Habits are your friend

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinby feather

What are the best habits? The ones that work for you.

Why do they work? Because they are tailored to you in all your quirky glory.

It’s said that the early bird gets the worm and that early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise. But, frankly, I am not a morning person. Never have been.

When my mom woke me up for breakfast on school days she usually had to try several times. I slept like a corpse. By contrast, my sister was often awake already, before Mom came in the room.

But I’m a productive person and I get things done. So, there!

Figuring out what habits and strategies work best for you can be trial and error, or remembering back to a time when you were regularly successful. It can also help to do some self investigation about what kind of person you are. 

On her wonderful website, The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin writes a lot about habits. In fact, she has a book about forming habits coming out next spring that sounds terrific. 

She has a bunch of quizzes that allow you to identify yourself as a certain type of person. Kind of like astrology, but more helpful. Actually, I always thought astrology was helpful in that it gave you a list of qualities you could accept or reject; another way of investigating yourself.

Knowing your “type” in various contexts can also help you know what advice to take and what advice just won’t work for you. In the first example, I’m an “owl.” All those healthy, wealthy and wise folks are “larks.” Good for them!

Knowing that I’m an owl, I am now free to ignore advice that says I will be more productive if I get up before everyone else and work without distraction. What would really happen is that I would stare blankly at the wall and space out, or feel grumpy and focus on wondering when I could take a nap. 

It’s after 10 pm as I’m writing this. :).

And now, a haiku:

Habit is your friend
Unobtrusive and helpful
Always there for you

Overcoming resistance

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinby feather

I am happy to announce that the interview Mike Vardy did with me for The Productivityist podcast is now available. We had a terrific conversation about productivity, of course, and also habits, how to start, what clutter is, and today’s topic, resistance. You can listen here.

What is resistance? It’s when you don’t do the thing you said you wanted to do. It’s caused by many different things, but mainly fear of failure and feeling that you’re not good enough.

If you resist decluttering it may be because you don’t believe you will ever finish, or that the clutter will just come back again, or that you feel so ashamed of the clutter that you can’t bring yourself to deal with it.

One of my favorite books on this topic is The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. He presents resistance as an enemy that needs to be battled continually. But behind that, there’s something else: compassion.

Pressfield says everyone suffers from resistance. That means it’s part of the human condition. We humans have failings, some overcome-able and some that need simply to be accepted.

And that requires compassion.

Making the shift from blaming yourself and feeling like a failure to allowing yourself not to be perfect and accepting that is not always easy, but it’s very worthwhile. You may feel that you’re a compassionate person to everyone but yourself but that’s not real compassion. Once you start extending it to yourself, what you can give others is so much deeper and richer.

This may seem like heavy talk for dealing with clutter. But you probably already realize that your stuff isn’t just stuff. It’s imbued with emotions and regrets and worries and hopes. Accepting that is a great first step in overcoming resistance to decluttering.

Podcast 043: Boss hat/employee hat

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinby feather

Subscribe:  iTunes  ⋅  Stitcher  ⋅  Soundcloud ⋅  YouTube  ⋅  Google Play

You can leave a review here!

In this episode, I’ll talk about alternating between being the boss and being the employee in order to be more effective. Here are some highlights:

  • Why do I have to separate them?
  • What if I’m better at one than the other?
  • I just want to do it.


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.

Photo: tom_bullock

Why focus for productivity?

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinby feather

Did you know that sticking to your task makes you happier? When you let your mind wander, even to a pleasant memory, studies show you’ll be unhappy.

I remember reading about this in Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s terrific book Flow. In it, he writes about being in the flow, where you are totally engaged with your task, whatever it is. Being in the flow feels great. You’re completely present and time is suspended.

It seemed less intuitive to me that when your mind wanders, you’re less happy, but that’s what a 2010 Harvard study found.

“Mind-wandering is an excellent predictor of people’s happiness,” Killingsworth says. “In fact, how often our minds leave the present and where they tend to go is a better predictor of our happiness than the activities in which we are engaged.” *

What does that mean for productivity? I say it means that staying focused on your present task will make you happy! That’s a pretty compelling reason to work on focus and say no to multi-tasking.

It’s also a good reason to limit your work time to the length of time you can successfully stay focused. You’ll be on task, and happier, working in half hour stretches and taking breaks than grinding away for hours.

