Comparing video streaming services

The way we watch TV and movies is changing. So-called “time-shifted” television and on-demand movies make it possible to see just the programs we’re interested in when we have the time to watch. I love this practice because it lets me get work and family activities completed first, and save TV watching for when my schedule allows it.

There are many ways to access on-demand movies and television shows. Each has its own pros and cons. In this article, I’ll look at some of the most popular options, describing the benefits and drawbacks of each.


Netflix started out as a way to rent DVDs through the mail, and today it provides streaming television and movies to millions of users. I’ve been a customer for about two years and I enjoy the service quite a bit.


  1. Compatibility. Netflix is available on the iPad, Android devices, the Nook, Kindle Fire, the web, iPhone, Nintendo Wii and more. If you’ve got a connected smart device, it just might run Netflix.
  2. Original programming. Netflix has produced at least two high-quality original TV shows. Lilyhammer starting Steve Van Zant of The Sopranos and Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band was a delightful fish-out-of-water story that put a New York City mob boss in Lilyhammer, Norway, via a witness protection program. Meanwhile, House of Cards starring Kevin Spacey takes a look at the hard-scrabble world of D.C. politics. Netflix is also working to revive Arrested Development, which Fox shut down in 2006.
  3. Navigation. Using Netflix is easy. The company has released several updates to its web app and device-specific applications. It’s clear the team is determined to produce a high-quality product.
  4. The queue. You can identify shows or movies you’d like to see and store them in a queue. When you’re ready to watch, simply open your queue and make a choice from among those you’ve saved.


  1. Mediocre selection. Overall, Netflix’s selection is mediocre. The TV selection is better than the movies. Once you’ve seen the ones you’ve heard of, you’re left with obscure documentaries and other films that didn’t make a splash at the box office. Now, many of them are quite good, but be aware that you might not find the latest summer smash in Netflix for quite some time.
  2. Cost. It’s not expensive, but at $7.99 for access to streaming content (DVD rentals are more), it adds up over time.
  3. Search isn’t great. It can take a while to find a title you’d like to see from among the many thousands on offer.
  4. Not very kid-friendly. Netflix features a “kid mode” that only presents child-appropriate content, but anyone can defeat it with two taps, no password required.

Hulu Plus

Hulu Plus is the paid version of Hulu, the online streaming service that works in a web browser, iPad, iPhone and more.


  1. Kid mode done right. Unlike Netflix, Hulu Plus requires a password to exit its kid-safe mode.
  2. Fantastic TV selection. Hulu often gets episodes of popular television shows the day after they run, so you don’t wait. TV really is Hulu’s main strong point.
  3. Wide device support. Hulu Plus is available on many devices, from the Xbox to the iPad to Android tablets and phones.
  4. Nice image quality. I’ve watched several programs on my 27″ display and my HD television (via Apple TV) and they always look great.
  5. Picking up where you left off. You can start a program on, say, your iPad and pick up where you left off on your computer (to be fair, other services do this, too).


  1. Abysmal movie selection. This is a sticking point for most streaming services but it seems to be a real issue for Hulu. I can often find something to watch on Netflix. On Hulu, I stick with TV. The movie selection is not to my liking at all.
  2. Cost. Just like Netflix, Hulu Plus will run you $7.99 per month. Not a lot on its own, but it adds up when purchased along side other streaming services.


The PBS app for iPhone and iPad is very nice. Here are a few things I like about it.


  1. The scheduling feature is quite helpful. Tell the app your home location to browse a full programming calendar. You can even create reminders to catch upcoming shows.
  2. Favorites. After creating a free account, you can monitor your favorite shows and receive notifications of relevant information.
  3. Great navigation. This app is beautifully laid out and easy to use.
  4. It’s free!


  1. Restricted to PBS programming. That’s not a bad thing, especially for PBS fans, but the drawback is obvious: you can’t watch anything other than PBS shows.
  2. Some series are incomplete. For example, I was able to find Julia Child’s Cooking with Master Chefs, but not The French Chef (which I prefer).


