Getting started with a daily routine

A few years ago, I was fed up with the frenzy of realizing something important was due … two hours after I had missed a deadline. After much trial and error, and a little dragging of my feet, I’ve established a workable daily routine. For me, adherence to a routine is especially important. Since I work from home, I’ve only got six hours to myself while my wife and kids are at school, and enough work for much more than that. I keep it all manageable, in part, with a fixed routine. It’s all about knowing what’s coming, preparing ahead of time, and finding a “home” for key items and ideas.

The view from up here – knowing what’s coming

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of my routine, I must briefly address projects. I define a project as David Allen does: anything that takes more than one action step to complete. Therefore, “land the new client” is a project, but so is “give Jr. permission to go on the field trip.”

In Getting Things Done, Allen emphasizes the importance of dealing with your stuff “when it shows up, not when it blows up.” If you can get past the Doctor Phil-ness of that rhyme, you see the wisdom in it. Remembering Jr.’s permission slip is no good after he’s been at school for two hours.

With this in mind, I have a running list of what tasks need to be done. My list is a week long, and it lives on a bulletin board behind my desk (I’ve previously written about my search for the perfect bulletin board). Each Sunday, I review what must be done over the next week, write those actions on index cards, and pin them to the board.

Preparing ahead of time

It took me years to learn this lesson. Remember the kid who was always rushing last second to finish that paper in school?

Hello. Nice to see you again.

Today I’ve finally realized that I’m not an adrenaline junkie, and that last-second frenzy is not something I enjoy. As a result, my daily routine actually begins the night before. As evening draws near, I:

  1. Make sure the kids’ bags are packed for school and that all required papers, etc. are inside those bags.
  2. Ensure that clean, weather-appropriate clothing is available for school the next morning.
  3. Review the “home” calendar (I have a separate work calendar) for pressing to-dos (sign permission slips, special pick-up or drop-off arrangements, etc.) and act accordingly.
  4. Review what’s due at work tomorrow, make sure it’s written down, and any necessary materials are ready to go for the morning.

Your evening prep list might look different, but the idea is the same: review what’s due tomorrow — be it a PowerPoint presentation or snow boots and gloves — and get it as ready as you can the night before.

Finding a home

Being who I am (warning: one NSFW word in the title of the linked post) I tend to misplace things. Just like the sun tends to be hot. So, a part of my daily routine has been to ensure that everything is where it needs to be.

This isn’t the same as my evening prep. Instead, I’ve established a “home” for important items when they’re idle. For example, car keys are always in the Roscoe, New York, coffee mug on my night stand. Always. My coat and hat live on the second peg of the closet door. Even when I’m walking around, I know which pocket each doohicky should inhabit (phone is right front, every day).

Following these rules impacts my day significantly. I can’t afford to spend 10 minutes here and 15 minutes there looking for who knows what. I’ve done that and it’s not fun. An ongoing part of my daily routine is to put everything in its proper place as I go.

General guidelines

The website Personal Organizing has shared some good, general tips for establishing and, more importantly, adhering to a daily routine. Some highlights include:

  1. Make breakfast simple. Find something nutritious that you can routinely prepare without much fuss.
  2. Organize the kitchen and pantry cabinets. Meal prep is easier, and everyone living with you can answer, “where does this go?” all on their own.
  3. Have a good mail management system. In regards to paper mail, my wife and I have our own desks for processing this stuff, and that’s been a godsend.
  4. Get the pets on a schedule. It takes some doing, but it’s definitely worth it.

Book review: Joseph Ferrari’s Still Procrastinating

Still Procrastinating: The No Regrets Guide to Getting It Done is a book that explains, in an easy-to-read format, the results of the past 20 years of scientific studies on procrastination and procrastinators.

The book defines procrastination as “the purposive delay of the starting or completing a task to the point of subjective discomfort.” More simply, procrastinators voluntarily do not work on important tasks and feel bad or uncomfortable about their delays because they know that this course of action will have negative effects in the future.

