Maybe your to-do list isn’t ambitious enough

There’s a lot written about to-do lists. How to do them better, why you shouldn’t do them at all, ideas for taking stuff off them, ideas for adding things to them and so on. It’s a popular topic in the productivity literature.

I’ll admit, I’m a little obsessed with these articles and generally click on lots of them.

So, I couldn’t resist an article titled Leonardo’s To-Do List is Much Cooler Than Yours. It’s a fun read. And I think the takeaway is that the issue is not how much is on your list, but WHAT is on your list. Is your to-do list interesting enough? Do you look at it and think “Yeah, I can’t wait to do these things” or do you look at it and sigh?

Before you spend a lot of time writing down what you HAVE to do, think about what you want to do. Really, really want to do. Then write those things down. Now you will have a to-do list as cool, as interesting, as ambitious as Da Vinci. Try it.

Megyn Kelly Shows Us How You Can Have a Big Career and a Life

Megyn Kelly chose NBC over Fox News, in part, for work/life balance reasons. NBC offered her a daytime slot which would allow her to have dinner with her family more regularly.

What’s interesting is that Claire Zillman reports in Fortune that this isn’t the first time Kelly has made a career move for the sake of her family. She quit a lucrative legal career, with its crushing hours, for a $17,000 entry-level job on television news, because she perceived a journalism career to offer more flexibility.

Two points I feel compelled to make. First, journalism is actually not famous for being a family-friendly endeavor. The hours can be just as crushing, without the upside of big salaries, and can often require big moves to find the next great opportunity. Second, while law is famous for chasing out smart, talented women, there are certainly ways to make a law career work for your life. I know women who go into private practice, for example, so they can have more control over their life and work.

What I like about the Kelly story, though, is that it advances the idea that you can make a career “sacrifice” for the sake of your family that still allows you to have a big and fulfilling career. She left the law, in part, because she didn’t find it very “interesting.” The fact that it also made it impossible for her to be the kind of mother she may have been a big factor in her move, but I bet she would have quit law anyway. By moving into journalism she found a career she liked more, was better at, and got herself into a position where she can could negotiate the kinds of jobs that also allow her to have the kind of life she wants.

So often the media narrative around career sacrifice for the sake of family — a sacrifice almost exclusively made by women, of course — posits the idea that our heroine must pare back her ambitions. Ideally she quits, because that’s really the only response we can imagine when a woman is working crushing hours and not seeing her children and has had enough. If she doesn’t quit then she takes a job that is somehow “less” — has less responsibility and power, requires fewer hours and less energy.

There’s nothing wrong, of course, with paring back on career in favor of family. It’s a choice many women, and some men, make and it works for them. There are all kinds of ways to build a life and many definitions of success.

But I think what Kelly’s story illustrates, for me, is that when you decide that BOTH your family and your career are important it opens up a lot more possibility. Yes, there are still a lot of systemic problems that make it unnecessarily difficult for working parents to balance their home obligations with their professional ones. But it’s even harder when you are told by the culture, over and over, how very hard it is. So hard that you probably can’t do it and shouldn’t even try.

I don’t make tens of millions of dollars a year as a television journalist. But I do have a big, interesting career. I’m building a nonprofit from scratch. I work hard. I travel pretty frequently — I logged more than 50,000 air miles in 2016. But I also have dinner with my children most nights of the week. I spend weekends seeing movies, taking them to the zoo and doing other fun stuff. My husband is also home most nights and takes on many tasks that aren’t typical. For example, he is 100% in charge of setting up our daughter’s summer camp. He also has a big and demanding career. We have a rich, full life. It’s not always easy but it isn’t miserable either. On the contrary, it’s filled with a lot of joy — both personally and professionally.

Forget Resolutions: Focus on Habits and Projects

No matter how many articles get written about how resolutions don’t work, come January, everyone is making resolutions. And they keep making resolutions the same way, year after year.

This year I am going to try something different. I broke down what I want for myself in 2017 into two buckets — habits and projects.

