Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Organizing Yourself

For my second post on organizing, I'm going to refer to someone wiser than me on how to "de-clutter" YOURSELF. I follow Michael Hyatt's blog, "Intentional Leadership" (you can find it HERE) and he recently wrote a post titled, "Are You Tired of Feeling Overwhelmed?" I thought I'd share it with you as we look at removing excess from our lives. If you are not currently following his blog, you should. LOTS of great wisdom flowing out of that space on the internet.


Over the last few months, people have asked how I am doing since leaving my CEO post at Thomas Nelson. For the most part, great. I am really enjoying this new phase of my life.

But last week, I was feeling overwhelmed. It seemed that I was spending all day, every day mired in administrative detail—responding to emails, making travel plans, and filling out expense reports. Ugh.

This the first time in more than a decade that I have been without an executive assistant. I had clearly taken this role for granted, not realizing how much it had freed me up to do what I do best.

So what to do?

At first, I decided to power through it. But that didn’t work. The tennis balls have been coming over the net faster than I can hit them. My volume of email alone has doubled in the last 90 days.

Next, I tried to enlist my wife, Gail, to help. Bad idea. She already has a full-time job as a homemaker, mom, and counselor to countless women. (After watching her in action for the last few months, I have a whole new appreciation for her!)

Finally, I decided that I had had enough. Something had to give. I needed to take a different approach if I was going to get my head above water.

I took the following seven steps:

  1. I decided I had to make a change. This sounds almost trivial, but it is essential. Evidently, some people like being overwhelmed. They wouldn’t admit this, of course. But they thrive on stress in a perverse way. Perhaps it makes them feel important or indispensable. They may complain about their workload, but they are unwilling to do things differently. Are you ready for a change?
  2. I identified my three high payoff activities. I asked myself, What is it that only I can do? Where do I add the most value? What is really important as opposed to merely urgent? For me, that is writing, speaking, and networking—in that order. Anything else is a waste of what I have been given. What are your high payoff activities?
  3. I identified my three biggest productivity sinkholes. This was easy. For me, it is responding to email, booking my own travel, and meeting with acquaintances who want my advice. (As much as I’d like to do this, I am drowning in requests.) I decided I had to eliminate—or at least dramatically reduce—these activities in my life. What are your productivity sinkholes?
  4. I spent time reviewing the productivity basics. In his book, The 4-Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss, says that the key to productivity is elimination, automation, and delegation. Some stuff is just no longer worth doing. Other stuff can be put on auto-pilot. Most of the rest can be delegated. Have you made a list of which activities fall into which category?
  5. I decided to do the math. Unfortunately, I had fallen into a common paradigm: I was thinking that if I could do something I should do it—myself. Balderdash! If you can make $50.00 an hour, is it a good investment for you to do tasks that you can hire done for $12.00 an hour? I don’t think so. This is not only bad math, it is bad stewardship. What do you make an hour? Could you be more financially productive if you delegated?
  6. I hired a virtual executive assistant. I realized that I wasn’t ready for a full-time one. I wanted to take this one step at a time. Thankfully, there are scores of companies (offshore and domestic) that specialize in providing virtual assistants for as many hours as you need. I did this several years ago, and it was a positive experience. I decided to go with Miles Advisory Group. I am very impressed with their responsiveness. Have you ever considered a VA?
  7. I am scheduling the important tasks. I know, I know, I teach this stuff. You’d think I would already have this nailed. Well, I did. More or less. But it was a completely different context, namely, CorporateWorld. Now I am having to implement the same thing in a different context. I am now scheduling my important tasks first and forcing my productivity sinkholes into small blocks of time. How much of your calendar this week is dedicated to high payoff activities?

Just going through this process has had a huge, positive impact on my attitude. Nothing has really changed yet, but I am already feeling less overwhelmed and more in control. I am ready for a change. Are you?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

My Obsession

I may be a bit obsessive. It's bad. So bad that those who know me well already know what I'm going to write about. I've been lovingly called, "anal" about a million times in my life- and I'm okay with that. I compulsively organize.

