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.

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.

Four ideas for creating New Year’s resolutions

Are you considering some resolutions related to uncluttering and organizing? I always find it interesting to see how other people have approached this, because other people’s ideas can inspire some of my own. I’m hoping some of the things I’ve seen recently might inspire you, too.

Ask others for their ideas

A recent Mutts comic strip had one character who made a list of resolutions — for another character, not for himself. While that’s obviously not what I would recommend, it made me think that sometimes other people who know us well may have helpful insights and suggestions.

Consider resolutions to minimize your shopping

In The New York Times, Ann Patchett wrote about her 2017 “year of no shopping.” She did indeed shop for groceries and such — and as an author and a bookstore owner, she also bought books. But she didn’t buy things such as clothes and electronics, and only bought things like shampoo if she had used up everything she had on hand. She obviously comes from a life of abundance, but perhaps her experiences could still inspire others. The whole article is worth reading, but the following are a few excerpts:

My first few months of no shopping were full of gleeful discoveries. I ran out of lip balm early on and before making a decision about whether lip balm constituted a need, I looked in my desk drawers and coat pockets. I found five lip balms. …

The trick of no shopping isn’t just that you don’t buy things. You don’t shop. That means no trawling the sale section of the J. Crew website in idle moments. It means the catalogs go into the recycle bin unopened on the theory that if I don’t see it, I don’t want it.

Not shopping saves an astonishing amount of time. In October, I interviewed Tom Hanks about his collection of short stories in front of 1,700 people in a Washington theater. Previously, I would have believed that such an occasion demanded a new dress and lost two days of my life looking for one. In fact, Tom Hanks had never seen any of my dresses, nor had the people in the audience. I went to my closet, picked out something weather appropriate and stuck it in my suitcase. Done.

Patchett has decided to continue her no-shopping approach for now, even though the year is ending. That sure sounds like a resolution that worked well for her.

Look for things to stop doing

Oliver Burkeman, writing in The Guardian, had a list of three suggested resolutions for the new year. I’m not usually a fan of such lists, but this was one I liked. The following was his second resolution:

Select something to stop doing this year. … I mean something worthwhile, but that, if you’re honest, you don’t have time for. In our hyperbusy era, there’s an infinite number of potential things to do: emails to read, groups to join, ways to become a better person, parent, employee. Yet still we proceed as if “getting everything done” might be feasible. It isn’t. … Quit your book group; stop struggling to make dates with that hard-to-pin-down friend; accept you’ll never be a good cook. Not because those things are bad; because it’s the only way to do other things well.

I also liked his third idea: “Resolve to cut everyone a massive amount of slack, including yourself.”

Note: One of my own 2018 resolutions is to get back to reading more books, and I’m definitely not quitting my book group. But if I’m going to read more books, that means I need to figure out other things to stop doing.

Keep doing what works

Louise Hornor had a line in her quilting blog that resonated with me: “I resolve to keep on doin’ what I’m doin’.” If you have found ways of managing your stuff, your papers, and your time that work well for you, there’s no need to change.

Sunk costs and discontinuing things you’re doing

Don’t cling to a mistake just because you have spent a lot of time making it. — Banksy

I’ve written before that it’s perfectly okay to give up on a book. But there are plenty of other cases where you might want to give up on something — a TV series, a craft project, a hobby, a class, etc. — even if you’ve already put a lot of time (and perhaps money) into that thing. The time and money are already gone. The question is whether you now want to spend any more. As Margie Warrell wrote in Forbes, “Continuing down a path that isn’t taking you where you want to go for no other reason than you’ve already walked a long way … is crazy.”

Arianna Huffington spoke of the benefits she found from discontinuing some projects:

“Did you know that you can complete a project by dropping it?” Huffington told a women’s business audience. … She said that in her case, dropping projects — learning to ski and to speak German, for example — led to feelings of relief, not a sense of failure. And by dropping them, she was free to pursue the things she truly cared about.

