Have you ever tried to have a conversation amidst a lot of background noise? Read the paper with the TV blaring? Focus on work with your kids arguing around you? Or even worse, having someone yelling at you while you’re trying to concentrate on, well...anything? These situations leave most of us feeling stressed out and downright grumpy, not to mention unproductive.
But sound isn’t the only thing that makes noise. Stuff...clutter...mess create visual noise that can distract and stress us out just as easily. If you are surrounded by disorder and frequently feel yourself tensing up for seemingly no reason, it may be time to quiet your environment. It’s not as hard or time-consuming as you may think.
Obviously, the best way to maintain a visually quiet atmosphere is to purge your excess belongings, designate homes for everything you own, and then put things away as soon as you’re done using them, but getting that set up doesn't happen overnight. And if you have a spouse, roommate or kids, you know they excel at foiling those plans or at least at slowing your progress in reaching that noble goal. But regardless of your situation, there are still a few things you can do right now in just minutes to muffle the visual noise in your home until you have a chance to stifle it permanently. All it takes is regular (1-3 times daily) sweeps of the common areas where you spend the most time to do the following tasks:
Except in extreme circumstances, these tasks will only take 1-2 minutes each at most and the more frequently you sweep, the quicker it will be each time. After a while, it will become second nature and you won’t even have to think about doing it. I like to begin and end my day with a sweep of the main level and also do one before leaving the house. It rarely takes me more than 5 minutes. Doing everything on the list during your sweeps is ideal, but even just doing a few will make a big difference.
It won’t come as a surprise to those of you with little ones that kids are negatively impacted by too much visual noise, too. They often act out or have difficulty focusing in a cluttered environment. Get them to participate in the solution while they are still young enough to enjoy helping. This establishes in them the habit of regular and frequent tidying, underscores that home maintenance is everybody’s responsibility, and creates a baseline level of tidiness they will strive to maintain moving forward. If they are used to living in clutter, they will become desensitized to it (until it reaches an overwhelming or crippling level). If they are used to a more orderly environment, they will be more likely to maintain it.
Even very young children can share in the room-sweeping task before you leave to go play at the park. Assigning them a different “occupation” each day makes it sound more fun. Here are a few ideas:
If you’re not used to regular tidying, it can feel like a big chore to start. You may even try to convince yourself that it’s just a waste of time to put things away that you’ll be using again later. But remember that the purpose of keeping a tidy home is not to just have a tidy home...it’s to avoid feeling frustrated, stressed and anxious. When things are tidy, you will focus more easily, feel better about yourself, and relax knowing that you can find what you need. You’ll actually enjoy your surroundings more without your mess constantly yelling at you to clean it up!
With a quieter environment, life will become a whole lot easy peasier!
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You know those people who always seem to just have it all together? The ones who are usually calmly waiting, scrolling through Facebook, when you burst through the door feeling frazzled and out of breath because you're late meeting them...again!? The folks who have the PTA calendar memorized and always seem to have contact information right at their fingertips to meet every conceivable need, from trusty mechanic or top notch medical specialist to medieval jousting expert? They remember to return your book, even though you forgot you loaned it to them in the first place. They know when and where outdoor movie night is happening and exactly when to score free cones because it's National Ice Cream Day. They always acknowledge your birthday and never forget to send in non-perishables for the school's canned food drive (while you, on the other hand, can be found desperately hunting through your pantry at the last minute for cream of mushroom soup or something else you'll probably never eat).
Yeah, we all know at least one of these people, but starting today, you can become one with much less effort than you think.
New Habit #4: Take and Use Notes. Keep track of everything as it enters your brain...reminders, to-dos, shopping needs, contact info, events, appointments, due dates... in a central, reliable system and--here’s the key--review it daily.
Why? The biggest benefit is the confidence and peace of mind you'll find from having a reliable way to tame your brain clutter. Yes...that's a thing...and too much of it leads to stress, whether you're consciously aware of it or it's just bubbling up right beneath the surface. That old expression "too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the broth" means that having no established leader to give clear direction will lead to chaos and, ultimately, failure. Well, that's what happens when you have competing priorities, demands on your time and random thoughts running wildly through your head without a central unified and reliable system in place for managing it all.
Now, the key word here is "reliable". Lots of people have calendars, address books, fancy apps on their phones, colored-coded giant whiteboards on the refrigerator....you name it, yet still suffer from brain clutter because they aren't in the habit of actually maintaining and using these tools properly. All the fancy pots and top-of-the-line kitchen tools in the world won't make you a master chef unless you know how to use them and do. With proper daily maintenance and a solid habit of reviewing what you’ve noted, you'll avoid overbooking (and overstretching) yourself, missing important appointments or deadlines, or forgetting to do tasks, and you'll be able to plan ahead with confidence. You'll also rest easier knowing you can communicate with your network whenever and wherever needed.
How? This is actually a three-part habit.
First, choose a format that you think will work best for you, be it electronic, paper, cave drawing, whatever, or even a combination of the above elements. This will involve some trial/error and re-evaluation as you go. Expect that...it's okay, and if you have to change formats along the way, it just means you are learning more about yourself and what works for you (or doesn't). There is no right or wrong way...just a right-for-you or wrong-for-you way. Whatever format you choose, it must meet these three criteria:
Next, add anything and everything you need to remember into your system as soon as you become aware of it.
Finally, make a daily appointment with yourself to review the data in your system so that you can bring it to life through an action plan. This is crucial. Without this, your system will not work and you will no longer trust it...reliability is key, remember? Simply sitting down each and every day to review what is coming up so that you can prioritize, plan ahead and share info with others as needed will save you time and stress otherwise spent worrying about what you're forgetting. Having a centralized system for tracking everything not only enables you to address your immediate concerns but also keeps the back-burner items on your radar so they don’t sneak up on you.
Already got this one down? Fabulous! Have you tamed your paper piles? Having a system in place for keeping track of appointments, reminders and contacts is a prerequisite to eliminating paper clutter. If you've already mastered Habit #4, go ahead and begin a daily triage of your incoming papers into these categories: action, file, pay, and read. Create calendar reminders/contacts for action and pay items, file reference papers and contacts regularly, and keep reading material handy and to a minimum (seriously, if you haven't read the fashion article you bookmarked in that 2010 magazine by now, it's probably safe to go ahead and toss it).
Tip of the Week
Speaking of taking notes, one way to improve your odds of adopting any new habit is to take note of what has (and hasn't) worked in the past. Was there a particular person who encouraged you (or sabotaged your efforts)? Is there a specific strategy that kept you motivated? Repeat the behaviors that have led to success and try to identify and eliminate the ones that led you astray.
It’s still not too late to join the official Good Habits Challenge! From this point on, only those who have actually joined the challenge will receive weekly emails introducing the remaining six habits of organized people. Plus, those who join get some free tools to help in adopting any new habit (not just these ten) and are eligible for free accountability check-ins and a chance to win a prize at the end. Joining is FREE, so what have you got to lose?
Email email@example.com if you have questions about the challenge, need more suggestions or encouragement, or just want to share your success story!
You’ve got this!
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People say it all the time…”Live in the now”...”Practice being more present”...”Hold the moment”. But what does all that actually mean? How do you live in the moment? Aren’t you supposed to remember the past and plan for the future? How can you do that if all you ever think about is the present? Isn’t ignoring the past and future just plain irresponsible? These are all very valid questions that make living in the present feel so challenging to a lot of people. Isn’t it supposed to be easier? Yes! And once you have the answers to these questions it will be.
First of all, let’s begin answering what it all means by talking about what it doesn’t mean. Living in the present does not mean never thinking about the past or the future. After all, they are equally important components of your life. Reflecting on the past helps you learn lessons you then carry forward with you to help you better navigate the challenges you find here in the present. Planning for the future gives you a sense of hope and provides you with goals that inspire your actions now in the present and begin your evolution into an ever better version of yourself. Both are essential ingredients to living a happy life. But there is a big difference between thinking about the past or future and dwelling in them. The goal should be to use your thoughts about the past and future to help guide your actions in the present. It’s important to realize that action can only take place in the present. You cannot act in the past...you can only learn from the actions you once took. You cannot act in the future...you can only plan the actions you hope to take when you get there.
Most of us have a natural tendency to spend way more time on reflecting and planning rather than we do on actually doing. Living in the present means flipping those proportions. It requires a continual, conscience decision in the present to change. That’s why it feels so hard sometimes. I don’t pretend to be past the hard part yet, but logic, experience and hope tell me that - just as with any other habit - living in the moment gets easier with practice. And guess what? Reflecting and planning are often solitary activities. If you want to connect more with the people around you, spend more time in the present.
Try some of these actions, or start with just one and gradually add more over time:
We are all living through an era of great uncertainty, where longing for the past can be a futile and depressing exercise and planning for the future is virtually impossible without more information. There is no time like the present to start living more in the present. With a little practice and a new perspective, even holding the moment can be easy peasy.
If you're suffering from what I call "Covid Fog", you are not alone! Almost everyone I've talked to has experienced this phenomenon on some level during the past six months. Covid Fog is when you have difficulty sharpening your focus and/or maintaining it for as long as you used to before the Coronavirus pandemic shooed each of us into our respective corners of quarantine. Several factors contribute to creating Covid Fog: looser schedules, more frequent interruptions, lack of structure, changes in routine, mild depression, fatigue, boredom, grief, a dearth of motivation, and lapses in self-care are just some of them. Whatever the cause, the results can affect everything from your job performance to quality of life issues. Adopting strategies to help you find your focus is an essential first step in coping with the uncertainty that is 2020.
Here are my top tips for finding and maintaining your focus:
With a little intention, perseverance, and these strategies, even finding your focus through the Covid Fog can be easy peasy.
Valerie Sheridan is a professional organizer, wife, mother of two, and Founder/Owner of EasyPeasy Living.