Five Things to Put on Your Don’t-Do List

DON'T DOI’ve previously written about using a to-do list – that sometimes pesky, often helpful tool that helps make sure nothing important slips through the cracks. But often we’re so busy focusing on what we need to/should do that we blindly plod along without stopping to consider what we should stop doing. Here are a few unproductive habits that you might consider crossing off your list – permanently! I hope you to get as much value from this don’t-do list as you do from your to-do list.

  1. Don’t check email first thing in the morning. There’s not much that’s more satisfying than accomplishing a complex, challenging task. For most of us, these types of tasks are best attempted first thing in the morning, before other tasks and other people take over our day. When you check email first thing, you’re inviting the rest of the world to tell you what to do, rather than you taking charge of your day. Recognize that although it might be fun or interesting to check e-mail first thing, it’s rarely necessary and almost always unproductive.
  2. Don’t attend meetings that don’t require your presence. Ruthlessly evaluate every meeting invitation to determine what value you would add or receive by attending. Could your needs be fulfilled simply by receiving the minutes of the meeting? Could someone else attend and contribute in your place? Is there an unclear or insignificant objective for the meeting? Unless there are clearly defined objectives that matter to you and absolutely require your participation, guard your time and scrutinize every meeting invitation.
  3. Don’t confuse projects with tasks. I often encounter people who are frustrated because they seldom get everything on their daily to-do list accomplished, and it’s often because they make this mistake. A project is anything that takes more than one step to accomplish. Anything from planting the garden to planning a vacation is a project – they are accomplished in multiple, unique steps and often cannot be done in one sitting. When you plan your day, plan time to accomplish discrete tasks that will lead you towards completing projects.
  4. Don’t be constantly available. When we continuously check email, obsessively text back and forth, and answer the phone every time it rings, it’s like turning on the spigot and letting the flood of everyone’s demands drown out our well-planned day and remove us from being “in the moment”. I’m constantly amazed by the number of people I see walking down the street texting, talking on their cell phone when at a restaurant with guests, and riding public transportation with their face staring at a screen rather than connecting with their fellow human beings. Sure, there are times when we absolutely have to attend to matters, but if we’re constantly distracted by and grasping at whatever is coming at us, it’s hard to be productive. And besides, it’s important to take some time to disconnect and refresh. Which leads me to my last point…
  5. Don’t forget to smell the roses. In our busy, busy lives, it’s easy to get focused on accomplishing, rather than on being. Build some white space into your life so you can enjoy the spontaneous moments that make it all worthwhile. Don’t focus on the future at the expense of appreciating the present. Don’t neglect friends and family in the quest for accomplishing or acquiring more. Don’t take for granted all the good things you already have.

I’d love to hear what’s on your don’t-do list.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog

What Type of Decision Maker Are You?

Man Scratching HeadAmong other things, the Myers-Briggs® assessment helps people learn about how they make decisions. Decision-making is critical to the organizing process, so here are some insights on that important skill.

When it comes to organizing, there’s no right or wrong way to make decisions. The key is that you’re comfortable with the process, and more importantly, comfortable with the decisions you make. The Myers-Briggs® Type Indicator assesses preferences, but no one type is deemed to be a better decision maker. Decision-making is critical to the organizing process, so here are some insights on that important skill.

The first type indicator, Extraversion versus introversion, measures where we focus our attention. People who prefer Extraversion are more likely to want to talk through decisions with someone and look outside themselves to retrieve relevant information (e.g., a professional organizer). On the other hand, people who prefer Introversion typically want to carefully think decisions through first – they look inside themselves to retrieve relevant information and typically respond in a careful, measured way.

The next type indicator, Sensing versus Intuition, measures how we take in information. People who prefer Sensing are more likely to require concrete data and facts and consider information sequentially. People who prefer Intuition are more likely to look for meanings and patterns, anticipate the future, and think in terms of concepts.

The third type indicator, Thinking versus Feeling, measures how we make decisions based on the information we’ve taken in. People who prefer Thinking are more likely to emphasize logic and want an explanation for things, and strive to be just. People who prefer Feeling are more likely to emphasize motivation and values and strive to be caring.

