By Karen Kabara, Yours Tasks – Our Time, Inc, (610) 847 5422
With the holidays here, is your head spinning with work deadlines, family obligations and holiday preparations (and let’s not forget quarantine fatigue)? There are plenty of suggestions online on how you can declutter your home but what can you do to declutter your mind?
Each thought floating around in your head is like a mental post-it note. The more post-it notes, the more mental clutter. Physical clutter can cause people stress, but mental clutter can as well. The easiest way to get the clutter out of your head is to jot down all those mental post-it notes so you can release it from your thoughts. Use whatever format is best for you to organize that information. You can use the Notes app on your phone to create a To Do List. You can add action items directly to your calendar, so you have time blocked on your schedule to complete them. You can use a productivity app, like Evernote, to capture all your notes and action items. Or, if paper is your preference, use a notebook. But keep your information to one notebook so there aren’t random pieces of paper all over the house that will get lost or create physical clutter.
Learning to Say No.
Capturing your mental post-it notes on paper or your device is helpful to organize your thoughts. But how do you reduce the amount of post-it notes creating that mental clutter in the first place? Learning to say no can help.
Many of us overschedule ourselves. Accepting every party invitation. Volunteering to organize every event. But when you’re constantly exhausted and stressed out, it’s probably time to make some adjustments and dial back the schedule.
Saying no can be difficult. Saying no can be filled with guilt. But it can also be so freeing. Freedom from additional obligations. Freedom from more items on your To Do List. And freedom from the mental clutter that comes along with all those obligations.
I came across this quote a few years ago that really stuck with me …
“My goal is no longer to get more done, but rather to have less to do.” — Francine Jay
For me, having less to do means having less mental clutter to stress about. I can focus on the important things. And most notably, it means I have more time to focus on the things that bring me joy and happiness.
When you focus on the important things, it will reduce the number of responsibilities you struggle to balance each day. Many of us attempt multi-tasking to accomplish our action items but sometimes end up with a bunch of tasks half done. The practice of mindfulness encourages you to focus on one thing at a time and give that one thing your full attention. Mindfulness is not a new concept, yet many of us are not aware of the impact it can have on decluttering our minds and reducing our stress.
Declutter Your Mind
For many, mindfulness goes hand-in-hand with meditation. Meditation teaches you to focus on your breath and stay present in the moment which lends itself very well to mindfulness. But I realize some people don’t have the time or desire to meditate. In my opinion, that doesn’t mean you can’t incorporate mindfulness into your day. The key is to focus on one task at a time and try to overcome distractions. When you’re able to focus on a task, you’re more likely to complete it more efficiently so you can move on to the next task.
Before beginning a task, do what you can to reduce distractions. Turn off the phone. Close email. Wait until your son’s Zoom lesson begins so you know he will be occupied for the next hour. Personally, I try to complete tasks that need the most concentration early in the morning before my daughter wakes up. It allows me to get a burst of work done before the interruptions begin.
When a distraction does occur, try to work through it the best you can. If your mind wanders off during a task or someone interrupts you, acknowledge it but try to not let it completely derail you. Try to bring your focus back to what you’re doing. If you struggle to get back on task, try taking a few deep breaths or do breathing exercises. For others, you may need to step away for a few moments and get a cup of tea or step outside for a breath of fresh air to regain focus.
Maintaining focus and practicing mindfulness isn’t always easy. But, like most things in life, the more you practice, the more you will improve. Clutter can come in my many forms and mental clutter is just one. But learning strategies to tackle that clutter can reduce stress and help simplify your day. Learning to say no can be empowering and help set the stage for prioritizing what is important to you. Capturing your thoughts, whether digitally or on paper, can help organize your ideas and information. And incorporating mindfulness can help accomplish your daily undertakings and set you on the path to … organizing your life one task at a time.
As parents face the annual back to school routine this year, perhaps we need to revise the standard preparation for the first day of school. Rather than discuss how to organize your physical “stuff” for school, we are going to discuss the ABC’s for organizing a plan to address stress during this challenging time.
Many parents experienced the challenge of online learning (aka – distance learning or at-home learning) with their children this spring. As school openings fast approach, it is a good time to stop and assess how that online learning experience went for your family. What worked well? What did not work well? And most importantly, why didn’t it work? The best way to find a solution to a problem is to understand the root cause of the problem. If your child was too distracted or had difficulty paying attention to online sessions, think about why he or she was distracted and do your best to address that distraction. Was their sibling doing their lesson in the same room? Were toys in the room that caught their attention? Was background noise a disturbance? Perhaps switching the room for their online learning or putting away some toys may lessen the distraction. Wearing ear buds might reduce the background noise. There is no one size fits all answer to this issue or any other issue you may have encountered. The key is to figure out why the situation did not work so you can identify a solution that will work for your family. And, for those who have not been through online learning as of yet, reach out to family and friends who have experienced it and get their input on what worked for them to see if it can work for your family.
Dealing with our children can be challenging in general. So, having to deal with online learning or blended learning, in addition to normal daily stresses, can be overwhelming for some. Many parents are also trying to work from home which compounds that stress. Finding balance amidst the chaos may be beneficial. Take time before school begins to identify ways to balance the hectic environment that may exist during the school day. A quick 5 to 10-minute stress-reducing activity should provide relief. The list below is in no way all inclusive.
Also, our children are not immune to the stress that online learning may create. They may find some of the items above useful when they encounter a feeling of anxiety. Here are a few additional suggestions:
Figure out what works best for you and for each of your family members.
Creating a productive environment for both you and your kids is a goal for many parents. Open communication can contribute to that goal. Does your spouse know you have a 10am conference call and he or she needs to handle any issues that may pop up during that call? Does your son have a test tomorrow and needs quiet time to study? Is your daughter struggling with a lesson and needs additional tutoring? Having open discussions about the needs of each family member can go a long way to reducing stress during the day. The discussions don’t need to be formal. While clearing the dinner table ask a question like “Do you need anything from me to prepare for tomorrow?” or “Are you stressing about anything and, if so, how can I help?” Speaking to someone about their needs can help ease their tension. And don’t forget to let your family know of your needs as well. If they don’t ask you what you need, you can bring it up to them. Let them know that you have that conference call at 10am and ask that you not be disturbed for that hour. Remind them that the dog needs to be walked at lunchtime and ask who can help with that task. Communicating effectively will let each family member know you are all there to support each other.
Using the ABC’s above may not eliminate all the stressors you will face this school year. However, utilizing Assess and Communicate as proactive steps to help prevent stress, and incorporating Balance when stressful situations arise, may help you get back on track and allow you to have a productive day.
Your Tasks – Our Time, Inc
As Professional Organizers, we spend most of our time helping clients declutter and organize their spaces. But, with the events that have been unfolding over the past few weeks with the coronavirus, change has been thrust upon us. Some of us may be annoyed or feel inconvenienced by this change. Others may feel down right scared by all the uncertainty of the situation. Wherever you fall on that spectrum, figuring out how to adjust our daily lives to deal with the new restrictions can be overwhelming or stressful. To support you through this difficult time, we’ve put together some organizing suggestions to help you manage under these new circumstances.
We all want to make sure we have enough food and cleaning products to take care of ourselves and our families while we are being asked to self-quarantine and engage in social distancing. And while we support your need to have enough food; we urge you to think strategically about what you’re bringing into your space. How much milk will your family drink in a 2-week period? How many times will they tolerate eating mac n’ cheese in 2 weeks?
Also think about where you’re going to store the items you bring into your home. Where will you put the extra 30 rolls of toilet paper? This might be a good time to look through your cabinets and get rid of expired products to make space. If you still don’t have room in your cabinets or pantry, you may need to consider other options, like storing items in another room. That three-shelf bookcase with unread books might be the perfect spot for your extra canned goods.
With the steady increase of people testing positive across the country, many of us have been asked to work from home. Many schools have closed, and children are switching to online learning. This can create a challenging situation for parents, especially when everyone may need their own space to take that conference call or listen to their teacher’s online lesson.
Some are fortunate to have a dedicated office space at home, but what if you don’t have that space and both parents are working from home? What if you have multiple kids who need to complete online schoolwork? What makes the most sense for your family? Can the kids do their school lessons in their bedroom? Can you use your dining room as an office? Do you need to alternate schedules? Can your partner can use the office in the morning, and you use it in the afternoon? Or, they use it today and you use it tomorrow? Will your employer let you work evenings while your partner works during the day so someone can tend to the little ones? If multiple family members need to work in the same room or space, perhaps use headphones or ear buds to reduce background noise. It may take a bit of trial and error until you find a setup that works for your family, however, a little bit of planning and organizing can go a long way to reducing stressful events throughout your workday.
