, but not so far that I lose sight of what I already have that needs to be embraced.

When I posted on social media about this one-word approach, I got a huge response to my appeal for people to share their word of the new year. People’s comments were very inspiring and thought-provoking. Interestingly, people often share that they experience a little resistance to their word at first. Or were surprised at their word. Or hoped that something bigger or better had come to mind. Try not to resist the word that presents itself to you!

The word you choose is usually the exact one that you need to be reminded of throughout the year. And by the way, the one word theme is not a cop out! It doesn’t mean that you won’t accomplish anything or fail to take action. From what I have seen with the one-word theme, you will. But many of us don’t need another to-do list. We need a theme, a rallying cry, a mantra, an affirmation, a reminder. Your one word can serve all of those purposes and more if you give it some serious thought, choose wisely (or better yet, let your word choose you!), and then keep that word front and center in your mind, guiding your actions and behavior during the year.

So… what is your one word for 2018? I’d love to hear it. Please send me an email or even better, share in the comments below so others can be inspired too!

Happy New Year!

So what is the “The Brand Called You”?

You are a brand. Your personal brand is a way of communicating what is inherently you. Your experience, background, education, methodology, personality, etc.

How do you figure out your personal brand?

There are many ways, but I’m going to give you one exercise.

In the book Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, which also was made into a movie starring Julia Roberts, every time Liz, the main character, went to a location, she tried to come up with a word to capture the brand of that location. For example, if I recall correctly, her brand word for Rome was Sex (or maybe Passion!). And at one point, someone turned the tables on her and asked her, “Liz, what’s your word?” And she was stumped. Part of the reason she couldn’t come up with her word at that point was she had lost touch with who she was, and needed to dig deeper, which she does as her journey progresses. But another part of that may have been that it is awfully hard to come up with just one word to describe your entire overall personal brand!

So I’m asking you to come up with 5.

5 words that capture what is uniquely you — your Personal Brand.

For some of you, this still may be difficult.

If you can’t come up with 5 words yourself, then pay attention to how others perceive you. Ask family, friends, colleagues and clients for 5 words that describe you. Please only ask those that will be your “believing eyes.” If you own a business, look at your client testimonials for patterns of words and phrases that repeat themselves. If you are employed in a workplace setting, look at your job evaluations and letters of reference. If you are just getting out o f college, look at your letters of recommendation. You get the picture. You are trying to find the words that others have used to describe your personal brand.

Here are my 5 words: Professional, Intelligent, Warm, Sassy, Productive.

Try to come up with a mix of words that exhibit both hard and soft skills, or tap into left and right brain characteristics. We are all made up of both, so mixing up the 5 words for your brand is a nice way to demonstrate your multi-facetted personality and help you to appear less one dimensional. For example, in my words, you will see that intelligent, professional and productive capture more of my left brain side and hard skills, while warm and sassy capture my more creative, right brain side and soft skills.

A really powerful exercise is to come up with 5 words for someone else.

I was doing this exercise for an organization at one of my speaking engagements earlier this year, and one of the participants raised her hand and said “I got nothing. I can’t think of any words for me.” So I looked around at her colleagues and asked if any of them had some words for her. Slowly, they started calling out words, and we could see that some of them overlapped and some themes started to emerge. It was very powerful to watch the effect it had on her as she learned what her peers considered to be her personal brand.

So I challenge you to list your 5 words. Make sure they truly capture your essence, personality, and what makes you uniquely you.

The next step is to start examining your life and work to make sure that your 5 words match how you showcase your brand to the world. Would someone be able to guess your 5 words? Immediately upon meeting you? Or at least after getting to know you further? If so, your external brand matches your internal brand. If not, your external brand is incongruent with who you really are. This can cause confusion, make others feel disc onnected to you, and result in your appearing inauthentic.

So think of your personal brand as an opportunity to have a deeper internal conversation that says who you are on many levels. Don’t miss that opportunity! Welcome that conversation. Start it with 5 words.

