Friday, December 18, 2009

Time-Starved #2

Remember how you spend your time is all about choices. You decide how you are going to spend your time, and as much as you can, make choices that are aligned to support your priorities.

To continue from my blog yesterday, a few more time management strategies are:

  • Do your most important task first. I met with a productivity coach a few months ago, and she said she tells her clients that most days we have 90 minutes of concentrated work time. So start out your day doing what you have determined is your most important task and then if your schedule unravels because of a "fire" you will have accomplished your priority.
  • Don't multitask or switch from task to task. It takes your brain four times longer to recognize and process each thing you're working on when you switch back and forth among tasks. This of course, means your work will take so much longer to do if you are hopping from task to task instead of grouping like tasks and staying focused.
  • Create short cuts for routines. Anything that you find you repeat regularly, that you can automate in some way, will save you time.
  • Carve out 10 minutes of planning time at the end of the day. This is one of the most important time management strategies because it allows you to regroup, access where you are and identify your top priority task for the next morning.
I don't recommend attempting to adopt all of these strategies at once, but try out a few that speak to you and see how they can help you create realistic daily schedules that lead you on the path to having the 2010 you desire. Good luck and let me know what you think...

Thursday, December 17, 2009


I think a good topic to cover in the month of December is time management, as we all pack our holiday to-dos in an already full schedule. It is top of mind for me because I recently gave a presentation on the topic of time management to a group of Alexandria parents of special needs children. I knew that the group would be small, and it was, because it is mid-December and many of us are feeling stressed and time-starved!

My presentation centered around the thought that time management is really about clarity and time. The month of December naturally has us thinking about the year that is drawing to a close, our accomplishments and our hopes and expectations for the new year. This kind of thinking helps us to develop goals that support our priorities. With clarity a person knows what is important, what are their life priorities, and how they want to spend their time. After self-reflection and introspection, then a person can utilize several time management strategies that support the fundamental desire we all have to live a balanced life.

A few time management strategies I talked about are:

  • Become a better estimator of how long tasks take. We all tend to underestimate how long work and personal tasks take. In so doing, we over schedule ourselves, which can leave us feeling like a hamster on a wheel and stressed. Try keeping a time journal, much like a food journal when a person is trying to lose weight. The time journal will help you see how long tasks really take so that you can more accurately plan a realistic schedule.
  • Get organized. On average we lose an hour a day looking for things or trying to figure out what we need to do. This hour adds up to a staggering 14 days a year of time thrown away.
  • Understand your workload. Make sure you fully understand everything that you have to do and that you track it all in one place. I recommend keeping business and personal actions/to dos on separate lists. The reason why this is so important is that you can't know what your priorities are unless you have a total picture of everything you have to do.
I'll post more time management strategies tomorrow...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Tree Stand Woes

My husband and I hold our breath each year when it comes time to place our Christmas tree in the stand, and we always hope that it is going to be a good, hassle free year for us. This year was a tough one getting our tree's trunk to go all the way down in the stand because it was too wide for it. Another issue we have had in the past is sometimes the trunk isn't tall enough to get close to fitting in the stand. We sometimes remember to talk about these issues with each other and the tree guy as we look at our selected tree, but inevitably we think the tree is fine and discover it isn't when it meets the stand.

I started to get flashbacks to last year when "we", I mean my husband, had to saw off many branches of last year's tree to get it to fit the stand. I remember thinking at the time that next year I'll remember to bring the stand so that we can have the tree guy saw off the right number of branches, instead of us doing it laboriously and with some difficulty.

Somehow my memory of our issues last year were forgotten when we picked out our tree this year, and we were dealt both tree stand issues. It was a bit of a struggle, but next year we won't have to deal with tree stand woes as I have marked the stand with permanent marker with the appropriate tree trunk dimensions to fit the stand.

Our tree is up and it is in the tree stand straight and now we just need to finish decorating it!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Our 1st Thanksgiving as Hosts

We hosted Thanksgiving this year for the first time ever. Usually we are guests so there was a lot of pressure on us (self imposed) to make it a good one. Being the organized person that I am, I had set the table two days in advance, I had planned out the menu, I knew what guests were bringing and I had a pretty good idea of the meal timing. My husband's aunt generously catered part of the meal including the turkey, and I made another turkey and some more sides.

The day before Thanksgiving I did a lot of cooking and finishing details to get ready for the big day. I thought that I was ready. Now mind you, my husband and I just finished a major home renovation, including a new kitchen with lots of counter space. Some how on Thanksgiving I felt like I didn't have any counter space. I felt a little disorganized because I had lost my sense of knowing where everything was suppose to go, because there was too much stuff!

In hindsight, I made too many extra sides and I realized that though the food is important, what really is important is gathering as family and of course, making sure there are leftovers for turkey sandwiches the next day!

I hope your Thanksgiving was a memorable one.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Feel Good Clutter Strategy

I find one of the easiest and best ways to manage clutter is to get on several charity call lists for donation pick-up service (see my resource page on my website, I receive at least 1 postcard a month from a charity asking if I could donate a bag or two of items on a specific date. The postcard is a notice indicating they will be in my neighborhood and it is a reminder to call for a pick-up. I think this pick-up service is a win-win opportunity for charities and also for individuals and families. The charities get some great items, hopefully in good condition, and we get to have an easy way to remove items from our homes that we no longer need.

