Hack Your Workspace – Up Your Game

neat workspaceDoes your workspace help you focus and get things done or does it just add more challenge to your task? Since we can’t add more time to our day, we have to find ways to be more effective and/or productive with the time we do have. Wouldn’t you agree? We can start with making sure our workspace (whether it is a counter, desk or small table) works for us and our needs.

Impact of Clutter

Did you know that clutter on your desk can affect your stress level? If your desk is covered in papers and other clutter, it makes it difficult to stay focused on the task at hand, because your attention will keep shifting to the visual clutter. That shift can then interfere with your working memory – you forget what you were doing or that brilliant idea you had, because you were distracted and your working memory lost its focus. Or worse, that pile of unknowns makes you think you have forgotten something important but you can’t stop and look now because you are already feeling behind. That would definitely increase my stress level.

Hack Your Space

  • Clear the clutter – anything you don’t need to do the job
  • Contain the papers in a basket or bin and move them out of your line of sight (don’t hide them especially if you are a piler)
  • Make sure you have good lighting without casting shadows on your work
  • Does the chair fit you and is it comfortable? (Feet reach the floor?)
  • Is there an analog clock in sight or maybe you prefer a time timer?
  • Add something that makes you smile – a picture, photo, plant or your favorite fidget

Brain Hacks

  • Pick one task – think of it as having a beginning, middle and ending. If you typically stop working before the task is completed or you leave all the supporting documents out after it is completed then you are not working until the end. The end means nothing is left to do or take care of for that task or project.
  • Start a master task list by categories. This is where you keep track of the things you don’t want to forget to do, but it is not your to-do list! (I’ll get to that in a minute) Categories such as work, at home, at computer, away from home, etc.
  • Create a close out the day routine. Each day before you leave your workspace, wrap up what you are doing and if you need to continue it tomorrow, make a note of the next step. Take a look at your master list and decide the top 3 priorities for tomorrow, keeping in mind the beginning, middle and end of each task. Put away what you can and set yourself up for a fast start in the morning.
  • Check your calendar and your master list – your to-do list should have 3-5 tasks that you want to complete for the next day. Sure, you can do more, but only if you get those things you think are important done first. It’s called a REASONABLE LIST.
  • A weekly reset is an opportunity to clear the clutter, file or recycle those papers, sharpen your pencils, put paper in the printer and blow the dust off your keyboard. Maybe even reboot your computer if it has been a while. Whatever it takes to prevent you from taking last week’s problems into next week. You want to start the week off knowing your priorities, your appointments, your kid’s schedules and having your week planned out and your desk cleaned up and ready for action.

These strategies can help your children handle their homework more effectively too. Make sure their study space works for them and is not distracting them. For middle schoolers that are using their computers more, you may want to find a way to add another screen for them to avoid having to switch back and forth – saves on working memory and time. Help them use their agendas to keep their extra-curricular activity schedules, appointments and special events as well as, their homework in there each week. That way they can better plan when to study for those upcoming tests and there will be fewer surprises.

The biggest changes may come from just knowing what to do first when you sit down at your workspace. It doesn’t matter if you are going to work, working from home or just working on home “work”, using your time wisely, reducing distractions and having a plan, will save you time, improve your focus, save working memory space, improve decision making and reduce your stress according to Jim Kwik. Even if you try just one hack, I think you will be surprised at its benefits.

 

Time Management vs. Choice Management

How to choose?

Time management, what does that mean to you? For me, it is my ability to manage the available time I have to get what needs to be done, done. Notice, I said it is MY ability to manage – myself really and manage my choices. We really can’t “manage” time as we have no control over it. It keeps going on its own whether we want it to or not. However, the choices we make of how to use our time can have a huge impact on our productivity, as well as, on how we feel about ourselves and our lives. So, what is choice management?

Choice management is taking time to look at all the options/tasks/choices you have and actually choosing your priorities given the time you have. There are lots of things that “should” be done, but are they really the important stuff or just the easy stuff? Estimate how long you think things will take before you decide if it’s a realistic task to take on.

Choose the top three priorities to begin with and set clear boundaries around the time you will work on them. Don’t wait for the deadlines to get closer as although deadlines help provide a sense of urgency, they often bring extra stress if you miscalculate the time needed to complete it.

