I know. You’ve read it all before and you’ve seen it on TV. You know that you can’t get the most out of life if you have too much stuff. But you’re no hoarder. Sure, your closet and drawers and craft spaces are a bit cramped, but you’re not one of those people who never gets rid of anything.
“Why read another decluttering book?”
That was pretty much my attitude until I read the book Organizing Solutions for People with ADHD that I described in my favorite productivity books of the year post, I was completely enamored with its focus on practicality rather than Pottery Barn-beauty. After all, if it’s too much trouble to get something out of its pretty little container, you won’t use it. And if it’s too much trouble to put it back, your space will be messy in a hurry. That was me, so I was inspired to get rid of a lot of my excess stuff.
Here is why the book is not only helping me purge my home, but is helping me be more productive.
First, let me say that the spiritual aspect of the book is not for me and won’t be for most of my readers. My friend characterized it as anthropomorphic. Indeed. The author thanks objects for their service, for example. I’m all about gratitude, but I will give gratitude to Whom it is due. The majority of the woo-woo stuff is at the end of the book, thankfully, and by then you’ve come away with some real inspiration for simplifying your home and life.
#1 I’m only keeping things I love.
The author recommends asking yourself for each thing you own (especially clothing and books) if it gives you joy. For me, joy is a fruit of the spirit and not something I have as a result of wearing a particular sweater. But I got the point. I have enough clothing (and most of my readers do as well) that I don’t have to wear things that I’m not crazy about. I now ask myself,”Do I love it?”
The change that question has made is remarkable. Where I used to ask if it was “still good,” I now follow up the do-I-love-it question with “Will I wear it?” The result is I have donated or thrown away half my clothing. I was hanging on to thong underwear that I HATED, for heaven’s sake. Why? Because I had room for it. I knew I would never wear it, but I hadn’t asked myself honestly if I would. The second example was a formal dress I wore to our niece’s wedding. I wore it to a formal event for my husband’s business meeting out of the country as well. As I was packing it to take home, I realized that though I love the dress, I wouldn’t wear it again. The next formal occasion will likely be a family or business event and I won’t want to wear the same dress. I will want to buy new. So I donated the dress.
How does this apply to productivity?
First, I’m already enjoying a time savings. I didn’t realize until I got rid of so much clothing how much time I spend deciding what to wear. I’m a pretty decisive person, but when you go through things that you don’t like for one reason or another, it wastes time. Now I know that I love everything in my closet. As long as it’s appropriate for the season, I can grab and go and be happy.
The second way it applies is in principle. Just as I am not hurting for clothing, I am not hurting for free time. I do not work in a factory 12 hours a day. I don’t walk hours to get water. I am swimming in free time compared to many. So why am I spending time doing things I don’t love doing? Now don’t get me wrong. We all have to do things we don’t love doing. We have responsibilities or we can’t afford to delegate the things we don’t like to do. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about discretionary time. Shouldn’t it be spent doing things you really love?
In the same way I asked myself if I would wear something, I am asking myself if I’m going to do it any time soon. If not, I don’t really love it (at least not right now). It needs to get off my calendar and my to-do list.
#2 My family is only keeping things they love.
The author is pretty clear on not purging for someone else (though I’ve done it without the items being missed…). Instead, I decided to teach the kids what I’d learned. I encouraged them to go through all their clothes and only keep things they really loved and were sure they would wear.
I was in awe of what happened. The kids gave away brand new clothes I had purchased for them. In the past, I would have encouraged them to start wearing these clothes so I wouldn’t feel like a fool for buying them. But it had never worked anyway. I learned that no matter how much my boys want me to shop for them, I won’t do it. They will be coming to the store, choosing clothing, AND trying it on. They ended up keeping only the clothes I see them wearing.
My husband hung out in the bedroom with us while we went through clothes. It so happens that he keeps clothing in half the boys’ closet. He has had some of the clothes there for at least 25 years! I have NEVER been able to get him to part with them, though he doesn’t wear them. This time I asked him if he loved each piece. He insisted on touching most of the clothes (just as the author suggests) and he got rid of more clothing in half an hour than he has our entire married life!
I applied the same principle to the kids’ books. If they didn’t love them and weren’t going to read them, I had them remove them from their bookshelves. Now know that I’m a book lover. Some of the books I rescued to go on the future grandma shelf. The fact is that I do love some of those books and do plan to read them again. So that counts.
How does this apply to productivity?
First, I’m saving myself some time. The younger boys protest each week that they don’t have anything to wear to church. Why? Because they have too many clothes. They can’t decide. Now that their closets hold only clothes they will actually wear, I don’t have to run to the rescue every week. This time savings will continue to accrue as I purge more and more of our unloved things. We will have half the mess to clean up!
Second, I’m teaching my children a principle that will serve them well as they manage their own responsibilities.
#3 I’m folding clothes the right way.
