TECH-LIFE BALANCE: MANAGE YOUR TIME, REDUCE YOUR STRESS

Meico Marquette Whitlock talks about coping with stress

Episode aired May 12, 2021: Coping With Stress

Have you got way too much going in your life? Too many demands from too many people? Meico Marquette Whitlock of Mindful Techie will help you tackle your nonprofit work-life and tech-life balance. In this episode Meico discusses

  • dealing with IDD- Intention Deficit Disorder
  • why purchasing a real alarm clock is a huge help
  • 3 apps to help you lessen stress and manage your time
  • how to deal with an endless stream of email  
  • reclaiming your commute time and 
  • why you shouldn’t die with the music still inside you.

Below you can listen, watch or read this podcast episode.

Ephraim: Welcome to this edition of the Your Weekly Dose of Nonprofit podcast, the podcast that delivers actionable items you can implement at your organization right away. I’m your host Ephraim Gopin of 1832 Communications. Today I’m really happy to have with us a man of many talents, a work-life and tech life balance expert, Meico Marquette Whitlock. Meico, how you doing today?

Meico: I’m great. I’m excited to be here. Looking forward to the conversation. 

Ephraim: Excellent. Let’s introduce you to our listeners, watchers and readers.

Are you stressed out by too many emails devices and distractions in your life? Do you want to be more productive and have more time for friends, family and yourself or desire more work-life balance? If you answered yes to any of those questions, you came to the right place today. Our guest is a sought-after speaker and trainer on mindfulness, technology and well-being. He’s the author of the Intention Planner and has been a featured speaker on ABC News, Fox 5, Radio 1 and on the main stage at events such as the Nonprofit Technology Conference. In his spare time, he can be found listening to live jazz at a local café or awkwardly doing Zumba at his gym. Helping us to tackle work-life and tech-life balance, I’m really happy to welcome digital wellness coach and maker of the world’s best vegan chili, Meico Marquette Whitlock, aka the Mindful Techie.

Maximize Production While Wearing Multiple Hats

In today’s episode, we’re going to discuss coping with stress. Let’s dive right in. Meico, most of the audience listening, watching or reading right now wear numerous hats at their organization. So let’s start with productivity. How can people maximize production while being pulled in 50 different directions?

Meico: Great question. When it comes to this question, one of the things that we instinctively think of is, we have a reaction, we feel like we have to rush, right? So my reaction to this particular question is we actually need to start walking, as opposed to running. What do I mean by that? This is really about slowing down so that we can set clear intentions and then align our time and our energy and our priorities accordingly.

Many of us are moving through life on autopilot or something that I call IDD or intention deficit disorder. This means that for many of us, we wake up first thing in the morning, we have a million things to do, so we’re diving face-first into the emails, the social media, the news and all of those things and we spend our entire days competing with those things.

Well I want to share with folks this idea of walking, as opposed to running. It’s a concept that I learned that actually first responders are trained to do when they arrive on the scene of an accident. Now why is this? Well, if you’re arriving on the scene of an accident and you are running, you’re liable to fall and to hurt yourself. What’s also happening is that your stress levels are pretty high, so if you’re rushing, that means that you’re likely to miss other things that you might not otherwise miss if you were actually a bit calmer. So if you’re arriving on the scene of an accident, you’re rushing, maybe you’ll notice that there’s one person that actually needs your help, but maybe you trip over the broken glass in the street and you forget or you don’t see at all that there are two other people on the other side of the car that actually need your help. So I’m encouraging people to… when we think about this idea of productivity, our tendency is to rush. I’m asking people to actually pause, to walk, as opposed to run and to set clear intentions and then align the rest of your time and priorities accordingly.  

Create A Tech-Life Balance

Ephraim: Fantastic. That’s a very interesting example that you use there for that answer. Never even thought about that. I really like that. You’re a board member at NTEN, the Nonprofit Technology Enterprise Network. Technology is so helpful for nonprofiteers but its 24/7 presence means we’re never really out of the office. Could you share with us how to create what you call a tech-life balance?

Meico: Yes. One of the concepts that like is, we in the public health space- I’ve worked in public health- so we talked about this idea of social distancing in order to prevent the spread of communicable disease and so our attachment to our devices really is no different. I like to talk about the idea of practicing social distancing with our apps, with our technology and this includes doing things like turning off the notifications for things that aren’t mission critical. So for example, if Instagram isn’t mission critical to the work that you’re doing in a particular moment, turn off the notifications. You can always at your leisure go and open the app and check out what’s going on. But you don’t need to be pinged every time there’s a new like or a new photo or a new comment that’s happening. 

The other thing I share with folks is we’re really big on bedtimes for ourselves and perhaps nap times for our kids. What if we applied the same concept to our devices? So if we set up a bedtime for our devices, charge our devices outside of the bedroom, so we aren’t… we don’t feel the urge to grab them first thing in the morning, when we wake up for example. And then put them down for nap time when you’re actually doing those work sprints. You can build in tech breaks throughout your day to check your phone, so that you’re not missing anything. But put away your phone. So like right now, you and I are talking. That’s the perfect time for nap time for your devices. So again, practicing social distancing with our devices. 

Ephraim: I’m sure for a lot of people it’s tougher than it sounds but it’s great advice. It’s just… I could see… I’m listening to it. I’m thinking about my own self and how I would potentially practice that and how hard that might be to do.

Meico: Well I’ll make it simpler. So one simple thing is to, if you don’t have a real alarm clock, purchase a real alarm clock and just try it for a week. Charging your phone in a different location and buying a real alarm clock.

3 Apps To Lessen Stress

Ephraim: Wow, a real alarm clock. I have to remember what those look like. But no, that’s a good idea. I like that. Today’s actionable item: Could you please tell us three apps that you recommend that people download and use in order to have more control over their time and lessen the stress they may be experiencing?

Meico: Absolutely. I love this question. There’s so many apps out there. I’m sure the audience has others that I might not cover but I’m going to give you three things really quickly. The first is for folks that are using Android or Apple devices which makes up most of the market for folks around the world, is actually Android and Apple have built-in screen time settings that you can set, built into your phone. So there’s no additional download needed and you can use those settings to actually set limits on the most distracting apps that you’re using. You also use it to track over time how much time you’re spending on specific apps. So if Instagram is a big distraction for you or checking the breaking news alert app is a big distraction, you can set limits on that, that prompt you to say okay, well you’ve exceeded your budget of 30 minutes or an hour or whatever your time that you set for yourself and that allows you to have a better handle on your device usage.

The second thing that you can do is, I love this plug-in, it’s called Stay Focused. It’s a plug-in for your web browser and what this allows you to do is to identify those distracting websites. For me that’s political news. I’m a political news junkie. I can spend the entire day following political news in the U.S. and all around the world and I use this to plug in my most distracting websites. I give myself a time budget of 30 minutes daily and once I exceed, bump up against that 30-minute budget, I get a pop-up that says, ‘shouldn’t you be working’ and the website disappears and the budget resets every 24 hours. So I’m not denying myself access to those things. I’m just trying to find the right balance between doing the work and also taking pleasure in whatever those distractions might be. So that’s the third one, Stay Focused. It’s a plugin for your web browser.

The third app I’m going to recommend here is an app called Forest App. It’s called the Forest App and this is an app for folks that are looking for a way to gamify setting time limits and actually adhering to them and for folks that really care about the environment. So what this app allows you to do is to set a time limit for how long you’re going to be on your phone and if you are staying within those times that you set for yourself, a virtual tree is planted and it grows right now. If you’re not doing so good with staying within those parameters that you set, then your tree starts to die. We don’t want that to happen and so the good news is that if your tree continues to grow, the company that actually makes this app, they partner with a company in real life to actually plant real trees in the real world. So you actually are literally saving the environment by being more mindful with your tech usage. So Forest App, that’s the third app I’m recommending.

Freedom From Email

Ephraim: Fantastic. All three of those sound great but that last one though, with that little twist at the end with the environment, that’s very smart and I’m sure that speaks to a lot of people in terms of being able to do something for the environment just by not using, limiting phone usage. That’s great. So let’s drill down to something that many people find overwhelming, which is email. On your website, MindfulTechie.com, you write when you die, your inbox won’t be empty. Can people really leave work at work? How can they find freedom from the incoming ping of more and more and more emails?  

Meico: Absolutely. So the first thing is really to accept that if you are doing great work in the world, there is going to be no shortage of demand for you and for your time and so take it as a compliment, if you will, that your inbox is overflowing, if you will.

Then one practical thing you can do is you can actually turn off those alerts, you can turn off those notifications so that you aren’t pinged every time the emails come in. So that’s one practical thing you can do right away. But the larger point that I want to make here is really a strategy and a way of thinking about this individually and also as a team or as an organization and it’s a concept that I call establishing your rules of engagement. Your rules of engagement outline three specific things: They outline when you’re going to be available for work and for non-work. They outline how to reach you when something is urgent versus non-urgent. And they outline what is the expected response times.

