25 Itzy Bitzy Organizational Habits You Can Start Right Now.

The idea for this list started with the wonderful book by Caroline Arnold called Small Move, Big Change. The book starts off with Caroline recounting how as she enter her parent’s home, she hung her keys on the key hook. She was an adult and not living in the home anymore but she was on autopilot in hanging her car keys on the hook. I don’t know about you, but I always end up looking everywhere for my keys. The very first itzy bitzy habit I started due to this book, was to put my keys in a plate near the garage door. It took a few weeks but now even my husband puts his keys in that dish. Groceries and purse in hand, I still drop the keys in the plate as soon as I enter my house. Boom. Habit created. Now we are on autopilot and there is no need to think about it.

The point of these newfound habits is for it to become unconscious. When you spend anywhere from 2 to 4 weeks working on some small change, you are hard-wiring it into your brain. Once it’s hardwired, you do it unconsciously. There is no effort needed anymore. The key plate has been around for over 6 months and I really don’t even think about it anymore. So let’s get started on organizing your life one itzy bitzy habit at a time.

1. Put your keys immediately into a key plate, bowl or hook.
2. Put your shoes or slippers in the same location.
3. Put your clothes away immediately upon changing (this is for my kids).
4. Put dirty dishes in the dishwasher immediately (this is for my husband).
5. Make your bed.
6. Plug your cell phone in immediately after you get home.
7. Wish your friends happy birthday daily on Facebook.
8. Put packages and groceries away immediately.
9. Take out the garbage when it’s three quarters full.
10. Clean up as you cook.

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The other reason you want to improve your organizational habits is that it frees up space in your head. Clutter is contagious. Once a dirty coffee cup is left on the kitchen counter, it starts attracting dirty plates, forks and used napkins. Visual clutter is the same as mind clutter. You can’t think as well if you have clutter in front of you. You are given a 100 units of energy every day. So don’t blow them on making decisions about what to wear or what project to work on next. If you prepare the evening before, the next day goes smoothly. President Obama has two colors of suits to eliminate making minor decisions about what to wear. Don’t waste your precious 100 units on making minor decisions.

11. Plan you clothing the night before school or work.
12. Schedule your day first thing in the morning for 10 minutes.
13. Schedule your week Monday morning for 30 minutes.
14. Schedule a project out in small chunks over time.
15. Schedule training for a 5 k race on your calendar.
16. Straighten a room as you leave it (this if for my husband and my pillow fetish).
17. Store your reading glasses in a case (like this one from Thirty-One).
18. Keep one pen or pencil on your desk.
19. Keep pre-prepared client/customer/employee files ready for use.
20. Empty your car of trash every time you park.
21. Keep reusable grocery bags in the trunk of your car.
22. Keep business receipts in a designated section of your wallet.
23. Pay bills on a designated day of the week.
24. Water your plants on a designated day of the week.
25. Clear your desk at the end of the day.

I’m sure many of you already do some of these things so “Good for you!” It’s all about building on your already unconscious habits. Heck, that’s why the list is so long, so you can find one nugget to implement. Pick one and give it a few weeks for it to become your next autopilot.

Being there. 6 ways to pay attention.

Ugh. It happened AGAIN! You have no idea what everyone is laughing at because you are busy checking your smart phone for notifications.
You can’t go back. All you can do is smile and nod.
You missed yet another moment. You could have connected. You could have been included in that moment of fellowship. You could belong.
But no. Your phone is the center of your world. One little ding or lit up mailbox and you zone out of the real world.
This has got to stop. You’ve got to find your focus and start connecting with those around you. Now.

This topic came up for me as I read the book, Small Move, Big Change by Caroline Arnold. The book itself is about micro resolutions but one of the subjects in her book was a recently divorced father who had his kids every other weekend. They went away to a country house every other weekend and instead of spending time together, they ended up spending the weekend with their technology instead of with each other. Have you experienced this? I have. So the father started the resolution that they could only spend an hour a day on technology and then, all the phones and tablets went into a basket. The three kids baulked at first (who wouldn’t) but after two weekends, they started looking forward to the time they spent together “being there” together. Board games, hikes, charades, conversations….sounds like heaven.
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So here is how to get your attention back:

Focus your attention on every little action like you are in love. Arnold quotes acting guru Stella Adler. She writes that in an acting class Adler said, “How can you tell when someone is in love? How can you tell? You can tell because they pay attention. They pay attention to their lover’s every action, gesture and expression. So if you are playing someone in love, give the love object your complete attention in a scene. Even if you aren’t looking at your object directly.” As I write this, I am watching my dog. Is she by my foot or in another room? Is she wagging her tail or is she on the hunt. Take note of every action.

