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“60 percent!? You’ve got to be kidding me!”
I uttered this while watching a YouTube video about springtime pruning of peach trees.
The guy on the screen was wielding a pair of loppers like two piano legs with a biting snout. Snip! Snip! Snap!
“In order to bear a crop of large, sweet fruit,” he explained, “a peach tree needs to have 60% of its limbs taken off before it begins to bud.”
I was shocked. This seemed awfully drastic. But when the video cut to images of the mid-summer harvest, the fruit was gorgeous. I’m astonished, but convinced: pruning is good.
* * *
Obsessed is a good word to describe how I feel about peaches. I can’t explain why; there’s just something powerfully compelling to me about an orchard of snowy blossoms, bees happily buzzing, and juice dribbling down my chin as I bite into the sun-ripened, literal fruit of my labors.
This orchard of my dreams doesn’t exist yet; I’m still very much in the imagining and learning stages. That’s why I spent an afternoon (confession: numerous afternoons. And evenings. Okay, days.) watching videos on the care and feeding of peach trees.
Told you I’m obsessed.
After watching this particular clip, a crazy thought occurred to me: there’s a profound connection between pruning fruit trees and the projects/goals list you started for yourself back in January.
Remember that? Back in those early days of 2015, when the year was still shiny-new and everything seemed possible? I’ll bet you got out a notebook or a stack of magazines for collage-ing or doodled on a sketch pad about the things you wanted to accomplish this year. Maybe you went wild with a spreadsheet or a planning app. That’s just how we creative folks roll–gotta get it all out where we can see it.
As we enter the month of March, it’s an amazing time to prune that list.
Now. Before you freak out and glare at me incredulously the way I did at the pruning dude, bear with me.
Have you ever looked closely at a peach tree in spring? Some of the branches just naturally come out of the trunk weak, small, or growing in the wrong direction. If these aren’t pruned off, the very weight of the developing fruit will cause the branches to snap and tear away. This tearing makes the whole tree vulnerable to disease.
Is your list like the tree? Some of your projects may be growing in the wrong direction, not lined up with where you want your life to go. Some ideas might be too weak to bear fruit. Or, if you try to accomplish all those goals, will you feel overburdened and become ill from the strain?
Early spring is a perfect time to revisit your list of goals and look it over really well. If you never created one or have no idea where that list is (’cause face it, it could be anywhere), take some time this week to free-write every possible thing you hope to accomplish this year, no matter how crazy.
Then. Be really honest with yourself about what you can do and what matters to you, really and truly. Consider how much sunlight and nourishment you actually want to pour on each of your projects. Consider the fact that while you’re working through your projects, you also have a body, a home, work, relationships, and financial health to maintain.
When that’s done, remove sixty percent of your ideas. Get out the pen and cross them off. I know. You’re cringing already at the thought. You might hate it.
Be clear that I’m in full support of you achieving your dreams, but being selective about the ones you pursue makes a profound difference in your actual results.
If you don’t prune off some of those idea-limbs, the extra branches will crowd each other out, block the light, and prevent ripening. This means small, sour fruit. Some of your ideas will fall right off your proverbial tree by themselves without developing to maturity.
Here’s the secret that every orchardist knows: you can either be proactive with those loppers today, or you can let life choose for you down the road with completely random outcomes. Your choice.
If you proactively prune your list, you end up with results–big, beautiful, juicy accomplishments you feel so proud of that you’ll want to send them to the county fair for judging. (Oh wait, maybe that’s my dream.) In any case, you’ll have measurable progress in specific areas–a full 40% of your ideas coming to fruition–just because you chose to focus on them. On purpose.
So. If you want savor some big accomplishments (and avoid carrying around metaphorical buckets of green fruit) this year, try something new.
Try spring pruning! It’s a peach!
And please let me know about your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!
Do you ever have one of those days where you have so much to do you simply can’t focus? Sometimes this happens because you actually have attention deficit (like I do), but lack of focus can also come from stress.
I’m having one of those days of feeling super scattered and unfocused – and we have a house guest coming tomorrow. Ack! Gotta make the best use of my time! (Stress!)
So I just took out the big guns: Not only did I write a to-do list to help me focus, but I got all Franklin Covey with it too and used the Four Quadrants to really narrow down what’s important (using scented markers, of course).
At least I feel more focused. I’ll start with the urgent/important stuff and will just wait and see how I do with accomplishing the rest of the list.
How do you get focused on “one of those days?”
Every year on this day, I’m reminded of a Bill Murray movie and its connection to organizing. Yes, I’ll admit it’s unlikely pairing!
If you haven’t seen it, Groundhog Day features Phil, a TV weatherman who reluctantly and snarkily goes to Punxutawney, PA to cover the mid-winter predictions of the famous groundhog. He gripes to his cohorts about this assignment, half-heartedly does the coverage, and assumes that he’s done at the end of the day.
Phil: This is one time where television really fails to capture the true excitement of a large squirrel predicting the weather.
The next morning, Phil wakes up to find that it’s Groundhog Day all over again. Caught in a time loop, he relives the entire day down to the tiniest details. The next day he does it again and then the day after that – for weeks.
At first, he is astonished. Within a few days, Phil decides that if he has to repeatedly live this day without consequences he’ll do anything he wants. He invents many dark-but-inventive (and funny, depending on your sense of humor) attempts to escape his fate.
Phil: Well, what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today.
Eventually, after failing to exit this loop, Phil begins to realize that the repetition isn’t a curse. A change comes over him and he starts focusing on a positive outcome. He begins looking forward to Groundhog Day, springing from bed, inspired by his challenge, rather than resisting it.
For me, the enduring message of this movie is that life comes down to choice. Each day is essentially the same – with the same number of hours, the same cast of characters, and the same core issues inside of us. Given this sameness, we can become apathetic and resigned, or we can find something that calls to us (in the Phil’s case, love) and devote our energies create something meaningful from the time we have.
When I work with people on their clutter and disorganization, the first thing I ask is what matters most to them. Although it’s possible to get organized by focusing on the problems, it’s more inspiring to focus on the desire behind your motivation. Initially, Phil focused on avoidance of pain, rather than moving toward a desired something. When you pause to reflect on why you want to get organized, the effort becomes more meaningful and often yields more satisfying results.
Phil: Do you ever have déjà vu, Mrs. Lancaster?
Mrs. Lancaster: I don’t think so, but I could check with the kitchen.
The other parallel between Groundhog Day and organizing is how it illustrates that many attempts are required before something really works. Many of my clients describe how they’ve tried countless tools and techniques to get organized and, because nothing worked, they conclude that they’ve failed. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Creative people need to experiment; it’s in our very nature. If we write, we try different journals, different voices, and different times of day to write. If we create art, we experiment with a variety of mediums and techniques, learning from each one, and choose the ones we enjoy best. If we create music, we play with volume, tempo, and key until something sounds just right. This is how creativity works.
If you want to transform your organizing efforts, use this same spirit of experimentation. Instead of expecting the perfect solution on the first try, commit to exploring many approaches – from structured planners and apps to wall charts with colorful markers. Play with sounds, smells, and textures.
Embracing your creativity as a tool will support organizing efforts and eventually something will click. Bill Murray’s character tried everything from cynicism, despair, and humor to escape his fate. You’ve probably been down those roads too and trying new things can give you more insight into what works for you.
Phil: Something is… different.
Rita: Good or bad?
Phil: Anything different is good.
In honor of Groundhog Day, I invite you to consider beginning a practice of experimenting with your organizing, trying new things with curiosity, and celebrating both your accomplishments and attempts. With this lighter approach, I guarantee that you won’t need a rodent to predict the arrival of your success.
Happy Groundhog Day!
If you’ve been reading my blog or newsletter for a while and feel tempted to work with me in 2015, don’t miss the details about my 11-month program called Soulfully Organized in a Year.
