Five Things to Put on Your Don’t-Do List

DON'T DOI’ve previously written about using a to-do list – that sometimes pesky, often helpful tool that helps make sure nothing important slips through the cracks. But often we’re so busy focusing on what we need to/should do that we blindly plod along without stopping to consider what we should stop doing. Here are a few unproductive habits that you might consider crossing off your list – permanently! I hope you to get as much value from this don’t-do list as you do from your to-do list.

  1. Don’t check email first thing in the morning. There’s not much that’s more satisfying than accomplishing a complex, challenging task. For most of us, these types of tasks are best attempted first thing in the morning, before other tasks and other people take over our day. When you check email first thing, you’re inviting the rest of the world to tell you what to do, rather than you taking charge of your day. Recognize that although it might be fun or interesting to check e-mail first thing, it’s rarely necessary and almost always unproductive.
  2. Don’t attend meetings that don’t require your presence. Ruthlessly evaluate every meeting invitation to determine what value you would add or receive by attending. Could your needs be fulfilled simply by receiving the minutes of the meeting? Could someone else attend and contribute in your place? Is there an unclear or insignificant objective for the meeting? Unless there are clearly defined objectives that matter to you and absolutely require your participation, guard your time and scrutinize every meeting invitation.
  3. Don’t confuse projects with tasks. I often encounter people who are frustrated because they seldom get everything on their daily to-do list accomplished, and it’s often because they make this mistake. A project is anything that takes more than one step to accomplish. Anything from planting the garden to planning a vacation is a project – they are accomplished in multiple, unique steps and often cannot be done in one sitting. When you plan your day, plan time to accomplish discrete tasks that will lead you towards completing projects.
  4. Don’t be constantly available. When we continuously check email, obsessively text back and forth, and answer the phone every time it rings, it’s like turning on the spigot and letting the flood of everyone’s demands drown out our well-planned day and remove us from being “in the moment”. I’m constantly amazed by the number of people I see walking down the street texting, talking on their cell phone when at a restaurant with guests, and riding public transportation with their face staring at a screen rather than connecting with their fellow human beings. Sure, there are times when we absolutely have to attend to matters, but if we’re constantly distracted by and grasping at whatever is coming at us, it’s hard to be productive. And besides, it’s important to take some time to disconnect and refresh. Which leads me to my last point…
  5. Don’t forget to smell the roses. In our busy, busy lives, it’s easy to get focused on accomplishing, rather than on being. Build some white space into your life so you can enjoy the spontaneous moments that make it all worthwhile. Don’t focus on the future at the expense of appreciating the present. Don’t neglect friends and family in the quest for accomplishing or acquiring more. Don’t take for granted all the good things you already have.

I’d love to hear what’s on your don’t-do list.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog

Stop Running Late

RUNNING LATEDo you often run late? Do you constantly feel like you’re rushing to get places? If so, it may be because you’re trying to squeeze in “just one more thing” before you head out the door. Many people fall victim to this phrase, especially people with ADHD. Let’s explore this mindset and what you can do about it.

“Just one more thing” can take on many different forms:

  • Checking online for directions just before you head out the door to drive to a meeting.
  • Sending a “quick” email before you leave work to go your child’s band concert.
  • Stopping at the store to choose and buy the appetizer for the party you’re headed to.
  • Making a “quick” phone call while your family waits for you to join them for dinner.

Any one of these scenarios can be stressful on you and the people you impact. You’re rushing, you’re late, you’re reprimanded, and you’re feeling like a failure – again. What happened? You were sure that quick task would only take five minutes. Maybe you didn’t think things all the way through – the line at the grocery store was longer than you anticipated (if you anticipated a line at all!). Maybe you got distracted – once you were online or in your email, you started checking other things and lost track of time. Maybe you underestimated how long the task would take – that quick phone call took 15 minutes as you exchanged pleasantries, caught up on the latest news, and finally got to the reason for your call.

So how do you break this pattern? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Constantly ask yourself “What’s the most important thing I should be doing right now?” Should I be checking email, or should I be getting out the door so I’m not late to my son’s concert? Should I make this phone call now, or should I join my family for dinner and write a reminder to make the call later?
  • Plan ahead. Plan each day the day before, and even look two or three days ahead to see if there’s anything you need to do to prepare. Do I have directions to the meeting? Do I know what appetizer I’m going to bring, and have the ingredients for it?
  • Set a timer. If you absolutely have to squeeze in something, set a timer to make sure you’re only spending the anticipated amount of time on it. For example, if you have to get that email sent before you leave, set a timer for the five minutes you’ll allow yourself to spend on it, and let it go when the timer goes off. You may discover that trying to “beat the clock” will help you stay focused and efficient.