Here’s a link to my newsletter where you can read more about how your preferences around making decisions impact your ability to organize.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog

 

Stop Running Late

RUNNING LATEDo you often run late? Do you constantly feel like you’re rushing to get places? If so, it may be because you’re trying to squeeze in “just one more thing” before you head out the door. Many people fall victim to this phrase, especially people with ADHD. Let’s explore this mindset and what you can do about it.

“Just one more thing” can take on many different forms:

  • Checking online for directions just before you head out the door to drive to a meeting.
  • Sending a “quick” email before you leave work to go your child’s band concert.
  • Stopping at the store to choose and buy the appetizer for the party you’re headed to.
  • Making a “quick” phone call while your family waits for you to join them for dinner.

Any one of these scenarios can be stressful on you and the people you impact. You’re rushing, you’re late, you’re reprimanded, and you’re feeling like a failure – again. What happened? You were sure that quick task would only take five minutes. Maybe you didn’t think things all the way through – the line at the grocery store was longer than you anticipated (if you anticipated a line at all!). Maybe you got distracted – once you were online or in your email, you started checking other things and lost track of time. Maybe you underestimated how long the task would take – that quick phone call took 15 minutes as you exchanged pleasantries, caught up on the latest news, and finally got to the reason for your call.

So how do you break this pattern? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Constantly ask yourself “What’s the most important thing I should be doing right now?” Should I be checking email, or should I be getting out the door so I’m not late to my son’s concert? Should I make this phone call now, or should I join my family for dinner and write a reminder to make the call later?
  • Plan ahead. Plan each day the day before, and even look two or three days ahead to see if there’s anything you need to do to prepare. Do I have directions to the meeting? Do I know what appetizer I’m going to bring, and have the ingredients for it?
  • Set a timer. If you absolutely have to squeeze in something, set a timer to make sure you’re only spending the anticipated amount of time on it. For example, if you have to get that email sent before you leave, set a timer for the five minutes you’ll allow yourself to spend on it, and let it go when the timer goes off. You may discover that trying to “beat the clock” will help you stay focused and efficient.

I’d love to hear what you do to prevent being late.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog

Tax Time Doesn’t Have to be Taxing

TAXESDo you start to panic this time of year as you think about preparing your tax return (you have thought about it by now, right?). If that panic is due to something other than disorganization, I’m not sure I can help you. But if you spend hours pulling apart your file cabinet, clearing out your car, emptying your wallet, and dismantling your paper piles looking for tax-related receipts, I’m here to tell you there’s an easier way. Use the pain of being disorganized for this year’s taxes as motivation to prepare now for next year. With some advanced preparation, you won’t have to spend hours finding, organizing, and adding up receipts. Not only will you save time, you and your accountant will able to avoid the “excitement” you’ve experienced in past pulling things together at the last minute.

Keep tax-related information together. Rather than spending hours digging through files or piles to gather, sort, and organize your tax records, consider keeping all the tax-related information in the same section of your file cabinet. Use a divided accordion file, file folders, or even envelopes to store all of your tax-related information in the same area.

Categorize your tax storage device. Review your most recent tax return and determine what types of information you needed to prepare it, or what information your accountant asked you to provide. Based on this review, label the sections of the accordion file, the file folders, or the envelopes with the corresponding categories.  For example, you may need a section called “Charitable Contributions” for cancelled checks, receipts, and letters from recipient organizations.  Other possible categories include “Dividends and/or Interest”, “Real Estate Taxes,” “Medical Expenses,” “Child Care Expenses,” etc. 

Organize your receipts as you spend. Rather than tossing them into one big pile, place receipts into the categorized sections you’ve established. This will save you a lot of sorting time at the end of the year. You may even want to total the expenditures by category each month so that by year-end, you can quickly come up with the amounts for the entire year by category.

Here’s a link to my newsletter where you can read more about how to organize your tax information.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog

Say “No” so You Can Say “Yes”

NOFeel like you have too much to do and not enough time to do it? Who doesn’t? But the simple word “no” can help you find more time. By setting priorities, you can identify which people, organizations, activities and causes aren’t in alignment with your goals. Saying “no” in these situations can free up time and allow you to say “yes” to more fulfilling activities that are in alignment with your goals.

Last year was my year of “no.” For example, I dropped out of two professional groups I’d been a member of for quite a while because they were no longer helping me grow my business. I’ve been able to maintain the friendships I’d developed in those groups, but I am now able to devote the time I’d otherwise have spent attending the group’ events to other activities that align better with my current situation. Two other long-term members of one of the groups also dropped out after I did – my move prompted them to re-evaluate their priorities and see that their time would be better spent on other things.

So, what activities are you engaged in that no longer serve you well? Rather than just rolling along, evaluate if they are still a good fit for what you want out of life. Here are some thoughts that may help you feel bolder about saying “no”:

  • Every time you say “yes” to doing something, you’re saying “no” to other things you won’t have time to do as a result.
  • Even if the requester tries to entice you with how little time their request will take (e.g., “It will only take a few minutes”) remember that you’ll never get that time back.
  • Rather than considering only the amount of time your obligation will require you to invest by saying “yes”, think of what it will cost you in terms of activities and accomplishments you won’t have time for. For example, attending a meeting won’t just take up 30 minutes of your life, it will cost you time away from your family.
  • When you’re compelled to say “yes,” be aware of whether you’re responding out of a sincere desire to be of service, or rather out of a sense of fear, obligation, or payback. Reconsider your response if it’s one of the latter three. Of course, you may still decide to assist, but at least you’ll be doing it consciously.
  • Rather than a flat-out “no,” consider whether you can say “yes” to some part of the request, or help out in some other way that is more agreeable to you.
  • It’s not only other people we sometimes should sat “no” to – television, social media, reading blogs (gasp!), and kids’ activities (do they need to be involved in quite so many?) are just some examples of behaviors that can steal our time from more fulfilling endeavors.

Saying “no” may not be easy, but it is essential to long-term fulfillment. I’d love to hear what you’ve said “no” (or “yes”) to and how it’s changed your life.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog

Simplify Your Days

canoe at sunsetAre you frustrated by how little you seem to accomplish every day? Does the constant barrage of things to do weigh you down? There were days I used to feel the same way, until I realized that I could, to some degree, take control of the frenzied pace of my life. This month I’m sharing some of my discoveries with you in the hope that you, too, can slow things down and take charge. Feel free to tailor these ideas so they work for you.

Focus on your goals. Goals allow you to identify what’s important to you, and in which direction you want to move your life. Identify and evaluate tasks in in terms of how they will help you move in your desired direction, and eliminate things that will get in the way of progress. For example, one of my goals for this year is to learn how to juggle (balls, bowling pins, flaming torches – I’ve already mastered how to juggle multiple tasks). I’ve been spending less time browsing social media so I can make time every day to practice juggling. I’m at no risk of displacing anyone employed by the circus, but I am making progress because I’ve focused on my goal. Here’s a prior article I wrote about goals for getting organized that may help you get started creating your own goals.

Picture your perfect day. It’s not often I actually achieve my perfect day, but focusing on my vision of what it would look like makes it easier for me to disregard activities that aren’t in alignment with it. This goes hand-in-hand with having goals. It reminds me that seemingly little things, like having a conversation with my husband, connecting with a friend or family member via phone, text, or e-mail, or following up on a client’s progress, can be more important than other things screaming for my attention.

Here’s a link to my newsletter where you can read more about how to slow down and take charge of your days.

Best wishes as you change your frenzied days into those of simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog

Happy Clean Off Your Desk Day!

Clean DeskDoes your desk greet you every day with piles of clutter and toppling mountains of papers? Are you overwhelmed at the thought of digging into those piles? Maybe National Clean off Your Desk Day, which is the second Monday of January each year, will inspire you to muster up some courage and turn those piles into smiles. Even if your “desk” is your kitchen counter or dining room table, here are some tips that can help you fearlessly tackle the mess (keep in mind that there’s no right or wrong way set up your desk space so adjust these ideas in whatever fashion works for you)

