Podcast 081: Low energy productivity

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This is Podcast 81 and it’s about how you can be productive even if you’re sick, or tired or just feeling those low energy winter blues. In podcast 70 I talked about categorizing your tasks by context the way David Allen suggests. That’s what this is. You need a category of stuff to do when you’re not up for doing any of the hard stuff.

If you’re really sick, you should rest. Be unproductive while you get better, then get back into the swing of things, instead of working at quarter speed for a week and feeling like crap. This is for when you’re in that in-between stage, not sick enough to stay in bed but definitely not 100%. It’s for when you really want to get something done but you’re just staring into space.

This is the ideal time to do things that are boring or tedious but are worth doing because of the time and effort they save later on. Some of these tasks are known as administrivia, a word that I was surprised to learn was first used in 1937! Being bored by paperwork is not a new phenomenon.

Some examples of administrivia are reports you can get away with just skimming to get the content of them, nothing that requires deep reading. Expense reports or any kind of form or report that requires you to gather information you have and compile it, just filling in the little blanks and sending it off. Nice and mindless.

Do some filing. Get that pile off your desk and into the file drawer. Note: this works best if you have a good filing system, meaning one that isn’t overstuffed and that you can find things quickly in. Don’t just shove something into a folder and stick it in a drawer somewhere however tempting that may be.

Bonus activity: if you file regular publications that get updated monthly or yearly, make sure you recycle the old one when you put the new one in.

How about some scanning? That’s one of the most mindless tasks. You can do it while watching videos on Youtube. Again, it works best with a good filing system. Having a disc full of files with names like Scan121517_02 is the same thing as having a drawer full of folders labeled miscellaneous. You don’t have to give each one a proper name, but you do have to put it into a folder named receipts, expenses or something meaningful like that.

Gather up all your to do lists and scraps of paper with important notes written on them. Make one fresh, current list. You don’t have to do anything on the list. Just make sure it’s complete and accurate and all in one spot. It’s always a good idea to rewrite your lists. Refer back to Podcast 28 for more tips about how to make effective to do lists.

If you don’t have energy or focus for that task, you can simply do the collecting part. Collect all the loose paper that needs attention at some point. Divide it up into categories like to do list and file. There are other way to do this. You can label them according to the project they belong to. You can have a collection of items you need more information about in order to take action; ask someone a question, look something up, etc. Things to read is usually a big category. Try the idea I mentioned above first. A lot that comes into your life is just not critical information. It’s information that you can skim over and get the gist of and then let go of.

Remember that there will always be more information in the world than you can digest or even know about. Also remember that regular publications have to fill up pages every month or week or day. If nothing important happens on a given day, they’re not going to make the paper shorter, right?

Here’s another task to try, one that you’ll really benefit from later on. Weed out all those unwanted photos on your phone, the ones that are out of focus or your finger is in the way or they just didn’t turn out right or they’re near duplicates or triplicates. Out they go. At least do that part.

If you’re up for more, make sure your photos are uploaded into the cloud or onto your computer. I’ve heard many stories of people who lose their phones and also lose years worth of photos. So sad! Backing up is one of the annoying tasks and it can be confusing too, unfortunately. But you’ll be grateful for it later. Plus, you’ll have room to take new photos.

If you really want to do it right, go another step and organize those photos. Big categories are better than no categories. Start with ones like travel, family and friends. Or get more specific; like Hawaii 2016. If your photos are precious to you, make them easy to find so you can enjoy them and share them.

What you can do right now: Make a list of tasks that seem suitable to you for doing when you’re sick or tired. It’s good to have a list written out instead of in your head. When you’re not feeling well, you’re probably not thinking clearly so you won’t remember these things. Having a list to go to will help you avoid staring into space and wondering how you could spend your time better.

Podcast 080: Seeing

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This is Podcast #80 and it’s about Seeing. I mentioned the concept of inattentional blindness in podcast 69 about Noticing but I didn’t elaborate on exactly what it is. Basically, it means that you can look directly at something but not be conscious of seeing it, or remember seeing it.

Scientists previously believed that eyesight was like a video recorder, registering every single thing the eye saw. Now it seems more likely that although the eye may record all, much of this information isn’t processing in the conscious mind so it goes unnoticed.

