Thursday, December 28, 2017

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Key Steps on the Path to "No"

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Yesterday morning, I wrote about learning to say no. By bedtime last night, I'd already said yes to two new things. In my defense, neither is a long-term commitment, and in one case, it was just the right thing to do.

Still, it seems as though this goal, like many others, might be harder than it sounds. Perhaps there might be some intermediate steps I need to take on the way to my big goal.

Pause. So often, those of us who say yes do so automatically. Simply stopping to think can keep us from making a snap decision that leads to a task that's not such a snap.

Say maybe. Lengthen the pause by not committing either way until you've had some time to think. The bigger the task, the more reasonable "let me think about it" becomes.

Delegate or teach. This works only when you haven't already committed to taking on the task in the first place; reneging on a task you promised to accomplish can come off as irresponsible or even obnoxious, especially if it's not handled delicately. But, if someone else is equally capable of doing the task in question, handing it off can be a very reasonable alternative, especially if the other person is willing to take it on. If someone else is interested in learning how to do the job, taking a few minutes to teach them what to do or assist them in getting started can save you hours of time later on.

If you decide to say no, remember that a little honesty and a lot of kindness go a long way. Explaining an overpacked schedule is preferable to making excuses. Expressing a desire to help at another time or in another way (if you are willing to do so) can make today's no more palatable.

Finally, whether the answer is yes, no or maybe, make sure it's for the right reasons. Balance is key: balancing time, balancing tasks and balancing care for others with care for ourselves can lead to a life that's not only fulfilling, but relaxed enough to enjoy.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Year of No

One of my recent beach reads was Shonda Rhimes' book, Year of Yes. As an avid viewer of Grey's Anatomy, I was curious to learn a little something about the woman behind the powerhouse Thursday night television line-up and, as a fan of Rhimes' characters, I loved her voice in the book. Rhimes' voice is not unlike that of her characters and more than once I found myself smiling at the patter that makes up her chapters.

Although it was a fun read, Ms. Rhimes and I have not only quite different lives, but also quite different problems. As I lay in bed this morning wondering when winter break had morphed from down time to blow-the-dust-off-the-neglected-to-do-lists-and-check-off-as-much-as-possible time, I began to wonder if 2018 should be my Year of No.

I have a long history -- more than half a century -- of saying yes. As I've gotten older, I've gotten better at making more of those yeses things I actually want to do.

Note that I said I've gotten better. I'm still not good at honing my yeses. I still say yes to things I think I should say yes to, even when I'd rather say no. I still say yes to things that other people really, really want me to do, even when I'd rather say no. And, I still have a set of interests so diverse that there's not enough room in a year to do all the things I want to say yes to. I find this last part especially frustrating and perhaps even the root cause behind "breaks" that are more catch up on "stuff" time and less catch up on downtime.

Time, like space, is limited. Just as we can only fit so much stuff into a space, we can only fit so many activities into a day, a week, a month, a year, a lifetime. My fifty-something self has many of the same interests that my twenty-something self had, but my life at fifty-something looks quite different from my life at twenty-something. In some ways, this is good, in others not so much, but the bottom line is that my choices need to be different, too. And, by different, I don't mean narrowed. Some interests have surged while others have faded -- a natural way of making room for new and exciting pursuits. Realistically, though, at fifty-something, it's possible that a few interesting options have already passed me by.

Later this week, I'll be setting my goals for 2018, a process I truly enjoy. By taking the time to reflect, I celebrate successes as well as looking forward to everything I hope to accomplish. Even better, by writing this stuff down, I find I actually prime the pump and end up accomplishing more.

And this year might just be my Year of No -- not in a negative, knee-jerk way, but rather in a thoughtful, deliberate way.

Mohamed Hassan via Pixabay
There are a few advantages my fifty-something self has over my twenty-something self, and most of those have to do with time. With a much better understanding of how precious time is and what it's worth, perhaps it's time for me to spend it a bit more discriminately. Unlike Rhimes, who set a goal to say yes to everything, I need to stop making yes my default response if for no other reason than the simple fact that every yes to one thing is a no to something else.

It should be an interesting year.

Friday, December 22, 2017

3 Keys Thursday/Friday: 3 Keys for Managing the Holiday Countdown

Late again! My apologies. The collision of the end of the semester, the week before Christmas and getting my dad situated in his new digs closer to us means my blogs took a hit. As I looked back on last year's pre-Christmas posts for inspiration, I decided to rework one I wrote this time last year. The advice still holds, and bears repeating.

Three days until Christmas. Ready or not, here it comes!

I'm not ready, but I'm also not stressed. Of course, it helps to stay in the house and away from the traffic and panic going on "out there." Today, I tackled cards (better late than never) and most of the wrapping. Tomorrow, I bake...and wrap some more. One step at a time.

In any event, Christmas will be here in three days. I can enjoy the process, or I can make myself a nervous wreck. Here's how I plan to do the former:

Prioritize. Now that the semester is over and my grades have been turned in, I'm ready to make Christmas top priority. After Christmas, a new list awaits...but I'm not even thinking about most of that just yet.

Don't take on other people's stress. Since I'm perfectly capable of stressing myself out without any outside assistance, I prefer not to outsource. My husband's lists often look different from my own, and it's all too easy to get sucked into tasks that are low priority for me. If I'm following my first key, it's easy to remind myself that what my priorities are. If they don't line up with someone else's, not only is that okay, but I also don't have to accept that person's stress as my own.

Don't forget to have fun. Aside from family and friends, sense of humor is probably the most important thing to keep close by in the days leading up to Christmas. As time ticks away, so do patience and energy, and it's easy to take the merry out of Christmas. Nurture that sense of humor by remembering to sit down and take a break occasionally, even if you can only squeeze in a few minutes of downtime. There's no thing so important that it's worth all of your time and energy.

Regardless of what you celebrate, how you celebrate it, or with whom, I wish you a season of relaxation and celebration.

And, of course, STYLE.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Attacking the Basement

There aren't enough hours in our break to get our basement looking like this.
Last night, I asked my husband to find a home for a mattress topper we'd purchased and rejected. Chances are good that it should go to the trash pile (and that at some point it still will), but it was one of those expensive mistakes that we can't quite get rid of. Yet.

Like so many other no-longer-useful items in our house, it ended up in the basement, which ended up sparking the discussion we have at least twice a year at my house.

We really need to clean out the basement.

While I agree, there never seems to be a good time to do it. From time to time, I take my own advice and chip away at a section, but progress continues to be of the one step forward, two steps back variety. Invariably, once a space is emptied, it becomes a magnet for something else we don't know what to do with/can't bear to part with.

Certain spots in the house tend to become clutter magnets, attracting every item we want out of the way, either temporarily or on a more permanent basis. As I analyze the cringe-worthy collection in our basement, I see two culprits at work: time and indecision. We always seem to have too little of the first and too much of the second.

As a former school counselor, I know that identifying the problem is the first step to solving it. While I can't create more of the former, I can be determined to utilize less of the latter. In other words, in the next few weeks, while everyone is on vacation, we need to set aside time to tackle the task and approach it with the determination to be decisive.

This is, of course, easier said than done. No one is excited to spend vacation time cleaning out the basement, and no one immediately becomes decisive at the snap of a finger.

So, the goals need to be realistic. An entire week going through items one by one? Not gonna happen. Setting aside several hours (perhaps adding up to an entire day) over the course of break to make some headway? More likely.

As for decisiveness,  I know how it's done; I just need to do it. Three piles: keep, don't keep and not sure. Everything we keep will need a home. Whatever we don't keep will need a destination, and whatever we're not sure about will need a deadline.

So, here I am, going public. Feel free to hold me accountable. Despite the fact that I write about this stuff, there are tasks I find odious and this is one of them. When that's the case, we sometimes need a little nudge, or even some partners in the process. Join me, nudge me, ask me how it's going.

It is, after all, a process.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

3 Keys Thursday: Taming One-More-Thing-itis

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Yesterday, I wrote about how my one-more-thing-itis is a double-edged sword. Sure, I get a couple of extra things done, but this "progress" comes with a price.

Since I'm unlikely to ditch this habit any time soon, I've decided I need to finesse it a little; Organizing by STYLE is built, after all, on turning liabilities into assets. Here are a few things I'm considering.

Set a deadline. I'm less likely to fall prey to one-more-thing-itis when I have a clearly determined end time. Sure, I might try to sneak in a couple of extra tasks, but when I know when I'm supposed to stop, I'm less likely to run it down to the wire.

Set an alarm. Another problematic part of this habit is that I lose track of time. Once I've set my deadline, I need to also set an alarm. That way, my deadline doesn't come and go, leaving me scrambling to get out the door on time, apologies in tow.

Write it down. Once the alarm announces my pre-set deadline, I need to stop doing stuff. Clearly, that's where I run into trouble, so I need to employ some list-making strategies. If it's already on the list and it's important, I can highlight it, circle it, star it or put a big #1 beside it. If it's not already on the list, I can add it.

So, now that I have a plan in place, only one question remains. Should I start right away (it is, after all, peak list season), or wait and make this a New Year's resolution?

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

One More Thing-itis

geralt via Pixabay
I have a terrible "disease." It's called "one-more-thing-itis."

