Plan Your Return from Traveling

Sue on John Muir TrailYou’re probably pretty good at planning and organizing your vacations and other trips – I’d like to think it’s due, at least in part, to my previous writing on the topic. But have you ever given thought to how to make the end of your trip just as organized as the beginning? Having recently returned from a two-week backpacking vacation with no access to electronics (it was heavenly!), I’ve recently put these tips into action myself– following them not only helped me ease back into civilization, but has also left me in good shape for my next trip.

Unpack thoroughly. Don’t be tempted to stash your suitcase (or backpack) in a corner and keep returning to it to retrieve items as you realize the things you need are still in there. Spend 15 minutes pulling everything out (be sure to check all the zippered compartments and pockets) and getting each item where it belongs – laundry in the hamper (or better yet, in the washer), toiletries in the bathroom (unless you keep them in your suitcase to be ready for the next trip), etc. A thorough unpacking will save you the time and frustration of looking for things, unless, of course, you enjoy a good suitcase standoff.

Prepare for your next trip. Rather than doing a last-minute scramble to restock toiletries or repair a broken carryon wheel, make note of what you need to replenish or repair. Add items to your shopping or to-do list so you’re ready to roll when the next travel opportunity arises.

Update your packing list. Make note of items you wish you’d taken with you, as well as items you took but wish you hadn’t. For example, I wish I’d brought my long undies on my recent trip, as nighttime temps got into the 40s. Also make note of travel tidbits that can be helpful on future trips. For me, it was a list of things to stow in my bear canister overnight (to prevent them from attracting critters, large and small, to my tent).

Click here for a link to my newsletter where you can find more tips for returning from a trip.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog

How to Manage Email When Traveling for Business

Checking email on phoneHaving just returned from a two-week vacation “off the grid,” I wasn’t surprised to find over 700 emails waiting for me. Some waited more patiently than others, as some senders re-emailed me, apparently having missed the auto-reply indicating I wouldn’t be responding to messages for a while. Although I had a good “excuse” not to check messages because I was in a wilderness area with no cell phone coverage (please get in touch if you’d like to hear more about my trip!), I wouldn’t have checked messages anyway since I prefer vacation to be a time fully disengaged from work. However, it’s a different story when I travel for business. Here’s how I manage emails when I’m traveling for business – I hope you’ll find some ideas you can use as well:

Manage expectations. I enable an automated out-of-office reply to let senders know I’ll have limited access to emails and will get back to them when I return on a given date (which is usually one day after my planned return date so I have time to recover). I let my existing clients know I’ll be gone, and give them my cell phone number for emergencies. They have been incredibly respectful of not calling it unless something is truly urgent.

Create focused time. Whether it’s for 15 minutes during a lunch break, or 30 minutes at the end of the workday, I make time to do nothing but process email. I also grab otherwise wasted moments (e.g., in a taxi, waiting at the airport, etc.). I don’t check a few emails, then check Facebook, then jump back to email. I simply focus on email – it’s amazing how much I can accomplish in a short period of time with this sense of focus. Yes, I do check emails in the evening, but 30 minutes of focused time each evening while I’m out of the office allows me to hit the ground running when I return, and it gives me a sense of relief to know I won’t be facing an avalanche of email upon my return.

Create rules. I’ve created rules so that newsletters, messages from vendors, social media updates, and messages from other senders I know won’t require an immediate response go to a “Read Later” folder for my leisurely review.

Scan for urgency. I use the subject line or sender to guide me on which emails get the most immediate attention. I’ll eventually get to all my messages, but when time is tight during work hours, I prioritize who and what get my attention during my limited time. And since many non-urgent messages are automatically routed to my Read Later folder, it’s fairly easy to prioritize what actually lands in my inbox.

Process with a purpose. Rather than taking a “skim and delay” approach of reading a message and vowing to get back to it later, I do something purposeful with each message as I read it – I respond, forward, delete, etc. If I don’t have the time or resources to respond in a meaningful way while I’m out of the office, I’ll flag the message to follow up once I return from my travels.

