The next time you see a squirrel running around, give it an appreciative smile. That’s your fellow organizer right there.
As summer yields to autumn, these little fuzzballs are busy gathering nuts that will sustain them during the winter. Scientists from University of California Berkeley recently wondered exactly how they accomplish the life-sustaining feat, including the improbable act of finding each tiny hoard weeks after it’s created.
What they discovered was pretty impressive. Squirrels use chunking. Chunking refers to the practice of sorting information into similar, easily remembered groupings. For example, when learning a new phone number, we don’t memorize an interrupted series of 10 numbers, we (at least here in North America) learn the three-digit area code, the three-digit exchange and then the last four digits.
Likewise, a bookshelf stuffed with no semblance of order would make it very hard to find a certain title. So, we group books into fiction, non-fiction, biographies, etc. It’s much easier to recall where a specific piece of information is when it’s in a chunk of similar items.
Squirrels understand this.
Researchers discovered that squirrels are “scatter hoarders.” That is, they create several caches of nuts, each grouped in the same way. In the study, 45 squirrels were offered a series of nuts from several locations. Upon receiving nuts from a central location, the cute little rodents put the goodies into species-specific groupings: almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, and walnuts. This suggests, scientists concluded, that finding the nuts weeks or months later in snow-covered forests, that the squirrels rely on a technique like chunking to recall where each pile (or species) of nut is hidden.
What does that have to do with you and me?
Aside from the obvious “we’re all nuts” joke, chunking is truly an effective strategy. Like the squirrels, it will help you recall where that seldom-used item is stored. For example, if you’re looking for Christmas tree ornaments, they would be “chunked” with the other holiday decorations.
Aside from storage, chunking can apply to productivity, as Mike Vardy explains on Productivityist:
Time chunking – and fine tuning the practice – allows me to work with optimum productivity. It’s worth trying in some form or another because it removes a decision from the process of doing: what to do and when to do it.
Take a lesson from our furry friends. Sort time, items, and effort into definable groups for better recall later. Whether you’re a human or not.
Post written by David Caolo
Last week, I spoke about turning to experts when you want to achieve something, and to develop a plan. Now that you have the plan (in my case, lose weight and eat more healthily), you need to make sure you stay motivated along the way. And you do that by taking a look at your goals and ask, “How much do I really want this?”
Think about your life – what are you doing because you feel you should want it? Or I should say, what are you not doing even though you feel you should want it?
Weight-loss is a common goal, and yet report after report all over the western world show that obesity is on the rise. If say you want something, but aren’t doing anything about it, stop a moment and ask yourself some more questions.
When do you claim to want something but then let fear stop you?
Fear of failure and fear of success are the two biggest stumbling blocks. The former is easy to understand. If diets and changes in lifestyle haven’t worked in the past, why will they work this time around? I have food intolerances. When I eat outside of my healthy choices, I put on weight (apart from feeling generally out of sorts). The temptation to eat the not-good-for-me food is always high, and I always end up falling off the wagon. It would be easy for me to never start because I never manage to not fall off the food-intolerance wagon.
When it comes to fear of success, I also often fall victim to a twisted piece of illogic. You see, if I succeed in my goal of changing how I think about food and keep off the weight once I lose it, I will have to recognize that I am a capable, confident person. At times, it’s easier to believe that I am neither of those things, so I sabotage my progress with whatever goal just to prove to myself that I can’t follow through on anything. That, however, isn’t true. I am capable. I can be confident. I just need to act on my desires.
Which, unfortunately means work. Lots of work. And that leads to another question to ask yourself:
What are you not tackling because it’s too much work?
I believe that human beings are rather lazy by nature. Successful change requires work and that all too often is enough of a demotivator to never get started. Better to stay safe and sound with the current situation. At least we know it well.
In her one of her hugely successful writing courses, 30 year writing veteran Holly Lisle says “SAFE never starts.”
SAFE can keep you locked up in your house, never daring to step foot outside the door. It can keep you locked in a job you hate that has no future, just because you’re afraid if you walk away you will never work again. SAFE can kill your hopes and dreams by telling you they were never worth pursuing, that you were never good enough to make them real, that you were only kidding yourself.
