Ready to Make a Change?

Yes? No? Maybe? Sometimes? I feel like a broken record as I reiterate that making any change can be hard.  We all know that it can be more than worth the effort too.  Some people are worn down by the “failures” of their prior efforts at change.  Others are worried about what those changes will bring with them – besides the positives they’re looking for.  And more are simply impatient for the changes to happen.  This is why I encourage you, first and foremost, is to allow yourself to be exactly where you are in the process.

Simply wanting things to be different doesn’t magically make them happen.  If only it were that simple.  Likewise, knowing there’s a process to making successful changes also doesn’t solve the struggles.  I’ve found that when I can remind myself that all of life – its up and downs – are part of the journey.  Although apparently misattributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, we’ve probably all heard the sentence,

“Life is a journey, not a destination.”

I apply this idea to making changes.  There are things you can learn along the way – those rocks that trip you up, the unexpected detour off your path, the storm that hides the trail you were following – all experiences, however difficult, can teach you things and help you down the road.  If you’re engaged in the process, wherever you’re currently at – your patience and resilience will see you through.

Again often this is easier said than done.  Regardless, please allow yourself to be exactly where you are – as I talked about in “Are You Ready?”  You cannot hurry yourself into being ready, let alone be cajoled into changing.  There are many factors that interfere with making changes and how you handle those can have a dramatic effect on your progress.

Recently I talked about “Listen to Understand” which was directed to our interactions with other people.  The same approach and skills applied to an inner dialogue can provide insight into what is getting in our way to making the progress we want.  Often this is when it becomes all the more challenging to remain nonjudgmental – to tell yourself that you’re just making excuses, or whining, or just stupid, lazy, or crazy, etc.  Don’t – seriously stop yourself.  Set backs are common, to be expected even – and we can take that opportunity to learn.

If you’re curious and questioning, you’re not making excuses – you’re searching, looking for what’s happening in your experience and how it impacts you.  And it’s not necessarily all about the negative impact – it’s about your perspective, all of it.  In our searching to understand, the solutions might elude us for a while.  We gain an insight here or there – move forward some and hit a roadblock.  “Rawr, I’m stuck (or back-sliding) again, why can’t I just do it right?”

We learn as we do.  The challenges we each face aren’t laid out with all their facets in black and white like an assembly manual.  We search and discover something a little deeper, hoping this will be the key to clear our path – which it likely will do for a little while.  Then it’s time to dig again – uncover more of our tendencies to reveal the next steps.

Our state of mind when we reach that stage of readiness to change can be so inspiring – even exhilarating.  The whole house needs organizing – I’ll do it all.  Yet think about what your reaction would be if someone who’s not been exercising said, “I’m going to work out 5 days a week for an hour each time.”  You’d probably cringe, worrying how they might hurt themselves, and maybe that they’re going to set themselves up for possible failure.  It can be hard to take things slowly.  To approach things methodically might feel counterintuitive to the energy and motivation.  “Oh at long last I’m finally ready and need to take advantage right now.”

Although I can guide you along the path to making changes – and caution you about some common pitfalls – this is your path.  Sometimes we need to have the experience for ourselves.  There’s nothing wrong about that – as long as you continue to move through the stages of making those lasting changes you’re searching for.  Try to keep the pessimism at bay, and encourage the curiosity – about yourself and what works for you.  The changes you want can be achieved – with some time, effort, and patience (remember, patience comes to those who wait for it!) – I believe in you. 🙂

Are You Ready?

“Ready for what” you might ask?  At any given time you could be prepared for various things – the need to adjust or even make abrupt changes – those things that life inevitably demands.  While there are times that any change, even minor adjustments, can be overwhelming.  This is part of life – whether we like or accept it.  A valuable skill to develop is to learn to recognize what we can and cannot handle – at least at certain points in time, since this too shifts with different variables.

Therefore for this moment – are you ready to work at getting organized? And it most definitely can be work.  When we let things slide or we never learned the skills to develop and maintain an organized environment, it takes time and effort to bring your spaces into order.  As FlyLady says, the state of your home didn’t happen overnight and it can’t be fixed overnight – whatever the actual state of things in your own spaces.

