Information Overload? Stop Moving

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I had the pleasure of hearing the charming and witty Karen Salmansohn speak the other night at the Ladies Who Launch monthly meeting. She's promoting her new book, The Bounce Back Book, about "how to thrive in the face of adversity, setbacks, losses, failures, illness, rejection – you name it."

Snowglobe
Karen has a clever way with words. She likened having a case of information overload to being stuck in a snowglobe. You can't see what's going on because all that snow is flying in your face.

What's the cure? Well, with a snowglobe, you set it down and let it sit there awhile and the snow will slowly all fall to the bottom. With your brain, same thing. Sit down and let your brain just be still for awhile until your thoughts become clear again.

[Gorgeous art snowglobe by Walter Martin and Paloma Munoz]

Password Hints

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I have 170 passwords in my Palm. Some are written in directly, the ones I use for sites where I don’t care about security, like reading the New York Times online. Others I use so often I have them in my head. But there too are many secure passwords for me to remember and those are listed with hints only.

Mine your past to create easy-to-remember passwords with letters and numbers. It’s important not to use current information that you might possibly have recorded elsewhere, or that would just be easy for someone to guess. Also, current information that seems memorable now might not stand the test of time. For the letters part, I typically use:

  • Names of former teachers
  • Names of streets I used to live on
  • Names of neighborhoods I used to live in
  • Names of my childhood friends’ pets

For the numbers part, try:

  • Four digit birth dates of friends and relatives (provided these aren’t recorded with the person’s name in your datebook)
  • Previous street addresses, mine and friends’
  • Parts of old phone numbers, mine and friends’ (I actually remember the phone number of my best friend from first grade)

So the hints look like this: "Second grade teacher, Dan’s birthday" or "North Beach Street, Lynn’s phone (last 4 digits)." Easy to use for you, hard to crack for anyone else. Try it!

Use a ripening drawer for paper management

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paper management drawer

Does paper management seem overwhelming? All those decisions to make! Here’s a way to get some control before you’re ready to make the decisions.

I wrote about this concept several years ago. I discovered it in the excellent book ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life by Judith Kolberg and Kathleen Nadeau.

In the book and in my post, the ripening drawer is used for miscellaneous items that aren’t quite junk but that don’t have a place to go, such as battery covers that came off of something that may turn up again soon.

I recently heard a success story from Christine, who used her drawer for paper management. Into it goes paper she didn’t know what to do with. Here’s her story.

It took me a while to consolidate my office supplies to free up a space, but now I’ve got a drawer with a big R on the front. I find I still drop mail and other things on my desk, but I’ve gotten better about going through them periodically and either putting things in the ripening drawer or actually dealing with them (imagine that!).

Although it may take just a few minutes (or even seconds…) for me to decide what to do with an item, these piles have sometimes languished for weeks, even years. So having this drawer is helping me develop a new habit.

I’ve had a few “aha” moments, as I start searching my desk for that event invitation or that paper I need to follow up with and then remember that it’s probably ripening away. Often when I go through the drawer, I find stuff I can now easily throw away – simply due to the passage of time. And my work space is much less cluttered.

Christine is using the drawer as a tool to develop a new habit; dealing with paper management on a regular and timely basis. Having a tool to reinforce a habit is key; none of us is good at changing our behavior without help.

The drawer also works as a container. Instead of having papers floating all over the office, Christine now puts them in the drawer, and thinks to look in there when she can’t find something. She has a specific spot to put things even if they don’t have a permanent home.

The second powerful concept is how paper, and the information it holds, loses its importance with age. Events have passed and questions were answered, so the paper is now irrelevant. That makes it a no-brainer to throw it out.

Lastly, Christine isn’t distracted by so much visual clutter trying to grab her attention. Now she can focus on her work and feel relieved that the paper is under control.

Have you tried this idea? Let me know in the comments what you think!

Decisions Move the World

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Diving board I write a lot about decision making. So much of clutter and other stuff that's in your way is the result of not making decisions about it. The pile of needed decisions keeps growing till you just get overwhelmed by it and then the simplest decision seems strenuous. That naturally induces procrastination.

Why decide? Here's why:

  • When you don't decide, others do it for you. Are they going to pick the choice you want? Uh-uh.
  • The longer you wait to decide, the more likely your desired option(s) will expire or otherwise go away
  • When you avoid deciding to keep your options open, you still don't have that thing you want. You just have the option to have it. Would you rather have the daydream or the real thing?
  • When you boldly make decisions, you stir up positive energy. You take action. You move. You pull it off.

Decision making is a skill you can learn. I'm almost ready to publish my new info program about decision making and habit building, where I teach you both those vital skills. So, stay tuned, or drop me a line in the comments. What can I help you with today?

Diving board from vauvau's photostream.

30 Minutes to Less Clutter

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Want less clutter on your desk? Can you spare half an hour? What if it would make the following half hour twice as productive? And the hour after that too? Spending time on organizing is a great investment because it always gives you a high return (unlike many investments these days).

Starting

Figuring out how to start is often the hardest part of decluttering. The big secret is that it really doesn’t matter, just make a decision and do it. I’m going to suggest one of many possible approaches to structure your half hour, and that’s triage. Triage is all about decision making. It provides a simple structure to guide you and it depends on quick, resolute judgments that you act on right away.

In the medical world, triage is used when there are many patients and limited resources. Care is denied to those who will probably not live, so that those resources can help more patients who probably will live. I can guarantee you that you don’t have enough resources to manage all the stuff that’s currently in your life. Becoming skilled at triage (AKA, ruthless decision making) means more of your time and energy goes to the important stuff.

Triage breaks down into three categories, according to our friends at Wikipedia.

1) Those who are likely to live, regardless of what care they receive;
2) Those who are likely to die, regardless of what care they receive;
3) Those for whom immediate care might make a positive difference in outcome.

On your desk, this means

Category 1. Stuff you like and need that will be put away;
Category 2. Stuff you don’t like or need that you can immediately decide to ditch;
Category 3. Stuff that you need to deal with right now.

Let’s do half an hour of desk triage. Remember, triage is speedy because lives are at stake. The more quickly you make decisions, the clearer your desk will stay. You may not get through your whole desk in half an hour, but you’ll complete a section rather than just rearranging the piles and you’ll have less clutter.

If you have a lot of paper, choose a small area, perhaps just a section of your desk. Triage will get you through the purging and decision making. I’ve added some post-30 minute clean-up suggestions if you want to keep going.

In a hospital, triage patients are sent to different areas depending on their category. On the battlefield, they are simply marked with colored tags. On your desk, use Post Its to mark your piles. Allow enough room for sorted piles. A card table is great, but the floor will work too.

Phase One

This is the gross sort. You’re deciding whether papers belong to category 1, 2 or 3. You’ll need a timer, 2 piling spots, and containers for recycling and shredding.

Set your timer for 15 minutes. Start with the pile on the left side of your desk and move across to the right without skipping over anything. Don’t let your eyes wander. Each time your gaze passes over the desk, your mind starts to run in different directions and you get distracted. Focus on one thing at a time. Take a pile to your sorting area with your back to your desk so you can’t see the other piles.

Pick up the first item in the first pile. Is it category 1, 2 or 3? Don’t read or think too much about an item; you only need to identify it for now. Quickly define each: Need it? Want it? Ditch it? Too late? If you can’t decide, choose category 1. Put it into the correct pile or bag. Repeat until the timer goes off.

Phase Two

Set the timer for ten minutes. Sort the paper in category 1 by topic. If a topic does not come to mind, ask yourself why you are keeping the item. When you go look for it again, you’ll think, “where is that information about ______?” If someone asked you, “do you know where the ______________ is?” Use that word.

Choose broad topics; it’s easier to look for a particular item in five possible folders rather than 50. Right now, you’ll just create separate piles for each topic. Label the piles with Post-Its. If you run out of room, stack the piles alternating horizontal and vertical to keep them separated.

Post triage

File! If your file cabinet is a disaster area, consider getting a temporary file box to use until you can revamp it. That way your newly sorted papers won’t get lost again. Note: you’ll probably have a stack of keepers that you want to read; those don’t get filed, but they need to go somewhere where you’ll see them and read them.

Phase Three

Set the timer for five minutes. Now we’ve come to category 3. These papers were out on the desk because you’re using them to remind you to do something. This is not an effective strategy. You need a list. A list allows you to see at a glance what all those to-do’s are. When they are piled up or spread out, you can’t get the whole picture.

Your to-do list can be in a notebook, on a pad of paper, in your PDA, a whiteboard, on your phone; wherever you will be most likely to look at it. For each reminder, create a to-do. To do for stack of marketing letters: address envelopes, stuff them (including business cards), stamp and take to mailbox. To do for event flyer: Add event to calendar and make a note to RSVP (if necessary) on calendar several days before. To do for pile of business cards: enter into computer contacts list or put into alphabetized card box. To do for information about you frequent flyer program: read it right now to see if there’s a time limited offer you want or throw it out, knowing you can get the information from their website.

Now, you may be thinking your to-do list will get unmanageably long. Yes, it will. But it’s not any longer than it was in your head, or spread out around the house. Before all these things were on the list, you were by turns overwhelmed and in denial about how much you had to do. Now you can see it in black and white. This is your current reality. When it’s all in one place you can make informed decisions about what you will and will not do.

Post triage

Make looking at your to-do list a habit. Send yourself email reminders if necessary. Where you keep your list is up to you. The important part is having one place to look for your tasks.

If you have years of backlog, the whittling down may go slowly. Use triage as often as you need it. Set a timer to help you stay focused and speedy and not find yourself deep in reading an hour later. A timer is also good to reassure you that you’ll be free of this tedium soon.

Make sure to keep up with current paper so it doesn’t become part of the backlog. That is, don’t stack new paper on top of old piles. Spend the first five minutes of triage taking care of the new stuff.
An unexpected benefit to this method is that you may be inspired to keep less stuff once you realize how much work it is to keep it all organized!

Remember: it’s your stuff, you’re in charge.

Storage Units: Good or Evil?

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My general rule about storage units is this: avoid them at all costs! People rent them and forget ’em and they often turn out to be filled with junk.

Let’s look at why you really might need a storage unit.

There’s a short list of reasons that are acceptable.

  • You are temporarily living in a place that’s too small for your possessions
  • Your temporary living situation will be so short that it doesn’t make sense to move all your stuff in
  • You’ve inherited a large quantity of stuff that will take time to sort through
  • Your home needs repairs due to flood or fire

Notice that all these reasons are valid only because the storage is temporary. There’s no good reason to keep things permanently in storage.

Just as you shouldn’t live beyond your means financially, you shouldn’t live beyond your space means either.

I read this quotation from a storage industry executive: “People turn basements into home theaters or turn garages into family rooms and they need space for storage.” I call that living beyond your space means.

Of course, it’s much more common to fill up the garage with stuff so there’s no room for the car and to fill up the basement too so there’s no room for a workshop or pool table. People also fill up their spare rooms so they aren’t so spare anymore.

Okay, on to bad reasons to have a storage unit:

  • You moved in a hurry and just boxed stuff up and ditched it there
  • You’ve moved a number of times and keep adding to the mystery box collection
  • You inherited stuff 20 years ago and never got around to deciding whether you even like it
  • The stuff that’s in there is not worth a fraction of what it costs to rent the unit
  • You’re storing things for your children to have when they grow up and your kids are babies now
  • Keeping stuff you’re going to sell on eBay someday
  • Saving clothes you’ll fit into someday
  • Hanging on to an exercise machine you’ll use someday

All these reasons involve unmade decisions or hanging onto stuff for future situations that may never come to pass.

They also involve spending money; a lot of it if you keep paying rent year after year.

The year is still young! Make 2012 the year you make those decisions and start living in the present.

Organize your bedroom

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magazine organizing basketWouldn’t it be delightful to walk into a serene, welcoming bedroom after a hard day’s work? It would invite you to relax and nothing else; nothing to put away, nothing to distract you from chilling out.

The way it is now:

The bed is unmade, clothes are slung over chairs and doorknobs, newspapers and magazine are on the floor, the bureau and nightstand are littered with stuff. People, this is not a room conducive to relaxation!

The good news:

I’m going to give you three quick and dirty tips to get that fancy hotel room feel in your bedroom. This isn’t the full-on, let’s organize overhaul I’d do for a client; you don’t have time for that. It’s just a way to experience how terrific it feels to be in an organized bedroom.

