Archives for The Big Picture
Today we welcome Jeri Dansky to our Unclutterer content team. She’ll have a weekly post full of uncluttering and organizing advice that is guided by her many successful years as a professional organizer.
What would happen if you became seriously ill and a family member or friend had to make sure you and your household were properly taken care of?
Of course, it’s wise to have a living will and a durable power of attorney for health care or the equivalents. (The specific documents you need will depend on where you live.) You’ll also want a financial power of attorney or whatever legal document provides a similar ability to manage your money on your behalf. Consider consulting with an estate attorney to make sure you’re prepared in this regard.
Even with these legal documents in place, you still have some preparation to do. Think of all the things someone would need to know in order to run your life on your behalf. Here are just a few:
- What medicines are you taking? Do you have any allergies? What immunizations have you had? What are the major events in your medical history: surgeries, etc.?
- If you have pets, what do they get fed, and when? Are they taking any medications? If so, where are those medications and how do they get taken?
- What’s the password to pick up your voice mail messages? How would someone check your email?
- Where is your calendar — and if it’s online, how does it get accessed? Are there any standing appointments that should be cancelled?
- Where is your address book — and again, how does it get accessed if it’s online? Who should be notified if there’s a serious problem?
- Do you have a post office box where mail should be checked? Where’s the key for the box?
- What regular bills get paid automatically, and which ones need to get paid manually? Will someone need access to your online bill paying systems? Will someone need the PIN for your ATM card?
- Is there a home alarm system? If so, how does it work?
- Are there any quirks about your home that someone should know about? For example, in my home, the switch for the garbage disposal is hard to find.
It may seem, at first, that pulling this information together only matters if you’re single — but actually, everyone could benefit by gathering this information and sharing it with trusted people. Sometimes, one spouse or life partner doesn’t know everything the other one does. And, there are scenarios where both spouses or partners would need help at the same time.
It’s natural to avoid thinking about the chance of anything bad happening to us — but it’s a real kindness to your friends and family to take the time to pull this information together, just in case it’s needed. I remember being in the emergency room with my mom, filling out the hospital admission forms and trying desperately to remember if it was her left hip or her right that got replaced some years ago. When Mom had surgery and was away from home for weeks, I was glad I knew all the little things to do, such as canceling her weekly appointment at the beauty salon. While it wouldn’t have been a tragedy if I didn’t cancel that appointment, it was a nice courtesy. It also comforted my mom to know I’d be taking care of such things for her.
I’ve written about the benefits of a trusted system before. It can be anything you like, really: index cards in your pocket, project management software, a notepad, audio recorder, whatever. The crucial thing is that your brain knows: 1.) You’ll enter information into it reliably; 2.) You’ll check on it regularly, and 3.) Nothing entered into the system will get lost through the cracks. Some people use Getting Things Done, while some use a home-grown solution. When you trust your system in your bones, your brain will stop nagging you about what needs to be done.
That nagging happens to me when I carry around excessive “mental clutter.” As I’ve said before, I use David Allen’s definition of clutter (I’m paraphrasing here): Anything that isn’t where it’s supposed to be for all time. For example, sneakers lying under the coffee table are clutter until they’re placed in the shoe basket in the mudroom. Likewise, “Dentist appointment on the 14th at 9:00 AM” is clutter while it’s in my mind until I write it on a calendar that I know I’ll check.
Mental clutter is detrimental to me in several ways. When I my mind is cluttered I remember obligations when it’s impossible to do anything about them (“Finish William’s Pinewood Derby car” is useless to me while doing 60 mph on the highway), and the subsequent distraction causes me to miss other, more important things.
Now, about the snowman.
A year ago, I was in the checkout line with my then-4-year-old son. He clanked his Keds against the steel shopping cart as I moved bottled water, bagels, and potato chips onto the conveyor belt. While my hands worked I thought about which items would go into the freezer, which ones I’d cook right away, what we’d eat later that night….
“Daddy, look at the snowman.”
“Look at the snowman.”
“Honey, it’s summer time. There’s no snowman.”
“I see a snowman.”
I looked up, my arms moving items from cart to belt, my eyes scanning the store. “Where’s your snowman, honey?”
He pointed. I looked. I saw it.
A snowman. In the floral department, there was a balloon shaped like a snowman, about 18 inches tall.
I hadn’t noticed it. I never would have if he hadn’t pointed it out. What’s more, he was right. Why would there be a snowman balloon for sale in July? What an odd thing that I missed. What else had I missed? I wanted to know.