People hire organizers because they feel their lives are out of control and they are unable to get organized on their own. Frequently the problem is simply having too much stuff to organize. Often the weight of too many possessions can wear us down. When our space is cluttered and dis-organized it can impact every facet of our lives.
When the burden of too much clutter is lifted from our shoulders, we can feel physically lighter, more energetic and less stressed. This relief can lead to increased work productivity, greater enthusiasm and better relationships.
The question we need to ponder is why do we purchase so much in the first place? There are a number of explanations for this compulsion. Often, we simply want to possess the latest and greatest stuff because we think it’s fun to own! We live in a consumer culture and we often validate ourselves by what and how much we can accumulate. Consumerism and materialism are promoted by advertisers in print and on TV and computers in the form of commercials. According to Annie Leonard who wrote, “The Story of Stuff”, the two main activities Americans engage in are watching TV and shopping. We are bombarded by advertising and are exposed to approximately 3,000 ads per day. We see more ads in a day then people saw in a year 50 years ago. Couple that with the fact that the average house size has doubled since the 1970’s and it becomes easy to see why we accumulate so much “stuff”.
Sadly, in order to maintain our lifestyles of consumption, many people are working 50+ hours per week. We work until we are exhausted and depleted and then we shop to make us feel better. We return home too tired to do much else than watch TV and the cycle begins anew!
Is this the way we really want to lead our lives? If so, fine. If not, then it’s time to rethink our goals and blithely step off that hamster wheel of consumption and examine saner options.
Let’s start with what happens when you have a lack of organized space. Disorganization creates a feeling of being crowded and out of control of your things, which leads to lack of mental clarity.
Let’s take a personal poll:
1) Do you spend too much time looking for your stuff?
2) Do you feel like you are always in a rush?
3) Do you feel like your space does not support what you want to accomplish?
If any of the these sound familiar, then imagine your work space right now. Perhaps it is your desk or another place where you do most of your mental work, you know, the stuff that you need to get done every day. Take a moment and imagine you sitting down, about to get to work on a big project.
Do you feel like it is inviting you in and you are excited to get your work done or are you repelled by what it looks like? A space that repels, doesn’t support you to do your best work. A space that is inviting creates calm and clarity and allows you to be productive.
Creating an inviting, supportive space is different for each person. Yet, it comes down to the same thing for everyone. Choose to surround yourself with only things that you need and you love. That’s hard to do, because we all get attached to our stuff, however; when you create more space by having less stuff, you will feel more focused and in control.
While there is no end to the amount of information about how to manage time, I would strongly argue that it’s not about managing time, it’s about managing tasks. The difficulty comes from having too many tasks. Our plates are full with things to do all the time and this leads to brain fog, overwhelm and that feeling of being out of control.
Have you had one of those crazy busy days; where you’re running around doing a hundred different tasks and spending half that time attempting to do more than one task at a time? This is how we fall into the fallacy of multi-tasking. By the end of the day, you end up feeling exhausted and wondering what you did all day.
The solution is to create a system. And if you are rolling your eyes or shaking you head because you tried a system and it did not work, try again. Systems are NOT a one-size fits all solution. You often have to try different ones and one of the keys is to know what does and does not work for you. You need a system customized for you according to how you think, live and work.
Ah, Freedom- even the word sounds nice. When you have too much stuff surrounding you or you have too much to think about, freedom is the last thing you have. Instead you experience confusion, chaos and a lack of control. None of us wants that in our lives. This is the opposite of freedom and definitely does not give us mental clarity.
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Mental clarity comes from creating a physical space that allows you to feel supported because you have surrounded yourself with stuff that you need and that brings you joy. Clarity comes from having a system to organize your tasks so you feel in control of how you spend your time. The knowledge that you are in control of your space and time creates FREEDOM. And at the end of the day, each of us wants the clarity and freedom to create the life and business that we truly want.
Looking for a way to shed a few pounds this summer? If you start with your home, you will gain more than weight loss benefits. Consider the excess weight that is in your home in the form of clutter. Clutter not only adds pounds, but drains your finances and takes a toll on you and your family – physically, mentally and emotionally.
Take a guess at the approximate weight of these items (answers below):
By taking time to de-clutter your home this summer, you will enjoy these benefits.
Mental & Emotional
Shed some weight in your home this summer and you might find that the space you create promotes healthy changes in other areas of your life.
Answers to above: 1) 30 pounds 2) 15 pounds 3) 17 pounds.