Monday, May 21, 2012

Tennis and Organizing; A Winning Combination

I have found the more I can streamline routines and tailor and continue to tweak my organizational systems, the better my spaces function and I do too. Sometimes with the busyness of life or just because I am not working my systems, they malfunction and I do too. I liken it to playing tennis, when my serve is strong and the fundamentals of tennis are there, such as proper follow through, watching the ball and other basic elementary tennis skills, I can play the best tennis and even get in the zone. When I play well, it is so much fun and life is good, and when I’m not playing well, nine times out of ten it is because one of the basic tenets of tennis has fallen by the wayside. When I start focusing again on my basic tennis skills usually I can improve my game right away. How does this relate to organizing? If you find that your once uncluttered environment is now becoming cluttered or that you got out of planning your day and you are reacting more, then revisit the tenets of organization…ORDER – Organize, Routines, Decide, Edit and Readiness. O – Organize – I always tell clients that the easy part of organizing is designing a system that works for the space and most importantly has as few steps as possible. The hard part is using the system, i.e. processing the mail, putting keys where you determine make sense, using your filing system, etc. If you find that you can’t keep your systems up then maybe they need to be simplified or you may need to utilize tools to help you make it a habit, such as electronic reminders or timers. R – Routines – Incorporate a 15 minute end of day wrap-up and clean-up routine to help organize your space and position yourself for success the next day. Continue to create routines especially for children and to discuss them, practice them, and get their buy in so that they know what is expected. Routines for adults also contribute to saving time (no searching for lost keys), and enhance productivity because established routines allow us to free up our minds to focus on our priorities. Creating a routine for any standard practice we repeat daily frees up time and reduces stress because we don’t have to worry about the details of life. D – Decisions – every day we have 24 hours to decide how we are going to use it. How do we figure out what truly are our top priorities? It is important to be able to make decisions and differentiate between what is an immediate priority and what is still important, but can wait. What happens a lot is we all get into reactive mode instead of planning and prioritizing so that we can decide thoughtfully. E – Edit – I have learned to be skillful at different types of editing. There is the physical space editing that reduces clutter and enhances visual space. The other editing is related to time, editing out tasks, events and other time takers that aren’t important now, can be deferred or permanently deleted off of my schedule. This is a skill and like everyone, I can be great at it, but I also have months where I’m not editing items off of my schedule as I should. R – Readiness – In my house I’m always saying to my kids, “Are you ready for tomorrow? or “Is your backpack ready and in the right place?” Everything that can be done the night before, should be both for kids and adults. Time just slips away in the morning and there is some comfort in knowing that if there is an alarm snafu or a mini crisis in the a.m., at least all bags are packed and are ready to go. Remember the tenets of organizing and you will have more time at work to be more productive and more time at home to enjoy and relax and spend as you’d like.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Gift of More Sleep and Leisure for Mother's Day

I attended an organizing conference recently and I was struck by something I heard by one of the keynote speakers who said the way many of us live now is we regularly steal time from sleep and leisure to get everything done. She went on to say that over the long haul working too much can make us less productive and,if we give up too much of our leisure time, it eventually will catch up with us in the way of illness, sleep deprivation and effected mood. Most importantly, stealing time from sleep and leisure adversely compromises our quality of life. Hearing her presentation made me think of the time deficit we all seem to have these days due to advances in technology and the lines of work and home becoming less defined. I have the fortune to work with many great clients and many of them are moms. Moms who work outside of the home, Moms who don’t, all amazing wonderful, involved women, and what I’ve noticed, besides the fact that we all have the same stuff, is the uncompromising love we have for our children and families. Something else that is very clear is most of us are pressed for time and at times feel stressed and overwhelmed. The first thing I tell my clients when they are feeling this way is to do an audit of their schedule to determine if there is anything that can be deleted, deferred or delegated. I call this audit the 4 Ds and the last D is decide. We all need to decide how we are going to spend our available blocks of time. When we plan and make conscious decisions about time it is easier to say no to requests that can’t be scheduled now or defer or delegate issues that come up when we already have decided how we are spending our precious 24 hours. The second thing we usually do is focus on organizing the space where most time is spent. When clutter is purged along with it goes stress, negativity and wasted time. To honor all busy, wonderful moms this Mother’s Day I am offering a 10% discount off my 3-hour organizing audit to help you focus your energies where you want them to be and to make sure you are blocking out enough time for sleep and leisure. Happy Mother’s Day!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Earth Day Celebrations: Recycle Your Stuff to Join in the Festivities

Each year most cities organize Earth Day festivities that in some cases include paper shreds, electronic recycling as well as all types of green initiatives and fun activities. This time of year always gets me thinking about how organizing at its core supports recycling and green initiatives. How wonderful is it to not have to buy those big plastic toys for our toddlers when we can get them 2nd hand through a neighbor whose kids have aged out of them or at a Thrift Store?