Five Ways to Save Time

  • Use the Pomodoro method
  • Time blocking
  • Task batching
  • Create systems and routines to “keep up”
  • Organize and declutter the extras out of your life

It comes down to having to make choices because the reality is you probably can’t do it all. So rather than getting stressed, why not choose wisely and ask yourself…”is this important enough for me to use “x” hours of my day to do? Then figure out which method above, works best for you. Watch out for things that can eat up your time, like distractions, multitasking and not having a plan.

The Pomodoro Method

The Pomodoro method breaks your work time into four, 25-minute blocks of time with a 5-minute break in between each block. The short time frame tricks the brain into thinking the task is more urgent since the clock is ticking. It helps to know that you only have to work on that one “challenging or boring” task for 25 minutes and then you can take a break.

The one thing I have found to help increase it’s effectiveness is to have other people know what I am working on in that block. This body doubling technique also adds accountability to the tasks and helps to keep me on track. If you’d like to give it a try, feel free to join us for Work It Wednesday from 10am-12pm ET via zoom. (Email me for link). At the end, you are encouraged to celebrate your accomplishments and appreciate your productivity (and take a longer break).

Create Systems and Routines

We all want to work “smarter” because that makes things easier on us. Creating systems and routines is a great way to do that. Time blocking and task batching are examples of systems you can use, if they work for you. However, time management is not just about work tasks; you probably also have “home” tasks some of which occur daily.

Setting up systems and/or routines for those things can save you time and stress. For example, if there is no routine of cleaning up the kitchen after dinner (or at least before going to bed) then the morning becomes more of a hassle as you dodge last night’s dirty dishes and cluttered counters trying to get everyone out the door on time. Not to mention the extra time it takes to get dried food off.

Routines work well for weekly tasks too. Pick a day for specific things, like meal planning, grocery shopping, and laundry. Why wait until you have no clothes and there are 6 loads to do when you can keep up by doing laundry once or twice during the week. Much easier to put clothes away if it is manageable.

Organize and Declutter

Lastly, but most importantly, take the time to organize and declutter. Out of all the things you can do, this may save you the most time and frustration. We’ve all wasted time searching for things, things that either didn’t get put back in their “home” or they didn’t have a home to begin with. Your home should work for you not against you.

Create organization so that you know where the things you use daily and weekly belong. Don’t organize so you can stack more stuff into a space. Let the space determine how much can go in there and reduce your inventory. The bigger the load of laundry the longer it takes to get it to its final destination. If your clothes don’t fit in the closet or dresser once they are all clean, then (I’ll be direct) maybe you have too many clothes. Think of how much time you are using/forfeiting to laundry.

Things you use often, should be easy to get to. Why should the big lobster pot take up an entire cabinet when you only use it once or twice a year? It shouldn’t. Make life simpler by clearing counters of appliances and knick knacks you don’t use weekly. You might think it only takes a minute to move things out of the way so you can work, but those minutes add up. You are choosing to use them clearing space when you could be using them for yourself and your family.

Think about the choices you make each day. Yes, it would be wonderful to be able to do all the things we want and need to do but, there are so many options and opportunities that it is impossible to do it all. So, “choose wisely, grasshopper” as a famous TV Kung Fu master once said. Or maybe you’re inspired by Yoda’s line, “do or do not. There is no try.”  Whatever “method” you use for saving time is just one piece of the puzzle, it is the choices you make all day, every day that provides the frame work. Choose what matters to you.

Routines, Rituals and Dopamine, Oh Yeah!

Rituals are good habitsDo you struggle to think, problem solve or make decisions during the day? If you end up feeling overwhelmed it may be because there are just too many things swirling around in your brain. The term, “brain bandwidth” which simply means, the amount of brain resources you have in the moment, can fluctuate depending on what is going on in your life.

Think about all that your brain is responsible for behind the scenes and then it is asked to think, problem solve, and make decisions all day long too? No wonder it is always trying to “save energy” as Ed Mylett, mentions in his book, The Power of One More. We can’t create more bandwidth, but just like a computer that is slowing down, you can clear out some files to make more space.

How To Save Brain Bandwidth

      • Create habits, routines and rituals to help
      • Reduce distractions
      • Make fewer decisions
      • Stop multi-tasking (which is really sequencing and not as effective as one thing at a time)
      • Delegate
      • Reduce your to do list
      • Let go of your phone
      • Get a good night’s sleep
      • Declutter and organize
      • Plan ahead

Let’s talk about habits. A habit (an action that has become automatic) signals your brain to go into “autopilot” mode which uses much less energy. That “automatic pilot” takes away the thought and the argument that happens when the “angel” and “devil” on your shoulders start fighting. When habits result in a positive outcome then your brain is happy. The dopamine that gets released tells your brain – this feels good, let’s do it again.

Habits when strung together become a routine. You already have routines in your life for getting up in the morning, making meals, laundry, going to bed, etc. Where’s the joy in those? No joy? Then maybe you should create a “ritual” rather than a routine.

Greg McKeown, author of, effortless (not a typo) defines a ritual as the “how” of what we do. It “infuses joy into our everyday moments.” Adding moments of joy throughout your day which lightens your day and feels good = more dopamine. He uses Marie Kondo as an example of how little rituals (like thanking that worn out pair of jeans before recycling) can add pleasure to the act of decluttering.

One ritual you may want to think about is a “Close Out the Day” ritual. A routine with added joy, pleasure, or self-care added becomes a ritual. This one ritual is a good habit that will support “future you” and save brain bandwidth also. Creating an end of the day ritual can help you start tomorrow with more focus, motivation and an early “win.”

If you are working in an office, what can you do to set yourself up for success tomorrow before leaving for home and still make it enjoyable? Same question for those of us working from home. Then getting started on your work would be as easy as “plug and play” as my friend, Alison says.

How about a ritual for the home that will create a smoother morning? Aren’t you tired of seeing dirty dishes in the morning? Creating a ritual here is a good habit to build.

We’ve mentioned before about deciding what you will eat, wear and do for tomorrow, to save decision power, but how can you add some pleasure to the process? The pleasure = more dopamine = more brain bandwidth.

Ways to Add Pleasure

      • Sitting with your favorite beverage and planning tomorrow’s big 3?
      • Take a walk
      • Spend time with your family
      • Go screen free (don’t panic, even an hour helps)
      • Read or learn something new
      • Journal
      • For some, putting the house to bed is a ritual
      • Add to a “success” list each day
      • Get up earlier so your morning isn’t rushed and enjoy a leisurely breakfast

Sometimes we think that having routines and being “pre-programmed” will be boring and take the joy out of our day. In reality, having routines for the fundamentals of your life, actually frees up brain space, which allows you to be more creative, productive, and less stressed.

A close out the day ritual the night before is a good habit to ensure you start your morning off with more decision-making power and brain bandwidth for the important things. Having routines and rituals actually gives you more freedom and energy for the significant people and priorities in your life. And isn’t that what it is all about?

Related Articles from the Archives:

Is It a Routine or a Struggle? https://thinkinganddoingskillscenter.com/is-it-a-routine-or-a-struggle/

Coffee and Routines? https://thinkinganddoingskillscenter.com/coffee-and-routines/

 

 

Got 5 Minutes?

Time timerTime is our most precious commodity. If we don’t use it, we lose it and it is one thing we can never get back. Sure, we can try to pack more into a day but often that leaves us feeling overworked, exhausted or stressed. Ever feel cheated that you didn’t get to do what you REALLY wanted or needed to do?

Instead of cramming more into our day, look for a few spaces between tasks, errands or transitions. I am sure there are several five-minute blocks somewhere in your day. For today, let’s assume you found 3 blocks of 5 minutes = 15 minutes total. You decide what works for you. Just don’t overdo it  trying to get one more thing done and make yourself late.

Now how will you use those 5-minute blocks? You can decide your three big categories, and then list ideas under each. My three categories are listed below with some ideas to help get you started. Use your imagination and make it work for you. I have seen how having a specific time limit can help motivate us for unpleasant tasks every week during Work It Wednesday when we use 3, 25-minute blocks to get things done (contact me for zoom link to join us at 10am ET). Let’s use these blocks to improve our lives.

Self-Care

  • Drink a glass of water
  • Go outside and breathe
  • Stretch my muscles
  • Call or text a friend
  • Meditate (yes, even 5 minutes is beneficial)

Declutter/Organize

  • Put away the winter jackets and boots
  • Clean out and organize a drawer
  • Remove 5+ things no longer needed or wanted
  • Toss/recycle today’s junk mail and catalogs
  • Declutter a shelf or clear a counter of all non-essentials

Family

  • Spend 5 minutes with each child and listen
  • Plan a family activity for the weekend
  • Make a meal plan for the week
  • Go outside (take a walk, shoot hoops, swing, etc.)
  • Do a 5 minute (maybe longer) reset to be ready for tomorrow

Creating routines and habits that keep the family organized impacts the level of stress in your home. You will be amazed at what you can accomplish in five minutes. Feel free to build onto the momentum as we have seen how clutter and disorganization can impact mood, weight, stress and health.

Let me know what you are most proud of doing in your 5 minutes over on my Facebook page. Let’s get a conversation going.

Five Super Strategies to Knockout Stress

Good habitsThis September, especially after last year, may be a bit more difficult to manage because we are all out of practice. Sure, some students continued to go to school and maybe you had to continue to go to work. For many, last year was a combination of situations with a few extra pivots thrown in just to keep us on our toes.

Last month we talked about your systems and took a look at them to see what was working and what was not working. If you missed it, you can check it out here. Dealing with a system that doesn’t work adds extra stress and the transition back to the “real” world will be stressful enough. Let’s take a look at 5 simple things you can do to keep those stress levels down as we transition back to reality.

Five Super Skills

  1. Make time visual – ever notice how time seems to slip away and all of a sudden you are hurrying and wondering how did it get away from me? Keeping analog clocks in certain areas (especially the bathroom) will make you more aware of the passing of time. Make sure your children have a clock in their room as well. It’s never too early to start becoming aware of time.
  2. Routines and habits allow the brain to operate on automatic pilot. Automatic pilot frees up brain energy for more important tasks. Creating a morning and evening routine (and a homework routine, if you have kids) will make your life easier and less stressful. If you plan it right, it can also help you get out the door faster and less stressed.
  3. Keep it simple – the number of steps it takes to do anything should be the least number of steps it takes. If your routine or your habit has very detailed steps then it is probably more work than it is worth. This is often why kids do not put their clothes away in the dresser drawers as it is too many steps – same for the closet. Hooks, shelves and bins work better.
  4. Organization – probably the most important habit to reduce stress and frustration. Making sure everything has a place and that everyone knows where that place is makes it so much easier to find what you are looking for. Ever have to search for the scissors or your car keys?
  5. A weekly reset – will give you a chance to take care of last weeks to dos and challenges and to start fresh for the next week. Simple things like looking at the calendar and seeing what is coming up. Maintaining your systems (maintenance keeps you organized) by putting things back in their places. Preparing for the week ahead helps you stay on track. How would that feel on Monday morning?

If you struggle with any of these super skills and would like some help – let me know. Coaching can help you design the systems that will work for you.

Getting Organized – The Key Points

February 22: Happy Anniversary to me! Yes, it has been 31 years since I started my quest to become organized. I didn’t even know what it was that I needed to do, I only knew I needed to do something. Often times we are so “caught up” in the day to day of things that we don’t stop to actually think about how we could improve our lives. Well, on that day I did stop.

Here’s what I have learned since that day:

  • People are much more important than how your home looks.
  • There’s always a way to improve something if you take time to think about it.
  • SYSTEMS can always help (A process or series of actions you do to complete a task in an organized manner).
  • There is no ONE right way to organize – you have to find what works for you (and it may take several tries).
  • Keep it simple – the fewer steps the better.
  • Organization feels good!
  • Maintenance is key. That’s when you go back and redo or tweak your system. Ex: reorganize the closet…take it back to the point it was when you finished organizing it the first time.
  • You have the solutions inside you…but you just might need someone else to help pull them out of you.

An Organizer Coach, like me, has a combination of skills to help you understand yourself, guide you to solve your own challenges and help you create systems to get organized – all at the same time. Call or email me to find out how I can be of help to you.

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Phone: (781) 659-0513

Email: laine@laineslogic.com

3 Steps to Solving Your Organizational Challenge

Happy 7th Anniversary to me! Seven years in business that is. Today starts my eighth year but today is also important for another reason. It is the same day many, many years ago that I decided to get organized. I remember feeling overwhelmed and frustrated and started looking for information. I started devouring anything I could find on getting organized. Back then there was not a lot of information out there. Today, if you Google “get organized” you’ll get 32,800,000 hits in .34 seconds. That’s a lot of information!

