Taking a Break Can Improve Productivity

As you zoom through your day, you may be so focused on crossing everything off your to-do list that you fail to enjoy the benefits of taking periodic breaks. In case you haven’t already taken the advice I’ve offered previously on this subject, here’s a video that offers some perspective on the paradox of taking a break for improved productivity:

I encourage you to periodically give your mind and body a chance to rest and refresh to help refocus your attention, boost your energy, relieve stress, and sharpen your brain power.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog

Make Space for the New Year

New Year ToastHere are some tips are about de-cluttering various areas of your life so you can create physical and mental space for something new and exciting in the year ahead. I hope they inspire you to make this your best year yet.

If you want to eat more healthily, de-clutter your kitchen. Clear out food items that don’t align with your new eating habits. Let go of small appliances, utensils, etc. that aren’t in sync with your new healthy lifestyle. For example, say goodbye to the deep fryer or cookbooks that the new, healthier you won’t need. You can donate unopened foods that are still within the freshness date to your local food pantry, and find charitable organizations who will appreciate your other unneeded items. When you let go of items that represent or enable unhealthy eating habits, you create space for new, healthier eating practices to come into your home and life.

If you want to lose weight, de-clutter your closet. To help you keep your eye on your goal, create space in your closet for the size you intend to become. Let go of a few items in the size you are right now, as well as larger sizes, to create space for the new, slimmer you. Of course you won’t want to let go of everything in your current size, but if you clear out a few items, your closet will remind you that you intend to lose weight and fill it with items in a smaller size.

If you want to spend more time with your family, de-clutter your calendar. It’s hard to spend meaningful time with family if your calendar is packed with commitments that have you constantly on the go. Scrutinize your current commitments and let go of activities that no longer energize or inspire you. Say “no” to volunteer responsibilities that leave you drained and resentful of the time they require. Consider replacing these obligations with family-centered activities or free time that can be used for family events.

Click here for a link to my newsletter to read more about making space in your life.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog

Five Phrases That Keep You Disorganized

5Ever wish you could wave a magic wand and make the clutter and disorganization in your life go away? As you’ve probably figured out by now, wishful thinking isn’t going to turn your dream into reality. Here are some other things you may be telling yourself that are keeping you from achieving the simplicity, harmony and freedom of organization you desire:

  1. “I don’t have time.” We all have the same 24 hours in a day, and how we use that time is up to us. If getting organized is important to you, you’ll make it a priority and find time for it. It doesn’t have to be a huge chunk of time – even spending just 10 minutes a day organizing can move you towards your goal. If you do that for just a month, you’ll be 5 hours closer to being organized. So get off the couch and get going!
  2. “If I can’t see it, I’ll forget to do it.” Maybe it’s a piece of paper to remind you to make a phone call. Maybe it’s a piece of clothing to remember to take to the cleaner. If you leave out everything you have to do, you’ll end up with a huge pile of stuff that isn’t prioritized, becomes part of the scenery, and is only as useful as the item on top. Oh wait, you do have just such a pile! Since that method isn’t working for you, how about putting those to-dos on a calendar or master to-do list and putting the items somewhere other than your kitchen counter, table, etc.
  3. “If I can’t see it, I won’t be able to find it.” Hmm, I’m guessing your dishes, socks, laundry detergent and/or glassware are stored behind doors or in drawers, yet you can easily find them, eh? When things have a place they belong that is consistent and logical, you can find them whether or not they’re in plain view.
  4. “I don’t have enough space.” I’ve seen plenty of instances where the amount of people’s stuff expands to fill (and overflow) the space they have. Too little space is most likely not the problem – the problem is you have too much stuff. If you pare down what you have, buy only what you need, and get rid of something every time something new comes in, I’ll bet you’ll find your space is quite sufficient.
  5. “I’m just not an organized person.” Good news! Organization is a skill that can be learned. There are plenty of books, blogs, products, TV shows, websites, and social media sites that can teach you how to get organized. And if none of those are working for you, maybe hiring a professional organizer is the answer. Just as a personal trainer can help you get in physical shape, a professional organizer can uncover your challenges, help you achieve what you haven’t been able to on your own, and provide accountability that will help you stay organized for the long term.

