Organizing tips: Gracie Allen style

If you don’t know who Gracie Allen is let me do the honors and introduce her to you. The short of it is that she was George Burns’ better half. George Burns and Gracie Allen married in 1926 and were inseparable for the 30 years they performed vaudeville, radio and television together until Allen died in 1964.

Allen was famous for her wacky, illogical humor and audiences adored her. Gracie’s comic genius landed her six best actress Emmy nominations but it was the Burns-Allen love story that really deserves an award. Ahh, but I digress.

To the point, I’ve been watching the Burns and Allen Show again recently and I think Gracie has something special to teach us about organizing. For all of her wackiness she is undeniably smart and sharp. In fact, Gracie’s genius in situated in her wackiness and seeming illogical ways.

Her ability to keep everyone guessing gives her an edge and what smart chick doesn’t need a little edge these days? Especially with men. (Maybe more on that another day!) For now, here are a few highlights on how to organize Gracie Allen-style:

• Be loud and be wrong. Procrastination solution.
Gracie had a very unique voice and once you heard it you’d never forget it. She also had a gracious way of being wrong that was always just right.

I think we often procrastinate our organizing projects because we think there is a perfect way of doing them. We think we need the perfect container, the perfect project management software, the right assistant, a whole entire weekend and the list goes on…

The solution to this procrastination spiral according to Gracie? Be loud and be wrong. In other words, just start. You don’t have to know what you are doing – just do something. You’ll be shocked at the latent organizational skills you revive once you begin.

Sort through the pile on your desk. Make one call. Make a list – with pen and paper even! You’ll be shocked at how much you get done by doing it all wrong.

• No sweat. Productivity solution.
Gracie is busy doing a project in every episode. She put together a wedding event in one and made a laundry list and organized her home in another, just to name a few. What is to be noted is that Gracie’s “doing” was always infused with her way of “being.” She is always calm in her activity, never anxious. Always busy, never overloaded.

To get to a Gracie-style to-do, list examine every item on it while asking two questions:

1. Is this task absolutely necessary to do today or at all?
2. Does this task bring me joy?

If the answer to either question is no, then away it goes (delegated to a service provider or other employee, axed completely, shelved). Remember that anxiety is nowhere to be found in Gracie’s world. Who always comes out smelling like a rose in every scene? Gracie! The one with the least anxiety wins.

When we roll Gracie style, we relax and real productivity can be ours.

• Do it your way.
Gracie had a special way of getting things done. She sewed George’s shorts to his long underwear (she had her reasons) and balanced her checking account in a way that brought special attention from the banker himself. There is also how she dealt with the taxman, the bookseller, etc. This list of special handling is long but it points to Gracie’s uniqueness of personality and approach.

Yes, in a comedy show this is all part of the comedy. But these examples also show us there is more than one way of doing things. And it is called – your way. Assume it is the correct way. Gracie does.

When I work one-on-one with people they often want to know the best way to get organized. The best way is the way that works for you. It is your way. That is going to be different for everyone. The electronic filing systems I create with my clients all look different because everyone thinks differently. Embrace your one and only you-ness. It may help you with getting organized and a lot of other projects too.

• Live on your terms. Be happier. Be done with projects.
Gracie has been called a scatterbrained broad but she had a one track mind when it came to her projects. No matter who came along, if she was in the middle of a project she just kept right along with her flow. If she was sewing they could keep talking and she’d keep sewing. If George wanted to talk to her and she wanted to put flowers in the vase – guess what got done first?

In our world of constant interruptions having the strength to tune out the distractions in order to single-mindedly finish a thought let alone a whole project takes the strength of an ox. Gracie set a great example for us by showing how it is possible to continue on your own path no matter who crosses it.

• Don’t take anything too seriously
Gracie had a way of making light of even the most stressful of subjects. Even taxes! She was a comedienne but we can learn from the example she set. Using a little Gracie-style detachment goes a long way when it comes to dealing with financial paperwork. Asking ourselves two more questions:

1. Is this really the end of the world?
2. Is this that serious?

Just taking that one step backwards and getting some perspective makes going through the inbox, opening the bills (online or the mail), paying the bills, calling the insurance company about the erroneous charge etc. seem that much more doable. Light and polite is Gracie’s policy; it’s a good one that can be ours too!

• Have fun
I always manage to get this tip in! Are you tired of hearing it yet? I hope not because it is signature Gracie and it is so important. Having fun is what my clients seem to forget most often (ok – maybe I need the reminder too!) Bills, taxes, receipts, paperwork… it can get heavy.

In most shows Gracie was involved in some kind of organizing but she always manages to have a great time. How? Whenever you have a task you aren’t thrilled about completing just ask yourself how can you make it more pleasant or get support. It is a bit of a cognitive reframing. Here are Gracie’s favorite ways to make organizing more fun:

• Having a favorite TV program on in the background (if you are doing a repetitive task like laundry, receipt scanning/filing etc)
• Have a friend over to help out with planning your event or to help clean out your clothes
• Listening to favorite radio station (Gracie) or podcast. There are so many free podcasts on itunes and audiobooks (audible.com makes this easy)

Organizing the sock drawer or your box of high school memorabilia isn’t so bad if your friend is over and you can talk about the last episode of Friday Night Lights, Mad Men or…. a past episode of Burns and Allen.

Thank you for your example …good night Gracie.

Jennifer Palais clears chaos and brings order to offices, business systems, schedules and minds and is known as an organizing expert and coach. Her approach is 10-years in the making: Inspirational, well informed and practical. It is a process filled with fun, joy and discovery. For more organizing tips, follow her on Twitter.

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Written by jpal

15 Comments

  1. Profile photo of Kellie
    Kellie

    @jpal I think that I have said this before but I will say it again, If I wasn’t already married I would sooo marry you! I love that you wrote a whole article on organizing with the immortal Gracie Allen as your muse. How awesome!

    But beyond all of that your words very directly spoke to me. I am sort of goofy and scatter brained. Organization has always been a major struggle for me. I always feel like I am somehow not doing it right. But what a revolutionary idea you have here. I can do organizational activities in my own goofy way-just as long as I do it! I don’t have to wait to figure out the perfect method or to buy the right organizational stickers or containers. I just need to utilize my own wacky skills and point of view to get the job done!

    Thank you Jennifer! You are so awesome!

  2. Profile photo of irene
    irene

    @jpal – You have a way with words! This topic is a good one for me to harken to..because it’s a sore one! I am so bad about being organized and am for sure a procrastinating pro. On a semi positive note, I have gotten some of the filing done at the office, but not all of it.. I think part of my problem is I’m afraid to throw anything away.. We have to keep everything.. I will keep on keeping on.. and let you know how its going! Thanks for the creative and very helpful post!

  3. Profile photo of mandabear
    mandabear

    @jpal – this was a lovely article to read. Sometimes our lives get so hectic we often forget that we can just stop and rethink how we handle our responsibilities. I am sometimes a messy person and I always groan at the thought of organizing but I’m trying to turn it into a positive.

    For instance, I have a church to come pick up clothing from my house on Saturday. I could not be any happier. It motivates me to clean out the clutter and it makes me happy knowing that it’s going to those in need. Also, having a specific date in mind might make me hustle a bit, but it reminds me that in just 2 days I will be somewhat clutter free!

  4. Profile photo of jpal
    jpal

    @kellie76 Your hypothetical proposal is accepted! I heart all things goofy and scatterbrained so we are a match made in heaven! lol I’m glad you are liberating your own brand of organization!

    @irene Sounds like you have made a lot of progress with your filing! Just focusing on how far you’ve come can help so much – perspective.
    If you have to keep everything would scanning be an option…not sure if that works for your system? You can contact me if you have questions about the process. Glad the post was helpful and I’m excited for all the strides you are making!

    @mandabear You are so right about how we lose touch when things get hectic. Glad you have been able to turn getting liberated from clutter into a positive by setting deadlines for donating to a great cause – what a fantastic idea!

    How much do we heart helping your community and your closet too?! It really is a motivator knowing that those in need will be benefiting from your efforts AND that you will be breathing a bit easier in your lighter digs. Thank you for sharing your experience and ideas.
    Jennifer Palais recently posted..Be cool&8230reenergize your refrigerator

  5. Camberley, The Bella Life

    This article was full of great advice. One of my favorite pieces of advice was to stop and ask, “Is this task absolutely necessary to do today or at all?” So often I find myself stressing about getting “little things” crossed off my to-do list that aren’t imperative. I should make a valiant effort to stop and ask myself “Is this ABSOLUTELY necessary?” This way I can effectively manage my time (and sanity).

    Thanks for the wonderful reminder!
    Camberley

  6. Profile photo of brooklynshoebabe
    brooklynshoebabe

    I love this article especially right now since I just got a very overwhelming feeling of overbooking myself–assisting with my daughter’s girl scout troop, taking an extra assignment at work, and volunteering at my daughter’s school. I know once I start I’ll be fine, but I just have to do it my way.

    Also, when I was a kid, my brother and I used to watch reruns of the Burns and Allen show on late nights. You’ve brought back some really pleasant memories.

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