Have remote access to files. I use SugarSync to automatically store my files in the cloud, so if I don’t have access to files on my computer, I can still get to them from my smartphone and carry on with business as usual.

I’d love to hear how you manage email while you travel, whether it be for business or pleasure.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog

Good Health Starts in an Organized Kitchen

Organized KitchenAs the most frequently used room in most homes, the organizational state of your kitchen can have a huge impact on your quality of life. Having an organized, functional kitchen provides a great way to stay on track with your health goals, and provides a calm, relaxed atmosphere that contributes to positive mental health as well. Make your life healthier, easier, and more energy filled with the following organizational tips:

Choose glass over plastic every time. Place chopped and ready-to-eat vegetables and fruits in glass containers at eye level in your refrigerator to make healthy snacking an easy first choice. This also makes it easy to prepare a personalized salad for everyone’s tastes in your home. Glass containers are not only a safer material than the plastic containers your fruits and vegetables may have arrived in, but they also make food visible, easy to heat if needed, and can be used repeatedly.

Place leftovers on the top shelf of your refrigerator so you don’t forget about them. This cuts down on waste and allows you to benefit from your efforts in the kitchen over multiple meals.

Place vegetables and fruits in separate drawers of your fridge so you can easily assess what you have and what you may need to replenish in each category. This is also a better option for prolonging the life of your vegetables, as the ripening agent in some fruits (enzymes) can prematurely ripen and spoil nearby vegetables.

Place all oils and vinegars together for easy access while cooking, and so you can easily see what you have on hand v. what you may need to restock.

Place all grains (rice, pasta, quinoa, oats) together in your cabinets.

Place all canned goods together, subcategorizing as needed (beans, tomato products, fruit, etc.).

Place all less-than-healthy snacks on a top shelf so you have to work harder to get them.

Click here for a link to my newsletter where you can find more tips for a healthy kitchen.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog

How I Got Over Being Overwhelmed and Moved Forward

Family VacationAlthough I love to update my photo albums (yes, old school physical photo albums), a busy schedule and inertia had kept me from updating them for the last 2 years. The piles of unsorted photos were intimidating, and knowing that I’d only have bits of time here and there to work on getting them into albums made it seem useless to even get started. Determined to get over the hump, I asked myself a number of key questions to help me move this endeavor forward. Maybe some of these questions will help you make progress on things that are otherwise holding you back:

“Is this important enough to spend time on?” It’s easy to fall into the trap of doing something because you’ve always done it that way. I wanted to be sure I wasn’t loading myself with unnecessary guilt and stress about not completing my albums, so I asked myself if it was an important enough project to spend time and energy on it. Travel and family are important to me, and looking at my photos in albums is the best way for me to remember important events in those areas. And putting them into physical albums is a fun creative outlet for me. Therefore, I confirmed to myself that yes, updating the albums was important enough to spend time on

 “What’s the very next action I need to take on this?” Slightly modified from Getting Things Done guru David Alan’s key question, I focused on just the very next thing I needed to do to move forward on updating my albums: First, gather the Snapfish envelopes of printed photos; next, review the digital photos on my computer and order prints of anything I don’t already have copies of; next, sort the envelopes and their contents into chronological order; and so on. Identifying each step of the process helped me focus and not worry about how long it would take.

“When will I do it?” it’s easy to intend to do something, but a commitment improves one’s chances of actually doing something. Rather than telling myself I’d work on the albums when I have time, I committed to working on them every evening right after dinner. Although dinnertime was different each evening, I knew exactly when I’d be working on my albums. I also told my husband of my plan, and he helped hold me to it (at my request).