Apple’s media behemoth iTunes is a great choice for people who want access to current TV and movies in HD.


  1. TV shows are current and movies often hit iTunes when they’re released on DVD.
  2. 720p and 1080p HD programs are available.
  3. The iTunes software is available for Macs and Windows PCs.
  4. Renting is less expensive than buying.
  5. The iTunes Store is updated weekly, so content is always fresh.
  6. Apple’s iCloud lets you store iTunes purchases on Apple’s servers for playback on any approved, compatible device.


  1. Unless you’re using iTunes on a Windows machine, you must have an Apple device to view rentals and/or purchases. There’s no Android support here.
  2. A la carte pricing. This sounds good, but it’s a lot less economical than the all-you-can-eat flat fee of services like Netflix and Hulu. Every time you want to watch anything, you must pay for it (unless you’ve bought it outright, of course).

Amazon Prime Streaming

Prime is Amazon’s service that includes two-day shipping on qualifying items plus access to its library of streaming video. It’s a good deal for those who shop with Amazon and love streaming video.


  1. Cost. At $79 per year, Amazon is much cheaper than the other services listed here (save PBS). That works out to about $6.58 per month, and includes the shipping benefit.
  2. Prime members with an Amazon Kindle can “borrow” books as well, essentially turning Amazon into a lending library.


  1. Selection. It’s not good. The movie section is especially lacking. You’ll find some hits that are around 20 years old, but other than that you have to dig.


There’s also a newcomer to the group. As of yesterday, audio streaming service Rdio has added streaming video to is business: Vdio. It’s only available to Rdio Unlimited subscribers in the US and UK for now. In the few hours I spent looking at it, I found the selection to be small in number but big in names. Recent hits like Lincoln, Les Mis, The Hobbit and Life of Pi are available right now. Vdio is young but definitely a service to watch. (Sorry for that pun).

So there’s a look at the more popular video streaming services. There are more, of course, but this post is already long enough. It’s really nice when you can schedule TV viewing on your own terms. The whole process becomes more efficient with less time wasted. Have fun watching TV in “the cloud!”

Modo modular desktop organizer on Kickstarter

The organizers of a new Kickstarter project got in touch with us yesterday because they thought our readers might be interested in the modular desktop organizer they’re trying to crowdfund. Watch the following video:

The design seems both simple and flexible. We’d love to see them produce the base in a variety of woods though. While sustainable, bamboo isn’t always our cup of tea.

At a pre-order price of $26, we’re still impressed.

Organize your photos and videos with This Life

Many people use their computers to manage four things: work, browsing the Internet, music, and photos. For my family, photographs are a big deal. My iPhoto library is bulging at 32 GB, and that’s with 2009 – 2010 archived on an external drive. In short, my wife and I take a lot of pictures with our digital cameras and smart phones.

Keeping the lot organized is a challenge. Not to mention sharing with far-flung family and friends, as well as finding that one shot you’re after. While I love Apple’s iPhoto, I’ve been looking for something that’s platform-agnostic (Mac, Windows, whatever), easy, tidy and even fun. There are many contenders, but for right now, This Life is what we’re using.

There are a few things I like about This Life, and I’ll describe my favorites. It recently came out of its beta testing period and is now available to the public.

Getting Photos Into This Life

You can’t start using This Life until you fill it with photos. Fortunately, the process is easy. The company has made a free “uploader” application for both Macintosh and Windows. Simply download it, open it and follow the instructions. It will begin uploading any photos you throw at it. Depending on how big your library is, it may take a while, so go make a sandwich.

You can also import photos from many popular services like Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, Twitter, Picasa, SmugMug and more. I moved my Instagram and Facebook photos over to it easily.

Once your photos are in This Life, it’s time to start organizing.

Who’s Who

Many photo-management applications offer face recognition, but I haven’t found one that works as well as This Life’s. Facial recognition technology lets you give a name to a face in one of your photos. This Life then looks for that same face in the other photos and assigns that name to it. The idea being that you can search photos by face (“Jane Smith”). It isn’t 100 percent accurate but, boy, does it work well. It also runs in the background so you can do other things on your machine.

