Organizing is knowing what you want

Fifteen year ago I started my organizing business. After three years of helping people clear the clutter out of their lives enough to see what they really wanted in life, I realized I had cleared out so much clutter in my own life that I could see that Toronto was no longer my home. I followed a childhood dream of living in southern Europe and more than a decade later I am still living that dream.

During the past ten years, however, I’ve learned as well that not everyone comes from the privileged place that I did and cannot always follow their dreams, no matter how clearly they see that dream. Family, health, or economics may impede achieving or even acknowledging that deeply secret desire.

I made a life-altering change when I cleared the space to allow the dream to reveal itself. Not everyone needs that. Sometimes, clearing mental, emotional, and physical clutter reveals that you are in fact living the life you want and no extreme changes are necessary.

Professional organizing as a profession is just beginning to appear here in Spain and people wonder, over and over again, just what it is. Some people have called it a form of interior decorating mixed with psychology. Others believe it is a type of coaching. And yet others call it “selling smoke” — an expression in Spanish that would best translate into English as “snake oil salesmen,” modern day charlatans selling cure-alls.

When people ask me, however, I tell them that at a deep level, professional organizing helps people reduce what they don’t need, figure out what they really want, then determine how to get it and maintain it.

If you look at every single article here on Unclutterer, you’ll see that even the most practical “let’s clean out under the kitchen sink” articles focus on one of those three principles, in the case of the kitchen sink specifically helping you save time and energy when it comes to cleaning so that you have more time and more energy for what’s important to you.

This is why there is no one way when it comes to organizing, and why there is such a proliferation of books, manuals, and methodologies. We are each looking for a way to streamline our lives down to what will make us glide through life without scraping against everyone and everything we pass by. Whether that’s with a 5000 sq. ft. house full of knick-knacks or a 50 sq. ft. apartment with just the bare minimum.

Often in my articles here, you see links to books, to other websites, or even to other articles here on Unclutterer, but this time I’m not going to do that. Today, I ask you to look inside you. Forget the advice, forget the rules, forget the obligations and the responsibilities and ask yourself the following question:

What do I want?

If you can’t answer it, you have some more uncluttering to do. Go find that book, that article, that professional organizer that will help you clear away layers until you have the answer to that question.

And if you know the answer, determine what you need to get there, including what help and how much streamlining is left for you to do. Then stop reading, stop planning, stop consulting and go fulfill your dream to the best your circumstances allow.

Reader question: the organized shift worker

In a comment to my post about working hard, not a lot, Kenneth in Virginia asked what the information in the post meant for someone who like his father drove a truck for a living. It’s an excellent question, because to be honest, few of us have the luxury of choosing how much we work. Most jobs have a fixed schedule, and require a physical presence during that period.

There’s no working better or faster to reduce the workload and no putting in extra hours to advance. A truck driver has to go from Point A to Point B, a cashier has to ring up purchases, and a factory worker has to run the machine for the entire eight hour shift.

This is completely different from someone who works in an office and has projects to fulfill or objectives to achieve. The previous post was addressed to these latter people, and in looking around at the literature, most business organizing books focus almost exclusively on them as well.

That doesn’t mean, however, that the former group can’t be organized or reduce their workload through efficiencies.

My husband is a factory worker, and one of the most organized people I know. Over the years, I’ve seen him develop a sort of set of rules that help him in whatever position he has.

  • Pay attention. Repetitive jobs can become mind-numbing, and if you’re not careful mistakes can start slipping in if you do not focus on each detail. You might choose the wrong lot of a product to add to a mixture. Or you might let quality slip, which may cause a serious problem for the company, with perhaps long-term negative consequences for you.
  • Don’t make more work for others. In many time-based jobs, workers operate in a sort of vacuum. They may be part of a team, but only are aware of their own part of the process. Take for example someone who works in a supermarket in the meat section. Part of her job may be to add the labels to packages of meat for sale. If the label isn’t applied flat, the scanner at the checkout won’t read it and the cashier has to either enter the barcode in manually or call someone to come give him the correct code.
  • Take your time, but not too much. The proverb haste not waste applies here. The best way to be organized and to make the time pass quickly in any job is to work consistently and carefully. No matter the pressure from above to work faster and produce more, sure and steady wins the race (to use another famous proverb). Speed produces errors which often means having to go back and doing it again. Or in the case of a truck driver, speed literally can kill you. On the other end of the spectrum, however, working more slowly than necessary relates back to the previous point: the less you work, the more someone else will have to.

Now it’s your turn. Do you have any other “rules” to add to these three for shift-based work? If you work by hours, what tricks and tips can you offer others to make sure you are working efficiently and effectively?

Are you a rebel, too?

Quite often Gretchen Rubin’s interviews inspire to me to write posts here. These posts have got me thinking about Rubin’s Four Tendencies, specifically the tendencies that resist expectations. Taking Rubin’s quiz, it turns out that I’m a Rebel, which doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. My inner teenager maintains a firm hold on my ability to get things done which means I will do something for two reasons only:

  • Because I decide it’s a good idea
  • Because I want to avoid getting into trouble

Before doing the quiz, I thought that perhaps I would end up being an Obliger, fulfilling others’ expectations but not my own, however it turns out that any obliging tendencies I may harbor have more to do with wanting to avoid a scolding than wanting to please people. This avoidance of negative reactions doesn’t just emerge when it comes to external expectations; I act the same way about my own inner expectations, getting things done to evade an internal scolding.

Knowing this, I have to ask myself what having an inner teenager at the helm means for being productive and organized?

Well, for one, to get myself moving, I have to see a benefit. A teenager doesn’t get out of bed unless there’s internal passion, or at least a decent reward of some kind for completing the task.

A rebellious teenager’s favorite question is “why?” and teenagers also tend to reject history, thinking that they can invent and discover new ways of doing things that their elders (being old and slow) have never thought of.

At work, I’ve always been able to channel this rebellious attitude into productive outcomes, looking for new and more effective ways to do things, rejecting “because that’s the way we’ve always done it” out of hand, only accepting traditional ways if they prove to be the most effective.

In my personal life, however, I don’t look for new and productive ways of doing things. Instead my conflict-avoiding teenage attitude tends to rule over me and it can get me into trouble. I don’t communicate enough with my partner, either doing what I want without any sort of consultation or turning into a people-pleaser because I feel that doing anything else will end up in confrontation. Of course, what the teenager is not capable of understanding is that this avoidance strategy only creates more conflict in the end.

Staying productive, motivated and organized, therefore, requires and understanding of the following:

  • I can’t force myself into any action or I will do the opposite.
  • I need to know the benefits of any course of action.
  • I need to remember that conflict avoidance just creates more conflict.
  • The more I streamline processes, the more likely I will do them.

Have you taken Rubin’s Tendencies Quiz? Do you know yourself well enough to work with, rather against yourself?

Work hard, not a lot

Gretchen Rubin interviews the most fascinating people over on The Happiness Project blog. Recently, she spoke with Morten Hansen, co-author of Great by Choice and sole author of Great at Work. In the latter book, he reveals something that I have championed for years: working more does not mean achieving more. This is something that I’ve known intuitively and have seen in clients and in myself over and over again: it’s all about how you work, not how long you work.

Hansen has taken this intuitive sensation of mine and proven it with a study. People who work too many hours a week are actually less productive than those who work less.

He doesn’t, however, go so far at Tim Ferriss’s The 4-Hour Work Week. Hansen states that to achieve higher than average productivity, it’s important to work hard and work a bit more than the average, but not to work so much as to damage other areas of your life.

I learned how to focus on quality not quantity back in high school when I played in the school band. I knew I wasn’t ever going to be a full-time musician (because I was a decent technical player, but couldn’t improvise to save my life). There were times when I practiced an hour or more a day and others when I practiced only a few times a week. I discovered that it didn’t matter which of the two levels I practiced at; I remained at the same level, so of course, I stopped wasting my time and made the conscious decision to practice only a few times a week.

For me, it’s a kind of intangible minimalism. Just as a minimalist mindset looks at the home and asks, “What is the least amount of stuff I can have while still maintaining the quality of life I want?” a minimalist attitude to work asks, “What are the least number of hours that I can work to reach my top productivity?”

It sounds like an easy question, but the answer is hard to calculate. Often you don’t have a choice. You’re contracted to work a specific number of hours and have to do that no matter how productive you are in that time period. Or the culture of your company is one where unpaid overtime is a sign of real commitment regardless of productivity levels (hopefully none of you works in that situation!).

According to Hansen, the most productive people put in about 25% time more than the average (50 hours of work instead of the traditional 35), but if someone starts putting in more time, the productivity drops off steeply.

My question for everyone, therefore is: How much do you want to achieve your objectives? Are you willing to invest that 25% more time into them than the average person? Can you even quantify that that average time investment is for your objectives? If not, perhaps you might consider making that calculation your top priority.

The pleasure of small tasks fulfilled regularly

Carrying on with the idea of routines, I recently saw a quote on Gretchen Rubin’s site that talks about the pleasure of a single task repeated.

Even one task fulfilled at regular intervals in a man’s life can bring order into his life as a whole; everything else hinges upon it. By keeping a record of my experiences I live my life twice over. The past returns to me. The future is always with me.

The Journal of Eugene Delacroix

It reminds me of a surprising but small shift in attitude in my life almost a decade ago. Almost all my life I had the privilege of living with a dishwasher, but at that point in my life, we lived in a tiny apartment with no counter space and no dishwasher. Having to wash dishes by hand made me groan every time I looked at the ever-growing pile of dirty plates, glasses, and cutlery.

At the time, I had just begun my journey to being more consistent in the pursuit of my goals. I had decided that to help me make that happen, I would be more consistent with small tasks around the house and doing the dishes daily became one of those routines I started.

Instead of seeing the washing up as an onerous, boring task, I turned it into a moment to meditate, to breathe, and to disconnect from the stresses and worries of the day. And it worked! I went from hating the chore, to feeling empty if I didn’t do it. Through one small change, I added a sense of calm and order to what was normally a chaotic day.

Over the past few years, I’ve gotten out of the habit, but recently have picked it up again. There’s nothing quite so satisfying than sitting down to write with the counter empty and clean, the bed made and the floor swept. This has nothing to do with the idea of external clutter equals mental clutter or that cleanliness is next to godliness. It has totally to do with a sense of fulfillment that the quote describes.

As chaos theory has demonstrated, the micro is the macro and vice versa. Coastlines are made up of the same shapes when looking from space down to looking at the almost microscopic level. Plus, Dirk Gently tells us that everything is connected, so being consistent with small tasks that have no emotional weight to them helps maintain consistency with more emotionally charged goals like writing and publishing a novel.

In what ways do you use small chores and tasks regularly fulfilled to create order and consistency in your life?

Beating midwinter blues with vacation planning

Here in the northern hemisphere, we are in the midst of midwinter blues. At this point in the year the cold and lack of sunshine has started to get me down and without a single break work-wise until Easter, the horizon is indeed bleak.

So, it’s time to cheer myself up — and nothing makes me happier than doing some planning, specifically summer vacation planning.

This year for the first time in a while, my husband and I may actually have the time and money to take a major vacation. In the past few years, we’ve had to book our vacation at the last minute and take what was available.

Being able to organize a longer trip in advance is like heaven for me. Before getting married when I traveled with friends, I would be The Organizer, coming up with the most interesting train routes, looking for quaint places to stay, and finding those off-the-map places that really make a trip memorable.

I’ve never done it, however, with an actual vacation planner in front of me. I just tend to make notes in a document on my computer. Out of curiosity, this time round, I may pick up a planner and see if it helps in any way, because there’s always something I forget and sometimes it is the thing that makes the difference between a good holiday and a great one.

With or without a vacation planner, this is my process for dreaming up ideal holidays:

  • Decide the maximum budget. There’s no point in looking at holidays in the Maldives if we aren’t going to spend more than a thousand euros each.
  • Come to an agreement on what type of vacation we want. If my husband is thinking sun and sand and I start planning a train tour of eastern Europe, no one will end up happy.
  • Look at dates. For us, this is usually what delays planning. My husband often doesn’t know when he has free time in the summer, so in my midwinter plans I need to be flexible about when we can take a trip.
  • Dream. I say dream because it makes me stretch and imagine possibilities that aren’t typical. For example, renting a camper and driving down the center of Italy.
  • Come up with a variety of options. The fun in vacation planning is letting the brain go in various directions at once. Plus having several different destinations means we can spend cold, wet Sunday afternoons discussing the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Since this is only the planning stage, there is no need to make any firm decisions, which is the best part for me. The excitement of what’s possible doesn’t have to end (until the spring when we start firming up our plans).

When it comes to that firm planning stage, I will take a good look at vacation planners. And for that I’ll turn to you: any recommendations on vacation planners (either in print or digital)?tag=unclutterer-20

Routines: Are you for or against?

Do you like having a routine? Personally, I have a love-hate relationship with them. I see the usefulness in them, and when I follow a routine I’m more productive and don’t forget things as often as when I don’t have a routine.

However, I’m a bit like my mother. She loved routines, in theory, but after three or four days of following a routine she would find herself getting dizzy, as if her brain couldn’t cope with being so ordered. While a routine doesn’t make me dizzy, I do find myself looking for excuses to get distracted.

Of course, there are different types of routines to consider. There are regular practice routines, such as exercise, writing, or meditation. And then there are daily routines such as:

  • 7:00 Get up and have breakfast
  • 8:00 Go to the pool
  • 9:00 Write an article for Unclutterer
  • 10:00 Clean one area of the house
  • 10:30 Do some quilting and watch an episode of favourite TV show
  • 11:30 Go for a coffee and do some creative writing
  • 12:30 Prep lunch and tidy the house
  • 13:30 Eat lunch
  • 14:00 Leave for work

The first type of routine works for me. It focuses my mind. It creates momentum. It’s self-motivating. The second type of routine, however, while on paper seems like a great idea, always ends up depressing me, for two reasons: there’s never enough time to get everything I want done and it feels like being in the military or in a super-strict boarding school. Life is not so orderly — it’s spontaneous and unpredictable. Trying to squeeze it into a rigid plan just creates stress when the plan can’t be completed.

That’s why I like using the Bullet Journal system. It focuses more on the idea of regular practice and there’s no pressure to do everything in a single day. By having the “permission” to move tasks forward with a simple arrow takes away the stress of having too many tasks in the to-do list.

But when it comes to deciding how you feel about routines, don’t just take my opinion. Check out the book Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind, with contributions from Unclutterer’s Editor-at-Large, Erin Rooney Doland, as well as Seth Godin, Leo Babauta, Gretchin Rubin, and 17 other experts in the field.

The only way past is through it

In a recent interview with Gretchen Rubin of the Happiness Project, author Greer Hendricks hit the nail on the head when it comes to overcoming procrastination. When faced with a task she doesn’t feel like doing she reminds herself that “the only way past is through it.”

This adage doesn’t apply to every task we’d rather not do. In fact, there are many times that the best way to overcome procrastination is to cross the task off your list altogether, but we’ll leave that discussion for another day.

Instead, let’s focus on those tasks we dread but cannot avoid.

I have one of those coming up and if I want to do my day job well, there is no way to avoid it or cross it off my life. I have to face it and go through the experience no matter how unappetizing it feels.

At the beginning of February, I have a conference to go to. The sessions don’t really appeal to me and I have to leave the conference early due to other commitments at home. So, in a discussion with my boss, we decided that my objective for the conference is to meet as many people as possible in similar positions as me.

It’s pure networking and I hate it. When I ran my own business, it was the one thing that would make me want to stay in bed hiding under the covers. It was this weakness that limited the growth of my business. I’m not a meet-and-greeter. I don’t like and have a hard time doing small talk.

But in this case, what’s best for our company is that I get to know my peers in other parts of the country.

Being an introvert, the idea of putting myself in front of total strangers and interacting with them horrifies me. And yet, I know it’s what I need to do. Fortunately, there are many tools to help me. Apart from Rubin’s The Four Tendencies, there are a whole slew of books on being an introvert in an interactive world that can help me push through the dread and reach the other side where satisfaction and success wait.

How do you deal with tasks that you simply can’t put off?

How consistent are you?

I have a great app, called TimeHop, that reminds me each day of what I’ve posted on social media one year ago, two years ago, and so on. The other day it reminded me of a word I’d chosen to represent all my good intentions for one particular year: consistency.

The promise included running regularly, writing daily, doing a better job of avoiding the foods that make me feel unwell, etc…

However, I obviously didn’t pay much attention to the promise to myself because years later consistency is still my weakness. Other than yoga classes, exercise is an on-and-off thing. Writing regularly became writing almost never. And I still battle daily the urge to eat foods that cause me health problems.

Why is this so?

Leo Babauta over at Zen Habits wrote a great article about this issue in his post 10 Reasons Why We Don’t Stick to Things. In summary, the ten reasons are:

  1. We don’t take it seriously.
  2. We just forget.
  3. We run from discomfort or uncertainty.
  4. We give in to temptation, out of habit.
  5. We rationalize.
  6. We renegotiate.
  7. We dislike the experience and avoid things we dislike.
  8. We forget why it’s important.
  9. We get down on ourselves or give up in disappointment.
  10. There are too many barriers.

I’m guilty of all ten reasons. Let’s take my health as an example: While do not have celiac disease, I am very sensitive to gluten. When I include gluten in my diet, I suffer from fibromyalgia-like symptoms (I get brain fog, I hurt all over, and I become increasingly inflexible), my rosacea flares up, and I gain weight as if I were eating double the calories I’m consuming.

  1. And yet, when faced with eating better, I say “m’eh, tomorrow” as if my health wasn’t important.
  2. Put a shortbread cookie in front of me and it’s in my mouth before I remember that I’m not supposed to eat it.
  3. Given that the anti-gluten craze is at an all-time high, I feel uncomfortable telling people I can’t eat it because I don’t want them to think I’m some sort of food fad follower.
  4. I adore anything that is wheat-based: bread, cake, pie, cookies, pizza — you name it; if it has wheat it in, I love it.
  5. My favorite rationalization is that “one day won’t hurt me” but then one becomes two, or three and then a month.
  6. I also tell my body that it’s overreacting and that a little gluten won’t hurt it, that tomorrow I’ll do better.
  7. I’m not a fruit fan, and hate having to make myself other food, or choose not to eat out. It’s too awkward and uncomfortable to make healthy choices.
  8. And once I’m off gluten for a while and feeling fantastic, I completely forget what it’s like to be in pain and fuzzy-headed.
  9. When all of the above reasons for not avoiding gluten don’t work and I indulge on pizza and sandwiches, I tell myself that it’s impossible and I should just learn to live in discomfort.
  10. And finally, Spain has a bread-based culinary culture. While there are more and more non-gluten options available, they are usually more expensive and rather cardboard-like in taste and texture. As a foodie, eating healthily is a nigh impossible task.

I could run through the same exercise with my fitness regime, my writing, and to be honest, with any goal I’ve set myself. When it comes down to the word consistency, however, all ten reasons are excuses. There’s only one question I have to ask myself.

How much do I really want this?

I’ve achieved a lot of goals in my life, and difficult ones at that. And in every case, the success has come from being able to answer this question with the following:

I don’t just want this, I am driven to follow this path to the end.

If consistency is a challenge for you as well, perhaps the words of others might help you create that drive for success that you’re currently lacking.

The minimalist and the maximalist

When I lived alone, my minimalist tendencies could flourish. Each surface in the house was either bare or had one or two items on it. I regularly went through the house and pared down anything that had found its way onto a shelf or table without a conscious decision to put it there.

I lived this way because I am a naturally disorganized person. The more I have, the less organized I am, and the less I clean. Wiping the dust off a shelf that has two carefully placed items is much easier and faster than removing the ten knick-knacks, wiping them all down, and then placing them back where they are supposed to be.

The less I had also meant the less I bought. I didn’t need to buy anything because I had all I needed. When I travelled I almost never brought back souvenirs and my holiday decorations never grew because I had just the right amount in the exact style I was looking for.

My husband, however, is not like me at all. He believes that if there is a surface free, it needs to be covered with something. He loves reminders of places we’ve been. And he’s an incredibly organized person. He adores organizing in a way that boggles my mind. In fact, he’ll spend an hour moving things about a shelf until he gets the just-right arrangement.

His attention to detail exhausts me, although I have to admit that I love how the place looks, even with all the bits and bobs that I would never have on display if I were living alone. If he were to read Apartment Therapy’s 10 Signs you might be a maximalist, he would agree with almost every point.

So, how do a minimalist and a maximalist live together? By applying the basics. We compromise, we communicate, and we encourage yet moderate each other’s natural tendencies.

For example, in December my husband goes nuts with all the new holiday decorations that come out. If he had more space and money, he would fill shopping carts with cute, stylish, and fun decorations. I, on the other hand, will go out of my way to avoid going into stores at this time of year. Our compromise is this: I promise to show enthusiasm for the few things that really do catch my fancy, even if there is no need to buy them, while he recognizes that finding a few choice pieces increases the likelihood of using and appreciating each item rather than buying everything and using nothing.

And when it comes to cleaning, I focus on the daily surface tasks, while he will do the occasional deep-cleaning and reorganizing that is required with a bookshelf full of books, knick-knacks, and keepsakes.

Whether you are a minimalist or a maximalist, the key is to not to go to extremes. If you are embarrassed to have someone over, perhaps your maximalist tendencies have left you knee-deep in clutter. Or if people ask you if anyone actually lives in your home, perhaps you need to create a sort of moderate minimalism in your life.

Does this wardrobe suit me? Reviewing my closet

Last February, here on Unclutterer, Dave took at look at his closet and made some wardrobe suggestions for men over 40. In a few months, I’ll be one year away from 50. In the past two years, I’ve moved up in my day job and have become upper management. And in my personal life, I much prefer going out for a nice dinner or having friends over than going out clubbing until dawn.

All these things have meant a change in my dressing habits. However, I don’t feel almost 50 years old and most of my friends are younger than me so I have no interest in looking stereotypically middle aged.

In reviewing what I have, I’ve noticed that over the past few years I have actually been moving towards a more mature style. I have fewer t-shirts and more button-ups. None of my jeans have holes in them, I don’t do “skinny” anything, and my collection of dress trousers has more than doubled.

My shoe choices have also matured, fewer sneakers and more currently in-style brogues.

It’s good to know that I don’t need to make any major changes to my wardrobe choices. I do, however, need to pare down a bit. I have more than enough shirts for a whole month, the same with t-shirts and about half that number in trousers. My shoe collection has increased from my previous two or three to more than ten. Clothing is the one area of my life that I am most definitely not a minimalist.

On the positive side, I have a walk-in closet so I more or less have the space to store it all, but I have to ask myself if I honestly wear it all.

In doing so, I’ve taken Dave’s guidelines from last year as a baseline.

  • A suit — one that fits and looks good. Suits! I haven’t mentioned suits. I have several because I don’t believe that one is enough. If a woman had a single dress for any formal situation, people would be shocked, and yet we think it’s perfectly fine that men repeat the same suit consistently.
  • A nice hat. I have a few nice alpaca caps for winter and a baseball cap for the beach.
  • Decent lounge wear. I’m a pyjama guy. When I lived in Toronto with central heating, I was in the habit of sleeping in very little (or nothing). Without central heating now, however, I have several pairs of pyjamas which also serves as lounge wear. For yoga class, I have some baggy t-shirts and a pair of short sweatpants.
  • Dress shirts — somewhere between three and six of them depending on your lifestyle. This is where I need to cut back, but in looking at my closet, I realized that I actually wear more than 20 of my nearly 35 shirts.
  • Shoes. Have a brown pair and a black pair, something casual and something dressy. Sneakers are for kids. In this I also don’t agree with Dave. Stylish sneakers look good with a suit and I often combine my dress trousers with them as well. Besides, I have ankle tendon issues and, unless I want to look like a grandfather, dress shoes are not the best for my poor feet.
  • Pants — have at least one decent pair of jeans and a few pairs of casual pants in your regular rotation. Here is another category I could cut back. I don’t wear quite a few of my trousers, so will lighten my wardrobe by getting rid of them. I also need to seriously review my collection of shorts as most of them are too young for me.
  • Socks and accessories. My rule for these is that if they fit into a drawer, I don’t need to worry about them. I replace them as they wear out.

Being fashion-minded and working with teens and young adults, I also have a t-shirt collection, as well as stylish sweaters and a couple of sweatshirts. Looking at the teetering pile I have of those, these are three more categories I can also pare down on.

Although, to be honest, I doubt I’ll get rid of much. As I’ve already said, despite having a lot of clothes, I wear almost everything. I’m just going to have to find a better way of organizing it all and commit to regular maintenance of the piles.

How about you? How often do you review your wardrobe?

And of course, if you need help, there are any number of books that can help you with your wardrobe choices.

Year-round resolutions

New Year’s resolutions are an ancient ritual, stretching all the way back to the Babylonians and the Romans who made promises to their gods to do things better in the coming year.

However, just because something has been done for a very long time, it doesn’t mean that it’s necessary, or even useful. And, to be honest, how many people do you know actually follow through on their resolutions? Fitness centres rely on resolutions for a influx of income knowing that the majority of new clients will only attend classes for a few weeks, but will actually pay for several months, or even a full year.

One of the main reasons that I don’t like New Year’s resolutions is that they set us up for a fall and create a failure mentality. Despite knowing that we are unlikely to follow through on our resolutions, we promise ourselves quite often outrageous things, possibly even fundamental changes in who we are. (For me that would be resolving to go to networking events in the city and thus go against my introvert nature.)

When we make unrealistic resolutions, we are basically telling ourselves that we aren’t good enough as we are and need to change. All you need to do is look at common resolutions to see how poorly we think of ourselves:

  • Lose weight (I’m fat.)
  • Be more positive (Life sucks.)
  • Get out of debt (I’m not financially responsible.)
  • Improve my career (I hate my job.)
  • Learn something new (I’m ignorant/uncultured/lazy.)
  • Get organized (I’m a disaster.)
  • Be nicer (I’m a grump.)

And the list goes on and on.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for introspection and self-improvement, but doing it once a year in a fervor of self-punishment is not the best way to achieve a goal.

I believe a much better way is the following:

  • Know yourself. What type of person are you? What works for you? What doesn’t? Gretchen Rubin’s The Four Tendencies is a great book to read if you want a simple and efficient way of answering these questions.
  • Examine your life. What’s working? What isn’t? Don’t look at your perceived faults and failings. Take a look at where you want to be and where you are in that process. By doing so, you remove the personal judgement and make it an objective review of your objectives. Burnett’s and Evans’ The Designing Your Life Workbook is a good tool for that.
  • Monitor your progress and set up regular reviews. As I have been doing with my Bullet Journal experiment, check in regularly with your objectives. Progress needs to be examined on a weekly basis at the very least (if not daily), the circumstances need to be reviewed, and minor alterations in course need to be made. For me the Bullet Journal system has been working very well so far.

So, instead of asking you what you resolutions are, I’ll ask you what goals you are working on and what progress you’re making with them.