That’s when I vowed to notice what I was missing. The first step, I figured, was to identify how I was missing things. Once I found it, I could change it and then cease missing things. I began to monitor my habits. Initially I didn’t change them, I just observed. I was stunned at how frequently I invited distraction upon myself. Here’s what I was doing:
Waking up in the morning, and switching on the news. Dressing while barely glancing at my clothing. Heck, I was watching the news while barely glancing at the TV. Between buttons and sound bites, my eyes were scanning emails while my brain was running its own acrobatics. What will happen today? What will happen this weekend? I need to do laundry. Why are the kids moving so slowly, don’t they know it’s a school day?
There were constant distractions and a mentally consuming dialogue like this throughout the entire day.
Eventually, I realized something significant — I never did what I was doing. For example, when I got dressed in the morning, I didn’t get dressed. Instead, I spent that time filtering much incoming stimuli: The TV, email, my children’s progress toward getting ready for school and so on. My mind wasn’t on what was happening, which was selecting clothing, buttoning a shirt, tying a shoe, tightening a belt.
With the problem identified, I worked on eliminating it. In the morning, I turned off the TV and the computer and just got dressed. I even told myself, “I’m getting dressed.” It was nice! I kept doing it. I found that I appreciate that I have the motor skills required to dress myself. I found that I have nice clothes. I found that my backyard looks nice in the morning through the bedroom window, and I can look down on the berry patch and rhubarb plants. When I was done, I felt, well, happy.
I also realize that there’s so much good in the ordinary. Kurt Vonnegut expressed this more eloquently that I can:
“[When Kurt Vonnegut tells his wife he’s going out to buy an envelope] Oh, she says, well, you’re not a poor man. You know, why don’t you go online and buy a hundred envelopes and put them in the closet? And so I pretend not to hear her. And go out to get an envelope because I’m going to have a hell of a good time in the process of buying an envelope. I meet a lot of people. And, see some great looking babies. And a fire engine goes by. And I give them the thumbs up. And ask a woman what kind of dog that is. And, I don’t know. The moral of the story is, we’re here on Earth to fart around. And, of course, the computers will do us out of that. And, with the computer people don’t realize, or they don’t care, is we’re dancing animals. You know, we love to move around. And, we’re not supposed to dance at all anymore.”
Now, I’m not saying it’s impossible to do two things at once. Nor am I suggesting that we eschew productivity or fail to pack the kids’ lunches because it’s time to examine every detail of every moment. I still occasionally write and listen to music at the same time, or breeze through my Twitter stream like a humming bird, or review the day’s schedule in my head. But now I know that’s what I’m doing, if that makes sense. And I’m missing a lot less.
When you’re looking for inspiration and motivation to accomplish a goal, it can be helpful to look for analogies or similar features with other topics. Doing this can also reinforce the purpose of a goal or even help you to see things a little differently. You’ve probably noticed that losing the weight of clutter is often associated with losing those extra pounds that can creep up on your body. I once likened clutter to armadillos and, recently, it seemed to me that uncluttering can be a lot like running. Both require discipline and strong commitment if you’re to accomplish the results you’re looking for. Often, the tips given to people who are just starting a running program can also be applied to becoming more organized.
Create a plan with action steps
New runners can benefit from setting particular goals they want achieve each time they go running (distance, specific pace) as well as time-based goals (daily, weekly, monthly). Unclutterers need a plan, too, for without one, your activities will be scattered and you won’t have a good way of tracking your progress. To give yourself a better chance of succeeding, break your overall goal into mini-goals or action steps and add deadlines to help keep you accountable.
Unclutter every day
To get in the routine of running, new runners will likely need a bit of practice. Hitting the pavement (or the treadmill) sporadically may not help you develop that routine, so those taking up the activity for the first time are often advised to run for a few minutes every day. The same holds true for uncluttering. Engaging in a few minutes of daily organizing activities will help you to tackle the clutter and solidify a regular set of organizing habits, especially if you’re not feeling very motivated at the outset.
Use the right supplies
To avoid injury, runners must find a shoe that is not too small or too big — it must fit properly from toe to heel. Since sizes differ from brand to brand, it’s important to have your feet measured at the time of each purchase.
Just as runners need the right pair of shoes before they hit the pavement, it’s important for unclutterers to get the right tools. It may be tempting to run out (see what I did there?) and buy containers in multiple sizes and colors without giving any thought to:
- The volume of things that you’ll keep
- Where you’ll store your items
Avoid that buying temptation by first sorting and indexing the items that you’re keeping. That way, you can then find the right containers to fit the number of things you have in the designated storage location. Otherwise, purchases made without advanced planning can end up adding more clutter to your space.
Track your progress
Some runners keep a journal to look back on past successes and obstacles that they overcame. Journaling can be an inspirational tool and help you to continue reaching your goals. As you unclutter, consider writing down your successes as well as specific strategies that have worked for you. These will be helpful, particularly on days when things don’t go according to plan.
