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Plenty of people approach organizing projects with the mindset that setting aside a big chunk of time is the way to go. This can be the stereotypical idea of not starting to clean out the garage or basement until you have a weekend to dedicate to working on it. Maybe it’s even a reason to procrastinate, “Oh, I don’t have enough time to work on this – look at my weekends, they each have things that are more important.”
It can also be the internal “shoulds” of having the time to spend on organizing projects – “I should be spending at least 6 hours a day organizing my stuff, I don’t have that much else to do…”
First, one of the ways we all end up with too much stuff is that we haven’t embraced the process of purging as part of our life. When purging happens only when you’ve found an available weekend to clean out the garage (or wherever) – the stuff will pile up again. Is this how you want things to function going forward? I’d encourage you to incorporate the purging and hence the organizing process into your life in order to avoid a weekend of cleaning out any space.
Organizing is never truly finished; rather it’s part of life. Even when you’re attentive to getting things out, stuff can accumulate. Have I shared how my husband and I found 3 sets of mixing bowls in our cupboards a couple years ago? 3 sets! Somehow things slip through, or multiply behind our backs – and I had no idea there were 3 sets using up our valuable cupboard space (even a couple years later I’m confounded by it!).
Second, when you’re tackling a space over a weekend, you could be heading yourself into a state of overwhelm. Getting overwhelmed has potential consequences – serious ones even! In your goal of cleaning out the garage, you might reach the state of being overwhelmed as everything is strewn about for sorting – and when walking away is not a feasible option. When it might be possible to walk away, the stuff is there, now less contained and probably gnawing at you to get back to it.
You might get through everything and then find yourself resistant to any other projects that involve sorting and purging – it becomes overwhelming to consider another big project. What people often discount about any organizing – whatever the size – is how much energy it can take. If you’re working alone, physical energy is probably required. Yet, I’m talking about mental energy – the decisions required for every item. Often each item is more than 1 decision – since once you’ve decided to keep it – the first decision, where are you going to keep it? What other items do you have like it? How will you know where and how to find it when you need it? And any number of other decisions for each and every item. This can be extremely draining – and please don’t discount how much or how normal!
No matter what the size of the project – whether you want to get the whole house organized or just that linen closet – it can be done in small steps. The basement can be approached in small chunks of time rather than waiting for a whole weekend. When you break things down – whatever the size – you want to make sure you keep the things you’ve sorted distinct from the things you have yet to sort. It can also help to keep things tidy – it’s common for things to get more chaotic before they get better – so containing the stuff in order to keep things and spaces accessible as well as avoid being overwhelmed just by entering.
If it’s not obvious, I don’t recommend the weekend room tackle! There are more reasons I find it counterproductive, though I’ve certainly met and worked with people who take this approach. As long as it works for them, that’s what matters; though I expect they are still in the minority. Regardless, when you’re working in a space, sorting, organizing, and purging it needs your attention. So, in the other extreme, I would be cautious about starting an organizing project when you might have to run out of the house in 5 minutes – unless you have a plan! Bursts of organizing can be any amount of time – theoretically – you get to decide for yourself. What amount of time works well for you?
I don’t remember when or where I first heard about the learning model where being consciously incompetent is one of the four stages. In some ways it surprises me how many people have not heard of the four stages of competence and then after they’ve learned about it – how excited they are by the ideas in it. Even a refresher on the ideas can be revitalizing – the model is a reminder that learning is a process. Some of us can fall into making critical judgments about ourselves and that is dismissive of how our mistakes are critical to the process – it’s a way to learn and become unconsciously competent – where we have mastered the skill and knowledge we wanted.
The first stage is unconscious incompetence. When you don’t know what you don’t know you’re in this stage. It could be that you recognize a skill in someone else, yet are dismissive of the usefulness of it. In order to move onto the next stage, you must recognize – become conscious – of both your own lack of skill and the value of learning it.
From there, you move into conscious incompetence, the second stage. You’re aware of the deficits and have little knowledge or skill yet. This is a time when you’re likely to make lots of mistakes – and making those mistakes can be important to moving through this stage. Mistakes are an opportunity to learn – as trite as that might sound! Another way to consider this is how part of what you’re doing in this stage is practicing. We’ve all heard how “practice makes perfect” (though please don’t actually try to be perfect). What we’re working on in this stage is becoming competent.
The third stage is conscious competence. You have gained the knowledge and skill though you have to think about it and probably need to concentrate in order to execute it. You might need to have all the steps broken down or have more detailed processes at this point in your learning. You are still making mistakes in this stage, though they are on the decline. The effort to demonstrate the skills can be time and energy consuming – more than what’ll be needed in the last stage.
