Podcast 099: The virtual team

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This is podcast 99 and it’s about a productivity tool I call the virtual team. You assemble a virtual team with people in your life to help you be accountable. I came up with this idea for one of my clients who’s a consultant. He works for a company but doesn’t have an office there. His job involves working with people from different departments on different projects. So for the most part, he’s running the show.

Sometimes his projects aren’t moving along as fast as they could though. In a typical work setting, he’d be meeting regularly with colleagues and sending reports to his boss. There would be a structure and timeline for each project that was the responsibility of more than one person, and each person had a role to play.

When you’re independent or work for yourself, you don’t have that structure. A lot of my podcasts have been about ways you can motivate yourself and sustain that when you have only yourself to answer to. Because that’s me! I don’t have a boss, or I’m the boss and the employee. I can take initiative and get things done, most of the time. But I also benefit from my virtual team.

So, what’s a virtual team? It’s a collection of people you make yourself accountable to. It’s the department colleagues you would have at a regular job. It also exists in your personal life. Weight Watchers is a great example. Besides offering recipes and eating programs, they provide in-person meetings. The company says that meeting attenders lost nearly eight times more than those who tried to lose weight on their own. Why? The magic of accountability!

Here’s the plan for my client. We identified his contact people for the three projects that currently have the most traction. We sketched out rough timelines for each project. In podcast 79 I talked about working backwards in order to figure out a timeline. You start with the end result. It’s easier to see what had to happen right before that and right before that than it is to try to see the end point from the beginning.

Once we had the timeline we could see where my client might get hung up and start procrastinating. Those are the times to schedule a virtual team member call. He could use the call to get more information, or he could use it as a deadline to complete a piece of the project and report on it. Having the calls on his calendar gave more structure to the timeline.

The interesting thing is that your team members don’t have to know they’re on your team. In some cases that might be awkward, for example, if you pick a client to be on your team. It makes sense to check in with your client, but you don’t want to put the client in a position of receiving your report.

One way that works in my business is that I announce I will do something, like provide a new service, by a certain date. That gets me motivated to finish the thing off so I can present it when I promised I would. I feel that someone is expecting it and that is inspiring to me. It also encourages me to put tasks on the calendar and complete them because I’ve given myself a reason that they should happen now, not next month or next year or sometime in the future.

Another way it works is that I have two friends who are also solo business owners that I talk to every week. We don’t have a specific agenda for our calls, although that’s a great idea. Still, the calls give some shape to my week and I think about what I’ll tell them in advance. If I told Paula I’d start writing copy for my new class, I really want to get that done before we talk so I can tell her how it went and get some feedback.

Another key feature of the virtual team technique is that it helps create urgency. The client I’ve been writing about is prone to putting things off until the last minute and then he doesn’t have time to do as good a job as he’d like to with, say, a report he needs to deliver at a meeting. Regular calls with a virtual team member create small urgencies that prompt him to complete small pieces of the project over time, rather than cramming an hour before the meeting.

Urgency creates focus. The more you perceive urgency for a particular task, the more everything else drops out of the picture so it’s not distracting you anymore. It’s also exciting! Too much urgency can cause panic and shutdown, but just the right amount gets you in the groove so you can do your best work.

What you can do now: think about who you could recruit for your virtual team. Friends can work if they are in a similar situation to yours so they have insights and experiences in common with you. Family members can work. People in your field that you meet through networking, or a mentor. Then start assembling your team.

Podcast 098: Working on your own

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This is Podcast 98 and it’s about getting organized on your own, whether it’s just you, a couple or a family. If hiring an organizer isn’t in your budget, what can you do? Well, I’m not going to dissuade anyone from working on their own. It certainly can be done. My aim in doing this podcast is to give you valuable tips and ideas that you can implement on your own.

In this podcast I’ll give you some guidelines. First, as you know if you’ve taken my ecourse, is to have a vision. Podcast 57 was about that subject, so go back and listen if you haven’t already. Creating a vision is like picking a spot on the map to go to. If you start walking or driving without a destination in mind, you’ll end up in places you don’t want to be, or waste time doubling back or just plain get lost.

