Podcast 091: Make your bed

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This is Podcast 91 and it’s about making your bed. First, I have an announcement. I’m going to start a group coaching program for productivity, time management, prioritizing, procrastination and decluttering. The format will be virtual so it doesn’t matter where you are in the world, you can still join in. I’ll conduct a live one hour session once a month about a topic, like procrastination.

Students will share what they are working on and I’ll offer real time help and accountability coaching. There will be a private Facebook group and email check ins. I’m launching this program with a special price of $99 a month with a three month commitment. Registration hasn’t started yet, but do contact me if you’re interested and I’ll put you on the list. I’m at Claire@cluttercoach.net.

Okay, on to the podcast. Here’s an excerpt from a commencement address given by Naval Admiral William H. McRaven a few years ago.

If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.

And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made — that you made — and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.

If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.

I think that’s pretty inspiring.

Some of you may know that making the bed is one of the five simple steps you can take to create a relaxing bedroom, the subject of one of my books. The full title is Five Steps to a Relaxing Bedroom and you can find it on Amazon and on my website, cluttercoach.net.

First, making your bed really is one of those things that’s easy and quick to do but also has a satisfying payoff. It gives you a pleasing sense of accomplishment. Second, even if your day hasn’t been miserable, it may have been long and tiring. When all you want to do is lie down and rest, you feel more pampered when the bed is already made. It’s an act of kindness to do for yourself.

Third, those little tasks build up and create great progress. Just starting is much easier when it’s just making the bed. Once you’re in motion, it’s easier to keep going. You get over that initial hump, whether it’s resistance based on feeling that a task is too overwhelming or will take too long or isn’t high priority enough. After you start, those concerns drop away and the fulfillment of being in action takes over.

What are other ways you can make your bed, say, sitting at your desk tomorrow morning? To figure that out, look for tasks that are 1) fairly easy to do, 2) don’t take much time, 3) that you do regularly and 4) that you know will be substantially productive, either from past experience or because they need to be done to make progress on a project.

The first bit is important and often overlooked, although it seems so simple. Sometimes people avoid doing tasks because they truly don’t know how to do them, but more often it’s a matter of wording and scope. As I’ve mentioned before, many to do list items are too vague or are actually projects.

Say you have to generate a weekly report. It’s a pain in the neck and you don’t like to do it. It feels like pushing a boulder up a hill. But if you break it down into a series of small tasks, little steps, your resistance will be less. This could be creating a template that you plug information into. You can start gathering that information differently, putting it into a format that will fit into the template without extra work from you. And, one of my favorite time savers, stop relying on memory for what should happen next.

I use a template to do my podcast every week. Sometimes, I confess, I don’t really want to do it. Looking at the list of steps makes it feel much more doable. There are many steps, involving posting in different places and tagging and uploading images. But I know from previous experience that I know how to do all those things and they go quickly once I get started. Focusing on that list instead of letting my resistance take over helps a lot.

What you can do right now: think of some ways you can start making your bed tomorrow. Develop those habits and notice how much they help you and set you up for further success.

Podcast 090: Being human

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This is podcast 90 and it’s about being human. “I’m only human, of flesh and blood I’m made. I’m only human, born to make mistakes.” I love 80’s music and that song in particular. Sung by: The Human League! A bunch of humans! And that’s my subject for today.

I AM only human and I assume you are too. We have our systems and our technology but since WE are human we’re fallible. Sometimes our systems will fail because they’re badly designed, but often it’s really operator error, right?

It’s inevitable. That’s why I always recommend finding the simplest and easiest systems, the ones that you can quickly get back on track or rejigger when you, the operator, muck them up for some reason. Any system that has a lot of moving parts or requires a high level of expertise to use is an accident waiting to happen, in my opinion.

Just as the perfect diet can’t make you thinner without help from you, the perfect system can’t keep you organized or on time unless you participate. The BEST diet is the one you stay on! It may not be perfect, but you stayed on it and achieved your goal. The best system is the one that works for the glorious, fallible you, most of the time.

If the perfect system that will keep us organized and on time all the time doesn’t exist, what’s a human to do?

Tricks. Hacks. And being okay with the idea of “good enough.” Which is what most of my podcasts are about.