Habits: I imagine you know what a habit is and these are what, for many people, would be traditional resolutions. Get to the gym, eat better — that sort of thing. For me, in 2017, I’ve decided to focus on a few habits that I want to cultivate this year. I have set goals for myself for each of them, but I’ve also decided that my real goal is to track myself against these habits. The idea is to figure out what works and what doesn’t so that it can really become a habit — something I no longer need to think about and track because it just works. I’ve picked 5 habits that I want to track, which is probably too many. But since I’ve only committed to tracking them, at least for January, I think it’s okay. Also, they are habits across a few different dimensions that are aimed at, yes, getting me to the gym, but also reading more books, getting more massages (!), making more connections and planning better weekends with my family.

Projects: These are anything that have an end. Unlike habits, projects are not about making an ongoing change. Certain projects have a tendency to languish on my task lists forever. Generally projects that would be good to do (paint the apartment, declutter my wardrobe) but aren’t a must-do. Right now I have a list of seven projects, but that will change over the course of the year as I complete some, add others and choose to ditch some.

Next I need to set some timelines around the projects so they don’t just languish again. Some are timebound (my sister is getting married in June!) so those will happen. The ones I need to think about a bit are the ones that aren’t — like revamping my home office and seeing a dermatologist.

I’ll report back at the end of January on how it’s going, especially on the habits.

Art Appreciation with Maddie

Maddie didn’t have school today but Sam did. So she and I went to MoMA to see the monumental Picasso Sculpture exhibit. I’d seen it with a friend earlier in the week, which was good — it’s hard to fully take in an exhibit while also helping a kid experience it. Seeing it with her after seeing it on my own was perfect. And boy did she love it.

We got her one of the audio guides. I wasn’t sure if she’d like that, but she really got into it. To the point that she mostly focused on the pieces that had audio. She especially loved the ones that had audio geared toward kids. At points I watched her nodding along with the audio and then saying “Oh! I see it!” in response to something the curator was pointing out.

Seeing art with a kid is a revelation. Some of her observations were just amazing. Of a sculpture of a woman’s head she said “From this angle she looks kind, from this angle she looks crazy and from that angle she looks serious.” She also noticed that the gallery that had the sculptures from Picasso’s years in occupied Paris was darker (dark gray walls, dimmer lighting) than the other galleries and that it felt “scary.” Quote: “This room is a little like dum, dum, duuuuuum …”

She was less impressed with Andy Warhol’s Soup Cans. She stood in the dead center of the room, ringed by the paintings, and declared “This is dumb” in a voice loud enough that Warhol himself may have heard her. She did like the Marilyns.

At dinner she wanted to share her experience with Sam so we played some of the audio clips from the MoMA app. One of the kids clips mentioned Picasso’s idea that all children start out as artists, that the problem was how to stay an artist when you grow up. Maddie looked at me solemnly, with the wisdom of her nearly 8 years, and said “It’s hard.”

Must Reads from the New York Times

The Times has had a bunch of goodies recently, two from someone I know, which is a thrill in itself.

How Some Men Fake an 80-Hour Workweek, and Why It Matters: This piece, which ran in the Upshot, is fascinating and something I’ve noticed, in different forms, for a long time. People (who are usually women) who ask for flexibility and other family-friendly accommodations get punished with lower performances reviews. Those who figure out how to get flexibility without asking for it (who tend to be men) are rewarded with flexibility AND higher performance scores. There’s lessons here for people who want to be high performers AND good parents, but I think there are business lessons here, too. Face time doesn’t count: say it with me. Yes, it’s actually harder to measure results than hours, but it’s better for everyone. And leads to overall higher performance.

80-Hour Work Week? This is How She (or He) Does It: KJ Dell’Antonia takes the Upshot piece and builds on it, connecting it to the upcoming book I Know How She Does It by Laura Vanderkam. This book comes out on June 9 and it’s at the top of my dying-to-read list.

My friend Taffy Brodesser-Akner is an extraordinary talent. If you love great writing, follow her. Everything she writes is magical.