Basically it all comes down to excuses and because you’re getting something out of your inaction. As long as you don’t move forward, as long as you don’t follow through on your dreams you still have hope that the dreams will come true. The thing is, no matter how much hope you have, if you don’t act you’ve already failed.
Are you actively engaged or on autopilot?
One of my favorite phrases here on the blog is “life is choice” – from the decision to get up each morning through to going to bed at night (well for me the last one isn’t that much of a choice – my body just shuts down at some point and I get no say in the matter). It’s easier to go with the flow than to make active choices that might inconvenience other parts of her life. Getting out and getting exercise means not working quite so much. Taking time from work means the renovations on the house take longer and vacations can’t be as exotic as she would like. And so on and so on.
If you grew up in the 1980s, you might remember a series of books called Choose Your Own Adventure. Life’s like that – full of choices with consequences. Are you going to decide what action you take or will you let some invisible author make those choices for you?
When are you choosing safe over happy?
Sometimes safe is important – for example in the basic needs of life, but beyond that, safe does nothing but block our desires. Don’t risk, don’t stand out, don’t be different from anyone else. As long as you choose safe over happy, you’ll always feel unfulfilled and happiness will always remain out of reach. Happiness requires risk. What are you willing to risk to gain happiness?
It’s time to wake up, take control of your life and make the changes you want to make.
By doing nothing you already have your no, so why not try for yes instead?
Post written by Alex Fayle
The first two weeks of September are always the busiest in my day job and usually I get to launch day exhausted, facing a hundred little crises, and with a knot in my stomach because I have not had time to complete some really important tasks.
This year, however, everything has gone as smooth as silk and I have to attribute the success to my use of my Bullet Journal. Of course, every year, I make to-do lists, but always in a haphazard manner on a variety of different pieces of paper and/or computer files and emails.
I also managed to be productive in my personal life as well. Remember how I made the decision to be purposeful about my choices in life? Well, that has extended into this crazy period of the year, and despite ten and twelve hour days at work, I’ve been in better and more meaningful touch with my husband and friends than I’ve been in years.
I can’t pinpoint exactly why the Bullet Journal has produced different results, but I do have a few ideas.
- Part of it is because I knew I was using it as an experiment here on Unclutterer, so I never let a day pass without updating the Journal.
- By giving work and personal life tasks and thoughts equal priority, one never took over the other. And success in one area motivated me and encouraged success in the other.
- I hate rigid rules and the rebellious teenager in me always wants to break them, so having been told right from the start that “rules” for Bullet Journaling are meant to be broken, my inner-teen never needed to rebel.
The system isn’t perfect, of course. Now that I write everything down, if it’s not in the Journal, it doesn’t happen. For example, in preparing to go down to our apartment in La Rioja last Friday, I reminded myself to take the house keys off their hook and leave them out where I could see them, but I didn’t write it down. Did I forget my set of keys? You bet I did!
The index is useless for me. I know I am never going to go back to review things. My lists and thoughts are “in the moment” things. Once completed, I move on. In my next Journal, the index will disappear.
The Future Planning portion makes no sense to me. I prefer to have a section with the whole year divided into months so that the planning can go there (one side of the page with the days of the month and the other with notes).
I also have added a section. This Monday, I created a weekly calendar that went before this week’s lists. It helped me organize my time in such a way that I didn’t forget a single appointment and I managed to squeeze in free-time and relaxation before the week’s craziness took over.
Post written by Alex Fayle
By Leo Babauta
The things that stop us from taking action are all-too-familiar:
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Not knowing where to start
- A habit of procrastinating and doing easier things
It’s easy to get into a mode of inaction, but building the Action Habit can be a lot more difficult. The reason is that the feedback loops in our lives are set up the wrong way: it’s easier to put things off than to act, it’s easier to seek comfort than to push into discomfort, fear and stress.
So how do we start taking action in our lives: changing fundamental health and productivity habits, getting out and looking for a job, putting our creativity out there in the world, taking steps to finally work on that project you’ve been wanting to start?
