De-clutter Your Calendar and Commitments

stuffed plannerIs your calendar as cluttered as other areas of your home? Is every day loaded with appointments, obligations and tasks? As we move towards the holiday season, it’s common for the demands on our time to become even more overwhelming than normal. Here are some ideas to help you de-clutter and organize your day and feel more in control, no matter what the season:

Identify your goals. Goals help us define the direction we want to head in life. Maybe it’s to be a nurturing parent, or to be a top-notch employee, or to be of service to a particular cause. Goals can help us determine how we want to spend our time – without them, there’s no way to prioritize the options of what to do with our time. It doesn’t matter if we’re sitting on the couch eating bonbons or spending time with a loved one who’s sick – without goals no one activity is more important than any other.

Make a list of all your commitments and to-dos for the next few weeks. Include appointments, social events, things you’ve promised to do for others, things you have to do to support your commitments (e.g., shop for the ingredients to make cookies for the bake sale, buy and wrap gifts for the gift exchange, etc.). When you have a complete picture of everything you have to do, you’ll be in a better position to choose what’s important.

Estimate how long each of the items you listed in the prior step will take. Although it may seem extraneous, determining how much time is required to tackle your obligations is an important component of de-cluttering. It will allow you to see just how full your plate is and whether “magical thinking” is causing you to believe you have more time than you actually do to get everything done.

Apply the 4Ds. Once you’ve identified your goals, your obligations and your time requirements, you can apply the 4Ds to help match the time available to the time needed. The 4 Ds are:

  • Delete – Eliminate anything not in alignment with your goals (or delegate it per the next D) or anything you can live with the outcome of not doing. Sure, it might be nice to make homemade holiday decorations, but if it will take away time from your family, and your goal is to spend more time with family, reconsider how important this task may be.
  • Delegate – Can someone else do one of your tasks faster or better than you? Would someone else derive joy from doing it, and all that matters to you is that it gets done? Consider delegating things that don’t have to be done directly by you.
  • Diminish – Is there a more efficient way to do one of your tasks? Can you streamline the process or minimize the end result so it won’t take so much time?
  • Delay – Can you move things that don’t have to be done now into the future? This isn’t saying you should procrastinate, but rather, find a better time to do things that don’t fit into your life right now.

I’d love to hear how you’ve de-cluttered your calendar and commitments.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog

Stop Interruptions before They Stop You

2013 11 InterruptPhone calls, hallway conversations, people stopping by your workspace – all of these interruptions can be frustrating and disruptive to an otherwise productive day. Not to say there can’t be value in any of the conversations resulting from these situations – it’s just that they often don’t come at an opportune time for us. However, not all interruptions stem from external sources – we can sometimes be our own worst enemy. Let’s explore how to prevent (or at least mitigate the negative impact of) interruptions, no matter what the cause, from derailing your day.

Establish a time and place to focus. It can be helpful to establish a regular time for tasks that require focused concentration. Maybe you can set aside an hour a week for such tasks, or even an hour a day. Let colleagues or family members know what that time is so they can get out of the habit of trying to find you during that time. See if you can hide away in a conference room, or at least behind a closed door, to reduce the temptation for others to interrupt. I had a client who would sit in her car to read work-related materials away from the interruptions of her colleagues – now that’s being creative (and desperate)!

Choose the right time to work on tasks. Sometimes we interrupt ourselves by looking for diversions from whatever unpleasant or difficult task we should otherwise be working on. It’s best to work on such tasks when you have the most mental energy. My blog post on this subject can give you ideas on how to work around this challenge.

Click here for a link to my newsletter to read more about minimizing interruptions.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Signature Sue

 

 

It’s Only Natural to Plan Ahead

squirrel eating a nutWatching the squirrels gather and hide their food for the winter offers a great reminder for all of us that planning ahead can prevent disasters down the road. The squirrels know that whether or not they’re ready, winter will arrive soon and present plenty of survival challenges. They wisely (albeit instinctively) are doing what they can now to plan and prepare for their future.

