"[Manage] your agreements with yourself. If you break your commitments with yourself, you'll be in negative stress. So you either don't make the commitments (lower expectations), keep the agreements (get busy and finish your stuff), or renegotiate your agreements (constantly review and make smart choices about what you can and should be doing, at any moment in time).”
- David Allen
One of the scariest things when you get organized and pull all your obligations and expectations out of your head and into some trusted system for tracking them is that you can finally see just how much you've been carrying around in there. To overcome that tension, acknowledge that you can't and won't do it all.
Just as a chef has things on the stove, ingredients in the pantry, and cookbooks full of potential recipes, so too will you have active, inactive, and someday/maybe projects.
It's okay that a lot of your ideas about what you might do are hopes, dreams, contingency plans, or other things that aren't necessarily part of today, tomorrow, or ever. What is a part of today is capturing the idea for later review so that you can get it out of your way and get on with what's cooking now.
It's that act of review which keeps the whole system working. That doesn't mean you have to engage with every potential idea every single week—some things you might only want to think about once or twice a year—but it does mean you think every week about what matters in the week ahead. What are your goals this month? What can you do in the next week to help achieve them? What ideas and loose ends do you need to pack away from the past week so that you can focus on what matters most?
Give yourself a regular bit of quality time to pull back from the stream of reaction to see where you are and where you want to be. Look a couple weeks back and ahead in your calendar to find unfinished tasks and opportunities to make things go more smoothly for yourself. Even taking 20 minutes a week to do this will help you do more, and do it more calmly.
I like using the OmniFocus software for this, but paper works great too. Try starting with four lists: "Think about every week," "Think about every month," "Think about every quarter," and "Think about every year."
For example, you probably want to have "Home Maintenance" show up every week. Some of the time you'll look at it and move on right away, but often it will remind you of a problem to resolve (whether it's at the 'buy toilet paper' or 'start a savings account for better mattress' scale). On the other hand, "Career Advancement" would usually be on the quarterly or annual list, unless you're actively working to switch jobs.
As time passes you'll get a better sense of how often something needs to appear in front of you to prompt you to capture any unfinished business or opportunities.
The big reviews help keep you aligned with who you want to be and what you want to achieve. They reveal goals which can have projects and actions on shorter time cycles. The weekly review helps clear your head and get you back on the tracks you set out for yourself.
Granting yourself that quality time to catch your breath is vital to maintaining your momentum in your chosen direction. You deserve that chance to find clarity every week.
Posted on October 3, 2013 | Permalink
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“I know I’ve got more on my list than I could ever do, but I just can’t seem to keep up with it.”
Think about that sentence. Most of us say something like that to ourselves or a friend at some point—and most of the time when we do, we don’t notice the inconsistency at all. However, if we fully accept the truth that our to-do lists are bigger than our availability, we must stop beating ourselves up for failing to achieve the impossible.
September’s Discardia holiday is a reminder to practice Quality over Quantity and is a good time to revisit the expectations you’ve been setting. One of the best ways to manage stress is to manage your agreements with others and, especially, with yourself, so take a little time to think about those agreements.
That’s what your ‘to-do list’—whether you keep the things on it in your head or written down—really is: a list of everything you’d need to do if you wanted to fulfill all the things you’ve said 'yes' to. It represents agreement in its broadest sense, whether a commitment to another person or an internal affirmation of something you desire.
Being excited about things, working on them with others, doing the hard work to achieve progress, these are all valuable and can be highly motivating. But try to do too many at the same time and the effect will be negative. Fewer will be completed, with your work and the satisfaction you derive from it being less than it would be when you’re not overstretched.
I’m not necessarily recommending saying 'yes' less often. You can have as big a list of things you’d like to do as your heart and head can dream up, but the only way for that not to be a burden is to let go of the expectation that everything on the list is active right now. Become comfortable with the idea of inactive projects. They aren’t failures; they’re just not in play at the moment.
This isn’t as hard as it might seem. You have lots of practice with doing this in other areas of your life. Think about the music you like; you don’t listen to it all at the same time. You may not even listen to all the genres you enjoy every single week, yet that doesn’t create stress.
Start approaching your list of projects a little more like a D.J. What’s the right mix for here and now? Is there anything my audience will miss if I don’t get it out there? What will keep my energy up?
Posted on September 22, 2013 | Permalink
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Engaged Productivity and the Art of Discardia from The Omni Group on Vimeo.
Presented by Dinah Sanders at the OmniFocus Setup.
Posted on June 2, 2013 | Permalink
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Ten years ago, I created Discardia as a reminder to myself to let go of what wasn't making my life awesome.