Work with a friend
Running doesn’t have to be a solitary activity. But, new runners may be a bit self-conscious if they don’t have the proper running form yet or are really slow. I suspect that people who decide to get more organized may have similar fears and be worried what their friends may think. But, when you partner with someone, the process can seem more manageable, you can get much needed help, and you may learn new strategies. Working with someone that you trust can not only distract you from the fears you may be feeling, but he/she can also help you stay focused on the uncluttering task at hand.
Remind yourself that you are an unclutterer
On those days when you’re feeling a little discouraged, be sure to keep your negative thoughts in check. If you let them hang about, this can lead to stress. Forcefully push doubts aside and remind yourself that you are an unclutterer. The seasoned runners at RunnersWorld.com recognize newbies can become discouraged in the beginning and use this quote as a reminder to turn those thoughts around: “We are all runners, some just run faster than others. I never met a fake runner.”
Clutter can be a wily and cunning opponent. Sometimes, it just seems to appear as if out of nowhere. It sneaks up behind you and overpowers you with a bit of help from long work hours, too many projects, a busy travel schedule, and a lack of sleep. But, you can turn the tables on clutter and fight your way out of its grip. By gaining a good understanding of all its nuances, you’ll have a better chance of thwarting its attempt at getting control of all your living spaces.
As you probably already know, you will need to craft and execute a plan of attack. In fact, each room in your home may need its own plan. Since the layout and furniture is likely different in each area, clutter can build up in different ways. So, be observant. Look out for how pockets of clutter materialize. Does it happen at night when you’re feeling most tired? Or, perhaps in the morning when you’re not feeling as prepared as you’d like to be? As you notice the particular ways that clutter collects, stage a counterattack. Think of specific steps you can take to stop it from infiltrating your space. For example, you might keep an “out” box for things that need to be mailed, returned, or donated. Or, you can simply use a basket to collect the stuff you bring home from work. Once you find a strategy that works, keep it in your arsenal and use it often. And, if you live with others, encourage them to do the same.
Now, keep in mind that clutter doesn’t only build up, but it can also hide from you. Somehow it knows that you’ll probably forget that bag of mail that you stashed in the closet when you had company over or the linens you threw inside the closet. It can also hide in plain sight, like under furniture, inside storage chests, and under piles of paper on your desk. Your plan for each room should include a reminder to look in places that may not be so obvious.
In a final stealth move, clutter can lurk in a place that’s perhaps closest to you — your mind. Old arguments, hurt feelings, past mistakes, and fears about the future can take up residence in your thoughts. When these negative thoughts congregate in your head, they make it difficult to follow through on your clutter-busting plans and, more importantly, hamper your ability to just feel happy. Flush them out and replace them with positive thoughts and ideas. But, be cautious. Even seemingly harmless things — like that great business idea or interesting project you’re working on — can take over during times that they need to be quiet (like when you’re on vacation or hanging out with friends). Give them attention when it’s time to focus on work and be sure to put them away when it’s time to relax, to have fun — to just be.
Arm yourself with the right tools so you can turn the tables on clutter, and you’ll soon find yourself reveling in the victory of hard-fought battle.
Someone on the Unclutterer team is an avid tennis fan (that would be me) and though she isn’t a player herself, she does enjoy watching well fought battles on the court, especially when one of the players is Roger Federer. Unfortunately, Federer was ousted a few days ago in the quaterfinals of the BNP Paribas Open. Since he went into that event as the defending champion, there was high expectations for him to perform well. As the result was less than desired, Federer offered some insights on how he planned to deal with this setback — a lesson that even non-tennis players would do well to pay close attention to.
Look for things that worked
In his post-match interview, Federer reflected on the things that went well during the tournament. Though he acknowledged that he would have liked to have played differently, he also talked about specific things he did well (like fighting from behind to ultimately win one of his matches and serving well).
When faced with a disappointing situation, finding things you’re proud of is probably not the easiest thing to do. But, give a try anyway. Doing this may help you feel better and lift any negative feelings you may have. Take some time to think about (and perhaps write down) the specific things that worked in your favor. Remember what you need to continue doing when faced with similar situations and build your confidence.
Focus on long-term plans
Federer often talks about his plans over the long-term when he loses a match (stay on tour for several years, stay healthy, win tournaments), and that was a consistent message in his last presser. That’s not to say that he ignores short-term improvements (like how to better deal with balls sent high to his backhand), but he realizes that he can’t get so consumed by the emotions of a disappointing perfomance that he loses sight of his ultimate plans.
Looking at the big picture and your long-term goals will give you the chance to channel your disappointment in a constructive way. By keeping your eye on the ultimate prize, you take your mind off how you’re currently feeling so you can forge ahead and make strategic adjustments to your plans. Remember that your goals give structure to your planning and remind you why you embarked on the journey in the first place.
Manage your schedule well
One of Federer’s main goals is to stay injury free, which means he needs to be very particluar about which events he plays. As he mentioned a few days ago, a packed schedule will simply increase the opportunities for injuries to happen and decrease available time for training and recovery. In preparation for the clay court season, he will spend more time training aggressively before his next event in May.
What does this mean for you? If your schedule is always full and there are no straegically placed breaks (or time for refining your plans), you’ll quickly find yourself running on empty and not performing at your best. Before saying “yes,” to the next project that comes your way or adding more voluntary items to your task list, be certain that you will have the time to complete them. And, you should also consider whether or not any new opportunities align with your long-term plans.
Surround yourself with a good team
For a long while, Federer played without a coach but now he has added a coach to his team with positve results. In fact, Federer has acheived success (like reclaiming the number-one ranking and winnning Wimbledon in 2012) that is not typcial for most 31-year old tennis players. I suspect having a coach has also helped him to manage the sting of losses in a more constructive way.
Whether you have large goals or incremental changes you’d like to make, you may need help. Working with a planning partner, coach, or colleague can help you see different perspectives, refine your direction, and maintain a positive attitude. Carefully select someone whose personality and workstyle complement yours, and set up regularly scheduled meetings to assess your progress.
Setbacks are inevitable and happen to everyone, even popular tennis players like Roger Federer. And, like Federer, you can take specific action steps to manage them well. Begin by tuning out negative talk (from yourself and others) and incorporate some of the suggested strategies so you can stay focused on your larger goals.
Reader Cassie submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:
I’m uncluttered, but messy. Everything I own has a “proper storage place,” like you recommend in your book, but stuff doesn’t always make it back to its storage place after I use it. How much mess is too much mess? Is there any hope for me to be less messy and [be] better about returning things to their proper storage place?
Cassie, you have two great questions here. Let’s start with your first: “How much mess is too much mess?”
The answer to your question depends on a few variables. Do you live alone or with other people? How much stress and anxiety is your mess causing you? Are you just messy or are you also dirty (by “dirty” I mean are there messes that can attract bugs and pests, like half-eaten bowls of cereal abandoned on the end table in your living room)?
If you live alone, you pretty much get to be the sole decider in how much mess is too much mess. Assuming your mess isn’t violating any laws, neighborhood association rules, or rental agreements, you set the rules for what is okay and what isn’t. However, if you live with other people, you all need to come to an agreement as to what amount of mess is okay and what is unacceptable. There are lots of ways you can reach this agreement, but I recommend meeting in a public place (like a restaurant or coffee shop) and discussing it there. Write down the standards if that suits you, or simply come to a very clear verbal agreement. Remember, too, you can always revisit the standards you set at a later time if they turn out to be too strict or too lenient.
If your mess isn’t causing you any stress or anxiety, it is likely you have found your appropriate tolerance level and are functioning well. We are all a bit messy, especially while working on projects or dealing with more pressing issues and responsibilities. As long as things make it back to their homes eventually, a little mess is fine. But, since you wrote in asking about your mess, my guess is that it’s causing you some stress. In this case, you’ll want to create routines for regularly dealing with your messes so they aren’t a source of anxiety for you. I’ll give some tips for creating these routines in a couple paragraphs.
Next, you’ll just want to be sure that your mess doesn’t include anything that could be labeled as “dirty.” Anything that could invite bugs or pests into your home should be cleaned up right away. For example, an overflowing kitty litter box has to be cleaned now, but a stray pair of socks on the floor can sit until morning if they aren’t causing you any frustration. (Remember, the reason you want to be uncluttered is to get rid of distractions that are getting in the way of the life you desire — and stress, anxiety, frustration, bugs, and pests all qualify as distractions.)
To address your second question, “Is there any hope for me to be less messy and [be] better about returning things to their proper storage place?”
Yes, there is hope that you can be less messy if that is what you want to do. The easiest thing you can do is to create a new daily pickup routine for yourself. Choose a time that works best for you and when you have a good amount of energy: in the morning before work, immediately after work, after dinner, or an hour before bed. Set aside 15 minutes — and only 15 minutes, as you don’t want to make it too daunting — to speed through your living space taking care of all the little messes. Use a timer to help keep you on track or an upbeat music playlist to encourage you to move.
Finally, work on changing your mindset about how activities are finished. When you think about doing things, constantly remind yourself that you’re actually not done with something until all items are put away. For example, dinner isn’t finished until all dishes are in the dishwasher and the counter has been wiped down (as opposed to thinking dinner is over when you finish eating). Or that watching your favorite television show isn’t over when the credits roll, but rather after you turn off the television and return the remote control to its storage basket. With months of practice, you’ll train yourself to make fewer messes and this will reduce the time you need for your daily pickup routine.
Thank you, Cassie, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. Be sure to check the comments for even more insights from our readers.
Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.
By now, you’ve probably heard about the new ban on telecommuting being implemented at Yahoo! The corporation’s latest CEO wants workers and teams to be side-by-side in an effort to improve employee communication and creativity. The change has obviously brought about strong negative feelings from employees and critics from outside the company because they feel it is a decrease in workplace flexibility. But, the simple fact that it is a change is also likely another cause of anxious feelings because something familiar is being phased out.
Whether you work for yourself or for someone else, when policies and procedures change (especially ones that have been in effect for a long while), it can be difficult to adjust and do things differently. Even when the change is seemingly positive and welcomed, it will probably mean that you’ll need to learn and adjust to a new way of doing things. Rather than get thrown off track, start planning how you can successfully transition and incorporate new changes into your work life.
Keep your emotions in check
You may want everything to stay exactly the same and hearing that there will be new policies and procedures can make you feel uncomfortable and unsure. Try to keep negative emotions under control so that you can strategically plan your next steps. If you’re freaking out, you’ll have a harder time crafting a plan of action. When you’re tempted to complain, pause and remind yourself that you are in control of your emotions and have the ability to see things in a positive light.
Gather all the necessary information
Getting as much information as possible about why things will be done differently can help you to better understand why the change is happening. Equally important is making sure that you’re getting information from the appropriate sources. Water cooler conversations or highly charged reactions from colleagues likely will not have the details that can help you process and understand why things are changing. It’s okay to have questions, but be sure to communicate with the right people (human resources department, direct supervisors) to get the answers you need. Find out how your position will be impacted and what the new expectations are. Though you may not agree with the upcoming changes, knowing what to expect will help you …
Create a new plan
Once you have all the pertinent information, you can plan how your new day-to-day work life will look and feel. Consider mapping out (or sketching) what your new day might look like. Do you need to travel to a new work location? Will you have new responsibilities? Consider uploading your plan (and any notes you have) to Evernote or record them in a paper journal so that can refer to it when you need to. Whatever the changes are, be sure that you have the tools needed to do your job well. Do you have the proper training to manage new responsibilities? Are you making use of technology tools (like reminder and project management apps)?
Focus on the benefits
With change, there are usually opportunities. They may not be as obvious at first, so take a minute to think through some of the positive things that may come about because of the change. Perhaps you will learn a new skill or get a chance to demonstrate your level of expertise more fully. If, like Yahoo! out-of-office employees, you will need to begin working from the company headquarters, it is possible you might strike up more fruitful partnerships with your colleagues. Being in the same location may change the dynamic of your working relationship, and you might find working alongside your coworkers in the same office will allow for greater creativity and collaboration. Keep in mind that there is often an upside to things that initially seem negative. Think things through fully to discover the positive impact that change may have for you.
Stop for a moment. Think about your life as it is right now: the good, the not so good, and your work and personal stuff all blended together. Now add 20 children to that mix. Can you imagine how different your life would be? Your responsibilities would likely grow exponentially and you would need a lot of help along with solid systems to keep things from becoming overwhelming.
Though this scenario might sound a little far-fetched, it was a reality for Johann Sebastian Bach who had 20 children. This fact was featured in an interview I read recently with David Allen, author of Making It All Work: Winning at the Game of Work and Business of Life and the best seller Getting Things Done.
I was fascinated by Allen’s comments about the reason why people in Bach’s day probably didn’t feel as overwhelmed or stressed as many people do today:
Another reason a lot of people are feeling overwhelmed is because people are not in true survival or crisis mode as often as they have been in much of our history. The interesting thing about crisis is that it actually produces a type of serenity. Why? Because in a crisis, people have to integrate all kinds of information that’s potentially relevant, they have to make decisions quickly, they have to then trust their intuitive judgment calls in the moment. They have to act … they’re very focused on some outcome, usually live–you know, survive.
I think Allen might be on to something. When your choices are clear and it’s obvious which thing is the most important, you can make decisions more quickly and feel sure (not stressed) that you’ve selected the right option.
But, do you really need to be in crisis mode to cope well when everything seems urgent and important? You likely do not (and will not) face some of the challenges others did in the 1700s, and it’s fair to assume that most of us don’t have to care for 20 children. That said, you will probably feel the pressure and strain of multiple competing priorities from time to time. What you experience may not fall in the crisis category, but even so, there are small steps you can take to fight off feelings of stress. You may need some time to think through the root cause of your anxious feelings, and, once you do, you’ll have these seven strategies to help you conquer them.