How do you know when it’s time to give up on an activity, a project, etc.? In Harvard Business Review, Tony Schwartz suggested a number of questions related to pursuing business opportunities. But one question has broad applicability: “Is there a more enjoyable and productive way I could be investing my time and energy right now?”

Todd VanDerWerff, writing for the Vox website, had some suggestions on when to give up on a TV show. If you’re uncertain about a show, he provided a number of suggestions about how many episodes to watch before you decide to give up. But his number one rule was this:

You can — and should — ditch a show at any time, for any reason. … Sometimes you’ll realize a show is just rubbing you the wrong way, or you don’t like the lead actor, or whatever. And if that’s the case, turn it off. Find something else.

Sometimes you may just need to change tactics rather than give up on a project. For example, if you’re truly interested in learning another language but find yourself getting frustrated by your lack of progress, you may want to change your learning method and see if that helps. Some people do better with classes and some are fine with self-study, and there are many variations in both methods.

But sometimes you’ll find that the activity that sounded good just doesn’t work for you, even after giving it your best effort for a reasonable time. For example, I’ve discovered I have no aptitude for languages — no matter how much I’d like to become a fluent Spanish speaker it isn’t going to happen. So my time is better spent on other pursuits that are more fruitful and rewarding.

The Burner List: an interesting approach to to-do lists

“There are a billion to-do list apps and methods out there, and I think I’ve tried 900 million of them,” Jake Knapp wrote. He then went on to describe his own paper-based process, which he calls the Burner List, using a kitchen stove analogy.

He creates two columns on a piece of printer-size paper. The left column — the front burner — is devoted to his single most important project. He lists that project name (for example, “write book”) and then a series of to-dos related to that project. The to-dos are items that can be done in the next few days. The to-dos will not fill the whole column, and that’s fine.

The top of the right column is the back burner — the second most important project — and its to-dos. The bottom part of that column is the kitchen sink, which is where he captures the miscellaneous things he needs to do that aren’t part of either project. Things like “schedule eye exam” and “buy cat food” go here.

You can read more about Knapp’s process on Ideo’s blog or on Medium. He’s an engaging writer, and it’s a quick read.

Two aspects of Knapp’s approach grabbed my attention. The first was the obvious focus on moving his big projects forward — something that often gets neglected amidst all the kitchen-sink type items we all have. Corinne Purtill wrote an article entitled The to-do list is a tyrant that will keep your life and your goals small, which addressed the problem of “a constant focus on short-term tasks.” With Knapp’s to-do list, any lack of progress on the most important longer-term projects becomes painfully obvious.

I also noted Knapp’s comments on how he re-creates his list as items get done.

The Burner List is also disposable. It gets stale fast as you cross off finished to-dos. I “burn” through my list every few days and then recreate it, over and over. This act of recreation is important, because I always discard some unfinished tasks which no longer matter and I reconsider what belongs on the front burner right now.

Colter Reed wrote an interesting blog post about this idea of removing some unfinished tasks from your to-do list. The whole post is worth a look, but the following captures the core idea:

Tasks expire, just like anything in your fridge. It was relevant once, but not now. You missed the deadline. You don’t have as much free time now. It’s not important to you now. If you’re honest with yourself, it probably never was.

A task on your list is not a permanent commitment. … You can renegotiate the commitment at any time, especially if it’s just with yourself.

If the Burner List doesn’t resonate with you, perhaps one of the many of approaches I’ve written about before will be a better fit. There are also a huge number of apps for managing to-do items, one of which might work well for you. Or maybe you’ll want to create your own way of managing to-do items, just as Knapp did.

Taking a binge approach to organizing projects

Today National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) starts, 30 days of concentrated writing with the goal of producing a 50,000 word novel. Nearly 20 years old now, the month is a way for writers to set themselves a goal and a deadline, producing 1,667 words a day.

Why does it exist?

