Going the distance: maintaining motivation in long projects

At the beginning of September, my husband and I started a new way of thinking about our food with the goal of getting down to a healthier weight. We got professional help and we made the decision that we wanted to succeed.

Now six weeks into the goal, we are on track, having lost an encouraging and healthy amount of weight, despite having birthday parties and Canadian Thanksgiving to tempt us into giving up. My husband continues to be motivated, but I have to recognize that I care much less. I’m now down to my average weight from the past six years and I’m more or less comfortable. My husband, however, has a bit to go before getting down to his usual size.

It’s common part way into a project to lose motivation and make less effort. In fact, I mentioned how in my Bullet Journal experiment, I’ve given up tracking my weekends and how I have to be extra vigilant so as not to let the experiment slide.

When this point in a project arrives, it’s important to re-examine motivations and maybe find new ones.

For example, my husband is still motivated because every day he can get back into a piece of clothing that he hasn’t been able to wear in at least a year. All my clothes fit me, however, so I’m not motivated by the same benchmark. If I want to continue dropping pounds, I’m going to have to find myself a new way to get myself excited about the goal.

In your home or office organizing projects, different family members will have different motivations and over time those motivations will change. And sometimes what seems like a logical motivation won’t carry enough emotional power to influence behaviour.

I’m at this point. I have food issues, being borderline celiac. If I eat gluten, my rosecea flares up, my moods soar all over the place and I get quite distracted and forgetful. It doesn’t work for me as a motivation ignore though because it’s a negative motivator. Yes, I feel better when I stay away from gluten, but it’s hard work, especially when eating outside the home.

I still want to continue to lose weight, ideally getting down to my wedding weight back in 2011. I’m already almost halfway there, but I need to find some sort of motivation that grabs me and drags me along towards success without a fight.

Forbes has a good article about motivation and I’ve always been a fan of Gretchen Rubin, but none of what Forbes suggests excites me, and I really don’t feel like re-reading any of Rubin’s books.

So, I’ve decided to crowdsource my motivation. What tricks and tips do you have for maintaining motivation when the excitement of a new project wears off?

 

Staying on top of tasks: a Bullet Journal update

A couple of months ago, I committed to experimenting with the Bullet Journal process for organizing my time and tasks. I wanted to know several things before deciding if it was a success or not.

Does the system work?

As I’ve said in previous articles about the system, I’m really quite impressed by it. It works because it’s simple. With the amount of work stress I’ve been under the past six weeks, anything that gave me more work would have failed on the second day. I can honestly say that far from creating more work, it has saved me a lot of last minute crisis solving because I got things done before they reached crisis point.

Is it flexible enough to adapt to different situations?

Any system that cannot adapt will never be viable. The Bullet Journal system manages to adapt not only to people’s individual ways of working, but also to the changing needs of the same person.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that in future notebooks, I would get rid of the Future Planning section, put the month-by-month planning first and then add a weekly calendar before my day-to-day lists. The first two items will actually happen, but the weekly calendar is something I need only when I have a lot of appointments. Most of my tasks aren’t tied to specific dates, so I don’t need to plan out my week normally, but when I do, starting with a blank page rather than a pre-designed calendar, I can create a weekly plan only when I need to.

Can it carry me through very stressful times?

September is always a crazy time of year work-wise. This year, it was even more so because we are installing a new client database. Being a bit on the distracted/obsessive side, when faced with huge and/or stressful projects, I tend to focus on them and let the rest slide.

In previous years, my staff (who are the front-line workers in our industry) haven’t received the support or materials they need to do their jobs well because I’ve been to busy focused on the administrative side, forgetting that if we don’t deliver the service well, we won’t get clients.

By writing down all my tasks (and rewriting postponed ones the next day), very few things have slipped through the cracks this year, and staff have been more prepared than ever.

Can I use it to maintain a work/life balance?

My slightly obsessive nature often causes me to forget about my home life when work gets busy. This year, however, despite doing ten or twelve hour days in the office, I’ve managed to avoid the unfortunately all-too-true cries of abandonment at home. We like to stay busy, organizing weekends with friends at home or away.

