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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I never used to be an anxious person, but parenthood and home ownership changed all that. And then Covid happened. Stress and anxiety seem to have set up a permanent residence in my life, but that doesn’t mean I have to allow them to make themselves comfortable here. Understanding what feeds them helps me keep them in check.
For me, it’s all about control (or a lack thereof), so it should come as no surprise that I’ve learned to use my organizational skills to my advantage. When my house is tidy, I can focus and I don’t lose things. When I have dinner already planned, it’s one less thing for me to worry about. Maintaining lists of all sorts (shopping, to-do, projects, etc.) ensures fewer things fall through the cracks, and keeping a strong grasp on my schedule means I am better able to control my time. I wasn’t always this organized...it happened gradually over many years as I realized how much better having everything in order made me feel.
Facing the unknown is another trigger. Worrying about how much a home or car repair will cost, fear of not knowing how to accomplish an important task, anxiety over what a future situation will look like so that I can be adequately prepared (especially when it comes to my kids) are the things that keep me tossing and turning in bed. Experience has taught me that research is my friend. The sooner I learn the answers to my many questions, the sooner I can relax. Sure, I can worry that I won’t be able to pay for a new air conditioner, but maybe I don’t actually need a new air conditioner. And if I do, I can research the various options for financing it until I find one that will work for me. Knowledge leads the way in finding workable solutions to the things we all worry about.
Background noise, distractions, and the physical aches and pains that accompany old age have also become bigger issues for me in recent years. I’m not able to do as much physical work in one stretch as I used to be able to do, and sometimes this creates stress, especially when time is of the essence. Finding ways to recharge my batteries, improve my focus and soothe my senses relieves tension and makes me more productive in the long run.
I’m learning that it takes a lot of energy and effort not to slide down the slippery slope into negative thinking. Focusing on the half of the glass that is full instead of the half that’s empty takes practice. How I talk to myself matters. Occasionally I need an injection of positivity from outside sources. Maintaining healthy, supportive relationships that build me up instead of tearing me down keeps me on a positive trajectory. I look for inspiration and motivation from the experiences of others. And a bit of humor goes a long way in reminding me not to take it all too seriously.
Realizing each of these triggers, I’ve identified four primary ways to quiet my stress and anxiety when they become too unruly:
Unexpected circumstances happen all the time and breed stress and anxiety in all of us. Sometimes just the realization that something will eventually arise to derail our best-laid plans makes us feel anxious. While you can’t plan for every contingency (you’ll drive yourself crazy if you try), there are many things you can do now to mitigate the stress and chaos that rear up when it does happen:
C’mon, you already knew I was going to say this, didn’t you? But it is true that organization makes you more nimble in a crisis. When your home is in order, you can locate necessities in a hurry, other people are better able to assist you, and repair people have easier access to areas requiring attention. Having a firm handle on your time and to-do list facilitates rearranging your schedule at the last minute and delegating responsibilities to others. Maintaining current contact info and keeping important documents at your fingertips also speed up everything when time is of the essence. Finally, planning meals in advance (including an emergency back-up dinner plan for those surprisingly hectic days) ensures you maintain your healthy eating plan and avoid the fast-food drive-thru, even on the busiest night.
Maintain an emergency fund
Home and car owners know that Murphy’s Law is real. Whatever can go wrong will go wrong at some point, guaranteed! Those unexpected repairs can cost beaucoup bucks in addition to the sheer inconvenience they bring. Setting aside money from each paycheck and keeping it in an easy-access account saves you from having to borrow (often at high interest rates) or worsening the damage by delaying a much-needed repair until you can afford it.
Assemble an emergency kit
Actually, make several. Gather you are likely to need in an emergency and store them in a convenient spot. Here are just some examples:
Back up electronic records
Technology is great...until it isn’t. Our heavy reliance on electronic storage of information comes at a disadvantage when we can’t access our usual tools due to a power outage or internet disruption. Keeping a written list of your passwords, account/policy numbers, prescription drug and other key medical info, and even your driver’s license and social security numbers in a safe and secure place can be a lifesaver in such circumstances. I once had a client whose husband lost all of his identification (passport, driver’s license, social security number and birth certificate). Replacing each lost document required having at least one of the others. It was a nightmare! Fortunately, his wife thought that maybe she remembered his driver’s license number...and she did! It saved the day!
