I was walking my dog today thinking about how this so called “new normal ” is surfacing some of my old habits. Some of them not so great.
I’m eating more, working out less, and most of all feeling stuck in more than a few places. For some reason when I’m feeling stuck I start thinking about The Roomba.
The Roomba is a self-governing, robotic vacuum cleaner that navigates the floor area of a home to clean it. When the Roomba hits an obstacle, it senses the obstacle and adjusts itself to go in a different direction to complete the task of cleaning.
It occurred to me today while walking my little Cherrier (Chihuahua-Terrier) in the park, I could be more like The Roomba.
Think about it. How many times have you set a goal for yourself or intended to do something only to be stopped by an obstacle? The obstacle in itself may not be inherently bad or good. It is what it is. But then you start thinking, “what’s wrong with me?” “Why can’t I do this?” Why am I so ____?” fill in the blank. Lazy, stupid, fat, scared. Then I thought about The Roomba. The Roomba doesn’t tear itself down when it hits an obstacle. It doesn’t berate itself for things beyond its immediate control, it doesn’t judge itself. What does it do? It shifts direction.
Last week I kept thinking, “I need to record some video presentations and share them.” This shouldn’t have been that difficult. Afterall I speak publicly quite often. I have grown quite comfortable with getting up in front of a room and sharing my expertise. So why then was it so hard for me to record what I already know I can do? The more I kept thinking about it, the more anxious I became. My inner critic starting shouting at me. I felt myself banging up against the same old obstacle.
So what did I do? Just like The Roomba, I shifted direction, in this case to something I knew I could do without fear. Instead of recording my talk, I organized my office. (Yes, even organizers need to stay organized.) Then I reached out to some clients by email; I participated in a webinar with other small business owners; and I even took an online class which I could add to my CEU requirement. Then I went out and took a walk with my dog.
In other words I pivoted. It’s a word I’m hearing a lot lately to describe how businesses are responding when they find they suddenly don’t have any business, but it’s also a great strategy for overcoming internal obstacles. Not to mention, it’s one of the cultural and behavioral outcomes of this pandemic – a new lingo just like social-distancing and flatten the curve.
If like me, this horrible pandemic is keeping you from being your best self or scaring the living daylights out of you, or something in between, get out there, turn your switch on, pay attention to what your sensors tell you and if you hit an obstacle, shift directions. Just keep moving. You will get through this. You will more than likely survive. Be like The Roomba.
Sometimes, with all good intentions, your to-do list will just be one more thing to add to your to-do list.
Today, with all good intentions, I had a plan to get mine done. Even a professional organizer who considers herself pretty good when it comes to managing her time can get thrown for a loop.
In between appointments, while out giving my dog a quick walk in our neighborhood, I heard a child yell out to me, “hey, is that your dog?” pointing to a small scruffy little dark-grey pooch across the street. My heart sunk. “No,” I said, “this is my dog.” pointing to my Chihuahua safely in my control, on her leash.
For a moment I could hear the voice in my head say, you could help this dog, assuage the look of concern on this child’s face or tell the kid sorry, it’s not my dog, and simply walk away.
“What’s your name,”I asked the little boy as we tried together to corral the scruffy little pooch close enough to us to see if he had a collar. He did not of course. “Ricky,” he said wearing an oversized Oakland raiders shirt and a du-rag on his head.
Alas, I knew what I was going to do.
Together we started calling the non-emergency police lines on our cell phones as well as the local animal services. To our frustration we just got stuck in a voicemail loop, each location instructing us to call the other. I reassured him that I would do what I could. He looked worried.
In the meantime, I was taking photos of doggie and getting them posted to Nextdoor, a neighborhood social networking site, while waiting (in vein as it turned out) for a live person to answer Oakland’s non-emergency police phone line. I knew I had appointment in an hour and a long list of other items I had to get done and was trying to figure out in a split second how I would get this dog to a shelter in time for my appointment. I told Ricky I would take the dog around the corner to my house since it was obvious there was nothing more he could do and his grandmother, he said, couldn’t take the dog.
Fortunately, my husband, the child of parents who used to keep a statue of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals, in their backyard, was on his way home. When he drove up to our house, I persuaded him to take the little guy – the dog, not the kid – to the local animal services shelter.
He handed me the chicken breasts he’d picked up at the store for dinner on his way home and I handed him the stray dog. Between us we struggled for a bit to get this sweet, albeit terrified dog into his car, coaxing him with treats.
After my husband drove off, I went back around the corner to tell little Ricky that the dog was okay and was safely at the local shelter. He seemed relieved but also unimpressed, as if this kind of thing happened to him all the time. He looked at me for a moment and I thought he was going to say thank you. Instead he asked, “do you know if there’s a Chinese restaurant near here?” The question took me by surprise. He had clearly moved on.
My husband arrived home. No microchip he told me. Well at least this sweet dog wasn’t running around the street anymore.
How to keep your office organized when it’s is in your bedroom
You are finally in bed after a long day. You cover yourself with a blanket; feel the warm comfort of your pillow beneath your head and the soft, cool sheets against your tired body. You begin to relax into a night of slumber when you are suddenly startled by the pinging sounds of your computer sending notifications about tomorrow’s busy day. You get up and turn down the volume and get back in bed. That’s when you notice the pile of papers strewn across your desk, in varying heights and reminding you of a slew of unfinished tasks, unpaid bills and projects still yet to be started. You shut your light out, hoping in darkness you will forget the site of all that you have left undone. All of a sudden you see the blinking of all your devices in random rhythms, your router, your modem, your phone. Your room lights up with a blue blinking glow. You cover your face with a pillow and somehow manage to fall into an exhausted sleep.
In general, I don’t think a bedroom is a great place for your office. Your bedroom should be a place of respite, relaxation and most of all sleep. Yet sometimes, there is no choice. Space is at a premium. You share a home or an apartment and there is no other available space to work.
This doesn’t mean you should lose sleep when your office is in your bedroom. Here are some ways you can minimize those distractions without sacrificing your personal productivity.
Hide your desk. Space permitting, hide your desk behind a free-standing, decorative folding screen or room divider. You can buy them online or in most home decor stores. When it’s time to leave work, simply pull the screen around your desk.
Shut out and shut down. Turn off or block digital noise and distractions. If you can’t hide your electronic equipment, things like your modem, router, or fax/printer behind or under your desk, place a small piece of dark blue painter’s tape over the lights that blink. Painter’s tape will not harm your equipment and can be easily removed or re-placed. This is especially recommended if you use a guest room for your office. You don’t want your guests losing sleep from all the pings and blinking lights.
Re-purpose and reposition. If your room is configured for it, why not turn your desk into a combination bedside table-workspace. That way, you are no longer looking at the desk from your bed. You’ll need a lamp on your desk anyway, so why not make it your bedside lamp. You can also leave a little room nearest your bed for a book or notepad, a place to put your reading glasses, a small plant or decorative item, and a clock or device with an alarm. In other words, all the things you would need nearby while you’re working.
Clear the decks. Surfaces are notorious clutter catchers. No matter what size the surface, they have a way of getting covered with things. Just like you have a home, everything in your home should have a home. Take the time each day to survey what you have on your desk or work surface and decide 1) Can I toss it? 2) Does it need to live on my desk? 3) where else could it live in my home? Then toss it, move it or take it back to where it lives. No more homeless items!
Create vertical storage. Install simple bracket or wall-shelves above your desk area for less frequently used items, books, or reference materials. Use decorative boxes in like colors to contain surplus office supplies. Get these all off your desk and on to a shelf to free up space for working, creating and being more productive.
Equalize your workspace. Before leaving your desk for bed, take 60 seconds to put loose items in drawers, loose papers in a stack or contain them in a shallow box (e.g. an “in-box”). Review your calendar and most important to-dos for the next day. Then shut off your computer (or put it in “sleep mode”) along with all other unnecessary electronics. You’ll save money on your electric bill and may even get a few more Zs tonight.
The other day I decided to organize my one and only recipe binder. Most recipes I look up online. A few I take from cherished cookbooks and an old 3-ring, 1-inch recipe binder I’ve had for years. I found myself wanting to organize the binder recently after it took me a little too long find a recipe I needed.
When I started the process of organizing the binder- emptying the contents, sorting each recipe by category, disposing of the ones I knew I would never make again, then putting them back in order – I thought to myself, “I really don’t feel like doing this right now.”
Being organized is all about developing an organizing habit. It requires a thought, a motivation, an acton and a result.
Developing an organizing habit comes from a desire to continually survey your environment and be willing to improve your surroundings so you can function on a day to day basis with more ease.
It takes a willingness to regularly decide whether or not this thing or that still serves you or adds value to your life. Once decided, it then should be followed up with action – a choice to retain and store it logically and aesthetically, or to let it go to to find a new life somewhere else or to dispose of it safely and conscientiously. It’s not easy. Even sometimes for an organizer.
I had no strong motivation, nothing forcing me to undertake this little project. I also realized if I wanted to find a recipe in the binder, I still could, if I was willing to tolerate the inconvenience of looking for it (I was). There were other more pressing priorities in my life. I’d just returned from a trip to New York and was still adjusting to the time change and catching up on my to-do list.
Now back home, I realized, “I’m tired.” I thought it would be nice to get this done, but it wasn’t really necessary right now. I can live with it the way it is. Further, I just didn’t have the bandwidth to make decisions or take on any actions. This, I thought, is just how my clients feel.
It’s nice to be organized but let’s face it, it’s not always easy to get organized. When do you really have to get organized? It differs for everyone but in general here are some reasons you don’t have to get organized:
If what you want to organize is good enough and still usable (like my recipe binder)
If you (and your family or housemates) can still find what you need when you need it without too much effort
If you are okay with your home looking “lived in” and doesn’t have to look like it’s staged for sale
If you are not regularly losing things, paying bills late, incurring late fees, or paying for things you already own and can’t find
If you and your family are not fighting over the clutter in your home
If you are not feeling stressed every time you open your closet
If you are enjoying your life to the fullest
Here’s when you probably should think about getting organized:
When you are selling your home or moving
When you are planning a remodel
When you or a member of your family has to downsize for their own safety
When you feel the stress of your paper or physical clutter impacting your wellbeing or mood more days than not
When you and your family are arguing over the clutter in your home
When you realize you feel ashamed or embarrassed to have people into your home when you otherwise would
When you’ve used up your storage space or can’t use your storage the way it was intended (e.g., parking your car in the garage)
When you find yourself renting storage units for more than a year (this is a very costly way to defer organizing)
I frequently meet people who when they find out I’m a professional organizer will say, “oh, I need you!” but in fact they really don’t because they’ve learned to live with and tolerate their cluttered closets and messy garages. They put up with the fights with their kids or their spouses. Or they just don’t feel like doing it even when someone can do it for them because it’s one more thing on their to-do list.
Most people realize the time to get help is when the disorder exceeds their ability to tolerate the consequence. It’s when it costs them more in money or peace of mind to do nothing. Sadly, this is also when they are least equipped to take on the task. Like me in that moment with recipe binder, they are just too tired and there’s too much else they have to get done first.
Think you want to organize your office? What’s it costing you not to? What can’t you do now? How would it help you if you could find what you need when you needed it?
Want to organize your kitchen, living room or closets? What’s it costing you not to? Are you unable to prepare a meal? Are you fighting with your spouse because there’s no place to sit and play with your kids in your living room?
Are you feeling sick to your stomach every time you open a closet, cabinet or cupboard because the mess is unbearable?
Are you moving and waking up nights thinking about how the heck you’re going to get all the stuff from your 2,500 square-foot home into a 1,200 square-foot condo with no garage!?
I often say to my clients, don’t let the small stuff get in the way of the big stuff. What I mean by this is consider the cost of not taking action.
If it’s small, like my deciding not to organize my recipe binder right now, there is relatively little consequence. But if you defer taking action or decide you can do it all yourself, consider the cost to your health, your marriage, even your dreams and goals. For those large painful organizing projects that are impeding your life or causing you great stress, it’s not whether you can afford to do it, it’s whether you can afford not to.
Anyone who juggles life’s internal and external demands, whether that be a promise to stay healthy or a need to get things done at home or at work, will recognize themselves in at least one of these 10 little lies.
The lies themselves are a kind of time rationalization, says Dr. Ari Tuckman, author and subject expert on adult ADHD. The lies people tell themselves keep them disorganized or stuck in bad habits. How close in time something has to be done is what determines whether or not we take or avoid action.
For example, if a deadline is looming within days or hours, we may be more apt to take action then if it’s weeks or months away. The closer something is to the present the more we see and feel its impact. This can either be felt as pleasure, such as a having our favorite food nearby or painful, such doing our taxes or preparing to move.
In essence we are constantly asking ourselves, “Is it better to suffer in the present to experience joy in the future or should we aim to enjoy the present moment at the expense of possible future consequences?” It is an ongoing tug-a-war between the pleasure-motivated side of our brain and the executive function that helps us to make wiser choices that can also feel inconvenient or downright painful.
How many of these 10 little lies do you tell yourself?
I can do that tomorrow
I’ll put that away later
I don’t need to get organized; I remember where everything is
I don’t have to write that down. I’ll remember.
This will just take a minute
Sorry, I was late….traffic!
I’ll just start after a quick break
I’ll just work twice as hard tomorrow
I’ll get to that in a minute
I don’t need to do that now
People fall somewhere on a continuum between complete impulsivity (those with attention issues) and overly diligent (those with obsessive tendencies). Those with better self awareness fall somewhere in the middle, says Dr. Tuckman. When you find yourself using one of these little lies, Dr. Tuckman advises stopping to pause and visualize the outcome as both your “today self” and your “tomorrow self.” Introducing that momentary pause and visualization can sometimes cause you to do something – like scheduling that appointment – and make the difference between staying on track or going off the rails.
Need help getting organized? Call us to schedule a free project assessment, by phone: 510.846.1976
My client, Barbara (not her real name) is kind, generous and very, very busy.
Her calendar is packed full of appointments, events and meetings. Her cell phone rings, buzzes and beeps almost constantly with notifications that go unanswered. Her unopened emails go on for pages. Her enormous home is tidy, beautifully decorated and as warm as she is but every inch of her storage – closets, cabinets, cupboards, drawers – are packed full. There isn’t an inch to spare.
Barbara is like the juggler who can keep ten plates spinning simultaneously at the top of ten poles without dropping them because each of them are equally important.
But when you treat everything in your life as equally important, spinning those 10 plates for days, weeks, months or even years (not just minutes) because you believe or behave as if everything is equally important, eventually one of two things happen. One or more of the plates break or you do.
It can be a quick break or a slow one but even the juggler knows when it’s time to stop.
When Barbara said to me recently that she’d turned down a number of invitations because she realized they weren’t worth her time, I felt a sense of relief for her because she was discovering that saying no meant she was finally saying yes… to herself. I also knew she had finally started to see the cost of making everything in her life equally important.
For every task, project, meeting, coffee date, or invitation you receive, before you do it, take it on or schedule it, before you say yes, ask yourself these 3 questions:
1) Is it important to me?
Is this your priority or someone else’s? Say yes to you before you say yes to someone else. If you are the kind of person that likes to be helping others but find yourself doing so at your own expense, it’s okay to say, “thank you for thinking of me but I just don’t have the time right now.”
2) If I don’t do this will it cost me?
What would happen if you didn’t do it? If you’re not sure whether to take something on, imagine not doing it. You don’t want to end up spending a little effort on lot of things instead of a lot of effort on what’s truly important.
3) Is it worth my time?
Only you can answer this question. If it saves you from stress and doesn’t cost you something to say no, then say no. You’ll only be saying yes to what’s really worth your time.
The bottom line is don’t hold on to stuff, projects, even old beliefs about yourself when they are no longer useful to you. Be willing to be brave. Be willing to make hard choices for the bigger rewards. Make room in your life for what matters most!
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