Most of that grinding time will be spent either thinking of something else or trying to stop your mind from wandering.

See if you notice this in your life. Track your own happiness when you’re involved in doing something, versus idly wondering about something else.

* http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2010/11/wandering-mind-not-a-happy-mind/

Real world productivity

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinby feather

Sometimes I come across a description of what productive people are like and I think, that’s not me. It’s probably not even most people.

If productivity seems effortless, it’s because you’re not seeing what’s behind the scenes. Here’s what you’re missing.

How do productive people get things done?

  1. The tasks are on their to do lists.
    They didn’t come out of a vacuum or from thin air. They’re based on current projects and prioritizing
  2. They commit time to doing things.
    This time is reserved on their calendars and they honor it. They aren’t using “free time” or spontaneously deciding to knock off a few hours of work.
  3. They structure accountability.
    People who can work with only internal accountability are rare. You are probably not one of them, but it doesn’t matter because you can create your own accountability, and you should.

Basically, productive people use tools and strategies to help them. They don’t wait until they’re in the mood to get things done.

Podcast 042: Options are illusions

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinby feather

Subscribe:  iTunes  ⋅  Stitcher  ⋅  Soundcloud ⋅  YouTube  ⋅  Google Play

You can leave a review here!

In this episode, I’ll talk about how keeping your options open is not always a good strategy, plus, it can make you unhappy. Here are some highlights:

  • But I could make a mistake
  • Isn’t it better to have options?
  • It’s scary not to have them!


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.

Photo: tom_bullock

Podcast 041: Make decisions, then take action

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinby feather

Subscribe:  iTunes  ⋅  Stitcher  ⋅  Soundcloud ⋅  YouTube  ⋅  Google Play

You can leave a review here!

In this episode, I’ll talk about the gap between making a decision and taking action on it and how you can get across it. Here are some highlights:

  • How do I know if I’m right?
  • What happens if I don’t take action?
  • I want to be safe.

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.

Photo: tom_bullock

Podcast 040: Pump your decision making muscles

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinby feather

Subscribe:  iTunes  ⋅  Stitcher  ⋅  Soundcloud ⋅  YouTube  ⋅  Google Play

You can leave a review here!

In this episode, I’ll talk about how you can improve your decision making skill. Hint: it’s like a muscle, the more you use it, the stronger it gets. Here are some highlights:

  • But what if I get it wrong?
  • I need to know more first
  • I’d rather wait!

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.

Space clearing expert Karen Kingston on clutter

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinby feather

I heard Karen Kingston, author of Creating Sacred Space with Feng Shui, speak at a NAPO conference years ago. I was familiar with her work, but hadn’t read her book so I went and bought it after the conference.  

Although she’s not an organizer, her work ties in quite well with organizing. One of the skills she practices is space clearing, which means cleaning out stagnant energy and replacing it with new vital energy. This clearing can help get you “unstuck,” aid with healing and enhance your spiritual development, to name a few benefits.  

However, before you can perform space clearing, Karen advises that you clear out the clutter. “Clutter is stuck energy,” says she, and no amount of space clearing or bell ringing will get rid of it. Clutter is not only in your way physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.

It can make you tired and also prevent you from living in the present since it ties you to the past or prescribes a future that can seem oppressive (an example of this is holding on to clothing that fit years ago in hopes that it will again). 

To those who keep things because they may need them someday, she says that attitude tells the universe you don’t trust it will provide for you. So instead of providing comfort, all those “necessary” objects actually insure that you’ll feel uneasy about your future.

Although she doesn’t consider herself a neat person, Karen puts things away when they are not in use. I have also advised this to my clients because it gives them more room to work (on the desk, for example), it reinforces their memory for where things are so they don’t lose things as much, and it cuts down on the mental clutter induced by being in a space where too many things are competing for their visual attention. 

I know that people with ADD are often advised to keep things out and even move them regularly because they forget about them when they’re hidden, and stop seeing them if they’re in the same place for too long. This may work for some people, but then to compensate it would be a good idea to keep the decor clean and streamlined.  

Karen mentions another reason for putting things away. It “creates space for the next thing to happen.” What a wonderful idea! This again relates to the idea of being able to live in the present. In order to effectively use and manage your time, you need to prioritize tasks (imagine the future) and then give them the attention they need to get done in the here and now.  

