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Setting Realistic Benchmarks For Change

realistic benchmarks for change

We’re about a month into the new year and most of us set the intention to make some changes. We set some lofty goals for ourselves. Maybe we see ourselves as 20 pounds lighter or our home cleared of all the holiday clutter and finally the place that we can return to and relax. These are not realistic benchmarks for change.

Instead of setting lofty goals that are overwhelming, start with small, modest, and realistic benchmarks for change that you can accomplish and build upon in years to come.

Mark Twain stated, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”

What does a realistic benchmark for change look like?

Overarching Goal: I want my home cleared of clutter so that I have a home that is welcoming and my refuge.

  1. Take this goal and break it down into smaller parts or benchmarks. List every area in your home that does not currently match your goal of being welcoming and a refuge.
  2. Pick one area to start. An example would be your office area. Right now, you avoid your office as much as possible. There is paper and clutter everywhere. It depresses you to even look into the office area.
  3. List every section of the office area that needs to change. Examples are your desktop, the floor around your desk, the bookcase, the files, or the entry.
  4. Pick one section and note how it is now. An example is your desktop. What does it look like and how does it make you feel?
  5. Analyze what is on your desktop that is annoying you – what is there and why did it land on your desktop and stay?
    1. Do you have piles of sticky notes reminding you to do something? Are there stacks of papers concerning projects that are now spilling off your desk?
    2. Maybe there are a couple of bills that need immediate action?
    3. Did you forget two or three drink containers and a snack plate on your desk?
    4. Are you always in a rush to the next thing so you just walk off and leave what you have been working on?
  6. Remove and rehome (move to another location, trash, shred, file) all annoying items. Start with the easy stuff.
    1. Remove all food items and empty wrappers.
    2. Next set up project bins or files for ongoing projects.
    3. Schedule times on your calendar to take care of bills then put them in a file folder marked “Pay”.
    4. Corral the piles of sticky notes and transfer to one notebook or journal all the information that is still current.
  7. Develop a plan for maintaining that improved section. Schedule transition times between tasks to give you time to clear your desk of what you were working on.
    1. Ditch the sticky notes and start using one place to keep notes and reminders.
    2. Decide on a weekly time to completely declutter the top of your desk and put it in your calendar.
  8. Chose another section of your office and repeat the process.
  9. Celebrate as you complete each realistic benchmark for change in your office turning it into a welcoming space and your refuge.

Then repeat this process in another part of your home. Don’t feel like it all must be done immediately or even in this year. Just set realistic benchmarks for change, note your progress and work on maintaining that progress.

Slow and sure wins the race. Pick a comfortable pace that pushes you a bit but is easy to maintain. Feel good about your process.

If you are struggling with developing  an organizational plan for the new year or just want some help or accountability in following through with the plan, join Diane Quintana and me in our Clear Space for You virtual support group.

Jonda S. Beattie, Professional Organizer owner of Time Space Organization, and co-owner of Release, Repurpose, Reorganize. She is based in the Metro-Atlanta area. As presenter, author of four books as well as a retired special education teacher she uses her listening skills, problem solving skills, knowledge of different learning techniques, ADHD specialty, and paper management skills to help clients.





  • I love seeing the transformation of the office space. You showed the before and described out to declutter and organize it. Then shared the after. What a powerful visual to support the process. Those sticky notes can be problematic. I like your idea of collecting them in one location. I bet your new planner is an excellent place to do that.

    • Linda, thanks for your comments. This project was one I worked on with a friend of mine and she graciously allowed me to use the pictures.
      Yes, the new planner is perfect to gather all the informaiton that floats around on bits of paper and sticky notes.

  • I really like your use of the word “benchmark” – it feels less demanding than “goal” or a lot of other terms that pressure us to achieve something. And they way you break an overwhelming situation into doable tasks.

  • Seana Turner says:

    I love this post because it shows the many steps are involved in carrying out a plan. Sort of reminds me when I watch the credits scroll after a movie – there is a lot more to a movie than the stars. It is kind of incredible, actually.

    By breaking it into pieces, it also gives me a small enough step to actually take. Without these benchmarks, I’m likely to feel overwhelmed and never even try any of it.

  • This clearly breaks down the basics of getting organized! It’s hard to look at an entire room and expect to get it tidy in one fell swoop. However, breaking it up into manageable pieces makes the project so much easier to handle.

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