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Lisabeth Saunders Medlock, Ph.D. Headshot

4 Easy Steps to Spring Cleaning Your Life

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When you spring clean your house, you take stock of what you have, get rid of things you don't need, organize what is left, and clear space to bring in new things. You need to do these same things to spring clean your life. This means getting rid of things that no longer work for you, updating the way you do things, and freeing up some space for new and exciting opportunities. These are the four steps of spring cleaning your life: Taking Stock, Cleaning Out the Old, Tying Up Loose Ends and Trying Something New.

Step 1: Take Stock of Everything
Take a look at your life. Pull everything out into the middle of the floor and get honest with yourself. Ask yourself these questions:
• What in your life is wasting your time?
• What is draining your energy?
• What is holding you back?
• Where are your biggest sources of stress?

Whatever isn't working for you should be addressed. And if it seems overwhelming to address every issue, make a list of the ones that bother you most and pick just a few on which to focus.

On the flip side, decide what things are positive in your life.
• What is working for you/what are you accomplishing?
• What is making you happy?
• What do you want more of in your life?

Pick what really matters to you and do more of it or keep expanding on it.

Step 2: Clean Out the Old
We all have useless litter and junk in our lives that can take many forms. It could be a negative attitude or bad habit you've been meaning to get rid of. It could be ending a draining relationship or an unfulfilling job. Sometimes we get so used to "being" a certain way that we lose sight of our ability to actively get rid of the negative from our life.

Air out your attitude: Anger, cynicism, fear, self-doubt, pessimism, denial, envy, and jealousy can take the sparkle out of your life. If you need to apologize, bite the bullet and do it. If you're still angry and waiting on an apology from someone who won't or can't give you one, let it go. Think of any grudges that you are carrying and toss them. They are not contributing to your life, they are contaminating it -- so they need to go to the junk heap. Only then can you put positives in their place and make some room for happiness. Second, pay attention to when and how you are negative and where your attitude might fall on a negative to positive meter. Then you need some intention and action that will help you become more positive and uncover the confidence buried under old attitudes. Chuck out all those boring useless old habits and make way for fresh and inspiring adventures.

Clean up your relationships: Air out your significant relationships at least twice a year. This includes voicing frustrations as well as talking about positive behaviors and actions desired from your loved one -- covering everything from fidelity to money and sex. Throw out misunderstanding, lack of patience, gossip or lies. Polish your friendships. True friendships take work, time, energy, and thoughtfulness. They also require forgiveness and understanding. You don't want to be a doormat to anyone, but you do want to find relationships that are equal and reciprocal. To clean up relationships that are not reciprocal, identify the difficult behavior and share with the family member, friend or partner how it makes you feel. Tell them face-to-face: "I'm not doing this anymore. This is your problem, not mine. I'm happy to have a relationship with you, but not with your current behavior." Then stick to it. Don't pick up the phone at all hours, don't tolerate abusive behavior and don't make excuses.

Look at your career: Take a look at how you feel about your job and career. Stack your job tasks up against your short- and long-term goals and evaluate how you feel when you go to work each day. If you're not where you want to be in your career, don't let the fear of failure paralyze you. Instead, take action: Sign up for online courses, join a professional organization or seek mentorship.

Step 3: Tie Up Loose Ends and Get Organized
Sometimes our lives get messy, not so much from negativity as from inertia. Inertia results in half-done tasks and never-ending to-do lists that clutter our minds. Delay and procrastination set you up for frustration. You'll find yourself constantly in the past, trying to catch up. Prioritize the elements of your life. Consider what is most important: career, family, friends, health and fitness, a romantic relationship, travel or a special interest/hobby. List the desired elements of your life in order of importance. Each day take five minutes to review how your schedule aligns with your priority list. Is there something that you spend time on that is not really a priority, and takes up too much time? Name a step you could take that would change that. Enlist the people who have an effect on your daily organization and ask them for help. Be creative with solutions. Offer to swap child-watching duties with a friend each week so you both get some "me" time. Negotiate with your boss for a later arrival/departure time one day a week so you can go to the gym.

Below are a couple of useful strategies that you can incorporate into your routine to help you regain control of your life and experience a clearer sense of order and achievement.

Use a Master Action List: We've all experienced stress from having too much to do and not enough time to do it. The stress comes from that sense of discomfort, anxiety or dread because an undone task is a loose end. This state of mind is unproductive and drains your energy. Using a Master List will help you take care of unfinished business.

To begin a Master Action List, write down or type absolutely everything no matter how small. Develop the list without considering the importance or significance of each item. You will do this later. Remove everything out of your head and get it onto your list. Write down all things for which you have even the smallest responsibility to change, finish, get involved with or handle. Once completed, create sub lists by grouping and consolidating similar actions. Some tasks may be associated with certain days of the week or need to be done in a specified location or even with a particular person. Categories can be things like errands, calls to make/return, online actions, computer work, things pending or awaiting response, house projects, bills/finance, etc.

Examine each list daily or as often as you need to get them off your mind. Look at your pending tasks and then rank them in overall importance and put a due date on each one. Identify the action items that will give you the greatest return on your investment. Also note those action items that hold the greatest potential to escalate into a crisis situation if ignored. Schedule a time to review the list weekly, and reevaluate and reassess for the coming week.

Backward Scheduling: Too much to do every day? Use this simple technique to determine a realistic schedule. Write down everything you want to get done today. Then put a time estimate on each task (make sure it's not a multi-day project!) and add up the time. Things always seem to take more time than we expect so overestimate a bit Compare what you have to do with how much time you have available and adjust to fit. Of course, some things will have to move to tomorrow. At least now you're in control. Schedule your tasks into the day beginning with the time you need to finish.

Identify Time Wasters and Schedule Focus Time: Minimizing outside interruptions is a crucial aspect of managing your time effectively. The first step is becoming aware of how, why, and when interruptions prevent you from completing work. Then consider ways to deter these common breaks in your schedule. Schedule focus time every day. This is the time you are not to be disturbed. Turn off the phone, shut down email and determine your biggest need for action at this time. Then set your timer and get it done!

Step 4: Try Something New
Open the windows of your mind to new ideas and a fresh perspective on living a happier, better, easier life. Change takes action. There's no silver bullet, no magic pill. But if you'll open your mind to some different ways of doing things, if you'll try some new habits, if you'll work your mind muscles and your organizational skills in a different way, you'll find that you'll create the life that you truly want, not just the one that you end up with. One important step is to enjoy the person you are. If you don't like yourself, find out why, and start working on becoming a person you do enjoy and that others will enjoy too. Find inspirational quotes and post them to remind you of a positive state of mind. Or make a list of all the positive benefits of a renewed point-of-view. In relationships, acting more friendly toward people you encounter each day would potentially gain you new friends, make you more attractive to others, and draw positive people into your circle of friends. In your career surround yourself with positive people, especially those who can open your eyes to new opportunities related to your expertise. Or add a new expertise or skill; take a class or workshop.

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