  • To provide motivation to writers who may find life getting in the way of writing regularly.
  • To provide a community of support in what is considered a rather solitary process.
  • To shut down the internal editor, the voice that blocks forward motion.
  • To gamify the writing process, giving writers the chance to score wins against the final word count.

I’ve done it a few times, although I only won it once. While in principle I think it’s a great idea, for me it creates too much anxiety and pressure. The binary win/lose option stresses me out and then I can’t actually focus on the writing. Author Chuck Wendig does a great job of taking a slightly tongue-in-cheek look at the pros and cons of working in this way.

For many people, however, it’s the exact motivation they need to finish something. Many popular authors have used the month to kickstart bestseller novels.

Unclutterer is focused on organizing and productivity not writing novels so why discuss it here? Because maybe for you, a binge approach to an organizing project you’ve been putting off may be just the thing you need to get going — and to reach the end.

Let’s break down NaNoWriMo into its component parts and transfer them to a hypothetical organizing project: unclutter and organize the kitchen cupboards.

NaNoWriMo goal: 50,000 words in 30 days
Organizing goal: 18 cupboards and drawers

NaNoWriMo daily goal: 1,667 words
Organizing daily goal: a little more than 1 cupboard or drawer every two days

NaNoWriMo support network: any number of online or local writing support groups and forums (or of course books and workbooks)
Organizing support network: the Unclutterer Forums, friends or family

NaNoWriMo gamification moment: daily concrete opportunity to “win”
Organizing gamification moment: daily concrete opportunity to “win”

NaNoWriMo internal editor silencer moment: with the daily goal and pressure of winning, there’s no time to allow doubt to creep in — it’s a “just do it” moment
Organizing doubt silencer: with a set two-day goal, there’s no opportunity to doubt decision — they simply have to be made

NaNoWriMo positive peer pressure moment: if a daily word count is missed, it can be spread through the rest of the month, or binge-written one day to catch up
Organizing positive peer pressure moment: if a day goes by without organizing a drawer or cupboard, a day with a double “win” can boost your confidence

NaNoWriMo end result: the first draft of a novel, a beginning-to-end piece of fiction
Organizing end result: a streamlined and organized kitchen

This type of organizing, however, is not for everyone. Just as I no longer do NaNoWriMo because it produces too much pressure-related anxiety, the stress of “having to” organize a drawer or cupboard every two days might produce panic or paralysis instead of motivation. It depends entirely on your personality.

If you think you’ll enjoy this challenge, check out Erin Rooney Doland’s book Unclutter Your Life in One Week. It has great tips and provides a guide for uncluttering any room in your home.

How do you deal with slips in your projects?

One of the main goals of Unclutterer, apart from helping readers lead a more organized and streamlined life, is to help you create long-lasting change in your routines, habits, and life. Many of our articles revisit similar themes so that you can keep moving forward with your goals, revising what you are doing well, and identify when you need a course correction.

In my case, I am trying to merge my work and home life personalities. At work, I am decisive, productive, proactive, and passionate. At home, I never make decisions, ignore projects, react before thinking, and live with neither ups nor downs.

As regular readers know, I’ve been using the Bullet Journal system to transfer my work personality to my home one. And while the system has helped me keep my head above water during a stressful period at work, I’ve let my passivity to life stay in control and have pretty much converted my Bullet Journal into a solely work-related tracking system.

So, something needs to be done, and I think I’ve found the trick: the Moleskine app for my iPad Pro. One of the reasons I’ve let the personal life slide is because the work list was taking up a full page, leaving me with no room to add personal stuff and I refused to have a single day in two different pages in my Moleskine notebook. Sure it’s an excuse, but it was enough to derail me.

However, with the Moleskine app (available for iOS) I can have multiple notebooks and yet have only one item to carry. The app is free if you want the basic notebooks of Weekly Planner, Plain Paper, Lined Paper, and Grid Paper. You can buy other notebooks for Photos, Recipe Tracker, Travel Journal, and Wine Journal, but for now I have no interest in those ones. If you are an avid cook, travel writer, or wine lover, these journals might come in handy for organizing your thoughts.

By using the app, I’ve created five different journals:

  • Weekly Planner: to schedule my days and know what’s coming up. This planner looks into the future and includes both work and home.
  • Work Journal: to organize all my work-related tasks. I love the color and pen thickness options in the app and can keep track of all my tasks and priorities in a vibrant, colorful way.
  • Home Journal: to keep my personal-related actions, desires, and ideas front and center. This journal is copied from my work one and will hopefully, over time, instill my home personality with the more active traits from my work personality.
  • Connection Journal: to remind myself to connect with my social circles. As an introvert, I could easily go through a week only talking with work mates, but friends and family need to be taken care of or they won’t be there when my introverted self decides it wants company.
  • Time Tracker: to make sure I take time for myself each day. I can easily be busy, busy, busy, from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to sleep without taking even 15 minutes to read, write some fiction, or just stare at the ceiling. This journal looks at what has actually happened each day and serves as a good reminder that without personal time, I will burn out completely and start cutting myself off from the rest of the world, which is the exact opposite of my goal.

Wait a second… Five different journals? Isn’t that a lot of work?

Yes, it is, but the changes I want to make in my life are big and doing any less has proved too easy for my (nearly) 50 years of habits to take control and derail my plans.

I love my iPad Pro and the Apple Pencil — it’s the closest I’ve ever seen to a digital notebook, and now that I can use my favorite notebooks in digital format, I couldn’t be happier. Productivity and perseverance thanks to technology.

What changes are you trying to make in your life? Are you aware of any slips? What are you doing to correct them and maintain momentum?

 

Overcoming task paralysis

Recently I’ve been feeling rather overwhelmed at work. With the introduction of a new database and several people off on sick leave my to-do list never gets shorter. Fortunately, I am an organized person and manage to move forward even if it’s just a few priority items. But what if being organized is a challenge for you? That feeling of being overwhelmed becomes so all consuming that paralysis sets in.

Let’s imagine a situation that many people face. Let’s call our test subject Gloria. She’s a single mother with two children and has recently decided that she will pursue her dream of working in television full-time, as a freelance writer and producer. When looking one year into the future she clearly pictures having implemented some of her program ideas, having produced the show she wrote, and being able to support her children financially.

The problem is that she’s so overwhelmed by the normal anxieties of life that she can’t see clearly. There seems to be so much stuff that she’s paralyzed by it all. She’s moved her office in-house so that she could work on things 24/7 but that hasn’t worked (which isn’t surprising). Bringing the office into the home often creates more anxieties not fewer. Without a clear separation of work life and home life, the stress and guilt of working or not working 24/7 multiples exponentially. Every moment at work outside of regular hours takes away from family time and every moment with the family is one less moment striving for the work-related dream.

In our go-go-go world this sense of paralysis is common and it’s something many people suffer from. It happens when you allow your to-do list to get longer and longer which results in panic and paralysis.

Gloria especially feels anxious when she looks at all the day-to-day tasks. That often happens when people keep it all in their heads — it builds and each item seems unrelated to anything else. As well, as I said working on things 24/7, is not the best way to get things done. Time off is important, not just to recharge the batteries, but also to allow ideas and projects to simmer in the back of the brain.

So what should Gloria do?

She needs a plan. She needs to know what she’s working on when. However, she can’t create that plan until she knows exactly what she wants to work on. Yes, in her one-year-in-the-future vision she hints at what she might work on now, but the ideas are still very abstract. They are results, not actions.

When looking into the future, it’s important to focus on actions. Outcomes are great, but they don’t motivate well because they leave a gap between the current state and the future outcome. That gap can only get filled by action. And what actions does Gloria need to focus on? What actions do you need to focus on if you want to achieve your dreams? How can you choose any one thing when the to-do list is longer than a line-up to buy U2 concert tickets?

She might just pick one random item and work on that. Or she might pick the top three things that have reached crisis mode. Or she might take a bit of time to plan out her actions, which first requires some research.

In this case, research doesn’t mean going out and looking up information or talking to others. For this type of research she is going to interview herself. Using a blank piece of paper, Gloria is going to write down the numbers 1 to 100. Next, she will fill in all 100 slots with everything she does during the day, as well as everything she feels she should do and everything that she wants to do, but hasn’t got around to yet.

What will Gloria get out of overwhelming herself even more? How will this exercise help?

Right now Gloria feels overwhelmed by all of her to-dos. These to-dos however are only in her head, which she needs to liberate to allow more focused thought take over. Getting it out on paper does just that. Plus by giving herself a goal of 100 items she’ll likely have a hard time filling in every number, and she’ll realize that she doesn’t actually have as many things to do as she thought, taking off some of the pressure.

So now she has a list of items that she does (or wants to do). How does she take this list of actions and turn them into a plan that works for her, gives her time to relax, and moves her towards her dream? By prioritizing, delegating, and deleting items from the list. And no, it’s not easy. In fact this sort of challenge paralyzes many people.

Gloria will most likely need help. She’ll need the outside objectively of someone who isn’t so intimately connected to the actions, someone who can help her decide priorities and what doesn’t really need to get done after all. That help could come in the form of a friend, a family member, or a professional (like an organizer or a coach).

So, just how short should her list become? That depends on each person. In my case, I can have a very long to-do list without panicking, but others might need short lists, with tasks and projects spread out over stages based on priority.

Finally, Gloria needs to get started. Lists are great tools, but they need to be used. She might decide to use a system like Getting Things Done, or Bullet Journal (as I’ve been doing). But whatever the system, she needs to commit to it and let the lists guide her through the minefield of task-related anxieties.

Time management and requests to “pick your brain”

“May I pick your brain for 15 minutes?” That’s a common request with some important time management implications, especially for those who get a lot of these requests. The following are a few things to consider:

If you are the person receiving the request

I’ve received “pick your brain” requests and I’ve handled them in different ways at different times. There’s no one right way to respond to such requests.

It’s okay to say no.

Given how many articles have been written about turning down these requests, it seems as though saying no is hard for many people. That’s not surprising, since saying no to all sorts of requests for your time can be a challenge, as we’ve addressed before on Unclutterer.

Adrienne Graham is one of those who says no to pick-your-brain requests. As she wrote for Forbes:

I love giving advice. I write blogs, articles and a newsletter. I host a radio show. I tweet, Facebook and share nuggets of advice almost daily. So what is it in all of that, that would make anyone think they can still have the right to “pick my brain”? …

Your knowledge has value. You’ve invested time and money into learning your craft and it’s not fair for people to expect you to give it away for free. Even friends need to understand there are boundaries.

As she points out, you can always choose to be helpful in other ways. You may well have free resources — a newsletter, a blog, etc. — that you can suggest the person consult. You can recommend a good book.

It’s okay to say yes.

If you have the time and you want to help, it’s perfectly fine to say yes. I’ve heard many people say that others helped them when they were getting started, and now they want to give back by helping others.

Dylan Wilbanks wrote a blog post entitled On Being Generous, where he stated:

I am an introvert. Alone time is everything to me. And yet, I make the time to meet those who want to talk.

Wilbanks works in tech, and he’s found that as he helps others he in turn gets better at what he does.

It’s okay to say yes, but.

Erin Loechner suggested carving out an hour or a half-hour per week that’s truly convenient for you and offering that time to those who ask. “Yes, I would love to help, but I am currently only available from 4-4:30am EST on Tuesday.”

Kaarin Vembar does this by offering 8 a.m. Friday Skype calls. As she explains to those who ask for an alternative, “I’m trying to maintain sanity, be available to cool people and pay my bills at the same time. Fridays at 8 a.m. equates to healthy boundaries.”

It’s okay to yes, for a fee.

As Rachel Sklar wrote:

You can say, “Sure! My rate is $450 per hour, plus snacks. I’d love to help you!” It is amazing how considerate people become with your time once they have to pay for it.

Nicole Jordan wrote about using this approach:

This is what I started doing, especially for people that I do not know well: I tell them I am happy to meet, I am flattered they asked, and that because my time is valuable I don’t do these PYB sessions for free.

If you are the person making the request

If you’re asking someone to make time to answer your questions, be sure to respect that person’s time.

Consider alternatives to in-person meetings.

As Erin Greenawald wrote:

Somewhere along the way, asking to “sit down for coffee” became the status quo for requests like this. … When you count the time commuting, ordering coffee, sitting down and making small talk, and actually answering your questions, most coffee dates will take almost an hour. And that’s a lot of time to give!

Instead, ask for something that’s even easier. Suggest a phone call — it’s often more void of small talk than coffee, and your contact can do it from anywhere.

If for some reason you really feel you need a face-to-face meeting, you can offer to come to the person’s office, which will cut down on the time required.

Be prepared, so you make good use of the time.

Do some research before making the request — and before the brain-picking session if you’ve been granted one — so you aren’t asking for basic information you could readily get elsewhere.

Staying on top of tasks: a Bullet Journal update

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

Does the system work?

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

Is it flexible enough to adapt to different situations?

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

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

Can it carry me through very stressful times?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not so this year, for once!

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

And can I maintain it?

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

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

Procrastination and deadlines

Do any of the following words sound familiar to you?

  • Me every time: “Should I spend ten minutes completing this task now or stress about it for four days first? The latter seems good.” — Kelly Ellis
  • My most reliable hobby is spending an hour putting off a task that will take two minutes to complete. — Josh Gondelman
  • An hour is amateur. I’ve gone months. Years. — Helen Rosner, replying to Gondelman

I just cleaned my cat fountain, a task that just takes a few minutes but which I’ve been putting off for weeks. I finally did it because I knew I was writing this blog post.

For me, the most useful way to avoid procrastination on tasks of all sizes is to have a deadline or make a public declaration of intent. Last week I wrote about figuring out which of my keys are the ones I need, so this week I finally went to The UPS Store and determined which one opened the store’s front door. I’m in a book club, which gives me a deadline for reading at least 12 books per year. I just volunteered to host the next book club meeting, so I will definitely give the house a good cleaning before then.

Tim Urban did a TED talk on procrastination where he says that even though he’s a master procrastinator, things work out for him. As deadlines approach, his “panic monster” shows up, frightens off the “instant gratification monkey” in his brain, and he meets those deadlines. It’s not a pretty system, but it works. The problem comes with things that don’t have deadlines, so the panic monster never appears.

I wondered if maybe that panic monster can be activated for good even when there’s not a deadline. Those of us in earthquake territory, watching the news about the horrible hurricanes lately, might get inspired to begin creating or updating our stash of emergency supplies since we have no idea when the next major quake will strike.

Eric Jaffe, writing for Co.Design, says that some studies indicate that self-imposed deadlines don’t work to overcome procrastination, and this matches the thinking of scholars in the subject.

Timothy Pychyl of Carleton University, one of the leading scholars of procrastination, isn’t surprised that self-imposed deadlines don’t resolve undesirable delays. Procrastinators may need the tension of a looming deadline to get motivated, but when that deadline is self-imposed its authority is corrupted and the motivation never materializes. “The deadline isn’t real, and self-deception is a big part of procrastination,” he tells Co.Design.

Jaffe goes on to say that Pyschyl and other researchers think procrastination isn’t actually a time management issue. Rather, the problem is the following: “Procrastinators delay a task because they’re not in the mood to do it and deceive themselves into thinking they will be later on.”

I’m not sure that’s why I procrastinate, but I do know that private self-imposed deadlines frequently don’t work for me. If I find I’m procrastinating on something important that has no hard deadline, I might need to create one by making that commitment known to someone else.

Celebrating success: a Bullet Journal experiment update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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