Studies cited in the book indicate that although everyone procrastinates about a few things, approximately 20 per cent of adult men and women are chronic procrastinators — they procrastinate habitually in many different areas of their lives. The studies also show that procrastination is a learned behaviour. If people understand why they procrastinate, they can get the support they need and develop strategies to help them learn new behaviours.

There are several types of procrastinators identified in the book.

Thrill-Seekers: These procrastinators claim they do better under pressure, when they feel the deadline is looming. Scientific studies show that these types of people are easily bored and the adrenaline rush of completing the task just before the deadline is a thrill they enjoy. What the studies also show is that even those these types of procrastinators believe they produce better results at the last minute, in reality they make more errors and do not complete all of the task’s components thoroughly.

Indecisives: These types of procrastinators delay making a decision until a choice is made for them. For example, they may wish to purchase tickets for the symphony but they can’t decide which night to attend and they delay so long that there are no tickets available. Studies show that Indecisives may have grown up in situations that did not allow them to acquire good decision-making skills.

Self-Saboteurs: These procrastinators intentionally place obstacles in their paths to prevent successful performance of a task. In this way they can blame external factors, such as not having enough time, to mask their anxiety and self-doubt. However, if this type of procrastinator completes the task successfully despite the obstacle, he/she will protect his/her self-esteem. Many of these self-saboteurs have low self-control. They are unable to delay their need for instant gratification and focus on the task at hand. They do not often reward themselves for a job well done and instead enjoy the “fun stuff” before they get their work done.

Perfectionists: Perfectionist procrastinators maintain impossibly high standards. They delay starting or finishing a task because being perfect is not realistically achievable. These types of procrastinators have a strong desire to be liked by others and show how hard they are working. They often justify their procrastination by saying delays will result in a better quality of work but this is not usually the case.

Regardless of the type of procrastinator with which people identify, Dr. Ferrari is optimistic about procrastinators changing their habits and behaviours. He suggests starting with small changes and gradually progressing. He indicates that getting organized is “Your Secret Weapon in Task Completion.” Do any of these four types of procrastination ring true with you or are you someone who only occasionally puts off tasks?

Professional organizers can certainly help procrastinators in their efforts to become non-procrastinators by helping them declutter, minimize distractions, and improve their time and task management skills. Sometimes consulting a mental health professional such as a cognitive behavioural therapist, may be helpful. Seeking support from family and friends who are non-procrastinators is advisable. These are the people that care for you and will hold you accountable for your changes in behaviour. Checking in daily with an accountability partner or having someone hangout with you as you work on a project at home (like cleaning out your closet) can be beneficial.

Dr. Ferrari states that procrastination is more than just having poor time management skills. Procrastination is an ineffective strategy to cope with the challenges of everyday life. By focusing on the positive aspects of your life and taking action, you can become less stressed and more productive.

Keeping New Year’s resolutions

Have you resolved to get more organized in 2014? The following suggestions are ways to ensure you actually accomplish the goals you’ve set.

Get a buddy or a support group

Here’s what works best for me when I’m trying to keep a resolution: involving other people in helping me reach my goal. One of my goals is to go walking daily. I have been most successful when I had a walking buddy as we’d keep each other going. Another thing that worked, although not quite as well, has been to get a Fitbit. I have friends that also use Fitbits, and we see each other’s daily step counts, and cheer each other on.

I’ve also found that having an accountability partner works well for me. For the past few months, I’ve been exchanging daily emails with a friend, telling her what I accomplished that day, and often mentioning my plans for the next day; she sends similar messages to me. Knowing I’m going to tell someone what I’ve completed inspires me to have good news to report every day. We’re each other’s cheering squad — and who couldn’t use one of those?

Be willing to adjust if necessary

If you find you’re having a hard time with a particular resolution, maybe you need to rethink it. For example, could you reach your goal using a different strategy than you originally had in mind?

Let’s say your goal was to keep up with your mail (or your email) and not let things pile up in your inbox. Maybe you intended to clear out your inbox every day. If that’s not working for you, what could you adjust? Would it work better to tackle this at a different time of day? Would it work better to set this as a weekly goal rather than a daily goal? Would it help to focus on eliminating the incoming mail, so there’s less to go through each day? Could someone else do a part of the “dealing with the mail” work?