If you didn’t watch the video, spoiler alert! Subjects are asked to watch a video of people tossing a ball to each other. Three have black shirts and three have white shirts. They need to count the number of times the white shirts pass the ball to each other. A person in gorilla suit walks into the group, faces the camera and pounds its chest, then walks off on the other side. More than 25% of subjects don’t see the gorilla! Hard to believe, isn’t it?

I think it makes sense though. Particularly if your visual field is crowded (meaning cluttered), there is too much information to process and still use your brain to perform other tasks. So the brain selectively filters out information. It’s not clear how the brain makes those decisions, however.

How does this apply to clutter in your home? When I work with clients going through a box, for example, my technique is to remove everything from box and lay it out on a surface, item by item, then organize the items by type into groups. This simple method helps the eye focus on individual items instead of seeing them en masse jumbled together in a drawer and having their brains become inattentionally blind to half the contents.

It also presents the contents in a novel way. Another side effect of inattentional blindness is being unable to see clearly a mass of items that one sees every day. In order to handle all this visual information, we rely on expectation.

We expect to see what we see every single day, it’s a shortcut to reprocessing that visual information. The problem is, if there’s a small change, our brains will sometimes fill in that spot with the old information because there’s no cue that this change is important and deserves attention. This is called confirmation bias.

Often we think of confirmation bias as believing in things just because we prefer them or would like them to be true. But it exists in situations not colored by emotion simply because of those ingrained expectations. Confirmation bias purposely leaves out factual information because experience shows that it hasn’t been needed.

But then we bump up against reality again. Say you have a drawer where you keep batteries, rubber bands, twist ties and things like that. One day you open it to put more batteries in but there isn’t any room. That’s the cue for you to suddenly notice that the drawer is half full of a bunch of miscellaneous items that don’t belong there and are taking up space. Previously, when you just opened the drawer to get a battery out, you’d be unlikely to notice that, and the drawer would go on being the batteries, rubber bands and twist ties drawer in your mind.

The good news is that you shouldn’t feel bad if you’ve let the clutter get out of control. It’s a little like being a frog in a pot of water slowing reaching a boil. It’s said that the frog won’t jump out and then it will be too late. Its circumstances are changing too slowly for it to become aware of the danger.

Now that clutter has your attention, you can do something about it. Not all at once, but little by little.

What you can do right now. Weed out a drawer. Refer back to Podcast 65 if you want to do your junk drawer. For any drawer, follow the recipe I gave earlier in the podcast. Take everything out and lay it out in one layer on a flat surface, ideally without anything touching anything else. Organize the items by type as far as you are able. Get rid of the obvious junk. Decide whether all that stuff should go back in the drawer.

Podcast 075: Do it your way

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This is Podcast 75: do it your way. Back in podcast 17 I talked about how you can make your office less boring and conventional by outfitting it with patterned file folders and a tape dispenser shaped like an animal. Today I’ll talk about making your processes and systems less boring.

By that, I don’t mean that they’ll necessarily be fun, although that’s always a good side benefit. What it mean is that they’ll be more YOU.

I do this myself. Customizing my service for each client has always been a big part of how I do my work. If cookie cutter solutions worked, no one would need me. Over the years, I’ve amassed tons of organizing ideas, plus information about habit formation, reaching goals, human behavior and psychology. I use all of that with each person I work with. I don’t have a proprietary system or a template that I use. Less boring for me and more effective for my clients.

The reason I’m thinking about this now is that I wanted to commit to getting up earlier so I could be more productive. It’s totally not working. I don’t like getting up early and I certainly don’t like going to bed early. I was pushing myself because it’s a given that if you rise earlier you’ll be healthy, wealthy and wise, right? And get the worm. And be a success in life. All that stuff.

There really aren’t any proven, absolute benefits to getting up early though. When I read about why people do it, I realized that this concept is great if you have a regular job and kids. People in that situation don’t have unclaimed time in their schedules so the only way to get it is by carving it out of the early morning. It makes sense.

I work for myself and I don’t have kids. I don’t schedule early client appointments. For the most part, my time is my own. So I can use it the way I want to! Obviously, if I wasn’t getting things done I might change things. But my schedule works for me. Getting up early is not necessary or desirable.

So, back to you. Have you tried to change some things and it hasn’t worked? Are there ideas you’ve heard in my podcast that sound great but aren’t really for you? If so, I hope you’ve been able to cobble pieces of ideas together to make something that does work for you.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, here are some common problems and solutions that may work better for you.

