Podcast 088: Not seeing what’s in front of you

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This is Podcast 88 and it’s about not being able to see what’s in front of you because of how it’s defined or named. Naming and defining are important. They help us differentiate things from each other. We assign them attributes that contrast them with other things. The other side of that is they become tied to those attributes and so identified with them that we can’t see them in another light.

Here’s how that becomes a problem.

I have some clients who are makers. Boy, are they ever! They’ve got equipment and machinery and supplies for a huge range of activities including forging knives. It’s a challenge to find room for all this stuff and have it stored in a way that it can be easily used.

This is a common problem. The quantity of your stuff comes to a tipping point when you can no longer have everything you own in easy reach. That’s when you have to start putting things in less-than-handy locations, far from where you’ll use them and maybe needing a ladder to get to. But consider yourself lucky if you do have the space to maximize in this way!

In the case of these clients, they’ve dedicated a room for making and crafts and another room for guests and their future children. Although we’ve sorted and purged out a lot from the craft room, it’s becoming clear that there’s not enough room for all that they want to do in there. I suggested they move to the guest room, which is much bigger than the current room.

But that’s the guest room! my clients tell me. And what about the nursery? In my book, guests don’t need a huge guest room. They’re only visiting and ideally, they haven’t brought a whole bunch of stuff. The craft room, on the other hand, is used every week, sometimes every day, for activities that require space for storage and creating.

As for the future baby, which isn’t even a twinkle in her parents eyes yet, she won’t need much space either. Even if my client gets pregnant tomorrow, they’ll have three more years at least in the bigger crafts room. Well, they hadn’t thought about it that way.

It’s a great example of letting the definition of a room tell you what has to happen in there. They probably decided this room was the guest room/ future nursery when they first moved in. And so it became set in stone. Who would think of doing crafts in the guest room? That doesn’t make sense!

This often happens with people’s home offices. I’ve been shown home offices that clearly haven’t been used in years. Turns out that the person works at the coffee table or the kitchen counter. “Home office” and “where you work” aren’t necessarily the same place.

If you don’t see that distinction, you’ll persist in using a subpar coffee table office. The “real” office will get fixed up nicely but the coffee table stopgap office will lack necessary supplies. A former client built a lovely room in her backyard with plenty of sunlight and garden views to use as her office. But all her active paper and computer and other supplies were on the dining table. The garden office was too cold. So she was unable to commit to either one. She worked at the dining table, but went to the office to use the printer, because the printer belongs in the office. All her files were also in the “real” office. So much extra work and schlepping back and forth!

What labels have you given things that prevent you from seeing their potential? Instead of accepting that rooms or objects are just what everyone calls them, question that. In past episodes I’ve given ideas for increasing your objectivity regarding your own rooms and objects. Try to see things in new light and ask the obvious questions.

In this case, an obvious question I asked my clients was, why not use the bigger room for the activity that requires more space? Since I don’t live there, it was easy for me to judge the rooms by their size rather than their defined purpose. I saw clearly that the problem was not enough space so I looked for more.

What you can do right now: think of a lack or a problem you want to solve, one that you’ve tried unsuccessfully to deal with. See if you can find any assumptions you’ve made that aren’t necessarily true and are limiting your range of options.

Podcast 087: Design thinking, part 2

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This is Podcast 87 and it’s about the other three stages of design thinking: ideate, prototype and test. This carries on from the previous podcast.

Ideate means coming up with ideas to address the problem you identified in phase 2. This is the time to go wild and think up as many ideas as you can. There are lots of ways to approach this and to get your creative thinking going. Nutty ideas, impossible ideas, bring ’em all on. You don’t want to filter at this stage.

Using specific techniques can help because they give you a structure for generating ideas. Having that structure helps you avoid being negative about your own ideas and shooting them down. Back in podcast 71 I talked about how easy it is to sabotage yourself and the tricks you need to resort to to get over that.

An idea generating technique leads you through specific steps. It opens your thinking but also shapes it so that you aren’t flailing around. If you’re flailing, feeling too open to the universe of ideas, that’s when the negative talk can sneak in. Just stay with the program.

Ideation means getting those ideas out of your head and written down. Regular listeners will know how big I am on that idea. You may think you’re clear in your head about what to do. It’s not until you have to put it into words, or pictures if you prefer that kind of idea creation, that you realize how fuzzy it still is and how many pieces are missing.

Start jotting down the ideas that come to mind first. That’s also important. You need to get beyond the easy, obvious ideas to find something better. Again, until you write them down, they’re lurking in your brain calling your attention, say, choose me, choose me! Write them down and get them out of the way.

The cool thing about thinking up lots of ideas is that you don’t really have to know what you’re doing to be successful. The thing is, quote unquote experts can be so blinded by their expertise that they don’t see the non-obvious solutions. Sometimes they don’t even ask the questions because they believe they’ve already been answered.

Now, that’s not to celebrate ignorance. No, no, no. You’ll see that the following steps put your wacko ideas to the test. They have to prove themselves, not just be alternatives to the norm.

If the problem you defined is something like managing all the paper that accumulates on your desk, and you’ve come up with an idea to test, such as a David Allen style weekly review, that’s your prototype. It’s your version of a weekly review; when you do it, what questions you ask yourself, how you handle the paper you come across. To design your own version, you make notes about where you started, which you gathered in the define stage. How much paper is there? Where does it seem to come from? Is this a new problem? Can I identify what’s in the way of solving it? You need to know where you came from to effectively evaluate where you get to.

To start doing that, you move on to prototyping. If you’re creating physical objects, your prototype will also be a physical object, but made of cardboard or some other cheap, easy-to-work-with material. For our purposes, we’ll be prototyping things like paper management systems or to do list methods.

Next is the testing phase. Testing your prototype is basically you trying it out for a few weeks. Do it scientifically so you get good information to troubleshoot with. Many people get caught up in the prototyping phase. They want to keep designing and refining. But you have to start taking action to see if your design will work in the real world, your world. Just as you need to write down your ideas to clarify them, you need to put your ideas into practice to test them.

Those are the five stages. But they aren’t necessarily linear. Each informs the other. Most commonly, the testing phase usually leads back to one of the previous ones when the test fails. You go back to prototyping and get a new technique to try. Or you go all the way back to define because you solved the wrong problem or only part of the problem, that didn’t reveal itself until you started testing.

Time to get going! What you can do right now is write down all the obvious ideas that occur to you to solve your problem. Once those are out of the way, see what else bubbles up, or go online and look for brainstorming techniques to try.

Podcast 086: Design thinking

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This is Podcast 86 and it’s about design thinking. I got reintroduced to this concept by Chris Wilson, the founder of Unstuck School, at a workshop he gave recently. He leads a program called Design Your Year that uses many creative ways to define and achieve your goals, one of which is not calling them goals. I just talked about that in podcast 84, about how scary and intimidating goals can be.

One concept he shared with us that I found really interesting is design thinking. Current design thinking is based on stages defined by Herbert Simon. I quoted Simon unknowingly back in podcast 45 when I talked about the idea of satisficing. Satisfice is a portmanteau of the words satisfy and suffice.

It means that people make decisions based on information and resources they have available and that’s good enough. They can’t have all the information and all the resources or use them properly if they did, so they do without. Satisficers are good at limiting their options in order to make effective, timely decisions and take action.

Okay, back to design thinking. The five stages Simon identified are empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test. Although they’re called stages, they don’t always happen in order and sometimes they loop around. Each stage informs the others.

The first stage, empathize, is certainly important when I work with clients. To me, it means that I need to get to know what my client values and desires and suggest courses of action based on that. This is the opposite of coming in with a prescribed method and imposing it. Instead of jamming a square peg into a round hole, you discover the shape of the peg, which might not be square OR round, and then carve a hole that fits it.

It also means I strive not to make assumptions about my client’s situation but, as coaches are trained to do, come from a position of curiosity and discovery. That way, my client is free to describe what’s happening without having to define or rationalize it.

But what I want to talk about is how to empathize with yourself. Often, people want to get organized or declutter or be more productive because they see a lack in themselves, or they feel judged by others. While those feelings may motivate you for a bit, they aren’t great for the long run. It involves looking outside yourself for solutions and that’s never going to get you the right solution.

In the design world, if you’re creating a product, for example, you want to approach the issue by finding out what motivates and engages customers instead of developing a product by guesswork and hoping people want it.