Unconscious competence is the last of the learning stages. This is where you have mastered the skill to the point that you no longer need to concentrate to make sure it’s done correctly. Mistakes are few and far between. When you’re at this stage, you have the skills and knowledge to teach others.
As you can see, learning something new takes time as you move through these stages – and only when you’ve reached the final stage are mistakes negligible. How realistic is it to think that you can gain the skills without a learning curve? Heck, how perfect are you trying to be? The time it takes each of us to move from unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence is unique to us.
Once you know about these stages you can consider where you are in the process. Despite the fact that many people seem to believe that organizing should be simple and easy – doesn’t make it so for everyone. Let me clear, organizing is a skill like anything else – it is something anyone can learn. It’s also not knowledge we’re automatically born with – we learn it just like driving a car or anything else. Organizing is something that can have many variables – many opinions about the way to do it (or the best way). This means you have that much more to learn – more time in the middle stages before you reach the unconscious competence stage.
Therefore consider whatever it is you’re trying to develop the skills and knowledge about – what is the complexity level? Where are you in the stages of learning? To some extent, our lives are a constant state of learning – at least it can be. Therefore, if we consider the stages of learning in combination with how we can continue to learn – we have a way to gain perspective. Each and every one of us goes through all four stages – no one is exempt.
The Four Stages of Learning
Setting goals for yourself and trying to create new habits could be considered you learning through these same stages – how to move from resistance, to planning, to action and practice, and each step that will take you to the final goal of it becoming a routine that requires little thought. What do you think – do you see a connection between the stages of learning and your desire to make changes in your life?
Traditionally people going through relocation’s, marriage, divorce, inheritances, and other life transitions would use storage units for short periods of time. Now, storage units are also used long term – a way to keep things we don’t want in our homes or those things don’t fit in our homes. There’s no doubt these self-storage units provide a beneficial service – I used one for relocating challenges many years ago and expect I might again when its time for home staging. So whether you currently have a storage unit or will need one in the future, the way you use the space can make the difference between simplifying and complicating things for yourself.
The best approach you can take for your storage unit is to set it up in ways that will both maximize the space as well as providing you with easy access to all the contents. Essentially you want the ability to get to any content within 10 minutes whether you’re planning on ignoring it until you’re ready to empty it or if you’ll need to be in and out of it periodically. Of course, if you end up needing to get at something before you empty the storage unit and you’ve organized the contents, you can get what you need with little hassle. Also, when you set it up with this easy access to each thing, you’re simplifying the process for when you empty it – as the mover’s or yourself can make the most of loading the car or truck. Overall it means simplifying – a little planning and organizing can save you time as well as money.
Ok then, how do you set up a storage unit with this in mind?
First, to keep access for all the contents, you make aisles. You’re leaving space for you (or whoever) to move among the contents as well as allowing some space for shifting or rearranging if needed. There’s no right way to make the aisles – it doesn’t have to be from the door to the back wall – consider the dimensions of the unit and the things you’re storing.
Can you touch each box without having to move other things? It doesn’t have to be set up this way, though it will make things easiest if you end up needing access to some of the contents and will facilitate your handling the things in there. You can identify the box/bin/container you need to get access to – without digging and moving things only to discover it wasn’t behind that box after all.
In keeping with making the most of the space and making aisles, each container needs only one access point – so other than the items along the walls – you can make 2 rows of your stuff between each aisle. The only things you’d need to move if you need access to one container would be any boxes on top of the needed container. The aisles also provide an easy place to put those boxes you’re moving in order to get access to the container you need.
Second, as you’re looking at the space available – even if you already have a full unit – pay attention to the vertical space. Not unlike a small living space, one way to make the most of small spaces is to maximize the area between the floor and the ceiling. How you will use this space depends on different factors:
- how much stuff you actually have or that needs to be stored in the space
- whether the items for the storage unit will stack well (or can be stored to make most of vertical space like Persian rugs and grandfather clocks)
- half full boxes will end up leaning or even falling when stacked on top of each other
- furniture can help make the space more functional, especially shelving (though that doesn’t mean you should buy them!)
- what are the things and the categories of things you’re storing (or planning on storing)?
- safety and accessibility
- I don’t recommend (most of the time) stacking things higher than is comfortable for retrieving and replacing – as that can become a safety hazard and negatively impact our willingness to get at the things stored
Third, keeping categories of things together. If you’ve got books in storage, get them all together. Clothes, kitchen things, storage/organizing containers, holiday decor, whatever broad grouping of similar things being kept together will help you if you need to find something and when you’re moving the containers out of the storage unit – since you’d probably prefer the books don’t inadvertently crush the box of memorabilia while they’re in transit. Broad categories are often all you need, though there can be further detailed grouping when it’s appropriate.
If you’re storing things you want to go through over time, having the categories will also simplify that process – having like items together will make it easier for you to make decisions. You can focus on one type of thing (avoiding switching between types of things) and know what else you have – which will help preserve your energy and maximize making decisions about each item within the category.
It’s helpful to make sure you know where the various categories are located within the storage unit – for locating what you need, for when it’s time to empty the unit, for sorting, purging and further organizing, and for anything else. You can label the containers – with a magic marker, attaching labels to the containers, or even to make a diagram mapping the locations of your categories (so you know the front half of the row along the left wall are where your books are located).
When you have a storage unit – whatever the reason – making the most of the space is important. Even if you already have a filled storage unit, with some time and effort you can rearrange things, making things easier in moving forward. You’re paying money to save and protect your things. These are 3 important aspects for maximizing the space and more importantly, keeping things as easy as possible for you: 1) access with aisles, 2) maximize vertical space, and 3) categorize and group contents together. With these three pieces you can keep your things, your storage unit and using the space (for accessing or for filling and then emptying) as simple as possible.
Aside: If you’re renting a storage unit for an undefined amount of time – a life transition – without a real deadline, consider setting a deadline for yourself, choosing your own time frame (and it’s good to be generous). It can be an out-of-sight out-of mind cost, where it becomes easier to keep paying the fee for the storage unit than to face the plethora of decisions inside!
Working on your organization and systems means you are making changes – or at least trying to. Meanwhile it’s likely the rest of your life didn’t come to halt simply because you’re determined to make progress. (Even if it did, you might not be exempt from challenges! ) Each day we deal with any number of things and they affect us – physically, emotionally, and psychologically. And how we’re each affected has countless variations and is further influenced by any number of factors, both those we’re aware of and ones we’re blind to. This is life. When you’re motivated to focus on organizing and your systems, it’s important to consider how the timing corresponds with other factors in your life.
When you are dealing with physical, mental, emotional challenges, making changes in your life can be that much harder. It might even be that you need to wait to attempt changes until these things are under control – or potentially stable. At the very least, limit your efforts to working on small changes and set aside bigger changes for the future.
Even when there are no outside complicating factors, besides normal life, it can be easier to begin with smaller steps. Whether this is the time for you to focus on making progress or it’s better to wait, you can continue to be curious – observing that this endeavor or that family obligation is so time and energy consuming which can help show you how much you can handle at a given moment – after all, we all have our limits.
The time and energy we have to focus on making changes also has a dramatic impact on our progress. Are we realistic about the time and energy it will take for these changes to occur? Again, consider whether it is practical for you to focus on these things or would it serve you better to postpone it for a while.
Where does this specific change fall among the priorities of your life? It can feel like it “should” be the highest, or needs to be. Yet, even if it needs to be high on your list, that doesn’t automatically transform it into the thing you focus on most. (If you say it needs to be high, consider what are the factors that define it as a need as compared to a want.)
Maybe you just really want it to be a high priority. Therefore, what is getting in the way of raising it up? Sometimes it might be as “simple” as setting boundaries with other people – learning to say, no, to both the outside obligations as well as to distractions.
Other times it might not be the time for it to be as high as you want. This means that you make it a priority for it to be raised as other things move out of the way – and maybe organically it becomes a higher priority in your life. Someone in the midst of health issues might not focus on making changes, yet once that is managed, working on getting the kitchen organized moves up the list – becoming a more reasonable change.
It can be extremely frustrating when your motivation for focusing on this one thing doesn’t align well with other parts of your life. And you can decide to focus on them anyway. I only want to urge you to simply consider these factors before adding more to your shoulders:
- Physical, mental, or emotional challenges – your own or someone dear to you
- Your time and energy
- The realistic priority in this moment, for you
Only you can decide whether the timing is suitable for you to focus on organization and your systems. The idea of “do it now” might be appropriate; yet it’s just as possible that doing it now would be counter-productive. Deciding to wait – recognizing that it’s unrealistic in this moment to spend your energy this way – can be a demonstration of wisdom. So, how is the timing aligning with the other factors of your life?
