Starting Somewhere

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Starting is hard. It means going from a standstill into some
useful activity that you may not feel confident about doing. Once you have
started, though, it’s much easier to
continue. That’s why I have a bunch of tricks for just getting started, any
which way.

One typical problem people have is that everything they need
to do seems equally important. Here are a few ways to handle it.

  • Assign each task a number from 1 through X (whatever the
    total is) randomly. Then do the tasks in that order.
  • Another, more fun, way is to write each one on a separate
    index cards and then shuffle the deck. Turn over a card and do that task. Keep going
    till you’re done.

If you realize when you do this that all the tasks are
actually not equally important, feel free to reorder them. Sometimes you don’t know
which is most important, or which is least important, until you put them in
some kind of order.

It’s easier to make decisions like this when you get it all
down on paper. When it’s just in your head, it’s too vague, too unreal. Writing
down a list of tasks gets you to think more concretely about them.

What if you’re still not sure about the order you’ve chosen?
Just get going. Even if you get to a point where you have to stop and do
something else that, it turns out, has to be completed first, you’ll probably
be farther along than if you tried to figure it all out in your head first.

Multi-tasking: Yea or Nay?

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Ah, the debate over multi-tasking continues to rage. Is it productive? Or is that speed an illusion of productivity? Is it required for success in business today, or is it just kind of addictive? In his daily roundup of relevant articles, Michael Sampson includes one from about this activity.

First, let’s define multi-tasking. Literally, I say it means doing two or more things at once, such as responding to email while talking on the phone and listening to a conference call on mute. A more conservative definition is moving on to another task before the first one is completed.

I am generally against the first kind of multi-tasking, unless you are clear that only one of the tasks, at any given point in time, is being done well (and if the person you’re talking to doesn’t mind that you don’t hear half of what he’s saying).

The second variety can work quite well. Again, there’s a semantic issue. Are we talking about switching tasks every 20 seconds or every 20 minutes? It also depends on what kind of work you do. Not everyone spends the day writing in-depth reports. Work can be a barrage of rapid fire tasks.

I stand by my opinion that some multi-tasking is unnecessary. People do it because they like the rush. They crave the fast pace. If your boss is that kind of person and you’re not, whoa, you could be in trouble.

The question of whether or not multi-tasking is a good idea is less important than asking how it’s being done. If multi-tasking sucks you away from important-but-not-urgent work into urgent-but-not-important work, it’s not so productive. However, if you can quickly weigh alternatives and reprioritize on your feet, I think it’s a valuable skill.

Bottom line: take a moment to consider whether the next task is the most valuable use of your time right now. Once you do that consistently, you can multi-task to your heart’s content.

Shoe Box Storage Revisited

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The quest for the perfect storage container is never ending. Sometimes, you just want something Hotelbox new, something different to perk up your space. Of course, if the thing does more than one job, so much the better!

The Hotel Box is about the size of a shoe box and looks like a couple of milk cartons cobbled together. It comes in patterns or solids and you can add a plastic window to the opening to make it into a display box (or just keep your stuff from getting dusty). They’re on sale at

At $25 per box, it had better be superior to those old shoe boxes you’re currently using, and it is. Each one can hold 11 pounds. They can not only be stacked for storage but are strong enough to use as tables.

Although I think these items are a little too pricy, I think anything that makes putting stuff away fun, and makes the put-away stuff look cute, is a good idea.

Store your jewelry with the Gem Genie

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bags-on-ring_smaller-300x300Today’s post is about the Gem Genie, a jewelry organizer created by local gal Brody McHugh, who lives in Mill Valley.

Brody’s inspiration was her own jewelry drawer. Over time, she’d collected stacks of tiny boxes, larger boxes, zippered bags, bags with little snaps, etc.

Her jewelry took up a lot of space in an awkward configuration. All the containers were opaque so she often hunted for particular pieces, or forgot about them entirely.

The small containers made it easier to pack pieces for travel, but they were impractical and irritating in many ways. Fine chain necklaces were protected in their boxes, but there was still no way to keep them from devolving into a tangled ball of gold that she didn’t have the time or energy to deal with.

First she experimented with that old standby, the ziplock bag. To keep necklaces untangled, she used a separate ziplock for each item. Although the bags took up less room than the boxes, they were still adding up. And they weren’t very nice to look at.

Next, she played around with lightweight, sheer fabric that she made into bags. They were more appealing visually and didn’t add bulk. A grommet came next, as a way to hang the bags and attach them together on a ring.

She also created a card insert so the necklaces would hang inside the bags and be easy to remove and replace.

Gem Genie provides a space saving way to organize jewelry so you can see and enjoy what you have. It works well for home storage and the system makes it simple to select jewelry for travel and pack it safely into the fabric envelope that comes with the set.

Brody is currently working on a genie for makeup, another boon for the ladies, especially ones who travel or are just plain busy. Whether in a hotel room or your own bathroom, the makeup genie bag system makes your makeup viewable and easily accessible.

I asked Brody for her favorite organizing tip and, you guessed it, it involves bags! Her work requires her to carry a mobile office around. It’s important for her to be able to find and access her supplies quickly, so she keeps them in transparent bags, sometimes nested inside each other. Great tip!

Myths About Being Organized

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When I taught organizing skills at adult school, I devised this matrix to bust some myths about organized people. I did it because I realized that many students, although they’d paid money and were attending the class, had some negative ideas about what being organized means.

I also knew that my students weren’t going to get very far if they thought that the place they were going wasn’t any fun! Or that they couldn’t be themselves; they’d have to become like “those people.”

You can make any task in life into drudgery or into a satisfying and pleasing activity. I can guarantee you that if you think organizing is drudgery, you won’t do it.

What are organized people like?

Myth: Organized People…

Are perfect
Are neat
Like things out of sight
Are obsessive
Are slaves to routine
Are rigid
Memorize everything

Reality: Organized People…

Have systems that work
Know where things are and know their things all have homes
Have things in the most logical place
Perform regular, but minimum, maintenance
Know how to get the systems back up and running when the unexpected happens
Build contingency time into their schedules
Write things down in a place they can easily find them again

Remind me

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notebook with handwritingAlthough I use an electronic calendar, I love to write by hand. It’s been proven that moving your pen across a page induces “motor memory.”

That means that simply writing something down can help you remember it, even if you don’t look at your notes again.


Even I need reminders. Actually, I especially do. In some ways, I feel blessed that I seem to have inherited a lack of short term memory from both my parents. Because of that, I have always been eager to use tools to help me remember things.

My dad was a reporter. He carried a little notebook, spiral bound on top, in his breast pocket all the time. Often I’d see him with a faraway look in his eye, then he’d pull out the book and jot something down. He was the one who told me you should always write important things down.

Case in point: somehow my calendar reminder to do my newsletter lost its repeat function. This repeat function is the single best reason to use an electronic calendar, in my view. Write an appointment once and have it repeat forever.

I did have a niggling feeling that it was time to write last Thursday, but since I didn’t see it on my calendar, I ignored it. (I look at my calendar multiple times a day. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t do anything at all.)

So, the newsletter was a week late. :)

But it gave me a topic to write about, one that comes up with my clients regularly. I understand that

like you’re sliding down that inevitable path to senility.

What’s better, though? Using a tool that allows you to get places on time and call people you promised you would call? Or upsetting and annoying others because you stubbornly resist doing that? And that’s in your personal life. What about losing clients or alienating potential clients? Tools are to make life easier.

Trade In Old Gifts for New Ones

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If you’ve got some “gently used” electronic devices that you’d like to trade up for, Best Buy has a trade-in program. This could be a great, low-cost way to unload that phone or PDA you never really used and get something you really want. It’s also a terrific way to do some cheap Christmas shopping for your gadget loving friends and family.

You can view the details here. I got this tip from my colleague, closet installer extraordinaire Toni Ahlgren. Thanks, Toni!

