Podcast 079: Work backwards

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This is podcast 79 and it’s based on Simple Way #51 in my book, Work backwards. For the last several months I’ve been talking about other topics that aren’t in the book but today we’re back. Only one more to go after that! Then I need new material again. Don’t be shy, dear listeners, about suggesting subjects you’d like to hear about. You can post them on my Facebook page where you’ll find me as Clutter Coach. Or email me at Claire at cluttercoach.net.

Working backwards is a technique to use when you can’t seem to find a way into your project. It’s similar to the Time Travel concept I talked about in Podcast 64 back in July.

Are you stuck because you don’t know how to do something? You know what the desired end result is. You can imagine it and visualize it. But you can’t figure out how to get from here ….            to there.

Trying working backwards from the result you desire. You’ve achieved the result. It’s done and it worked out great. You’re finished. Let’s say your result is that you got your book published. For this technique you need a specific project. You need to be able to articulate it simply so it’s clear in your mind. And, of course, write it down because putting something into writing clarifies your thoughts about it.

Then start asking questions. What was the last thing you did before the book was in your hands (or on your website)? Probably, it was to give it one last proofreading. What did you do right before that? Let’s say it was sign off on the final cover art. And before that? You get the idea. Write out a backwards timeline and include each step.

You don’t need to get too detailed and add in all the rounds of proofreading. If you’re still scratching your head trying to figure out the steps, ask yourself what some other writer who’s not you would have done. That makes it less personal and more objective. It gives you some distance from the perhaps touchy subject.

It can defuse any emotional sabotaging your brain might be up to, reminding you that you still haven’t published that blasted book and who do you think you are, anyway? All that gremlin stuff. I talked about that a bit in podcast 71 about starting.

Better yet, draw it on a big piece of paper or whiteboard. On the right side, draw a circle and write the end result in it. Draw an arrow that points to the left side of the circle and then draw another circle that connects to the other end of it. That’s where the penultimate step goes. Keep drawing circles connected with arrows from right to left across the paper. Mix it up with colors and different shapes if that helps you stay on task.

Your imagination is powerful. Although you might have trouble seeing ahead into an unknown future, if you project yourself into the future, you can look back and see how you got there. As they say, hindsight is 20/20 vision. You know the whole story when you imagine the ending. Now you just have to get it out of your head and onto the paper.

Also remember that there may be many paths to get somewhere, but you only need one. Don’t let yourself get confused by multiple options. Perfectionists often fall into this trap. Too many good options to choose from.

Focus instead on getting to that final destination. Sometimes it makes sense to choose the simplest option because you have limited time to devote to the project. Other times, it makes sense to choose the fastest route to the end point because you have other places to go after that.

Many times, the way you get somewhere really doesn’t matter very much once you are there. Be wary of stopping to polish up all the little bits along your way when that time and effort will be wasted.

When you review your circle and arrow map from left to right, you can see what parts make sense and what might need revising. Again, you need to get it down on paper (or digitally) before you can start moving the parts around.

What can you do right now?

Draw that first circle with the end result in it. Then ask yourself, What was the very next to last thing you did before you arrived there?

Podcast 078: The iterative process

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This is podcast 78 and it’s about the iterative process. In the design world, an iterative process is one in which a prototype is tested to see if it fulfills its purpose. Feedback from users can show flaws and shortcomings that the designers didn’t notice or didn’t anticipate. They can be fixed for the next iteration.

It can also generate new ideas that only are revealed when the prototype is actually being used. Users ask questions like: why doesn’t it work THIS way? Why are there only two choices here? Why can’t I hold it this way? Those ideas can be analyzed and the good ones added to the next prototype.

For decluttering purposes, iteration helps people see an item in the context of other items, it allows people to review things over time and see that needs and desires have changed.

There are many times that the items you want to organize don’t lend themselves to quick decision-making. This goes for sentimental items and items from your past, heirlooms, kids artwork, anything that provokes an emotional reaction from you.

It could also be things that are on hold or things you haven’t decided on yet. Or a big pile of maybes that keeps growing and never seems to shrink. Or things you never decided on that you regret. again, there’s the emotional angle.

You can’t reason your way through this kind of decision making. You have to consult your feelings. You have to judge these items by particular circumstances. But feelings change over time and so do circumstances. You already know that things you once treasured can sometimes make you scratch your head wondering why you kept them. You can capitalize on this by using an iterative decluttering process.

What I mean by an iterative process is that you go through these items on a regular basis, maybe once a year. On the first pass, you might not get rid of much at all, if anything. It’s worth going through them to become acquainted again though.

If you’re a regular listener to my podcast, you know that it’s not allowed to be unaware of things you own. Anything you’ve forgotten about or don’t even recognize is something you don’t need weighing down your life.

On the second iteration, you may get rid of a few items. Each time you go through the items you’re likely to get rid of more each time. That’s because over time the emotional hold grows weaker. The regret gets farther in the past. The unique memento loses its charge because more of the same have been acquired.

An organizer named Harriet Schecter has a really interesting way of dividing up sentimental items. The categories are good, bad, happy and sad. The good things are keepsakes or souvenirs that are in good condition and maybe even salable. The bad things are angry letters and photos of people you’re alienated from. Happy things are a medal you won doing something meaningful to you and tickets from a show you attended with loved ones. Sad things are trinkets that remind you of deceased loved ones or a loss you shared with someone dear to you.

The intriguing part is that she recommends getting rid of all the bad and good items, not the bad and sad. Why? For the most part, the bad and good things aren’t ones you have a real attachment too. They may seem to be memorabilia but they really aren’t. Sometimes it takes a few iterations to realize that.

What you will find is that items with the lowest happy or sad quotient are the ones you can release the quickest. Their appeal wears off the soonest and you can decide to part with them.

It’s important to distinguish between emotional value and monetary value. If you still want to keep an object because you might be able to sell it, by all means keep it, but don’t keep it with your other sentimental items. It doesn’t belong there anymore and you probably never will sell it if it stays there. Set aside other storage space for those valuable items.

A great feature of using an iterative process is that you can let go of forcing yourself to make decisions to get rid of things. I never want to put my clients in that position. The goal of decluttering has to be tempered by empathy and patience. When you know you can go through a box of mementos and simply reaffirm that you want to keep them, that lessens the stress of doing it immensely.

The other great benefit is that you get to visit with these important things once a year. I’m posting this podcast in November. Winter and the holiday season can be a great time to delve into that memorabilia box and relive the memories that have made you who are today, and share them with family if you wish.

What you can do now: Just contemplate the idea of going through a bag or shelf or box NOT with the idea of clearing it out, but with the idea of making sure you want what is there, and when you find things that no longer have a place in your life, release them.

The killer app for productivity

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One of my clients sent me a list of focus and productivity apps. Some of them sound pretty intriguing. 

Forest gets you to focus on your project for 30 minutes. At the beginning of your work time, you plant a tree. As you continue working, it grows. If you stop, all the leaves fall off and it dies. You’ve selfishly killed off an innocent digital tree!

There are apps that force you to do nothing for two minutes, prevent your access to distracting websites, rewire your brain with subliminal messages and more. I will try out and review some of these in future issues.

The reason I’m bringing them up here is that my wise client commented that no matter how helpful the app, you always are stuck with you. 

There’s no magic bullet. 

Where does that leave you? It’s the old tried-and-true of identifying what you want to change, making sure you choose something do-able, setting up your environment to support that change, and working at it every day. 

Step two is important. Select a change that’s small yet effective, and one that you believe that you can achieve. Setting a goal that’s too high is a big reason that people fail. 

Is there an app for that? I’m sure there is. But don’t get so lost in the search for the killer app that you neglect what you’re trying to do. 

Podcast 077: Stories we tell ourselves

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This is Podcast 77 and it’s about stories we tell ourselves to excuse our behavior. We think they’re helpful because they explain ourselves to us. And that’s true. But these stories can be dangerous too because they prevent us from moving forward and changing things we want to change.

The story I come across most often is The Great Depression story. It goes like this: I have all this stuff because I (or my parents) grew up during the depression. Or, my family kept all these things because they lived through the depression. I’m not making fun of these people or taking this lightly. The great depression was a sad time in our history, but it also is a limiting story for many people.

Another common one is the messy creative person. The story is that if you’re creative, you’re also going to be messy. And maybe crazy and an alcoholic too, but that’s another story. There’s a strong association between artistic talent and having your art supplies scattered everywhere.

Granted, in some cases, creative people are also dyslexic and that makes it hard for them to be organized in conventional ways. But often this story is just an excuse to avoid the boring and dull work of putting stuff away. I get that, but it also makes the person’s life more difficult when they don’t have room to make art or can’t find the supplies they want to use. In that scenario, the romance of a cluttered studio falls away.

