Fewer decisions = more willpower

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Willpower takes energy. You can use it up and wear it out.

Guess what else uses up your energy? Decision making.

Any decision making. What scarf to wear, how much cereal to put in your bowl, what parking spot to choose. All the little decisions you make all day, every day, take energy.

So if you’re trying to make a change, develop a new habit, you need to save up that willpower to use on that, not waste it on mundane decision making.

What can you do? Find ways to automate decision making. There are decisions you can’t avoid, and ones that are fun to make, such as what to have for lunch. But plenty of others can be put on autopilot, such as a standard measure of the same cereal every day. This translates into a more automated shopping list too.

Another strategy is to give yourself fewer options. Choose 3-5 (this seems to be the magic range of options) favorite scarves for the month. You can choose a different set next month (or just get rid of those scarves you never wear).

Every morning, you’re only choosing between a small number and using less mental energy.

It’s been shown in studies that just thinking about options without having to choose between them is much less stressful. Try daydreaming about what you might have for lunch before you arrive at the decision point to prime yourself for an easy decision.

Pay attention as you go through your day and notice what decisions you make that you can avoid or restrict your options for.

Start organizing with the easy stuff

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You may be having trouble making much progress with getting organized because you’re starting in the wrong place. 

I recently talked with a client about his frustration that he wasn’t getting anywhere even though he purged and organized regularly. After some discussion, it came out that he was focusing on the things that were hardest to make decisions about.

He works at home, for himself, so he’s used to having to plan his own time and get things done without much external accountability. He’s good at prioritizing the truly important work, even if it’s difficult, and leave the simpler tasks for later.

This is exactly the formula for business success (and critical to master if you work alone), but it doesn’t work for organizing your home. What works is the opposite. 

Start with the easy stuff.

This is not cheating! Making decisions is tough work but you get better at it the more you do it. 

  • Doing the easy stuff gives you that sense of accomplishment and progress
  • You can move quickly and blaze through a big chunk of the organizing project
  • Easy decisions have small consequences, so you can be braver
  • You become more aware of what you want and don’t want so decision making is faster
  • You become convinced that the world will not fall apart if you make a wrong decision

You may even find your world comes completely together once all the clutter is gone.

Podcast 043: Boss hat/employee hat

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Subscribe:  iTunes  ⋅  Stitcher  ⋅  Soundcloud ⋅  YouTube  ⋅  Google Play

You can leave a review here!

In this episode, I’ll talk about alternating between being the boss and being the employee in order to be more effective. Here are some highlights:

  • Why do I have to separate them?
  • What if I’m better at one than the other?
  • I just want to do it.

Subscribe:  iTunes  ⋅  Stitcher  ⋅  Soundcloud ⋅  YouTube  ⋅  Google Play

This podcast is based on my book, 52 Simple Ways to Get Organized, available on my website. Each week I go into greater depth about one of the 52 ways. Some weeks I’ll take on different organizing topics and reader suggestions.

If you’d like to comment on the podcast, you can leave a review on iTunes. I read all your reviews, and  your positive, creative comments help others find my podcast.

If you have a question for me that you’d like me to address on the podcast, please post it on my Facebook page, Instagram or Twitter.

Photo: tom_bullock

Decisions Move the World

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Diving board I write a lot about decision making. So much of clutter and other stuff that's in your way is the result of not making decisions about it. The pile of needed decisions keeps growing till you just get overwhelmed by it and then the simplest decision seems strenuous. That naturally induces procrastination.

Why decide? Here's why:

  • When you don't decide, others do it for you. Are they going to pick the choice you want? Uh-uh.
  • The longer you wait to decide, the more likely your desired option(s) will expire or otherwise go away
  • When you avoid deciding to keep your options open, you still don't have that thing you want. You just have the option to have it. Would you rather have the daydream or the real thing?
  • When you boldly make decisions, you stir up positive energy. You take action. You move. You pull it off.

Decision making is a skill you can learn. I'm almost ready to publish my new info program about decision making and habit building, where I teach you both those vital skills. So, stay tuned, or drop me a line in the comments. What can I help you with today?

Diving board from vauvau's photostream.

Storage Units: Good or Evil?

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My general rule about storage units is this: avoid them at all costs! People rent them and forget ’em and they often turn out to be filled with junk.

Let’s look at why you really might need a storage unit.

There’s a short list of reasons that are acceptable.

  • You are temporarily living in a place that’s too small for your possessions
  • Your temporary living situation will be so short that it doesn’t make sense to move all your stuff in
  • You’ve inherited a large quantity of stuff that will take time to sort through
  • Your home needs repairs due to flood or fire

Notice that all these reasons are valid only because the storage is temporary. There’s no good reason to keep things permanently in storage.

Just as you shouldn’t live beyond your means financially, you shouldn’t live beyond your space means either.

I read this quotation from a storage industry executive: “People turn basements into home theaters or turn garages into family rooms and they need space for storage.” I call that living beyond your space means.

Of course, it’s much more common to fill up the garage with stuff so there’s no room for the car and to fill up the basement too so there’s no room for a workshop or pool table. People also fill up their spare rooms so they aren’t so spare anymore.

Okay, on to bad reasons to have a storage unit:

  • You moved in a hurry and just boxed stuff up and ditched it there
  • You’ve moved a number of times and keep adding to the mystery box collection
  • You inherited stuff 20 years ago and never got around to deciding whether you even like it
  • The stuff that’s in there is not worth a fraction of what it costs to rent the unit
  • You’re storing things for your children to have when they grow up and your kids are babies now
  • Keeping stuff you’re going to sell on eBay someday
  • Saving clothes you’ll fit into someday
  • Hanging on to an exercise machine you’ll use someday

All these reasons involve unmade decisions or hanging onto stuff for future situations that may never come to pass.

