Archive for January 2019

Avoiding another federal government shutdown

January 29, 2019

To our federal employees and families, thank you for your public service. Thank you for going to work every day, when you weren’t getting paid. Thank you for going to work every day, when you were anxious about how you would pay your bills. Thank you for keeping us safe.

We were all relieved to hear that the federal government shutdown came to an end. We are all worried that there may be more shutdowns to come.

Though I’m not a lawyer or a politician, I’ve been thinking about how we can avoid shutdowns in the future. I’ve come up with a few thoughts and ideas I’d like to share.

* Require an annual balanced federal budget. Without a budget to manage the government’s income (aka taxes), the government won’t be able to uphold our rights, ensure our freedoms, and keep us safe. There should be consequences for legislators if they cannot or will not do their jobs.

On a related note, we could consider that the federal government…

* Build a zero-based annual federal budget every 10 years. This means starting a federal budget from $0 and justifying expenses for each department. Alternately, we could require zero-based annual budgets by department, on a rotating basis, so that the entire budget is not up for review at one time.

If legislators can’t agree and cause a federal government shutdown…

* Suspend US Congress salaries and benefits. If federal employees do not get paid because a federal budget is not approved, then federal lawmakers should not get paid either. Elected government officials seem to be using federal employees to make statements about their political policies. But while Congress and the White House stick to their principles, employees, families, and communities bear the burden of those principles. As we all know, the Thirteenth Amendment of the US Constitution abolished slavery and involuntary servitude (except as punishment for a crime).

At the state level, this means that we may need to…

* Reduce our reliance on the federal government. One way we can do this is to minimize the role of federal government and return more authority to state governments. It doesn’t make sense for the federal government to duplicate many of the services that the state government provides. Many federal agencies, such as the Department of Education and the Department of Health, could collect, report, and audit data from the states, and make policy recommendations – not set national policies. State governments would have more responsibility for government programs and would need to hire more employees.

But returning more authority to state governments would also require that we…

* Completely revise the federal tax system. State governments should not rely on the federal government for funding. It doesn’t make sense for large amounts of taxes to go to the federal government and then be redistributed to the states. The federal government, which has national responsibilities and a larger tax base, should have lower tax rates. The states, which directly care for citizens but have smaller tax bases, should have higher tax rates to pay for local programs and services.

How were you impacted by the federal shutdown? What do you think we can do to avoid future shutdowns?

A confession about the national news

January 22, 2019

I have a confession to make. Over the past few months, I’ve been avoiding the national news. I keep up with the local news, but I only read the headlines of the national news.

“Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government,” Thomas Jefferson wrote. A couple of years ago, I agreed completely.

But there were a few things Jefferson didn’t foresee, like 24/7 news; the ease with which truth and lies can spread; the knowledge that even when news is disproven, people still believe it is true; and the sometimes callousness of anonymous political discourse.

I needed to take a break from national politics and political debate for my own mental health. The frustration, anger, helplessness, and even scorn I felt were not healthy, and I couldn’t turn it into something productive.

So I will indulge in sticking to the headlines a little longer. When I’m ready to read beyond the headlines again, I’ll remind myself of two things:

* I choose to be kind and positive. I can’t control the news, the reporters, the bloggers, or the commentators, but I can control myself.

* I choose to believe that most people do what they think is right, even when I disagree with them (maybe especially when I disagree with them). And I hope they will think the same of me in return.

How closely do you follow national politics? How can we improve the way we discuss government policies and laws?

Doing less or more on vacation

January 15, 2019

There’s truth in what Lucille Ball said: “If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it. The more things you do, the more you can do.”

It may be obvious to you, but recently it struck me that the busier I am, the more I get done.

Over the past few months, I have been overwhelmed, stressed, and a little ragged when I let myself think of all the things I need to do. Somehow the urgent things get done, and I move on down the list.

Then I took a vacation. Except for checking email every once in a while (so I didn’t face an overflowing inbox when I got back to work), most of the “busy work” halted.

I took time to sleep in, to read, to relax. But I also had plans, places to go and things to do.

On the first and last days of my vacation, we took two family day-trips – places we wanted to take our son for the first time. But with so much time, we couldn’t stir ourselves to take the second trip sooner.

Between those family days, I worked only on projects that I wanted to do. I couldn’t justify doing them when there were more urgent projects, but I enjoyed doing them. There were other things I wanted to do, and had the time to do them, but not the motivation.

Though my vacation is over, here are three things I could have done to make sure I got more done:

* Designate work times. I could have aside two days, or three mornings, as work days. Whether it’s checking work email, preparing taxes, doing yardwork, or cleaning the house, making that mental shift to “work” can help focus attention and set boundaries for the rest of the vacation.

* Set imaginary deadlines. My default was “I’ll do it over my vacation,” but that’s not specific enough. I should have set a date for when something needed to be completed – even if it was an arbitrary date.

* Tell someone about it. Better yet, I should have told someone what I wanted to accomplish, and when, so that I felt some pressure or accountability to actually follow through.

Now I have some ideas for staying on task during my next vacation.

What is your ideal vacation? Are your vacations all-leisure or a combination of work and play?

Poetry: Too Soon

January 8, 2019

Too Soon
by Rachelle Chang

I saw you here the other night,
And here you are again.
No one ever comes this way
But me, and you, in the rain.

This place, it is so strange and far
From all that I have known…
I linger here, but not for long,
I’ve been too long alone.

And you, I know, won’t leave this place,
While I must journey on;
Tell them for me, when they return,
That I’m already gone.

I came too soon, you see, I came
And now I stay too late;
I ask you this: when they return,
Tell them I could not wait.

“When” by Daniel H. Pink

January 5, 2019

At one time, my son was really interested in social experiments. He didn’t run any experiments on me (I think), but he did make me watch some episodes of Daniel Pink’s “Crowd Control.” We watched Pink try to reduce speeding by creating a musical highway or give away prizes. Not long after that, Pink’s book “When” caught my curiosity at just the right time, when I was thinking about making a career change but was still unsure of what I wanted to do.

“When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing” (2018) by author Daniel H. Pink is a book about timing. Specifically, the science of timing, based on more than 700 studies. With an engaging tone and all of that research in bite-sized pieces “When” is thoroughly readable and gave me a lot to think about.

The book is divided into increments of time (day, beginnings, midpoints, and endings), with a “Time Hacker’s Handbook” section at the end of each chapter that is filled with tools, exercises, and tips. One of the most useful tips he shares is to identify personally meaningful days to create a “fresh start effect” – whether it’s the start of the week or month, a birthday, an anniversary, or ordinary day that you make meaningful (Star Wars fans might consider May 4).

The Day. Morning larks, night owls, and third birds. Our moods follow a common pattern: a peak, a trough, and a recovery. For night-owls, this pattern is reversed: recovery, trough, then peak. This pattern has a big impact on problem solving, creativity, and even morality. Pink suggests that we perform analytical tasks at optimal times, and perform creative tasks at low times. In between, we should take frequent, short, restorative breaks (moving around, talking with others, going outside, or taking a nap).

Beginnings. Beginnings matter, and Pink points out two beginnings that we might want to re-think. For example, when you start your day has a big impact on the rest of your day. For teenagers, an early start could negatively impact learning. Pink recommends starting the school day later, after 8:30 am. And when you graduate and enter the job market – whether it’s a strong economy or a weak one – has a lifelong impact on your career and wealth.

Midpoints. Happiness tends to climb high in early adulthood, slides down in the late 30s and early 40s, dips in the 50s, and begins climbing again in the 60s. In everyday life, Pink suggests that we use midpoints in a project, competition, or calendar to motivate us. We can set interim goals and then publicly commit to those interim goals. Ernest Hemingway would stop writing in mid-sentence to keep his productivity flowing.

Endings. Endings shape our behavior by energizing us – we want to do something significant. We’re more likely to do something challenging or meaningful right before we reach an age milestone, such as age 30, 40, 50 or more. In a few years, I’ll reach one of those decade milestones (I won’t say which one), and I’ll let you know if I come up with something significant – or wild.

There’s more about the power of when – like secrets to group timing, ways to make the present more meaningful, and how we can change our perception of time. You can read more about “When” and watch an author interview on Pink’s website at https://www.danpink.com/.

Are you a morning lark, a night owl, or a third bird? What beginnings and endings stand out in your memory?

Spending more time in the future

January 1, 2019

Today, there seems to be a strong emphasis on living in the present, on savoring each moment. We can add meaning to our days by focusing on good things that happened, accomplishments, and kindnesses.

 

But we also need to balance living in the present with spending time in the future.

 

“The capacity to imagine and articulate exciting future possibilities is the defining competence of leaders. Leaders are custodians of the future,” write James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner in “The Truth About Leadership: The No-Fads, Heart-of-the-Matter Facts You Need to Know” (2010).

 

“Spend more time in the future,” Kouzes and Posner suggest. “You have to carve out more time each week to peering into the distance and imagining what might be out there. You have to spend time today in order to have the time tomorrow.”

 

So I spent some time imagining what our best possible organization could be like in five years. Who is part of our best team? What are our core programs, products, and services? What other organizations and agencies are we working closely with? What is the state of our finances? How are we making positive changes in our community?

 

Thinking about the future is revitalizing. It makes me feel hopeful. It gives me a renewed sense of purpose.

 

It’s like a reverse time capsule. In five years, what will your time capsule tell you about about today?

 

This ties in with a happiness practice that I recently learned through “The Science of Happiness” class. In this practice, we were asked to imagine our best possible self – in career, family, relationships, finances, hobbies/interests, and health.

 

And what it comes down to is time – more time doing meaningful things, like time with my family, time devoted to art, and work that has a positive impact on society.

 

The practice is not meant to make us feel frustrated about the difficulties that we face today or the challenges that we foresee in the future. It helps us learn about ourselves and what is important to us. And it can help us prioritize who we can be and what our organization can become.

 

Imagining the future made me really excited about doing even everyday tasks, because I could see how each small step could get us to that best future.

 

Do you make time to spend time in the future? What do envision for your life in five years?