Using the Urgent/Important Matrix to Mitigate Holiday Anxiety

Is it Important? Possibly. Is it Urgent? Probably Not.

As the holiday season is now in full swing, most of us feel like we have more on our plates than usual with the looming deadline of THE END OF THE YEAR hanging over our heads.

The other day I was having a bout of all the things to do today/this week/this month/before the end of the year anxiety. Everything felt very urgent. Then I took a moment to ask myself, Are all these things I think I need to do important? Says who?

How many of the things that I was dumping into my salad spinner of anxiety were things that were important to me and how many were things that seemed important just because there was some sense of urgency around them? What was the source of the urgency?

I hit the stopper on the salad spinner and decided to take a look at what was in there.

The Urgent/Important Matrix and you.

I know we’ve all heard of the Urgent/Important Matrix aka the Eisenhower Principle. There are two axis – Urgent and Important. Things fall into one of four quadrants: Urgent/Important, Urgent/Not Important, Not Urgent/Important, and Not Urgent/Not Important.

Urgent/Important Matrix aka Eisenhower Principle

While the Eisenhower Principle is a popular work/productivity/business gimmick, it can also be useful in your personal life.

Let’s just take a moment to consider the source of my holiday-season anxiety (and probably yours too) – the Urgent/Not Important quadrant.

How can something be urgent but at the same time not be important?

Well, generally speaking, the urgency is coming from an external source. In the workplace, it is very often someone who uses the phrase, “We should …”

In your personal life, you are probably doing your own should-ing.

  • “I should turn my house into a holiday wonderland.”
  • “I should bake twenty kinds of cookies.”
  • “I should throw a party and I should cook all the food myself.”
  • “I should …”

When you start should-ing all over yourself, instead of spinning, maybe take a moment to ask some follow-up questions like:

  • “Do I really want to?”
  • “Is it going to make a difference in my quality of life?”
  • “What other tasks is this activity going to impact?”
  • “Is there another way to accomplish the same objective?”

Maybe you decide that you really don’t want to bake cookies. Maybe you decide that organizing a cookie party is a way that you can throw a party and get lots of different kinds of cookies without having to bake all of them or make an extravagant meal. Maybe you decide that staying up all night making cookies instead of getting a good night’s sleep and getting up early to exercise isn’t a trade-off you are willing to make.

The punchline is that most of the time something that is Urgent/Not Important isn’t necessarily urgent at all.

If you take a moment to reflect before you react, you can usually move things into the Not Urgent/Not Important quadrant where you can forget about them or to the Not Urgent/Important quadrant where you can thoughtfully plan how to address them. A few will move up to the Urgent/Important quadrant where you can attack them with the satisfaction of knowing that you consciously determined that task merited your attention.

If you’ve already started your holiday season spinning, I hope that you will hit the brake on your salad spinner of anxiety and take a moment to examine whether all those urgent “should do’s” are actually important.

Synchronicity, Good PR, or Algorithms

Is it a message from the Universe or just trying to sell us something?

Every once in a while, I have a day when I can’t help but think that I’m getting a message from the universe. But is it synchronicity, good PR, or algorithms?

One day last week, it was a subject that kept showing up in my email. The first message resonated because it gave me some ammunition for something I had already been thinking about. Later, a second message on the same topic came from a completely different source. To me, it was a pretty strong message from the universe that it was time to put my thoughts into action.

It convinced me that it was time to write this blog post.


For Carl Jung, who coined the term, synchronicity happens when a cluster of unrelated phenomena create a meaningful coincidence. Sudden hunches and stochastic operation also fall under the umbrella of synchronicity. Like you are thinking about someone who you haven’t talked to for a while, then they call you. Or you open a random book to a random page and find a message that addresses a quandary you’ve been having.

I was formally introduced to the concept of synchronicity reading The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. For Julia, synchronicity is a way that, “…the universe falls in with worthy plans and most especially with festive and expansive ones.”

Part of synchronicity is just awareness. Part of it is magic, like when I was looking for a hutch for my kitchen and came upon one that someone had put out on the curb.

