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.

Podcast 080: Seeing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Podcast 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.

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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 075: Do it your way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 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.