The “get organized” business is a lot like the “diet” industry – everyone has their own ideas and they may or may not work for everyone. So how do you decide what to do?

Here are the first three things you should do:

1. Find the root cause. What is it that is really bothering you or causing a problem? Keep asking yourself questions until you can get to the root of the problem. For example, paying a bill late – why does that happen? Is it because the bills are mixed in with the pile of mail and aren’t seen? Or is it that it gets moved from table to counter? It could be, but it’s more than that. Is it because there is no plan of when to pay them? Probably.  The system to handle the bills is missing and needs a few things. So, once the problem is narrowed down you can proceed to step 2.

2. Analyze your options. Figure out all the possible things that might solve the challenges that you discovered in finding the root cause above. Then write down anything and everything you think might have a positive impact in resolving the problem. Then go back and pick two or three things you can do to solve the challenge. To continue with our example, let’s find a home for the mail by using a basket or bin or mail sorter bin, but keep the bills separated by putting them in their own basket. Then decide on what a “bill paying” plan or process might look like. (Do you need a chart to list the bills, or to put a reminder on the to do list? You get the idea.) Analyze your options and decide what changes would have the biggest impact.

3. Try it out. It takes three weeks (sometimes longer) to create a new habit but you should know in a few days whether or not your new solutions are working. You may have to “tweak” it to improve it, but don’t quit if it doesn’t work perfectly the first few weeks. Keep asking, “What can I do to make this work better?” Then try that. Keep trying until you solve it – here’s where you can “Google” to get specific ideas related to what you are trying to change. Using our example, maybe we see that adding “pay bills” to the to do list isn’t helping. Continuing to look for solutions, maybe you try deciding to pay bills every Friday and put that in your planner.  Or maybe you set up all your bills to be paid online through your bank. Whatever you decide, go back to question one and see that it has solved the original problem. If so, then move on to the next challenge.

Just remember to keep it simple. Good luck!

February 22nd : The day that changed my life.  In honor of today, I am announcing the start of a new newsletter/e-zine. The first issue is here: http://laineslogic.com/newsletter/2012_02.html Check it out.

How to organize your closet

Organize your closet
Organize your closet

Is the warm weather on its way? Maybe if we all put away our winter clothes and pull out the Summer stuff it will force the weather to cooperate. What do you say, are you ready to make the wardrobe changeover?

Organizing the closet is one of the best ways to add time to your day and reduce the stress of the morning rush. Depending on the size of your closet and whether or not you share the space with someone else, the following five steps could take anywhere from one hour to four or more hours. If you would like to be able to easily find what you want to wear (and have it fit) then set a date to organize your closet right now. Once you have picked a time slot read below so you will have everything you need to complete the job.

First step is to get ready. That means turning off the phone so you won’t be distracted and led off task. Grab a snack and a beverage to take with you along with a box of trash bags, a sharpie, three boxes (labeled undecided, needs fixing/cleaning, and belongs elsewhere), a label maker or index cards and tape, a hanging rack if you have one, a full length mirror and the vacuum.

Now you’re ready to begin:

1. Sort is always the first step in any organizing project. Use the three boxes to sort for things that belong elsewhere, things that need to be altered or cleaned and the undecided. Beginning on the left hand side of the closet and moving clockwise start with things that are hanging up and pull them out and either place on the hanging rack or on the bed. If you are using the bed, only take about ¼ of the closet out at a time. Now sort that pile into the “love it and it fits” pile, the “never felt or looked good” pile (which will be the give away) and the “not sure it fits pile.” Move the “love it pile” to its own spot on the bed or the rack and then try on the “not sure it fits” pile. I know it seems like it will slow down the process but if you never liked it or liked it but it never fit then either give it away or put it in the undecided box. Continue around the closet through all the hanging clothes. When you get a pile to give away put it in a trash bag and label it. When the bag is full move it outside the room you are in and continue with the next bag. Next step is the shoes, followed by the rest of the stuff. Each time you need to consider do I love it, hate it or does it fit? If you find anything that belongs elsewhere put it in that box, do not just “take a minute” to move it to where it does belong. Put the trash in a labeled trash bag.

2. Once everything is out of the closet, dust and vacuum it well. Take a break and have your snack. You have just finished the absolute hardest part of this whole process.

3. Next we will need to decide where things will “live.” You want to keep like things together, for instance all pants together, all tops together etc. First though check to see that your closet is optimized for the most storage space. Do you have a second rack hanging below the first one? Is there available space above the first shelf to put another shelf so you can utilize the whole space? If not, you may want to consider adding a rack or shelf at a later time. Now is NOT the time to go to Home Depot. Write it down instead. Stay with me….you’re almost done.

4. Looking at the piles you have made (starting with what will go up high on the shelf or shelves) start to put things back into the closet. Grouping similar things into a basket or bin will keep them together and make it easier to find what you are looking for. Label everything. For the hanging clothes you can sort by color going from light to dark (all tops together from white to black) or put all pieces of an outfit together and sort them by color or casual to fancy. Make sure there is space for the long hanging things like dresses. Many people find it easy to hang all tops on the top rack and all bottom pieces (skirts and pants) on the bottom rack. Then you can quickly grab a top and a bottom and off you go. Continue until everything that belongs in the closet that you absolutely love (and fits) is back in there. Then take the bags of give away and put them in your car to drop off. Put the dry cleaning or alterations into a bag and put them in the car. Empty the trash and then empty the box that has things that belong in another room. All that is left is the “undecided” box. Take a second look is there anything you know you really won’t wear…..it doesn’t matter how much you spent on it or how much you saved when you bought it. If it is really only collecting dust, it is not worth the space. For those things you truly cannot decide about, box them up and date the box. In six months take another look inside and see if the decisions are any easier. (Be careful where you store this box that it is not exposed to moisture.)

5. Lastly, maintaining the closet means putting things back where they belong. Use laundry day as a quick tidy up. Gather the empty hangers, put everything back in its place and give it a quick dust and vacuum. Use the one in and one out rule. Buy something new, out with something old. Maintaining the closet of things that fit makes it easy to get dressed, easy to see what you have and takes the stress out of, “What should I wear?” Good luck. Let me know how it goes. I am always happy to answer questions.

Plan for an organized life

What does it mean to get organized? For many people it means de-cluttering or tossing things they love and “hiding” most of the other stuff. They think that when their house is in a perfect state (which only lasts for a short time) and they are “organized” then all will be right with the world. I think there is much more to getting organized and so I call it organizing life.

 

Organizing life goes beyond having a place for everything and everything in its place. It is also about being able to find what is needed when it’s needed, doing what needs to be done (before it is due) and still having time to do what you want to do. It’s about gaining control over all your responsibilities (big and small) and it is a major juggling act unless you have a plan.

 

Making a plan takes about thirty minutes. Sunday afternoon or evening works well for many. Taking the time to plan can make a big difference in the stress level of your week. Do you want to bring a sense of calm to your typically hectic week? Then I suggest you start with your calendar, planner or pda (dust it off if you must) and check the upcoming week for appointments or promises you have made. Now gather all the sticky notes, napkin doodles and little scraps of paper that you have written reminders on. Schedule anything you can. Is there a birthday, graduation or wedding coming up that you need to shop for? Schedule it in.

 

When is that report due and how much time will it take you to write it? Work backwards to schedule when you need to start work on it so it will be finished a day ahead. Then plan enough time (double your estimate) and schedule the days and times you will work on it. Now when are you going to do the weekly things like grocery shopping, laundry, etc?

 

Last but not least, what would you like to do this week? Find a place in the week for whatever it is that will make you happy and schedule it in. Then be sure to do it.

 

Review your plan of the week to make sure your time estimates are realistic and your plan doable. You will still need to be flexible as life is often unpredictable, but having a plan will help minimize the surprises and the stress.  

 

And the benefits of an organized life?  Monica Ricci (known for her role on HGTV’s Mission Organization)  says it best in her recent blog….” the most important benefit of living an organized life is this… it allows you the freedom, the mental and physical space, and the energy to live the life you were meant to live, and do the work you were put here to do. When you’re so bogged down in the minutiae and overwhelmed by the day to day chaos of your own life, how in the world can you tune into your purpose and put your life’s work into action?”

Here’s to an organized week and an organized life!