When my clients are organizing their spaces they always think about recycling and donating first before throwing anything in the trash. As we continue our spring cleaning, organizing and lighten our homes, lets continue to think of all ways we can recycle what we don't need, want or use now and think of others.

Here are a few local Earth Day events:

Alexandria Earth Day - April 21st
Fairfax Earth Day - April 28th
Power Purge and Shred - April 25th - 7 a.m. - 7 p.m.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

My New Love: CardStar

Since I have the organizing gene, anytime I can improve a system or process or use something in a new way that saves time or somehow is better, it is always something to celebrate. I have been singing the praises of my new found treasure, the App, CardStar.

My purse got about 5 pounds lighter thanks to an organizing friend who introduced me to it. CardStar holds digitally all of the plastic cards and key tabs that many stores and restaurants entice us with to get discounts. Viola, my wallet is not overstuffed and my three key rings (yes, I have three) can now just hold keys because all of the plastic cards and key tags can be left home! In addition to the convenience of not having to carry all of the extra plastic, CardStar saves us time too as it organizes the cards alphabetically so there is no more hunting for the right loyalty card - as they are all available, in alpha order, in the same place, once you put them on your phone. Every person I have shared the App with has the same excited reaction I did because anything to lighten our wallets and purses is something to cheer about.

Over spring break my kids and I biked into Old Town from the Belle Haven Marina heading to Ben & Jerry’s for “Free Cone Day”. I realize the cone negated the exercise! After ordering our cones, my son picked up the new Belly card, which apparently many merchants are going to start offering. Belly is a type of loyalty card that is tied into points and of course more points, equals more saving and in the case of Ben & Jerry's incentives to buy more cones. Normally, I would have to be sold on its value, since I knew nothing about it, but I knew with my CardStar App, I could just scan it and be done with it.

I think we all download popular Apps and we use them a few times and then they sit on our phones. This is not one of those Apps, trust me you will be using it regularly and you’ll be spreading the word too.

Okay, now my mission is to learn about Evernote and how to use it. More on that later….

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Living Life with Abundance

Is the saying “Less is More” really true? As an organizer, I truly believe it because I see people trapped and stressed out by their stuff. It can be expensive and stressful managing an excess of things, keeping up with the latest gadgets, figuring out how to store them, clean them and maintain them. I think by being more thoughtful, we can select the “stuff” that really speaks to us and that we need to have and by doing so, what we end up having are things that represent us and our life, instead of an overabundance of stuff that drains us.

Living life with abundance is a good philosophy to be reminded about to get us out of just living life going through the motions, and instead thinking about how we can live life more fully. This can be interpreted different ways, but usually it means to get out of reactive mode and into taking control of who you are and want to be. Of course we naturally check in with ourselves around our birthdays and at the start of a New Year, but spring also is a time to reflect on how we are living life.

As an organizer I manage clients’ physical and mental spaces, in some cases, both filled with clutter. I assist them to purge the clutter and create systems and processes to be in control of both their physical and mental spaces. Living life abundantly doesn’t mean living with an abundance of tangible things, because we all know by now that the stuff alone doesn’t make us happy. It is the relationships we form and nourish, both old and new, and the life experiences we share with others that contribute to the feeling of abundance. When we continue to meet people, be neighborly, make new friends and get involved in our communities we bring richness to our lives.

I just got back from the National Association of Professional Organizers’ ( NAPO) conference which ran for many days. It was an incredible experience , though I feel a little overwhelmed with an overabundance of materials, business cards, notes from sessions, and stuff from the exhibit hall that I need to sift through. I walked away with an increased knowledge base and many new friendships and am so glad I had this life experience. May your spring be abundant.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Spring has Sprung!

With the mild winter weather we had this year, I didn't go through my usual pining for spring temperatures because we have had 60 and 70 degree weather for a while now! Spring time for me always brings the need to clean house and organize things and prepare for the new season. Part of my readiness includes putting away the crock pot and I'm more motivated to grill food and prepare lighter fare.

I have gotten down the dreaded bins of clothes from our attic and I am half way through the process of changing the clothes out for the season. Once this task is finished I always feel 10 lbs lighter. Speaking of weight, I am working with a trainer to see if I can actually be 10 lbs lighter by summer!

The Sunday Style Section of the Post had an article last week on the average cost of laziness. It was about how we waste money buying goods and services that we can do ourselves,with planning. Consumer Reports and ShopSmart have a 5-minute rule, which really makes sense to me, "If you can peel, make or shred it in five minutes, it's not worth a premium price". Why pay a premium price for convenience? I think we have to change our mindset from regularly using these kinds of short-cuts to just when we are pressed for time. The article stressed planning out errands and grouping them together to cut down on multiple trips, packing lunch instead of buying (healthier, saves time and money) and how the small things such as using your banks ATM can save money in the long run.