You may find the resolution you set was simply overly ambitious. Maybe the answer is to set a new goal that still moves you in the right direction, even if it doesn’t take you quite as far, quite as quickly.

Make things easy; remove barriers

Continuing on the mail example: Do you get a lot of items that require shredding? If so, do you have a good shredder?

More generally, make sure you have the tools you need to support you in reaching your goals. For example, when I needed to get more exercise, one thing I needed was a pair of better shoes than the ones I had.

Understand the science of habits

Stopping bad habits and developing new ones isn’t always easy. If you understand more about how habits work, you may find it easier to get those new habits in place. One place to start would be The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg, which looks at some recent research on this subject. Steve Silberman has an informative review of the book, as well as an interview with Duhigg.

It’s also worth realizing, as Margaret Lukens points out, establishing new habits might take longer than the 21 days or 30 days you’ve probably heard about. If it’s taking a while for your new habits to become automatic, that’s normal — and no reason to get discouraged.

Creating New Year’s Resolutions for 2014

After Christmas each year, the search function on our website gets a lot of activity by people looking for articles on “how to get organized” and “be more organized.” This is of little surprise since “Get Organized!” is such a common New Year’s Resolution.

Over the next couple weeks, we are going to address New Year’s Resolutions in a series of posts — how to create them, how to make a plan for achieving them, technology that can help you work on them, and even an alternative perspective on how not to make them. We want to help the thousands of people looking to get rid of clutter and find more organization in the new year, just as we do every day, but also lend a helping hand to those of you creating resolutions that have nothing at all to do with clutter and disorganization.

Brainstorm

Grab a pen and paper, find a quiet and comfortable place to sit, close your eyes, and take a deep breath. Spend a few minutes in solitude trying your best to think about nothing. If you’re like most people (myself included) it will be very difficult to clear your mind, especially if this is not an activity you do regularly. Responsibilities, concerns, wishes, dreams, embarrassing situations, and maybe a few random jokes will flood your mind. As they do, write down these thoughts on your paper and then quickly return to trying to clear your mind. Eventually, you’ll either tire of the activity or be successful at having a clear mind, and this is when you can stop the meditation activity and review the list you created.

Do you notice any themes among the items on your list? Do you see items that evoke strong feelings — good or bad? Are there items on your list of things you wish to change or improve upon or achieve?

While reviewing this list, think about how you want to feel in 2014. Like most people, you probably wish to have more energy, more happiness, and less stress. Are there any items on your list that will help you achieve these feelings of contentment?

Work through your notes and begin to draft your resolutions for the new year.

Be precise

After brainstorming, “Get Organized!” may still be at the forefront of your resolutions. Unfortunately, it is an extremely vague resolution, and people who make vague resolutions are more likely to fail at achieving them than people who make precise resolutions.

Do you want to get organized at work or at home? Is there a specific area of your life where, if you were more organized, you would have less stress? Do you have one or two projects that are out of control and a little organizing can help them succeed?

The more exact you are with what you want to change, the more likely you will be to create steps to help you achieve your resolutions. Instead of “Get Organized!” perhaps you want to create precise resolutions like: Better organize the children’s bedtime routine; Organize and file medical records and bills; Unclutter clothes that don’t fit from bedroom closet; Research, acquire, learn how to use, and maintain a new project management system at work.

Be realistic

There are a number of things I would like to change about myself, but I am not super human. I have limitations — limited time, energy, finances, etc. As a result, I’ve never been successful at achieving more than 12 resolutions (one per month) in a given year. And, most years, I’ve only been able to achieve four or five large resolutions. You know yourself best, so be realistic with what you can achieve. If you have a newborn at home, you may only want to have two or three resolutions for 2014. If “Get the proper amount of sleep each night by going to bed by 10:00 pm” is one of your resolutions, as it is one of mine, put it at the top of your list. The more energy you have, the more likely you’ll be to achieve the other resolutions on your list.