I’d love to hear what you do to prevent being late.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog

Say “No” so You Can Say “Yes”

NOFeel like you have too much to do and not enough time to do it? Who doesn’t? But the simple word “no” can help you find more time. By setting priorities, you can identify which people, organizations, activities and causes aren’t in alignment with your goals. Saying “no” in these situations can free up time and allow you to say “yes” to more fulfilling activities that are in alignment with your goals.

Last year was my year of “no.” For example, I dropped out of two professional groups I’d been a member of for quite a while because they were no longer helping me grow my business. I’ve been able to maintain the friendships I’d developed in those groups, but I am now able to devote the time I’d otherwise have spent attending the group’ events to other activities that align better with my current situation. Two other long-term members of one of the groups also dropped out after I did – my move prompted them to re-evaluate their priorities and see that their time would be better spent on other things.

So, what activities are you engaged in that no longer serve you well? Rather than just rolling along, evaluate if they are still a good fit for what you want out of life. Here are some thoughts that may help you feel bolder about saying “no”:

  • Every time you say “yes” to doing something, you’re saying “no” to other things you won’t have time to do as a result.
  • Even if the requester tries to entice you with how little time their request will take (e.g., “It will only take a few minutes”) remember that you’ll never get that time back.
  • Rather than considering only the amount of time your obligation will require you to invest by saying “yes”, think of what it will cost you in terms of activities and accomplishments you won’t have time for. For example, attending a meeting won’t just take up 30 minutes of your life, it will cost you time away from your family.
  • When you’re compelled to say “yes,” be aware of whether you’re responding out of a sincere desire to be of service, or rather out of a sense of fear, obligation, or payback. Reconsider your response if it’s one of the latter three. Of course, you may still decide to assist, but at least you’ll be doing it consciously.
  • Rather than a flat-out “no,” consider whether you can say “yes” to some part of the request, or help out in some other way that is more agreeable to you.
  • It’s not only other people we sometimes should sat “no” to – television, social media, reading blogs (gasp!), and kids’ activities (do they need to be involved in quite so many?) are just some examples of behaviors that can steal our time from more fulfilling endeavors.

Saying “no” may not be easy, but it is essential to long-term fulfillment. I’d love to hear what you’ve said “no” (or “yes”) to and how it’s changed your life.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog

Slow Down and Live Deliberately

 TurtleI hope you had a nice Thanksgiving holiday and were able to spend meaningful time with people you love. I also hope you can take that feeling of thankfulness with you as you move headlong into the frenzy of the holiday season. Here are some ideas on how to build on the peacefulness and simplicity that Thanksgiving represents – how to slow down and live deliberately. My wish for you is that you can rejoice in the gifts you have and make the most of each day.

Make time for people. Recognize the power you have to affect the mood of the people who cross your path, and subsequently, the people who cross the path of each of those people. For example, while it may be tempting to roll your eyes and tap your foot impatiently as the person in front of you in the checkout line chats and laughs with the cashier, consider following their example to make time for people you might typically marginalize. A smile and kind word can go a long way to not only improve their day, but to make you feel good as well.

Notice nature. Many of us rush through our day hurrying here and there without even noticing our surroundings. Rather than pounding your steering wheel in frustration when traffic is crawling, use the slowdown as an opportunity to connect with nature: notice whatever trees, birds, or other plants or animals are nearby; enjoy the sunshine, moonlight, clouds or breeze that accompany you. Studies have shown there’s a positive relationship between exposure to nature and mental health, so take advantage of chances to experience it.

Make time for what you value. Rather than bouncing from task to task, be deliberate about how you spend your time so it aligns with what’s important to you. If you value time with family, find a way to spend more time each day with them. If you value a hobby or activity, figure out how you can clear some time to devote to it. Maybe you can delegate some tasks (e.g., cleaning house, doing yard work) that don’t feed your soul and that take away time from what you enjoy. Maybe you can find more efficient ways to do less-fulfilling tasks so you have more time for what you love.