But the reason this is a problem isn’t that people are deluded or lazy, it’s that they are so captivated by their stories that they can’t be objective about what’s happening. Stories are compelling. As humans, we naturally search for narratives to explain the world. We want a logical structure, we want things to make sense. We want to make assumptions based on past experience. We want to make educated guesses about the future.

Stories are strong. If enough people believe in something, it becomes harder to dispute. Actually, people don’t even think about disputing it. “But it’s always been this way!” they say. I’m not sure when the Great Depression became associated with hoarding but I can assure you that hoarding existed before that and it exists in people today who don’t have a Great Depression trauma in their family history.

A story like this can be used as an excuse to continue a behavior, or, better, it can illuminate the reason for a behavior and thus make it easier to change. The question is, are you doomed by your history or liberated by it?

Stories give us a place in the world. They make sense of things that otherwise might feel threatening or frightening. But clinging to a story for that reason, despite all the negative reasons, doesn’t serve people. The story that helps explain something can also be a prison.

What does this have to do with decluttering and organizing? Well, when I work with clients, I urge them to be honest about why they want to get organized. It shouldn’t be something they believe is the right thing to do. That’s just another story! It’s not better in an absolute sense to be organized. Being organized needs to be at the service of something else, like making life easier. It has no meaning in itself.

There’s a book called A Perfect Mess in which the authors assert that neatness for its own sake is a waste of time and energy. Well, duh! Of course it is! People who practice neatness for its own sake tend to be obsessive compulsive and that’s nothing to aspire to.

Do you have a story that’s preventing you from making positive changes in your life? It doesn’t matter if the story is true or false, you still have the power to turn it around. Instead of letting the story be an explanation of why you can’t do something, turn it into a limitation that you are going to overcome.

Maybe your parents or grandparents did grow up during the depression and suffered. Now, today, that’s not happening. They have everything they need now. There’s no rational reason to continue scrimping and doing without. That’s good news!

Say you’re a creative person with a clutter issue. It feels validating to you to explain your mess by saying that you think outside the box and can’t be held to conformist standards. But you also notice that your work table isn’t really usable because of all the stuff on it and that’s probably why you haven’t been in the studio lately. Or maybe you can’t get to a piece of equipment you need because it got stuck behind a bunch of other stuff. Hmm, time to reconsider whether you can’t use your creativity to invent new and fun ways to keep your tools and supplies set up in a way that enables your work rather than hindering it.

What you can do right now: think about an organizing or clutter problem you have and be honest with yourself about whether you’re holding yourself back by being too invested in your story.

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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 076: Organizing challenges for couples

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This is Podcast 76 and it’s about organizing challenges for couples. I usually work with individuals, but sometimes I work with couples and families too. Even when I’m working just with an individual, there are family members lurking in the background and they have their own wants, needs, agendas, resistances and bad habits that we have to take into account.

Sometimes I joke that I’m a marriage counselor and a personal trainer and an organizer all rolled into one. But it’s kind of true. Anyone who works with people in situations where they feel vulnerable needs to have empathy and people skills to truly help them.

Our homes and even our offices are personal spaces that reflect us whether we like it, or realize it, or not. They reveal our personalities in ways we like, when we display artwork or décor we’re proud of, and in ways we may feel shy about, when people see the inside of that closet we haven’t been able to clear out. I’m grateful that my clients trust me to see both those sides of them without judgment.

With couples, the level of organization and clutter in a home can reflect their shared proclivities, or one partner sets the tone and the other goes along with it, sometimes willingly, sometimes not. When people in that last category call me, I need to make clear that we can’t impose change that’s not agreed to by both parties. I know it would be great to just call in an organizer to fix your messy partner, but it doesn’t work that way.

On the positive side, when both people are willing, they’re often both more receptive to what I recommend than they would be to hearing it from their partner. That’s just human nature. It’s much easier to accept suggestions for change from someone you know has no investment in the outcome, except that you be happy. No hidden agendas, no history, no resentments.

I’m not a therapist; I work with couples as a coach. Sometimes it’s like running a business meeting. Everyone brings their ideas to the table to discuss. When one person finishes presenting an idea, I ask the other to respond, and vice versa. If we come to a stalemate, I try to find out where the resistance is coming from and if it’s something we can talk about and get past.

If that doesn’t work, I suggest scaling back on the project. That’s good advice anytime. Whenever you’re not making adequate progress on a goal, or any progress at all, see if you can make the goal smaller, or make your next step toward it smaller. Downscaling lowers the stakes, lowers the risk, and that in turn usually lowers your stress level and resistance to doing it.

It’s more effective to do a smaller project, like a pilot project, and get it done than to continue to negotiate over a larger one. Finishing something is instructive. You can learn a lot even from a small project. You learn about your own process and you can observe your partner’s. That’s all important information to use as you go up to a higher level, more complicated project.

Another technique I use is to back up all the way. Go back to why they hired me in the first place. At the core, there is something that they both want, which is usually to make their house a nicer place to live, making their lives easier, whether that means decluttering, organizing, rearranging, developing new habits or dividing up responsibilities differently.

This too is a great strategy for anyone. If you’re slacking off on a goal, it could be for many reasons such as feeling overwhelmed, feeling incompetent or feeling guilty. It could also be lack of motivation. If it’s that, you need to remind yourself of why you’ve set this course for yourself. Remind yourself that each task you do, such as clearing out a bin of old magazines, is getting you closer to that goal, even though the task itself is tedious and seems like not a good use of your time.

A third strategy I recommend for couples is “mind your own business.” Or, as my sister might say, “don’t be a buttinsky.” In a shared home, it’s not always simple to figure out who’s business is what. This is where compromise, negotiation and delegation come in. Let’s look at those three.

Compromise is when one partner makes a conscious decision not to be bugged anymore by the collection of woodworking magazines that takes up all that space on the bookshelves. Negotiation is when one partner agrees to take out the trash if the other will clean the bathroom.

Delegation is when both partners agree that one will be in charge of, say, bill paying, for example. Delegating can save a lot of time and headaches and ideally, the person best suited for the job will also want to do it.

It gets trickier for people who like things done a certain way, although it can work if there are just a few areas where this occurs and the less picky partner is in agreement. When it doesn’t work is when the perfectionist partner, because that’s what this is about, wants more things done their way than they have the capacity to actually to get done.

With a couple at home, this often translates into a house full of undone projects and tasks because Partner A intends to do them but doesn’t have time. This causes even the least picky Partner B to get a little bent out of shape.

My advice to perfectionist partners (and any perfectionists) is this: pick your battles. Pick them, fight them and win them. Or lose them. Doesn’t really matter. Focus on the ones that matter most, because everything cannot matter the most. Take action, because action must be taken to make progress even if it’s not exactly right. Let it play out, because without resolution you never win. You don’t lose either, but you never win. Never.

When you pick your battles, you also pick the ones you aren’t going to fight. This means you delegate them. It’s critical to delegate completely; not to micromanage or be critical of the other’s execution. Of course, the other person won’t do it perfectly. That’s a given. The other person also won’t do it your way.

It can be helpful here to step back and look at the overarching goal, as I mentioned before. Let the goal of improving the quality of your living space be satisfied by the task your partner has completed, even if you know you could’ve done it better. Done is better than perfect.

What you can do now: If you’ve got a home organizing issue you need to work out with your partner, pick one of the strategies I’ve given and try it. Try exploring resistance, scaling back, remembering your big goal, and checking your motivation. Also try compromise, negotiation and delegation. Don’t try all at once. Small is better.

 


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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 074: The power of labeling

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It’s to be expected that organizers like to label things. They run around with their little machines and slap a label onto anything that’s not moving. I don’t go that far, and not everything needs a label.

Ease of finding things and ease of putting them away are two big reasons that getting organized matters, for anything you organize. It’s supposed to save you time and make your life easier, not turn you into an obsessive compulsive freak.

But in some cases labels come in super handy, and maybe not for the reasons you think.


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 073: Journaling

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Why journal? When I write about my day, particularly about work related activities, I record what happened, but I also write how I feel about it and do some analysis if that seems appropriate. I compare what I’m doing now to what I did a few years ago. I write about it in relation to where I want things to go.


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 072: Have what you love, love what you have

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The current challenge I’m giving myself is general decluttering. I decided that there’s too much visual clutter in my apartment. It’s distracting and I feel that I can’t completely relax because so much is calling my attention. I need to remove some things.


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 071: Not starting

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This is podcast 71 and my topic is starting. I talked about that a few podcasts back, where I gave some ideas on how to get into action when you find yourself continuing NOT to. This time I’ll talk less about technique and more about mindset, or the emotional background to starting. Or not starting.


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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 070: Chunking

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Hi, gang, this is podcast 70 and it’s about chunking. This is a concept you should be familiar with if you’re a regular listener. I talk often about how to make an unmanageable project manageable by cutting it into small pieces or chunks.


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.