Further reading

When creating New Year’s Resolutions, I always think about the brilliant and inspiring Danielle LaPorte. Her book The Desire Map is one of the best books I’ve encountered for helping to decide what new path or paths you wish to take in life.

Uncluttering the project to-do list

I have a few to-do items that have stayed on my project list for way too long, and a few weeks ago I decided to do something about those items before the end of the year. I wasn’t aiming to necessarily complete each project, but I wanted to get each one in motion.

First, though, I had to figure out why I was stuck — why I wasn’t making progress. And in each case, I found that I was stymied by the first step.

Project 1: Getting routine medical work done

I was overdue for my annual lab work and physical exam. Why? My doctor had retired and I hadn’t settled on a new one. I’d asked a few friends for recommendations, but many of them were in the same situation as I was, having used the same doctor.

Once I decided I really needed to tackle this project, I realized I could easily take a few small steps to move past this decision-making logjam:

  1. Expand the geographical range I was willing to consider.
  2. Send an email to a larger group of people whose opinions I trusted, asking for recommendations.

And this worked out perfectly. Two people raved about their doctors; I picked one and had a first appointment, which went well. After that, I got my lab work done last Thursday, and I have my physical exam set for this coming Friday.

Project 2: Dealing with a broken lighting fixture

I love the lighting fixture in my bedroom, but it has a design quirk that has caused some recurring problems, which my handyman has repeatedly fixed. The last time it stopped working, I just brought a basic blah-looking lamp into the room as a temporary measure and lived with that for way too long. I was unsure what to do as a more permanent solution, so I did nothing.

But finally, I decided to decide and my decision was to give up on the fixture I had and buy a new one. I went back to my favorite lighting store, where I’d bought that first fixture, to see what was available. The store has great customer service and a wonderful selection; the only drawback is that it’s not close to my home. Once I got there and explained my problem, I wished I’d made the effort to come in sooner. The owner said that if I brought in my old fixture, the technicians could probably make an adjustment to prevent the problems I was having!

I got someone to remove the fixture from its ceiling mount, and I took the light into the store. The folks there expect to make the fix and install the light for me again shortly after Christmas.

In both of these cases, once I determined my first steps, everything else fell into place. I just needed to get past the first decision-making hump.

Project 3: Replacing some carpet

I have one final big to-do hanging over me: replacing the worn-out carpet in my home office. This is yet another project where I’m stymied by the first step, which is selecting the kind of floor covering I want. Because of my cats and the way the room is used, carpeting seems like a poor solution. The room already has a lot of wood, so wood flooring sounds like a poor choice, too.

This one is a big decision, as the cost will be non-trivial. But, I’ve got the Internet at my fingertips, there are some good flooring stores nearby, and I know some people to consult — so I’ll be off investigating my options before the end of the year. Because I’m determined to not let this project languish any longer because of one decision-making obstacle, I’m sure to get it done.

Staying on top of everything

Being a full-time military wife, mother, and entrepreneur, my life can be very hectic. I’ve got to keep on top of everything so that things get done and my life stays balanced.

A number of years ago, I realized that the method I was using to keep track of my tasks and projects had reached its limit. I started falling behind. I was working inefficiently, spending time on items that were not necessarily the highest priority. Details were falling through the cracks. I kept forgetting to follow-up with people from whom I was expecting information.

I attended a conference in 2009 and learned about a book titled, On Top of Everything: Manage Your Projects and Life With Ease by Laurence Seton. A few weeks later, after hearing some colleagues’ testimonials and reading the reviews, I purchased the book. It is well written and very easy to read. The book introduces a system called “Projecteze®: The Ultimate Organizational System”.

Projecteze® uses tables in Microsoft Word to create a simple, elegant, yet powerful system to track projects and tasks. Most people are familiar with MS Word so there is no need to learn a new software program to implement the Projecteze® system.

Although the author recommends MS Word, I believe that other programs such as Pages for Mac or WordPerfect would work equally well if that is the software you are most comfortable using.