  • Gather some boxes – four banker’s boxes or boxes from printer paper will give you a good start.
  • Label the boxes as follows: Papers to Go through, Supplies, Decorations and Things That Go Elsewhere. You may discover the need for more boxes and/or other labels as you work.
  • Take everything off your desk, sorting each item into the appropriate box as you do so. Don’t worry about making decisions on where to keep anything yet – you just want to do a rough sort to get you over the hurdle of getting started. If your papers are already in piles that are somewhat meaningful (e.g., Financial, Medical, etc.) feel free to use a separate box to keep each of those categories intact. Do the same thing for your desk drawers.
  • Wipe off the dust bunnies, clean your computer monitor, and consider how refreshing it would be if your desk was this clean at the end of every day.
  • Go through the Supplies box and pull out what you use every day – maybe it’s the stapler, some pens and pencils, or a notepad. Find a spot on your desk for those items. Go through the remaining items in the box, purging what you don’t need, putting items you’ll use at your desk in the drawers, and putting everything else in the “Things That Go Elsewhere” box.
  • Set aside time each day or week to tackle the Papers to Go Through box. Don’t worry about how much is in the box, just address one paper at a time, determining what it is, if you need it, and where to put it. See my prior blog post on organizing paperwork to help you with this step.
  • Go through the Decorations box, pulling out only special items that are essential to having in your work area – it’s important that your desk space is inviting and attractive, but too many personal items can simply serve as distractions.
  • Create a space for current projects – my preference is a step file that keeps everything vertical and visible.
  • Identify and purchase containers you may need – a pencil cup, a step file, an inbox, etc.
  • Put away the items in the Things That Go Elsewhere box.
  • Clean off your desk at the end of each day, even if you’re in a hurry. A clean workspace will encourage you to be productive, while a cluttered desk will have you feeling defeated before you even start working. The picture here is my desk – I’ll admit it isn’t this clean every day, but it is on most.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Signature_Sue

 

Reasons Not to Get Organized

relaxed womanDid you make a resolution to get organized this year? Is it the same resolution you made last year in hopes that this year you’ll actually do it? Well don’t fret – I’m here to tell you why you shouldn’t bother getting organized. So, relax, throw a few more pieces of paper on top of that pile on your desk or kitchen counter, and don’t even think about how great it would be to get organized. If my reasons aren’t compelling enough and you decide you actually do want to get organized, please feel free to get in touch – I’d be glad to help.

Searching for things is exciting. You love a good challenge, and scrambling to find your keys, bills and glasses provides hours of fun and entertainment.

You love donating to credit card companies. Why should merchants be the only ones who get to pay fees to the credit card companies? Paying your bills late allows you to enjoy the experience and satisfaction of paying hefty penalties for the privilege of using your credit cards. Besides, who are they to tell you when you should pay things?

You like buying things you already have. If something is good enough to buy once, buying two or three of them is even better. Making it easy to find what you already own would take away your ability to experience the joy of wastefulness and exasperation.

You really might need it someday. Never mind that you won’t be able to find it if you really do need it, hanging on to all kinds of otherwise useless stuff helps you overcome the guilt of spending money on the duplicates of all those other things you bought because you couldn’t find them when you needed them.

It’s only money. Lost gift cards, uncashed checks, overdraft fees on your checking account – financial sacrifices sure beat spending time getting organized.

There’s no fun in being on time. Making your friends, clients and hairstylist wait for you demonstrates just how important and popular you are – after all, nothing gets your phone ringing like being late for an appointment or meeting. It can be even more enjoyable to totally forget you even had an appointment – then people will go out of their way to get in touch with you!

Peace of mind is for sissies. You enjoy the anxiety of not knowing what’s in the boxes of papers you’ll get to someday. The guilt and emotional drain of unfinished tasks is no big deal. And you love the stress in your home and workplace caused by being disorganized.

Not having friends and family over saves you money. Being embarrassed by how cluttered your home is has the advantage of not having to pay for food, drinks and other costs of entertaining.

It’s silly to pay for something you can do yourself. Even though you probably pay someone to clean your house and maybe even do yard work, it doesn’t make any sense to pay someone to help you get organized. And besides, the cost of paying someone to help you get organized can’t possibly be worth the aggravation, guilt, frustration and financial costs it will eliminate.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Signature_Sue

5 Simple Tips to Maintain Your Organized Home or Office

MaintainOver the years I’ve offered lots of ideas on how to organize your home and office. Maybe you’ve completed your organizing projects, or at least have a few spaces that you consider organized. Congratulations! Everything has a place where it belongs and now everything is actually in its place. But weeks or months later – POW! How did things get so out of control again? Just as the hardest part of losing weight is sometimes keeping the weight off, a big challenge in getting organized is keeping things organized. Short of waving a magic wand (sorry, haven’t figured out how to make that work yet), here are 5 simple ways to maintain your organized spaces:

  1. Store things near where you use them. Not only will this make it easy for you to retrieve things when you want to use them, but it will make it easy to put things away again. For example, if you keep your stapler near where you do paperwork, it will be easy not only to pull it out and use it, but just as easy to quickly put it away when you’re done using it.
  2. Go with the flow. Even though you’ve set up “homes” for things, sometimes there’s a natural tendency to put things elsewhere. Maybe the mail lands on the kitchen counter, or coats and jackets end up flung over a chair. Identify situations where even though you’ve set up what you thought was convenient storage, things land in other places. In those cases you might want to accommodate your natural tendencies and create appropriate storage where things tend to gather. For example, hooks near the door where you enter your home can collect coats and jackets. A basket on the kitchen counter will make the pile of mail less intrusive.
  3. Store similar things together. Once again, this will simplify both retrieval and putting things away. If, for example you store all your pants in one place in your closet, you’ll have just one place to look when you’re getting dressed, and when you’re putting laundry away, it’s a no-brainer to get those pants right back where they belong.
  4. Make time for maintenance. Create a daily routine to clean things up. At work, spend five or 10 minutes at the end of the day putting everything back where it belongs so you can start your next work day with a clean slate. At home, make it part of your before-dinner or night time routine to pick things up and put them away. If you share your home with others, get them involved in the processes as well.
  5. Pare down and clean out occasionally. It’s pretty challenging to file papers if you’re file cabinet is jam-packed. It’s hard to put your T-shirts away if the drawer is stuffed full. Take time to periodically clean out your closets, drawers, and other storage areas so the things you no longer use or need don’t take up valuable space and there’s plenty of room for what you do need and use.

Don’t forget that sometimes life gets in the way and you may not have time to maintain your organized spaces every day. Set realistic standards and congratulate yourself for what you are able to accomplish.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Signature_Sue

Slow Down and Live Deliberately

 TurtleI hope you had a nice Thanksgiving holiday and were able to spend meaningful time with people you love. I also hope you can take that feeling of thankfulness with you as you move headlong into the frenzy of the holiday season. Here are some ideas on how to build on the peacefulness and simplicity that Thanksgiving represents – how to slow down and live deliberately. My wish for you is that you can rejoice in the gifts you have and make the most of each day.

Make time for people. Recognize the power you have to affect the mood of the people who cross your path, and subsequently, the people who cross the path of each of those people. For example, while it may be tempting to roll your eyes and tap your foot impatiently as the person in front of you in the checkout line chats and laughs with the cashier, consider following their example to make time for people you might typically marginalize. A smile and kind word can go a long way to not only improve their day, but to make you feel good as well.

Notice nature. Many of us rush through our day hurrying here and there without even noticing our surroundings. Rather than pounding your steering wheel in frustration when traffic is crawling, use the slowdown as an opportunity to connect with nature: notice whatever trees, birds, or other plants or animals are nearby; enjoy the sunshine, moonlight, clouds or breeze that accompany you. Studies have shown there’s a positive relationship between exposure to nature and mental health, so take advantage of chances to experience it.

Make time for what you value. Rather than bouncing from task to task, be deliberate about how you spend your time so it aligns with what’s important to you. If you value time with family, find a way to spend more time each day with them. If you value a hobby or activity, figure out how you can clear some time to devote to it. Maybe you can delegate some tasks (e.g., cleaning house, doing yard work) that don’t feed your soul and that take away time from what you enjoy. Maybe you can find more efficient ways to do less-fulfilling tasks so you have more time for what you love.

Give the gift of yourself. Share your time, talent and/or treasure with a cause you believe in. Whether you directly provide the services of the organization whose mission you support, serve that organization in a supporting role, or support that organization financially, assisting others can help take your focus off your own worries and allow you to reflect on the blessings in your life.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Signature_Sue