Organized Treasure: Blog
Katie McAllister, Professional Organizer
I'm excited to have a small article published in York County Medicine on the topic of reducing stress by getting organized!
When our spaces and lives are disorganized, we are constantly behind and overwhelmed. It can seem so hard to regain control - but by building systems brick by brick, we can start to find the peace that comes from having good routines and having tidy spaces where we know where things are.
Some seasons of our lives can throw even the "naturally organized" for a major loop. These events make it really hard to keep up with things, much less get ahead of them. The illness of a loved one, a new baby, a change in marital status, a move... It is always okay to reach out for extra help, but if you find yourself in a season that has you stretched thin on time and emotional bandwidth, I really encourage you to be gentle with yourself, and consider bringing in some extra back up!
Gretchen Rubin's book, The Four Tendencies provides insight into the way different people react to expectations and motivations. It considers weaknesses of each tendency and ideas to overcome the weaknesses. It also explores how each tendency reacts with others and how to "get along" with the mindset of each!
As you can see above, Upholders respond positively to expectations, both from themselves and others. They enjoy rules, routines, and structure. They thrive with goals and to-do lists. They are the people who find keeping their New Year's Resolutions an achievable plan, and also friends you can count on to come through for you.
Their weakness can be rigidity and inflexibility. They can get stuck in a routine because it is "what I said I would do", sometimes blind to the fact that it is not working for them anymore or no longer a priority. They can benefit from regularly analyzing whether the way they are spending their time is still in line with their priorities.
Because they HATE to make mistakes, they can take it very personally when someone calls them out on an error, especially publicly. As rule followers, they flourish in environments with fair and clear guidelines. They can frustrate others at times with their need to strictly adhere to expectations, but can sometimes be refocused on priorities with a question like, "Is this really important to you?", as it forces them to weigh their strongest internal expectations against a myriad of external expectations that would be impossible to juggle.
The Questioner cannot tolerate rules they deem arbitrary or pointless. They use logic to determine whether any expectations is one they personally find worthy, and if so, it becomes an internal expectation they are willing to fulfill. They like to improve processes, increase efficiency, and share their knowledge with others. They are likely to consider January 1 an arbitrary date to make a new goal, so they reject "New Years" Resolutions, but are fairly willing to make and stick to goals on other dates not set randomly by others.
Their questions can cause others to label them as "bad team players" when they seem to question authority, or group consensus. While internally motivated, they can have trouble completing tasks they see as "pointless". (And let's face it, sometimes in life items ARE silly in and of themselves - school assignments, paperwork in the government or a large business, etc.) It can help a questioner to look at the bigger picture and find motivation in the fact that this item propels him toward a greater goal - his degree or a promotion.
A questioner can dislike being questioned! In the mind of a questioner, the assumption is that of course he did his research and made a careful decision with all due diligence. Questioning such a carefully considered choice is offensive, while carefully asking them to share their process and explain how they came to their decision (to teach you) is more easily accepted. It helps to accept that a questioner needs to ask (and understand) WHY? This might come into play with deadlines - if you tell a group you need an RSVP by Friday, most people will accept that, but the questioner, if he thinks it is arbitrary, will NOT be motivated to comply. If you explain that Friday is the last day to purchase tickets, though, and he understands the reason for deadline, he is much more likely to respond!
An Obliger is dependable, meets deadlines, and keeps promises... to others. But those personal goals that are just for him? He tends to let himself down and just can't find the motivation to get them done. They are flexible, easy-going, willing to do their share, and great team players.
The first major weakness is taking care of personal goals that don't have external deadlines and expectations automatically attached to them. The solution is to find ways to attach that external accountability - the chapter on Obligers is FULL of tricks that might apply, and if you are an obliger who can do a huge project for a group but can't ever make time for self-improvement items, I would HIGHLY recommend for the specific anecdotes. Sometimes just making the to do list is enough to create an external expectation (I MUST check it off the list). For a health goal, working out on a schedule where others are expecting you, rather than alone, might help (same idea for a study group). You are probably the mindset that most needs to guard against the inability to say NO. Practice it!!
Because obligers say yes to others and NOT themselves, they can easily burnout. When they do, they can become resentful. Don't be another person taking advantage of the generosity of obligers! Help them set boundaries and protect themselves - rather than asking them to do it for THEMSELVES, though, ask them to do it FOR YOU!! (Ah, External motivation!!)
Rebels resist all expectations, and value freedom. They don't like to be controlled or told what to do - they will tend to dig in their heels. They even dislike being trapped by commitments of their own choosing. Usually they do the things THEY want to do, enjoy making their own choices, and stay true to their natures. They are driven, and great outside-the-box thinkers.
But, sometimes their desire to defy rules means they will stubbornly refuse to do what they have been asked, even if it is to their detriment, and EVEN if it is the thing they WANT to do! (Picture the child who has decided on the sweet surprise to secretly clean the kitchen the minute his mom leaves for the grocery store. But just as she is about to walk out the door, she turns and says, "Please clean the kitchen while I'm gone." This is the difficult plight of the rebel.) It was harder to get a read on solutions for this mindset. It seems helpful for the rebel to step back and ask what he really WANTS, identify it and avoid the self-sabotage of letting someone's expectations force him to take the opposite stand - which is really very limiting. They can remind themselves they have the power to choose what they want to do, and to be the kind of person they want to be (which like any of us considering our best selves involves many positive character traits.) Rebels need to work to intentionally have that mental picture and make choices to reflect that best self.
If you interact with a rebel, there was a bit more information - and most tips involved a bit of reverse psychology. For example, rather than issuing a deadline as a demand, try a challenge - "I don't think you could possibly get all of this done by Friday, do you?" It may help to clearly present the options and consequences and leave it as a choice, and allow the consequences to happen. I am not clear on how that plays out if your spouse is the rebel and the thing they don't do has consequences for BOTH of you, but it might be worth reading and thinking these things through if you identify this in someone close to you.
Thinking about our personalities and tendencies, and those of the people we are close to is very revealing. The insight into the strengths and weaknesses we each possess, and cultivating the wisdom to accept, embrace, and work with and around them, stretch and grow us! Best of luck as you identify your tendencies and learn to make them work for you!
We all have an innate desire to complete tasks, some personalities more than others! Harness the drive of that internal task master and put it to work for you! Here are some ideas:
1. The To-Do List: In one sense, the power of checking items off a to-do list goes without saying, but the benefits are so many. There is so much value in the exercise of considering your goals, breaking them into smaller chunks, and choosing your priorities for the day, week or month. Keep a long term/reminder to-do list, and one for individual projects, but keep the daily list manageable, and always highlight the top 3 items - if you've gotten THOSE done, it was a successful day.
Remember that sometimes, top items need to include caring for the physical or emotional health of yourself or someone close to you - health is a LOFTY priority and should never be dismissed as unimportant just because it is a little less tangible!
Consider your favorite way to mark items completed - a nice bold strikethrough, the classic checkmark, a smiley face, dragging and dropping a digital item to DONE? And relish the action! Have fun with your to-do list!! I've started calling mine my HOT List - it makes me smile and feel more empowered!
2. Don't Finish what you started: Sounds counterintuitive, but hear me out! I came across this idea in the book PRE-SUASION by Robert Cialdini (he is quizzing a colleague for tips on how she commits to writing so consistently) and it really got me thinking:
Then, offhandedly, she mentioned a strategy of her own that I have used profitably ever since. She never lets herself finish a writing session at the end of a paragraph or even a thought. She assured me she knows precisely what she wants to say at the end of that last paragraph or thought; she just doesn’t allow herself to say it until the next time. Brilliant! By keeping the final feature of every writing session near-finished, she uses the motivating force of the drive for closure to get her back to her chair quickly, impatient to write again.
his is so great! It overcomes your brain's reluctance to get started with the next session, because you AREN'T getting started - you are wrapping something up, and are anxious to get that done! I have a lot of projects to apply this to - research (Ancestry jumps out at me), photo books, writing - I would say most creative pursuits have that point where you can walk away and leave yourself ready to jump right back in. Here's a quote from Moveable Feast that shows Ernest Hemingway used almost this exact strategy: “I had learned already never to empty the well of my writing; but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.” So, you'll be in good company!
3. Start the next thing: As I was marveling through how true the idea above was, I began to realize that for less creative items, the strategy had a complementary flip side - start the next item NOW rather than in the next session. In working toward a reading goal, I am finding (especially with non-fiction) that if I start the next chapter in this session, I am inclined to pick the book back up sooner with the next chapter started - the finish is closer, I know the theme of this chapter and am eager to come back to it.
What about an email you need to write or a card you want to send - can you open the new email, enter the sender's name, a subject and a first sentence? Can you choose the card, find its envelope and write Dear ____? These are easy steps, won't take any time, and your brain will not be overwhelmed by them. But, when you come back to your computer or desk it will be a little easier to write the body of the correspondence, rather than starting from scratch. It really helps to overcome that very human mental hurdle to getting started!!
What else could you apply this to? Almost any kind of data entry or long impossible list - get through the F's, March, the first page. Just Finish the Thousand!
5. Just 10 minutes: You can do anything for 10 minutes (or 5, or 30). Let go of that mental requirement to get a PROJECT done, and just set a timer and be DONE then - 10 minutes of cleaning my kitchen sounds a lot more doable some days than getting my kitchen CLEAN. But I make a lot of progress in 10 minutes, and some days I just keep going, because, hey, I'm almost there! Either way, it is a LOT better 10 minutes later than if I hadn't tackled it at all!
6. So much finishing: Back to Hot Lists, some days and weeks having three main tasks works for me, at other times, I need MICRO lists - I break down tasks into TINY baby steps. Cleaning my bedroom could easily be 6 items on my list - make bed, file papers on desk, clear nightstand, new box of tissues, straighten the dresser drawer that's been driving me crazy, wrap the present that has been sitting in the corner for a week.
Sometimes my mindset is such that itemizing to that level and creating mini-wins that are easy to complete makes it easier to get started, keeps me focused, and encourages me with small successes - embrace the micro list if that is the kind of day you are having, or stick to the general categories and commit to your "three big rocks".
So, combat the part of your brain that throws up roadblocks to getting started, and embrace the side that likes to complete a job. Find ways to overcome those mental hurdles and finish some items on YOUR hot list today!
I saw this description of a professional organizer, laughed, and thought, "this IS me!"
I totally embrace that nerdy side of me that loves to implement the rules and systems that make REAL life work!! Not the airbrushed, staged, romantic photos with no televisions, bookcases full of décor but no books, and multiple vases of fresh cut flowers. (There's nothing wrong with any of these, of COURSE, but it is not the way most of us realistically live day to day).
I'm also a firm believer that when we simplify and streamline, we allow space in our lives to bring out those beautiful items we treasure (you know, without the beautiful vases sitting with DEAD flowers for the month following their glorious introduction!).
I am big picture and thorough, enjoy stability, order, and routine, and love to improve systems.
BUT, I totally understand that perfectionist side so many of us have that makes it hard to GET STARTED (for me it is the geeky side saying "do ALL the research", "make the 20 year plan before you take the first step", "if I can't complete the entire project today it is not worth starting")! No!! Overcoming that debilitating mindset is often still a daily choice for me - setting a clock for 15 minutes, breaking down a project into doable chunks, being okay with BABY STEPS!! There is so much productivity in the "Just Do It" mantra, and sometimes even more in "Just 10 minutes"!!
Find those personality traits and identify their strengths and weaknesses - and work through hurdles that slow you down or leave you frozen! You've got this!
Love, The Nerdy (Big) Sister
Embracing my love for organizing and the joy of encouraging others as we journey through the ups and downs together!
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