Thursday, June 13, 2019

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Key Areas of Success

So, yesterday, I wrote about the time I spent whipping my pile of exams to reference into shape. That got me to thinking about the places where I rarely let things go -- those spaces where order reigns on a regular basis. Here are three of them.

I make my bed. This wasn't always the case, but when I read in one of Marcia Ramsland's books about the percentage of the room that was made tidy by this simple task, I made it a daily habit. It's a rare day that my bed isn't made. Many days, the neatness inspired by this simple act nudges me to clear up another space as well.

I keep on top of incoming mail. While there are times that my mail piles up in the short term, I don't let it get far. It took me a really long time to get my mail counter (in my kitchen) organized to my satisfaction, so making sure not to revert to old bad habits is really important to me. Because keeping this clear space clear matters, I'm motivated to keep after it.

I put my bathrobe away. Sounds silly, I know, but I mention this one because it's both an exception to my drop and run organizational style and a pathway to corralling that habit in other areas as well. Because it's as easy to put it away as it is to put it down (strategy #1), I'm no longer tempted to drop it and run. In the spirit of full disclosure, I must confess that this is a habit I cultivated only after reminding myself on multiple occasions, "don't put it down, put it away." (strategy #2)

Every baby step we take is a step in the direction of ongoing organization. What steps will you take today? What successes can you already claim?

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Why We Shouldn't Should Ourselves

Some days, I run headlong into my work-in-progress status.

Yesterday was one of those days.

I needed to prepare an exam for my summer class. Easy peasy. Go to the file, pull out last summer's exam....Okay, it's not exactly filed. It's sort of piled and it's kind of on the floor.

In the spirit of full disclosure, there's no sort of or kind of about it. It was a pile. And it was on the floor. 

Right next to the box where it should have been filed.

The problem was, the box this stack of exams belonged in was full.

And that was where the system began to fall apart.

Add to that a heaping dose of busyness, a full measure of a lack of time and three cups of "I'll get to that later" and what should have been a five-minute task....


As I write this post, the pile has been duly sorted, the old exams culled and shredded and the ones I need placed in a file of their own. There is clear floor space where there should be clear floor space, order where there should be order and I know exactly where to find every exam I have a copy of. I'd feel accomplished if I weren't so busy being embarrassed by the fact that the pile never should have taken shape in the first place.

Uh oh. Did you see what I just did there?

I shoulded myself.

While it's true that exams don't belong in a pile on the floor, once they are, indeed, on the floor, no amount of shoulding changes that. All it does is waste the time and energy I sh- -- oops -- need to spend instead on restoring order.

I could keep shoulding myself. I could go on about how I shouldn't have put any of the papers on the floor and shouldn't have added to the pile once it started. I could focus on the fact that the box is still full and it wouldn't be if I'd tackled the folder at the bottom of the box like I should have if I were going to do the job perfectly.

Oops. There it is. Should's traveling companion. "Perfectly."

lukasbieri via Pixabay
My pile is gone. Culled. Shredded. Filed. Organized. I have what I need right in my hand. These are good things. This is progress. And "should" and "perfectly" only drag me away from what I have accomplished into the morass of what I haven't.

I'm not suggesting that I let myself off the hook for that last folder and throw a party because I put things where they belonged, but I am saying (yet again) that it's a process. Sometimes, knowing when to stop for the day is just as important as knowing where to start.

And it's always a good time to stop shoulding ourselves.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Dialing it Down (Part 2)

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Last week, I shared three ways to use lists in our service, particularly in times of transition. This week, I have a few more ideas on finding the balance between frenzied and relaxed, but first I have something to share.

I was going through my inbox earlier this week (the numbers are declining, but not as quickly -- or easily -- as I'd like) when I stumbled across a piece called "The Hard Work of Being Lazy."

Boy, could I relate.

Here's the portion of the article that was in the newsletter, but you can read the whole piece here.
The Hard Work of Being ‘Lazy’
At times, perhaps without quite knowing why, we slip into a resolutely ‘lazy’ mood. We’re simply not able to do anything. All we have an appetite for, it seems, is to loll on the sofa.

In such states of mind, we’re rapidly liable to be stigmatized as profoundly (and incorrigibly) ‘lazy’ by friends or – more painfully – by our own conscience.

But, to consider the matter from another perspective, it might be that the real threat to our happiness and self-development lies not in our failure to be busy, but in the very opposite scenario: in our inability to be ‘lazy’ enough.

Outwardly idling does not have to mean that we are neglecting to be fruitful. Busy people evade a different order of undertaking. They are practically a hive of activity, yet they don’t get round to working out their real feelings about their work. They are lazy when it comes to understanding particular emotions about a partner or friend.

The next time we feel extremely lazy, we should imagine that perhaps a deep part of us is preparing to give birth to a big thought. As with a pregnancy, there is no point hurrying the process. 
I love that last part -- the idea that what we label laziness is merely preparation for the next big thing -- a preparation that perhaps should not be rushed.

