Category Archives: Productivity

Productivity: Where You Sit Matters

Yesterday I watched myself carefully choose a seat in Starbucks. I was between meetings and

I didn’t choose to sit at this table because none of the chairs put me in the Power Position. One chair had its back to the main door, one chair had its back to the flow of traffic going to and from the bathroom and exiting the building, and the third chair had its back to the flow of traffic entering by the back door. In all positions my nervous system would be on high alert, and I would feel vulnerable.

needed a place where I could get work done on my computer. I noticed that not just any seat would do. It had to be the most comfortable seat in the restaurant.

I’m not talking about the comfort of the chair I would sit in. All the chairs were the same. I’m referring to the location of the chair in the restaurant. I passed chairs that had their backs to glass walls and chairs that faced outside with their backs to the flow of customer traffic. I was searching for a seat where I could have a solid wall behind me and a full view of the front door.

Why would I be so deliberate about my choice of seating? In my feng shui training I learned that I can be most productive and successful if I position myself in the Power Position when I am working. The Power Position is a location where I have a solid wall behind me and a full view of the door. My nervous systems is programmed for survival. A solid wall behind me ensures that I won’t be surprised from behind. A view of the door makes it possible to know what’s coming at me so I can prepare to defend myself if needed.

The chair where you see the computer was my choice because it put me in the Power Position. I had a solid wall behind me and a full view of both doors.

When I don’t have a solid wall behind me, my nervous system is on high alert for possible threats and therefore can’t settle down to focus my full attention on my work. If I don’t have a view of the door, a part of me feels unsettled, again making it impossible to be fully present to my work. The Power Position is the most comfortable place to sit, a place where my nervous system can settle down and I can focus on important things other than safety. Putting myself in the Power Position is a choice for personal empowerment and productivity.

It has become a habit to position myself in the Power Position whenever I sit down. Yesterday I really wanted to get work done at my computer. I knew if I could find a comfortable place to seat myself, I’d be able to get a lot done. If I couldn’t do that, I would be less productive.

Fortunately the best seat in the house was available with a solid wall behind me and a full view

My view of both doors (one at the end and one just off to the right) and most of the activity in the space plus a solid wall behind me made it possible for me to relax and focus on my work.

of both doors into the coffee shop. It was interesting to note that there were only two seats in the whole restaurant that put customers in the Power Position. Perhaps Starbucks unconsciously wants customers to be a little unsettled and not too comfortable, so they won’t linger, thereby making space for other customers. Or, the interior designers for Starbucks aren’t aware of feng shui principles and the effect that seating can have on the comfort and productivity of clients.

With awareness of the importance of sitting in the Power Position, you too can make seating decisions that lead to having the best focus, brainpower, and productivity.

Planning Is an Intentional Thought Process

Planning can take you from wanting something to attaining it.

If I really want something, like I did when I wanted to become a Certified Organizer Coach®, I first do research to identify what is required to achieve the goal, and given what I learn, decide if it’s a goal I really want to aim for. Next, I plan how I will make that happen. For example, I ask myself the following questions:

  • How will I pay for it?
  • When will I start the classes?
  • How will I fit the classes, the practice coaching sessions, and other work required into my schedule?
  • What challenges am I likely to encounter?
  • What options do I have for handling challenges?

Planning is an active, intentional thought process that helps me go from wanting something to having it. It is the thinking required to organize myself first to determine if achieving my goal is possible, and then to outline the steps I need to take to achieve my goal. Once I’ve planned, I’m prepared to take action. Achieving the goal is the end result.

Change Your Thoughts, Stop Procrastinating!

Victory over procrastination is possible. I speak from recent experience. This past weekend the weather was warm enough to work outside. It was a perfect time to offer to help my neighbor prune a grape vine that was threatening to engulf his forsythia. Why would I want to do that? The forsythia bush is in my direct line of sight from my kitchen window. Watching that vine overtake that lovely forsythia was very disturbing to me, bad feng shui! I didn’t want to face another season of observing the forsythia succumb to an out-of-control weed.

When I returned from doing errands and considered what to do next, I contemplated the task of tearing out the grape vine. Immediately my brain began to formulate excuses for not doing it:

  • It would be boring.
  • It would be overwhelming.
  • I would get dirty.
  • I could encounter poison ivy.
  • I hate making phone calls (I needed to call my neighbor).

As I processed each thought I noted that my energy and enthusiasm for tackling the task diminished. Fortunately I recognized the familiar voice of the way I procrastinate and chose to stop those thoughts mid-stream. In their place I thought of reasons why it was important that I offer to help my neighbor evict the grapevines that day:

  • The branches and vines are completely visible now before new growth appears. In a few weeks the job will be much harder to do, much easier to procrastinate doing, and would probably not get done.
  • The weather is warm for February (60’s F). Not too cold and not too hot.
  • My house cleaner is in my house, so it is not completely comfortable to be there.
  • I enjoy yard work and always feel better physically after doing it.

It was the perfect time to go to battle with the grapevines! My hibernating winter self wanted to resist the call to go outside and do the task. However, weighing my excuses against the importance of getting the job done right away, because it would be easier to do and weather conditions were ideal, I picked up the phone. As the phone rang I wondered if  my neighbor would be up for the chore. He could decline my offer and that would be that. He answered, and after a pause (probably doing battle with his own reluctance to leave the comfort of his arm chair), agreed to accept my help.

The result: the task took much less time to do than I thought it would, especially with two of us doing it; we cut out the offending vine that I now know came from just a single root; I cut out and put an herbicide on the poison ivy I found; I now know where the poison ivy vines originate, so I know where to continue to apply herbicide; I cut back the forsythia that had spread into my garden; I enjoyed and was energized by the process of rescuing the forsythia and working outside, and, I now love the view from my kitchen.

What thoughts block you from taking action on important tasks? Change them and take action!

Income Tax Prep Without Procrastination

Do you dread getting ready for taxes? If you have a paper clutter nightmare to address in order

Don’t let paper clutter keep you from getting your taxes done!

to gather together the papers you need to complete your taxes, the task of getting ready for taxes can feel very heavy. For those of you with ADHD, it ranks right up there as not only a very heavy task, because keeping your papers organized is not your strong suit, but also as a VERY boring task. If you fear of the IRS or find the task anxiety provoking and too complex to face, this time of year is also much dreaded.

Procrastinating tax prep is very common. If you identify with scenarios above, I highly recommend you invest in support to get the task done. It will be money well spent!

Support can be asking a friend or family member to be with you while you gather your papers together. Or, it can be hiring a professional organizer to help you complete the task. An organizer will get the job done about four times faster than you could do it yourself. Plus, being in the presence of the organizer, a productivity and paper-sorting expert, will make the job seem far less daunting.

With the support of a knowledgeable, caring person you will find it much easier to manage feelings of overwhelm, anxiety, embarrassment or shame, common feelings that emerge at a time like this. The whole process becomes more of a social event than a dreaded task.

I help one of my ADHD clients find and organize the papers she needs to submit to her accountant every year. We’ve been doing it for 10 years or more. Together it only takes about 30 minutes at most to gather all the information she needs. She is then ready to submit her information to her accountant or knows exactly what to do to acquire any remaining documentation. If we didn’t tackle her taxes together she could easily procrastinate doing the chore right up to the deadline.

If taxes are your nemesis, a task associated with high anxiety, embarrassment or shame, get help! Gift yourself with the peace of mind that comes from getting that important yet dreaded task done. 

SPECIAL OFFER!!! Contact me at 804-730-4991 by April 15 to receive 25% off the cost of two hours of hands-on paper clutter clearing and organizing to get ready for taxes.

Procrastination: Normal vs. Problematic

Not all procrastination is created equal. We all procrastinate, probably every day. It is very normal to put off doing tasks for a variety of reasons: you don’t feel like doing the task; you’d rather do something else; the task will take longer than the time available; you don’t have enough mental energy for the task; the task is too hard to do on your own; the task is not the most important thing to do at the moment, etc. The list goes on and on.

It is normal to procrastinate. You can’t do everything at once. You must make choices about how to use your time and energy. I might put off taking the garbage out tonight or put off taking suitcases to the attic. If I wait to do those tasks for a day or two, there will only be a minor inconvenience. That is what I call “normal” procrastination.

If those tasks are not accomplished for a week, and other tasks are put off as well, what began as minor visual and perhaps olfactory disturbances could grow into a more serious problem, one that will take much more time and energy to address. What started as normal procrastination then becomes “problematic” procrastination.

Normal procrastination is usually short-term, involves small, less important tasks, and results in few serious consequences. It becomes problematic procrastination when small tasks are postponed more frequently and for longer periods of time or when important tasks (e.g. those that affect finances, job, relationships, health) are put off to the point of crisis. The price for problematic procrastination can be very high — loss of reputation, job difficulties or loss, relationships challenges or divorce, deterioration or loss of residence, financial difficulties (problems with the IRS, bankruptcy, ruined credit), and health deterioration to name a few.

We all procrastinate. Do you procrastinate in a way that has no serious consequences or does it lead to challenges in many areas of your life? If you would describe your procrastination as problematic, your procrastination could be caused by ADHD. ADHD is a mechanical problem in the brain whose symptoms include difficulty with starting tasks (procrastinating), particularly those that are boring and uninteresting.

If you have ADHD or think you have it, treatment for the disorder can help you procrastinate less and get more done. Schedule a FREE 30-60 minute Back on Track phone coaching session today to discuss your procrastination challenges and options for help to procrastinate less and be more productive.

Procrastination = Attempt to Feel Good Now

I’ve been reading articles on procrastination to prepare for speeches I

Who is winning?

Who is winning?

will give in March 2017. I was particularly fascinated by “Procrastination: A Scientific Guide on How to Stop Procrastinating,” an article by James Clear, which suggests that procrastination is a result of our present and future selves being at odds with each other.

Our future self plans and sets goals. It can see the benefit of taking actions with long-term benefits. Our present self is actually responsible for taking action. And, guess what? It really likes instant gratification. It seeks pleasure in the moment and tends to make choices to avoid discomfort, thus is likely to procrastinate tasks that could cause discomfort in the moment.

Clear says that we value long-term benefits when they are in the future, not in the present moment. You can vow to go to the gym to get it shape and lose weight when you set your annual goals. Getting in shape and losing weight are in the future. Having to go to the gym or stop eating ice cream, tasks that are necessary to achieve your goal, are in the present. It’s easy to lose sight of those laudable future goals when your bed feels so warm and comfortable in the morning or you have a tasty treat in front of you. Thus you procrastinate getting regular exercise and making healthy food choices.

According to Clear, your present self is not likely to be motivated to avoid long term consequences because we aren’t connected to our future selves. That self seems so far away and impervious to current benefits and consequences of actions taken today.

One answer to the future/present self conflict offered by Clear is to make the rewards of taking action with long-term benefits more immediate. When the benefits of long-term choices are more immediate, you will be more motivated take action now.

Clear suggests that you can achieve this with “temptation bundling,” a concept that came out of behavioral economics research performed by Katy Milkman at The University of Pennsylvania. Temptation bundling involves combining a behavior that is good for you in the long-run with a behavior that feels good in the short-run. Some of his examples include: only listen to audiobooks or podcasts you love while exercising; only get a pedicure while processing overdue work emails.

Clear’s information offers a very plausible explanation for why so many people have great difficulty starting and sustaining an exercise program, losing weight, and accomplishing many long-term goals despite the best of intentions. Is your present self running the show? Is the result undue stress and failure to accomplish important business and life goals?

Task Inflation Procrastination

I’m writing a speech on procrastination. I procrastinate. We all do to15873280_10208316588022928_397351164930254615_n varying degrees. As I’ve watched myself, my husband, and my clients procrastinate, I’ve learned that there are different reasons for procrastination. I thought I’d heard them all until today when a coaching client spoke of what was keeping her from completing a task that was not difficult or even time consuming to do.

I’ve known for some time that my ADHD clients can paralyze themselves by looking at the whole task to be done instead of focusing on the next step to take in the completion of a task. I call it the “looking at the forest instead of the trees” problem. It happens when the enormity of a task shuts down mental processes. It’s a very common cause for procrastination. It can be addressed by breaking a task into a series of smaller steps (eat an elephant one bite at a time) and taking one step at a time. If you do that you can avoid shutting down your brain and keep making progress. 

What I hadn’t heard before was procrastination caused by viewing a task as too overwhelming because you’ve added a much larger task onto a smaller task. In this case my client needed to complete putting Christmas decorations away in order to reclaim her dining room. That task would normally have taken 30-45 minutes to complete if she simply put things the decorations where they belong.

However, in my client’s mind the “Christmas decoration task” became connected to the “organize the garage” task. She saw putting the Christmas decorations away as an opportunity to also tackle organizing her garage since that’s where the decorations are stored. Those two tasks were then glued together in her thinking.

In her mind the task was no longer a 30-45 minute, fairly simple task. It had become a time-consuming, complicated task that could take hours and perhaps several days to complete alone.  Putting the Christmas decorations away was just a minor part of that big task.

Because putting the Christmas decorations away had ballooned into a garage reorganization project, it became so big that the “looking at the forest” problem kicked in and led to procrastination. What is exciting about the coaching process is that we had the opportunity to unearth the block that kept my client from completing the task.

As we talked and explored her reluctance to finish putting Christmas decorations away, she became aware that she was thinking of the Christmas decoration cleanup as part of the much larger garage organizing task. That awareness helped her realize that her expectation that she reorganize the whole garage at the same time that she put away Christmas decorations was keeping her stuck. She was then able to consider ways to disconnect the garage reorganization project from the Christmas cleanup so she could finally be done with Christmas.

Look at some of the tasks you are avoiding. Are you stuck because you’ve made a simple task into a much more complicated project in your mind? If so, you too have the option to change your mind to get unstuck and moving.

If procrastination is a recurring problem for you, coaching is a great way to make changes necessary to reduce procrastination. I offer a free 30-60 minute Back On Track phone coaching consultation for anyone who wants to experience coaching first hand and explore options for addressing challenges that interfere with their productivity. Start your New Year on the right track! Schedule a free coaching consultation now! 

3 Tips Reduce Christmas Holiday Overwhelm

Let’s face it. Adding holiday tasks to your overly full schedule creates521629_519879618030834_1602480263_n pressure, stress and often overwhelm. It’s enough to shut you down and cause you to avoid doing anything.

Over the years as I too have struggled to get everything done I’ve unconsciously developed some strategies to manage my seasonal overwhelm. Following are three that work very well for me.

Combine holiday tasks with regular daily tasks.

      • You need to get groceries. Why not buy the ingredients for your baking and holiday meals while doing your regular grocery shopping? Or, you could buy edible Christmas gifts or gift cards. 
      • TV helps you unwind after a busy day. You can address, stamp and perhaps even write Christmas cards while enjoying your favorite shows. Or, you could wrap a few packages each night to avoid having to wrap them all at once.

Break big tasks down to bite size pieces.

      • Looking at the task of writing Christmas cards can be daunting because there are so many boring steps. That task can be broken down into the following steps: get your address list together, address cards, stamp cards, write cards, mail cards. Make one step your goal instead of the whole task and you are more likely to do something rather than avoid the task altogether.
      • Rather than tackle your whole gift list at once, plan to buy one gift per day (online or in stores) as you move through your regular daily activities rather than feeling you must devote large blocks of time to shopping.

Give the same type of gift to many people on your list.

      • This year I have made small, economical photo books for almost all of my family members.
      • Every year I give Cracker Candy to family and friends. It’s the only thing I bake and is loved by everyone.
      • Gift cards to restaurants and stores that family and friends frequent allow them to have experiences and purchases things that matter to them.

Melding holiday chores into your daily life, doing a little at a time rather than thinking you should eat the whole elephant at once, and simplifying what you do will make it possible for you to get holiday preparations done with less stress and more pleasure.

It’s Normal to Be Unproductive When Grieving

My mother died last week after at least seven years of gradual decline due to20160507_120423-1 strokes, vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s. Mom and I had always been very close, more like sisters than mother and daughter. Her death created a big void in my life. For the last 4 1/2 years I had been the coordinator of her care, a responsibility that was very heavy both emotionally and physically, and was as consuming as a full time job. When she died I lost that job, and I lost my closest connection with a family member. I felt numb, lost, unfocused and terribly sad.

Normally I am very productive. I value getting things done and making the most of my time. For years I had been running as fast as I could to keep up with home, work, and caregiving responsibilities for Mom and my disabled brother, Mark. When she died everything stopped except for taking steps to clear her apartment and plan her memorial celebration. Even the simplest of tasks too, so much energy.

Of particular concern was the fact that I had no energy to work on my business. Since I’m self-employed as a professional organizer, speaker and coach, I must work to be paid. After Mom’s death my grief flattened me, kept me stuck in slow motion, and unable to muster any interest and enthusiasm for picking up the reins of my business.

Fortunately I know a lot about the grief process and knew that he kind of grief I am describing is normal. Being productive immediately after such a big loss was not even remotely possible and was not a fair expectation. There are times when it is not realistic to expect yourself to jump back into action. This is one of those times.

Rather than beat myself up or worry myself to death about my malaise and its effect on my business, I chose to acknowledge my grief and give myself some breathing room until my energy and motivation return. Although that is not my normal way of operating, and I have twitched a bit about my slower pace, I know that to do anything else would be terribly disrespectful at this time.

Rushing right back into action would delay grieving. The underlying grief would then make it impossible to access my best self, focus and do my best work. By allowing myself to move through my grief at my own pace, I am making it more likely that I will be able to return to my former level of productivity.

Past Trauma Can Block Current Productivity

You need to do a task. If you do the task, you will reduce your anxiety. You will be able flower-1030408_640to get back on track. Not doing the task is keeping you stuck. You don’t understand why you can’t take action. What is blocking your initiative?

Does this sound familiar? People with ADHD get stuck in this mental spin all the time because they have executive function deficits that manifest as problems with initiating action. But, you can have this type of problem even if you don’t have ADHD.

Past traumas held in our unconscious mind can block productivity. If you had a difficult experience in your past, one that produced a strong emotional reaction like terror, fear, shame, or overwhelm, the unconscious memory of it can still be affecting you today.

My client, “Ellen,” was freaked out about how much money she had spent on renovations on her new home. A call to her banker would have provided her information she needed to accurately assess where she stood financially and be equipped to make good decisions going forward. She knew she needed to call her banker, but just could not make herself pick up the phone.

At first I thought perhaps she was avoiding the call because of fear of finding out that she was in big trouble financially. However, when we explored the issue in coaching, our conversation led us back to her childhood where she had experienced extreme feelings of hopelessness, embarrassment, fear and shame in school whenever she had to deal with numbers.

Her past experience with struggle and failure with math had caused her to avoid proactively dealing with her finances as an adult. Because she felt flawed and inadequate when dealing with numbers as a child, she avoided circumstances and tasks that could cause similar feelings. Her avoidance of the phone call was resistance to exposing herself to an experience that could cause all those uncomfortable feelings to resurface.

Once we uncovered the roots of her resistance, Ellen got off the phone and called the bank. Seeing the block, acknowledging it and its origins removed its emotional hold on her.

If you are stuck and can’t take action, check your past. Is the task you are trying to do similar to something you were unsuccessful at doing earlier in your life? Does it take you back to a difficult time in your life or a time when you felt inadequate, experienced failure, were shamed by others or felt alone and helpless? Identify the time. Acknowledge the source of your block. Replay the experience and remind yourself that you are older now with many more resources and sources of support available to you. Then, take action.

An ADHD-Friendly Strategy to Be Productive

Initiating tasks and sustaining attention and  effort to a completion point are

The reward for progress!

The reward for progress!

very difficult for most people with ADHD, particularly if a task is uninteresting, boring, or repetitious. Consequently people with ADHD often live surrounded by numerous unfinished tasks.

At Adventures in ADD, a local meetup group, I learned a great strategy for getting things done that is designed to be ADHD-friendly. ADHD symptoms occur because the pre-frontal cortex of a person with ADHD is under-stimulated, resulting in executive function deficits. Consequently people with ADHD seek stimulation in order to fully engage their brains. Their brains are stimulated by fun activities, newness, crises, conflict and endeavors that are interesting to them.

The woman (I’ll call her “Edna”) who shared her strategy for getting things done probably did not know the neurobiological explanation for her productivity challenges. However, she knew she got bored easily and would likely bounce away from tasks when they were not interesting. Taking that information Edna developed the following strategy.

Edna identifies four or five different tasks she needs to get done. She works on one task until she gets bored (about 10-15 minutes). She then stops and rewards herself with a short period of time working on a jigsaw puzzle. She really loves putting puzzles together. Then she moves on to another task for 10-15 minutes followed by another puzzle break. Working in this way she gets work done on each of the tasks.

Edna is able to sustain effort and interest in working on her tasks because she has limited the time she spends on any one task and thereby avoids the ADHD tendencies to get bored easily, to get overwhelmed by the enormity of a task and to bounce away from a task to seek something more interesting and fun. She also deliberately provides what her brain craves — fun! She is willing to work for puzzle time! And, she makes progress on four or five tasks.

A strength of people with ADHD is their creativity and willingness to think outside the box. This strategy is evidence of both! Thanks, Edna!

Are You Stuck? How Coaching Can Help

Are you stuck, unable to take a step forward because of fear, frustration, not knowing

Are you stuck and frustrated?

Are you stuck and frustrated?

what to do, not knowing how to do something, because your thoughts are spinning in your head? Coaching can help.

I recently worked with a woman who has ADD. She came to our coaching session feeling frustrated because she had tried very hard to get a number of tasks done that day and kept running into roadblocks. With each road block she became more and more frustrated. The frustration sent her thoughts spinning. She was having great difficulty figuring out her next step.

In our coaching we talked about what happened that day, the challenges, her actions, her attempts to make progress despite roadblocks. As we talked she gradually calmed down. That was no small feat. It can be difficult for the ADD brain to settle down once aroused by uncomfortable feelings. The act of putting her struggle into words that I could understand helped her look at her situation more objectively.

My role was to listen to her story, ask questions to clarify details, and help her identify her priorities. She went from feeling like everything was a priority, another common way that ADD shows up, to identifying two actions to focus on. Together we identified when she would do those tasks and followup actions to take if she ran into more roadblocks.

Two days later I got an email from this woman. She told me that once she took the first step, getting her cell phone working at the Verizon store, she felt better and was off and running. The first task we’d identified as most important was the block to further action. Once she got her phone fixed she wrote, “I did a number of other things on my To Do list and had a great time that night with friends. I went from feeling mentally exhausted to refreshed.” Plus, the next day she was so charged up from her successes the night before that she was motivated to knock off many more difficult steps.

Coaching provides a safe place to process current challenges and design actions with the support of another caring and interested person. When this woman took time out of her day to call me, having a supportive person on the other end of the phone created just the pause she needed to regroup, figure out what was most important and consider options for moving forward. Without our conversation she might have stayed stuck and spent her evening feeling frustrated and mad that she had accomplished  so little despite her efforts. Our coaching conversation made it possible for her to design a new game plan and take action.

Are you stuck? I invite you to schedule a free 30 minute Back on Track sample phone coaching session to explore the possibility of coaching as a resource and support to help you get moving to accomplish YOUR goals.

Get Organized for Taxes!

This is the time of year we dread! Once again we need to pull together financial

Tax preparation is a boring and often overwhelming and anxiety provoking process.

Tax preparation is a boring and often overwhelming and anxiety provoking process.

information to submit our federal and state taxes. Even if you’ve kept good records or you get someone to do your taxes, it’s a task that produces inner angst. That emotional angst can lead to procrastination of doing your taxes or getting your tax information to your tax preparer. That procrastination then leads to more angst.

Avoid the angst this year! Following are ways I’ve learned to manage my anxiety and get taxes done.

  1. Stop thinking you have to do things perfectly. For years I was frozen in fear and inaction because I was so sure I was going to make a mistake in my tax reporting. Instead of focusing on the need to get everything just right in a process I barely understand, I now focus on doing the task to the best of my ability. If the IRS finds a mistake, I won’t be thrown in jail or judged harshly by anyone but myself. I might have to pay a penalty, but I can handle a penalty.
  2. Gather all papers associated with your taxes (personal property tax information, W-2s, 1099s, interest statements, mortgage interest records, real estate tax information, tax preparation document from your tax preparer if you use one, etc.) into one file or box. Don’t look at the papers carefully, just assemble them together. Looking at the information will only generate unnecessary anxiety and lead to procrastination.
  3. Schedule a time to organize your tax-related papers. Tell someone else of your plan and ask them to call or text you at the designated time. Instruct them that you want them to check to see if you followed through with your plan to work on your taxes. Let them know you need support and encouragement, not nagging or judgment.
  4. Set the stage for successfully organizing your papers. Make sure you are in a comfortable location with lots of room to spread out documents. The space should have lots of light, both natural and artificial light. It should be free of distractions, like noise, demanding pets, children and other family members. Put on some relaxing music. Get yourself a beverage of your choice, preferably not alcohol. Doing those activities will increase the odds that you get started on the work you intend to accomplish. Combining pleasure with a dreaded task makes the dreaded task easier to face.
  5. Remind yourself that your goal is to make progress, not to complete the task perfectly. It can take several sessions to assemble all the information you need to submit for taxes. A realistic goal, one that is less likely to generate anxiety and overwhelm, is to get as much done as is possible in that session given the information you have. At the end of the first session you will probably have identified additional information and/or documents that you need to obtain. If you stick to the task until all the papers are sorted and missing items identified, you will have reached a good completion point and be armed with a to do list of next actions to take.
  6. Use the previous year’s tax form or the tax prep document provided by your tax preparer to help you identify the types of information you need to assemble.
  7. Separate the papers in your tax folder or box into two categories: 1) those you know you need like personal property tax information, W2s, etc.; 2) those that you might need to refer to, but may not need. Set aside the papers in the second category.
  8. Make a list information that is missing. As you sort, identify information that you don’t have, but will need to complete your taxes.  
  9. Gather the missing items, and you are ready to do your taxes or submit information to your tax preparer.
  10. Get help from family, friends or a professional organizer if despite your best intentions you cannot make yourself take action. Tax preparation is a boring, sometimes overwhelming and almost always a process that stirs uncomfortable feelings. Involve a supportive other to reduce your anxiety and make completion possible.

Thinking about tax preparation will likely always produce some dread. Perhaps it is associated with paying the government your hard earned money. Or, you see it as an opportunity to demonstrate how disorganized you and your papers are. Or, you view it as an opportunity to fail. It definitely makes you touch in on your financial reality. All those conditions can provoke anxiety.

Facing tax preparation from a grounded place with your emotions in check, with both knowledge of the process of preparation and strategies for managing uncomfortable feelings, however, you can transform the task from a highly charged event into just another annoying task to be done. What can you do today to jumpstart yourself into tax preparation?

Control Your Focus, Be More Productive!

“Don’t look back. That’s not where you are going.” Those are the wise words of Shirley T.IMG_3564 Burke, motivational speaker and my good friend. She is referring to looking back at your past. I completely agree with that statement when trying to move ahead in life. However, when I was shoveling snow yesterday, looking back actually helped me keep going.

Shoveling snow is one of those really boring, exhausting tasks that can be overwhelming. If I looked forward I felt overwhelmed by how much there was to do. But, if I looked back I could see and celebrate the progress that I had made. I got through the shoveling by glancing forward for a few seconds every now and then to keep my eye on my goal. Most of my time was spent with my head town shoveling and looking back at my progress. The success I’d already achieved motivated me to keep going.

The same strategy can be used for any big task you must do.

  • Set your sights on your goal.
  • Manage your overwhelm and negative thoughts like, “I’ll never get this done,” or “It’s just too much,” by only occasionally glancing at the distance to the finish line.
  • Keep your head down and work.
  • Frequently look back to notice how much you have gotten done.
  • Celebrate your success and keep moving forward.

You too can strategically look back to manage overwhelm and motivate yourself to move forward on any task, even boring tasks like shoveling snow.

Christmas Prep Procrastination

What’s blocking you from putting up your Christmas decorations and buying Christmas

Christmas decorationgifts? Here are some common blocks:

  • an overcommitted schedule
    • feelings of overwhelm at all that must be done
    • dislike of the process of decorating
    • dislike of the process of gift purchasing, wrapping and mailing
    • feelings of sadness over losses — the death of a loved one, the death of a marriage, the end of a way of being due to life changing events like death or divorce
    • a reluctance to ask for help when you are not physically able to do the above tasks
    • a belief that the season is too commercial
    • a belief that there is more to do than can be done
    • finding no value in the holiday season
    • a family crisis
    • resistance to the expectations of others
    • too much clutter that blocks motivation and action

There are probably many more reasons that  people procrastinate preparing for the holidays. Blocks are as personal as physical appearance.

What’s blocking you from taking action to make your holidays happy days? Awareness is the first step to removing a block. For example, once you realize that your overcommitted schedule is making it difficult to get your house decorated or gifts purchased, you can eliminate optional meetings and tasks. Or, if you dislike or get overwhelmed by any part of the process, you can ask for help from family members and friends. After all, ’tis the season to be giving.”

Remember, what you do at Christmas is a choice. Choose to take actions you enjoy instead of staying stuck in procrastination. That is a recipe for peace and joy!

Increase Productivity — Stop Answering the Phone

Want to get more done? Stop answering the phone every time it rings. I watch clients

Calls eat time!

Calls eat time!

when the phone rings during our clutter clearing sessions. Will they automatically answer it? Will they ignore it? Or, will they check the caller ID to see who is calling so they can decide whether it is essential to answer the call? After all, they are paying for my time.

The clients in the last two categories tend to be most productive. Why? Because every time you stop to take a call you are disengaging from what you are doing. The call takes time away from what you had intended to do, and it will take time, energy and focus to re-engage in what you were doing. Phone calls eat time!

Those who do take all calls they receive are often unconscious that by taking calls they are reducing their productivity. They are acting out of a habit of reacting to whatever stimulus comes along. In some cases they justify taking the calls because trying to get people on the phone again is difficult.

Those who either don’t answer their phone automatically or who screen their calls view answering the phone as a choice, not an imperative. They have greater awareness that interruptions always reduce productivity. They choose whether to allow the phone to interrupt what they are doing or not.

Make answering the phone a choice not an imperative!

Time Management = Choices and Self-Awareness

Today I observed my mental processes while making decisions about how to use my

Keep an eye on what you want in the future when you make time management choices today.

Keep an eye on what you want in the future when you make time management choices today.

time today. I watched myself identify my options, evaluate my options, and then choose what I would do next. My self-observation helped me see that time management is not about the perfect calendar or some magic time saving strategy. It is about identifying choices, factoring in what you know about yourself and how you work best, and then making the best choice given what matters most.

Watch my video Time Management Is About Choices & Self-Awareness to hear my story and the choice that I made.

Postscript — This will make sense after you watch the video.

Success! When I returned to my office instead of running errands, I went right to work. I very quickly made two videos (no easy feat!), and finished the outline for my social media content for June. Had I run errands, as was my auto-pilot inclination, I doubt I would have gotten those difficult tasks done today!

Distraction: How You Get off the Right Track and Get Back On

I sat down at my computer today intending to update my website with speeches I will be doing.

Just say no to side trips.

Just say no to side trips.

Instead of going directly to my work, I opened my email. Big mistake! 

In one email my step-sister recommended Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande, a book that could help me on my journey as caregiver for my mother with Alzheimers. Instead of going to my real work I thought, “I’ll just quickly order the Kindle version.” After I’d ordered it I noticed that it did not appear on Kindle on my phone. Another problem to be solved! And, a possibility for distraction.

Had I not been aware of the more important goal, posting my speeches, I could have gone further down that rabbit hole, trying to make sure I had the book. I could have wasted another 30-60 minutes trying to get that book to show up on my Kindle.

Instead I paused. In that pause I asked myself, “What is most important right now? “What is the best use of my time right now? Solving the Kindle problem was definitely not most important. So, to get back on track, and not lose sight of the need to make sure the book did download to my Kindle, I wrote Being Mortal on a post-it note and put it where I could see it on my desk. That note would remind me to fix that problem later, after I’d accomplished some important items on my to do list.

How often do you get snagged by a compelling yet unimportant task in the grander scheme of things, chewing up time on tasks that won’t get you where you really want to go? You may have the illusion that you’re working, when all you’re really doing is enjoying a nice side trip, avoiding important tasks.

Before you sit down to work, identify your big rocks, those important tasks that if done will move you forward. Then, when a tempting side trip shows up — and they will, you can remind yourself that it will cost you time, brain power and energy. With that awareness you can postpone the trip until after the accomplishment of some important tasks. By the way, side trips make great rewards for completion of important tasks, but only if you limit the time you spend on them.

Beware of side trips! They eat your time and keep you stuck. Keep your focus on your big rocks, and enjoy the ride into greater productivity, well-being, and enhanced self-esteem.

Change Your Thoughts, Procrastinate Less

Procrastination is a choice fueled by convincing thoughts. I became fully aware of this recently

When a task seems too big, take your focus off the forest and start with a tree!

When a task seems too big, take your focus off the forest and start with a tree!

when a coaching client told me that in her effort to procrastinate less she’d begun to watch her thoughts prior to procrastinating. 

As expected, certain thoughts showed up time and time again. Her thought repertoire included: I’m too tired; it will take too long to do; I don’t know how to do this; I don’t want to waste time trying to figure out how to do this; it’s too big; and I probably won’t finish it anyway. Sound familiar? 

Did you notice the energy of those words? Primarily negative and energy draining. Of course you are going to procrastinate if limiting thoughts and beliefs predominate! Negative thoughts breed stagnation.

Becoming aware of your procrastination thoughts is the first step to reducing procrastination. What are your procrastination thoughts? Once you recognize the thoughts that lead to procrastination, you can counter those negative thoughts with a dose of reality and with positive thoughts that encourage taking action. Following are some examples.

Countering Procrastination Thoughts

“I’m too tired.”

Dose of reality: Who hasn’t used this thought to put off sorting mail, starting a new project, etc.! The truth is that intentionally taking action to accomplish any task can give you energy. When you are not taking action, your energy stagnates. When you step into action, you break the stagnation and free energy that is available is then available to you.

More helpful thoughts: “Am I really tired or am I procrastinating?” “I can always take one step.”

“I don’t know how to do this.”

Dose of reality: It’s amazing how long this thought will keep people stuck. You may not know how to do the task, but I’ll bet you know someone who does know how to do it. Or, you probably are capable of seeking out resources to help you accomplish the task. What if you ignored that shut down message and spent a few minutes considering what needs to be done? Perhaps you might even be able to figure it out on your own. 

More helpful thoughts: “I may not know how to do it, but I can ask for help.” “ I have been successful figuring things out in the past. I can do it now.”

“It’s too big.”

Dose of reality: This statement reflects shut down due to overwhelm. Some people can only see the forest, not the trees. The forest is daunting. A single tree is manageable. Any task can be broken down into small steps if you take your eyes off the forest and look at the trees that make up the forest. If you take a tree (small step) at a time, you can get a big task done. Some tasks really are to big to tackle on your own. That’s when it’s time to ask for help.

More helpful thoughts: “This task is too big to do all at once. I can do it one step at a time.” “I can do this task with help from _____________ .

Watch your thoughts! Notice which thoughts keep you procrastinating. Look for and use new positive thoughts to motivate you to get unstuck and moving in the direction you want to go. As you procrastinate less often, you’ll feel the weight of procrastinated tasks lift, you’ll be more productive, and your self-esteem will grow.

Get Your Christmas Cards Done & Have Fun!

Christmas theme for design. holiday greetingsDo you still send Christmas cards? Many people have stopped doing it for a variety of reasons: postage has gotten so expensive; not enough time; too boring a task; too complicated a task to bring to completion. 

I have found stacks of partially addressed Christmas cards in many clients’ homes. On one occasional I found unfinished cards in  July and I inquired about the possibility of pitching them. After all, it seemed too late to send them for the previous year. When it became apparent that my client really wanted to complete them, but just couldn’t seem to get the task done, I offered to help her do it. Because working together was so successful and sending cards was something my client wanted to keep doing, I also suggested that we schedule a couple of sessions that fall to make sure she got her cards out before Christmas that year.

I’d been doing my own cards for decades, but it wasn’t until I did it with my client that became very clear that part of the problem with card completion is that it’s a task with many steps, many of which are boring, and it’s easy to get stuck on any one of them. To get the task done, we divided up the parts of the process between the two of us. She did the tasks that could only be done by her. I did all the other tasks.

The steps she had did were: get a good photo of her children, order reprints of the photo, write her Christmas letter, copy the letter, print the address labels, buy stamps and sign all the cards. I picked up all the other tasks that anyone could do, like folding the Christmas letter, stamping the envelopes, attaching address labels and return address labels, and putting one Christmas letter in each Christmas card so all my client had to do was add a short note and sign each card.

I enjoy sipping tea and listening to Christmas music while I work, and my client appreciates having a deadline for getting her letter done and copied, her labels done, her photo done and copied, her cards purchased, and making sure she has sufficient stamps and return address labels. Setting an appointment with me gives her the incentive to start working on her cards. It’s more difficult to procrastinate doing her cards when she knows I’m coming over to work with her, and she’s paying for my help.

Because our division of labor worked so well the first time, that client regularly schedules time with me every year. She now routinely gets her cards out before Christmas. Because sending cards to family and friends is really important to her, getting them done early in the holiday season is a real weight off her shoulders.

If sending and receiving holiday greetings is important to you, identify someone who would be willing to help you complete that multi-step process. Make doing your cards a social event that is part of your holiday traditions instead of a dreaded chore. It’s a great investment in maintaining important relationships!

Task Management: Setting the Stage for Productivity

02_09_12_BizArticle_Fotolia_7316209_XS-225x300Last night I returned to my desk after a full day. I really wanted to write a blog post, but my brain was tired and I knew it was not capable of doing any creative work. So, instead I went through my email, responding to clients, friends and family members, deleting unimportant emails. I knew that a full inbox would be both anxiety provoking and distracting if I ignored it and did what I really wanted — to eat dinner and relax in front of Dancing with the Stars. 

Looking back at how I spent my time last evening, I realized that what I instinctively did was clear the decks to make writing possible today. In so doing I felt lighter when I finally turned off the light and headed for the kitchen. I was up to date. There was nothing niggling at me while I rested. And, here I am, writing.

When your brain isn’t capable of accomplishing a challenging task on your to do list, you have a choice. You can stop and escape to more pleasurable tasks that are not associated with your goals. Or, you can shift to tasks that require less brain power, but that when completed set the stage for accomplishing the more difficult task.

ADHD: Creating Visibility to Calm Emotions and Complete Tasks

young attractive brunette with six arms multitasking her workMy ADHD clients, when asked about time management and task completion often describe their process of handling multiple competing obligations and tasks like this, “I had so much to do that I got overwhelmed and didn’t get anything done.”

One possible reason for their apparent paralysis is that they had too much incoming and no method for organizing, prioritizing and strategizing how they’d handle the influx of tasks that had landed on their mental to do lists.

So, this past week when a coaching client came in with the same type of challenge described above, I was excited to have the opportunity to learn more about that overwhelm/shutdown dilemma that is so common for people with ADHD. Together we could look at the reality of her current situation and develop awareness of what actually happens when too much lands on her plate. With that information we would be in a good position to generate ideas of what she can do moving forward to manage multiple tasks and task influx and keep moving.

As I listened to her describe the projects and associated tasks that had just heated up, what I noticed was that it seemed that all that incoming information was being carried in her head. She was attempting to keep track of all that had to be done and had been done with her memory alone.

Anyone would have difficulty carrying so much information in memory, given the complexity of the projects she described. However, one of the hallmarks of ADHD is having an unreliable memory and great difficulty with working memory. The way she was currently managing her project obligations was the equivalent of trying to capture all the details of her projects in a sieve. Some tasks were getting done, the lucky ones that got caught in the sieve, but even so, my client was aware that she didn’t have a complete grasp of all that needed to be done, thus she felt anxious.

I checked in with my client about how she was keeping track of all the tasks to be done. Was she in fact relying on her memory alone to manage her projects? Yes, all that data was floating in her head, stirring up anxiety. We discussed the option of making the projects and associated tasks visible, pulling them out of her head and onto paper or a computer screen. I call this “dumping your brain.” She liked that idea.

In our discussion my client admitted that by trying to keep everything in her head she really couldn’t see the total picture of her current obligations. Not being able to see her reality made her anxious. She also couldn’t see what she already had done, something that could have eased her anxiety and motivated her to keep going despite feeling the weight of responsibility associated with her projects. Writing out the tasks associated with each project would make it much easier to determine priorities, a timeline, a sequence for taking action and resources needed and available to complete the tasks. 

By combining memory with making project details and tasks visible, my client agreed that she would in a better position to create an accurate picture of her reality, to develop a doable, strategic action plan, and initiate and complete tasks from a position of feeling in control and empowered instead of running on anxiety and urgency or becoming paralyzed by overwhelm. In our session she moved from “freaked out” by all she needed to get done to excited at the prospect of creating a visible action plan. Not being able to see the full picture of her obligations kept her anxious and overwhelmed. Creating visibility would help her manage her anxiety and make successful completions more likely.

Where are you shut down, paralyzed by the weight of the obligations you carry in your head? Make them visible and watch the tyranny of your emotions ease so you can spend your energy on effective thinking, planning and strategizing when and how to get them done instead of needing to spend valuable energy to manage anxiety and other uncomfortable feelings that emerge when you’re operating in the dark. 

Small Task Litter Blocks Important Task Completion

Getting started on an important, big project can be difficult for many people, perhaps most Hand check mark the listpeople. It requires a focused kind of brain power, the ability to stay grounded despite feelings like anxiety, fear and overwhelm, and the courage to leap into the unknown. Given the pace of life these days and the many demands vying for our attention, that type of brain power can be hard to achieve even under the best of circumstances.

I’ve learned from personal experience that it’s important to create the conditions that make engaging in difficult, sometimes scary and overwhelming tasks possible. I recently watched myself prepare to create a new PowerPoint program. In order to get to a place where I could start, I systematically made myself complete a majority of the many small tasks that were littering my brain, my to do list, and my desk in the form of reminder notes. Those tasks included routine maintenance tasks, optional tasks, tasks that usually aren’t urgent and not particularly interesting to do, tasks that won’t take long to do.

I had intuitively begun clearing small task litter. At some level I was aware that each little task had a noisy energy and was distracting me from being able to start the bigger, more important project. Once those tasks were done, starting on the daunting important task was much easier. I had cleared space in my car, my home office and my mind so my brain could engage in productive action.

By the way, I was able to complete those tasks and not get lost down a rabbit hole of avoidance because I never let my bigger goal slip from my mental field of vision. People with ADD/ADHD might have some difficulty using my strategy because executive function challenges in the frontal lobes of their brains make staying aware of the big goal difficult, and make it difficult to keep track of time and weigh the best use of their time in any given endeavor, especially if some of those small tasks are more fun and interesting and less scary than the big project.

What I notice when I help clients clear clutter is that their backlog of small tasks is often enormous, especially for those people who are idea generators. Because their lists of small tasks to do are so big, they can’t see beyond them to identify and take action on important tasks that are in alignment with their life purpose, could result in better quality of life and more bring them more personal satisfaction. The small tasks not only block seeing important tasks, their noisy energy blocks completion of important tasks that have been started. The energetic chatter of those small task keeps the brain distracted and unable to get it together to followthrough to completion. 

Also, as small tasks begin to accumulate, the quantity of small tasks takes on an energy of its own! Their energy changes from a waiting, not urgent energy into a more urgent energy. Those tasks floating around in your head and on your desk are rarely urgent. However, en masse they seem urgent and stir up an internal “do it now!” energy that could make accurately prioritizing tasks very difficult. 

Rather than let small tasks accumulate and result in an effective block to initiating and completing important tasks, I recommend the following:

  • Be very selective about small tasks that you decide to do. There are many tasks that could be done, but are they worth your precious time, energy and focus?
  • Do small tasks as quickly as you can so they don’t accumulate. The longer small tasks fester, the more difficult it will be to make yourself engage in and complete tasks. Inertia seems to build the longer any tasks sits, requiring more and more energy to initiate action. If something can be done in less than a minute, do it immediately.
  • Have weekly 30-60 minute small task clearing sessions. I do this on Sunday afternoons when I am regrouping and getting organized for the next week. Just knocking off a few of those tasks every week keeps the small task energy block at bay.

If you commit to managing the small tasks every day and clearing some of them every week, you’ll have the space, energy and focus you need when an important task needs to be done.

Accountability Works to Accomplish Your Goals

“I walked all but one day last week!” Those were the words of a coaching client who had RoadToSuccessidentified the need for better self-care, but who had been unsuccessful at motivating herself to get off the sofa to walk. At first we discussed the possibility of her finding a walking buddy who would help motivate her to walk on a consistent basis. As we talked she decided that she could take care of both her dogs and herself by walking her dogs at least once per day. When we finished our call she had made a commitment to walk her dogs every day until our next session.

“What made it possible for you to honor your commitment to walk?” I asked. “Accountability!” she replied. “Just knowing I would be reporting back to you what I’d done helped me make myself walk.” Because she was not alone in process of changing her behavior, because there was someone in the wings supporting her efforts, she pushed through the resistance that would normally derail her efforts at getting exercise.

Coaching is a learning/action process. During coaching conversations clients have the opportunity to learn more about themselves. At the end of sessions they have the opportunity to commit to taking an action before the next session that will move them in the direction they want to go. 

My client wanted to feel better. Cognitively she knew that exercise would help her feel better. But, knowing it would help and actually engaging in a new behavior are two very different things. Adding the support and partnership of a coach and the opportunity of accountability that coaching affords made it possible for her to go from couch potato to daily walker. 

Would accountability help you take steps forward to achieve your goals?

ADD/ADHD and Procrastination

“I’ll do it later” is the mantra of many an ADD/ADHD client. Postponing action is a habit. At the time they say they’ll do it later they may fully intend to do it. But, because time is fluid for people with ADD/ADHD brain wiring, no particular time is set to do it, and often the task vanishes from awareness. “I’ll do it later” is a process that can build a nightmare of incomplete actions on a desk and or a brain packed to the brim with to do items of varying importance. Either state can lead to overwhelm and paralysis.

144What’s the “I’ll do it later” mantra all about? People with ADD/ADHD have executive function deficits that make decision-making, consistently engaging in action and completing tasks difficult. Their frontal lobes are under-stimulated. Urgency and bling (things that are new, exciting or crisis-driven) motivate them to act. The “I’ll do it later” tasks typically are those that have no urgency, or are boring or overwhelming. They don’t hold enough emotional charge to ignite the frontal lobe of the person with the brain-based disorder of ADD/ADHD. So, non-urgent tasks are set aside until some type of urgent need brings them back into focus. Postponing tasks until they absolutely have to be done is a way to create urgency, to create the condition that the brain needs to engage. 

Last week I was helping a client pay his bills and manage the paper flowing across his desk. As we worked he set aside two folders of bills to review. “I’ll do it later,” he said. He has ADD. I wondered if he would remember to do the task and be able to accomplish it alone. Since it had been delegated to the amorphous “later” category, I feared it would slip from awareness.

When I returned a week later, the folders were still there. He may have lost sight of the folders in his busyness. Or, looking at the reality of money flowing out of his company may have been an overwhelming task he’d rather avoid doing. Completing the task also required a kind of focus that is difficult for people with ADD, especially an emotionally charged task like reviewing bills.

When I returned this week to find my client’s desk overflowing with paper plus those folders I suggested he review them while I was working beside him. In my company, with my support, he was able to focus and complete the task. My being there provided the stimulation his frontal lobe needed to be able to As soon as they were off the desk he was able to get traction on other actions he needed to take. He was able to get re-organized.

The lesson? If you have ADD/ADHD, know that “I’ll do it later” really means “My brain is not up for this now” or “I don’t want to deal with this now because it’s too boring, overwhelming, etc.” It is also a good way to plant the seeds of negative energy. Tasks that are incomplete, especially those that you tend to avoid doing, are sources of negative energy. That energy becomes a block to being able to complete other tasks. You may not be conscious of the negative energy blocks you’re building, but their energy keeps you distracted and feeling lost in having too much to do. The energy of those “I’ll do it later” tasks gets more overwhelming with time, making them even harder to face and complete.

Most professional organizers advise “do it now!” But, that can be hard for people with ADD, especially for those boring, overwhelming tasks. Tasks like that are best done in the presence of or with the help of a supportive other. “I’ll do it later” can then become “I’ll do it with Debbie” (or some other person). Listen for your own “I’ll do it later” tasks with curiosity. What tasks do you postpone? Which ones can you make yourself do now? And, which ones are best done it support?  

Remember, “I’ll do it later” is not your friend!