And to be blunt, just because you are frustrated and overwhelmed doesn’t automatically mean that you are “ready.”  And equally, it doesn’t mean that you’re not “ready.”  There are “Stages of Change” or “Stages of Readiness” people have identified that we all move through and among – along our individual paths.  These apply to any changes we want or need to make in our life – from getting organized to any other changes we want to implement.

  1. Pre-contemplation/ Initial Rumblings
  2. Contemplation/ Identifying Possibilities
  3. Preparation/ Reaching Out
  4. Action/ Beyond Talking
  5. Maintenance/ Life Jolts (increase in commitment)

–       first items are taken from “A ‘Stages of Change’ Approach to Helping Patients Change Behavior”; second items taken from ICD’s fact sheet, “Readiness for Change – Revised” (pdf link FS-010, second from the bottom of page)

Remember I also said we move among these stages – the idea of relapse – where we falter in making the progress we want, is moving to an earlier stage in the process.  It’s completely normal and simply means you’ve encountered some additional challenges and can move back toward the progress you want – when you are ready.

Being “ready” isn’t a solitary, concrete event.  It is moving through the process at your own pace, influenced by your life and experiences.   It’s all about you and where you are at within these stages.  Making changes is challenging – even when we desperately want to make them – hence that it is “work.”  Also it is rarely a straight line – making consistent, steady progress from the moment you begin to developing the skills in maintaining the change you’ve identified.  If you think about any change you have made and even those you set out to change – what was that process like for you?  Likely, it was challenging – it took time and effort – especially initially.  It quite probably required learning new skills, or how to apply other skills in new ways.

One of the best things you can do for yourself – as you embark on making changes, even with getting organized – is to give yourself permission to be exactly where you are in the process.  You will likely not be right where you are now as time passes – moving through the stages doesn’t necessarily require that you “work” those stages, they can happen naturally.  Lasting change comes from within – your own motivation or where you are within the process of making changes you’ve personally identified – and being patient with the process.

Wherever you are in the process, whatever changes you want to make – you can begin anytime.  Waiting until you are solidly in an “action” stage isn’t required.  Although you can also wait until you are ready for taking action.  There is no one right answer – it’s about you and what will work for you.  And it never hurts to find support as you embark on the process of making changes – whatever that support looks like.

These Stages of Change can provide you with a framework for how we all process. This outline also doesn’t address other complicating factors, which I’ll talk about soon.  It does illustrate what is typical for all of us – it’s not as simple as flipping a switch and presto things are fixed.  If only it were that easy.  Hopefully it will encourage you to be gentle with yourself as you strive to make changes – whether that’s getting organized or whatever other changes you want to make.  Truly it is simply part of the process – even when it’s annoying – it’s still “normal.”

What changes do you want to make?  Where are you in the process?  Are you taking action?

To-Do’s – Technology and Traditional

My adamant approach to all things we do – whether organizing, managing time, cleaning, or working on our goals – is to find our own, individual way.  There is no one right way to do anything.  Take what works from each approach and combine it into something that works for you, even using any of your own unique ideas no one’s ever mentioned.  And no matter how good or logical something sounds – follow your own needs.  Additionally change or adapt it when it makes sense.  When it comes to to-do lists, it can be completely personalized, where only you matter.

Recently I talked about my to-do program on my iPad – Appigo’s Todo. Yet, as much as I use it and wouldn’t give it up, it’s only part of how I handle my to-dos.  I do rely on it and is the place where I try to capture all the tasks I need to do – eventually. This is often called a “brain dump” where you get all your tasks – regardless of priority, relevance, timeline, limitations, and etcetera – out of your head.  It’s not important how you capture them outside your head as long as they’re saved somewhere besides your brain.  This is one of the important aspects my technology to-do list serves for me.

This complete collection of all your to-dos can be utterly overwhelming.  I’ll confess that quite often looking at my whole to-do list can paralyze me.  It’s not that I don’t recognize what needs to be done or that many items are for the future – it’s just that there’s so many – ugh.  A pro for a digital collection of your tasks is that it stays neat and never requires you to rewrite it since you can move, rearrange, and modify any and all tasks easily.  I’m pretty confident that I am saving significant time simply by not rewriting and reorganizing my lists!

For exactly this reason as well as some other reasons, I sit down once a week with this master to-do list, my calendar, and my ARC notebook.  I review most of the tasks on my list considering the time and energy I’ll likely have to dedicate to working on these items.  Then I date the page in my ARC notebook, “June 3-9, 2013” and proceed to list typically 7-14 tasks, the goals of what I want to accomplish during that week.  The process of writing them down serves me in a couple of way – it forces me to be mindful of how many tasks I’ve set out to do since I find that just a digital list can too easily grow unrealistically.  Also, writing them down seems to help my memory of them without the list in front of me – there’s research that supports the process of writing connects our brains with it more than just reading it.

A couple of notes:

–       generally I recommend not setting more than 3 goals/tasks per day as a common struggle is to overestimate how much we can do which can then lead us to feeling unsuccessful and more overwhelmed though of course varies according to your own life

–       some people find it helpful to add their tasks directly into their calendar which is great if it works (my inner child rebels against that vehemently! lol)

Even with this process, it doesn’t mean that I don’t look at my master to-do list during the week.  First, my master list has regular daily or weekly tasks that aren’t included on my weekly handwritten to-dos.  Second, as much as we might try to plan our weeks (or days) things can arise that require we adapt or change our focus.

This is when I find the digital to-do list additionally helpful.  Most (maybe all?) digital to-do programs come with multiple features for organizing your to-dos.  How you set those up and how you use them is quite personal.  I’ve designated areas or “roles” of my life (which I talked some about in, Tasks – Big Picture View): Routines (this is new for me), Business, Household, Health, Personal, Volunteering.  Ideally I spend some time each week in each of these areas and if I need to shift my goals for the week, I can consider if I want to focus on a particular area and use the program to only look at those tasks.  I have some tasks set with an alarm, which helps make sure they’re dealt with.

Another way the digital to-do list helps me is that I set up contexts (only 1 per task) and tags (no limit per task), both of which I can sort with and see only those tasks that relate to what I’ve specified.  There are times when I put off certain types of tasks and then find myself motivated to tackle them.  Let me give you an example – what I consider “technical” phone calls are disturbingly problematic, those phone calls where

  1. there’s a strong probability that it will either be phone tag and I’d ideally be around to limit the phone tag or
  2. require being on hold indefinitely

Chances are that only those types of phone calls are even on my master to-do list and by setting the context as “@Phone calls” I can pull all them up regardless of what category they fit into and burn through them when I have the time and feel up to it.  Similarly one way I use tags is for identifying types of tasks that match my current capabilities – my physical and mental state like I talked about in Your Tasks have Needs.

I’ve combined my to-do list into using both technology and more traditional methods.  Some might find my way to be slightly redundant.  Yet it’s my way, not anyone else’s – it’s been changed and modified over the years according to what does and doesn’t work as well as working through how to make it more successful.  I doubt I will ever be done tweaking it – like the written list that sometimes has a specific day written by the tasks and sometimes time estimates while most of the time it’s just the task.  It’s most important that you find ways that work for you – a system for handling your tasks that supports you in making progress through them – whatever that ends up looking like for you.

Your Tasks have Needs

Endless to-do lists exist everywhere.  Even when you get caught up on your current tasks, more to-dos are bound to come your way.  There’s no escaping them, whether you write them down or keep them in your head.  Living our life, there is always more to do.  Finding a way to organize your to-do list can be just as individual as anything else – discovering how to make it work for you is most important.  Part of making things work for you is to make the most of your current state.