Two cases-in-point:

With Drybar, a Curly-Haired Girl Wages a Global War on Frizz: A really fun feature (and one of the few decent business stories I’ve seen in the Times in a LONG time) about the blowout-bar trend. Full of many delicious lines that I won’t ruin for you, but there’s also a great marketing lesson. The founder of Drybar aptly notes that she is NOT selling blowouts (the feature) but is actually selling “happiness and confidence” (the benefit). Genius.

Meanwhile, her profile of Kris Jenner in this weekend’s Magazine is just awesome. And a great lesson about looking around you, figuring out what your resources are and working them.

Make a fabulous introduction

Everyone knows that networking is the way to get ahead in the world. This truth only gets more true in our increasingly connected, but also unequal, world.

Everyone also knows that networking, for most of us, kind of sucks.

There is a ton of great advice out there about how to network without networking. It’s worth seeking out. But one tactic that has worked for me is making fabulous introductions.

So let’s start with a basic principle: connecting begets connections. When you connect two people for their mutual benefit you become known as the connector. People will often return the favor, either when asked or even unprompted. Also, connecting people you know actually expands your network in all kinds of interesting ways.

That’s the why. Let’s now move to the how. Because let’s face it, anyone can send an email that says “Jen, please meet Jason. Jason, please meet Jennifer” and maybe include a few lines about how you think each will benefit the other.

I take a different approach that both ensures that both people want to meet each other and that both people are super happy they know me.

My introductions go something like this:

“Jen, please meet Jason who is one of the most fabulously talented designers I’ve ever met. He and I worked on a research study together and the way he used graphics to help tell our story was compelling, understandable and beautiful.

Jason, please meet Jen who is a diva of event management. Jen and I were colleagues at Acme, Corp. and she put on a customer symposium that absolutely wowed our biggest clients. She’s looking for some new designs for her next great event and I immediately thought of you.”

I think you can probably see, instantly, why this works. Who wouldn’t want to be introduced this way? It’s specific, it’s actionable (I know why I’m meeting this person), it’s true (it goes without saying, but I’ll say it, that bullshit gets you nowhere in this world). And you’ve left a fabulous impression on both of the people you are introducing – of each other and of you!

By the way, if you are reading this and thinking “No way can I pull that off, I would sound fake” let me assure you that the adjectives are optional. This is my style – it fits me and people who know me well know I only say it when I mean it. I’ve actually decided this is part of my personal brand – I can’t worry about people who will read it wrong because I am focused on people who love this about me. I’m a little over the top, but I don’t lie.

But the fact is the same type of introduction could work, even toned down to match a more reserved style. The point is to focus on exactly what you think makes these two people want to meet – what do you like about each of them and what do you think they bring to the table? Write that – clearly and specifically – and you will make a great impression, whatever your style.

Maddie has a loose tooth

She is not very patient when it comes to things like this and has often reached into her mouth and pulled out wayward teeth. Second, Tami Monahan Forman is traveling this week and when she is away we often have a special treat, usually pizza and Greek salad, one night (yes, I can cook). This week I suggested we go out for tacos.

Conversation 1: “I have a plan about tacos. If I still have a loose tooth, I’ll have soft tacos. If I lose the tooth, it will be hard tacos.”

Conversation 2: “I think the Tooth Fairy knows that I pull teeth out sometimes. It hurts,” she said.

“Well, she has been in business for many years,” I said.

“Yeah, she knows what happens,” she said.

Maddie pulled the tooth out before brushing her teeth and going to bed. “I just couldn’t deal with this anymore.”

I run, therefore I am a runner

I have a very long, strange and convoluted history with running. To fully appreciate it, you have to understand that as a kid I hated all athletics. I really hated team sports, but I wasn’t much of a fan of things like running either.

Post-college I joined a gym because that seemed like something you should do. And like most women I was obsessed with my weight. I started running a bit, but I hated it. I walked instead which I never found really compelling. My relationship with all things athletic moved from hate-hate to love-hate, but also became very on-again, off-again.

