The power of 15-30 minutes per day

Do you find yourself procrastinating about items on your to-do list? Do you keep meaning to do some uncluttering, but never seem to get around to it?

I’ve recently begun a new approach to tackling this kind of thing, and it’s working well for me. Instead of trying to get everything done at once, I’m taking the slow and steady approach.

Every day, I do one small task that I’ve been procrastinating about completing.

One day I began the refund process for an expensive item that has been recalled. For some reason I had put this off for nine months! And although I feared it might be complicated, it was actually very easy, taking only about five minutes.

Another day I went to my primary care doctor’s website and asked the questions I need answers to before arranging some routine tests. This took about 10 minutes in total, because I needed to look up some information.

And on a third day I just went through a bunch of papers that had accumulated when I was dealing with my hip replacement. (I’m doing really well now.)

Every day, I see if I can find three items to offer to my freecycle group or take to my local thrift store.

My garage isn’t a disaster area by any means, but I wanted to use its storage space better. So I’m going through the garage and carefully evaluating everything I have stored out there. A lot of it makes sense: my toolbox, spare stuff (paper towels, toilet paper, cat food, and light bulbs), a small number of holiday items, etc. But I’m also finding things I definitely do not need: six dishpans (intended for sorting papers, but never used for that), an unused car trunk organizer, two hula-hoops, etc.

My freecycle group allows three offer messages per day, so I decided to look for at least three things per day that I no longer need. And it’s working very nicely. I don’t get overwhelmed with the task, and I’ve created storage space for things I do want to keep that I had no good space for before.

Several times a week, I spend 30-60 minutes helping a friend with her uncluttering efforts.

My friend’s husband died some months ago, and he was quite a packrat — so there’s a lot to go through. Although my friend wants to unclutter her home, the effort can sometimes seem overwhelming. So I’m spending a little bit of time with her as many days as I can to help keep the momentum going. Other people are helping her, too, and there’s substantial progress being made. It’s wonderful when we uncover something that had been missing for years!

This is not to say I won’t ever do any hours-long efforts, as those work well for me at times, too. But for now, doing a little bit every day has helped get me unstuck.

Digital notes to manage kids’ activities

Digital note apps are fantastic for easily taking information with you. I use Evernote as my cold storage for reference material. (That is, information that doesn’t require action, but might be useful in the future.) This has been my primary use for digital tools for years … until I had kids.

Today, I’m constantly recording information into Evernote to help me manage everything related to my kids. For example, I need to remember the address for Jane’s mom’s/dad’s house, or the dance studio, all the soccer fields, and so on, and this recorded information helps me do it. If it weren’t for a digital notes app, I’d end up texting my wife for that information or asking the kids to text their friends and then share the answers with me — a total waste of time.

To keep things organized and to save me time, I use text documents in Evernote for each new piece of information. I’ve designed what I refer to as a “Kid Info Database.” Any text note I create includes all of the following relevant tags:

  • Daughter’s name
  • Son’s name
  • Friends
  • Address
  • Activity

That’s it. I can search any of those tags and bring up all the relevant notes. For example, “Jane Address Grace Friends” brings up the driving directions to Jane’s house as well as a live link to Google Maps. The same goes for dance, scouts, and sports. It’s easy to set up and is very useful.

I can add to the list at any time simply by adding one of the tags to the notes I create. The link to Google Maps is excellent too, as I can get turn-by-turn directions from any starting point. Leaving Jane’s mom’s house and heading to the dance studio? No problem.

Using Evernote in this way has been a real shift for me as, like I said, I’ve always considered apps like Evernote to be a digital filing cabinet. Now, it’s a dynamic database that I use daily. If you’re like me, give this a try. It’s better than constantly texting people, “What is Jane’s address again?”

The least glamorous part of organizing

A significant uncluttering and organizing project can be exhilarating. You can see huge progress, and things that bothered you for a long time can find solutions.

But then there’s the ongoing maintenance: putting the toys back in place, dealing with the mail, etc. I don’t know anyone who enjoys this part of the organizing process, but it’s critical. Sadly, there is no magical organizing fairy who can complete the maintenance work with a wave of her wand. Given that, the following are some suggestions for tackling maintenance activities.

