Podcast 132: Decision controls

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This is podcast 132 and it’s about decision controls. This episode is sponsored by Clean Email, the answer to email inbox overload. I’ve written about ways to clear out that clutter, but you can save time by using the Clean Email app. You can set up custom Auto Clean filters to archive, delete or move emails as soon as they arrive so you never have to spend time manually managing them. Sound good? You can use my special link to sign up for Clean Email here with a 30% discount: https://clean.email/clutter

So what the heck are decision controls, you may ask? I happened upon this phrase hearing about Dr. Sabrina Cohen-Hatton, a British fire fighter who’s also a doctor of behavioral neuroscience. She wanted to know if decisions made by fire fighters in the heat of the moment (yeah, I couldn’t resist) were as well informed as they could be, in order to be effective and also safe.

Here’s a quotation from her: “I found 80 per cent of all industrial accidents – including the fire service – are caused by human error. Not inadequate policy or bad procedures, but someone making the wrong choice, in the wrong place, at the wrong time. In high-stress environments, we also found ‘situational awareness’ was limited; commanders were operating very much in the here and now rather than anticipating what may happen next.”

Okay, so you’re not a firefighter. This applies to anyone. It applies to any time you’re in a high stress situation. It also applies whenever you’re in a situation where because of boredom, inattention, overwhelm or impatience, you make a decision NOT based on analyzing the situation to come up with the right decision.

Sabrina and her colleagues came up with a list of questions to ask in these situations. The first one is: Why are we doing this? This meaning the solution we’re about to implement. Instead of stopping yourself and saying, wait a sec, is my gut feeling or habitual reaction the right answer, you back up further and ask why you’ve chosen that course of action.

This is important because the first question, is my gut feeling right, is a yes or no answer and in a pinch you may just want to say yes and get on with it. But if the question requires that you explain why your solution is appropriate, that forces you to come up with actual reasons, rather than relying on past experience or your gut. Gut reactions give you valuable information, but they should be confirmed with other evidence. I think this is similar to the phenomenon I mentioned last time, that talking to yourself forces you to string together a coherent argument, not simply spin in your head.

The next question the study came up with is “what do we think will happen?” This question also takes you out of the moment a bit so you can visualize what the result of your action will be. We can get caught up in taking an action, like throwing a bucket of water onto a fire, without thinking any farther than the water hitting the fire. But what happens right after that? Will one bucket make a difference? Is it a fire that will even be affected by water? What else might occur as a result, that might change the whole situation, or even backfire?

Both these questions bring you back to the here and now. Instead of being tempted to do what you did last time, you are encouraged to be more analytical about this particular situation, right now, that may well have significant differences from previous ones.

What you want to develop is that situational awareness I mentioned, which just means knowing what’s going on around you. From a non-fire fighter’s perspective, this can mean taking a look around you and registering that there are dishes to put away, paperwork to take back to your desk and old newspapers to throw out.

It could mean looking at your calendar and to do list and seeing that you have a meeting in two hours, several errands that need to be done and you need to take time to do your arm exercises if you ever want to recover from that injury. You could just leap into action (often a perfectly viable idea) or you could pretend you’re a fire fighter and run through those questions, adding on a third which is: am I confident this is the best practicable solution?

Clearly, when you’re in a burning building you aren’t going to get out a list and a pencil and go through each question. The idea is to internalize them so that they become an easily available decision-making tool. In the study I mentioned, the decision controls were shown to increase situational awareness without slowing down decision making.

The big takeaway here is to stop or at least slow down enough to take in what’s actually going on right now without being tuned out or distracted or overwhelmed. It takes practice, but it’s worth it.

What you can do now: Practice for that next volatile situation by using the questions in a more mundane context. Let yourself take time to analyze what’s happening and see how that changes your decision making.

Podcast 131: How to avoid multitasking

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This is podcast 131: how to avoid multitasking. By now you’ve heard, if not from me, then from many others, that multitasking is a bad idea. That’s true. It’s not effective. It makes your work take longer, you’ll make more mistakes and it increases your chances of not finishing the main thing you need to do because you’ve gone down so many rabbit holes.

I’ve also written that there are situations where multitasking can be helpful, such as when you don’t have a time crunch to finish something and being able to spread your attention around makes it easier for you to get some work done on it. You’ll go slower, but it’s better to get something done than nothing, as I talked about in the previous podcast.

