Conquering Perfectionism

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I wrote about perfectionism back in December, but it’s a topic that comes up a lot, with clients and in everyday conversation, so I’m addressing it again.

This time I’m going to quote from a great book about procrastination called It’s About Time by Dr. Linda Sapadin. Perfectionism is one of six ways that she identifies as procrastination styles. The others are dreaming, worrying, defying, crisis making and overdoing.

I won’t go into what makes a perfectionist procrastinate because you probably already know! Instead, I’ll paraphrase what Dr. Sapadin suggests to get over it.

  • Do some creative visualization. Perfectionists are often tense. Use the visualization to show yourself that everything is fine, including you.
  • Realize that the rest of the world can’t live up to your high standards. Then realize that you can’t either, because they’re impossibly high
  • "Strive for excellence rather than perfection." Focus on excellence and you’ll focus on results. Focus on perfection and you’ll get lost in all the tiny details before you can get to the results.
  • Stay with what’s realistic, not what’s ideal. There are many ways to achieve any result and your choice may be informed by time and resources available. If you’re realistic about that, you can still achieve excellence.
  • Don’t think in terms of "all or nothing." Life is not a pass/fail course. Give up rigid ways of thinking for more creative possibilities.

See if any of these techniques work for you. Try to resist trying each, in the order presented, even if you are a perfectionist!

Decluttering in Depth

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Okay, so maybe it is time to declutter than closet. This basic technique works for desktops, drawers, cupboards and any other spots where you keep a lot of stuff together. It’s not for attics or out of the way storage spots where you’re allowed to keep things that are rarely used and off-season clothes. This is for high traffic spots.

The idea is that you have to take all the stuff out of where it is now in order to properly sort it. When you try to sort things inside the closet you just end up pushing them around and peering into the dark area in the back and saying, "well, I guess all this stuff can just, uh, stay in here." It kind of fits and you know it’s there and the closet is too small to get into and really do anything constructive anyway.

So, you have to pull all the stuff out. Note: this can be a messy, time consuming project. Don’t squeeze it in an hour before you have to leave the house. Plus, give yourself enough room to sort everything you take out. Making one big pile on the floor won’t help.

  • Put things with other like things as you go. Clothes go with clothes. Sporting goods, games, appliances, camera stuff, memorabilia, etc. You don’t have to be too exact, but you want to know how many blenders are in the closet, for example.
  • Look through each category pile individually. Get rid of multiples. Be honest about whether you’re going to fix the broken things (maybe you’ve already replaced them?). Think about donating that lovely coat you never, ever wear so someone else can enjoy it. Think also about donating that insanely ugly hat you received as a gift and never, ever wear so that, however inexplicably, someone else can enjoy it.
  • Take a hard line on what goes back in the closet. Each item must be:
  1. Useful in your life now, or
  2. Loved and desired, or
  3. Both of the above

You have to make a commitment to each thing when you put it back in the closet. You use it, you need it, you like it. Now you know what’s in the closet and, most likely, you can actually get in there and find something. Yay!

Organize with Photographs

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Camera A quick way to get some objectivity about your space is to take some pictures. Our brains are constantly filtering extraneous information out of the visual field. We see what we need to see (sometimes what we want to see). Otherwise, we’d be overwhelmed.

A photograph includes all the information without editing anything out. I mentioned this technique in a previous post about a client who literally did not recognize her living room from a photograph. Your reaction may not be so strong, but you will be able to see things that escape your notice in real life.

How to do it:
Say you want to organize your home office. Get your camera and take a series of photos, starting from the left and crossing the room. Print them and lay them out in a panorama. Does the room in the photos look more cluttered than you thought? Are the piles bigger? Are there more of them, now that you can see the whole room at once? Is there a box under the desk that you’ve been conveniently ignoring?

Remember, this is just information gathering. It’s not an opportunity to make yourself feel bad about the state of your office. You can use these photos to help you identify what to do next. Right now, choose one thing you can do today. Make sure this is a do-able task, not a project.

Tips on task selection:

  • Choose something that’s been there for awhile; that box under the desk, or a hunk of paper off the bottom of a pile. Usually it’s easier to make decisions about older items because they’re not relevant anymore.
  • If you were able to quickly identify something that you know what to do with, do that. Maybe it’s a stack of folders for a completed project that need to be filed away. Maybe it’s some magazines you’ve been meaning to give away but they haven’t made it out the door yet. It’s not cheating to start with the easy stuff.
  • Choose a task that will improve the aesthetics of the room and make it a more pleasant place to be. That could be decluttering the windowsill so your view is clear. It could be taking all the Post-It’s off your monitor and copying the notes onto your to do list, address book or wherever they make sense.