Your vision should include how things look and also how they feel, how you feel. You want to have a positive sense of being invested in the project to keep you motivated. It’s much easier to stay motivated when you have a positive vision pulling you forward.

If you want to declutter because your spouse gave you an ultimatum, that’s negative motivation. It will probably get you moving, but you’ll experience fear and anxiety that will not help you make good decisions or work effectively.

Once you have a vision, you can use it to set some goals. I believe in SMART goals, which are specific, measureable, attainable, relevant and time based. There is tons of information about SMART goals online, so I won’t go into this further. Using this formula, you’ll be more likely to come up with goals that aren’t too huge or vague or trivial.

Once you’ve got a goal, or goals, the next thing to do is to figure out what action you can take to move toward your goal. This can be a tricky transition. I find that often people have trouble moving from the big goal and vision to what they can do right now. And what you can do right now is another regular feature of my podcasts. I want to put you into action!

Partly it’s because the goal can seem a bit overwhelming even if it’s a SMART goal. Partly it’s because you have to translate a somewhat abstract goal into concrete action. Partly it’s because you need to pick a place to start. I’ve talked about all those issues in previous podcasts.

Here’s the secret: pretty much any action is a good action. Anything that gets you into motion, that moves you from point A to point A.2 is good action. You overcome the inertia of remaining in one place and get to the inertia of remaining in motion.

I want to talk a bit about how to proceed if it’s not just you doing the organizing. If you’re going to work with your partner or family, that changes things a bit. The first rule is that you can’t organize anyone else’s stuff if they’re older than, say, 6. Family members have to have a say in what happens to their stuff, at the very least and ideally be on board for the project in a positive way.

The second rule is to be flexible. This is a basic relationship rule. You can try the “my way or the highway” method, but it works better to compromise and come to solutions that everyone can agree on.

A good way to get buy in from family members who aren’t as enthusiastic as you are about getting organized is to chose methods that are as easy and simple as possible. I recently worked with a client who’s husband threw his dirty underwear behind the bathroom door every night. He knew where the hamper was, but it was all the way in the bedroom. Their bathroom was pretty small, but I suggested my client get a little basket that fit under the sink for laundry. And it worked. He wasn’t averse to being tidy, he just needed it to be easier.

The third rule is to be specific. If you want your living room to be tidier but you don’t describe what that means, your partner is likely to straighten up some piles of magazines and that’s it. I’ve seen this happen a lot. This goes back to the specific and measureable aspects of your goal.

You need to be clear that a tidy living room has no cast off clothes in it, no used coffee cups, no piles of paperwork, whatever it is you decide on. That way, if there are disagreements, at least you’ll all be discussing the same thing.

My third rule is to make it fun! Especially if you want to get kids involved, and you should, make putting things away into a game or a race. Put on upbeat music. Plan a reward for everyone. It works well to have various family members do their chores at the same time, even if they aren’t working together. That way, you can hold the space for each other. It’s more motivating to do a chore when you know everyone else is doing their chore too.

What you can do right now. If it’s just you, clarify and sharpen your vision and see what goals emerge from that. If there are others involved, start enrolling them in your vision and goals so they can participate.

Podcast 097: Sorting

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Podcast 97, this one, is about sorting. Back in podcast 61 I talked about general sorting principles. I find sorting to be easy and even kind of fun. Do you remember the Sesame Street recurring sketch called “One of these things”? In the sketch, there were four objects and one of them was different from the others. It’s the preschooler’s job to figure out which one is different. In one, Big Bird has four bowls of bird seed that are alike in shape, color and contents, but one is much bigger.

Sometimes the other three weren’t all alike, but at least two objects had a feature in common, so they couldn’t be the one that wasn’t like the others. It made you think about how to categorize things. You had to think about characteristics such as shape, color and size, and also about purpose and use.

I worked with a client and her young daughter the other day organizing the stuffies, of which there were quite a few. We started with type of animal and that worked fine for bears and dogs, but then we had too many one-offs; a dragon, a snake, a giraffe. So we talked about other qualities they had; fur or not, how many legs, solid color or patterned, and tail length.

The point is, there are many ways to categorize almost anything. Your first concept might not work out but you need to start somewhere or you won’t get anywhere. So how can you apply this to non stuffed animal situations? A great spot to apply it is to a box of miscellany or a junk drawer.

The reason those things are hard to sort is that there are too many things to consider at once. I’ve talked before about how decision making gets harder the more choices you have. This is similar.

Next time you have a bunch of miscellaneous items to sort through try this. Scan through it and see if any categories surface for you. Recently, I went through such a box with a client and the first category I spotted was pens. We collected all the pens and put them in a pile. Then, I noticed loose change. We got all that out into a pile. After that was electronic items; chargers, cords and memory sticks. Another pile. And so on.

Every time we removed a category of stuff, there was less to sort through, obviously. Having the quantity reduced meant less sorting work. But there was also less comparing to do because there were fewer things to compare.

When you sort and compare, you look at an item and run it through a series of filters in your mind. It mostly happens so quickly you aren’t aware of it. Sorting out the coins for example. Once you sight a quarter in the box, your mind attunes to round, metal, flat, raised printing and your eyes seek out other objects with those qualities. You don’t consciously do it; you already have a mental image of what a coin looks like. This is pattern recognition. People naturally seek out patterns around them.

But there’s more to organizing than visual patterns. We need to consider uses and purposes as well, and those vary. Once you identify those metal things as coins, the next step is to ask yourself where they go, which is a further characterization. They might go right into your pocket. They might go into your son’s piggy bank. They might go into a cup where you keep the Laundromat change.

This may seem self evident, but when I search online for articles about sorting, mostly what I come up with is clever and adorable containers to put things into. People love containers, I notice. People who hate organizing love containers. It’s kind of funny. You can have all your stuff carefully put away into fabulous containers and be horribly disorganized.

That’s because things go into the containers based on visual criteria like their size or color, or because there are things that need to be off the table and they end up in whatever container is closest. Don’t succumb to this!

Visual categorizing is most helpful when you’re going through a big bunch of stuff. On a daily basis, the stuff you encounter needs to be sorted by its use and purpose. You don’t need to categorize it because you’re not comparing it to something else.

What you can do now: find a surface like the dining table or kitchen counter that has a small collection of items that don’t belong there. As you scan them, see if you can quickly identify where each thing goes; what it’s purpose and use is.

Podcast 096: The four tendencies: questioner

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This is podcast 96 and it’s about being a questioner as one of the four tendencies. If you’ve been listening to me for awhile, you know I love to ask questions! I love to ask what I call stupid questions, the ones that people don’t ask because they take the answer for granted and it doesn’t occur them that they even CAN question it.

I’ve always been this way. When I was a kid my dad gave me a book called Can elephants Swim? which answered lots of questions he couldn’t respond to. Whenever I hear someone say, “well, we’ve always done it this way” it drives me nuts. Why, why, why? I want to ask!

This is why I run my own business and it’s a business where questioning is extremely useful and important. I’m not a very good employee, also for this reason. When rules don’t make sense to me, I don’t obey them.

I AM good at following rules if they’re explained to me and make sense, but in so many jobs, rules come down from the top and no one can explain them. On top of that, there’s all the wasted time and energy devoted to such silly rules. Okay, enough ranting.

I’m exploring this because I’m taking the Four Tendencies course with Gretchen Rubin based on her book. The other tendencies are the Upholder, the Obliger and the Rebel. These group are different in their approach to expectations.

In a nutshell, Upholder honor internal and external commitments, Questioners tend to honor mostly internal commitments, Obligers give preference to external commitments and Rebels, as you may have guessed, don’t honor any commitments!

Like knowing your Enneagram number or even your zodiac sign, learning about your tendency can help you identify what techniques will work best for you to be more organized, manage time better, etc. If you’re a questioner as I am, you’ll do a lot of research before selecting a method to try. You’ll want to know why it is the way it is, how those decisions came to be made. And if you adopt it, you’ll probably end up customizing it to suit you better; improving it because you know best and tossing out the bad stuff because it’s obviously stupid and unnecessary.

