Piles of Paper & Delayed Projects

Piles of Paper & Delayed Projects

FREE WEBINAR! I recently gave a webinar for ADDitude Magazine: “How to Get More Done… With a Lot Less Stress.” If you weren’t on the call, you can listen to a replay by clicking here – it’s free until July 4, 2018! (I was blown away that almost 9,000 people signed up!) I’d love to hear your feedback.

The following challenges were brought up during a recent TUIT Project Group Webinar. I think the topics (dealing with piles of paper and getting to delayed projects) are concerns for many people, so I’d like to share the strategies we discussed.

How do I deal with avoidance, when it comes to tacking my piles of paper?

  • Work on one pile at a time. Start with the more recent ones, as you’re more likely to find some time-sensitive discoveries.
  • Don’t tackle a big pile – just the thought of it is overwhelming, which automatically creates an avoidance response. So, take a handful of papers at a time, and bring them somewhere else if you need to separate yourself so you don’t have to look at the intimidating ‘master pile’ (or piles).
  • The goal isn’t to shuffle the piles (which is what often happens), but to create workable units of related items that can be reviewed more efficiently than if the categories were intermingled. Remember, your goal is to process the papers, not just organize them! However, organization is the first step.
  • Start by separating the papers, by category, into smaller piles as you go through them. It is a waste of time and energy to transition your thinking from issues concerning the house… to kids… to work… to finances, etc. The same applies to sorting piles of paper at work. The popular OHIO method (only handle it once) doesn’t make sense if it means having to constantly shift focus to deal with different categories and different priorities. Stack all papers relating to a category in one pile or folder (put a blank paper at the top with the category name, so you’ll remember). Then, either go through and process all of the papers in a specific category (do now, do later, do whenever, delegate, discard or file), or continue adding to your sorted categories by taking additional handfuls from the master pile.
  • Don’t think you’ll just get around to this. Knowing you have or want to do something has little to do with getting it done. (Especially for ADDers, who are less motivated by reward, consequence or even importance.) Create a Task-Appointment (time on your calendar to do a specific task) for sorting the master pile, sorting the category piles, acting on the category sorts or filing (if you don’t set a time for filing, it’s unlikely to happen, which will just add to the future piles).
  • You can do this for just 15 minutes a day. You won’t get it all done, but the piles will decrease. A good idea is to make it part of an existing routine. Eat lunch, then sort/process for 15 minutes while the food digests.
  • If there are important items in the master pile, then you might want to focus on pulling those out so they ‘go to the top of the list.’ Systems are designed to help us achieve goals, but don’t overlook what is urgent while working on whatever is more interesting.

What is a good approach for getting to a long-desired but delayed project?

  • Realize that even when you aren’t in action on a project, if it’s something you’ve been thinking about, you have made some progress. The problem is that, without putting your thoughts down in writing – in one designated and labeled place/folder, you are ‘reinventing’ the wheel every time you think about it, instead of moving forward. So get your thoughts in writing to solidify and remember them. Consider that you aren’t starting fresh; you have the benefit of the thinking you’ve been doing. The difference is that when you get it out of your head and onto paper (or computer file), it clears your head and frees you up for action.
  • Define the project – create a Project Sheet. This is the difference between Planning Time and Doing Time (Taking Action). Without clearly planning out your actions, you’ll be less efficient and perhaps less successful at reaching your goal. You have probably spent an incredible amount of time over the years thinking about that project, so you’ve made progress, but haven’t yet taken concrete action towards getting it done, other than maybe a few false starts. Use just the one master folder (or file) where you’ve consolidated your thoughts. If it’s a big project, you may have subfolders or files. If you have old notes you’ve accumulated over the years, but aren’t sure where you put them, decide whether it’s worth the time and energy to find them, or just start fresh. (The ‘looking’ is often an unconscious way to delay beginning.)
  • Think through the sometimes hidden factors that have contributed to the delay in getting started. In this example, Jane Doe had spent a great deal of money on window treatments that never looked right. A major factor delaying replacement was her fear of making another expensive mistake by once again choosing the wrong items. What can you do differently to help ensure success? For Jane, hiring a consultant (a good interior designer) for a quick review would be well worth the expense, as it would alleviate her fear of re-doing it ‘wrong.’
  • Look at the benefits of proceeding (or not). In this case, Jane has to look at her ‘mistake’ every day, so it is a constant reminder of her poor, and costly, choice. That’s a negative impact statement and reason enough to make a change, if it is financially feasible. Note: This is only important because it was affecting the person who was looking at her perceived ‘mistake’ for 10 years – someone else might not even have noticed, so it would be a non-issue.
  • Get specific about those issues that have complicated making a change. Jane wasn’t sure as to which style, materials or colors to use for the replacement window treatments, whether they needed to be custom made, and if so, by whom. There are more resources available now than 10 years ago when she made her original purchase, and it’s easier to explore options on the web (even showing possible window treatments as they would look in the actual room).
  • To help narrow down the choices when making a complicated decision, use basic Decision-Making strategies, like a Decision Matrix, where you create a grid. Across the top, list the factors that affect your decision-making (these are your criteria), which in this case would include things like cost, appearance, quality, availability, maintenance, etc. Down the left side list the options. Then weigh each box by assigning a number. I like to use -3 to +3, with 0 being neutral. So one option, silk drapes, would get a +3 for looks, but a -3 for affordability/cost. Another option, wood blinds, would get a +1 for looks, but a -1 for maintenance. You get the idea. Some factors, like cost, might carry more weight than others. Maybe not. When you total the numbers, it helps determine your best choice, given your criteria and options.
  • By getting your thoughts out of your head, and creating a plan of action with specifics, you can get that long-desired, but not urgent, project accomplished without too much intrusion (time and energy) into your already busy life.
Work From Home on Snow Days – Productively!

Work From Home on Snow Days – Productively!

SNOW DAYS – For many, it means working from home.  Great for avoiding hazardous roads, but when it comes to productivity, there are some built-in hazards you’ll have to negotiate.  Remember these three words to make your work-at-home days more successful. WORD #1: Preparation –   Yes, follow the Boy Scout credo and be prepared

Snow Day in Ossining, Westchester NY by Susan Lasky

Snow Day in Ossining, Westchester NY by Susan Lasky

Always have a work-related contact list and critical info (passwords, etc.) at home – snow day or not.

  • If possible, sync your office computer with your phone and laptop or tablet.  Don’t depend on being able to access your office computer remotely; the internet may go down in bad weather.
  • As an extra precaution, print out the contact list and other critical information.  (Do this periodically.)  It is possible the electric may fail, especially in areas with snow-laden tree branches and exposed wires.  You may need the printout to make an emergency call or two. (Keep your cell phone charged and have a spare, charged power source in case it does – consider investing in a solar-powered charger.)

If you have advance warning of the snowstorm, give thought as to what you can work on at home that would be the most productive use of your time.

  • These may be tasks that will help you finish an important project you are working on now, or a project you’ve been meaning to get to that you haven’t had time for in the office, or it may be a good opportunity to do some planning, away from the urgency and interruptions of office life.
  • Gather any materials you’ll need to do the work from home.  Again, don’t count on being able to remotely access office computers, assuming your company even has that technology available for your use. (Take note, company execs – given this year’s weather, it may be time to review your policies on secure networks and remote access).

WORD #2: Expectation –  Be realistic, this is NOT another day at the office There is a limit to what you will be able to accomplish – choose carefully – don’t promise (even yourself) more than you can reasonably deliver. Realize that you WILL have distractions – house chores will call to you (especially if the work you plan on doing is less than fully engaging):  “Straighten up … clean … cook …  patch the hole in the wall …  organize the closet … ” PUT ON THE BLINDERS.  If you were at the office, you wouldn’t be tempted. You will probably receive, or have to make, some personal phone calls.  This is not a day for chatting, although others who are stuck at home but not working may think it is.  Limit the calls, as you would at work, “Hi, how are you? I’m okay, but working… will call you back.” Children – they are home as well, and DO need your attention.  Build in time to spend with them – you can’t work a full schedule unless they are older or you have in-home childcare.  Take an hour and go out sledding with the children.  You can be just as productive – even more productive – for having taken a play break.  Then don’t worry if you use the TV or a video to babysit part of the time.  Consider a project they can do nearby, while you do yours – have some ideas in advance (Preparation!). WORD #3: Clarity – Know what to do, and when to stop Be VERY specific in terms of what you will work on – the more focused you are, the more productive you’ll be in what could become a very distracting environment.  Begin the day with a clear and detailed written outline of what you have decided to accomplish.  This helps to maintain a focused work ethic at home (and gets you back on track after external or internal interruptions). Create your own benchmark – have a goal that, when achieved, will make you feel you had a fulfilling stay-at-home workday.  Reach your benchmark and STOP WORKING.  Celebrate with a cup of hot chocolate, or maybe some tea, laced with rum and spices (I think they call that a hot toddy ).

Love It, Use It, or Lose It

Love It, Use It, or Lose It

Don’t hide your clutter or feel guilty. Here are 11 reasons why it is so easy to accumulate clutter, and 13 ADHD-friendly rules that will help you to organize your home for good.

An ADDitude reader recently asked: “I’m 35 and a wife and mother to two boys. I was diagnosed with inattentive ADHD two years ago. I like to hold on to stuff — knick-knacks from my grandmother, a ticket stub from a play I saw with my husband five years ago, and so on. The only time I ‘sort of’ clean up and get organized is when I invite friends or relatives over for dinner. This doesn’t happen often these days, because I’ve run out of closet space and other hiding places for all the junk. Can you give me some hoarding help, so I can have my friends over again?”

Clutter-shame is a complaint of many adults with ADHD. There are lots of reasons we find it hard to let things go. Here are a few:

1. We have many interests and find it hard to set boundaries (on what we buy, what we keep, and where we put things).

2. It is easy for us to see possibility and potential, so we tend to hold on to things “just in case.”

3. We struggle with systems and getting things done, so it’s easy to wind up with stacks of mail or piles of laundry.

4. We keep things because they help us to remember an experience (tickets, programs, souvenirs).

5. We form emotional attachments, making it harder to let go of things (even if we dislike our aunt’s embroidered napkins or struggle to find space to store 200 drawings our children did in grade school).

6. We keep things visible because we might otherwise forget about them. We tend to “file by pile” because “out of sight is out of mind.”

7. We make impulsive purchases when shopping, because individuals with ADHD are usually in search of ways to stimulate their brains. Buying something new can create a rush of excitement, along with the temporary dopamine flow of contentment. We may fail to think clearly about how, or if, we’ll actually use the new item. This adds to clutter at home.

8. We have difficulty prioritizing and making decisions, so we just find it easier to keep everything. As Barbara Hemphill says, “clutter is postponed decisions.”

9. We get distracted and leave things where they were as we move on to something else, whether it is a kitchen counter with the remnants of last night’s dinner or a sofa with piles of magazines on the cushions.

10. We forget — or can’t find — what we have, so we buy extras.

11. Poor time management and lack of interest makes it challenging to follow routines, like emptying a dishwasher to avoid a sink full of dirty dishes or putting away clean laundry before it gets wrinkled.

The result? Our home becomes, and stays, a mess.

Having guests over is an excellent reason to get activated to straighten up. Unfortunately, the cleanup is usually done in a rush, and hiding items adds to the clutter in your hiding places. Use invitations to friends and family to incentivize the organizing process, then organize by following these strategies:

1. Tone down the emotion. We think, “I really have to straighten up” or “I need to declutter,” which seems overwhelming, and our ADHD brains react by going into the “fight, flight, or freeze” response. When there’s too much to do, we’re likely to avoid doing anything. Start by accepting that the smaller our task, the more likely we’ll get it done.

2. Understand the difference between a task and a project. Organizing a room — or even a closet — is a project. Breaking the job down into baby steps gives us do-able tasks. What are the specific areas that need to be organized? Think of each shelf, surface, or drawer as a separate space or task. Imagine each as a branch on a hybrid fruit tree. Each branch holds a slightly different fruit, and together they are part of the “room tree.” It’s easier to work on one branch then it is to prune the entire tree.

3. Imagine success. Think about how you will feel when you walk into a room that is organized to your satisfaction. Remember how great it feels to invite guests to your de-cluttered home. Think about what a good role model you’ll be for your children, how appreciative your family will be, and how you will feel as you make progress. Forecast this feeling of pride, calm, and comfort, rather than focusing on the stress and discomfort you will go through to achieve it. Think of the current situation as temporary. Accept the fact that things may get worse before they improve. As you organize, look for progress, not perfection; effort, not excellence. It’s better to promise yourself less and deliver more. Relax, breathe, and smile.

4. Create an ‘Organizing Plan.’ Decide on the areas you want to organize. Make a list of the projects (rooms, closets, etc.) and the specific tasks (spaces or things that need to be organized). Don’t worry yet about how you’ll organize — that can stop you before you start. Now decide which areas get priority. If you have difficulty prioritizing, think about where you’ll feel the greatest joy when it’s organized (or where you feel the greatest discomfort now).

5. Organization doesn’t just happen. There’s always something more interesting or urgent to do, so schedule organizing time on your calendar as Task-Appointments. Be specific as to which tasks you’ll work on. Unlike your Organizing Plan, which is a Master To-Do List, create an Action Plan for each organizing session, so that you are working toward realistic goals. Set a timer so you know when to stop (makes it easier to start and less likely to get overly hyper-focused). If you keep avoiding an organizing task, set your timer for 15 minutes (or less). Sometimes it’s just activating that’s the challenge, and it’s easier to get started when you know it’s only for a short time. (This is the strategy of my online accountability group – OvercomeOverwhelm.com)

6. Create a supportive vibe. This is not an easy process for you, so stop thinking it should be. That’s a trap. Take a walk outside before you begin working. Put on background music that will help keep you energized and focused. Make sure you have sufficient lighting. Stay hydrated and avoid hunger. If you take meds for your ADHD, take them to help with focus and decision-making. Keep the mindset that what you are doing is a gift to yourself and your family.

7. Love it, use it, or lose it. Pick one shelf, one surface, or one drawer. Look at each thing there and ask, “Do I need this? Does it really need me?” Marie Kondo suggests asking yourself, “Does this spark joy in my heart?” Judith Kolberg, founder of the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization (now called the Institute for Challenging Disorganization) encourages over-personalizing the elimination process, by asking if an item is a friend, acquaintance, or stranger. You keep your friends and get rid of strangers. You enjoy acquaintances for a while, then are happy to see them go.

8. Minimize the sense of loss. If an item is something others might use, either donate it or give it to a friend or family member who would appreciate and use the item. Think of this as blessing someone else with your stuff.

9. Take photographs, then discard, recycle, give away, or donate the object. You can use those photos, whether of memorabilia or art projects, to create photo books or a DVD that you can share with others.

10. Group like with like. As you go through various spaces, group similar items in one area, so you will get a feel for what you have. This makes it easier to decide what you want to keep. Group items by function — how things are used. The book on first aid goes with the first-aid supplies, not with books.

11. Everything needs a home. Decide where the items should live. You might store linens in a central closet, or, for more convenience, in the rooms where they’ll be used. Think in terms of prime real estate. Those items used the most frequently, or those you want to display, should live in your prime real estate. Store the less-used items farther away. The home should be big enough to accommodate the items without stuffing them in (generates a mess), and small enough so you don’t have extra space that could become a haven for clutter. Label everything you can – it’s easy to forget what goes where, and labeling also helps others to maintain your systems.

12. Say “enough.” Set boundaries by deciding (without looking at what you have), how many of a certain type of item you need. If you have limited space to display your goodies, be more selective. When the space is full, it’s time to stop. If you don’t love an item enough to give it priority, then it’s an item you can release. When we have too much, everything loses some of its value.

13. Don’t go it alone. Working with a friend, family member or coach provides moral support, a sense of focus, and an objective perspective (“20 vases on that display shelf makes it difficult to appreciate any of them”). Just having someone else present (your “body double,” a term coined by Linda Anderson) will help you to stay focused on decluttering. Let them hold up items that, if you touched them, might reinforce an emotional bond. Avoid working with anyone who has a “just throw it all out” mentality. Consider the value of investing in hiring a professional organizer. Look for one trained to work with chronic disorganization and ADHD through NAPO (National Association of Professional Organizers) or ICD (Institute for Challenging Disorganization).

Getting organized doesn’t have to be painful. You CAN do it! Let go of the guilt and commit to taking baby steps — every success breeds success. Celebrate even the small accomplishments. You’ll feel energized and terrific, and your home will reflect your new approach!

Reprinted (with edits!) from my article in ADDitude Magazine
https://www.additudemag.com/hoarding-help-adhd-adults/

How To Avoid Tax Prep Overwhelm

How To Avoid Tax Prep Overwhelm

The deadline for filing taxes is fast approaching. Many people have difficulty getting their financial records in order (if they can even find them!).  This can be especially painful for those with ADHD or executive function challenges.

Be realistic.  What is the likelihood that you will have your personal taxes ready to post or postmark by April 15th? (April 17th in 2017.) If it is slim, or predicated on wishful thinking, file for an extension now, to avoid penalties for late filing (you’ll still have to pay taxes and interest, so the sooner you file, the better).

Avoid avoidance.  It is possible to overcome major avoidance, which is what keeps many people from getting their taxes done on time. For some of us, just the idea of finding and gathering all of the information feels overwhelming. And when something is overwhelming, we’ll do anything to avoid dealing with it (including putting it off despite the financial consequences). So accept that tax prep is a necessary evil, and make it easier by treating it as a PROJECT – not a task. A project consists of many tasks, and you can only do one at a time!

Begin by breaking down this project into various steps (the individual tasks). Some of these are itemized below. The idea is to focus on a single task at a time, so you aren’t overloaded by everything that needs doing.

Don’t say ‘YES’ unless you can say ‘WHEN.’  After you’ve decided what tasks you’ll need to do in order to finish your Tax Prep Project, decide when you’ll do them. Enter each task on your calendar, as a Task-Appointment, which is an appointment with yourself to do a specific thing at a specific time. This dramatically increases the likelihood that you’ll actually work on the task. It is easier to wrap your head and energy around beginning a specific task (activate!) then it is to think about accomplishing the entire project.

And if a task looks like it will take too long to complete in one appointment (given your attention span and other obligations), just work on it for a set amount of time. If you do that, you’ll have met your goal (even if the task itself isn’t finished). By doing what you planned, you’ll feel successful, and so more likely continue with other Task-Appointments and complete the project. Success breeds success.

The following steps will apply to most people:

  • Task #1  Gather Papers. Begin by gathering the many financial papers you probably have in several different places, and put them in one location, even if you use the proverbial shoebox to hold everything! Don’t review them; don’t think about them. Just collect.
  • Task #2  Sort into Categories. Sort the various papers you’ve gathered into categories (receipts, statements, tax reporting forms). Put them in separate folders (paper or poly project files) or just stack the papers, writing the category name on a blank paper kept on top of the pile. If you do your banking/investing/accounting by computer, set up a folder for the tax year, and include all relevant downloads.
  • Task #3  Group your Deductions. If you itemize, group your family’s deductible receipts (medical, charitable contributions, childcare, education, business expenses, etc.).  Note: You can request an annual statement from your local or mail order pharmacy that itemizes all medication expenses, so you don’t need to worry about keeping each receipt during the year. Obtaining this statement can be a separate Task (visit the pharmacy… make the call… or download the pharmacy record).
  • Task #4  Review Banking Documents. Go through your checkbooks, bank and credit card statements for possible deductible expenses. Note: If you are reimbursed for a medical expense, it is not a deduction.
  • Task #5  Determine if Anything is Missing. Are any reporting forms missing?  (W2 or 1099’s, property or school taxes, mortgage interest, bank interest, investment records, stock dividends, etc.) You should have a list of what to look for from your accountant or tax preparer (many will send you a tax preparation document that you can just fill in with your information). If not, several are available online or through the IRS or free (legitimate) tax prep websites. If any critical reporting forms are missing, set a Task to contact the originator for a copy. Do this early enough to get the information before the filing deadline! Note: Accountants may have different requirements as to what documentation they need to do your taxes, so check in advance.
  • Task #6  Tally the Results. Go through each category, list the details (whether using paper or computer) and add up the totals.
  • Task #7  Make your IRA Contributions before April 15th, if you intend to deduct them for the prior year.
  • Task #8  Complete the actual Tax Return Forms. Having everything organized isn’t enough – now it’s time to complete the actual tax returns, and submit them before the tax deadline. You can complete the forms yourself, use legitimate online tax software, or give your prep work to your accountant or tax preparer.

Take your Tax Prep Project a baby step, or task, at a time, and it will be easier to complete it without getting into a state of overwhelm or frustration. Hopefully you can do this in time to file by the due date, but if not, by or before the extension deadline.

Don’t ignore them – taxes DON’T just go away! Worse, the amount you’ll owe will increase if you don’t file on time. As a coach and organizer who mostly works with clients who have ADHD or executive function challenges, I’ve seen SO many who didn’t file taxes, even though they had the money to pay them or didn’t even owe money. Some were in dire trouble with the IRS. All because of overwhelm and avoidance!

Prepare now for a stress free next year. If you want next year to be less stressful, set up a system now, instead of scrambling next March. Use the category folders (Task #2) to file the appropriate papers as you receive them, so you’ll only have one place to look when it’s tax prep time. Consider keeping everything in a convenient magazine holder or file tray on or near your desk (the less effort you have to put into filing, the more likely you’ll be to do it). Some people prefer to scan each paper as it comes it in, so they don’t have to worry about storing/sorting papers.

If organizing for tax preparation is a challenge, work with someone to set up a simple system for managing your financial papers. It is worth the investment to hire a professional, given the possible penalties and interest due to late filings, the potential savings from having a clear record of all deductible items and from spending less time (and money) with your accountant and, perhaps most important, the reduced stress and improved comfort level you’ll experience. Find a local organizer who specializes in these systems at the National Association of Professional Organizers, www.napo.net or the American Association of Daily Money Managers, http://www.aadmm.com/findDMM.php.