Don’t be too hard on yourself

Getting behind on maintenance happens to everyone I know at times, including myself and other fellow organizers.

Minimize the amount of maintenance required

If dealing with mail is overwhelming, you might invest some time in getting off mailing lists so there won’t be as much incoming mail. You can also look into going paperless for bank statements, bills, etc.

Reconsider who is doing the maintenance work

If you share your household with a spouse, domestic partner, children, or roommates, look at how the maintenance work is divided and see if there might be a better way to split up that work.

And if your budget accommodates it, consider paying someone to do certain tasks that are time-consuming or especially annoying.

Make the maintenance easier

Sometimes little adjustments, such as adding (or repositioning) a wastebasket, recycling bin, or laundry hamper can make a big difference. Using hooks instead of hangers can make it easier for some people to put away their coats, bathrobes, and such.

If your closets and other storage spaces are already quite full, minimizing new purchases (or instituting a one-in, one-out rule) will make it easier to ensure everything has an appropriate storage space, so it’s easy to put things away.

Determine what schedule works best for you

Do you do best with a short amount of maintenance work daily, or a larger chunk of time once/week — or some other schedule? Experiment and find a routine that feels comfortable for you.

Create holding places for items in between maintenance sessions

An inbox for mail, receipts, and other scraps of paper will keep them from being misplaced until you go through them to toss/recycle, shred, scan, or file. Maybe you’ll want a bin for things left laying around the living room (or other spaces) until your next scheduled time for putting all those things away.

Plan for ongoing uncluttering, too

Even if you’ve done a complete uncluttering exercise, it’s worth revisiting your possessions periodically. Children outgrow clothes and toys. Adults find their interests change. And almost everyone makes a few purchases that don’t work out, resulting in items that should be returned, donated, etc.

Look for ways to make maintenance time more pleasant

Having good tools (a shredder that doesn’t jam, nice clothes hangers, etc.) will make the work less annoying. A pleasant workspace for handling the paperwork can make a big difference, too. Some people enjoy listening to music as they do the work. Others give themselves mini-rewards after the work gets done.

A straightforward seven-step process to achieve your goals

This coming weekend will mark a first for me: I’m competing in a sprint triathlon. As with any activity requiring preparation (moving, changing jobs, going away to school), there has been a great deal of planning and organizing involved to get ready for the race. When I made the decision to work toward this goal back in January, I felt like a project manager as I tried to figure out how to get to where I am today. Ultimately, I decided to use a basic, seven-step process to reach my goal.

To give you an idea of where I was before I decided to take on this project, I didn’t know how to swim. I could float around and not drown, but I didn’t know how to swim laps or do any proper strokes. I’d also never been on a racing bike, and the only bike in my garage was my two-year-old daughter’s, complete with training wheels. I couldn’t run a mile continuously and the idea of swimming, biking, and running back-to-back-to-back genuinely terrified me. I needed skills, gear, training, and confidence.

The first step in the planning process for this triathlon was the same as it is for any project: research and gather information. I read The Triathlete’s Training Bible, Triathlon Anatomy, and a couple more books. I jumped on YouTube and watched videos from races. I learned about all the equipment I’d need (swim goggles, a racing bike, fast-drying triathlon clothing, gym membership, running shoes …) and put together a rough estimate of how much it would cost and how much race expenses would be (hotel, travel, race registration). I extensively studied dietary needs for athletes. This is also the point where I saw my doctor for a physical and underwent other forms of athletic testing (anaerobic threshold, body fat and lean mass analysis, etc.) with a triathlon coach to learn as much as I could about my body.

The second step in the planning process was to evaluate the gathered information and decide if I wanted to proceed toward the goal as anticipated. In a typical project, this step might include changing the goal or moving the completion date or deciding if you need to bring in additional resources before continuing. You look at the information gathered and analyze it to see if you can achieve your goal. For me, the decision was much more personal in nature. I have a genetic disorder that makes competing in triathlons not the best idea I’ve ever had. My disability doesn’t prohibit me from doing a triathlon, but it certainly makes things more complicated. So, I had to decide if I wanted to continue knowing the risks and my limitations. I decided to continue, but I also had to agree to do everything I possibly could to reduce my risk of injury and complications.