For the first year I was focused very much on the discarding part of the holiday, both of physical things and mental baggage, but soon the other aspects emerged as equally important. By the end of 2004 Discardia also served to remind me to be more true to who I am now, and to continually seek ways—even tiny ways—to make my life better. Sometimes those ways have involved acquisitions and upgrades, not divestment and that's just fine. It's not about just having less stuff, it's less of the wrong stuff and more of the right stuff.
By 2005, the year before my post-a-day writing adventure throughout 2006, many of the themes of Discardia had already appeared in one essay or another that I'd posted to my personal site or on Discardia.com. It would take the book writing process (beginning in summer of 2009) for me to pull together a clear and concise overview of the whole framework, but the pieces were there and integrating themselves into my life.
Bit by bit, in decisions and affirmations and recognitions, I have examined and adjusted my life; at first quarterly, but soon constantly and continually for all the years since.
You know what? It works. My life is awesome.
I hope yours is too, more and more every day.
Posted on December 25, 2012 | Permalink
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We've a good long Discardian season now, with plenty of time to look at the year behind and the year ahead. Acknowledge where you've been and what you've learned. See the possibilities you've created for yourself. Choose where you want to be heading.
When Discardia comes around in December on that shortest day—the winter solstice—celebrate by releasing yourself from a self-imposed deadline and giving thanks for what is good in the world. In addition, let this also be the season of giving yourself what you need to be truly joyful and just plain happy.
Look back on your year and see how things compare to last December. Recognize and enjoy the improvements you’ve made in your world.
• What has provided you with the most satisfaction?
• Can you do more in that area to provide a similar payoff?
This is the season to say thanks to yourself. Seek out the right choices you've made in the past year, great and small, and acknowledge your good sense in curing those causes of dissatisfaction.
You have a supportive framework of good habits, can see the rewards of your decisions and what you did about them, and have replaced some of your less exciting quantity with energizing quality. Now it’s time to turn up the volume on the awesomeness and build the habit of upgrading your experiences.
Think back on your past:
• What did you learn from good but not ideal apartments, jobs, and relationships?
• Are there patterns or antipatterns that point you in the direction of positive change in your life today?
Add this question to your mental toolbox: “What does this look like when it works?” You can apply that to any functional object, space, time, or relationship that is currently less than ideal.
This mindset leads to other good questions. For example:
• What do I want to see (and not see) when I walk in the front door?
• What is bedtime like when it leads me into a great night's sleep?
• What would a good mentor provide me now?
Give that part of your world a nudge in the right direction.
First step: Do better than just survive December.
Posted on December 21, 2012 | Permalink
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My pal Ilona just moved and said on Twitter, "now to the unpacking. not my strong suit. anyone want to place a bet on how many boxes will remain untouched a year from now? :-/"
This one's for you, awesome lady.
I'd bet that more of those boxes will hang around than the closet space would be worth to you in the meantime, so chip away at them faster and reap that reward sooner.
Give yourself until Valentine's Day to settle in. Then after that, every other week, turn up the music and for the duration of four upbeat songs, open a box or drawer and paw through it, seeking items which can go into active use, or (more likely) your charity box, recycling, or trash.
Odds are if you didn't dig it out before this foray, you neither love it nor use it and it can move on to someone who does.
Just four songs. You can do this easy-peasy.
Posted on December 18, 2012 | Permalink
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The two biggest lies we can tell ourselves are "Things will always be awesome forever" and "Things will always be awful forever". On the high of a great new thing or the low of depression it can be so easy to view the present feeling as the true nature of the world, rather than as the current weather.
By forgetting that these peaks and troughs are just that, exceptional highs and lows from our normal levels, we cut ourselves off from treasuring the best moments as truly precious and from taking hope in the worst moments that this too shall pass. Delusion and despair come when you lose track of the sweep of your life and of your capabilities to get through the full spectrum of your experiences.
As C.S. Lewis put it in The Screwtape Letters, "periods of emotional and bodily richness and liveliness will alternate with periods of numbness and poverty". Embrace this; there are valuable lessons to be learned in both states.
Extreme joy is a wonderful thing and well worth attempting to bring into your life more often, but its intensity can also leave you appreciating the quiet pleasures of your normal, middle-of-the-road days. Being extremely up also has a risk of shielding you from a realistic assessment of some problems and how you might perhaps be contributing to them. Deep gloom walls you off from daily satisfactions and from believing in your own worth and the skills you have which can elevate you out of the doldrums or improve your day-to-day life. But depression also is when your good habits have the greatest chance to show how fully you've brought them into your nature; when ya don't wanna do what's good for you, but you go ahead and do it anyway, that is when you show your greatest strength.
