The week that was…weekly reflections 9

Well, that was the first week of March and our first week back in the office since November.

Jhb doesn’t look like this… yet… but I can’t wait 🙂
  • It’s been tough… already… trying to juggle Teams meetings, in-person meetings and office conversations.
  • People keep saying, “oh, it’ll get better” but I keep thinking that we need to create better structures otherwise people will continue to be frustrated. It won’t just get better.
  • One of my goals for last week was a smooth work-from-office transition and I failed spectacularly. I don’t like feeling behind on all counts and I currently feel that way. I didn’t connect properly while in the office and I’m still very behind with emails and real work.
  • However, I’ve put travel time in my diary for all the days in and out, and I’ve determined that I just cannot be at all the meetings I’m invited to. So I’m declining meetings with abandon because I haven’t yet figured out how to be in two places at once.
  • I did end off this weird week with an amazing friend date. I hadn’t caught up with this friend properly (aside from voice notes) in 8 months, and it felt so good to talk properly and look into each other’s eyes. She also told me something really affirming which I needed to hear.

Here’s to a new week and a fresh start!

Are you working from the office yet? I hope to report a better balance next weekend!

A tribute to my friend, Suzanne

Outside the Old Town Jail in Stirling, Scotland

On the night before we went on holiday last month, I saw an email linking to a Facebook status update.

I tapped through and read that my friend, Suzanne, had died. Of course I couldn’t believe it – we are the same age and she was SO full of life. How can this be? I kept asking myself.

Suzy’s mom and I are instagram friends so I sent her a direct voice note to check my understanding because the message was (typically) Suzanne and maybe (hopefully) I’d misinterpreted the odd message. But indeed, Suzy had died from the Delta variant of Covid-19.

Instead of wallowing in the sadness that is the enormous loss of her life, I thought I’d write about the Suzanne I knew.

  1. Suzanne was one of my first real friends that I made on the internet in the good old days of blogging when we would actually reach out to strangers after commenting on each others’ blogs.
  2. She was a veteran podcaster and her first podcast was called Let’s Talk Organizing (in the old days, we listened on our computers).
  3. One day I sent her an email, announced that Dion and I would be visiting Scotland and if she was ready for her next visit, maybe we could spend a few days together. She crunched her numbers and we made it work. We met up in Stirling, Scotland for 3 wonderful days in 2008.
  4. We wrote a free ebook together with Beth Dargis and Ariane Benefit, 100 Surefire ways to organize your busy life, and Suzy and I wrote a course together too, How to be a professional organizer.
  5. My favourite piece of organising advice from Suzanne is “don’t put it down; put it away”. I wrote more in this post.
  6. Four years ago, she interviewed me for her new podcast, So Suzy. Here’s the post. Fun fact – after I appeared on the podcast, she sent me a thank-you pack of so many pens and that is how I was introduced to Papermate Inkjoy gel pens 🙂 🙂 I still have a few of the pens from that original pack.
  7. I also had the opportunity to give her some advice. Here’s her desk after she took up my challenge.
Typical Suzy 🙂

More than all that, I knew Suzanne to be a happy, optimistic and extremely fun person who always made me think I could do things and encouraged me when I wasn’t sure. She also taught me through her own life that changing your mind and moving onto new things don’t have to be scary but are often necessary actions for growth.

We had some hard conversations too but she always had a can-do attitude and was a great problem-solver.

I am so glad and honoured that I had the opportunity to meet and know Suzanne, and I’m thankful that I can still connect to her through her mama!

Thanks for reading, friends. Do any of you remember Suzanne from the good old days of blogging?

Loch Lomond – so cold and so beautiful

{mindset} Do you have any extra in your tank?

Let’s talk about reserves.

Reserves is a term that simply means you have a store or buffer of time, energy or money as a safety net or a back-up plan in your life. Imagine these two scenarios… you get invited to a Zoom/ Teams meeting and are told that you’re being let go. Any change is a bit scary but if you know that you have absolutely no savings, no plan and no support, this will be a terrifying time for you! On the other hand, if you know that you have a couple of month’s worth of expense money in your savings account, your CV/ resume is current and ready to be sent out, and you have a good network to draw on, you will feel less terrified, maybe even somewhat confident in tackling this challenge in your life.