We humans suffer from akrasia which causes us to do stuff that we know is a bad idea. Akrasia is a Greek word, an ancient Greek word. That means we’ve known this about ourselves for a couple thousand years and probably before that, but before we had philosophers to describe it and be stumped by it. In case you thought the Internet or cell phones were ruining life as we know it, rest assured, it was always ruined. The true source of disruption and distraction lives inside your head.

Akrasia isn’t curable, BUT you can relieve its symptoms by embracing the tricks and hacks I suggest. Those tricks can be as simple as setting your bedside clock 10 minutes fast to fool yourself into getting out of bed on time. You know it’s a trick, but it still works. It works a heck of a lot better than trying to summon up the willpower to be a superior being who always springs out of bed the moment the alarm sounds.

I don’t want to have to live up to that, do you? Talk about stress. When people find out what I do for a living they ask, so, how organized is YOUR house? My answer is, it’s organized enough. And I keep things simple enough so that when I put things away, it’s pretty easy to do and doesn’t take much time.

I’m also willing to satisfice. I mentioned that concept a few podcasts back. It means to choose an acceptable option instead of holding out for a better one, which may not even exist and anyway I don’t have time to wait for it.

Being human means accepting imperfection and moving forward anyway. Is the phone calendar I use the best one? Probably not. But it works as well as I need it to and I don’t have time to research another one, let alone learn how to use it.

This is a big danger zone for many of my clients. They get excited about a brand new app and spend hours reading about it and then learning it and in the meantime, they miss appointments because now they’re using two calendars or they forgot to press a button.

Or worse, they blew off writing a new book chapter or working on their big project proposal in order to fool around with this new gadget. That’s the bigger problem. At the end of the day, are you going to get where you want to go and reach your goals?

Here what you can do right now. Spend some time being human and reflecting on how well you’re doing with this life thing. Not to be judgmental, but to make sure you are directing your time and energy to live the life you want to. This is big picture stuff, sure. But, as I’ve said before, that’s the only reason to be organized and manage your time well.

Set yourself up so that when things go wrong you can recover and keep going. Practice stepping back to check that you are still on course.

Podcast 89: Finding the real truth

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This is podcast 89 and it’s about finding the real truth. I had a breakthrough with a client yesterday. We’ve been talking for months about different storage options. She has a very specific preference, even though it has significant problems. Basically, she wants open shelving instead of cabinets or bins.

But yesterday she suddenly agreed to closed storage. What happened? I asked her some questions and I figured out the answer. Her preference was based solely on reacting to a problem with the current storage, not on what would actually be best. She was still consumed with how ineffective the current system was for her and that made her gravitate toward a system that was the complete opposite in order never to have those problems again.

As I’ve mentioned before, being reactive is not a powerful place to be. It means you’re stuck in the past, or you’re making decisions based on a set of conditions handed to you, rather than envisioning and creating something better. When you are reactive, you respond only to what is currently provoking you instead of the situation as a whole.

I’m not saying it’s not difficult to get stuck here. We react emotionally to things and those reactions can guide our actions without our totally being aware of it. Hence the reason I keep mentioning how important it is to develop your objectivity and your ability to notice what’s really happening.

The questions I asked my client were designed to tease out that thought process so we could be clear about what she really wanted. Turns out, she just wants to find things easily.

Why is this important? My ecourse is based on developing a vision for what you want. That’s how it starts. It’s important because if you don’t know what you want, you’ll have a harder time getting it, and may never get it. You may get something and settle for it and think that’s the best there is. Or, more commonly, you accept the popular or clever or cute solution, or the one that’s on sale. Or, also common, you will give up on trying to fix the problem because none of the options you can see seem like they’ll work.

One way to think of this is to focus on the What and Why, not the How. Stick with what’s happening and why you want something different. Don’t race to the How, which is the solution, because you’re not ready yet.

What my client was doing has a name, I discovered. It’s called problem-based thinking and it’s generally thought of as being pretty ineffective. Problem-based thinking keeps you mired in the unpleasant situation.

Solution-based thinking, on the other hand, frees you to get more positive. First of all, just calling it solution-based thinking lets your mind know that a solution is possible, right? Your on the right track already.

Now, often you have to plow through the muck of the current situation and connect with what you don’t like about it before you can get to thinking about solutions or accurately present the issue to another person. Me, in this case.

Once I understood what was going on, I was able to explain specifically how this alternate system we were talking about would work to give her what she needed and wanted, and also avoid some problems with her initial solution.

