Desiree Adaway is a consultant, trainer, coach, and speaker, who builds resilient, equitable and inclusive organizations. She hold a vision for people’s lives, workplaces and communities until they can hold it for themselves. With over 20 years experience creating, leading and managing international, multicultural teams through major organizational changes in over 40 countries, Desiree has designed and administered more than 150 global programs and led one of the largest Humanitarian Grants programs in the U.S.
CIGDEM KOBU: You’re a self-employed single mom. How do you make sure you get things done? What systems do you have in place for your life and your business?
DESIREE ADAWAY: It’s easier now that my children are both away at university. When they were small, I had to get super organized. Clothes and shoes laid out the night before—routine, routine, routine. Backpacks checked and cleaned every night after dinner; boots, coats, gloves always put in same place. I actually taught my kids at a very young age to set their alarm and get up on their own for school. I knew I could not do everything so I shared the load as much as possible. These routines kept us sane in the midst of chaos.
CIGDEM: What did you struggle the most and how did you deal with it?
DESIREE: I struggled with long commutes, and leaving home before they did. Knowing they had to handle things if I was not around was nerve wrecking. When it was happening, I felt guilt about it, but they both grew up to be fairly courageous and adventurous young women who are great problem solvers.
CIGDEM: What is your approach to productivity as a consultant and strategist?
DESIREE: Scheduling is key. If it’s a priority for my life or my business, I carve out time on my schedule. I have time marked out to write a blog post on Monday and Tuesday for the week.
When I know I need to move, I block that time off as well. I also really try to use technology in a way that makes my life easier—I do not want to go back and forth with six emails to nail down a time for a meeting. I just send folks the link to my on line scheduling system, and it feeds directly into my calendar. Shows them when I am available, they get to choose what time and day works best for them. So instead of four emails, it is done in one.
CIGDEM: How do you plan your day? And what kind of daily work habits, routines or rituals do you have?
DESIREE: I just learned about the “Hour of Power.” A great life coach Stacey Curnow taught it to me. A lot of women jump straight out of bed and just rush into their day taking care of others. This system has you waking up a hour before you are expected to be “on” for anything else—family or work.
You take care of personal needs then you give yourself 5-15 minutes of stretching/yoga or some physical activity and 5-15 minutes of meditation. You spend a few minutes writing your intention for the day, and you spend 5-15 minutes giving yourself encouragement. Saying out loud all the things you are proud of that you do, all the things you forgive yourself for doing. I adore this ritual. It allows us to refill our own well before we go out and start giving to others.
“That you have to be super productive all the time, every day is an illusion.”
CIGDEM: How do you balance work, leisure and family? And how do you take care of yourself physically, mentally and emotionally?
DESIREE: My greatest challenge my entire life has been that of self-care. I am a nurturer by nature and love to take care of others. I have always managed large staffs, lots of kids, taken on roles of leadership in the community. Taking care of others and never refilling my own well has led to health problems.
I now am really focused on my self care in a way I never did when my kids were home. Part of the reason I started my own business was so that I was in charge of my schedule—when I worked and with whom. This alone has been incredibly freeing and knowing that if my energy gets slow, it’s okay for me not to pretend and power through. I can get up and go do something that will raise my energy level.
CIGDEM: What do you think is the biggest illusion about being productive?
DESIREE: That you have to be super productive all the time, every day. Sometime your body and mind will need a rest, and it is in your best interest to do that—to rest and give your body and mind what they need.
CIGDEM: How does your environment affect your creative process? What do you do to deal with any outside negative influences?
DESIREE: I have my go-to team… my accountability buddies, advocates, fans and cheerleaders who will push me, question, encourage and tell me I am the best thing since sliced bread! No one in my family has every started a business or been self employed. So while they are supportive, I cannot talk to them about problems or strategy— their response is go back and work for someone else. So, I take my business questions to folks that have lived through it. They understand cash flow issues and contracts, balancing multiple projects, etc.
I keep all nay-sayers out of my world when I am working. I once heard people can tell you who you are by the company you keep and what you read—I only surround myself by positive, supportive, smart folks who want to see me succeed.
CIGDEM: When it comes to the tools you use when creating, do you teeter between pen/paper and technology?
DESIREE: Technology, technology, technology—it is so helpful!! I do videos for my blog on my iPhone and then upload them from my phone straight to YouTube. No need to do eight steps when three steps work just fine!
If you get the same questions over and over from potential clients, create some FAQ’s and have them on your website. It will reduce the number of emails and time you spend saying the same thing over and over.
“Engaging in creativity, whether it’s painting, photography, cooking, sewing, dancing, drawing, or singing, has a way of freeing our minds and opening spaces for things to grow.”
CIGDEM: What’s the best advice you ever heard about how to be more productive?
DESIREE: Make sure you are well rested and hydrated. To be productive, you have to be able to think quickly and be flexible. You cannot do that if you are exhausted. If you are like me, when you are exhausted your brain is groggy, foggy, and it is hard to concentrate. To be productive, you need to be able to concentrate. I find when I cannot concentrate, a nap or some yummy brain food usually helps me get back in the game.
CIGDEM: Can you share with us an effective and practical exercise that helps with getting things done without neglecting self-care?
DESIREE: I learned this from Heather Plett. Dare to embrace creativity in your workplace.
They say that the average adult draws at the same level as a nine-year-old, because that’s the age when we start feeling self-conscious and stop exploring the world of art. It’s also the stage where we stop taking our art to Mom or Dad to hang on the fridge.
So bring art supplies into your business meetings or keep them in your work space. Create when you are brainstorming or processing business decisions. You want folks on your team working beside you who value using both sides of their brain—right and left. Those that embrace system and creativity.
Engaging in creativity, whether it’s painting, photography, cooking, sewing, dancing, drawing, or singing, has a way of freeing our minds and opening spaces for things to grow.
Try it. Take time to meditate and/or create for the sake of meditation. You don’t have to follow a set of rules or become a meditation master. You just have to set aside time when nobody bothers you, your computer is turned off, and your mind is relatively free from the expectations you place on it.
Consider closing your office door as soon as you arrive in the morning, before you begin to engage with staff or open your email. Make yourself comfortable on your chair or on a cushion on the floor. Close your eyes if you want to (or don’t—some forms of meditation recommend leaving your eyes open). Don’t try to stop your mind from thinking (that would be virtually impossible), but try to let the thoughts pass through your mind like birds fluttering past. Try to focus simply on your breath. When thoughts come, simply label them “thinking” and then let them pass. Always return to the breath.
Whatever you do, don’t listen to the critic (whether internal or external) who will try to tell you that you’re just wasting your time. You’re not. You’re making an investment in yourself that will surprise you with its return on investment.