A lesson from Roger Federer: Four ways to handle setbacks

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.

How many cookbooks do you really need?

It’s been all food, all the time on the television in my house. I’m hooked on food show competitions and I dream about turning into a super cook (a mashup of Aaron Sanchez, Amanda Freitag, and Alton Brown would suit me just fine). I also do my fair share of cooking and I use my phone or tablet to find recipes. Both are super easy to use in the kitchen and don’t take up a lot of space.

And, therein lies the problem. I have several cookbooks that are languishing on a shelf in my kitchen. Since I don’t use them anymore, it’s time to part with them. If you’re faced with a similar situation or have amassed a large collection of cookbooks that go untouched, you might want to sort through them, especially if you find yourself reaching for the same ones all the time.

Getting started:

Gather your cookbooks together

It’s helpful to find out exactly what types and the number of cookbooks you have so you can decide which ones to keep and which ones will get passed on to new owners. That will be hard to do if they’re in a variety of places. So, start by gathering them all together, and then put them in categories that make sense for you.

Here are some ways you can categorize your cookbooks:

  • Alphabetical order
  • Cuisine (Mexican, Chinese, Greek)
  • Author
  • Ease of use (30 minute recipes, advanced cooking techniques)
  • Type (desserts, vegitarian, low sodium, grilling, family recipes)
  • Color and/or size

Decide on a storage location

Have you thought about the best location to store your cookbooks or recipe binders? The number of cookbooks you’ll keep will depend on which ones you use the most as well as storage space available to house them. Ideally, you’ll want to have your favorites close to your kitchen so that you’ll have easy access to them. That might mean storing your most used books on the counter with seasonal or less used books in a separate location (dedicated shelf or cabinet). Test out a few different areas in and around your kitchen to see what would work best based on how you move about in that space.

Trade books that you no longer use

If you don’t use a particular cookbook because you haven’t seen it, then be sure to keep it visible so that you’ll remember to look through it. But, if it is visible and you still haven’t used it (or your recipe holder) within the last 12 months, it’s probably time to part with it. Consider passing on these cookbooks to someone else by trading them with a friend or selling them. Keeping them will only fill up space that could be used for books that you use all the time.

Use an app to keep track of recipes

Sure, keep your favorite cookbooks that you refer to often, but if you’re only interested in one or two recipes, you don’t need to buy the entire book. There are several web-based and mobile apps that you can use like Epicurious.com, All Recipes, and Cookstr.com to find and keep track of recipes that you’d like to try out. You can also create a notebook in Evernote or Pinterest with recipes you’d like to test. If you don’t like them, you can always delete them. And, if you decide to keep them, you can create an digital cookbook using Evernote Food.

As you unclutter your collection, keep in mind that you don’t have to let go of all your cookbooks. Just be sure that you’re not holding on to the ones that you no longer use or want. Share them with friends and family members and think about alternative options before buying new books.

Unitasker Wednesday: Baby Butt Fan

All Unitasker Wednesday posts are jokes — we don’t want you to buy these items, we want you to laugh at their ridiculousness. Enjoy!

Sadly, I have deleted the email from the reader who sent this week’s unitasker selection to us and cannot give proper credit to him or her. However, that individual is due ample credit for leading us to the Baby Butt Fan:

New parents are so often the target of excessive product marketing. But, as any parent who has raised a child from infancy can tell you, so many of those products are unnecessary. And, as is the case of the Baby Butt Fan, the products are often more hassle than they are worth.

I’m confused by the product makers who believe new parents can’t figure out how to fan their child’s rump with a clean diaper or use a dry cloth to wipe her down. Because, let’s be honest, if a new parent can’t figure out one of those two tricks I highly doubt they would be able to keep charged batteries in this device and have it with them every time they change their child’s diaper.

Thanks, again, to whomever it was who led us to this very special unitasker.

A year ago on Unclutterer



  • Ask Unclutterer: Putting away laundry
    Your advice on doing the laundry is fantastic. I’ve employed several tips with great success. In particular, I’m a fan of clothing items that need little care (e.g. no ironing, dry cleaning, etc.). However, I’m unable to find usable suggestions on HOW TO PUT THE LAUNDRY AWAY.

What I carry and how that has changed

Six years ago, I took a photo of the things I carry around in my pockets every day. I hadn’t thought of that picture in ages, and was surprised when I found it while browsing old photos. Today, some things have changed, others haven’t. To satisfy my curiosity, I compared that photo to what I carry with me today. Here’s what I found:

In 2007, I carried:

  1. Keys with a LEGO Chewbacca keychain
  2. A 512MB flash storage
  3. Pilot G2 05
  4. Pocket sized Moleskine notebook
  5. Wallet
  6. Original iPhone with earbuds (fitted with Griffin Earjams, which are no longer available, unfortunately)

Compare that to what I carry today:

  1. Field Notes Brand notebook
  2. Fisher Space pen
  3. Wallet
  4. iPhone 4S

It’s interesting to note what’s missing, and what’s been replaced. For example, online storage offered by services like Dropbox, Box.net and Apple’s iCloud have replaced the flash drive. When I carried that in 2007, “the cloud” didn’t exist as we know it today. Moving files between computers or locations often meant physically carrying it from place to place.

I now work from home, so if I have my keys with me they are usually in the car’s ignition.

I’ve also replaced the Pilot pen for the space pen. Sometimes I must quickly write something down, and the nearest flat surface is a wall or something else that’s not parallel to the ground. Or, I’m out in the rain and the pages are a little wet. Since the Fisher’s ink is in a pressurized capsule, it doesn’t rely on gravity and can write in any position and on almost any surface. Plus it’s smaller, more durable than the Pilot and easier to carry around.

While I love Moleskine notebooks, I replaced it with Field Notes because the Moleskines are too bulky and the hard cover makes them uncomfortable in a back pocket. Yes, there are soft cover Moleskines and they’re great, but at $9.99 for a three pack, the Filed Notes are very affordable.

A new wallet that was a gift from my kids has replaced my George Costanza wallet, which is a good thing. Finally, I’ve since swapped my original iPhone for an iPhone 4S.

I’ve also replaced some other things that you can’t see, and I think those are the most interesting:

  1. Photos of loved ones. Like countless parents before me, I kept photos of the kids in my wallet. Now my iPhone handles that job.
  2. Maps. Again, my iPhone has replaced the need for pocket-sized travel guides and maps.
  3. Phone cards. Before mobile phones were as prevalent as they are today, I kept an emergency calling card in my wallet for pay phones and long-distance calls. That’s not necessary anymore.
  4. Cash. This is the most fascinating one. I rarely carry cash. In fact, I sometimes wonder if paper money really exists anymore. When I get paid, it’s via direct deposit. I never see a check, a bill or a coin. I physically receive no money of any sort. When I purchase something, I swipe a debit card. I hand no money to the cashier and s/he hands nothing back to me other than a slip of paper.
  5. Consumer loyalty cards. Granted, I never carried many of these in the first place, but Apple’s Passbook lets me pay at Starbucks with my phone.

How about you, readers? What do you carry around, and how has the list changed over the last few years? Has technology had an impact? Please share in the comments. Thanks.

And as for Chewbacca, he’s officially been retired.

Control desktop clutter with the Homework Desk

For the last two months, I’ve challenged myself with the goal of walking every day. I’ve been spending more time with my treadmill and, as a result, I’ve also been doing quite a bit more reading on my iPad while I walk. I’m thrilled that I now have scheduled reading time and that I actually find interesting articles that help make the time pass relatively quickly. During one of my walking and reading sessions, I came across a blog post that asked if having a messy desk is such a terrible thing. My first thought, even before I read the post, was that I wouldn’t be as productive as I am if my desk were cluttered. In fact, I would probably feel compelled to organize it before I started working.

But, I also know that sometimes while I’m working, things can get a little, er, out of control. I like keeping my favorite pen, sticky notes, and notebook on my desk. And, I also have my water bottle and iPad. If there’s something that I don’t want to forget to do, it will probably be on my desk, too. The problem is that when there are too many things strewn about, it affects how well I can get things accomplished. But, if I had the Homework Desk, I might be able to have the best of both worlds — a clear desk and needed items within reach.

Have a look:

Image credit: Tomas Kral

This simple desk (aluminum placed between two slabs of wood) designed by Tomas Kral has no bells and whistles and no drawers. Instead, it has trench-like storage around it’s perimeter (Kral refers to it as a toolbox) to hold papers, pens, books, or documents that you need to have on hand. This leaves you with the entire expanse of the desk to do your work. The photo below shows a cable coming from the back of the desk, so it seems there may be built-in grommets.