The answer lies in a simple method for creating the Action Habit:
- Pick one positive action
- Make it tiny and easy
- Set up positive feedback
- Put everything you have into it
This might sound too simplistic for some people, and you might be tempted to skip this and go read something else. This is a mistake — try this method and see if you can create the Action Habit today.
Pick One Positive Action
Yes, I know that you have a thousand things you want to do, in all areas of your life. But thinking about all the things you need to do can be stressful and overwhelming, and lead to inaction. You can’t do it all right now!
Instead, focus on something you can do right now.
But how do you choose among all the things you want to do? Try this:
- Make a list of the main things you want to do. Feel free to make a second list of the smaller tasks and errands you need to get to as well. Don’t get stuck on this step — if you are overwhelmed by this, just think of the biggest things you need to get done.
- Mark the top 3 things on your list — what feel most important to you right now? If you can’t decide, ask someone else to decide for you.
- Pick the No. 1 thing in your top 3. If it’s too hard to choose, make a random choice — it’s better to make a slightly less-than-optimal choice than to get stuck in indecision.
Once you have your No. 1 thing you want to get done (let’s say, “Write a book” or “Get in shape”), then you need to pick one small action you can get done on this project in the next few minutes.
What about the other projects or tasks on your list? You’ll get to those later, but worrying about everything all at once is counterproductive. Pick one thing on the list, and get moving with it. After that, you can re-evaluate and pick the next thing on your list to get moving on. In this way, you’re getting in the habit of taking action rather than getting stuck.
Make It Tiny & Easy
Now that you have something you want to focus on, ask yourself, “What tiny action can I take right now?”
For “Write a book” it could be as simple as “Open a document and write down a few ideas.” For “Get in shape,” you might choose something like, “Go out for a short walk,” “Do a few pushups,” or “Send an email to my sister to go for a run tomorrow.”
You don’t have to do the whole project right now. Just one tiny step. Once you get into the Action Habit, you’ll be able to do the other steps later. But for now, just focus on one tiny step. This is how you create the habit.
Make it as ridiculously easy as possible, so that you can’t really say no.
Are you tempted to put it off? Then make it even easier — 30 seconds of working out is so easy that anyone can do it.
Thirty seconds of working out is not going to get you in shape, but the Action Habit is about removing barriers and getting moving.
Set Up Positive Feedback
If you get one or two people into an accountability team, you’ll make it much more likely that you’ll succeed. That’s because with accountability, you get negative feedback for not doing the actions (a bit of embarrassment) and positive feedback for doing the actions (a bit of pride in your accomplishment).
- Ask one or two friends to be on your team. This is as easy as sending an email or text message.
- Tell each other what tiny steps you’re going to do today towards important long-term goals.
- Check in at the end of the day, or when you’re done with your three tiny actions.
If you’d rather not have a team, then simply put up a list on your wall (or somewhere very visible) of your three top tiny actions for this morning, and allow yourself to check them off once they’re done. It’s rewarding to be able to check the off.
Positive feedback means you’re going to enjoy taking the tiny actions, rather than seeking comfort in putting them off.
Put Your Entire Being Into It
Once you have your accountability set up, and a tiny action chosen, then it’s time to take action!
Now put your entire self into starting the action.
All you have to do is start.
Act as if your life depends on it.
Act as if nothing were more important than keeping your word to yourself.
Act as if this one tiny action were the entire universe.
All you have to do is get moving — open a document, start an email, write one item on a list, put on your running shoes. Devote yourself single-mindedly to starting this tiny movement.
Repeat, to Create the Habit
Doing your first tiny action is amazing. Now focus your entire being on the next tiny action. This is how you create the Action Habit: by doing it repeatedly.
If you’ve taken a tiny action on an important project, congratulate yourself! Check it off your list, report it to your accountability team, feel gratitude that you got moving. Now ask yourself what is the next small step you can take on this project. Can you take it right now? One small step at a time, you’re getting some momentum on this project.
Or perhaps there’s nothing else you can do right now. Look at your Top 3 list, and see if there’s another project you can take a tiny action on right now.
If not, maybe one of your other important items. Or maybe you take action on your smaller tasks (though don’t let yourself use this as a way to put off the hard stuff). Do the hard stuff first if you can, but you need to get to the small stuff sometimes. The trick is, you’re turning the hard stuff into the small easy stuff.
Just repeat this method, re-evaluating your list once a day or so, taking tiny actions all day long, with breaks in between. This is how you form the Action Habit, and it will be incredible.
Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have been devastating to so many, and my heart goes out to anyone affected by these storms. My dad lives in Florida, so I followed Irma-related news pretty closely. (Thankfully, my dad is fine.)
I got many of my updates on Twitter, and I noticed two themes that might help anyone who wants to be prepared for potential disasters in the future.
Candles are not your friend.
Lots of people noted they were lighting up their candles as they lost power. But both public safety organizations and other experts kept saying, over and over again, that candles are a bad idea. The following are just some of the warnings:
- The American Red Cross, South Florida Region:
Use flashlights in the dark. Do NOT use candles.
- Florida State Emergency Response Team:
If there is loss of power, do not use candles or open flames as a light source.
- City of Tallahassee:
Flashlights, headlamps, etc. are better options for light if you lose power.
- Miami-Dade police:
Use flashlights if the power goes out. DO NOT use candles, likelihood of a fire increases.
- Dr. Rick Knabb, hurricane expert at The Weather Channel:
Millions expected to lose power. Don’t run generators indoors – carbon monoxide kills. Don’t light candles and risk a fire.
- Florida Department of Health:
If the power goes out, don’t light candles in your home. It’s a fire hazard that can be avoided by using battery operated lights.
- Plantation Fire Department:
#SafetyReminder If your power goes out, utilize FLASHLIGHTS instead of CANDLES!
- Oviedo, Florida police:
Use flashlights if the power goes out. DO NOT use candles, the likelihood of a fire increases
- Craig Fugate, former FEMA administrator, now in Gainesville, Florida:
Hurricane #Irma, don’t use candles / open flames during the storm when the power goes out. The Fire Department doesn’t need more emergencies.
And the Miami Herald has a list of 7 stupid things we do during a hurricane that can get us killed and using candles is on that list.
So forgo the candles, and load up on some combination of flashlights, headlamps, battery-powered lanterns, and plenty of spare batteries. Some people like to include glowsticks in their emergency supplies, too.
A corded phone just might be your friend.
Key West lost most of its connectivity (cell phones and internet) after Irma, but reporter David Ovalle found a way to get the news out:
My savior. Patricia on Eaton St in Key West had a relic landline that worked after the storm, allowing me to call story after storm
Firefighters also used line to call their families. Her friends chided her for years. She has no cell, still uses an answering machine!
And someone else got good news via landline: “Random woman in Key West that still has a working landline just called me to let me know my parents are ok. #Irma This woman is my hero”
As Consumer Reports wrote, “A phone with a corded base can work during a power outage, as long as it’s connected to a conventional landline or VoIP service with battery backup.”
My internet service provider bundles a phone line with my internet service, and I’m glad to have it. Corded phones are relatively inexpensive, too. You might want to join me in having a corded phone in addition to a cell phone, just in case.
Post written by Jeri Dansky
All Unitasker Wednesday posts are jokes — we don’t want you to buy these items, we want you to laugh at their ridiculousness. Enjoy!
For those of you who, like me, enjoy Brussels sprouts, the Chef’n Twist’n Sprout Brussels Sprout Prep Tool offers a quick and easy way to prepare them. It claims to quickly remove the stem and core of the sprout and loosen the leaves for broiling and roasting. You simply pierce the stem with the tip of the tool and rotate the sprout to trim the core.
I’m not sure the Chef’n Twist’n Sprout Brussels Sprout Prep Tool is any better than a knife. At least when a knife gets dull, you can sharpen it. When the Sprout Prep Tool gets dull, I guess you just throw it out. What a waste!
Also, this tool seems to be made for larger sprouts. Our family prefers the smaller, less bitter varieties of sprouts (also called “button sprouts”) so I doubt this gadget would work without me also shaving a layer of skin off my fingers. Left-handed people may find this difficult to use because you can only turn the sprout one way to trim it. Fortunately for us lefties, knives can be used with either hand.
You can try it if you want but I’ll keep my kitchen drawers clutter-free thanks.
Thanks reader Leah for bringing this unitasker to our attention.
Post written by Jacki Hollywood Brown
As Florida and Houston deal with the aftermath of devastating storms, I’ve seen messages from good-hearted people on social media opening their homes to those who have been displaced. Countless people are affected by these disasters, and will be for weeks and months to come.
It’s a fantastic act of selfless generosity to open one’s home to someone in need. It also takes a lot of planning and organization. If you plan to have friends and/or family stay with you for an indeterminate amount of time — especially when they’ve lost so much — there are steps you can take to make the experience better for yourself and for them.
First, ensure how many people you can safely and comfortably accommodate. Everyone will need space to sleep, so count up bedrooms as well as couches, air mattresses, cots or sleeping bags. If using the latter, make sure that there’s an opportunity for privacy for all. Not everyone wants to sleep on the living room couch. Maybe you can make a rotating schedule. While you’re at it, make sure there is ample room for the belongings they will bring with them.
If you plan on accepting many people, you might even want to check with your municipality for advice on how many people can safely occupy your home.
Next, stock up on supplies. More people means more food, water, toiletries, etc. If you have time, buy these supplies before your guests’ arrival and designate a tidy an accessible place for storage.
Guests forget stuff at the best of times, and in this instance, they might not have the opportunity to grab essentials. Buy extra toothbrushes, disposable razors, extra towels and so forth and make them available.
Your guests will also have clothing to launder. Providing a few mini pop-up laundry baskets will allow guests to keep their dirty clothes out of their suitcases and transport them to and from the laundry area with ease.
Also make sure you’ve got a first-aid kit on hand, as well as some common over-the-counter medications, even pet food if your guests will be bringing a dog or cat with them.
Have phone chargers for various models available, as theirs may be gone, as well as a mini charging station. Make your Wi-Fi password available if you have one (you should). A crank-powered radio is also useful, especially if your own home is in or near a danger zone.
If you’re opening your home to people in need, our hat is off to you. If you don’t have that opportunity but still want to help, contact the Red Cross.
Post written by David Caolo
For so many of us September is just as much the start of a new year as January. And with that fresh start comes many new projects and objectives, from doing well at school, to making a commitment to store holiday gear and summer toys properly, to self-improvement goals.
My husband and I fall into the third category this year. Over the past 18 months we’ve let our weight slide. We love cooking and adore baking so we people over for breakfast, lunch, and dinner all the time. While this has done great things for our social life, it has taken its toll on our bodies. Also in my case, approaching 50 years old means that the weight doesn’t distribute itself all over like it used to and I’ve developed the beginnings of an inside-out hourglass shape.
So, our self-improvement goal is eating better. We refuse to say we’re on a diet because that implies a short-term program that will stop when we reach our desired weight. Instead, by focusing on changing our eating habits in general, we will not only take off the extra weight, but train ourselves to choose healthy options in the future.
There are many things to consider when setting off on a major life-shift like this one. To do it well means being organized about it and planning it from beginning to end (while of course remaining sufficiently open to unknown variables and unexpected challenges).
Over the next few months, I will provide tips on staying organized during habit changes and update you on how our own journey is going.
First off, before starting anything, it’s important to know exactly what to do and how to do it. There are different ways to do that of course. One is reading sites like Unclutterer or reading the Unclutterer books (Never too busy to cure clutter and Unclutter your life in one week). Another is asking a friend who has gone through a similar process for his/her thoughts on the experience and adapt it to your needs.
Then there’s what we did. We didn’t want any fads, gimmicks, or quick-loss schemes so we went to a professional for advice, in our case to a nutritionist who was recommended to us by a friend who saw incredible results. When you are building a house, you don’t start grabbing bits of wood and brick and stacking them together. You go to an architect and draws up detailed plans for the builders to follow. Or if you need your house or business streamlined you hire a professional organizer. For us, working with a nutritionist just made sense.
All too often people say, “Who needs to pay for help? I can do that!” Then when they don’t reach their goals, demotivation sets in, the plans and goals off the rails and it’s even harder to start all over.
When do you think experts should be called? And how have you decided that the professional of your choice is the right one?
Post written by Alex Fayle