Last night at 10:30 I moved out of my laundry room all of the bags I had collected over the last 2 weeks, filled with out grown clothes, toys and books my kids have aged out of, and other assorted items. By the time I got it all by the front door to go out this morning, I had 5 tall kitchen bags and 1 large box full of items.

My house feels a little lighter and I feel good that I am helping Lupus out. I have the Vietnam Veterans of America coming on November 24th and I'm sure I'll have a few bags for them.

Give this feel good clutter strategy a shot, and if you aren't receiving the postcards, get on the lists today.

Monday, November 9, 2009

A Preschooler's Logic

I had a good laugh Friday night as I was driving to Panera, to get a quick dinner with my kids, when I commented how pretty the Christmas trees looked at Lowe's. My daughter who is 4 said to me, "we need to tell them to take them down"! She went on to say that it was bad and she wanted to know why the trees would be up when we still have Halloween decorations up at our house. By the way, I do think our Halloween directions do need to come down. Her preschool, as most, really goes into detail for every holiday and in her mind November is Thanksgiving and talking about anything else that comes later doesn't make sense.

She of course is right in a way, and will understand when she gets older that consumerism drives the early onslaught of each and every holiday. It does seem to get earlier and earlier each year. I swear some stores had Halloween candy at the beginning of September.

I think the rushing of holidays and seasons feeds into the fast paced, crazy busy lives that we all lead. I think it is way too early to see Christmas trees and seeing them this early, as well as all of the holiday commercials on t.v., takes something away from a special time of year.

So, I do agree with my daughter, but I won't go say anything to the Lowe's manager. I do appreciate her logic and love that a young child sees very clearly that it doesn't make sense.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Slowing Down the Pace

My children have been off from school today and yesterday for Fairfax County teacher work days. It was a big weekend with Halloween falling on Saturday so lots of sugar has been consumed, our schedules have been off with the extended weekend and needless to say, so have our diets.

I know I'm not alone in the fact that we live so close to all the beautiful memorials and wonderful Smithsonian museums in Washington, but despite the fact we live so close, we don't go as often as we should. Today, I decided since the weather was so great to head down to the mall (not Pentagon City mall, as my son originally thought) and spend the day meandering around.

We did pop in my husband's office on Capitol Hill to share some of our Halloween candy and to visit some. We decided to go to the Air and Space Museum and ended up spending hours there and then we spent a good deal of time at the Botanical Gardens both inside and outside. I love that my kids love the Botanical Gardens because I think walking around there all worries, concerns and agendas are forgotten. I actually at one point laid down on this large bench with my daughter and we enjoyed looking at the clouds through the sky light.

It was a special treat to have a "free" day on a Tuesday, and to not capitalize on the extra time that I could have gotten other things done around the house, focused on a work project or other priority. Having a nice, slow day was what we all needed and now we just need to get the candy out of our house.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Out the Door On Time

Today is a rainy, dreary day and thank goodness my family's morning routine went picture perfect this morning. A lot of it is due to my planning ritual that takes place at night...clothes laid out for the next day, check; lunches made, check; homework done, check; in-bed on time, double check!! Sometimes the last thing I feel like doing at night is making lunches, but the next morning I'm always grateful that I did.

I'm a big believer in raising independent, self-sufficient kids and to that end, I will usually have my 8 year old help with cleaning up after dinner and making his lunch with me. I notice that my 4 year old daughter is so eager to pitch in so I gladly accept her efforts of assistance...some better than others. She is amazingly capable of picking out her own outfit to lay out the night before...sometimes with a little guidance on matching.

I find too, if I can impose the same planning ritual on my work schedule, I am much more effective the next day. I am in a much better position to work on my most important action, if I've already identified it the night before. I won't get side-tracked as easily checking e-mails and figuring out my top priority because I'll already know it.

I hope the rest of my day goes as well as my early morning. Here's to having a great, productive day...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Gaining Insight

What an exhilarating and motivating weekend I had! I attended the Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference for Organizers in Bethesda. I always enjoy going to this conference to meet up with other organizers and to learn new ideas that can help me be a better organizer, and ultimately help my clients.

I attended motivating presentations, breakouts on specific topics such as providing green services, processing and management strategies for e-mail and working with the boomer generation. The highlight of the conference for me was listening to Julie Morgenstern's presentation on becoming a better organizer through the process of "shedding". Her latest book, When Organizing Isn't Enough SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life, focuses on self discovery through the process of shedding both mental and physical clutter to achieve personal and professional success and happiness. Her Shed acronym is: separate the treasures; heave the trash; embrace your identity and drive yourself forward. I see this technique not only helping clients, but also helping me redefine my organizing practice.

Attending this conference confirmed for me that organizing and simplifying are really about change. Removing clutter in our minds, environments and schedules moves us towards positive change and allows us to focus on the priorities that we have determined are the most important to us now. This change allows us to live our lives as we have determined, without the distractions and roadblocks that clutter and being disorganized can sometimes cause.

