Sunday, August 28, 2005

Creating a Personal Mission Statement (Part 2)

Tip of the Week, August 21, 2005

Last week's Tip covered the basics of a personal mission statement: what it is, why it can be useful (especially in terms of organization), and how to go about writing one. This week, we'll take a look at how to put your personal mission statement into action.

Read, review, revise
After you've created your mission statement, take some time to read it through, think about what you've written, and make any tweaks or changes you'd like. You might decide, for example, that some of the goals you jotted down seem too ambiguous or too unrealistic, so perhaps they need some rewording. Or perhaps the phrase "mission statement" makes you cringe every time you see it, in which case coming up with a new name for your document--Statement of Intent, How I'd Like to Live, Things I Believe, and so on--will help make it more meaningful to you.

Also bear in mind that your mission statement should be a flexible and changing document, and that what it looks like today may not be what it looks like next year, or even a few months from now. Feel free to make changes to your statement--or even to scrap the whole thing and start over--as your life changes.

Take a look around
Once you're happy with your statement, it's time to put it to work. For starters, take a look at how your current surroundings, schedule, and activities measure up with what you've described in your mission statement, noting any disconnects. For example, one of your goals might be to focus less on things and more on people, though you currently have a house full of stuff. Or perhaps you've decided you'd really like to be braver and more daring in the decisions you make and the activities you do, which will mean a switch from your current take-no-chances way of living.

As you review your statement, also note the areas in which you're currently living according to the goals and priorities you listed. For instance, if one of your goals is to be more aware of how you spend your money, list the things you already do that contribute to this: cooking more meals at home, thinking twice before making unnecessary purchases, contributing to a savings account every month, and so on. Continuing with the activities you already do that support your mission statement is just as important as starting new ones.

Think concretely
Armed with your mission statement and a good sense of how your current activities, surroundings, and schedule are (or aren't) contributing to it, you're ready for the next step: brainstorming some concrete ways in which you can put your statement in action.

It's important to make this exercise fun (at least somewhat!) and realistic; this brainstorming isn't meant to be a way of highlighting your shortcomings or forcing you to feel guilty about things you're not doing. Remember, your mission statement (written by you for you) exists solely as a way of helping you live a life that feels fulfilling and meaningful. This brainstorming session is a chance for you to come up with ideas, activities, and small tasks that will help contribute to that meaningful life.

With your mission statement in front of you, jot down anything and everything you can do (or already do) that will help contribute to the goals, ideas, and priorities you've listed. The things you list can be big ("Clear out the kids' closets and donate extra toys and clothes to a women's and children's center") or small ("Buy one less latte a week"), fun ("Put on upbeat music while cooking dinner") or not-so-fun ("Balance my checkbook at least once a week"). What you list is entirely up to you.

Finally, it's time to put your mission statement into action. Keep your statement and your list of supporting activities in an accessible and visible spot so you can refer to them often. Schedule time for the concrete actions you've decided to take (such as balancing your checkbook, clearing out clutter, or exercising three times a week) and commit to finding ways of working the less-concrete actions into your everyday life.

Putting your statement into action takes time, repetition, and some commitment, so don't be hard on yourself if you feel like you're not doing it quickly enough or correctly. Your mission statement is there to work for you, not vice versa.

My mission statement
As promised last week, here's the personal mission statement I wrote (with the help of Franklin Covey's Kick Start):

I will be more aware of unkind thoughts and actions, and seek to turn them around. I will remind myself often of the priceless nature of my family. I will work on staying in closer touch with my friends, no matter where they are. I will give more, and more selflessly. I will remember how much good laughter can do. I will stop trying to will hope away. I will remember to savor the things I love. I will not let cynicism or hurt take over. I will not grow old before my time. I will remember that passion is lifeblood. I will aim to see things through. I will look up and ahead as much as (or more than) I look back. I will try to write something every day. I will see at least one new city a year. I will live my life with Jos [a friend who died, far too early, at age 25] in mind. I will try to let go of some of my less rational dislikes. I will remember that a life lived in fear is a life half lived.

Putting my statement to work for me will be easy in some ways (such as setting aside time each month to write letters to friends) and difficult in others (such as letting go of some dislikes). But it accurately reflects the life I want to live, and gives me some guidance on how to live it. That, to me, is worth the effort.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Creating a Personal Mission Statement (Part 1)

Tip of the Week, August 14, 2005

Often, the urge (or need) to organize strikes in the face of a life change, whether a positive one (such as a marriage or the birth of a child) or a challenging one (such as a death or divorce). Other times, the desire to get stuff in order springs from a sense that things are out of balance, out of control, or generally not as they should be.

Whatever the reason, organizing often serves as a good way to make sure we get back on track, can live as we'd like to, and get rid of the frustrations that keep us from focusing on what's most important. As such, the time between feeling the initial urge to organize and actually getting down to it is a great time to consider creating a personal mission statement. Here's why such a thing is worth the effort, and some ideas on how to get started on one.

Defining "mission"
The word mission can mean a number of different things: a purpose, a drive, a quest, a goal. A mission statement is usually a document created by a company, group, or community to describe its goals, its priorities, and its values.

Your personal mission might be anything from what you hope to accomplish on a given day to what you feel your larger purpose in life is. Your personal mission statement, then, should support your missions large and small by defining what's important to you, what sort of life you'd like to live, and how you intend to go about fulfilling your priorities.

Why create a mission statement?
Though most of us try to live according to our values and priorities, it's all too easy to get caught up in the flow of everyday life and drift (or perhaps even paddle) away from what we know is most important. For example, how many of us would name health as a priority, only to find that we're so busy that nutritious eating and regular exercise often go out the window? A mission statement can help us refocus on what matters and find ways to keep the important things in life front and center.

Personal mission statements can also help make times of transition easier to deal with. The arrival of a child, for example, means priorities are likely to shift, as does the departure of a child for college or a life outside of the house. Taking the time to reconsider what's important as life changes can ease transitions, and might make them feel a bit less chaotic.

Missions and organizing
Many times, clients call me because they feel like the disorganization around them doesn't support or reflect the way they want to live. They might find that they're spending hours each weekend trying to deal with clutter when what they'd really like to be doing is taking the kids to the park, enjoying a movie, or doing volunteer work.

Crafting a personal mission statement can help identify the things in life that need to change (or stay the same, with a few improvements) in order for us to feel truly happy, fulfilled, and in control. The desire to make some organization-related changes--whether that means redoing a filing system or decluttering a whole house--often springs up when our goals and priorities become clear.

Creating your statement
Here's the great thing about your personal mission statement: it can be as simple or as involved as you'd like it to be. After all, it's yours. Your mission statement might take the form of an anything-and-everything, stream-of-consciousness list of the people, ideas, and things that are important to you and that you'd like to devote your time to; on the other hand, it might be a carefully written, detail-filled statement of your beliefs and priorities, complete with specific tasks to help you live in accordance with them.

Whatever form you choose, make sure your statement accurately reflects your personality, what's important to you, and how you'd like to shape your own life. Don't feel the need to aim for unrealistic ideals or to list priorities you think you should have.

You can write your statement on a computer, in crayon, on an ancient typewriter, in fountain pen--whatever you're most comfortable with. Revise, add to, and change it as much as you'd like. Just make sure it feels unquestionably you and has enough information to serve as a guide.

Want a helping hand? Try Franklin Covey's free Mission Statement Builder, an interactive online tool that lets you choose between several different methods of creating your own mission statement.

Next week, once you've had the chance to get started, we'll look at some quick and easy ways of putting your mission statement into practice. I'll also share with you the statement I created as a guide for my life. (Want to share yours, too? E-mail me at and let me know.)

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Organizing for Houseguests

Tip of the Week, August 7, 2005

Whether you love hosting houseguests or do it only when necessary, chances are that sooner or later you'll find yourself faced with the arrival of visitors on your doorstep. To make your time with your guests more enjoyable for both you and them, spend an hour organizing the supplies and space your visitors will need. Here are some ideas to get you started.

  • Designate a guest room. This may not necessarily be a separate bedroom--in my flat, the living room holds the sofabed, which means it becomes the guest room when I have visitors. Whatever sort of guest room you're working with, aim to keep it relatively neat and clutter-free; you'll save yourself the hassle of having to rush around cleaning and clearing before visitors arrive.
  • Gather some guest supplies. If possible, always keep a spare set of sheets handy (or, if you have a separate guest bedroom, keep the bed there made up with clean linens), as well as one or two sets of guest towels. If you'd rather your visitors not use your toiletries and aren't sure they'll bring their own, stash some trial-size bottles for guests to use in a second bathroom (if you have one) or in a basket or bin.
  • Create a mini Information Booth. If you won't be shuttling your guests around while they're in town--or even if you will, but think they might like some regional information--creating an in-house visitors' center is a great way to keep them in the know. Gather together some maps, information on your area's public transit system, a weekly regional paper, and brochures on your favorite local attractions. Store it together in a folder or manila envelope your guests can take with them when they're out and about.
  • Share the ins and outs of the house. Are your door locks complicated or prone to sticking? Are there any tricks to using your shower, dishwasher, or stove? If there's any information guests should know about your home, your pets, emergency procedures, or other aspects of your house, write it on an information sheet to share with your visitors. Taking the time to type up this sheet once will save you from having to explain the same things over again each time you have different guests.
  • Make your schedule known. Help avoid misunderstandings or unrealistic expectations by sharing your schedule with your guests when they arrive. For example, if your guests are in town all week but you won't be taking time off of work, let them know that you'll be happy to spend time with them in the evenings but that they'll be on their own during the day. Also, be up front about which meals you'll cover and which your visitors should plan on their own; this will prevent hungry, expectant stares waiting for you when you get home at the end of a long day.

    Hosting visitors will always take some effort and preparation, but with a bit of organizing beforehand, you should find that when the doorbell rings you can focus on enjoying the company of your guests rather than worrying about beds, meals, and schedules.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

What's in My Organizing Toolkit

Tip of the Week, July 24 and 31, 2005

I love the fact that part of my job is looking for and learning about supplies that help make getting and staying organized easier. Though the right tools alone can't make you organized, no matter how fancy or functionality-filled they might be, they're an important part of most organizing systems.

Here's a peek inside the organizing toolkit I take with me when I meet with clients, as well as a chance for you to share with other Tip of the Week readers your favorite organizing supplies and gadgets.

In my toolkit
I use (and recommend) all different kinds of tools and products in the work I do, but these are the ones I've found I'm most likely to need:

  • Hanging and manila file folders (these are the basis of every filing system; colored folders are great if we're creating a color-coded system)
  • Tabs and inserts for hanging file folders
  • Paper clips, binder clips, rubber bands, and a stapler
  • Paper and pens
  • A box cutter or an X-acto knife
  • Trash bags
  • A label maker (I use a Brother P-Touch) and extra label tapes
  • Label It Now storage bin labels (these are a great way of keeping tabs on what's in plastic storage bins; I buy them from
  • A tape measure, hammer, screwdriver, and level
  • A thick black permanent marker
  • Current catalogs for the organizing and home improvement stores I recommend most often (such as Ikea, The Container Store, and Hold Everything)
  • Hand sanitizing wipes (because organizing can be a dusty, dirty task)

All of these supplies are inexpensive, no-frills, and easy to store together in a divided toolbox or bin (I use Rubbermaid's mobile office, which has space for items of many different sizes). Keeping them together and easily accessible makes it easy to get through organizing tasks without having to stop and hunt down the supplies we need.

Your favorite tools and gadgets
I often learn about new organizing gadgets--or new uses for old gadgets--from my clients, friends, and family. Seeing what products others use and swear by is a great way for me to learn more than I could on my own.

So here's your chance to share your favorite organizing tools, gadgets, and supplies with me and your fellow Tip of the Week readers. E-mail me at and let me know what gadgets you use to get organized, or what out-of-the-ordinary use you've found for tools and supplies that were originally intended for other purposes. I'll publish the replies I get in the August 7 Tip.