Just… can’t… focus…

When dealing with overwhelm at work, I often struggle with analysis paralysis.  Heard of it?  It’s the inability to choose one option, when presented with a boatload of options.  That’s a scientific term right there – boatload.

analysis paralysis do mindless tasks instead

So many Pop Tarts! Which one to choose?

Now, where was I again?  Oh, yes – trying to pick which task to start on first at work.  So damn many choices!  How do I pick just one!?  What if I don’t pick the right one?  What if…Squirrel!

Well, on the days when everything is important, but nothing is urgent, and you just. can’t. focus…  The option might be to choose “none of the above”.

“Blasphemy!” you say?  I say, “No!”  In a University of California, Davis study cited by Erin Doland in a couple of posts on Unclutterer, it was found that over-worked employees who introduced mindless tasks into their daily routine enjoyed enhanced efficiency and creativity.  In a November 2011 article, Erin provides a great list of mindless, but absolutely useful, tasks that often go undone.

Recently, I employed this tactic on a day when I just wasn’t feelin’ it, and I went down the list, item by item, and completed each one.  Here’s Erin’s list, and what I did with it.

  • File.  I keep my work files up to date, so I reorganized my files a bit, to eliminate a stand-alone file cart that I was able to move out of my workspace.
  • Review your bulletin board. I don’t use a bulletin board, so I reviewed the papers in my reference files.
  • Clean your work surface.  I disinfected my work surface, keyboard, mouse and phones – desk and mobile.  I even disinfected my lotion bottle, since I use that several times a day.
  • Enter info off business cards.  I plugged in a couple of business cards I found while moving my file folders around.
  • Back up your computer.  This is taken care of by our IT department, so I decided to clean up my computer desktop, and moved/deleted files as necessary.
  • Unclutter your bookshelves.  I used to use a lot of binders in my daily life (before moving almost to exclusively digital files), and I had held onto several from two years ago.  I cleaned them out, and placed the empty binders into a community supply area for my still-analog coworkers to use.
  • Equipment check.  Erin recommends taking stock of all your electronics – are you using all of it?  Do you know how to use all of it?  I don’t have any equipment I’m not using, so I took this time to review the apps on my iPhone, and ended up deleting a few.
  • Restock.  I went “supply shopping” when I dropped off my old binders, and picked up some paper clips and some more correction tape I’d been a bit low on.

The mindless work took the better part of the morning, and by lunchtime, my desk was the envy of the neighborhood. I felt better in the space, too.  The desktop was clean and well organized.  I had put away many of the papers that had been nagging at me, causing a surprising amount of mental drain, and I felt lighter and freer of mind.

Coolest part?  I was able to crank out two major deliverables that afternoon.  I was surprised by the boon I experienced.  I had more energy that afternoon, and was really able to focus on my work.

The benefits have lasted a few weeks now, since my workspace is still clutter-free and organized.  I have come in each morning to a clean desktop, empty in-box, and a calmer workspace.  I still have more to do than I can get to, so the overwhelm still exists, but my workspace certainly promotes a calmer environment in which to feel overwhelmed.

What I haven’t done yet is to add mindless tasks to my daily schedule at work.  The study found that the effects were greatest when the mindless work was intermingled with the mindful work – the employees had to switch from mindful work to mindless work and then back again, in order to experience the increased efficiency and creativity.  Therefore, taking a morning to be mindless was great, but if I want to reap ongoing benefits, I should schedule the upkeep of my desk into my day on a regular basis.

Will you try this?  Have you tried this?  How did it affect you?  What mindless tasks do you have on your schedule?

I’m very disorganized, and I know exactly why

disorganized paper

…what my paper problem feels like

I love all things Organize. Anything at all relating to organizing. Books, blogs, articles, products… I love ’em. I have so many books, bookmarked blogs, Pocketed articles, and yes, products, that they’ve become clutter, and now contribute to my chronic disorganization.

Just last night, I was trying to find the invitations I’d purchased for my daughter’s birthday party, and I knew right where I’d put them (to keep them safe, of course), but they weren’t there. I knew I’d placed them in the spot where I was looking, but when they didn’t turn up there, I didn’t trust myself enough to believe that I would have left them there. That trust would have prompted me to check in the immediate vicinity, and without it, I began a whole house search for the invites. My clever husband checked behind a nearby play kitchen, and found them wedged between the cabinet and the back of the play kitchen. Whew!

I believe that part of my problem with being disorganized at home (because I’m incredibly organized at work) is that I have never paid much attention to how I or my family actually function in our home. I’ve read enough organizing advice to know that every organizing system will fail if it doesn’t match up well with how a family actually lives.

Monitoring how we live and discerning why the clutter piles up has always seemed like so much work that I have never devoted any time to it at all. I just make assumptions about stuff, and institute a new organizing solution. When that solution fails, I get frustrated, but move right along to the next one. And the next one. And the one after that. I can’t tell you how many mail sorting solutions I’ve instituted, and abandoned. The one we have now isn’t working, either. But it was expensive, and it looks nice, so I’m keeping it for a while longer. Not sure why, but I am. So there.

Knowing that the real solution to our clutter and organization problems lies in studying US, not our STUFF, I need to bite the bullet and just start really paying attention to how we actually handle ourselves and our stuff when we walk in the door. Oh, and I should probably place a moratorium on buying any new organizing products during this time frame, too.

Are you satisfied with your level of organization? Have you always been organized, or did you teach yourself how to be organized?

My revised laundry plan

Source: moderncountry.blogspot.comI have already established that I will not be winning any awards for having the tidiest house, despite having the most incredibly detailed weekly cleaning schedule on the planet. I also mentioned that I am trying to reframe my view on doing the dishes, so that I’m more apt to actually do them.

I made some good progress this past week on keeping up with the dishes. I wasn’t perfect about it, but I did get the dishes cleaned up more often than I didn’t, so I’m doing better than I had been. The past two days, I’ve even emptied the clean dishes from the dishwasher before leaving for work, so that my sweet husband can load the dishwasher throughout the day. And, if he doesn’t get around to doing that, I can load the dishwasher with their dirty dishes when I get home tonight.

So, now that I’ve made my peace with dishes and feeling good about that, I want to try to use that momentum to try to get back on track with laundry. For the past few months, my husband has been doing most of the laundry. However, his version of laundry and my version of laundry (when I bother to do it), are different. I like to take things out of the dryer immediately, and hang or fold them, so that I don’t have to iron anything. He doesn’t mind ironing, so he tends to leave laundry in the dryer for a couple days, and pulls that stuff out when it’s time to do the next load.

I can hardly complain since he’s doing my laundry for me, but I still get frustrated at having wrinkly, clean clothes. But, hey – rather than be grumpy about having to iron, I could take 10 minutes out of every couple days to do a load of laundry, right?

Let me explain how I get off track with laundry in the first place.

I have been working from a schedule where I do a load of laundry every day. Whites on Monday, lights on Tuesday, darks Wednesday, kid clothes Thursday, bath towels Friday, a rotating batch on Saturday (kitchen towels, dog mats, or bath mats), and bed linens on Sunday. The problem with this schedule is that once I do one week’s worth, the following week, I don’t have enough for a full load for the first four days, and then I’m immediately thrown off my routine.

I know I should simply be grateful that I don’t have to do a load of laundry every day for eternity, but if I don’t do the exact same thing when I get home every day, then I start getting into a different routine (sit on couch, play with kid, make dinner, go to bed).

So, I started to think – what if doing the laundry didn’t mean doing a load every single day, and I still followed my basic routine, but I did a load every other day, and the routine just took a bit longer to work through? I could still have a laundry chore every day – on day one I run the wash and dry cycles, and fold and hang the clothes, and on day two, I put the clothes away. Then I start the following day with the next load, and two days later with the next load… I’m still making my way into the laundry room every single day, which is the habit that I need to develop, but I’m not running out of clothes to wash, because my routine takes two weeks instead of one week.

Here’s my new two-week-long routine:

  • Monday/Tuesday – Whites
  • Wednesday/Thursday – Lights
  • Friday/Saturday – Darks
  • Sunday/Monday – Kid Clothes
  • Tuesday/Wednesday – Bath Towels
  • Thursday/Friday – Bed Linens
  • Saturday/Sunday – One of the following: Kitchen Towels, Dog Mats, or Bath Mats*

*I thought about doing two loads of my rotating batch items each cycle, but the reality is that for the past few months, I haven’t been washing these items at all, so washing one of them every 2 weeks seems like a huge improvement.

I’ve created a little printout of this routine and will post it above the washer/dryer, so that my husband and I both know what day is what, in case he has time on his hands and wants to help out with the laundry now and then.

Laundry routine

There are a bunch of clean clothes in the laundry room that need to be put away (thank you for doing laundry, my love!!!), so I’ll work on doing that tonight, before starting my routine mid-cycle with Darks tomorrow.

How do you keep up with laundry? Do you have a routine that you stick to? Or do you do laundry once a week only?

Keeping track of tasks when you’re overwhelmed

Charlie Gilkey may just be my favorite person on the Internet. Among many other wonderful things he has done, Charlie created a set of task management tools that actually makes sense to me.

PF PlannerI have tried so many things to keep track of all the projects, requests, random tasks and various things-to-do that are on my plate. I’ve made lists, created spreadsheets, added tasks to Outlook, just given up, and then tried them all again.

What I like about Charlie’s tools (including the original, revised, and newly revised versions) is that they guide me from the big picture to the minutia, in a logical, step by step manner, and they can be used independent of one another, in case I don’t know the big picture, or can’t face the minutia.

Let’s pause a moment to properly introduce Charlie. He runs a business, website and blog called Productive Flourishing. I found it a couple years ago, and have been a loyal follower ever since. I enjoy reading his blog, and find his advice easy to understand, though hard to follow (mostly because change is hard). My favorite thing about Charlie has to be the fact that he’s his own BS meter, and he calls himself out on occasion. I appreciate that in anyone doling out advice.

Anyway, Charlie has said that he initially developed these task management tools – he calls them planners – to help himself, and he tested them and refined them before putting them out there for others to use. He’s continued to refine them over the years, and the latest iteration is quite nice.

There are a number of versions of the planners – action planners, freelancer workweek planners, and blog post planners. There are also supporting documents like the individual project planner, the productivity jumpstarter, and the heatmap (this is an interesting tool that I tried to use, but I’m really not self-aware enough to get much out of it yet).

I’ve used both the action planners and the freelancer workweek planners, and now that I’m blogging again, I’m using the blog post planners. At work, I find that the monthly action planner coupled with the freelancer workweek planners are the best fit for me. I can give myself a plan for each week using the monthly view, and then flesh that plan out a bit more in the weekly view. I don’t get down to the daily view much anymore, as my days are not really my own (that’s just not the culture where I work).

I used to try to get to the daily level, but I was driving myself crazy with having to re-write half (or more than half) of my tasks onto the next day’s list. I was giving myself too many things to do each day, and it was only when I backed out to the weekly view that I started to give myself a bit of grace for things left undone on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, since I could see at a glance that I could get them done on Thursday or Friday…

In any case, I love these planners, and if you’re struggling with overwhelm, these are a really nice way to start to manage it. Plus, if you poke around on Productive Flourishing, there’s some great advice there, too.

How do you track all of your tasks, projects and various to-dos?