 By shifting your mindset and changing your habits, you can indeed turn your dream of being organized into a reality.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog


What Financial Documents Should You Keep?

person filling out tax formsIt’s surprising how many people have financial documents all over the place –on the floor, on the kitchen table, in boxes in the basement, in dresser drawers – everywhere but where they can easily find them. If this sounds like you, read on! I’ve invited Sharon Case, CDFA, to share some helpful organizational suggestions for your financial papers.

Spend an afternoon getting all of your documents into files. Organization will help you, your financial advisor, your accountant and your heirs. Having important financial documents organized in one place will help you find what you need for appointments with your financial professionals, or even to complete your own tax return. It will also help your heirs in the case of your death. You don’t want your loved ones to have to search high and low for important documents after you pass, especially while they are dealing with the emotions of your death. None of us like to think about dying, but it really helps to have these documents organized in one place if the unforeseen happens.

Here is what you’ll want to put in your files:

Investment statements:  Organize them by type: IRA statements, 401K statements, non-IRA statements (brokerage accounts), and annuity statements. The annual statements are the most important. You can typically shred monthly or quarterly statements. Keep confirmations of purchases of investments for non-IRA accounts. You will need these items for documentation of “cost basis” when doing your taxes. Also retain your IRA- and 401-K- related forms: Form 8606, Form 5498 and Form 1099R.

Bank Statements: Keep the last three years on file just in case you get audited.

Credit card statements: These are less necessary to keep, but you may want to keep any statements that contain tax-related purchases (e.g., purchases for a business-related item) for up to seven years.

Click here for a link to my newsletter to read more about how long to keep financial documents.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog

De-clutter Your Calendar and Commitments

stuffed plannerIs your calendar as cluttered as other areas of your home? Is every day loaded with appointments, obligations and tasks? As we move towards the holiday season, it’s common for the demands on our time to become even more overwhelming than normal. Here are some ideas to help you de-clutter and organize your day and feel more in control, no matter what the season:

Identify your goals. Goals help us define the direction we want to head in life. Maybe it’s to be a nurturing parent, or to be a top-notch employee, or to be of service to a particular cause. Goals can help us determine how we want to spend our time – without them, there’s no way to prioritize the options of what to do with our time. It doesn’t matter if we’re sitting on the couch eating bonbons or spending time with a loved one who’s sick – without goals no one activity is more important than any other.

Make a list of all your commitments and to-dos for the next few weeks. Include appointments, social events, things you’ve promised to do for others, things you have to do to support your commitments (e.g., shop for the ingredients to make cookies for the bake sale, buy and wrap gifts for the gift exchange, etc.). When you have a complete picture of everything you have to do, you’ll be in a better position to choose what’s important.

Estimate how long each of the items you listed in the prior step will take. Although it may seem extraneous, determining how much time is required to tackle your obligations is an important component of de-cluttering. It will allow you to see just how full your plate is and whether “magical thinking” is causing you to believe you have more time than you actually do to get everything done.

Apply the 4Ds. Once you’ve identified your goals, your obligations and your time requirements, you can apply the 4Ds to help match the time available to the time needed. The 4 Ds are:

  • Delete – Eliminate anything not in alignment with your goals (or delegate it per the next D) or anything you can live with the outcome of not doing. Sure, it might be nice to make homemade holiday decorations, but if it will take away time from your family, and your goal is to spend more time with family, reconsider how important this task may be.
  • Delegate – Can someone else do one of your tasks faster or better than you? Would someone else derive joy from doing it, and all that matters to you is that it gets done? Consider delegating things that don’t have to be done directly by you.
  • Diminish – Is there a more efficient way to do one of your tasks? Can you streamline the process or minimize the end result so it won’t take so much time?
  • Delay – Can you move things that don’t have to be done now into the future? This isn’t saying you should procrastinate, but rather, find a better time to do things that don’t fit into your life right now.

I’d love to hear how you’ve de-cluttered your calendar and commitments.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog

Stop Interruptions before They Stop You

2013 11 InterruptPhone calls, hallway conversations, people stopping by your workspace – all of these interruptions can be frustrating and disruptive to an otherwise productive day. Not to say there can’t be value in any of the conversations resulting from these situations – it’s just that they often don’t come at an opportune time for us. However, not all interruptions stem from external sources – we can sometimes be our own worst enemy. Let’s explore how to prevent (or at least mitigate the negative impact of) interruptions, no matter what the cause, from derailing your day.

