Working hard vs. hardly working

In the last couple weeks, I’ve talked to a number of people about working hard vs. hardly working.  Mostly it’s been men (probably because men make up about 75 percent of my client list). We’ve been talking about their dads and how they learned hard work was good work, respectable work, the “right” kind of work.”

And while that advice isn’t bad or wrong, I think we’ve taken it to an unhealthy extreme in our modern world.

On my reading list is Arianna Huffington’s new book Thrive. I’ve read a number of blog posts about it and one quote keeps popping up:

“There is a stubborn and dangerously wrongheaded myth that there is a trade-off between high performance at work and taking care of ourselves.”

Here’s the thing: after working with hundreds of business owners over the last 11+ years, I wholeheartedly agree with her.

It’s why I’m so passionate about what I’m creating with my Make Some Room Rendezvous, Retreat, and Revolution.

I still believe that hard work is good work. I also believe that making time to rest and recharge, that taking care of ourselves, is vitally important for each and every one of us.

And why I believe that making time to take care of ourselves doesn’t have to negatively affect our performance at work. In fact, taking care of ourselves supports our high performance at work!

See, 100 years ago, we were more in touch with nature and her rhythms. We got up with the sun and “hit the hay” early. With minimal artificial lighting, it was hard to do much “productive” work after the sun went down.

And 100 years ago, we didn’t have artificially controlled environments. Without A/C and central heat, life was…ummmm…less comfortable.

Our modern conveniences have us locked into houses, cars, and work spaces buildings which are comfortable 24/7. Our lights works 24/7. And sometimes, this encourages us to stay connected and work 24/7.

Let me be clear: I do not want to get rid of central heat/air or electricity. Or my car (although I would consider trading it for an electric bike) or my stove or my indoor plumbing. I LOVE THEM. (Although you know me and sometimes I’m very content living without them.)

What I do want to do is help you restore some balance to your work/life.

I do want you to #UNPLUG and reclaim your nights and weekends for play, rest and relationships. I do want you to make some room in your schedule to be creative and use your imagination. I do want you to work sane hours on the right work that makes you feel ALIVE.

Not working is not the opposite of hard work. There is a balance to be found.

If you’re not sure where to begin, I can help.

Make Some Room,


The “Meez” (or why the first 10 minutes matter)

I recently learned there’s something about why the first 10 minutes matter in commercial kitchens. I’d never heard of this, yet read the most renowned chefs do it and are almost fanatical about the ritual.

And I find it fascinating because I do it, too.

What is it?


Mise-en-place is translated as “everything in its place.”

The “Meez” is what the professionals call it. It’s much more than a routine. In fact, it’s a near fanatical devotion to creating the right state of mind in a kitchen before beginning any activity.

During the “Meez” professional chefs and their staff stop. They make room to study their menu, pick the right tools and equipment, and make sure they have the proper ingredients.

Why the first 10 minutes matter

It’s important because this is the planning stage. The mental prepping stage. Even the physical prepping stage.

It’s preparing before beginning.

I loved this idea after reading about it in a Harvard Business Review post. It resonated so much with me because I have naturally done this for my whole entire professional career and it’s what I teach my clients.

When I was a vet tech, we always stopped to review appointments and the surgery schedule for the day. Did we have the right equipment? Enough people? How about meds? And what about cage/recovery space?

As an administrative assistant, I always stopped to review my day and make sure I was prepared for meetings. My goal was to anticipate what my boss might need.

Now as a business owner, I review my week first thing Monday morning and review my day’s events as my first morning activity.

This practice gets me into the right frame of mind for my clients. It keeps me focused on my priorities. I begin my day in response mode rather than reacting to whatever comes at me via email or voicemail or person.

I have what I need. It’s organized. I’m in control of my time. I’m ready to begin.

Calm rather than chaos

You, too, could benefit from mise-en-place. It’s a routine that could permeate every area of business and life:

  • 15 minutes of meditation might revolutionize your daily outlook
  • 0 minutes of checking email and voicemail for your first hour of work allows you time to knock out those #1 priorities
  • 10 minutes to review your schedule and prioritize your To Do list helps you focus
  • 5 minutes of prep time before your calls and meetings allows allows you to review notes, discussion points, etc., plus you can take one minute to check in and create the positive mental state you want to bring into the interaction
  • 5 minutes at the end of each time block, task, or project allows you to finish what you start – put away papers, materials, and files; tidy your work space; prepare to “change gears” and begin the next time block, task, or project
  • 10 minutes at the end of your day to mise-en-place means you leave your work area tidy and ready to begin again fresh tomorrow

If you could create a mise-en-place routine, how would that change your productivity, your efficiency, your effectiveness, and even your attitude?


Angie Mattson Stegall

P.S. I’ve created a short summer series to help you create your own mise-en-place routines in business and personally. Learn more here: Registration ends July 3, 2014. The course begins on Monday, July 7, 2014.

Naked boxwoods – or how less really is more

You may or may not know I went to Queens University of Charlotte for my third of my three attempts at college. I finally got my bachelor’s degree in Organizational Communications there at night and worked there full-time during the day. And I spent a significant amount of time on campus four busy years.

Luckily, Queens has a gorgeous campus: stately red brick buildings, well-manicured lawns, pretty landscaping, blooming flowers in the spring, and beautiful artwork all around. Not a bad place to feast my eyes (and my brain) for those four tough years.

So I vividly remember showing up one morning and seeing something was very, very wrong with the 20 or 30 giant boxwood plants in front of the main campus building called Burwell Hall.

Those boxwood plants were tall – easily as tall as me. Plenty of birds nested in those leaves. The gazillion squirrels on campus would take refuge under those boxwoods to escape people, the sun, the rain, the cars, etc.

Yet those same squirrels would lay in wait for someone to walk by and then shoot out towards their feet. One time a squirrel actually crawled up the pant leg of the university president’s wife! I imagine she screamed in terror while the squirrel gleefully fled back to the refuge of those huge boxwoods.

So my walk onto campus that morning and see that those boxwoods had been pruned back within an inch of their life? Where not a single leaf remained? And to only see those white stems which looked eerily like bones?

The uproar on campus was intense, immediate, and undeniably negative:

  • Those groundskeepers have KILLED those boxwoods!
  • How could they do that?
  • Why did they do that?
  • Now campus looks UGLY!
  • Will those leaves ever grow back?
  • How long will it take?
  • What if the shrubs are permanently damaged?
  • Don’t they NEED those leaves?

And on and on. And on.

It took quite a bit of education (heh) for everyone to pipe down and understand what happened.

The grounds keeping staff explained that those boxwoods had gotten unhealthy due to their size. They were top heavy, the leaves were too dense to allow for new growth, and the pruning would actually help the shrubs regain their health and vitality.

I thought about those boxwoods the other day when I was having coffee with someone new. I was trying to explain how I work with clients and the results they see from our time spent together.

He astutely said, “Oh, you get to the root of the issue.”

And immediately I thought, “Dang. He’s right.”

Of course this makes me think even more about you, gentle reader.

Is your life top heavy? Are you not experiencing any new growth because the old stuff, the same stuff, is choking out your potential?

When was the last time YOU took stock of your whole life and did an aggressive pruning?

What could happen if you just did a big ol’ chop, chop in your life? What would you eliminate? What would you discard? What is no longer serving you? What could you remove that would actually restore your health and vitality?

Here are some areas to consider pruning during your big chop, chop:

  • Stuff – in your house, office, car, storage shed, storage building, garage, etc. You have too much stuff and you know it. Simplify.
  • Beliefs – those that are limiting and no longer serving you
  • Stories – that keep you stuck, small, brooding, hating, resenting and stagnant.
  • Work – do you love what you do? If not, chop, chop!
  • Debt: the A+, #1 way to stay stuck and feeling trapped.
  • Relationships – got folks in your life who don’t support you, add negative drama, or otherwise drag you down? Time to ax them off your contact list for good.
  • Business – is it time to make a change, a pivot, or declare “I quit?” Do it!
  • Religion/Spirituality – if it’s not expanding your heart and feeding your soul, walk away.
  • Hobbies – still playing tennis or disc golf or scrap booking because you’ve done it forever? If it doesn’t make you feel satisfied or joyful or awesome, let it go!

The drumbeat of my life these days is: MAKE SOME ROOM!

The idea of pruning everything in your life that doesn’t serve you anymore is becoming the foundation of my work and life.

There’s something so incredibly attractive about tending to the roots of a life – my life, your life – in order to allow the rest of it to grow strong and healthy. And oftentimes, the best thing you can do to nourish the roots is prune away the leaves and branches.

Your leaves and branches can be found in your home; at work; in your email; on your calendar; even on nights and weekends when you’re wishing you were doing something – anything – different that the task or activity or event at hand.

Time to get out those pruning shears. If you don’t have any, I’ll most certainly lend you mine. And if you’re afraid, we’ll handle the pruning together and I’ll guide you toward deliberately choosing what goes.

Make some room,


P.S. Still working on the content of the summer series. It’ll be focused on helping you make some room to get out of overwhelm in 30 days. Get your pruning shears ready!

P.P.S. And those boxwoods at Queens? They did indeed grow back. It took a while, but slowly, ever so slowly, new growth emerged. The shrubs looked more balanced, the new branches were healthy, and the emerging leaves were a brilliant green.

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