When Kristin Cobble and I were starting Groupaya, we spent a lot of time discussing the kind of culture we wanted as an organization. In particular, we both felt strongly about the importance of integrating personal development into our daily work lives.
In order to meet this goal, Kristin designed a collective process for us based on Daniel Ofman’s Core Quality Framework. The premise of the framework is that our biggest pitfalls are our greatest strengths (our “core qualities”) taken to an extreme. We all reflected about ourselves and about each other using the framework as a guide. It was enlightening to compare the differences in perception.
For example, I identified my drive to learn as my core quality. Too much of that led to dabbling and lack of focus — my pitfall. Kristin and Rebecca Petzel, on the other hand, both chose to focus on my high standards as my core quality. My corresponding pitfall was my tendency to drive myself and my team mercilessly when my standards weren’t being met. They wanted me to be more accepting when people made mistakes and more patient with people’s learning curves.
As we explored this further, we agreed that I actually wasn’t bad at these things. I had evolved these skills through lots of practice over the years. The problem was that these were not natural qualities for me, and when I was stressed or tired (which was often during my stint at Groupaya), Grumpy Eugene would come out of his cave.
Each of us had to commit to a practice to help counteract our pitfalls. Because I was generally good at being patient when I was taking care of myself, I committed to self-care. And the way I would do that was to commit to playing basketball once a week.
I had asked my friend, Lisa Heft, to work with me as a coach the previous year. One of the things I realized from that work was that when I’m playing basketball regularly, I’m generally happy and centered. Needless to say, I was not playing regularly at the time, much less exercising at all. I figured that committing to basketball once-a-week was more than reasonable, easily trackable, and would pay off big.
Despite all that, I got off to a bad start in 2012. We were swamped with the usual challenges of running a business and dealing with client work, and as usual, I neglected my self-care practices. What was different this time was that I felt bad about my neglect, because I had made a commitment to my team, and I wasn’t living up to it.
In order to turn this around, I decided to track my progress in a simple Google Spreadsheet, and to share this with my colleagues, so that they could check up on my progress anytime. I had a row for each week of 2012, and a column for the number of times I had played basketball that week.
The simple act of tracking in the open had a transformative effect on my practice. It forced me to think about the practice regularly, and it allowed me to see in very concrete ways how I was doing.
Over the next several months, I evolved my spreadsheet to incorporate new practices and learning. For example, I wouldn’t always play basketball, but I would sometimes go on runs or long walks, and while that wasn’t as good as basketball, it was definitely good for me (and my colleagues) overall. So I started tracking that too.
I eventually added two more practices to my spreadsheet: turning off work email in the evenings and on weekends, and taking play days in the middle of the week. Every time I did one of my practices, I gave myself a point. Using a line graph, I charted the total number of points per week as well as the four-week running average.
I also added a notes section for context. There were weeks that were restorative despite not doing any of my practices, and I wanted to be sure I noted that. There were weeks when I was traveling or sick.
The chart essentially became my personal dashboard, and my practices became almost a game — keep the line above 1 (my commitment to my team). It was very challenging for me to maintain that on my own, so I started incorporating other tricks such as signing up for a fitness bootcamp.
Moreover, the chart helped my interactions with my team tremendously. Whenever I would get frustrated at somebody, before I unloaded those frustrations, I would first check my dashboard to see if I had been taking care of myself. I often found in those situations that I hadn’t, and it was a signal to me that I should go for a run before I said anything to anybody.
I have found the dashboard so valuable, I have continued the practice. Here’s what this year’s spreadsheet looks like:
Notice the different colors indicating whether or not I did a practice that week. Here’s what the corresponding line chart looks like:
As you can see, the four-week running average is a better indicator of my state of self-care at any point in time than my number for that week or of the overall average. You can also see that I’ve been doing very well with my practices over the past few months. If I were to compare this chart to last year’s numbers, you would see that I’m taking much better care of myself this year than last.
I’ve made the Google Spreadsheet template available for anyone to copy and adapt as he or she sees fit. I’ve also put together a screencast that quickly walks through how to use and customize the dashboard. Post your questions or thoughts below, and if you decide to use or adapt it, please let me know, as I’d love to hear how it’s working for you!