Feeling Overwhelmed? Pick 6!

This time of year has a way of getting on top of people. The school year is winding down, spring/summer activities are picking up, and life just gets chaotic quickly. More often than not, I feel a little extra-overwhelmed in April and May because I have what feels like a million little things to take care of. Work stuff, home stuff, you name it. I’ve got graduation gifts to send, work to send out, Mother’s Day coming up, birthdays — just typing it all stresses me out!

I’ve got a few ways of working my way out of the overwhelmed feeling, but one of my all-time favorites (and very frequently utilized) is to pick 6. It’s a method adapted from Ivy Lee’s own pick 6 method. Now, Ivy Lee’s version differs a bit from my approach, and some of you may find her way more effective (after all, Charles Schwab liked his results so much he paid Lee $25,000 for the method back in 1918, so clearly she was doing something right).

Naturally, all my to-do lists are also in soft focus.
Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

So how does it work? Simple: at the start of my day, I write down every to-do item I can think of. Every passing “Oh, I need to…” that enters my head. Then, I pick 6 things that I absolutely will get done that day and put a star next to them. I allow myself a couple of softballs (stuff like logging information on a spreadsheet or sending a quick email), and I usually try to add at least one or two big things or things I’ve been putting off (see also my post about picking just one tough thing here). The point is, I just have to deal with those 6 things that day. After that, I’ve showed up for the day and been at least somewhat productive, and it’s okay if I only get to those 6 things (I can always pick 6 more tomorrow!).

This method works for me for a few reasons: first, writing everything down works a bit like a data dump (where you write down every thought for a timed period to help empty a crowded mind). Ivy Lee’s original method encourages you to only list 6 items and avoid writing the rest down, but my brain tends to circle back on tasks that need to get done at the least helpful moments (remembering that I need to wash the car while I’m trying to write an email isn’t super helpful), and writing down all the tasks I’m thinking of helps get them out of my head, even if it’s just for the day.

Second, picking 6 items lets me prioritize. By doing a task data dump and then picking 6 things that really should get done, I’m goal-setting and helping my brain home in on the few must-dos for that day. Prioritizing is an important part of productivity (Dwight Eisenhower’s productivity matrix is actually based on prioritization and assessing urgency, post on that coming soon!), and it’s another way to help your mind put down the little things that don’t really need to get done today and focus on actually getting stuff done. Basically, it helps you keep calm.

See what I did there?
Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Finally, this method helps you feel accomplished and make slow and steady progress. When I’m overwhelmed, it’s easy to enter a cycle of anxiety that (surprise, surprise) stops me from getting anything done! Making a list and setting some goals for the day helps me work through busy periods, even if it’s just 6 items at a time. 6 is also a bit of a magic number — it’s enough to fill a day and feel like you’ve been productive but not enough to overburden. You can always do more if you feel like it, but by picking 6 you can basically guarantee some level of productivity.

Thanks for reading!

What Ben Franklin (and Mark Twain) Taught me About Productivity

I have to go to the dump. It’s my Ben Franklin.” This was my response to the Starbucks clerk’s polite “So what are you up to today?” (I know, I should just say “nothing much,” but the clerk at the drive thru is one of my five weekly social interactions in COVID times.) Needless to say, she was a bit confused. The pandemic has really eroded my conversation skills.

What is a “Ben Franklin,” you ask? Well, the short answer is that it’s my family’s shorthand for something we don’t want to do. The long answer, however, which is what blogs are for, is that it’s sort of a creed we’ve taken up. A way of life. My mom always told me Ben Franklin said that you should to do one thing you don’t want to do every day. Trusting, as all Americans do, the word of that wacky inventor, I took the maxim to heart. Just one thing, each day. Simple, but kind of revolutionary (pun 1000% intended). Call the doctor. Figure out that insurance question. Go to the dump.

This guy got stuff done. But, you know, so did my guy Twain. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. PD-US-expired.

But here’s the kicker: Ben Franklin never said this, Mark Twain did. I know, I know, plot twist. We still call our one thing a day a “Ben Franklin,” mainly because a “Mark Twain” doesn’t quite roll off the tongue. But regardless of who said it, the advice still works.

Ben Franklin actually is a bit of a productivity guru in his own right–people still write about and use his block scheduling and 13 virtues. But while he’s got a lot to say on how to be productive, he doesn’t have much to say about how to motivate yourself to be productive. (This is as good as it gets: “Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.” Cool, Ben, will do.)

Mark Twain said, “Make it a point to do something every day that you don’t want to do. This is the golden rule for acquiring the habit of doing your duty without pain.” I love this, mainly because it explains how to actually build good habits. Just one thing. We can all wrap our heads around just one thing. It’s like a 10-minute exercise video–even if it’s been a day, I’ve always got 10 minutes.

This guyyyyy. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. PD-US.

When I started college, I was very shy and had trouble speaking up in class. I went to a university where it was kind of a prerequisite to speak up in class and was even part of our grade, so this quickly became a problem. I went to one of my professors and told him I was worried about my participation grade going down because I didn’t feel comfortable giving my two cents. “I listen,” I said, “but it’s just hard to get involved in the conversation.” And he gave me Mark Twain’s advice: “Just say one thing per class. Write it down if you have to. Don’t worry about whether it’s clever or good or right. Just say one thing, and then you don’t have to do anything else.” That’s how I know this advice works. I said one thing during each class period, and slowly, I became more comfortable with speaking up in class. And it was pretty painless. If I wasn’t feeling like speaking up, I could just say one thing, and if I wanted to, I could say more.

Now there are a lot of people who have said something similar. Ralph Waldo Emerson said “Always do what you are afraid to do.” Eleanor Roosevelt said “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” And that is also good advice that I’ve taken to heart. But I still go back to Twain, because it’s about building a habit and handling the everyday kind of tough stuff. It’s not necessarily about fear, it’s more about making steady progress and getting the things you’ve been putting off done. I’m not really afraid of changing my car’s oil, I just don’t want to do it. But if I make it a point to do one thing each day, the oil will get changed. And it will be pretty painless, because I just have to do the one thing.

So whether you call it a “Ben Franklin” or a “Mark Twain” or just “my one thing,” give this a shot. Start today, or tomorrow. Just pick the thing that’s been bugging you to get done and just do the one thing. And then you’re all done!

Good luck, and thanks for reading!

Decluttering in the Time of COVID

I read somewhere last summer that Goodwill was having trouble dealing with the volume of donations brought on by lockdown. Apparently, people got stuck in their houses, realized those houses were waaay too crowded to be stuck in, and decided to use their newfound free time to box it up and throw it in the garage until it was safe to donate. But recently, I heard that in some places Goodwill now doesn’t have enough donations! They’re actually losing money, and not because people aren’t shopping there because of COVID-related fear — go figure. (Goodwill has actually done a lot of good during the pandemic and most have safety protocols to keep customers and employees safe.)

Photo by Sarah Brown on Unsplash

What I really find strange about all of this is that it was actually the other way around for me. Lockdown and all the fear and uncertainty surrounding it set me back in more ways than one. In 2019, I was merrily KonMari-ing and Swedish death cleaning my way to peace and happiness. In 2020, I was stress-hoarding butter (yeah, I can make it through life rationing toilet paper and hand sanitizer, but I NEED EXTRA BUTTER) and keeping old yogurt tubs by the truckload.

Last summer, I wasn’t ready to give anything up that I “might need later.” I bought extra food when I went to the store in case they ran out of something (I had one packet of yeast left when everyone decided to take up stress baking) and so I’d have to go out less. I thought twice about getting rid of old clothes because 1) I live in Zoom purgatory now so why bother and 2) shopping for clothes in person kind of stresses me out now. Living in a pandemic upended all the things I used to tell myself while decluttering: “You can always buy it again if you end up needing it.” “There will always be enough.” “If you get rid of these clothes that no longer spark joy, you can enjoy shopping for some that do!” Instead I thought, especially when shopping for food: “What if they run out and I really need it?” “What if the factory shuts down because of an outbreak?” “What if I lose my job and can’t afford to buy more?”

I bought so much bottled water during the first lockdown. A somewhat panicked decision, in hindsight. Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash

Obviously, this wasn’t the healthiest thought cycle. Like most people, the last year has been pretty fear-driven for me. Fear of the unknown, it turns out, is kryptonite for people like me who coaxed themselves towards minimalism. But here’s the thing: it turns out, that wasn’t really a sustainable way of decluttering anyway. All the ways I told myself it was ok to get rid of something relied on me being able to get a new one or buy more stuff. Of course a pandemic that disrupted the supply chain and upended the economy would make me think twice about only buying the groceries I needed for the week!

This is an ongoing process for me, and I’ve been turning over this realization in my mind, trying to figure out what it means for me. I like my life with less clutter in it, but I also don’t want to force myself to let go when I still am dealing with a lot of fear and anxiety. My lizard brain is starting to chill out, and I’m starting to be able recognize items I no longer use or need again and be okay with letting them go, but I still worry about the what-ifs. It’s an uncertain time, and it probably will be for awhile. I do know I want to find a more sustainable way of letting go, in all senses of the word. I want to get rid of what I no longer need, but I want to make sure it’s recycled, if possible. I want to buy new if I need to, but not just to get a serotonin boost from “treating myself.” Mostly, I just want to find some peace of mind — go figure.

Thanks for reading!

How I use Google Tasks to keep my house habitable

I will preface this post by telling you that, honestly, I am not the most organized person I know. If you’re looking for a binder print-out or a bullet journal concept, this is not that post. I envy those people, but I know myself well enough to know that mine will always be a slightly dirty floor, a too-full trash, a cluttered entryway. I know it, my husband knows it, even my five-year-old nephew knows it (to quote him: “Auntie Heli’s house is so messy!” Nothing like a child razzing you to have you shame-cleaning your house at 10 PM on a Monday). This is for the folks who are having trouble keeping up. I see you, friend!

At least he looks happy…

That said, just because I’m not the most organized/clean person in the world does not give me an excuse to Pigpen out.

You have to be a person, and that means that daily/weekly/monthly, you have stuff that simply needs to be done, and regularly. If you only do these when you’ve reached the “Auntie Heli’s house is so messy!” point, you are setting yourself up for so much more work than you need to (and again, late night shame-cleaning). 

So I propose an alternative: use a tasks app. The key here is not just making a to-do list, but scheduling recurring tasks. Here’s what to do: 

  • My phone screen yesterday (it’s time to spruce my background up for spring!)
    Start slow. Choose one or two tasks you know you need to do each week (or day or month). Maybe clean all your sinks on Saturday, or vacuum your bedroom on Tuesday. Don’t worry about making a list of everything that you want to get done each week or each day, just start with a couple and get used to doing them week-in, week-out. 
  • Keep it manageable. Limit yourself to tasks/chores that can be done within 30 minutes or so. Don’t get ambitious and just put “clean the house” on your list each Saturday. I doubt you’ll be able to get everything done, and if you do, knock it off because you’re making the rest of us look bad. 
  • Schedule the tasks on your task app. If you don’t have one, get one. Make sure it can schedule recurring tasks and remind you to do them. I use Google Tasks, but you could also use Microsoft To Do or Remember the Milk
  • Space it out. This is why you keep it to 30 minutes! If you remind yourself to clean out your fridge each Wednesday and that’s all you have to do, you might actually do it! Then on Saturday, you’ll only have a few things to worry about instead of the whole house. 

Why I have a hamper in my kitchen

Also hello and welcome to my blog.

Though this is my first blog post, I decided that rather than a more straightforward post introducing myself (hi, I’m Heloise and my blog is called Happy Heloise) and telling you what I want to blog about (cleaning, cooking, and organizing as easily and painlessly as possible), I’d just jump right in and get started. Essentially, I’ve decided to run my blog the same way I go through Target: spending 45 minutes in the organizing section “assessing” the storage bin selection and butting into people’s conversations to tell them why they absolutely should buy a Squatty Potty.

My mother has always been outspoken about having our washer and dryer in the kitchen, citing practicality and the fact that “it’s the European way” (normal reason to do anything). We always had a basket on top of the washer for “house laundry,” and I never really thought much about it. Then I moved out, lived in several apartments, and for some reason, never adopted a similar practice. Each night, I walked my dish towels into my bedroom or bathroom LIKE AN ANIMAL. But for some reason, at the ripe age of 31, something clicked and I realized that kitchens make laundry, so there should be a kitchen hamper! I brazenly stole one of my mom’s extra baskets, bought some over-the-door hooks on Amazon, and now, I have a kitchen hamper. And folks, there’s a reason I’m starting my blog off writing about a basket on a hook on a cabinet: it is a game-changer.

The tiny basket from Ikea that changed it all…

Gone are the days of moldy dish towels in with my fancy lady silk top! More importantly, I no longer have to walk 25 feet to throw something in a basket and I’ve never been happier. But before you run out and plonk a basket in your kitchen because some random lady on the internet said so, here’s some friendly advice:

  • Use something easy to clean that can be either thrown in the washing machine or washed in hot water. You will thank me when you get behind on laundry and the damp cloths get straight gross.
  • Avoid a container that will sit on the floor. As a rule, kitchens shouldn’t have a ton of stuff lying around on the floor. Dirt gets under it and you have to move too much to clean the floor often.
  • Opt for something with a rim and holes. I strongly recommend you embrace kitchen laundry being visible and don’t try to hide it under a lid or behind a sign that says “bless this mess.” Dish towels and other cleaning rags get damp, sometimes plain wet. You want air to be able to get in there so you don’t have a mold farm on your hands! Also, if there’s a rim, you can get dirty towels out of the way by putting them on the rim to dry.
A close-up of my revolutionary
hook-basket system

So, that’s it. I know some people may have read this and thought, “Duh lady this is common practice.” But if I didn’t find a ton of entries on Pinterest and there are people out there living without kitchen hampers, don’t you want them to know? If you do have a kitchen hamper, what type of container do you use? What do you think about a washer and dryer in the kitchen?

You can find the Ikea Variera I use here (technically it’s a trash can, but it works!), and you can find the hooks I use here.

Thanks for reading!