Now many of us are operating on unwritten assumptions and we’re stressing ourselves out and there’s so much uncertainty, we feel like we can’t take a potty break or go walk the dog or go take a lunch break or go to Starbucks because someone’s gonna feel like we dropped the ball or we’re unresponsive. Well what if you were to actually have this conversation ahead of time instead of making assumptions about your rules of engagement and say, hey look, I’m working in this time zone, I’m generally going to be available between these hours and these hours. If something is urgent, text me and if something is not urgent, email me and I’ll get back to you within 48 hours. Can we have a conversation about these things on the front end, so that we’re not making assumptions and we’re not stressing ourselves out and we’re all on the same page about expectations?

That’s one of the best things I think we can do, particularly when it comes to email management.  

Ephraim: Okay, I just want a quick follow-up to that. If I’m working at a nonprofit, would you say that that’s something that should be discussed in the interview process or right after being hired? Go to whoever your boss is and say look, I want to set those parameters as you just said it?  

Meico: Yeah, it probably could be something to discuss in the interview process. Maybe not in granular level but just sort of getting a gauge for flexibility, what’s flexibility like, are they open to having that discussion and then once you’re on board, using these questions as a conversation tool. Not coming and saying this is what I want, it’s my way or the highway. It’s more like, here’s what I think might work for me. What works for you and how can we find a common ground that works for everyone?  

Remote Work

Ephraim: I like that. I like that approach. Excellent. So let’s now talk, while we’re talking about working for a nonprofit… so you could be in the office or remote work. On one hand with remote work, you never have to get dressed or sit in traffic on the way to work. On the other hand, you’re always at work. What suggestions or recommendations do you have for people working from home to avoid turning their home into their 24/7 office?

Meico: That’s a great question. One of the first places to start I recommend to folks is this idea of reclaiming your commute time. For many of us, when we’re working from home, we replace our commute time with actually time to get more work done and to take on more personal responsibilities and we think that we’re going to be more productive. What actually ends up happening is we expand our work days, we end up being more tired, we stress ourselves out more and we actually get less down and we’re less productive. So I invite people to reclaim their commute time. One simple way that you can do this is just like when you’re commuting to the office or you’re going on site for a meeting you have that time where you’re sitting in traffic or you’re on the metro on the bus or in your Uber or taxi, have a start and stop ritual for when you’re working from home that actually replaces that time. So for me that includes prayer, meditation, working out, journaling before I start my day and at the end of my day, because I work from home mostly, I close my laptop lid and close my office door. You want to be very explicit about establishing your start and stop rituals and putting it on your calendar.

The other thing I will say is that lots has been written about the idea of the fake commute. So if you’re working from home and maybe you were used to driving to the office or getting your Starbucks, well what if you could have something that replicates that? What if you can still go out and get your Starbucks in the morning and what if you could go like walk around the block a couple times in the afternoon to signal your commute coming back home or whatever that might be for you? That gives you, what we know in terms of the psychology of work from home, that gives you some psychological and emotional spaciousness between the work life and the home life. It’s critically important. It’s not just a nice to have. It’s actually something that we know is critically important for our ongoing psychological and emotional well-being.

Let’s Learn More About Meico

Ephraim: Excellent excellent. I like that. I like that one. I liked everything so far! Let’s move on to the lightning round and learn more about you. What got you started on your work specifically in the health sector?  

Meico: Yeah so I… the universe is very interesting. I don’t believe in accidents or you know coincidences. But I was in graduate school. I studied information science and I ended up interning for an HIV AIDS clinic in where I went to graduate school that was interested in figuring out how to use social marketing for outreach. And it was at that time that I learned about the disproportionately high rates of HIV infection among black men, particularly in the in the U.S. south and that was just alarming to me. I was intrigued about how I could use my skills to, as someone who’s part of the community, also to be able to address the issue. So that really started a journey of figuring out how I could marry my interest in technology with public health and I started this journey to really deepening my commitment to government and the public sector work that I’ve been doing most of my professional career.  

Ephraim: Interesting. If there’s one thing you could shake up in the nonprofit world, what would it be?

Meico: The one thing I would want to shake up is tied to the work that I’m doing already, which is really moving away from this idea of the fire drill culture, where we’re constantly running from one thing to the next, putting out fire after fire, to what I described as a culture of well-being. The larger vision of the work that I do is creating a cultural well-being where we can do the good work that we’re doing, we can be responsive, we can make a positive impact of the world but we can do it in a way that’s balanced. We can do it in a way that’s actually sustainable, so that we’re not burning out and that we’re actually going to be able to be supportive of the folks that actually need us over the long term and not just the short term.

