Brain Dump = Less Clutter in Your Head

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Originally posted 2011-04-08 12:33:40. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Elaine heard me talk about what I do at a breakfast meeting. She pointed at me across the room and said, “I need that!” We made an appointment for the following week and I could hear the relief in her voice.

Her schedule was full, but that wasn’t the problem. Elaine is a high energy person and likes to stay busy. She has a finger in lots of pies and her calendar was getting kind of messy, with all that cherry juice spilled on it.

What she needed was a brain dump.

She wrote out all that she does on a giant sheet of paper, the kind you use for meeting presentations. There were little notes and arrows added here and there. Some of her projects weren’t getting enough attention. In other areas, she felt she was spending too much time and not getting what she wanted.

Elaine described her days to me, what she did, what she needed to do, what she really wanted to do and how she liked working with various clients.

I helped her step back from the forest of her schedule so she could see the individual trees and how they fit together (or didn’t).

I asked her questions that helped her get even more objective about her schedule. Was her lunch break too short? She agreed it was short, but her priority was to be done with work by 3:30 every day to be with her kids. Was it worthwhile to work for a client she had to commute over an hour to? Yes, because she got a steady stream of new clients there.

She was frustrated that one client wanted more from her than she could do in the four hours a week they contracted. We came up with a couple of ideas to get around that, such as writing a proposal for a new program they could offer that would not only help their clients, but would prevent them from being sued (which had happened more than once) and therefore save them money. She has a lot of passion about this topic and is dying to teach it!

These ideas came out of my asking Elaine questions that she hadn’t asked because she was too close to the situation. Why did the client want her to do the extra work? If it was so important, why wasn’t the regular staff doing it? What would happen if it didn’t get done? What would change for the better if it got done?

What’s all this got to do with managing time?

The brain dump helped Elaine see where she was putting in effort that got great results. She could shift time from one area to another to get more bang for her buck. She realized that she was making a conscious decision to use some time in a way that wasn’t wildly productive, but she was happy with it.

Elaine knows now where her time is going and why. The point isn’t, in her case, to squeeze the utility out of every single minute, but to be intentional about how she spends her time.

Her decisions about time are connected to how she wants to live her life and accomplish her best work.

That leads to her trusting herself more and feeling confident. Investigating her schedule showed her what really matters to her and how to get more of that. Connecting to what’s meaningful to her gives her a sense of ease and assurance so she can get out there and make things happen.


Could you use a brain dump? Well, you’re in luck. I don’t usually do one-off sessions, but for the next month (till May 6) I’m offering these consultations for free. Yes, free. For as many people as I can fit in my schedule.

I’m doing it as a Customer Love thing, first of all. That means I get to find out what will help my people the most so I can do more of that. I’m also doing it to spread the word about how incredibly valuable this service is. I’ll get the details out by Monday, but feel free to ask a question in the comments below.

Brain coral by seanmcgrath

Productivity App

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A software engineer reached out to me last week to let me know about an app she and her partner developed to increase their own productivity as they worked on their start up. It’s called 52 Wins.

There’s a companion blog that will record the successes of the app users as they build a skill, try something new, stick to a plan or whatever it is they choose as a goal over the coming year. Sounds inspiring! Having a community of folks also working on their goals is a great support to working on your own.

They are offering the app to 10,000 people for free, people who truly want to be more productive. You can get in on the action here.

Organizing Appliances of the Future

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Originally posted 2008-07-21 10:00:00. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Any day now, the wonders of modern technology will be put to use helping you get organized around the house! Well, maybe not, but a gal can dream, can’t she?

The Mail-o-Matic.  Just feed your mail by the armload into the top chute (you can’t overload this baby!) and the Mail-o-Matic will sort it for you! Mail drops into labeled slots, ready to read. Position the side exit tube over your recycling bin for one-step junk mail handling.Vacuum

The Clutter Buster Deluxe. You’ve heard of in-wall vacuum systems, haven’t you? Well, this beats them cold! The Clutter Buster Deluxe uses a system of small in-wall tunnels that lead to all the rooms of your home. Simply plug the wide mouth nozzle into the wall receptacle and sweep over the floor of any room, and all the items will be sucked up and sent down the tunnels to the appropriate rooms (items are specially pre-tagged by your technician). Activate the junk sensor and the Clutter Buster Deluxe will extract the useless items from the stream and direct them straight to the garbage can!

Nano-ize It! If you’re running out of room to put away all your stuff (and who isn’t these days?), just nano-ize it. This handy device shrinks your stuff down to microscopic size so it can be jammed in to any nook or cranny. Just aim the ray at your stuff, keeping pets and children safely away, and voila! All shrunk down and ready to store! (Macro-izer sold separately.)

Do you have an idea for a space-age organizing appliance that would make your life ever so much easier? Share it here!

Vacuum Party courtesy of Keep My Day Job’s photostream

Organizing kitchen spices

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Originally posted 2014-05-20 16:11:19. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

I worked with a client unpacking and setting up her kitchen this week. I corralled and sorted all her spice containers; jars, plastic bags, paper bags, plastic boxes, fabric bags; and we saw that there were duplicates and even triplicates of some spices.

One problem is that spices don’t all come in the same kind of container and plastic bags don’t work well in a spice rack. That means that some spices end up packed into a larger container in the pantry, away from the jars in the rack.

They’re usually not very usable there because the bags are rolled up or not labelled clearly. In this case they were also pretty tightly packed together. When it’s hard to find one, it’s easier just to buy more and then you end up with doubles and triples.

With spices, that’s a waste of money because they don’t keep very long. Not many cooks need half a cup of turmeric on hand all the time. I like Spicely brand boxed spices because the quantity is small. So here’s what we did:

  1. We got rid of all the expired spices. Some were dated. Some we judged on their color and smell; lack of either means toss it.
  2. We got rid of extra spices. One average spice jar-full is plenty to keep. We tried to select the newest ones to keep judged as described above.
  3. We now had spare jars to wash and empty the bagged spices into. Even so, the jars aren’t exactly the same size. I recommended that the client either start buying one brand or buy her own jars. Uniform containers with uniform labels make it much easier to find what you need quickly.
  4. We used a labelled to identify the jars and put them in the rack in alphabetical order. Some cooks like to sort by type of cuisine, or by the spices they use most often; those methods are fine too. With alphabetical sorting, I put the blends in their own section at the end.

Other spicy notes:

Don’t keep spices above your stove. The heat will destroy the flavor.

Select a spice container based on your cooking style and preferences. If you have a drawer available, you can get handy inserts to keep the jars in place. To save space, attach a rack or two to the inside of a cabinet. If you like having them on the counter, use a tiered lazy Susan. A graduated riser shelf unit is great if you have cabinet space for one.

Photos courtesy of The Container Store

Multitasking Revisited

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Originally posted 2008-08-06 11:07:37. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

One man band
My previous, multitasking-bashing post may have given the impression that I'm against multitasking. I'm not. I'm for anything that helps you get your work done. Multitasking, or the illusion thereof, is appropriate when:

  1. You have a short attention span
  2. You crave novelty
  3. You're easily bored
  4. You're energized when there's a lot going on at once
  5. Deadlines motivate and thrill you

The caveats here are that:

  1. You need to be actually accomplishing things, not just spinning your wheels (however fast they go)
  2. You don't create crises for others and hinder their work
  3. You do not alienate people by giving them only half your attention
  4. You're aware that you're not getting things done faster or even more effectively, you're just using a work style that suits you

I'm a firm believer in finding ways to be organized and efficient that work with the way you are now, not the person you think you should be. Change your environment to suit you, not the other way around.

Personally, I hate multitasking. When I do it, I find that I can remember the primary task I did, but the secondary focus ones get forgotten. That means I have to go back and check to see if I did them, which is a waste of time and annoying to boot.

There's very little on the Internet in support of multitasking! This article is one of the few. Vos Savant makes some very good points, such as why talking on the phone while driving is completely different from talking to your passenger.

One Man Band from Jaroslaw Pocztarski's photostream.

Cute Fruit Storage

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Originally posted 2008-08-13 10:21:00. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

I guess I've got fruit on the brain. I came across this striking fruit holder on Declutter It! My first thought was that it looks like a toilet seat. But now I think it looks kind of like a life preserver. It's certainly unusual and would be a definite conversation piece.

Fruit ring
If your kitchen's horizontal spaces are full, this would be a great thing to have since it uses wall space (although I'm not clear on whether you can actually buy one or it's just a design). I suppose you could use it for other round-ish foods like onions or potatoes. Or put it in the bedroom and use it for balled up socks. Or in the bathroom for soap (that's a lot of soap, though).

Snail Mail 101

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Originally posted 2011-06-20 17:24:42. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Ah, the plague of the daily mail. Kind of like death and taxes, it’s inevitable. Here’s what’s in your mailbox: stuff to

  • delegate
  • read
  • act on
  • file
  • trash

Let’s call it DRAFT for short.

This is mail that you can fob off on someone else. If you’re married, you may decide one partner is responsible for paying the bills, so they go in that person’s in box (don’t have an inbox? Get one). Similarly, one of you may be responsible for social engagements and medical appointments.

If you have a business partner but not an office manager, divide up responsibilities. This really helps things not fall through the cracks. Especially things involving money.

Everyone needs an in box.

As above, each partner needs an inbox. When the question of “where did you put that ________?” the answer is always “In your in box.” Not “on your chair.” Not “somewhere on your desk.”

Reading material includes magazines, newspapers, annual reports, tip sheets from the garden center and professional association bulletins. Keep it near where you read. Don’t read? Then stop subscribing to things.

If you don’t know where your “to reads” are, you can’t read them. Pick a spot, like a basket near your bed or a shelf in your living room, to stash it.

Don’t pick too many spots. You want to know where things are and you also need a reality check about how much there is to read. When it’s all in one place, you can clearly see that it’s not humanly possible to read all that stuff.

The rule is that when the basket or shelf is full, you have to get rid of the older publications. Grab a handful from the bottom of the stack and recycle them. Just do it. I know they have fascinating and important information in them, but you don’t have time to read them and keep up with what came in today.