I haven’t gotten to the part of the course yet where I get to find out details about the other three tendencies. But in general, Upholders can easily come to congruence with internal and external expectations; they fulfill commitments to themselves and have no problem doing what others want as well.

Obligers tend to forsake their own personal commitments in favor of helping others or going along with the program. But if they’re asked to do too much, apparently they snap and make dramatic changes in their lives. Rebels don’t much like to be accountable and highly value their freedom, even it if means procrastination and lack of productivity that doesn’t serve them. I’ll do another episode on this once I get through the course.

But you can start thinking now whether you are more likely to keep commitments to yourself or to others. If you think you’re an Obliger, you’ll probably do better with an off the shelf solution, something that’s been created and offered as a complete solution, or with a coach or teacher who will lay out a program for you to follow.

An Upholder would also do well with a pre-designed package solution, although Upholders are inclined to want to take on too much and possibly burn out. They often want to cross every T and dot every I just because the instructions say so.

A questioner does best with a system of components that can be added to or subtracted from as he or she sees fit. Questioners pay attention to how well something is working for them and looks for ways to improve or replace it.

Rebels, like questioners, want things their way, but they need to be careful not to reject ideas just because someone or some book or some program suggests them. They do better if they can focus on the benefit they’ll get, rather than on who suggested it.

Here’s an example, the to do list. An upholder can’t wait to get to her to do list and start doing the tasks. A questioner reviews his list often to make sure everything on there is there for a good reason. An obliger may get through the to do list, but discover that everything she did was according to someone else’s priorities. A rebel says, “I don’t need any stinking to do list!”

What you can do right now:

Not every organizing method works for everyone. The more you know about yourself, the easier it is to find a solution that does work for you. Put yourself into the to do list descriptions above and see which feels the most like you.

Podcast 095: Prioritizing

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This is podcast 95 and it’s about prioritizing. I’m surprised to look back and see that I haven’t talked about this concept much! It came up last night with my coaching group as we started our month of focusing on time management.

Speaking of the group, May has just begun, so it’s not too late to join the group. You can find out details on my homepage, cluttercoach.net.

Lack of prioritizing is a big reason that people get overwhelmed and do nothing, or they focus on the wrong things because they’re not looking at the big picture. To me, the most important factor in choosing priorities for how to spend your time each day is how well they reflect your life goals. After all, there’s no point in being productive and efficient if you’re spending time on things that don’t matter.

This is an important topic. Many people never write down their goals, for a variety of reasons. It’s said that writing them down is a better indicator of achieving them than not, so it’s a good idea, but at the very least, you should have an idea of what they are.

A tool life coaches use is the Wheel of Life. You can google that and come up with tons of examples. Basically, it’s a pie chart with each slice assigned to an area of your life, such as family. There are basic categories, but you should feel free to add your own or rename them. It’s your life, they’re your categories!

A pie chart is a good technique because it shows you graphically how big each slice is relative to the others. Most wheels have each slice the same size, but it’s worthwhile to draw them to reflect what’s happening in your life and see where you’d like to make changes.

After you have a good idea of what your goals are, ideally in an at-a-glance format such as the Wheel of Life or a short list of evocative phrases, you can refer to it to screen your activities. Note that this is not only for being productive. Fun, recreation and social life should also be in your pie so you have some life balance. But even balance is optional! There’s no rule that says all your slices have to be the same size. They just need to reflect how you want to live your life.

If you think of projects and to do’s associated with your goals that you’re not ready to tackle yet, capture them in a master list. Podcast 35 was about this topic. Use this list for everything that pops into your head that you’d like to do, accomplish, be, have, experience, etc. That way your mind can rest and you don’t have to keep reminding yourself of things you can’t do right now.

Goals and therefore priorities change over time. Don’t be afraid to alter your list if you start down a path that turns out not to be right for you. As I’ve said many times, you don’t necessarily know where a path will go until you walk on it for awhile.

Often you’ll find that the slice that needs some help is one containing a goal you’re procrastinating on. Maybe it seems too big or not do-able at all in your current situation. It qualifies as something that’s important but not urgent and we all know that humans are prone to focusing on urgent tasks at the expense of ones that are actually important. But if you’ve affirmed it as a value in your life, it’s time to prioritize it.

So the sequence is this. Look at your to do list and make sure each to do is related to pushing forward one of your life goals. Screen it using your pie. If you don’t have such a list, make one now! This list is of current stuff, not your daily to do list.

Now you make your daily to do list, making sure to include tasks that are important along with all the urgent ones, although I suggest being honest about what is truly urgent and that only YOU can do. Mark each task as being urgent or important, although some can be both.

Next, prioritize your list so that you are doing as many important tasks as you can while still getting the urgent ones ticked off. Depending on how your particular list looks, you could alternate, starting with an important task. Or you could do only important tasks till lunch, then do the rest in the afternoon. I like this strategy because urgent tasks usually come with an adrenaline rush that can keep you going in the afternoon. You want to save your valuable mental energy time for the important tasks.

Mixing it up a bit can also help lower your resistance to the important tasks, which by definition will be small steps that advance your goals, not entire projects. Refer back to podcast 24 for more detail on that point. Small steps are ones that you are totally clear on and know you are capable of doing. Once you check one off you can go on to the next thing.

It sounds straightforward, but it does require some work and attention; first, to come up with your goals pie and second, to get used to screening your to dos based on your goals and values. But this is how you get to look back over the past year and feel good that you made some progress, however small, on what’s really important to you.

What you can do now: get one of those Wheels of Life and fill it in! If you’ve already done that step, start a master list. If you have that too, look at your current projects and apply the screening technique to the first one.

Podcast 094: Know your end point

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This is podcast 94 and it’s called “Know your end point.” First, I’ll share with you what we’re working on in my coaching group. In case you haven’t heard, I now offer group coaching for productivity, time management, prioritizing, procrastination and decluttering. There’s a different theme each month. Next month, we’ll be working with time management. Our live session will be on May 2nd, always the first Wednesday of the month. Join us! You can find out more and register on my website, www.cluttercoach.net.

This month, the coaching group topic is procrastination. To that end, I’ve been collecting all my best tips for overcoming it and sharing them with the group in our private Facebook group.

Know your end point. One big reason that people put off doing things is that they seem like they’ll take forever. I’ve talked about this idea before in terms of breaking off small chunks of a project so you’re not overwhelmed by the whole thing.

Even with a small task, though, unless you have a clear idea of how you’ll know when you’re finished, you’ll be resistant to taking it on. In this case, I don’t mean how much time it takes, but how you assess your work and pronounce it complete.

You’ve probably heard the question “how long is a piece of string?” People often ask it in response to the question, “when are you going to be done?” A lot of projects, maybe even all of them, fall into this category. There will always be unexpected events, complications, new decisions made, changes of heart, etc.

This is why deadlines are so important. If you don’t get the project done by the end of the month, the trade show will happen and your project won’t be part of it. End of story. This is why I LOVE deadlines! As I’ve mentioned before, you can improve something infinitely, meaning you never finish with it. Without the external accountability of time, you might never produce anything. And that would be sad.

Let’s take the example of this podcast. I know when I’m finished writing it. I have to fill up one and a half pages on the screen. I’ve timed it and I know that equals five minutes of recording time, more or less. Five minutes in length is what I originally planned for this podcast. If I didn’t have that guideline, I’d have a lot more resistance to doing it.

With the podcast, sometimes there’s a natural ending point before the five minute mark. I feel that I’ve made my point and there’s nothing more to add that wouldn’t be fluff or redundant. So I end it. Sometimes I discover there’s more to say than I thought and then I divide the material into two or three different podcasts.

Sometimes I stop and go back and read what I’ve read so far to see how I’m doing. Am I sticking to the point? Am I adding value? Is it interesting and fun to listen to? If I get stuck I can usually get back into the flow that way.

It’s really hard to start working on something that might turn out to be an uphill slog forever, and you never know whether it will be or not! It would be like running a race that doesn’t have a finish line. Or there might be one, but you don’t know where it is. Wouldn’t that feel stressful and make you not want to participate?