Then in my  late 20s I lost a bunch of weight. About 20 pounds. The first time I got on the treadmill after that I was amazed. Running felt AWESOME. Suddenly I realized the most obvious truth — running is for skinny people. (Cue irony.)

The on-again, off-again relationship with running continued into my very early 30s. About 7 years ago I started running outside (previously I’d almost exclusively run on treadmills) and I began to think that maybe I was a runner, as opposed to someone who occasionally runs.

Then came the fertility carousel — trying to get pregnant, REALLY trying to get pregnant, being pregnant, being post-partum and nursing, trying to get pregnant again, being pregnant again, being post-partum and nursing again, being a working mom with two kids under three. Gah. I’m exhausted just typing that. Buh-bye 30s! Was nice knowing you.

Then, last spring the stars started to align. I got back out on the road. And it all just CLICKED. Running didn’t feel good — it felt great. I was finding weird slices of time to squeeze in runs. (My personal favorite remains 7pm — if Preston is home to handle bedtime I hit the road after dinner, get back by 8, take a quick shower then get onto my computer to catch up on work for a few hours. It works only in the spring and summer and very early fall until I lose the light.) Running wasn’t something I was tolerating for the sake of some theoretical health principle. I wanted to run. I am not particularly good at it. At my best I can do about 4 miles in a little under 45 minutes. But I love it. It clears my mind, makes my body feel good and soothes my soul.

Life was good. Until it wasn’t.

Over the summer my foot started to hurt. At first a little, then a lot. I thought maybe it was plantar fasciitis. Fortunately not, just bad feet. I’ve been wearing orthotics for about a week. Today I went on my first run in a few months. My foot felt great. The rest of me — let’s just say I think I’m going to pay for this in the morning. I only eked out about 2.5 miles. But I see a light at the end of the tunnel and hopefully can get back on the road soon.

It certainly has been a long, strange trip.

iVillage: A Eulogy

Mediabistro reported today that iVillage will be shut down as a standalone site and will be folded into Today.com, and NBC property.

It seems odd now, and maybe even a bit quaint, the idea that you needed a special place on the internet for women. But in 1995 it was Candice Carpenter and Nancy Evans who seemed odd to nearly everyone working in Silicon Alley at the time. Wait, you want to build a website for women?

The idea seemed crazy because no women were on the internet. I don’t remember the numbers and it doesn’t matter, but suffice to say they were low.

But Candice and Nancy had a theory. The theory was simple: women don’t go on the internet because there is nothing there for them. If we build it, they will come.

And come they did. By the thousands and eventually by the millions. Women who wanted to get pregnant, get promoted, get laid, get dinner on the table. The reasons were as varied as their lives, but they found on iVillage things that made it worth the trouble to log on — content, community, commerce. These are still the things that make the internet go ’round. It’s just that they are now available in so many places, in so many varieties. And we now have an entire cohort of girls and women who don’t even remember a time when women didn’t go on the internet.

As a former iVillager (I was there from 1999 until about 2002) I am definitely sad. But can I be a little weirdly happy, too? Happy, at least, that it’s no longer odd that women would want to be on the internet. Happy that we don’t need a “special” place. We’ve taken over the whole damn place. There are still too few of women running the show (cue Sheryl Sandberg), but the influence of women on the internet is unquestioned. If you are building a website today and you aren’t expecting women to visit you are likely building single-shooter games or porn. And maybe not even then.

I was only at iVillage for two years — it will amount to a blip on my CV by the end of my career. But in those crazy go-go years a lot happened, and that job likely changed the trajectory of my career in ways that led, somewhat indirectly, to what I do today. I worked with amazing women (and a few amazing men, too). And through message boards and email I “met” and got to know even more amazing women. They were the true pioneers of the internet — the women who came and shared their lives, their secrets, their longings. Way before everyone shared everything with everyone, these women found a way to truly connect through the computer in ways that never failed to take my breath away.

So good-bye, iVillage. Those of us who knew you, and helped build you, will never forget what you did for us and for so many more. And we can’t help but thank you for the part you played in creating a world that made you obsolete.