The third step is mostly complete after the research stage, but it’s important to create an official budget for the project. No matter the project, be sure to build in a line item for unexpected expenses. Then, maybe, triple that line item. (I forgot I’d have to pay for childcare, for example.)

The fourth step is a lot of people’s favorite step: create timelines and to-do lists. This is the point where you identify what needs to get done, by whom, and when. As I previously mentioned, I needed to take lessons on how to swim and how to ride a racing bike. I had to weight train and build endurance. I also needed to overhaul my diet so I wouldn’t do damage to my body, which meant months of meal planning. I created milestones and points where I would check-in with my coach (for a work project, this would be where you check in with your client) and points to evaluate how my training was going so I could make changes, if necessary, as I progressed. Be specific during this step — swim 30 laps, pack two boxes, sort through one dresser drawer, write 1,500 words — so that it is clear to you each day when you look at your calendar exactly what you need to do.

The fifth step is the hardest and (typically) the longest: do the work every day. Once everything is in place, it’s time to get your hands dirty. This is when you crank the widgets. I joined a gym with a pool. I bought a racing bike. Some days I was up at 5:00 a.m. for swim classes. Other days it was raining or freezing or extremely hot and training was the last thing I wanted to do, but if I wanted to reach my goal I had to do it. You write the code or build the house or pack all your belongings into boxes.

The sixth step I have yet to complete on this project, but it’s my favorite step in the process: complete your goal. For me, this will be Saturday when I (hopefully) cross the finish line.

The seventh step is the final one and often the most overlooked: evaluate your performance. Once a project is finished, it is tempting to move on to the next project without taking the time to identify what went right, what didn’t, and your final expenses and time sheets. But doing so will help you in the future — the next time you move or build a website for a client or compete in a triathlon. This information will be a valuable resource to you in the future, so take the time to complete this step and help your future self. You won’t regret it.

All of these steps are intuitive, but that doesn’t mean you won’t want to rush ahead to start with step four before doing steps one through three. Or be so happy to be finished with step six that you skip step seven. Do all of these steps and you’ll be well on your way to achieving your goals. Taking on a large project also can create anxiety, but breaking it down and going through this process will help you to see that your goal can be reached.

Getting rid of someone else’s stuff

Last week an article by Nicole Hong in the Wall Street Journal focused on cargo shorts: their fans and their detractors. I don’t have any strong opinions about cargo shorts, but I did have an opinion about the following anecdote:

Dane Hansen, who operates a small steel business in Pleasant Grove, Utah, says that throughout his 11-year marriage, 15 pairs of cargo shorts have slowly disappeared from his closet. On the occasions when he has confronted his wife about the missing shorts, she will either admit to throwing them away or deflect confrontation by saying things like, “Honey, you just need a little help.”

Mr. Hansen, 35 years old, is now down to one pair of cargo shorts, and he guards them closely. He has hidden them in small closet nooks where his wife can’t find them. …

Mr. Hansen’s wife, Ashleigh Hansen, said she sneaks her husband’s cargo shorts off to Goodwill when he’s not around. Mrs. Hansen, 30, no longer throws them out at home because her husband has found them in the trash and fished them out.

I have no problem with someone discretely disposing of anything that is theirs, including gifts from a spouse or partner. But getting rid of another person’s items? That’s generally a horrible idea.

There are some specific circumstances when it’s okay to toss or donate another person’s possessions, including the following:

  • When that other person has given you explicit permission to do so. For example, sometimes one spouse will accept, or even appreciate, having the other manage his or her wardrobe. Or an elderly parent might appreciate some help with uncluttering — perhaps giving you general guidelines but otherwise allowing you to decide what stays and what goes.
  • When the other person is a child who is too young to make such decisions. But even children as young as three can be involved in an uncluttering effort, and parents are sometimes surprised at how much their children are willing to discard.
  • When you have the legal authority to make decisions for someone who can no longer make decisions for himself or herself.