Of course, there are many ideas I want to implement, books I purchased that I want to read, and now I have to make it happen. I figure it I implement two ideas I learned from conference, it will be well worth my time, energy and money.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Procrastinating Again...

I know we all procrastinate, but as an organizer, I feel like I shouldn't procrastinate as much as it ends up happening! In my defense, I feel like the past few months have been jam-packed with additional work and personal obligations that have stretched my normal schedule into the crazed-busy zone. Even still, I laughed when I saw that I had written my first blog in July, but because I wanted to edit it, and make it better, I didn't post it until this week. The funny thing is I really didn't edit it that much. I think I let my anxiety of blogging get in the way of my goal, which was to just start my blog and let it evolve.

I work with many clients on their paperwork and it is a common issue after we have a system set up that seems to work, the paper coming in the home or office still piles up. Some of it may be that the client needs to change a habit or behavior that relates to the paperwork, but sometimes it is just due to procrastination. The paper may not be processed because the client feels that it is going to take longer than it will, or that it will be harder to do than it actually is, or that he can't do it because of other priorities.

I recommend doing the task you dislike most (maybe it is processing mail) first and then start working on your most important task/project for the day. If you can try this for a week, I guarantee that your stress level will go down and you will be able to face whatever you need to react to each day because your major priority will at least have been addressed.

Now that I have started blogging, I actually like it and I wish I hadn't stressed about it as much as I did these last few months.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Getting Stuck With Packing Tape

I have a new client who is in a business where he receives and sends out many packages. Our first appointment centered around getting his supplies centralized and figuring out how to store all of his necessary shipping materials. We were both laughing after awhile because by the time we had all of the supplies corraled from underneath piles, in other rooms and other places in his office, he must have had 50 rolls of packing tape!

I learned a big lesson that had me thinking of him, one I thought I already knew in the UPS store last week....the value of my time. As I lugged a way too heavy defective garbage disposal into the UPS store to be shipped back, shipping paid for by the disposal company, I was shocked to find out that it would cost me $15.00 for the box, stuffing and service to prepare the box. I struggled with the decision to pay the $15.00 or just buy the box for $5.00 and slap the label on the box myself. I opted to save the $10.00 and I lugged the box and disposal out feeling I had saved some money. Low and behold, after coming home, I came to discover I had no packing tape, to prepare the box and no time to run to the office supply store. And so it sat in my office and then living room for a week.

Of course, I now have stocked up on packing tape, and I will share with my client how he never would find himself in my predicament. I also relearned the lesson of how valuable my time is and that sometimes it does make sense to just pay a little extra to get the job done!

10 Minutes to Bliss

The countdown was on as I found out that the kick-off activity of the Cub Scouts year would be a bike rodeo. My husband is the den leader and my son, who is 8 had not mastered riding a bike. Our son informed us that he wouldn't go and I explained to him that if he was willing to give me 10 minutes a day, he would be riding his bike by the event. Lots of grumbling and reluctance ensued, but I did get a half-hearted commitment.

I blame it on not having a garage and his bike not being easily accessible, but there wasn't time to diagnosis why. I had two weeks to get him feeling confident on his bike, and I truly believed it would happen. Each day after school and on the weekends, I would pile his bike in my car and we'd drive down to the Belle Haven Marina along the parkway. He practiced on the grass and it took him a few days before he started to get excited about his progress. We had a few bumps along the way, but within a week he felt confident enough to start riding his bike up and down our street.

Of course, like I hoped, many days our practice time stretched on to close to an hour because he was having fun. It was so great to see him excited about his progress. When the bike rodeo came he meshed right in there with the other boys.

The bike rodeo has come and gone, but most days after school, and at least one weekend day, he'll be out there riding his bike. One Sunday recently, he and I were riding through the neighborhood, and he turned to me and said, "we should do this more often, Mom." He totally made my day saying that, and I have him to thank as I sped down the hill with the wind rushing in my face.

Friday, July 31, 2009

A New Blogger...

Well here I am starting my first blog with excitement, trepidation and anxiety. I am excited because I feel it is a great way to communicate thoughts and share ideas on ways to organize and simplify so that we can all live and work better. I have just updated my website and I think through my blog I can keep my website more active.

I approach blogging with trepidation and anxiety because I don't really know what I'm doing! So I figure sometimes the best way to figure something out is to just dive in.

My husband and I are usually the last people to jump on to the latest and coolest thing that everyone is doing or the latest technological advancement that everyone has. For example we don't have ipods yet, haven't jumped in on the whole social networking bandwagon, but we are leading fulfilling lives. Sometimes the very things that we think we need to have, especially when it comes to communication and technology, can be a huge time zapper. We live in a society where we feel we have to be available all of the time, when really we don't. If we can figure out ways to use these technological tools more effectively they can help us save time and lead a richer life. I know at some point I will get an Ipod and I'll join the social networking craze, and I know I'll think why didn't I do this sooner?

I am hopeful that this blogging experience will be fun and a value added benefit to my clients and those people who are interested in organizing and simplifying their lives so that they have more time to do what makes them happy.