Do you regularly plan and prepare for your future? Whether it’s something big like planning for your retirement, or something smaller like planning dinners for the week, planning ahead can save a lot of time and aggravation. Creating a daily and weekly planning ritual is the key to success in this area. Here’s a peek into my daily and weekly planning routines that might offer you some inspiration:

Daily planning time. I prefer planning towards the end of the day – it’s a good time for me to wrap up loose ends from today and prepare myself for tomorrow. My peak mental energy time is in the morning, so by planning the night before, I can hit the ground running in the morning and work on a difficult or unpleasant task when I have the most mental horsepower. Otherwise I’d have to squander some of that key time figuring out what I should do next. Some people, however, do better planning in the morning so they can ease into their day by reflecting on what needs to be done within the next 8 or 12 hours. Whether it’s first thing in the morning or at the end of your day, finding a regular time to pause and reflect on what you’ve accomplished and what you still have to get done will help you make sure you’re moving towards your goals.

Weekly planning time. I prefer to do my weekly planning on Sunday evenings as I look forward to the week ahead. My tasks include planning meals for the week (and creating the corresponding grocery list for when I go shopping on Monday evenings); discussing my (and his) calendar with my husband to make sure there are no surprises; reviewing the week’s appointments to make sure I’m prepared for my work with each of my upcoming clients; and preparing information my administrative assistant will need to do my bookkeeping and weekly administrative tasks.

What tasks need to become part of your daily and weekly planning routines?

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Signature Sue

Organization for Effective Co-Parenting

parents and daughterParenting requires organization systems and communication skills – family calendars, dinner conversations, and homework rules provide structure for kids and reduce stress on parents. If parents divorce, new structures need to be put in place to keep everyone on the same page. Communication becomes even more important although circumstances can make it more difficult. I’ve invited Theresa Beran Kulat, Esq. to share some helpful organizational suggestions for parents whether they are divorced or still married.

Continue to have (or start) regular family meetings. At least once a year, get everyone in the same room to talk. Decide as a group which extra-curricular activities each child will pursue. Parents can work out driving arrangements and other logistics. Depending on the ages of the children, include them in working out the details. An older child can ride his bike to soccer practice. Another can save babysitting money to pay for a trip to camp. I personally find family meetings most helpful in late summer to prepare for school and in the early spring plan for summer. Camps, summer school, jobs for kids present a different routine than during the school year.

Maintain a Master Calendar. Find a place in the family “hub” and put up a giant calendar on the wall.  Use different color markers for each person to provide a visual reminder of what is coming up.  Two-home families need to be more creative. In addition to a physical calendar, you can set up a shared online calendar to connect the two homes. Outlook, Google, and Yahoo have free options.  Parents can update the calendar with pick-up and drop-off times, kids’ practices, games, concerts, parent-teacher conferences and school holidays. Make sure kids know how to access the information and, when appropriate, allow them to enter events and activities. In addition to these free options, several companies offer online calendar sharing for a fee. Check out OurFamilyWizard.com, JointParents.com and ParentingTime.com.

Click here for a link to my newsletter to read more about organization for effective co-parenting.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog

Stop Running Late

RUNNING LATEDo you often run late? Do you constantly feel like you’re rushing to get places? If so, it may be because you’re trying to squeeze in “just one more thing” before you head out the door. Many people fall victim to this phrase, especially people with ADHD. Let’s explore this mindset and what you can do about it.

“Just one more thing” can take on many different forms:

  • Checking online for directions just before you head out the door to drive to a meeting.
  • Sending a “quick” email before you leave work to go your child’s band concert.
  • Stopping at the store to choose and buy the appetizer for the party you’re headed to.
  • Making a “quick” phone call while your family waits for you to join them for dinner.

