Podcast 135: Organizing a creative, busy life with family

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You can see the video interview on YouTube here.

In this episode I talk to my friend Adam Davis who’s a musician, artist, husband and dad who teaches at a local gym and also gives guitar lessons. How does he juggle all that? We talk about making notes for lyrics on his iPhone, making time for art, using positive self talk to control destructive brain weasels and dealing with constant laundry.

This is the first podcast in a series where I interview people I know. Regular folks instead of “experts.” Not that there’s anything wrong with expert advice! But I want to explore the ways people have successfully invented their own time management, uncluttering and focusing techniques based on their specific needs.

I often say that the cookie cutter approach doesn’t work. Methods you might read about in a book or see online might be great for some people but usually need to be tweaked to really work for you. My interviewees talk about their specific needs and how they’ve created their own solutions.

Organizing and Creativity

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organizing paintbrushesCreative people often shun organizing. Putting their supplies away and having a clear desktop are for accountants, not artists. Inspiration can strike anytime and materials must be out and ready (all of them).

Many creatives don’t produce a whole lot, though, and that’s because they are focussing all their attention on the muse and the flow of ideas, and not enough on how to get those ideas into the world.

Supply chain management is how companies get their products into the world. It includes inventory management and other dull sounding tasks. In the book Making Ideas Happen, I learned that Apple Computer has been in the top five of global supply chain leaders since 2007. Apple, a company known for its gorgeous product design and commitment to thinking outside the box.

In other words, a company known for creativity.

This creativity is followed up by an organizing system to making it happen. So the question is, do you want to simply enjoy the flow of ideas, or do you want to seize one and give it life? Remember Thomas Edison’s quotation: “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”

Try thinking of having an organized work space as a tool for enhancing your imagination. Your supplies are always ready for you and you know exactly where they are. You have plenty of room to work without pushing things out of the way.

This doesn’t mean you have to hide things away.

It’s quite possible to organize your stuff and still have it out where you can see it. It just requires more horizontal space. Piles are allowed. Using the wall and the floor is also allowed.

Creatives can get bogged down in designing systems instead of doing their work so be careful not to fall into that trap. Keep your system simple. Don’t overthink piles.

Natural Organizing

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You aren’t a cookie cut from a generic mold (even though you’re sweet). You deserve more than a cookie cutter approach to organizing. Methods you’ve read about in books may partially work, or not work at all. Or they’ll work for awhile but then something happens to make them stop working.

That’s why it’s so important to have your own personalized system.

Your system doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s. It doesn’t even have to look like a system to anyone else. What matters is that it works and its flexible (to accommodate your expanding, changing life). It has to be simple enough that if you drop it for awhile you can pick it up again without much grief.

Mainly, your organizing system has to suit who you are and what your life is like, today.

That’s why I emphasize awareness and intentionality. You know things about yourself, like, you’d rather have things on a shelf than in a drawer. Here’s an example, featuring multiple calendars. Here’s another one, from me.

I’ve tried on several occasions to use online or computer task lists and I never stick to it. I revert to small pads of paper that I keep next to my computer. That works fine for me. Although I’m on the computer all day, having the task list on there just never felt natural to me. My hand was always reaching for a pen.

My system is not terribly tidy or photogenic.

It’s a cycle of writing down notes and to-do’s and then putting the notes somewhere for safekeeping (in Evernote, usually. So, yes, I do type them) and rewriting my to do lists by hand as things get done or just dumped off the list.

There’s rarely a time when you’d look at my desk and say, “my, how organized!” That’s because I just got off a call and have a page of notes, or I haven’t crossed off enough items to decide it’s time to rewrite my list.

It’s always in progress. Always.

Why does this work for me?

  • I like a to do list I can see all the time. I don’t want to navigate to a new window to view it. That bugs me.
  • I can easily experiment with new formats and schemes, such as making categorized lists, drawing different bullet shapes, or drawing boxes around tasks to highlight them. All these things can be done instantly with paper and pen.
  • I can stuff a list in my pocket and go out and do errands without synchronizing anything.
  • I can spread out multiple pages on my desk and compare them and reorder them effortlessly.

This is just one example of how I discovered a hybrid system that works for me, based on my reading, client experience and, mostly, self awareness. There’s no reason to use a system just because a book says so, or you paid money for it.

Want help discovering how to organize your time and your stuff in ways that feel natural and are easy and satisfying to use? I’m thinking up a way to offer you a free sample of this, so stay tuned! Or, ahem, go to the Hire Me page.

Embrace your personal organizing style

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“I can’t be organized.”

“I never learned about organizing.”

“My mom was a packrat and so am I.”

“My father was super neat and always gave me a hard time about my mess.”

“My grandparents lived through the Depression so they keep everything.”

Have you said any of those things? If so, here’s the truth:

Your ability to be organized has nothing to do with your genes.

It may have to do with your personal history, but only if you want to stick to that story.

Sandra Felton, the founder of Messies Anonymous, says that messies can come from “cleanie” homes or messy homes or any combination thereof. Whatever your experience was, you have the capacity to become a cleanie, or at least move in that direction.

One of my clients told me that her cleanie mother tried to teach her organizing skills and she just didn’t get it. She felt hopeless and dumb. Her story brings up another aspect of being organized.

There’s not just one way to be organized.

Isn’t that great news?

Your thinking style, learning style and personality style all factor into how you organize your world. Your mother may be organized but also visual and sentimental. She crowds tabletops with family photographs. If your style is more “hider”, you won’t grow up with any clues on how to organize in drawers, cabinets or closets because you didn’t witness it. It doesn’t mean you can’t do it, it just means you haven’t learned how yet.

We are suckers for systems that lay out exactly what we should do for success, but then we blame ourselves when they don’t work. Here’s the thing: you need to hack the systems to suit you. Discover and embrace your own organizing style, based on who you are today, right now, and how you like to live.