It was remarkable how easy the conversation became after that. It was as if she had been battling this problem with all her energy and once she stopped, the tension was gone. She’s now researching potential closed storage candidates.

What you can do now. Think of an issue that’s bothering you a lot, one that you have an emotional reaction to. See if you can step back from it, put the problem down for a bit, and explore whether the problem is really what you think it is, or if something more basic is at the heart of it.

Podcast 088: Not seeing what’s in front of you

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This is Podcast 88 and it’s about not being able to see what’s in front of you because of how it’s defined or named. Naming and defining are important. They help us differentiate things from each other. We assign them attributes that contrast them with other things. The other side of that is they become tied to those attributes and so identified with them that we can’t see them in another light.

Here’s how that becomes a problem.

I have some clients who are makers. Boy, are they ever! They’ve got equipment and machinery and supplies for a huge range of activities including forging knives. It’s a challenge to find room for all this stuff and have it stored in a way that it can be easily used.

This is a common problem. The quantity of your stuff comes to a tipping point when you can no longer have everything you own in easy reach. That’s when you have to start putting things in less-than-handy locations, far from where you’ll use them and maybe needing a ladder to get to. But consider yourself lucky if you do have the space to maximize in this way!

In the case of these clients, they’ve dedicated a room for making and crafts and another room for guests and their future children. Although we’ve sorted and purged out a lot from the craft room, it’s becoming clear that there’s not enough room for all that they want to do in there. I suggested they move to the guest room, which is much bigger than the current room.

But that’s the guest room! my clients tell me. And what about the nursery? In my book, guests don’t need a huge guest room. They’re only visiting and ideally, they haven’t brought a whole bunch of stuff. The craft room, on the other hand, is used every week, sometimes every day, for activities that require space for storage and creating.

As for the future baby, which isn’t even a twinkle in her parents eyes yet, she won’t need much space either. Even if my client gets pregnant tomorrow, they’ll have three more years at least in the bigger crafts room. Well, they hadn’t thought about it that way.

It’s a great example of letting the definition of a room tell you what has to happen in there. They probably decided this room was the guest room/ future nursery when they first moved in. And so it became set in stone. Who would think of doing crafts in the guest room? That doesn’t make sense!

This often happens with people’s home offices. I’ve been shown home offices that clearly haven’t been used in years. Turns out that the person works at the coffee table or the kitchen counter. “Home office” and “where you work” aren’t necessarily the same place.

If you don’t see that distinction, you’ll persist in using a subpar coffee table office. The “real” office will get fixed up nicely but the coffee table stopgap office will lack necessary supplies. A former client built a lovely room in her backyard with plenty of sunlight and garden views to use as her office. But all her active paper and computer and other supplies were on the dining table. The garden office was too cold. So she was unable to commit to either one. She worked at the dining table, but went to the office to use the printer, because the printer belongs in the office. All her files were also in the “real” office. So much extra work and schlepping back and forth!

What labels have you given things that prevent you from seeing their potential? Instead of accepting that rooms or objects are just what everyone calls them, question that. In past episodes I’ve given ideas for increasing your objectivity regarding your own rooms and objects. Try to see things in new light and ask the obvious questions.

In this case, an obvious question I asked my clients was, why not use the bigger room for the activity that requires more space? Since I don’t live there, it was easy for me to judge the rooms by their size rather than their defined purpose. I saw clearly that the problem was not enough space so I looked for more.

What you can do right now: think of a lack or a problem you want to solve, one that you’ve tried unsuccessfully to deal with. See if you can find any assumptions you’ve made that aren’t necessarily true and are limiting your range of options.

Podcast 087: Design thinking, part 2

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This is Podcast 87 and it’s about the other three stages of design thinking: ideate, prototype and test. This carries on from the previous podcast.

Ideate means coming up with ideas to address the problem you identified in phase 2. This is the time to go wild and think up as many ideas as you can. There are lots of ways to approach this and to get your creative thinking going. Nutty ideas, impossible ideas, bring ’em all on. You don’t want to filter at this stage.

Using specific techniques can help because they give you a structure for generating ideas. Having that structure helps you avoid being negative about your own ideas and shooting them down. Back in podcast 71 I talked about how easy it is to sabotage yourself and the tricks you need to resort to to get over that.

