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,

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,