Minimalist in DC

The Quest for Less "Stuff" & More Time

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Saying No

Saying NoA few months ago I was promoted into a new job and I became the manager of the team on which I’d worked.

I won’t lie or sugarcoat this: the last few months have been rough. Instead of being an individual contributor on one team, I’m now expected to continue the duties I had (because our team didn’t grow in a way that allowed me to give up my responsibilities), be part of a leadership team, and acquire still more tasks related to that team. Two teams make it feel like I have two full-time jobs.

I haven’t been handling it well (or, at least, not the way I’d wanted). I used to love solving problems for people (even if it meant performing boring admin work), but now there’s so much on my plate that I need to force myself to block time to get the big career-moving stuff done. I’ve never been this overwhelmed in my life and it is imperative that I get better at saying no. I wrote this blog partially to brainstorm ways to do that better.

When to Say No

Seth Godin, Marketer Extraordinaire and writer of one of my favorite daily blogs, read my mind and published this insightful post about when to say No. Read it! I’ve printed it out and put it on my desk as a daily reminder not of what I should say no to, but what I MUST say no to.

How to Say No

That brings me to another tough problem. How, when you love to help people, can you politely say no? I’ve found the key is to keep it short and simple. Don’t try to explain yourself because that just gives the requester some room to try to change your mind. Here is my own list of ways to say no, which I’m happy to report I have been using a lot more lately.

  • Thank you so much for thinking of me, but I don’t have enough time to do this right now.
  • No thank you, I’m doing x instead and I loooove x. (This works well as a serious comment or a sarcastic one.)
  • I’m sorry, I know I won’t be able to focus on this and do a good job. I have to decline.
  • I can’t do this for you, but check with <insert someone’s name who can help>. (Don’t rely on this method too often or you’ll just overwhelm someone else.)
  • Why does this need to be done?
  • Here are the other things I’m working on, can you help me prioritize all these tasks? (This one is most appropriate when talking to your manager.)
  • <pause, as if you’re actually considering the task> No, I can’t.
  • No thank you, I can’t justify adding this to my plate right now.
  • Great idea! Why don’t you do that?
  • Come back later. (If you really want to help, but can’t at the moment.)

Are you saying no often enough? How are you saying it?

Spark Joy: KonMari & Organizing My Wardrobe

Marie Kondo has a new book out, Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up, that serves as a deep dive into the KonMari Method and aims to explain all of the questions left by her first book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I’m only a few chapters into it, but I’ve happily discovered that she does explain many of the confusing aspects that I’d wondered about after Life-Changing Magic.

 

On the Necessary Stuff that Doesn’t Spark Joy

For example, “What do we do with the stuff that doesn’t spark joy, but that we NEED (like a funeral suit or a screwdriver)?” The answer is keep the item, but thank it often for the service it provides. Appreciation helps you get over the fact that you dislike it — at least until you can replace it with something you love.

On Starting Over

I still haven’t finished discarding my sentimental items, but I’m starting to see new things creeping into the other categories (like that new T-shirt I got from work that I’m pretty sure doesn’t spark joy). I was starting to wonder if I had to start over. Kondo answers that question too and the answer is no. Keep going and when you organize you’ll naturally cull the new items that don’t spark joy. (Although, since I know that T-shirt doesn’t spark joy, I should probably walk right into my bedroom and throw it out right now.)

On Organizing Clothes

I liked how most of my shirts were organized in my closet, but I think Kondo is right about folding them. I was so inspired by her illustrations of how to fold clothes that I was dying to try it. So I did!

Spark Joy - KonMari Drawers

KonMari Drawers

Spark Joy

Folding my clothes DOES take longer and I’ve often found myself annoyed when I have a pile of them waiting for me. That feeling disappears when I get the clothes in the drawer. It is easier to pick them out because you can see each and every one. It is also a nice way to know when you’re accumulating too many clothes again. When the drawer feels stuffed, it’s probably time to consider whether everything in there sparks joy.

I thought this method might fall apart in a couple of weeks, but it’s been 1.5 months and I’m still using it. My underwear looks really nice all folded and lined up from light to dark. I actually have matching pairs more often than not because I can see all the options. (My husband likes that. Could that be one extra benefit to the KonMari Method that Kondo doesn’t mention in either book: improved marriages?!)

Have you organized your clothes KonMari style? How’s it going?

Eat That Frog!: A Book Review

“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you for the rest of the day.” – Mark Twain

This Mark Twain quote is the premise behind a wonderful productivity book with a funny name: Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time by Brian Tracy. In his book (which I finished in one sitting on a flight to San Francisco last December), Tracy highlights 21 productivity habits, that I have found myself coming back to again and again. Here, I’ll share a couple of the most useful nuggets, guaranteed to save you more time than you’ll spend reading the book (or this blog post)!

Concentrate Single-Mindedly On Your Most Important Task

The centerpiece skill that is developed throughout the book is your ability to concentrate single-mindedly on your most important task, follow-through, and get it done. Tracy insists that this is the key to success and happiness. If you can form a habit of doing this for everything in your life, you will accomplish wildly more than you imagined possible.

I believe it. On the days when I block off two hours at the beginning of the day and concentrate on my most important task until I finish, I feel really, REALLY good the rest of the day.

Eat That Frog! Encourages you to do this for everything in your life. But what if the task at hand is too big to finish in one sitting?

Tip #1: Seven Steps to Achieving Your Goals

Any goal can be achieved by following these seven steps and making sure you work on something that moves you toward your goal EVERY SINGLE DAY.

  1. Decide what you want to do.
  2. Write it down.
  3. Set a deadline (and sub-deadlines).
  4. Make a list of everything you can think of to achieve your goal.
  5. Organize the list into a plan.
  6. Take action on your plan immediately.
  7. Do something every single day that moves you toward your goal.

This is basic project management, boiled down to the essentials and accessible to anyone. It takes a little bit of up-front planning, but the beginning is the best time to pour your heart and soul into your new goal.

Tip #6: Plan Your Day with the ABCDE Method

I’ve written about planning out your day by adding timing to your to do list, but I’ve found that the ABCDE method of planning your day is even more powerful. Here’s how it works:

First, lay out your to do list for the day. Then, assign each item a letter: A, B, C, D, or E according to this key:

  • A = Very important task that only I can do (subdivide if necessary to prioritize tasks into A-1, A-2, etc)
  • B = Should do this task, but only minor consequences if I don’t
  • C = Nice to do this task, but no consequences
  • D = Delegate everything you don’t have to do
  • E = Eliminate any tasks that no one has to do

When I started to notice my notebook was numbered A-1, A-2…A-7 with no other letters, I switched the order in which I assigned labels. Now I search the list first for D’s. Delegating is a tough skill that takes practice, so I need to pay extra attention to it. After that I work my way backwards from E to A. That helps me avoid thinking of everything as the most important task.

This works amazingly well and helps me cope with not finishing parts of my to do list. If, at the end of the day I’ve only gotten A-1 done, so be it. At least I did the most important thing that I could that day.

Tip #20: What Would You Do If You Were Going on Vacation?

Sometimes, we are our worst enemies and it helps to have some tricks up our sleeves to overcome procrastination.

One question that Tracy suggests asking yourself when you’re not sure where to start is, “If I were leaving on a sudden week-long vacation tomorrow, what would I get done today?”

It’s so simple, but it tricks your brain into looking at your to do list in a different, healthy way!

There are 18 more, wonderful time management and productivity tips in Eat That Frog!. Reading the book may be one of the best time investments you make this year.

What is your favorite productivity habit?

KonMari Method: Discard Sentimental Items

For the past few months, I have been working through Marie Kondo’s amazing KonMari Method, the most effective way that I’ve found to get rid of excess stuff. Kondo outlines her method in her best-selling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, in which she recommends that you first discard (by category, not by room) anything that doesn’t spark joy in your life, then organize completely. I worked my way through every category (clothes, books, etc) and found a couple new categories before I picked up a single sentimental item. Sentimental items are the last category because they can easily derail an efficient discard session. Most people need the practice that you get from categories such as clothes and books before they can efficiently tackle sentimental items. This includes old letters, awards, pictures, and anything that brings back sweet memories.

How To Discard Sentimental Items

While many resources suggest that you take a picture of sentimental items (the item jogs your memory, but you don’t need the item itself), Kondo recommends thinking hard about whether each item really sparks joy, then simply discarding those that don’t.

Discarding Sentimental Items Is Easier Than You Think

I was pleasantly surprised by how truly easy it was to sort through my sentimental items. I had a box in the basement that was filled with my old sports, DECA, and orchestra ribbons, medals, and trophies. I was so proud of these that I kept a display of them in my room throughout high school and I called it the shrine to myself; proof that I was awesome in my own little way. There were hundreds of awards inside this little box and when I thought about discarding sentimental items, I always wondered how on earth I could part with them.

My Favorite Ribbon

My Favorite Ribbon

This weekend I pulled out that box for the first time in at least 10 years. To my great surprise, I realized that I no longer remembered what I did to earn most of the awards. They were all generic and while most of the ribbons had my age, event, and swimming time on the back, there were hundreds of ribbons and I realized that there was only ONE that I remembered and ONE that I really cared about. I searched and searched until I found it: an 11th place ribbon in the long-course 50 freestyle event at State when I was 12.

That was the first time I’d ever placed in an individual event at State and every time I think of that day – how shockingly fast I’d gone, how proud I was, and the look on my mom’s face that seemed to say, “Wow, maybe this girl will actually be pretty good at this” – I get really happy. I kept that ribbon and got rid of the rest. There were a few other awards that I remember earning and that sparked immense joy. Those are all safe in my basement. The rest of them were ceremoniously placed in the trash bin outside.

discard sentimental items

Tips for Discarding Sentimental Items

  1. Wait until you’ve gone through every other category. Practice makes perfect and you’ll get better and better at figuring out what sparks joy as you go through each discard category.
  2. Work from a central location. Put everything from the sentimental category in one place so you can see how close to the “discarding finish line” you really are. This is the very last category before you get to start organizing, so knowing how much you have left is highly motivational.
  3. From photo albums, choose the best 1-2 pictures from each event that remind you of that day. Throw the rest away. The older the event, the easier this is to do.
  4. Tackle a little bit at a time. Break up your sentimental items into chunks that you can do in one hour or less. Know that this category can be a tough one, so allow yourself plenty of time with lots of breaks to finish it.
  5. Enjoy the process! Even though I got rid of about 80% of my sentimental items, I kept the best ones and rediscovered myself at the same time.

No wonder I love writing this blog every week. When I was in elementary and middle school, I spent loads of time writing stories, poems, and song parodies. Finding those sparked a lot of joy and they are among the few items I kept. They say that you should be doing as an adult what you enjoyed as a child and clearly I need to start writing more often.

Four Sane Ways to Celebrate Black Friday

Utah HikingBy “celebrate Black Friday”, I mean ignore it. Here are a few great ways to spend your time off that won’t overwhelm you with useless stuff or bleed your wallet dry.

Opt Outside

I am a huge fan of REI’s #OptOutside campaign. Not only do I believe in having less stuff, I believe in the amazing power of getting outside. Kudos to REI for closing its doors on Black Friday and urging people to spend time outdoors! Hiking is an awesome fall sport. If you’re lucky enough to have snow already, find a place that rents snowshoes or go sledding. Go for a walk or a run. Go to the zoo. I may not do an all-day hike, but I’ll probably take my daughters to the playground on Friday. I love, love, love #optoutside. Thanks, REI.

Bake

My family’s Christmas cookie recipe takes three leisurely days to make and I have three days off after Thanksgiving. The kids and I are super-excited about baking cookies this year – an activity that has become a welcome tradition (despite all of the hard work involved).

Baking Cookies

Make a Donation

Help someone else by clearing out some room in your home! I’m finally going to take a huge trunk-full of the items I set aside this year to Goodwill. Yelp and The Washington Post have a great list of places to donate in DC. Apartment Therapy has a list for the entire country.

And don’t forget about donating blood or getting ORGANized (by pledging to donate organs at ORGANize.org). Both take very little time and could save a life.

Family Fun Day

Too cold to get outside? Make Friday a cozy indoor family fun day. Make some popcorn, watch a movie, play a board game, or do a Power Hour together and get some nagging tasks done! We spend so much time running around. Why not stop and pledge to enjoy one whole day without obligations?

What will you do this weekend?

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