I was all set to be practical in this week's post, and to focus on things like establishing a routine (so we get into the habit of being productive) and selecting and pursuing daily goals (so we can check things off the list), but this piece has made me reconsider (once again) whether or not productivity is always the best end goal.

So, with the idea that "laziness" is perhaps something more -- and something to be valued -- here are three (more) keys for dialing it down.

Alexas_Fotos via Pixabay

Value down time. As it turns out, perhaps there's more going on there than we think. At the very least, we're recharging for what comes next. On those days when everything seems like an uphill journey, maybe hang back and stop pushing so hard.

Be aware of triggers. Can you pinpoint particular activities and/or times of day that trigger sluggishness? For me, it's mid-afternoon. No matter how many years it's been since I worked in an elementary school, my body still seems to be on that schedule. If I sit down in a comfy space between  2 pm and 4 pm, chances are good that a nap will be the next thing on my list. This is fine if I need the nap (and, as a night owl, many days I do), but if I want to avoid the nap, I need to avoid the trigger.

Be flexible. I struggle with this one. When I get into the zone, or have a long list prepared and I'm ready to dig in, I'm very resistant when another idea comes along, even if it's a better idea. When I find myself being too rigid, I need to remind myself what my big picture priorities are. An endless checklist does not usually make the cut.

Angeleses via Pixabay

It's no secret that balance is elusive; that's why one there's no one magical set of guidelines that helps us to achieve it. Only by tuning into ourselves instead of our lists can we take the steps to be both productive and peaceful, finding that sweet, sweet spot between frenzied and relaxed.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Efficiently Procrastinating

Pettycon via Pixabay
I have spent much of today efficiently checking things off my list. I worked on my course syllabus. I wrote a blog. I took my daughter to lunch. I cooked dinner. I did laundry.


Don't be. I've spent a large chunk of the day engaging in structured procrastination.

While it's true that all of these things needed to be done (except the lunch with my daughter. That was just for fun, but it was planned for today), I did them instead of another task I've been putting off.

The due date for the other task?


Why you might ask, have I been procrastinating so feverishly?

Well, I've asked myself exactly the same question, and several answers have come to mind. The two that sum it up are fear of the unfamiliar and not really knowing where to start.

In her book It's About Time, Dr. Linda Sapadin discusses six different procrastination personalities: perfectionists, dreamers, worriers, crisis makers, defiers and overdoers.

I think I've sampled nearly every one of those today.

Though I don't expect my project to be perfect, I am invested in a good outcome. My dreamer side (wouldn't that be a great idea?) feeds my overdoer tendency (I can squeeze one more thing in!) leading me to create a crisis where none would actually need to exist, and to needlessly worry about something that isn't really all that difficult. Though I'm not much of a defiant procrastinator, my choice to select other tasks over the one that's most pressing does carry a mild aroma of defiance.


Labels aside, the most pressing emotion I feel is fear. Fear that I won't do a good job. Fear that I'll look foolish. This fear leads me to be overwhelmed by the task so that instead of digging in, I find other things to do instead. Those things are legitimate, but they're also obstacles I'm placing in my own path.

Geralt via Pixabay
The solution? Dig in. Set aside the fear, sidestep the obstacles and the competing tasks and start somewhere, anywhere. Find a way in, give it a shot, let it develop, fill the blank page because a messy page is easier to edit than a blank one. If the first draft is terrible, I can fix it. If I start in the wrong place, I can change direction. But if I continue to do nothing, the problem remains unsolved, the task remains undone and the fear grows, fed by inertia and reluctance.

So, here I go. I'm taking the clothes out of the dryer and I'm taking baby steps. Perhaps they'll be in the right direction, perhaps I'll need to recalculate, but at least I'll be moving.

What are you avoiding? What baby steps can you take toward getting it done?

Friday, May 31, 2019

This Week in Social Media

If you follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, you've probably already seen my #whyorganize and #itsaprocess posts. (You can also find them all in one place on my Know Thyself board on Pinterest).

But, just in case you haven't, I thought I'd share a couple of them here, just to remind you that you're not alone in this sometimes uphill organizational journey. Have a "why" you'd like to share? Post it in the comments below.

I also wanted to remind you that you can check out the first chapter of Know Thyself by going to the "Know Thyself Bonus Content" tab at the top of this page or by using the Look Inside feature on Amazon.

Have a great weekend!!

Thursday, May 30, 2019

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Dialing it Down (Part 1: Lists)

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
This year, the last month of spring semester was more hectic than usual. Traveling to Ireland over break and getting ready to release a book were both wonderful things but piling them on top of a full schedule made for very little down time. I was on top of things because I had to be but, by the time the semester ended, I was ready for a break.

Now that my break has arrived, the pendulum has swung in the other direction. I'm still getting things accomplished, but not as quickly as I'd like, perhaps because the list is long. Often, at the end of the day, I feel frustrated by all that remains to be done and chastise myself for being lazy, forgetting that the down time I'm taking (by accident or by design) is not only exactly what I need, but is feeding the work I am doing as well.