For those of you who want more ideas on how to avoid it, or stop it in its tracks, here you go. I work at home most of the time and this first tip may not work for you otherwise. I talk to myself. I narrate what I’m doing. I’ll say, okay, I’m going to write the intro for the podcast. As I write, I realize I want to look something up online to quote in the podcast, so I tell myself I’m doing that. If I see other tabs still open when I go online, I tell myself I’ll look at them later.

I believe this works because our minds kind of encourage us to multitask by constantly throwing new thoughts and ideas in our paths. But we can truly only focus on one thing at a time. Hint: this is why multitasking actually doesn’t even exist, much less work. When you talk to yourself, your words come out of your mouth one after the other in a single coherent stream, ideally. It’s not like in your head where words and ideas can be jumbled together. You verbalize one thought at a time. This makes your current task you’re telling yourself about stand out from all the others rattling around in your brain.

Another method I use is a checklist. A listener asked me to do an episode about multitasking and she gave the example of all the little tasks she needs to create an Instagram post. I have a checklist to do this podcast. I’ve been doing it for a few years now, so I know the ropes. I know every little thing I need to get done to create, record, post and promote my podcast. So, why a checklist?

Back in January of 2017 I did a whole episode about the power of checklists. A surgeon even wrote an entire book about how incredibly important checklists are. He notes that in a busy hospital where life or death situations are common, it’s incredibly easy to have one’s attention diverted and make even the smartest doctor forget to perform a critical routine task. In my case and my listener’s, we’re likely to get our attention scrambled by calls, messages, emails and shiny squirrels that pop up online.

But if we know we have a checklist to consult, we’re less likely to succumb to distraction. Sometimes I use both techniques at once when I complete a step and then tell myself, okay, onto step four!

The other problem checklists address is complexity. Even if you know how to do a job and it doesn’t seem that hard, it may still have many moving parts and if for some reason you omit a step, the end result will be unsatisfactory or even fail.

Complexity also includes change. I’ve changed things I do regarding my podcast over time and my checklist reminds me of those changes so I don’t have to rely on remembering them.

I want to be consistent in the way I do things; that’s important for my business. It would feel stressful to have to remember every tiny thing and do it the same way in the same order each time. The checklist relieves me of that. As soon as I complete item number 1, I go back to my list and see what item number 2 is. There’s no downtime for me to wonder what’s next and leave space for distraction to come in.

My third tip is to use an alarm or some other interrupter that reminds you to check whether what you’re doing right then is the right thing to do. If the alarm finds you doing the work you intended to spend that time on, then you’re good. If it finds you down a rabbit hole, then you can haul yourself back out of it.

An alarm can help you keep track of how often you are getting distracted, percentage-wise, and see if you need to do more to prevent that. If you make notes about what you’re doing when the alarm sounds, you can also get a picture of how your entire day is spent and either pat yourself on the back or comb through my previous podcast episodes for help.

What you can do right now: try one or all of these methods of avoiding multitasking. Talk yourself through the steps of your project. Refer to your checklist to keep your project on track. Use an alarm to confirm that you’re spending your time the way you intended. Try all three or mix and match!

Podcast 130: The danger of all or nothing thinking

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This is Podcast 130 and it’s about the danger of all or nothing thinking. This kind of thinking can get you energized about an organizing project or even ongoing maintenance when you’re on the “all” side of the equation, but it has obvious drawbacks when you end up on the “nothing” side.

Once a client hired me to help her refine her filing system. She showed me four drawers of beautifully color-coordinated folders, with tabs perfectly offset from each other in an unbroken staggered pattern. They were carefully labeled in a cute font. It was total Martha Stewart organizing fabulousness. However, most of the folders were empty. On top of the file cabinet was a tall, unruly stack of paper that needed filing. She’d put off filing for fear of destroying the symmetry and beauty of this filing system.

This podcast isn’t about filing systems, but since I brought it up, let me just say that color coordinating is fun, but makes your system harder to maintain. If you want to add some color or pattern, go ahead and use those pretty folders wherever you want; don’t try to confine them to particular categories.

As for staggering your tabbed folders, forget about that too. If you want your system to be flexible, it needs to be able to accept new folders in between existing ones and that wrecks the pattern. Either stick with all left tab folders, or forget about tab location and just use the next folder in the box. If one folder gets hidden behind another because it has very little in it, here’s a quick fix: take it out, turn it inside out, and use it with the tab on the opposite side. Seriously, the less time you spend on how your files look, the more time you’ll have actually to file.

Back to all or nothing. Have you ever bought an exercise package that has a plan for each day and online check ins with a group? Maybe just 20 minutes a day, but something you have to find time for, and something that’s incremental so you need to stay on track with it? This is an all or nothing situation.

If you miss one day, you’re behind the rest of the folks, plus you’re not getting the exercise benefits. You get back on track the next day, but then you fall off again, due to issues at work or illness or losing your purse; something. When you get off the official program, the onus is all on you to keep track of where you are. That tempts you simply to give up; this is the nothing scenario.

Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t attempt such a program. It’ll work best if you have control over your schedule and maybe hire a coach to keep you accountable. Setting challenging goals is very worthwhile.

If this kind of thing hasn’t worked for you in the past, though, try scaling down from all or nothing programs. Try just appreciating whatever progress you make. That means some exercise is better than no exercise. Some filing is better than no filing.

I often recommend spending 15 minutes a day tidying up so you can keep your home or office in decent enough shape to live or work comfortable and effectively. Do I do the 15 minutes every single day? No, I don’t. I don’t let things get out of hand though. Sunday night, after a crazy busy weekend, I look around and realize I need to put in some time getting my place back in order so I’m not distracted and annoyed by it come Monday morning. Then I just do it. Usually with music. And probably a cocktail.

What am I suggesting here? This approach, the in-between all or nothing approach, is based on knowing what my baseline is. In the above example, it’s knowing what a tidy apartment means to me, what it looks like and how I get there. Most of us have a sense of our exercise baseline too. If we go for 4-5 days without any exercise, we feel like slugs. We know that a brisk walk around the neighborhood for 20 minutes will help.

Your baseline is the comfortable zone where things are under control but loose enough to accommodate the surprises of everyday life. This is where you want to be. It’s the sweet spot! Things aren’t perfect but they work.

Any of you with kids at home know this is all you can expect. I’ve often worked with fairly new moms who are freaking out about how little time and energy they now have to take care of their previous systems. By necessity, they get used to doing things less perfectly. One of my clients started checking her email in the bathroom because it was the only time she could get three minutes away from her two small kids.

What you can do right now: think of something you’re not doing because you haven’t been able to commit 100% to it. There are situations that require that, but many don’t. Ask yourself if you’d benefit more from doing something. It could be 71% or 45% or 13%, but it’s better than doing nothing at all.

Podcast 129: Track others’ work

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This is podcast 129 and it’s about keeping track of the work of other people.

Recently I consulted with someone about making sure to do’s got done at work. But not his to do’s, his assistant’s. He’s a pretty organized guy. He gets things done and so do others in his office. He trusts his assistant. But every once in a while something slips through the cracks.

His question is: how do I prevent that from happening without micromanaging my assistant? Great question! And great that he’s aware that delegating work means not hovering or controlling. I’ve written before about how difficult delegation is for many people and how to overcome that.

He wondered if his employees were getting stuck and were afraid to ask him questions but he told me that he strives to be available to them, especially early on in a project, so they can ask questions as soon as they have them and not save them up until a week before the deadline.

That’s also a great strategy. Whenever you assign work to someone else, go over all the details, even if employees say they know how to do something. This pre-empts several issues. One, people are afraid to let on what they don’t know. I think that’s natural. They want to appear competent and trust worthy.

Two, some things may have changed recently so procedures have to be different. Sometimes communication about changes gets lost in the shuffle. Everyone gets so much daily email that they might overlook one that seems like a routine company communication.

Three, everyone makes assumptions, especially regarding things they are confident about!

This is the most dangerous of the three. Assumptions, like habits, can be great time savers. You speed through a lot of repetitive steps or skip over parts of a routine you know aren’t totally necessary. But then the law of unintended consequences kicks in and your path to complete your work has deviated enough that you’re not going to cross the finish line in time, or at all.

So good communication is key to get things started. This communications includes the scope and desired result of the project and should also address what problems might come up and what to do about them. That’s another great way to answer questions before they come up. Your employee might be great but not that experienced, so when Dave from accounting can’t give her the info she needs, she may not know who else to try, for example.

There are lots of project tracking apps these days, but not all businesses need that level of tracking. Also, they don’t work unless everyone involved in the project uses them and inputs all their information. All project are a series of tasks. They aren’t necessarily linear and sometimes they overlap, but they proceed toward a desired outcome.

One method for keeping track is to pick several landmarks along the way to the goal and then to check in with staff people about their progress. This works well for a project involving a group where having individual conversations doesn’t work. The project timeline can be outlined on a whiteboard, real or virtual, where everyone can see it and know how their work fits in with everyone else’s.

In the example case, he can ask his assistant to write regular reports on the project. Reports can be daily briefs or more in depth weekly reports, depending on the length and scope of the project. This is a good way for the employer to stay informed so he can supply more information and guidance if necessary. It also provides specific information he can evaluate without micromanaging. In the end of course, employees have to be trusted to do their jobs right.

You can use this idea in your personal life too. If you’re delegating to your kids or to a neighborhood committee member, the same issues apply. Be as clear as possible about what the project entails and what each person’s role in it is. Write or talk out a timeline so people can start to visualize how the project will go and anticipate problems that can be avoided. Go over details even if they seem obvious so everyone is on the same page. Try to expose assumptions that are incorrect. Check in with folks regularly to track progress.

What you can do right now: if you are involved in a project that is suffering from under or miscommunication, try a whiteboard outline or a reporting scheme to see where things can be improved.

Podcast 128: Time scorpions

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This is podcast 128 and it’s about finding the hidden ways your time is being spent. These are things that are hiding in plain sight but we don’t notice them because they’re always there, or we discount how much time they take, or they are so habitual that we truly can’t see them. But it’s not about rooting them out. It’s about noticing them.

A few years ago in a podcast called “How much time do you really have?” I mentioned the concept of time sharks. I read about it in Lee Silber’s book about organizing for creative folks. It’s an older book, but still great. I recommend it!

The time sharks exercise is to count up the hours in a day you spend doing things. All the time working, sleeping, commuting, eating, cleaning, etc. It’s a great idea. People are usually unpleasantly surprised to find out how little free time they really have.

Sharks are big. They’re easy to count. In fact, they’re pretty hard to miss. However, there are other, smaller, ways we spend time that are easy to miss, but they’re worth searching for because they add up. They are small, yet they deserve to be noticed. Let’s call them time scorpions.

Besides being small, time scorpions occur occasionally, not regularly. As I’ve said before, doing something every day is one of the easiest ways to create a habit. The tasks that occur on an irregular schedule are harder to become habit. That makes them time scorpions. You don’t include them in your bathroom time budget, so it’s easy to forget that you do need SOME time for them.

One time scorpion I’ve started noticing in my life is cutting my fingernails. After I cut them, I usually file them a bit to get the rough edges off. It only takes a few minutes but I count it because it’s not part of my regular bathroom routine.

Nail cutting occurs occasionally. There’s no set schedule. It’s not once a week or once a month. It’s when I look down at them and realize they need cutting. That time has to come from somewhere.

The bathroom category, on the other hand, is a time shark. It includes regular tasks like showering, shaving, and brushing your teeth. Those are things you do every time you’re in the bathroom for your daily routine. You probably have a pretty clear idea of how long this bathroom routine takes every day. Time scorpions are wild cards.

Sometimes I get up and cut my nails on the spot. This is another characteristic of time scorpions, that they’re free-floating tasks not attached to a time of day. Time sharks are single tasks or a continuous sequence of related tasks that generally occur at the same time each day. They don’t randomly interrupt other things you’re doing like scorpions do.

Here are some other scorpions I’ve noticed: cleaning the cat box, taking out the trash and putting gas in the car. I do all those things dependent on the need to do them, not on a regular timetable.

Now here’s the part where I’m supposed to tell you how to eliminate those scorpions or do them more efficiently, but I’m going to take a left turn.

I was happy to notice the scorpions because I want to be aware of how I spend my time. As I’ve said before, there’s no way to improve the way you spend your time unless you know where it’s going to begin with.

When I say “improve” I don’t mean get more done in less time. That’s never been my thing, just as it’s never been my thing to organize stuff before deciding whether it should even be kept.

Here’s the reason to hunt down those scorpions. It’s not to kill them. It’s to refine your attention to where time is going. It’s noticing that you’re standing in the bathroom cutting your fingernails. It’s realizing that this activity takes place over a certain amount of time.

It’s understanding that life is a series of moment that keeps moving forward no matter what you’re doing. Sure, you might look back and feel like you’ve wasted a lot of time. But right now, there’s time happening. In the five minutes since this podcast started, things have happened in your life. Good, bad, happy, sad, neutral, even boring.

These are the moments of your life and they’re valuable just for that reason. They deserve your attention. Isn’t it better to come to the end of a day and know that you worked, walked the dog, cut your nails, talked to a friend and did some laundry, rather than not having any idea where your day went?

What you can do right now: Be in the moment. Whatever you’re doing right now, really own it. Notice that time is passing and that’s perfectly okay.

Podcast 127: Tidy vs. organized

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This is podcast 127 and it’s about tidy vs. organized. A lot of the time, they go together. If your possessions have homes and make sense and they get put back in those homes when not in use, tidiness will usually result. If an item’s home is 2/3rds of the way down a big, precarious pile of paper, it’s organized, but not that tidy.

My dad was a big time piler who was also organized. He could disappear behind stacks of paper and emerge seconds later with the exact thing he was looking for. I often picture him sitting at his desk surrounded by books and papers in front of him, on the table behind and stuffed into the bookshelves next to him. Happy as a clam.

So, you don’t have to be tidy to be organized. I mention tidiness and tidying up a lot in this podcast though, so I want to clarify that what it mean is spending time to put away things you are no longer using to clear space for other activities and to lessen visual distraction. And I mean putting them in the places you’ve designated for them, not simply opening a nearby drawer and shoving everything in so it’s out of sight. No, no, no.

In fact, focusing on tidiness can have almost nothing to do with organizing and everything to do with cluttering. Here’s an example. A client hired me recently to help her organize her home office. We were on the same page with going through papers and filing. When we got to what was in the desk drawers, we diverged.

Each drawer was completely packed. Some looked like lovely, intricate puzzles, with items carefully fitted together to use up every millimeter of space in the drawer. It was impressive actually.

But each drawer contained whatever would fit into it, regardless of what the item was. Yes, they were mostly office oriented things, but there was no other organizing scheme. The box of staples was in with the checks and greeting cards, not near the stapler, because there wasn’t room in that drawer.

Each drawer was also layered, up to the very top, meaning she had to excavate to see what was at the bottom. And then carefully fit the other layers back together on top. It became clear that what she wanted my help with was to get as many things into the drawers, then later the closets and cabinets, as possible.

But first we finished off with paper. We created folders for projects and one for her urgent to do’s, which she’d been collecting on scraps of paper, or using documents to remind her of them. We put the folders into the cabinet above her desk and she started fiddling with them. She thought they looked messy. She didn’t want to see all that paper.

Then she took a plastic file envelope, the kind with a flap and an elastic band to keep it closed, and put all the folders into it and closed it up. There! That’s better! My heart sank because I knew she would put off doing any of those urgent tasks.

There was no clear way to label the envelope when it contained a variety of folders. Instead of easily pulling out the urgent to do’s folder from the cabinet, she’ll have to take the envelope out, undo the elastic and pull out the folder. Then put it away again when she’s done. It’s this kind of inconvenience that proper organizing is designed to do away with.

Here are some other examples of how you can be neat and tidy but not truly organized.

You have an entire bathroom drawer filled with hotel toiletries that you never use. You buy expensive magazine holders to store your complete collection of each magazine you subscribe to, although you never get time to read those magazines. You’ve got a giant collection of anything you received for free that seems like it might be useful taking up space in your cabinets.

These items may be organized by type and beautifully containerized, but they are not truly organized. Why? Because an organized space is one in which you can easily and quickly find what you need. The more quantity you possess, the harder the “easy and quick” part gets.

You want to find a story you saw in one of your magazines? Unless you obsessively made a note somewhere about what issue it’s in, you won’t find it. Of course, you have to be able to find that note first! How many notes can you make? If every issue has interesting things you want to go back to, you’ll be creating an exhaustive index of this magazine so you can find them again. I don’t recommend spending your time that way.

Let me add another part to that definition above. An organized space is one in which you can easily and quickly find what you need, within reason. Everyone has a set point of how much stuff they can keep track of while still leading a happy and productive life. You don’t want your stuff to be the boss.

So what can you do right now to stop confusing tidy with organized? The next time you go to put something in a drawer and it’s a tight fit, ask yourself whether all that stuff is in there because it belongs there and you use it, or simply because it fits.

Podcast 126: Quick tips for tight spots

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This is podcast 126 and it’s about quick tips to get you out of tight spots. Things you can do when you feel a bit panicked that things are out of control and you don’t know what to do next.

I had that feeling the other day when several situations seemed to be going off the rails at once. It happens. All those situations had lots of moving parts that I needed to keep track of and I felt overwhelmed. On top of that, they all felt stalled. In each case, I was at a point where I couldn’t control what happened next. I had to wait for something. I don’t like to wait!

So I used Tip #1: Tackle just one thing on your to do list. Find one next to-do for a project. Note that you are shifting your attention from the higher priority tasks that are dead in the water for whatever reason.

Choose something on your list that you CAN do, now. There’s always something. This way, you get to be productive despite not making progress on the bigger stuff. It all needs to get done, right? And you’re in the mood to get things done so capitalize on that by knocking some lower level items off your list. That’s Tip #1.

The next two tips are about organizing your stuff. If you have a lot of organizing to do; a whole house, for example; there may be some times when you feel discouraged, or overwhelmed, or as if you really aren’t making any progress. Lots of my podcasts are about how to avoid this problem or solve it, but here I’m offering just quick tips to get you past the stuck spots.

Here’s the first one. Tip #2: Organize one little spot. It could be your desk, a corner of your desk, the kitchen counter, the coffee table or any other smallish spot that has gathered a bunch of stuff that you need to deal with, or at least have out of the way. Again, this isn’t high level stuff. But it’s a task you can focus on right now and see results from. That in turn can either energize you to go further, or put your mind at ease that you’ve done something. You did a thing!

I once suggested that a client who was stuck organizing her home office focus just on one corner of her desk. In particular, the far left corner. This was the one in her line of vision to the doorway. One reason she felt a bit stuck was that family members often stopped at her door to chat or ask a question.

She didn’t want to discourage them, but didn’t want those interruptions to derail her. She could see the small organized section whenever she was talking to someone and then could let her eyes focus on it after they left. That way, she was reminded of the progress she’d made and that the rest of the office would soon look like that corner. It was a little microcosm of order to soothe her.

Tip #3 is a variation on that theme. It’s to organize and put things away for ten minutes. With this one, you focus on a length of time rather than a physical space. Start wherever you are. For so many things we do, where you start just isn’t that important. What’s important is the starting, the getting into action.

Also, for both these tips the goal isn’t to finish anything. It’s merely to inch things along. This is a stopgap till you can get back to your big projects. Set a timer for ten minutes. This is important because you need to have that alarm relieve you of working any longer unless you really want to. You can do another ten minutes later if you wish. Similar to the Pomodoro method where you work for 25 minutes and then take a break. These tips also involve moving, which leads me to the next one.

Tip #4: Move! Move your bah-day. Sit in a different chair, look at a different view, do something to change up your current physical experience. Leave the room and walk somewhere. Doesn’t matter where. Getting into motion can shake loose that icky train of thought that has you stuck. Moving your body can also help defuse nervous energy that is gnawing at your attention.

Sometimes people get stuck before they even try to do anything. They don’t even get out of the gate. In this case, try Tip #5: Do a brain dump. You need to get things out of your head and onto paper to clarify your thoughts. It doesn’t mean you’re going to do all those things but at least you have collected them so you don’t have to keep obsessing over them and get back to focusing.

This might be a long list. A really long list. We don’t care about that because you’re not going to do any of these things right now. I’ve written many times about how much relief you get simply from putting things down on paper. I personally prefer paper, but digital can work too.

David Allen has written about this too. He says that any uncaptured (meaning not written down) tasks and thoughts are like hamsters running on a wheel in your brain. They keep running and running and making that awful squeaking noise just when you’re trying to concentrate. Once those items ARE captured in a safe place, meaning a notebook you can find again, your brain can let go and set those hamsters free.

My last tip, #6, is to ask yourself what’s the worst that could happen if I am stuck on this project? When you take time to think about it, you’ll realize that the worst is really not that bad. As Woody Allen says, 80% of life is showing up. If you’re doing something, anything, you’re doing something.

What you can do right now: choose the tip that feels most doable to you and try it right now. Or file it away for future use.

Organizing as a Practice

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I've been trying to start two new practices recently (I know I shouldn't say "trying;" am I afraid to commit?). One is meditating and the other is writing. Since I used to write fiction I know a practice is important but somehow I didn't think that also applied to non-fiction writing. My friend Deborah assures me that it does (and she gave me some great tips!). So I'm using an online timer and putting in 10 minutes (for now) a day. What I come up with is drivel, of course, but that's not the point.

Zafu My meditation practice is also often embarrassingly bad. Wow, is that really me thinking all those incredibly banal thoughts? Then I remind myself that I'm just practicing. I am not very patient and have never understood delayed gratification, so it's a big thing for me to let my practice be a practice and not a path to perfection.

Being organized, clutter-free and in control of your time is also a practice. You're not going to finally get it right one day and be home free. Some days will be better than others. You'll go through busy periods when your system gets a little frayed around the edges and then you'll take the time to get back on track.

I do emphasize having a vision for your organized life, a goal to work towards. However, if that goal is making you feel disappointed in what's happening today, just think of what you're doing as a practice. Instead of thinking, 'my office has to look like that one I saw on Apartment Therapy,' try 'today I'll clear off the top of the file cabinet.' Focus on action today rather than possible futures.

A practice has its own rhythm and is its own rewards. Try it and see.

Kitty with meditation cushion from jakemohan's photostream.

Organizing Computer Odds and Ends

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What do you do with all that stuff you acquire when you get a new computer? You're overrun with disks, manuals, cords, instruction sheets, warranties, adapters and packaging, all of which is different shapes and sizes. Years ago, I had a client who carefully slipped each disk into a plastic sleeve in a binder. A second binder with still more sleeves held the paper documentation.

Colored cords
The main problem with that kind of storage is that there's a good chance you'll never look at or need any of those things again. So it makes no sense to waste time organizing them. My advice is to use one of my favorite organizing tools: the versatile zip lock bag.

Just take all that stuff you want to keep (you may need it after all, so I don't advise pitching it) and throw it into a bag. Lots of stuff? Use the gallon size. Use two. I like the kind that uses a zipper pull to close it; for me they're much easier to open and close.

Besides being incredibly easy to do, this method lets you keep everything in one place. Otherwise, you'll either spend a lot of time labelling cords and adapters and other miscellaneous parts, or you won't have any idea what they are when you encounter them next year.

I keep my bags in my computer gear drawer upright, like file folders. If the manual has a title on its spine, position it in the bag so that it shows through the side or bottom, then file the bag so that the spine faces up, giving you an instant label. Even without a label, it will be easier to find a particular bag when you can thumb through them. If they're in a horizontal pile, you'll have to take them all out to find what you need.

Colored cords from Jim 5's photostream

Technology Made Easy

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I'm not a technology maven. I used to be, back when computers only did about five things. And I was the family genius who could fix the color balance on the TV set. But everything got more complicated and I didn't keep up. So I'm always happy when I can use technology without having to learn anything.

Texting
Jott is a fantastic service that allows me to send myself emails via my cellphone, and it doesn't involve texting, which I have not been able to master. I just call a number (I've set it to speed dial because I use it so much) and speak my message and it magically appears as typed text in my email.

There are other applications for the service, but this one is incredibly useful for me since I routinely think of a dozen things I need to do while I'm driving and can't write them down. If I don't have it down in writing, I'll forget it. Jott also has scads of links so you can use it to track expenses, post to Twitter, find products on Amazon and much more.

A recent New York Times article recommended Jott and three other great voice-activated services: GOOG 411, a free business phone directory; ChaCha, a web research service and Reqall, a task reminder service that sends reminders to your phone or email at the requested time. All these services do more than my short description indicates; check them out!

[Helpful reminder from ford's photostream]