Study Shows We Are Overworked and Overwhelmed

Study Shows We Are Overworked and Overwhelmed

Any small businessperson who currently swims in the swirling mass of a high-pressure workplace doesn’t need another study to tell him or her that they have reached their limit. However, just in case your overflowing email inbox and chaotic to-do list weren’t proof enough, according to a national study released earlier this month by the nonprofit Families and Work Institute, one in three American employees are chronically overworked.

“Ironically, the very same skills that are essential to survival and success in this fast-paced global economy, such as multitasking, have also become the triggers for feeling overworked,” reports Ellen Galinsky, president of Families and Work Institute and a lead author of the study. “Being interrupted frequently during work time and working during non-work times, such as while on vacation, are also contributing factors for feeling overworked.” Key findings of the study included:

Fifty-four percent of American employees have felt overwhelmed at some time in the past month by how much work they had to complete.

Twenty-nine percent of employees spend a lot of time doing work that they consider a waste of time. These employees are more likely to be overworked.

Only 8 percent of employees who are not overworked experience symptoms of clinical depression compared with 21 percent of those who are highly overworked.

In addition, as we round the corner into summer, the study also found that 36 percent of employees had not taken and were not planning to take their full vacation days. Ironically, however, of the employees who did take one to three days off, 68 percent returned to work feeling relaxed, and 85 percent who took seven or more days away report that they returned more refreshed.

As for the source of these warrior work habits, the study highlighted several key factors including:

Lack of Focus. Fifty-six percent of employees say they often or very often experience having to work on too many tasks at one time and/or experience interruption during the workday, making it difficult to get their work done. Sixty percent of employees who very often have to work on too many tasks at the same time feel highly overworked, compared with only 22 percent who sometimes experience excessive multitasking.

Job Pressure. Eighty-nine percent of employees agree somewhat or strongly that they never seem to have enough time to get everything done on the job, and those who experience greater pressure feel much more overworked. Fifty-four percent of employees who feel highly pressured on the job are highly overworked versus only 4 percent of those who experience low levels of job pressure and 18 percent who experience mid levels of pressure.

Low-Value Work. Twenty-nine percent of employees strongly or somewhat agree that they spend a lot of time doing things that are a waste of time. More importantly, 51 percent who feel they have to do a lot of low-value work are highly overworked versus 25 percent who don’t feel this way.

Accessibility 24/7. The electronic leash of cell phones, computers, texting and email has blurred the lines between when we work and when we don’t. The study showed that the respondents who were in contact with work once a week or more outside of normal working hours more often reported being highly overworked (44 percent) than those who had little or no such contact (26 percent).

Wait a minute; wasn’t technology supposed to be the panacea that would automate our most mundane tasks and bring us the leisure time needed to improve the quality of our relationships with friends and family? Apparently not.

While there are no simple solutions to how a small business owner can keep his or her staff and self on the sane side of productivity, there are some standard practices to consider implementing, including:

• Offer more flexible work hours so staff can customize their schedules to meet their personal needs to a greater degree.

• Experiment with telecommuting to allow more work to be conducted from home, lessening travel time.

• Do a quality workflow audit of your business to determine where wasted efforts and rework exist.

• Create a no-cell phone/text/email policy in meetings. The meetings will go faster and be more productive.

• Train all staff in the skills of time literacy, including how to manage interruptions, overcome procrastination and use focused time planning to get maximum work done, in minimal time.

Oh, and for heaven’s sake, please take a vacation this summer — your small business will thank you.

What are your biggest overwhelm and overwork challenges? We would love to hear your comments.

Two Work-From-Home Danger Zones And How To Beat Them Back

Two Work-From-Home Danger Zones And How To Beat Them Back

True confessions. A few days a week, I go to work in my pajamas. Being a member of the estimated 30 million U.S. workers who ply their trade from home at least once a week, I’m just not required to don my business casual clothing on a daily basis.

However, lately I’ve begun to consider that, despite the obvious comfort and convenience of flannel, my robe as business-wear might not be the best for my productivity.