Empathy is a great word to use here. When you empathize with yourself, you get out of yourself a bit to observe with compassion. This helps you understand and explain what you feel to someone else. Feeling what you feel is important, but you need to be able to get some objectivity about those feelings in order to express them in a way someone else can understand.

When you empathize with someone else, you try to put yourself into their shoes and experience the world as they do. You see that they have experiences and feelings that are similar to yours, even if you are very different people. Feelings of similarity cause you to want to protect or help others.

With self empathy, you want to help yourself because you have compassion for the situation you are in. The exploration you’ve done leads into the next stage, which is define. You might define the problem as “I need a better system for managing paper so that I get things done on time and don’t waste time looking for what I need.” That’s much different than “I need to organize this desk because it’s a cluttered mess.”

I always say organizing is a means to an end, not a valuable thing in itself. That end is the thing you define yourself. It’s too soon to start uploading apps or embracing techniques or buying containers. People often want to leap into the solution before they clearly define the problem and it makes the process longer and more confusing.

For the above mentioned scenario, you want to explore further what’s happening. Ask: what all this paper is? Where does it come from? Is this a new problem? Is something making it worse? All that information will help with stage 3, ideate.

I’ll talk about the other 3 stages next week. In the meantime, what you can do right now is practice empathizing with your own particular situation and see it as an issue to be resolved to benefit you, not to satisfy others.

Podcast 085: Mastery

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This is podcast 85 and it’s about mastery. A new client dubbed me the Clutter Master. It made me smile because I just watched a kung fu movie the other night where two men vie for the title of wing chun master. Imagine me holding my hands board straight and moving my arms gracefully into position to attack my enemy: clutter!

I do know how to master clutter. I do it for myself and I teach others. What’s important to remember is that I continue to defend my title every day. Clutter challenges me every day, just as it does you. Hai ya!

I know people tend to think that a clutter coach’s, or clutter master’s, home is absolutely pristine. Not a thing out of place. Like a page out of Martha Stewart Living. Well, it looks that way sometimes, but a lot of times it doesn’t. Sometimes I’m very busy for days on end. Sometimes I’m sick. And, I confess, sometimes I just don’t feel like it.

So there you have it. I’ve burst your bubble. I am not perfect. But truly, you should take heart from this news. I don’t succeed at staying organized because I have some special gene or an uncanny ability to spontaneously and instantly create order. Sure, I know more about organizing theory and techniques than the average person and I have more ability to effectively manage my time. But those are things that I’ve learned, and you can too.

My podcast is totally about teaching you that stuff. I strive to come up with different approaches and new ways of looking at old problems so you can have an “aha!” moment and get past whatever obstacle is in your way. I talk about resistance and motivation and how to get out of your own way.

But no matter how many episodes I post, there’s still the matter of putting all these ideas into action and making them part of your life. That’s the tough part, right? That’s true for pretty much everyone.

I’m planning to offer a group coaching program this year to address this issue. When you’re at the point that you’ve learned a lot about HOW to declutter and manage time better and get yourself organized, but it still hasn’t happened the way you need it to, the answer is to get regular support. That’s the secret sauce that coaching offers.

I have coaches myself. I don’t do this all alone. Coaching is invaluable to me in getting things done that I want to do but am not, for some reason. And for when I’m doing something and I’m running into problems that have me stumped. And for when I feel discouraged and want to give up!

A former coach of mine once drew me a diagram. She put a line across the center of the page. Under the line were my hopes, dreams, plans and wishes. Above the line were completed projects, written books, delivered programs and happy clients. Punching through that line is the big task. You are creating a reality from a dream. All reality starts from dreams, but getting from point A to point B is not so simple. It involves mastery and mastery involves practice.

You are already on that journey because you’ve identified places where change is needed and you’re pursuing knowledge and skill to do that.

Here’s a quotation from George Leonard. He wrote a book called Mastery, although this quotation is from another book: “At the heart of it, mastery is practice. Mastery is staying on the path.” That’s what I’m talking about. Organizing is a journey, it’s not a destination you get to once and just stay there. It’s a lifestyle. It’s a practice.

The master is also a student, always. I learn from my clients all the time, and I’m constantly reading and observing and thinking about how I can help my clients better and how I put that knowledge to work in my own life.

I play Japanese taiko drum. I started about 12 years ago. I remember that about a year or so into my practice I felt like quitting. I’d learned all the basics. I could play some songs. But I noticed that my arm wouldn’t always move the right way when I willed it to and to this day, my bachi twirling is pretty sub par. I got discouraged by that and decided to quit several times.

For some reason I didn’t. I had a feeling I had plateaued. I was bored and frustrated but I convinced myself to continue. Then I started getting better again. I gained mastery over some techniques. Note that when I say mastery I mean that I became competent and could do this new thing reliably.

Then I started to get bored again! It took me awhile, but I realized that this was going to continue to happen. Once I relaxed into that, I started to appreciate more the small amounts of progress I made. And more importantly, I felt glad that there was so much more to learn, because I really love playing taiko!

That was a big mind shift. Being happy that I didn’t already know everything! The fun of learning and the excitement of increasing my mastery even a little bit. I don’t expect you to fall in love with getting better at organizing and pursue it with the zeal of a zen monk.

What I do suggest is giving yourself a break about not being there yet. If you are on the journey, you’re doing it. Every time you get back on the horse, you’re doing it. Your mastery is increasing and you can see the results. That’s what I want for you.

What can you do right now? If there’s a particular organizing skill you’ve been trying to master, or a habit you’re trying to form, look back and see how much progress you’ve made, and appreciate that. Even if it’s tiny, you can count it and let it pull you forward.

Podcast 084: New Year’s resolutions

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There are still 2 more days to enter my contest! In case you missed it, it’s a contest to win a PDF copy of my book, 52 Simple Ways to Get Organized. Here’s the idea: Go to my Facebook page, find my latest Facebook live post and write a sentence or two in the comments section 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.

I’ll also be posting more Facebook live videos in the coming weeks, so stay tuned for those as well.

This is podcast 84 and it’s about new year’s resolutions. Of course it is! It’s January 4 and if you made any resolutions, the holidays are definitely over and you have to face putting them into action.

If you didn’t make any resolutions, or think they are complete baloney, listen in anyway. I know lots of people who hate resolutions, mainly because they think resolutions are a great way to set yourself up for flopping. They entice you to set unreachable goals and just become depressing when the goal gets no closer. They make you feel crummy whenever you fall off the particular wagon you’ve resolved to stay on. That makes a lot of sense.

Even the word resolution is kind of heavy. I prefer to set intentions. Intentions have a little wiggle room built in. You can fail one day and set your intention again the next day and keep moving forward.

Intention is a more positive word too. Being positive about what you intend is crucial. I recently read a new york times article by David DeSteno, who’s written a book called Emotional Success. In a nutshell, he writes that feelings of gratitude, compassion and pride will get you much farther than sheer grit and willpower.

One thing those emotions have in common is that they are directed outward, often toward other people. The connection they bring to others is the main reason they are so effective. This is why it’s so helpful to have someone to be accountable to when you are trying to develop a new habit.

DeSteno comes down a little hard on willpower though. In past podcasts I’ve mentioned Kelly McGonigal’s work on willpower. I took her class a few years ago and I recommend her book, the Willpower Instinct. A lot of what I got from it is that we develop strategies to increase our willpower and, not surprisingly, many of these strategies involve positive emotions. It’s really not a matter of bearing down and sacrificing yourself for a goal.

The image of a successful person being one who can valiantly resist temptation just isn’t accurate. It’s not the resisting, it’s the focusing on something else that the person values more highly, making the decision a no-brainer.

McGonigal and I both recommend starting small with goals that you take action on every day. Making progress every day, or almost every day, gives you a win that you can be proud of and that begets more wins. If you’re losing more than winning, you need to choose a different action, or make it smaller. Don’t keep pushing and chastising yourself.

The every day part is also important and I’ve written quite a bit about that. Doing something everyday ultimately becomes a habit. When it’s a habit, you don’t have to think about it so much, if at all. That means no agonizing, no decision point where you’re going to succeed or fail each time.

If every day doesn’t make sense for whatever you’re doing, make it regular in some other way. Every Friday. Every time you (fill in the blank). Whenever (fill in the blank) happens. That’s when you do that thing. This is the technique of attaching your good new habit to something you are already used to doing and that you don’t resist doing.

Similarly, attaching your new habit to something community oriented works well. That brings in the social element that’s so important for us humans. Feeling that you are part of something bigger than yourself, feeling that you are doing something along with others who support you merely by being there too.

For me, there’s the anti-laziness aspect of a community event. I like to dance. The dances I go to are on my calendar. They will occur without me having to plan them. When I go, I dance with people I know and like who look forward to seeing me and vice versa. So there’s that positive accountability, which is a big draw.

There are two ideas you can try. First is the small action. Pick one little thing you can do to further your goal. This can be a discrete task or a recurring one. Just make it small enough to be do-able. If at first you don’t succeed, try again by changing the action.

Second, find a way to take action regularly. Every day works, especially if you do it at the same time everyday because there should be some kind of trigger like eating breakfast, getting in the car, checking your email. Or find a regular place to put it into your weekly calendar, teaming it up with something else you regularly do, or relying on the external accountability of a class or activity you’ve signed up for.

What you can do now: Pick one of those strategies and try it out. Don’t worry that it’s too small or too easy. This isn’t supposed to be hard or make you suffer.

Podcast 083: Paying attention

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I got sidelined by a cold last week that I still have so I haven’t been promoting the contest as I intended. I’m extending the deadline into January to make up for that. In case you missed it, it’s a contest to win a PDF copy of my book, 52 Simple Ways to Get Organized. 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.

I’ll also be posting more Facebook live videos in the coming weeks, so stay tuned for those as well.

This is Podcast 83 and it’s about, mindfulness, or paying attention. What I mean when I talk about being mindful is nothing to do with Buddhism or meditation, it’s just paying attention to the present moment. In podcast 53 I used the word meditation, so let me explain. There, I meant a state of mind you can get into to help you carry out mundane tasks. It’s a state of gentle focus, of turning your attention away from distractions.

This state of mind is not a passive state, just as meditation is not. Think of the phrase “paying attention.” Especially the “paying” part. You are doing something active there. The online OED says that attention’s root word, attend, comes from Middle English for “apply one’s mind or energies to.”

You’re putting out some energy to create a certain outcome. You aren’t just sitting there like a blob, breathing in and out.

Mindfulness or paying attention or being where you are right now is critical not only for getting your desk tidied up, but also for knowing what you ought to be doing at any given time. Paying attention creates a calm center from which you can take in the big picture and see how it relates to right now.

It might seem like being the present moment means reacting to what’s in front of you, but that’s just a small portion of it. From a calm center you can see clearly in all directions and take in the information you need without having to be reactive in the moment.

You want to create that pause so your decision making is based on what it happening now AND on your goals and values that you see there on the horizon. The idea is to be able to balance those.

In the future, according to the Sci fi movies and shows I’ve seen, people type on a keyboard and instead of seeing things on a two dimensional screen, one screen at a time, they grab the information and throw it up in the air where it levitates in front of them, in 3d. They can see the whole situation from all angles at once. They can grab parts and move them around and see how those changes affect the whole, instantly, no scrolling down. Until that day comes, you’ll have to make do with other ways of seeing the whole situation.

In these days of information overload and universal ADD, it’s more important than ever to gain control over your attention. No one will do it for you. In fact, the world is conspiring again you in this way. Just as you jealously hoard your time in order to spend it on projects that are valuable to you, you must be able to recapture your attention when it’s been lost.

The first step there is to recognize when it has been lost. You know, those times when you look at your phone and see that two hours have gone by and you have no idea how that happened except that Facebook is open in your browser. How do you do that? I already gave you the answer to that one, by practicing mindfulness as much as possible. Of course, the path of life is one into which boulders fall. Even small stones can trip you up. Don’t let dealing with boulders deflect you from the path forward.

When you are mindful, all this good stuff happens; you’re doing the most important thing on your list right now. That’s because you can accurately gauge the priority of each item. You’re getting important work done on time. That’s because you have a clear view of the entire day and have allowed time for boulder management as well; this is contingency time and it’s an important part of your time budget.

You are making progress on long term projects and goals. That’s because you understand how all the tasks on your plate are related to each other and to the big picture of what you’re doing with your life.

And that’s what it’s all about, folks. Bad time management will get you into trouble at work and at home, sure. What’s really important though is that time is the measure of your life. We all have the same amount of time each day. How we use it reflects what we value and cherish.

What can you do right now:

Put up some post its that say “pay attention” or another phrase that will remind you to become present and observe what’s happening right now.

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?