Once you give it a name/face combination to ponder, This Life gets to work. The next time you launch it, you’ll be given a few guesses to confirm. The next time, a few more. As This Life gets more confident, it does greater and greater batches and eventually leaves you alone. It works well.


This Life also handles duplicates very well. Specifically, if it finds two copies of the exact same photograph, it keeps the one with the highest resolution and deletes the others. That’s very handy and saves me from having to find those on my own.


There’s no This Life application for the Mac or Windows (aside from that uploader utility). Instead, you use it in a web browser. It’s organized in a very clever way. By default there are two “views,” or ways to look at your photos: My Story and Library.

The library view presents all of of your photos at once, in chronological order, from left to right (oldest on the left, newest on the right). There are three rows of photos and a pretty little drop shadow makes them appear to be resting on a big table. A slider on the bottom of the screen lets you move back and forth, and if you have a mouse with a scroll wheel, that will work, too.

Click any photo to zoom in and share via Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr or email. You can also leave a comment and perform simple editing tasks like “Image Magic,” which attempts to correct for lighting and color balance (hit or miss in my testing) and rotation. Finally, you can delete the image or download the full-resolution original to your computer.

That’s great, but the real beauty is in Stories.


This Life lets you group photos into what it calls Stories. You can think of Stories as albums, but they’re more than that. This Life’s developers refer to them as “living albums — they are a dynamic collection of photos, videos and notes.” I’m a big fan of This Life Stories.

Creating a new Story is simple. Just click “New Story” in the upper left and give it a name. Adding photos and/or videos to a story is even easier: just place your mouse over it and click the heart that appears. That’s it. Honestly, you can add dozens of photos to a Story in seconds. To switch to a different Story, select it in the drop-down menu and resume clicking hearts.

Stories are also collaborative. You can invite others to contribute to a story and upload their own photos and videos. My family has a reunion ever year, and everyone takes pictures. It was fun to invite them to my “Family Vacation ’12” Story and see their contributions come in.

There’s more to love like searching by location, which shows all photos taken at a certain geographic location, and tags, which lets you describe what’s happening in the image. This makes search very powerful, as you can enter “Jane eating cake at Grandma’s house” and find exactly those shots. Super.

Sign Up Options

This Life is free to use for up to a certain amount of storage, and additional plans increase based on the amount of storage you require. There are many photo management options out there, and This Life is definitely worth your consideration.

Review: Martha Stewart Home Office with Avery Dry Erase Decals

We receive a lot of offers to test products and write reviews for the site, and we almost always decline. Very rarely do the items look like they would actually be useful. A few weeks ago, however, we got an offer from the Martha Stewart company to try out their new dry erase boards that looked like they might be useful, so we agreed to give them a try. I received the new Martha Stewart Home Office with Avery Dry Erase Decals (free of cost from the manufacturer) to test out a few days later. Two of the key features are that they can stick to many surfaces (including walls, stainless steel, glass, and plastic) and they’re removable (and, therefore, can be repositioned as many times as you want).

At first glance, they look like giant gift labels (about the size of a piece of notebook paper), but they’re really a bit more than that. They can be used to write reminders, to do lists, a grocery list, or even a fun, positive quote for the day. Since I really like to handwrite lists, I was curious to see how well they would work.

I decided to use one of the decals for a task list and placed it in a location that was very visible (so that I would be reminded to use it) — on the glass window of the main entry door to our house. This was the perfect spot for me as I often remind myself to take things when I’m leaving home by putting them by that door. To remember everything on my list, all I had to do was snap a picture of it before heading out to run errands.