The benefits of using word processing software for Projecteze® include:

  • Low cost — most people already have access to word processing software
  • Ease of use — most people already know how to use word processing software
  • Flexibility — of entering, formatting, and presenting information
  • Accessibility — information can be viewed on almost any computer and easily accessed online
  • Sortable — tables allow information to be sorted by project or by priority so you’re working on the right tasks at the right time
  • Transferable — easy to hand over projects, or parts thereof, to co-workers for completion

On Top Of Everything has many examples of how to use the Projecteze® system in several different types of businesses, for managing school work, and for just following through on personal projects at home. The following is an example of my personal chart to give you somewhat of an idea how the system looks and operates:

When my copy of On Top Of Everything arrived in the post, I read it from cover to cover and immediately put the theory into practice. I designed my Projecteze® table and filled in all of my tasks, projects and plans on which I needed to work.

In less than a week, I was in love and comfortable with this new system. I immediately saw what I had already accomplished, what needed to be done, and where to concentrate my efforts. I could keep track of all my tasks and projects. I was proactive — working on the most important things first instead of reacting to whatever dropped on my desk. I was also able to keep tabs on when I was expecting information from other people — something that I always had trouble with before. I was able to follow up at the appropriate time instead of bothering people constantly or forgetting to contact them at all!

As a professional organizer, I recommended the Projecteze® system to many of my clients and I was pleasantly surprised to read their glowing reviews on Amazon.

Easing out of daylight saving time

As a child, I had an eccentric uncle who collected clocks. Every room had at least five or six, all ticking away. As you could imagine, the end of daylight saving time was an adventure. Uncle Mike would start adjusting their time one week in advance. Each day he’d change a handful of clocks, and leave the rest for the following day. It drove my poor aunt crazy. “For one week each year,” she’d say, “I have no idea what time it is.”

If you’re in the U.S., don’t let the change from daylight saving time (DST) this weekend stress you out (even if you collect clocks). With some careful preparation, you can get through it relatively unscathed.

Most people dislike the change to their sleeping habits that comes with the return to standard time. According to WebMD, it’s best to ease into it. Nicholas Rummo, MD, director of the Center for Sleep at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mt. Kisco, N.Y., recommends going to sleep a little bit earlier each night leading up to the changeover. For example, going to sleep 10 minutes earlier each night for six nights will help quite a bit.

This is especially helpful for the kids, who often struggle with the change. In fact, this is the same thing my wife and I do as we make the transition from summer vacation to the school year. It works pretty well.

WebMD also suggests exposing yourself to sunlight as early as you can. Have breakfast near a window or even walk outdoors for a bit, if you can. This will help reset your internal clock.

Back to the kids. The time change can be difficult for school-age children, and downright miserable for toddlers (and their parents). One thing you can do to ease the pain for everyone is stick to an established routine. Dr. Jodi Mindell, author of Sleeping Through the Night, believes this is the way to go. “You want to stick by the clock and stick to the bedtime rules,” she said. “Another piece that is key is wake them up at their normal times–don’t let them sleep later to ‘make up’ for lost sleep from the night before.”

But really, the best advice I can give here is be prepared. The kids are going to get less sleep then they’re used to, so try to be patient and prepared.

Besides sleeping changes, what else is there to do? First of all, confirm that your clocks — both electronic and analog — make the change. Some will do so automatically, like your cable box, computer, smartphone or tablet. Others will need a little help. I always forget about the clock in the car (as well as how to change it). Our microwave oven also spends a few days displaying the wrong time.

Also, this is a good time to make sure your home’s smoke detectors are working and replace batteries in your flashlights. The end of DST also marks the start of hurricane season here in New England, so I make a review of our storm food and related supplies each October/early November.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say, “Happy Halloween!”

Time management: making sleep a priority

With all the things we want to do (and need to do) with our days, sometimes sleep gets shorted. I’m not talking about a household with a new baby — I’m talking about a household like my own where I’m balancing commitments related to work, family, friends, pets, household maintenance, exercise, etc. So many of us sometimes skip on sleep, but the more I read, the more that seems like a really bad idea.

If you have regular problems with insomnia, you might look into sleep hygiene techniques; you might also want to see a doctor who specializes in sleep disorders.

But some of us who don’t have babies, don’t have insomnia, and don’t have other reasons why we can’t dedicate enough time to sleep, we simply don’t make sleep a priority. The following information is encouraging me to make sure I do get enough sleep.

Tricia Salinero pointed me to an NPR report about a recent study on mice, and what it may mean to us.

“While the brain sleeps, it clears out harmful toxins, a process that may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, researchers say.”

The Guardian reports that some scientists are skeptical of the study, but it certainly is intriguing, if in no way conclusive.

Rachel Hills pointed me to the BBC website, where Michael Mosley reported on what happens during both deep sleep and REM sleep, and why it’s important to get enough of both.

“We get more REM sleep in the last half of the night. Which means that if you are woken unexpectedly, your brain may not have dealt with all your emotions — which could leave you stressed and anxious.”

On the Personal Health blog of The New York Times website, there’s an article by Jane E. Brody that begins:

Think you do just fine on five or six hours of shut-eye? Chances are, you are among the many millions who unwittingly shortchange themselves on sleep.

Research shows that most people require seven or eight hours of sleep to function optimally. Failing to get enough sleep night after night can compromise your health and may even shorten your life. From infancy to old age, the effects of inadequate sleep can profoundly affect memory, learning, creativity, productivity and emotional stability, as well as your physical health.

To learn more, I’m planning to read Dreamland, by David K. Randall. Here’s just one quote, courtesy of Brain Pickings:

Sleep is ingrained in our cultural ethos as something that can be put off, dosed with coffee, or ignored. And yet maintaining a healthy sleep schedule is now thought of as one of the best forms of preventative medicine.

But for now, I’m smiling as I read about Lucy Kellaway’s movement, called YAWNS, which I found on the Financial Times via Metafilter. YAWNs is an acronym for Yes A Wonderful Night’s Sleep, and it advocates “no more boasting about being awake. Anyone admitting in public to getting up at 4 a.m. would have to prove they went to sleep at 8 p.m. and were still getting eight hours.”

Editor’s note: For tips on how to get the sleep your body needs and organize your time and space to make it possible, check out “Want to be more productive? Get more sleep.” Also, consider keeping a sleep journal to track how much sleep you get each night and how you feel the next day. Each person has different sleep requirements, and these requirements can change as you age.

Time management vs. the unending flow of interesting information

We all have our time management weak points — mine involves a love of information. I could happily spend ages just reading all the wonderful things printed online.

As Robin Sloan wrote in his tap essay, Fish, found on the Tapestry app:

There’s so much to read and watch — and so much of it is good. I mean, just think of the links that flow through Facebook and Twitter. … All the craft and care that comes flooding through my browser tabs every day hour minute.

But, of course, I don’t want to spend all my time in front of a screen (or a newspaper, or a magazine) reading this wonderful stuff. I need to work. I want to see family and friends. I want to pursue other interests.

So, what is the answer to not being overwhelmed by all the possible stuff to read or podcasts to listen to or videos to watch? While I was driving to the dentist this past Monday, I happened to listen to a podcast called Minimalism for the Rest of Us, hosted by Robert Wall. Episode 26, called “Drinking From the Fire Hose,” had Wall in conversation with Patrick Rhone, and some of it really resonated with me.

Here’s the first thing that caught my attention, from Rhone:

What it really comes down to is: Instead of drinking from the fire hose of information, being real picky and choosy about the information that you want to engage with.

“Information you want to engage with” was a phrase that really grabbed me. So much of what’s out there might be interesting and important, but I’m not going to engage with it.

What information would I engage with? Here are some examples:

  • Information that helps me serve my clients better.
  • Information that I want to share with friends, family, colleagues, etc.
  • Information that helps me make a decision: who to vote for, what route to take.
  • Information that spurs me to action: calling my senator or cooking a healthy meal.
  • Information that helps me learn about a subject I’ve consciously decided to spend time educating myself about.

But that means there is a lot of information I won’t engage with.

And that brings me to another quote from the podcast:

Wall: I had a point at which I thought I should be just reasonably informed on world news. … If I just subscribe to like CNN Top Headlines, nine times of 10 I could read the headline

Rhone: and get everything you need to know.

I’ve had this same type of realization. Oftentimes, a headline or a tweet tells me all I need to know about a topic. If I feel I need to know more, the first paragraph of the article might be all I need. I still tend to have a nagging sense of guilt about not reading the full article, especially when it is a well-researched and well-written piece. But hearing Wall and Rhone talk about this might make me feel somewhat less guilty.

Here’s an example of a headline being plenty: As I’m writing this, the New York City mayoral primaries are being decided. I don’t live in New York; I’m not going to engage with that information. I do want to know the results, but a quick glance at a headline is all I need. I really don’t need any details beyond that.

Here’s some final advice from Rhone, about deciding whether or not to let an information source into your life, be it an article someone linked to, a podcast, an RSS feed, a magazine, or anything else: “No is the default.” If something is truly important, he says, multiple people will point him to it, and that might lead to a Yes.

Five ways to do what you want when you want

Life is full of choices. Barring an emergency, if there is something you really want to do, you can almost always find a way to make it happen. Try these five time-saving tips to find more time:

  1. Plan what you want to do into your day. Activities will almost always extend to fill the allotted time. If you want to have family time or just time to yourself, mark it in your planner. Treat this appointment with the same priority as you would treat an important client. As the company L’Oreal says in its advertisements, “You’re worth it!”
  2. Do what you are supposed to be doing when you are supposed to be doing it. If you have scheduled two hours of uninterrupted time to work on a business proposal or work on your scrapbook, DO it. Do not get sidetracked by a ringing phone or new email. Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine chapel, and you and I both know he wasn’t talking on his cell phone while he was doing it.
  3. Pack your bags! If you have repetitive activities every week such as a soccer game every Monday evening or a writing class every Thursday morning, dedicate a backpack or sports bag for that specific activity. Always keep the items required for that activity in that bag even if you need to buy duplicate items. If you want to work on your writing while at home, remove the items from the bag, work, and then return the items to the bag. You will always be ready to leave on time knowing you have all your stuff in the bag. Have an overnight bag packed and ready to go for a spontaneous weekend away or an emergency trip to the hospital.
  4. Record your favourite TV shows and limit your social media time. Record your favourite shows and watch a one-hour TV drama in 45 minutes. Fast-forward through the commercials so you will not be tempted to buy more stuff you do not really need anyway. Set a limit on how much time you spend on Facebook and other social media sites. Only check once or twice a day and set a timer so you know when to say good-bye.
  5. Learn to say NO. If you are asked to do something you are not entirely comfortable with doing, say so. Have some answers ready if you are put on the spot: “I’m sorry I give everything 24 hours consideration before I give an answer” or “I am sorry but I don’t have the time available to do an adequate job” or “I can’t help on this project, but have you talked to X? I know she has been looking for ways to be more involved.” If you have paid for a course or seminar and you are not getting anything out of it, ask for your money back. If that is not possible, stop attending anyway. Remember, your time is worth something.

The challenge of saying “no”

Setting priorities and saying “no” to people, groups, causes, and activities can be tough — but it’s also rewarding. I’ve been reminded of this as I’ve done some priority setting and no-saying of my own recently.

There’s a group I’ve been involved with for eight years; I’ve met some delightful people through the group, and it was a wonderful fit for me when I first joined. But over time, things have changed. A few weeks ago, I finally dropped out. It was hard to acknowledge it was time to move on. But, now that I’ve said my goodbyes, I’m really appreciating the extra time in my schedule. I’m also noticing that some projects I’d put aside for years are now getting done. And, saying goodbye to the group doesn’t mean saying goodbye to the friendships.

Learning to say “no,” when appropriate, is an important skill. As Merlin Mann said in a Beyond the To Do List podcast:

Everything you agree to do is other things you can’t do.