Ephraim: Excellent. I’ve always said about putting fires out, but I never had a name for it. Fire drill culture. Thank you. I’ve got a name, I’ve got a way to define it. That’s a perfect definition for the culture. Yes. Change happens over time. But is there one day that you vividly remember where you just said that’s it. I need to leave work on time, my vacation is real vacation and other things like that?

Meico: I don’t know if there was one particular day but I would describe it as a moment where had an epiphany of sorts, where I realized that I didn’t want to drop dead from literally from work and have my legacy be that I was really good at responding to emails and managing projects. When I had that epiphany, it connected to something that I once heard Wayne Dyer, who’s since transitioned, but he talked about this idea of ‘dying with your music still inside of you’ and I didn’t want to die with my music still inside of me. I knew that I had much more that I wanted to give to the world and that started a journey at that point to thinking about, okay, there has to be a different way to approach this. And that started me onto on the journey that I’m on now and actually taking what I’ve learned on my journey and giving it back to the community.

Ephraim: Wonderful. That’s excellent. You are also, among your many talents, a former triathlete. Swimming, biking or running- which is the hardest?

Meico: So this varies for different people but for me it was… I actually started, I got into triathlons because I wanted to learn how to swim. I learned to swim as an adult and so I figured, well, if I sign up for a triathlon, I’m going to have to learn how to swim. So yeah, so definitely swimming was definitely the most and I think continues to be relative to the running and the biking, the more challenging part of it for me.

Ephraim: Okay. Now you also said that you make the world… you claim to make the world’s best vegan chili. I’m curious. Is there one ingredient that separates yours from everyone else’s?

Meico: I can’t speak to everyone else but I like to host gatherings and potlucks and I like to say that love is… if it doesn’t have love, then what good is it? So love is definitely the central ingredient for anything.

Ephraim: Perfect, because when I used to ask my grandmother for recipes, she used to just say a little this, a little that, some love for my grandchildren and here it is out of the oven. So I totally connect with that. Lastly we will turn the table. You get to ask me one surprise question. I have no clue what it is in advance. Go ahead.

Meico: Alright. We talked a lot about my journey and how I got started. I’m curious for you. If let’s just say for the sake of argument, if money wasn’t an issue, what would you be doing with your life and why?

Ephraim: Wow. If money wasn’t an issue, the truth is there’s a lot of things that I do. My first one… I want to go learn… there are things I want to do that I just… I’m listening to you and saying, okay, I gotta find the time. I want to go learn to play guitar. Now that’s a really simple easy thing. The reason I say that is because when I was in grade six many many years ago, my parents actually gave me lessons for a year and I by the end of the year, I could play and I was playing at recitals. I had a teacher, she was in her 90s. She played about eight or nine different instruments. She was amazing and I was doing recitals and then I didn’t keep up with it and I’ve regretted it for the last almost close to 40 years at this point. So that was one of those things that I want to do. Money’s not an issue there. It’s a time issue. So that is something. 

What would I be doing with my time?  The truth is I’d probably still be working with nonprofits the same way that I do right now. I have a couple of potential books I want to write. I have a family history book, a family history project. I’ve put out a book of my family history. We just published it for the family but I need to expand it a lot. I have done a lot of root searching, in terms of family because there’s a lot my parents and my grandparents didn’t know about people that came before them and I’ve done a lot of that research. There’s a lot more left and if money wasn’t an issue and therefore I had that time, that’s probably where I stick most of my time. I go learn guitar and I learn how to dance because I’ve got two left feet. I am horrible at dancing and it’s just one of those things I’ve always wanted again. I’ve always wanted to be able to do it and not look like a complete dork out on the dance floor. So maybe, we’ll see.

Meico: Absolutely. Sounds awesome.

Ephraim: I’ll let you know if any of it happens. The truth is I’m turning 50 next summer and I did say to myself that before I’m 50, I want to get back and learn guitar. So it could be that this is the year where I’m taking Meico’s advice. For those of you who are listening, watching or reading this, I’m making a commitment now. I’m taking Meico’s advice. I’m getting off my computer a couple hours away, whatever I need to do, I’m starting to learn guitar.

 Meico: Love it love it love it.

 Ephraim: I’ve made a commitment. Meico, thank you very very much for appearing on the podcast. You can learn more about Meico’s work at MindfulTechie.com and I also encourage you to connect with him on LinkedIn.  Meico, it was a pleasure learning from you today.

Meico: Likewise. I had a great time.

Ephraim: Excellent. Thanks so much. I appreciate it. Have a great day.

Meico: You too.