I always seem to think I have time to do "just one more thing." As a result, I consistently run just a little bit late.

A lot.

While this "doing one more thing" plan is very optimistic in a way, it's also inconsiderate. While I'm checking one more thing off my list, usually before running out the door to go somewhere, I am, often unintentionally, keeping someone else waiting.

The funny thing is, this not-so-funny habit seems efficient. It seems as though I'm using my time wisely, not wasting a moment, working through my to-do list. While I am, indeed, garnering all these benefits, their value is greatly reduced by the guilt that inevitably arises when I lose track of time and realize I am keeping someone else waiting.

There are a number of things that could improve this situation. Shorter to-do lists come to mind immediately, but that solution is unlikely. The truth is, it's a habit, and I need to decide whether to break it or press it into service.

I have a few ideas, but I'm going to put it out to you, too. How would you cure this time management disease? Leave me a comment, and I'll include your ideas, along with mine, in tomorrow's "3 Keys Thursday" post.

Stay tuned :-)

Friday, December 8, 2017

3 Keys Friday (Oops): 3 Tools that are Keeping My End-of-Semester House in Order

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
As I race toward the end of the semester, my determination to keep things in balance still intact, I'm discovering the benefits that come with refining a system over time. I've noticed that several of the systems I take for granted have evolved with use.  Each success builds on the last, making things come together more quickly and creating routines that are not only easily integrated into daily life, but make daily life easier.

Here are three things that are helping me keep things together when they are in danger of falling apart.

Folders for my classes. This fall marked my eighth semester as an adjunct. I've tried many systems of folders, files and binders (what was I thinking?) since I started. Over time, a system emerged and, once I found the right fit, it stuck. I know exactly what has to go in my bag each day and keeping it all color-coded appeals to my I need to see it personal style. 

A pre-stocked bag. Last fall, I purchased an organizer that lives in my school bag. If I switch bags, I move it into the new bag so that I know I have everything I need, from an adapter for my laptop to writing utensils, including a white board marker in case I find myself in a classroom without one.

A way to organize my course stuff at home. This is the system that has taken the longest time to develop and, thanks to a recent family room makeover, I'm still putting the final touches on it. The closer I get to my mother's adage ("A place for everything and everything in its place") with respect to my school stuff, the more efficient I feel.

Developing systems that work creates not only a sense of organization, but peace of mind as well. When we know where things belong and when where they belong makes sense, we can find what we need when we need it and we feel prepared to tackle important tasks. Organizing by STYLE has helped me to approach not just my stuff, but also my life, with a plan that makes sense.

And that is a very nice feeling to have.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

You Say "Stack" Like it's a Bad Thing

olluszka via Pixabay
I have reached the point in the semester where pretty much every time I show up to teach a class, I collect a pile of papers to be graded. As I barrel into the home stretch of the semester, continuing to aim for balance, all of these papers need temporary homes -- safe places where I won't forget about them or, worse yet, lose a piece of work on which one of my students spent hours. Since I do most of my work at home, that means these safe places intersect with our living spaces.

I'm happy to report that this semester, things look a little more organized. As an I need to see it person, I still have piles, but they're organized piles. Thanks to a new work table in our family room, I can keep my works in progress in neat stacks (one for each class) in a location somewhere besides my dining room table. Colored folders separate one class from another, and a bright pink folder holds items of immediate concern.

Clearly, this is a temporary solution, one that lasts only as long as my family's patience.

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that I often say, "it's a process," and that is absolutely true here. As the papers are graded and the piles diminish, the rubrics, notes and other plans and notes to myself will need a home besides the work table. A new set of file bins in the family room -- one that keeps things off the table, somewhat out of sight, but not completely out of mind -- will help me keep things accessible. Even better, it'll keep things off the dining room table and the living room furniture, two spots that have, in the past, become victims of the end-of-semester deluge.

What sounds like a simple solution arose only after multiple semesters of trial and error, with an almost embarrassing amount of time wasted on dropping and running combined with traditional methods that don't work for my styles. Committing to systems that fit my styles means that things are, for now at least, rarely out of sight, but slowly, I am finding ways to keep things visible but still tidy.

While organization is a valuable payoff here, perhaps even more important is the peace of mind that comes with a system that actually lets me keep track of things. Getting to this point was not easy or quick, but the more I listen to my styles and stop trying to do things the way I'm "supposed to," the more useful and efficient the whole system becomes.

It's a wonderful feeling to walk through my living room without being visually accosted by papers and projects in progress, and it's nice to be able to actually eat at the dining room table. Taking the time to think about what works and personalizing my system accordingly has been well worth the time it took to get here.