Normally at this time of year, I leave all of that organizing up to my husband and basically take for granted that he will do what needs doing so that I can relax and have fun on the weekend.

Not so this year, for once!

We have really come together as a team, participating and communicating so much more, so much that two weeks ago when I told my husband that yet again the following week I would be doing morning and afternoon shifts, he answered with a simple “okay” rather than any expression of disappointment.

And can I maintain it?

This is the one thing I’m not sure about. I’ve already pretty much abandoned the system on weekends. But I’m all right with that. Weekends are when I can disconnect and I believe that if I kept up the Bullet Journal on weekends as well, it would turn into a chore and I’d be quicker to abandon it during the work week just out of resentment. Fortunately, however, none of my system breakdown fears has come true.

In my next Bullet Journal experiment update (once my work life has settled into its normal routines) I’ll let you know how well I’ve managed to maintain the system.

Unconventional organizing solutions

Years ago for her birthday, my mother wanted an ice cream cone dispenser. Her pantry had no cupboard doors and given the Victorian style of the house, a big ugly cardboard box just didn’t suit. So, I bought her one.

However, before giving it to her, it sat for a few days on my kitchen counter, waiting to get wrapped. One of those days, an fellow organizer came over for dinner and we got chatting about the dispenser, specifically how else it might be used.

Our favorite solution was as a panty dispenser for women wear small, lightweight underwear. Other ideas were cotton ball dispenser in the bathroom, microfiber cloth dispenser in the garage or workshop, and cloth scraps dispenser for those who are into patchwork or other fabric arts.

My father, who had a workshop the envy of master carpenters, bought an antique printer’s cabinet and used the flat drawers with their small dividers to hold screws, nails, nuts and bolts of all sorts of sizes and shapes.

There are a million organizing solutions out there, often very specific to one particular need. However, sometimes these items can be expensive, or may not live up to their promise once you get them home.

In today’s post, we going to have some fun. I am going to give you some common household items and give you one or two out of the box organizing ideas, then it’s up to you to come up with more to share with other Unclutterer readers in the comments or in the Forum.

Also, we’d love to hear about your own unconventional organizing solutions. What have you re-purposed for home or office organizing whose original design had nothing to do with the solution?

Right, let’s get started.

A wine rack:

  • Lay them on their back, put one on top of the other and you have a way to keep rolls of paper (wrapping paper, architectural drawings, etc.) organized.
  • If you weave, sew, or knit a lot and have large spools of thread or yarn, use the wine rack to store them.
  • Put it in a kitchen cupboard, or on the counter even, and stack glass containers with rice, lentils, etc… (with the labels on the lids instead of the bottles themselves)
  • Store rolled up towels in a guest bedroom or bathroom

A hanging shoe bag:

  • A doll sorter in a child’s bedroom
  • Storage for bottles of cleaners and brushes in the laundry room
  • First aid storage (in a shoe bag with transparent pockets)
  • Apartment Therapy also suggested a way of keeping camping items sorted and off the ground

Now it’s your turn.

What other uses can you think of for an ice cream cone dispenser, a wine rack, and a shoe bag? Are there any other unconventional organizing solutions you could suggest?

Unitasker Wednesday: 60 second salad

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

Facebook knows me well. Often its ads are kitchen-related and the other day it suggested that I might want to buy a 60 second salad cutter. When I saw the video for this kitchen tool, my first thought that it would make an ideal item for a Unitasker Wednesday post. When a knife all you need to make salad, why would you want another bulky item filling up your cupboards?

Then I got thinking as well about mobility issues. For anyone with wrist problems or perhaps the use of only one hand, the 60 second salad tool would be a fantastic solution.

Although I have no mobility issues, I’ve been making a lot of salads recently. While cutting up the veggies is a simple task with the knife, it’s not the fastest process. When making a lunchtime salad, often at six o’clock in the morning, the last thing I want to do is spend a great deal of time cutting up the various components of the dish, the 60 seconds in the name of the tool is the real attention-getter here and it may just end up on my Christmas wish list.