As Julia puts it, “First, choose what you would do. The how usually falls into place of itself.”

Basically, the universe is constantly sending you messages, providing paths with which to accomplish your goals. Synchronicity happens when you are paying attention and notice these messages.

Which is super fun. But are these always messages from the universe? I mean, I can accept that sometimes the universe is telling me that I should buy the smelly candle, but sometimes, it might be another force.

Good PR

Just to clarify: I’m referring to the entire marketing communications umbrella.

There are a lot of people in the world who are gainfully employed in the endeavor of getting other people to pay attention to something. One of my favorite things, communication strategy, is simply an exercise in plotting out what you want to say (your message), who you want to say it to (your audience), and how you are going to get your message to your intended audience in order to accomplish your objective.

The whole point is increasing awareness of whatever it is (an organization, a product, a policy).

Sometimes good PR is obvious, but sometimes it feels very organic, like the idea just popped into your head. How do you know it wasn’t synchronicity?


Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

I can’t explain the mechanics of it, but we all know that our digital lives are shaped by computer algorithms. I use Google to look up a lot of terminology when I’m writing; now Google knows that the first search result to show me is a definition.

And then there’s social media. Just because I keep seeing ads on Facebook and Instagram for smelly candles does not mean that the universe is telling me to buy smelly candles (although I probably will at some point, I love smelly candles).

So, is it synchronicity, good PR, or algorithms?

In The Art of Impossible, Steven Kotler talks about how our brain is a pattern recognition system, our own internal algorithm.

When we set up our internal algorithm properly, we are primed to notice synchronicity. Steven calls this supplying the pattern recognition system with ammunition.

He recommends doing this by feeding it lots of information. Don’t just troll the internet, read books, listen to podcasts, go for walks, talk to people – give your pattern recognition system lots of data from different sources.

By doing so, we become our own PR manager and synchronicity follows.

Because don’t we all want to be in tune to receiving messages from the Universe?

Bardo – Something Really In-Between

Before COVID times I was listening to a podcast about meditation (because why meditate when you can listen to other people talk about meditating) when the woman introduced this interesting term, “bardo” which she defined as meaning “in-between.”


Well, considering that this is the In-Between Things it certainly seems like the right place to explore the concept of bardo. I decided that I needed to look into this it further, did a little bit of research, and left my notes sitting in my draft folder.

Until now.

Bardo Thödol is a Tibetan Buddhist funerary text that is popularly known in Western culture as the Tibetan Book of the Dead. This text describes the process through which a recently deceased person transitions from their current state of being to the next. The occurs in an in-between state, bardo, which is similar to the Roman Catholic concept of purgatory.

Applied metaphorically, bardo can describe many sorts of in-between situations. Any time there is a suspension in the way of being that we are familiar with we are experiencing bardo.

COVID times certainly qualify, wouldn’t you agree?

The Four Noble Truths, a central tenant in Buddhist teaching, explain that the root of suffering is desire for and attachment to worldly things. When we experience bardo, we become detached from our usual way of being, including the accompanying suffering.

But you know what we feel is worse than our regular, everyday suffering? The unknown!

Think about someone you know who is always complaining about something. You wonder why they continue fill-in-the-blank rather than change. When you say something, they usually reply beginning with, “yeah, but…”

This is because in-between-ness is uncomfortable. Bardo puts us in a position where we are confronted with considering other ways. We must mind the gap as it were.

What if, in that in-between space, instead of reacting negatively, we withhold judgement of the discomfort?

We may discover an opportunity for something new.

The gap gives us the cognitive distance to consider things from a new perspective. We may have a flash of insight or creativity or we may gain clarity about things that we are allowing to be causes of our suffering.

And this is why I wanted to dust off this topic at this time. The past year was certainly bardo, the entire world’s usual way of being was suspended. Now that things are beginning to stabilize, many are looking to get back to our old ways of being and doing. But it would be unfortunate to not take advantage of this bardo to make some conscious choices about the sorts of suffering we hold on to.

Maybe being in-between this past year wasn’t all bad.

The Writing Sprint Challenge Prompt Was: Mercy

Have you ever participated in a writing sprint challenge?

Neither had I until a couple of weeks ago. Someone was doing one on Instagram and I signed up right away because there were prizes. There are probably a lot of things that I can be motivated to do for the sake of artisanal smelly candles. I should remember that. 

Ok, back to the writing sprint.

The challenge was that there were prompts for each day and you would write for a set amount of time and then post on Instagram for accountability. The writing sprint prompt one day really captured my attention and I decided to turn it into this blog post. It was just one word: mercy.

Mercy. It isn’t an unusual or exotic word. But it struck me that this is not a word that I use or hear a lot. It’s not really in the zeitgeist the way that forgiveness is for example. It’s an ordinary word, why did it feel uncommon? What thoughts/ideas/feelings does the word evoke?

My first thought was that mercy correlates to surrender. Not that there is some sort of causal relationship, they’re not two sides of the same coin; but maybe they live in the same room.

So where does that correlation come from?

I started to pull my idea apart. Mercy is an act from a position of power, isn’t it? Whereas surrender seems to be something that the one who is being acted upon would do. Asking for mercy is a means of surrender.

That got me thinking about affirmations and all that jargon. Forgiveness is very trendy these days. But what about mercy?

Mercy means that you were in an acknowledged position of power and chose to relinquish your advantage. That rather than impose your will, you showed restraint. I suppose that mercy takes a good deal more awareness and self-control than forgiveness.

By the time that you get to forgiveness the thing is done. You stayed strong and kept plowing ahead with a single-minded determination, then when it’s over, you can evaluate and choose to forgive.

Mercy requires evaluating the impact of your actions while in process. That’s no fun.

If you follow the etymology of mercy all the way back to its Latin root, you find the word merx which means “wares” or “merchandise.” There is something tangible about giving up one’s advantage in a power dynamic, isn’t there?

All that being said, I wonder if we all couldn’t use a little more mercy in our hearts, even more so than forgiveness.

Just because something is within our power to make happen doesn’t mean that we always need to. Maybe have mercy for your feet by not wearing those shoes (you know which ones I’m talking about – they are really cute). Rather than say the unkind thing that you will apologize for later, demonstrate mercy by not saying it at all. You could even get meta with it – I’m thinking things like buying hand soap at the refill-your-own-container store (mercy) instead of putting another plastic container in the recycling bin (forgiveness).

What do you think? Did I get too in-between on this?

Holiday Gratitude Practice

Since Thanksgiving is this week, of course I thought I would do a post about holiday gratitude. Not the most original idea, but something that I think is appropriate to take a moment for. Of course, I did write a post about gratitude last year, so the challenge is to see if I have something new to share with y’all.

In some ways, it might be harder to find things to be grateful for this year. Not being able to travel to visit family or hold big holiday get-togethers might be a real bummer. It has been a tough year for everyone and the anxiety that goes along with this global pandemic is no joke.

But in some ways, maybe all of this turmoil makes it easier to be grateful for all sorts of things that we may have taken for granted before.

When I was reading the post that I wrote last year, one of the things that I noted being grateful for was our local yoga on the bluff. And one of the elements of yoga on the bluff that I particularly enjoyed was being around all the different people from all different walks of life. I’ll tell you what, I would not be grateful to find myself in a crowd of all sorts of people these days. But I do feel grateful that I have been able to cultivate a home yoga practice. In some ways it has been a great privilege to take responsibility for my own yoga practice. I can be very mindful of the way that I move through all the postures; I take more time than I used to in some positions and I am gentle with myself in ways that I wasn’t before. I might not be grateful for all of the new aches and twinges that I seem to be uncovering, but I am grateful for my ability to discern between a discomfort that needs to be worked through and one that needs to be moved away from.

In June, I did a gratitude practice of listing at least ten things every day. The challenge was to not repeat as much as possible. I mean you can imagine what my list would have looked like without that challenge: cats, coffee, sunshine, repeat. Some days were easier than others that’s for sure, but the whole exercise was very centering. Actually, now I’m starting to think that I should take it back up again …

Ok, I’ve just given myself an idea for a holiday gratitude practice and I’m going to invite you to play along with me at home.