But in general, it’s disrespectful to get rid of another person’s belongings, and it can build up resentment and distrust that have a wide range of negative repercussions. What can you do instead? The following are some suggestions:

  • Have a discussion about the items in question, where each party listens respectfully to the other person’s position. There’s always a chance that if you calmly explain why you’d like something to be discarded you can convince the other person to go along with you. Or maybe, when you fully understand why someone wants to keep something that you want to discard, you’ll change your mind and decide it’s fine to have it stay.
  • Reach a compromise. Maybe he keeps the cargo shorts but agrees not to wear them when the two of you go out together. If there’s a disputed item of décor, maybe it can be displayed in a spot in the home where you rarely go.
  • Agree on boundaries, where anything can be kept as long as it fits within a designated space: a dresser drawer, a storage box, a shelf in the garage, a basket for stuffed animals, etc.
  • Bring in a professional organizer. An impartial third party with recognized expertise can ask questions and make suggestions while avoiding the emotional landmines that can be triggered when a spouse or partner makes suggestions.

Store tools neatly every time

When I acquire a tool with multiple parts, I feel a familiar dread when I open its case for the first time: “I will never get this back into its box again.”

Perhaps you’re familiar with this scenario. You’ve bought something new that comes with a storage case — an electric sander, for example, or a power drill. You take it out of the box, use it for a while, and then spend 20 minutes trying to remember how it was stored. Then, after struggling with several configurations, none of which let you close the lid, you either give up or find an alternate way to store you hardware.

I feel your pain, and there’s a simple solution.

Upon opening the storage box for the first time, before you touch a single thing, grab your favorite camera and snap a photo. Make sure you get a clear, focused, overhead shot that depicts exactly how everything is laid out at the factory. Next, print that image and place it inside the container. Done.

I like to tape the image to the inside lid. Alternatively, you can put it in a zip-to-close bag inside the box, or store it in the app of your choice, like Evernote or even a special album in your favorite digital photo management app. That way, the reference you need is only a few taps away.

This is a simple trick but it has saved me a lot of frustration and wasted time. Of course you needn’t stop at tools. Any multi-part piece of hardware — from toys to kitchen tools — can benefit.

Uncluttered tips for back-to-school shopping

Whether your child’s school year begins today or not for another month, August is when local and national retailers have their back-to-school deals. Before taking advantage of potential savings, there are a few best practices to follow before hitting your favorite supply store.

First and foremost, check the list of required supplies issued by the school/your child’s teacher. Often you’ll be able to find a list of suggested supplies on your school’s website, or perhaps a flyer was sent through the mail. Make sure you’ve got that in hand before you buy things you don’t need, or miss others you do.

Next, shop in your home before hitting the store. Are there any supplies lingering around your house that you can use: pencils, pens, notebooks and so on that meet the required items? If so, gather them up and keep them in a designated spot so they’ll be easily found when your child needs them.

Take this home “shopping” opportunity to round-up all the school supplies you have and put them into a single location. Your child will likely need a fully stocked homework station this year, so get that organized now. If you have significantly more items than your child could possibly use or supplies that are no longer age appropriate — I’m looking at you, large crayons — donate them to the school for classes where they are still needed.

If you have time, do your research on pricing. Gather flyers, compare prices online, and collect coupons (digital or not) that will save you a few bucks.

As much as your kid might fight it, it is a good idea to take him/her with you on any clothing and/or shoe buying trips. Having your kid present will ensure you get clothes and shoes that actually fit (or are a tiny bit too big, as is my buying custom for school wear) so you’re not having to make multiple trips to a store to return ill-fitting items.

Finally, don’t stress if you can’t get that last item by the first day (no sense in cluttering up your mental health, too). It’s very unlikely that the one item you have yet to acquire will be used on the very first day of school. Simply have it for your kid on the second day or the third. Two weeks into the school year you’ll be so swamped with activities, neither your child nor your child’s teacher will even remember you sent Elmer’s Glue on the second day of school.

Getting motivated to unclutter and organize

Starting and completing an organizing project can be hard — it takes time and continued focus on your goals. Some people get motivated when their frustrations become overwhelming. They are tired of not being able to find things, of feeling embarrassed by their homes, etc.

Sometimes people find their motivation in something they’ve read. Although organizers often find a collection of unused organizing books on people’s bookshelves, sometimes reading just the right book (Erin’s latest book, Marie Kondo’s book, etc.) at the right time can provide the inspiration needed.

Other people get motivated by images of organized spaces they see in magazines or on Pinterest. While these photos are often unrealistic — I’ve never met anyone whose home looks as picture-perfect as those shown in magazines — they can still inspire some people to imagine what their homes might look like and start taking steps in that direction.