Any one of these scenarios can be stressful on you and the people you impact. You’re rushing, you’re late, you’re reprimanded, and you’re feeling like a failure – again. What happened? You were sure that quick task would only take five minutes. Maybe you didn’t think things all the way through – the line at the grocery store was longer than you anticipated (if you anticipated a line at all!). Maybe you got distracted – once you were online or in your email, you started checking other things and lost track of time. Maybe you underestimated how long the task would take – that quick phone call took 15 minutes as you exchanged pleasantries, caught up on the latest news, and finally got to the reason for your call.

So how do you break this pattern? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Constantly ask yourself “What’s the most important thing I should be doing right now?” Should I be checking email, or should I be getting out the door so I’m not late to my son’s concert? Should I make this phone call now, or should I join my family for dinner and write a reminder to make the call later?
  • Plan ahead. Plan each day the day before, and even look two or three days ahead to see if there’s anything you need to do to prepare. Do I have directions to the meeting? Do I know what appetizer I’m going to bring, and have the ingredients for it?
  • Set a timer. If you absolutely have to squeeze in something, set a timer to make sure you’re only spending the anticipated amount of time on it. For example, if you have to get that email sent before you leave, set a timer for the five minutes you’ll allow yourself to spend on it, and let it go when the timer goes off. You may discover that trying to “beat the clock” will help you stay focused and efficient.

I’d love to hear what you do to prevent being late.

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

Sue Small for Blog

5 Easy Tips to Maintain Your Organized Spaces

No matter whether you’re organizing your closet or your office, time management issues underlie most disorganization challenges. While there certainly needs to be a place in the closet for each item of clothing, and a place to file the papers that inundate most offices, establishing those places is only part of the solution. Once you find a place where everything belongs, you still need to create time in your day to maintain the organizing system. Here are 5 easy tips to help you keep things under control:

  1.  1. Block out time on your calendar for daily clean-up. Don’t skip a day; once you allow a little bit of mess to accumulate, it’s easy for things to drift out of control. I call this phenomenon clutter creep; one day you have a small pile, and before you know it, you’re back to the same chaos you had before. The only exception I might make to the daily clean-up rule is for filing – if you are diligent about honoring a once-a-week filing schedule, you can accumulate things to be filed in a single container, confident that within the next 7 days they’ll be where they belong. If you’re likely to shun the weekly ritual, file things daily and save yourself the anguish of not being able to find a document when you need it.

2. Take a photo of your organized spaces to remind yourself of what they should look like. Refer to these photos when you do your daily cleanup to make sure you’re getting everything put away. I know this may sound a bit excessive, but you’re less likely to overlook out-of-place items when you have a picture of what your space should look like. Don’t believe me? Just give it a try.

3. Get help maintaining your systems. Enlist a partner to encourage and remind you to maintain your daily clean-up routine until it becomes a habit. Your partner can be your spouse, a friend, a coach, a co-worker – anyone who will gently, non-judgmentally support you as you develop the habit of daily clean-up. I participate in a free service called Buddy Hive that helps people get things done – maybe you can request a buddy to keep you on track.

4. Make it fun. Cleaning and organizing doesn’t have to be drudgery – play some upbeat music, set a timer to play beat the clock, or do whatever makes the clean-up process energizing for you. 

5.  Reward yourself. Although enjoying the freedom of being organized can be its own incentive, reward yourself for sticking to your maintenance routine. After you’ve maintained your organized space for a few weeks, take a moment to pat yourself on the back, at least figuratively. I find ice cream is always a welcome reward. And if you have trouble maintaining your organized spaces, don’t give up. Revisit the steps I’ve laid out here and take it one day at a time.

I’d love to hear what helps you maintain your organized spaces.

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,

Small Steps Can Lead to Big Accomplishments

We all have a few pesky projects lurking on our to-do list (or at least taking up valuable space in our brain) that we just never seem to get around to finishing (or even starting). Maybe yours is finishing the needlepoint Christmas stocking you started 13 years ago, or updating the photo album with last year’s photos, or giving copies of your estate documents to your executor – oh wait, those are my unfinished projects! Well, no matter what’s on your list, how can you keep yourself moving forward on these bothersome undertakings?