An idea generating technique leads you through specific steps. It opens your thinking but also shapes it so that you aren’t flailing around. If you’re flailing, feeling too open to the universe of ideas, that’s when the negative talk can sneak in. Just stay with the program.

Ideation means getting those ideas out of your head and written down. Regular listeners will know how big I am on that idea. You may think you’re clear in your head about what to do. It’s not until you have to put it into words, or pictures if you prefer that kind of idea creation, that you realize how fuzzy it still is and how many pieces are missing.

Start jotting down the ideas that come to mind first. That’s also important. You need to get beyond the easy, obvious ideas to find something better. Again, until you write them down, they’re lurking in your brain calling your attention, say, choose me, choose me! Write them down and get them out of the way.

The cool thing about thinking up lots of ideas is that you don’t really have to know what you’re doing to be successful. The thing is, quote unquote experts can be so blinded by their expertise that they don’t see the non-obvious solutions. Sometimes they don’t even ask the questions because they believe they’ve already been answered.

Now, that’s not to celebrate ignorance. No, no, no. You’ll see that the following steps put your wacko ideas to the test. They have to prove themselves, not just be alternatives to the norm.

If the problem you defined is something like managing all the paper that accumulates on your desk, and you’ve come up with an idea to test, such as a David Allen style weekly review, that’s your prototype. It’s your version of a weekly review; when you do it, what questions you ask yourself, how you handle the paper you come across. To design your own version, you make notes about where you started, which you gathered in the define stage. How much paper is there? Where does it seem to come from? Is this a new problem? Can I identify what’s in the way of solving it? You need to know where you came from to effectively evaluate where you get to.

To start doing that, you move on to prototyping. If you’re creating physical objects, your prototype will also be a physical object, but made of cardboard or some other cheap, easy-to-work-with material. For our purposes, we’ll be prototyping things like paper management systems or to do list methods.

Next is the testing phase. Testing your prototype is basically you trying it out for a few weeks. Do it scientifically so you get good information to troubleshoot with. Many people get caught up in the prototyping phase. They want to keep designing and refining. But you have to start taking action to see if your design will work in the real world, your world. Just as you need to write down your ideas to clarify them, you need to put your ideas into practice to test them.

Those are the five stages. But they aren’t necessarily linear. Each informs the other. Most commonly, the testing phase usually leads back to one of the previous ones when the test fails. You go back to prototyping and get a new technique to try. Or you go all the way back to define because you solved the wrong problem or only part of the problem, that didn’t reveal itself until you started testing.

Time to get going! What you can do right now is write down all the obvious ideas that occur to you to solve your problem. Once those are out of the way, see what else bubbles up, or go online and look for brainstorming techniques to try.

Podcast 086: Design thinking

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This is Podcast 86 and it’s about design thinking. I got reintroduced to this concept by Chris Wilson, the founder of Unstuck School, at a workshop he gave recently. He leads a program called Design Your Year that uses many creative ways to define and achieve your goals, one of which is not calling them goals. I just talked about that in podcast 84, about how scary and intimidating goals can be.

One concept he shared with us that I found really interesting is design thinking. Current design thinking is based on stages defined by Herbert Simon. I quoted Simon unknowingly back in podcast 45 when I talked about the idea of satisficing. Satisfice is a portmanteau of the words satisfy and suffice.

It means that people make decisions based on information and resources they have available and that’s good enough. They can’t have all the information and all the resources or use them properly if they did, so they do without. Satisficers are good at limiting their options in order to make effective, timely decisions and take action.

Okay, back to design thinking. The five stages Simon identified are empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test. Although they’re called stages, they don’t always happen in order and sometimes they loop around. Each stage informs the others.

The first stage, empathize, is certainly important when I work with clients. To me, it means that I need to get to know what my client values and desires and suggest courses of action based on that. This is the opposite of coming in with a prescribed method and imposing it. Instead of jamming a square peg into a round hole, you discover the shape of the peg, which might not be square OR round, and then carve a hole that fits it.

It also means I strive not to make assumptions about my client’s situation but, as coaches are trained to do, come from a position of curiosity and discovery. That way, my client is free to describe what’s happening without having to define or rationalize it.

But what I want to talk about is how to empathize with yourself. Often, people want to get organized or declutter or be more productive because they see a lack in themselves, or they feel judged by others. While those feelings may motivate you for a bit, they aren’t great for the long run. It involves looking outside yourself for solutions and that’s never going to get you the right solution.

