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A new broom sweeps clean

Getting rid of the clutter.

The logical place to start when you decide to limit the stuff in your home is at the source – shopping. If you have a broken water pipe, you don’t start by mopping the floor, you turn off the water. You can resist those needless trips to the mall and garage sales if you develop some good old-fashioned willpower. There are books that can help you with that – or you might need counselling.

Your brain has a mind of its own. And since it gets a shot of the pleasure chemical, dopamine, every time it sights a shiny new thingamabob on the shelf, shopping can become addictive. And marketers who continue to get better at targeting our subconscious desires are not making it any easier. Martin Lindstrom, author of the book Buy.ology: the truth and lies about why we buy, claims that buying and consuming will continue to escalate in the future.

Experts tell us to get rid of a habit by replacing it with a better one. I feel you are able to replace the habit of marathon shopping with the activity of organizing. You can’t be in two places at the same time, and when you’re at home sorting and tossing things out, you can’t be at the mall being exposed to the temptations created by the shiny new gadgets and endless paraphernalia. And you also get a shot of dopamine every time you accomplish a task such as cleaning out a kitchen drawer or donating something to the needy or gifting an unused item to a friend.

You probably have no problem keeping digital files instead of reams of paperwork. It’s just a small leap from storing paperwork as digital images to storing your stuff as digital photos. They don’t need dusting, and in most cases are just as functional. If you miss actually looking at them, use the photos as rotating screen savers. But I think you’ll find that out of sight, out of mind.

Consider selling your stuff on Kijiji or eBay. An Australian survey conducted in August, 2008 by eBay indicated that the average household has about $3000 worth of unused or unwanted clutter around the house. The price of the items was determined by the average price of comparable items listed on eBay. I figured if it’s true for Australians, it’s probably true for the rest of us as well. If we held a garage sale we might be over $1000 richer and be able to move the car into the garage to boot. Just think; selling your clutter can become your bread-and-butter.

If you think parting with your accumulated possessions would be too traumatic try this. Pack them into a carton or better still, a few transparent plastic storage containers, and stack them inside a closet or in the basement or stick them in your storage locker. Then you can easily retrieve them if you feel depressed or about to slip into a coma.

But don’t rent public storage. The eventual goal is to get rid of the stuff once you have realized you neither need it nor miss it. The more remote your place of storage, the more remote the chance that you ever will get rid of it. According to the August, 2017 special edition of Mindfulness magazine, there are 2.3 billion square feet of rentable self-storage space in the United States. That’s three times the size of Manhattan, New York. That’s a lot of stored possessions waiting for us to die.

Most people don’t enjoy their stuff even when it’s visible. According to Dan Levitin, author of The organized mind, the brain habituates to things that don’t change, and you no longer notice it if it’s always there. He also mentioned a study of one American household with 2260 visible objects in just a living room and two bedrooms. How would anyone have time to even look at everything, let alone enjoy it?

So keep visible only those things you need or use regularly. And never keep what you can’t use.

I think you will actually feel unencumbered, free, and happier with your new uncluttered space and a sense of pride in your new accomplishment. You may also find you are more productive, more creative, and more able to focus on your significant goals and daily activities.

Memorabilia that tie you to the past frequently keep you from fully enjoying the future. Recalling good times are never as enjoyable or as stimulating as creating new ones.

Neurologists tell us that our brains are hardwired to be creative and to achieve goals. Clutter is to your brain as mud is to your feet. Don’t let it get deeper and deeper and impede your progress through life. Be like the perfectionist bride who, when it was time to sweep down the aisle, literally swept down the aisle.

A new broom sweeps clean and a clean start creates a path to a better life.

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Organize your home and office

Organization aids peace of mind, creativity, and attention as well as time effectiveness. Disorganization, on the other hand, causes stress, fractured thinking and wasted time. It could even contribute to obesity.

For example, a Psychology Today article posted on May 17, 2017 mentioned a study showing that people will eat more cookies and snacks if working in a messy and disorganized kitchen. A special edition of Mindfulness, April, 2017, reported that according to the recent study published in Environment and Behavior, we are likely to overeat up to 34% more when our kitchens are in a mess – such as old newspapers, unopened mail on the counter and so on.

Mehmet Oz and Mike Roizen, authors of YOU: On a Diet, claim that visual clutter slows down the brain. That’s why clusters of road signs double the chances of missing the one you’re looking for. It also explains why website designers aim for simplicity.