They also involve spending money; a lot of it if you keep paying rent year after year.

The year is still young! Make 2012 the year you make those decisions and start living in the present.

Idea > Decision > Action

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For many people, it’s easier and more fun to think up new ideas than to take action on the ones they already thought of. Buckling down and focusing on one idea and making it happen can make them antsy.

Sometimes the project you take on is very large and there are so many things to address that you’re tempted to start them all at once. When it comes to organizing, this can get you into trouble.

The process is this: have an idea, make a decision, take the action.

For example, the idea could be “organize the bottom shelf,” the decision is “only have notebooks, pads and file folders there,” and the action is getting those items into the spot and finding other homes for anything that doesn’t fit those categories.

Here’s what happens when you leave off the action part.

My client, Annie,* is a big picture kind of gal. She’s very good with coming up with ideas and making decisions. The action part, not so much. She’d rather move on to the top shelf, or the counter above the shelves, or the table on the other side of the room.

She had numerous shopping bags with things sorted into them. Some of them were marked, some not. There were also piles and collections of items on which decisions had been made. This is definitely progress, but it’s not enough.

We needed to spend some time moving the physical stuff around.

For Annie, this was the tedious, low priority part. But not doing it was impeding our progress. It was like having puzzle pieces all over the floor and knowing exactly where each one went, but not assembling them into a completed picture.

Is this a sticking point for you? Look around and see if you’ve collected some piles of decisions that need a nudge to get to the next step. If taking the action seems dreary and monotonous, approach it like washing the dishes. It’s a chore that needs doing and you don’t really need to like it.

The good news is that you’ll stir up some good energy by moving things along. You’ll also see some inspiring progress when you see the results of all that decision making!

* Not her real name. In fact, whenever I write about my clients, I’m usually combining events and compositing people.

Studies Show That Buying Stuff Is Good For You!

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So often we pit decluttering and being green against frivolous spending and self indulgence; virtuous against irresponsible; conserving against wasteful. It can get to the point where you can feel guilty about buying anything you don’t absolutely need!Watch

To the rescue comes a study from Harvard B School showing that in the long run, people don’t regret having spent a lot of money on pleasure. The key is the time frame. When people felt they would regret a purchase the next day, they didn’t make it. When they felt they might regret that purchase several years down the line, they made it.

Another key idea for me is that the buyer really wanted the luxury item in question. It was clear to them that they would enjoy it and savor it. This is quite different from buying something because you want the experience of buying it, or because it’s a status symbol, or just because everyone else is buying it.

I’m all in favor of having experiences and stuff that make you happy. Just check in with yourself about why you want something. And use the research; ask yourself if tomorrow you’ll regret forking out for that ruby-encrusted watch or if in five years you’ll still feel surge of happiness every time you see it on your wrist.

Do you have something you spent a fortune on that you regret now? Or that you’re completely content with?

Chanel J12 watch from bbaunach’s photostream

Should I Save or Should It Go?

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People who are collectors love to tell me that things they've held onto for years and years have actually come in handy, so it was worthwhile to keep it. There's often a note of triumph in their voices when they come to the story's punchline, "and I had one!" They assume that I'm against keeping things and they want to head off any suggestions I might have for downsizing.

Sometimes, the story is that they decided to get rid of a bunch of stuff that hadn't been used in decades and "the very next day" they needed one of those things. They reluctantly decide it's a big mistake to get rid of anything at all, although they would like to have less clutter. What to do?

I heard a story like the latter one recently and it occurred to me that the storyteller was asking the wrong questions to determine what to keep and what not to keep. He asked himself if he'd used the item in question in the past few years and the answer was no. So, out it went.

But if he had asked, "what will I do if I need this next week and I don't have it?" he would've gotten more helpful answers. Could he borrow one, rent one or buy a new one? Could he farm out the item on long term loan to a friend with the proviso that he could borrow it back as needed? Could he make do somehow with items he did keep? And how would those options feel? If none were acceptable, keeping the item would be the best answer.

The idea is to look into the future ("what will I do?") and not the past ("I haven't used this in years") to make your decision. The future is where you're going to use it (or not).

[White elephant courtesy of Lenny Montana's photostream]

Decision Making: Brain vs. Gut

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Yesterday I wrote about the value of writing it all down when
you’re trying to figure out what to do first. This technique works for other
kinds of decision making too. If you have a big decision to make that you can give
a yes or no answer to, you can make a list of the pros and cons. Examples are: Should
I take this job? Should I buy that particular car? Should I move?

The interesting thing about this method is that even if your
pro list is much longer than your con list, you may realize that your answer is
no anyway. This is typically true when the entries on your pro list are things
like, “it’s a great opportunity,” “I would learn a lot” and “it would make
(fill in the blank) happy.”

When you stare at that long list of positive reasons to do
something, you ought to feel like you’ve been given the green light. It should
make you happy! If you feel dread or misery or even just lack of enthusiasm, it
doesn’t matter how long that list is, you know your answer is no.

A Blackberry is Just a Tool

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Having information is not the same as knowing what to do with it. Sometimes more is just … more. Will a Blackberry make you better at your job? Are you sure about that?

In an interview with CIO Insight magazine, David Allen said, "If you are unproductive to begin with, technology will add something else you are unproductive about." Having great tools is wonderful, but they don’t automatically bestow the skills needed to use them. It’s easy to have the illusion of productivity when you are constantly pushing information around.

Go ahead and get the Blackberry if you want it. If you also want to be more productive, you’ll need to

  • be clear on what you’re trying to accomplish
  • make decisions
  • take action on those decisions
  • follow up on the actions of others
  • stay on track

Electronic devices such as Blackberrys are great for aiding you in those tasks (so is a pen and some paper). It’s you, however, who supplies the brain power.