Here’s my to do list from last week:

I used the other label on the wall adjacent to my daughter’s room door. This time, I wrote down books I wanted to remember to buy for her. It could be used by older children (or their parents) to jot down updates to their schedule (like a change to an extracurricular event). Or, you could write the instructions for a new recipe or a note to call a client at a certain time. Perhaps you need a visual nudge that says, “Work on important project today!” (that could work well if the decal is placed by your workspace) or a happy face to help you get through an eventful day.

The decals were very easy to apply to both the glass window and wall, and I had no problem removing or repositioning them on either surface. It didn’t leave a residue or take off wall paint. The writing surface is very smooth and erasing was just as easy as using a typical dry erase board. They work well for capturing ideas and reminders, though you will need dry erase markers close by. I will be continuing to test the decals in my home office (to write future blog topics) as well as on the fridge (to write a grocery list). They seem to be a nice solution for someone living in an apartment with restrictions on nailing things into the wall. If you want to give them a try for your home, office, or dorm room, you can find them on Amazon and at Staples. They cost in the $3 to $5 price range and come in a variety of styles, which is relatively inexpensive especially in comparison to most traditional dry erase boards.

Are you ready for an uncluttered career?

I’ve written a handful of times over the years that I believe there are two types of jobs that help people achieve an uncluttered life. Those jobs are:

  1. The immersed career. A career that you love with a deep passion, surrounded by great colleagues who support and believe in a similar vision, and that is an integral part and reflection of who you are. Your career and your personal life bleed into each other, happily.
  2. The detached job. A job that has regular hours, no demands on your time beyond your scheduled work day, generates enough income for a comfortable lifestyle, great colleagues, and a positive corporate culture. You clock in, do your job, have no major complaints about being at work, clock out, and rarely think about work when you’re not there.

Other types of jobs lend themselves to creating frustration, unproductive stress, and disappointment. If you are immersed in a career with people you can’t stand, you’ll be miserable. If you’re in a detached job but have a boss that calls you on your free time expecting you to drop everything and come back to the office, you’ll be resentful. And, in case it isn’t obvious, I’m of the belief that misery, resentment, frustration, and unproductive stress are clutter.

If your job is clutter, financial circumstances might make quitting it difficult, especially if you’re in a part of the world where lining up a new job is very difficult. If your career is clutter, you have the financial aspects to consider, as well as quitting can leave you feeling like you’re cutting off a part of yourself. For many people, though, the clutter of a bad job or career may be too much and worth quitting and taking the risks of something new.

If you’re wanting to leave your current employer and looking to have an immersed career, I strongly recommend checking out the new book The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau. His book is an efficient blueprint for creating a job that helps you to achieve your vision of an uncluttered life.

Before I started my writing career, I was afraid of all the things that could go wrong: What if no one wanted to read what I had to say? What if I never sold a single article? What if I hated writing from home and missed a traditional office environment? What if? What if? What if? Having fears about starting your own business or pursuing the career of your dreams is common. So are fears about finances and being able to pay the bills when your revenue stream is anything but certain. But if you’re ready to ditch a cluttered job or career and face your fears, Chris’ book can help with seasoned, practical advice and case studies of dozens of people who have done exactly what he recommends and succeeded.

The book is rich with real-world wisdom, but my favorite part of the text relates to his recommendation to create a one-page business plan. If you can’t describe what you plan to do in a single page, you’re going to be slow to act and slow to find support for your idea. You need to know where you’re going and how you want to get there (just like with all things uncluttering related). In short, you should be able to explain your “product or service, a group of customers, and a way to get paid” in one page. If you have ever seen a business plan, almost all are notebook size and brimming with unclear business lingo and buzzwords. Chris advises you to abandon that and just get to the heart of what you want to do. Have a clear vision for your future. You can download or print a free copy of his one-page plan at if you’re interested in creating one for yourself.

Are you frustrated, unproductively stressed, and miserable in your cluttered job? Are you ready for a change that will land you into an immersed career where you’re doing something you love or in a detached job that allows you to pursue your other interests freely outside of work hours? What’s keeping you from letting go of job clutter? Would a giant push in a new direction help you to finally let go of the job clutter? Would a book like Chris Guillebeau’s The $100 Startup help you to work through some of your fears, make a plan, and help you get on the path to an uncluttered work life? Speaking from experience, I can say I’ve found an uncluttered career worth the risk of making a change. If you don’t like clutter in your home, do you really want it in your career?

