It’s a New Year, and a New Decade. (Yes, I know there are two schools of thought on whether or not the decade ends now or next year. I’m picking “now”.) There’s so much to look forward to in our future, but our “2020 Vision” can be made even more clear if we look to the past, identify what’s NOT working for us, and develop a strategy to let those bad habits go.
When it comes to being productive and organized, which of course, is what I help people do every day, I thought I’d share my Top 10 habits to declutter out of your life as you move into the next decade.
Saying “Yes” when you really mean “No”. There is one thing we know for sure: you might think you know your priorities, but they are really wherever you spend your time. If you’re spending time on things that are not important to you, if you’re saying “yes” to voluntary obligations that are taking away your time, energy, and maybe even money, you’re not serving your priorities. This might mean social events, volunteering, or even saying “yes” to above-and-beyond tasks at work that don’t have value (aka “Collateral Duty”)… a “yes” to something means an automatic “no” to something else. Change that paradigm. Understand that saying no might mean honoring the “yes” you really want to have in your life.
Pretending you’re good at multi-tasking. One of the greatest hoaxes perpetrated is the idea that we can multitask. We can’t. There have been lots of studies, often focusing on the COST of multitasking as a way to implore people and companies to STOP doing it, stop creating environments in which it’s required for success because you just won’t get there. The estimated cost to the global economy is $450 billion a year, tied up in wasted time, fixing errors, and the slowness that can come from juggling too much.
And the ’10s decade made this worse with the proliferation of Smartphones.
Smartphones exacerbated the situation, but the science was already clear: Multitasking has decreased our attention spans over time. And that costs us. Between the time and attention to switch tasks, to activate and focus on the next task, disengage from that task, switch tasks back, and re-activate, we’re losing time and it’s costing us more in time and energy had we just stuck with one, completed it, and moved to the second. More than this, often this “second task” you’re trying to juggle was an unplanned interruption. Studies show that the average time an interruption takes to finish that emergent task is over 23 minutes… and chances are, no one expected that this “quick” task was going to take that long out of your time and your energy. And it adds to the stress of feeling like we just can’t keep up.
Complaining that you are too busy and don’t have enough time, but seem to find plenty of time for things like TV and social media. Like I said above, your priorities ARE where you spend your time. For a lot of us who feel like we don’t have enough time, we know in the deepest darkest corners of our mind that this isn’t true because we know we make time for the meaningless (even if entertaining or educational) distraction that comes through a device or TV. If you’re feeling like you want to get more done in 2020 but don’t think you have the time, take an honest check of how much time you’re spending on your phone (did you know your phone probably has a setting that can tell you that), your computer, playing video games or watching TV,
Thinking everything has to be perfect before you start a project. People who really struggle with perfection know that there’s nothing “perfect” about living like that. In this case, the idea that you can’t get started on a task or a plan until you know exactly where you’re going, you have every tool you need, and you know how the bumps in the road will be handled can be a huge limiting factor to ever starting at all. When you find yourself saying “I can’t do this because _______”, check yourself as to what is behind that reason. If you’re waiting for things to be all in line and perfect, you’ll never get there, because you’ll never start. “Perfect is the enemy of the good,” and finding your “good enough” can bring you more success in the 20’s because you’re actually STARTING.
Believing you’ll get to something “later”. I’ve written about this before: Later is the worst. There are few words in the English language that have allowed us to abdicate responsibility for our own future success than this word. It’s the magic word that seduces us into opting out of all sorts of choices and *it* knows that tasks we put off until later can take more time and energy than doing it now. We put off current discomfort for future discomfort which can grow in size. If this is something that sounds familiar, you know the ways in which putting things off until later has impacted your life. It puts time crunches on you when you least can afford them. It creates inconveniences, which create stress. Giving in to “later” is not good for our productivity or our mental health. And it’s very possible you don’t even realize how often you’re using this tactic to cause your own time management issues in your life.
Buying things without already knowing where its “home” will be. When I look around in people’s homes and they’re upset about how their home makes them feel, there’s a really good chance I’m going to see some piles, piles on surfaces, on floors, on furniture. When we start to investigate the contents of the pile, many items are revealed as “I don’t really know where to put this” or “I’m not sure where this should go”. (Of course, some are “I was going to deal with that later…” — see #4 above for that one). The math is simple: if you bring things into your house that don’t have a place to go, they’re never going to get to that place on their own, and they will surf through piles and stashes indefinitely. Reducing piles helps your life be less chaotic. If you’re buying or bringing something into your home without thinking at that moment where its home will be, you’re adding to the chaos you may already be feeling. Think about a home before you add it to your physical or digital cart.
Better yet, buying most of what your “stuff” buying includes today. Obviously, I spend a lot of time talking with people about their stuff — how much they bring in, how much they keep long after it serves them, and what the amount of that stuff does to their lives and the way they use their home. We work through those decisions and how to live with less, because “less” is what they are craving for a simpler, happier life. But part of that isn’t just about dealing with what you own, it’s about taking action, or rather, taking inaction, when it comes to bringing more things into your home. It’s better for you and for the planet. Think twice, think three times, even, before you’re making an impulse buy or buying something to fill a short term need or a whim. Shifting attention from “want” to “need” can help you stave off the future chaos in your home.
Holding onto things that make you feel bad about yourself. This is one of the most remarkable parts of working with people in their homes. When we come across an item that clearly brings up negative feelings – feelings about themselves or about someone else – I often question what the value is that the item is bringing which could possibly outweigh those feelings and have it earn its keep in the house. These items might be reminders of people, old souvenirs or gifts. It might be the clothes you’re keeping in your closet that don’t fit, likely won’t fit, and you feel like a failure when you see them. If you come across something in your home that you just don’t like, please take a moment to ask yourself why you’re making room in your life and your home for it. (Side note — while you could probably replace the word “thing” with “person” in this paragraph, that’s less for you and your professional organizer to discuss, and probably more a good conversation for you and your therapist… but the math may still apply.)
Thinking you can rely on your memory. It’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned over the past few years: if it’s important enough to do, it’s important enough to write down. You may pride yourself on having a great memory, but those distractions I mentioned earlier? They’re eating into your working memory. Working memory is that part of your brain that reminds you what you just did, are doing now, and doing next. It’s the part that helps you remember why you came into this room in the first place and what you were going to get at the grocery store and whether or not you already took your pills or added salt to the soup. Our working memory gets more taxed each day and year, and it’s time to acknowledge that writing things down — on paper or electronically — and then REVISITING that reminder is going to be the key to your future self being a happy one. Stop kidding yourself when you say “Oh, I’ll remember.” The whole reason you’re having that internal dialogue at the moment is because the evidence would reflect that you won’t, and your brain is trying to beg you for a 32nd chance.
Staying up late and hitting the snooze button in the morning. I don’t need to tell you that proper sleep is not only a key way to make your body and brain work for you, but when and how you sleep will dictate how the rest of your day will go. There are a thousand studies about how going to bed late is not about making more of today, but about already ruining your tomorrow. Late nights, especially those where you’re giving yourself permission to mindlessly surf social media on your phone, is a punishment, not a reward, for a long day, because of how it is already setting you up for failure tomorrow. As for the snooze button, when you’re body is triggered to wake up, either with an alarm or naturally, it is processing its “wake” cycle. Hitting that snooze button and thinking you’ll just get a few more zzzs in interrupts your body’s processing for getting awake, and can set you BACK more than the extra 10 minutes of sleep you think you’re sneaking in. It will leave you groggier for the day and can take hours for that grogginess to wear off.
2020 is a new year, a new decade, but you’re not going to reinvent yourself overnight! As you read through this list, find the one or two habits that you know have contributed to some struggles in your life in the last decade, and think about what a commitment to make incremental improvements in this space would take and would bring you. I’d love to hear about yours!
It’s not too late to join the 7th Annual 2020 Clever Girl Organizing Challenge! Sign up through Sunday, January 5th to take control of your home and your life again!