Be Nellie Bly, Stay Focused, and Remain Productive

On August 28, 2014, in Productivity, by Janice Simon
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stay focusedFormer newspaper reporter, ground-breaking reporter, Nellie Bly is one of my heroes.

For those who don’t know the story, Nellie went undercover in an insane asylum by posing as a patient, and the article she wrote after her 10-day stay changed the way New York City treated people with mental illness.

Back then, you didn’t walk into the mental asylum. Nellie checked into a woman’s shelter under an assumed name and began her act. It didn’t take long before she was hauled off by police. Once inside, Nellie realized a quick trick:

“From the moment I entered the insane ward on the island I made no attempt to keep up the assumed role of insanity. I talked and acted just as I do in ordinary life. Yet strange to say, the more sanely I talked and acted the crazier I was thought to be by all except one physician, whose kindness and gentle ways I shall not soon forget.”

When you’re surrounded by insanity and chaos, be calm.

But what does this have to do with productivity? Everything.

First, it’s easy to get sucked into the frenetic minutia of a day. The phone is ringing, e-mails are flying into your inbox, meetings lurk all over your calendar, and your boss and co-workers are frenzied about something.

Secondly, practice and training help maintain your focus. Look at doctors and nurses in an ER who are trained to help you on your worst day. Captain Sullenberger who landed a plane in the Hudson River always said he didn’t feel panic because he and the co-pilot relied on their training.

How do you get your work done with all of the chaos swirling around you? How can you practice focus?

  • Give yourself 15 minutes. Set a timer on your phone and focus on one task. You will be surprised by what you can accomplish in 15 minute increments (or even just five minutes).
  • Meditate. Mindfulness is getting more and more press these days since it helps build resilience and decrease stress. When I do this myself, I feel the benefits a lot more than the times I don’t do it. It has to become a regular habit. One Minute Meditation and Insight Timer are great apps to use for meditation.
  • Know your priorities. So many things can suck up your time, leaving you feeling exhausted but not accomplished. Start each day knowing what two or three tasks you need to get done that day. Doing this will help you stay focused on what you really want to accomplish and put off the less important stuff.
  • Learn to say no. This is easier to say than do at times. It’s important to speak up and say no to taking on another project. We all need to have boundaries. Practice it on the small stuff if this is hard for you.

Armed with these tools, you can be the calm beacon of productivity and steadfast focus in a world gone mad.

 

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Ease Your Way Into an Organized Fall

On August 21, 2014, in Home Organizing, by Naomi Cook
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organized for fallIt can be a tough transition from summer into fall, and not just for kids. With shorter work weeks and half days, not to mention the beautiful, warm and sunny weather, it can be hard to see summer come to an end. However, there are things to look forward to in the fall, like breaking out cozy sweaters, breathing in the crisp air, and watching the leaves change colors.

This transition from summer to fall time is actually ideal for getting organized. With an abundance of inexpensive, space saving solutions for dorm living, you are sure to find items that will help you in the areas you need most help with getting organized (especially for your smaller spaces). Often found in bright hues, choose the products you need in a single color or color family. This will unify any organizational system that you put together.

However, you should pay attention to buying only what you need. For instance, you may already have several containers at home so you wouldn’t have to get more. If you don’t like how they look, you can spruce them up a bit. Here’s an example: if you have a bunch of storage tubs, say in gray, you can add your favorite color to them by trimming them with the ever trendy Washi Tape (affiliate link) or Duct Tape, which come in a variety of colors and patterns.

Now that you have a system in place for the fall, start easing your way into it over the next few weeks by doing small organizational projects, one at a time. Below are some examples of things you can do in the three main areas of your home.

Your Master Closet

  • Summer Clothing. Go through your summer wardrobe and note what you did not wear once this season. Pull those pieces out and arrange to consign them or donate them.
  • Clothing to be Repaired. Toss out any clothing that has rips or tears, unless you think you will have time to get them mended.
  • Transitional Clothing. With the extra hangers remaining, add in transitional pieces like lightweight sweaters for the cooler nights.

Your Master Bathroom

  • Beauty Products. Go through beauty products and check for expiration dates. A good tip is to mark the bottles and tubes (and other containers) with the date that you opened them. Most makeup has a little icon to show you when you should toss it, usually after three to six months.
  • Medications. Do the same for any medication. If it is prescription medicine, you can toss it in with the kitty litter or ask your pharmacy or township about disposing of it.
  • Textiles. Go through towels. If any are threadbare, consider purchasing some new ones, in your favorite color of course! Bring the worn ones to your local animal shelter to keep the animals warm and cozy.

Your Kitchen

  • Expired Items. Go through your fridge and pantry for expired food items. Recycle any jars, bottles, and packaging that you can, according to your township. If there are items that are still within the expiration date, that you don’t like, contact your local food pantry to see if they can use them.
  • Unnecessary Packaging. Remove packaging from products before storing them. By separating items that are bulk-packaged, like water bottles and paper towels, you can fit them into smaller spaces more easily.
  • Inventory List. Put up a dry erase board (again in your favorite color!) near the fridge and pantry to write up your shopping list. Transfer it to paper when it’s time to go to the store, or take a picture of the marker board itself on your cell phone!

Get started now on these tasks, and before you know it, you’ll be organized when the temperatures start getting cooler. Most of all, have fun with this organizing process and I’ll “see” you in the fall!

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Back to SchoolIt’s the end of summer, but now is the perfect time for the August 5-Minute Organizing Challenge! As usual, you can discover new ways you can get organized in just five minutes at a time.

The mini-challenges this month are for parents who are preparing their children for Back to School. If you plan ahead, you will be more organized for the upcoming school year and your kids will transition to school life much more smoothly.

1. Schedule shopping time in stores or online. Start out by creating a list of clothing, supplies, and snacks that the student will need. Next, block out times in your calendar to go shopping or to order items that will arrive before school starts. Make sure to allot enough time for each activity so you don’t have to rush.

2. Plan to buy snacks for lunches & stock up healthy foods. Write another list of snacks and food for the first few weeks of lunches. Think about the different food groups and purchase items from each of them. The more variety of foods, the better you can be sure they are eating a balanced diet.

3. Learn from last year’s issues. Spend five minutes thinking about previous years, and pinpoint what the biggest issues were. If punctuality was a problem, plan to leave 15 minutes earlier. If you or your child/children often forgot things, place the items in the car the night before so they won’t be left behind.

4. Label folders for new school files. Categories may include school projects, assignments, calendars, and signed forms. If you already have a filing system for school paperwork, this will only take a few minutes. Otherwise, it might take a little longer.

5. Get backpacks & school supplies ready. A few days before classes start, load backpacks with supplies like notebooks, lined paper, pencils and pens, and other items that are required for their learning. If you get their backpacks prepared days before school starts, children will be more motivated to start the new school session.

What other steps do you complete in five minutes or less to get your children prepared for Back to School?

 

Click Here to Learn More Ways to Get Organized in Five Minutes!

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Get on With It! 3 Super Simple Tips for Procrastinators.

On August 15, 2014, in Time Management, by Stephanie Shalofsky
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3 tips for procrastinatorsThe lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer can be a big challenge when it comes to procrastination. Routines are relaxed, schedules are altered, and distractions are everywhere. The expectation is probably that we will have abundant leisure time during the summer to get everything done, but that is frequently not the case, and important projects sometimes end up collecting dust until the end of the season.

The good news is that I have some easy and effective tips for procrastinators for staying on the ball with important tasks this summer, so that they don’t end up behind the eight ball come Labor Day.

3 Simple Tips to Stop Procrastinating

 
1. Set a drop dead date. The first step is to set a deadline for completing your project or projects, and schedule time in your calendar for each of the tasks.

  • If the project is a large one, break it into smaller steps, or mini-tasks, and do them one at a time. This way you can make steady, meaningful progress without getting overwhelmed by the Big Picture.
  • Breaking through procrastination with the first step is always the hardest part, so make sure that your first mini-task is a manageable one, so that upon completion, you will get the confidence to move on to the next step. This is probably one of my most important tips for procrastinators as getting started can pose the greatest challenge for many.

2. Start small. If you are having a hard time getting started on that day’s task, do something small that will get you going in the right direction, and then segue into the bigger task.

Example:

If you find yourself delaying a call to a key contact or prospect, try working your way up to that with “easier” calls:

  • Call a vendor who’s also a friend
  • Call someone to schedule a lunch meeting

If you start by making a few lower priority calls, then the big call will be just one of several that you make that day, and a lot easier to do.

3. Pick a reward. Provide yourself an incentive to complete your task commensurate with the amount of time invested. Choose a lovely bonus that you can give yourself when you’ve finished your project.

It can be anything, like a:

  • Stop at Starbucks for your favorite beverage
  • Game of golf on your favorite course
  • Luxurious massage
  • Movie you’ve been wanting to see

Keep in mind — Getting the work done is its own reward! … but it’s especially motivating when there’s an extra special treat waiting for you at the end of the journey. And, the best news is, you will have earned it!

Final Thoughts

 
Of course, summer isn’t the only time that procrastination puts sand in the gears of our work and lives. I recommend that you try the tips I’ve shared for halting procrastination in its tracks all year long as important projects are not seasonal and can be addressed throughout the year.

Consistently following these three very simple tips (please practice!) can help just about anyone overcome procrastination, and when combined, they comprise a smart strategy for accomplishing your goals at any time.

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How I Quadrupled My Twitter Followers in 6 Months

On August 12, 2014, in Social Media, by Nealey Stapleton
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Twitter-ProfileHave you heard of Twitter? Maybe that’s a silly question. Okay, chances are you’ve heard of it, but do you really know what Twitter is? For a long time, I saw Twitter as a lesser version of Facebook and saw no point in using the platform…until now.

This year, one of my resolutions was to really increase my followers on social media. While I had a Twitter account, I never used it and had a couple hundred followers that had trickled in throughout the years. I decided to really commit and make the most out of this thing called Twitter. Boy, am I glad I did!

What is Twitter?

Let’s begin with a simple introduction of Twitter. It is a free social media platform in which anyone can sign up and post status updates that are 140 characters or less. You could say it’s #shortandtweet. Pun intended.

What are Hashtags?

That’s a perfect little segway into my next lesson – hashtags. I’m sure you’ve heard “hashtag” this and “hashtag” that, but in the words of my husband, “So, what’s a hashtag?”

First, the hashtag sign – # – is just the number or pound sign. Although, when Twitter came into the world, everyone started calling it a hashtag.

Second, people use a hashtag and then a word or phrase after it with no spaces in a Twitter update like the one I mentioned above – #shortandtweet.

How Can You Use Hashtags?

Hashtags are great for finding others that have the same interests or are talking about the same subject. For example, if you’re an American Idol fan, you can search Twitter for “#AmericanIdol” and see what other users are saying about it.

You can also use hashtags to organize your tweets. For instance, when I share updates on Twitter related to getting organized, they can fall into different categories. So, I could put out a tweet about #homeorganizing or #organizingproducts and be able to find them again later by doing a simple search.

Still with me?

What’s a Twitter Handle?

The last basic thing you should understand for getting to know Twitter is the handle. My Twitter user name is @life_on_track. That is also known as my “handle.” All Twitter handles start with the @ symbol.

 

Twitter-Top

 

How to Increase Your Twitter Followers

Alright, so back to my new year’s resolution of increasing my social media followers with the ultimate goal of growing my online sales. Like I said, I had a couple hundred followers at the beginning of 2014, and now (as of July 2014) I have over 1,300 followers. That has led to some great networking opportunities and therefore great business relationships. There has also been a rise in my website’s traffic and my online income is up by 200% from last year. Wow!

Now I’m sure you’re wondering how I grew and continue to grow my following. My husband (John), who just joined Twitter, has been asking the same thing, so here’s the method to my madness.

 

Twitter-John-Tweet

 

My Weekly Twitter Routine

  • Make Connections. Follow at least 15 new accounts each week. You can make it a point to follow a few new users a day, or like me, you can follow 15-20 new accounts once a week on Monday mornings. This is SUPER easy with the “Who To Follow” box of suggested accounts to follow that shows up when you log in to Twitter.

 

Twitter-Top-2

 

 

  • Say Thank You. If anyone follows me back or I acquire any new followers, I tweet their handle with a thank you message. Doing this sends them a notification AND shows up on the news feed of all of their followers (which usually gets me even more new followers). Sending a thank you tweet can also open up a dialogue with my new followers and usually leads to a conversation, a developing business relationship, and then even more.

 

Twitter-Follower-Thanks

 

  • Post Regularly. I post on Twitter twice a day and try to mention other users who would find the update useful, give credit when it’s due, etc. FYI – I use a scheduling software and schedule all of my tweets for the week on Monday morning.
  • Organize Your Tweeps. I use Twitter lists to organize the people I follow so I can easily find them later. For example, if I want to find one of the food bloggers I follow but can’t remember the name or the handle, I can simply go to my “Food, Drink & Cooking” Twitter list.

That’s it! Those four simple tasks, if done regularly, are the path to successfully growing your Twitter following for free.

What do you think of Twitter? Have you stayed away from it? Do you use it for personal reasons? Do you use it for marketing your business? What, if any, successes have you had with Twitter? Share in the comments!

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It’s like we’re all in this addicted family where all this busyness seems normal when it’s really harmful,” said Stephanie Brown, a psychologist in Silicon Valley and the author of “Speed: Facing Our Addiction to Fast and Faster — and Overcoming Our Fear of Slowing Down.” There’s this widespread belief that thinking and feeling will only slow you down and get in your way, but it’s the opposite.

Suppressing negative feelings only gives them more power, she said, leading to intrusive thoughts, which makes people get even busier to keep them at bay. The constant cognitive strain of evading emotions underlies a range of psychological troubles such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, depression and panic attacks, not to mention a range of addictions.”

 

Read More:

No Time to Think | NYTimes.com | 7.25.2014

 

 

Related Information

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*All book links are affiliate links.

 

 

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Toy Room

Original Image Credit: Houzz.com

Are toys and clothes are everywhere in your home?  Sometimes it might feel like there’s no containing them! Toys and clothes might arrive regularly from well-intentioned family members, friends and neighbors who share, and during holiday and birthday celebrations (here’s how one mom handled an influx of birthday gifts).

In fact, a study done in 2012 stated that families in the Unites States have reached “material saturation.”

The chaos and abundance of kids stuff in your home can be completely overwhelming . So, what are parents to do? Do you know what is enough for you and your family?

How to Limit Children’s Toys and Clothes

 
1. Define “Clutter” for Your Family

Beauty in the eye of the beholder, and so it is with clutter. One family can have a minimalist approach, while another wants to stock the shelves.  Think about what the tipping point would be in your family. Gather together with your partner and discuss your views. This can be a great first step in relieving any tension and can help put clutter chaos in perspective.

2. Decide How Much is Enough

Wouldn’t it be great to know how many clothes and toys each child needs?  It can be helpful to have a chart shows what everyone has and what needs to be replenished. Having a specific number (for each type of item) can make it easy to keep up with your kids’ stuff.  Your number will give you a limiting factor for the toys and clothes in your home. An added benefit is that fewer clothes can make laundry easier, too.

Setting up space boundaries can be another limiting factor. Rather than think that you don’t have enough storage, think about maximizing that space by defining the limits.  It’s not about how much you can fit in, but rather how many things can fit comfortably in the space you have.

If one of your challenges is that there are tags still on some clothes, find a great consignment shop in your area or go online to ThredUp.com or MyKidsCloset.com to sell items your children no longer need (or that don’t fit them). Making a little money from these items might make it easier to let them go.

3. Create Clutter Reducing Routines

No matter how many toys and clothing come in your home, the best practice to keep your home balanced is to set up systems and routines so that toys and clothes leave your home regularly. Keeping this routine in place can make the biggest difference in how your home looks and feels.

Consider setting up family organizing session two to three times per year and let your kids help you declutter. Decluttering can culminate in activities like a garage sale, swap party, or several trips to the consignment store or donation drop off locations.  As you organize, do more than you think necessary to prune your items — be ruthless! And, consider having “drop spot” where unwanted toys and clothes go immediately.

A Word About Keepsakes

 
Every family has favorite toys and clothes that are keepsakes. Be sure to keep just what is truly precious and store the clothes in the back of a large closet together. Textiles do best in climate controlled areas. Keepsake toys can be stored in 66-quart clear bins (affiliate link) in the attic or garage.  Then, pull out these items and use them when the opportunity arises. For example, our grandchildren have enjoyed playing for hours with metal trucks that belonged to my son and husband!

What are your family organizing routines?

 

 

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Time to Break Up With Your Stuff!I’ve been organizing and the pile in my living room keeps growing.

It all started innocently enough. I thought I could handle it. I have organizing training after all, and I am a Certified Professional Organizer®.

I decided to buy new pots and pans. Even though I prefer takeout, I am trying to cook more at home.

When the new pots and pans came into my life, it led to the purchase of a few new cooking utensils to go with them. The old pots, pans, and utensils were stacked in a box in my living room. Since one of my nieces is starting her own household with a fiancé and a baby, I put them aside for her.

She and her little family are staying with me for a couple of months while her fiancé transitions out the military and they prepare to attend college. The room she uses in my home was filled with remnants of my childhood and my last apartment – the kind of spare room stuff you stash away when you don’t want to make decisions on anything yet.

To make more space, I started organizing. I emptied everything into my dining room so I could take a look (here are three questions I asked myself to start the sorting process). Would my old Spirograph make the cut? Of course. How about the Everclear CD? Nope. It was time to make some decisions.

It might not seem like it, but organizing and breaking up with stuff was actually easy to do. Here are some decisions that I made as I sorted my things:

1. CDs. Thanks to those darn record company clubs of the past, I had developed a vast CD collection. It was easy to see when I stopped buying CDs and had turned to downloading music. I made an initial purge of the CDs, pulling out the ones that I didn’t want. For those where I wanted a single song or two, I downloaded those into my music library.

The purged CDs were scanned with the Decluttr app (iOS | Android), and I boxed up around 50 CDs to ship to them so I could sell them. I’ll get $30 by selling them. And, eventually, all of my CDs will be downloaded and moved out.

2. Books. I emptied the bookshelf in the spare room and sorted through the books. My precious Trixie Belden collection from my childhood stays, but some of the odd decorating books were added to the outgoing stack. While I was at it, I sorted through books gracing other shelves throughout my house.

During a recent trip back to my hometown, I took three large bags of books to the small local library where they will either use them on the shelves or sell them to raise funds.

3. Random Decorative Items. These were the things that I used in my last apartment but didn’t make the cut for my current house. Some of the things I found were passed down to me by married friends when they were clearing out things or moving, and it was time for them to find another new home. Candleholders, French-inspired wall plates, small photo frames, a vintage-looking fabric shower curtain, and my Interview with a Vampire poster were among the items that were added to the growing stack.

4. The Stuff I’m Keeping … For Now. I found several boxes of old photos that need to be scanned, old Valentine’s Day cards from grade school, the bound copy of my master’s thesis, and a container full of colorful Mardi Gras beads. If they make you happy, it’s okay to keep them.

The purging of stuff didn’t stop at the spare room items. It spilled over into the rest of the house.  Purses, shoes, clothes, jewelry, assorted kitchen items, and other stuff made their way to the growing outbound pile. It seemed every time I looked at an area, I saw it with new eyes and ruthlessly purged the stuff I no longer wanted. I mused how my relationship with those items was over. It was time for those things to go out in the world and make other people happy.

When my niece arrives later this week, it will be like Christmas for her. Whatever she doesn’t take will then go to charity.

So, that’s how I did it. Easy and simple. Now if you don’t mind, I have to play with my Spirograph and then cook dinner.

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4 Ways to be an Organized Traveler (After You Check In)

On July 23, 2014, in Travel, by Stephanie Shalofsky
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Organized TravelerMy own experiences during a recent business trip started me thinking about how I could be a more organized traveler especially once I checked into my hotel room. I realized that being an organized traveler was a state of mind that should carry through my entire trip.

I not only needed to be able to quickly find my hair dryer, vitamins, and conference schedule, but I also needed to organize all my clothing, toiletries, and work materials so that packing for check-out would take no time at all.

It is very easy to get caught up in the anticipation of the business meetings that you will be attending or the excitement of starting your vacation when checking into your hotel.

But, by taking a few minutes to settle into your hotel room before you get involved in meetings or sightseeing can make all the difference.

4 Ways to be an Organized Traveler

 
1. Unpack your suitcase. Taking a mere five minutes to quickly unpack your suitcase will save lots of time in the long run. You won’t constantly be rummaging through a pile of clothes to find that shirt which was neatly pressed when you left home.

  • Avoid spreading your clothes throughout the entire dresser so there will be fewer places to check when it comes time to pack.
  • Try to consolidate your clothing by type and place them in only a couple of drawers. For instance, keep all underwear, socks, and bathing suits in one drawer and shirts and sweaters in another.

2. Create zones. Divide your hotel room into zones and place all relevant items in each zone.

  • Place granola bars, bottled water, and other snacks near the coffee machine.
  • All conference materials or travel brochures should be kept on the desk along with your laptop or iPad.
  • Designate a spot for hair drying and putting on makeup outside of the bathroom when traveling with a colleague or significant other so that everyone can get ready at the same time.

3. Keep essentials on the bathroom vanity. While I strongly believe that clothing and shoes should be completely unpacked, take out only those toiletries and makeup items that are used daily and group them bathroom vanity.

The less frequently used Q-tips, aspirin, and band aids can be left in the toiletry kit. I typically find a place for my makeup case and hanging toiletry bag in the bathroom so that they are close by if needed, and packing those items that were used goes faster when it’s time to check out.

4. Collect dirty laundry. If you didn’t bring your own bag for dirty laundry, use the one provided in the closet for smaller items like underwear and socks.

  • Pile pants, shirts and other larger items in one spot on or under the luggage stand.
  • When it’s time to pack, the dirty clothes can be put in first along with your shoes and the remaining clean clothes on top.

Whether you are planning your next business trip or your summer getaway, be an organized traveler. These tips will help keep your room organized so that you can be in and out of your room quickly, have more time to focus on your travel adventures, and not stress over leaving personal items behind when you check out.

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Simplify Your LifeAre you ready for the July 5-Minute Organizing Challenge?

Each month, we share a few things you can do daily for five minutes at a time to get more organized. Since National Simplify Your Life Week is coming up soon (first week in August), we’ll be exploring ways you can simplify by taking five small steps in the form of mini-challenges.

Day 1: Examine your daily life. Figure out what areas (five or less) you are experiencing excess. Is your home or office cluttered with things you don’t use or need? Is your schedule so packed that you have no time for self-care? These are some common areas to begin the process to simplify your life.

Day 2: Create a List. Start thinking about general areas of excess you want to target and jot down a list. You can choose to rank the items in order of priority if you think that would be beneficial to you.

Day 3: Create a List of Solutions. Come up with some possible solutions for the areas you want to work on. Next to each general area, write down some ideas for changes that can be made to improve each situation.

Here are some examples:

  • If your bedroom is cluttered, you can plan to declutter the space under the bed or to organize the closet.
  • If you’re inbox is flooded with tons of unopened emails, create a long-term plan to go through and sort them for 20-30 minutes each day until you’re done.
  • If your car is unorganized, put a plan in place to maintain it after you clear it out (e.g., keep a container for garbage in your car and empty it each time you fill up at the gas station).

Day 4: Pick One Target Area. Select one area of excess to focus on first. Which spot should you choose? You could start with the issue that bothers you most or the one you’ve been avoiding for a while. You might also choose the easiest thing to work on so that it will be achieved quickly which will build your confidence to take on the other areas.

Day 5: Start Working! Finally, spend five minutes simplifying just one area of your life. It may be sorting items in a junk drawer, starting a budget form, or reorganizing the glove compartment in your car. If you aim to do too much at once, that usually leads to feeling overwhelmed. So, take baby steps and stay focused on your goal to simplify your life.

What areas of excess do you think you’ll be working on for this challenge? What one thing will you improve so that you can simplify your life?