Learn how to better organize the small daunting tasks in your life with Be Organized: Reclaim 90 Minutes of Your Day, Every Day (Cedar Fort, 2018) by Marie Ricks. This book helps readers to discover ways to handle on the small tasks they face daily instead of putting them put off. If you struggle with overwhelming tasks everyday then you will find new creative ways to help de-stress and declutter everyday life. This excerpt can be found in chapter 9, “Panicked to Paced” and chapter 12, “Flustered to Finished.”
Simplify at All Levels
Many of you have “muddy bogs” in your routines, schedules, and habits.These are places where you approach life with too much chaotic spontaneity. As with all the other projects you are engaging in as you learn how to be organized, always look for ways to simplify your life. Here are four additional directives and their application to a regular family issue:
1. Eliminate. Eliminate from your wardrobe any difficult-tokeep-up or time-consuming pieces of clothing. An example would be a blouse that needs to be ironed before it can be worn.
2. Reduce. Reduce unneeded clothing items you have out and about by storing off-season items either in the back of your closet or in deeper storage areas of your abode.
3. Postpone. Postpone filling out your wardrobe (no matter what the fashion experts say!) and stick to about a dozen tried-andtrue outfit combinations, especially during times of financial drought or emotional stress.
4. Systemize. Finally, systemize your professional and casual wardrobe by rotating through outfits so you will know what to wear tomorrow and even next week without having to think about it each morning. Do you have other places where you can simplify, such as bill paying, mending, food management, or paperwork? If so, think through the four steps to simplification: eliminate, reduce, postpone, and systemize.
Make Your Day Like a Dance
Sometimes you begin your day frazzled and frustrated. This challenge can be overcome by approaching your day like a dance—and a lovely one at that.
Dress one level higher. One way to make your day more like a dance is to dress one level higher than your mood, so even when you are doing the laundry, tending to the garden, cleaning the dishes, or taking care of the children, you feel a little prettier. This small adjustment in dress will save you time, because you will tend to get at projects sooner, stay at them longer, and get them done quicker.
Practice a skill. Second, let’s agree that there are certain personal home responsibilities you really don’t like. It might be dusting, vacuuming, laundry, or dishes. It might even be all four of those things! To get your daily dance going, focus on learning the dance steps to one of these challenges. Sit down and write out why the organization skill is tough for you. Look at the chore and see what you can do to move from feeling panicked to finding a state of peace.
For example, let’s tackle dusting. Dusting is hard because it is an “invisible” chore. It is only noticeable when it doesn’t get done. It is also boring, so you might say to yourself, “I can avoid that chore for one more day.” When you take time to look at this problem, you may realize that you don’t have a good dusting glove and that touching dust with your fingers gives you the creeps. So you can add two dusting gloves to your shopping list and solve that problem. Then you may realize that you don’t mind dusting the family room because there aren’t a lot of flat surfaces to worry about, but the living room is nothing but trinkets that need to be picked up, dusted under, and put down again. By removing half the trinkets and rearranging them a bit, you could dust that room in half the time.
Remember, small adjustments in your daily dance add up to minutes and hours over a week’s time. Look at your routines and see what you can do to make jobs easier to complete successfully. Do you need to buy better tools, paint a laundry wall to make the area cheerier, or organize toys so that daily cleanup is more pleasant?
Delete 10 percent of your commitments. When you dance through your day, there is an appropriate pacing and comfortable speed—meaning you are not trying to do too much in too little time. When you try to hurry, you often become frazzled. If you can downsize 10 percent of your pressures, there will be a significant improvement in your capacity to take care of your most important responsibilities.
For example, you might say, “I’d be happy to read to you, but it would be better for me to just read this much before you go down for your nap.” So look at your laundry habits, your dish routines, your menu planning, or your child-care patterns and focus on one that is particularly frustrating and makes you frazzled. Ask yourself what you can do to dress a little nicer, to organize a little bit differently, and to delete a little bit here and there so the feeling of control can return to your life while you dance through your day.
Start Less; End Earlier
As you become more organized, two important skills can aid in your journey. First, start less often, which means not starting up more in the beginning of the day than it is reasonable to finish by the end of the day. Second, learn to end earlier so you’re refreshed for transition into the next part of your day. Let’s look at examples of these two principles. Let’s say you have a complex summer ahead of you, including sponsoring a special-occasion breakfast. This would be a time when you don’t want to make any major mistakes, leave things behind, or retrace your steps without difficult challenges.