For other people, the best way to stay motivated is to have a deadline. That can be a self-imposed deadline or one that comes from others: the IRS, family members, etc. I’ve seen people who had talked about getting organized for years, with no success, who became successful once they had deadlines they had to meet.

The following are some deadlines I’ve seen work for people:

  • I’m going to adopt, and the agency is coming to do a home visit.
  • My parents are coming to visit, and I want my home to look good when they get here.
  • I need to file my tax returns, so I have to get my papers organized.
  • My boss gave me a month to get more organized.
  • I’m replacing my broken garage door in a few weeks, and I have to clear out my packed garage before then.
  • I’m moving in a month, and I can’t take everything with me.
  • I’m going to be getting a roommate, so I need to unclutter the room she will be renting from me.
  • I’ve made an appointment for next month with someone who may want to buy some of my stuff.
  • I’ve told the storage facility that I plan to give up one of my three units next month.
  • I committed to my therapist/coach that I’d get going on this project before our next visit.
  • I want to participate in our neighborhood garage sale.
  • I promised my sister-in-law that I would send her the clothes my kids have outgrown, because they’ll be just the right sizes for her kids.

Note that if you are setting your own deadline, you can make sure it’s a realistic one for you. If you have multiple storage lockers, you can set a deadline for clearing out one of them at a time. You can set deadlines that are a month out, not next week.

And finally, many people are motivated by seeing progress. If you can find something that motivates you to begin the uncluttering and organizing process, you may find it easier to stay motivated to continue.

Staying safe while organizing with tall bookshelves, dressers, etc.

Bookshelves, armoires, and dressers are some of the common furniture pieces we use to organize our possessions. But if they aren’t used properly, they can cause serious problems.

You may have read about the Ikea recall of a number of its chests and dressers, which are “unstable if they are not properly anchored to the wall, posing a tip-over and entrapment hazard that can result in death or injuries to children.” Two types of items are included in the recall:

  • Children’s chests and dressers taller than 23.5 inches
  • Adult chests and dressers taller than 29.5 inches that do not comply with the performance requirements of the U.S. voluntary industry standard, ASTM F2057-014.

The recall followed the death of three toddlers in three years. While the dressers and chests all shipped with wall anchoring kits, the items involved in these tragedies were not anchored.

While the Ikea recall got a lot of press attention, it’s certainly not the only product that has this kind of tip-over potential. Other recent recalls include Bestar Dream Dressers (juvenile five-drawer dressers) and a dresser and nightstand in Bernhardt’s Marquesa line.

How big a problem is this? The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a report in 2014 (PDF) that included the following statistics:

  • An estimated 38,000 emergency-department-treated tip-over injuries in 2011-2013. Of these, 56 percent involved only furniture falling, 41 percent involved televisions (or TVs plus furniture), and 4 percent involved appliances falling.
  • 430 reported fatalities related to tip-overs between 2000 and 2013. Of these, 37 percent involved TVs falling, 27 percent involved a TV plus furniture, 28 percent involved only furniture falling (with the largest category being chests, bureaus, and dressers), and 7 percent involved appliances falling. Children from 1 month through 10 years were the victims in 84 percent of the fatalities.

The CPSC launched an “Anchor It” campaign in June 2015 with a lot of common-sense advice, including the following:

  • Existing furniture can be anchored with inexpensive anti-tip brackets. New furniture, such as dressers, are sold with anti-tip devices. Install them right away.
  • Anti-tip devices are sold online and in-stores for prices ranging from $5 to $25. Consumers can visit their local home improvement, electronic or mass merchandise store to purchase anti-tip devices. An online search for “anti-tip strap” or “anti-tip kit” will result in a variety of purchase options. Install the anti-tip devices according to manufacturer instructions, and always double check the attachment points to make sure the device is secure.

The campaign also has a poster (PDF) showing how to anchor furniture.

While tip-over dangers are often associated with children, who like to climb on furniture, the CPSC report makes it clear that they aren’t the only ones who get hurt by tip-overs. And those of us in earthquake territory have an added incentive to secure our top-heavy furniture. The Earthquake Country Alliance provides good information on just how that can be done for filing cabinets and for bookcases, china hutches, armoires, etc.

As Rain Noe wrote on the website Core77:

If you live in a household with children and own tall furniture of any variety, PLEASE take the time to anchor them to your wall. If you have friends who are parents, please urge them to do the same. And if you or they don’t know how to do it, you’ll find plenty of videos on YouTube demonstrating the process. You might need to spend a few bucks on a drill, a studfinder and/or some wall anchors, but it’s money well spent.

And I’d add: If you don’t know how to do it and you aren’t horribly handy, you can always hire someone to do it for you. That’s what I did, and it was worth every penny.

Should you buy a commercial or a residential vacuum?

Over the past week, I’ve been doing a lot of commercial cleaning. I’m using powerful chemicals and exceptional hardware, like vacuum cleaners and shop-vacs that are built to endure lots of use. This made me think: should I use commercial cleaning products at home? They’re effective and built to last forever. But are they appropriate for domestic cleaning?

The short answer is no, as commercial cleaners and domestic products are built to perform different jobs in different environments. A perfect illustration of this is the vacuum cleaner.

Should I buy a commercial [insert product you’re considering] for my home?

In the case of a commercial vacuum cleaner, it’s an attractive idea, isn’t it? Commercial vacuums are built to last and take more abuse than their residential counterparts. Let’s attack this question by looking at some pros and cons.

The pros

I struggled with putting cost in the pro vs. con column, but eventually pro won out. Yes, a commercial vacuum is expensive. For example, I’ve been using a Sebo 370 at work, which retails around $870. That’s not cheap, but Dyson makes home models that are in the same range. The idea here is that a commercial model will have a longer life than a residential machine, thereby costing less in the long run.

Readily-available parts. Big-box stores will infrequently stock parts for residential vacuums. If there’s an authorized retailer in your neighborhood you’re in luck (for example, I’m lucky enough to live near a Miele dealer). And you can often pick up parts for commercial units directly from the manufacturer or even a local distributor. So long as you’ve got that brand nearby, it isn’t an issue. If you don’t, this would move to the con column.

As I noted earlier, commercial vacuum cleaners are built to last and withstand abuse. They’re built of high-quality components and often have longer cords and heavier bodies. They’re designed with superior structural integrity to help them endure daily use as well as getting banged around a bit.

Lastly, they’re often more powerful than residential units. The first time I used a commercial machine I was amazed at what it picked up with a single pass.

The cons

They’re less comfortable. The Sebo I use at work is heavy. While it feels substantial and solid while pushing around, just haul it up a flight of stairs a few times and the bloom starts to come off the rose.

In general, home vacuums are designed to be lightweight and comfortable, while commercial units are meant to get a job done. This means a heavier machine, yes, but it also means that convenience items are missing like power control levels, that cool retractable cord, and tools for above-the-floor cleaning.

In addition, many commercial units have a reusable cloth bag instead of the disposable units your home machine has. No fun. You have to clean that bag.

I mentioned the power earlier and that sounds like a good thing, unless you have a delicate carpet. A commercial machine cares not about your precious carpets! It merely wants to get the job done. In fact, it can be too harsh for what you’ve got on the floor. Remember, these are meant for hotels, schools, and restaurants. In other words: industrial carpeting.

Lastly, they’re loud. As in, you turn it on and reflexively say, “Wow, that is loud.” Pets will run, birds will leap from the trees, and bunnies will cover their big, floppy ears.

Ultimately, when deciding between purchasing a commercial unit and a residential unit, it’s worth the time to weigh the actual pros and cons of the item before assuming the commercial unit is better for YOU. It might not actually be what you want, and you can end up creating clutter in your home and wasting money.

Tackling major projects

Your to-do lists probably include many small tasks, but it’s likely that you also have some big projects you would also like to get done: getting in better shape, organizing your home, writing a book, planning a vacation or a major event, etc.

For some people, staying on track to accomplish major tasks can be a real challenge. The following are some ways to make sure things get done:

Make a realistic plan

An unrealistic plan is discouraging — no one likes falling behind. And creating an unrealistic plan means you’ll spend a good amount of time re-planning.