The most productive people are often those who do learn when to say no. Kevin Ashton highlighted this in his article “Creative People Say No,” which resonated with me even though I’m not an artist, a novelist, or such. I recommend the whole article, but these are a few excerpts:

A Hungarian psychology professor once wrote to famous creators asking them to be interviewed for a book he was writing. One of the most interesting things about his project was how many people said “no.” …

No guards time, the thread from which we weave our creations. The math of time is simple: you have less than you think and need more than you know. We are not taught to say “no.” We are taught not to say “no.” “No” is rude. “No” is a rebuff, a rebuttal, a minor act of verbal violence. …

How much less will I create unless I say “no?” A sketch? A stanza? A paragraph? An experiment? Twenty lines of code? The answer is always the same: “yes” makes less. We do not have enough time as it is.

Peter Shankman, while encouraging others to say “yes” to new opportunities, noted in his article “Saying Yes vs Saying No” that there are many requests to which “no” is the right answer:

There are times when we should say no. The “can I pick your brain without paying you for your time” requests? Yeah, those are pretty much always a no. Not that I don’t want to help you, and if you’re just starting out, or have one question via email, I’ll always say yes. But I’ve learned to say no to those more often than not, because they negatively impact me. (As they do you, as well.) And that’s fine. There are times to say no.

But the best advice, for me, comes from Lisa Barone. She said this on Twitter, and it’s become a new mantra for me:

We only get 24 hrs in a day. So if the answer isn’t “OMG, YES!” it has to be “I’m sorry, but no.”

Four simple steps for coping with significant life changes

Recently, I found out that someone I know lost his job. He described being shocked when he learned he was being let go, and that he had to accept that he needed to shift gears and move into job-search mode. He also said something else I found very interesting:

I found that I have so much that I should and want to do, that it has proved to be almost more difficult to accomplish things than when I was spending eight-plus hours in the office every day. Each day so far, without a schedule as tight as I had been maintaining while employed, seems to be flying by! More time is actually less time.

It’s the paradox of that last statement that gave me pause. Theoretically, it would seem that not having to commute and spend several hours at an office would equate to having more time to work on anything you want — in his case, job search activities. I think a couple of things are happening here. First, he’s dealing with a change — and not just any change, a major one that came as somewhat of a surprise. Second, his routine is not his routine anymore. Even though he has systems that work for him, they may not necessarily fit his current situation. And, now that he has less structure built in to his day, it can be easy for time to just slip away and for him to become frustrated.

Change, unwelcome or unexpected, doesn’t have to have a negative spin. Auriela McCarthy, author of The Power of the Possible said:

People think of change as something dangerous. But it helps to remember all the ways your life has been altered in the past and realize that not only did you not keel over and die, things often turned out for the better.

When a significant change occurs in your life, you might find yourself consumed by stress or even fear, but there are several things you can to do to stay positive and keep moving forward:

  1. Take a look at what has worked in the past. If you find that you’re feeling frustrated about your new circumstances, you can take hold of your emotions by thinking about the strategies that have previously been successful. Can those techniques be incorporated in your new routine? What adjustments would you have to make?
  2. Consider new strategies. While you can rely on tried and true action steps, this might be a good time to explore other options that might help you more easily manage your current circumstances. You can talk with friends and family members to find out what strategies worked for them to help you decide the ones you’ll try. Be sure not to get stuck at this stage as it can delay how quickly you can focus on your next steps.
  3. Create a new plan. Once you’ve reviewed all your options, you’ll need to craft a plan. Select specific tactics you’ll employ consistently so you can successfully transition to your new routine.
  4. Put your new plan to the test. Of course, there’s no point in having a plan if you don’t implement it. Keep in mind not every day will go as you intend and you may need to make some adjustments. If you encounter hiccups along the way, you can again talk with someone you trust (perhaps a long-time advisor or mentor) to give you objective opinions or make necessary changes.

Whether it’s changing jobs or doing a whole house uncluttering project, being organized with your process is a great way to stay on track and move forward when undergoing a significant life change.