Quick communication can make all the difference in an emergency. Keep your phone adequately charged (unlike my kids who run it all the way down before recharging). Make sure you have updated contact information handy at all times for the following:
Choose an “Emergency Buddy”
Identify someone reliable and trustworthy who lives locally but not with you and ask them to be your Emergency Buddy. Give them a copy of your home and car key/s, tell them where they will find your various kits, and grant them permission to pick up your children at school/daycare, if necessary. Add them to your list of emergency contacts and make sure they know how to reach other key members of your circle and vice versa. This way, they can assist if you are incapacitated or need help retrieving key items from your home during an emergency.
Devise escape and meetup plans
Especially if you have young children, it is crucial to practice what to do in case of a fire, tornado or other emergency. Devise escape routes and designate a meeting spot in case you get separated. Help your children memorize your phone number and address and teach them when and with whom to share this information (and when not to). Make sure they know where to go for help if you get separated from them while away from home and when/how to call 911. Ensure that everyone in your household knows where to find the spare key and/or how to contact your Emergency Buddy.
With a little organization and advance planning, even reducing the stress and anxiety that accompanies life’s curveballs will be easy peasy.
“The gentleman at the next table has ordered you a large portion of unpleasantness. How would you like that served?”
“I’ll have it procrastination-style, please.”
“Ok, so on a bed of dread with a side of guilt then... served cold?”
If you really want to savor the bitter taste of tasks you wish you could avoid, procrastinate. Sounds yummy, no? Then take action to get them off your plate as soon as possible. The only thing worse than being faced with something you dread doing is prolonging the experience and adding to it feelings of guilt, inadequacy, stress and anxiety.
But first, it’s worth asking yourself why you are procrastinating in the first place in order to figure out how to stop doing it. There are many reasons you might put off doing things:
1. You find them unpleasant.
Figure out how to make them more pleasant, or at least less unpleasant. Work with a friend, listen to music while you work, make a game out of it, plan a reward for afterward, or break it into smaller, more manageable chunks.
2. You would rather do something else.
The quicker you get your task done, the sooner you get to focus on the things you enjoy. Not only that, you’ll actually revel in those activities more when you aren’t encumbered by a sense of dread and/or guilt at not tackling your unpleasant task first. By getting the awfulness out of the way, you won’t have to worry about having adequate time to complete it properly.
3. You think if you wait long enough you might not have to do them.
This might be correct, but if that turns out to be incorrect, the delay will shorten the time you have available to do it. This will increase your stress level and likely yield substandard results.
4. You aren't sure how to do them.
Your first step should be finding the information you need. See this experience as a chance to learn something new and feel accomplished. When you change your attitude and approach it as an opportunity instead of as a chore, you are less likely to dread it. The next time you’re faced with a similar situation, you’ll feel more confident in your ability to meet the challenge.
5. You don't know where to start.
Begin with a “preparation step”. Buy supplies you know you’ll need, line up help from a friend or family member, research some information, schedule an appointment, or ask someone else for advice on the best place to start. Once you take that first step, the next one will come easier. The worst thing that could happen is that you miss an important step and have to start over again. At least then you’ll know where to begin, right? And remember, not taking the first step will never get the job done. Where you start isn’t nearly as important as just starting somewhere.
6. You lack the resources you need.
Whether you need money, information, assistance, or time, identify and create a plan for acquiring the resources you need. Even if this means you have to wait awhile until you have them in order to begin the task, you can still make progress just by working on obtaining them.
7. You’re afraid of what you might discover.
Realize that uncovering a problem is always the first step in fixing it. If you’re avoiding a medical appointment, doing your taxes, or calling the plumber simply because you’re afraid your worst fears will be confirmed, putting it off won’t improve the situation. However, learning the truth sooner may. Perhaps your fears are unfounded (imagine the relief!), or maybe finding out about a problem now will mean fixing it before it gets even worse. At the very least, you’ll reduce your uncertainty and all the anxiety that comes with it.
Side note: I'm not usually one to procrastinate...anymore, but when I do, it's almost always because of 4 or 7. It requires lots of self-awareness and conscious effort to avoid falling back into the old habit of putting things off under these circumstances. But I realized a long time ago that it's worth the effort in order to avoid the anxiety-laden aftertaste of my self-indulgence.
Whatever your reason for it, procrastination definitely contributes to your level of stress and anxiety. The only remedy is action. Organization can help.
If you find yourself with a heaping plateful of tasks you’d rather avoid, season it with a generous blend of confidence, determination and just a sprinkle of organization, and then gobble it up before it gets cold.
Texans are suffering. People with Covid are suffering. Kids are suffering. First responders, healthcare workers, single parents, and minorities are all suffering. With so much suffering happening all around us, it’s easy to feel despondent, demoralized, depressed and anxious. There’s nothing easy peasy about this game called life. The only way to win is to ante up and play the hand you are dealt carefully. The only way to lose is to view the other players as opponents instead of as members of the same team. Our common opponent is suffering, not each other. You win this game by helping others win. So how do we do that when we have a less-than-stellar hand to play?
Let’s begin by dispelling a few myths:
You DON’T have to spend money to help others.
You DON’T have to spend a lot of time to help others.
You DON’T have to risk your health to help others.
You DO get more than you give by helping others.
To quote Ronald Reagan, “We can’t help everybody, but everybody can help somebody.” And I would assert that if everybody did help somebody then, collectively, yes we could help everybody.
Our theme for this month is unity. Whether you like it or not, we’re all in this game together. But there’s good news in that statement, because being in it together is precisely how we win. Every single one of us needs something we don’t have, and every single one of us has something we don’t need. Only by coming together do we make a winning team.
Helping someone else, even when--no, especially when--you feel you have nothing to give, is empowering. You become part of the collective. You get to participate, not just as a receiver, but as a giver. You get to contribute your unique talents toward making the world a better place for at least one other person. What better use is there for them than that? And when you experience the power of neighbor helping neighbor firsthand, you become less anxious and more confident that your community will also be there for you if and when you need it. Pay into the pot as much as you are able, whenever you are able, so that resources will be there for you when you need to take some out yourself. That’s how this game is played.
There are as many ways to help as there are needs to be fulfilled. You only have to look around you to identify a need and inward to identify a solution you have to offer. Everyone has at least one of the following necessary resources to contribute: Time, Money, Knowledge, Effort, Skills/Talents
If you lack time, contribute knowledge, effort, and/or money.
If you lack money, contribute time, skills and/or effort.
And so on…
If you’re looking for ideas on how to help during the pandemic, here are just a few ideas:
And don’t forget helping those closest to you. Sometimes we fail to notice a dire need in our own households because we aren’t paying enough attention. Put down your devices, turn off the TV, slow down and connect more to notice the holes you can fill right in your own backyard.
There’s nothing easy peasy about experiencing or witnessing suffering, but with some creativity, unity and a generous team spirit, finding a way to claim victory over it isn’t as hard as you think.
Like much of the country’s school-aged kids, my teenagers have been engaged in distance learning for nearly a year now. I’ve been amazed and impressed at the creativity of our educators in surmounting huge obstacles in order to continue providing at least some semblance of an education to their students during this challenging time. But the limitations of this arrangement came into stark view one day last quarter when my daughter came to me, panicked and crying, overtaken by anxiety at the realization that her team was unlikely to meet their deadline on a group project.
The conversation went something like this:
N (daughter): “I don’t think we’re ready!”
Me: “Well, what is left to do?”
N: “I don’t know.”
Me: “Then you should contact the other members to find out.”
N: “I can’t. I don’t have their emails or phone numbers.”
Me: “Well who’s the group leader?”
N: “We don’t have one.”
Me: “Ok, well have you at least completed your part of the project?”
N: “I’m not sure what my part is.”
Me: “Haven’t you had team meetings to discuss who’s responsible for doing what?”
N: “We’ve had meetings, but we never talked about any of that.”
Me: “What did you talk about then?”
N: “We didn’t talk about anything. Everyone just sat there. No one said anything.”
Me: [Thud as my head hits the table]
As unbelievable as it all sounded, it dawned on me that because their “meetings” occurred in online breakout sessions, outside the teacher’s view (unlike in a regular, in-person classroom), the teacher was unaware that this team was struggling to make an initial connection with one another and lacked pretty much all of the other key elements of effective teamwork. It was, however, a golden opportunity to teach my daughter some essential skills that will carry her through life. After all, wasn’t that supposed to be the point of all those dreaded group projects everybody hated in school? Usually one or two people on the team ended up doing all the work because it was easier for them to complete the project on time the way they thought it should be done than it was to figure out how to work effectively as a team. The end result may have been an “A”, but it was accompanied by feelings of frustration, resentment, confusion, and even more dread at the mere prospect of facing future group projects.
The old adage “many hands make light work” is true only when those hands are working together in sync. An effective team is more than just a collection of individuals working toward a common outcome. Real teamwork requires communication, organization, delegation/designation, evaluation, problem-solving, efficiency, and mutual respect. But what do those look like?
Communication - Completing a project without good communication is like trying to have a phone conversation without a signal. Solid communication means everyone is clear on the expectations and responsibilities of each team member, that the frequency and method of communicating works for everyone, and that there is agreement on not only the ultimate goal but also the plan to achieve it.
Organization - Once a communication framework has been laid out, determining an execution plan comes next. You wouldn’t build a doghouse without a blueprint. Tackling a group project of any sort without a plan will only lead to confusion, miscommunication, and wasted effort. Organizing your team begins with defining each team member’s role and responsibilities and selecting a leader (or leaders) to keep everyone on track. Prioritizing, creating a timeline and interim deadlines, facilitating communication, and evaluating progress along the way are all key components of keeping your team organized.
Delegation/Designation - Successful teamwork should flow like beautiful orchestral music, with each member’s perfectly-tuned instrument playing his notes in perfect time and harmony with those around him, always aware of the whole sound and attentive to the direction of his conductor. When each member plays to his own strengths while observing others to learn and improve upon individual areas of weakness, everyone comes away having learned something new. You wouldn’t ask the violinist to play the drums, but he will develop a keener sense of the rhythm by listening to the drummer. And as with any orchestra, your team needs a guiding force, a conductor. Select someone with natural leadership abilities to head the team. Remember that not everyone is suited to that role, and talented players to take his direction are equally important, lest the orchestra remain silent...or worse!
Evaluation - A few months ago, the scientists at Pfizer unveiled a remarkable achievement when they introduced a Covid vaccine developed in record time. Only after months of testing the vaccine on thousands of willing participants was it ready for widespread distribution to the public at large. Without meticulous evaluation of the vaccine’s effects along the way, the citizens of the world would have been at great risk of serious consequences or even death from receiving the vaccine! Waiting until hundreds of millions of doses had been administered to discover a major flaw in the vaccine’s efficacy would have been disastrous on so many levels. The long-term success of any project depends on careful evaluation of your team’s efforts all along the way so that it’s easier to back up and correct course when results are skewing in the wrong direction. Consider up front what tools and methods you will use to evaluate your team’s performance? Who will determine the benchmarks used to measure your success? When will you measure? And how and at what intervals will the findings be communicated to the rest of the team?
Problem-solving - The biggest test you will face as a team is your ability to regroup when the plan goes awry. First, agree not to panic. Seek input from each member and listen to all suggestions with an open mind. Think outside the box. Share past experiences. Perhaps you can adapt a previous problem’s solution to this situation.