I speak to many people who say that they just don’t have enough time to do something that will make a big impact on their lives. Or they’re too tired or too drained to do something that they will really enjoy. If you have reserves in your life, aren’t you more likely to feel content, at peace, and also able to tackle anything? If you don’t have reserves, however, you probably will feel anxious, worried and afraid. Challenges like the example above will also feel worse if you don’t have health and stress reserves built up.

Having reserves means that you have enough at any given moment. This is freedom because it means you can make choices without having a lack of something – usually time or money – dictate how your decisions should be made. You also need a reserve of space, whether emotional or physical, to fulfil your dreams or, very basically, to do things that make you feel more like you.

How can you create the life you want if you don’t give yourself any space and time to do so? Time reserves mean that you don’t jam-pack your schedule so that you can say yes to connection with others or to your own pursuits. During this pandemic, I’ve spoken to many people who have said things like “I don’t think we’ll ever go back to all the activities again”. They have tasted time freedom and it feels amazing. We will talk more about time in next month’s article (I can’t wait! Send me questions you want me to talk about).

I also want to emphasise the physical aspects – stress and health. Almost everything feels doable if you’re in good health and you don’t feel stressed. If you don’t take care of your health and manage your stress, your body will start talking to you in the form of disturbed sleep and other physical ailments.

Once you’ve completed the worksheet, you’ll probably start to see a pattern that explains some things in your life. If I had completed this worksheet 10 months ago, I would have had very few yes answers in areas like health and stress. This also explained why I was so frazzled and crazy during early lockdown. I’m not making excuses – I’m just explaining that there’s always a reason why a particular area (s) of your life doesn’t seem to be working. I know you’ll all agree that it’s far nicer to feel content, fulfilled, satisfied and at peace than irritated and miserable.

I made a printable for you – the creating reserves worksheet – and you can download it here.

Tag me on Instagram @OrganisingQueen when you complete it while enjoying a lovely hot/ cold drink – I LOVE seeing your tags!

{time} keep your weekends different

Are you still working from home?

A friend said the other day that her house has become the place she works, the place she relaxes, the place she goes to have restaurant food, and also the place she has holidays.

It’s so true for most of us which is why I like to feel that my weekends have a sense of being different to the weekdays.

During the week, I work a full day and then usually go to Zumba one weeknight evening. I also went to Barre last night for the first time since 10 March 2020. That class is now regular so I’ll continue to go. Other than that, I cook, read and write/ coach at night.

On a Friday night, I pack away my work notebook and laptop completely (charger cables and mouse too!) so that my bright yellow desk is ready for FUN things like playing with photos.

My weekends are very unstructured – I like to have a weekend to-do list with just a few anchor events (kids’ swimming and Zumba!) and lots of space for my own things.

I usually have some things to do around the house, some things in the study and some things to relax. You can read a more detailed account of my weekend planning here.

Why is this different? I have a very structured weekday routine so to have almost nothing planned on the weekend is bliss. I organise my holidays the same way!

I would also rather work late one or two nights than to pull out that laptop on a weekend. It feels more restorative to me to have zero work on the weekend so my head is clear.

Let’s talk about you.

What do your weekdays feel like? Can you build more of the opposite into your weekend so it feels different?

Maybe you work all alone during the week and on the weekend you want to connect with friends and family?

Try playing intentionally with your routines to make these pandemic times feel a little more normal.

How would you like your weekends to feel? Which elements would make them more ideal?

{planning} The joy of quarterly planning

I’ve been an annual planner for the last 25 years. Until last year and the lockdown. I felt quite despondent and hopeless until Gretchen Rubin suggested making a 19 for Covid-19 list. After I made my first one for 3 months and saw how well it worked for lockdown, I just kept making a new list every 3 months.

Annual planning

  1. You do the planning properly once and then you just implement.
  2. Because you have the long-term view, you tend to take seasonal fluctuations into account, e.g. you might want to take 2 – 3 holidays a year – one in autumn, one in spring and one at Christmas.
  3. It will take longer as you consider the entire 12 months.

Quarterly planning

  1. Because you’re only planning for 3 months, it’s often easier to do because the planning is for a shorter time.
  2. If you no longer want to do something or if something is not working, you can change your goals and planning for the next quarter. Yes, you can do this for annual planning but we often don’t. The mere fact that the planning is only for 3 months changes your mindset about sticking to something you’re not enjoying.
  3. Useful in these pandemic times where things change quickly (lockdown levels) and where we might need a change.

My quarterly planning process

Last year, I just wrote down 19 – 20 things willy-nilly the first time I did my quarterly planning, but the next two times, I wrote down goals in the main 7 areas of my life.

The more structured approach worked well for me so that is how I will continue to do things this year. Do the same if you like a bit of structure or just go wild and write down some things. I do suggest at least having one or two goals in each of the work, home and personal/ relationships category.

I make a mindmap on a page in my bullet journal, put branches for the various areas – family, friends, health and fitness, house/ finances, work (day job) and OrganisingQueen (night job – ha!) and play/ fun (my word of the year). Any of my planning (even for this blog post!) starts with a mindmap.

Hint – I like a branch for my word of the year so that I put concrete goals to make my word alive for me.

Do you think you’ll give quarterly planning a try? What are your categories?

PS I talked more about quarterly and seasonal goals here.

{Four Tendencies} How two upholders broke the rules and what this means for you

It’s no secret that I’m an upholder. What many people don’t know except the 200 that have been through the Four Tendencies workshops with me is that Dion is also an upholder.

He leans toward obliger and I lean toward questioner.

This generally means we understand each other well but there are still some points of contention as he will sometimes meet outer expectations over inner and I, of course, meet inner expectations first.

Our kids had one week’s holiday from school. I tried to book a beach holiday for this particular week and the agency we use told me that ALL the holiday units were booked. All of them.

That started me thinking. Our kids are at school only 3 times a week so could we not go on holiday the week schools went back instead? That’s what ended up happening after I convinced Dion that 1) we all needed a holiday 2) the kids are bright and will catch up and 3) low season rates.

We booked flights and accommodation and told nobody about our plans. Honestly, I was scared of having to explain why we were breaking the rules.

When I told a friend that I was planning to ask the teachers for the homework, she told me that I was crazy. “When you’re breaking the rules, you don’t ask for permission; you just do it”. She’s a questioner.

In the end, I just felt better doing things my way so I wrote emails to each class teacher and to the school, not asking for permission but stating the facts and sending an assurance that we would ensure the kids caught up on all their work.

That whole day I was twitchy inside (gosh, being an upholder is hard work!) until the kids came home. Both teachers replied and said a version of, “no problem; we’ve sent some work home”. 

And so we went on holiday, the kids did some homework (Kendra did a total of probably two hours over the week while Connor came home and did everything required that very day) and went back to school as if they’d been there all along.

Are you shocked? I would be. If you’d told me a year ago that I would take my kids out of school to go on holiday, I would never have believed you. And yet, this is one of the best decisions of the year.

I want to point out a few things about the Tendencies:

  1. It’s very useful to know why you behave the way you do (pandemic stress and the realisation that breaking a rule safely now and again is okay)
  2. It’s important to manage any stress/ anxiety in a way that works for your Tendency (writing to the teachers, ensuring the kids did their homework)
  3. I could absolutely not do this kind of thing regularly (this is year 6 of their schooling and the first time they have missed even one day of school) – upholders can seem rigid and inflexible as a result. This is true and absolutely fine with me 😉
  4. I asked the kids several times if they were worried about being away from school and missing work, and both my Questioner and Rebel said the same thing, “definitely not, Mummy. We’re on holiday!” My little rebel even said, “just relax, it’s all fine” 😉

I no longer offer Four Tendencies workshops but I do offer 1:1 Four Tendencies coaching which I’m starting to love even more. Read more about the Four Tendencies framework and how it will benefit you here. I have a special handbook to help you prepare beforehand, which means we then use your actual coaching time to talk and work through your particular challenges and goals. The ideal Four Tendencies private coaching session is 75 minutes long for $75, but if you have a smaller budget, I go right down to $50 for 50 minutes. Email me to book your place.

If you feel twitchy inside about anything (pandemic, kids going back to school, you going back to work, any relationship issues, etc.), consider these questions:

  1. what is my tendency? take the quiz here
  2. why do I feel this way as an upholder/ obliger/ questioner/ rebel?
  3. with my tendency in mind, what can I do to ease my level of stress/ anxiety?
  4. (if it’s a repeating event), what will I do differently next time so I have a better result?

{mindset} Back to working at the office

This post was first published on 18 November 2020 but I forgot to tell anyone that it was here so I’m republishing. South Africa has been moved back down to level 3 from 28 Dec 2020 as our Covid-19 numbers worsened dramatically with the second wave.

In South Africa we’re now on level 1 (we have been for a while) and some companies who were working from home are now returning to the office.

Mine is one of them. We are back two days a week which seems like a lovely easy way to return to the before way of life.

However, I’ve been amazed at how many decisions I have to make on the days I work at the office or in preparation for working at the office. Nothing is straightforward as it was before – I take my own water bottle, don’t drink tea or coffee there, and I take all my own food.

We are hotdesking so I also take my own sanitiser for my desk because, let’s face it, I never trust other people to clean things properly.

In an effort to minimise the number of things I have to carry around and therefore sanitise, I no longer use a separate laptop bag. I had a laptop replaced in July and the new one is smaller so I use a laptop sleeve, a pencil bag for my mouse, headphones and charger, and this all fits in my handbag. I therefore carry my handbag and another tote with lunch bag, water bottle and sanitiser. And, of course, a comfortable mask.

Pros of working at the office

  1. Aircon in summer
  2. I listen to an audiobook there and back (that’s about 3 hours of listening every week)
  3. My car gets a good run (I had the battery run flat about 6 times during lockdown because I live too close to where I shop and they told me 5 km of driving every week is not enough to keep a battery going)
  4. There is a lovely clear boundary for the end of my workday as we have to be out of the building by 5pm.

Cons of working at the office

  1. Anxiety about anyone coming near me (see trust issues above! Also, I’m an upholder and so many people don’t follow the rules)
  2. Much lower productivity at the office (this was never perfect pre-Covid but it’s exacerbated with all the handwashing, mask-wearing, and so on)

Settling into a good work from office routine was one of my goals for November because we also moved offices, so there are slightly new routes to figure out as well as all the Covid-19 safety protocols to navigate.

Are you back in the office yet? Have you found your groove? How long did it take you to settle in?

If you’re feeling ambivalent about going to work at the office, maybe make a pros and cons list or definitely save some treats just for the office (special coffees, biscuits, etc.)

{organise} Quiet your house and your life

Many of you know that one of my teeny-tiny habits is that I tidy or clean something in the kitchen while I wait for the kettle to boil. You can do a lot in 2 – 3 three-minute stints daily.

One day I looked up at the mugs and things felt too busy. I then did what The Nester recommends and I quieted the space by removing all the mugs from the shelves. I had rainbow mugs up here for much of the year because they made me happy. I then swopped out the bright colours for the more muted tones above. They still spark joy but they spark quieter joy.

You know how this goes – when you start one thing, you start thinking about the rest of your life. I felt so calm with the mug shelf that I noticed my calendar felt too full.

It’s understandable that things have started to feel a lot busier for me due to the opening up from the intense lockdown to our current level 1 lockdown in South Africa.

I started going back to Spanish in September and went back to the gym last week. We’ve also been told that we’ll be required to come work at the office twice a week from November. From a schedule with no leaving the house to leaving five times a week is a big change.

It all feels a bit sudden while at the same time getting out is also welcome. I realised that I need to close all my open loops so that I don’t enter this busy season collapsing every night when I get back home from overwhelm. This is why I wrote this post talking about first doing something about your physical space and then considering what’s hampering your mental space too.

Which of your physical spaces do you need to quiet? And your mental space?

{goals} 2020: let’s talk about the last quarter

This year’s felt like the newborn stage for me – in parts it’s flown and yet I have many times had to take it day by day to stay sane.

I see many sentiments like “let this year just end” and “can we please just get on with next year?”, and I get that. We all want to escape a year absolutely none of us expected and move on with our lives.

A lot of us are also exhausted from working too hard, or worrying too much, or having too many bills and not enough money, or a combination of all of the above.

So I think it’s time that I had a reframe. I’d love if you’d join me too. I’ll share one thought for each question to give you an idea. Write out the prompts in longhand, use the notes app in your phone or maybe talk it through with a friend.

  1. What do I want for this last quarter of the year?

I want to continue with my reading streak (I reached my goal on the weekend), I want to eat better again so I can get to a certain number (nowhere near my actual physical goal, just a mental goal) and I want to start slowly integrating back into the “new normal” of getting out and about.

2. Is there anything I want to start doing?

I had these two things on my original 20 in 2020 list and I can do them so I should. I have started just one session of Emily P Freeman’s Discern and Decide course (it was a pre-order bonus when her book, The Next Right Thing, released last year) and I want to finish that. I also want to read The Path Between Us, an enneagram book on relationships by Suzanne Stabile, that I also bought last year.

3. How do I want to feel at the end of the year?

Like I survived this period with grace, determination and my sanity intact. If my relationships are as good as they were or better, I’ll consider that a bonus.

4. Are there any projects I’ve started that I can finish well?

Yes, I want to run two sessions of a new workshop I’m yet to name but will help us all end this year well (whatever well looks like for you) and prepare for next year. It’s going to be the equivalent of a large part of my end-of-the-year coaching sessions but so much cheaper.

5. Is there anything I need to finalise or end for my own emotional and mental comfort?

Well, had I written this blog last week, I’d have talked about ballet. I did it though – I’ve been dithering and yet I knew I was not comfortable going back anytime soon (in fact this revelation came to me while doing session 1 of Discern and Decide). So I wrote the owner an email last week and formally resigned. I can always go back but at least she’s not left wondering about me.

Bonus – if it feels right for you and you want to make a list of 3 for the next three months, go ahead. I wrote more about quarterly goals here.

And remember, it can be as small as drinking 2 L of water a day or reading for just 20 minutes a day. It doesn’t have to be “write a book” 🙂

Who of you are joining me for the workshop on 21 November? Book your place now. It’ll be $29/ R450 but there’s be a discount for the early birds until 7 November!

If you prefer to work through these things privately in a 1:1 session, I’m offering the same content in a 75-minute coaching session for just $50. This will be for a limited time only until mid-December.

PS this is post number 2000 on this blog! Wow! 😮

{mindset} What are the three things you need right now?

It’s already starting to feel like spring in Johannesburg and as we approach the new season, I thought this might be a good time to remind all of us (I love seasonal reminders) to think about 3 things daily, 3 things weekly and 3 things monthly that we need.

3 things daily

Every day I ask myself, “which 3 things do I need to or want to get done today?”

On Sunday, my three things were to update the budget, cook two meals and finish reading my book.

On a workday, it’s usually the most important work tasks and will sometimes include a load of laundry or making a phone call.

Is there a habit you want to build in daily? Name it and write down just one.

3 things weekly

Those of you who’ve been here a while know that I’m a weekly planner. I love weekly planning because if I have one terrible day full of work surprises or an unexpected headache, it doesn’t derail my entire week. I can get back on track and will usually get those things done another day.

I usually have 3 main weekly tasks – this week that was to 1) write a newsletter, 2) write a blog (this one!) and to 3) send out a final note to all the people on my interested list of the last EVER Four Tendencies workshop.

What are your weekly tasks? Is it to make a menu plan and shop for groceries, to make sure there’s enough clean clothes, to make a weekly phone call to a loved one?

I usually have house tasks, personal tasks and work tasks on my weekly list.

3 things monthly

I want to talk a little more about this because it’s about being honest with yourself. I’ve been working too much and I realised that I don’t seem to have an off switch, because the laptop’s right there….

 1. I need to consciously work at shutting off and not popping into my email to “quickly check things”. I’m going to have to set a reminder on my phone to stop working and perhaps pack the laptop away until I break the habit.

2. I also need to move more regularly; I do have my regular Zumba classes but I could easily add another class to the weekly schedule. I’m happier and calmer when I move my body.

3. Last but not least, I need to focus on what I can do, not what I can’t. I can’t run the workshops I ran last year, but I can run a virtual workshop. I can’t connect with people in person but I can coach on Skype and Zoom. I can’t go eat out at a restaurant like before (we are still being very careful, e.g. we went on my birthday), but I can try many, many recipes right here at home to experiment with ingredients and new flavours.

What do you need right now? 

Do you need to work on drinking more water, getting more sleep, having a set start and stop time for work, connecting with a real life friend instead of scrolling Instagram, switching the TV off at a decent hour every night…?

There’s something powerful about speaking it aloud to yourself or comment and I will see it.

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