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 Philosophy for the Holidays

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The current economy may end up making this year's holidays less stressful, just because we won't be IMG_3134 046

shopping and traveling as much. But if you find yourself feeling stressed by holiday planning and the looming prospect of a new year, keep these in mind:

  • Make lists to prevent tasks from being forgotten in the chaos. Keep the list for next year
  • If list items aren't coming to mind, reflect on past fun holidays and visualize what you want for this year. Make your lists and make it so
  • Do a little bit everyday, starting now
  • The company of friends and family is the most important part
  • You can decide right now to relax and enjoy yourself no matter what happens

Snowman light photo taken by me in San Francisco.

Make a List

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I love lists. I have a poor memory so I make lots of lists to help myself get things done that I'd forget otherwise. One list I consult before I do laundry. It's a list of items that don't get washed very often and that I want to keep using until the next washing, such as kitchen potholders and the bathmat.

Another list is for things I've loaned to people. If I don't write it down, I may never get it back! Of course, sometimes I forget I owned it to begin with, so it isn't that much of a problem.

Similarly, I have a list called "Where I Put Stuff" that's for items I use so rarely that it's pretty unlikely I would remember where I stashed them. There's nothing worse than finding the perfect, safe spot for something and then completely forgetting where it is.

Lists are a great organizing tool. All the reference lists I've mentioned here are in my Palm Pilot memo section (where they won't get lost).

Shopping list from desi.italy's Flickr stream.

Rename Your Junk Drawer

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It's time to rehabilitate the much-maligned junk drawer. In the unlikely event that you don't have one, this is a drawer, usually in the kitchen, that acts as a catch-all for small items and pieces of other items that you don't have time to put away or don't know where to put.

People are often embarrassed to admit that they have junk drawers, but I say using a drawer for this purpose is a heck of a lot better than letting those doohickeys clutter up the rest of the house. Also, sometimes it doesn't make sense to figure out where else to put something, such as a screw or foot that came off something recently, you just need to remember what.

Many things in the junk drawer really are just junk, or they become junk after a certain amount of time. So, the idea is to rename this receptacle the "ripening drawer." This gives you a way to think about what's in there as green, ripe or rotten. The green items are still waiting to become useful, the ripe ones are useful now, and the rotten ones have lost their usefulness and need to be tossed.

What else goes in a ripening drawer? Semi used batteries, match books (particularly ones with something written on them), take out menus, coupons, business cards, the aforementioned pieces of things that need to be reunited, etc.

Every time you look in there, rummage around and see if you can find some rotten stuff; expired coupons, leaking batteries and parts of things you now realize you've thrown away. This is a good technique if you have a hard time tossing stuff in the moment. Once a little time passes, it's easier to make that decision.

Beautiful fruit from Gilgongo's photostream

Quick Tips for Beating Procrastination

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Steps Got a project that’s bogged down? Finding it hard to get started at all? Here are some ideas:

  • Break your project down into steps. Now, divide the steps into even smaller pieces. Keep dividing until you get to a piece small enough that it seems easy to do. Then do just that piece.
  • Start your project somewhere in the middle or at the end. It can be easier to fill in backwards once you get going. Think of what you know how to do right now.
  • Begin with the part you like best. When you’re really into the project and making good progress, use that motivation to complete the less appealing parts of it as you go along.
  • Have several projects going at once. Procrastination on one can mean progress on another. If you do switch back and forth, make notes about what you’ve done already and what the next step is. That way you can get up to speed quickly the next time you work on the project.
  • Try “structured procrastination.”  Trick yourself by putting tasks that seem to have deadlines and seem very important at the top of the list.  Then allow yourself to procrastinate by doing the other tasks on the list first

Steps from judepics‘s photostream

January is Get Organized Month!

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What? But it’s already nearly half over! Claire, why didn’t you tell me this before???

Relax. Get Organized month is a just a friendly reminder that you should start working on that organizing project. What I want to emphasize today is to keep it simple. Pick just one thing that you can actually get done this month. Thus, you will fulfill the promise of Get Organized month.

What one thing shall I pick?

  • Get an inbox, or start using the one you have
  • Make an appointment with yourself to sort through one box (one pile, one folder) this month. Make sure to budget time to put away/throw away/give away the contents
  • Donate all those old magazines that you will never have time to read. Where? Doctor’s office, school (for collage), East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse or give away on Craigslist.

So, that’s the secret. Pick a task you know you can accomplish by the end of the month. Doesn’t matter if it seems too easy. That kind of reasoning is why you haven’t done it yet. On Groundhog Day, celebrate!

Trade In Old Gifts for New Ones

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If you’ve got some “gently used” electronic devices that you’d like to trade up for, Best Buy has a trade-in program. This could be a great, low-cost way to unload that phone or PDA you never really used and get something you really want. It’s also a terrific way to do some cheap Christmas shopping for your gadget loving friends and family.

You can view the details here. I got this tip from my colleague, closet installer extraordinaire Toni Ahlgren. Thanks, Toni!

Gifts from rick’s photostream

Deal with Paper Every Day; Don't Pile It

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Stone stack
When your desk is a mound of paper that spills over onto every available surface, including the floor, it's natural to feel that you just have to buckle down and start sorting it from the beginning. But if you do that, you never get ahead.

It's better to start handling the paper that comes in every day; mail, flyers, newspapers, receipts, etc. Each day, make time to open and sort your mail, make decisions and route the paper where it needs to go if you can't act on it right away. Spend a few weeks making this a habit.

Once you master the daily paper, you'll be able to start working more effectively on the backlog with your new skills.

Stack of stones from Demion's photostream.

Tidy Up as a Meditation

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Cover design2 Here’s a chapter from my ebook. I’m posting them every once in a while. Like it? You can buy the ebook here.

Simple Way #10

Tidy up as a Meditation

Routine physical tasks can be good opportunities to multitask, since you don’t have to think about them while you’re doing them. They can also be a great time to take a break mentally. There’s a Zen saying, “Before Enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After Enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” Being present and mindful is being enlightened.

Now, you don’t have to become a monk, but you can give your mind a break by simply paying attention to your physical actions and not letting your mind obsess and worry. When you release the stranglehold you have on your brain’s workings, you often find that new ideas and solutions will bubble up effortlessly.

Right now:
Decide that when you wash the dishes tonight you will feel the warmth of the water and the slipperiness of the soap. Listen to the water spraying.  Observer the colors and shapes of the dishes. You just wash the dishes and nothing else.

A Little Music Can Help You Declutter

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I got this great tip from one of my fellow Ladies in our Ladies Who Launch business incubator a few weeksHeadphones
ago. Zorha told me that she likes to put on headphones and listen to music while she's going through piles or boxes of stuff.

The entertainment value helps the time go by, of course, but the headphones also serve to isolate her from the things she's handling and that makes it easier for her to release them. When she's in her own little musical world, she feels detached from everything else around her.

If you find it hard to get rid of stuff because of all the associations and reminders and emotions it brings with it, try a little music and tune out.

(Swarovski encrusted headphones pic from