Problem 1: Trouble with focusing. Spend smaller amounts of time. Work on projects serially for as long as you can stay focused on them. Or do them simultaneously if that keeps you engaged. Multitasking is definitely NOT a productivity aid, but if you don’t mind that each project will take longer, switch around at will. You’ll finish things eventually and that’s what counts

Try the Time Timer. It’s a clock that shows the time you’ve set it for as a red section on its face. As the time gets shorter, the red section shrinks. It gives you a visual and physical sense of time passing. Numbers are abstract, but a shape getting smaller is easy to grasp.

Problem 2: Tidying up is boring! Try this: Set a time limit for tidying and make it a race. Or put on music. Get on the phone with someone who loves to talk so you can just listen while you work. Take a picture of your tidy desktop or bedroom chair once you finish tidying and post it on Facebook so your friends can congratulate you. If it’s hard to stick to one spot when you’re putting things away, go from room to room. Put one thing away in the living room, then go to the bedroom and find one thing to put away. Getting into motion can help with physical restlessness and tedium.

Problem 3: Routine tasks are boring. Take your work to another spot. Pay your bills out in the backyard for example. If you pay them with an online bank account, you can give each payee a cute nickname. Listen to a podcast! Change your experience of the task; clear off the table because it needs to be used to plan world peace, not because it’s a boring task that has to be done.

Problem 4: I don’t want to change, but I want to be organized! Anyone can be MORE organized, if not completely organized. The secret is achieving it your way, whether that means throwing stuff into a plastic trash bag to get it out of sight for a party, and then little by little putting all that stuff away (which is how I did it in college. The bottom of the bag was usually full of overdue library books), or keeping your business receipts in a shoe box under the bed, or doing a late night purging session because that’s when you can focus.

Your way means the way that you don’t resist doing, so you do it and that’s why it works. It may not be the most efficient but you’re doing it, little by little. The better way doesn’t matter because you won’t do it that way.

A Chinese medicine doctor once told me that boiling herbs was more effective medically than taking pills, but people wouldn’t boil the herbs because it took too long and smelled funny. So he prescribed pills because he knew his patients would take them and get better, instead of not boiling the herbs and not getting any better.

What you can do now. First, give yourself permission not to do any of those things you think are great ideas but you haven’t done them, for whatever reason. Just stop. That alone will give you some mental release. Let your mind be curious and open. Ask yourself how a person could do a particular task in a different way and see what pops up.


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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.

Podcast 067: Project strategies

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Got a big event coming up? Here’s how not to go crazy and get the wrong things done.

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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.

Podcast 061: Organizing basics

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I’m going to talk about some fundamental concepts and ideas about organizing. The two I’ll talk about today are: keep things you use often close by and things you seldom use farther away, and keep like things together.

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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.

Almost free productivity coaching!

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I’m going to write about the different perks you can get when you support my business on Patreon. First up is the Level 3 perk.

My members-only Twitter chat is probably the most valuable perk I’m offering. Group chats are great because you can get your personal questions answered and you can benefit from reading the advice I give to others. It often happens that someone asks a question that you forgot to ask, or that you were having trouble putting into few enough words to squeeze into Twitter :).

On top of that, you’ll see that others have the same issues you do and you can help each other. Still one more benefit: you don’t have to take notes because you can save a transcript of each chat.

Get in on this perk early! Why? The fewer people on the chat, the more time YOU get! This is personalized coaching, guys! Even if only one person shows up for the chat, I’ll be there and you’ll get my undivided attention. So, click that button and become a patron. Here’s the link.

I would be thrilled with your support at any level. Come on over and see what else I’ve got.

Podcast 043: Boss hat/employee hat

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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.


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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

Podcast 029: Make your tasks into a card game

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cards-932406_640Subscribe:  iTunes  ⋅  Stitcher  ⋅  Soundcloud ⋅  YouTube  ⋅  Google Play

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In this episode, I’ll talk about how you can make your regular tasks into a card game and make them more fun. Here are some highlights:

  • How do I play?
  • What kind of tasks will work for this game?
  • What if I don’t want to do any of them?

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.

Podcast 001: Make filing easier

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Stacked office files: pile of paperwork in an office

In this episode, I’ll talk about what you need to file, and the many things you don’t need to keep at all. Here are some highlights:

  • But I might need it!
  • How do I know if it’s important?
  • What if I’m afraid to get rid of it?

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.