Considering our vision of what we want our space to feel like and express, how critical is beauty in your environment? All of us have things that we find beautiful. This is part of what we want to surround ourselves with and these things often inspire us. Or at least we hope they will. It might even be a criterion that is high on your list of importance – wanting your space to be beautiful – although it’s not important for everyone. The work you do in your home – organizing, cleaning, purging, decorating, repairs, etc. – are at least somewhat about making your space also your home. It can be important to decide when aesthetics are the highest priority for your time and energy.
As I’ve talked about before, beauty – in the eye of the beholder – can be one of the criteria for whether to keep things in your space or if it’s time to let something move on to be appreciated by someone else. One of the other primary criteria is whether something is useful. If something serves a function in your life – that is important.
“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” William Morris
Recently, I’ve found that professional organizers frequently use this quote as a guiding principle and I talk more about this in Useful & Beautiful.
Notice which comes first – useful and then beauty – this is about priorities. Those parts and pieces of things in our life that keep us moving forward are most important. If we try to dismiss how useful something is, often we end up with more complications. Similarly, making things attractive does not translate into things being useful. It’s potentially a sad truth that creating a space and system that function well for you might be “unattractive” – according to your criteria.
Yet, what is most important? Is having a space that is perfectly beautiful yet is more effort to use effectively something you’d choose? If you’d choose beauty over function, I’d be curious to know what that desire is about for you. Consider times past when the living room might only be used when guests are visiting – that space requires little more function and can easily be beautified. When we’re actively using a space, the function of it might mean that it’s less beautiful – at least in the traditional sense.
How do you value the effort needed to use your things? Consider the differences between things that have been simplified and streamlined for function compared to things where it’s harder to use, requiring more effort and time. It can be tempting to focus on the aesthetics and decide you’ll just make it work – somehow. We try to convince ourselves that if it’s just beautiful, we’ll be motivated to expend the extra effort and time to work around less functionality.
A caveat – this talk about beauty in a space will depend on how you define beauty. Each of us can have a different opinion about what things detract from beauty in a space. Just as your vision of beauty might not match other people – a challenge when your partner has their vision and it’s quite different. If they’re unconcerned with the aesthetics of the space, then the way beauty is defined – by either of you – won’t be an issue.
I’d encourage you to make it functional first (often this process takes time) – create a way that it supports you so things are simplified – and once you understand what aspects you need, you can look for ways to beautify it. Personally (which is to say that I don’t put this on my clients), I think about the beautifying process at the end – as the icing on the cake – the fun and final steps in creating systems, a sign of succeeding in the bigger goal of making things functional.
By postponing the beautifying of your space – you can learn your tendencies and make accommodations for them that directly connect with beautifying. It’s likely that wherever you spend most of your time in your home has “not beautiful” evidence of you. Yet, you’re living in this space and functioning, so it’s not surprising. Once you’ve ruled out some other reasons things collect in places – like it not having a home, requires too much time and effort to get it back to its home, etc. – it might be that you simply need to have a space for these things. Creating a space for these things hanging around could mean a decorative (and functional, of course) container or piece of furniture – at least when your priority is on aesthetics.
Being more concerned about beauty over function can be another part of why we lose things. When someone is most concerned about getting things looking pretty, the decisions about where to put everything else can be rushed. Even when you take your time making decisions about where to put things away, your options for storing things are based on beauty – getting it out of sight.
Remember, when you make function the highest priority, you can then probably find ways to beautify it. It can be surprisingly easy to focus on things that are “easy” – rather than on what is most important – whether that’s this function and beauty idea or something else. Beauty can feel easier, whereas trying to figure out function for yourself and space can feel daunting. Consider finding one small area that you know needs an improvement in function – focus on just that for now. As I say over and over – experiment, set up something new and try it for a while and see what happens. There can also be beauty in the experimenting with function.
Changes are inevitable – both the positive ones as well as the ones that challenge us. How’s that for stating the obvious? Sometimes we know the changes are coming – we change jobs or move. Other times changes happen suddenly – an accident or event that is unexpected. Some changes are quick while others can be indefinite, as with health issues. There are changes that span the spectrum as far as their impact – from relatively minor changes to ones that turn our lives upside down.
If only this was the complete break down for changes – except that each change we encounter can be different and affect us uniquely. The way we experience changes can be just as unpredictable as the changes that happen in our life. And there’s also the way that we personally handle changes – some people react with grace and flexibility while others can get flustered and struggle. We can also move between these, as this too is a continuum. It’s not as simple as only reacting with ease, as it takes time and energy to adjust, so we cycle through feelings.