“How can I make this easier?” One of the biggest hurdles for me was the set-up required – pull out the albums, pull out the supplies, spread things out on the dining room table, etc. All that set-up work added to my sense of overwhelm. To get over this hurdle, I determined it would be easiest for me to just leave the project out on my dining room table, so I could just jump right into the project each evening with minimal set-up time. To keep the table, which is in a highly visible part of my home, from looking cluttered and feeling embarrassed of the mess when people stopped by, I covered it with an easily removed tablecloth whenever I wasn’t working on the albums. When it was time to work, I just removed the cloth.

Voila! In just one month, I got the albums up to date. Inch by inch, it was a cinch!

What questions will help you get over the things that are holding you back from getting organized?

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog

Lessons on Success from a Hockey Team

Tommy HawkMy favorite sports team, the Chicago Blackhawks, recently won their third professional hockey championship trophy in 6 seasons– the Stanley Cup. It’s hard to believe that a short time ago the Hawks organization was ranked by ESPN as the worst of all professional teams in all sports, predominantly due to outdated management habits that were no longer working (and sometimes never worked). Now they’re ranked in the top 10 and are one of business and sport history’s greatest turnaround stories. Whether or not you’re a hockey fan, you can learn some important lessons about achieving your goals from the Blackhawks.

Surround yourself with people who can help you achieve your vision. Since 2008, the Blackhawks have made personnel changes throughout the management ranks at all levels. Eleven years after being rated the worst sports franchise, the Blackhawks have won what is arguably the hardest championship of all professional sports to win – and they’ve done it three times. Are the people in your life or business supporting you in being your best? Are you tolerating sub-par performance or people who try to sabotage your success? Do you need to make the tough decision to change how much you rely on people who don’t have your best interests at heart?

Let people know you care about them. With new, visionary thinkers at the helm, the Blackhawks changed many of their policies, including how they interacted with their fans and past players. Within the last eight years, they’ve held their first fan convention, allowed the home games to be televised, and invited past stars to be ambassadors for the team. As a result, game attendance and nationwide interest in the team has skyrocketed. Are you treating the people in your life, including family members, employees, customers and vendors in a way that makes them want to support you?

Click here for a link to my newsletter to read more about setting yourself up for success.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog

Time Management Tips for Everybody

timeNo matter what role you play in life – stay-at-home parent, CEO, student, entrepreneur, retiree, etc. – managing your time has an impact on your quality of life. Well actually, managing yourself with respect to time has an impact, since we can’t manage time itself. It’s not my role to tell you what you should be doing with your time, but I can help you find ways to use time in ways that will make you successful, in whatever way you define success. Here are a few ideas to consider:

Say “no” more often.  I’ve previously written about the power of saying “no.” Evaluate what’s important to you and only take on new roles and tasks that will help you meet your goals. Consider what saying “yes” will cost you in terms of time away from other things you may prefer to do.

Plan your day. It may sound elemental, or it may sound confining, but I’ve found that daily planning is the most prevalent and powerful habit of successful people with whom I work. If you were going to go on a road trip to a specific destination, you’d most likely plan your route, right? Do the same with your day – figure out what you’d like to accomplish by the end of the day and plan your route to success.

Make time for self-care. Adequate sleep, proper nutrition, and physical activity all have a positive impact on our ability to focus and work efficiently. Busy people often sacrifice sleep to get more done, but studies show that inadequate sleep leads to workplace errors and reduced productivity. Even when you’re feeling the crunch of a deadline, your best option may be to get some rest and recharge your brain, rather than spin your wheels when you’re tired.

Focus on one thing at a time. There’s a lot of satisfaction to be gained from finishing what you start, but if you bounce from task to task due to distractions, it may be hard to achieve that satisfaction. Eliminate the sources of distraction by choosing times during the day to ignore your phone and email and focus on the task at hand. If it’s helpful, jot down on a sticky note what you want to be working on at the moment so you can refer to it when you find yourself getting pulled off track. If you’re severely prone to distraction, set a timer to go off in frequent intervals to give yourself the opportunity to evaluate whether you’re still working on what you intended to be.