It’s not uncommon that some of us are most successful with completing certain types of tasks.  What do those tasks have in common?  What makes them easier to handle?  What’s similar between tasks you tend to avoid?  What leads you to feeling successful with your to-do list?  What’s the biggest challenge with your list?

Our current state can have a dramatic impact on how we move through or avoid our tasks.  Too often we wait until our feelings to lead us to our to-do list, “Now I feel ready to work on my list.”  Yet what happens when you are always too tired, too sick, too overwhelmed?

I challenge you to consider your tasks in a different way – match the tasks with what you are capable of right now.  Although there any number of ways to break tasks into categories, for this particular approach consider these two factors – the physical and mental requirements – for each task on your list.

It’s more likely that you get the physical tasks accomplished when you feel like you have enough energy to tackle it.  Yet, when you are struggling with consistent fatigue or pain issues, those active tasks might be put off.  This makes sense.  Although if you begin to consider your tasks according to how physical they are, you can also begin to figure out how to make the most of your energy when it’s available – you’ll know which tasks to make a priority.

Likewise when you have little to no energy, you probably have tasks that are less physically strenuous.  If you’ve identified which tasks those are, you can tackle those.  And be sure to consider if there are ways to make some tasks less physically demanding – like the drawer you can pull out completely and put it next to you on the couch.

The second category can be just as important as the physical requirements per task.  Our mental state and completing tasks has the potential to backfire – think about organizing something when you are practically brain-dead with exhaustion (which hopefully you wouldn’t do anyway).   There are tasks that we can complete almost automatically – you don’t need to be completely focused to get your dishes done.  Other tasks need more attention – we have to think and make decisions.

Both of these 2 categories are both really a spectrum – it’s generally not as simple as sedentary versus active – it’s a scale where you move between the two extremes.  I generally think of tasks as falling on one side or the other though – for simplicities sake.  I apply the same rules to the mental category too – complex versus simple (often thinking of them as intellectual vs. mindless).  Yet, even by putting tasks into these extremes brings awareness about what each task will need of my attention whether they easily fit into those extremes.  Then you also can alternate among the different categories to maintain or even increase your progress through your to-do list.

Therefore if you can match up the tasks on your list to your current state, mentally and physically, you can probably get a lot more crossed off your list.  By pairing up your tasks with your current abilities, you will also prevent the need for a long recovery – physically or emotionally – from accidentally overextending yourself.   Considering your to-do list with these factors in mind offers you the opportunity to make the most of your time and energy to get things accomplished in a sensible way.

The Pyramid Effect of Getting Organized

You can’t do “a” until you get “b,” “c,” and “d” done.  And sometimes that’s a short version – since there are times you have 10 things to accomplish before you can work on the thing that you most want to work on.  This is one of those common struggles we all face.  It doesn’t necessarily correlate to how much space and stuff you have.  Nevertheless, a series of things need to happen before you can achieve your goals.

First, it’s most helpful to make a plan before you dig into anything.  This can feel counterproductive – you want to use the energy and motivation to jump in and start getting things done, not to be still and think about the process.  It will save you time and energy in the long run since you can avoid making more of a mess in an area that needs to wait until further into the process.

Often this means making a list, which some of us do better than taking action. 🙂  For instance, if you have furniture that needs to be shifted between rooms, it can help to figure out what needs to happen in order for the space to be made available.

  • You know you want the dresser to be moved into the spare bedroom.
    • The spot for the dresser in the spare bedroom has a reading chair and a desk.
      • The reading chair needs to be moved to another space in the spare bedroom.
        • The only other space in the spare bedroom is filled with random, full bins – they need to be moved somewhere.
          • The bins need to be sorted and organized.
    • The desk needs to go to the corner in the dining room.
      • The corner in the dining room has spare chairs for the table; those need to go to the basement.
        • The driest place in the basement for the chairs has boxes that you need to break down to make space for the dining table chairs.

This is a relatively simple example of the pyramid effect just to get the dresser into the spare bedroom.  It’s even easier because it deals with large items that are fairly clear-cut.  And you know that you it will be simplest for you to break down boxes in the basement as the first step, then to move the chairs from the dining room down, and then you will be able to move the desk into the dining room.

Making these types of plans only work when you know what you want to do with each of the items in question.  It can be further simplified when you are getting rid of things – if you were getting rid of the desk – then all that would be left is dealing with moving the reading chair.

Second, when considering the pyramid effect of getting organized, you might need to think about the big picture and avoid small picture thinking.  Thinking about planning for the small details will be important, although you’ll be more effective if you wait until the time is right.  So, like those bins from the example above – it would make the most sense (probably – since there can be variables to change that!) to wait to dig into them until after the furniture has been rearranged.

Initially, think about broad categories (or zones, activities, etc.) that relate to your life and stuff.  These will vary from person to person as well as be different depending on what and how much you’re working on.  You might need to consider the relevance for life right now – are there things that you need to keep quite accessible versus things that can be buried a little deeper (though still with related things)?

Sometimes it makes the most sense to make bins, piles, whatever in a specific, available space related to a broad category and leave it for a while.  If you have all your gift wrapping supplies piled in a corner, bin, etc., even without any further organization – you still know where they are when you need something.  This can apply to any category – office supplies, recipes, financial papers (not needing your attention), tools, exercise equipment (small ones), art supplies, articles of interest and everything else.

The degree that you apply this can vary – a lot will depend on the space available as well as the “homes” you already have set up.  If you already have a place for office supplies, even if it’s full, you’d put all other office supplies as close as possible to the ones you have.

The initial steps are to get everything that’s in the same category together.  It’s challenging to create good organization for things when you don’t have all of it available to you.  Once you have all the like things together, then you can begin to organize it – you can see that you will need more space for tools (or whatever), that you need to make space “here” for this, the subcategories you need for these papers, and then consider what containers and organizing tools will support you.

If we continue with the pyramid analogy, you need to create a strong foundation to build on – which means waiting to make decisions about the small details until you get the big stuff (categories) together.  There’s no arguing that it can make things feel more tedious  – especially if you’re eager to get organized.  Yet in the long run you will find more success that you take things slowly and methodically.

My Top Free App Picks

Recently I talked about Technology Tools – To Get or Not to Get, as well as how well the iPad serves my needs.  This lead me to think about what apps are virtually indispensable to me, as well as how extremely overwhelmed I can become even looking at all the possible apps.

It’s not surprising to be overwhelmed by the number of apps – since it’s reported that there are more than 1 million in iTunes.  And it’s a personal peeve of mine that they don’t offer free trials – to see if the app will meet my needs before I spend money on it – even if it’s only $1.99 or some other “minor” amount.  Those small purchases can add up.  Yet, there are many free apps and I’ve only paid for 5 of the 100+ apps I have.  I’ve been grateful for the input of friends on what is worth getting.

Therefore, without further ado, here are my top free apps and why.

1. Evernote

I’ve talked about Evernote before, in Note Taking for Virtually Everything, and need to revisit this incredible cloud program again in my blog.  Since it’s a cloud program, it can be on most any device and offer you access to your account.  Evernote is amazing in how it can collect all the things you want to remember and be functional.  It can also serve as a place to back-up things from your iPad.

One view of Evernote

One view of Evernote

2. Dropbox

Here’s another cloud program that I talked about in my cloud computing entries, in Drop Files You Use – Here, which works with many devices to provide access to your account.  It also offers the option to back-up data from your iPad into it, like photos, and can be easier than Evernote to access any pdf files.

View of Dropbox

One view of Dropbox

3. Alarmed 

You probably know that I am a fan of timers – it’s a good tool to help keep you on track and to get a sense of the time things take you.  I have 11 free timer apps on my iPad from my exploration of timer options.  Alarmed is the one I use the most – it has both a reminder and a timer section and both allow you to create several alarms and choose from multiple alarm sounds.  I use the reminders as a repeating system to remind me to relax before bed and similar things when I might lose track of time.  The timer area has alarms for the washer and dryer as well as the “You can do 15 minutes” alarm when I’m struggling to get moving.

View of Alarmed timer

View of Alarmed timer

4. 30/30 

I hope to use this one more, especially since they’ve recently resolved some issues.  It’s similar to a timer app as it’s a self-proclaimed “task manager.”  It offers a visual display of what’s on your list, the time remaining on the task and what’s up next.  I’ve been using it to help me create new routines – many of us are familiar with how challenging it can be to get in new habits – and this gives me a framework for remembering and doing it.  I also use it for times when I might have a tendency to get off track – a system for keeping me focused on one area for a period of time before moving to the next area.  I really appreciate the visual aspects of this app – from choosing a color and an icon for each task as well as the ring with time elapsed moving along.

View of app 30/30

One view of 30/30

5. Dragon Dictation

This is another app that I don’t use all the time, yet when I use it, I really appreciate it.  It does require an internet connection and you have a limited amount of time to speak, yet it does a pretty good job in transcribing your speech into text.  From there you can send it or paste it into the app of your choice.  Considering this is a $200- computer program that is free for the i-devices – it’s great!

One view of Dragon Dictation app

One view of Dragon Dictation

There are more apps that I use and appreciate.  These 5 free apps are the ones that help me most – with simplifying, with organization, with productivity, with supporting me in my life.  Although these cannot help anyone if they sit unused on your device – you have to use it to make it helpful.  Next month I’ll share the 5 apps that I did actually pay for – and 4 of them made it to my indispensable list along with these 5 I talked about today.  Remember what matters most is finding and using the tools that will help you make the most out of your life.

Ready to Escape the Pain

There’s a reason I don’t sell gift certificates generally.  Never mind that some people would be mortally offended to be given a gift of a professional organizer, it would be a waste of money unless the person was ready.  They need to decide there’s a better way and to make the effort to change.  If I only had a magic wand, this could be different, maybe.  When we pause to consider that someone has to be ready to make changes otherwise nothing else will make a long-term difference, we can see how true it is.  The first step is that when the pain becomes too great, we’re inspired to figure out alternatives.

My husband and I have had long interesting conversations about pain.  Generally you hear how having a high pain tolerance is a good thing, “it makes you stronger.”  I know I associate the idea of a high pain tolerance with resiliency; the strength to make it through whatever comes my way.  And we’ve come the conclusion that for many things we have a low tolerance for pain.

Consider the person who is constantly losing their keys, phone, purse, wallet, etc.  I have a friend who struggles with this and they race around in some degree of panic searching – eventually finding whatever it was and moving along with their day.  And it happens again and again; and yet it seems normal to them, it’s just how it is.

Then there’s other people who’ve lost their keys or whatever, get frustrated, and decide to do things differently – they get determined.  They make a decision for how to avoid it happening and begin to implement that change.  It doesn’t get fixed overnight and it doesn’t mean that it never happens again.  Yet, it does mean that it’s more of a rare occurrence rather than a common one.

The second example is someone with a low pain tolerance.  The “pain” of losing that item is too great to simply continue in the same way – it instigates the desire for change.  The frustration or annoyance is greater than the challenge of finding a new way of doing something and making that new system work.  This includes failing and faltering along the way to the new system, yet determined to avoid the pain of lost keys with any frequency.

The frustration of a spouse, parent, or sibling is fairly irrelevant – the pain has to be yours if true lasting changes are going to be made.  And that’s not to say that the frustration of a loved one isn’t motivating, but it can spur movement that is short-lived.  Consider the example of alcoholics – the person needs to make the decision on their own to change otherwise they’ll return to drinking.  The impetus for change wasn’t coming from within.  The context is irrelevant, the person needs to reach the point where they want things to be different, better.

Let me be perfectly clear – we all live our lives the best we can.  If you are someone who loses your keys regularly and haven’t done anything about it, that’s fine – there is no one right way.  People can lead great lives while constantly losing their keys, although they might be frustrating their spouse. 🙂  That’s not the point.  If YOU don’t mind losing your keys, what would motivate you to change that?

As I’ve touched on before, facing changes can be challenging, even when they’re wanted (or positive).  Therefore, when the risk of doing something different is less painful than staying the same – we embark on the process of finding better ways.  It might well even be a process of 2 steps forward, 1 step back – it’s a journey into unfamiliar territory.  It’s also a way to learn about yourself and discover that having a low pain tolerance makes you strong.

Tasks – Big Picture View

I suspect that Stephen Covey is right when he commented that the “urgent” things in our life rather than the “important” things drive many of us.  The distinction between these two things comes down to whether those “things” further our goals, the long-term ones that give our life meaning.  If we’re repeatedly running from one urgent task to another urgent task then we’re not focusing or working on the big picture view of our lives.

Of course, Stephen Covey isn’t the only one telling us how important it is to plan, to be mindful of our goals – both short and long term ones – since most (if not all) time management experts address this concept.  When we avoid planning, it’s that much easier to focus our time and energy on working on those urgent tasks.  The urgent tasks tend to be in our face – virtually demanding our attention or something bad will happen, often the crises.

Yet if we only think about the immediate things that need our attention, when do work on the things that actually have value for our lives?  And don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t mean that it’s easy to shift our focus.

One of the most helpful ways to tackle this, for me anyway, was to think about the roles in my life.  Each role that I fill has meaning – whether it’s required or voluntary – and deserves my time and energy.  Not necessarily equal time and energy mind you.  So I made a list (and yes I do like lists) of what different areas of my life I wanted to spend time and energy on.

We’re not all going to have identical lists – though many of us have jobs and families – both of which need our attention.  The idea is to keep it relatively short since ideally you’ll set aside at least a little time each week for these areas of your life.  This could relate to Your Needs and Values – as some people might put Spirituality on their list – for me, that’s contained in my Personal category.  My list has evolved over time but I’m currently working with 5 areas that I want to attend to each week: Business, Household, Volunteering, Relationship, and Personal.

This means when I look at both my calendar and to-do list, I am actively thinking about when I will focus on the various areas.  It doesn’t mean that it always works as I planned; yet it’s not supposed to.  “Urgent” tasks do come up and it’s not about ignoring or avoiding those.  It’s about making sure your life isn’t driven by those urgent tasks.

It means that we’ll have less regret at the end of the week, month, and year.  We’ll know that we’ve directed our energy toward things that matter to us – personally.  It doesn’t matter if you make a list of your categories; it doesn’t matter if you create a mission statement for yourself; it doesn’t matter how you go about it.   What does matter is finding a way that works for you to make the most out of your life in the big picture view.  How else does your life have a greater meaning?


With the never-ending to-do lists many of us face, it can be challenging to balance productivity with reality.  None of us can go, go, go and never stop – we have to stop at the very least for sleep.  Yet, we need to stop for more than sleep.  The challenge in this busy world is to find the pace that makes sense for you.

First, let’s talk about productivity – the definition that fits this context best is “yielding results, benefits, or profits.”  If you view this definition narrowly, you might only apply it to those tasks that give you hard, clear results – things that you can see and measure immediately.

I’d imagine that many of you view time with family valuable.  Would you consider it “productive”?  I would, as there are many benefits and even results.  It’s hard to measure.  You can’t really know what would be if you didn’t spend your time with family – for you or for them.

One of the ways I think about the idea of productivity is whether I’m making the most of my time.  This shifts the idea from trying to accomplish tons of things to being effective and working on those things that are important.  In this case, the word important refers to the big picture view – those values and needs that provide meaning and purpose to our life.

The amount of time – “free” time – we all have varies – from person to person and depending on various circumstances – activities, obligations, support and assistance, health, family, etc.  If your “free” time is minimal, it’s all that more important to maximize that time.  The idea of “free” time seems an oxymoron to me – as who has free time or at least feels like they have free time?

Something that you need to consider is what is reasonable for you personally.  The amount of what we can each accomplish in a given day – the degree of productivity – will vary from person to person.  What factors are you dealing with that could limit your productivity?  How can you maximize your effectiveness?

Inc. Magazine had a blurb about the 3 secrets of most productive people a while back – these illustrate that productivity is about more than accomplishing things.

  1. they take breaks
  2. they are great collaborators
  3. they have lives outside work

All three of these focus on the benefits of stepping away from being in the midst of “working” or being productive in the strict definition.  There’s an additional comment about having lives outside of work also reveals these highly productive people have interests that don’t relate to their work.

True productivity can be as much about following your passions that give your life meaning as it is about completing your to-do list and earning money.  What your success at being productive will look like is something you need to figure out.  I can tell you that it will not mean working on your to-do list every waking moment.  And it might mean reevaluating what being productive means to you – considering those activities you engage in that don’t provide those measurable results.  I encourage you to discover your own version of what productivity means for you personally.

Hoarder? More Likely Challenging Disorganization.

With the proliferation of television shows about hoarding, many people see hoarders around them.  Or think they do.  It’s a pet peeve of mine that every person who has “too much stuff” is now deemed a hoarder.  Never mind that “too much stuff” is extremely subjective, hoarding is quite a bit more complex than to be simply about too much stuff.  Therefore, let’s explore different aspects about stuff and see if we can clear up these misconceptions about hoarding.  (If you want the more technical information about hoarding, see my post, “Defining Hoarding.”)

As I already stated, it’s about more than stuff.  I’ll admit it; I have a lot of stuff.  Even “too much stuff.”  As my husband and I have gone through various rooms, I’m amazed by the amount of excess we find hidden away, forgotten about.  And the large piles that I set out to be donated have shocked me and we have more to go.  The people I work with have varying amount of stuff; some quite a bit and some hidden away in closets and drawers where it doesn’t “look” cluttered.  Yet, we each want something different from our spaces – from the desire to be surrounded to the desire to have the open space (see my entry, “Envisioning Your Space”).  Believe it or not, there’s no one right way for a space to look and that means someone somewhere will think that there’s “too much stuff” there.

What is your relationship to your stuff?  This is one of the features that help to distinguish what is happening with the stuff around you.  I laughing cringe at the idea of getting rid of my media – those books, CDs, and movies and yet, that is exactly what I have been slowly doing.  My movie collection has been cut by more than half and it feels good.  Removing all outside obstacles, what happens to you when you decide to get rid of things?  Those obstacles can be:

  • minimizing the sense of being overwhelmed
  • the absence of someone judging or trying to tell you what to do
  • the freedom to take your time and think through your choices

Finding the space where these pieces come together can be challenging, yet what happens then?

It breaks my heart to hear about people being told they are “hoarders” and I know from my knowledge and experience that they aren’t even close to being hoarders.  From what I can tell, it’s more about someone in their life thinking that they know better than the client.  They believe that they “should” get rid of this or that; that they “should” not struggle with making decisions; that they “should” be able to easily change long time habits after a “clean sweep”; etcetera.  This is probably a large reason that having your family help you with your stuff often backfires.

There’s a different term than hoarder, for people who have struggled with stuff for a long time, that may or may not have clutter around them and that’s chronically disorganized.  Since this has a rather clinical sound to it, the Institute of Challenging Disorganization prefers to refer to it as challenging disorganization that can also be applied to the situational disorganization some people can struggle with after major life events.  They define chronic disorganization as:

Chronic disorganization is having a past history of disorganization in which self-help efforts to change have failed, an undermining of current quality of life due to disorganization, and the expectation of future disorganization.

Hoarding is about much more than the stuff – however subjective – and relates to how we deal with that stuff.  The chance is that your grandmother/uncle/brother-in-law is not a true hoarder.  That doesn’t mean that organization isn’t a tremendous challenge for them.  When there’s lots of stuff around, however hidden it may or may not be, it requires a lot of work and effort.  Simply modifying the behaviors is an extreme challenge and takes time.  Try to keep in mind your own biases – your own view of what makes up “too much stuff.”