Let’s look toward Thanksgiving and this whole holiday season in front of us and find ten things to be grateful for. Maybe write them down. Maybe put them in a gratitude jar and see if you can add one new thing from now until the end of the year. Then on New Year’s Day why not pull them out and read them? Start the new year from a place of love and gratitude.

If you’re not ready to write down ten things, how about just one? Leave it in the comments below and we can help each other to jump start a holiday gratitude practice.

I’ll start: I’m grateful for you reading this and playing along!

P.S. I will follow up with everyone who commented about the book giveaway this week!

Kindness Today and Every Day

For this edition of Health and Wellness Monday, I thought we could consider kindness.  

This Friday, November 13th is World Kindness Day, a holiday established in 1998 by The World Kindness Movement, an international consortium of NGOs, for the purpose of encouraging people to create a kinder world. I’m not really clear on what they mean by that, but it seems to have something to do with supporting projects that align with the United Nations sustainable development goals.

Did you know that there is also a Random Acts of Kindness Foundation? I didn’t either. The organization’s mission is to, “Make Kindness the Norm.” They suggest that an individual can celebrate World Kindness Day by intentionally engaging in random acts of kindness such as buying someone a cup of coffee or giving someone a compliment. I tend to think of these things more as “random acts of niceness” but that’s alright. One of my favorite random acts of niceness is sending someone a card in the mail for no reason. I mean, isn’t it exciting to get mail from an actual person! But phone calls and texts are nice too.

I thought it would be interesting would be to examine the distinction between being ‘kind’ and being ‘nice,’ so I went to the dictionary. While ‘nice’ is defined as, “polite, kind, pleasing, agreeable, appropriate, fitting,” the word ‘kind’ is defined in the Merriam Webster Dictionary as, “of a sympathetic or helpful nature.”

I like to think about kindness as being a little bit more than just doing something nice for someone. For me, an act of kindness is a compassion exercise in which I separate a person from their beliefs and/or actions in my heart. I may disagree with someone or not like their behavior, but still have sympathy (and sometimes even empathy or compassion) for them as a person. By doing so, I am better able to interact with that person in a kind manner.

Remember that story, The Box that I published last month? I would say that kindness kind-of ties into the ideas expressed in that story. It is an act of kindness to not put someone in a box based on one facet of their personality but to acknowledge that people are complex creatures who may not necessarily be defined by one element of their beliefs and/or actions. It’s like that thing about not defining yourself by your feelings (ex: I am angry) but acknowledging that you are a person having a feeling (I feel angry) applied to someone else.

This doesn’t mean that an act of kindness requires you to be a pushover or condone someone’s behavior. It’s like Brené Brown says, “Strong back, soft front, wild heart.” Know who you are and what you believe. Then be willing to accept other people for who they are and what they believe.

Here’s the thing: there will still be people who you just don’t agree with. You might plain old just not like someone. But what if you chose to face them with kindness rather than confrontation? Maybe your strong back, soft front, wild heart will inspire the same in someone else. You could start a chain reaction of kindness.

World Kindness day is Friday, but why not start today? You could even throw in a random act of niceness or two while you’re at it.

Vote Smarter Not Harder

research your ballot

Even as someone who avoids the news, I am very aware that there is an election coming up in November.  One race is a big topic on everyone’s mind, but that is not the only item on our ballots. So in today’s post, I would like to encourage you to vote smarter not harder – to take a little time to really look into who and what you are voting for on your entire ballot so that you can make an informed decision on each candidate and ballot initiative.

vote smarter not harder

Researching my ballot is not my favorite way to spend my time and I don’t doubt there are lots of other things that you would rather be doing. But I assure you that it is time well spent. By putting that effort in, I can feel comfortable that I’m voting for the candidate who will potentially cause the least amount of harm or that I’m not supporting a ballot initiative that would cost more than its purported benefit. In the March primary election, one guy running for district court judge actually changed his first name to Judge. At first glance, I thought, “Oh, this guy is already a judge,” but no, he was actually not at all qualified and being intentionally misleading!