I thought I WAS folding clothes the right way. I had purchased these folders for the kids that allowed them to put clothing neatly away. But it turns out that I was making more work for myself. Not only does folding the traditional way obscure what you own (so you end up buying more stuff than you need), but it makes a big mess when you remove something from the drawer.
Here is a demonstration of how to fold shirts the right way!
The graphic at the top of this post shows my workout clothes drawer with everything folded using this method. The bottom part of the drawer is folded more loosely because I don’t have as many shorts I love as shirts. I still have quite a few shirts, but I love and will wear them all. Promise! One thing I have noticed, though, is that I do go back and remove something I thought I wanted to keep. You will, too.
The kids took to this method immediately and love having organized drawers. In fact, their drawers look so empty that they didn’t make for good photos!
How does this apply to productivity?
First, I save time choosing clothes from my drawer and putting them away. I also don’t have to get on the kids as much about getting their laundry put away.
Second, I am realizing how important it is for everything to have an accessible space. That goes for tasks, too. One of the hacks I shared is to make sure your work space is comfortable. Make sure your tools are easy to use and put away and you will be motivated to get more done. I actually enjoy putting my clothes away and I enjoy writing every morning because the space is accessible.
After tools, I get most excited about little tricks I discover for saving time or getting more done. These are six of the discoveries I made last year that you may want to try:
#1 Make your environment inviting
I am extremely cold averse. As I was setting up a writing office in my basement, I kept thinking about the cold and about how unwilling I am to use my scrapbooking desk because it’s right by a door that lets all the cold air in. So I bought my own space heater that can direct warm air my way and HELLO, I’ve my fanny in my warm chair ever since.
Maybe temperature isn’t your problem, but lighting or seating is. Make the needed change and see if you aren’t more productive.
#2 Use a year-long wall calendar
I bought a jumbo, full-year, dry-erase calendar for the wall above my desk. Suddenly a year didn’t seem so long–especially when I added important dates like vacations, blog post deadlines, and goals. The advantage of seeing time this way is I am less likely to procrastinate! It’s also easier not to overload your calendar when you see the big picture. I originally planned to write two blog posts a week. When I saw it on the wall, I realized that would mean much less accomplished on my homeschool curriculum. I cut back my planned blog frequency for most weeks to one.
#3 Get more sleep
When I did Body for Life, I cut my sleep back to seven hours. I really did feel great during that 12 weeks, but I convinced myself that I only needed seven hours of sleep. Truth is, most of the time, it ended up being six to six and a half. I was wrong about what I needed physically and emotionally. As hard as it is for me to be sleeping by 10 p.m., I have been sleeping from 10-6 consistently for some time now and I feel amazing! I feel really stupid that I was making such an obvious mistake. I no longer feel exhausted by afternoon and am still productive.
#4 Randomize tasks when motivation fails
There are times when I just don’t feel like doing what I’ve scheduled for the day. This is especially true the later in the day it is and the more tasks I feel I need to do. At these times, I go to Random.org or use the iPhone app and generate a random number using the number of tasks I want to address as my range. The rule is I have to do at least something on whichever task I land on. If I can’t do that task for some reason, I do the next one on the list. This method has the advantage of helping me to complete tasks I would ordinarily procrastinate on.
Give it a try!
#5 Do the most important things in the morning
I kept thinking I didn’t have time to write curriculum (one of my most important things) in the morning. I work out, eat breakfast, chat with my husband, do personal devotions, and shower first thing before doing chores and homeschooling. I saved my writing time for the afternoons and it worked! I was motivated and energetic to write in the early afternoons. The problem was that something else always seemed to crop up in the afternoon, so I couldn’t write. I realized that those other activities wouldn’t interfere with my writing time if I did it early morning.
So I decided to workout in the basement and immediately go to my basement writing desk. It worked! I consistently get an hour of writing in during early mornings. I did have to give something up and that was chatting with my husband. For many people that wouldn’t be a wise tradeoff, but my husband works out of our home. I talk with him all day, including a little later in the morning. He enjoys reading his Bible and the paper while I write.
#6 Organize by day
I used to do certain types of tasks on particular days of the week and I got away from it. It makes life so much easier and more efficient. When a finance-related email comes in, it’s dated for Mondays. I can do them all in batches without adding a context tag or wondering when a good day is to do them. I am also doing blogging tasks on Thursdays. Everything else that isn’t urgent is ignored. What an amazing feeling of peace that gives me! To top it off, I feel like I have an abundance of time to get my tasks done. Trying to do a big mix of tasks adds to my feeling of overwhelm.
I love productivity books, blogs, and podcasts, but I REALLY get excited about productivity tools that make my life easier. Here are six that I was crazy about in the past year that you may want to try too.
Scheduling is the number one way I get things done now. But because I always tend to overestimate what I can accomplish in a day, I LOVE Timeful. I can automatically determine what I can reasonably do and at the same time, get suggestions of when to do certain tasks or habits I’m working on.
A second benefit of Timeful is that I have a record of what I’ve actually done during the day as I have a Timeful calendar set up to sync with Google.
This is an app I recently discovered and it’s perfect for reminding me of things I want to do regularly. Unlike most other apps, it isn’t annoying. The UI is gorgeous and the app functions like a nice friend who gently suggests I do something I said I wanted to do.
I use this app every day for chore management. I’ll explain how in a future post. But the app saves me enormous time refereeing squabbles with my kids! I also use it when I’m feeling stuck and unwilling to follow my schedule. I’ll explain how in tomorrow’s post on productivity hacks.
Focus at Will is a website and app that produces music to help you focus and get more done. Unlike most music websites, Focus’s mission is to keep you from noticing the music at all. In fact, if you notice it, you’re supposed to skip to a different track.
Focus offers a free trial. During mine I determined that Ambient noise works best for me. While I was enjoying increased productivity, I wasn’t enjoying the music. So I tried listening to Pandora while I worked. MUCH better! I enjoyed the songs so much that I would stop and sing along and then I would research the artists and would be sure to take the time to give a thumbs up to songs I liked. Whoops.
I went back to Focus@Will and absolutely love that I can set a timer for a work period and can then report how focused I was. Unless I’m interrupted by someone, I find 100% focus. If I’m around the kids, I wear headphones. If not, I play it over my computer speakers. I would love to know if it works as well for work away from the computer. If you try it, let me know!
I bought this tablet with a keyboard that looks like a netbook on Cyber Monday for a mere $260. I cannot express how crazy I am about it, particularly because it uses the full Windows operating system. One of my huge frustrations with the iPad as a writing tool is that isn’t possible. I am using it only for reading and writing. I had a large monitor and full-size keyboard that I wasn’t using, so I set up a desktop work station at home like this.
When I’m ready to write on the go, all I have to do is turn it off, unplug it, and pop it in my purse. One of the first things I downloaded was Scrivener which I also can’t recommend enough for writers.
A friend sent me a link to this at the end of the year and I was so excited about it, I had to order it. What I love about it is the huge emphasis on goals. Every month and every week, you are asked to specify your goals, why you want to achieve them, and the steps needed. There are also half-hour blocks all day for planning time. Sometimes I want to see what I’m doing on paper, rather than on my little iPhone screen. This is just the ticket!
The paper of this planner is like silk. It works perfectly with my Frixion pens.
I do NOT get up at 5 AM, but I don’t have to in order to enjoy this fabulous podcast. Jeff talks about a variety of topics such as exercise and nutrition, but is focused on productivity. I love the quick tip he shares each episode and the experts and books he introduces to readers. He motivates me to get up early and get things done first thing in the morning.
I wish I had listened to Jeff’s podcast before I started my own and it would have been much improved. (My Homeschool Sanity Show podcast is currently on hold as I work on developing homeschool curriculum).
Hugh has not been producing new episodes in the past month or so, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll enjoy a binge listen of the archives. Like Jeff, Hugh does a great job of sharing basic principles in a personal, motivating way.
I come away from his podcast feeling that productivity is really quite simple and nothing to be stressed about.
I really enjoy listening to Erik’s interviews with top productivity names as well as people I don’t know. Whereas many other podcasts go off-topic frequently, this one doesn’t. So if I need a shot in the productivity arm, this is the podcast I listen to.
Erik has a very guy-next-door persona. You come away thinking, “If he can do it, so can I.”
I’ll admit it. I love Francis’s accent. But even more, I love the enthusiasm he brings to his interviews. He seems honestly fascinated by his guests and their expertise and having been one, I can tell you it’s a pleasure to share with his listeners. He hasn’t taped interviews in several months as he has completed his new book, but there is plenty to entertain and inspire you in the archives.
I love how Gospel-focused Loren’s podcasts are. You come away from listening feeling refreshed, as though you’ve spoken to a trusted friend. He did a three-part series with Matt Perman of What’s Best Next that you may enjoy and shares how he lost 100 pounds in another episode.
The truth is, we don’t always have time to read full-length books to improve our productivity. That’s where blogs come in. In just a few minutes, we can have the inspiration we need to get more done. Here are six of my favorite blogs from last year that I recommend (in no particular order).
These epic blog posts are like mini books on specific topics incorporating research, videos, and tips. Very impressive as I know just how long these kinds of posts to write. Therefore, I don’t write them.
This post on how to stop procrastinating is an example. If you watch the videos and read all the enticing link, you will BE procrastinating. Just warning you.
But for me, this is a year of being truly productive and realizing the dream of writing and publishing my own curriculum. (For you homeschoolers and parents with kids in elementary school, I will share more as soon as I can.) For now, I came up with a compromise. This week I will share 5 posts about my productivity favorites of the year. These are the books, websites, podcasts, tools, and hacks that I loved (that didn’t necessarily come out last year) that I think you might enjoy too.