- Eliminate some projects. You might have taken on more projects than you could reasonably manage, or perhaps, they turned out to be more complex than you initially thought they would be. Look at all the things you’ve committed to doing and, when possible, remove the ones that are causing significant stress and/or delegate them to someone else.
- Re-structure your commitments. If your project is not something that can be easily delegated to someone else, think of ways to make adjustments that can make it more manageable. If there are deadlines, are they flexible? Can you switch roles (become a team member verses a project lead) or share the lead role with another person? Look for alternate ways to stay involved with less pressure.
- Keep a positive mindset. The next time you feel like your head is about to explode, remember that you don’t have 20 children! And, if by chance you do (or it feels like you do), try to keep an optimistic attitude. You might need a little help to refocus your energies in a more positive way, so whatever (or whomever) tends to cheer you up, go find them. Take a minute to make a list of things that make you happy and keep it close by for when those moments arise.
- Pace yourself. Do you ever notice that when you rush around, your brain sometimes does the same thing? You think you have to rush to get everything done, but the only thing that frantic pace does is make you move your feet a little faster. Instead, slow down a bit. You’ll be able to think more clearly and come up with a reasonable plan to manage your priorities for that day.
- Do nothing. Plan for days when you’ll relax and give yourself an opportunity to recharge. Taking breaks can help you to reduce stress and be more productive once you get back to your responsibilities.
- Be excellent, not perfect. Reaching for perfection will make it more difficult to remain stress-free. The notion of perfection is just that — a lofty idea, one that is impossible to attain. Trying to achieve perfection takes a lot of mental energy, wastes your time, and leaves you feeling unsatisfied. Excellence, however, can be achieved by anyone. Have a plan ready, strive to do your best, and put those notions of perfection aside.
- Stay healthy. The three things that you perhaps have the greatest control over are what you eat, how much you exercise, and how much sleep you get at night. Did you know that what you eat as well as the the amount of water you consume can affect your mood? The results of a recent study showed that even mild dehydration “dampened moods, increased fatigue, and led to headaches.” So, be sure to keep healthy snacks close by and stay hydrated throughout the day.
There is no magic pill that will erase all stress from your life, but you’re not without tools to help you keep stress at bay. Test out some of the tips shared today to see how well they work for you.
January is the National Association of Professional Organizers’ Get Organized Month. The timing makes sense as many people tend to be focused on resolutions, goals, and ambitions at the beginning of the year. But, in addition to the calendar year changing, holidays, your birthday, and even the change in seasons are great times to focus on the things you’d like to accomplish and begin implementing a plan of attack.
Still, even with the best intentions, you might find yourself struggling to stay in touch with your usually motivated self. You didn’t mean for things to end up this way, they just did. In fact, you most likely started out with an abundance of enthusiasm. You were in sync with the part of yourself that was feeling particularly inspired. And, then one day you realized that you sort of drifted apart. You started putting those important goals aside until you didn’t feel like doing them anymore. Your motivation simply got up and left.
For most of us, the break up with the positive feelings that keep us pushing toward a goal is not uncommon. We even know when it’s going to happen. A new study conducted by Andrea Bonezzi, assistant marketing professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business et al. appears to back this up:
Whether you have a business goal of increasing market share, hope to lose 20 pounds, or have vowed to read Moby Dick, you may have noticed that somewhere around midway to your goal, motivation wanes … this sort of fourth-inning slump is a common, predictable pattern.
The author goes on to say that if your starting and ending points seem very distant from each other, you’re likely to “lose motivation to keep working toward that goal.” What should you do if your motivation deserts you? Though you might be feeling the burdensome weight of a (seemingly) irreparable relationship with your formerly motivated self, there are specific actions you can take win your motivation back.
The first step, of course, is to recognize that feeling less eager to complete a task may very well happen. Life’s little (and big) adventures can sometimes leave you feeling discouraged. But, since you know this ahead of time, you can:
Make a solid plan
By now, you’ve read some of our posts that suggest you break your goals (especially the big, hairy ones) into manageable, attainable chunks. To fortify your resolve and keep moving positively toward your goal, why not also include mini trophies for each milestone you reach or task you accomplish? Knowing that you have something to look forward at various points in your journey can help you stay motivated. You might choose to have different rewards for small steps and a large one when you’ve reached the finish line.
Join a program or support group
Think you need a bit more support to get your motivation back even though you have a well crafted plan? There is truth to there being strength in numbers, so consider seeking the support of others. You may want to take a look at Peter Walsh’s 31 Days to Get Organized challenge. He has been sharing daily organizing tips on his Facebook page ranging from getting control of kids toys to tackling paper piles. Since many of his tips are recorded, you can watch them whenever you need to on YouTube. In the Unclutterer Forums, we have an active group of people who are trying this challenge and writing about their successes and hiccups in our community. The discussion is Peter Walsh’s January Organizing Challenge, if you’re interested in participating.