A new season is another great opportunity to evaluate annual goals, make positive changes and get back into planning mode so that our days are structured the way we want.

Happy Spring!

Monday, March 12, 2012

I Got My Counter Back!

It has been really hard for me as the resident "neat freak" in our house to have cluttered kitchen counters these last few weeks. My daughter has been working on her 1st grade assignment to create a leprechaun trap since the assignment was given a few weeks back. Her quite large creation has been residing on our kitchen counter as she finessed it. Today was the day that her project was due so I excitedly helped her transport it to school!

She also had a birthday party at the end of February so we have been working on her thank you notes at the kitchen table. Of course an active 7 year old can only do a few at a time, so the box of notes has remained on the counter to be available when inspiration struck. We finally sat down this weekend and she did a great job finishing them all. The box of notes is now put away!

Other paper on the counter are current work and personal projects of mine that instead of being in my office, on another level of my home, are on the counter as I now tend to use my laptop instead of the desktop in my office. I went to the Container Store last week and got a small desktop file that holds all of my current files. I repositioned some kitchen serving bowls to another area so that I could hide my new kitchen file. And now, no more papers on the counter.

Speaking of papers, awhile back I wrote about the paper reduction service, Catalog Choice (see my January 1st blog). Apparently now the company has an app now only available for the iphone which enables the user to take a picture of the unwanted mail and then request Catalog Choice to get them off of the mailing list. You may want to check this out and let me know what you think.

So my paper is now tamed and off the counters, and I swear it has given me such a boost. Here's to a great productive week.

Friday, February 17, 2012

More Time Management Tips

I am looking forward to a relaxing, three day weekend and wish all of you a relaxing one too. Like most families,our weekends are very busy and although we strive to plan out some relaxing, down time sometimes it doesn't happen with sports, parties, activities and homework projects. Last weekend I helped my son focus on planning out his science project so that we all weren't rushing around at the last minute trying to finish it. I've realized that a fifth grader still needs a lot of guidance, support and overseeing to make sure work isn't left to the last minute. My husband and I have gotten burned a few times staying up late the night before something was due helping our son complete a week's worth of work in one night.

Of course, I got a lot of pushback that he could do it himself, don't worry, etc. Of course, Mom persisted and after strongly encouraging him (okay forcing) him to read the project outline, together we came up with goals and a timeline. It didn't take long and at the end of the 30 minutes or so he had a huge smile on his face and he said, "that wasn't so bad. Thanks Mom!"

As I've said before in other posts, a significant piece of time management is planning and also managing the procrastination demon that can influence all of us. We can all relate to how my son thought coming up with a timeline for his project was going to be hard and take too long. In most instances whatever we are dreading, once we start, we realize isn't as bad as we thought and also doesn't take as long as we think.

So I go back to some tried and true time management strategies for success:

Plan out tasks: with a big project, break down the tasks and set deadlines and then figure what needs to be done first to meet your short-term deadlines so that you can meet your overall project deadline.

What is your best time: capitalize on it and do your hardest task then.

Bundle like tasks.

Get to know the 4 Ds: Decide, Delegate, Defer, and Delete. Decide what your priorities are now, delegate if you can, defer what can be done later, and delete what is no longer relevant or a priority.

I do think planning in some relaxing down time during the week can be revitalizing and ultimately help increase productivity. Productivity equates to good time managment.

What are some of your time management strategies?

Monday, February 13, 2012

New Year's Organizing Tip #3 - Managing Time

Okay, I realize it is mid-February now, but we are still in the first quarter of the new year. The number one reason why most people want to get organized is to do more with their 24 hours, and to live better. We all feel pressed for time and really the best, easiest and cheapest way to add more time in our day is to find it through getting organized. Do you know that the average person loses an hour a day looking for things, day dreaming, procrastinating and trying to figure out what they should do? I think this is a conservative estimate and really most of us waste more time daily. How can we stop this continual waste of time? If you do the math, an hour a day adds up to two weeks a year of wasted time.

The following ideas can be applied to both our personal and work lives and these days the lines have blurred. I recommend keeping separate action lists for work and home, but one calendar. Use what makes sense for you, but maintain a calendar and if you have a family make sure that everyone is aware of the entire family schedule for the week.

Here are some ideas to buy back time:
1. Plan out your day – if you don’t plan, you react and you have lost some control to your day. Of course, there are days when it is necessary to react and handle emergencies. However, strive to identify your weekly to dos and then put them as tasks to complete daily. Plan out your week and figure out your best days, based on other appointments you have going on, to complete your priority tasks.

2. Bundle Like Tasks – make calls together; check e-mail at certain time(s)…not all day, etc.

3. Daily Wrap-up – plan to spend 15 minutes wrapping up your work day. Identify any e-mails that need to be answered, last minute calls to be made, neaten up your desk (put things away) and make sure your schedule for the next day is all set and still reflects your priorities.

