On the subject of food, my mother used to tell me “your eyes are bigger than your stomach!” On the subject of organizing, I have observed that, for many of my clients, their ambition significantly outweighs their energy.
Don’t get me wrong. I think it is important to challenge ourselves. It’s OK for our reach to exceed our grasp, but when our plans SIGNIFICANTLY exceed our capabilities it leads to frustration, guilt, and further disorganization. Consequently, not only do the impossible goals remain unattained, but so do the manageable goals.
The phenomenon of ambition-outweighs-energy seems to be especially prevalent among the creative-minded, ADHD-sufferers , and the elderly, but I think we can all relate on some level to the effects of this phenomenon. Here’s a few things you can do about it:
1. Face Facts.
Your good ideas will ALWAYS outnumber your hours to act on them. It’s important to not feel like a failure because you’re not getting to all the things you wanted to do. I have often quoted time management expert Harold Taylor on this subject, but I think it bears repeating here. Taylor says “On the day you die, you will still have a full inbox.” The message: you simply cannot do it all, so give yourself a break. Unburden yourself of the pressure to do it all. Focus instead on getting to your priorities.
2. Act or Find.
Everything that comes into our lives, whether it is a piece of paper, article of clothing, or an idea, ultimately demands a simple choice of two imperatives: make a point of acting on it OR find it reliably. If RELIABLE retrieval is not in your plans, be honest with yourself and toss it (whatever “it” is) NOW. Start by clarifying this distinction with everything that comes into your life. This distinction alone can reduce your actions by up to 95%.
3. Project Corrals
One of the biggest sources of panic for creatives, ADHD sufferers, and the elderly is that if their ideas are not captured in a safe place, they will be lost. For this I recommend an idea I call project corrals. The idea is that given the reality that your ideas are going to far exceed your ability to act on them, the only way to focus on the limited goals in front of you is to write your ideas down on individual notes and collect them is some very general categories. This way, the ideas are not cluttering up your head but in a safe, findable place until you have the time in your schedule to act on them. This allows you to focus on a more limited and therefore more realistic goals.
4. Don’t equate “can” with “should.”
Just because you CAN do something doesn’t mean you should. There is no more decisive way to free up time in your schedule that to prevent a to-do from ever seeing the light of day in the first place.
I have to be honest. I struggle with this one. As a former professional illustrator, part of my job was to explain complicated concepts through clear diagrams. My current work is FILLED with complicated concepts and the temptation to illustrate my way out of it is always there, but I have to stop myself, because I know that need to illustrate is not actually a good investment of time to meet my priorities. I COULD do it. I’ve done it before VERY well, but that doesn’t mean I should do it.
Sometimes this commitment is as simple as looking at an expired un-cashed check for $4.16. Yes, you could look at retiring the to-do as throwing away money, but when you put things in perspective, look at all your other to-do’s, and the likelihood of following up on this little old check, is it really something you are going to have the energy for? If it helps, ask yourself, what would be the worst thing that would happen if you retired this idea? Balance the possible $4.16 with the time, stress, and energy required to retrieve it.
5. Find It Online
So many of the ideas I see saved are in boxes of old magazines and clippings. Keeping these boxes can be a tremendous drain on space, and energy. We are fortunate enough to live in an age when an unprecedented amount of information exists in this wonderful place called the Internet. You could dig through many boxes looking for that lime chicken recipe you THINK you remember from a 1992 Good Housekeeping Magazine or you could find it instantly by Googling “lime chicken,” without the boxes and without the burden.
6. Give It To Someone Who Can Do It Better.
Yes, this usually means spending some money, but guess what? Some things are more valuable than money. Consider your health, stress levels, and energy levels. If those aren’t managed properly then you can forget about doing the things that are truly important to you.
A few years ago I gave my bookkeeping to a bookkeeper and immediately I wondered why this had taken me so long. My mind was suddenly at ease over an area of my business that had drained my energy. I could focus more effectively on what felt like more vital areas of my business. Are there some areas in your busy life where you can “delegate and celebrate”?*
Spend your energy wisely, for any money lost today is easier to replace than the energy you may have wasted. Personal energy is a limited resource, not to be taken lightly, especially as we age. If you are finding it hard to stay organized, perhaps the most important thing you can do is try these ways to scale back your ambitions to manageable levels. The less you have on your plate, the more you accomplish, and the better you will feel.
*Gotta thank BJ Flagg for that one!