As we read more about the workings of our brain, we learn even more about the importance of getting organized. For example, according to neuroscientist Torkel Klingberg, author of The overflowing brain, the more items on your desk, the greater the demand on your attention. And mental clutter is a suspect in the cause of age-related memory losses. Clearing clutter from your desk, office and home and leaving more wide open spaces also helps to clear your mind so it will be more productive.

To stay organized you must develop systems unique to your situation, whether it is handling paperwork, managing email, conducting meetings, using a follow-up file or scheduling in a planner.

Peter Bregman, in his book 18 Minutes, describes a study showing that deciding in advance when you will do something increases your commitment to do it. That’s one of the reasons I suggest to people that they block off times in their planner to actually do the priority tasks. This could include blocks of time to organize specific areas of your home and office.

Here are a few organizing suggestions that I have published at one time or another in my bi-monthly time management newsletter.

Re-purpose storage space

When you sort through your belongings and donate or scrap the sweaters, blouses, scarves and other clothing items you never use, re-purpose the drawer for those non-clothing items that are causing your closets and other storage areas to overflow. You are re-purposing when you remove bottom shelves of linen closets to store your golf clubs or use a kitchen drawer to house your toolkit. Don’t feel that you have to use all storage areas for the purpose they were originally intended. I use a spare bedroom as an office, and the closet organizers such as hanging compartments for shoes and larger ones for sweaters now house my various office supplies.

Not so junky junk drawer

I maintain that everyone needs a junk drawer for miscellaneous one-of-a-kind items. The secret is not to let it expand into two or more junk drawers. When items that you just can’t part with become too plentiful to find quickly, add dividers to the drawer to separate items that have some common association – such as those used in the same room, (kitchen, garden, etc.) or for common use (cooking, repairing, washing, etc.)

Act at the time of recall

When you recall that you need to mail letters in the morning or deposit clothes for dry cleaning or return a book to a friend, act now, not in the morning. Place those items near the front door or on the front car seat – where they won’t be missed. Marking them on a “To Do” list might not allow enough time if you’re rushing in the morning. And you could even misplace or forget to look at your “To Do” list.

Organizing tip for procrastinators

Not ready to part with some of the items cluttering up your home or office? In addition to your “Toss”, “Keep”, and “Donate” boxes, have a fourth one labelled “In limbo” for those items that you can’t decide whether to toss, donate or keep. Six months or a year later, tackle this box as well. If you haven’t needed, looked for, missed or even thought about any of the items in the meantime, it will be a lot easier to part with them.

Brighten up those storage areas

Rather than storing those extra paintings and framed photographs that usually get shoved under the bed, and that artificial plant that you received from Aunt Sally, use them to embellish closets, the laundry room and other out-of-sight areas that tend to attract unused stuff. You might hesitate before blocking wall-hangings and other decorative pieces. It also gives you the added advantage of brightening up those otherwise cluttered hideaway places that you have to visit frequently. It might even give your mood a boost.

If you need a further reason to invest a little time in getting organized, heed the information published in the April 6, 2013 issue of The Globe & Mail in an article by Leah Etchler. A U.S Study found that employees lose 76 hours per year as a result of disorganization. That’s time that could be put to use – either in your business or your personal life.

 

 

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Dive into the day. A good start leads to greater productivity.

Some people go swimming an inch at a time. They stick a toe into the water and shocked by the temperature, commence to first immerse a foot then a leg, and gradually the torso. It’s an agonizing process. Each step into deeper water brings another cold shock to the warm body. Eventually they are totally immersed – and pleasantly surprised that the water wasn’t that bad after all.

Many of us approach the day the same way. We get out of bed slowly, dawdle over a second cup of coffee, and at the office, arrange our materials, and procrastinate by first watering the plants, checking email, rearranging the books, straightening our desk and so on. An inch at a time, we ease ourselves into the day – only to discover that the jobs we dreaded were not that bad after all.

How much faster and easier if we would dive into the day as we would dive into a swimming pool – cutting out most of the preliminaries and getting on with the job at hand.

Surgeons take advantage of peak energy levels during the early morning hours and schedule operations accordingly. If you are an early person, don’t waste one minute of this valuable period of the day. Do your priority jobs first, and leave the morning newspaper, coffee ritual and desk straightening until later.

Some time ago a seminar attendee told me that he had to get up at 6 AM in order to get to my seminar in time. “Why are you getting up so early?” his wife had asked.

“I have to drive to Toronto. I’m attending a seminar on time management,” he had explained.

“Well,” she responded, “if you got up early this early every morning, you wouldn’t have to go to a time management seminar.”

There is a lot of truth in her statement. Early risers get a head start on life. They have the opportunity to accomplish more during that relatively quiet time than they would if they had started in the midst of humanity’s rush hour. If you dawdle in the mornings, and roll over for an extra 10 minutes shut-eye, try changing your habits. But make sure you go to bed earlier as well. If you get less than six hours sleep, you are sleep-deprived and your productivity will drop drastically later in the day.

You may be spending nine or more hours in bed each day out of habit. It is how many hours you sleep that’s important, not the amount of time you spend in bed. If you spend a half-hour less in bed each day, you’ll gain about two more weeks of productive time each year.

And more importantly, you’ll get an early start on the day. You will have time to review your day’s plans, and ask yourself whether what you had planned for that day will lead you closer to your goals. You will also have time to alter those plans if circumstances have changed in the meantime.

Most people report that their personal prime time is early in the morning. They feel at their peak energy level and enthusiasm, ready to take on the world. Then their enthusiasm and energy dissipates as they experience the day’s crises, problems and setbacks.

Since the early days of the morning are critical to the success of the day, the time to prepare your plan for those early hours is in the late afternoon or evening the day before. Schedule time for your priority tasks and commitments in your daily or weekly planner. Resist the temptation to just walk away from the mess at quitting time. Chances are, if you’re disorganized when you leave at night, you’ll be disorganized when you return the next morning.

Psychologists have concluded that those who leave an organized office with a clear idea of what they want to accomplish the next day, enjoy their personal lives more that evening. In contrast, those who leave with your desks and minds in a muddle, with dozens of unfinished tasks, enjoy themselves less.

Build some early-morning momentum and you’ll be able to coast through the day with less difficulty. Physics tells us that an object in motion tends to stay in motion and an object at rest tends to stay at rest. The same law applies to human endeavor.

Overcome your daily inertia with a burst of early-morning enthusiasm. Even if the rest of the day is fragmented by interruptions, telephone calls, text messages, meetings and rush jobs, you will at least have accomplished the important high payback tasks and activities.

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The great outdoors. Are we becoming nature-deprived?

According to Richard Louv, in his book, The nature principle, “Reconnecting to nature, nearby and far, opens new doors to health, creativity, and wonder.” Florence Williams, in her book, The nature fix, adds “Our nervous systems are built to resonate with set points derived from the natural world.”

John Ratey and Richard Manning, in their book, Go wild: free your body and mind from the afflictions of civilization, state “Modern lifestyles disconnect people from nature, and this may have adverse consequences for the well-being of both humans and the environment.” Eva Selhub and Alan Logan, in their book, Your brain on nature, say that “Less contact with nature appears to remove a layer of protection against psychological stress and opportunity for rejuvenation.” And also, that “nature deprivation may have wide-ranging effects on the immune system.”

Sian Beilock, in her book, How the body knows its mind, reports that “research has found links between greenspace and a safe home life,” and that, “natural surroundings are tied to enhanced working memory, which translates into increased concentration and self-control.” She also mentions that city dwellers are at a 20% increase risk for developing anxiety disorders and a 40% increased risk for mood disorders compared with people who live in less populated areas.

Consider the impact of nature, whether in the form of green space, gardens or parks, on the health and well-being of individuals. According to the June, 2016 issue of Scientific American Mind, “exposure to natural settings has been linked with a vast array of human benefits, from reduced rates of depression to increased immune functioning.”

Researchers have also found that plants act as vacuum cleaners removing pollution from the air. Exposure to indoor and outdoor pollutants in both home and offices has been linked to anxiety, depression, irritability, fatigue and short and long-term cognitive decline among other afflictions.

Recent studies have found that urban green spaces improve cognitive development in children, and those close to park land had better memory development, attentiveness and creativity.

As mentioned in an earlier blog, since moving to the country over seven months ago, and experiencing chipmunks eating from my hand, and woodpeckers, mourning doves and chickadees waiting patiently for me to replenish the birdfeeders, it gave me a new perspective on life and the management of time. Like the trees, the birds seem to be in no hurry. And why should they be? Should we live at the pace we do? The faster we go, the faster life seems to go. Perhaps we should slow down, spend more time outdoors, and enjoy the ride.

My new appreciation for the environment prompted one of my ebooks, The impact of working environment on personal productivity, published by Bookboon.com. And it has also confirmed that we should be our environment’s friend, not its predator.

I can’t begin to explain how invigorating I find my morning walks, the view of trees and rolling hills, grazing cattle and trout streams where you can easily catch your limit in an hour. I marvel at the beauty of nature. And I want my grandchildren to experience it as well.

If we continue our disrespect – or should I say our assault – on nature, our grandchildren may not always have that choice. As Thomas Friedman say in his latest book, Thank you for being late, “If you don’t have a forest, you don’t have trees to soak up the carbon. If you don’t have trees to soak up the carbon, it goes into the atmosphere and intensifies global warming or into the oceans and changes their composition. The natural species loss rate is one species or less per year out of every 1 million species. We are now losing somewhere between 10 and 100 species per million species per year.” He goes on to say, “The scientists estimate that we must maintain around 75% of the Earth’s original forests. We are now down to 62%, and some forests are showing signs of absorbing less carbon.”

I have included a bibliography at the end of this article and you can read for yourself his comments on the acidification of the oceans, the blocking of sunlight and other assaults on nature such as “the hundreds of millions of tons of cement we’ve poured across the earth’s surface,” and draw your own conclusions.

Reading such books as The Hidden life of trees and The genius birds has given me an appreciation of nature. Take trees for example. If you want to survive to a ripe old age you might take a lesson from them. One of the oldest trees on earth, according to Tim Flannery, who wrote the forward to the “trees” book, is a 9500 year old spruce tree in Sweden. That’s a little extreme; but trees tend to survive for reasons that could be familiar to some of us.

First, they tend to live at a slower pace, with electric impulses travelling through their roots (one of the ways and they communicate with other trees) at only one third of an inch per second. Other functions are equally slow. They seem oblivious to our digital age of speed.

Trees are also community minded, caring for one another, thriving on relationships with other trees in the forest, and having stunted growth and shorter lifespans if isolated in a field or transplanted to a garden. They show concern for other trees and for future generations, passing on life-giving sugar and nutrients by way of their roots to other trees in trouble. They have even been known to nourish the stump of a felled tree for centuries after it had been cut down. Do we have such compassion?

More and more we are hearing about the benefits of nature, and yet more and more we are hearing about our decreasing connection with nature.

The major hurdle to spending more time outdoors, besides our attraction to the cities, is our love affair with the digital world. As Friedman noted, “the rate of technological change is now accelerating so fast that it has risen above the average rate at which most people can absorb all these changes.”

And although TV is a time-saving baby sitter for parents, it could be a health hazard for the kids. According to Kaiser Family Foundation research, children between the ages of 8 and 18 spend more than 7½ hours a day in front of screens (including TV, computer and smart phone.) This study did not include time spent doing homework on a computer. This has been shown to result in a greater risk of obesity, sleep problems and aggressive behavior – besides the added disadvantage of not having time to fully experience the benefits of nature.

One family, featured in a Canadian Press article appearing in the June 3, 2017 issue of telegraph Journal.com, are attempting to follow the Canadian guidelines that kids younger than two years old should completely avoid screen time. No smart phones or tablets for the kids. And when the parents have to use their own cell phones, they leave the room. It wasn’t always easy, they claim, but now almost 4 years old, their boys spend more time playing outside and reading books instead of staring blankly at screens.

According Florence Williams, in her book, The nature fix, American and British children today spend half as much time outdoors as their parents did.”  And I can’t help wondering how much time the parents spend outdoors. Personally, I intend to take advantage of the outdoors while it (and I) are still here.

Bibliography:

Ackerman, Jennifer. Genius of birds. Place of publication not identified: Constable, 2017. Print.

Beilock, Sian. How the body knows its mind: the surprising power of the physical environment to influence how … you think and feel. Place of publication not identified: Atria , 2016. Print.

Friedman, Thomas L. Thank you for being late: an optimists guide to thriving in the age of accelerations. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016. Print.

Louv, Richard. The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age. Chapel Hill: Algonquin of Chapel Hill, 2012. Print.

Ratey, John J. Go wild: free your body and mind from the afflictions of civilization. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Co., 2014. Print.

Selhub, Eva M., and Alan C. Logan. Your brain on nature: the science of natures influence on your health, happiness, and vitality. Toronto: HarperCollins Publishers, Ltd., 2014. Print.

Williams, Florence. The nature fix: why nature makes us happier, healthier, and more creative. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2017. Print.

Wohlleben, Peter. Hidden life of trees. S.L.: William Collins, 2017. Print.