Thursday, January 21, 2021

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Side Benefits to Playing Organization Games

Don't put it down, put it away is a great little rule, and one I'm getting better at abiding by. Still, whether it's remnants of a project that's not quite finished, a dish left on the counter because the person who unloaded the dishwasher (yay!) didn't know where it went (boo!) or just the overall accumulation of "I'll just put this here for now," homeless items have a way of multiplying and creating clutter as far as the eye can see. 

When I notice this happening (or catch myself doing it), I often play little games with myself. Pick up one thing every time I walk past is one of them, and setting a goal for picking up and putting away a certain number of things by the end of the day is another.

One day earlier this week, I put a new spin on the second one -- a small spin, but one that I thought would be motivating. I set a goal to pick up and put away 25 things by the end of the day. These things could be wayward homeless items, mail to be addressed, papers to be get the idea. Usually, I pull out a piece of scratch paper and put a tally mark on it every time I put something where it belongs but, today, I took a piece of paper and numbered from 25 to 1. Each time I put something that was out of place where it belonged, I crossed off a number. 

I put a dozen wayward items where they belonged in the first fifteen minutes. 

I suspected that the countdown would be motivating (which is why I numbered from 25 to 1 instead of vice versa), but I was surprised by just how motivating it was. And, as I often do when I de-clutter, I felt personally lighter as well, rewarded by the clear space my efforts revealed.

This little activity had a few additional benefits as well.

It revealed not just clear space, but also things that had become a part of the landscape. You know what I mean -- those items we set down in a particular spot "for now" but never get back to or never find a home for? Over time, we become accustomed to seeing them and only realize they're actually homeless when we look at the area more critically.

It conquered procrastination -- temporarily. If you, like me, are motivated by checking items off a list, you might find that procrastination ("I'll get to that later," for those of you unfamiliar with this habit) gets swept aside in the desire to find more things to put away in order to meet the goal.

It made me want to keep going. I put those first few things away in short order, leaving me with only about a dozen items left to meet my goal. I decided that when I hit 25, I'd cross off those same numbers a second time and see how far I got.

Just because organizing is serious business doesn't mean we can't ever be playful about it. There are definitely times that we just need to dig in and do it, but finding easy ways to work organization into our days without disrupting the flow of the day itself is a surefire way to get to Easy Upkeep.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have eleven more items to put away.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

You Decide When to Start

This afternoon, I had the immense pleasure of speaking with OSV's Tracy Stewart on her podcast. This marks the third time she's had me as a guest, and it's like chatting with a friend over tea. We have lots of fun. (And I don't even get nervous!)

Today, Tracy and I were talking about (among other things) New Year's resolutions and fresh starts. January is fraught with pressure to do all sorts of new things with the new year, and many people choose organizing as one of their resolutions. And then, here it is, January 20, and what steps have we taken?

How many of you just cringed?

This is why I dislike New Year's resolutions. I much prefer goals -- monthly goals, annual goals, even daily goals. And, when it comes to medium term goals (monthly goals, for example) I also prefer gentle goals — this month, I will focus on A, B & C, for example. 

Sound mushy? Maybe. But I prefer the term forgiving. I work much better under a moderate amount of pressure that recognizes that life happens an possibilities change than under a crushing burden of I must do this, that and/or the other thing. In addition, I tend to overestimate what I can actually accomplish, so I’d much rather measure my successes by progress than goalposts.

Then thing is, any day is a good day to do better than we did yesterday or the day before. In his book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, Daniel Pink includes a list of "86 Days in the Year When You Can Make a Fresh Start." 

So, how about you? What day will you begin your fresh start?

Thursday, January 14, 2021

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Kinds of Tasks to Tackle in January

Recently, a friend suggested that writing a post about things to organize in January might be interesting. She, for example, tackles her medicine cabinet every January, tossing expired items and restocking. I, on the other hand, am more likely to tackle that task when I go to add something new and I need to make room, or simply wonder how long a particular item has been in the medicine bin (we don't have a medicine cabinet). My friend is more methodical and consistent, but is she right?

For her family and her styles, yes, she is. Like changing the batteries in the smoke detectors when we change the clocks for Daylight Savings Time, checking a particular space at a particular time is a great habit to get into.

Another great example of this sort of structure is the pins of organizing schedules I find myself drawn to on Pinterest -- the ones that assign an area to each day with a goal of being organized by the end of the month. They're tempting, I must admit, and I'm sure they work well for some. While I find them to be a great starting point, and a really good way to assess areas of need, I need more flexibility. 

Let's say the task for Day 3 is to rid my closet of things I no longer wear. That day happens to fall on a Tuesday, but the project is much too time-consuming to fit into a work day, putting me behind schedule on day three. Sure, I can switch to a different task -- one that's a better fit for the day and, if I do, I've reiterated my case for flexibility.

So, in the interest of respecting both routine and flexibility, I thought I'd share my January suggestions in categories, with examples. Here are my three key January organizing ideas, intended to start the year off right with projects whose payoff will resound for longer than a week (yes, I mean you, clear kitchen counter) and make you feel a little lighter.

Tackle something hidden. I have Barb's medicine cabinet suggestion to thank for this inspiration. Clean out a cabinet or a drawer (or one a day, depending on your schedule) or organize the contacts on your phone or your online passwords. Because these things are tucked away, they're more likely to stay organized than shared spaces and every time you open them or access them, you get to enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Tackle something that's been bugging you. For a long time, I had recipes scattered here and tucked away there, a situation that only got worse after my daughter was diagnosed with Celiac disease. Last summer, I finally sorted through them all, tossed the ones I knew I'd never use and arranged what was left into a binder (full disclosure: I delegated part of the task to my daughter, who was looking for a project). While cooking is still not my favorite task, it's much more pleasant when I can begin by finding what I need quickly. What's your nagging task? A spot that won't shape up? A pile of papers to file? Block out a time (multiple sessions if necessary) and dig in.

Tackle something small. We all have those little tasks we put off because they aren't squeaky wheels. For me, it's doctor's appointments. I'm quick to make them when I'm sick, but those annual check-ups, the semi-annual visit to the dentist or the appointment to get my eyes checked? Not so great at that. Carve out half an hour and knock out as many of those phone calls or tiny tasks as you can. 

Whether your organizing personality is more structured or flexible, choosing tasks that help you to let go of stuff or items on your to-do list is a great way to start the year off feeling just a little bit lighter -- and maybe jump-start your motivation as well.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Goals for January and Beyond

I'm in the midst of putting the finishing touches on a novel coming out this month, and so I'm taking a bit of a shortcut and sharing a post from 2018 about a process I started six years earlier.

And yes, I still do this. Every month. In fact, it's something I look forward to.

Every month, I set goals for myself. Sitting down and writing out what I want to accomplish focuses me and helps me to juggle the various aspects of my life -- one step in moving toward an often elusive work-life blend.

Often, I overshoot. Sometimes, the balls I'm juggling all come crashing to the ground.

Someone else reviewing my goals might suggest that I create goals that are more realistic, or that I pull back and set goals in fewer areas. If I were being evaluated by anyone but myself on the goals I set, or if my professional progress depended on meeting my goals, that's exactly what I'd do.

But I've come to like overshooting. My goals aren't the SMART goals embraced by businesses and, taken together, they're not even the REAL goals I've written about here.

Separately, however, REAL goals is exactly what they are. They represent a combination of hopes, dreams and the actions necessary to make them happen. When I judge my progress on a black-and-white, success-or-failure scale, it's easy to feel defeated, but when I focus on growth, I not only feel better, but I also know exactly where to go with my goals for the next month.

When we fail, we have several choices. We can huddle in a corner feeling defeated. We can get angry and beat ourselves up. We can lament how we'll never amount to anything because we missed an imaginary goal post we erected ourselves.

That doesn't sound very smart, does it?

I prefer to take the growth mindset approach I teach my students. Failure teaches. It tells us whether the goal posts are too close, too far, or just right. Sitting down and writing a short narrative to myself about my progress on each of my goals helps me to reflect on whether or not my focus was in the right place and to shape the next month's goals accordingly.

No matter how realistic our goals, we will sometimes fail to reach them. Life intervenes, sometimes in good ways and sometimes in ways we'd rather not imagine. Tossing out our goals because we're afraid we won't reach them deprives us of the wonderful sense of accomplishment we earn when we do.

Life is full of failure. It's all in how you frame it. As for me and my goals, we plan to emerge victorious.

At least some of the time.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Productivity

geralt via Pixabay
Yesterday, I was excited to share the news of my latest endeavor. Today, I'm struggling to focus. 

I rarely turn on the television during the day but, after yesterday's events, I am once again glued to the news. Late in the morning, I finally resigned myself to the idea that I wouldn't be turning off the news any time soon, so I brought my laptop back to the family room and put the television on mute so I could at least get something done in between actual news reports (as opposed to a rehash of yesterday's news). 

Whether your obstacle is breaking news, too much to do, or something else entirely, here are three keys to re-thinking the to-do list when productivity is an uphill battle.

Do what you can. I knew this post needed to get written but, even with laptop at my fingertips, I was too distracted to start there. So I opened my email. I knew I could manage a scan-and-delete session. That led to taking action on some e-mails, which led to taking action on some other items that I'd been turning over in my mind, but that hadn't made it to the list yet. Once I started working, it was easy to keep going. Sometimes, getting started is the hardest part.

Ask yourself if what you're doing is more important than your to-do list. I know that sounds silly but, sometimes, we're so driven that we lose sight of the fact that the thing that's "interrupting" our productivity is worthwhile. Case in point. Laundry, writing and household stuff is at the top of my Saturday list. If I don't do those things on Saturday, they get bumped into another day, knocking the rest of my schedule off-kilter. But last Saturday, my daughter wanted to meet to go shopping after work. Sure, I could have stuck to the to-do list, but time with my daughter was more important, so the to-do list got broken up into smaller pieces that could be inserted bit-by-bit into other days. Sometimes, to-do lists can actually skew our priorities.