How to research your ballot

It can be tricky to find good sources of information about local and state races. I will sit down with my ballot and Google each item. You can search by district (ex: CA 47th Congressional District), by candidate (they all pretty much have their own website these days – it’s a good way to get an idea of their education and professional background), or by region (ex: LA County Voter Guide). Your local bar association will put out a list rating candidates for judicial positions as “well qualified,” “qualified,” or “not qualified.” I’m a big fan of the voter guide put out by the Southern California Public Radio website LAist; I hope that other public radio stations put out similar information. I like to compare what a candidate’s website, LAist, and my local newspapers have to say about things.

The League of Women Voters (LWV) also puts out a voter guide. I love the LWV; it is a non-partisan organization that was founded in 1920 (the year the 19th Amendment was ratified) to help women carry out their responsibilities as voters and today is an organization dedicated to encouraging the active and informed participation of all citizens. The LWV doesn’t take a position on initiatives, it simply presents them as written and explains potential impacts, who is supporting and opposing each one, and what a “yes” vote or a “no” vote would mean. They have a resource called Vote 411 where you can put in your address and get personalized voting information.

A new resource that I just found is Ballotpedia. The website states that its mission is to deliver, “unbiased information to educate and inspire American voters” and it seems to have a lot of straightforward information. I think that I will be incorporating this site into my ballot research.

If you haven’t already received your California voting guide in the mail, here is a link to an online version: California Voting Guide.

Who and what you decide to vote for is none of my business and I wouldn’t presume to offer you my opinions on any of the races or measures. But I do hope that you will consider committing a little bit of your time to looking up the candidates and propositions before you mail you ballot in early or head to the polls. Remember to vote smarter not harder.

Loving-Kindness Meditation


I’m feeling so sad for the world today.

Sometimes, when I’m having a hard time getting a grip on my feelings or keeping my energy focused where I want it, I find a little meditation can be very helpful.

I’m not a regular meditator, but I always feel better when I do. If I meditate on my own, I generally will do a mindfulness meditation, just focusing on my breath and being where I am.  But today’s feelings seem to merit a different kind of meditation. A loving-kindness meditation.

Loving-Kindness meditation, also known as a Metta meditation, is a form that focuses on both self-love and compassion for others. As with most things, there are several versions of the “right” way to do Metta meditation, but I feel comfortable in saying that part of this practice is showing yourself the compassion to accept that however you choose to practice it is the right way for you.

The basic structure of this meditation is that you first focus on yourself, then on one, specific other person, then on the collective.  You can do multiple variations of the specific other. You can also identify the collective as all humanity, or the whole world, or even the universe – or you can do multiple variations here too.

Insight Timer has a bunch of free, guided loving-kindness meditations. I tried this 10-minute meditation with Mark Zelinsky that I thought was nice.

If you want to try it on your own, here is my take on a loving-kindness meditation:

May I be happy
May I be well
May I be safe
May I be peaceful

(now for another – think of someone specific)

May you be happy
May you be well
May you be safe
May you be peaceful

(now think about the whole world)

May we be happy
May we be well
May we be safe
May we be peaceful


More Enneagram – What’s YOUR Number?

Ok, time for more enneagram. Let’s talk about our results. What did you get?  What do you think about it?

I told you about how I took four different tests and got a different result every time. Here is what my results were:

Fast Accurate Enneagram gave me three types to choose from: type 3 (the Achiever), type 5 (the Investigator), and type 8 (the Challenger).  It offered brief descriptions of each one and left it up to me to decide.

Your Enneagram Coach told me that I was a type 3 (the Successful Achiever). On this test, I got a tied score for 3 and 8 (the Protective Challenger), but the follow up questions tipped the results to a 3. I also scored high on type 5 (the Investigative Thinker).

Truity told me that I was a type one (the Perfectionist).  I also scored high for type 5 and for type 7 in this assessment.

Eclectic Energies typed me as a 5.  My second result was a type 3.  I scored so low on type 8 in this assessment that it didn’t even show up in the results. At all.