When you return to your default footing is when you have the greatest perspective and the greatest opportunity to contrast your perception while at the extremes with your present, more clear-headed view. Ordinary days offer you the most opportunity to identify the changes you want to make in your life and give you the most balanced set of your strengths to bring those changes into reality.
Return to the big picture often—journals or mood logs help build that bridge between the highs and lows—and keep reaffirming your happy dreams and your ability to make them come true!
Posted on October 14, 2012 | Permalink
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This Discardian season, which begins today and runs all the way through to October 15th, is all about Quality over Quantity. One aspect of that which has been much on my mind this past week while attending XOXO Festival and musing afterwards about what made it so great, is the nitty-gritty of how we gauge our success.
Quantity is definitely easier to measure. More. Bigger. Faster. These are all straightforward to identify. But they do not equate to better; and particularly not to 'better for you, right now, and for who you wish to become'. For that you need to grasp a more slippery fish: quality.
Many speakers at the conference echoed a theme that I have heard from inspiring books and people throughout my life: You've got to be really excited about what you do if it is to sustain you over the long-haul. Designers Tom Gerhardt and Dan Provost of Studio Neat put it very clearly: "Work on something you're passionate about, because if you're successful you'll have to do it every day." You've heard me express the flipside of that same thought: Make sure your every day life reflects and reinforces what you love.
From the men and women onstage and off at the conference, I continually heard about how doing what they love—what they deeply love—has created their happiness. More than a few people in the room have had the good fortune to try out making a lot of money as a potential happiness generator and found that it was not the magic ingredient which pop culture often makes it out to be.
Matt Haughey, who has been running the community site MetaFilter for the last decade, said, "Money is the least interesting problem". Dan Harmon, creator of the show Community, took it farther: "Money will be the death of everything good in your life. Except maybe the first $40k. You need that to buy potatoes and stuff."
Turn your focus from reaching some arbitrary measure of 'big success', to getting to spend more of your time getting to do what you love. As speakers like musician Julia Nunes made clear, that doesn't come in one big break, but in the addition of many moments of moving in the right direction. And that's true whether it's about your career or how you spend your weekends. It's not how much or many you get, it's about what you do and how you connect.
One of the very best things about doing what you love is that you are making yourself available for connections with other people who love the same things. Artist Emily Winfield Martin emphasized the relationships you make along the way and how they give you the energy to move closer to your dreams: "The alchemy that makes your imaginary thing real is the audience." Not having the biggest group cheering you on, but the one that gets your vision most clearly and is most inspired by it themselves.
What do you love?
How are you going to make more time and space for it this Discardian season?
Who shares that love that you can invite to cheer you on?
Posted on September 22, 2012 | Permalink
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As with so many other parts of our lives, kitchens often drift into a state of low-level inconvenience. If you're feeling frustrated and thinking major changes may be required, start with this quick fix to clear the slate and reconnect with what is most useful and attractive to you.
This won't take long at all and it will feel great when you see the difference you've made. You'll be running three short laps. You can do these all in a row or spaced out over a few days, depending upon your available time and energy. Each lap should take about twenty minutes.
#1 - Move out the old and cold.
Look quickly through your cupboards to find clots of things you haven't used in the past six months. Move those things out to cold storage elsewhere in the house (e.g., a clearly labeled storage bin in the garage such as "Holiday Baking Tools") or to your charity box. If you don't need it more often than a couple times a year, it should be out of your daily way.
When we did this on our kitchen we came to terms with the fact that we haven't made muffins, cupcakes, or bread in the over five years since moving in. Off to a new home with those pans and liners! We located a few large but only occasionally needed items that were able to move to a closet. We also purged a batch of cheap empty water bottles which never get used on hikes since we have a nicer reusable bottle.
Finish this lap by wiping down the newly cleared space with a lightly moistened paper towel.
#2 Clear the decks
Your target now is the countertops and open shelving. What is out in plain sight, taking up space, but which you haven't used in six days? Get those things into a more appropriate location out of your view and your way. If you don't use them more than once a week (or if they're ugly), they don't belong at the ready. Take advantage of the space you've cleared in lap #1 to store things conveniently out of sight.
We had allowed our counters to be populated with many things which seemed convenient but which we didn't actually use often enough to warrant losing so much of our limited task surface. Spice and herb boxes moved into a cupboard. Ramekins moved into the dish cabinet. Spare cutting boards shifted from a visible location to an unnoticable spot on top of the fridge where they are still handy but less ugly. We also put our least favorite one into the Goodwill box. A broken slate trivet headed out to the garden for use as a different sort of pot rest. Pot lids moved from being propped behind spice racks to their new home behind the pots in the cupboard under the sink. Lastly, some old decorative items such as a fruit basket moved out to leave more room for their more attractive successors.