Try to get to one top-tier item if possible. News or not, it's Thursday, so this post was getting written. Dinner will also get made, and I'm still on track to get some writing in, even though that will happen much later in the day than I planned. When you end your day having crossed one thing off a daunting list, focus on what you've accomplished rather than what you haven't. Sometimes, progress comes in small doses.

We can't be "on" all the time -- it's not healthy. Sometimes, productivity is overrated. Other times, it comes in the form of doing things we've long wanted to do, but haven't yet made a priority. My email scan-and-delete session led me to schedule several things I'd been toying with but hadn't committed to yet. 

To-do lists, like any other tool, should work in our service, rather than the other way around. And sometimes, the most meaningful thing we can do in any given moment isn't on the list at all.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

New Year, New Project


Confessions make the leap to e-book!

I am beyond excited to share with you my latest project: an e-book compilation of my True Confessions Wednesday posts! After hitting my 50th True Confession in December, I wanted to celebrate, so I decided to gather all my confessions into one volume. 

Begun in September 2019 (pre-pandemic -- remember those days?), this recurring feature was a lot of fun to write, and also a lot of fun to revisit as I put the e-book together. The posts have been lightly edited but are essentially the same.

And they will remain here as well. I've often considered, but consistently rejected, the idea of monetizing this blog, but nearly all the avenues I've explored involved interrupting your reading experience and doing the things I find annoying on other blogs. For me, this blog is a place to share my ideas, as well as organizational frustrations and triumphs, and pop-ups and sign-ups only distract from that purpose.

So, you can still find all of my posts here, as long as Blogger will keep them. But, if you'd like the convenience of finding all of my (organizational) confessions in one place, you might like the book.

And, since endings often lead to new beginnings, bringing my confessional chapter to a close (for now, anyway), also means starting something new. I'd like to do some FAQs posts, focused in on organizing questions. I've brainstormed a few but, if there's one you'd like me to answer, you can leave me a comment below, or send me a message. I'll keep you anonymous, if you wish.

I'd also love to know what organizational projects you're working on, since January is prime organization time for many of us. Personally, I'm about halfway through my box of files and I've purged a lot. A new system is taking shape, whereby the things I use often get to stay in my office (writing projects) and the old stuff (archives) goes into the two-drawer file we moved to the basement. I'm also happy to be working primarily with papers and files and I do not miss the days when I had to figure out how to fit all the new Santa stuff into the playroom.

Happy New Year! Wishing you many organizational successes, and hoping you'll share them here.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Key New Year's Resolutions

Yesterday, I started thinking about my big picture goals for 2021 and, tomorrow, I'll set some monthly goals as I have for the past several years. Unless I miss my guess, a lot of people are pondering their goals for 2021. On my Twitter feed, I'm seeing a trend toward increased productivity.

It's like we haven't learned anything at all.

Sure, I hope 2021 means more time in public wearing something besides leggings and a tee shirt/sweatshirt (seasonal choices may vary) with a mask as my most important accessory. I hope I still fit into my church clothes when it's time to worship unmasked in a public space again.

But I don't want to forget that 2020 showed us what mattered in a fashion more stark than we could ever have imagined. Health. Loved ones. What essential really means. 

The value of downtime.

Yes, I want to be productive in 2021, but I don't want to forget the lessons of 2020. I want to accomplish things, but I don't feel a need to make up for lost time. So, with that in mind, I'm sharing three things I want to keep in the front of my mind for 2021. I don't do New Year's resolutions (more on that next week), but I do want to make sure I keep "progress" in the term "work-in-progress."  

Practice gratitude. There is always something to be thankful for, even if we sometimes need a bulldozer to unearth it. Ending each day with thoughts of gratitude for things large and small helps us sleep better and improves our overall outlook. Maybe we're only grateful that a seemingly interminable day came to an end or that the sheets on the bed are clean or that the heat (or air conditioning) is working. Our gratitudes don't need to achieve the status of world peace to remind us of the things that are going right in our world. Very often, it's the little things that make a difference.

Self-care. 2020 has shown us that living on the edge has limited appeal. When we are run down, we get sick. When we are overwhelmed, we get cranky. When we burn the candle at both ends, we make mistakes. I often find myself going back to the overused comparison of putting our own oxygen masks on first. This analogy gets used a lot because it makes sense. When others are depending on us, it's hard to take a break but often that's when a break yields the greatest payoff. 

Don't take on other people's stress. Part of self-care is knowing what's ours to resolve and what's not. Other people's emotional states can be contagious; when they panic, we can absorb that panic and behave in a similar fashion. Occasionally, those around us might even be offended if we manage to keep calm when they don't feel the situation calls for it. Before we act, though, it's wise to ask ourselves if the problem is ours to solve. Chances are we have plenty of responsibilities of our own. We can still be helpful without taking on those that belong to others.

How about you? Are there any lessons from 2020  you hope to carry forward into 2021?