It launches today!
Last year’s participants not only have clearer spaces and more effective systems, they feel more confident about bringing their gifts to the world because the clutter doesn’t stop them anymore.
Are you ready to transform your space in 2015 – inside and out?
Sign up for information and join my free call by visiting this link:
When I learned that January is named after a Roman god, my relationship to this month changed forever.
Janus is the god with two faces – one that looks back into the past and one facing forward into the future. I like this imagery because of the inherent balance in it. You’re looking toward the future, yes, but you’re informed by your past.
Two days ago, Inspired Spouse and I sat on the couch to observe our annual tradition of making a tree ornament that lists all our favorite things from the past year. While we found many events to add to the ornament, we both agreed that 2014 sucked (to put it bluntly). It was a hard year for both of us and neither of us feels sad to see it go.
Our very act of looking back and reflecting on the high points and honoring the low ones caused something very interesting to happen: we started talking about how we’d do it differently in the new year. This evolution wasn’t forced or contrived. Informed by the previous year, we both naturally came to the same realization that we could do some major things differently. In fact, we feel excited about the possibilities that 2015 holds.
None of those insights would have come as quickly or clearly had we focused only on the future (which is what resolutions do). The past is where we get our wisdom from. If we’re mindful, we can use the past to guide our actions and choices for the future. Which is exactly why I love the image of a god with two faces. Janus is the bomb.
If you’d like to experience this for yourself, the key element is reflection. Which takes time. In case you hadn’t noticed, you (and everyone around you) may be running around trying to catch up from the holidays, recover from family hangovers, trying to get your finances in order, planning for the year, and resolving to stop eating sweets while you’re at it. (Agh!)
In nature, January is not a time of action (at least in the Northern Hemisphere). Everything outside your window is dormant. I would like to encourage you to consider emulating nature. See if you can do *less* this month. Instead, do more reflecting – thinking of the past, considering the future, trying on ideas for size to see what fits.
You might even do what Inspired Spouse and I did this past weekend and think about 2014’s high and low points… and see what takes root in your heart in the new year. With some reflection, you’ll be informed by the past as you consider the future and will feel new inspiration bubble up within you (and a lot less frantic, too).
Wishing you a happy and satisfying new year!
It seems like everyone I know is in some kind of limbo at the moment. Many are waiting for news about a job, waiting for a diagnosis, waiting for the call that a loved one has passed, or waiting for insight about what to focus on in life.
Let’s face it – waiting is hard. Inspired Spouse teases me for occasionally peeking at the last chapter in a particularly suspenseful novel, but I really don’t like not knowing how things turn out. Maybe you don’t either.
Unfortunately life doesn’t come with pages that you can read ahead. The challenge of being a creative, inspired person isn’t always to resolve what is unsettled, but to learn how to be present with not knowing and resting in this place without having answers. At least for now.
Uncertainty can feel particularly uncomfortable if the amount of time you will have to endure it is unknown or interminable. Borrowing from the 12-step tradition, focusing on one day, this day, helps simplify and zero in on what you can control. You only have to live today. By leaving all the other days for later, you become better at trusting that tomorrow can (and does) take care of itself.
I received a powerful lesson about uncertainty when I spent seven weeks walking across northern Spain on pilgrimage. One of the things that terrified me was the possibility that there would be no beds available when I arrived at my day’s destination. I encountered this fear daily. Among my tools for dealing with unknowing were worry, obsessing, walking faster than was good for my body, and racing other pilgrims to the next town. I started to notice that none of these strategies were very satisfying, nor very effective at preventing the frightening outcome.
Over those weeks, and with a lot of practice, I started choosing trust. I began to speak differently to myself. Instead of worrying about the worst possible outcome, I began to tell myself things like, “I trust that there will be a bed available for me.” and “I don’t know where I will stay tonight, but I know that I will be taken care of.” and “I choose to enjoy this moment rather than fill it with fear.” This new self-talk was a revelation.
While I had no evidence that these statements would prove correct, I hadn’t yet found any evidence that the worries or fears would come to pass either. In either case, I was making up a story and I decided I might as well tell myself the one that felt better in my body and soul. Surprisingly, out of 49 nights, I was never without a place to sleep – despite sharing this journey with hundreds of other pilgrims.
Believe it or not, the practice of resting in the unknowing comes up a lot in my work at Inspired Home Office. Many of my clients have been disorganized most of their lives and when they finally decide to improve this area, they want resolution today. Or, better yet, last week! Even in cases of positive, optimistic unknowing, it can still be difficult to be present in today. Yet this is where your power resides.
Although it’s the “season to be jolly,” this may not be where you are internally. If you are in one or more of life’s limbo lands and struggling, my heart goes out to you. If you can, try taking it one day at a time and practice speaking very, very kindly to yourself. If you’re contemplating your new-year possibilities, see if you can consider without committing (just yet). In our hurried culture, it can be real a blessing to allow yourself the spaciousness of not knowing and discover what blooms organically.
Thinking of you and wishing you all the peace this season promises,
In case you weren’t aware, I’m leading a free call tomorrow (Monday) called Overcoming Overwhelm – in honor of announcing the pre-launch of my new book!
Want to feel less overwhelmed?
It’s going to be a fun and informative call! I’d love to have you there live – and the recording will be sent out after too.
Here’s the page to sign up:
If part of my message at Inspired Home Office didn’t include accepting yourself, learning from mistakes, and giving yourself compassion, I’d never make the following admission:
Yesterday, fifteen people were on a conference line waiting for me to begin our class.
I never showed up.
When I discovered my error an hour after the fact, I went into melt-down mode. I felt mortified – blushing wildly, slapping my forehead, and cursing my forgetfulness.
Despite my being a full forty-one years old, I felt like the kid in high school and college who over-committed with the hope that just once I could get it together.
Forgetting things had a really high price for me back then. My teachers would, at the beginning of the semester, brush off my first forgotten assignment or appointment because they liked me and my participation. By mid semester, their regard dwindled with every missing assignment, their kindly tone changing to exasperation and impatience. “If you don’t turn things in, Jen, you’re not going to pass.”
The price of this pattern was isolation. Because I related best to my teachers, it was really painful to slowly lose my allies, one by one, each semester. The fondness and connection was gone.
By college, I was overwhelmed with fun options – classes, activities, groups. But combine my Shiny Object Syndrome with no planning skills, the tower would fall many times. I would commit and then not deliver, over and over again. People stopped trusting me. They stopped asking me to do things. “Are you sure you can be there?” they’d ask. And I would find myself feeling that same isolation all over again. “Jen’s nice, but she doesn’t follow through.”
To deal with the overwhelm, I would just not show up. I made a regular habit of just disappearing to avoid the pain of admitting that – once again – I had failed to do what I promised. This happened for classes, yearbook meetings, rehearsals, gatherings with friends. Hiding was a temporary reprieve from the pressure and seeing their disappointment, but it solidified my isolation.
I didn’t know how to get myself organized and stay on top of things. I wasn’t a bad person, I just had no skills.
At some point on this path, I started believing that I wasn’t worthy of compassion. I could get dribbles of it when an acquaintance was new, but eventually they’d see how flakey I was and the incredibly good feelings of connection and regard would fade away.
What I know today, in part because of my friend Mark Silver, is that compassion is an aspect of the Divine; it comes from Source in an unlimited supply. We are all worthy of deep love and acceptance, no matter how many appointments you’ve flaked on, no matter how overwhelmed you feel, no matter how far in the hole you are.
Even after all these years – and even though I teach it through my work – this lesson still comes slowly to me.
“You’re human,” said one of my clients after the fact.
“We were just worried about you and glad you’re okay. You’ll figure out how to catch us up.”
“It was no problem. Can we talk about me now?”
While I was preoccupied by avoiding a painful reprise of my adolescence, my clients were totally over it.
“Thank God it’s not just me who does that sometimes,” said another.
Thankfully, I have changed a lot in twenty years. Not showing up for something is a genuine error, not avoidance, and those who know me today see me as reliable. They’re happy to forgive (and forget)!
What I hope you’ll take away from my admission is that you’re never as bad or hopeless as you tell yourself you are. Not even close.
No matter what the source of your shame about forgetfulness, clutter, or disorganization, you’re an accomplished adult now. It’s okay to feel sad or embarrassed for forgetting an appointment, but you are not what you do.
You are not what you do.
Yes, I said that twice. In fact, I’ll say it again: You are not what you do. You are a creative, optimistic, spiritual being who’s making her way through the world the best way she knows how. You are worthy of compassion and acceptance – a universe full of it – no matter what you do or don’t do. You don’t have to be perfect to get it, either.
Like me, all you have to do is be open to receiving it. To stop holding yourself as separate and let that love come gushing in. You won’t believe what is possible when you do.
This reminds me of an excerpt from Mary Oliver’s beautiful poem, Wild Geese:
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves…
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Be gentle with who you are becoming. Accept that mistakes are part of the bargain of wholeness and keep forgiving yourself. Allow yourself to receive the blessings all around you. There’s so much waiting for you!
I’ve been meaning to write this post forever!
Almost three years ago, I completely redid my spice cabinet. It was a big project that was chronicled here, along with tips on the six elements of a successful project.
Needless to say, it was a pretty dramatic improvement.
Every now and then, someone brings up this article and asks me how the project worked out. Is it still working today? Did I have to redo it?
In response, I finally snapped this image this morning:
I didn’t touch a single thing before I took the photo, didn’t even clean up or straighten it. Honest!
In other words, it’s still working. Labels are staying on, the alphabetization works, and the jars are easy to find and put away. I like how the square-shaped jars force the labels to always face forward. I’m really, really happy with how well project turned out and how easy the system is to use.
Once a project is completed, especially if you plan to use it again (and we use this one all the time!), it’s important to evaluate the system and see if it’s working as hoped.
Here are the down-sides (and tweaks) we’ve discovered in using our spice cabinet system:
1. Over-filled bottles: We buy our spices in bulk. Someone in our household (who shall remain nameless) isn’t skilled at guessing amounts when filling the generously-sized bags at the grocery store. This explains the bag of dill on top of the full bottle of dill.
Tweak 1: We resolved that the other person in our household will be officially in charge of scooping out spices at the store. Every time we ignore this rule, we get overfilled bags.
2. No room for expansion: It was good that we’d been using the old system for a while and had all the spices we used with any regularity. So, the new system works – as long as we don’t need new, different spices. In the last three years, I’ve purchased whole vanilla beans and nutritional yeast; neither were in our system and there was nowhere to put them. This is why we have bulk bags stuffed on the top level.
Tweak 2: The first tweak we made is to use another cabinet to store random spice mixes (like fajita seasoning, Old Bay Spice, etc.) that don’t fit in this one. The other is to remember to look on the top level (where random stuff ends up) before putting something on the grocery list.
3. We don’t use all the spices we have: Writing this post made me realize that I hate lemon pepper, and that we’ve never once used the stuff we have (it might be three years old!).
Tweak 3: I could use that jar for brewer’s yeast or other orphan and chuck out the lemon pepper!
If you set up a new system (like filing financial records, storing office supplies, or a new computer network), go back a few months later and take a good look at it to re-evaluate how it’s working for you. Is it supporting your goals?
If you notice an aspect of the system that could work better, make tweaks and try them out for a while to see if they work the way you hoped.
And if you’ve asked about our spice cabinet – thank you! It was a great project that worked really well (and that doesn’t always happen!). I hope a successful project is in your near future!
Have you been hoping to get yourself organized this fall?
You’re in luck!
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