Gifts from rick’s photostream

Reminders for "Messies"

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Author and "Organizing Lady" Sandra Felton has written many books about organizing for "messies." She herself is a recovering messie so her advice comes from first hand experience.

Cleanies vs. Messies
She often writes that "cleanies" tidy up automatically, without having to be reminded or nagged at. That’s because they immediately see what is out of place and feel uncomfortable until it’s put away. Cleanies can find it hard to understand why messies don’t just spend a few minutes getting rid of the obvious mess in front of them.

But messies tend not to see the mess until it gets so big that they can’t find anything or put one more thing down. At that point, it seems too overwhelming to do anything about. What messies need is a way of reminding themselves to tidy up regularly, since visual cues don’t work for them.

Make a List
I suggest having a list of all the tidying tasks in the house posted prominently. Breaking the clean-up into smaller tasks means you can glance at the list, find a task and do it in a few minutes. It also means that other family members can do the same thing (yes, enlist all of them!). Note that this list is for straightening up, not for house cleaning, so it should be obvious whether a task such as "clear the kitchen counter" needs doing or not.

Pair Up Tasks
Another idea is to pair up tasks with other activities you do regularly. One of my clients decided that she wouldn’t check her email until she spent a few minutes clearing off her desk. She didn’t have to finish clearing it, just put in some time. But since she checks her email a lot, it will get tidied up pretty fast!

Write It Down!
The important thing to do is write down the tasks and make a habit of looking at the list. Don’t try to remember to do them. Don’t worry that you shouldn’t need to be told to clean up. It’s okay to need a reminder.

Do It Now
Don’t put them off for later. Tasks that take two minutes or less are worth getting out of the way right now, because a pile of two minute tasks quickly becomes half an hour or more. Put your purchases away as soon as you come home from the store, for example, even if it means walking all over the house.

Simple habits like these will make a huge difference in the clutter level of your home. Start right now!

Pay Your Bills

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Next week is National Pay Your Bills Week. Isn’t that exciting? Okay, so it’s not. It’s important though. Like filing, death, taxes and going to the dentist, bill paying is a must.

How could it be easier?

Use online banking. I believe this is a very safe way to pay, despite recent alarms. You have to do your part to make it safe, however.


  • Don’t click on links from bank emails! Just don’t ever do it. Many intelligent people have been scammed this way. Go to your bank website, log in and check for messages.
  • Check that the website address starts with https instead of just http. The “s” means the site uses encryption. Windows users will see a closed padlock indicating encryption at the bottom right of their screens.
  • Create passwords using letters and numbers, not common words. Here’s a post I wrote about how to make good passwords. Keep them safe! I record mine using hints only as described in the post.
  • Change your passwords regularly, at least twice a year.

Even if you don’t want to bank online, you can save trees and reduce clutter by getting your bills electronically. And don’t print them out! I do recommend downloading the PDF version if you want to keep a record. Sometimes your bills are only on the website for a few years and you may have to pay a fee to recover old ones.

Schedule days every month to pay bills and put them in your datebook. I use email reminders in iCal to pay my bills twice a month. Choose dates that allow for online processing or mail delivery so your payments aren’t late.

What’s to be gained by doing this?

  • Freedom from worrying about what is due when, and paying bills multiple times per month.
  • No more late fees!
  • Spending less time on a task you don’t really like anyway 😉

Need reasons to clear out the clutter?

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Josh Waldrum from SpareFoot Storage sent me this delightful infographic full of impressive and sometimes scary statistics. Clearing out clutter can literally pay you back; every organizer I know has found uncashed checks, gift cards and money in their clients’ homes.

Having more stuff than fits in your house is NOT a good reason to rent a storage unit. But there are plenty of good reasons. One of my clients downsized recently and uses his unit to keep artwork. There is only enough room for about a quarter of his collection in the new place and he plans to swap out pieces a few times a year.

Clutter Infographic
Produced by SpareFoot. Copyright 2013.