I like things to have a place, I like those places to make sense, and I want it all to look nice when it's finished. Lately I've been spending way too much time time on Pinterest. One of the things that keeps me so interested is all the different things people do for organization (I recently pinned a picture of plastic magazine boxes in a freezer holding all of someone's bagged freezer goods upright and orderly... how cool is that idea?!?). I've also been watching the first season of "Hoarders" on Netflix. It's an unhealthy combo folks. Today I cleaned out 3 cupboards in my kitchen, 2 drawers and a closet. It felt SO GOOD. So good that I very easily could have ignored my family and kept right on going into the wee hours of the morning. I didn't... thankfully. So here I sit, still wound up, but trying to resist the urge to purge some more and I keep rolling around something that one of the Hoarders on the TV show said, "I just don't seem to be capable of distinguishing what matters and what doesn't. I have no clue where to begin."

I doubt any of you are hoarders, but if you can resonate with that sentiment, this post is for you.

#1. Start small. Commit to cleaning out one area each day for a month (or until its finished). This could be as big as a room, or as small as one cupboard (or even one storage box or shelf). Understand your limits and make a reasonable goal for yourself. This should be a small time commitment of 10 minutes-30 minutes. Set a time and do it each day at that time (ie. baby's nap time).

#2. Have a plan for this process before you begin. Will you be selling items at a garage sale? Donating to local charities? Trashing everything unwanted? Knowing this in advance will help you sort and make decisions.

#3. Have "zones" ready. When doing a small area, I always have a trash can and a box or two on the floor next to me. If it's trash, it's immediately thrown away. If I plan to sell it, it goes in the box. If I plan to donate it, it goes in the other box. If it belongs somewhere else in my home, I call one of the kids and have them take it there immediately. ;) If that doesn't work, I start a "relocate" pile. I reuse the boxes each day until they are full, and then I immediately take all donate items to their drop off location, and seal up garage sale boxes (marked, "garage sale") and put them in our storage room.

#4. With food: If it's expired, throw it out. If no one in your home will eat it, throw it out. If there's not enough cereal in the box for a bowl and it's been sitting there almost empty for weeks... THROW IT OUT.

#5. With clothing: If you haven't worn it in a year, you should not keep it. If it doesn't look good on you, you should not keep it. If it's holey... you should not keep it (I'm talking to myself on that one...). Ladies, here's the biggie- if it's not your size, you should NOT KEEP IT. Let's be real with ourselves. We do not need "skinny clothes" reminding us of what we're not, fooling us into believing we'll wear it again someday. If someday comes, that outfit probably won't be in style anymore anyway, and buying new clothes in a tinier size will be fun. You also do not need "fat clothes" lying around daring you to gain weight again. With the exception of maternity clothing for those planning to be pregnant again, if it doesn't flatter and fit get rid of it.

#6. With "treasures": If you didn't use that holiday decoration last year, chances are you probably won't use it this year. If that nick-knack from your grandma is as important as you say it is, it should be displayed somewhere in your home, not sitting in a box in the basement. If you've been married more than 2 years and still haven't used some gift from the wedding, chances are it will still be in the box in another 2 years.

#7. With children's projects and artwork: Somethings MUST be saved (pottery, handmade books, etc.). In our home, everything else is negotiable. Very quickly I learned how much stuff a child can generate in a preschool classroom. Adorable, precious, awkwardly large stuff. We display it on the fridge for a time, then I take a really great photo of it and throw it in the trash. Yup, I trash it. Then I take all these adorable photos, upload them to a site like Snapfish and turn the collection into a book of my child's artwork. Much smaller, much more manageable, and easier to cherish and enjoy.

That's all I can think of right now, but I hope to add to this list in the coming weeks. I will also try to share some of my favorite organization tricks we use in our home. Happy organizing!