How do you react to changes? What kinds of changes do you simply roll with the flow versus changes that provide a greater challenge to handle? When we know our strengths and our weaknesses, we can then consider how to do our best in reacting to the changes.
Consider the person who struggles with sudden changes – short notice changes – bringing up anxiety or stress. They know life can throw curve balls, where plans can go awry, and they don’t want to react so strongly. Working to accept the abrupt changes with more serenity is great. It’s also not the only approach, as you recognize your own reactions. Recently I had a client share that she doesn’t handle sudden changes well – and by sharing that she was helping both of us. Not only would I understand if she faced this situation while I was there, I can now do what I can to minimize any surprises.
What do you tell yourself about how you deal with changes in your life? When we’re successful, we can dismiss the process we went through in adjusting to the changes or we can appreciate our strength and grace in dealing with the changes. On the other hand, the changes that are more challenging can elicit self-criticism. Our struggles can become evidence of our “failures” in life rather than simply a more complex situation that’s pushing us to adapt. We’re all more prone to identify the bumps we experienced over the areas where we succeeded.
Is there ever a time to be critical of yourself – about how you weren’t perfect?
- it was a “tiny” change
- it was a change you knew about in advance?
- and even planned for adjusting to this known change
- it was a change you wanted and acted to bring about
How does it serve you to be critical? Does it help you to cope more successfully for the future changes? I’d imagine that it mostly deflates the flexibility and grace you do have and undermines your self-confidence. And this isn’t to say that the self-critical-ness isn’t going to still pop up– it’s not as easy as flipping a switch to turn it off. It is about what you do when that voice gets loud. If you can recognize it as your interpretation – your perception – and you might be biased; you can start to lighten up on yourself.
Tackling organizing projects are changes you’re working to bring about – it’s your choosing – and that doesn’t automatically make it smooth and easy. It can seem like it’s so small in the grand scheme of things – and yet that doesn’t mean it won’t bring challenges – even in the midst of the lightening and successes. Therefore, consider things going on in your life – are there changes you’re adjusting to – even without thinking about it in that way? Please allow yourself to be right where you are in your own ch-ch-cha-changes!
As I read January’s Real Simple, it was interesting to see what different “journalists, pundits, and thought leaders” had to say regarding the idea and possibility of work-life balance. The part that caught my attention most was what Jennifer Senior said – which was essentially to consider the question from a bigger perspective, to consider that some people are struggling so much they can’t even think about work-life balance as well as some cultures, like ours, where we feel entitled to be happy. Most of us know that our values and goals are a reflection of our life experiences and personality, which means that someone living across the world likely has different values and goals. It also means they approach things differently – whether just slightly or more dramatically. And I’ve just returned from a month in Japan – partly drooling over organizing supplies (partly since I didn’t spend the month perusing supplies!) – and found the differences in the stores between the U.S. and Japan fascinating.
Walking through stores, in general, I was overwhelmed with the choices displayed for me to touch, to test out, to buy – and we think we have tons of choices available to us. Depending on the area I was walking through, I could quickly feel so overloaded with the selection that all I wanted to do was leave! I also noticed that I became more selective about which stores I would even enter – I shared one store that elicited a contradictory response from my last visit in Temptations of Purchasing.
It’s more challenging for me to resist stores offering office supplies. I desperately miss the days when we had independent stores around offering alternative colors in writing pens and pads of paper. And if we were lucky, the store had several pens for you to test out – experimenting with how this and that one wrote – before buying anything. In Japan, almost every individual pen being sold could be tested, in one store – all three rows of them – with paper stretched on each row from one end to the other on a ledge. Oh the colors, the selection of point sizes, the brands (some quite familiar), and even erasable pens – and each of these did not limit the others, so the colors were offered in each of the point sizes and the erasable pens had many colors to choose from.
The pens that came home with me!
I wish I’d had more time to explore the supplies they offered for paper. The color choices, the sizes, and binding options were just the obvious variations. Not surprisingly there is a focus on functionality – so there were many options for small and portable staplers, hole punches, scissors, cases for writing utensils, and more and I picked up some of these to add to my workbag.
I didn’t see any Container Stores – either in brand or exclusively dedicated to – yet almost every store offered some containers. One store obviously carried many options that I explored – amazed at the both the options and the lack of options. Huh, you might thinking, isn’t that contradiction? At least in the store I spent the most time in, it’s focus on home overall, with furniture, kitchen and bath accessories, storage and container options – there was limited color or material options. The color choices were neutral – clear, black, white, and neutral (tan, wood, wicker) and the materials were natural (wood, wicker), plastic, or metal. Yet, within that “limited” selection the choices offered amazing personalization. Each section of containers revealed that the sizes – however variable – were designed to all work together, if you wanted (or needed) it to. The color selection also meant that it’s versatile – it will go with any décor, any colors – and choosing the container for your situation isn’t going to be limited by a clashing color.
