Motivational Gawking, Red Interiors, One Thing at a Time

Can’t help it. It works. Aspiration as inspiration. And right now, it’s about Spring and motivation — and a sense that I want space.

No, that’s not quite right. I need space — organized space, colorful space, and images online or in magazines are reinforcing that restless, unrelenting, tantalizing requirement.

So I’m gawking at rooms in House Beautiful, fishing for storage ideas. I’m pacing the perimeter of my interiors, determined to shuffle, to shed, to streamline. And I’m seeing red, or rather, gravitating toward its particular hues, seeking to invigorate as I refashion my environment to feel like it’s truly mine.

But it’s still more.

It’s about clearing out mental clutter, exchanging an excess of multitasking for a less enervating, less scattered, and more sequential set of daily tasks. It’s about one thing at a time, at least some of the time.

Multitasking Rocks! (Multitasking Sucks!)

Most of us have come to believe that doing many things at once is always goodBut what if it’s not? What if multitasking is weighing us down, and threatens to sink us?

This morning I dipped into an article that explored exactly that. It’s a thought provoking tidbit from the Harvard Business Review called “The Magic of Doing One Thing at a Time.

The author suggests that a large percentage of people report feeling burnt out at work, and contrary to prevailing wisdom, it isn’t explained by extensive hours so much as not being able to focus on one thing at a time.

Now, most women would say that we are superior multitaskers to our men. (Research proves this out, apparently.) Whether in an office or on the home front, or dancing in both those cirques de soleil, we’re determined to achieve the elusive work-life balance, while running and juggling as fast as we can.

Or possibly, as fast as we can’t.

Peter Principle Bleeding Red?

What if it’s the Peter Principle bleeding into our home lives? You know what I’m talking about – the classic management principle that we rise to our level of incompetence, and there, we are stuck in a spot where we can’t dig out or fathom other options.

So do I need red for the juice it provides to push myself harder and take on more?

Can I recognize my own Peter Principle and change the conversation?

When do we tell ourselves to slow down, to take a breath, and to reconsider the value of serial tasks executed with complete concentration? Could there be more satisfaction to be gained – not to mention efficiency – from more single-threading and less multitasking?

Red Interiors, Small House Happiness

Returning now to my latest issue of House Beautiful – and my acute awareness that my own house is anything but – I’m reminded that our living spaces reflect our inner spaces. And this seasonal urge to clean?

It’s an excellent sign.

My home spills over with the clutter of adolescents (who left their trails behind), my own breadth of passionate interests (and too little time), a multiplicity of projects – writing and otherwise – and a serious storage challenge exacerbated by my habit of multitasking.

My small home serves as my office, with one room dedicated to writing and working. It’s a room I adore: simple bookshelves line both walls, art I love is within view, and I sit at a round table in the middle of a narrow but pleasant rectangular space.

And organization is critical; my touches of red, energizing.

My desire for more red reflects the insistent awareness that this is a time to renew, to revitalize, and to refocus.

House Beautiful – One Task at a Time

This week? House Beautiful inspires me, and motivates with its gorgeous photographs. I know I can do better with my own interiors. I am drawn to a designer who juxtaposes warm and sleek, spices his spaces with the boldness of red, clearly takes cues from art and books, and dishes up a dose of practical quirky.

I find myself wanting to paint the town red! Or at least, my room or possibly, an accent wall. Then I remind myself not to take on far more than I can chew. Instead I may stick to something simpler and more manageable – cherry accent pillows, and removing the stacks of periodicals from my favorite ruby red chair.

Whatever I undertake around the place, it must be properly prioritized, and one task at a time.

  • Anyone else longing for spring cleaning?
  • Clever suggestions for an overflow of indispensable books?
  • Do you crave red – or some other color – and find that it lifts your spirits and refreshes you for whatever comes next?
  • Do you multitask to the max, and find you’re less than productive?

House Beautiful images, April 2012 print issue, designer Steven Sclaroff, photographer François Dischinger; gorgeous interiors with smart storage, an eclectic mix of furnishings, streamlined yet warm, punched up with dashes of red.

Other images, Yours Truly


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  1. says

    This is a very timely post as we’re in process of doing some renovations on our home. It’s a small space, so many of the rooms “multitask.” Our living/dining room is probably the most under-used in the house, and I want to correct that and make it a comfortable and welcoming space. We’re hoping to incorporate a bit more color, both through wall color and accents.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      I know most people don’t enjoy renovations, pseu, but I’ve always loved them! Been through it several times – so much to learn, so creative, and it makes you so much more appreciative of your space and all the skills required to reconfigure it. “Comfortable and welcoming.” Aren’t those the places we love to visit and never want to leave?