What are your thoughts? Do any of you have the 60 second salad and swear by it? Or are you chuckling at the idea of buying this classic Unitasker item?

Being mindful: National Situational Awareness Day

Did you know that tomorrow is National Situational Awareness Day? September 26th was officially proclaimed in 2016 as the day that we should take a few minutes to really think about and be mindful of our surroundings.

What is situational awareness? According to Pretty Loaded, the organization that developed the day, it is:

Situational awareness is really just another way of being mindful of your surroundings. Developing this skill will make you more present in daily activities, which in turn helps you make better decisions in all aspects of life.

The concept was developed during World War I and focuses on personal safety, as does the site Pretty Loaded. However, situational awareness extends beyond security. We all practice situational awareness without thinking. For example, we don’t cross a busy street because we know that it’s highly likely that we will get hit by a car. Similarly, most people will think twice about walking down a dark alley in an unknown city.

Situational awareness can help you with your organizing challenges as well. Recently in the forums, someone asked how to get started in uncluttering, stating that decision paralysis was causing a block. Let’s take a look at this paralysis from the point of view of situational awareness.

We have in front of us a drawer full of who knows what. Many people who have trouble uncluttering state that what blocks them is the idea that everything they hold onto might come in handy at some point in the future.

First off, let’s forget about everything else in the house. We are focusing on just this current situation, the drawer. Nothing else exists. This helps take off the pressure. We’re not uncluttering the whole house, only one small piece of it.

Next, as we take each thing out of the drawer we ask ourselves the following questions:

  1. In what situation might this item be useful?
  2. What level of probability will this situation actually happen?

We then put the item in one of three piles:

  1. We can’t imagine using the item.
  2. We can imagine using the item, but we don’t think the situation will come to pass.
  3. We can imagine using the item and see a real possibility of the situation arising.

When we finish the drawer, items in pile A get donated or tossed out. Items in pile B get put in a box (with or without an inventory) and  dated six months in the future. If we don’t touch the box in those six months, the contents get donated or tossed out without any more decision agony. And finally, items in pile C go back in the drawer. Later, once everything in the room has been sorted, we can reorganize what’s left for better access.

By approaching uncluttering using the concept of situational awareness, we take a skill we all have (avoiding putting ourselves in front of moving vehicles, for example) and extend it to an area of our lives that causes us confusion and pain (getting rid of things that no longer serve a purpose).

This same technique can be used for any area of organizing, from prioritizing our time to reorganizing the kitchen cupboards for ease of use. As mentioned above, situational awareness is really just another term for being mindful and present in the moment.

So, now over to you. How are you going to use situational awareness day to help you organize one part of your life?

Are you ready to succeed?

Last week, I spoke about turning to experts when you want to achieve something, and to develop a plan. Now that you have the plan (in my case, lose weight and eat more healthily), you need to make sure you stay motivated along the way. And you do that by taking a look at your goals and ask, “How much do I really want this?”

Think about your life – what are you doing because you feel you should want it? Or I should say, what are you not doing even though you feel you should want it?

Weight-loss is a common goal, and yet report after report all over the western world show that obesity is on the rise. If say you want something, but aren’t doing anything about it, stop a moment and ask yourself some more questions.

When do you claim to want something but then let fear stop you?

Fear of failure and fear of success are the two biggest stumbling blocks. The former is easy to understand. If diets and changes in lifestyle haven’t worked in the past, why will they work this time around? I have food intolerances. When I eat outside of my healthy choices, I put on weight (apart from feeling generally out of sorts). The temptation to eat the not-good-for-me food is always high, and I always end up falling off the wagon. It would be easy for me to never start because I never manage to not fall off the food-intolerance wagon.

When it comes to fear of success, I also often fall victim to a twisted piece of illogic. You see, if I succeed in my goal of changing how I think about food and keep off the weight once I lose it, I will have to recognize that I am a capable, confident person. At times, it’s easier to believe that I am neither of those things, so I sabotage my progress with whatever goal just to prove to myself that I can’t follow through on anything. That, however, isn’t true. I am capable. I can be confident. I just need to act on my desires.

Which, unfortunately means work. Lots of work. And that leads to another question to ask yourself:

What are you not tackling because it’s too much work?

I believe that human beings are rather lazy by nature. Successful change requires work and that all too often is enough of a demotivator to never get started. Better to stay safe and sound with the current situation. At least we know it well.

In her one of her hugely successful writing courses, 30 year writing veteran Holly Lisle says “SAFE never starts.”

SAFE can keep you locked up in your house, never daring to step foot outside the door. It can keep you locked in a job you hate that has no future, just because you’re afraid if you walk away you will never work again. SAFE can kill your hopes and dreams by telling you they were never worth pursuing, that you were never good enough to make them real, that you were only kidding yourself.

Basically it all comes down to excuses and because you’re getting something out of your inaction. As long as you don’t move forward, as long as you don’t follow through on your dreams you still have hope that the dreams will come true. The thing is, no matter how much hope you have, if you don’t act you’ve already failed.

Are you actively engaged or on autopilot?

One of my favorite phrases here on the blog is “life is choice” – from the decision to get up each morning through to going to bed at night (well for me the last one isn’t that much of a choice – my body just shuts down at some point and I get no say in the matter). It’s easier to go with the flow than to make active choices that might inconvenience other parts of her life. Getting out and getting exercise means not working quite so much. Taking time from work means the renovations on the house take longer and vacations can’t be as exotic as she would like. And so on and so on.

If you grew up in the 1980s, you might remember a series of books called Choose Your Own Adventure. Life’s like that – full of choices with consequences. Are you going to decide what action you take or will you let some invisible author make those choices for you?

When are you choosing safe over happy?

Sometimes safe is important – for example in the basic needs of life, but beyond that, safe does nothing but block our desires. Don’t risk, don’t stand out, don’t be different from anyone else. As long as you choose safe over happy, you’ll always feel unfulfilled and happiness will always remain out of reach. Happiness requires risk. What are you willing to risk to gain happiness?

It’s time to wake up, take control of your life and make the changes you want to make.

By doing nothing you already have your no, so why not try for yes instead?

Celebrating success: a Bullet Journal experiment update

It’s not the prettiest Journal, but it works.

The first two weeks of September are always the busiest in my day job and usually I get to launch day exhausted, facing a hundred little crises, and with a knot in my stomach because I have not had time to complete some really important tasks.

This year, however, everything has gone as smooth as silk and I have to attribute the success to my use of my Bullet Journal. Of course, every year, I make to-do lists, but always in a haphazard manner on a variety of different pieces of paper and/or computer files and emails.

I also managed to be productive in my personal life as well. Remember how I made the decision to be purposeful about my choices in life? Well, that has extended into this crazy period of the year, and despite ten and twelve hour days at work, I’ve been in better and more meaningful touch with my husband and friends than I’ve been in years.

I can’t pinpoint exactly why the Bullet Journal has produced different results, but I do have a few ideas.

  • Part of it is because I knew I was using it as an experiment here on Unclutterer, so I never let a day pass without updating the Journal.
  • By giving work and personal life tasks and thoughts equal priority, one never took over the other. And success in one area motivated me and encouraged success in the other.
  • I hate rigid rules and the rebellious teenager in me always wants to break them, so having been told right from the start that “rules” for Bullet Journaling are meant to be broken, my inner-teen never needed to rebel.

The system isn’t perfect, of course. Now that I write everything down, if it’s not in the Journal, it doesn’t happen. For example, in preparing to go down to our apartment in La Rioja last Friday, I reminded myself to take the house keys off their hook and leave them out where I could see them, but I didn’t write it down. Did I forget my set of keys? You bet I did!

The index is useless for me. I know I am never going to go back to review things. My lists and thoughts are “in the moment” things. Once completed, I move on. In my next Journal, the index will disappear.

The Future Planning portion makes no sense to me. I prefer to have a section with the whole year divided into months so that the planning can go there (one side of the page with the days of the month and the other with notes).

I also have added a section. This Monday, I created a weekly calendar that went before this week’s lists. It helped me organize my time in such a way that I didn’t forget a single appointment and I managed to squeeze in free-time and relaxation before the week’s craziness took over.

Achieving objectives – asking for professional help

For so many of us September is just as much the start of a new year as January. And with that fresh start comes many new projects and objectives, from doing well at school, to making a commitment to store holiday gear and summer toys properly, to self-improvement goals.

My husband and I fall into the third category this year. Over the past 18 months we’ve let our weight slide. We love cooking and adore baking so we people over for breakfast, lunch, and dinner all the time. While this has done great things for our social life, it has taken its toll on our bodies. Also in my case, approaching 50 years old means that the weight doesn’t distribute itself all over like it used to and I’ve developed the beginnings of an inside-out hourglass shape.

So, our self-improvement goal is eating better. We refuse to say we’re on a diet because that implies a short-term program that will stop when we reach our desired weight. Instead, by focusing on changing our eating habits in general, we will not only take off the extra weight, but train ourselves to choose healthy options in the future.

There are many things to consider when setting off on a major life-shift like this one. To do it well means being organized about it and planning it from beginning to end (while of course remaining sufficiently open to unknown variables and unexpected challenges).

Over the next few months, I will provide tips on staying organized during habit changes and update you on how our own journey is going.

First off, before starting anything, it’s important to know exactly what to do and how to do it. There are different ways to do that of course. One is reading sites like Unclutterer or reading the Unclutterer books (Never too busy to cure clutter and Unclutter your life in one week). Another is asking a friend who has gone through a similar process for his/her thoughts on the experience and adapt it to your needs.

Then there’s what we did. We didn’t want any fads, gimmicks, or quick-loss schemes so we went to a professional for advice, in our case to a nutritionist who was recommended to us by a friend who saw incredible results. When you are building a house, you don’t start grabbing bits of wood and brick and stacking them together. You go to an architect and draws up detailed plans for the builders to follow. Or if you need your house or business streamlined you hire a professional organizer. For us, working with a nutritionist just made sense.

All too often people say, “Who needs to pay for help? I can do that!” Then when they don’t reach their goals, demotivation sets in, the plans and goals off the rails and it’s even harder to start all over.

When do you think experts should be called? And how have you decided that the professional of your choice is the right one?

What would you do in a public emergency?

With the recent terrible attacks in Charlottesville and Barcelona, we thought here at Unclutterer that it would be a good idea to review some basic things to consider when faced with a public emergency.

Be prepared. Familiarize yourself with the venue’s layout. Pay attention to the location of medical tents, first aid stations, washrooms, and escape routes. Also pay attention to dead-ends, you don’t want to become trapped in a space where there is no exit.

Be aware of your surroundings at all times. If you get the slightest feeling that something may be wrong, you need to listen to your instincts and act fast. If you see something that doesn’t seem right, such as a rapid increase in the crowds in your area or perhaps a suspicious loner that doesn’t seem to belong, it’s probably a good time to find the nearest exit.

If you’re caught in a crowd, think of it as a flowing river — swim with the current and slowly make your way to the edge.

Prior to the event, choose a meeting spot in case anyone gets separated from the group. Ensure everyone has each other’s phone number. It is helpful to have a contact outside the event that can be called to coordinate planning should something go wrong at the event. In large crowds, mobile phones get lost and damaged so being able to contact someone outside the event is helpful.

Take photos of your group or yourself if alone — share them with your friends at the event and your contact outside the event. If you get lost or separated, you can show a photo of your friend and say, “Have you seen this guy/gal?” Authorities will also want to know a detailed description of what your friend was wearing. Your memory may not work so well under stress so having a photo is helpful.

Now for what to do if something horrible does happen.

First off, stay calm. This is probably the hardest thing to do. With chaos around you, it’s human nature to panic and when we panic, we end up doing things that we normally wouldn’t ever consider doing (I knew someone that in an armed robbery started grabbing people and pulling them on top of her, something she was horrified for having done afterwards). As much as possible, try to keep your thoughts clear and practical.

Next, make sure you’re safe, and if as long as you don’t put yourself at risk, help others get safe too. In most cases, this means getting as far away from the situation as possible, but that may not be possible. For example, exits may be blocked or as happened in Charlottesville, there were so many people in the street and there was nowhere to go. After the Barcelona attack, my husband and I had a conversation about how we always know where we would go in case of emergency. We read evacuation plans in hotels and tend not to put ourselves in situations where there are limited exits. We also talked about how the intuitive way out might not be the best. For example, we live on the ocean. If something happened while we were on the beach, intuition would suggest heading inland, but it may be better to head out into the water where it’s less likely we’d be trampled.

Of course, once you are safe and away, let friends and family know that you’re fine. They’ll be worried about you. Facebook, for example, has a function that they turn on in such situations, allowing you to let all your contacts know that you’re safe and sound.

If you’ve had some sort of first aid training, or see something you can do without putting yourself in danger, do it. As I mentioned above about panic, in emergency situations it’s human nature to think of ourselves first and to maybe cause others harm inadvertently. Maybe the best way you can help is to get out of the way, but if you see someone suffering and it’s in your power to do something, take a deep breath and offer assistance.

When the worst of the situation has passed, find out what you can do to help. Whether it’s donating blood, clothing or food, or volunteering in whatever manner is being requested, it is actions that count. It’s all well and good to express your horror and support publicly via social networks and minutes of silence, but real assistance comes from doing something productive, not just making ourselves feel better with words and flowers.

In this age of social media, it’s important to remember to put your smartphone away and do not distribute images or videos of the tragedy unless asked to do so by authorities. Most of us are not reporters and it’s not our job to inform the world of what’s happening. When my father had a terrible swimming accident, I was shocked that I actually had to tell someone to get out of the way of the paramedics and stop gawking. And the man was hovering about with his phone, as if he wanted to take a picture or something. Watching the news about the Barcelona attack, I was horrified to see people taking selfies while the police were cordoning off the area. Remember that the person you’re filming is someone’s mother, brother, or child and imagine how you would feel if it was your loved one.

And finally, check your facts before spreading information. With news and rumors easily confused online, it’s important to take a moment and make sure that what you are about to share is real.

The Unclutterer site has quite a lot of information about emergency preparedness and I suggest taking a moment to check out our archives to make sure that you know what to do when life takes a tragic turn.

Planning for system breakdowns: a Bullet Journal experiment

This week when I return to work I will officially start my Bullet Journal experiment. While it looks like a good system and has already helped me in some ways, I question whether I will be able to maintain it. Here are some issues that may cause a breakdown in the system, along with some possible solutions to them.

Boredom

Although I love creating systems and routines, I find maintenance of them rather dull. I need constant proof that a system makes my life easier or I abandon it for something new after a few months at the most.

For this Bullet Journal experiment to work, I am going to have to be aware of any imminent boredom and find ways to tweak the system without tossing it aside completely.

Distractions

Good habits aren’t easy to form, but so simple to break. Think about a gym-commitment. How many times do you start some exercise program only to stop because for two days in a row, you are too busy to go to the gym? This happens to me all the time at work. My best intentions get trashed because I arrive and have to solve any number of mini (or not so mini) crises.

A top priority for this experiment, therefore, will be at least five minutes a day updating my journal no matter what else is happening.

Success

How can success cause a system breakdown? Simple, if things are going well, I relax. Who needs to be diligent if everything is going well? The phrase “sitting on one’s laurels” comes to mind in this instance. I pat myself on the back, tell myself how awesome I am, and forget that continued success requires more effort.

To combat this possible error in the system, I will need to be aware of any feelings of overconfidence and remember that success comes from constant work; it doesn’t fall out of the sky randomly.

How about you? What issues have caused blips or breakdowns in your own Bullet Journalling projects?

Did you get the most out of summer?

For those of you with kids, summer can be a crazy time. The are very few routines and the kids are off doing some activity or another while you continue working. Or perhaps you had some time off and managed to get away or had a supposedly relaxing stay-cation.

The big question, however, is: Did you have fun? Did the kids have fun?

We don’t have kids, but my holidays are always in August each year, so while I don’t have others relying on me to plan and deliver on fun times, I always reach September and ask myself whether I took advantage of the time off I had, or whether I could have gotten more out of the time away from work.

In July before finishing work, I came up with a list of possible things to do in August. With thirty-one days to fill, I wanted to have something to do every single day if we felt like it. Of course, we allowed ourselves to say “no way, not today!” and spend the day in bed, by the pool or reading a book in a nice patch of sun, but what I didn’t want to happen was what has happened all too often when we both have time off together.

Husband: What do you want to do today?

Me: I don’t know. How about you?

Husband: No idea.

(We both go back to our smartphones and surf around social media.)

Me (an hour later): So what are we going to do?

Husband (looking at the time): We have to go grocery shopping and then there’s that pile of laundry over there…

And nothing fun happens. It’s just another day.

So, to avoid this issue, I came up with thirty-five different things we could do. Some were one-off events, others were repeatable depending on how much we liked them, the weather, and who we were with.

We knew who would be visiting us when and who might invite us out on day-trips or weekends.

I thrilled to tell you that it was a total success. We’ve never had a better summer and it was a sort of stay-cation. Normally we go away on some big trip where we exhaust ourselves squeezing fun and sun out of every second, but this year we divided our time between our two apartments. We went to the beach, took bike rides, put on the rollerblades that have been collecting dust for the past ten years, and visited little towns that we’ve been talking about for ages about seeing. We also made time for friends, including those we rarely get to see except when everyone has time off.

Most importantly, we relaxed with intention. That is, we made the conscious decision to do nothing some days. Rather than falling into a lazy day by accident and feeling like we were missing out on the summer.

And now, I’m ready to go back to work and routines refueled and refreshed.

How about you? What sort of summer have you had?

The minimalist teacher: improve learning while reducing paper

In a recent interview with teachers about organizing the school year, one of the key organizing challenges was that teachers hold onto too much. It’s a challenge for anyone who works with paper, not just teachers, However, teachers have a harder time, as they are provided with so many paper-based resources for the classroom.

Today’s article is perhaps a bit more academic (pardon the pun!) than is usual here on Unclutterer, but if anyone who imparts knowledge (from teachers to coaches, from health professionals to parents) really wants to help others learn and understand, we need to strip away all the books, papers, and government-mandated programs and focus on the learning itself.

In the English language teaching world, more than a decade ago, teachers took up the challenge of being minimalist, of removing the temptation of focusing on the materials, paring down the classroom to the basics, to developing understanding, and to letting the students guide the content.

This teaching movement, called DOGME (based on the stripped-down filmmaking movement from the 1990s) focuses on ten basic principles.

  1. Interactivity: learning happens from conversation, not one-directional speeches
  2. Engagement: people learn better when they are interested in the topics
  3. Dialogic processes: as Plato told us centuries ago, dialogue helps create understanding
  4. Scaffolded conversations: to go from ignorance to knowledge, building blocks are needed to give people confidence
  5. Emergence: understanding develops from within; it’s not transferred
  6. Components: teachers help learners discover meaning on their own through guiding them through the components of a concept
  7. Voice: students need to feel comfortable and safe communicating
  8. Empowerment: knowledge arises from the ability to express oneself, not necessarily from the ability to read or view materials
  9. Relevance: print or audiovisual materials are only offered as support, not as the centerpiece of learning
  10. Critical use: knowledge is cultural and true learning requires an awareness of our biases (personal, cultural, etc…)

As a minimalist, I love these concepts, not just for teaching, but for all areas of life. In short, learning and understanding come from conversation with others, from an awareness of self and of context, and most importantly from extrapolating personal experiences to new understanding.

I would like to issue a challenge to anyone involved in teaching, not just teachers, but anyone who transfers knowledge:

  • How can you adapt your teaching so that the focus is on the learners and on helping those learners discover for themselves a deeper understanding of the topic you’re teaching?