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,

Routines Can Help You Simplify Your Life

I always brush my teeth before I go to bed, exercise first thing in the morning, and wash the household towels on Fridays. These  routines help minimize my trips to the dentist, allow me to do some guilt- free snacking, and make sure my family’s towels are actually helping us stay clean rather than being a breeding ground for bacteria. Rather than wanting you to pity my boring life, I want to help you see that habits and routines, no matter how unexciting, can be the key to a stress-free life.

Charles Duhigg shares my passion for the mundane because he wrote a whole book on the subject of habits: The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. According to Duhigg, habits, by their very definition, allow us to do things without thinking about them. That frees up our brains to work on the more complex problems in life. Unfortunately, habits can be good as well as bad (those that aren’t aligned with our current goals). For many of my clients, bad habits (or lack of any habit or routine) are the cause (at least in part) of their disorganization. I suggest you read Mr. Duhigg’s book to learn more about how you might be able to break your bad habits, but here are some habits or routines you might want to develop in order to create a more organized and stress-free life.

Don’t put things down, put them away. Yes, it’s often easier to just drop something near where it belongs rather than completely put it away. Often times it’s because we have a false impression of how much longer it will take to go the distance. Rather than lift the lid to put the dirty socks in the hamper, it’s easier to just plop them on top; instead of hanging up the jacket, it’s quicker to just drop it on the couch. But really, does it take more than five or 10 extra seconds to finish the job? Put mind over matter and put things where they belong. Make it as easy for yourself as possible – for example, maybe you can just remove the lid on the hamper. If the problem is that things don’t have a place where they belong, block out time to create an organizing plan for your problem areas. Of course you’re welcome to contact me if you’d like some help.

Always do something purposeful with every piece of information you encounter.  Whether it’s a piece of paper or an e-mail, make a decision about what next action you need to take and either take that action, or put the information in designated place until you’re able to act purposefully on it. Make a point of doing something to move it along on its journey.

De-clutter regularly. In your workplace, spending time at the end of each day cleaning off your desk and tidying up loose ends can be highly beneficial. Not only is there a psychic benefit of starting the next workday with a clean desk, but you’re also more likely to begin working on what you want to be working on rather than gravitating to whatever piece of paper happened to catch your eye. At home, spending five or 10 minutes in each room each evening putting things away will prevent things from getting out of control. Of course if your family helped create the clutter, it sure would be nice if they helped with the de-cluttering, too.

Before purchasing something, make sure you know where it will go. Otherwise it will become clutter. You’ll typically want to store things near where you use them and store similar things together. Store things that you use most frequently in easily-accessible places.

What habits or routines will you work on developing for your simpler, more stress-free life?

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Use Your Planner to Simplify Your Life

Happy New Year! I hope the year is off to a great start for you. Are you among the approximately 45% of Americans who make at least one New Year’s resolution? Getting organized was the second most popular New Year’s resolution in 2012, and I’m guessing it’s near the top again this year. Unfortunately, only about 8% of people who make resolutions actually achieve them. What will you do differently this year to help you be successful? To help you get started on achieving your organizational goals, let’s talk about how to set up and use your planner (as a reminder, last month I gave you tips on how to choose your planning tool).

Fill in recurring events. Make a note of birthdays, anniversaries, school and work holidays, and any other events you know about now. You may want to keep a master list of birthdays and anniversaries and use this list to fill in the dates on the calendar. Copying from this list can be a lot easier than flipping through last year’s calendar to find those important dates. You might also want to use a highlighter or colored pen to accentuate any dates that require a card, gift, phone call, or some other form of acknowledgement and advanced preparation.

Review next month’s important dates towards the middle of the prior month. This will allow you plenty of time to buy cards or gifts. You can review your planner and look for the accentuated dates mentioned above, or you can refer to your master list. For those of you who use a paper rather than electronic planner, you can use a removable sticky note to remind you to do this review each month. For example, I put a sticky note that says “Review Birthdays” on the calendar page for the 20th of the month to remind me to check the next month’s important dates. I simply move this note from month to month. As you review those dates, you might also jot down a reminder to mail the cards or deliver the gifts. For example, if someone’s birthday is on the 15th, you can make a note in your planner on the 7th to mail his or her card.