If that worked for you, post the photos on a bulletin board so you can refer to them again and select another task. Bonus task: when you get your office looking the way you want, take another series of photos and post them. You can use them as a guide/reminder of how things are supposed to look so you can maintain it.

Camera from BigTallGuy’s photostream

Originally posted 2009-05-14 12:54:58. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Tricks to Motivate You

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Magician I answered a question on Linked In today about whether it’s possible to become more disciplined. My answer wasn’t really about discipline though, because that word turns me off. It makes me think of following rules, being punished if I don’t, rigidity and fear. Ick.

So my answer was about motivation instead. And tricks. Fun ways to get yourself to do stuff.


If the end result of your work is something you really, really want, it’s not hard to get motivated. If you don’t want the result, why bother? Whatever project you’re putting off, trace it back and find out what the original motivation was and whether it’s still valid.


If it’s valid and you still don’t want to do it, pay someone else to do it! Or, try some of these tricks.
  • Work on your project for just two minutes. Use a timer. If you get inspired, keep going. If not, you got two minutes worth done, more than you had before.
  • Imagine the day is over and you’re looking back over what you got done. What will make you feel like you got something really worthwhile accomplished? Then, do that thing.
  • Make a “Not To Do” list. Put anything that you’re not getting around to and that can go undone without the planet exploding. Keep the list somewhere safe. This tells your brain that it can forget about those things and relieves you of that mental clutter.

What tricks do you use to get yourself going and stay on task?


Rabbit out of a Hat from laneesque’s photostream.

Originally posted 2009-12-14 15:06:24. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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]

Originally posted 2015-03-23 20:56:23. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

How to Organize Your Wallet

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It may be small, but your wallet can be chock full of clutter. You don't want to be one of those people who holds up the line trying to find her preferred shopper card, do you? Or the guy with the unsightly rectangular growth on his backside (because we know it's not all money)? Of course not. 

So, empty your wallet and let's see what's in there.Wallet

  • Coupons:  Are they still good?  Are they worthwhile?  If you're not in the habit of using coupons, they can be more trouble than they're worth.
  • Frequent buyer cards:  These can be like coupons.  Only use ones from stores you patronize regularly AND where the clerk asks you for it (otherwise you may forget to present it).
  • Membership cards:  Most establishments will allow you to give your phone number instead of presenting your card.  Much less wallet clutter.
  • Receipts:  Why are you keeping them?  To balance checkbook?  Tax purpose?  Possible return?  Assign a pocket in your wallet for receipts and regularly take them out.
  • Credit cards:  You really only need one, or two if you have a business.  You have to be very organized to take advantage of perks like frequent flyer miles on credit cards.  Make sure using these perks doesn't cause you to buy things you don't need.  And make sure you have time to manage and track your benefits.
  • Scraps of paper:  Dedicate some space in your date book for little notes and ideas.  Reminders should go on a dated page.  Phone numbers into the address book, even if they're only temporary. 
  • Currency:  Keep your bills in denomination order.  Not only is it easier to find the amount you need, but you will have a better idea of how much cash you have at any given time. 
  • Stamps:  Can be handy, but only if you remember they're there.  Otherwise, you'll find them by accident and discover they're 41 centers

See if you can pare down to what you really need and use. The short list:
Driver's license or CA ID card
Health insurance card
Car insurance card
Credit card
Bank or ATM card
BART or other transit ticket

The Costanza Wallet (George, from Seinfeld) wallet courtesy of shareski's Flickr stream

Originally posted 2015-02-23 19:09:33. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Organizing by the Numbers

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Organizing and decluttering can be overwhelming. Where do you start? The answer is, you just pick a starting place and begin moving forward. Well, how do you do that?

Pick an NumberNumbers
You can pick a number of items, an hour of the day, or minutes to spend. Try the 27-Fling Boogie from the Fly Lady (she recommends crooning "Please Release Me, Let Me Go" as you toss). Or pick any other number of items that must go into the trash in the next few minutes.

 If you've got a backlog of boxes, tell yourself you'll sort whatever's in there until 10 a.m., or 2 p.m. Then you get to stop. You can do more later but in order to preserve your motivation, be true to your own word (i.e., be nice to yourself).

Try choosing a number of minutes to spend. Depending on what you're doing, even 5 minutes here and there will move you toward your goal. Have fun with it; pick a number out of a hat, roll the dice, use today's date or the amount of money that's in your wallet. 

Tricks are good! Another fun way to get your tasks done is to write them on index cards and then pick random cards when you're ready to work.

Do you have any fun ways to get yourself to organize when you don't really want to?

Number 1254 from 416style's photostream

Originally posted 2008-08-28 16:09:48. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Use Email to Stay Organized

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I asked my friend David over dinner one night how he manages to keep on top of all his projects at work. I don't always talk about organizing with friends, but I often discover new ways to do things from them, and that's always fun. He said that he uses his email program.

How does that work? For each project he opens a new email and starts typing in bullet points for all the tasks that need to be done that day. The emails are automatically saved as drafts and he can quickly cycle through them to see at a glance what's happening. He continues to add to them during the day, including notes from conversations and other emails. So he ends up with an outline of all project activity for the day.

He sends the emails to himself using the date and project in the subject line and then keeps them in the appropriate project folder. Sometimes they're also mailed to other people working on the project, saving him the step of copying information from other sources. And he has a chronological, easily accessible log of project activity.

I like this idea because it's simple and fast, it uses a program he already knows (no learning curve) and the information is easily transferred elsewhere, including to other people.

Juggler from jayniebell's photostream

Originally posted 2013-08-17 20:33:15. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Seven Steps to Successful Organizing has arrived!

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Livingroom-furniture Today I'm officially launching my free ecourse! I originally wrote it for people who attended a talk I gave last fall and then I realized I could expand it and offer it to everyone.

I love helping people succeed with their organizing projects. If I can do it by laying out a seven step program that they can run with, that's great news. Not everyone needs me there in person or on the phone to make a plan, get motivated and stay focused.

So, check it out at this link. See how it works for you. I'd love to hear about your results!

Originally posted 2010-03-01 13:13:58. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

The Six Styles of Procrastination

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Hey, it’s like a quiz! Don’t you love taking quizzes? Identify your particular procrastination style and try the suggested solutions. Or try any of the solutions that appeal to you, even if you don’t match the style. If it works, it works.

These definitions come from the book It’s About Time, by psychologist Linda Sapadin, condensed by me. You may have characteristics of several types; that’s okay. Pretty normal, actually.

The Perfectionist
These people don’t want to finish, or even start, a project that they fear won’t be perfect.  They waste time refining and honing their work, but adding no value.

How to overcome:

  • Set absolute deadlines.
  • Devise other criteria and adhere to it.  Remember that anything can be improved infinitely.  There’s no ending point for improving something.  You have to pick an end point and stick to it.
  • Most of the details you’re worrying about won’t matter in the end
  • Keep in mind how much effort you can afford, given everything else that’s going on in your life.

The Dreamer
These people are better at ideas than execution.  Actually doing the work seems tedious and boring.  They are vague about how to make things happen and tend to believe they’ll be magically rescued.

How to overcome:

  • Make plans in writing
  • Talk to others regularly to “test your reality”
  • Give yourself specific tasks to do, some routine and some that make your dreams reality
  • Use a timer to keep yourself on track and honest.

The Worrier
These people fear risk and always worry “what if?”  They put off acting if it means doing something unfamiliar or uncomfortable

How to overcome:

  • Remember that avoiding decisions is still deciding
  • Motivate yourself by focusing on the positive outcome you desire
  • Break down your tasks as small as possible to circumvent fear

The Defier
These people hate feeling controlled by others.  The feel oppressed by mundane chores.  “You can’t make me” is their line.

How to overcome:

  • Realize that people are requesting you to do something, not demanding it
  • Don’t take it personally!
  • Do what you know is right, even if it means “giving in.”

The Crisis Maker
These people are adrenaline junkies.  They thrive on and even create near disasters because they’re exciting.

How to overcome:

  • Don’t wait to feel excited about a project.  That might not happen until you get involved in something.
  • Satisfy your need for speed in more benign ways, like speed cleaning your kitchen.
  • Before you act, focus on how you’ll feel later, not just in the moment.

The Over Doer
These people are indecisive and unassertive.  They say yes to everyone and then get stuck.  They over commit and burn out.

How to overcome:

  • Realize you aren’t superwoman, and you’re fine the way you are now.
  • Don’t let the priorities of others take precedence over your own.
  • Remember that you are already in control of your time.  You are choosing what happens to you.  Let that empower you to make positive decisions.

Still stumped? You could get a few customized tips to deal with your particular brand of procrastination during a free 20 minute consultation. I’m offering this for another week or so. Jump on it!

Originally posted 2013-02-02 03:13:09. Republished by Blog Post Promoter