In the design world, if you’re creating a product, for example, you want to approach the issue by finding out what motivates and engages customers instead of developing a product by guesswork and hoping people want it.

Empathy is a great word to use here. When you empathize with yourself, you get out of yourself a bit to observe with compassion. This helps you understand and explain what you feel to someone else. Feeling what you feel is important, but you need to be able to get some objectivity about those feelings in order to express them in a way someone else can understand.

When you empathize with someone else, you try to put yourself into their shoes and experience the world as they do. You see that they have experiences and feelings that are similar to yours, even if you are very different people. Feelings of similarity cause you to want to protect or help others.

With self empathy, you want to help yourself because you have compassion for the situation you are in. The exploration you’ve done leads into the next stage, which is define. You might define the problem as “I need a better system for managing paper so that I get things done on time and don’t waste time looking for what I need.” That’s much different than “I need to organize this desk because it’s a cluttered mess.”

I always say organizing is a means to an end, not a valuable thing in itself. That end is the thing you define yourself. It’s too soon to start uploading apps or embracing techniques or buying containers. People often want to leap into the solution before they clearly define the problem and it makes the process longer and more confusing.

For the above mentioned scenario, you want to explore further what’s happening. Ask: what all this paper is? Where does it come from? Is this a new problem? Is something making it worse? All that information will help with stage 3, ideate.

I’ll talk about the other 3 stages next week. In the meantime, what you can do right now is practice empathizing with your own particular situation and see it as an issue to be resolved to benefit you, not to satisfy others.

Podcast 085: Mastery

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This is podcast 85 and it’s about mastery. A new client dubbed me the Clutter Master. It made me smile because I just watched a kung fu movie the other night where two men vie for the title of wing chun master. Imagine me holding my hands board straight and moving my arms gracefully into position to attack my enemy: clutter!

I do know how to master clutter. I do it for myself and I teach others. What’s important to remember is that I continue to defend my title every day. Clutter challenges me every day, just as it does you. Hai ya!

I know people tend to think that a clutter coach’s, or clutter master’s, home is absolutely pristine. Not a thing out of place. Like a page out of Martha Stewart Living. Well, it looks that way sometimes, but a lot of times it doesn’t. Sometimes I’m very busy for days on end. Sometimes I’m sick. And, I confess, sometimes I just don’t feel like it.

So there you have it. I’ve burst your bubble. I am not perfect. But truly, you should take heart from this news. I don’t succeed at staying organized because I have some special gene or an uncanny ability to spontaneously and instantly create order. Sure, I know more about organizing theory and techniques than the average person and I have more ability to effectively manage my time. But those are things that I’ve learned, and you can too.

My podcast is totally about teaching you that stuff. I strive to come up with different approaches and new ways of looking at old problems so you can have an “aha!” moment and get past whatever obstacle is in your way. I talk about resistance and motivation and how to get out of your own way.

But no matter how many episodes I post, there’s still the matter of putting all these ideas into action and making them part of your life. That’s the tough part, right? That’s true for pretty much everyone.

I’m planning to offer a group coaching program this year to address this issue. When you’re at the point that you’ve learned a lot about HOW to declutter and manage time better and get yourself organized, but it still hasn’t happened the way you need it to, the answer is to get regular support. That’s the secret sauce that coaching offers.

I have coaches myself. I don’t do this all alone. Coaching is invaluable to me in getting things done that I want to do but am not, for some reason. And for when I’m doing something and I’m running into problems that have me stumped. And for when I feel discouraged and want to give up!

A former coach of mine once drew me a diagram. She put a line across the center of the page. Under the line were my hopes, dreams, plans and wishes. Above the line were completed projects, written books, delivered programs and happy clients. Punching through that line is the big task. You are creating a reality from a dream. All reality starts from dreams, but getting from point A to point B is not so simple. It involves mastery and mastery involves practice.

You are already on that journey because you’ve identified places where change is needed and you’re pursuing knowledge and skill to do that.

Here’s a quotation from George Leonard. He wrote a book called Mastery, although this quotation is from another book: “At the heart of it, mastery is practice. Mastery is staying on the path.” That’s what I’m talking about. Organizing is a journey, it’s not a destination you get to once and just stay there. It’s a lifestyle. It’s a practice.

