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Control Your ‘Stuff’, So It Doesn’t Control You

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Dr. Strange Label
I have something to admit. I bought a labeler. And I love it. Before you stop reading because you can’t relate to this ‘controlling, type-A, hyper-organized, productivity blogger’- let me give you the backstory.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Labeler

I have struggled with anxiety for years. Meditation, strict sleep schedule, healthy diet, exercise, daily time outside, self-help books and even talk therapy are all methods I have used to lessen the persistent tension and occasional overwhelming surges of anxiety. All of the concepts and routines helped, but I was still missing something. Then I came across a quote that begins to explain where a big part of the stress I was feeling came from:

Anxiety is caused by a lack of control, organization, preparation and action.

My inexpensive Brother P-Touch labeler helps me with the first 3. You see… I have always been excited by ideas. And because of that, I always had a lot of plates spinning in my head.

“That business idea is cool. I’d like to try that workout routine. I should start writing a gratitude journal…”

I was a bit all over the place and felt like I could never get anything finished. I would get 60% or 70% done with a project before the next shiny object pulled me another direction. I didn’t feel in control. I felt like there was something broken inside of me, that I was physically incapable of accomplish my goals. At some points, I questioned why I even bothered starting anything when I knew the likelihood of finishing was so low.

However, the problem wasn’t with me. (And it’s not with you either.)

It was that I didn’t have any system for organizing any of my tasks or projects. If you gave me a piece of physical paper – like a business card or receipt – I would almost get mad at you for expecting me to hold onto it. I knew I would lose it. And I lost things because I had no place designated for physical items I needed to keep track of. However, once I started integrating a few systems into my life, I began having a number of small successes.

“I got my oil changed on time. I returned all of my emails. I zeroed my inbox…”

Those small actions started piling up in my personal and work life, giving me confidence to take on bigger projects without fear that they would not be completed. I went from having weekly panic attacks and the feeling that I lacked something essential for success in life, to gaining a high degree of confidence that I have control over my life and future.

That is what getting organized does.

It can inject your life with extra energy, and make you feel more capable and on top of things. The lack of control I felt rested on how I processed information. And the solution to getting a hold on my life wasn’t hard to implement.  In fact, I only had to do 3 things.

  1. Create a universal capture. This is a place where all of my ‘stuff’ would be stored until I decided what to do with it.
    1. For digital ‘stuff’ I used Google Drive and Dropbox for reference material and Trello for tasks and projects.
    2. For the physical ‘stuff’ I used a manila folder labeled ‘In Process’
  2. Start writing list of action items and projects in an organized way.
    1. I used David Allen’s GTD method on Trello.
  3. Set reminders.
    1. I used my Sunrise Calendar App, the Alarmed App and Siri on my iPhone.

And that’s my story. I started from a pretty low point and managed to get on top of my game quickly.

“Wait a minute, weren’t we talking about labelers? I still don’t think I’m the labeling type.”

So why labelers?

Physical, easy to read labels are a way to extend your control, organization and preparation into more areas of your life. Extending your control can help you take more action and make more progress toward your goals. Making consistent progress toward your goals will help shrink the gap between what you feel like you are capable of accomplishing and what you are actually getting done.

The Success Gap

The smaller that gap, the better you will feel. But don’t take my word for it. Try it for yourself. Here’s an experiment you can do to see if labeling is for you. If you have have piles of magazines, articles and books that you’d like to read. Try taking the following four steps:

  1. Gather all of your reading material from your work and home.
  2. Put them in a inbox tray, milk crate or box.
  3. Label that container ‘To Read.’
  4. Pay attention to how this made you feel.

When you’re done there will no longer be loose bits of reading material that you feel bad about not getting to when you spot them in the corner of your bedroom or office. Instead you have all of your ‘to reads’ corralled in one spot and labeled so you know exactly where they are and what is expected of the contents of the box.

It is my hypotheses that you will feel more in control. That the psychic weight of not knowing will have been lifted. If this happened, label makers are for you.

Now let’s say reading material isn’t your problem, or you loved labeling your ‘to reads’ so much that you’re looking for more ideas for stuff to put your stamp on, other choices for corralling and labeling include:

  • receipts for taxes or business expenses
  • business cards
  • items around the house you were considering donating or throwing out
  • bills
  • gift cards
  • medical records
  • important forms of identification

In Closing

I hope you consider learning to embrace the label maker as I – ‘an uncontrolling, far from type-A, not hyper-organized, productivity blogger’ – did. I hope you consider it because I know how big of difference tying your loose ends can make. I believe everybody should have the opportunity to feel in control of their lives and not let the piles, stacks, clutter and chaos of your stuff control you.

Agree, disagree, think I’m a nut-bag for being so passionate about using a label maker? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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Posted by Linda Maye Adams  | August 14, 2016 at 4:13PM | Reply

No embracing here–I tossed mine. Bluntly, it added too many steps to something that shouldn’t be complicated, and thereby created a bottleneck where papers happily stacked up.

Label maker process before filing: Pull out label maker. Punch in label information. Print. Maybe run out of label. Have to go to store to buy more to make label. Label maker goes into drawer, gathers dust. No filing happens.

Sharpie pen, file folder into hanging folder, papers go in. Done.

Posted by Annie Mueller  | August 30, 2014 at 9:06PM | Reply

So I’m the organized/planner one and my husband is the spontaneous, endless idea, visionary, crazy one. (Okay, I’m maybe a little bit crazy too, but I hide it better.)

HE is the one who insisted we buy a label maker and HE adores that thing. He labels everything. It makes him so happy.. and now I think I know why. :)

I don’t even know what brand it is.

But I do really like opening the filing cabinet and being able to read the file folder labels. Way better than my Sharpie writing of previous years.

Posted by Daniel  | August 20, 2014 at 2:38PM | Reply

Okay, the recommendation for a label maker convinced me. Now I own a Brother P-Touch 1000W — and I like it. :-)

Posted by Zachary Sexton  | August 29, 2014 at 11:11PM

Haha. Give it some time… you’ll come to LOVE it ;-)

Posted by Zachary Sexton  | August 20, 2014 at 1:05PM | Reply

Thanks for sharing Jeb. I know that feeling.

People may tease, but you’ve got the joy and peace of mind that comes with controlling your “stuff”… they just have to swim in theirs.

Posted by Jeb Brown  | August 18, 2014 at 5:27PM | Reply

Thanks for coming out of the label maker closet. Your courage helps the rest of us feel comfortable to do the same. I have two, one at home and one at my office. Every time I use them it brings a little smile to my face. Sometimes the little things can make the biggest difference.

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