December / Organized Space Works - The Power of Habit

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness, concerning all acts of initiation and creation. There is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision. – Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

We are looking forward to a new year and as Oprah says another chance to get it right. The end of the year is a time for celebration and a time for reflection. Did you accomplish everything you wanted to do? Are you happy with how the past year went? What would you like to change?

Large bucket lists and overly ambitious goals are dauntingIt's human nature to resist reordering the status quoThe University of Scranton's "Journal of Clinical Psychology" cites getting organized as the number two resolution in the top three. Yet, only a small percentage of people achieve their resolutions. It's a good time to consider how we can inspire lasting positive change.

Small Steps of Kaizen
In my organizing work, I see firsthand how small steps lead to big results. This is Kaizen, the Japanese system of continuous improvement in management and manufacturing. Kaizen has been applied to healthcare, psychotherapy, life coaching, government, banking, and many other industries. Wikipedia notes that Kaizen literally means "good change," a daily process of productivity through small adaptations.

We can apply it to organization as well. Incremental improvement rather than innovation is the key. Charles Duhig, author of "The Power of Habit" says, "Small wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny advantages into patterns that convince people that bigger achievements are within reach." 

Organizing seems simple. Step one: Plan. Step 2: Organize. Step 3: Keep it up. Organizing requires work and once achieved, it is not a static accomplishment. My clients are thrilled when they see their organized homes and offices after each session. They soon realize if they want their spaces to stay organized, they need to focus attention on maintenance. A large part of organizing is creating systems and building skills to support new habits. It's helpful to prioritize so you can focus on modifying one habit at a time. Small steps. 

The Power of Habit
Duhig says, "Each person's habits are driven by different cravings. Change might not be fast and it isn't always easy. But with time and effort, almost any habit can be reshaped." He explains: "MIT researchers ... discovered a simple neurological loop at the core of every habit: A cue, a routine and a reward. His strategy: Identify the routine, experiment with rewards, isolate the cue, have a plan. 

The routine is the habit. The cue is not as simple. For Duhig's habit of eating a cookie every afternoon in the cafeteria, he questioned whether the cue was hunger, boredom, low blood sugar or just needing a break before moving onto the next task? He experimented with rewards. He tried a break with coffee at his desk, an apple in the cafeteria, a cookie at his desk, or a chat with someone nearby. Then he analyzed how he felt after each reward. He discovered a fascinating fact. It wasn't the cookie he craved but social interaction. Now, he stops work at 3:30 to chat briefly with an office mate. He found a way to substitute a healthier habit for a less desirable one.

Duhig concludes: "Sometimes change takes a long time. Sometimes it requires repeated experiments and failures. But once you understand how a habit operates – once you diagnose the cue, the routine and the reward – you gain power over it." 

How will you use the small steps of Kaizen and the power of habit to create a more organized life in the year to come? 

Great last-minute clutter-free gifts
Dance or yoga classes
Museum membership
Gift certificate for massage or manicure/pedicure
Cooking lessons
Savings bond or contribution to 529 college fund
Theater or concert tickets
Flowers, chocolate or wine 

Happy Holidays!


November / A Simple Holiday

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” 
– Leonardo da Vinci

The holidays bring up all sorts of emotions. Media leads us to have expectations that exceed what we can realistically hope to accomplish – more cooking, more entertaining, more shopping. The challenge is to enjoy the holidays for their simple, seasonal pleasures. My personal wish is to get to the country to see icicles on real fir trees, eat homemade pie and smell fires burning. That sounds like an ideal holiday to me.

A Collector's Tale
I like to cook and years ago, I decided I would throw parties throughout the season and even entertain all year round. Being a collector of beautiful old objects, I found antique porcelain and silver, vintage glassware and linens by scouring flea markets, thrift shops, estate sales and country auctions. 

I amassed a beautiful collection, worthy of an Edwardian country estate. The trouble is I live in a one-bedroom apartment in New York City, and I have no servants. Working to build my design firm, I had little time to entertain and certainly didn't need more pressure. 

I still love treasure hunting but years ago I reflected that I hadn't yet acquired the country house, which I had spent so many years outfitting. It was a worthy goal and I may still get that country estate – okay, more likely a small cottage – but I realized my fantasy wasn't serving me. If you have to collect something, antiques are fine things but they still get dusty. I had far too much of a good thing to enjoy, care for or even get to see. 

We have three times the space we had 50 years ago – yet affluence, inexpensive goods and our impulse to shop, collect and save – keeps us drowning in stuff. We’re geared toward acquiring, not letting go. I knew I had many goals and having all that stuff was getting in the way. 

My house was bulging with good things so I began to deaccession by selling at my local flea market. It's not for everyone and not certainly not easy but it has been great fun. I've met many fascinating people, tourists from all over the world as well as New Yorkers, and best of all, my treasures are finding new homes with people who cherish them as much as I do. 

The irony is my objects are traveling to far-off places more frequently than I am but I'm enjoying my things far more than I ever did before. Who knew? 

Rightsizing is Rewarding
I still own a considerable collection, even after years of letting go and it's probably more cohesive due to my editing. It's also rewarding to help young people see that there's more to furnishing a home than electronics and big-box furniture.  

The idea to downsize, or as we aptly call it now, rightsize, occurs to most of us at a certain age. According to Forbes magazine, “baby boomers, long known as master acquirers, are now learning a new skill: getting rid of excess stuff.” The trend toward simplicity and quality evolved as we came to understand how much energy, physical, mental and emotional, it takes to navigate a complex lifestyle with too much. 

More is Not More
Young people are attracted to electronics, clothes, shoes and handbags, as expressions of status and individuality. Older adults may be sentimental and accumulate inherited furnishings that crowd their spaces, keepsakes acquired over the years and craft supplies from hobbies they've left behind. Paper, books and piles mount as decisions become overwhelming.

One of my clients had a bin full of toddlers' toys she just couldn't part with, purchased for her grandchildren. Her grandchildren are now in high school, yet the toys were still in her home – gifts never given because they were lost in the clutter.

Professional organizers often say that clutter signifies postponed decisions. It may also represent unfulfilled dreams. We're all vulnerable because attachments to stuff is part of the human condition. Even cave people collected artifacts. 

Cull Your Collections
The designer, William Morris said, "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful." Are your collections beautifully displayed and dust free? Do you keep items you no longer love or use? End of year is good time to clear out and contribute to charity, while earning a tax credit. Your environments will shine as you make room for new interests by weeding out the old and creating space for the new year ahead. 

Memories Not Mementos
As you see, I'm all for a beautiful home and a bountiful table, especially during the holidays. I have a keen appreciation for fine things but interestingly research shows that experiences lead to happiness, not possessions. Why then do most of us feel compelled to shop for shiny new toys when we ultimately get greater joy from watching the skaters, baking a pie, or a strolling by the park after a snowfall.

This season, my inner voice tells me to take some time off, clean out my closets, ignore the shopping impulse, and simply find time for tea with my friends. Not an epic Downton Abby tea, maybe just Starbucks – in a paper cup.

Visit my Blog
To comment on this article or read past newsletters go to:

Connect with Me 
on Twitter or LinkedIn. 

Be thankful for all we have. I'm grateful for this community of friends and clients.

Have a Happy Simple Thanksgiving!


October  / Productivity 2

Work Smarter, Not Harder

Do you ever feel like screaming? Trying to do everything at once can make you angry. Many think multitasking is an asset and a skill to list on a resume. In actuality, the brain can't manage two intelligent activities at the same time. Studies show it slows us down, leads to errors, memory problems, and most important it puts us in constant high alert.

Multitasking is Perilous
Multitasking "creates a perilous cocktail of brain problems, from severe stress and rage in adults to learning problems and autism-like behavior in children," says John Naish, author of "Enough." Ironically, multitasking makes us less efficient because the human brain can't juggle. Instead, the brain switches frantically from task to task and that just makes us feel crazy. It causes chemical changes in the brain due to chronically raised levels of cortisolDr. Alan Keen, a behavioral scientist in Australia believes that multitasking is a significant reason that we are witnessing epidemics of rage, aggression and cardiovascular disease. 

Multitasking is Not Smart
If tasks are simple multitasking can work. You can listen to music and fold laundry. When tasks are more complex, it becomes impossible. Overloaded circuits cause a logjam in your brain so multitasking actually makes you less intelligent. Scientific research shows it can lower your IQ by ten points and you become 40% slower in problem solving. We are just not built this way. The more you multitask, the harder it becomes to ever concentrate and focus on intellectual tasks. It weakens the neural circuitry and we go on autopilot. Manic attention switching robs us of creativity.

Mind Management
Tony Schwartz, founder of The Energy Project says, the way we're working isn't working. Rather than working longer hours, juggling more tasks and emails, research shows we are meant to work in 90-minute intervals. "As every great athlete understands, the highest performance occurs when we balance work and effort with rest and renewal. Human beings aren't wired to be computers." After 90 minutes, we go into arousal state of fight or flight. His solution: focus single-mindedly on one high-priority task for 60 to 90 minutes preferably during the mornings. Then take a break

Try Something Different
This idea from Phillip Bregman, strategic advisor to companies like GE and Nike, appears in the "Harvard Business Review Guide to Getting the Right Work Done.Write everything on a piece of paper. Tackle all the fast and easy tasks in the first 15 minutes. Notice I didn't say the most important tasks. Just the ones you can finish fast. That should give you a burst of accomplishment. 

Next, take your most daunting task, the one that causes you the most stress or is the highest priority. Work on that for the next 35 minutes, without any interruptions at all. Turn all notifications off. No email, phone, snacks, etc. Forward movement should become possible. 

Then, take a 10-minute break and get away from your desk. Start the hourly cycle all over again with 15 minutes of quick actions. Let me know how it works for you.

Connect with me on Twitter or LinkedIn. 

If you need help with organizing, time management or project management, call me at 718-930-8111.

My business is built on referrals. Thanks for enthusiastically thinking of me when you hear someone has an organizing challenge. 


September / Productivity: The Month That Got Away

Have you ever been so busy that the basics fall away? That's what we experienced at OSW this month. This newsletter was scheduled for the first week of September – but since clients come first, it didn't happen. As I read the last of David Allen's three books on productivity, I take comfort as this world-class guru admits he gets overwhelmed every so often as well.

The Mind Sweep

The best way to regain control and perspective is to clear your head of all your tasks, events, ideas, projects and commitments. It's important to write them down or they'll create distracting thoughts that prevent you from focusing on the task at hand. The mind can't release all these thoughts until they are safely parked for retrieval at some point. Capturing, defining and categorizing every item on your mind is a simple but profound technique to free yourself for creativity.

Capture It All
Create a master list in random order, logging all your projects and tasks in a notebook or a computer document or app. The key word is all. Capture everything on your mind no matter how large or small the item. This is not to be confused with a daily list which includes just a few items for each day. Another method is to write each item on a separate piece of paper and place them in your inbox so you can review them later one at a time. You will organize and prioritize these items later. Index cards work well for this. The important thing is to capture everything going on your world, small and large, in a container or bucket. The inbox or master list is the container for all items whether it's writing a book or stocking up on cat food. I use both methods, capturing in my inbox daily and logging into the master list weekly. 

Batching is Best
If you have a number of calls to make, or errands to run, batch them so you can get them all done quickly. When leaving a voice mail, let the person know the best time to reach you and repeat your phone number twice, at the start of the message and at the end. When doing errands, plan your route strategically, with all errands in each neighborhood.

Projects vs. Tasks
A project is more than one step or task. Tasks can be more easily completed. If a task takes two minutes or less, do it now and cross it off your list. If there are many such two-minute tasks, schedule an hour to do as many of them as you can. You'll get a burst of energy knowing how much you've done, and you will be moving things forward as responses come in.

If a project looms large, planning is essential. Chunk each project into small steps, writing every thought or idea, even the very smallest detail, without worrying about the order. You can prioritize the steps later. This form of brainstorming uncovers new ideas, challenges and steps that will come into play. Each project may be more complex than originally anticipated so patience may be required. Every minute in planning saves ten in doing. During the discovery, you'll capture many of the tasks required and gain perspective on what it takes to complete the project. 

A Not-So-Simple Project
I need to have my desk chair fixed. Sounds simple, right? It was anything but simple. First, I had to do research online to find the maker (step 1) and then a call to the manufacturer, Herman Miller (2). Once I had two recommendations, I made calls (3 & 4) and played phone tag (multiple steps). I listened to voice mails and called again (5 & 6). Once I reached each and discussed the project (7 & 8), I was asked for the name of the chair and photos of the label and missing part. I searched for the chair online on the Herman Miller site (9), grabbed two photos from the website that clearly showed my chair (10), took several photos on my IPhone of the label and the area where the bolt was missing (11), uploaded the photos to my computer (12). Then I emailed the photos to each vendor (13 & 14) and waited for estimates. Once I reviewed the estimates (15), and called to ask a question (16) I make a decision on which vendor to hire (17), and they order the parts. Then they call to let me know when the parts arrive. More phone tag and voice mails. Next, I call back to schedule a time (18) so they can come to the home office and finally repair the chair. Eighteen steps later, my chair is whole again. Each step isn't difficult but there are many actions and decisions involved in even a simple project.  

Multiply that by dozens or even hundreds of projects we juggle. No wonder our brains go into overwhelm. Planning and organization help sort out some of the complexity of life and work. 

Creating Flow
Often it's challenging to start a project. We procrastinate when it's difficult or overwhelming. If we simply start on one step – any part of the project – we get a surge of confidence as we realize step-by-step it's easier than anticipated. Most projects loom large until we break them down into bite-size chunks. Once you begin, it's easier to attack it next time. Inch by inch, it's a cinch. Sometimes once you start, you can even move forward and get into the flow.

My Talks: Paper Piles & Decluttering
I recently spoke to a lovely group of residents at the Lincoln House Outreach community. LHO is a NORC, a naturally occurring retirement community. The first talk featured paper and how it seems to multiply when we're not looking. The second talk focused on clutter, how it comes in every day, and the benefits of decluttering to your stress level, health, and productivity. Finally, we talked about the steps involved to declutter any space. Like any large project, it needs to be planned, chunked and executed in small stages. 

I'm always on the lookout for organizations where I might speak. If you know of one, please let me know. 

Time Trouble
For those of you who have challenges with time (and who doesn't) I recorded a podcast called "Time is On Your Side" on a site called "It's All About Women." (It's just as relevant to men.) This site features therapists and other professionals giving support, inspiration and guidance. Let me know how you like the podcast. Here's the link:

Connect with me on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. 

If you need organizing help for your projects, I'm here.