The master is also a student, always. I learn from my clients all the time, and I’m constantly reading and observing and thinking about how I can help my clients better and how I put that knowledge to work in my own life.

I play Japanese taiko drum. I started about 12 years ago. I remember that about a year or so into my practice I felt like quitting. I’d learned all the basics. I could play some songs. But I noticed that my arm wouldn’t always move the right way when I willed it to and to this day, my bachi twirling is pretty sub par. I got discouraged by that and decided to quit several times.

For some reason I didn’t. I had a feeling I had plateaued. I was bored and frustrated but I convinced myself to continue. Then I started getting better again. I gained mastery over some techniques. Note that when I say mastery I mean that I became competent and could do this new thing reliably.

Then I started to get bored again! It took me awhile, but I realized that this was going to continue to happen. Once I relaxed into that, I started to appreciate more the small amounts of progress I made. And more importantly, I felt glad that there was so much more to learn, because I really love playing taiko!

That was a big mind shift. Being happy that I didn’t already know everything! The fun of learning and the excitement of increasing my mastery even a little bit. I don’t expect you to fall in love with getting better at organizing and pursue it with the zeal of a zen monk.

What I do suggest is giving yourself a break about not being there yet. If you are on the journey, you’re doing it. Every time you get back on the horse, you’re doing it. Your mastery is increasing and you can see the results. That’s what I want for you.

What can you do right now? If there’s a particular organizing skill you’ve been trying to master, or a habit you’re trying to form, look back and see how much progress you’ve made, and appreciate that. Even if it’s tiny, you can count it and let it pull you forward.

Podcast 083: Paying attention

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I got sidelined by a cold last week that I still have so I haven’t been promoting the contest as I intended. I’m extending the deadline into January to make up for that. In case you missed it, it’s a contest to win a PDF copy of my book, 52 Simple Ways to Get Organized. Here’s the idea: Go to my Facebook page and write a sentence or two telling me what idea or technique you’ve learned from my podcast that’s been the most valuable to you. I’ll give away three copies of the ebook to people who write in, randomly chosen. Sound good? Go to Facebook and find me at Clutter Coach Claire.

I’ll also be posting more Facebook live videos in the coming weeks, so stay tuned for those as well.

This is Podcast 83 and it’s about, mindfulness, or paying attention. What I mean when I talk about being mindful is nothing to do with Buddhism or meditation, it’s just paying attention to the present moment. In podcast 53 I used the word meditation, so let me explain. There, I meant a state of mind you can get into to help you carry out mundane tasks. It’s a state of gentle focus, of turning your attention away from distractions.

This state of mind is not a passive state, just as meditation is not. Think of the phrase “paying attention.” Especially the “paying” part. You are doing something active there. The online OED says that attention’s root word, attend, comes from Middle English for “apply one’s mind or energies to.”

You’re putting out some energy to create a certain outcome. You aren’t just sitting there like a blob, breathing in and out.

Mindfulness or paying attention or being where you are right now is critical not only for getting your desk tidied up, but also for knowing what you ought to be doing at any given time. Paying attention creates a calm center from which you can take in the big picture and see how it relates to right now.

It might seem like being the present moment means reacting to what’s in front of you, but that’s just a small portion of it. From a calm center you can see clearly in all directions and take in the information you need without having to be reactive in the moment.

You want to create that pause so your decision making is based on what it happening now AND on your goals and values that you see there on the horizon. The idea is to be able to balance those.

In the future, according to the Sci fi movies and shows I’ve seen, people type on a keyboard and instead of seeing things on a two dimensional screen, one screen at a time, they grab the information and throw it up in the air where it levitates in front of them, in 3d. They can see the whole situation from all angles at once. They can grab parts and move them around and see how those changes affect the whole, instantly, no scrolling down. Until that day comes, you’ll have to make do with other ways of seeing the whole situation.

In these days of information overload and universal ADD, it’s more important than ever to gain control over your attention. No one will do it for you. In fact, the world is conspiring again you in this way. Just as you jealously hoard your time in order to spend it on projects that are valuable to you, you must be able to recapture your attention when it’s been lost.