As we move from one time of year -- or time of life -- to another, we need time to transition. I know this. I've even learned that transitioning in and out of semesters takes more time than I expect, yet I still grow impatient with myself. I have not turned into a complete couch potato and, though the list of things I want to accomplish remains long, I'm making progress.

But I'm still not satisfied.

Today and next Thursday, I'm focusing on ways to establish some balance as I transition out of a time of busyness and into a time that's still busy, but more low-key. As always, your comments and questions are welcome, so please feel free to share suggestions or ask questions.

Meanwhile, here are today's three keys: how to use lists as a tool instead of a bludgeon.

Alexas_Fotos via Pixabay
Recognize that what looks good on paper always takes more time than the words convey. When my energy is high, I feel as though I can take on the world and, when I get excited about projects, my energy soars. This combination fuels endless to-do lists that take up very little space on the page, but require a substantial chunk of time and energy. "Clean the basement," for example, is three little words, but requires a commitment of time and energy far beyond what those three small words convey. Remembering that just because I can fit everything on the page doesn't mean I can fit it into the day is important.

Put yourself and your priorities on the list. During tax season, accountants don't have down time, but during the off-season, they need time to recharge. Why am I talking about accountants? Because I'm really good at seeing other people's need for down time, yet I'm impatient with myself when I need the same thing. Just as I don't expect my daughter to roll right out of her semester and into a summer job, I need to cut myself some slack, too. Time to read a book or even play mindless games on my iPad resets the pendulum. Making sure I don't become so productivity-driven that I can't step away from the computer for some human contact -- unscheduled, even! -- is important, too. Important enough to make it onto the list, just in case I get into the zone and forget that checking things off isn't the only thing that matters.
janjf93 via Pixabay

Make a backwards to-do list. When I get to the end of the day and chastise myself for being "lazy," I need to reflect back on what I did accomplish instead of focusing on what I've left undone. My favorite tool for doing this is a backwards to-do list -- writing down what I did all day after I did it. Usually, the list is evidence of a much higher level of productivity than I gave myself credit for. In addition, it reveals obstacles (how long did I spend playing games on my iPad??) and unexpected bonuses that might not have been on the agenda, but were worth our time (like lunch with my daughter).

Drop by next Thursday for Part 2. Meanwhile, let me know if there's something you want me to address. I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in this dilemma.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Tapping into the Tools we Have

ptra via Pixabay
My dad loves sharing his magazines with me. If I asked him to, I'm sure he'd just recycle them instead of handing them off to me to add to my already burgeoning collection but, text-junkie that I am, I can't resist a pile of free reading material.

Some of the magazines make the cut, some don't, and some surprise me. The May issue of Money magazine, for example, had several articles that captured my attention. One of them, in the front section of the magazine, featured Sonia Lewis, a.k.a. the Student Loan Doctor. Sonia is not a doctor. In fact, according to the article by Kaitlin Mulhere, "Lewis is not a student loan or financial aid professional and she has no formal training in financial planning."

I can identify quite a bit with Sonia Lewis. Like Lewis who, according to Mulhere's article in Money, went from self-proclaimed "Overdraft Queen" to Student Loan Doctor, my expertise in organizing comes from personal experience and immersing myself in books, articles and information about organization that fits me. I'm not a professional organizer (though I did take an online professional organization course one summer), a decorator or even a visual artist.

What I am, however, matters more. I'm a wife and working, empty-nesting mom who juggles responsibilities on multiple fronts. I'm a former school counselor and psychology instructor who believes in human potential. I'm a five-foot-tall stubborn Jersey girl (redundant, perhaps) who eschews one-size-fits-all anything. (C'mon. I'm 60" tall. Am I really supposed to believe the same anything will fit both me and Michelle Obama?)

Some days, imposter syndrome hits me hard. Although I write about organization, I'm still an organizational work-in-progress. My home is not perfect. Some days, my I need to see it/drop and run styles win the battle and I collapse on the sofa, determined that tomorrow I will tackle the piles.

But all of this has taught me that the most important organizational principles have nothing to do with  organizational strategies. Instead, they have to do with accepting ourselves, embracing our styles and rejecting perfection as anything but an ephemeral state. Once we have the confidence to reject one-size-fits-all approaches, we're free to explore our options and tap into our latent creativity so we can not only overcome our organizational obstacles, but also press them into service. Or, to quote the infamous Ms. Frizzle, "Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!"
As an adjunct professor, I'm a big fan of degrees and courses of study. But, as an instructor of psychology, I'm also profoundly aware of concepts like grit and resilience and a big believer in the power of confidence and a sense of humor. And, so far, I haven't found the instructions for either of those inside a book or magazine, hand-me-down or otherwise.

So, maybe I'm not a professional organizer. Maybe what I am is proof that if I can find organizational solutions, so can you, even if we walk different paths with different detours and different styles.

All it takes is a little faith, a little perseverance and a little style.