Here’s a link to my newsletter where you can read more about the how to choose the right planning tool for you. I’d love to hear what you end up using.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Choose the Right Planning Tool to Organize Your Day

As a new year approaches, it’s time to purchase your calendar or planner to keep track of next year’s important dates, appointments and things to do. But with so many scheduling products from which to choose, how can you make sure you select the one that’s right for you? Here are some things to consider when making that decision:

Use only one tool. While it may seem logical to have one calendar or planner for work and another one for home, it’s typically more efficient and less confusing to use just one that captures all of the activities related to your multifaceted life. After all, we often have to address personal issues while away from home (e.g., scheduling a dental appointment while at work) or consider work-related issues while at home (e.g., deciding for what time to make a dinner reservation based on your work schedule). Using a single scheduling tool will allow you to efficiently integrate all areas of your life.

Consider your sensory preference. Think about whether you prefer the physical process of entering and viewing information on paper to entering and viewing it on an electronic device. If you are more comfortable with paper, then you can limit your search to paper-based planners (e.g., Day Runner, Day Timer, or Franklin-Covey). Two less conventional paper planners that I really like are the Circa Balanced Life System from Levenger (the unique binding system lets you easily customize your planner) and Planner Pad (lets you see all of your to-dos for the week and funnel them onto the day you’ll do each of them). For students, I like a teacher’s-type planner that clearly shows what you have to do in each class. If you prefer an electronic tool, smart phone-based calendars or electronic calendars you can access from your phone or computer, like Microsoft Outlook or Google Calendar, might be right for you.

Consider how much effort you’re willing to devote to learning to use the tool.  Paper-based planners are rather intuitive to use. You just write down the necessary information in the appropriate place, and then turn to that place to retrieve the information. Electronic tools, including hand-held devices and computer-based scheduling software, require an investment of your time to learn to use them properly. 

Here’s a link to my newsletter where you can read more about the how to choose the right planning tool for you. I’d love to hear what you end up using. 

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Pare Down the Paper Invasion

I’ve recently taken on the self-assigned duty of spending a minimum of 5 minutes each day de-cluttering my office.  “Ah ha!” you’re probably thinking, “Even the professional can’t keep her office organized.” Not so fast, dear reader. My office is actually very well organized – it’s just time for my annual “review and pare down” routine. But rather than doing it in big chunks, I’m practicing what I talked about in my recent blog post – I’m breaking this project down into small steps to get it accomplished. Five minutes a day (ok, it’s so much fun that I typically spend 15 minutes a day) may not seem like much, but over the past three weeks I’ve pared down two file drawers and should have my project completed by the end of the month. Inspired by the multiple bags of papers I’m recycling and the shredder that’s been working overtime, here are some ideas about how to reduce the amount of paper flowing into your (and my) life.

Jettison junk mail. Junk mail can disguise itself as fun or interesting items, but it’s still junk if it’s not something you’ve invited to into your home. I’ve used both of the following free services and they’ve definitely helped lighten my mail carrier’s load:

  • Catalog Choice is a one-stop website to simplify the process of unsubscribing from unwanted catalogs.
  • OptOutPrescreen.com will help you opt out from receiving credit card or insurance offers.

Be sure to shred any unwanted solicitations that still slip through to reduce the risk of scammers subscribing for a credit card in your name.

Reduce the number of receipts. Consider whether you need to get a receipt for each of your purchases. If it’s not for something you may return (e.g., gasoline), you won’t need it for reconciling your debit or credit card statement, it’s not for an major purchase or item under warranty, and you won’t need it for budgeting or tax purposes, you can most likely decline receiving a receipt. Your overstuffed wallet will thank you.

Here’s a link to my newsletter where you can read more about the lists that keep me organized. I’d love to hear what other ideas you have to pare down your paper flow.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Lists Can Help You Gain Control

Get the oil on the car changed; plan Saturday’s dinner party; write thank you note to Jenna – these are the items on my to-do list for today. And I mean an actual written list, not just some ideas floating around in my head. Why, you may ask, would I need to write these down? After all, it’s only three things. Writing things down prevents me from forgetting things, helps me know what to focus on, and frees me from the stress of having to remember. Writing it isn’t the same as having it in my head – a written list is like a best friend who gently reminds me what and when I should be working on hings to keep me out of trouble. A written list puts me in control of my day, and it can do the same for you.

