Organized Treasure: Blog
Katie McAllister, Professional Organizer
Your attention is a powerful force. It can be diverted to, or away from, things that are important.
Picture an auditorium filled with an audience, young and old. They have arrived for the musical, ready to be swept up by the story, the show tunes, the color, the dancing. The lights go down, the show starts, and 20 minutes in, an older gentleman in the back gets a tickle in his throat. Having felt it, his attention is now focused there, in the throat. He is here to enjoy a play, and as a good audience member, does not want to interrupt others with a cough. So he sits, maybe clears his throat a little, shifts in his seat, tries a cough drop from his wife's handbag. But that tiny tickle is now all he can think of, and eventually, he takes an early intermission, leaves the auditorium, coughs, walks about, gets some fresh air, has a drink. Once the attention was focused there, he could no sooner ignore that tickle than an elephant in the seat in front of him.
Maybe you have experienced a situation like this, or maybe something like dizziness, a muscle twitch, became a focus of your attention. Just by thinking about pain in your head or stomach, you can create the actual feeling and experience (this is not an experiment I'd recommend). Here's the more positive experiment, and the flip side: Think about how strong your body is, how capable. Get into Superman Pose - Stand up straight, hands on hips, head held high - and feel your ability to conquer the day. Take a minute to recognize the positives and blessings in your life and focus on the good things going on.
We are bombarded daily with distractions that channel our attention away from the more important tasks at hand that deserve our focus. Or towards mindsets and worries that drain us of energy. But we have the power to channel our attentions to our amazing attitudes, productive passions, and creative capabilities and energize those traits, and ourselves, in the process!
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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