Need to make a decision on the fly? Use the 15/15/15 Rule

The right way

Every day we make decisions. Often we have to make them on the fly. How do you quickly get in the perspective to make the best decision? Use the 15/15/15 rule.

For one decision you make today, before you take action ask yourself three simple questions:

1. If I respond this way, how will I feel about it in 15 minutes?

2. If I respond this way, how will I feel about it in 15 days?

3. If I respond this way, how will I feel about it in 15 years?

You can’t know the future. But taking a few minutes to reflect on how your think your decision will feel down the road helps to put it in perspective. You’ll quickly put in perspective smaller decisions (unlikely to matter in 15 years) and take extra care about things that you might be thinking about over a decade from now.

Photo Credit: Creative Commons License Fabrizio Sciami via Compfight

How to say “No” at work in a way that helps your career

indecision diceCreative Commons License Anne-Lise Heinrichs via Compfight

This experiment was originally published as a post on

You know that feeling you get after someone’s asked you to add just one more thing to your already full plate? Internally, you start to sob at the thought of more meetings. You think about how to let your partner know that you need to work even longer hours.

It can be difficult to say “no” because you are passionate about your work. You see each project’s potential to forward the cause. Also, you want to progress professionally and saying “yes” can seem like the best route.

But the reality is that we can only do so much. So how do you say “no” in a way that doesn’t hurt your career or make you feel guilty? How do you know for sure which requests to say “no” to in the first place?

Don’t respond immediately

The first thing to ask yourself when a new request comes in is: “Am I in the best state right now to respond?”

The worst time to make a decision is when you are tired, stressed out, in the middle of something else, or perhaps just really excited about the topic–and that’s usually when you’ll be asked!

Even if you are new to an organization or early in your career, you can gently let the requestor know that you want to think about the best approach and will respond soon. Your thoughtfulness will be appreciated.

Think through the request

It’s always worth taking 10-15 minutes to figure out if you should be spending weeks, months, or even a couple of hours on a new request. To help you gain some clarity, go through the following checklist.

1. Priority fit: What are my top priorities? How does this request relate? If you don’t know what your priorities are, you are not going to know if the new request fits in. Take the time to revisit the most valuable work you do.

2. Capabilities fit: How does this with your skills and expertise? Take into account both your current capabilities and those you would like to develop.

3. Long-term benefit: Where will this work lead both for the organization and for you in the long term? What impact could it create? What opportunities could it open up?

4. Scope: What 20% of the work in this request will produce 80% of the value? It may be that you can help the requester focus on the most important elements and get the benefits by just doing a small part.

5. Resources: What other resources are available? This can be a sticky one – it’s easy to feel like there are none. However, even when there aren’t extra dollars, there often are newer members of the team who might get a valuable learning experience, or volunteers who can help. Also think through past work and available tools, organizations and online resources that could be used to complete the task more efficiently.

6. Timing: When does this work need to get done? If it’s really valuable and needs to get done soon, you may want to say “yes” and highlight the need to take something else off your plate.

Say “no,” gently

After going through the checklist, if you realize that you can’t commit to a new project, don’t send an email. Instead, have a conversation with the requestor and think of the conversation as a negotiation and a discussion of options.

1. Start with your “why.” For example: “I want to do a really good job on X [pre-existing priority], so I’m thinking that it would be better if I supervised [volunteer, other resource] doing Y [new request]. It will also let them learn the process.” If you are early in your career you could say, “I am focused right now on learning to do X really well for the organization, and want to make sure anything I take on doesn’t prevent me from reaching that goal.”

2. Be a resource to the requestor. Give them new ideas and/or resources. They are likely overworked too and may not have fully thought the options through. So offer your ideas about the most valuable piece of the request, when the right time is for the work to happen, and what resources might make it easier. For example, “I know you want to get good feedback from staff on X topic. Instead of doing individual interviews, what if we used an online tool to do an initial survey?”

3. Be clear on what’s not negotiable. If it’s valuable work, most likely you’d be happy to be involved, but just in a limited or in a different way. An offer of limited or joint involvement softens the no. So be clear about how you can be involved and, again, offer alternatives. For example, “Even though I don’t have the capacity to write [the report, document, presentation] right now, I’d be happy to review it.” Or, “Let’s have a brainstorming session with the key people and see if we can solve this problem together in a short time frame.”

In short, make the effort to turn down what’s not a fit but be helpful on every request. If you repeat this process an amazing thing happens: you not only help others but also ensure your career stays on track.

“Yes, and…”: An experiment in team work

The first rule of improvisational comedy is say, “Yes, and…” What this means is that every time a person you are improving with creates a scenario (like, “Now we are on a yacht  with a golden retriever puppy”, you accept that scenario (that’s the yes part). Then you add your own contribution (the puppy just jumped in the water and started to swim). You never negate the scenario you’re improv partner presented, you just add on.

Most of the time we are quick to say “but”. “I like your idea, but have you thought about [My brilliant way!].” Those three little letters can quickly make the other person feel defensive or negated.

Today, listen for when you are about to say “but” and try to replace it at least half the time with “and”. Say, “I like your idea, and what if we also included [my additional idea]?”

Notice how the conversation proceeds. What is it like when you go ahead and use “but”? What do you notice about the other person’s response, tone of voice, non-verbal communication and language when you use “and” instead?


1. What are situations in which you have felt most able to create with others? What did you learn? What did you produce?

2. What context and guidelines – explicit or implicit – where there in those groups?

3. Who has made you feel your ideas are truly welcome? How did s/he or he give you that feeling?


Photo Credit: Creative Commons License Erich Ferdinand via Compfight

Visualize Your Challenges


Don’t let unrealistic idealism get in the way of achieving your goals

“When you are optimistic because you believe you can exert some control over whether you succeed or fail, by putting in the necessary effort, making plans, and finding the right strategies, that’s realistic. It’s also empowering and highly motivating.” Heidi Halvorson, Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals

Don’t fall into the trap of unrealistic idealism.

Set intentions fueled by your passions – and then help prepare yourself for the challenges you may encounter trying to fulfill them.

Instead of just visualizing yourself succeeding, create a practice of visualizing potential barriers and how to overcome them:

1. Bring to mind a clear, challenging and meaningful goal that you wish to achieve

2. As you think through the critical steps that it will take to get you there, brainstorm potential pitfalls – factors inside and out that could make it difficult to achieve the critical steps.

3. For each challenge that seems plausible, carefully visualize how you might creatively overcome it. What alternative approaches could there be? How could you respond if this obstacle ends up standing in your way?

If you enjoy these weekly actions, why not sign up to get them first, delivered to your inbox and share with your friend who’s trying to reach for the stars?

Photo Credit: VinothChandar via Compfight cc

Why is Having Only 24 Hours a Day the Best Gift of Your Life?

Gifts? Already?

Why having only 24 hours a day is the best gift of your life

Project X was the graduate composition thesis of Molly Sturges, who continues to do amazing, community based work with music, movement and people. Every week we got together and improvised sound and movement.

What made the “performances” (except for once, nobody outside the project was there) work was that we were given completely free reign to improvise - except for a few rules.

The rules themselves were things like “only make sounds starting with consonants.” “Always stay in contact with exactly one other person” I can’t remember the exact rules, but you get the idea.

Here’s the thing: it was the rules that set us free.

A few constraints created the conditions to experiment fully. To compose.

It’s so easy to look at the constraints of life as problems – constraints like:

“I don’t have enough money”

“Not enough people know about my work”

“I don’t have enough time.”

I hear this last one with incredible frequency.

What if you had endless time? What would you do with it?

Wouldn’t it be easier to put off the tremendous work that you feel called to, but probably fear, because there would always be tomorrow?

You never know if you’ll have another day.

You only have 24 hours today and that’s the best gift you could possibly have been given.

Image: Creative Commons License Kasia via Compfight

Be ambidextrous today

Child's Hands Holding White Rose for Peace Free Creative CommonsIt can be easy to get stuck in our habitual ways of thinking and expressing.

Luckily, even a small spoke in our usual wheels can help slow down and interrupt our ordinary thought patterns. That in turn has the tendency to:

  1. Help us notice the contours of those patterns 
  2. Open up new directions in our thinking and actions

Here’s a really easy way to experiment:

Take out a pen and paper. Set aside everything else, and for 5 minutes write with your non-dominent hand.

Let yourself write really slowly if you need to and accept that what comes out probably will look like child’s writing (after all, it may have been a very long time since you wrote with this hand!)

What new directions appear? What did you notice? Let us know below.

This is one of the GatherWell WellBeing Experiments – see them all here. Also, if you enjoyed this weekly experiment, why not sign up to get them first, delivered to your inbox, or share it with a writer you know?

Image Creative Commons License D. Sharon Pruitt via Compfight

How To Say “No!” to Almost Anything

by Epipheo

Get More WellNews

We all wish we had the self-control to say, “No,” to certain things and the willpower to say, “Yes!” to other things. It’s almost like we have two brains that are fighting against each other.

We talked with Kelly McGonigal, author of, “The Willpower Instinct,” about this inner conflict we often feel and she helps us break down willpower into three different powers:

1) I Will Power
2) I Won’t Power
3) I Want Power

Sign up to get personal experiments to change your life, in less then 15 minutes a week. Delivered right to your inbox.

Play Without Toys

As children, we have an innate sense of the importance of play. We spend hours immersed in seemingly simple games that actually help us to learn and grow, and according to the toy free kindergarden studies we may do it even better when there are no toys around.

In contrast, as adults living in the Information Age, it’s easy to feel that every minute has to be for a very specific result.

What if, just for a few minutes, you let go of that sense of needing to “get things done” and allowed yourself to really play?

Why not, right now, spend 5-15 minutes in pure play – no special equipment needed?

Let yourself rearrange the post-it notes on your desk into hearts, draw on the whiteboard or bang on the kitchen pots with chopsticks.

Have fun and share your experiences below.

P.S. it can be surprisingly hard to just play if you’re out of practice – so, in case you need it, here’s a little help. Also, if you enjoy these weekly actions, why not sign up to get them first, delivered to your inbox, or share them with your best friend?

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30% Discount to SOCAP ’14 – Igniting Vibrant Communities – for the GatherWell Community

Join the world’s pioneering impact investors, social entrepreneurs, philanthropists, civic leaders, and innovators at SOCAP14. At SOCAP we create the intersections where you – with friends and valuable strangers – form partnerships and mobilize resources and capital for good.


  • Connects impact investors (who want a mix of financial return along with positive social and environmental impact) with investable entrepreneurs (who can make it happen);
  • Brings reports from the field, highlighting trends and new research; and
  • Enables connections that create a market where meaning has a place at the table.

Everyone participates in the social capital market in a different way. Whether you are an entrepreneur or an investor, a researcher or a policy maker, a student or a fund manager, SOCAP14 will have content within our themes suited to you. Whether this is your first SOCAP or you’re an old hand, you will find value at SOCAP14.

Something new for this year is both entry level and graduate level workshops. While we’ll still have plenty of beginner content, special attention will be given to some deep-dive sessions for experienced practitioners. Come be challenged and raise your game to the next level.

Learn more here and write to SOCAP (at) to get the discount code, just include in the e-mail the one thing you most hope to get out of attending SOCAP, or the biggest problem you are facing right now in being well and doing good


Stories of Transformation

“Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.”

Join the Dalai Lama Fellows on June 5th in San Francisco for Stories of Transformation.

A gathering of passionate idealists sharing moments of change and possibility.

Also learn more about the Dalai Lama Fellow’s new Compassionate Action Network.

Wine and snacks will be provided.  There will be a raffle with prizes including dinner for two at Chez Pannisse.

Here is a link to the eventbrite invitation we hope that you will join us.


Don’t think data, think stories

by Wendy Jeffries

Those of us trying to make a difference in the social sector are often asked to prove our organization’s value or to articulate the impact of what we do.

Many non-profits try to show their worth by throwing out lots of numbers and creating professional looking reports.

While this looks impressive and conveys how many people you have helped or all the great programs you are undertaking, does it really demonstrate your full impact? Too many times the answer is no.

So what is a better way?

Start by thinking about: What is the story you want to tell?”

While many non-profits have perfected the art of picking a case example and writing a compelling vignette to articulate their work, this is just not enough anymore.

Yes, these examples elicit empathy and can stir people to action.

But, what do these examples say about the full reach and value of your work?

What I’m asking (because this is what the founders, board, and others will ask) is: “Tell me the whole story of how your work is creating a positive change for the people you are serving.”

Make it real by painting a picture for stakeholders who care but who are not part of your organization’s daily activities.

What do I mean?

Recently, I helped a program that educates elementary school children about the journey of food from farm to table.

They were asked by a potential funder, “How will you measure impact?” as part of a grant application.

The program staff understood that simply providing the number of kids and schools that participate or sharing student reflections and drawings from their trip to the farm wasn’t enough.

Through conversations guided by the question of “what story do you want to tell?”, they decided to explain how this program led students to make small behavioral changes. For example, how many students tried to make the recipe at home and how many students were willing to try a new vegetable.

Through this lens, the program illustrated how the immediate activities were enacting larger change and having a lasting effect on the students.

So what should you be asking yourself when you set out to demonstrate that your work is not just doing specific good but making a long-term difference?

Here are three questions to get you started:

  1. What is the story? – i.e., what is the convincing narrative that proves you are making a difference or creating positive change?
  2. What are the details of my story? – i.e., what evidence or data do I need in order to tell this story, and where can I get this information?
  3. What is the point of my story? – i.e., how is your work having an impact by improving outcomes for your clients, creating positive change in the community, etc.?

From what I’ve seen, organizations in the social sector that best illustrate their impact are those that combine a compelling narrative (“the story”) with cold, hard facts (“the evidence”).

As Jacob Harold, President and CEO of Guidestar, sums it up in a recent article, “….data is simply organized story telling.”

This week, think through these three questions to get started on your story.

Wendy Jeffries works with the non-profit and education sectors to improve programs and outcomes through the effective use of data

Have a Frontier Market Scout Fellow Support Your Cause

The Frontier Market Scout ( program is a certificate training focused on social venture management and impact investment. The program started in 2011 at the Monterey Institute (MIIS) and has trained over 130 young professionals since its inception. In February 2013 FMS received a Cordes Innovation Award from AshokaU. FMS offers trainings in Amsterdam and Monterey, California.

The goal of the FMS field placement fellowship is to bring talent to existing social enterprises—both nascent and well established—to scale projects and to offer a meaningful career-defining experience to program participants.  FMS is continually looking for new partners who would benefit from adding new and specialized talent to their team.

After successful completion of the Frontier Market Scouts (FMS) certificate training, fellows are offered the possibility of working with local social entrepreneurs and investors to discover innovations, improve business processes, attract investments, and promote sustainable businesses models.

FMS fellows have professional experience, multilingual capacity (in most cases), and have been vetted for excellence by the fellowship placement team at the Monterey Institute for International Studies. To learn more or to become a partner, visit:

What Einstein said about his shoes

I read recently something Einstein said about his shoes.

He said that he only ever had one pair.

When it wore out, he threw them away.

Then he got another pair.


Because he believed in keeping things simple. 

In fact, he believed it was so important to keep things simple that he needed to extend that to all the areas of his life. Even shoes.

I’m not there yet. 

But I am on a quest to see how simplifying as much as possible can help me, and other Practical Idealists, live our fullest lives. 

Did having just one pair of shoes enable Einstein to come up with E= MC2? I don’t know. But he did feel that simplifying across all areas of his life let him excel at approaching some of the most complex and daunting challenges in his field.

So this week, I’d challenge you to find one area of your life that you can simplify.

What can you get rid of or reorganize in under 10 minutes to take up not just less time, or less of your physical space, but less of your mental space? 

What nags at the back of your mind and keeps you from fully focusing on what’s in front of you? Keeps you from your aim of a life brimming with meaning and contribution?

In Rural Kansas, an Experiment Makes Hitchhiking Safe Again

What a fascinating take on hacking transportation in rural America!


This article originally appeared at

Photo by Shutterstock.

Photo by Shutterstock.

“We’re not stuck in a traffic jam. We are the traffic jam.”

What I love best about the sharing economy is how it squeezes good value out of the unused bits of our society that would otherwise go to waste. And nowhere do you have so much waste as in our transportation system. A personal car uses less than 1 percent of its energy to move a passenger, and 80 percent of our passenger capacity is driving around empty.

That’s hundreds of millions of empty seats in this country! Meanwhile, 45 percent of the country has no access to transit. What a perfect opportunity to share!

Of course, plenty of smart people are already employing new Smartphone apps to put those empty seats to work. For example, I could use the Lyft or Uber apps to call up a citizen taxi, or download the Carma app to share my morning commute. That is, I could do these things if I lived in a big city like San Francisco or Austin. Unfortunately, I live in rural Northeast Kansas where we have neither transit, nor the critical mass of people needed for those apps to work well.

Hitchhiking is an easy, cheap, and flexible way to get around—in many countries it’s a primary mode of transit.

We denizens of the countryside have historically accepted a big trade-off. Peaceable enjoyment and low housing costs come at the price of a tremendous amount of driving. And when the car is our only option, we are incredibly vulnerable to fluctuations in the price and disruptions in the supply of gas. I spent two years grumbling about all the driving, but feeling helpless to do anything about it.

Then I heard a radio podcast about hitchhiking and how it’s not nearly as dangerous as the media have led us to believe. The point was made that hitchhiking is such an easy, cheap, and flexible way to get around—in many countries it’s a primary mode of transit. So the show argued, we should give it another chance. For some reason, this idea grabbed me so fiercely that I thought about little else until I had designed a way to do just that—mainstream hitchhiking and make it safe, easy, reliable, and fun. What I came up with was a nonprofit organization that I called Lawrence OnBoard.

Here’s how it works: participants can sign up as riders or drivers or both. Drivers can sign up for free. They get a window cling with their member number. Riders pay a membership fee and we provide them with a background check, a photo ID and a folding dry erase board branded with the club logo. The rider can write his destination on the board, stand by a safe roadside, hold up the board and wait for a passing car to stop. The rider can then text in the driver’s member number (or license plate number if the driver is not a member) to Lawrence OnBoard.

That makes a record of the ride which is important as a safety backup, as a way to leave feedback and it enters the driver in a drawing for a prize. The prize is a fun incentive for the driver that doesn’t require an awkward cash transaction and doesn’t turn the driver into an unlicensed taxi service. Lawrence OnBoard will provide training, a map of good locations, and a marketing campaign.

With the power of the sharing economy, we now have the chance to build a brand new model for public transportation.

That’s the plan, and in 2013, I conducted field tests to see if it could work. Twenty-three volunteers went out on 121 test rides in and around the Lawrence area and the results were pretty astonishing. Even with random strangers picking up, 95 percent of the volunteers got a ride in less than half an hour, and our average wait time was less than seven minutes! In some prime locations, we could reliably get a ride in less than two minutes. When I saw these results, I know we were onto something.

I personally used my dry erase board to commute to town for most of the summer and I found that it was safe, easy, and reliable and saved a lot of gas. But even better, I met more of my neighbors, learned what was happening in the neighborhood and even made a couple of business deals. Building community like this is the big strength of the sharing economy and it’s something we are sadly missing when we all drive alone.

Of course, this ridesharing concept does have its limitations. One shouldn’t do it at night, it’s not good for transporting small children, and riders need to be over 18 and use good judgment. We still need to conduct another season of research to back up the preliminary findings and continue to test and map good locations to ride from. We’re also raising funds through grants and some crowdfunding to launch a pilot, hopefully before the end of the year. You can help our efforts by making a donation at RocketHub.

Americans are eager for better transportation solutions. The carless college students in Lawrence, environmentally conscious families who want to pare down to one car, and populations who can’t drive are especially interested in this project, since it focuses on short, local trips.

When I presented the research findings to the Transportation Research Board I got an enthusiastic response from transportation professionals all across the country. Lawrence OnBoard has been featured on podcasts, public radio stations, blogs, and the news. Most recently, we were named a finalist in the TEDxFulbright Social Innovation Challenge and got to pitch the idea on a TED stage!

We are so fortunate to live in this modern age. With the tools and technology currently at our disposal and the power of the sharing economy, we now have the chance to build a brand-new model for public transportation. Imagine a network of neighbors driving neighbors. This network is nimble and can fill in the gaps between trains, buses, and bikes. It’s cheap and efficient because it makes better use of the cars already on the road. And it’s a transportation system that’s built on our best resource: our human kindness.

Check out on our progress at

See you on the road!

Jennifer O’Brien wrote this article for, where it originally appeared. Jennifer is CEO of the nonprofit Lawrence OnBoard, and the owner of CASA Kids Studio in Lawrence, Kansas.

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The Underground Railroad Was One of America’s First Co-ops: A Black History Tour of Cooperative Economics

Cooperative economics and civil rights don’t often appear together in history books, but they should. From the mutual aid societies that bought enslaved people’s freedom to the underground railroad network that brought endangered blacks to the north, cooperative structures were key to evading white supremacy. And there was vicious backlash when black co-ops threatened the status quo.

“The white economic structure depended on all of these blacks having to buy from the white store, rent from the white landowner. They were going to lose out if you did something alternatively,” Jessica Gordon Nembhard, author of Collective Courage: A History of African-American Economic Thought and Practice, told Commonomics correspondent Laura Flanders this week.

For more on co-ops in the black community, read our latest piece on late Jackson Mayor Chokwe Lumumba’s vision.

Laura Flanders headshotLaura is YES! Magazine’s 2014 Local Economies Reporting Fellow and is executive producer and founder and host of “GRITtv with Laura Flanders.” Follow her on Twitter @GRITlaura.

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Social Enterprise Enables Hazelnut Farming in Bhutan

Speaker(s): Daniel Spitzer, founder & CEO, Mountain Hazelnuts

Operating a successful social enterprise requires providing meaningful economic value to people. In this audio lecture, Daniel Spitzer, founder of Mountain Hazelnuts, describes his experience creating supply chain value to develop a hazelnut farming social enterprise in Bhutan. Spitzer details how he enhances supply chains through corporate citizenship, and leverages data captured from Android phones. Spitzer describes why there is nothing is more important than people in operating a profitable business through corporate social responsibility.

Operating a successful social enterprise requires providing meaningful economics to people, in both income and personal worth. In this audio lecture, Daniel Spitzer, founder of Mountain Hazelnuts, describes his experience in applying specific approaches to supply chains and value-creating tools to develop a successful hazelnut farming social enterprise in Bhutan. In this podcast episode of Stanford University’s Social Innovation Conversations, Spitzer details how he enhances supply chains through corporate citizenship and leverages data of all kinds captured from Android phones with specialized apps. From his hands-on experience dealing with supply chains, Spitzer describes why there is nothing is more important than people in operating a profitable business that delivers value to all stakeholders through corporate social responsibility.

Daniel Spitzer is Chairman & CEO of Mountain Hazelnuts Group. Daniel has spent most of the past twenty years as Chairman and/or CEO of companies in Asia. Daniel founded several ventures that have successfully combined financial objectives with social and environmental goals, including Plantation Timber Products Group (PTP), which he built into China’s largest sustainable forestry company. PTP established US $200 million of new facilities to process logs grown by 700,000 farmers in the interior of China. Daniel spent the first ten years of his career in finance, and was Managing Director of a global merchant bank and Partner & Managing Director of a major private investment fund. He received his Bachelor’s degree from University of California, Berkeley and his Master’s from Stanford University.

Daniel Spitzer

More from this series : Responsibly Supply Chains Conference

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