As the autumn days turn crisper, bringing “sweater weather” and an earlier end to the daylight, it seems natural to turn our focus closer to home. While we traditionally think of spring as a time for getting our house in order, fall brings its own natural pull to cleaning up the clutter left by the carefree days of summer and create a more orderly, inviting environment in which to spend the winter months.
Chances are you and many of your clients are already very familiar with basic organizational tools such as appointment books, calendars, “to do” lists and the like. Yet what about those “higher level” organizational tasks? Ways to unclutter not only our environment, but also the way we work or track critical information (the kind that sometimes we don’t think about organizing until its too late)? This fall, I suggest we use that great autumn energy to focus on ways to foster that “higher level” of organization in ways certain to benefit our sharpness and long-term brain health.
While we may not think of getting organized as “brain healthy,” there is no doubt that bringing routine to our daily lives benefits our cognitive function. Folks who are well-organized remember better because they have effectively mastered the use of simple memory strategies that help them keep track of things like appointments, information or just their keys or reading glasses. Why? First, being organized allows us to function more smoothly by making it easier for us to keep track of our everyday “what, when, and where.” In addition, being organized increases our sense of control and efficacy, reducing the chances that instead of routine we will routinely just feel “stressed out.” Since chronic stress has been linked to increased memory loss and dementia risk, as well as emotional disorders, we can also think of begin organized as having long-term benefits to our brain’s health as well.
Here are three ideas to get “next level” organization going for both your clients and for yourself. We’ve deliberately limited them to some simple steps we can all take immediately to get going – no excuses!
“Download” Critical Data. If something happened to you or your clients, would a family member or work colleague know how to access health information? Important accounts? Manage a website or social media? Critical information is often something we delay or don’t even think about organizing. Help your clients start organizing critical information with a Locator Log: Using an address book, have them write the name of the item in the correct alphabetical section (for example, “will” under “w”), and note the location under the address (“safety deposit box at United Bank”). Or — better yet — check out Memory Banc, a workbook specifically designed to organize our critical information. Developed by Kay Bransford in response to her own experience in managing her parents’ affairs after they both experienced memory decline, this comprehensive guide will insure your clients (or you yourself) cover all the essentials in organizing that essential data.
Tackle a Big Task. Often it is the “big jobs” – Moving, repainting our apartment, starting a new project – that stop us in our organizational tracks. The easiest way to help clients take on those big jobs? Work with them to create a “Master Plan,” which breaks up the larger task into small, concrete and manageable ones. In fact, I recently came across a quote attributed to Mark Twain that describes exactly what we need to do to create a “Master Plan”: “The secret to getting ahead is getting started. The secret to getting started is breaking complex, overwhelming tasks into small, manageable tasks, and starting with the first one.” No one could say it better than that.
10 in 10. Are your clients always asking you to help them figure out how to get rid of “stuff?” Does the clutter around your own office or home drive you to distraction? Often organizing our things can seem overwhelming and as a result we put off doing anything about it. Yet de-cluttering has big brain health payoff. Not only is it easier to find everything we need, but re-organizing challenges us to problem solve and be more flexible in how we keep track of our things. Here’s a quick way to start de-cluttering: Try 10 in 10. Have clients commit to spending just 10 minutes a day for 10 days de-cluttering. Those tasks can be at home or work, big or small. Just 10 minutes. For 10 days. Want to up the brain health challenge? Have them put everything back in a different place (for example, change shelves for toiletries) to break up the organizational routine.
Want more great organizational tips to work with this fall? Our Total Memory Workout plan has a whole chapter devoted only to organizational strategies and tips.