The Apartment Therapy January Home Cure (daily tips and ideas to stay motivated) is coming a close soon, but you can still sign up and see all the Cure assignments. They will also be offering another Cure later in the year, but, in the meantime, check out the companion book, Apartment Therapy: The Eight-Step Home Cure. Again, we have a group in the Unclutterer Forums discussing their progress in this program in the discussion January Home Cure.
Use resources that you’ve had success with in the past
If you’ve ever read a book or blog post or even listened to a podcast that left you feeling ready to conquer your projects, dust them off and give them a second look. Chances are, if they worked for you in the past, they’re likely to work for you again. Of course, you can check out some of our previous posts on what to do when you just don’t feel very inspired. You can also hop on over to the Unclutterer Forum to share your experiences.
Take something off your plate
I’ve discovered that sometimes my motivation goes on walkabout when I have said “yes” one time too many. I want to be helpful, but more than that, I want to make sure that when I do say yes, I can do my absolute best. Feelings of being overwhelmed and stressed can increase when you feel pulled in too many directions. Take a look at your responsibilities to see if there is something you can share or pass on to someone else entirely. You’ll breathe a little easier and will probably start feeling more positive.
Though you may not feel as enthusiastic about your goals as you did at the outset, don’t give up. Revise your plan and look for ways you can keep your spirits and motivation high.
Can you be too neat and organized? Is it possible that you could be so good at uncluterring that your life becomes devoid of things that are meaningful to you? These are the questions that first popped into my mind as I started listening to an NPR story about Lisa Perry, a woman who decided to sell, in her words, “virtually everything I own.”
As she described her reasons for making this very big change in her life, I began to understand why she (or anyone else) might pursue this possession-less path. Her decision to let go of almost all her belongings was really about taking a journey, about embarking on a process that would allow her focus her gaze forward.
… it’s not about getting rid of things that I don’t want or I don’t like or [that] remind me of bad things. It’s really about who do I want to be and what makes me happy, and keeping the things with me that will allow me to do that. And, right now, it’s moving forward and looking forward, rather than looking back at what I’ve done … where do I want to go and what do I want to be.
Perry began this process by identifying her primary goal: to be happy. She came to this realization and was inspired to make changes after reading two books, The Art of Happiness and The Pathfinder. The latter, in particular, helped her to see that as the number of things she accumulated increased, her life — her vitality — became smaller.
Selling everything one owns on eBay may seem a bit extreme and you certainly don’t have to follow in Perry’s footsteps. However, if you see happiness as an end goal and desire a more fulfilled life, it might be a helpful exercise to think about what specifically would make you truly happy, and to decide on the necessary action steps. You don’t need to part with items that resonate with you nor do you have to live in museum-like home. However, if having a welcoming and more uncluttered abode would contribute to your happiness, begin developing a step-by-step outline that will help you to accomplish that. Instead of randomly keeping or acquiring things, first consider their true value to you. Figure out if you’re holding on to things because you “might need them someday” or because you feel obligated to keep them because a loved one gave them to you. Be more mindful of the items that you allow to co-exist with you. Consider specific actions you can take that will foster happy feelings (and banish negative ones) in your day-to-day life, no matter how small. Perhaps most importantly, figure out why you feel the need to make changes. Doing this will give your plan purpose and help you to stick with it.
That’s not to say that you can’t make adjustments along the way. If you start to notice that your goals need a bit of fine tuning, take the time to polish them. It’s also likely that you will need to seek out others who can help you bring your plan to life, so don’t be shy about asking for help. And, as I mentioned before, as you go through any uncluttering project, stay focused on the reasons you want to make changes in the first place.
Over the last few days, several of our posts have focused on resolutions and ways to achieve the goals you have for 2013. To help you through the process, you may want to arm yourself with additional skills, like what you might find in a book like The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. Though it was published in 1989, it remains a bestseller today because the advice is solid. We thought you might want an uncluttering-specific tool, so in this Covey style, we have created seven habits and routines to become a more effective unclutterer.
- Have easy-to-follow uncluttering rituals. Complex routines that have more than three steps can be difficult to keep up with, so create simple routines that are easy for you manage. It’s also important to create a system that works with your current lifestyle. Sometimes it takes a bit of trial and error to find the right type of activities (like getting up 30 minutes earlier to unclutter, keeping a donation box inside your closet) that are not only easy to follow, but also produce the results you’re desiring.
