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

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

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

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

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog

Happy Clean Off Your Desk Day!

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

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

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,



Reasons Not to Get Organized

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,


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,


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,