Again, we finished the lap by wiping down newly exposed surfaces.
#3 Improve the new reality
Now that you can see more clearly and the items ready to hand are the right things, take a last few minutes to see if you can arrange them more effectively or attractively. Look at the kitchen with fresh eyes, acknowledging your progress and seeing the opportunities it has created for you.
We found that our attractive breadbox, which had been jammed on top of the microwave under a cupboard could now move to a more convenient spot on our sideboard, next to where we actually prepare things like sandwiches. The breadbox's top now became available as a home for a few small, formerly counter-cluttering items such as tea, honey and a small decorative pitcher. Two decorative dishes for fresh fruit were then able to move from the sideboard to the top of the microwave and free up even more of our work surfaces. Our SodaStream carbonator changed from blocking access to cooking utensils and a standing spoon rest (which Joe hadn't even noticed we had!) to live on the other counter closer to the fridge and its chilled water bottles. The kitchen now looks like we got rid of half the stuff we'd had in there even though we primarily just made better use of our space.
What can three little laps do to make your everyday life even nicer?
Posted on August 20, 2012 | Permalink
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Oo, it's terrifying to have a big pile of papers. There could be anything in there. Unpaid bills, your diploma, letters from an ex, uncashed checks. Anything!
But probably it's almost entirely not that kind of stuff. I'm betting it's mostly four things:
3. Stuff to shred
4. Manuals and receipts for the purchase with which they came
There are probably some other big categories that are well-represented. For example, packing slips or receipts that came with things you bought. You also may have papers relating to your health: bills and insurance statements from doctor visits, those information sheets that come with prescriptions, etc.
There are two main ways to conquer random stacks of paper: targeted missions and steady chipping. Targeted missions are great for feeling a big positive impact fast. Decisions can be tiring, so rather than picking up each piece of paper and deciding its fate, make one decision that can apply to a whole lot of pieces of paper.
An ideal decision to start with is, "All the catalogs in the house can be recycled. While I'm conquering having too much stuff, I'm not buying more stuff, and they'll be sending me another catalog in the future anyhow, so goodbye to all of these." Similar is the decision, "I want to catch up with my other papers before I add more, so all magazines and newspapers before the current issue can be recycled." Either (or both) of these decisions allow you to attack a stack without having to do a lot more thinking. All you're asking is if it's one of those things you said you're going to recycle. Yes and it goes in the bin. No and it stays in the stack. That simple.
Do that one targeted mission against the stack and then stop. Give yourself credit for forward progress and go do something you enjoy. Flinging yourself against the paper wall until you collapse isn't the road to success; define your current lap, run it, and then take a rest and your reward.
Perhaps in the course of doing that targeted mission you'll notice some other easy target. For example, you might see a lot of health-related items. Your next targeted mission can be to pull those all out of this stack and consolidate them in a folder or box which contains only health materials. That transforms a mystery blob into a clear category. If you're later looking for your passport, you know you don't have to look in there because it's not a health-related item. Categorized chunks are easier to navigate than random stacks.
After the obvious targeted missions have been run, the way to purge the rest of that amorphous blob of paper is to chip away at it steadily. Working just 5 or 10 minutes at a time—with a timer!—is all it takes. Don't get hung up with taking action on any individual item. Merely spend those 5 or 10 minutes quickly identifying each successive item you pick up and then throwing it away, recycling it, shredding it, or putting it in a labeled folder based on a category (e.g., charitable donations; letters from Mom) or an action to be taken (e.g., add to address book; scan and then discard the paper; add to calendar)
The folder can go in your inbox or even in a stack of "to be dealt with" folders, so long as you have the sacrosanct rule that nothing goes into a folder that doesn't belong in that folder's category. Remember: A set of categorized chunks is progress over a random mystery pile!
The key to making chipping away work is to keep it steady. Do another 5 or 10 minutes every day. It's quick, you'll make it through those minutes!
If you run into a occasional difficult item that you just don't know what to do with, something that hinders your progress, put it on the bottom of the stack and return to it later. Take your easy wins first and then use that victory to give you strength to tackle the tougher stuff.
As you go, keep an eye out for useful patterns to save yourself from having to repeat this chore. If you had to throw a lot of the same catalogs or unread issues of a magazine into the recycling bin, get off that mailing list or cancel that subscription; it's costing you more time, space, and pleasure than it is giving you. If you have a lot of receipts you held onto in case you needed to return something, start a folder for those and keep them all together, where it's easy to purge the oldest ones on a regular basis. Optimize your inflows for quality over quantity and ease of use.
Paper piles can be beaten! Chime in in the comments to tell of your epic battles and how you won out against your stacks.
Posted on August 13, 2012 | Permalink
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