And when you allow yourself to believe that something IS a big decision, you instantly psych yourself out, ammiright?
So you have a thought like…
“You know, maybe I want to quit this job….”
“Maybe I want to move…”
“Maybe I should leave this person that I’ve been with for all these years…”
And then you think, “Oh, but it’s such a big decision,” and you frighten yourself into inaction.
All of life is a series of little decisions, and sometimes we make a big deal about the last little decision, but really – that last one is no bigger than all the ones that precede it.
I remember before the first of my marriages (long story) when we were getting our pre-marital counseling from our very hip pastor, and he said,
“Here’s the thing – you two have been deciding to get married since you met. You have been deciding to get married since you first clapped eyes on each other. It’s been a million little steps. A million little yeses. Yes to this first date, and yes to this dinner, and yes to making up after this fight. Now, on the wedding day, we’re going to make a big fuss over this last little yes. Over this last little, ‘I do.’
But remember it is not a big decision. It is the latest in a series of small decisions. And as you stay married, you will continue to make little decisions every single day to stay married or to not.”
And anyone who has been in a long-term relationship will tell you, it’s true. You make decisions every single day to stay together, or to drift apart.
You make little decisions every day about your health, your job, your family, and your relationships, and those decisions shape your future.
If you remember that you only need to make a little decision and then take the next indicated right action, you might decide yourself into a new, better life.
Asking yourself the question “Where will I think to look for this?” might be the single greatest organizational step you can take.
Asking yourself this question puts you in a state of awareness about your organizational style and creates an automatic mnemonic so you are even more likely to remember later on.
If I can imagine that the last time I put away a bottle of vanilla extract I thought, “Well, I’ll probably think to look for this with the rest of the baking stuff or maybe with the spices,” and then I put it with the rest of the baking stuff, well, I’ve got a better than fifty fifty chance of finding it right away the next time I need vanilla.
Certainly much higher than if I just jam it on a shelf somewhere where it eventually gets shoved to the back (because it’s a seldom-used item) and where I’ll never find it because I’m not even sure I have any to begin with because I don’t remember the last time I put it away.
This leads to buying more vanilla extract, which, if you use the pure extract (and you really should; the imitation stuff is terrible) is pretty darn expensive.
So why buy two when one, well placed, will do?
Again, the question is not, “Where should this go?” The question is, “Where, given my actual life, would I think something like this might end up?”
This is also a great question to ask yourself in parking garages, although there it sounds more like, “How will I remember which spot this is when I return?”
A good system is practical, realistic, easy, and even fun.
A bad system is impractical, unrealistic, hard, and a bummer.
You, your stuff, your space, and your art all deserve great systems.
You are a genius, and you have a lot of really good ideas every day.
But chances are, you’re not writing them down. And the life span of an unrecorded idea is. . . well, it’s pretty short.
So find a system that works for you, and use it every day. I like writing my ideas on index cards because they are cheap and cheerful and easy to carry.
But there are lots of other methods:
• Carry a little notebook. • Use a voice memo app on your phone. • Create an area in your datebook or journal for ideas. • Find a note-taking app that you love to use. • Call yourself and leave a message. • Write on Post-its and stick them in places where you’ll see them. • Use a coupon-carrier type envelope in which you can file your little scraps of paper
If you’re not a write-things-down kind of person, you might want to try tapping your wrist, forehead, or sternum as you repeat the idea out loud several times, or you might try turning your idea into a little song you can sing to yourself. These kinds of mnemonics work beautifully for some people.
Then you need to create a home for these great ideas.
(Here is my most succinct organizational tip: everything needs the rightsized home.)
For your random ideas or for the ones you are not moving forward on, I suggest creating a file, folder, or envelope, and labeling it “Genius.” At the end of each day, put your ideas in there.
They will nest and grow and, eventually, turn into something fabulous.
Index cards helped me write this book. When I first had the idea for this book, I thought it was great, but I also got immediately stuck because I wasn’t sure what format the book should be in. Should it be a workbook? A thought-for-the-day book? A six-week plan with prescriptive exercises for each day?
I knew I was falling into the trap of believing that I needed to have it all perfect inside my head before I moved forward, so I decided to let this book tell me what it wanted to be. For several weeks, every time I had an idea for something that I thought should be in the book, I wrote it down on an index card and put it in a “My Brilliant Book” manila envelope.
After about six weeks of this, I spread all the index cards out on my dining room table and began to sort them. I played around with a few different ways of organizing the ideas and finally ended up with a structure I really liked.
The fun part came when I started writing in earnest. Whenever I got stuck or didn’t know what part of the book to work on, I would just reach my hand into the envelope and write about the idea on whatever index card I pulled out.
I love letting chance and fate have a hand in my daily writing practice.
So I was doing some internal work a while ago about money. Now, as it happens, I have a pretty good relationship with money. I like money, I usually have enough, I don’t mind paying bills and since I always pay my bills on time, I have a very sexy credit score.But I couldn’t help noticing that while I always had enough money, I never had more than enough. My standard of living hasn’t changed much in the past 20 years, and I was feeling like I’d like to participate more fully in the economy; I want to buy stuff.
I took a piece of paper and started writing down all the ways I thought I was about money: thrifty, smart, easy, responsible, careful, respectful, appreciative. All well and good. But what about the opposite? What about the ways I thought I wasn’t allowed to be about money?
I started going with the idea that “what you can’t be with, runs you.” In other words, if you can’t stand the idea of being rude, then you spend your whole life in terror of rudeness, and you let your fear of rudeness make your decisions for you. But if you can admit that (sometimes) you are rude, then you can just go about your generally-polite life aware that sometimes rudeness happens, and that’s OK. (Especially if you apologize afterwards.)
So what do I think I can’t be around money? Hmmm: irresponsible, careless, profligate, reckless, wasteful, disrespectful, ungrateful… With each word I made a picture in my mind of me behaving in that way. Irresponsible? Yes, I could definitely think of a time or two that had happened. Careless? Certainly. Profligate? Well, not really, but I sort of liked the image that appeared in my mind of me just throwing money around, buying stuff without looking at the pricetag – very Auntie Mame. This was fun. Then. Then. Then I wrote down the word “thief.”
Well. Clearly a person can’t be a thief. That would just be wrong. But I was committed to my “opposites” game, so I started to think, “where in my life am I a thief?” And it came to me:
The quarter-inch of lotion in the bottle I couldn’t bring myself to throw away or replace, because there was still some left.
The freebie lipstick that was the wrong color but I kept it anyway.
The clothes in my closet that don’t fit.
The time I stole from my writing to ditz around doing nothing much at all.
Those items – the ones I was hanging on to out of a sense of “thrift” – were STEALING from me! They were stealing my time, my attention, my space, even my ability to liberally apply lotion after my morning shower!
And I was stealing my own art right from under my nose.I was the thief, stealing from myself over and over again.
I was stealing my ability to live in the moment. I was even stealing my faith in the future. I was stealing away from myself the thought that maybe, if I got rid of the junky bit of lotion or the ugly lipstick or the ill-fitting clothes, that there would still be enough to go around. That I could “splurge” on new clothes that fit the body I live in right now. I was stealing the 15 minutes a day I could be spending working on my book – which also meant stealing my integrity.
That’s what my misplace sense of thrift was really stealing: my ability to live in full integrity in this moment. Right Now.
As you are probably old enough to know: Right Now is all we have.
Right Now is the whole banana. We all have friends who have left this earth – they don’t have a Right Now anymore. (Perhaps they are in an eternal Right Now?) But we have Right Now, and we deserve to have items in our lives that suit our life Right Now.
So stop saving things “for good” – use the good silver every day.
Stop keeping clothes that don’t fit – someone else needs them.
Stop fretting – spending 10 minutes debating the relative merits of one shampoo that’s 50 cents cheaper than another shampoo is NOT the highest and best use of your time.
Stop wasting time on television shows you’ve already seen. Don’t let TV or video games be a thief.
And finally, stop pretending that you not spending the time or money on your ART that you know it needs and deserves in order to come full flower is somehow a good idea. Don’t be the thief of your own creativity.
Find the thieves in your world and give them a big hug and kiss and let them go.
While a lot of the coaching and free-advice giving I do is about making sure that you spend at least 15 minutes per day on the creative work that makes you happy, this bit is about attending to all those dumb, pesky details that can make your world feel like a dumb, pesky place to be.
For example, let’s take my client, Kevin. Kevin is a an actor – one of those good-looking-California-surfer types. He’s a hard-working member of a Los Angeles theatre company, and he occasionally books television and film work, usually playing a good-looking-California-surfer type.
Here’s Kevin’s list of dumb, pesky things:
Get the car washed
Clear off desk
Take “Opening Night” outfit to the dry cleaners
Clear out the nightstand drawer
Scrub the tile grout in the tub
Call Angela – her birthday was ages ago!
Check DWP website about drip irrigation program
Put scuba gear in garage – get it out of the bedroom
Throw out holey underwear
Wipe down patio furniture
Now, how long do you suppose these items had been on Kevin’s list?
Here’s Kevin’s embarrassing secret: nothing on that list was less than three months old, and some of them (nightstand drawer) had been on his to-do list for over five years. We can all point and snicker and laugh, but be honest, how many days or weeks or months have your to-do items been hanging around?
Now part of me wants to say to Kevin, “Look, clearly you don’t really give two hoots about getting your car washed, so why not just cross it off your list entirely and move on to a more interesting problem?”
But the fact is, it bothers him.
None of it bothers him very much, but all of them bother him a little.
So every morning Kevin wakes up, looks at his overflowing nightstand drawer and thinks that he should have cleaned that out already. Then he goes to the shower and cringes at the sight of his grubby tile grout. Then he gets dressed, rooting around for intact underwear, trips over the scuba gear, walks past his messy desk on which, somewhere, is his friend Angela’s phone number and he walks past the suit that’s waiting to go to the dry cleaners and he exits his home and notices the dried-out lawn and the grimy patio furniture and he gets in his dirty car and drives to work.
The poor man hasn’t been awake for 45 minutes and he’s already feeling terrible about himself.
That’s why I want you to take care of these niggling things. Not because anyone cares if your car is dirty, but because it’s affecting your self-esteem, and it’s affecting your ability to believe in yourself. “How can I start the project of my dreams when I can’t even find matching socks!” Well, perhaps you can’t.
So make a list of ten little things that:
you know need doing
you know that if you did them it would make positive difference in your life
you’ve been putting off for some mysterious reason
You must keep this list to truly “little” things. Things that cost
less than $50. Things that take less than one hour to complete.
Things that might even be considered “errands.”
Now, schedule some time to complete these tasks. Might be 15 minutes a day, might be one whole day devoted to the whole list, might be delegating these tasks (yes! delegate!)
Let me know how it feels.
I’d love to hear what niggling little thing you’ve been putting off, and how it felt to finally get it done.