So, after all that, I went back to the Rebel Heart Radio podcast.  I paid special attention to what they were saying about types 8, 5, and 3.  Here is what resonated with me:

Type 8, the Challenger (or Protective Challenger)

I have some of these tendencies – I can be very direct for sure. Most of the qualities of this type that resonated with me were negative behaviors not the strengths and good qualities. I kind-of interpret this type as my Virgo rising – it’s the thing where people will ask me what I think and for better or worse, I tell them.

Type 5, the Investigator (Investigative Thinker)

I got this result because I do love to learn about new things, I will get interested in something and spend time researching it.  But I don’t think that my interest in anything goes as far as the way that type 5s are described.  For example, after I finish this post, I’m probably going to be done thinking about the enneagram. I’m also not as analytical as 5s seem to get credit for. And I’m just mildly, not overwhelmingly introverted.

Type 3, the Achiever (Successful Achiever)

The description of this type resonated with me the most. Type 3s are described as adaptable, driven, image-consciousness, optimistic, industrious, self-motivated, efficient, energetic, leaders, and can be workaholics.

The core fears for this type are failing, appearing incompetent and inefficient. Their core desire is to be valuable, admired, and respected. They want to appear successful, focused and productive and tend not to stop to appreciate what they have accomplished. Sometimes it is hard for a 3 to know who they really are because they have created so many personas to fit into different situations.

I feel like I can relate to a lot of the positive and negative traits of the 3, more than any other type.

So that is my exploration of the enneagram. The big selling point for any personality typing was that if you know your type and you know the types of the people around you, you are better able to interact with them in a more positive and productive way. So now that I’ve shared, you should too.

Did you get around to trying any of the assessments from last week?  What results did you get?  What do you think about my results?  Am I more type 5 or type 8 than I’m giving myself credit for? Do you want more enneagram?Let me know what you think!

Any Enneagram

I was thinking that I wanted to post something fun and not-so-current-events related for us all this week. So, I thought we could talk about the enneagram. Any enneagram.

Enneagram is a style of personality-typing.  Like Myer-Briggs only different. I’ve been listening to a podcast where they’ve been talking about it (Rebel Heart Radio).  They are REALLY into it. But in a fun way. I’m on the third of TEN episodes where they talk about it. Because it’s complicated.

There are nine enneagram types (numbers 1-9), then there are “wings” and “levels of integration” and all sorts of other nuances. As I have been listening to the podcast, I’ve been trying to guess my type based on how they are describing each one. They started with nine, so at first, I thought I was a nine, wing one.  Then I was sure that I was a three, wing four but not a straight three. It seems like at some point it all turns to mush, and you might be any enneagram. But I hadn’t gotten that deep into it, was it just dabbler’s skepticism?

I’m not about to let a little skepticism keep me away from a free, online personality test, so today I decided to take an enneagram test to find out.

There are a bunch of free enneagram tests online.  I started with the version. The questions are pretty complicated and dense. I got the result that I thought I would, but I had just been listening to the podcast and was familiar with the language that this school uses to describe each type. I decided that I would take another version to confirm my results.

Next, I tried the test.  I liked these questions better. They were a bit more simply constructed.  I expected to get the same result as the other test, but I wound up somewhere completely different!

Ok, let’s try a third version, that will be the tiebreaker, right?  Not so fast my friend.  I took the version on and got an another completely different answer. And I really didn’t think that I was that version. Maybe I was just getting personality test fatigue (or maybe I have an undiagnosed multiple personality disorder).  I liked the questions in this version best, they were the most straightforward.  I also liked that they give you scores on your wing.

After a break, I couldn’t help it, I decided to try again.  I tried and guess what? This time I got all the three types that I had gotten in the other three tests (this test gives you your top three and tells you to choose from the descriptions).

You can read up on enneagrams, but I think it’s more fun to take one (or more) of these tests and let them tell you:

Let me know if you decide to try any enneagram test(s) you take and what you result(s) got.  I’ll post my results in the comments in a bit.