Find what works for you. There’s no right or wrong when it comes to time management – just what does or doesn’t work for you. Pay attention to how you spend your time and look for opportunities to take control in areas that could benefit.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog

Tips for Planning an International Trip

travelSummer is almost here – hurray! Now’s the time many of us will be heading out of town, or even out of the country, for vacation. To make sure you experience smooth sailing (or flying as the case may be), here are some tips for planning an international trip.

Make sure your passport is still valid – many countries require your passport to be valid at least six months past your departure date. Make two copies of your passport and photo ID – leave one at home and pack one in your luggage. This will make it easier to get another passport if your passport is lost or stolen. Check out the US Department of State’s travel website for foreign entry requirements and travel warnings.

Use Kayak to find the best airfares. You can set alerts so that if fares go down you will be notified via email. Once you find the fare you are comfortable with, I suggest you go directly to that airline’s website to book your ticket. Make sure you get an email confirmation with the ticket numbers on it.

For hotels you’ve booked online, reconfirm your reservations via email prior to your departure. Print out your reservation with the address and have it handy when you arrive at your destination so that you can let your driver know where you are going.

Go to your bank prior to departure and order a small amount of the local currency for taxis and small purchases. While there are ATM’s in most airports, you may not have time to access them upon arrival.

Check with your credit card company to see if they charge an additional fee for currency conversions on your purchases. Many credit card companies are eliminating that fee. Capital One credit cards are an example. Advise your credit card company beforehand that you will be traveling out of the country so they know your card has not been compromised. An additional consideration is to have a credit card with chip technology embedded in it. Here’s what Rick Steves has to say about such cards. The most economical way to change additional money while traveling is with your debit card – ATMs are plentiful in most major cities. Leave the travelers’ checks at home – they are very expensive to change for cash and many establishments do not accept them.

Click here for a link to my newsletter to read more about preparing for international travel.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog


Productivity Tools Alone Can’t Save You

computerThere are loads of electronic gadgets and online tools to help track your to-dos and appointments (Outlook, Google Calendar, Wunderlist, etc.), capture information (Evernote, OneNote, etc.), manage your grocery list (e.g., GroceryIQ), and help with a myriad of other things that are part of surviving modern life. However, whether you use the latest electronic gadget or go old school and use paper and pencil, it’s important to have good productivity habits in place in order to make the most of your productivity tools.

For example, I’ve worked with plenty of folks who use an electronic task list to capture to-dos and break down projects into individual tasks. However, some of these people failed to identify when they were actually going to do each task, so deadlines got missed and opportunities were lost. The productivity habit I helped them establish was to move their intentions (the to-dos) into a commitments by scheduling them on their calendar. The electronic task list was certainly helpful for them to get to-dos out of their head and into a place they trusted they’d be able to find them again, but it didn’t help them actually get the tasks completed. Whether using an electronic device or a simple paper list, the habit of assigning a “when” to tasks will improve your productivity.

As another example, some of my clients use Evernote to capture and organize information and ideas, including notes from meetings. However, sometimes the meeting notes include action items for which the person is responsible. Without a system for moving these action items into their task or calendar system, they would miss key assignments that others were relying on them to complete. Make sure your system of capturing information includes the habit of reviewing that information and identifying when action is required.

Keep in mind that although tools and technology can help refine your productivity skills, good productivity habits are the key to being most successful.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog

So Much Media, So Little Time

Movie TicketsI was interviewed in the Chicago Tribune by a journalist who was grappling with his desire to enjoy more leisure time by watching more movies & television and reading more books. He was concerned that his lists of must-watch TV, books to read, and movies to experience kept growing, but his available media consumption time was not keeping pace. You can read the full article by finding the link in my newsletter, but I’ve summarized it here in the interest of giving you more leisure time. You’re welcome!

