Multitasking is a Bitch

Posted By on January 18, 2013

We poor humans keep trying to do it, but we can never do it very well.

Our job descriptions will say we need to multitask, and in job interviews, we all sit in the chair across from a prospective boss, claiming we are the kings and queens of multitasking. “Oh, yes,” we find ourselves saying, “I can multitask like there’s no tomorrow. Watch me read ‘War and Peace’ while creating a killer PowerPoint and ordering lunch for the department.”

Tired of juggling? Step away from the balls.Meanwhile, your coworkers are wondering why there are bookmarks on their plates instead of chicken salad. Your boss is tapping her foot about a tardy slide deck, and you’re banging your head against a hefty book.

Like I said, poor humans. Studies of our cognitive abilities keep showing that we are not good at multitasking. One study said men and women both lose 10 IQ points when they try to do two things at once. Basically, we’re making ourselves stupid when we multitask. This is why they say texting and driving at the same time makes you more dangerous than a drunk driver.

We live in a mobile, high-tech world where we have access to information at our fingertips 24 hours a day. We can check email in the middle of the grocery store or while sitting on an exotic beach because we can. But does that mean we should?

People are using the term “digital vacation” more and more. I, for one, encourage my friends, family and organizing clients to take digital vacations when they’re on vacation. During the recent Christmas holidays, I took two weeks off, and, to make sure I wasn’t tempted to check work email, I turned Outlook off on my iPad.

Email is never an emergency. If it’s a real emergency, people should call or appear at your desk.

Focus on doing one thing at a time. You will be surprised by how quickly you can finish up a task or project just by focusing on what you need to do.

Protect your time. Before you open email in the morning, take 30 minutes to 90 minutes and zero in on those important tasks. Brian Tracy refers to this as “eating the frog.” My organizing colleague and friend Ellen Delap calls them “power hours,” and Tony Schwartz of The Energy Project refers to them as “sprinting.” Call it whatever you want, but try it. You’ll like it. I know I do, and I feel more productive when I do it. Then check email when your time is up. It will still be there.

What is your MIT? I know how priorities can shift from hour to hour and day to day at work. No matter how much stuff is flying at you, one thing has to be the Most Important Thing (MIT), and that’s where your focus should begin. Each day, ask yourself, “What is my MIT?”

Reduce multitasking and email. Brainstorm with your team on how you can reduce emails as a group. This may require actually talking to each other. It’s okay. They want less emails and multitasking too.

Yes, multitasking is a bitch. But you can win and keep your IQ intact.


Organizing and Displaying Memorabilia

Posted By on January 15, 2013

Ah, memories. We collect things from our travels, our past lives and other special moments.

What do you do to honor these special moments? If you love it, it should be honored and respected.

Frame it.

Use a shadowbox or have it framed at a shop. One of my friends has a grocery list her grandmother wrote in a small frame in her kitchen.

I prefer making my own shadowboxes. I use fabric or scrapbook paper to line the back and then either pin things to the back, glue them or use Velcro, depending on what it is. I made one with my Barbie and Barbie-like dolls. I also like this Pinterest idea of using a drawer as a shadowbox.

I saw this Pinterest project where you decoupage photos on a wooden letter. You could do this on pretty much anything. Another Pinterest idea is simply decoupaging photos on a foam board.

Quilt it.

Back in the day, people used leftover fabric to make quilts. One of the old quilts my mother has from her childhood features leftover fabric from her own mother’s sewing projects. Mom, who loves to sew, can point to individual squares and say which one of her sisters had a dress out of that particular material.

Nowadays, people can use them to create a new way to honor old clothes. My friend Barbara makes rag quilts out of children’s clothing for her Etsy customers. A new client just asked her to make a quilt out of her husband’s work uniforms now that he’s retiring.

I’m planning to have a T-shirt quilt made from some special T-shirts of my youth. Another friend, who has a vast collection of rock concert T-shirts, had a quilt made. Or should I say had a rockin’ quilt made.

Display it.

Having treasures hidden away in dusty boxes is not a great way to honor the things you love. The traditional display on a shelf is always an option, but shelves can only hold so much. Plus there is so much a person can dust!


Long before becoming an organizer, I saw an interview actor Dennis Franz and his wife did on a decorating show. They showed video of their home and they had small collections on a few shelves. Dennis Franz said they liked to collect until the shelf was full, and then they stopped. I thought it was a brilliant idea.

I have a collection of salt and pepper shakers, and I have a curio cabinet in my home where I display them. I like shakers that are fun and whimsical, and I just don’t buy any old pair. They have to speak to me – like the Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson set I found at the Sherlock Holmes Museum in London.

Larger items can be used as bookends or wall art. You can really be creative in creating displays of your treasures.

If you love it, display it, quilt it or frame it. Honor your treasures.


Do You Want to Be Better in 2013?

Posted By on January 1, 2013

I always thought it was better to be good. Lately, I’ve realized that it’s good to be better.

Since this is the first day of 2013 and January is Get Organized Month, I thought it was fitting to talk about how to be better. I know many of us have made resolutions, and if we want to be successful, we need to be better.

Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson wrote about the nine things successful people do differently. One of the main points was the difference between having a “be good” mindset versus. a “be better” mindset. Halvorson said research has shown that people who adopt a “be better” mindset are more engaged, productive and confident about their decisions. “People whose goals are about getting better, rather than being good, take difficulty in stride and appreciate the journey as much as the destination,” Halvorson writes.

From "Your Best Just Got Better: Work Smarter, Think Bigger, and Make More" by Jason Womack

This year, productivity coach Jason Womack released his newest book “Your Best Just Got Better: Work Smarter, Think Bigger, and Make More.” I first met Jason several years ago when he worked for David Allen’s company. Jason later started his own company. (His wife Jodi is equally brilliant and runs a Women’s Business Social called “No More Nylons.”)

I’m a detail kind of chick, and I’ve always struggled with the big picture/vision thing for myself. Like many of my own organizing clients, I can get in my own way of accomplishing my goals. Jason balances both approaches with his work, and he helps you think bigger so you can become better. Here are a few thought-provoking questions he suggests you ask yourself:

  • Who do I spend time with that limits my thinking?
  • What is getting in my way?
  • What’s your why?
  • Why do you think the way you think?

One of my favorite chapters is Chapter 7 where Jason discusses his “so that” statements. These “so that” statements are very powerful and can help us rise above busyness that we use to hide behind instead of accomplishing our big goals.

After you establish your big picture, Jason drills down to those details – the kinds of things that I love. He gives great advice on how to track your time and thoughts.

Are You Ready?

If you want to see typical resolutions in action, go to the gym. There is always an increase of people in the gym in January, but by Valentine’s Day, the crowd noticeably thins. You will see a few people who “stick.”

If you want to be one of those people who stick to their resolutions, ask the right questions of yourself and adopt a “get better” mindset. It’s good to be better.


The Gravy Dilemma – Keep it Simple for Holiday Sanity

Posted By on November 19, 2012

I began cooking Thanksgiving dinner more than 20 years ago when I lived in Galveston. My friends and I who couldn’t get home for the big day gathered for the annual “orphan” dinner.

The one item on the Thanksgiving menu rarely went well. When you only make gravy once a year, it becomes a serious challenge.

One year, I used the packet and, since I only had one packet, we each barely got a spoonful of gray. Another year, my attempt at gravy separated while sitting in the glass gravy boat on the table, and we had to stir it several times before giving up. The only time we had decent gravy was when my parents came, and my mother made it.

I decided enough was enough, and it was time to follow my own advice about delegation and simplification. That year, I bought two jars of turkey gravy. My guests were thankful and enjoyed tasty gravy, and I was far less stressed about it. Lesson learned.

As we head into the holiday season, take a look, see what causes you unnecessary stress and figure out how you can fix it. Sometimes, it’s just as simple as buying a jar of gravy.


5 Ways to Freshen Your Space for Fall

Posted By on October 22, 2012

Fall into fall organizing - Get it, with the leaves?

The weather is finally a bit cooler as fall kicks into high gear. As we stand on the eve of the holiday season, freshen up your space in preparation.

  1. Clean out the pantry, freezer and refrigerator in preparation of holiday meals and baking. Toss expired items, donate unwanted and unopened items to the local food bank, and wipe everything down. Take inventory to see what items you have so you don’t buy duplicates in the coming months.
  2. Clean out your closet. As your summer items are packed up and your winter duds come out, check them to wear and tear. Toss anything that’s stained, donate items in good conditions that you no longer want, and have items needing repaired actually repaired. While you’re at it, go through your drawers and ditch the items that have seen better days.
  3. Clear out your flat surfaces – coffee table, kitchen counters, nightstand, bathroom counter and home office desk. Recycle magazines, newspapers, papers and catalogues that have built up over the summer. It’s time to deal with the stuff you’ve put to the side to handle “later” and make some decisions.
  4. Clean out your purse and wallet. Time to clean out the old receipts and other odd bits in your purse or wallet. Use a lint roller to clean out those crumb-like items that seem to congregate at the bottom of your purse, and wipe down the outside of your purse.
  5. Donate the stuff you’ve been meaning to donate. Load the stuff you’ve been stacking up for donation in your car and take them in. It feels good to get unwanted items out of your house. (Sorry, but I can’t help you with unwanted people who may be in your home.)

Clearing out the cobwebs will get you ready for the fall season.


What I Learned About Passion from My Friend Chris

Posted By on October 8, 2012

“I dare you, while there is still time, to have a magnificent obsession.” – William Danforth

My friend Chris YeagerMy friend Chris Yeager sat across from me at lunch and explained how he was quitting his job to pursue his true passion of learning to fly helicopters. We sat at a small table at the Mexican restaurant he had introduced me to, one of those dives with great food and decorated with Christmas lights.

When he told me his news, I’ll admit I was a bit flabbergasted yet supportive. I told him how even though I hadn’t flown in a helicopter, they make me nervous. “I will never fly with my friends,” he said shaking his head.

He had been unhappy with the editing work he was doing at MD Anderson and felt stuck. He had been working with my life coach and friend Marilyn who lived in California. Talking about this change made him truly happy, and as his friend, I was happy for him. After all, my job speaks to all of my passions, and with my previous two jobs, I had stayed a year too long at each and was miserable and unhappy – something Chris and I had talked about several times.

The lunch time conversation occurred several years ago, and even though we didn’t see each other as often after he left, we kept up with each other as he began flight school. The last time we actually talked on the phone was during my birthday last year. He called to apologize for not coming to my party that night because he had an opportunity to fly. “Of course, sweetie,” I said. “It’s just a party. Go fly.”

On September 10, 2012, the helicopter Chris was piloting crashed near a highway, killing him and his passenger instantly. I found out the next morning, the anniversary of 9/11, as I sipped orange juice watching the local news flickering on the television screen. As I played on my computer, I wasn’t listening too closely until I heard the words “helicopter crash,” and I looked up as the news anchor announced the pilot was Chris.

I realized I had been holding my breath. I blinked several times in disbelief, and I pulled up the story on the news station’s website. There it was in black and white. My friend was gone.

When I told my brother the news about the crash, he said, “At least you got to know him for a while.” True words, but I wanted to know him longer.

Meeting Cute Boy

I immediately spotted Chris when he began working at MD Anderson in the publications department as an editor. Since our departments were on the same floor, we were hallway buddies – the people you see and say hello to all the time. The Gay Boyfriends at work and I were all atwitter since he was good-looking. Since I didn’t know his name, I referred to him as the Cute Boy Down the Hall or “Cute Boy” for short.

At some point, we finally introduced ourselves to each other and began chatting in the hall. Chatting led to lunch and the building of a lovely friendship. He was the same age as my little brother, and he brought out my big sister qualities. When I finally confessed to the nickname I had for him, he found the Cute Boy moniker amusing and flattering since he truly did not think he was a good-looking guy.

A Celebration of Life

As I walked into the Quaker building and sat down in a pew, I saw how many people were already there, and I thought how surprised Chris would be at the turnout. During the service, people who stood and shared stories about Chris echoed the same sentiment. Always laidback and humble, Chris never considered himself smart, good-looking or funny, no matter how many times we told him he was.

Although I have many stories to share about Chris, I just couldn’t speak at the service. I was just overwhelmed with grief and pain, and listening to the other stories was just brutal. I felt so sad for his new wife, stepdaughter, family members and other friends. At some point, a co-worker from the helicopter company where Chris worked stood up and said how the flight was in his flight book, not Chris’. We all gasped, and my heart broke for the young man. Survivor guilt is a terrible, terrible thing, and I hope his family and friends take care of him.

We did have some adventures together. Here are couple of stories that I would like to share:

Hurricane Rita. While many of us fled Houston for Hurricane Rita, Chris stayed behind hoping for great storm watching. He was disappointed since Houston didn’t even get rain. As I sat in Oklahoma at my parent’s house, I receive a phone call from my brother’s alarm company. There had been a fire at the house, and the firefighters needed help securing the door. My brother and sister-in-law were in California for a conference, and I couldn’t reach them right away. The only person I knew with the necessary skill set was Chris, and I called him to help.

Chris went over to my brother’s house, and a neighbor quickly confronted him, asking who he was. Chris said, “I’m the dude’s sister’s friend.” Well, of course. Chris secured the door and the next day went back over to board it up. At one point, Chris called with a question, and I called my brother. When I told my brother to call Chris directly, my brother said, “Oh, you’re doing fine.” When I asked Chris if he wanted to talk to Ed directly, he said, “Oh, what you told me is fine.” I wound up talking to Chris on my cell phone and to my brother on my mom’s cell, and I had some choice words about male communication skills.

Chris was able to let us know that the fire was with the water heater and there was some smoke in the house but no other damage. By the end of the weekend, my parents were talking about Chris like they knew him, and my brother, grateful for his help, bought him some alcoholic beverages.

Furniture. When I bought a couple of bookshelves and a TV table for my apartment, Chris came over to help me put it together since two pieces had glass doors. He actually read the directions and insisted we put all the nails on the bookshelf backing as the directions outlined despite my protests. The two pieces he put together are in the living room of my house now. He popped into my mind the Saturday before the crash when several guests at my house asked about the furniture, and I told them about Chris and his handiwork.

Doughnuts and Mexican Food. One year for my birthday, Chris insisted on taking me out for doughnuts. He was shocked that I hadn’t eaten doughnuts in a couple of years because I was eating healthier. We met at the Shipley’s near the Medical Center to dine on doughnuts and chocolate milk.

Speaking of eating, we were good at it. We frequently had lunch at the Mexican restaurant I mentioned at the beginning. We cleaned our plates every time as we discussed everything from God and the universe to office gossip and news. During the three-hour memorial service, I kept thinking of how Chris would wonder why we all sat in the church area talking about him for three hours instead of eating in the other room.

Dating Advice. We functioned as dating coaches for each other, and we always discussed dates we had – or were trying to have. Once I had a couple of lunch dates with a guy, who took me to a cafeteria for one of those outings. Chris told me, “That’s not the place you go with someone on a date.” He was right. On one of his first dates, I told him to wear his blue shirt since it brings out his blue eyes.

Hairy Situations. I was there for him during one particular moment of tragedy: the decision he made to grow his curly black hair long. The longer his hair grew, the more he lost his Cute Boy status. Once at lunch, he said a female co-worker told him that she didn’t like his hair and asked my opinion. I agreed with his co-worker and even added how the Gay Boyfriends at work had called me to tell me to tell Cute Boy to cut his hair. “You’re not Cute Boy with long hair,” I said. He cut his hair short a couple of days later.

We were the kind of friends who could go months without talking, but we would pick right up where we left off. Chris and I chatted on Facebook a couple of times, especially when he announced his engagement to his now wife.

I wound up becoming ill at my birthday party, which was the beginning of health problems I experienced for nearly a year. Since I was ill, I didn’t have the energy or wherewithal to talk to many of my friends or hang out with them, and I felt like I have neglected everyone.

After I related the story about how he put together my furniture, I thought how I needed to call or email him to check in and let him know that I was finally healthier. I started making a mental list of several other neglected friends who I hadn’t seen in a while. One Saturday I am thinking about Chris and telling a funny story about how he helped with the furniture, and the next Saturday, I found myself attending his funeral.

Following His Passion

Watching Chris pursue his dream taught me a great deal about following your passion. Even though other co-workers thought he was insane to quit a good job to fly helicopters, I thought he was brave, and I wondered how many of the naysayers were actually envious that he was pursuing something he really wanted.

At the service, people kept repeating how Chris died doing what he was passionate about. It’s all true, but I wish he was still here with us.

As I sat on that wooden pew with tears streaming down my face, I thought about my own writing projects I keep working on but never finishing. The same ones I talked to Chris about. The same ones he encouraged me to do. The ones I have to finish to honor the memory of my friend who lived and breathed his passion. After all, what the hell am I waiting for?

Although Chris and I loved each other and valued our friendship, we never said it out loud. One lesson we all learn the hard way is not telling the important people in our lives how much we love them. To all of my friends and family – the ones who I’ve known since the dawn of time and the new ones I keep picking up along the way – I want to tell you something. You are loved. You are important. You are special. My life is better for having you in it.

So my darling Cute Boy, I thank you for the time we had together, for the lessons you taught us, and for the gift of knowing you for a while.

I will miss you, my friend.