Take a technology sabbatical. I’m not sure when my children will be home next but I’m really thinking about taking a cue from the father in Arnold’s book and taking a technology sabbatical. I know I personally leave my phone in the kitchen to charge at night. At least my sleep is getting my full and undivided attention. But creating space to be devoid of any distractions from the world outside can obviously be very powerful. Perhaps it’s a “no phones during meals” rule or “no technology after 7 PM” rule. Create space to be technology free.

Create something worthwhile and positive. Rick Hanson says in his book Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom, “Attention shapes the brain.” Your brain cells are growing based on what you focus on. So what are you creating in your brain? Are you creating negativity by focusing on the latest news story or dwelling on the job opportunity you didn’t get? Or on the latest decision by your boss that you don’t agree with? Hmmm. I’d rather create something more positive in all that grey matter. Be careful about what you are creating.

Attention is not critical. Judgment is. Attention is neutral. In Alison Shapiro’s Psychology Today article Paying Attention, “Attention is not critical. Judgment is. Attention is neutral. We begin to pay attention to something and then we start to judge it, evaluate it, categorize it and, yes, generally ‘criticize’ it. But judging, while certainly useful, is not attention. Judging involves an underlying assumption that our purpose is ultimately to categorize and take action.” This neutrality is complete acceptance. Funny, I’m really good at this when coaching a client but not as good when this comes to my children’s individual decisions. Quit judging and stay neutral.

Welcome Everything; Push Away Nothing. Shapiro quotes her teacher, Frank Ostaseski, “Welcome Everything; Push Away Nothing.” This lines up with the “Yes…and” philosophy of CRR Global. This is total unadulterated acceptance. Arms open wide to take in everything with no qualifications. No trying to tinker and change something. No resistance. No squinting and squirming. It’s similar to Byron Katie’s “Love what is.” Notice, accept, withhold judgment and welcome what is.

Be completely and utterly present. The whole problem with technology and the constant bombardment of information is that it takes us out of the moment. Out of the present. Listen for the farthest sound. Feel your big toe come in contact with the floor. Feel the rush of hot, humid air against your cheek. Listen for the sigh from your sleeping dog. Watch the squirrel leap from the branch to the roof. Now. Right now. Be there.

So now when you’re at that meeting. You are going to be jubilant.
Connected.
Aware.
Present.
You’re not tied to that phone and it’s deceiving notifications.
You’re leading the story and the laughs are around your nuanced spin.
You’ve got the world by the tail. Feels pretty good doesn’t it?

Originally published on Change Your Thoughts on September 11, 2015

7 Ways to Kick Decision Fatigue to the Curb

You’re standing at your local grocery store and all you want is a box of Ritz crackers.
Problem is that there are 17 varieties of Ritz in front of you on the shelf.
Dang it! All you want is a box of Ritz crackers.
You don’t want football shaped.
You don’t want whole wheat.
You don’t want low fat.
You don’t want hint of salt.
You don’t want bacon flavored (OK maybe you do but not right now).
You don’t want Fresh Packs.
And you don’t want Ritz Bits.
You want to throw your hands up in disgust or pick up the first box that your hand reaches for. Heck, you can work bacon into a dessert recipe, right?
So after reading through countless labels and searching 6 shelves of red boxes,you find the box of Original Ritz on the bottom shelf.
How much brain matter did you exhaust on that little foray into Ritz hell?
Time to eliminate all those decision perhaps?

Kick Decision Fatigue to the Curb

Here are the 7 ways to kick your decision fatigue to the curb:

1. Wake up earlier. You make better decisions in the morning AND you fair better if you get the earliest appointment whether it’s a court hearing (Judges are more lenient in the morning) or a job interview (earlier candidates are selected more often). Everyone has a clearer head in the morning and, apparently, are more charitable.

2. Exercise early in the day. I know it doesn’t seem like it when you are just getting on the treadmill at 5 AM but you will be more energized throughout the day if you exercise early. Research shows that exercise increases mental acuity for up to 10 hours. Why hand over that acuity to the late night news or your pillow?

3. Pick out your clothes the night before. Why make decisions first thing in the morning or, worse yet, while you are trying to sleep? Hmmm. Should I wear the new sweater or the old blouse? If I wear red will it be too overpowering or perfectly enticing? These are not things you want to be thinking about while you toss and turn. Decide the night before and rest easy.

4. Curb your choices. Have the same breakfast every day of the week. Have only one pair of running shoes and one style of socks. Have the same well-oiled routine every morning to get out the door. The more times you have to stop and decide, the more you get depleted. Eliminate as many choices as possible.

5. Simplify your choices. Take that shopping list of yours and go to some place that has like 4,000 different products versus 50,000 different products. Where is that? Trader Joes. They simplify your choices. I can guarantee you they don’t have 17 varieties of Ritz crackers. In-N-Out Burger has burgers and fries. DVR some select TV shows and quit your channel surfing. That’s it. Less decisions means better cognition. Simplify.

6. Know when enough is enough. You know when you are depleted. Long day at work? Just spent 3 hours in a car? The meeting ran long and you still need to buy dinner are the store? These are bad times to make decisions. You have to acknowledge it to do anything about it. My daughter is famous for saying “Mommy you’re getting hangry (re: hungry and angry) aren’t you?”. Perhaps we should go out for dinner. Maybe a frozen pizza will work. Eggs for dinner might be perfect. You need to know so you can head that bad decision off at the pass.

7. Start with one thing. Don’t take this whole list and start working out at 4:30 AM, purchase 7 pairs of black pants and buy a Ninja to make fruit smoothies every morning. Pick one. Maybe two but NO MORE. As Caroline Arnold writes in her book “Small Move, Big Change”, making one or two small changes is much easier to take on and be successful. But start.

I have made a grocery list every Saturday for years. I know what we are having for dinner and plan it all out Saturday morning. So only the weather will impact what we have for dinner, so if there is lightning, I won’t be standing outside by the grill.

Keep that decision fatigue out of the picture so that you can optimize the more important decisions in your life and let the other ones slide into auto pilot.

5 Surprising Reasons You Need To Delete “Sorry” From Your Vocabulary

I’ve been focused for the last week or so on how often I say sorry. It turns out I’m not as bad as I expected and I realized I’ve done a good job of taking it out of my vocabulary. Originally, I became aware of my apologetic behavior after reading My Life in France by Alex Prud’homme and Julia Child.  If a dish goes horribly wrong, like a ”vile” eggs Florentine she once made for a friend, Julia instructed, ”Never apologize.” Sometimes I forget to season the food, one time I forgot to put the chicken base into a soup and it was basically water with some vegetables floating in it. I bit my tongue. To apologize as Julia espouses only makes it worse. ”The cook must simply grin and bear it,” Julia said firmly. And act as if you intended it that way.5 surprising reasons you need to delete This apologetic behavior came up in another book by Caroline Arnold called Small Move, Big Change. Arnold’s book is about micro resolutions but one of the resolutions she took on was to stop apologizing. She found that every time she apologized to her husband it put him on the defensive. I never thought about that. I always looked at an apology as taking responsibility but really you end up making the other person (the receiver of the apology) feel diminished. That seems counter intuitive but think about it. If I apologize for forgetting to pick up the dry cleaning, my husband will feel like he was putting me out to begin with. Like he was demanding the dry cleaning and I must fall on the sword to take responsibility. It’s just dry cleaning. As Arnold recommends, just give the information and let it go. “I forgot to pick up the dry cleaning.” Done. So here are the surprising reasons you need to delete “sorry” from your vocabulary: 1. Inauthentic. It makes you come across as inauthentic. Especially when you are apologizing for the weather or for your in-laws being late. Are you really responsible for the weather? Are you clairvoyant? Because if you aren’t then why are you apologizing. “I’m so sorry it’s so hot and humid.” Think about that statement in the middle of July in Eastern North Carolina. Ridiculous and inauthentic. 2. Manipulative. I think every mother is guilty of trying to manipulate their children by apologizing. “I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to clean your room while I slaved away on a three course meal after a full day of juggling away at work while suffering from a wretched cold.” Right. Perhaps you are just trying to make your child feel guilty. Apologizing is manipulative. 3. Filler. It’s a filler word that we think is polite like please or thank you. But it’s really not polite. I was putting some things away the other day and brought a tool to my husband and asked where he wanted me to store it. He told me that he would take care of it and my reflexive answer was “sorry.” I caught the word in my mouth and said “No, I’m not sorry.” He looked relieved. Why in the world would I apologize? There is nothing wrong with getting things back to where they need to be stored and there is no reason to apologize. 4. Excuse. Julia considered it unseemly for a cook to twist herself into knots of excuses and explanations. Such admissions ”only make a bad situation worse,” she said, by drawing attention to one’s shortcomings (or self-perceived shortcomings) and prompting your guest to think: Yes, you’re right, this really is an awful meal. In a sense, it brings everyone down. It focuses on the negative instead of the positive; try instead to comment perhaps on the crisp Sauvignon Blanc or the fragrant flowers or the lovely view. Quit making excuses. 5. Disingenuous. How often are you apologizing for something you really aren’t sorry for? Like your opinion. “I’m sorry but I disagree” or “I’m sorry but you don’t have all the facts.” If you disagree or your boss does not have all the facts why in the world would you apologize for it? And what does your boss think of you if you apologize for the facts she didn’t have? It’s empty and insincere. Sometimes we just need to pay attention to the language we are using. There is power in being succinct and just relaying information instead of dressing it up (or dressing it down) with “sorry.” Focus on the information you want to relay without any apologizing qualifiers. Or perhaps just be OK with the silence. Do you apologize too often?