Say you’re running a race and you do know where the finish line is. With that information, you can manage your energy, you can slow down when you need to in order to have enough energy to finish. You know how much water to bring, again so you have enough to get through the race without stress. You’ve got the right gear and the right clothes on.

Let’s compare this to whatever project you’re working on. It’s not a totally fair comparison because, as far as I know, there aren’t any races without set finish lines. Meaning that someone else has decided where the race ends and once you get there, you’re done. You have that satisfying feeling of 100% completion.

With your own projects, you have to decide when they’re done, even if they are assignments from someone else. Even if the project is to pass an exam where you know exactly what you’ll be graded on, you still have to decide how much you’ll prepare for it. You have to arrive at an acceptable mix of how much time and energy you have as well as how much motivation you have, in order to pin down that ending point.

What you can do right now: pick a project that you’re dragging your heels on. See if you understand exactly what the end product will be. This will help crystallize your thinking and aid you in planning your time better.

The coaching group is underway!

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The group is still small so this is a great time to join. Why? More personal coaching from me, which I won’t be able to offer once the group grows. Join now.

Your success in overcoming procrastination (or any other issue the group is for, such as time management, productivity, declutter and organizing) is important to me. I’m active on the private Facebook group every day to give you help, ideas and support.

Making changes, even ones you want very much to make, is not easy. It requires consistent attention and repetition. It’s so much easier with a coach on your side!

Click here for more info and to sign up.

Podcast 093: Being focused

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This is Podcast 93 and it’s about being focused. Last time I talked about being present. This time, right now, is all that you have. This time I’ll talk about being focused and utilizing that present time.

The kind of focus I mean is related to being present. It isn’t hyperfocus, where the house can be burning down around you and you’re so involved in what you’re doing that you don’t even notice. This may seem like an ideal condition to be in when there’s a task you need to finish.

But hyperfocus usually goes hand in hand with distractibility and stimulation seeking and those are at odds with being present. It also isn’t activated by tasks that don’t seem exciting, so it’s not effective for getting routine work done.

The focus I’m talking about is one flexible enough to remain engaged in the face of distractions. Not to filter them out, like hyperfocus, but to acknowledge them without getting sucked in. Or to indulge them in a limited way, and then return to the object of focus.

If that sounds like a big challenge, you’re right, it is. Humans naturally seek stimulation. We evolved to seek food, mates and shelter, to begin with. Seeking is likely also related to the reasons we explore, discover and learn. We want to expand our worlds.

Unfortunately, seeking behavior can lead us to desire more and more stimulation, past the point where our basic needs are met. The thrill of new sensations and an ever faster pace makes us feel that every day life, in contrast, is a bit boring.

We are also primed to be alert to novelty, again dating back to prehistory when we needed to be aware of changes in our environment that could be dangerous and then react to them quickly. Those two ancient responsibilities of your brain continue to be active; sometimes in not-so-productive ways.

Even if you have not been diagnosed with ADHD you’re subject to more stimulation every day than you can handle. So you need to have ways to manage stimulation in order to get things done, since it’s unlikely that stimulating events and things will go away on their own.

Being mindful, as I mentioned last time, is a good practice to help you slow down and be aware of yourself in the present moment. Meditation is a classic way to increase mindfulness, but you can do this at any moment just by bringing your attention to what is happening right now.

If you tend to hyperfocus, remembering to let the present moment in may be hard to do. But there are tools you can use. A simple one is to set a timer to go off at regular intervals, say 15-30 minutes. Make sure to use a timer that has a pleasant sound so it doesn’t startle you. Timed reminders for activities, like having lunch, are also helpful.

How do you know if you’re hyperfocusing? If you’re spending an inordinate amount of time on something that’s not necessary but you feel unable to break away, that’s hyperfocus. Anytime that you haven’t made a conscious decision to continue your focus, that’s hyperfocus.

The opposite of hyperfocus is hypo-focus. Instead of too much, you’ve got too little. It’s hard to get things done because your attention wanders away so quickly. Hypofocusers tend to daydream a lot.

Using timers and other reminders helps with this too. Instead of using them to break out of hyperfocus, you use them to remind yourself to refocus. Use physical distractions to capture your attention enough to stay focused. Doodling or squeezing a ball can help.

A physical distraction should occupy your hands but not your vision or hearing, or you’ll probably not be able to concentrate on anything else. If you’re a visual learner, a ball is better than a drawing you need to look at.

What you can do now: try one of the methods here to increase your focus. As usual, you may have to try a few to see what works best for you.

Podcast 092: Being present

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This is Podcast 92. Last time I announced my 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 starts next Wednesday! Go to my website, cluttercoach.net or email me for the link at Claire@cluttercoach.net.

Today’s podcast is about being present. In several podcasts, like the one about emotional clutter, that was #47, I’ve talked about this concept. The present is the place where you are okay. Where life is happening. If you’re not in the present, you’re missing out. Plus, you’re often in a negative emotional state.

Of course, we all have lots of good memories of the past and exciting plans for the future that make us happy. Those aren’t the problem. The problem is when you get stuck in the past too much and start feeling depressed or sad or regretful. Or you get stuck in the future and are full of fear and anxiety.

How does this tie in with organizing and decluttering? One thing I’ve noticed with my clients is that they go on fun vacations and then get bummed out all over again by their disorganization when they get home. On the surface, it would seem that the main reason for this is that the clutter just wasn’t in front of them to worry about while they were traveling.

But another reason is that while they were away from all their things, all their lists, all their worries about not getting things done, they realized they were happy. Happy not to be burdened by all that stuff. Most importantly, they were fine without all that stuff. They were living in the present, enjoying each moment on the beach or each new discovery with loved ones.

They were in the present, without their stuff, and they were fine. Let that sink in a bit. If you could be absolutely fine without all your stuff, what would you do?

Having stuff around causes anxiety because you’re trying to be prepared for events that may never happen. Too much stuff around is stressful because you have so many objects and thoughts (yes, I mean mental clutter too) vying for your attention. Too much in general takes up your time and energy and takes out of the present moment.

Here’s a situation that came up with one of my clients. She has a lot of stuff, particularly clothing. Next month she’s hosting a themed dinner party and the theme is Chinese. It happens that she has 10-12 Chinese jackets to choose from. She joked that each guest could choose one; there are enough for everyone.

Then she started thinking about them and realized she wasn’t sure where each one was. She panicked a bit worrying that she wouldn’t be able to find one of her favorites. She remembered regretfully that a few didn’t really fit anymore but she wasn’t ready to give them up because they’re so beautiful.

Then she felt anxious thinking that none of the guests would dress up and she’d feel out of place. THEN she felt weighed down by having all those jackets in the first place.

A whole cascade of negative thoughts could take her away from simply being with her guests and enjoying the party. Being with people she cared about and who cared about her and who didn’t care what she was wearing.

Being present is a handy cure for procrastination and multi tasking too. Back in podcast 26 I talked about the work of the Procrastination Research Group. All the five reasons for procrastinating that he found have to do with worrying about the future and wanting to control the moment. Incorrect time estimates are usually due to the negative emotional cast the task at hand has for you.

Believing that there’s a particular state or mood you need to be in to get something done comes from not checking in to find yourself in the present moment, where you can be peaceful and free of the anxiety and worry and also free of the need to be in a heightened state too. Forgive me if I’m sounding overly Zen here, but being in the present is about being peaceful, not wildly happy.

Practicing being present gives you a safe place to come back to where you can calmly do what needs to be done to solve your organizing and clutter problems, one step at a time. When you’re present, you can truly see what’s in front of you; the clutter won’t be hiding in the background where you can ignore it (but of course you know it’s there). When you’re present, you aren’t feeling crummy about whatever story you tell yourself about why you’re disorganized. That doesn’t matter anymore.

What you can do now: Mindfulness is a great way to get yourself into the present. You can find tons of ways to practice mindfulness online. Keep it simple. Even just paying attention to your breath for 20 seconds helps.

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.