Pondering my pj situation got me wondering about what other non-productive work-from-home habits other small business owners might be struggling with.

To find out, I queried and got responses from over 150 small business proprietors, including CPAs, consultants, Web workers, marketing experts, writers, artists and others. While there were dozens of issues brought up, there were a few that stood out. Here are the two most common work-from-home danger zones and some best practices for beating them back.

#1 Danger Zone: Getting distracted by personal items during work time.
Stopping cold in the middle of writing a critical client proposal to meet with the plumber; cleaning out the kitchen cabinets instead of making marketing calls; surfing the net for the newest smartphone apps rather than following up with potential clients. The natural distractions of personal items are all around us when we work at home. While it may not be possible to ignore every home issue that arises, setting clear boundaries around work time is essential to being productive.

Best Practice: Time blocking. The night before, or first thing in the morning, sit down and do an estimated time plan for the day. The time plan should include times to work on key projects and deliverables as well as client work, marketing and social media. If there are personal errands or tasks that need to be done that day, don’t do them spontaneously. Instead, set aside a defined time window during the day to get them done. By creating a time plan, you’re more likely to follow it and avoid getting taken off course by an unexpected interruption.

“I set some major time goals for how I want to divide up my workday,” says Shel Horowitz, author of Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green. Horowitz says he tries to spend set amounts of time each day on billable client hours, writing, email, social media, exercise and office and personal tasks. “Tracking my time has forced me to be much more conscious of what I do all day. I’ve had to look at the reality that email was swallowing three to four hours a day. Since, I’ve unsubscribed from about 60 newsletters.”

#2 Danger Zone: Rolling out of bed and going straight into the office. I realized that I, like many of my self-employed brethren, had slipped into the bad habit of waking up and going straight onto email, then stopping at some point and eating breakfast, then maybe exercising — maybe not. Almost all the respondents pointed out that having an inconsistent morning routine and, yes, going to work in pj’s, was ultimately bad for their small business.

Best Practice: Institute a morning routine that includes putting on pants or any piece of clothing you haven’t slept in.
More than 90 percent of the small business owners I surveyed for this post mentioned that putting on real clothes was important to feeling their most productive when working from home.

“The biggest problem with wearing pajamas while working from home is a psychological one,” says Andrew Schrage, editor at Money Crashers. “Most people associate pajamas with relaxing, watching TV, and sleep. Thus, pajamas can act as a never-ending temptation to stop working and just relax, which is one of the biggest challenges of working from home.”

Schrage says that on the flip side, wearing real clothes puts you in more of an active, working mindset for getting things done.

The other factor mentioned by almost every small business owner who responded was the importance of establishing a consistent morning routine.

“The flexibility of working from home can sometimes alter your sense of urgency to get up and going by 9 a.m.,” says Jaclyn Mullen. “But the more organized and structured you start off, the more likely you are to complete your projects on time and without errors.”

Try creating a regular routine that includes the time you will get up, the time you will be at your desk and what you plan to do in between (eat breakfast, exercise, shower) and follow it for a week. Make adjustments as needed, but commit yourself to a path of morning rituals that will set you up for the most productive day possible.

What are your work-from-home danger zones? We would love to hear your comments.

Email Headlines With Emotional Value

Email Headlines With Emotional Value

Anyone who has ever sweated over the phrasing of an email subject line has probably longed for a magical marketing solution that would tell them which combination of words would shoot their open rate through the roof.  Well the wait is over.

The Advanced Marketing Institute offers a no-cost Headline Analyzer that calculates the Emotional Marketing Value (EMV) of a headline. The program uses special algorithms to quickly compare the words of an email headline with the words from the EMV Impact list. According to the company, the list measures words in three specific categories:

Intellectual Words effective at offering products and services that require reasoning or careful evaluation,

Empathetic Words, which bring out strong positive emotional reactions in people,

Spiritual Words, which have the strongest potential to influence people at a deep emotional level.  

“As you know, reaching your customers in a deep and emotional way is a key to successful copywriting, and your headline is unquestionably the most important piece of copy you use to reach prospects,” say the fine folks at AMI.  

