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Because "NOT Doing" is Harder than "Doing"

We've reached the inevitable point in the semester where something always needs to be graded, from here on out, forever and ever and ever, amen.  (Or at least until I submit final grades, which feels like a terribly distant goal, even though it'll actually come to pass in slightly under four weeks.)

Yes, it's crunch time.  Each day I cross off items from my to-do list, but then immediately add others onto the same list, like some law of conservation where tasks are neither created not destroyed, just shifted into another form.  I can't entirely discern if I'm riding this wave of work or getting rolled by it.  I only know to keep swimming.

(Periodically, I even mutter to myself, Dory-style, "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming." My forgetfulness is also heightened, but I think the similarities end there.)

The other day I tapped into a practice that I used to do, circa 1996-2000 during my undergraduate years.  I headed to the library (not my office, not my desk at home, not my kitchen table), found an empty cubicle, and set up camp where I told myself, "Self, you will not leave this cubicle until these three tasks are finished."

And it worked.  One by one, I finished grading a series of technical presentations.  One by one, I read a week's worth of student blog entries.  One by one, I responded to emails.  For four hours there were no distractions, no interruptions, no outside demands from students dropping by or my own children vying for my attention.  Nobody knew where I was, in fact. 

There was only quiet.  It was simply me in my isolated cubicle, swimming along in a current of anonymous productivity.

It's not that working for four hours is all that impressive or unique; it's having four entirely uninterrupted hours.  (Perhaps that's sad commentary on our fragmented days where too much clamors for attention, even nonessential drivel, all the time.) 

It also made me realize that doing the work is rarely as hard as having it hang over my head. 

If it takes a cubicle to make this happen, then bring on the cubicle.

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Surprisingly Beautiful, Surprisingly Wonderful

I know that it occasionally snows in April, but there's a difference between cognitively understanding this and actually expecting it to occur.  But it did occur, as if nature played a last-ditch April Fools joke on us overnight, then softly chuckled and channeled its inner Mr. T ("Pity the fools!") while we shoveled our driveways and brushed off our cars this morning.

I've tolerated winter for the past several months, but now I've moved past winterish practices, both mentally and physically.  I vehemently object to them, in fact, but despite my internal protest the snow still fell last night.

And this morning it was surprisingly beautiful.

Yes, as I walked across campus to reach my first class of the day, sidestepping clumps of snow as they dropped from the treetops onto the sidewalks below, I couldn't get over how stunning it was.  I mean, it was the perfect snowfall.  Every branch was coated.  It was magical and whimsical, like Narnia. 

And it was fleeting.  By the time I left campus, the trees had shed their magical covering and the snow melted in rivulets across parking lots and sidewalks.  (Clearly, the next stop on this train lurching toward spring will be mud season.)

When I arrived home, I found that my kitchen had been occupied by my daughters and several of their friends.  With the whole day off from school for parent-teacher conferences, they already had gone sledding and shed their snowsuits, boots, and gloves at our front door.  Now they were immersed in the next activity of the day: hosting a Chopped cooking championship at our kitchen island.  (I entered during the appetizer round.)

It was a hot mess involving Tabasco sauce, lemon juice, sandwich rolls, roasted red peppers, and a host of other assorted ingredients (leftover hard boiled eggs! Nilla Wafers! Garlic! Parmesan cheese!), but the scene was surprisingly wonderful, too.  I sat in the adjacent room to work at the computer, overhearing the "host" interview the "contestants" and count down the timer: "One minute!  You have one minute!  It's time to start plating!"  One chef chided the others, "Clean your stations as you go!"

This day surprised me.  I hadn't expected or wanted snow, but it came and it was beautiful.  I hadn't expected seven kids to raid my refrigerator and host a mock cooking show at my kitchen island, but they did and it was delightfully creative.

It's good to look for what's surprisingly beautiful, surprisingly wonderful.

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Your closet is no match for these three spring cleaning tips.

I once read a piece of advice that stuck with me: If you're indecisive about something (say, the purchase of a new shirt), rank it on a scale of 1-10.  If it's ranked at 8, 9, or 10, then consider the purchase further. If it registers as 7 or below, though, then automatically treat it as if it were a 1.  Don't internally deliberate or waffle.  If it isn't at least an 8, then it fundamentally doesn't make the cut.

I love the clarity of this practice.  It frees you from that painfully nebulous kinda, sorta, I'm-not-really-sure decision-making range that's fraught with second-guessing, unnecessary mental space, or even buyer's remorse.  If you don't love the shirt, don't buy the shirt.  Simple as pie.  (And for me, pie is almost always at least an 8, especially if it's cherry, so yes, please to a slice of pie.)

This advice can be applied to a multitude of contexts, both large and small, like what paint color to choose or which applicant to hire or recommend.  This past weekend, I applied the principle to my closets.

Oh, yes, friends, it's spring cleaning time!  (Central Pennsylvania currently has no outdoor indicators that spring will ever be springing, so cleaner closets will have to suffice as a seasonal marker.)  I've always found that the process of weeding out clutter, reinstating order, and making space to be therapeutic.  Everything feels lighter.  I get verklempt just thinking about it, but then again, I'm slightly weird when it comes to organization.

Here are three spring cleaning tips I regularly apply that make the process efficient:

1) The 8-9-10 practice can be used on items that you already own.  When I rank the clothes already in my closet, it expedites the process of deciding whether an item should stay or go.  Plus, it clues me into whether I've become blind to items simply because they're so familiar.  I loved these pants a long time ago, but if I were encountering them for the first time right now, would they still be an 8, 9, or 10? 

If yes, there's a strong case for keeping them.  If they've dropped to 7 or below, they don't make the spring cleaning cut.  It's so simple, yet it removes a surprising amount of ambiguity.

2) Quality items pass the test of time.  As an avid garage-saler and thrifter, I'm always on the hunt for a good deal, but "good deals" are only actually good if the product lasts.  On more than one occasion I've bought a cheap piece of clothing that I've had to toss because the fabric quickly pilled, or the zipper stuck, or the shape lost its shapeliness.  In other words, there's something to be said for investing in quality pieces from which you'll get ample mileage.

This has proven true with a recent opportunity I was given.  Tommy John, a high-quality men's clothing and undergarment company, contacted me and asked if my husband would like to sample one of their Go Anywhere products in exchange for an honest review.  Of course!  While their line is more expensive than we'd normally invest, the quality of the product -- in this case, a pair of their Go Anywhere Lounge Jogger pants -- speaks for itself.  They're remarkably soft, they drape well, and my husband reports that they're extremely comfortable.

For the sake of full disclosure, I should note that these are not my husband's legs, although he insists that his legs could be substituted for any male model's.  He also added that Tommy John's Go Anywhere Lounge Joggers definitely meet the 8, 9, or 10 criteria, so we have no doubt that they'll remain in our closet -- and in his rotation of regular use -- for years to come.

Quality pays off.

3) Don't let bad logic stop you from letting go of items that you no longer use.  I own things that I don't use regularly, but for some reason, I'm hesitant to part with them.  When I ferret out my rationalization, it's pretty illogical.  Even though I'm not using a pair of boots, for example, I assume that they're still useful (and therefore, still valuable) while forgetting that they're a sunk cost.

I mean, I've already bought the boots.  They've already been paid for.  I just illogically assume that I'd be losing money by getting rid of them, but the truth is that the money already has been spent.  Holding onto a pair of boots that I don't wear isn't saving me any money; it's just taking up space.

So, if the items in your closet aren't being used and enjoyed, let go of the faulty logic and accept that they're sunk costs.  Even better, whenever possible, give them a new life by donating or selling them, no guilt attached.

Spring still feels a long way off, but at least my closet is lighter and brighter than it was before.  Plus, as I continue to apply the 8-9-10 rule with future purchases, I'm more likely to keep it in good order.

Do you have any useful spring cleaning or organizational tips?  Have you ever used the 8-9-10 rule? Drop me a comment below to let me know!

(And, on behalf of my husband, thanks to Tommy John for the opportunity to review the Go Anywhere Lounge Joggers.  If you're ever looking for a male leg model, you know where to turn.)

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