- Engage in uncluttering activities regularly. Maintaining a clutter-free environment is an ongoing process that needs regular attention. Otherwise, clutter can build up and quickly take over your space. Add regular uncluttering days to your calendar for a specified time frame (30 minutes each weekday, 60 minutes each weekend day).
- Use the right strategies and tools for you. Rather that use a strategy that’s popular at the moment, use techniques that suit your personality. For example, you will need to capture your tasks so that you remember to get them done. If you prefer paper, write your task list in a notebook, but if you’d prefer a digital option, use an app, like Due or Remember the Milk.
- Keep frequently used items accessible. If the items you use often are not easily accessible, putting them back will be a hassle, which means you’ll be less likely to put them away when you’re finished using them. Put those items that you reach for frequently on shelves that you can reach easily and at eye level.
- Put things away rather than putting them down. Unclutterers tend to put things where they belong after each use. Doing this reduces the chance of having clutter pile up, and you’ll always be able to find what you’re looking for without having to search for hours on end.
- Have a “home” for everything. It will be much easier to put your things away when there is a space already designated for them to be kept. Items that don’t have a home will always be unnecessarily out and about. Instead, have a place for the items you use in the room that you tend to use them (magazines in a basket in the living room, office supplies in the home office closet).
- Refrain from making whimsical purchases. Purchases made without much forethought have a greater chance of hanging about your home or office. When you think about the types of purchases you’ll make beforehand, that’s also an opportunity to figure out the proper place to store them. Keep in mind that the fewer things you have, the less you have to maintain and store.
As you start creating your New Year’s resolutions and thinking of ways to productively usher in the new year, you might have in the back of your mind some of the challenges you might face. It’s been well publicized how difficult resolutions are to keep, but that doesn’t mean that you should give up on them. The new year presents an opportunity for change and there are particular things you can do to sustain the changes you’d like to make.
Keep a positive attitude
As with any project, you may meet upon a few roadblocks or things you didn’t anticipate. Don’t let these setbacks stop you from moving forward. Instead, try to adopt a realistic and positive mindset, both of which can help you cope well when things don’t go as planned. If you find yourself a bit turned around, grab your action plan and start anew. Remember, your overall goal is to be persistent, not to achieve perfection.
To help start you off on a positive note, studies have shown that up to 46 percent of people who make resolutions are successful at the six month mark. When compared to the success rate of people who didn’t make resolutions (4 percent), this statistic is remarkable. So, even if there are a few hiccups along the way, keep in mind that you have a very good chance of succeeding.
Build a strong support system
Surrounding yourself with people who can see you through some of the bumps in the road will give your positive outlook extra mileage. An accountability partner can help keep you motivated, will talk through solutions and strategies with you, and celebrate your successes (both large and small). This person will also hold you accountable for the actions you commit to doing. You’ll want to set up regular check-in meetings with your partner so that you don’t lose sight of your next steps.
Choose the right tools
Part of your support system should include tools that work well with your personality and learning style. For instance, you might choose to keep a journal to record your progress or read/listen to a book that gives you specific instructions and action steps, like David Allen’s Getting Things Done. Websites geared toward goal setting (like 43Things.com and StartaResolution.com) can also be helpful. Check out 20 apps to help you keep your New Year resolutions over at TheNextWeb.com for applications on your mobile devices.
Work on one goal at time
Here at Unclutterer, we’ve often mentioned that single-tasking helps you to get more done. The same principle applies to your goals. While you might have several goals (and be very enthusiastic about achieving them), if you attempt to work on all of them at the same time, this can become very overwhelming, you may lose focus, and all of your goals can ultimately fall off your radar. Consider focusing on one goal per month and attend to it every day before moving on to the next one.
Focus on ambitious goals over the long-term
Do you have a Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal (BHAG) on your list? This term was first coined by Jim Collins, co-author of Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. You don’t have to be a corporation to have a BHAG, but you do have to approach it in the right way.
Some key features of a BHAG:
- Stimulates bold, radical improvement
- Generates tremendous excitement for future change
- Has clear and specific outcomes
- Is a long-term endeavor
BHAGs are not your average goals. They are large and meaty and achieving them can have a huge impact not only on you, but also those around you (those in your inner circle, colleagues, and your community at large). Because of their size, ambitious goals won’t necessarily be completed in 365 days. But, once attained, they can be extremely gratifying because of the effort you put in to getting to the finish line. Since you won’t see immediate results, keep your vision of progress in line with long-term planning. Chip away at your BHAG systematically and routinely and seek support from others so that you can have a better chance at successfully completing it. Go ahead, get excited about your big, hairy goals, but be sure to keep the right perspective.
As you think about the steps you need to take to bring your Resolution Action Plan to fruition, don’t rely solely on motivation and willpower. Arm yourself with a few tools and strategies that will help you succeed at a keeping your New Year’s resolutions.