Welcome to the inaugural edition of Ordered Thoughts. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to post to this blog every other Wednesday. So, let’s start by talking about resolutions.

A new year is a time to reflect and reset for most of us. Sometime between the end of the old year and these first few days of the new one, we examine our lives. We go back over the previous twelve months, revisiting our successes and failures; our highs and lows. We think long and hard about where we are vs. where we want to be. Then we make a list of resolutions which, for many of us, will be forgotten or abandoned long before Spring rolls around.

Why Do Resolutions Usually Fail?

Why is that? Because many of us approach resolutions in a way that practically guarantees failure. We have a vague idea of what we’re not happy with, and an even vaguer idea of what we hope to accomplish. We often dive in without any concrete goal, actual plan, or measurable way to evaluate progress and determine success. Then we’re often disappointed to find that just writing ”Lose weight” or “Get organized” on a piece of paper does absolutely nothing to ensure that will happen. Without insight, goals, a plan, and metrics, those extra pounds – or clutter, stress, and chaos – are pretty much guaranteed to remain a part of your life.

Most Common Resolution

Among the Top 5 resolutions (after losing weight, getting in better shape, and improving our health) are getting organized, and reducing stress. We know that never being able to find what we’re looking for, never being able to relax in our home, and feeling anxious all of the time about those things, isn’t fun. It also has a negative impact on our mental, emotional, and physical health – to say nothing of our happiness.

So, if getting organized is on your list of resolutions this year, how do you improve your chances of success?

Consider why you want to get your life in order

What is your motivation? Are you tired of wasting time looking for things? Frustrated that you can’t have people visit your house because it’s a mess? Feeling weighed down by years of accumulated clutter? The clearer you are about why you want to make a change in this area, the better. Motivation for any lasting change has to come from within, so find yours (or pick a different resolution). If you’re only doing it because a boss, spouse, roommate, magazine article, guilty conscience, etc. says you need to, you will find it hard to succeed. If it helps you to write this down, do it.

Determine which areas of your life are out of order

It’s possible that your entire life is a disaster, but that’s probably not the case. So, think long and hard about, specifically, what is making you feel as though your life is out of control. Are you paying late fees on overdue bills that you forget to pay? Have you been constantly scrambling to meet – or worse, missing – deadlines at work? Is getting dinner on the table every night a challenge? Do you miss events or appointments? Do you dread opening your closet? Identify the things that always seem to be falling through the cracks or stressing you out the most. Make a list.

Prioritize

Don’t try to tackle everything all at once. Identify the biggest problem area, and address that first. Look at everything that you previously identified as not working, and ask yourself “How much does this bother me?” For now, don’t worry about whether it should or not. It’s your life, your home, your office, so be honest with yourself. Take that list you made of ‘out of order’ areas and rank them.

Be specific

Once you identify what isn’t working, think about exactly what isn’t working. That pile of paperwork on your kitchen counter may be your biggest problem area. Is it because you hate how it looks? Do bills and important documents get lost in there? Are you out of space to cook? Those are different problems that will require different solutions to address the core issue.

Understand what you are doing now that is working

Is there any aspect of your ‘out of order’ areas that is working? Think about the areas of your life that are in order, and what you do differently there. Don’t judge your systems! There really aren’t any one-size-fits-all ways of doing things, and the latest, most popular way may not work for you at all. So, don’t worry if you write your grocery list on a scrap of paper while it seems like everyone around you seems to be using a smartphone app. If you leave the store with the groceries you need, then your system is working for you. On the other hand, if you frequently get to the store and don’t have your list with you, or don’t look at it while you’re shopping, then maybe that system isn’t working so well. Think about how you are approaching things right now, and where the breakdown seems to be happening.

Visualize success

How do you want this problem area to look when you’ve achieved your goal? Again, be honest with yourself. If you won’t truly feel successful until you have an aesthetically pleasing, color-coded filing system for all of those papers, then that’s your goal. If you’ll be happy just having that pile off of the counter and on your desk, then that’s your goal.

Make a plan

Do you have the tools that you will need? Do you have the time to tackle this right now? How are you going to get from where you are to where you want to be? This is one of the primary areas where resolutions fall apart. Sometimes that is the result of a genuine lack of knowledge – we don’t always know how to get there. Sometimes it is a result of vague goals – it’s hard to make a plan when you aren’t clear on what you’re doing. If you have trouble making a plan, revisit your goal and make sure it’s clear enough. If lack of knowledge is an issue, it might be a good time to contact a professional for a consultation.

Make a timeline

When do you want to start? How long will this take? If it’s a complicated project, you will probably have to break it down into steps. This is another point at which resolutions tend to fail. We are notoriously bad at estimating time requirements. If you give yourself an hour to do something that is going to take five hours, you’re likely to get discouraged after that first hour. You thought you’d be done and instead you haven’t made much progress at all. If you’ve been realistic and detailed, you have a greater chance of designing a plan that will accurately reflect the time commitment necessary.

Just get started

Once you have your goal, your plan, and your measure of success, the most important thing to do is take that first step.

At the end of the month, we’ll check in and see how things are going. Happy New Year!