For things to work best for everyone, it is important to start less often. This means that during this focused time of preparation and packing, you wouldn’t also start up projects that can wait, such as a new quilt that needs tying, three dresses for the community play, and two chocolate cakes for a church function. Start less often also means “thinking it through” longer and not starting up more than you can finish in a reasonable time. As the stress rises and the complexity of difficult situations settles in, you will begin to worry. “Have I remembered everything? Will I have what I need when I need it? What will happen if I don’t think clearly?” When you move to the mode of “starting less,” you can do a sort of mental role playing.
In your mind, you can get up and dress yourself for the morning of the breakfast you are worrying about, thus confirming what clothes you will wear. You can walk through what tools and materials you might need for that day’s activities, thus clarifying what you need to put aside for those needs. You can mentally walk through the sequence of the day’s responsibilities, events, and pressures to see where you have holes in your thought processes, preparations, and possibilities. You can also decide what preparations are enough, because it is unlikely that you will be able to do much more before the big breakfast commitment takes place.
At times, you may have several pressing needs at once. During these more difficult times, you may want to prepare for all needs before the first begins, because there wouldn’t be much time between events to mentally prepare for the next. In addition, remember to stop to rest before you are actually tired. As stated before, it is better to quit and rest before you reach the end of your energy. It helps to stop just shy of being fatigued. You will recover faster and have more resiliency to return to your project or prepare for the next demand.
Organize to start less often by thinking the event through carefully, writing down your thoughts, and then committing to starting only as many projects as you are likely to reasonably finish. As you work, watch for the first signs of fatigue and respond to them by resting and reviving. These two skills will help take the strain out of stressful seasons. When worry sets in, turn your mind to role playing and reasoning. It can make all the difference. And if you do leave something undone or take a short break to rest, at least you will be a more pleasant, thoughtful person to be around, and you will also feel more confident with each day’s demands.
Learn to Finish Completely
There is great power in learning to finish. Surprisingly, as you become aware of this principle, you may find that you routinely live in a rather unfinished state. Practice finishing to save time and help tighten your organizational functionality. There are several kinds of finishing: the standards of finishing in daily habits, the skill of finishing yourself, and the ability to finish bigger projects.
Standards of daily finishing. Making decisions as a family about daily “finishing” standards can take a lot of stress out of life. When is a meal finished? When is the laundry finished? When is housework finished? Work with family members to set up standards that the whole family can support and practice to finish.
Skill of finishing yourself. Additional personal finishing skills are helpful in modeling finishing habits. Do you completely put away the groceries after a trip to the store? Do you finish at your desk and put away your paperwork when you leave that area? Do you hang up your coat and put away your gloves when you come in from a walk?
Finishing bigger projects. The challenge with finishing is that you are likely to start something, abandon the project to start another project, and then put that second project aside before it’s done to begin a third. As the day proceeds, you continue to start other things and then give those projects up before you get far with them. Your whole environment can be full of unfinished projects, paperwork, and purchases. The way to conquer this problem is to practice finishing, or at least bring your projects to a finishing place and put them away in a timely manner before other pressures descend.
For example, if you are cleaning out a cupboard, you will want to finish this project or bring this project to a place of partial finishing before the children get home from school and need help with snacks and homework. Then you can return to the project later in the evening or the next day. To practice, make a list of three home projects that need finishing. List the particulars needed to get each of these projects finished and spend the time necessary doing just that: finishing!
Retire from Putting Out Others’ Fires
Another useful skill is to stop putting out others’ fires. Solving others’ problems, their fires, can be frustrating. Sometimes you commit past your capacity, other times you feel socially obligated, and still other times you may be intimidated about having to help—or else. Let’s get some boundaries set and return to feeling in control again. How can you get a grip and what can you do to regain a semblance of order? There are specific steps for handling feeling confused, reducing intimidation as stress mounts, and regaining a semblance of control.
Stop and ponder. When you feel like you are just “putting out fires” instead of continuing with whatever you’re doing, take a few moments to stop and ponder. By stopping and figuring out what’s going on, you can get a grip. Whose problem is this, anyway, and how can I help them solve it instead of solving it myself?
You may be a bit more overwhelmed than usual because the laundry is overly large and your adolescent’s clothing has stains that look difficult to get out, or maybe you are confused because your son hasn’t decided what menu he wants for his birthday dinner later in the week, or maybe you are feeling stressed because three close friends are having differences and you are in the middle. When you feel overwhelmed, figure out what you need to do from that point forward to let others solve their own problems.
Create an action plan. If you are feeling misused, create a plan of action. “Okay, I’m in a confused state. It feels like I’m handling too many fires today. Exactly what will I do to get back to a place that’s more peaceful, where I feel more in control?” “OK, I am going to teach Rob how to get the grass stains out of his jeans.” “I’ll ask Eli to write up his birthday menu and give it to me by tomorrow.” “I’ll email my three friends, politely withdraw from my involvement, and suggest they get together for lunch soon to talk directly to each other about solving their issues.”
Making plans of action will help manage your life in the middle of a “fire season.” Face your increasing stress by stopping, pondering, and planning. “What is mine to solve? What fires belong to other people?” Then create a plan of action to give others back their own problems to solve. You don’t have to put out other people’s fires anymore. You will likely find that when you withdraw from being all things to all people, the world survives quite nicely without your “immediate” attention—and hopefully others will begin to put out their own fires.
Teach self-reliance. Teach your family members to come to you with both their problems and with possible solutions to those problems. This invitation helps them realize that their problems are their own to solve. Such a stance will help them on their way to independence and self-reliance—and save you time!
Keep Little Things Little
Sometimes your problems seem to grow out of proportion. Small problems seem to balloon, and you begin to feel emotionally overwhelmed. Employ the following methods to keep little things little.
Make a list of what’s on your mind. As soon as you realize you are feeling overwhelmed and emotionally unable to cope, sit down with a piece of paper, fold it in half lengthwise, and dump your troubles onto the left side of it (initially skip a line between all entries). This will help calm you down! On the left side of the paper, list everything that comes to mind, from the leaky faucets to the running toilets, to the need to fix dinner for company on Friday evening to buying a birthday present for that invitation that arrived over the weekend. Dump it all out, especially your feelings.
The list might include your guilt at having missed sending birthday greetings to your close friend, the expensive produce that tasted terrible, and frustration because your favorite pair of jeans has a new hole in the wrong place.
List possible answers.
On the right side, note what you can do to address or solve the problems listed on the left-hand side of the list, who you can approach to find answers to your needs, how you will handle the situation next time so you aren’t embarrassed, and on and on. Some of your right-hand list entries will say, “There is nothing I can do.” Knowing what can be done and what must be left alone is the first step to keeping little things little. (See “Emotional Dump List” form.)
You always want to move from problems to finding solutions and to regaining control again.
Decide where to use your energy. Take this list of what is bothering you and then plan how to tackle these sometimes emotionally overwhelming demands. In other words, use the right-hand list to employ the skills taught earlier in this book about prioritizing. Attach “A,” “B,” or “C” priority letters to each item on the righthand list.
Decide what “A” items to do on what days, what “B” items to leave until later, and what “C” pressures would be put aside for some distant “slower” period of your life. The notations on the right side of your list will guide your schedule as to which projects will receive your attention today, tomorrow, during the rest of the week, and into the upcoming month.
Some items will have to be postponed until the next month, and a few even longer. And some may never get done—because there is nothing to be done. The important principle is that you decide how you want to respond. Then, motivation to get up and get going often returns.
Schedule longer launch and landing periods. After you have set your “A,” “B,” and “C” priorities, add longer launch and landing periods to your calendar. While stress sometimes comes because of an emergency, it more often rises slowly and catches you in a hurricane of too many big projects, major activities, and other adventures. It is up to you to create or expand the “launch” and “landing” time bubbles so you can gear up successfully, come down and de-stress, get back to your regular routines, and otherwise “return” with appropriate pacing.
Remember, you are always going to be pushed by others to the very limit of what you will allow. If you allow less chaos, taking more time for “launching” and “landing,” you will still be respected and will be able to respond better because you are handling your pressures and responsibilities in a more orderly, “I can do this and this and no more, no sooner than this” method.
Re-emerge. After this short respite, you can usually re-emerge into your life. When you do, take a moment to notify those around you that things may need to be a little different: “No, I am not going to go to that meeting; yes, I am planning on a simple dinner; no, I won’t be able to wash those special pants until Saturday; yes, I would appreciate some babysitting help this evening; yes, I could use help folding and putting the wash away, getting a load of dishes going, and sweeping the kitchen floor.”
Remember, it is up to you to make life work for you and your family, in your workplace, and all throughout your life. You are in charge of taking back your life and making sense of it, over and over again. Take a break and recalibrate to bring answers and motivation back. Then, when you get going again, life suddenly seems to turn around and you can smile!
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Reprinted with Permission from Be Organized: Reclaim 90 Minutes of Your Day, Every Day and Published by Cedar Fort, Inc.