The first step there is to recognize when it has been lost. You know, those times when you look at your phone and see that two hours have gone by and you have no idea how that happened except that Facebook is open in your browser. How do you do that? I already gave you the answer to that one, by practicing mindfulness as much as possible. Of course, the path of life is one into which boulders fall. Even small stones can trip you up. Don’t let dealing with boulders deflect you from the path forward.

When you are mindful, all this good stuff happens; you’re doing the most important thing on your list right now. That’s because you can accurately gauge the priority of each item. You’re getting important work done on time. That’s because you have a clear view of the entire day and have allowed time for boulder management as well; this is contingency time and it’s an important part of your time budget.

You are making progress on long term projects and goals. That’s because you understand how all the tasks on your plate are related to each other and to the big picture of what you’re doing with your life.

And that’s what it’s all about, folks. Bad time management will get you into trouble at work and at home, sure. What’s really important though is that time is the measure of your life. We all have the same amount of time each day. How we use it reflects what we value and cherish.

What can you do right now:

Put up some post its that say “pay attention” or another phrase that will remind you to become present and observe what’s happening right now.

Podcast 082: Piggyback new habits

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Today is a historic day! My topic is Simple Way #52 , Piggyback new habits, and it’s the last chapter in the book. Yay! This is podcast #82 so I’ve done plenty of shows on content that isn’t in the book, probably another book worth.

To celebrate, how about a contest? The prize is a PDF copy of the book. You want to win this book! It will help you with your new year’s resolutions to get more organized and decluttered and use your time better, right? I know there are a lot of you out there who are getting value out of listening to my podcast. Over the last seven days, Soundcloud says I’ve had 2,943 plays! I love that. Thanks, guys.

Here’s the idea: Go to my Facebook page and write a sentence or two telling me what idea or technique you’ve learned from my podcast that’s been the most valuable to you. I’ll give away three copies of the ebook to people who write in, randomly chosen. Sound good? Go to Facebook and find me at Clutter Coach Claire. Good luck!

Okay, on to today’s topic. When you want to develop any new habit, it’s very helpful to piggyback it onto a current habit. That gives it some structure to lean on. It means you don’t have to start from 0.

Say you’re working on a new organizing habit, such as getting your personal mail handled daily, pair that up with a task you’re already in the habit of doing. This is a fairly low energy task, but it does take some time to do properly, so consider those requirements. Try attaching it to your dinner clean up. You tidy up the kitchen after dinner and then you go to your mail sorting spot and tidy that up to, as it were. If your home office is in the kitchen, all the easier to do.

A simpler example is starting to floss your teeth regularly. The most obvious habit to associate this with is brushing your teeth. If you’re not doing that every day, well, I can’t help you. Put your floss with the toothbrush and toothpaste as a visual reminder. The visual reminder and the pull of your regular brushing habit will make it easier to insert this new activity as part of your evening or morning routine.

When you’re in the habit of doing something, it actually feels odd not to do it. That’s the feeling you’re going for. You want not to think about it, to do it automatically.

At work, you might want to develop a habit of filing every week so there’s not so much paper clogging up your office all the time. You could tack this onto another habit or existing calendar item such as a weekly staff meeting. When you get back to your office from the meeting and before you start another activity, spend 10 minutes filing.

As with Simple Way #50, which I talked about in Podcast 68, you don’t have to start from scratch. Leverage your already installed habits. Let the existing habit be the reminder for the new habit. Once they become associated in your mind you will automatically do them both. That association is key. It’s what makes you feel incomplete if you don’t do both things.

Ingrained habits are one of the most powerful organizing tools you can have to make your life more organized. The time you save gives you more time to spend the way you want.

The less time you spend questioning whether you should do something is time that you save. That kind of decision making also depletes your energy.

The cool thing about developing new good habits is that you can use the same tendencies that make it hard to break bad habits. Humans tend to stick to the default. At so many points in our day, we need to make decisions. We have to automate many of them so we don’t feel overwhelmed.

When it’s a bad habit, that means defaulting to having another cup of coffee instead of seeking out a cup of tea or other beverage. We’re used to it and even if we don’t think it’s a great idea, it’s just much easier to keep doing what we’ve been doing.

When it’s a good habit, like knocking off some filing every week, we’re wearing a happy groove. The cue of returning to your desk from the weekly meeting eases you into that next step without resistance or rethinking.

Right now:

Choose a habit you want to develop and see which existing habit it makes most sense to link it to. Use visual cues as reminders.

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.