Ask Unclutterer: What tools should I use to digitize my paper piles?

Reader Rose submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

Before I ask my question I have to tell you I am seriously not computer savvy. I don’t understand the lingo. My question is: Since technology changes so quickly and your article [“Scanning documents to reduce paper clutter“] was written 5 years ago, would you still recommend the same scanner, software etc. to be able to accomplish my purpose? Is it possible to use the scanner on my All-in-One printer? Does the software allow you to create categories to put the articles in? Please if you have a recommendation for the simplest to use of these items that would be so gratefully appreciated!

You’re asking a number of questions and all of them are fantastic! I’ll address them in my response, but be sure to check out the comments for even more answers from our readers.

Your first question is if I still recommend the same scanner and software for tackling a paper pile (or two or ten). The short answer is yes, I strongly recommend Fujitsu ScanSnaps, their scanning and optical character recognition (OCR) software, and DevonTHINK document organizing software. The long answer to that question is more nuanced.

In the long answer, I’ll tell you that you need to find equipment and software that works best for you. If you already own an all-in-one scanner, you likely have no need to go out and buy a new scanner. However, you may want to acquire software that provides OCR processing if the software with your scanner doesn’t have this capability. Or, if you’re comfortable with storing documents online, I suggest opening an Evernote account. After you scan a document, you can upload your files to Evernote, which can read words found on documents and in images and even some handwriting (and it lets you organize your papers, too, in a way that works best for you). And, if you want a great tutorial about Evernote, check out Brett Kelly’s terrific Evernote Essentials downloadable guide. There are numerous options available to you, not just the ScanSnap-DevonTHINK one I provided in the earlier article.

Since you don’t mention what all-in-one scanner you have, I don’t know if it has document organizing software as part of its package. Most don’t, but some do have these features. You can also just nicely organize the documents on your computer in folders like you do all the other work you save on your computer. I recommend saving all files as PDFs, because if this file type ever goes out of style, you can bet there will be conversion programs that will allow you to turn PDFs into whatever becomes the new standard. To save a file as a PDF, follow the instructions in “Printing to PDF.”

Next, you asked what is the simplest way to turn your physical paper pile into digital files — and the truth of the matter is the easiest way to do it is to have someone else do it for you. Simply do a search online to find local document scanning service providers. I also recommend checking out reviews on Angie’s List to be sure the company you’re going to have scan your papers is reputable and secure. Most companies will shred your documents after they scan them. There will still be some work for you before you hand off your papers and after you receive the digital files, but having someone other than yourself do the scanning is the easiest method. (Sort your papers before you give them to the scanning company so you are only paying for important documents to be scanned and then you’ll have to organize all the digital files once they have been scanned.)

My only additional notes are to be sure to back up all of your scanned documents saved on your computer to an online site like DropBox or the previously mentioned Evernote. The last thing you want to have happen is to lose all of the documents you so diligently digitized when the hard drive on your computer crashes (which it will). And, lastly, if you are doing the scanning yourself, don’t forget to shred all of your paperwork after you digitize it.

Thank you, Rose, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. Good luck digitizing your paper collection and kudos to you for taking on this worthwhile task. Since you were able to fill out a contact form on Unclutterer to send me this question, I already know you’re more computer savvy than you give yourself credit for being.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.

An uncluttered plunger, really

Every once in awhile, I’m truly impressed by what a product can do. The first time I used the Shazam application on my iPhone, I was in disbelief for hours (to this day, if someone told me magic is involved in its operation, I wouldn’t be surprised). I had a similar reaction when I saw a demonstration at the National Association of Professional Organizer’s conference of the new Rubbermaid Clean and Dry Plunger (yes, you just read that correctly, I was impressed by a toilet plunger … and you probably will be, too):

I didn’t over-sell that, right? The plunger has a NeverWet coating on it that prevents anything — water, bacteria, whatever else is in your toilet — from sticking to it. (NeverWet is like Rain-X on steroids, because it repels even more than water.) Which means that after you plunge your toilet, you can’t drip dirty water onto your floor or spread germs to the area where you store your plunger. Oils from your hands can destroy the NeverWet coating, so you can’t touch the plunger, but I’m not really sure that is something people usually do, anyway.

I’ll be honest, I never expected to be dazzled by a toilet plunger, but life is interesting that way. As far as uncluttered home maintenance products go, a plunger that doesn’t drip toilet water through my bathroom or spread germs is an advancement I can support.

And, once again, it should go without saying, but Rubbermaid did not pay me or give me anything to write this post. I sincerely just think it’s awesome.

The Cubby: An uncluttered coat hook

Well designed, superior quality, visually appealing, utilitarian goods that make life more organized and less complicated are the types of products I look for when shopping for housewares and office supplies. I try to only have things in my spaces that, as William Morris so aptly identified as his ownership goals, are beautiful and useful. When I no longer feel inspired by an item or find it helpful, I get rid of it.

I recently stumbled upon a Kickstarter project for a simple device that meets all of my qualifications for making life more organized and less complicated. The Cubby makes traditional coat hooks look like they’re not living up to their potential:

Key ring, phone, gloves, sunglasses, and/or wallet fit right inside the pouch, and a purse, scarf, laptop bag, and/or coat on the exterior of the pouch. It’s made with some recycled materials and is fully recyclable. It’s easy to use, attractive in a modern space, and would be perfect for a reception station near the primary entry to your home or office.

Have you come across a better mouse trap? Do you know anyone who is designing or has designed a high-quality, visually appealing, utilitarian good that helps to make life more organized and less complicated? Share your finds in the comments.

And, again, I have no affiliation with this product and am not benefitting in any way from talking about it. I simply think it’s an uncluttered and useful product.

New storage products for the home

As I mentioned last week, I recently attended the National Association of Professional Organizers’ 24th annual conference in Baltimore. One of my favorite parts of the conference is the exposition hall, which is filled with manufacturers, retailers, and service providers who work closely with the professional organizing industry. Many of these providers use the conference to introduce new items that aren’t yet on the market, as well as to solicit suggestions for how professional organizers think products can be improved.

Today, I want to feature some more of these new and yet-to-be released products so you can see the latest trends in organizing. A couple of the items are in the “new-to-me” category, but most of them will also be new to you. To be clear, I’m not getting any sort of payment or kick-backs for writing about these products. These are simply the items I found interesting and helpful for common organizing problems.

I’ve grouped the items into themes, and today I want to feature storage solutions —

The Rubbermaid Company has two new products that make me very happy. One of my biggest complaints about large storage bins is that they are more like buckets than useful bins. Small items always sift down to the bottom and to find anything you have to dump everything out to get to it. Rubbermaid is addressing this problem first with their Bento Box with Flex Dividers:

It’s difficult to tell from this image, but inside the box are dividers that are attached to the side of the box that pop out if you want divided interior space or rest flush against the sides of the box if you don’t want dividers. The Bento Boxes are available online and at Target stores.

The second Rubbermaid item is a tray insert for their Clever Store plastic bins. The trays make it easy to store small items in a separate compartment from the deep bin below the tray. I think they’re perfect for toy storage where a doll and her small accouterments can be stored in the tray and then all of the doll’s clothes could fit in the lower bin.

Next up is a custom drawer organizer that has won my heart after just a week of use. The organizer consists of a flexible mat (mine is neon green, I won a sample during a workshop) and 15 dividers. The mat can be cut to fit any drawer and the dividers can be placed anywhere you need them. The dividers grip to the mat and can be repositioned easily. I thought the dividers were going to pop off every time I moved a utensil, but they don’t. I’ve decided the whole DrawerDecor Organizer is magic:

The last product I want to discuss is something that I saw and instantly knew would be perfect for all the visual processors who read the blog. The product is called Pliio and it is a product that fits inside your clothes when you fold them. (It stays in the clothes.) You can use it in your clothes that you put in drawers like a filing system, but that isn’t my favorite way to use the product. What I like best about it is that it allows you to put your clothes on shelves like books:

If you’re someone who puts things in drawers and then instantly forgets those those things exist, the Pliio is great for you. Being able to line your clothes up on your shelves lets you see each item in a highly organized fashion. The product creator (her name is Clare and that is her in the picture on HSN) told me there are versions of the Pliio for sheets in the works, which I think would work wonders in linen closets.

Have you seen any new storage products that can help to organize the home? Share your finds and/or comments about these items in the comments.

Transformer Jacket is more than meets the eye

We’ve reviewed Scottevest products in the past, and we’re big fans of their approach to space-saving design.

They recently sent us one of their new Transformer Jackets for us to review. Like their other jackets, it has 20 pockets, which can reasonably save you a small carry-on when flying.

What’s nice about the Transformer is that the sleeves are held on by magnets and they come right off when you pull firmly on them. They also reattach much easier than if they were secured with zippers.

The jacket also has a nice and simple aesthetic that belies the fact that it has so many hidden pockets. The jacket is available for pre-order starting today.

Twelve strategies for achieving your goals from the book Willpower

One of the topics covered extensively in Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength is goal setting and achievement. The book’s authors Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney identify 12 proven strategies for successfully reaching your goals:

  1. Having a positive attitude about the future. A general sense of optimism about the future helps people to believe they will ultimately achieve their goals.
  2. Formulating affirmative, long-term objectives. Lofty, big-picture objectives like “finding an interesting career” and “having a good family life” keep your momentum going even when there might be small setbacks along the way. “To stoke motivation and ambition, focus … on the road ahead.”
  3. Goals and objectives cannot conflict with each other or with your world view. The more congruent your goals and objectives are, the more likely you are to achieve them.
  4. When setting specific goals, make them on a monthly plan. The idea is that “life rarely goes exactly according to plan, and so the daily plans can be demoralizing as soon as you fall off schedule. With a monthly plan, you can make adjustments. If a delay arises one day, your plan is still intact.”
  5. Focus on just one large goal at a time. If you try to stop smoking and lose weight at the same time, you’ll probably end up failing at both. Stop smoking first, then move onto the weight loss (or whatever large goals apply to you).
  6. Precommit to success and don’t give yourself alternatives. When speaking, say that you are un unclutterer, not that you are becoming one. If you are trying to follow a healthful diet, make rules like “I don’t eat doughnuts” and “I eat green vegetables every night for dinner.” When you precommit to how you will behave, you won’t snack on a doughnut in the break room at work because you are not a person who eats doughnuts.
  7. Use David Allen’s Getting Things Done system. The authors are big fans of Allen’s system for creating precise next actions and using the tickler file. Knowing exactly what you need to do next and when items need to be completed frees up your energy to focus on the work and not trying to remember to do the work.
  8. Work on your goal every day. High school valedictorians are rarely students who cram for exams. Rather, they review material and consistently study every day. The daily habit of working toward a goal produces dependable, positive, long-term results.
  9. Set your goals publicly. “People care more about what other people know about them than about what they know about themselves. A failure, a slipup, a lapse in self-control can be swept under the carpet pretty easily if you’re the only one who knows about it … But if other people know about it, it’s harder to dismiss. After all, the other person might not buy the excuses that you make, even though you find them quite satisfying.”
  10. Help others. Navy SEAL commandos going through Hell Week are more likely to survive the week and become SEALs when they have “the ability to step outside of their own pain, put aside their own fear, and ask: How can I help the guy next to me? They had more than the ‘fist’ of courage and physical strength. They also had a heart large enough to think about others.”
  11. Monitor your actions daily. Keep track of your progress using a smart phone app or computer program, write a sentence or two in a journal, or update your progress on Twitter. Then, be sure to review your entries so you can see how well you have progressed toward your goal.
  12. Give yourself relevant rewards for achieved milestones. Obviously, achieving your goal will be extremely rewarding, but the road to success might be a long one. Set up milestones throughout the process and award yourself when you meet these milestones.