Establish a time and place to focus. It can be helpful to establish a regular time for tasks that require focused concentration. Maybe you can set aside an hour a week for such tasks, or even an hour a day. Let colleagues or family members know what that time is so they can get out of the habit of trying to find you during that time. See if you can hide away in a conference room, or at least behind a closed door, to reduce the temptation for others to interrupt. I had a client who would sit in her car to read work-related materials away from the interruptions of her colleagues – now that’s being creative (and desperate)!

Choose the right time to work on tasks. Sometimes we interrupt ourselves by looking for diversions from whatever unpleasant or difficult task we should otherwise be working on. It’s best to work on such tasks when you have the most mental energy. My blog post on this subject can give you ideas on how to work around this challenge.

Click here for a link to my newsletter to read more about minimizing interruptions.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Signature Sue



It’s Only Natural to Plan Ahead

squirrel eating a nutWatching the squirrels gather and hide their food for the winter offers a great reminder for all of us that planning ahead can prevent disasters down the road. The squirrels know that whether or not they’re ready, winter will arrive soon and present plenty of survival challenges. They wisely (albeit instinctively) are doing what they can now to plan and prepare for their future.

Do you regularly plan and prepare for your future? Whether it’s something big like planning for your retirement, or something smaller like planning dinners for the week, planning ahead can save a lot of time and aggravation. Creating a daily and weekly planning ritual is the key to success in this area. Here’s a peek into my daily and weekly planning routines that might offer you some inspiration:

Daily planning time. I prefer planning towards the end of the day – it’s a good time for me to wrap up loose ends from today and prepare myself for tomorrow. My peak mental energy time is in the morning, so by planning the night before, I can hit the ground running in the morning and work on a difficult or unpleasant task when I have the most mental horsepower. Otherwise I’d have to squander some of that key time figuring out what I should do next. Some people, however, do better planning in the morning so they can ease into their day by reflecting on what needs to be done within the next 8 or 12 hours. Whether it’s first thing in the morning or at the end of your day, finding a regular time to pause and reflect on what you’ve accomplished and what you still have to get done will help you make sure you’re moving towards your goals.

Weekly planning time. I prefer to do my weekly planning on Sunday evenings as I look forward to the week ahead. My tasks include planning meals for the week (and creating the corresponding grocery list for when I go shopping on Monday evenings); discussing my (and his) calendar with my husband to make sure there are no surprises; reviewing the week’s appointments to make sure I’m prepared for my work with each of my upcoming clients; and preparing information my administrative assistant will need to do my bookkeeping and weekly administrative tasks.

What tasks need to become part of your daily and weekly planning routines?

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Signature Sue

Organization for Effective Co-Parenting

parents and daughterParenting requires organization systems and communication skills – family calendars, dinner conversations, and homework rules provide structure for kids and reduce stress on parents. If parents divorce, new structures need to be put in place to keep everyone on the same page. Communication becomes even more important although circumstances can make it more difficult. I’ve invited Theresa Beran Kulat, Esq. to share some helpful organizational suggestions for parents whether they are divorced or still married.

Continue to have (or start) regular family meetings. At least once a year, get everyone in the same room to talk. Decide as a group which extra-curricular activities each child will pursue. Parents can work out driving arrangements and other logistics. Depending on the ages of the children, include them in working out the details. An older child can ride his bike to soccer practice. Another can save babysitting money to pay for a trip to camp. I personally find family meetings most helpful in late summer to prepare for school and in the early spring plan for summer. Camps, summer school, jobs for kids present a different routine than during the school year.

Maintain a Master Calendar. Find a place in the family “hub” and put up a giant calendar on the wall.  Use different color markers for each person to provide a visual reminder of what is coming up.  Two-home families need to be more creative. In addition to a physical calendar, you can set up a shared online calendar to connect the two homes. Outlook, Google, and Yahoo have free options.  Parents can update the calendar with pick-up and drop-off times, kids’ practices, games, concerts, parent-teacher conferences and school holidays. Make sure kids know how to access the information and, when appropriate, allow them to enter events and activities. In addition to these free options, several companies offer online calendar sharing for a fee. Check out OurFamilyWizard.com, JointParents.com and ParentingTime.com.

Click here for a link to my newsletter to read more about organization for effective co-parenting.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog

Pause and Refresh to Improve Productivity

Woman relaxing on beachEver have one of those days when you’re so busy you barely have time to go to the bathroom or grab a bite to eat? Who am I kidding – we probably all have! No matter how busy you are, however, taking time to pause provides a much-needed break and reboot for your brain.

Why is that important? When you spend your day in reactive mode, busily responding to everything that comes your way, you miss opportunities to recalibrate and make sure you’re focused on what’s important. You’re so busy taking on tasks and running with them that you may miss the fact that you’re running the wrong way or with the wrong task, as something else may be more worthy of your time at the moment. We’re so caught up in the “doing” that we don’t allow time for pausing and thinking.

How do you know when you need to pause and refresh? When you show up at a meeting unprepared or without supporting materials; when you hop on a phone call without preparing for what you want to discuss; when you forget to capture outcomes from meeting or phone calls and things fall through the cracks; when dinner guests are on their way and you’re just getting back from the grocery store; when you’ve been busy all day but have no idea what you actually were doing – the list goes on and on.

So how can you make pausing and refreshing an ongoing habit? Consider what athletes, musicians and other types of performers do: they take time before the main event to prepare, not only physically, but mentally as well. For example, hockey players don’t just lace up their skates and hop on the ice; they sit, sometimes trance-like and get their game face on – visualizing how they’ll take on their opponent. It’s just part of their normal game-day routine.

Can you make it part of your routine to spend time reviewing meeting agendas well before the meeting so you can prepare? Can you make it a habit to wait to dial the phone until you’ve had a chance to review the purpose of your call and rehearse what you want to say? Can you take a few moments at the end of the day to debrief from all the day’s activities and capture next actions? Can you plan your dinner party the week before it’s scheduled? The answer to all these questions, of course, is yes you can – you just have to make these behaviors a habit. Signs, sticky notes, timers and even an accountability partner are just a few examples of ways you can remind yourself.

Improve the quality of your day – pause, breathe, and regroup often. It make take more effort to think rather than to react, but in the long run it will result improve your productivity and the quality of your life.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony, and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog

Outfox Your Inbox

smiling woman at computerThere was a time when it was exciting to receive a new email. Yay, someone is thinking of me and cares enough to write to me! Those days sure are gone. For most people, at least in their work world, email is the cause of much frustration and inefficiency. Fear not, readers – here are some ideas to help you win the battle against email overload:

Be purposeful. Don’t fall victim to the “skim and delay” technique. You know, that process where you open an email, read it, and then tell yourself you’ll deal with it later while you eagerly move on to the next email to see if it’s more interesting. Next thing you know, you have an inbox full of read but unprocessed emails that you rarely (or never) get back to. As you open each email, do what productivity guru David Allen suggests and answer the question, “What’s the next action?” Then, do something purposeful to move the email along on its journey – respond, delete, mark it for future action, file it for reference, or forward it to someone else.

Get off mailing lists. Are you on mailing lists that are no longer relevant for you? Take the time to either unsubscribe, or set up a rule to move those emails directly to your deleted folder (of course I hope you won’t do either with my newsletter, but I understand if it’s the best decision for you).

Send fewer emails. Keep in mind that every email you send will likely result in a corresponding reply. Think about whether a phone call or other form of communication might be more efficient in some situations. Even short emails like “Thanks” take time to read, so indicate when you don’t expect a reply by including “No Reply Needed” at the bottom of your message.

Send thorough emails. As Mark Twain’s quote, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead” humorously points out, taking the time to write a brief but comprehensive communication takes time. However, investing time to tell people your message clearly and concisely will save time in the long run. Your recipient will know exactly what you want from them, so a volley of back-and- forth messages is less likely. You can even be on the lookout for opportunities to make the subject line the entire email.

I’d love to hear what techniques you use to outfox your inbox.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog