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As I sit here, waiting for our daughter and her husband to arrive for Thanksgiving, I think of all the people traveling today.  The bad weather has added an extra dose of anxiety to the trip.  Yet, we saddle up and head for home, no matter the weather.   Well, many of us do.

A cousin in Boston emailed me today to say, “It has been raining here since last night.  Traffic has been a nightmare.  Glad I am not going anywhere.”

My cousin may have the right idea.

With so much invested in the travelling, it’s likely that once we’re all gathered under the same roof, some conflicts could arise.

One dissertation client today told me that, yes, she is travelling, but once she arrives, her plan is to have two one-hour writing sessions during the holiday.  Each session will be at the beginning of her day before she becomes involved with family activities.

I asked, “Is this going to be a good holiday for you?”  And my client answered hesitantly, “I think it will be o.k.”

Maybe you, too, have a bit of concern about how this holiday will turn out.  What can you do to make it an o.k. holiday or maybe more than just o.k.?

  • Be in the moment.  Try to be appreciative of your family.  Think of one special person that you have been looking forward to seeing and either plan an outing or make an effort to ask the kinds of questions of that person that you know will make her feel good.
  • Take time out to rest or to be by yourself.  When you are physically tired or over-stimulated by too many people in one place, small things may begin to bother you.  Anticipate the need to recover before you’re exhausted.
  • Make time to walk or exercise—either with people or by yourself.  Exercise will help burn up some of those calories from the Thanksgiving dinner and will also help you generate positive feelings and a more tolerant perspective on your relatives.
  • If you are not a shopper, plan something special with a relative  in order to avoid the Black Friday shopping expedition. A museum or a park or somewhere quiet that is far from the mall.  This may be your only chance to get to know your cousins a little bit better.

Plan for a good holiday, a holiday with a few special moments that you can carry home with you, memories that might even put you in a good mood when it is once again time for a writing session.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have a comfortable, relaxing holiday.  Safe journeys.

And bring back a snapshot of a moment to remember.

All good wishes,

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC

Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach

http://www.nancywhichard.com

nancy @ nancywhichard.com

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Time management matrix as described in Merrill...

Time management matrix as described in Merrill and Covey 1994 book "First Things First," showing "quadrant two" items that are important but not urgent and so require greater attention for effective time management (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Not too long ago, when my adult son mentioned how busy his work and life have become,  my husband was reminded of an annual planning session he had attended at which a facilitator presented a workshop on how to organize your time. 

As my husband drew a diagram from that workshop, I realized that he was drawing time management guru Stephen Covey‘s famous matrix. 

 

Stephen Covey’s Matrix 

Stephen Covey groups the ways we spend our time into four quadrants:

 –1-important and urgent

–2-important and not urgent

–3-not important and urgent

–4-not important and not urgent

As my husband drew the diagram, he said, “The facilitator said you should attend immediately and with personal involvement to Quadrant I matters.” The facilitator’s words about urgent matters resonated with my husband because he always has more work than he can get done.  Everything is urgent.

 

Everything is urgent

In your life, as an academic, ABD, dissertator, professional writer—does that sound familiar? You’re grading papers, attending meetings, preparing classes or presentations, returning email, managing crises at home, and trying to keep up with all that keeps hitting you. As you rush frantically and lose sleep, you also try to engage in last-minute binge writing of your dissertation before the time you told your advisor you would be submitting your promised work.  

Not only had my husband remembered clearly what the facilitator said is assigned to Quadrant I– the urgent and important matters, but he also clearly remembered those matters in Quadrant IV.  The facilitator said that Quadrant IV contains matters that you could basically forget about or things headed for the “circular file.” In other contexts, Quadrant IV could include behaviors such as vegging out in front of the TV or hanging out at Facebook.

So that’s Quadrant I and IV.  What about Quadrant II?  Important but NOT urgent matters would go in Quadrant II. 

Not surprisingly, my husband said that had forgotten what the facilitator said specifically about Quadrants II.  That’s probably because my husband, like so many of us, has to focus on urgent matters. The stuff that never stops. 

 

What you need to meet your goals

What are the important matters contained in Quadrant II and why should we care?  Take a look at what matters are in Quadrant II:

–goal-setting

–planning

–building relationships

–exercising

–productivity

People who most often meet their goals do more planning, organizing, and anticipating. They work efficiently and productively, avoiding last-minute sprints in order to meet impending deadlines, and they honor goals of a healthy lifestyle and close relationships.

While you might be able to avoid some of the distractions and time-wasters of Quadrants III and IV, how do you ignore the unrelenting onslaught of urgent demands of Quadrant I so that you can spend more time with the important matters of Quadrant II?  

 

Controlling what’s urgent

Not everything is an emergency, and we can take steps to stay out-of-the-way of things that appear urgent. Whenever possible, avoid email, particularly before or during a writing session. Avoid such additions to your workload as more volunteering, carpooling, office projects when the work really isn’t your responsibility, and perfectionism that can lead to unwarranted revision and research on your writing project.

Let people know that you are turning off your email and phone during the time you are writing. That would be a bold, but empowering step, wouldn’t it?

 

10 tips that will move you closer to your writing goal

Here are more tips that will help you increase your focus on what is important and also help you move closer to your writing goal:

–Anticipate future demands and activities. Plan, plan, plan. 

–Make your schedule and stick to it.

–Plan do-able, timely deadlines which you meet.  Such a plan results in productivity.

–Prepare so that when you sit down to write, your subconscious has had time to work on the ideas.

–Include physical exercise in your life. (Check out previous blogs and upcoming blogs on the importance of exercise to your writing life.)

–Break out the outlines. If you don’t have an outline, make one. Have an outline in place to guide your writing session.

–Routinely, daily, go to a quiet place to write and to plan the next day’s writing.

–Set up an accountability factor. Ask your friends if you can mail them a chapter and then tell them when you will mail it.

–Email your coach with frequent updates on daily writing sessions.

–Keep an eye on productivity—it’s under your control.

It might be a small problem for you to push aside something seemingly urgent in order to plan and schedule writing sessions, but if you don’t do that, you’ll have the big problem of not producing text because you are running around as if your hair is on fire.

Your hair isn’t on fire.  Slow down, plan, and show up to write.

In the March issue of my newsletter Smart Tips for Writers, I wrote about Stephen Covey’s “Big Rocks” and how that strategy relates to your dissertation. Let me know if that issue never arrived in your inbox. If you aren’t signed up for my newsletter, you can take care of that at my website at www.nancywhichard.com.

I’d love to hear your ideas on urgent vs. important matters and how they impact your writing.

Best to you,

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach
www.smarttipsforwriters.com
www.dissertationbootcamp.net
www.nancywhichard.com
nancy @ nancywhichard.com

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Did you think you had much of your shopping done for the holidays, but now you can’t find key presents? Are you wondering where that stocking- stuffer stuff is?  In the multiple piles of boxes that you have around your bedroom and basement? Did you really buy them…or maybe not?

Did you schedule your holiday gathering for your extended family during the busiest week of December? How can you walk around the usual family dynamics at these gatherings and not get testy?

And now there are last-minute meetings or final conferences at school? And, of course, you haven’t finished your grades.

What will help this week go a little better?

1) Make sure you have all commitments (meetings, conferences, deadlines) written down in your calendar—and make sure your calendar is accessible. Too often the big things don’t go into your calendar because you know you won’t forget those, but then as you look back over your week you don’t see that you spent two hours in a meeting and three hours in conferences, and you wonder what the heck did I do with all of my time?

2) What is your 24-hour goal? Write your 24-hour goal at the top of the schedule for each day. Twenty-four hour goals are the small but important goals that you set for yourself to take action on during a 24-hour period of time. These are the non-scheduled tasks and goals that you are committed to do. One 24-hour goal may be that you will work with edits for an article or you will edit a paragraph of the dissertation chapter. Look at your calendar for the bits of open time and claim those bits of time for your 24-hour goal.