Efficiency - Finding the sweet spot in balancing quality of output against the expenditure of time and effort is crucial to reaching the objective by the deadline with satisfying results. An efficient team remains focused on the goal, omits the unnecessary, and stays attentive to the results of self-evaluation in order to correct course when needed. Avoiding conflicts or resolving them quickly minimizes disruption and keeps things humming along. A nimble team adapts and evolves, learning and perfecting as it goes.
Mutual Respect - Have you ever been surprised to learn that your favorite TV show cast members actually dislike each other in real life? Chances are if the show continued successfully for many seasons, it’s because they made a good team despite their personal feelings. Real teamwork doesn’t require friendship, but it does require enough mutual respect to be able to continue working together effectively...to communicate, organize, delegate/designate, evaluate, problem-solve and work efficiently despite your personality differences. Honesty, empathy and kindness, when used together, foster respect. Listen as much as you contribute and remain open to constructive criticism and willing to learn. Focusing on the talents and abilities each teammate brings to the table instead of on their individual quirks or annoyances can generate mutual respect, even between the most viscous of adversaries.
Whether you find yourself forced to work with others, or voluntarily choose teamwork to lighten your load, making the time and effort to ensure these elements are in place first will yield better results and a more positive experience than rushing in headlong, pushing your own personal vision. Teamwork is a valuable tool...when it’s wielded correctly.
The title of this blog is only the first, better-known part of Maxwell’s quote. The rest is, “...but a vision becomes a nightmare when the leader has a big dream and a bad team.”
With these seven key elements, joined by a spirit of unity, even building a dream team will be easy peasy.
There’s been a lot of talk about unity lately. President Biden made it the theme of his Inaugural address, and leaders in Congress on both sides of the aisle have emphasized a need for the country to come together to bridge the growing schism that divides our society. Regardless of your political or societal views, you cannot deny that division and discord yield stress and anxiety...neither of which contribute to easy peasy living. So our theme for the month of February is Unity...because reaching out for healing, sharing abundantly, working together, and meeting each others’ needs is really the only path to true peace and easy peasy living.
There’s a common misconception that unity requires you to suppress your own views, to stifle your voice, or to sacrifice your principles on the altar of communion. But none of that will bring about true and lasting peace, only simmering resentment. Only balance will yield genuine unity. Indeed, we say something profoundly important when we listen to another point of view. We teach how to be respectful of differing opinions by learning to model respectful behavior. We receive grace by giving it. It’s not about giving in, but rather about simply giving. Enough of us on both sides must be willing to invest ourselves in the effort if we are to restore this broken bridge.
The greatest tools we have at our disposal are knowledge, history. and facts. Only by sharing these with each other, can we build bridges that last. Only when we each embrace our dual roles of teacher and student with equal fervor can we bring about real change. Most of us lecture enthusiastically, but fail to take substantive notes on what the other side is preaching, much less to study the roots of their concerns. A dearth of background information leads us to view our fellow citizens as the other side instead of as merely another side of the same multi-faceted jewel.
They say knowledge is power, so if you want to wield power, you must first learn. Real knowledge is fact-based. We live in a time where all our scuffling has blurred the line between fact and opinion. Any attempt at unifying that doesn’t begin with finding and sharpening that line will fail. Your quest for knowledge must include a quest for truth. Check your sources. Do your homework. There is no such thing as my truth and your truth, only the truth.
Lectures, learning and homework all sound a bit drab and boring though, don’t they? Well, not necessarily, especially if you start with the fun stuff! Explore the factual histories, traditions, and beliefs of cultures other than your own. Discover how other ethnic or religious groups observe holidays. Experiment with recipes for traditional foods, listen to unfamiliar music genres, or visit museums and read books to learn more about the contributions of another culture’s heroes and icons. One thing all humans share is a love of good food, beautiful music, historical heroes, and strong traditions. Who said you have to stay in the same boring lane your whole life long?