Give the gift of yourself. Share your time, talent and/or treasure with a cause you believe in. Whether you directly provide the services of the organization whose mission you support, serve that organization in a supporting role, or support that organization financially, assisting others can help take your focus off your own worries and allow you to reflect on the blessings in your life.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,


Productivity Tips for Working at Home

bunny slippers for working at homeI’ve been lucky enough to work at home part- or full-time since 1990. For the first ten years of that period, I worked for a large company and was able to work in my bunny slippers two days a week. Being accountable to my boss and the people who worked for me was great motivation to stay focused and be productive, even though no one was physically able to see what I was up to. Working for myself since 2000 has required a new level of focus – only I know whether I’ve met my objectives for the day or played hooky. If you’re a “home worker,” the following tips will help you stay focused and productive, even if no one else is watching.

Think through your work area. Although it’s important to have easy access to the equipment and supplies you need, the beauty of working at home is that you don’t necessarily need an entire room dedicated to work, and you don’t necessarily have to work in just one place. For example, my “official” office is a nook in my basement, but in the summer (when I like to look outside), I work at my dining room table, or even on my deck. Find a space in your home that will not only accommodate the equipment and supplies you need, but will also allow you to focus on work while still enjoying your surroundings.

Have regular office hours. When you work at home there’s always the temptation to keep on working into the night – after all, there’s always something you could work on. Consider setting a time to close up shop, and at the designated time, turn off your computer, stop replying to texts and e-mails, and even consider turning off the ringer on your phone or put your cell phone on silent. Your brain will appreciate the break, and your friends and family will appreciate your full attention without the distraction of work activities.

Keep work and personal tasks separate. Sure it only takes a few minutes to throw in a load of laundry or make a phone call to schedule doctor’s appointment, but when you interrupt your workflow to take care of personal tasks, you potentially waste a lot of time ramping back up to get into work mode. If you need to take care of personal tasks during your workday, schedule regular times to take care of them – knowing you have time carved out for these things will allow you to feel confident they’ll get taken care of and help you resist the urge to interrupt yourself throughout the day. If you have kids or pets who might disrupt your workday, consider getting help from other family members or professionals to take care of them during work hours – sometimes a closed door or a “mommy/daddy’s busy” admonishment just aren’t enough.

Take regular breaks. Although interrupting yourself to work on personal tasks during work time can be inefficient, it’s also important that you do take some breaks during your workday. Visit my previous blog post on this subject and determine how and when a break or two makes sense for you.

Build in people time. One of the complaints I often hear from home workers is the isolation they feel from working solo. Re-energize yourself by building “people time” into your day or week – meet a friend for lunch, make time for personal phone calls, or bring your work to a coffee shop. Or save money and travel time by simulating the coffee shop atmosphere at home with sites/apps like Coffitivity.

Keep things in perspective. No matter whether you work at home or in an office, your focus shouldn’t be on how much time you spend working as much as on how much important work you accomplish. Here’s to your success!

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Signature Sue

5 Simple Ways to Get Motivated

motivation“I know I should do it, but I just don’t feel like doing it.” I hear that a lot from my clients – they want to get organized or finish a project or knock some things off their to-do list, but they just can’t muster the motivation to do it. This happens to me sometimes as well – I do all the easy stuff on my list until the big, ugly task is all that’s left. Unless you can live with the outcome of not doing something (in which case, enjoy the freedom of crossing it off your list) here are five simple tips to increase your motivation:

  1. Break it down. Sometimes the lack of motivation can be traced to being overwhelmed – the thing we need to do is so big and seemingly insurmountable that we just shut down and claim defeat. Rather than waving the white flag of surrender, identify the very first step you need to take to get started on the project: maybe it’s to make a phone call to get more information; maybe it’s to read the first paragraph of the instruction manual; maybe it’s to create an outline for the paper you have to write. Whatever is facing you, break it down into individual, tiny steps, because “inch by inch, it’s a cinch.” See my prior blog post on this topic for more inspiration.
  2. Focus on the outcome. Rather than bog yourself down with the unpleasantness of what you need to do, focus on the bigger picture of how you would benefit by doing it. For example, I don’t particularly like to exercise, but I do like to eat, so I focus on the guilt-free treat I’ll be able to enjoy after I finish my less-than-enjoyable workout. Anticipation of that pleasant feeling is all it takes to get me to lace up my gym shoes.
  3. Exercise. Speaking of working out, exercise not only provides physical benefits, but it can also improve your mental outlook. Whether you go for a leisurely stroll or an all-out, heart-pounding workout session, exercise to boost your mental output, which you can then harness into the motivation of mind over matter.
  4. Attempt it at a different time of day. Do you know when your peak mental energy time is (see my prior blog post on this topic)? Things that are difficult or unpleasant are usually easier to tackle when we have the mental horsepower to devote to them. Determine at what time of day you’re most mentally alert and use that time for the things you have trouble getting around to doing.
  5. Organize your space. Clutter and chaos in our physical surroundings can leave us overwhelmed and exhausted. There’s so much stuff screaming for our attention that it’s hard to focus on whatever it is we want to work on. De-cluttering and organizing your physical space, be it a desk, countertop or entire room, can help overcome the feeling of overwhelm. Create an orderly environment to reduce your stress and create the mindset you need to focus on the task at hand.

On any given day and for any given person, some of these tips might work better than others, so feel free to experiment with what works best for you. I’d love to hear how you get motivated.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Becker

Unplugged and Loving It

Last week I was on vacation with my husband in Ohio. We visited Cuyahoga Valley National Park (yes, there’s a national park in Ohio!). Our trip certainly wasn’t fancy, but it was fabulous for lots of reasons: we were outdoors most of the time – my favorite place to be; we were active (biking, hiking and kayaking) – my favorite way to be; and I was able to reconnect with some college friends I hadn’t seen for years (I’m not telling how many). But one of the biggest reasons the trip was so great was because I unplugged my laptop and turned off my cell phone.

It’s amazing how much more present I was able to be without the distraction of phone calls, texts and emails – I was able to soak in the beautiful scenery, enjoy the exhilaration of our activities, and fully engage in conversations with my husband and friends. My brain was free of the clutter of things to do and other people’s demands on my time that usually take up space in my brain.

I’m very low-tech when it comes to connectedness: I don’t have a Smartphone or tablet, so I can’t check email or the Internet except when I’m in front of my computer; I rarely watch TV (I don’t even have cable); and I use a paper planner rather than something electronic. Even though my electronic connectedness is already very limited in normal circumstances, shutting it down entirely was incredibly liberating. I can only imagine how much more freeing it would have felt if I was normally even more connected.

My experience of feeling so liberated when I turned off my electronic connections got me wondering how different (and probably better) other people’s lives might be if they were able to disconnect even one day a week and just “be.” So I challenge you to take a day, or even a weekend, and turn everything off. Turn off your phone, your computer, and yes, your television. Spend the time you’d otherwise be with your electronics with the people you love: have a meaningful, uninterrupted conversation; play a game or do a puzzle; take a walk outside. The point is to unplug and connect with other human beings.

I’d love to hear how your experiment with unplugging goes, so please let me know. I’m guessing it will lead to more heartfelt interactions with people, a keener awareness of your surroundings, and an intense sense of peace. So don’t look for excuses – unplug! I look forward to hearing from you (after you plug back in, of course!).

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Stop the Email Onslaught

Email – some days (maybe most) it’s like a faucet you just can’t turn off. The relentlessness of email is the most common complaint I get from people, both in the workplace and at home. As helpless as you may feel, there are some things you can do to stop the assault:

Send fewer emails. Every email you send provides the opportunity for at least one more email to show up in your inbox when your recipient responds. There certainly are instances where sending an email is appropriate, but make sure a phone call or some other means of communication wouldn’t make more sense. This can be especially true when you’re trying to set up a meeting time – the back-and-forth of picking a date can often be eliminated with a quick call in real time.

Don’t automatically “Reply All.” As noted above, every email you send invites an email response. Do yourself and everyone on the distribution list a favor and only reply to people who need to know. They’d be much happier getting one fewer email than being party to your clever yet irrelevant response.

Respond thoroughly. Make sure you respond to each issue raised by the sender. A partial reply will require a second email (or maybe a phone call) to clarify issues that weren’t addressed in your original response. For example, I recently received a reply to an email in which I asked the recipient whether she’d rather go biking or kayaking and which dates work best for her. She replied that she’d rather go kayaking, but I had to send a second email to firm up the date. Yes, a phone call might have been a better option.