  1. Make the bed! The bed is the biggest piece of furniture in the room. If it’s disheveled, the entire bedroom looks disheveled. If you do only one thing, do this.Simplify your bed making by using a thick quilt or comforter that you can just twitch into place. Warm Things on College Avenue in Oakland always has great deals on comforters and covers.
  2. Hang the clothes. Getting dressed in the morning can be a challenge. To keep cast off clothing under control, install hooks on the back of the closet door, or inside wall. Get big ones, so you can hang a lot on there till you’ve got time to put them properly on hangers.Bonus: get another hamper for your closet if it’s too much trouble to take dirty clothes to your main hamper.
  3. Ditch the paper. Ideally, you want to round up all the newspapers and stick them in the recycling (instead of fooling yourself that you’re going to have time to read them later). Station a big, decorative basket near your bedroom door for that purpose. If you can’t bear to throw them all out, get another container for next to the bed, not on top of the nightstand.Containerizing is one of your best weapons against clutter. Check out local favorite Cost Plus near Jack London Square for baskets galore.

Getting Organized Ebook on Sale Now

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Woman reading Last week I had a great plan to publish my book one chapter at a time every week for a year. And at some point offer it for sale, after I made more edits, polished it up, changed around some stuff, added new ideas, etc. When I told a friend about this brilliant plan she looked me in the eye and said, why don't you just publish it NOW?

I took a deep breath and realized she was right. Not that I won't make any edits (it's virtually impossible for me not to), but giving myself permission to make edits constantly could mean that it will never be ready for sale. I don't want to be one of those people who writes a book and then sits on it forever. So, herewith, the book is ready! This page will tell you more.

Oh, I still will publish chapters every week, but you can have immediate gratification by purchasing it right now.

Woman reading from cliff1066™'s photostream.

Home office clutter management

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home office in the living roomIf you’re not lucky enough to have a separate room for your home office, you’ll make do on the dining table, or setting up a desk in a corner of the living room.

This poses a special challenge because any clutter you leave on your desk is also now in the common living area for all to see. If you live with others this can be, well, a problem.

A former client of mine had her desk in what would’ve been the kitchen dining nook. She needed lots of stuff out and around her when she worked, but her partner was less than thrilled to come home and make dinner in a cluttered office.

Like many creative types, my client balked at being orderly and cleaning up.

It went against her desire for inspiration and freedom and felt confining. Yet she wanted to keep harmony in the household so was open to looking at it a new way.

I came up with the idea of expanding and contracting. When she started her work day, she expanded. Stacks of paper came out and the extra leaf of her desk went up to allow her to spread out. Everything she might need was at hand for her to be productive.

At the end of her workday, she contracted the home office.

The leaf went down, making the desktop smaller. Piles went back into drawers and cabinets. The keyboard tray slid back under the desk. The taboret rolled under the desk. The home office disappeared.

The image of contraction was an effective metaphor. It didn’t have to do with tidying. It felt like an organic response to her shift in focus from work to personal time. The work area contracted so that the kitchen could expand and she and her partner could enjoy preparing food together.

If you avoid cleaning up, can you think of a metaphor that would inspire you?

In the photo above, the shelves are open and could look cluttered if anything was on them. A simple solution would be to install bamboo roll up shades. That was, all the shelves could be opened at once for easy home office productivity, instead of having a set of doors on each one. And the rolled down shade would create a streamlined look after hours.

Christine Arylo on self love, success and clutter

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COVERmebeforewe
Creating an organized space makes it easier for you to lay your hands on the things you need and helps you be more effective because you now have time for the important stuff. It's also an essential part of taking care of the most valuable person in your life, yourself. Christine Arylo, coach and author of the new book, Choosing ME Before WE, graciously took some time from her book promotion schedule (you can hear her speak on June 2nd at 7pm in Oakland at Great Good Place for Books) to do an interview for my blog.

Christine is also an inspirational catalyst who uses the power of self-love to help people liberate themselves into the life they really want… or as she likes to say “Dare to Live and Love YOU!” 

Clutter Coach:
Sometimes clutter results from not deciding where to put things, or just not spending the time to put them away. It's a common problem. But what if you're using clutter as an excuse not to move forward in your life, or to insulate you from discomfort?

Christine_Chair_Cropped Christine:
The clutter we surround ourselves with is the symptom, it’s not the disease itself. The clutter is the outcome of something deeper going on within ourselves, and often times it’s protecting us from something we don’t want to be with… or it’s slowing us down from actually getting what we really want in life. If you have a clutter filled life, you have to stop and ask yourself, “What is behind this clutter? What is it a symptom of? What inside of me am I not willing to be with or look at?” And then attack that problem. The clutter will clear itself up from there. If you only attack the clutter without addressing the underlying issue, the clutter will just keep coming back.

Clutter Coach:
It can be scary to commit to a goal like getting organized if it's a big shift from where you are now. Who will you be once you're organized? Will you lose your creativity? How do you deal with the identity issues that come up with any major change, no matter how positive?

Christine:
One simple fact: structure actually creates more freedom not less. When you have form and structure in your life – such as getting organized – you create more space and that creates more freedom, not less. And within freedom, you are inherently more yourself, not less.  This lifetime is about letting go of all the ‘stuff’ that isn’t really who we are – fears, society expectations, bad training, ego, obligations, etc. – so that we can be free to be who we really are. If you can keep that perspective, that your life is a series of steps that brings you closer to your truest essence, it’s a lot easier to take each change one step at a time, stopping to integrate what you’ve learned about yourself along the way.

Clutter Coach:
Habits can be ruts we get into that prevent us from seeing what's really going on, or they can be welcome time-savers that allow us to focus on the important stuff. How can we become aware of our habits so we can evaluate them clearly and choose the positive ones?

Christine:
Notice what continually works well and what doesn't. Then look for the patterns that cause those results. That is where you will find your habits. Obviously, if your habits are producing good results, keep doing them. For the habits that create unpleasant or unwanted results, it’s time to create a new habit, so you need to cut a new internal rut. Literally, you have to retrain your brain to act differently, to follow a different pathway. It takes time but if you treat it like building a new muscle, it can be a lot of fun. The following four step process is one that I use with all my clients and with myself:

  1. Awareness:  You see the truth of your behavior and the outcome it produces. You take responsibility and commit to change.
  2. Reflection:  You still do the habit, but afterwards, you look back and say, “Oh, I did that again. Here is what happened. Next time, I would like to do …”
  3. Change in the Moment:  You notice the habit while you are doing it and you interrupt it, choosing instead to do something new.
  4. Integration: The old habit has been replaced with a new habit, and you no longer have to think about it.

Clutter Coach:
How can becoming accepting and loving of ourselves help us battle that sneaky little demon, perfectionism?

Christine:
Success begets success, so when you feel good about yourself you will naturally create more things that result in you feeling good about yourself.  Perfectionism never leads to success, only distress, so it’s a habit you want to give up for sure! You can do that by doing two things. 1. Set realistic expectations for yourself that you can meet. 2. When you meet them, celebrate! The more you acknowledge your small wins the more they will add up to big wins. Before I go to bed each night I actually say out loud at least 5 successes I had that day. It sounds so simple, and it really does make a difference.

Clutter Coach:
What's your personal favorite organizing trick?

Christine:
If it doesn't have a place to go, find it a home. I notice that
whether it’s my email box or my desk, what causes clutter more than
anything are those things that are homeless. So I immediately create a
place for them to go – whether it’s a new email folder on my computer
or in my filing cabinet.

If you find yourself living among clutter, working harder not smarter, or running around like an energizer bunny gone mad, your life is running you, instead of you living it. Don't feel bad, you’re not alone – we’ve been conditioned to live that way. But do be smart and realize that you need to learn some new habits, skills and super powers to deal with the realities of the 21st century. Also be smart enough to find people and resources that can guide you – none of us can do it alone!

About Christine Arylo
A new kind of self-love expert, Christine Arylo, inspirational catalyst, traded in twelve years of creating powerful images for brands like Visa and Gap, to inspire people to bust through their limiting self-images and self-expectations. As an author, speaker, and coach, Arylo is an expert at helping people to get the success and happiness they want by living and loving their most real and wise selves first. She is the author of Choosing ME Before WE, Every Woman’s Guide to Life and Love, and the founder of the international Madly in Love with ME™ movement. She has appeared on national television and syndicated radio shows across the country, and her opinions have been featured in places like the San Francisco Chronicle, Glam.com and Daily Om.