Basic values like freedom, justice, hard work, faith, and love of family and pets offer additional common ground. While your vision of exactly what each of those things looks like may differ from someone else’s, merely acknowledging a shared reverence for them brings greater understanding of what motivates each of us. Try to identify the fears of your counterparts, not for the purpose of exploiting them, but rather to find ways of allaying them. Chances are they look very much like your own or may even be based on misinformation that you can correct. Use humor to diffuse tense situations and remind everyone that no matter how our viewpoints may differ, sharing laughter always feels better than slinging insults. Connecting on the most basic human level is the first step in repairing the bridge we share.
There’s a funny fact about bridges: You can only cross them if both sides meet in the middle.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions about the challenge, need more suggestions or encouragement, or just want to share your success story!
You’ve got this!
Can you believe we’re already more than halfway through the first month of 2021?!! Time marches on, and every minute you spend stepping over, working around, or shifting the disorder in your home is time you could be spending on something more fun or meaningful. The good news is that you can reclaim your time by establishing just a few good habits that lead to more order, less stress, and better living.
In the past two blog posts, I introduced the first two of ten good habits adopted by most organized people. If you missed them or need a refresher, click on the links below to read them:
Habit #1: Unpack upon arrival
Habit #2: Hang stuff up
Don’t worry if you’ve stumbled out of the gate. It’s never too late to get started or get back on track and keep moving forward.
Habit #3 is to make your bed each day as soon as you get out of it!
Why? It establishes a sense of order and accomplishment from the very moment you get up. Think about it...in the 60-90 seconds it takes (yes, it really only takes that long) to make your bed, you earn your first win of the day! Not only is it the quickest method I know to magically restore some visual peace and order to your bedroom, it makes a statement that you intend to make this a productive day. Let's face it, getting out of bed is difficult for everyone. Making your bed is a commitment to begin your day and really make it count. In his 2014 University of Texas Commencement speech, Adm. William McRaven (USN Ret.) explained,
If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right. And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made --that you made--and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.
Now, I know there are those of you who will try to make the argument that you don't need to make the bed because you're just gonna get back in it a few hours later. Instead of looking at this as a dreaded chore requiring excuses in order to avoid it, view it as something you do to pamper yourself...a gift to the future you. You’d be pretty disappointed if you got back to your hotel room after a day of sight-seeing to find a rumpled bed, wouldn’t you? After all, one of the perks of staying in a hotel is getting pampered by the housekeeping staff. There’s nothing more luxurious than climbing into a neatly-made bed at the end of a tiring day. It's like unwrapping the well-earned gift of rest.
My husband works the night shift and sleeps during the day. Even though I know he'll be getting into that bed an hour after I get out, I still make it for him every single day, and he does the same for me. It's just one more way we show one another some loving care and say "Welcome to dream world. Enjoy your stay." Making your own bed is just another form of expressing some self-love.
How? I find the most painless way to make your bed is to pull the covers up as far as you can and smooth them out while you're still in it and then neatly fold back one corner to make climbing out easier. This way, you are practically finished by the time you are on your feet. Then just fold back your exit flap, smooth and tuck the covers, neaten up the pillows and you're done. If you're a messy sleeper, it might take you a few seconds longer. Regardless, I promise you, it will not take more than 90 seconds, max, to accomplish your first win of the day!
If you’ve already mastered Habit #3, well done! How tidy do you leave the rest of your room each morning? Nothing ruins the calm, peaceful feel of your bedroom sanctuary like piles of clothes lying around the room, a cluttered dresser, or stacks of reading materials collecting dust. If your resting place feels chaotic, focus this week on making sure all clothes are put away and the floor and surfaces in your bedroom are clear before you exit so that you can enjoy a restful sleep in your welcoming bed at the end of the day!
Tip of the Week
One of the most common pitfalls we face when trying to establish new habits is life getting in the way of our best intentions. It happens to everyone, but obstacles don’t have to end your journey toward better habits. You just need to find the quickest detour route and keep going. With the right amount of determination and experience, the little things that used to throw you off track will become nothing more than opportunities to learn and better prepare yourself for whatever roadblocks lie ahead. Commit to never skipping two or more days in a row of performing your new habit. Skipping more than one day establishes a new pattern of not doing it and makes it harder to get back on track.
And always remember: imperfect progress is still progress!