Send concise but thorough messages. Emails aren’t typically meant to be works of literary genius – the point is to convey information as clearly as possible and, in some cases, elicit a response. I try to make my subject line the entire message whenever possible. If more detail is required, I use bullet points so each idea stands out, rather than being buried in prose. I also write with the intent of telling the recipient exactly what I want them to do – I use phrases like “please tell me,” “let me know,” and “is it ok with you?” There’s less ambiguity and therefore less back-and-forth when you use direct language.

Check email less often. I’ve previously written about how disruptive it can be to be constantly checking email. Establish pre-determined times to check for new messages and thoroughly process each one as you read it. It’s better to be methodical and thorough in each response than to have a bunch of read but unprocessed emails that you’ll have to go back and re-read later.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Manage Yourself to Stay Organized

I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t feel as though they’re constantly being pulled in a million (ok, maybe a dozen) different directions. While the pace of life can be frantic, it is possible to stay on top of it all. Establishing some simple habits to manage the flow of information and stuff can help you gain control of your busy life. Here’s a brief overview of how to manage what’s coming at you – I’ve linked each topic to my prior newsletters and blog posts where you can find more detailed information on how to proceed. 

Manage where you have to be. Use a calendar, planner or electronic tool to track appointments, events and to-dos. Write everything here so nothing slips through the cracks and you don’t double-book yourself.

Manage what you have to do. Use a prioritized task list to keep track of all the random things you have to get done. Don’t rely on your great memory to pull you through – at some point something important will get forgotten. Move things from intention to commitment by identifying when you’ll do them.

Manage demands on your time. Don’t commit to doing something before you consider how it will impact other things you want to accomplish. Evaluate whether requests for your time are in alignment with your goals and priorities. Be comfortable saying “no” when taking on a new commitment cause you to have to postpone or eliminate achieving an important goal.

Manage your paper flow. Create a system for each piece of incoming paper. Make it your mission to do something meaningful with each item you handle. Don’t just put it down to deal with later – do something to move it along on its journey towards completion.  

Here’s a link to my newsletter where you can read more about how to stay organized.

Best wishes as you discover the simplicity, harmony and freedom of managing what’s flowing into your life,

5 Easy Tips to Maintain Your Organized Spaces

No matter whether you’re organizing your closet or your office, time management issues underlie most disorganization challenges. While there certainly needs to be a place in the closet for each item of clothing, and a place to file the papers that inundate most offices, establishing those places is only part of the solution. Once you find a place where everything belongs, you still need to create time in your day to maintain the organizing system. Here are 5 easy tips to help you keep things under control:

  1.  1. Block out time on your calendar for daily clean-up. Don’t skip a day; once you allow a little bit of mess to accumulate, it’s easy for things to drift out of control. I call this phenomenon clutter creep; one day you have a small pile, and before you know it, you’re back to the same chaos you had before. The only exception I might make to the daily clean-up rule is for filing – if you are diligent about honoring a once-a-week filing schedule, you can accumulate things to be filed in a single container, confident that within the next 7 days they’ll be where they belong. If you’re likely to shun the weekly ritual, file things daily and save yourself the anguish of not being able to find a document when you need it.

2. Take a photo of your organized spaces to remind yourself of what they should look like. Refer to these photos when you do your daily cleanup to make sure you’re getting everything put away. I know this may sound a bit excessive, but you’re less likely to overlook out-of-place items when you have a picture of what your space should look like. Don’t believe me? Just give it a try.

3. Get help maintaining your systems. Enlist a partner to encourage and remind you to maintain your daily clean-up routine until it becomes a habit. Your partner can be your spouse, a friend, a coach, a co-worker – anyone who will gently, non-judgmentally support you as you develop the habit of daily clean-up. I participate in a free service called Buddy Hive that helps people get things done – maybe you can request a buddy to keep you on track.

4. Make it fun. Cleaning and organizing doesn’t have to be drudgery – play some upbeat music, set a timer to play beat the clock, or do whatever makes the clean-up process energizing for you. 

5.  Reward yourself. Although enjoying the freedom of being organized can be its own incentive, reward yourself for sticking to your maintenance routine. After you’ve maintained your organized space for a few weeks, take a moment to pat yourself on the back, at least figuratively. I find ice cream is always a welcome reward. And if you have trouble maintaining your organized spaces, don’t give up. Revisit the steps I’ve laid out here and take it one day at a time.

I’d love to hear what helps you maintain your organized spaces.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,