I have several lists that help me take advantage of the power of writing things down, and I’m sharing them with you here. If you’d like a complete collection of all the forms and lists that help me and my clients stay organized, check out my APPLES Resource Guide. Fear not, Jenna – your thank-you note is in the mail!

Before I start describing my lists, I want to comment on what form your lists can take. I prefer written lists – they work well with my paper planner and I like the hand-to-brain connection of writing things down. You may prefer electronic lists – something you can save on your computer or carry around on your smart phone. Here are two resources that can get you started on making electronic lists: IQtell and Lifehacker. I’d love to hear what electronic lists you like to use.

Okay, on to my list of lists:

Master To-Do List This is where I write down things I have to do that I’m not quite sure when I’ll do. For example, I want to follow my own advice and update my emergency plans (e.g., what to do if a tornado wipes out my home). I could just choose a date to do it and jot it down on the corresponding page in my planner. However, my next couple of months are very full so I’m not quite sure when I’ll do it. Rather than trusting that I’ll remember to do it at some point, I’ve added it to my master to-do list. I keep this list in my planner, review it once a week (the reminder to do so is on my Weekly To-Do List) and schedule anything I’m ready to commit to doing. You can read more about a master do-do list in my previous blog posting.

Weekly To-Do List My weekly to-do list is typed onto a notecard that moves from Sunday to Sunday (attached via paper clip) in my paper planner. It reminds me to do things like water the houseplants, plan next week’s meals (check out my previous blog posting on meal planning), and prepare for next week’s clients. My houseplants, hungry family and clients appreciate my being on top of these things.

Daily To-Do List I have two kinds of daily to-do lists; one is similar to what most people use – I pick three to five things I want to get done on any given day and write those in my planner. But I also have a daily list that’s typed on a notecard and moves from day to day in my planner. It lists recurring tasks I want to attend to each day, like water my outdoor flowers, thaw the next day’s dinner (thanks to planning meals each week, this is easy), and check some of my social media sites. Even though I remember to do most of these things without looking at the list, having them written down keeps things from falling through the cracks.

Here’s a link to my newsletter where you can read more about the lists that keep me organized. I’d love to hear what lists you use to help you stay on top of things

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

 

Family with ADHD Gets Organized Together

My favorite part about my job is that I help people improve the quality of their lives – whether I’m working with them side by side or by phone, or even through my blog or newsletter. I received an email from someone I’ve never met, but who was inspired by my writings to set herself and her family on the path towards being organized. I’m sharing her note to inspire you to discover the simplicity, harmony and freedom of being organized in your own home:

“Dear Sue,
My 10 year old son is diagnosed ADHD and my husband and I, we suspect, also have some ADHD in us.  So it’s great to see someone addressing these types of issues when it comes to organization.

Your posts are always so helpful.  I just read your blog post on clutter and financial prosperity.  That is so true, both directly and indirectly!  I also read over your back to school post which is a great reminder for us.  And I just planned out my menu for the remainder of the week.  I try to plan menus and it doesn’t always happen but when it does things definitely run smoother.

Wanted to share my story with you…maybe you’ve mentioned something like this in the past in your blog but here goes. I’ve been struggling all summer to declutter my home. I went back to work full-time a little over 2 years ago.  It was a big transition then and things are now starting to really pile up, closets bulging, financial papers in disarray, etc., etc.  We have a bi-weekly cleaning service come in but I think that actually makes the clutter worse as things are put in piles and stashed away for cleaning. Even though everything looks great after a cleaning, by the end of 2 weeks, things are everywhere again and have to be pile or stashed away;  the cycle repeats itself.  So I’ve decided the whole house needs a good decluttering and downsizing of stuff….I’ve made a little progress this summer but then I get tired, overwhelmed, overly perfectionist-y, burned out and turn my attention elsewhere. It’s almost the end of the summer and my list is still pretty long.

This week, I decided to ask my family for help. My husband can’t stand clutter but he doesn’t know what to throw away, put away, etc. When I was a stay at home mom, we got into some bad habits of me handling everything in the home. So, he usually gets overwhelmed, moves things around a little bit and just retreats to the basement.  Then there are the kids…they are 10 and 6.  They certainly don’t want to waste their free time cleaning. But I can’t do it all.  I am also making a serious effort at getting fit so my time is limited.