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  2. batticus says

    Watch the movie “The Sixth Sense” and notice the use of the colour red; a great movie that requires multiple viewings before you see everything that was there.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      That is a surprising movie, batticus, but I don’t recall the use of red. (Will have to check it out.) Did you ever see Woody Allen’s Interiors? A terrific film, late 70s, not his usual. The design was stark and meticulous – the perfect reflection of the neuroses of the characters. (Dig out that film if you can. It’s a stunner.)

  3. says

    I’m definitely less effective when I multi-task in some areas, such as those that involve working out strategies or juggling numbers. But other things come naturally, like cooking multiple dishes in parallel in the kitchen, even if they have different cooking times, temperatures, and methods. I think the degree of success depends on the multi-tasker’s strengths (or weaknesses) and the particular tasks that need doing — and knowing how to combine them in ways that won’t lead to disaster :)

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Eh oui… Et si vous faites attention, il y en a d’autres… surtout l’art… ici et là. Et la soupe ! Il faut bien un peu de msytère dans la vie, n’est-ce pas ? 😉

  4. says

    What a terrific post to coincide with my urge to (spring) clean and declutter! Like Supermodel, I also find myself drawn right now to citrus colors, those and my old stand-by, sky blue.

    Your mention of painting a wall red reminds me of an episode of SATC when Mr. Big paints the wall behind his bed red. Symbolic of so much about that man, non?

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Good one, Kristen. I do indeed remember that episode… How is it that SATC is such a touchstone for so much of our female experience? Even our own versions of a Mr. Big, or a red wall?

  5. says

    I LOVE red! I have a fantasy, after the kids are grown and out of the house, of moving to a 1000-square foot Dwell-type dwelling with three sticks of furniture and one red accent wall. We have WAY too much stuff. And about the overflow of books…I keep meaning to get one of those book towers, where you stack them on top of each other so they look like they’re floating.

  6. says

    Some time ago I was finding I had a real itch to be more creative, but I found myself just making a lot of messes and clutter that got in my way a lot, especially when I wanted to do some sewing I could just pick up and put down quickly. My creative urges were interfering with my housekeeping routines (I can say silly things like that over here, not on my blog where Bill would read it and howl with laughter) and I found myself reverting to the old feeling of being pulled – always feeling I needed to be doing something other than what I was. Somewhere I stumbled across the phrase ‘Creating Order’ and that really helped me to clear out some stuff and re-organise to make things a bit more serene. It helped a lot to think of my clearing out clutter as a form of creativity just as much as using things to make something else. In fact, I’ve read that creativity can be defined as finding new ways to solve problems. Hope you find ways to enhance your space – and I do love red, too!

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Shelly, I’m curious what you do about those objects for which you are the unofficial family “caretaker.” Things passed down by a parent, a grandparent. I find some of these objects to take up much needed space, and yet shedding them feels like it’s breaking some unwritten familial rule.

      (Anyone have any good ideas about this one?)

      So glad to know another red lover, Shelly. And I like that idea of creating order.

  7. says

    Spring almost always brings me an urge to purge and organize, clean and spruce up around my place. I think green is my go-to color in decorating. I find it calming and invorating in varying hues and it connects me to nature and the woods where we love to hike.

    I’m terrible at multitasking – terrible! Still, it’s necessary sometimes so I’ve learned to give myself little ‘brain breaks’ to refresh and regroup: brew some tea, walk outdoors, etc.

  8. Alain says

    Your HBR link about doing one thing at a time lead me to this :

    Then this :

    – Replace the goal with one that does work for you. To keep yourself moving forward and feeling satisfied with your choice, give some thought to what you will do instead. If you just don’t have the time to write a 600-page novel, is there some other way you could express your thoughts and creativity that you do have time for, like blogging?

    Priceless, non?
    Happy renovation.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Thank you for the link, Alain. I’ve read some things by Dr. Halvorsen. She always makes sense to me. (So what about a 200-page novella? ;))

  9. says

    I think you hint at something really important here: sometimes the tangible has a huge impact on the intangible. When we like what we see, and find ourselves motivated and inspired by it, we are so much more likely to do good work and feel good about it when we are in that space.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      I truly believe our physical environments influence us enormously. For some it may be colors. For others it’s organization. For some, a sense of spaciousness, pleasing objects, inspirational objects. I agree with you, Gale. We do indeed perform better in spaces that feel good.

  10. says

    This post comes at the right time for me. I love spring cleaning. For me, that means going through each room, drawer, closet and purging. It is time consuming, but it is completely worth it. As for the overflow in books, we donate to the library.

    I’ve always been drawn to dark blue hues, but a rusty maroon is fabulous too.

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