You have probably heard the phrase, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. Some of you may live by that mantra. Others may feel the fear and let it paralyze them, never taking risks, living a life of safety and complacency. Fear is a natural emotion that we all feel at times, and that can keep us safe when facing danger or something that we are ill prepared for. Fear can prompt us to do more research when embarking on a new venture, and it can serve as the impetus for better planning. But fear can sometimes also stop us dead in our tracks, serving as a barrier to personal and professional growth. Is there a happy medium? Yes!

The Intersection of Fear and Excitement

When clients come to me for coaching around specific issues that they want to do or try but fear is holding them back, I almost always coach them around the intersection of fear and excitement. Let me demonstrate.

Think about something you would like to do, try, or embark on that you haven’t yet because fear has reared its ugly head. For one reason or another, you have fear around trying this activity, doing this task, or embarking on this journey. It makes no difference whether it is personal or professional. It could be as big as starting a new business, changing jobs, or relocating, or a smaller undertaking like startin g a blog or trying a new hobby.

Now, see if you also have excitement around trying this task, activity or new journey. Can you answer yes to the excitement part? If so, great! If you were to look at this potential undertaking as a pie, how much of your reaction and emotion around doing it is fear and how much is excitement? In order for you to overcome the fear, there has to be some excitement to balance it out! And if excitement is a bigger piece of the pie, even better. You will be able to move forward with more confidence knowing that your excitement will help guide the way and cancel out some of the fear.

What if the fear is an overwhelmingly larger piece of the pie than excitement? Does this mean you are doomed to stay stuck forever? Not necessarily. You may not have done enough research or due diligence to get excited about it yet. Excitement often comes when we can start to actually “see” our dreams and future plans take shape, and that can take more time to work out in our minds before the excitement sets in. But if you never feel any excitement about this undertaking and fear is the big black cloud hanging over this, chances are, it is either not the right path for you… or your fear is too large to overcome at this time. So then, what do you do?

Do a Trial Run

You can do a trial run of your undertaking but in a way that feels safer, and perhaps smaller. For example, before opening your business, spend some time interning or shadowing a professional that does what you want to do for a living. This will give you a taste of what it would be like to be a business owner doing that work be fore you actually start it. Likewise, if you want to write a book, but fear keeps holding you back, start by writing a blog or a series of articles. Usually, doing a smaller version or trial run of the undertaking will quell some of the fear and get you pumped up!

Just Do It

In the words of the popular Nike advertising campaign, just do it! Yes, I mean it. Just close both eyes and dive into the deep end. Or in my case, keep your eyes wide open and hands on the wheel, as my fear was driving over bridges. I love to drive and have been doing so since my teenage years. I drive long distances and cover a lot of miles for speaking engagements and personal travel. However, for years, I was afraid of driving over bridges. Strangely enough, I am not afraid of heights, but something about bridges just freaked me out. So what did I do? I drove over a lot of bridges! It helped allay my fears, “conditioned” me to get used to it, and realize I can do it successfully. Doing the actual activity that I was afraid of took a lot of the power out of the fear that I had been giving to it. The fear got less and less until one day I was driving over a bridge a few years ago and realized I no longer felt the fear.

Did I develop excitement about driving over bridges? I wouldn’t go that far! But I did get excited about where driving over bridges could take me. I have become a huge fan of road trips and take them often.

So, what would you do if you could overcome your fear? Figure out if your pie includes at least equal parts excitement and then take a big old bite out of it and dig in!

Come join me in Pittsburgh on April 27th from 8:30-10 am for the Spotlight Consulting Interactive: Business Consulting in Action session of the 2017 National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) Conference.

How would you like to be a fly on the wall during a business consulting session? This interactive learning opportunity will feature role plays of a business consultant and client in action. Learn the process of business consulting, including gathering information, active listening skills, asking probing questions, reframing, evaluating, problem solving, and offering customized solutions. Discover your peer’s business challenges while also gaining business consulting process skills to use with your clients in the future.

Objectives:

  1. Learn about business challenges that other attendees are facing that are selected for role plays during the session.
  2. Watch several role plays of a business consulting spotlight session and learn about the various stages, skills, and steps involved.
  3. Have the opportunity to ask questions of the business consultant about the underlying subject matter of the challenges presented, as well as the business consulting process.
  4. Be given the opportunity to practice business consulting skills with a partner or with the presenter.
  5. Gain confidence in your business based on the challenges presented and solutions offered, as well as confidence in business consulting skills to use with clients in the future.