So yesterday morning, I wrote them all a sweet note and informed them of my intentions to start the school year organized. I wrote that I would like them all to help and we would start in the evening with our craft pantry and plastics drawers.  Then I left for work before they got up.

When I picked up the kids at the end of the day and asked them about my plan, they were not thrilled. Neither was my husband. But after dinner and some downtime, my daughter and I got started.  And eventually, the guys got involved, too.  I gave them jobs they could handle…I had the kids help me take items out of the drawer. Then together we went through the different cups and decided which to throw away. My husband glued a found broken item. Then he was ready to wipe down the drawers and put everything away. He didn’t put things away exactly the way I would but it was done and organized, which is all that matters. (big aha moment for me!)  The kids and I started on the craft cabinet which really took an all-hands-on-deck approach. To my surprise, they did a really good job of letting things go and my daughter was downright relentless (lol)! We decided we should add a couple of shelves to the cabinet so my husband worked on that. At bedtime, everything still needed to be put away. I took care of that and sent everyone to bed. I ran out of time but will finish putting the last few items away tonight. It should only take a few minutes.

What I’ve been trying to accomplish all summer, the family finished in a couple of hours. In addition to some cleaner spaces and checking off some nagging projects, we also got the unexpected benefits of family bonding and a feeling of teamwork. At one point, one of the kids said it was actually kind of fun!  And I don’t know how many times I heard, “Oh! That’s where that is!”  Now, hopefully the kids will also take some pride in their work and help keep things cleaner. Now we have some momentum and I think we’re going to tackle our dining room tonight.

Well, thanks for listening to my long story. Since you “helped” do this in a sense, I thought you should know. I know it was only half of a pantry and a couple of drawers but I think this is the start of something big in our
home.
Take care,
Chris”

Thanks so much for sharing, Chris – please check in again and let us all know how you’re doing. I’d love to hear from other readers about how your organizing journey is going. And if you need a bit of help, either in person or by phone, please get in touch.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

 

Clear the Clutter and Find Prosperity

I recently read the book Great With Money by Melissa Burke and Ellen Rogin. With the goal of the book being to help readers create a prosperous mindset and a confident approach to money, you might expect it to focus on how to earn more and spend less. Well, it may surprise you to know that “clear your clutter” is the first step to prosperity described by the authors. Yup, clearing the clutter in your life is the first step towards prosperity.

Even without the benefit of seeing disorganized homes and offices on the level that I do, these authors wisely recognize that being surrounded by clutter can block you from achieving more in your life – your piles of paper and other stuff represent unfinished tasks and postponed decisions that can weigh you down. The clutter not only physically blocks you from accomplishing things, but the mental clutter it creates can prevent you from moving forward in your life. You’re too busy focusing on what you haven’t accomplished to be able to think about creating new accomplishments.

Sure, great achievers like Albert Einstein were famously buried in clutter. However, I’m guessing that because you’re reading a blog about organization, you sense is that being better organized would help you accomplish more. As Swiss philosopher Henri Frédéric Amiel stated, “Order is light, peace, inner freedom, self-determination: it is power. To conceive order, to return to order, to realize order in oneself, around oneself, by means of oneself, is well-being.”

Not only does clearing clutter and creating order create a physical and mental path towards prosperity, it can actually directly generate prosperity. While helping clients de-clutter their homes and offices, I’ve discovered money (I once found $3,500 cash that the owner had no idea existed tucked away in a book!), uncashed checks, unused gift cards, and uncashed savings bonds. I’ve found things clients knew were “here somewhere” and saved them the trouble of having to buy replacements. I’ve consigned clothing and household items to resale shops that have generated income, and donated items to charity which have generated tax deductions. I’ve unearthed financial documents, insurance forms, medical paperwork, etc. that had direct financial implications for the client.

What financial potential lies buried in your clutter? What could you achieve if only the mountains of paperwork and stuff disappeared? What steps towards de-cluttering and organizing your life can you take to start realizing more prosperity? I encourage you to take at least one step today to move you in the right direction. Good luck on your journey.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,