Image credit: Thomas Kral

If you like this style but prefer having drawers, here’s a similar model, called my writing desk, designed by Inesa Malafej. It also has open slots on two corners for cables to run through.

Image credit: Design Boom

The drawers are slim but big enough to hold some essentials (like business cards, pens).

Image credit: Design Boom

This desk also has removable legs which would make moving it to a different location relatively easy. Of course, with both models, you’ll need to make sure you don’t clutter your table gutters with rubbish and items you don’t use.

Image credit: Design Boom

Workspace of the Week: Super simple

This week’s Workspace of the Week is Ross’ small space home workstation:

I chose this week’s workspace because I like how sleek and practical it is, especially for a small space when someone works in a traditional off-site office. I also like Ross’ description of his choices:

Minimalist PC ‘desk’, utilizing the small space I have. What more do you need?

Wall mounted monitor, floating shelf, leather gas lift chair, and some cable management.

I think the chair makes the space because it’s stylish and looks great next to the dark wall color. Since the height adjusts, it can be used for different purposes beyond just working at the desk. I also like that the desk was hung at standing height to offer an alternative working position. And, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that amazing cable management — wow! It’s fun and non-traditional, and I like how creative and practical it is for its owner. Thank you, Ross, for sharing your workspace with us.

Want to have your own workspace featured in Workspace of the Week? Submit a picture to the Unclutterer flickr pool. Check it out because we have a nice little community brewing there. Also, don’t forget that workspaces aren’t just desks. If you’re a cook, it’s a kitchen; if you’re a carpenter, it’s your workbench.

Get your job down to cranking widgets

I had an amazing college gig. My job was to deliver papers and envelopes to medical offices around town. I’d show up at work and pick up a van full of deliveries, and, when the van was empty, my work was done. Afterward, I would return the van and go back to my apartment. Guess how many times I thought about delivering papers between drop-off and the next morning?


That was what David Allen would call a “widget-cranking job.” You show up to find a bunch of un-cranked widgets. Once they’re all cranked, you go home. The job description is cut and dry.

Today, my job is quite different. I write and edit articles. I produce one podcast and participate in another. I’m working on a book. I’ve also got the responsibilities of a husband, father, brother, and son. In comparison, my job requires more attention than driving a van around town while listening to music and drinking a soda.

A good number of jobs can be overwhelming. The good news is that any job can be a widget-cranking job. The trick is identifying the widgets and getting them in front of yourself in a timely manner and on a friendly, non-intimidating list.

How do you get almost any job into a widget-cranking job? Try these steps:

Identify the widgets

This is the most crucial and the most difficult step. It often takes more time and attention than you initially assume. I think a case study will be the best way to illustrate the process.

Next week, I’ll produce another episode of my podcast, Home Work. There’s a lot to be done each week, like think of a topic, communicate that idea to my co-host, conduct research once a topic has been agreed upon, share notes, confirm sponsorship details, ensure that my software and hardware works, and so on. It’s easy to look at that and think, “Where do I begin?”

To find the answer, I ask myself this question: “If I had nothing else to do in the world but work on the podcast, absolutely nothing at all, what could I do right now to make progress on it?” And by do I mean a concrete, observable action. Let’s say my answer comes back, “brainstorm topic ideas.” OK, great. What do I need to do that? Well, a piece of paper and a pencil.

OK, but bah! My beloved brainstorming notebook is out of scratch paper. I guess I need to get more. So, the next step on the project Produce the Podcast is “drive to Staples and buy my favorite notebook paper.”

That’s a widget. “Think of a good topic” is hard. “Buy paper” is easy.

From there, I continue to my next step, which is “brainstorm ideas.” Then, I identify two or three good ones for the podcast. Next, I need to “share list of good ideas with my co-host.” All of these actions are easily-cranked widgets. Put them on a list and you’re good to go.

To-do management apps

All you need to crank these widgets is a simple list. High-powered project management software is overkill here. Below are several examples of simple and effective task management applications that might work for you.

  1. Remember the Milk. This handy little app is available for the iPhone and Android phones. It works with Gmail, Google Calendar, Twitter, and has a nice web interface. It’s been around for a few years and works quite well.
  2. Todo List. Todo List can be used entirely browser-based so it will work with just about any smartphone and any computer. You’ll also find apps for Android, the iPhone, Windows Phone, and the Mac OS. It features handy color coding and nearly infinite list sizes, so go nuts.
  3. TeuxDeux. This app lets you sort tasks by day and can be used in a browser. An iPhone app is also available. This one is very nice-looking in addition to being useful.
  4. To.DO. This a solution I’ve only recently started playing with. It’s available for Android, the iPhone, and Chrome. The Chrome browser plug-in is very nice. It syncs automatically with the smartphone apps and reminds you of what needs to be done.
  5. Astrid. Astrid takes your to-do list a step further and makes it easy to share task lists with co-workers, family, and friends. It’s available for the iPhone and Android.

Crank widgets

Once you are clear as to what steps to take, work through your list of simple to-do items. As long as you stay current with your concrete actions, you’ll know exactly what you need to do. You can free your mind to think about non-work things during non-work time.

Unitasker Wednesday: Disposable Plane Sheets

All Unitasker Wednesday posts are jokes — we don’t want you to buy these items, we want you to laugh at their ridiculousness. Enjoy!

I’m all in favor of hand washing and taking reasonable measures to reduce the spread of unwanted germs. However, there is a point where reasonable precaution slips into unnecessary obsession and has diminishing returns. This week’s unitasker selection is definitely in the unnecessary obsession category (at least for healthy individuals with functioning immune systems) — Disposable Plane Sheets:

These disposable (yes, disposable, it is part of the official product name) sheets are made for standard coach airline seats and cost around $20 a set when you include shipping. They are marketed to the general population, to protect everyone from the germs left behind by the people who previously sat on a plane seat. Sure, scientific researchers have found that germs don’t live more than a few minutes on fabric surfaces and that the arm rests (which this product doesn’t cover) are a larger (though still small) danger of germ transmission than an airline seat. And if you’re afraid of bedbugs or lice, nothing is stopping those critters from jumping off your neighbor’s seat and onto you just because you have a Disposable Plane Sheet. But, pffft, whatever, science.

If you’re unnecessarily afraid of germs on airline seats, just think of all the additional product possibilities you could buy — Subway sheets! Bus sheets! Train sheets! Passenger seat in your friend’s car sheets! Chair at the DMV sheets! Park bench sheets! Carousel horse sheets! Chair in the waiting room at your doctor’s office sheets!

Go broke buying seat sheets so your pants never again touch the same place as someone else’s pants!! Ahhhhhhh!

Thanks to Canadian reader N for directing us to this week’s unitasker selection.

Bonus: Reader CK found an incredibly amusing item in the potential food-product unitasker category — Powerful Yogurt for Men. We’re not convinced food can be a unitasker, but if it can, this one would certainly qualify. Too funny.

A year ago on Unclutterer

Quick Note: We are updating the Unclutterer Forum with a new and exciting system. Sorry for the disruption. Wonderful changes are on the way. Stay tuned!



Organize your bag: Find things easily and reduce back pain

Have you looked inside your bag lately? I’ve been checking out What’s in your bag?, a regular feature on the website Verge.com, where people open up their bags to show everything they carry around with them. The bags of both men and women are profiled and it’s interesting to see the similarities of the things they normally keep with them (almost all bags contain a pen and a marker). Equally as interesting was that some people carry as many as 60 items on a regular basis, some of which are heavy (like cameras and laptops).

It’s likely that many people select bags not just for function (being able to carry essential items), but also for style (ability to complement most things you wear). But, if you look in the latest fashion magazines and catalogs, you’ll notice that bags seem to be getting bigger and bigger, probably so the people using them can carry more stuff. That may sound like a good thing, but overloading your bag can make it difficult for you to find what you’re looking for when you need it and, more importantly, can be a source of physical pain.

According to the American Chiropractic Association, weighty bags can have a significant impact on your body:

Carrying a bag with detectable weight–more than 10 percent of your body weight–can cause improper balance. When hiked over one shoulder, it interferes with the natural movement of the upper and lower body. The person carrying the bag will hike one shoulder to subconsciously guard against the weight, holding the other shoulder immobile. This results in the unnatural counterbalance movement of one shoulder and little control over the movements of the arms and legs. Even worse, the spine curves toward the shoulder.

If you tend to put a lot of things in your daily bag just in case you might need them, you may want to do things differently. While you might like the idea of being prepared for anything, in reality, you’re simply doing physical harm to yourself and cluttering up your time searching for stuff. As you decide which items you need to carry on a daily basis, consider these three simple things you can do to organize and reduce the weight of your bag:

Use a smaller bag

Using a smaller bag will encourage you to carry around your essential items only. If you have to use a larger one, consider getting one with wider straps, alternate carrying it on both shoulders, or get a bag on wheels. And, when you use a backpack, wear it (use both straps) instead of slinging it over one shoulder. If it helps to see cold, hard numbers, put your bag on a scale to see how much it weighs.

Clean and organize your bag often

It’s a good idea to organize your bag on a regular basis. Take out the non-essential items (like expired coupons, receipts, loose change) and keep only things you need to have with you every day (like keys, wallet, glasses). You’ll also want to vacuum the inside and clean the outside (especially if you place your bag on floors or public restroom counters). Pick a day of the week that you’ll regularly organize your bag to ensure it’s not overloaded with things you don’t need.

Consilidate and keep like items together

Both Erin and I are fond of bags with compartments because you can’t overstuff them and all of your things have a home. But, you don’t need a special bag to achieve the same results. You can create a bit more order in your current bag by downsizing (how many pens do you really need?) and consolidating similar items into pouches or zip top bags. This will keep things easy to find and help you to be more selective about the items you carry around with you.

Get a jump start on spring cleaning with 15-minute microtasks

Over the winter months, many people experience cabin fever. When you’re stuck inside for a long period of time, it’s likely you’ll get bored and become a little restless as you await warmer temperatures. Now that we’re in the first full week of March, the end of cold weather is in sight! And, with the few remaining weeks of winter, you can get a jump start on your spring cleaning tasks in just a few minutes of time. You don’t have to wait until spring finally arrives, nor do you have to go all out on a major cleaning binge (though you should plan an in-depth cleaning).

Instead, start some spring cleaning chores now and consider segmenting your home into small projects so they are easier to tackle. Doing this will allow you to reasonably start the process without spending all your time uncluttering and cleaning. Because the tasks are smaller and more manageable, you probably won’t need a lot of time to get them done. In fact, just 15 minutes per day can lead to big results.

You might be scratching your head about where to start. One of the easiest ways to select your first micro-project is to look around at your surfaces. Have you noticed that flat surfaces seem to have an open invitation to put things on them? They may start out uncluttered, but then they somehow morph into holders of knick knacks, paper piles, and things that haven’t made it back to their designated storage areas. And, because surfaces are so visible, when they are clutter-free, they can make a room look and feel dramatically improved.

Since you’re using short bursts of activity to clear things up, pick one area or room in your home and decide which surface you will attack first. For example, a master bedroom might have the following surfaces:

  • Two nightstands
  • One vanity
  • One chest of drawers
  • One TV stand
  • The floor

Before you set your timer, think about how long you might need to completely finish one surface. Could you do it all in one 15-minute time block? Or, would you need to schedule two or three micro-blocks? Using the above example, if you scheduled one 15-minute cleaning session per day for each surface, each one could be uncluttered and cleaned within 6 days. If you worked on two surfaces per day (30 minutes/day), the entire list could be done in 3 days. Keep in mind that the floor is also a surface, and depending on the type and number of items you need to sort through before you start vacuuming or sweeping, the floor may require multiple microbursts of activity before it’s completely uncluttered and clean. That said, begin working on the surfaces in your most used spaces. Since you tend to be in those rooms often, you’ll have ample opportunities to work on clearing them.

As you go through this process, remember to check hidden spaces, like your attic. Even in rooms that you use often, you’ll still have spots that are not very visible. These include drawers, under beds and sofa cushions, inside closets (don’t forget the top shelf), cabinets (have you looked in the ones above your refrigerator or stove lately?), closed containers, storage ottomans/benches, and even inside your refrigerator. Of course, spring cleaning isn’t just limited to the spaces throughout your home. Other areas of focus include your garage, shed, barn or other outdoor structures, gutters, your car and trunk, and even the storage cabinets under your grill. As mentioned before, first estimate how long an area will likely take to complete and then schedule your 15-minute time blocks accordingly. Whenever possible, get help from other members of your household. Two or more people working together on microtasks would certainly get each area finished a lot faster.

To keep track of all the spaces you need to unclutter and thoroughly clean, check out the Martha Stewart’s Homekeeping Handbook: The Essential Guide to Caring for Everything in Your Home.