The wood containers offered the option of purchasing a lid – where this lid was functional as a tray as well. You could stack these containers both with and without the lid – and the edges all nested just a bit so any stack of containers was stable as well as perfectly (unavoidably) aligned. I loved the thought that went into the design – as well as the options, however “limited,” that offered ways to save money i.e. avoid buying or even just having unnecessary lids, as well as maintaining the stacking option even if you wanted or needed lids.
In this same store I discovered this section filled with clear plastic containers – smaller, filled with various things. It took me a little while to realize that there were only a certain number of the larger sizes – which you purchased independently of “contents.” Yes, these containers had contents in the traditional sense where the store was illustrating some ideas for using these containers. The “contents” I’m referencing are the options for how to configure the space inside the larger sizes – as you could turn one into a jewelry box, or a box of sunglasses with sections if you wanted, a display case for a collection, or any number of options. These pieces mostly clear, with the exception of some jewelry holders covered in fabric, and offered complete visibility for your things – no way to forget what you put in that container – you can see it. Essentially you’re designing the storage – within limits – for your things simply.
I found myself admiring – deeply appreciating the thought-out details – and wishing I needed containers, so I could use these! I also ranted a bit – amazed we don’t have containers with the level of design that was offered – and thinking of various clients with their various storage needs, if only they could touch and test these out.
It turns out that I didn’t capture many of these – at least the ones that stand out most in my memory, though I have some other pictures to share illustrating the options and versatility offered, as well as how they display it within furniture.
The display shows some of the furniture and containers they sell
Finding a display of almost exclusively ShotNote paper options surprised me – I wrote a review not long ago and had looked into the paper options they offered. This is the rack displaying them:
The Ampad ShotNote display rack
This is part of the wall I glimpsed as we walked outside the store – tempting me to come in and investigate more – and where I found all the containers I talk about here:
Part of the wall tempting me in – with glimpses of more on both sides
Over-the- door display with various options – which reminded me of the organizing idea I’d read not long before of cutting part of a (closet rod) hanging shoe bag and using it for other items and in other locations around the house. They offered that as well, though I didn’t manage to get a picture. Yet the focus continues to be on how to maximize functionality for the person – ways to customize the tools for your situation and needs.
One set-up possibility for over-the-door hanging options
The sign illustrating some options for the over-the-door storage and similar wall storage offerings:
Options for the over-the-door and wall hanging system
I’ve talked before about goals – whether that’s the traditional New Year’s Resolution(s) or more generally setting goals for our life. We all know that what makes this most likely to succeed – setting SMART goals – and yet we don’t always follow this mnemonic when the New Year is here and we choose what we want to be different this year. And aren’t there always things we want to be different this year – the resolution of a past struggle or success at some new endeavor? Then what’s stopping us from using the SMART mnemonic as we set our sights on how things can be different, even better?
Quickly, here are the SMART criteria:
- Specific – be specific about what you want to change/improve, answer (usually) each of the 5 W’s (what, why, where, who, and which)
- Measurable – what are you going to measure and how to know you’ve accomplished your goal (i.e. weight lost or time walking a mile etc.)
- Attainable (and realistic) – how can the goal be reached?
- Relevant – the goal matters and the timing works
- Time-bound – answers “when?”; sometimes an end date, though might be first milestone where you can feel successful along the path to creating routines
First, as I’ve said before, is this a good time for you to be setting goals? Simply because this is the time of year when we’ve been taught to set resolutions, with the calendar moving into a new year, does not automatically mean this is a good time for you to be embarking on making changes. Can you ignore the social conventions of setting a goal and just say no? The R in SMART is “relevant” and sometimes that means recognizing that this is not the time for you to set any goals. The flow and events of our lives aren’t necessarily going to follow any calendar events – therefore, consider whether there is a more realistic (or “attainable”) time for you to set goals. For example:
- work slows down in the summer and I won’t feel so overwhelmed
- 2 of the 5 big time-consuming things I’m juggling right now need to be dealt with before I will even have the time or focus to contemplate other changes
- I’m more motivated in the spring with life springing up around me
Simply because the timing doesn’t work for you does not mean you are procrastinating or making excuses – really.