3) Don’t burden yourself with thoughts of the impossible. Block visions of the must-do lists of all that you have to do over the next three months. It sounds silly, but too often you allow yourself to think that you have to do all these things now. Then you open yourself to feeling that you are ineffective and slacking off when you’re really doing so much.

4) Don’t compare your house and relationships and work to others. Do you have the idea that there’s this perfect person who has the clean, uncluttered house, and of course it’s beautifully decorated for the holiday? The perfect person also has a spouse/partner who jumps in and cleans. The perfect one didn’t put off grading and so she isn’t sweating because now her grades are due and she is behind.

When you are overwhelmed, do you think, “Oh, so and so has it all together.  Why can’t I?” At those moments, you need that inner best friend to sneer at you and say, “Really?  Really?” If you need help in dispelling the image of the perfect person, then imagine her at her worst moment.  Image her screaming at her child. Not so perfect, right?

5)  Avoid conflicts that come up too often at family gatherings. Avoiding those conflicts takes time and planning.  If you’re the only one who brought wrapping paper and you’re in the back room wrapping gifts, how will you react when someone asks you if you’ve had a busy week? And someone will ask you that. And you know someone will ask how you’re doing on your dissertation.  Plan ahead. Are you the only academic? Or the only person struggling with a dissertation? Have a Chinese wall between you and the folks who think that what you do is odd.  Of course, you could wear a shirt that says, “Don’t ask me about my dissertation.” But if you don’t want to be quite so obvious, then have an if/then plan in place: If she says “x“, then I will do “y.” And what is “y”? Bite your tongue, smile, walk out of the room. And keep wrapping those presents. Yes, you did have a busy week.

And at the end of the week, acknowledge yourself for keeping your 24-hour goals, for imagining the mythical perfect person at her worst moment, and for smiling and simultaneously biting your tongue.

Put your feet up and be grateful that the marathon week is over.

Relax and enjoy your holiday.

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach
http://www.smarttipsforwriters.com
http://www.dissertationbootcamp.net
http://www.nancywhichard.com
nancy @ nancywhichard.com

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Many times writers hire me to coach them because they’re stuck.  They haven’t made substantial progress on their dissertation for months. 

What stuck often means is that the writers are having trouble claiming a chunk of time for the writing because of time-sucks.  Time-sucks come in all sizes and shapes. 

Facebook and email will be your undoing.  
Friend—give them up!  

In the interest of full disclosure, I do go on Facebook, but only because my nieces talked me into doing it.  I joined in order to see pictures of the little ones who live far and away.  No matter how many subscriptions I give to Your Big Backyard, Ranger Rick, National Geographic for Kids and Cricket, I get fewer and fewer pictures in the mail.  Thank-you notes, yes.  Pictures of the kids, not so many.  Thus, Facebook, but it’s just for the pictures. 

Babies are notorious time-sucks.
Being a parent is high on the list for time-sucks, especially if your kids are young.   The youngest addition to my extended family showed up in a picture on Facebook with the words “Mommy’s attention hog” on his t-shirt. 

Because of a singular moment, I remember what I was thinking or not thinking around the time my youngest started kindergarten.  I was standing in line at the grocery and for the first time in ages I was startled to catch myself lost in thought. 

When one has kids, the state of being lost in thought takes planning and distance.  

Mindless activities get few gold stars.
How much cleaning and straightening and folding do you need to do in order to feel good?  I think the more mindless activities you do, the worse you feel, kind of like eating Snickers bars, but I may be wrong. 

I am bothered by the stacks of files and papers in my house. I’ve delegated those decluttering tasks to 2 hours on Sunday while I watch TV.  Today was the second Sunday for using my new plan, and I’ve cleaned up a few stacks.  Two hours seem about right for me.  Any more than that and I’m suspicious that I’m procrastinating on something more important. 

Feel guilty asking for help from your spouse?
Moms, especially, think they can multi-task, even if it’s writing a dissertation at the same time as they’re refereeing a tug-of-war the boys are having over a toy. 

A favorite story from a client was that she felt guilty asking her husband to take care of the kids on a Sunday afternoon when he worked so hard all week, and she, ostensibly, only had to take care of the kids.  The husband didn’t really mind taking care of the kids,  She would go to the library, and he would add seats for the kids in front of the TV—and not to watch cartoons, but to watch golf!  Not the worst thing, right?  The story goes that the kids learned to love golf. 

What I hear from my clients suggests that time skitters around corners, never to be seen, never to be caught, much as if it were a two-year-old.  Sometimes it sounds as if time makes itself available only to the lucky or to those with nannies or to the childless. 

It’s true that there are inequities.  Too often women have waited their turn to finish a degree.  The spouse finishes first, and then if there are kids, moms can sometimes put their writing further and further down on their priority lists. 

But the person who takes responsibility for negotiating relationships and asking for what she needs will see time emerging.  

Time is both elusive and valuable. Be bold and brave— ask your spouse for what you need.  Carve time out of the day, and claim that precious commodity for your important, but sadly neglected job of writing.   Plan and use time as if it were made of gold. Because it is. 

I’d love to hear from you—what challenges are you having around time? 

All good wishes, 

Nancy 

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your International Dissertation and Academic Career Coach
nancy@nancywhichard.com
www.dissertationbootcamp.net
www.usingyourstrengths.com
www.smarttipsforwriters.com 

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“There’s a certain amount of humility that comes with being 30 years old and a graduate student. The stipend is paltry, the housing less than prime,” writes Hinda Mandell.

Like many graduate students, Hinda knows where to find cheap or, better yet, free food.  The best place to shop free is at her parents’ home, she says. 

Resourceful, you bet! And it sounds like she has parents who give her the support she needs, but hold the guilt.

Graduate students not only know where to find free food, but they also come home for unconditional food.  And parents are doing what they can do best– providing for good relationships with you, their studious offspring, for years into the future by stocking the larder with your favorite food and then claiming, “Oh, we’ll never eat all of this. Take whatever you want.” 

No questions asked, no reference to your dissertation, no recriminations, no comparisons to someone else’s son or daughter who finished the dissertation so quickly (as opposed to you know who).

Most parents of ABD’s want you to write your dissertation and get it behind you, and they also want you to keep coming home.  Did you think that the fridge or cabinets just happened to hold items that you particularly like?

So pack the food, take it back to your apartment, and write.

Until next time,

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your International Dissertation and Academic Career Coach
nancy@nancywhichard.com
www.dissertationbootcamp.net
www.usingyourstrengths.com
www.smarttipsforwriters.com

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It’s time again for the Annual Road Trip.

Most road trips I’ve been on over the last few years end with our creeping along Interstate 95, wondering when there is going to be a break in the traffic.  Road trips aren’t what they used to be.   That is, not unless you get far away from I-95.

With in-laws in North Carolina and my family in the Midwest, we have to drive a while to our destinations, but it’s worth the effort in order to leave the traffic of the East Coast behind.

And I need to be reminded how much is elsewhere for me and for my family, contrary to the suggestion of the haughty term “flyover country.”

During the days leading up to the Fourth of July we drive south from Washington on I-95 to I-85 in North Carolina and then west on I-40.  And we just keep going, past Asheville, past Franklin, over three more mountains, the third being Chunky Gal Mountain (what a name, right? supposedly, it is from a Cherokee legend) and on to the little North Carolina town where the cousins gather every Fourth. While the small town was very isolated when my husband’s mother lived there as a child, the area is no longer isolated nor a secret. Good roads are plentiful, allowing for tourists and family alike to visit or even keep second homes there.

We gather at a cousin’s house along the lake, and catch up. Of course, there’s story telling and food cooking on the grill, but mostly we watch the little ones play in the sandpile or swim or bob around in rafts on the lake. We marvel over the good health of the child who had been seriously ill, the love between the formerly estranged, the patience shown by a caretaker, and we play (or watch) a marathon volley ball game.

There’s a lot that forms the narratives of our lives—family, books, places, as well as highways and cars and airports.  And there’s the soundtrack to the narratives. At this time of year, I mentally replay Simon and Garfunkel’s  “America,” with its words of emptiness and loss, and I also hear Carole King’s “Doesn’t Anyone Stay in One Place Anymore?” (No apologies for my fondness of Carole King!)

Some people do stay in one place. But for those of us who didn’t, it’s worth the effort to put aside our work, our writing, our anxiety-producing deadlines, and our hatred of sitting in parking lots on I-95 and go show our faces and be part of the family.

If the Fourth is a holiday for you, I hope you can put your writing on hold for a bit and join others to celebrate family and community.

Happy Fourth of July,

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach
nancy@nancywhichard.com
www.nancywhichard.com
www.dissertationbootcamp.net

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What do you want from your advisor that will make your life as a writer easier? 
Great feedback, some feedback, or maybe just feedback once in a while?  How about an email saying hello?

If you’re not getting feedback or not even getting answers to your straight-forward questions, here’s one idea.  I’m not advising that you take this tack; I offer it with some provisos.

One of my dissertation clients has had great trouble getting his advisor to respond to email. 

The student likes and respects his advisor.  The two get along extremely well and have a long-standing relationship. The problem is that the advisor travels extensively, juggling a huge amount of work, and you know who and what get overlooked or put on hold. 

After waiting weeks and weeks for an answer from his advisor to a fairly straightforward question, my client wrote to a respected member of his committee and asked the specific question.  This question was obviously in his advisor’s area of expertise. 

Of course, my client cc’d his advisor.

The committee member, well aware of the issues students routinely had with the peripatetic professor, replied at length, also cc’ing the student’s advisor.

Shortly thereafter, the advisor was back in touch.

While the problem has not been completely resolved, my client feels less helpless.  And, if need be, he plans to write the other committee member again.

I salute my client for his resourcefulness and courage.  This could have blown up in his face.  What made this strategy feasible is that my client, no matter what, does everything he can to maintain good relations with the advisor.

What do you think?  Could your advisor take being cc’d in this way on an email?
What kind of relationship do you have with your advisor?

I’d love to hear from you.  I’d also love to send you a fr.e.e. newsletter.  Register on my website at www.nancywhichard.com.

Until next time,

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, PhD, PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach
www.nancywhichard.com
nancy@nancywhichard.com

P.S.   Sign up for Smart Tips at www.nancywhichard.com and get the next issue on “Strategies for Drastic Situations.”  It is going out right away. Don’t delay; the train is leaving the station.

 

 

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The doctoral experience is rife with minefields and potholes and all other kinds of things you don’t want to step in.

It’s important to be politically savvy in order to make your way to the other side of this experience. 

1.  Are you writing for your dissertation advisor?  If you’re not writing for your dissertation advisor, then for whom?  Unless you’ve had an irreparable rupture with your advisor, and maybe not even then, write for your advisor. Many problems can be averted by recognizing that your dissertation advisor is both your audience and the gatekeeper. 

2.  Avoid finger pointing. What if your research isn’t coming to much?  If your advisor has an investment in that research and you feel that it’s coming to a dead end, assume blame (without being transparent and pathetic).  This isn’t a time to alienate your advisor.  Be smart.

3.  Put yourself in a public place where you can shine.  Consider giving a talk at a graduate forum or a gathering that your advisor nd perhaps other professors in your department attend.  Don’t be afraid of the questions that will be raised because generating a great discussion among those gathered is a place for you to score big or sort of big.  It can work wonders in how your advisor looks at you and how you look at yourself.

4. No sighing; no whining.  Try to be positive, both about your work and about your relationship with your advisor. Particularly when you talk with her or email her. Try to take energy from a positive thought or place.  This isn’t the time to roll your eyes or sigh. (I’m right there with you in controlling the sighing—I sigh far too much.  Try to sigh only in private.)  You want her to gather that helping you now will be good for both for you. If for no other reason, helping you now will get you off her back! 

 5. Ask for what you want.  Don’t assume that your advisor won’t help you get a postdoc or that she won’t introduce you to the big guns or muckety-mucks in your field or that she won’t talk strategies.  Just because you haven’t had such discussions with her doesn’t mean she wouldn’t be interested in helping you.

What strategy have you used with your advisor that surprised you in the good way it turned out, particularly one that would upend any suggestion I’ve made here?

Looking forward to hearing from you,

Nancy

Nancy Whichard, PhD, PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach
www.nancywhichard.com
nancy@nancywhichard.com

P.S. It’s not too late to sign up for my Smart Tips newsletter—go to www.nancywhichard.com.
 

 

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If you’re like me, you don’t have uninterrupted time for writing.

Maybe you work full time in a demanding job or work two demanding part-time jobs or you take care of your children.

And when you get to the point when you do have time to write, you’re exhausted.  Just brain dead.

And that, of course, is the problem.  Waiting until we think we have time to write.

I work with writers from all over the world, and whether the client is in Germany or Norway or Seattle, Washington, a common problem for all, myself included, is that we procrastinate.

I can’t count the times that dissertation clients and other writers have told me that they do their best writing first thing in the morning. And I can’t tell you how many times clients have told me how they let early morning time get away from them.

Let me tell you about two people for whom writing is an important part of their jobs.

Both people procrastinate—neither is perfect.

Both have others depending on them.  Their writing matters.

One person, whom I’ll call Tom, procrastinates until it hurts—hurts him and hurts those around him.

He lets the writing back up until at times he hides out and avoids others. Or other times, he will become very engrossed in a new project, in which writing plays a smaller role.  The new project is always important and interesting.  But when the writing does not get done, there are major repercussions for himself and those around him.

The second person, whom I’ll call Tom, too, or Tom 2, is clearly anxious about the writing he needs to do.  Like Tom the first, Tom 2 is a good writer, but he also lets the writing stack up.  He has many responsibilities in his job and at home.  But somewhere along the way, Tom 2 learned to prioritize.  He learned to do the most urgent and important work early on, maybe not first, because he, too (he is Tom 2, you know), procrastinates.  But not only is he well aware that he is procrastinating, but he also feels deeply that others matter.  If he’s holding up other people, it’s obvious how bad he feels.  He often apologizes

But he doesn’t walk away from the work entirely.

You can almost see him getting up the courage and motivation (my grandmother would say he was “getting up steam”) to jump in.

He often goes to quiet places during the days he’s not required to be at work in order to make the needed commitment to the writing and to make a stab at the work

I think Tom 2 has little by little trained himself to be productive and to write even when it makes him anxious.  Being aware of his priorities gives him strength and helps him focus.   He gives himself a little slack, and then he makes a right turn directly into the messy storm of writing.

I learn a lot by watching other writers.  Writing matters and others matter.

If you learn from observing other writers (and from your own experiences), I’d love to hear from you.

Until next time!

Nancy
Your International Dissertation Coach
nancy @ nancywhichard.com
www.nwcoaching.com

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If you put your energy around what you want, that’s what you’ll get.

One client told me that she had been ambivalent about all of the questions her dad had about her dissertation.  But she decided to make a positive out of the parental interest.  She saw that her dissertation could be a bridge in her relationship with her father, a relationship that had in the past suffered from a lack of communication.

She decided to talk about her dissertation whenever he expressed an interest.  It worked for her.

Could you seek the positive and honor what is good about the relationships in your life?
What would best serve your goals?

If you want to keep a special person in your life, if you want to keep friends in your life, if you want the support of your parents, it’s time to talk with all of them about the demands you’re facing and to tell them how their support can help you.

If they don’t understand, then you’ve done all you can.  But who knows—you might be pleasantly surprised.

Reclaim your power.  Focus on moving your writing forward.

What is working for you?  I’d love to hear from you!

Here’s one thing that will work for you– get my Smart Tips e-newsletter.  Just for signing up, you get a bonus.  Go to my website (www.nwcoaching.com) and sign up.

Until next time,

Nancy
Your Dissertation Coach
www.nwcoaching.com
nancy @ nancywhichard.com

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