To keep your plan realistic, break big tasks down into smaller ones where you can better estimate the time needed. A project called “organize the house” is hard to estimate, but estimating how long it takes to sort through a box of papers is much easier. (And if you have many boxes and haven’t yet gone through any of them, you may want to go through one before finalizing your plan.)

When coming up with a plan, it’s always wise to remember Hofstadter’s Law: “It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.” People always tend to underestimate — forgetting some tasks, being too optimistic on how long certain tasks will take, and ignoring all the ways things might go wrong. Try for realistic estimates of each task, and then add some overall contingency time. The more this project differs from anything you’ve done before, the more contingency time you’ll want.

Schedule time to get the tasks done

Once you have a plan, you need to set aside the time to do the tasks on that plan. Some projects don’t even need a detailed plan — they just need dedicated time to accomplish the work. One example is writing a novel, and author Neil Gaiman explained how it’s done:

Set aside time to write that’s only writing time. Put away your phone. Turn off or disable your WiFi. Write in longhand if you wish. Put up a do not disturb sign. And make your writing time sacred and inviolable. 

And in that time, this is the deal. You can write, or you can not do anything. Not doing anything is allowed. (What not doing anything includes: staring at walls, staring out of windows, thinking broodily, staring at your hands. What not doing anything does not include: alphabetising the spice rack, checking Tumblr, taking your pen apart, playing solitaire or running a clean up program on your computer.) …

Doing nothing gets pretty dull. So you might as well write.

This idea extends well beyond a writing project. As Austin Kleon tweeted:

How to X more:

Set aside dedicated time for X.

The end.

Track your progress and celebrate your accomplishments along the way

Tracking your progress against your plan is crucial in case adjustments are necessary. If your plan isn’t working, the sooner you realize the problem, the better. You’ll have more time to work with others, if necessary, to change the deadline, the scope, or the budget to create a more workable plan. Also, keeping track of your estimated times vs. your actual times will let you make better estimates in the future.

Celebrating your progress can help keep you motivated. That can be something simple like a triumphant update on Facebook or Twitter, or (especially for major milestones) something more substantial — providing some sort of treat that’s meaningful to you.

Avoiding uncluttering regrets

Are you afraid that if you get rid of something you’ll find a use for it the next day? Douglas Adams and John Lloyd created a word that relates to this:

Nottage is the collective name for things which you find a use for immediately after you’ve thrown them away.

For instance, your greenhouse has been cluttered up for years with a huge piece of cardboard and great fronds of gardening string. You at last decide to clear all this stuff out, and you burn it. Within twenty-four hours you will urgently need to wrap a large parcel, and suddenly remember that luckily in your greenhouse there is some cardb…

But in reality, with all the clients I’ve worked with, I’ve never seen this happen. What sometimes happens is more like Josh Barro’s experience, which he wrote about on Twitter:

About a year after adopting Marie Kondo’s advice about throwing things away, today’s the first time I’m annoyed I don’t have something.

Of course, Kondo says if you discover you really do need something you threw out, you can buy another. So I ordered it from Amazon.

(It’s a book that’s not very interesting but is suddenly relevant for a story I’m working on.)

The following are some specific strategies you can use to ensure you don’t wind up with unclutterer’s remorse:

Treat easily replaceable items differently than others

Barro could easily replace the book he discarded. If I ever regret getting rid of my kitchen thermometer, I could easily get another one, inexpensively. I could even just borrow one from someone, if I had a one-time need.

But other items are less easily replaced. They may be handmade items, sentimental items from long ago, or expensive items where a replacement doesn’t easily fit into your budget. For these items, you’ll want to be more thoughtful about your discards. Be sure you’re making your decision when you’re at your best, not when you’ve been making a lot of other decisions and may be hitting decision fatigue. With sentimental items, you may want to take a photo of them before letting them go.

Respect your emotions

If the thought of getting rid of something brings you to tears, you probably aren’t ready to get rid of it, even if your logical side says to let it go.

Consider uncluttering in phases

Although Marie Kondo will tell you to do all your uncluttering in a single pass (all the books, all the clothes, etc.), you may find it’s easier to unclutter the easy, obvious things first: clothes that itch or never did fit quite right, for example. Then after you’ve built up your uncluttering muscles, and you’ve had time to appreciate the benefits of that first pass, you can go and do a second pass — tackling the things that you weren’t ready to deal with the first time through.