Second, if you know the principles of using the SMART mnemonic, do you use it? What gets in your way for working through the SMART goal steps? There are any number of reasons we might avoid working with these criteria, yet finding our own resistances can help us find our way through to making successful changes.
As we all things we do and want to change, we go through an ebb and flow, where our motivation and focus fluctuates. And it’s not always clear to us where in the process we exactly are – from being realistic to easily discouraged to highly dedicated – to the goals we have. I know that my goal from years ago of losing weight, which I share in Consider Setting Resolutions – or Not, that I wasn’t always aware of the stage I was currently in. The “goal” of losing weight was consistently there, it felt like a priority most of the time, and despite these pieces, it wasn’t enough. I’m not sure I can clearly identify what was missing early on and have the perspective now that we each simply have to find our own path.
I was certainly resistant to using the SMART mnemonic early in my goal of losing weight, so now when I see myself avoiding applying the SMART steps I take a step back and consider if there is some issue with the goal. It often becomes clear that there is a conflict between my goal and the SMART steps. Emotionally I’m trying to ignore that – after all, I really want to change this; “I don’t want to wait…”
Using the SMART criteria means that we take time to work our goal through each step. The idea of taking time for each of the SMART steps can feel daunting – after all time is a precious commodity – and who doesn’t wish “if only it were simpler…” I’ve been known to make occasional comments about wishing I had a magic wand – and how I’d share it. Yet, there’s no magic wand and the time we spend on these SMART criteria will only support us in reaching our goals. It’s also important to be focused during the process – to identify the pieces for each step of the SMART criteria and that all of them are feasible, i.e. just because a single working mom wants to get to the gym 5 days a week doesn’t mean it’s realistic for her schedule and the demands on her time.
When we use the SMART criteria, we’re claiming the intention for change clearly. The evidence of our commitment is laid out with all the steps and pieces we’ll need to be successful. Even though I feel like a broken record, I’ll say again – there is no need to feel obligated to set resolutions at this time of year or any time of year, find the timing that works for you.
I always appreciate discovering lesser-known things – yes, always, at least when it comes to organizing, time management, productivity, and other things that fascinate me. I wish I could remember how I come across some of them, as is the case with the e-book “Clear Mind, Effective Action” by Jim Stone where he talks about his Fractal Planning system. Are you already rolling your eyes or afraid to read more? Talking about fractals and planning systems might sound intimidating or like a non sequitur, yet this is the type of thing I’ve encouraged all of you to do – at least to some degree – use what works from the systems around us and then find ways to adjust for the parts that don’t work as well.
Therefore, let’s talk about his approach, fractals and all. What do you think of when you hear the term fractals? The way he envisions fractals is as “a rough or fragmented geometric shape that can be split into parts, each of which is (at least approximately) a reduced-sized copy of the whole” which he says is how Wikipedia (at the time of writing) defines it. What is critical about fractals in his view is that they surround us and “creative productivity (like most business projects) grew via fractal processes” so a successful planning tool would incorporate fractal awareness into it.
He offers several different ways to envision fractals around us. One of those is a tree, where you take a main branch off a tree and it looks like a smaller tree. If we continue, taking a branch (he refers to this as a sub-branch) off this other (main) branch, this also looks like an even smaller tree. And so on. Sometimes there are some random variations at each step, as with this example of a tree, yet remains an example of a fractal.
Tree as an example of a fractal we see and take for granted
Part of what that means is the versatility for breaking things down into ever and ever smaller parts – the splitting (or fracturing) mentioned above that is still a smaller representation of the bigger picture. Yet, fractal can also be seen as a way to build things up through the branching process. This can be seen with the Koch Snowflake (animated to see the process in one direction) – where you can see how both breaking down as well as building up applies.
Isn’t this what we need when we’re planning our tasks and priorities – the flexibility to approach things from any direction? Sometimes we’re stuck in the forest, unable to see the trees when we’re trying to plan. Other times all we can see are the trees – or to put it another way – we’re busy thinking in the big or small picture view and struggle with aspects that go beyond that view. Or maybe we’re just not clear – it’s somewhere between the two extremes – yet wherever we might be, it’s important to have a planning tool that will support us as we capture our thoughts. And then we can take that planning as far as we need to for maximizing our productivity and minimizing our stress – fractal like in either breaking the steps down or building our plans up.
Von Koch Curve showing the fractal nature
Essentially the idea of fractal planning comes down to the idea that being aware of the fractal nature – of our plans, our goals, our entire lives – will help us as we’ll work better, becoming more efficient and effective while our stress will decrease. As Jim Stone says, “”If you set it up right, with a planning tool that allows you to break down projects to any level of detail, your plans will just grow naturally from your brain‘s innate desire to break tasks down as you go. That‘s what fractal awareness does for you. It helps you see that your whole life can be represented in the same plan, and you can trust it to grow organically, just like a tree grows (because that‘s how plans grow, too). And don‘t worry. There is no ―right way to break down your life plan or your projects and sub-projects.”
I love the optimism of this – while the skeptic in me wonders how realistic this is for everyone. Oops, even I can slip into the temptation of 1 solution for all of us. This is simply an example of one person’s solution to planning and productivity challenges that were not solved from another system out there (David Allen’s Getting Things Done are evident in places). His approach also assumes you are 1) comfortable with technology and 2) that you sit at a desk the majority of the time – where it’s easy and convenient to be interacting with your list. [Please note that I have no data on his paid online system – and am considering writing another piece that discusses some of the issues I see with this system; this post is about the ideas in his e-book.] Nevertheless, the idea of fractal awareness shifting how we view things intrigues me – without needing to adopt any other piece of his system. Are there any ideas that capture your interest?
What if you tried to organize a space only to realize that it wasn’t working? And you re-organize it and again find it wasn’t working? And again, repeating the steps over and over again. Would you then tell yourself that you’re not good at organizing? Have you ever thought about how you label yourself? The times that we encounter repeated struggles can be daunting and it might lead us to decide our capabilities – and not in a realistic or positive way.
Would you think me less of a professional organizer if you knew that scenario above was from my home and life? Early last month I realized that I needed to divide a category I’d created in my craft closet – that it was creating unnecessary chaos. That opened the door to how several parts were not working – there was clutter collecting again. There had been some great progress with the degree of clutter compared to the past – yet there were still problems.
I’m certainly not proud of the repeated problems I’ve had with the space. It has been extremely frustrating and amazingly overwhelming – some of which I talked about almost 2 years ago in Overwhelmed? ? – and I’m grateful that these recent changes don’t feel overwhelming, though they are frustrating sometimes! My experiences also illustrate that simply having a neat system does not magically make things organized or more importantly stay organized.
How easy it could be to decide that I’m not capable of organizing – consider that in over 10 years that I’ve played with the closet, it’s always broken down. There’s more than a decade of “evidence” that I can’t organize, isn’t there? Yet, it is focused on that closet. If you’ve read my blog for a while you know that there have been other spaces needing re-organizing – that spaces simply stop working sometimes. More signs that organizing isn’t in my skill set, right? Proof, at least if we consider only those examples.
The way we interpret our experiences can have a huge impact on what we do or don’t do. If you tell yourself that you are just no good at organizing, you’re probably going to avoid trying to do it and focus on all the “proof” that backs up your interpretation. What would happen if you searched for all the evidence that was the opposite of your interpretation (and not minimize or discount them)?
As much as the repeated failure of the organizing inside the craft room closet is hard to accept, I can also see that each time I re-do things in there I make improvements – both in how things are arranged and in how long the organization is maintained. I recognize that my continuing struggles are centered on that specific area.
It’s remarkably easy to discount our successes – it seems like we all do it in some way or context. Likewise, we all falter and struggle sometimes. It might feel that we’re more prone to challenges than other people. What do you tell yourself? Do you see any possibility for finding your way through your challenges?
I keep chipping away at that craft room closet – riding the ebb and flow of emotions – from overwhelmed, to frustrated, to excited, to apathetic, to embarrassment, to any number of other reactions. I recognize that it is simply feelings – they will pass or at least subside and don’t necessarily reflect the reality. My interpretation is that I’ve struggled to find all the solutions I need for this space and stuff at the same time – that it is evidence that there are times we need to go through the process of discovering our answers, however long that process might take. (My post, Organizing Art & Craft Supplies, talks about some solutions.)
Therefore, the way we interpret our own challenges can define how we progress through them. Professional organizers exist because people struggle with getting organized – there’s nothing wrong with facing that challenge with help. Yet, if you tell yourself that you’re just lousy with organization, what happens when the organizer leaves and you’re left to maintain the organization?
Put a limit on your critical interpretations – in what way are you challenged, specifically? How are you successful, even in the midst of that struggle? Can you see that there’s a way for you to develop the skills? When the ongoing challenges in a particular area tempt you to you give up, how will you interpret both the continuing struggle and your inclination to throw up your hands and walk away? You probably know generally what I would say – find an explanation that supports you and your strengths from the reality rather than any biases.