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

Make Room for the Holidays

organized closetReady or not, the holidays will be upon us soon. As we gather with the special people in our lives, many of us will be deluged with presents from friends and family, hostess gifts from dinner guests and/or houseguests, and treats from the kitchens of neighbors. Wouldn’t it be great if your home could absorb this influx of stuff without bursting at the seams? Take some time now, before the busyness of the holidays kicks in, to clear space in your home so your heart and your head will have room to focus on the reason for the season.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

Give your clothing and accessories a discerning look. If it doesn’t fit, needs mending, is beyond repair, is uncomfortable, is outdated, or hasn’t been worn in the past 12 months, it’s a good candidate to move out of your home. This includes shoes, belts, scarves, gloves, purses and ties. Maybe you can donate your discards to people in need, or maybe you’ll want to take them to a consignment shop. If there are clothes to save for younger siblings, put them in a bin labeled with the size and store them where they won’t take up valuable closet space needed for the clothes that are being worn now.

Tackle the toys. Be brave and let go of the toys and books that your kids have outgrown. Once again, you can donate them, consign them, or save them for younger siblings. Since new toys will be arriving at your home within the next month as presents, be ruthless now so you’ll have peace of mind knowing that your house won’t have more trucks and dolls and puzzles and games than it can handle. As a bonus, feel good about the fact that donating or consigning toys this time of year will give less fortunate kids a chance to enjoy the thrill of the holidays.

Evaluate your linens. As you pull out holiday tableware and maybe the flannel sheets, assess which items you haven’t used in the last year, or which are worn out or in need of repairs you’ll never make. Animal shelters and organizations that assist the homeless often appreciate donations of sheets and towels.

Keep in mind that the goal of organizing is not to get rid of stuff, but rather, to surround yourself with things that enhance your life and to make sure you can find them when you need them. However, given the short timeline before the holiday festivities (or maybe you call it chaos) begin, paring down now will give you a great head start on doing more organizing work in the New Year. Here’s to a calm and peaceful holiday season. For more ideas on how to prepare for the holidays, enjoy my eBook – it will help you simplify your holiday celebrations.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Signature Sue

Productivity Tips for Working at Home

bunny slippers for working at homeI’ve been lucky enough to work at home part- or full-time since 1990. For the first ten years of that period, I worked for a large company and was able to work in my bunny slippers two days a week. Being accountable to my boss and the people who worked for me was great motivation to stay focused and be productive, even though no one was physically able to see what I was up to. Working for myself since 2000 has required a new level of focus – only I know whether I’ve met my objectives for the day or played hooky. If you’re a “home worker,” the following tips will help you stay focused and productive, even if no one else is watching.

Think through your work area. Although it’s important to have easy access to the equipment and supplies you need, the beauty of working at home is that you don’t necessarily need an entire room dedicated to work, and you don’t necessarily have to work in just one place. For example, my “official” office is a nook in my basement, but in the summer (when I like to look outside), I work at my dining room table, or even on my deck. Find a space in your home that will not only accommodate the equipment and supplies you need, but will also allow you to focus on work while still enjoying your surroundings.

Have regular office hours. When you work at home there’s always the temptation to keep on working into the night – after all, there’s always something you could work on. Consider setting a time to close up shop, and at the designated time, turn off your computer, stop replying to texts and e-mails, and even consider turning off the ringer on your phone or put your cell phone on silent. Your brain will appreciate the break, and your friends and family will appreciate your full attention without the distraction of work activities.

Keep work and personal tasks separate. Sure it only takes a few minutes to throw in a load of laundry or make a phone call to schedule doctor’s appointment, but when you interrupt your workflow to take care of personal tasks, you potentially waste a lot of time ramping back up to get into work mode. If you need to take care of personal tasks during your workday, schedule regular times to take care of them – knowing you have time carved out for these things will allow you to feel confident they’ll get taken care of and help you resist the urge to interrupt yourself throughout the day. If you have kids or pets who might disrupt your workday, consider getting help from other family members or professionals to take care of them during work hours – sometimes a closed door or a “mommy/daddy’s busy” admonishment just aren’t enough.

Take regular breaks. Although interrupting yourself to work on personal tasks during work time can be inefficient, it’s also important that you do take some breaks during your workday. Visit my previous blog post on this subject and determine how and when a break or two makes sense for you.

Build in people time. One of the complaints I often hear from home workers is the isolation they feel from working solo. Re-energize yourself by building “people time” into your day or week – meet a friend for lunch, make time for personal phone calls, or bring your work to a coffee shop. Or save money and travel time by simulating the coffee shop atmosphere at home with sites/apps like Coffitivity.

Keep things in perspective. No matter whether you work at home or in an office, your focus shouldn’t be on how much time you spend working as much as on how much important work you accomplish. Here’s to your success!