4. Know your Best Time – identify the time of day when you feel the sharpest – “most on” and that is the time to do your hardest task – the one you tend to put off.

5. Use Productivity Tools – I love to use the timer on my iPhone and I make a game out of it trying to beat the clock. I find using a timer really helps when I have to do something that I find more challenging. Other tools are action lists (electronic or paper), Outlook, productivity apps, and electronic gadgets. Be careful to not let the very gadgets that are suppose to be helpful rob you of time. Know how to use them, use them wisely and don’t let them take over your life – have a shut off time.

6. Templates and Systems – If you find yourself repeating a task regularly (answering similar e-mails, explaining something repeatedly, etc.), then create a shortcut document or template that you can tailor individually. Try to keep your systems as simple as possible so that you can maintain them easily. A system is a place to store like things and then forming a habit to process it and keep it up - i.e. mail – where you are going to put it and when/how it is processed.

7. ORDER – Organize, Routines, Decide, Edit and Readiness (see my blog from Sept 2011).

Please let me know some of your timesaving strategies. I am always looking for good productivity apps to recommend.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

New Year's Organizing Tip #2 - Where does it go?

Okay, now that you have purged all of the old paper and clutter from your rooms it is time to organize them. The best way to get organized and stay that way is to zone your rooms and assign a home to every object. Sounds like a lot of work, but it isn’t really. So, for example in the family room, common activities may be playing video games, watching t.v., reading and relaxing. Objects you will need to contain are video games, DVDs, books, remote controls, wraps and throws, etc. Start one room at a time and find a home for everything. Once you have a home for EVERYTHING then literally it should take less than 10 minutes to pick up several rooms in your home.

The harder clutter to contain is paper because it can quickly become overwhelming and look worse than it is if it isn’t processed every day. Know the pattern of the paper in your house and have a home for each category – bills, regular files, resource/archival files, magazines, action, etc. As I wrote about in my first New Year’s post, have a paper command center in the hub of your home to corral everyday paper and then have a resource/archival home…probably a home office where you have a filing cabinet to hold paper you don’t need as often. Check out the photo of my administrative zone that I have organized and ready for the New Year.

My gym has a motivational message on the door entering the gym, “the hardest part is showing up” and I feel this thought can be applied to organizing. Organizing is a process like exercising that you can’t just do once to see results. Once the hard part is done (the zoning and assigning homes), then the regular “showing up” part becomes the daily processing of stuff that can be done almost in auto pilot. I smiled reading the inspirational message leaving the gym yesterday “know you’ll be back tomorrow” and I liked the simple message that progress is in small steps, many times repeated until it becomes like second nature.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

New Year's Clutter Buster Tip#1 - Purge the Stuff

As we start a new year, I thought it would be helpful to discuss clutter busting strategies. To that end I’ll focus my January posts on general organizing tips.
My husband and I always get a laugh, as I prepare for our, at least monthly charity donation pick-up, at our house, as he sings the line “….give it away, give it away, give it away now…” from the Red Hot Chili Peppers song “Give it Away”. If you only keep items in your space and closets that you love (and that fits) and represents how you live now, you won’t believe how easy it is to put together a few donation bags a month. If you haven’t already, call up your favorite charities, and get on their regular pick-up schedule to give away your gently used items not needed. There is so much that comes in to our homes that needs to be sorted, purged and given away, recycled or thrown out, and a great way to keep the stuff moving and our homes kept up is to schedule charity donations.

It all comes down to downsizing the stuff and in the kitchen and many rooms of the home, much of the stuff tends to be paper oriented. Most of the paper can be recycled or shredded and for the paper that needs to be kept, decide if it belongs in your home office (not as accessible) or your other paper storage place…probably the kitchen (regular access). I highly recommend carving out some space behind a closed kitchen cabinet to hide it. House frequently used home files such as: school, activities, coupons, menus, and other high use categories where you use those most…probably in the kitchen and not a home office. Also stored here can be mail to be saved that requires action such as bills and invitations. Have basic office supplies in your kitchen administrative area and if you have children and they do their homework in the main hub of the home, then make sure they have everything accessible so that they aren’t running off elsewhere getting distracted.

To cut down on paper coming into the home, I am trying out a mail reduction service called Catalog Choice. They offer a range of services with the main goal of keeping the unwanted paper out of your home. I signed up for their mail reduction service whereby I have to tell them what I don’t want to receive and they do the leg work to get me off of the unwanted mail lists. I am also trying out their junk mail envelope service – same idea and possibly a little more straightforward. Some of my clients are trying out the junk mail envelope service, so I’ll keep you posted on how it goes, and I’ll let you know what we think about their services.

Start purging those rooms…especially the paper!