By Katharine Grubb
This idea — organizing your life — could be the elephant in the room. Figuratively, it weighs a couple thousand pounds. You’ve known that your life is a mess and you’d rather ignore it than deal with it. But like a real elephant, your piles, your messes and your chaos feels rough and dirty. Being effective seems impossible. This figurative elephant may even be eyeing you suspiciously.
You’ve been told that to eat this elephant you’ll have to tackle it one bite at a time. In your hand, you have a knife and a fork and you say to yourself, “go to it!”
If only getting your life organized were that simple. If only the idea of getting your act together wasn’t such an overwhelming one.
The task of dealing with your disorder is daunting. If it were easy, you would have become organized a long time ago. You’ve let bad habits, bad attitudes, and bad reactions to life get in the way of good intentions. Those good intentions are weak little things. Perhaps you and I both can stop asking them to do so much work. Intentions mean little in the long run.
But if you’ve never eaten that metaphorical elephant one bite at a time, then it’s likely you’re hiding under the nearest hay bale, remembering past failures. Or maybe you’ve polished that fork up nice and shiny — you think this will be, for lack of a better phrase, a piece of cake, because you just bought this book and maybe this one will do the trick.
You may have already bought books. Maybe you’ve made yourself promises. Perhaps you’ve spent too much money on storage containers. You may have read books about only keeping things that bring you joy. You may have analyzed your time to death and still don’t have enough of it. You may have found yourself right back where you started, even after a couple of months of effort.
The methods mentioned in this blog make no promises. This is not the ultimate source for life organization; it’s only one of many, many perspectives on the subject. It could, perhaps, add to the mental pile that you’ve collected. And you already feel guilty about that.
There’s a common denominator in all of the things that you may have tried. It’s not the book. It’s not the method.
I feel ya. It was me too.
The elephant in the room, the one that constantly reminds you that you don’t have your life together, can be eliminated. Even if you don’t quite believe it just yet.
In the social media book, Hamlet’s Black Berry, (2010) William Powers writes:
“Now and then it occurs to us that we could do better, reconfigure our commitments and schedules so they’re not so crazy and we can breathe. But no sooner do we have this thought that we dismiss it as futile. The mad rush is the real world, we tell ourselves. We’re resigned to it in the same grim way that people in repressive societies become resigned to their lack of freedom. Everyone lives like this, racing and skimming their way through their days. We didn’t drop the anvil, and there’s nothing we do about it except soldier on, make the best of it.”
The problem, I believe, isn’t the system, it’s the loss of focus. It does me no good to be a successful writer if my inner life is full of turmoil. No amount of money in the world will bless my family enough to make up for the time I’ve abandoned them so I can be alone to write.
This idea of finding a sense of purpose first is not mine. In nearly every book I used for research, I found that the experts in time management all agree that it’s not time, nor lack of time, that’s the problem. It’s a misalignment of priorities or a misunderstanding of what matters. It could be a lack of depth on the part of the doer, a lack of inner character, or a neglect to pursue inner goals that really matter.
This puts me in a bind as a writer. I can give all the instruction in the world. I can list statistics, quote great thinkers, and argue my case eloquently, but it will make no difference in the life of the reader unless he chooses to ponder this truth and answer tough questions.
When I was a small child attending Sunday School, I sang a song,”The wise man built his house upon a rock.” The next verse begins:”The foolish man built his house upon the sand.” This song was far more than a cute ditty to keep preschoolers from making a mess. This song was the truth — wise men and women do consider their beginnings long before they take action.
Gary Keller, in his book, One Thing, (2013) suggests this also:
“Achievers operate differently. They have an eye for the essential. They pause just long enough to decide what matters and then allow what matters to drive their day. Achievers do sooner what others plan to do later and defer, perhaps indefinitely, what others do sooner. The difference isn’t in intent but in right of way. Achievers always work from a clear sense of priority.”
Do we want our days to be filled with the right things? Do we write for the right reasons? Do we take our kids to soccer for the right reasons? If we are going to be serious about time management, then we need to understand that time is fleeting. We should hold it with a reverence. We don’t know how much time we have on this planet. I’d like to suggest that we do not just make time for our dreams, like writing a novel in 10 minutes a day, but that we look at everything we do with clarity and discernment. We shouldn’t waste our time on the things that don’t matter.
The tagline for my first writing book is”Your dreams are worth ten minutes.” And while that is true and I believe it, I more firmly believe that”the rest of your life is worth so much more.” I also believe that none of us are born organized or disciplined. It may take deliberate choices to become more disciplined.
Perhaps you are making choices daily that are inhibiting your ability to be effective. I’d like to teach you how to spot these poor choices and exchange them for better ones.
WHAT IS AN EFFECTIVE LIFE?
Will you know what an effective life looks like? I am not so confident that I believe that order and organization will bring effectiveness to every person in the world. But I am confident enough in the fact that order will help. Order and organization make room for effectiveness to get comfortable and enjoy itself. Order brings clarity. Organization provides freedom for a home, a family, and an artist to express themselves fully. Order and organization allow for effectiveness which in turns encourages happiness.
Matt Perlman also writes in What’s Best Next (2014):
“The source of our lack of fulfillment is not just that the best of our intuitions often get knocked away from us. The deeper reason is that we feel unfulfilled when there is a gap between what is most important to us (the realm of personal leadership) and what we are actually doing with our time (the realm of personal management).”
You may be most satisfied with your day when there is a match between what you value and how you spent your time. On the other hand, when what you actually work on and accomplish during the day is mostly different from what really matters to you, you feel unfulfilled. Not because you didn’t get much done — in many cases, you have — but because the things you were getting done weren’t the things that you value.
I agree with Perlman that there is this gap. I can articulate what is important to me (and it was easy to spot when I had five dirty faces looking right me yelling for juice). And I felt the gap the most profoundly when I realized we all needed to eat an evening meal and I didn’t even know where to start. I had been busy all day, putting out figurative fires, so why didn’t I feel more satisfied?
WHAT IS IMPORTANT TO US?
If what Perlman says is true (and I believe that it is) then we need to identify the realm of personal leadership. What is important to us? What are we doing all of this for?
I’d like to suggest that we all have, either with a purpose or by accident, created a foundational vision for our lives. We make our decisions, or lack of decisions, based on what we value.
HOW DO WE DEFINE YOU?
For two years, I tutored seventh-graders in persuasive writing. I trained my students to discuss definitions for everything, even simple concepts sometimes. This exercise provided clarity for future discussion when we would compare issues, see relationships, understand circumstances, and then look to authoritative sources. With this structure, it was easier for me and the students to understand the material we were studying and organize our thoughts for persuasive essays. This tool, definition, is one we’ll be using throughout this book.
WHO ARE YOU?
So who are you? If you’ve read Write A Novel in Ten Minutes A Day, you may call yourself a 10 Minute Novelist. You could also be a retiree, a stay-at-home mother, a homeschooler, a student or someone with a less-than-perfect day job. You could define yourself as any of the roles that you play: parent, child, spouse, friend, and employee. You may see yourself through your experiences, college graduate, a cancer survivor. All of these descriptors do define you to a point, but none of them create a perfect picture of you. You are more than your Twitter bio and your photo albums on Facebook. You are more than your good ideas and your high -school diploma. You are more than your possessions, your family photos, and hits on your website. You are even more than how effective you are.
You are so much more.
But more important than who you are is what you want to be. If you have set your timer and regularly followed my advice, then you may want to be a writer. If this is the case, then it is tempting to say that your writing is the most important thing in your life. If we are going to change everything about our lives so that we are spending more time writing and being creative, then we may have pushed that goal into the highest spot in our lives. While that is a good thing, it is not the best thing. What good would it do to write and be published if you were alienated in your relationships for it? To paraphrase, what would it profit you if you were to be a best-selling author but lose your soul?
I believe that everyone, writer or not, organized or not, needs to choose a foundation for who they are at their core.
In What’s Best Next, Matt Perlman mentions two points of view that can assist you in looking at tasks:
“The personality ethic looks mainly at externals as the way to be more productive and effective — how you relate to people, what tactics you use to get things done, and what techniques you follow to accomplish your goals. It might affirm the importance of character, but it is just one ingredient among many. The character ethic, on the other hand, looks first at who you are. It says that true success is not first defined by externals and the way to live an effective life does not come first from technique. True and lasting effectiveness comes from character which is not simply an ingredient of an effective life but a foundation to it. Techniques do have their place, but only as building blocks upon a foundation of genuine character.”
And I believe that if we start with a good foundation, then make our decisions based on it, then we’ll find that we’re the people we wanted to be all along. I believe that we’ll find we’re far more effective in our goals.
So what are our priorities? How do we know what we should choose and what we shouldn’t? I’d like to suggest that priorities come from somewhere. We need to know what is true before we can build our life around it.
This is what we’re doing in this blog post: I want to challenge you to build a foundation of truth so you can make better choices and be more effective. A foundation is the most important part of a structure. The purpose of this post is to have you think, perhaps for the first time, about what your foundation should be.
In Getting Things Done, David Allen writes:
“Ultimately, if the phone call you’re supposed to make clashes with your life purposes or values, to be in sync with yourself you won’t make it. If your job structure doesn’t match up with where you need to be a year from now, you should rethink how you’ve framed your areas of focus and responsibilities, if you want to get where you’re going most efficiently.”
QUESTIONS: (And I’d love to hear your answers!)
1. Do you see a separation between what’s most important to you and what you’re actually doing with your time? Are you satisfied with how effective you are on a daily basis? Do you think that the things you are getting done are really the things that you value or not?
2. Have you ever asked yourself about the meaning of life? Have you engaged in practices that gave you clarity in this area? Have you ever sought spiritual guidance? Can you articulate what is important to you truly?
3. Have you ever taken a long-term approach to what you want your life to be like? Why or why not? Do you have an idea of whom to approach if you need help in this area?
4. Do you think that by making foundational choices now, you could ease your stress later? Why or why not?
This entry was a selection from my book: When The Timer Dings: Organizing Your Life To Make The Most of 10 Minute Increments. Click here to order.
Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement and community. </spa