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Signature Sue

Manage Yourself to Stay Organized

I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t feel as though they’re constantly being pulled in a million (ok, maybe a dozen) different directions. While the pace of life can be frantic, it is possible to stay on top of it all. Establishing some simple habits to manage the flow of information and stuff can help you gain control of your busy life. Here’s a brief overview of how to manage what’s coming at you – I’ve linked each topic to my prior newsletters and blog posts where you can find more detailed information on how to proceed. 

Manage where you have to be. Use a calendar, planner or electronic tool to track appointments, events and to-dos. Write everything here so nothing slips through the cracks and you don’t double-book yourself.

Manage what you have to do. Use a prioritized task list to keep track of all the random things you have to get done. Don’t rely on your great memory to pull you through – at some point something important will get forgotten. Move things from intention to commitment by identifying when you’ll do them.

Manage demands on your time. Don’t commit to doing something before you consider how it will impact other things you want to accomplish. Evaluate whether requests for your time are in alignment with your goals and priorities. Be comfortable saying “no” when taking on a new commitment cause you to have to postpone or eliminate achieving an important goal.

Manage your paper flow. Create a system for each piece of incoming paper. Make it your mission to do something meaningful with each item you handle. Don’t just put it down to deal with later – do something to move it along on its journey towards completion.  

Here’s a link to my newsletter where you can read more about how to stay organized.

Best wishes as you discover the simplicity, harmony and freedom of managing what’s flowing into your life,

Life Lessons Learned from a Hockey Team

My favorite sports team, the Chicago Blackhawks, just won their second professional hockey championship trophy in 3 years – the Stanley Cup. Whether or not you’re a hockey fan, you can learn some important lessons from the Blackhawks:

Surround yourself with people who can help you achieve your vision. In 2004, ESPN named the Blackhawks the worst franchise in professional sports – that’s all professional sports, not just hockey. Personnel changes were made throughout the management ranks at all levels, and just nine years later, the Blackhawks have twice won what is arguably the hardest championship of all professional sports to win. Are the people in your life or business able to support you in being your best?

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 six years, they’ve held their first fan convention, allowed the games to be televised, and invited past stars to be ambassadors for the team. As a result, game attendance 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?

Focus and commitment will get you to your goal.  Several years ago, the Blackhawks adopted a marketing campaign with the slogan “One Goal” – that being the Stanley Cup. Their advertising, as well as their mindset, had them focused on achieving that goal. At the beginning of this year’s four-round playoff series, reporters were speculating on who the Blackhawks (who had finished first in the regular season standings) might play in the Stanley Cup finals. It was anticipated that they would play the Pittsburgh Penguins, who had finished first in their conference. Rather than respond to the conjecture, Blackhawk players and coaches simply stated that they were focused exclusively on the next game. No matter how spectacular their most recent win, everyone in the organization knew there was a lot more work to be done. They didn’t allow themselves to celebrate too much, because they hadn’t yet achieved their goal of winning the Stanley Cup. And as it turns out, Pittsburgh didn’t even make it to the finals. What goals do you have for yourself, and what are you doing to focus on achieving them, step by step?

Even the best of the best need a coach.  Professional hockey players are arguably the best-conditioned of all professional athletes. They’ve typically been playing the game since a very young age and they’ve spent untold hours practicing and playing. Yet they still have coaches to help them improve their play, ready for each game, and achieve excellence. In what areas of your life could a coach help you achieve excellence? Please contact me if you’d like to explore having an organizing and productivity coach help you achieve excellence.

Wishing you success in achieving your goals,

The Change Anything Way to Stay Organized

We’re almost halfway through the year and odds are your New Year’s resolutions are a distant memory – or maybe you’ve forgotten them completely! Getting organized is one of the most common resolutions, so if you’re one of the many who have abandoned your “get organized” resolve, it may time to stop trying harder and start trying differently. I recently finished reading the book Change Anything: The New Science of Personal Success which presents some thought-provoking strategies to help you change persistent habits and get unstuck. Here are my top 5 findings from the book.

  1. Identify crucial moments. We’ve all had days when our best intentions aren’t enough to keep us on track with maintaining our organizing systems. Maybe you were too tired to put your dirty clothes in the hamper, or you needed to hurry home from work and didn’t get the paperwork filed. The authors suggest that you identify specific “crucial moments” where you may have gotten derailed, and write them down. By writing them down, you’ll be more aware of your behavior and can look for patterns. Being aware of these moments will enable you to control them better in the future.
  2. Create your vital behaviors. Once you’ve identified your crucial moments, you can create rules of behavior to follow when faced with a crucial moment. As the authors point out, “often, a vital behavior is the reverse of what failure looks like in the crucial moment.” If you’re not getting your dirty clothes in the hamper, put them there; if you’re not getting papers filed, file them. Easier said than done, right? On to item 3.
  3. Love what you hate. The idea here is that you adjust your world so that it supports and motivates you in following your vital behaviors. You may need to find a way to make putting the clothes in the hamper fun; for example, put a basketball hoop over the hamper and make baskets with your dirty clothes. Make filing more enjoyable by playing music while you file. Find a way to get beyond the aspects of the task that you don’t enjoy.

Here’s a link to my newsletter where you can read more about how to stay organized.

Good luck as you change your default future into one of simplicity, harmony and freedom,

The Benefits of Striving for Order

In a prior post I wrote about how getting organized can help you live a more fulfilling life. The book that inspired that post, The Four Spiritual Laws of Prosperity: A Simple Guide to Unlimited Abundance by Edwene Gaines, has some other organizing-related concepts that I think are worth sharing.

Order is heaven’s first law. Poet Alexander Pope first acknowledged this wisdom over 300 years ago, but it’s still meaningful today. Although it may sound insignificant, an orderly desk or an organized closet can have a huge impact on your disposition. We can never feel our best when surrounded by a mess. When your environment is orderly, it’s easier to feel calm, energetic and in control, and what’s more heavenly than feeling in control?

When we de-clutter our lives, we signal to the universe that we’re ready to handle more good. When our lives are cluttered and disorganized, it’s hard to dream of anything bigger than our current situation. Many of my clients contact me when they make this realization and decide they’re ready to make a significant, positive change in their life. Whether it’s finding a new job, inviting people over for the first time in years, or starting an exercise routine, they know that clearing the clutter will free up the physical and emotional space needed to begin their journey towards a new life.

We can achieve order in our lives with a habit of neatness. Although I’ve previously cautioned that neatening isn’t organizing, there is certainly something to be said for the power of neat surroundings. Whether it’s your closet, your workspace or even your car, a tidy environment frees up space in your brain and affords the serenity that a messy atmosphere doesn’t usually offer. Although I don’t believe the goal of organizing should focus on appearance, getting organized sure makes neatness a lot more achievable.

There are simple things you can do to start organizing your life today. Getting organized doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing endeavor. Take steps day by day towards cleaning out all the clutter in your life, and you’ll eventually reach your goal. Some ideas offered by Gaines include: tidy your house; balance your checkbook; file your paperwork; clean out your closet; and get your car washed. If those tasks sound too daunting, break them down into smaller steps and chip away at them, one item at a time.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom as you strive for order in your life,

The Surprising Costs of Disorganization and 3 Simple Steps to Overcome Them

The weather has been quite a topic of conversation here in the Midwest these last few weeks. Just when we thought Spring was on its way, Ol’ Man Winter reminded us that it wasn’t too late for a snowstorm. Although we can’t do much about the weather (other than complain), we do have control over our own environment. If you have a
particular area in your home or office that’s in disarray, or a difficult situation to overcome (like paying bills on time), then you can start today to take control.

One day, as I helped a client organize his home office, we came across an envelope with $3,500 in cash! He had completely forgotten about this money, which could easily have been thrown away and lost forever.

You may not have envelopes bulging with cash lying around, but being disorganized does have a cost … in terms of time, stress, worry, late fees, and more.

Disorganization takes a toll on your life – and your wallet

Emotional costs of disorganization include:

  • Medical costs due to stress and worry (80% of our medical
    expenditures are stress related, according to the Centers for Disease  Control and Prevention)
  • Strain on household relationships due to clutter or always  being late for things
  • Strain on outside relationships because you’re too  embarrassed to have visitors
  • Strain on workplace relationships because disorganization and  poor time management make you unproductive

Financial costs include:

  • Losing gift cards, checks, and savings bonds
  • Missing errors on bank or credit card statements
  • Paying bills late, which incurs late fees
  • Continuously paying bills late, which impacts your credit  rating (this has expensive ramifications when purchasing homes and other big-ticket items)
  • Overlooking errors on medical bills

Here’s a link to my newsletter where you can read more about the costs of disorganization and how to overcome them.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Overcome Procrastination

I confess: I’m a procrastinator! As a productivity expert, I’m “supposed” to have all areas of my life in order. But, like many people, I procrastinate on certain types of projects, especially writing projects like this. Besides making me feel guilty, my procrastination on one project usually prevents me from starting anything else either because I feel weighed down by the task I’m trying to avoid.

Why admit this to you? I hope the fact that a time management expert procrastinates will liberate you from any guilt you may feel about procrastinating. With National Procrastination Week coming up March 3 – 9, let’s journey together toward overcoming procrastination, especially on important tasks. Less procrastination in our lives means less guilt, fewer burdens, and more freedom – here’s to getting more done!

We all put some things off until tomorrow (or next week), but sometimes this behavior can cause problems: bills don’t get paid on time; tax forms are submitted late; projects are postponed for a last-minute scramble. Procrastination can cause us to feel guilty, burdened, and exhausted. Plus, it can cost us in financial penalties and relationship problems – not to mention lost sleep!

Ready to conquer your procrastination? Follow these simple tips:

Do it first thing in the morning. If you aren’t mustering the energy for an unpleasant or difficult task, try tackling it first thing in the morning – before your other tasks take over your day. Then you can spend the rest of your day on more enjoyable projects.

Think about the project’s steps. If you’re overwhelmed by the sheer size of a project, break it down into smaller steps. It may help to think of the steps backward, from completion to beginning. Write each step on your calendar and stick to these deadlines, just as you would if they were appointments with your boss or a friend. Step by step, you’ll make progress.

Here’s a link to my newsletter where you can read more about the how to plan your job hunt. I’d love to hear what additional  tips you have.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Is Technology Ruining Our Lives?

I know that’s a fairly provocative question, but now that I have your attention, please hear me out. Technology certainly has many, many benefits. As a former corporate accountant, I sure wish the personal computer had been available back in the day to save me the frustration of adding and re-adding numbers on multiple-column spreadsheets. Today’s workplace and workers certainly benefit from the improved productivity and efficient communication that technology makes available. However, I wonder if we’ve gone too far. 

I make a living at helping people make the most of their time, and it seems that technology has now crossed the boundary of making us productive and has moved into the realm of being an obstacle to productivity. Take email for instance: It used to be that it was a tool that allowed senders to communicate with numerous people at the same time and allowed recipients to respond when it was convenient for them. But no more – in many workplaces, there is an expectation that employees will respond instantaneously every time they get a new email. It boggles my mind that anyone can be expected to get anything accomplished when they’re constantly being interrupted with other people’s demands. 

I think email and texting often stealthily cross the boundary of making communication more efficient – how often have you been engaged in back-and-forth email or texting communication that, as it turns out, could have been handled more efficiently via a phone call? It may start off as a simple question posed via email or text, but soon turns into back-and-forth banter that takes up more time than a phone call would. Know when to say when and stop the email and texting madness and dial the phone.

Speaking of phones, I see many people who have become slaves to a tool that is supposed to set them free. There are many great conveniences that smartphones offer, but like email, I think they’ve actually made people less productive in many cases. They can be a constant source of distraction and interruption – so much so that some (smart) companies have banned cell phones (and all technology, for that matter) from meetings so people will actually pay attention to the meeting.

One of my colleagues offered this observation about the smartphone: “While it’s a great tool, it’s quickly getting more complicated to run the business, between the phone calls, texting, and emails on various platforms (phone calls via the office land line and smartphone, email via the computer and smartphone, etc.). In fact, I have a younger client (a busy mom, author, and speaker) who runs her entire business off her smartphone — while she’s on the go. Naturally, her emails are cryptic, at best. Often she answers only 1 out of 3 questions in an email. Another client only hits the ‘reply’ button for emails from her smartphone instead of ‘reply all’ (these are important emails in which the entire team needs to be in the loop). I’m also finding that people who use smartphones will send text messages to my business line, assuming that it’s a smartphone … it’s a land line! Plus, smartphone users don’t take the time to type a relevant, current subject line in an email … they just go find an old email message, hit Forward, and type in the content — the recipients receive an email with a confusing, out-of-date Subject line.”

Smartphones can also take away from opportunities to interact with our fellow human beings. I’m constantly amazed when I go to restaurants and see tables where everyone has their face glued to their phone – they’re either talking, texting, or doing something or other online – anything but talking to the people they’re with. Seems to me they could have just ordered carryout and stayed home with their technology. And I could say something similar about many of the fans who sit near me at Chicago Blackhawks hockey games – they’ve paid good money (or if they haven’t I want to know how they got their tickets!) to attend a professional sporting event, yet they spend seemingly at least half the game texting and checking Facebook. I don’t get it!

I laughed out loud when I learned there’s a smartphone app that offers users a transparent view of what’s in front of them so they won’t walk into a tree or light pole while they’re texting and walking. People are risking their physical and mental health in order to instantaneously communicate, yet are missing out on so many opportunities to relax, be present, let their minds be still for a moment, appreciate their surroundings, or personally connect with their fellow human beings. It’s not clear to me how all this connectedness and instantaneous communication is making lives better when it seems like so many people are totally stressed out!

Call me old fashioned, a Luddite, or behind the times – I can take it. I certainly have no issue with using technology to enhance our lives, but I think we’re at a tipping point that is making us less engaged with our fellow human beings, and certainly less productive and more stressed.

How much more productive and fulfilled could you be if you put down your phone for a few hours and were fully present in the moment?

 Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,