You can help yourself a great deal by setting the stage for what needs to be done. This means having the tools and supplies handy when you need them.

But the next task is likely to need other tools and different supplies, mental ones as well as physical ones. By putting away the things associated with one task before starting the next you also allow yourself time and space to mentally adjust to a different task.  

Most clutter, boxes of photos, special collections, even quantities of books, have a way of keeping you from moving forward. Sometimes this can be appropriate.

When I first moved to the Bay Area I was very determined to make a home for myself. My family had moved around a lot when I was young and neither parent then lived in a place I could call home. So I found an apartment and furnished it and then stayed there for the next sixteen years! It was by far the longest time I’d lived anywhere and I relished it.  

About halfway through that time I realized that I was hanging onto a lot of things, and I knew I’d be devastated if I had to get rid of any of it. It was part of me and it grounded me. It created my nest.

There is no dramatic ending to this story, but over the years I have become less and less attached to my things and I now realize that my identity and security doesn’t derive from them. I enjoy my things but I use them to create a happy atmosphere rather than giving them power over me. (And, yes, I too collect stuff over time and have to set aside time to purge it.)

If this is your situation, you can try getting rid of some clutter and see how it feels. If it’s uncomfortable, it might be worthwhile for you to think about what it means that you are so attached to your things. The more light you can shed on your own situation, the closer you’ll be to understanding it and releasing that energy.

Some physical clutter directly stagnates energy by being in hallways, foyers and doorways where you have to step over or around it. Not only does it impede your passage around your home, it impedes energy movement.

Karen writes that clutter on the floor is more energy depressing than clutter up high. So, until you can get rid of the clutter, see if you can get it off the floor and out of doorways and hallways.

According to Karen, clutter can take the form of unresolved relationships, unreliable friends and undone tasks. This is what I call mental clutter. She recommends being clear in your communication to resolve issues with others and to stop associating with people who bring you down or make you feel powerless.  

Undone tasks clutter up your mind and your date book and to do list. If tasks stay on your list for months on end, try to figure out why you’re not doing them and reassess whether they are worth doing at all. If you decide they really have to be done, see if you can get someone else to do them for you (even if you have to pay them). 

Or try to get a friend to help you, even if just to keep you company while you do it. Or tell a friend you are going to do it by a certain time and ask them to check up on you. These are all tried and true tricks for getting that clutter off your to do list.

As the title suggests, Karen’s book shows you how to create sacred space in your home and office so you’ll have “happiness and abundance in every area of your life.” But the first step is dealing with clutter.  

The result of getting rid of clutter, Karen and I agree, is that you will “release huge amounts of energy for other purposes.” You have better things to do than providing warehouse space for material objects. Life is short! Don’t let clutter stop the energy flowing in your life. 

I hate filing

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinby feather

I always recommend that my clients be as ruthless as possible when filing paper. When are you going to look at that again? Why would you need it in the future? What terrible thing is going to happen if you get rid of it? When was the last time you even opened that drawer? 

Part of my agenda is to get them to keep less paper because paper takes up space, space that could be used better by more useful items. Another agenda I have reflects my attitude toward filing: I hate it. So it naturally follows that the less one needs to file, the better.

Are you with me on that?

Yes, I hate filing. I have a perfectly serviceable system and I can find things in it. That’s not the problem.

I’m not sure why I hate it so much, but let me explore. One reason is that I often am pretty sure that I will not look at a piece of paper again, ever, but it’s hard to get rid of. I just don’t want to make that decision. There’s a little cloud of uncertainty that I don’t want to investigate. 

A related reason is that I don’t like opening those drawers full of paper I haven’t looked at in forever. I feel burdened by having all that paper, and by not wanting to deal with it. Putting more in there makes me feel guilty. 

Here are some less hateful strategies for keeping files in decent shape:

  • Have a filing in box. With all your to-be-filed papers in one spot, you’ll still be able to find things even if you haven’t filed them yet. 😉
  • Look in the back of some over-stuffed folders. If you file with current items in front, the oldest stuff will be in back. That’s the paper that’s most likely to be unneeded.
     
  • Go though some folders where decision making will be easy, such as one for instruction manuals. Find manuals for appliances that you no longer own and toss them. 

Do you have any great file taming ideas? Let me know!