Cheryl Lowitzer: Your Organizing Guru


Have you ever experienced one (or more) of those days when the word overwhelmed is a gross understatement?  Do you greet Monday mornings with no small amount of dread, thinking “here we go again, let the stress begin”?!

If you’re ready and willing to walk a different path, then consider joining me on one I started walking in January of this year. Think spiral rather than straight line; with plenty of opportunity to pause, backtrack if necessary, sit and consider the next step or stop entirely if you don’t find the journey rewarding.

Here’s the deal: a group of my colleagues and I are participating in a year-long program called Organize, Prioritize, CapitalizeTM   (OPC) developed by Dr. Ned Hallowell, a leading expert at offering practical ways to approach some of life’s most difficult challenges. I won’t take up valuable space listing his credentials here because I want to get right to the ‘good stuff’ I’m able to share with you as a result of this program. If you’d like to satisfy any curiosity or concern about his expertise, you can simply Google his name. In March, we were introduced to a segment of OPC called “Unload Overload: A 31-Day Program That Will Put You Back In Control of Your Crazy Busy Life”.  Before you continue reading, please note the following disclaimer:

The information I’m about to share is not a “quick fix” for unplugging the professional or personal pressure cooker that may be your life experience today.  If that’s what you were hoping for, you may simply want to read something else in the Chronicle today.  On the other hand, if you have that gut feeling something’s got to change and you’re ready to take the first step in a new direction, please keep reading. .
There are two basic components to the Unload Overload program, and they work together. I’ve pulled the following information about these two pieces directly from a handy little 31 day journal created by Dr. Hallowell that I started using in March, called “My ‘Crazy Busy’ Journal” or “the CrazyBusy” workbook:
Part I: The Daily Plan Basics

Protect and Use Your Morning Burst
“Morning Burst” is [Dr. Hallowell’s] term for the 30 to 60 minutes each day when you are at your absolute freshest, mentally. For most people, this occurs in the morning, hence the term morning burst. It doesn’t matter what time of day it is; figure out when YOU are at your peak mental capacity and protect that time! Save this window of time for your most challenging, most creative work. Don’t waste it on email or talking on the phone. You only have a finite amount of time when you are hassle-free and fresh. Protect this time and use it to full advantage.

Refuse to Rush
Of course, we’re busy, but we don’t have to rush. When we rush we go from…C-state, in which we are calm, cool, collected, concentrated, careful and courteous – all words that begin with the letter “C” – and we plummet into F-state, in which we are frantic, fearful, frenetic, frenzied, forgetful, fallible and about to utter another “F” word… In F-state we do terrible work. We become our own worst enemy! Preserve C-state by refusing to get caught up in the mad rush of daily life. Proceed with all due speed – but don’t ratchet yourself up into a rush.

Each letter in E.Y.E.S. stands for a crucial element in the care and feeding of our most precious ally, our brain.

Exercise: this is so important for optimal brain function it is a DAILY requirement.

Yoga, Meditation or Prayer: Any of these is a valuable practice that protects and preserves C-state.

Eat: Be mindful of junk food, additives, excess alcohol or other drugs. Remember, “garbage in, garbage out.” Eat whole foods, drink plenty of water and take a daily supplement of 2000 mg of fish oil, which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

Sleep: In order to function at our best mentally, we need to get enough sleep. Enough sleep is the amount of sleep it takes to wake up without an alarm clock.

T.I.O. = Turn It Off 
One of the biggest drains on time and mental energy in modern life is what [Dr. Hallowell] calls screensucking: mindlessly sending and receiving emails, surfing the Net, checking stock prices or sports scores, or working our Blackberry/iPhone during meetings or social events. [We’ve] got to learn to use these devices judiciously or they rob us of precious time and energy.

Pattern Planning and Rhythm
Pattern planning refers to the idea of putting recurring obligations into your schedule so you don’t have to worry yourself about when you’ll get them done. Everything from a weekly conversation with [an aging parent] to a weekly meeting with your sales manager or accountant can be put into a Pattern Plan so you can forget about having to set it up every week, or every month, or every year. Each obligation you put into a pattern plan frees up a certain amount of mental energy and allows you to develop your best rhythm, your best pace of working day in and day out.

Cultivate Lilies and Avoid Leeches
LILIES are people or projects that are rewarding and worth the time you put into them. LEECHES are the opposite. Leeches are people/projects that wear you out, waste your time, go nowhere and deplete you. As best you can, cultivate lilies and avoid leeches. You should [aim] to have a lily in every day. You look forward to your lilies and they give you the energy to do the other stuff that is not so rewarding.

One of the golden keys to success in modern life is the ability to prioritize. So much is possible! But you must decide what comes first or you’ll get swamped in all the possibilities. Each day, [write down] the top 3 things you want to get done. This will force you to prioritize right at the start of your day. Keep your list to just 3. If you get them done, great. You don’t have to make a new list. Wait until the next day. Getting 3 things done that matter every day will give you a great feeling of accomplishment.
Part II: The 7 Daily Steps
The CrazyBusy workbook includes an introduction by Dr. Hallowell, the overview of the Daily Plan Basics (that I provided above), 31 blank daily pages laid out with a reminder of the basic plan, a nugget of wisdom based on Dr. Hallowell’s work over the years helping people work toward peak performance, and a list of 7 specific steps to go through EVERY DAY (yes, it’s repetition that helps create and reinforce habits). Six of the seven steps are the SAME every day. One of them is new each day, to keep things interesting!
At the end of the workbook there is a glossary of new terms Dr. Hallowell invented to define the various new situations modern life presents, such as Screensucking, Doomdarts and Gigaguilt. 
Anyone with a FaceBook or eBay account may already have guessed the definition of screensucking, which means wasting time engaged with any screen e.g. computer, video game, television, Blackberry, iPhone, etc. Example: “I was supposed to write that report, but instead I spent the whole afternoon screensucking.”

A Doomdart is an obligation you have forgotten about that suddenly pops into your consciousness like a poisoned dart.  Example: You’re cheerfully driving along in your car, happily making dinner or reading a book when out of nowhere a forgotten obligation – your wife’s birthday present? The review you promised your colleague of his proposal? — pierces your consciousness and spreads its toxins throughout your being so that within minutes you are anxious and distracted.

Gigaguilt is a function of computer technology and its gigabytes of memory, which have directly and indirectly so extended the number of items a person must keep track of (finite, large number), not to mention can expect himself to keep track of (huge, practically infinite number) that the likelihood of missing something has sky-rocketed. It is a 100% likelihood for most of us these days. This brings with it guilt, lots of guilt, guilt in the morning, guilt in the evening, guilt all day long.

Gigaguilt refers to the guilt we feel over missing something or disappointing someone, even while knowing that keeping track of everything is impossible and having enough time to please everyone is equally impossible. 
Great terms, aren’t they?! And these are only a representative sample of Dr. Hallowell’s contribution to our lexicon.
Oh, before I wrap up this month….Yes, I’m still doing my best to incorporate the Daily Basics and the 7 steps. You might assume this means I’m finishing up a second 31 day cycle and have the program down pat. NOT! In April, I fell off the wagon somewhat. In May, I’ll start a second 31 day cycle (remember that spiral path?) with the encouragement of my wonderful accountability partner in the program.  It’s no secret that changing our behavior takes time, effort, and often infinite patience with our very human nature. An accountability partner makes it much easier.
If you’re interested in walking this path, please let me know. I’m actively entertaining the idea of hosting a “CrazyBusy Unload Overload” MeetUp group here in the Northside.  In the meantime, think of someone you can share this column with and ask to be your accountability partner in working on the Daily Plan Basics.
Imagine the difference it would make to overall quality of life within your professional or social circle if even a few of you started practicing the 7 steps of the Daily Basic Plan! Even as I go about it in fits and starts, it’s already made a positive difference in mine! 
Cheryl A. Lowitzer serves on the board of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO, Pittsburgh chapter). She is a certified Paper Tiger Authorized Consultant™ (PTAC™) personally trained and mentored by Barbara Hemphill and the Paper Tiger Productivity Institute.  For help finding and working in your Productivity Zone, contact Ms. Lowitzer at 412.231.2127 or via email:
Why not conduct your own productive environment experiment?  Choose one or more of the following ideas and see what happens if you take the 21 Day Challenge to adopt a daily or weekly workplace maintenance routine :
a.    Desktop: Loose papers on your desk: before you begin your day and end it, decide to DECIDE and remember, there are ONLY three decisions TO make: FILE, ACT (and that may simply mean you place something in a date or project specific folder/tickler file) or TOSS any loose papers sitting on your desk?

b.    Calendar:  Scan and plan the day/week ahead for upcoming appointments and consider what you can (are willing to) do to avoid feeling rushed or unprepared going into them?

c.    Identify your TOP 3 priorities EVERY DAY:  write down on an index card the 3 things that will make a meaningful, positive difference that day; keep this card in front of you so you can refer back to it after any interruptions and quickly get back on track.

d.    Empty the OUT box: what can you transport/deliver/ drop off or mail to the location that is more appropriate for it than your workspace?

e.    Deal with your TO FILE box: if you thought it was important enough to keep, it’s important enough to file so you can easily find it when you do need it again. When there are only 1-6 items in it, just FILE them. If it’s overflowing, either schedule time on your calendar to file yourself, or DELEGATE this task.  In fact, if you’re using a file indexing system, you’ll soon discover the freedom of being able to delegate filing to any 10 year old interested in earning a bit of pocket money!!

Ever wonder why those top level athletes we adore seem able to train for their events day in/day out under any conditions?  For no other reason than they happen to have a much clearer idea than most of us of their desired results and have been trained to use the power of VISION to help them reach their goals. Do you have a vivid image of what success will look, feel, smell, sound and even taste like (perhaps the Champagne you’ll uncork on that special anniversary?) to motivate you to maintain your systems?  

In closing this series, I’m willing to bet that if you approach income tax season with confidence, it’s because you apply the formula that’s been our topic in the past 3 issues.  You use a METHOD you like + TOOLS that work for you + you MAINTAIN your system consistently.  Your RESULT is a relatively painless experience of filing your taxes.  If that’s not your experience, there’s no better time to put the formula in place than right NOW for next year!!  

–Cheryl A. Lowitzer serves on the board of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO, Pittsburgh chapter). She is a certified Paper Tiger Authorized Consultant™ (PTAC™) personally trained and mentored by Barbara Hemphill and the Paper Tiger Productivity Institute.  For help finding and working in your Productivity Zone, contact Ms. Lowitzer at 412.231.2127 or via email:

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