IMG_7659[1]Published on LinkedIn on December 31, 2015

Recently, I wrote a 2015 year in review in the context of my TEDxWomen talk from 2012. As I spend most of my time championing the drive towards a more gender balanced world, it was powerful to name some wins for women, and to see the progress being made since I delivered that talk. Today, I want to look forward and set some priorities and goals for 2016. Like all of us, the demands on my time are many, but this was a year where looking back, I truly feel like I took on too much, said yes to too many things, and in doing so, did not have the outcomes I might have had if I had focussed more intentionally on a smaller number of activities.

So in preparation for 2016, I made a list of all the things I am doing, all the things I care about, and all the things that are taking up a lot or even just a little bit of time and energy, and then I hyperventilated and almost passed out. It reminded me of a process I went through with the amazing personal productivity coach David Allen over a decade ago while I was at Goldman Sachs. For two days, I worked with David as he quite literally made me dump out the contents of my office (folders, lists, etc.), my head (all those to do’s that made up the post-its of my brain), and my heart (things I deeply cared about, goals I had), and then made me put them all back again in a highly actionable way, and helped me to create a process to manage my workflow. This time around, it isn’t just my workflow that needs prioritizing. As I stared down at my potentially overwhelming list for 2016, I realized that I need to find a framework within which I can prioritize activities related to my deepest passions. My heart flow, if you will.

Then all of a sudden it came to me. As I started to go down and examine every different activity on my list, I asked myself was this an activity that 1) I loved to do and it gave me energy? 2) Was I, given the resources and talents I have, uniquely able to have an outsized impact if I were to focus on it? and 3) Was I a credible person to carry out that activity, meaning did I already have the knowledge, skills, or expertise to do so? As I went down the list, I allowed myself one of four answers to give to each item: HELL YES!!, Yes, No, and Have To. They’re my four buckets.

Let me explain the framework.

Bucket One – HELL YES!!

The HELL YES!! bucket is for those things that truly drive you to get up and out of bed in the morning and makes your eyes light up when someone asks you about it. Ideally, this should be the biggest bucket in your life, and inside is the work, the activities, and the moments that combine to create that sweet spot where your passion, purpose, and impact come together. This is where the different talents, skills, and resources that you uniquely possess are in alignment with a market, business, or social impact. Usually, this bucket contains the one issue, dream, activity, or idea that you are most passionate about, but sometimes there can be more than one. If people are really lucky, pursuing the contents of this bucket will also pay the bills, but even if it doesn’t, this is still where you should be spending your (extra) time, energy, and resources, because this is what will likely provide you with an abundant supply of energy and joy.  Obviously, this bucket will hold many different things for different people, but it should always be the most important bucket in your life and the one that is nurtured the most, because in the end, this is the one that is most closely aligned with who you are as a person.

So what is my big HELL YES!! bucket for the coming year? Advancing Women’s Leadership! In many ways, this has been my HELL YES!! for quite some time, but this is the year that I am really naming it. The core of my theory of change is a belief that if people, but especially women, had the tools, support, knowledge, and community to more intentionally align their resources with their values, we could accelerate the movement to end gender based inequities in all its forms. This year, I plan on attacking this goal from multiple directions, but I plan on focusing primarily on my work at Women Moving Millions. In particular, we are currently developing a robust curriculum in four areas that will support women’s leadership: philanthropic strategies, financial engagement, voice and influence, and self awareness and self care. We will both create and curate content and learning opportunities for our members, with the goal of making this curriculum more widely available in the near future. In addition to my work at WMM, I plan on continuing my writing, speaking, investing, and philanthropic work in support of women’s leadership. I also plan on finally focusing on writing a book that annoyingly doesn’t seem to be writing itself.

Bucket Two – Yes.

We all have things that are important to us that fall outside our deepest passions in life, whether it is other issues that you care about, a person that requires your support, or projects that are other people’s HELL YES!! that you want to see succeed. These demands fall into the Yes bucket, because while they may not be your true passion in life, they are still important to you, and your time, talent, and treasure could be utilized to create positive outcomes or impact. This is where a big chunk of the demands on my time land, simply because there are so many issues and people that I want to support. Bucket one may be for you and your purpose and passion, but that doesn’t mean you can’t help other people with theirs. Sometimes you, along with many others, can bring the funding, personal connections, or resources needed to make someone else’s HELL YES!! succeed.

One example from this past year is when I became one of the many supporters of the film The Hunting Ground. The issue of sexual assault on college campuses is one that I care deeply about, not the least of which because I have a son currently in his freshman year at the University of Chicago, and a daughter not far behind him. As a mother, I want college to be a thrilling, exciting, and joyous time in my children’s lives, in all children’s lives, and above all else, I want them to be safe. So I decided to support the film, and by reaching out to a network of people who I thought would care about this issue as well, we were able to raise funds to support the filmmakers to the tune of over $500,000. My Yes helped to make the filmmakers’ HELL YES!! possible. And that’s pretty cool. Supporting various social issue films will remain at the top of my Yes bucket for the coming year, but other Yes items include my non-profit board service and angel investing with women entrepreneurs.

Bucket Three – No.

This bucket is the hardest for me, especially when the request comes from someone I like and respect, and I know that I could help in some way if I had the time. However, while I may have been blessed with more resources than most, even I have limits, and I am always operating at full capacity. That is when bucket three has to come into play, because we can’t be all things to all people. If we truly want to have an impact on the world, we all have to learn when to say yes, but more importantly, when to say no.

The worst is when a request comes in that falls right on the border between Yes and No. When this happens, I usually tell myself that I will do one thing. Just one thing. I will write a small check, make one introduction, or send an email of support, but then that will have to be enough. Then it comes off of the to do list and I have to let it go. It’s hard to do, but it has to be done, because if you spend too much time worrying about bucket three, you won’t have time for all of the amazing work and impact you could have by focusing on the first two.

Bucket Four – Have To.

I must admit, at first this bucket didn’t even exist in my mind until my super smart husband pointed it out to me, because of course we all have things in our life that we have to do, and often, these things take up a lot of our time. We may not want to do them, but we have to in order to keep our lives running and the lights on. So we pay bills, we clean, we cook, we do our taxes, the list goes on and on. For a lot of people, the work we do simply to pay the bills and provide for our families falls into this bucket, and while we may not enjoy it, we have to keep doing it. Can we find some joy and energy in the Have Tos? I hope so, but that may be a tall order.

So there you have it. My version of a bucket list, and a glimpse into how I organize my time and prioritize my work. It certainly does not capture everything one does with one’s time, because hopefully not everything you do is work, but I hope it is a useful framework to help you think about your life in 2016 and your goals for the year ahead.

I welcome your thoughts, and if you have a system that works for you, please share.

May your 2016 be the best one yet!

Host Jacki Zehner speaks during the "Investing in Ideas" Learning Track session at TEDWomen2015 - Momentum, May 27-29, 2015, Monterey Conference Center, Monterey, California, USA. Photo: Marla Aufmuth/TED