Book review: Willpower

Choosing to become an unclutterer doesn’t take much effort. You decide you want to get rid of the distractions that get in the way of the life you desire. That aspect of the process is simple — but what comes next isn’t necessarily a walk in the park.

Actually becoming an unclutterer requires a good amount of energy and willpower to purge the distractions, set up working organizing systems, consistently maintaining the order you’ve established, and pursuing the life you desire. It’s not hard, but after a full day at the office and tending to other responsibilities, your energy levels may be spent. It can be more tempting to plop down in front of the television and turn off your brain or to escape into a good book than it is to sort mail, put away folded laundry, file important documents, take a load of your child’s out-grown clothes to charity, and spend quality time with your kids, favorite hobby, or whatever you have deemed truly important to you.

In the recently published book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, authors Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney explore the science behind willpower and self-control. They analyzed findings from hundreds of experiments to see why some people are able to keep their focus and determination for extensive periods of time and others aren’t. Their book also looks at how David Blaine can complete incredible acts of endurance, how to predict which graduate students will become tenured professors, why some anti-smoking and anti-drinking programs are more successful than others, why David Allen’s Getting Things Done method works for so many people, and other case studies that personalize the research. Best of all, they report on proven methods for strengthening these skills, so readers can increase their willpower and self-control.

There is so much valuable information in this book that today will not be the only time I write about it. However, I do want to mention a few of the strategies they provide for increasing your willpower:

  • Physically remove the temptation and/or distraction. For example, if you want to stop watching television during the week, remove the power cord from your television and stick it in a drawer. If you’re tempted to jump on Facebook instead of working on a report, install a program on your computer that bans you from looking at Facebook for a set amount of time or reports to your boss if you’re looking at Facebook. One of the reasons Baumeister and Tierney say AA is effective at getting people to stop drinking is because the attendees are at an AA meeting and not in a bar.
  • Take on a seemingly unrelated improvement in behavior. Working on your posture or using complete sentences every time you speak (“Yes, I would like a drink of milk” instead of “Yep”) will help to increase willpower and self-control in other areas of your life, as well as in the area of your attention.
  • Set routines and stick to them. The book’s authors report that people who floss their teeth every day tend to have more willpower and self-control than those who don’t. Initially “… use your self-control to form a daily habit, and you’ll produce more with less effort in the long run.” Stated another way, start by using your willpower to create positive daily habits and routines. In three to six months, you’ll simply do these regular tasks without much effort and you can use your extra energy on larger tasks that require more self-control. Tasks on auto-pilot don’t use the same stockpile of energy as one’s you have to consciously complete.
  • Surround yourself with people who can help you build your willpower and self-control. This might include getting an accountability partner to help keep you on track when you’re uncluttering or hiring a professional organizer to guide you as you tackle the mess on your desk. If you want to start exercising, it will benefit you to work with a personal trainer or to join an online forum to talk about your progress with other people using the same exercise system. It’s easier to not smoke when you’re surrounded by people who aren’t smoking and it’s easier to be organized when surrounded by people who are organized.

As mentioned previously, this book is stocked with scientific research that provides a wealth of tips and strategies for improving your willpower and self-control. While reading the text, I was constantly amazed by how much of it was directly linked to uncluttered living and creating what the authors call “orderly cues.” To learn this information for yourself, check out Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. Also, continue to check back to our posts as I plan to refer to the text a few more times over the next couple weeks. The section of the book on teaching self-control strategies to children was incredibly helpful and I definitely want to share the information relevant to uncluttering with you all. I highly recommend this book to all of our readers, regardless of where you are on your uncluttering and organizing journey.