Using the Headline Analyzer is straightforward and simple. Just enter up to a 20-word headline onto the form on their site; select a category from the dropdown menu, such as Arts & Entertainment, Business & Professional Services, Food & Dining and more; and then click “submit” for analysis.  

Zip, bang, boom — you are instantly rewarded with a score from 0-100 that tells you how emotionally impactful your headline is. According to the company, professional headlines contain 30 and 40 percent EMV Words, and the best of class headlines have 50 to 75 percent EMV words.  One hint: If you can keep your headline to five words or fewer, your chance of scoring higher is increased.
 
If you come out below the magical number, you can then try again with other words until you get the score you’re looking for. For specifics on how to improve your EMV rating, the company offers a sign-up for a newsletter with tips and techniques.  

No plug-and-play analyzer is foolproof, nor is it the be-all, end-all of the topic, but the EMV tool is a good place to start, and worth the few moments it takes to see if your headline has at least a touch of the marketing magic you’re looking for.

Want more information like the one in this post? Sign up for my free monthly newsletter and get a copy of my new e-Book: 4 Principles and 21 Practices Of The New Marketing Mindset To Grow Your Brand And Business

Karen Leland is a best-selling author, marketing and branding consultant and president of Sterling Marketing Group where she helps businesses implement modern marketing, hone their business and personal brands, and create winning content. For questions or comments, please contact her at karen@sterlingmarketinggroup.com.

Could Your Small Business Benefit From a Strategic Off-Site This Summer?

Could Your Small Business Benefit From a Strategic Off-Site This Summer?

It’s summer! Flowers are in bloom, cropped pants are being taken off their dusty shelves and small business owners, grumpy from the cold winter months, are looking forward to the future.

What better time to take your staff away for a day or two of deep discussion, meaningful deliberation and donuts? While strategic off-sites and planning sessions are often considered the purview of Fortune 500 companies, small businesses can benefit tremendously from a focused foray out of the office.

If you and your team could use some concentrated time to sort out a strategy, solve a big problem or step back and innovate, a summertime off-site may be just what the doctor ordered. Getting away from the office, and the usual interruptions, can revive your enthusiasm for a business or project and rev up your focus. The trick is to make the most of your time away.

Spend at least one day away: If possible, make it two. Even though you save money by eliminating overnight accommodations with just a day’s outing, you miss out on the opportunity to socialize and informally discuss work-related issues in the evening. Greater group bonding also seems to occur over a two-day period.

Go easy on the PowerPoint: While certain data is no doubt important to communicate, back-to-back PowerPoint presentations and endless ramblings in a half-lighted room invite drowsiness. Instead create an agenda that incorporates group exercises, discussion, role-play, hands-on working sessions, demonstrations and interesting outside speakers. Whenever I conduct strategic off-sites with a client, I use the “once an hour” rule. Once an hour, I make sure and include an activity that requires participation by every person at the off-site. This might mean paired or group sharing, role-play or another interactive exercise. It keeps everyone involved and prevents a few stronger players from dominating the entire day.

Leave some breathing room: A tightly packed schedule with no downtime leads to information overload and off-site burnout. Don’t jam each day so chock full of activities that attendees never get a chance to catch their breath and reflect on what’s being discussed. Keep in mind that much of the value of the retreat will happen in side discussions outside the room. By allowing for these conversational spaces, your off-site will be even richer in results.

Build in flexibility: Don’t be so tied to an agenda or timeline that a hot, heavy and important discussion gets shelved so that you can stay on schedule. The point of the retreat is to draw people in and get them to think, act and participate in new ways.

Play: While you want your off-site to be productive, you don’t want it to be a grind. Setting up activities for play is an important part of the package. Ideas include: a golf outing, dinner at a popular restaurant, a visit to a museum, theater tickets and the spa.

Sidebar: Off-Site Checklist

Here are a few things to consider to make your off-site a success before you even arrive:

  • What is the purpose/theme of the off-site?
  • Given the purpose, who should be invited?
  • Who will select the site, make the arrangements and coordinate with the site management?
  • What kind of “welcome” packet do you want the attendees to receive on arrival?
  • Do you need audiovisual equipment? If so, who will be responsible for this?
  • Who is your contact person at the site? Is this the person that any deliveries should be addressed to?
  • Will you have any presentations during lunch or dinner? If so, is the catering department aware of your plans?
  • Do you want organized entertainment in the evenings? What will it be, and who will organize it?
  • What time is staff expected to arrive? Do they need driving directions? Is a meal being served upon arrival? Are you offering vegetarian food to those who need it?
  • Once at the site, who will be responsible for overseeing arrivals, room allocation and registration?
  • How do you want to begin and end the off-site?
Bust Your Bad Small Business Eating Habits

Bust Your Bad Small Business Eating Habits

Are you the type who walks by a Dunkin’ Donuts shop without so much as a sideways glance — but find yourself in the Monday morning meeting intensely reaching for a sugar-glazed cruller (pastry)?

Most of the small business owners I know are so busy running the shop, selling the goods and servicing the customers, that when it comes to eating on the job, their intestinal fortitude flies out the window. With the number of business functions certain to increase over the coming months, here’s a few tips on how to bust bad eating habits typical of small business owners.

#1: Morning meeting carbo load – Despite your best intentions, you give in and indulge when it comes to eating something doughy and sweet at the morning meeting.

Habit buster: Dr. Audrey Cross from the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, advises that one way to ward off this temptation is to eat a balanced breakfast.

“A large percentage of Americans skip breakfast and instead have a cup of coffee with some milk and sugar,” says Dr. Cross. “This is not enough calories to maintain mental function in the morning.” She cites a number of studies that indicate that people who eat breakfast perform better in tasks that relate to mathematical computations, memory and logic. “A good breakfast consists of protein and a little bit of fat,” says Dr. Cross, “for example, egg whites with breakfast meat or low-fat cereal with skim milk and fruit.” She explains that the combination of protein and fat leads to longer levels of sustained energy, which helps fight the urge to grab a high-sugar item.

#2: Mid-afternoon munching mania – It’s 2:00 p.m. and you have been too busy to stop for lunch. Now you are so hungry you can’t focus. Your solution is to grab the first thing you can find – a candy bar from the vending machine or a leftover piece of birthday cake in the lunch room.

Habit buster: Tom Weede, author of The Entrepreneur Diet (Entrepreneur Press), explains that when workers put off lunch (or skip it altogether) their blood sugar levels become unstabilized, affecting their energy and ability to focus.

“Turning to candy and other simple sugar solutions for a quick fix sets you up for an unproductive cycle of rising and falling blood sugar levels,” says Weede. Instead, he suggests not relying on what’s available at work but rather keeping a supply of your own snacks. Some of his top recommendations include apples and almonds, string cheese and fruit and peanut butter with crackers.

#3: Late-night dining indulgences – It’s 8:30 p.m. and you’re meeting a client for dinner. You know that eating a heavy meal with a few glasses of wine this late at night is not the best thing. But it’s been a long day and you deserve a nice dinner on the company dollar.

Habit buster: Dr. Cross suggests that selecting lighter foods such as fish or chicken without a heavy sauce is the best option.

“Many business people think that if they eat a heavy meal (pot roast with mashed potatoes and gravy, for example) this will help them to fall asleep,” says Dr. Cross. “This is true, but they are also more likely to wake up at night with indigestion and then have trouble getting back to sleep – which effects their performance at work the next day.”

Weede points out that it’s not just the content of these late-night dinners that presents a problem, but the size as well. “Restaurant plates today are 1.5 times the size they used to be,” says Weede. To avoid overeating he suggests splitting a meal with an associate, asking the kitchen to cut the meal in half, ordering the lunch portion or just choosing a few appetizers instead of a main course.

As for alcohol, both Dr. Cross and Weede agree that the best bet is not to drink any alcohol within two to three hours of going to sleep.

If you have any tips on how to eat healthily when running a small business, we’d love to hear them.

This post was originally published at Karen Leland’s Featured Small Business column on The Huffington Post.

Take Note Of The New Note Taking Technology

Take Note Of The New Note Taking Technology

I am, by all accounts, a rabid note taker.

I scribble barely legible scrawls on scraps of paper at Starbucks while meeting with potential clients over a decaf latte. I pound away on my iPad during conferences to capture the words of wisdom being spouted from the front of the room, and I keep extensive handwritten and online lists on everything from business development to-do’s to actions I need my assistant to execute.

However, all this list making and note taking can take its toll. At one point, I had so many notes in so many different places that finding what I needed was like locating a needle in a haystack. I knew I needed help; I just wasn’t sure where to get it.

A recent report by Forrester Research on the note-taking habits of American information workers (employed adults who use a computer for work) concluded that while 87 percent of workers make use of handwritten notes, 75 percent see value in the ability to computerize, index and search handwritten notes and associated audio.

The survey also found that 38 percent of workers use handwritten notes to organize their priorities through to-do lists and 67 percent of workers felt that better note taking would improve both their personal job performance and decision making within their organizations.

My thoughts exactly.

So it was with traditional pen in hand and hope in my heart that I set out to find a few tools I could easily (and quickly) integrate into my data-filled day to transform my note taking from chaotic to composed. Here’s what I found:

Evernote: This is the cloud software solution that has as its tagline “Remember Everything,” and using Evernote, I do. The system, which functions as a digital file cabinet, allows you to capture in one easy-to-search digital storage location all the notes you create for any topic, client, project, idea, etc.

It also enables you to add snapshots of Web pages, link a URL to a particular note and attach audio files and photos. It’s set up to constantly synchronize across all platforms, so it’s accessible wherever you go. If all the above is not enough to make you click on the live link, consider this — it’s free.

The Livescribe Pen:
I had just finished giving my speech on social media marketing to a group of 100 authors at the American Society of Journalists and Authors (http://www.asja.org/) Conference in New York when I spotted a colleague at the back of the room.

I made a beeline to talk to her and, while we were chatting, noticed she was holding an intriguing pen-like object in her hand. When I inquired about this high-tech device, she told me it was an Echo Smartpen by Livescribe.

The pen, which has a built-in microphone, can capture meetings and lectures and then, via a USB connector, transfer both the audio and corresponding written notes (penned on special paper provided by the company) to your computer.

On the spot, I sent myself an email to look into buying one. As serendipity would have it, I was invited to attend a press conference two weeks later revealing the results of Forrester’s note-taking survey hosted by the study’s sponsor, none other than Livescribe. I asked for and received a pen to take home and test and was hooked from the first demo.

Today I never go to a meeting, interview, conference or seminar without it, and my ability to focus on what is being said, rather than worry about getting every detail nailed down, has been vastly enhanced. Cost: $99.95

Zenbe Lists: Billing itself as “simple, shared task lists,” this app was built so that you could easily share your grocery list with your spouse or collaborate with a co-worker on a project. But what I like best about Zenbe Lists is its simplicity.

I’ve used other similar to-do programs in the past and always found them too cumbersome or complicated. When it comes to list management, I am a firm believer in the K.I.S.S. method. This app automatically synchs across all platforms and has the basic key features I need such as due dates, priority and custom sorting. Cost: $5.00

Today, with these three technology solutions, instead of emailing myself a to-do or scribbling my brainstorm on a Starbucks napkin, I can note what I want to note in simple 2.0 style.

Take our quick poll: What is your biggest social media pain?

What’s your biggest note-taking challenge? I’d would love to hear your comments.

This post was originally published at Karen Leland’s Featured Small Business column on The Huffington Post.

Three Steps To Declutter Your Computer

Three Steps To Declutter Your Computer

This past Sunday was both Easter and the Masters golf tournament. We had no Easter plans, and I’m not a golfer, so while my husband whooped and hollered at Bubba Watson’s superstar shot, I spent a good four-hour period decluttering my computer.

OK. At this point, I know you’re thinking what a sad little life I have, but seriously, I couldn’t take it anymore. My computer had become the junk drawer of my electronic life. Files were stacked ten to a one-room apartment, e-mails were gathering mold in dark corners and bookmarks were living in squalor. So much so that finding things on my desktop and hard drive had begun taking up significant amounts of time.

Somewhere along the path of my usually organized online life, entropy had seeped in, and my electronic desktop became a dumping ground. But, why is it so important to clean out our computers? Really, for the same reason we clean out our desks. It makes it easier to find what we are looking for.

One study by Account Temps published in the Wall Street Journal estimated that office workers spend an average of six weeks per year looking for things. If you combine this with the fact 70 percent of U.S. households have a computer, it’s not hard to see that one of the places we are looking for documents, information etc. is our computers.

Below is a simple three-step process you can follow to do a basic declutter of your computer and begin the process of simplifying your electronic life.

Step One: Set up a logical filing system.

• Try to mirror your paper filing system on your computer. The more your main folders resemble the names and categories you use to file paper, the easier it will be for you to both find and file various documents.

• Create a “working file” or “pending” folder, which lives on your desktop and can hold anything you are currently working on and need to access quickly and easily. While much of your computer may be used for the archiving of information, the “working file” folder can hold the most relevant information and projects.    

Step Two: Organize your bookmarks.

Just as you may have random files floating around your hard drive, you more than likely have a ton of bookmarks that are not organized in any particular way.

Go under “bookmarks” and choose the “organize” feature. This will allow you to make folders with logical names that you can group and move your various bookmarks into. For example: the next time you want to find this article on The Huffington Post, rather than having to search through a long list of bookmarks, you will be able to easily and quickly find it under the folder you have created marked “Articles.”

Step Three: Clean up your hard drive.

Because computer capability has increased so much over the past few years, storage on most computers is not a big issue. The downside of all this increased space is that a lot of people have a bad habit of using their computer as a storage unit, or even a dumping ground, for holding all kinds of information, whether it is still relevant or not. A few ways to clean up your computer include:

•Deleting any old working drafts of documents that are no longer needed or have been replaced by more updated versions.

•Deleting files that you created but never did anything with or have no documents in.

•Eliminating files that have different names but contain the same duplicate materials.   

•Dumping files that are so old that the information in them is outdated and never used.

One caution: If you need to keep any files for a legal reason, either:

•Print them out on paper and keep a hard copy.

•Create a special folder on the computer for “legal.”

•Transfer them to a backup disk.  

OK, now that you have a plan to follow, set aside 15 minutes each day this coming week (first thing in the morning works well) to work on decluttering your computer. Please leave me a comment at the bottom of this article to let me know how it’s going.

This post was originally published at Karen Leland’s Featured Small Business column on The Huffington Post.

Are You On A Bridge To Somewhere?

Are You On A Bridge To Somewhere?

In 2009, my hubby and I downsized from a 3000 square foot house to a 1600 square foot townhouse.

When we made the move, dishes were carefully wrapped, boxes were packed and stacked, and big burly men with arms the size of hanging hams came and transported the stuff of our life to a new location.

Once moved in and I still had things that I didn’t have room for (or need) in our new digs. Every day, I managed to fill at least three huge green garbage bags and two boxes for goodwill.

Not to mention that I think I have handedly paid for at least one industrious plastic worker’s kid to go to college — owing to all the plastic storage bins, organizational trays and snap shut boxes I had purchased to store and organize my remaining belongings.

I was in awe at the industriousness that the plastic mavens have applied to creating clever ways to store, organize, manage and track stuff. I had made six trips to The Container Store, two trips to Bed, Bath and Beyond and three trips to the Ace Hardware.

In the middle of the big move we went to dinner with some good friends. We wanted to share about the transition we were going through and tell our tales. It turned out to be the perfect antidote to the chaos of the moment.

Over the course of the evening the four of us talked about the process of letting go of the old stuff and what if’s in our lives and embracing being on the bridge in between the old life we just left and the new one we were in the process of creating.

“But the bridge is such a scary, uncertain, out of control place,” I said.

“It is,” said my friend. “But it’s also an opportunity to let what’s next evolve on its own. To have the fun of letting things organically take shape. Setting goals is great, but there is something to be said for trusting the process,” he said.

As I listened, I could see that while I was on the bridge (and I will probably be there for a while), it was not a bridge to nowhere, but a bridge to somewhere — somewhere fun and exciting and challenging and scary. One thing for certain: it’s going to be the best organized bridge anyone’s every seen.

This post was originally published at Karen Leland’s Featured Small Business column on The Huffington Post.

When Downsizing Is Rightsizing

When Downsizing Is Rightsizing

During the process, I sold off 10 pieces of furniture; donated over 200 books, assorted dishware and clothing for Goodwill; thrown out a small dumpsters worth of garbage and cut my candle collection in half. All of that and I still had many days worth of sorting and clutter clearing to go before the big daywhen we moved.

My husband and I were facing a downsizing. We sold the house we’d owned for the past 12 years and were moving to a rental. Were we forced to sell our house in a fit of foreclosure? No. But like many of our fellow citizens we were swept up in the irrational enthusiasm of leveraged real estate investments and a mortgage that looked liked it was too good to be true – and it was.

And while I now see that downsizing as a necessary step and nested opportunity – it had not been easy. Facing our fiscal choices and just confronting the amount of stuff (from houses to housewares) that we had bought, collected, been gifted, picked up at conferences, purchased at other people’s garage sales and one way or another acquired, had been painful at best and gut wrenching at worst.

Twenty years ago I took a financial course where the instructor said the goal was sufficiency. I’ve often thought of this as the three bears method of money and stuff – not too much, not too little, but just enough to have a sense of freedom and things working well. I’ve never forgotten that concept. I only wish I’d made a little bit more of an effort to live by it over the past 10 years.

Even so, I can’t help but feel grateful. I know many people who have lost much more. This move and the subsequent shedding of much of the stuff that has been hanging around my life sucking up time, energy and money is my opportunity to declare a sufficiency ‘do over’ and begin righsizing. It’s a chance to retool my goals and priorities and spend more of my life on the things that matter most to me.

If you’re tempted to judge me too harshly as a disgraceful example of over-consumerism, I challenge you to open a few closets and drawers in your own home (or worse take a good hard look into the belly of the beast known as your garage) and tell me what you find. More than likely there will be an abundance of things you thought you wanted and needed but didn’t.

The pressure to buy now, pay later; stay on top of the latest trends and own what’s being touted as the next tony thing, is a strong one in our culture. It’s a problem facing our nation as a whole, not just a group of catalog crazy, sale enticed individuals. It’s a battle that takes constant personal vigilance to fight. One – if we stay on top of it – we can often win, and are bound by circumstances to occasionally lose.

Oh and just in case that trip to the garage inspired you to do a little rightsizing of your own stuff, here’s the method I used from my book Time Management In An Instant: 60 Ways to Make The Most of Your Day.

Do a ‘T’ scan

Moving in a logical direction (right to left, top to bottom, front to back) Scan the stuff in front of you and as you come across each item, assign it a category and act accordingly.

Trash – This is an item that no longer works, you no longer need or you no longer like. It has outlived its usefulness and is ready to make the journey from your office to the wastebasket. Action: Throw this out now! If the item is still in good working shape put it in a box to be given to charity.

Treasure – This is an item you need, you like and/or you use. It belongs exactly where it is. Action: Don’t do a thing. Leave it as it and be glad you found it.

Hot Hint: If the item is one you want, but just needs to be repaired ask yourself if its worth the time and effort to fix this item or would it be better to replace it? If the answer is repair it, schedule a specific time to take care of it within the next week.

Transfer – This is an item that you want to keep, but does not belong in the location where you found it. Action: Put the item in a box for transfer to its proper place when the sorting session is over.

Temptation – This is an item that you feel conflicted over. Part of you wants to keep it and part of you is not sure you will ever use it. To help decide ask yourself:

Do I have more than one of these?
How useful will this really be in the future?
When was the last time I used this?
Is this something I need to keep for legal reasons?
What is the worst thing that could happen if I get rid of this?

This post was originally published at Karen Leland’s Featured Small Business column on The Huffington Post.