Adding new items to your media consumption wish list without removing anything, comes at a cost. It might be sleep; it might be time with friends; whatever it is, be sure you’re willing to pay the price of adding more. Otherwise, use the four Ds to help you pare down:

  • Delete – Wouldn’t it feel great to reduce your guilt by getting rid of something from your queue of obligations? Can you live with the outcome of not watching or reading everything? Rather than hope that illness or injury will give you a reason to spend a month on the couch catching up on the shows you’ve recorded, give yourself permission to enjoy the best of what’s there guilt-free, and let the rest go.
  • Diminish – Fast forward on TiVo. Accept that you already have a good foundation of knowledge on a subject from other sources. For example, do you have to watch the entire six-hour Ken Burns cancer documentary, or is your current knowledge good enough? Can you just watch the final hour to hear a summary of the latest findings?
  • Delay – If you don’t get to it now, it will still be out there when you have more time to take it in. Put it on a list for future enjoyment.
  • Delegate – Do you have to watch it or read it, or would reading a review or synopsis be good enough?

Go with the flow. Setting a pattern, like reading one old book after reading two new ones, may be helpful. But it can also be confining. If you’re in the mood to read another new book after already reading two new ones, by golly, read another new book. This is for your enjoyment, right?

Be true to yourself. Enjoy the media because you want to, not because you think you should. So what if you haven’t seen the latest movie everyone’s talking about – welcome to my life! Even if I’m not always part of the cultural conversation, I’m ok with it and I still find plenty of things to talk about with friends and colleagues.

Here’s to more enjoyable leisure time and less guilt.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog

History of Spring Cleaning: Chicago and Beyond

Spring cleaning has been a mainstay for much of human history. Some say the tradition began as a Jewish practice in preparation for Passover, requiring the removal of all leavened bread from the home – right down to the crumbs. Others attribute spring cleaning to the Chinese, who clean their houses and sweep their floors of bad luck in anticipation of the Chinese New Year.

As a practical matter, spring cleaning was of particular importance to those living in cold climates. The onset of winter required northerners to turn on wood-burning and, later, coal-burning furnaces, which would leave soot on the floors and walls along with a hearty smoke smell in all of the linens. Families would open their doors at the first sign of spring to welcome the change of seasons and to take every piece of furniture and every scrap of cloth outside. As the linens aired out, some members of the family worked to rid the furniture of soot and ash while others swept the house, scrubbed the walls, and dusted everything in sight.

Many changes took place in the 3,000 years between the first celebration of Passover and the effective end of coal-burning furnaces. The Romans paved the way for hygienic living in the third century B.C., when they siphoned water from the newly invented aqueducts to supply the public baths. Five centuries later, the Greek physician, Galen, advised bathers to lather up with soap while enjoying the communal bathing experience. Soap itself was discovered near Rome at the fictional Mount Sapo, where rain mixed with the fat of animal sacrifices, pooling in the clay of the Tiber River below. Women who washed clothes in this river walked away with cleaner laundry than those washing at inferior watering holes.

When Rome fell in 467 A.D., so did European standards of cleanliness. By the 14th century, unsanitary living conditions brought on the Black Plague, and it took 300 years for bathing and personal hygiene to be en vogue again in Europe. Even still, soap was unaffordable to most people and was seen as a luxury item until prohibitive soap taxes were revoked in the 1800s.

To curb pollution, Chicago was among the first cities to regulate smoke emissions in 1881. Even still, Chicago homes were using mostly coal as a heat source through the 1940’s. To Chicagoans living in late 19th and early 20th century, spring cleaning would have been an important yearly ritual to scrub the coal soot off their walls, furniture, and clothing. However, by 1975 only 1.5% of homes in Chicago were still using coal as a heat source, as most had switched to natural gas.

Thanks to technology, spring cleaning today is a much less labor-intensive process. Most people see it as an opportunity to purge. Others celebrate the occasion by looking at their lives and their homes in a new light. Whatever this spring brings, make sure your life is in full bloom and your home is sparkling.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this guest posting from ServiceMaster by Zaba. I’d love to hear about your spring cleaning rituals.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog