Stay Motivated While Organizing Papers

2015 03 smile paperBen Franklin is credited with noting that “nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Seems he overlooked paperwork. No matter how we may try to go paperless, the piles are there to remind us that we’re not quite paperless yet. I’ve written previously about how to organize papers, but these tips on how to stay motivated may help you actually get around to sorting through the piles.

Don’t bounce around. No matter how many piles you may have, just focus on one small area at a time. Choose a single pile and go through it before you move on to the next pile. By staying focused on one area at a time, you’ll begin to see the pile shrinking before your very eyes.

Hide other areas. Drape a plain sheet over the piles you’re not currently working on. This will minimize the visual impact that might otherwise make you feel overwhelmed, and help you focus solely on the area to be worked on.

Work in small chunks of time. Choose a short period of time (15 to 30 minutes) to chip away at your stacks and help make this dreaded task more tolerable. You might try the Pomodoro Technique to help you hang in there. Of course, if you find you want to keep going once you’re in the groove, by all means do so. Inch by inch really is a cinch.

Make it fun. Yes, you read that correctly – fun! Play energizing music; play Beat the Clock (see how many inches you can dwindle the pile in 15 minutes); measure your progress by weighing your discard bag after each session – and trying to beat the prior sessions’ weight (thanks to one of my clients for this tip). Be creative and enjoy the process.

Click here for a link to my newsletter where you can find more tips on how to stay motivated while sorting papers.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom as you show that paperwork who’s boss!

Sue Small for Blog

Get Unstuck and Be Productive

stuck carSome days, no matter how hard we try, we just can’t seem to get anything worthwhile accomplished. And to make things more frustrating, new tasks keep coming our way. Although it might be tempting to just go back to bed, a better solution might be to hit the reset button on your day.

You’ll want to examine what’s causing your lack of productivity: Are you just not in the mood to do what you should be? Are you unsure of what to do next? Are you overwhelmed by how much there is to do? The first thing I suggest you do after making this examination is to take a short break and recharge your mental batteries.

Next, re-examine the items on your to-do list and evaluate their importance and urgency. Apply the 4 Ds to distill things down to what’s essential to be working on right now. Then break your commitments into individual tasks that you can complete in a single step. Look for the top three priority tasks you can accomplish today, get focused, and dig in.

This process of starting over when you’re feeling stuck helps you get an accurate view of what’s causing your frustration and allows you to realistically identify what you can do today. Breaking things down into their simplest form makes it easy to identify tasks that will fit into the time you have available and that match your energy level.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog

Plan Your Digital Estate

man and woman at computerAlthough it’s not a pleasant subject, wouldn’t it be great to know that if something tragic happened to you, your loved ones would know how to handle your affairs? I’ve written previously about creating an estate plan, but I’ve invited my colleague Judith Kolberg to share her wisdom on an often overlooked aspect of estate planning – your digital estate:

Although it’s not my role to give you specific advice about your estate, I would like to tell you a story as a way of introducing you to digital estate planning:
My client Maxine died suddenly. I was helping organize her digital and tangible documents. Maxine’s executor notified the banks and other financial institutions of her death. But figuring out the passwords, user codes and security questions needed to access Maxine’s accounts took weeks of hard work to untangle. And just when the family thought the estate was well on its way being settled, digital assets emerged. There was a web-only checking account Maxine had in the cloud with no paper trail, and a PayPal account without any hardcopy statements.

We all have tangible and digital assets and information. I read about a man who owned a “digital sword” he purchased for $17,000 to play high-stakes, international video games – legally it was considered an estate asset. I’d like to suggest that this year you:

  • Create a password-protected document (like an Excel spreadsheet) of your login information so your executor and family can settle your account with less fuss and muss. In addition to your online accounts, consider “invisible” (web-only) accounts, including checking and savings accounts, investment and insurance accounts, as well as other places money might be stowed, like PayPal accounts.

Click here for a link to my newsletter to read more about planning your digital estate.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog

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