Conference handouts: do you ever refer to them?

If you have ever been to a conference, I’m sure you’ve received more than your fair share of handouts and other paper, from the organizing body, speakers and vendors. Plus you’ll also have whatever notes you take.

Conferences sometimes can feel like the New Year, a perfect time for resolutions, vows and promises to ourselves about what we’ll get right to work on when we’re back at our desks. But like most New Year resolutions, our good intentions get buried in the day-to-day details and mini-crises that make up a normal workday.

Years ago, in my most minimalist stage, I refused any and all handouts, relying on my memory. I had the theory that if a presentation didn’t cause a strong enough impression that it stuck in my brain, it wasn’t of much importance or priority to me.

The there are those who go to the other extreme, not just collecting everything they can, but also organizing and archiving it so that they can access the information at any point in the future. My mother was the latter type and although she didn’t refer back to every piece of information from every conference, she quite often pulled out some useful tidbit or other when working on a new project.

I just got back from a conference in Barcelona where I learned a lot about things that we are either in the process of implementing or could introduce at work. And since I’m no longer so minimalist, I took copious notes and after getting home, I downloaded the handouts/presentations of each of the sessions I attended. I was also given marketing material about products and processes the vendors offered. Between paper and electronic documents, I probably have a full day’s reading.

Assuming I actually look at it all, which I won’t.

I will hold onto my own notes and the presentation notes until I finish the projects we are working on that prompted me going to the conference. And the marketing materials will go straight into the recycling bin as will materials about the conference itself.

That’s me though. I don’t have a filing cabinet, or even a single drawer. I hate collecting paper. (Okay yes, I am still a minimalist at heart.) If you are someone who does like to hold onto information, however, here are some things to think about when it comes to deciding what to keep:

  1. Determine what part of your job the handout relates to. Make a note of it on the handout and store it with your other files on the same topic.
  2. If it’s not connected to anything you currently do, is it something you want to try in the future? If so, create a “future plans” document on your computer and add the basic ideas to it. Toss out what you picked up from the conference,, because when you finally get around to the idea, it’s highly likely you’ll need to research the topic again to find out the latest advances.
  3. Are you ever involved in running events? I am, so parts of my notes include my impression of the conference itself: what they did well and what wasn’t quite so good. I put these notes in with my event planning files (which in my case are all electronic — I really do hate paper).
  4. Record the vendor details in your preferred contact management system, along with a note about why you might be interested in working with them, and get rid of the marketing materials. Vendors are always happy to provide you with new information at any time (which these days can almost always be found online).

What do you do with conference handouts? Have I missed anything? Share your tricks and tips in the comments.

The new minimalist: how far can disownership go?

My twenty-something friends talk about all the various ways of streaming music, movies, series, and books. (Recently I heard that not a single singer in Spain sold more than 90,000 albums in 2016 [article in Spanish]). They also have a belief that they will never earn nearly as much as their parents did (youth unemployment in Spain is higher than 40%). This got me wondering how far a sharing economy based on music-streaming and social media models could take us?

Back when Unclutterer started, PJ Doland had a great series of articles about extreme minimalism, talking about someone who actively rejected ownership on a grand scale. But what if extreme minimalism wasn’t a choice? What if with the steadily shrinking middle class and the rise of the uber-rich, owning things became prohibitive for a large portion of society?

A coworker told me recently about the years she spent in Nicaragua where amongst the poorest levels of society, there isn’t a strong concept of ownership. If one person in the community has something (like a newly drilled well in the case of my coworker), it is considered to be the property of the whole community.

Jacki has talked about office sharing and Jeri wrote about sharing items to reduce clutter. To add to my growing awareness of the disownership trend, I saw an article about co-owning a home with friends and what risks and traps to avoid.

The creative part of my brain has put all these pieces together and has formulated a question that I find myself very curious to explore: What would a non-ownership world look like?

I’m not talking about a Utopian socialist/communist society. I am talking about the next steps of an increasingly corporatocracy that excludes more and more people from belonging to it without the support of friends and family.

That question has prompted me to take a new look at the Extreme Minimalist Monday theme. Occasionally over the next little while, I am going to take a look at the extension of sharing/streaming technology into day-to-day life and how it might affect the level of clutter/organization in the lives of people who participate in it.

Let me give you an example.

Here in Spain, social media Influencers (yes, with a capital “I”) talk about the importance of carving out a unique fashion style and always being on the edge of whatever is coming next. Obviously these Influencers don’t have TARDIS-like closets that are infinitely larger on the inside than the outside, so they have to do something with all the clothes they discard when they move onto the next trend.

And so Chicfy was created (website in Spanish). It’s an app that’s part Instagram and part eBay. Users create their store, put up photos of the clothes they want to sell, (usually relying heavily on the selfie photography style) and gain followers. These followers then buy the clothes and when they tire of them rework them into a different style that will encourage their own followers to buy something.

At some point someone needs to physically buy (or sew) the clothes, but instead of sitting unused in a closet, or ending up in a landfill, they get passed along, the way children’s winter boots used to go from oldest to youngest siblings until the soles wore out.

I personally don’t know anyone who uses the app, and the song that they use to advertise the service is an incredibly irritating earworm that has become a streaming hit. For an extreme minimalist, it could be a good way to opt out of the consumerist society that demands we buy only new, while still staying on the edge of what’s considered fashionable.

Now then, taking this to the next level, will buying new clothes become something only the rich do, while the rest of us buy progressively more worn-out wardrobes along some social-media-created scale of affordability?

Is good enough the real enemy of good?

Pareto Principle: the 80-20 ruleWhen it comes to productivity, you’ll often see people quote the aphorism often attributed to Voltaire: “Perfect is the enemy of good.” If we worry about being perfect, we won’t get anything done because perfection is impossible to achieve and we will never move on to other projects.

Or alternatively, we fall victim to the Nirvana fallacy, not starting anything because we know it will never be perfect.

One of the supposed cures for perfectionism is to ascribe to a belief in good enough. For most of my life, I’ve been a huge fan of the Pareto Principle, that 80% of the result from 20% of the effort is good enough. For the most part, it has worked too. I’m productive, I clear away to-do lists quickly, and my house is livable.

Then I met my husband. He’s not at all a good enough person. But neither is he a perfectionist. He’s a “do the job well until it’s finished” person. Yes, he does have perfectionist tendencies and believes that everything can always be improved upon, but he doesn’t let his perfectionist ideas get in the way of getting things done.

When facing most household and work projects, I used to get to 80% and say to myself: “Wow, what a difference. It’s mostly functional and much better than before.” And I’d stop. My husband, on the other hand, keeps going until he gets to 95% and everyone who comes into the house says: “Wow! That’s impressive!”

If I’m going to be honest with myself, impressive is much better than mostly functional.

This got me thinking. Why am I really a good enough person? Is it because I want to be productive? That I don’t want to fall into the never finishing or never starting traps? Not in the slightest. It’s because I’m lazy. Saying that good enough is a decent place to stop, allowed me to quit working on something. I didn’t need to put in more effort because I wasn’t really interested in great, only in good enough. And, having made this confession to myself, I realized that perfect is not the enemy of good. The true enemy is good enough.

  • At work, when preparing emails to clients, I’ve had to send out the email a few times because of errors in the mail merge fields.
  • In the kitchen, the plastic containers were mostly accessible, but getting that one we use only rarely was a real pain to reach.
  • On the bookshelf, everything fit but it wasn’t as visually appealing as it could have been.

Since adopting a good (or great) approach to projects instead of the borderline good enough, my productivity is even higher at work, my kitchen is much more usable, and my house always generates a “wow” any time someone new visits.

How about you? Which for you is the bigger enemy of good? Perfect or good enough?

Flattening the Never Finishing Monster

We want to again welcome guest author Alex Fayle, the writer and professional organizer behind the helpful anti-procrastination website Someday Syndrome. This is his third post of three in a series on fighting procrastination.

We’ve vanquished the Getting Started Monster, conquered the No Momentum Monster and now all that’s left is to finish up. You’ve uncluttered your space and managed to keep at it until everything is nicely streamlined. You’ve even put things back where they belong.

Well, almost everything. You have a few things that don’t fit in your current storage spaces, so you’ve left them on top of your desk while you figure out what type of storage you need for them exactly.

And then months pass with them still on your desk. A few bits and bobs not done don’t really matter you tell yourself every time you see the pile of things waiting to be given a home.

But it does matter because from that pile of things not put away the clutter starts to grow again, creeping out from that spot to take over the office again.

When we don’t finish projects we leave the door open to chaos. We let the Never Finishing Monster into our lives and everything around the place needs just a few adjustments to finish, but nothing’s totally completed. The baseboard is missing on the living room trim. The bedroom needs curtains. The email inbox still has a few dozen messages from two months ago waiting to be looked at.

Why don’t we totally finish? Because often we leave the fiddly bits to the end, the stuff that we’re not quite sure what to do with, or the stuff that we hate doing.

Dedicating Time

Fortunately, unlike getting started and moving forward, there is a trick to kill the Never Finishing Monster — it’s called the Get It Done Sprint.

I use this all the time with my writing. I’ll start a project and move it forward slowly and steadily but as I get closer to the end of something I slow down to a crawl that wouldn’t win a race against 80 year old snails.

When I notice that I’ve reached this point, I schedule a block of time (for my writing projects a week is usually a good amount of time) where I dedicate several hours a day getting the project done. The Never Finishing Monster doesn’t stand a chance against such dedicated effort.

It’s like the end of a 10km race — you pace yourself throughout the race until the finish line comes into sight and you sprint to the end.

Apply this same thinking to your organizing projects. When you almost reach the end, change your approach to the project and commit to getting it done within a very specific (and very short) timeframe. Schedule a day to go buy the supplies you need and enlist (or hire) help to put in that extra bit of effort to wrap up the project.

And don’t delay. Schedule the sprint as soon as possible. The longer you leave the project unfinished, the less likely you’ll get around to it and the more likely all your hard work will undo itself.

So tell me, what’s left to get finished in your house and when will you schedule the Get It Done Sprint that will squash the Never Finishing Monster flat?

Vanquishing the Getting Started Monster

We want to welcome guest author Alex Fayle, the writer and professional organizer behind the helpful anti-procrastination website Someday Syndrome. This is his first post of three in a series on fighting procrastination.

Has this ever happened to you?

You decide to get your bedroom, kitchen, garage, or whatever organized. You get a book and read about it. You watch an organizing show and take notes. You then plan out how you’re going to tackle the room and what you want it to look like afterward. You know all the steps that it’ll take to go from start to finish. You even know how long it will take and you have resources lined up to help you.

And yet you do nothing.

You know that the block comes from a combination of inertia and a fear of the unknown, failure, success, or whatever. You could probably talk for an hour about why you’re not starting.

And yet you still do nothing.

If you think this post will give you some trick, or little game to play with yourself, I’m sorry to disappoint. There’s only one thing to get yourself started – and that’s getting started.

Yeah, real helpful, I know. Unfortunately it’s the truth. If you aren’t willing take action, take even a small step toward your dreams, then there’s nothing I can do to help you.

Achieving your dreams requires work. Once you get into it you might not think of it as work because you enjoy it so much, but it’s hard work.

My passion is writing and yet every time I go to start a new project, I create a huge monster out of Getting Started and play at running away from it, doing everything but actually typing words into the computer. And then by simply opening up my computer and writing the first sentence the monster disappears and my passion for writing takes over again.

In the meantime, however, I’ve let the Getting Started Monster distract me for huge blocks of time.

Don’t let the Getting Started monster hold you back from your uncluttering projects (or any other project you haven’t got around to yet).

Fortunately it’s easy to beat the Getting Started Monster: simply write down each time you start something and keep a log of all the projects you’ve successfully started. Then post the log wherever you most procrastinate about not moving towards your goals. That might be the living room, the bedroom, the back deck, but I highly doubt it’s the office, so don’t post the log there.

This log celebrates the moments when you started taking action and serves as a reminder of the number of times in the past that you have started something so that when you feel the big scary Getting Started Monster creeping up behind you, you can look at your list of new starts and say “Ha! You don’t scare me! I start things all the time!”

By choosing to get started, you take active control of your life and you don’t let your fears or inertia keep you from achieving your goals.

So tell me – what version of the Getting Started Monster have you vanquished recently?

Instructions for decluttering your home (in less than 500 words)

Again we want to welcome guest author Alex Fayle, the writer behind the helpful anti-procrastination website Someday Syndrome.

One of the most frequent questions I ever get asked about organizing is the process. How do you make the decisions to get rid of things? While there are many tips and tricks you can use to ease the streamlining process, it all comes down to 5 easy steps:

  1. Set yourself a goal “I am going to sort half this room before bed” or “I’m going to streamline the contents of this one box.”
  2. Figure out broad categories and where you are going sort each category into.
  3. Sort your stuff, moving systemically through the space, and not bouncing back and forth.
  4. Purge what you don’t want.
  5. Stop when you’ve reached your goal.

Use the sorting time to reminisce about the objects — don’t make any decisions at this point. Allow the emotions to come up and clear themselves out so that when it comes to the streamlining stage you are free from the emotional ties and can make more objective decisions about them.

If the idea of sorting overwhelms you, give yourself some early victories and do a walk-through of the space, choosing to remove a few large things that will open up the space quickly.

After sorting:

  • Take one category and if you can, move it out of the space in which you are working, and into a clear space (like the dining room). This allows you to concentrate on the one category and not have to face the rest all at once.
  • Ask yourself two questions: Need it? Love it? If you can’t say yes to either then get rid of it. Life is too short to fill out our spaces with things we’re indifferent to.
  • Take the things you are not going to keep out of the house as quickly as possible. The longer they stay the more likely they will come back into the house.
  • Give yourself rewards – for example out of fifty childhood books you’ve never reread but have kept for sentimental reasons, keep five and store them in a place of honor where you can see them and appreciate the memories associated with them.

There are two instances in which you stop for the day even if you are not done:

  1. If you find yourself hitting a “brain fog” where nothing makes sense or you find yourself holding on to everything you are reviewing.
  2. If you have hit a manic state and start tossing everything without looking at it.

Simple, yes? So now tell us, what are you going to streamline this week?

Sharing space and dealing with moments of chaos

Today we joyfully welcome Alex Fayle, author of the blog Someday Syndrome, as a guest author. He is a former procrastinator who now helps people break the procrastination obstacle so they can find freedom and start living the life they desire. Also, he’s a really nice guy. Welcome, Alex!

There are many wonderful things about living with others, but dealing with their clutter is most certainly not one of them. Living with my partner (and before that roommates) has always been a special challenge during times of emotional stress.

You see, when I’m sailing through life, everything finds its way back to its place quickly because I put everything away as soon as I use it. However, when I’m feeling chaotic, you can’t see the bedroom floor and nothing goes back where it belongs. I nest using clothes and papers.

When I lived alone, it didn’t bother me. When I was feeling this way, I’d just wade through the clothes to find the bed, knowing that I’d get out of the funk and get things cleaned up sooner or later.

Now that I live with my partner in a very tiny apartment, I can’t let the chaos take over too much.

We’re both human, though, and the chaos does hit, sometimes at the same time but usually at different moments (meaning one wants to clean while the other is in a nesting mode).

Living with others offers a challenge to staying organized because if one person is feeling chaotic, their clutter encourages others to let their own organizing slack off: “If his stuff is all over the place, why should I clean up mine?”

Say you’re in a chaotic moment and your partner starts ranting at you about the mess you’re leaving around. What would you do? In my case, my inner teenager comes out and I want to make the mess even worse just to get back at the unfair authority-figure ranting.

Let’s say however, that you’re more mature than I am, and recognize the ranting is not an attack on your intrinsic goodness. Instead, you use it to move yourself out of the chaos, dealing with the physical side first and letting the emotional clutter clear itself out. How wonderful, no?

But what happens if it’s your companion(s) that let the clutter take over? How do you deal with it?

Here are 3 Definitely Don’t and 3 Possibly Do actions.

Definitely Don’t:

  1. Don’t nag. It’ll just bring out the inner teenager and they might rebel and do things on purpose just to piss you off.
  2. Don’t get judgmental. People in a negative state don’t need negative reinforcement. Besides, it’s not like you’ve never had moments of clutter, hmmm???
  3. You can re-order the place yourself, but don’t do it with a “how great am I?” nor with a martyr attitude. Do it because you want to or not at all. A superiority complex will only cause more problems in the end.

Possibly Do:

  1. Live with the chaos and hope that the person will snap out of it soon. After all, you go through chaotic periods too, I’m sure.
  2. Suggest an order the house day and make it a big fun event. Put on music, dress up in maid outfits (or at least tie funny colored scarves on your head) and do a re-ordering.
  3. Re-order the place on your own and hope that the calm space will bring calm to the other person/people.

Now it’s your turn. How do you deal with the clutter in the home caused by multiple people experiencing the ups and downs of life at different rates