Looking forward to seeing you in Pittsburgh! 

Learn more about the NAPO 2017 Conference and register to attend here.

Around this time of year when we flip the calendar from one year to the next, most people make a long list of New Year’s Resolutions. It is a noble idea in theory, but often in practice, doesn’t amount to much. Resolutions often get cast aside and discarded, making their creators feel inadequate and unproductive.

So why not skip the New Year’s Resolutions altogether this time and opt for an alternative New Year’s ritual: the One-Word Theme!

I find it helps me to choose a word to give me an over-arching theme in the new year. For many people, the one word approach feels more manageable and powerful than a laundry list of New Year’s Resolutions which can often feel like another to-do list. One word is ideal. It gives you focus.

I believe that choosing a word f or the year is so compelling because it takes the “should” out of our wish for personal and professional development. Our word serves as a gentle (but powerful!) reminder, rather than a drill sergeant barking orders at us.

I’ve been following this one word theme for years now.

  • In 2011, my word was Implement. Boy, did I implement that year as I changed my business brand and model, and went with my husband on 13 interviews around the U.S. to choose a place for him to do a residency and for us to relocate to from NY).
  • My word in 2012 was Change as we relocated across country from New York to California and completely changed our lives and I expanded my business.
  • In 2013, my word was Discover as I acclimated to living in Northern California and embraced our new life. I took Italian classes, became a “real” cyclist, got back on stage with local theater groups, and more.
  • In 2014, my word was Presence as a reminder to live in the moment and savor all of the experiences personally and professionally that I was blessed to have in my life.
  • In 2015, my word was Adventure. My husband finished his 3-year veterinary residency and we spent a month in beautiful Italy. What an adventure indeed!! 
  • In 2016, my word was Savor. It was a great reminder to slow down and enjoy life more. I renewed my life-long hobbies of reading and writing. I read 84 books last year and started writing creatively again. 

For 2017, I’ve chosen the word Creativity. It came to me quickly and clearly. And yes, I plan to pursue the creative endeavor of writing a novel based on memoir, as well as some short stories. But I also plan to apply Creativity to many areas of my life and business. Creativity can infuse a lot of what we do, what we create, what we grow and nurture. I love that idea and will use this word as a constant reminder throughout the year to be my most creative self in every way.

When I posted on social media about this one-word approach, I got a huge response to my appeal for people to share their word of the new year. People’s comments were very inspiring and thought-provoking. Interestingly, people often share that they experienced a little resistance to their word at first. Or were surprised at their word. Or hoped that something bigger or better had come to mind. Try not to resist the word that presents itself to you!

The word you choose is usually the exact one that you need to be reminded of throughout the year.

And by the way, the one word theme is not a cop out! It doesn’t mean that you won’t accomplish anything or fail to take action. From what I have seen with the one-word theme, you will. But many of us don’t need another to-do list. We nee d a theme, a rallying cry, a mantra, an affirmation, a reminder. Your one word can serve all of those purposes and more if you give it some serious thought, choose wisely (or better yet, let your word choose you!), and then keep that word front and center in your mind, guiding your actions and behavior during the year.

So… what is your one word or theme for 2017? I’d love to hear it. Please send me an email or even better, share in the comments on my blog so others can be inspired too!

Happy New Year!

So excited to share this video of the highlights from the Brazilian Professional Organizers Conference where I was the international keynote speaker in June 2016. What an impressive event! It’s such a great example of how professional organizing is exploding as an industry worldwide.

I had the pleasure of being a guest expert on Fox 40 News Morning Show in Sacramento on August 15, 2016 to discuss the power of personal and professional branding.

I was interviewed by Mae Fesai about what makes up your personal brand and what this means for your career and any future job searches or business marketing. We also discussed how big of a role social media and your online presence plays in defining your personal and professional brand, and that you have a responsibility today to mold, protect and promote your overall brand.

Watch the segment below: