Hack 46: Make Your House a Usable Home – Firewall Your Attention from distraction
Ever been on the way out the door and you can’t find your keys? Dashing around the house tearing through every nook and cranny in a stressed-out frenzy isn’t the best way to start the day, but we’ve all been there.
It’s so easy to sabotage yourself every day without even realizing it. The moment you put your keys in the pocket of the jacket you tossed over the kitchen chair, you didn’t think, “I’m going to make it really difficult for myself tomorrow morning when I have to leave for that big interview.” Yet there are so many small ways in which you can unconsciously make life harder on yourself. Personal sabotage — whether it’s in the form of convincing yourself you’ll magically remember to pick up milk at the store or thoughtlessly surfing the Web when you have a looming deadline — is a reversible habit with a little thought and planning.
In the same way a basketball teammate serves up the perfect pass for an alley-oop slam dunk, you can be your own teammate and set yourself up for success in life and work.
Take a look at your living space with a focus on usability. Your home should be a tool that helps you get things done, a space that’s a pleasure to be in, and a launch pad for daily tasks and life goals. Whether you want to relax after work, phone a family member, or keep track of a dry-cleaning receipt, there are lots of simple ways to create a living space that makes getting things done a breeze.
Create a Place for Incoming Stuff
Every day you walk into the house with your hands full of mail, pockets full of change, and a cell phone that needs recharging. Instead of dumping that pile of bills onto the coffee table, scattering a mess of pennies and dimes on your dresser, and tossing the phone onto a table, create useful places to drop off stuff without having to think: a change jar that goes to Coinstar every few months, an indoor mailbox for you and your housemates, and a phone-charging center with an easily accessible plug. After a long day at work, you don’t want to have to think about where to put stuff when you walk in the door. So make it a no-brainer.
Put Items You Need to Remember in Your Path
Make it hard to forget where you put your keys, your cell phone, that check you’re supposed to mail, or the dry-cleaning receipt. Section off a space near the door where you can easily pick up items on your way out. Hang a key rack. Place a snail-mail outbox nearby for letters and bills that need to be dropped at the post office. If the door of your apartment is metal, try keeping a few magnets stuck to it to hold receipts, mail, and notes you’ll be sure to see on your way out the door.
Stow Away Stuff You Don’t Use & Put Stuff You Do Use Within Easy Reach
Surround yourself with the things you use and either get rid of the things you don’t or stow them away. For example, if you’ve ripped all your audio CDs to MP3 and listen to them only in that format, why line your living room walls with CDs that never get touched? Box up your CDs and store them up on a high shelf in the closet to make room for the things in the living room that you do use (or better yet, rip them to MP3 and sell them). In the kitchen, if you rarely make waffles but you’re on a grilled-cheese kick, put the waffle-maker on the top shelf and leave the Foreman grill at eye level.
Strategically Place Items to Make Tasks Easy
Having all the things you need to complete a task on hand is half the battle. One of my favorite household life hacks is the sheet-folding trick: fold the flat and fitted sheets into a set and place them inside one pillowcase, along with any other pillowcases for those sheets. The convenient packaging precludes the need to rummage through the linen closet matching up sheet sets when the time comes to make the bed.
There are lots of ways to make tasks easier with strategic placement: Make recycling easy by placing the bin in the area where the most paper or glass is generated — say, the home office or kitchen. Keep your cell phone on your nightstand, and use it as your alarm clock and weather notifier in case of rain or snow — not only will you know the time and temperature, but you won’t waste time looking for your cell in the morning!
Make Task-Based Centers
Place all the items you need to complete a task in an area sectioned off for that activity — such as a computer-repair center, a bill-paying center, or a gift-wrapping center. Keep ink and paper next to the printer; folders and tabs on the filing cabinet; and stamps, envelopes, and address stickers in a mail center. Incorporate the defragging process — placing related items next to one another — into your regular cleaning routine.
Leave Writing Material Everywhere
Keep pens and pads all over the house: by the phone, on the kitchen counter, on the night table, and in the bathroom. You never know when a thought that needs to be recorded will strike. An idea, a forgotten to-do, the solution to a problem you’re having at work, a dream you want to remember, an image or drawing, or a phone number should all be jotted down without effort. Easily available capture tools keep nagging thoughts from cluttering your mind.
NOTE If you prefer taking digital notes to the analog pen-and-paper route, see Hack 37, “Set Up a Ubiquitous Note-Taking Inbox Across Devices” for more on how you can achieve the same goal with a digital spin.
Set Up an Inbox
Make a place to put real-life items that come streaming into your day so that you can process them at times you determine instead of letting them interrupt you. Snail mail, receipts, business cards, random paperwork, notes you’ve scribbled to yourself should all be shuttled directly into your inbox for later sorting and processing. A plastic or metal office inbox does just fine; any kind of box or even designated desk space would work. You get bonus points if you can get your housemate or partner to get an inbox, too — that way, you can leave things for him or her to see without having piles of stuff gathering around the house.
Collaborate with Housemates
Simple tools can make sharing household tasks easy. Place a magnetic dirty/clean flippy sign on the dishwasher so that everyone knows when it has to be emptied and when it can be loaded. Stick a magnetic whiteboard to the fridge with an ongoing shopping list. Use it to leave notes or to-do lists, too, such as “Call plumber about the toilet! 555-3456.” A magnetic whiteboard calendar is also a handy way to keep track of household schedules, especially for busy families.
TIP GroceryIQ (http://www.groceryiq.com) is a website and application for Android and iOS that creates shopping lists by using your phone’s camera to scan bar codes. (You can add items manually when bar codes aren’t available). Pull out your phone and launch GroceryIQ next time your running errands for a sorted-by-aisle grocery list that can make grocery shopping a breeze.