The most helpful thing I do when I’m facing an overwhelming endeavor is to break it down. I’m not talking about taking it from a “finish the Christmas stocking” kind of task to “finish needlepointing the snowman” sub-task. I’m talking about teeny, tiny steps such as: “locate the bag with the stocking,” “put the canvas on the needlepoint ring,” “thread the needle.” Yes, it may sound utterly ridiculous and unnecessary to describe what’s to be done in such infinitesimal detail, but there’s great power in making tasks so short and quickly achievable that even the biggest procrastinators among us won’t be able to resist the simplicity and ease of quickly knocking off a few steps here and there. You can read more about this tiny steps concept in my previous blog on kaizen.

If identifying and writing down those tiny steps seems cumbersome, just break your project down to  whatever level of detail you need to move you past your procrastination and sense of overwhelm. However, keep in mind that it’s very empowering and energizing to be able to check something off your to-do list, so the smaller the steps, the more psychic rewards you’ll have the potential to achieve. Just be sure to start each task with a verb – this  seemingly insignificant technique can help make sure you’ve clearly identified exactly what you need to do, and can inspire you to take action.

Once you’ve identified the steps, be sure to capture them in your planner, on a piece of paper, or with some other tool that you trust yourself to refer to. Here’s my prior blog on this concept. Try to assign a target date to each task so you can motivate yourself to chip away at what needs to be done. Target dates can also serve as great mileposts along your journey towards completing your project.

So what unfinished projects have been bugging you? Let me know if breaking them down into small steps helps move you from frustrated and overwhelmed to confident and productive. Meanwhile, wish me luck on finishing that Christmas stocking!

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,

When is Your Peak Mental Energy Time?

Do you find yourself charged up and ready to go first thing in the morning, or do you stumble through the morning and hit your stride right after lunch? Taking advantage of your peak mental energy time can do wonders for your productivity as well as your self-esteem.

Many of my clients have never formally identified their peak mental energy time – they just know there’s a time of day when they seem to be highly motivated and productive, and other times that they spend spinning their wheels. If you haven’t identified your peak mental energy time, start paying attention to when you’re most able to take on difficult or unpleasant tasks – that’s most likely your peak time.

Once you’ve identified this key time, use it for tasks that require a lot of mental calories – those difficult and unpleasant things that are hard to wrap your brain around. You’ll need to muster all the mental horsepower you can for these tasks, so make it easy for yourself by scheduling them for the right time of day. Conversely, do fun and easy things during your slump time – don’t waste your peak mental energy time on things you’ll be able to do no matter how well your brain is functioning.

When I’m working in my office, I don’t even have to look at my watch to know when it’s around 3:00 in the afternoon. My yawning, distractibility, and restlessness tell me it’s time to get up from my desk and do something physical because my brain needs a break. Conversely, from 7 to 9 in the morning is a great time for me to concentrate and stay focused on desk or computer work. Fortunately for me (and my clients), if I’m doing something physical like organizing, I’m able to stay focused and energized no matter what time of day it is.

Sometimes you may not be able to work in accordance with your peak mental energy time – meetings, appointments, and other external demands may make it impossible to claim that time as your own. In those instances, taking a break will help energize you – I’ve previously written about the power of breaks. You may have to shorten each work session to allow for breaks, but in the long run, you’ll probably be more productive.

What if you can’t identify your peak mental energy time? I’ve never worked with anyone who doesn’t have some time of day that is best for them, but until you determine your peak time, you may be best off doing difficult and unpleasant things at the beginning of the day. That way, if your day gets derailed by other demands, at least you’ll have gotten something important accomplished.

So when is your peak mental energy time? What tasks will you target doing during that time?

Wishing you simplicity, harmony and freedom,