It’s still not too late to join the official Good Habits Challenge! I’ll be introducing Habit #4 in next week’s blog, but after that only those who have joined the challenge will learn the remaining six habits of organized people. Plus, those who join get some free tools to help establish 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.
Share your success stories, tips and struggles at email@example.com, and stay tuned next Monday to learn about Habit #4.
I don’t know about you, but I had high hopes that 2021 would be an improvement over 2020. To say that the first ten days of the year have been disappointing would be a gross understatement. When the world is in turmoil, it is more important than ever to establish some order and control within the confines of your own home as a sanctuary from the madness. So let’s forge ahead, undeterred, with our restorative, calm-inducing challenge, shall we?
Last week, I introduced Habit #1: Unpack Upon Arrival. So how did everyone do? If you missed it or stumbled on this one, no worries. It’s never too late to start or reboot. Read last week’s post if you need to catch up. (Just a reminder for those of you who joined the official Good Habits Challenge: it’s never too late to request free accountability check-ins.) However, if you’re still on track with last week’s habit, you’ve got a jump-start on the next one.
Habit #2: Hang Stuff Up. Hopefully you’re now hanging up your coat, your purse/backpack, your keys, etc. upon arrival. Now add to that your towel, your bathrobe, your comfy hangout sweater...whatever items you tend to leave lying around that could be hung up in seconds as soon as you stop using them.
Why? A better question might be why not? This is such a quick and easy way to reduce surface clutter, restore visual peace to your environment, and ensure your belongings will be right where you expect them to be later on. These items will also stay in better condition when regularly hung up properly than if left crumpled on the floor or piled up on a chair somewhere. Towels will dry faster, clothes will be less wrinkled, and the dog won’t shed as much all over your throw blanket or bathrobe. More importantly, this is what I would call a “gateway habit”...a habit that leads into another, even more important habit. Once you are in the habit of hanging stuff up and experiencing the payoff of such a minimal investment, you’ll be more likely to put other things away as soon as you finish using them too. The simple act of putting things away right away is the master key that opens all the doors to organization. So why wouldn’t you attempt to make a habit of it?
How? As I said in last week’s post, hooks make hanging stuff up easier. If hanging up your bath towel is a chore, replace the towel bar with hooks. Where else might you be able to add a few hooks in strategic locations to make this habit easier to adopt? Don’t overlook the backs of cabinets and doors. For best results, install them as close as possible to where you use each item. Identify other deterrents to hanging stuff up. Are you short on hangers? Are they too slippery? Do you have to cross the room in order to hang up your sweater? No obstacle is too minor to consider if removing it will help you become successful.
If you’ve already mastered Habit #2, well done! How are you about putting away your clean laundry in a timely manner? If you routinely let it sit for a day or more once it’s washed and dried, focus your efforts this week on putting it away within 24 hours.
Tip of the Week
In last week’s post, I provided a few tips for establishing new habits. Today I want to zero in on one of them. Tying your new habit to an existing one not only helps you remember to do it, it establishes a routine. Routines are merely a string of habits performed in the same order at regular intervals. They are like little programs your brain executes without much input from your conscious mind, freeing you to focus your attention elsewhere. In other words, they allow you to go on autopilot to accomplish a great number of small tasks. Aside from helping you remember what you need to do, established routines also remove much of the conscious decision-making of whether or not to perform the task. You just do it without giving it much thought. Once a new habit is part of your routine, it can actually require more thought and effort not to do it. This is the goal when adopting new good habits. (It’s also a big part of the challenge in kicking bad habits, but that’s a post for another time.)
It’s still not too late to join the official Good Habits Challenge! I’ll be introducing Habits #3 and #4 in the remaining blog posts in January, but only those who join the challenge will learn the other six. Plus, those who join get some free tools to help establish 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.
Share your success stories, tips and struggles at valerie@easypeasyliving, and stay tuned next Monday to learn the details on Habit #3.
You’ve got this!
Valerie Sheridan is a professional organizer, wife, mother of two, and Founder/Owner of EasyPeasy Living.