Information is only useful when you can get at it.

An article buried in a months-old magazine is not accessible to you and therefore irrelevant. Just having all that information is not the same as being able to use it. If you can’t use it, it’s just like not having it at all.

Act On
This category includes bills, medical forms to file, an insurance or telephone plan to compare with what you have now, information about a product you intend to buy and a list of activities put on by a group you belong to. Put in your in box anything that requires you to take some action, whether it’s filling out a form, making a call or adding activities to your calendar.

Avoid decisions you don’t really need to make.

Do you really need to get a better phone plan, or would it just be a nice idea to know what’s out there? If it’s the second one, when are you going to take the time to compare plans?

Be careful about filing too much. Most people’s file cabinets are neglected paper graveyards. Paper goes in and promptly gets forgotten about and never looked at again.

Things you are keeping that you don’t need to:

  • receipts that are not for tax purposes or under-warranty purchases
  • ATM slips
  • old catalogs
  • paid bills*
  • manuals and documentation for stuff you no longer own; electric toothbrush, car, medical insurance plan

Keep files you refer to near your desk. Get a tray to store file-ables until you’re ready to file them. Files you need to maintain for legal reasons (tax returns, legal documents) are archives and should be kept in a less accessible spot, like the attic or the top shelf in the closet.

A lot of your mail shouldn’t even come into the house. Your first pass at mail sorting is to weed out the junk mail and recycle or shred it. No brainer recycling: product and service solicitations you’re not interested in, announcements for things you don’t care about, invitations from groups you aren’t joining.

To cut down on unwanted mail, register with the Direct Marketing Association (you can stop junk email here too). Get off catalog lists here.

Whether you shred or not is up to you. Some people don’t want to toss out magazines with their address labels on them. The rule of thumb is to shred anything with personal information such as account numbers, medical and employment info, ATM slips and travel itineraries. Also shred credit card applications.

Shred every day.

It’s boring and tedious and if you let it pile up, you’ll put it off forever (unless you have a six year old; they love to make a racket with the shredder). Also, if you only shred a few things a day, you won’t jam or overheat the thing.

Start Today
Don’t worry about last week’s mail. It’s getting older by the second and, unless it’s a bill, it doesn’t need your immediate attention. Develop your new mail system with today’s mail and you’ll keep on top of things.

Quick Start

  1. Get an inbox
  2. Designate a reading stash spot
  3. Have a tray for to-be-filed documents
  4. Sort your mail over the recycling bin
  5. Shred as you go
  6. Sign up for electronic bills and statements
  7. Get off junk mail lists

*I heartily recommend receiving and paying bills online. You can download PDF copies and keep them on your computer. Pay them through the biller’s website or your bank’s website; both services are generally free. Go even further and sign up for automatic monthly payments for your bills. Then you don’t have to deal with the bill at all.

Nap to Recharge

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Originally posted 2009-07-22 09:46:00. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Napping A year ago I wrote about the wonderful benefits of power napping. Now, at the Equinox gym in New York, you can take a yoga class that ends with one.

Years ago, when I went regularly to yoga classes, I was surprised that many teachers didn't close their classes with the corpse pose. I learned it as the perfect way to integrate all the benefits of the preceding poses. I think fitness-style yoga teachers and their students avoid poses that don't obviously work the body. Why spend five minutes just lying there when you could be toning your butt a little more?

By the same token, napping still feels like goofing off to most people or an unnecessary luxury to the overworked. But the Equinox class description makes clear that napping "reverses information overload" and puts you in a better state to get back to the office than a lunchtime run does.

It can be challenging to nap at the office, but even a micro nap can help. For early morning college classes, I perfected a technique of resting my chin on one fist and bracing my elbow against the wall so I wouldn't fall off my chair while I napped. Get creative!

Park bench napping from das911s' photostream.

Changing Habits Requires Motivation

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Originally posted 2008-04-25 15:16:23. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Changing habits is hard. It’s easier the more motivated you are to do it. Tip: be honest about what motivates you.

I was riding in my friend’s car the other day and she mentioned that she was trying to keep hLive_fueleff_grapher speed down to 55 mph to maximize fuel efficiency. Her car is a Prius, so she’s really into that kind of thing. I
immediately thought, is the speed the same for all cars? How much could I save? What if I went 5 miles over that? I was planning to research it online when I got home.

But then I remembered that I like to drive fast. I know myself well enough that I might try the 55 mph thing for 15 minutes or so, but then I’d start to feel antsy. Then I’d feel deprived. Then I’d start ratiionalizing and making deals with myself so I could resume my previous habit. And resume it I would.

The point is that I am not motivated enough by saving money to reduce my driving speed. I’m just not. This isn’t about what’s right or wrong or black or white or green. It shouldn’t be about guilt or pleasing others either. If you are sincerely gratified by doing your part to save the earth by driving more slowly, by all means do it. Make sure you feel good about it, though.

Trying to change a habit without sufficient motivation that works for you is a recipe for failure. What have you been trying to change that isn’t happening? See if you can discover a real, honest way to motivate yourself to do it, rather than "I should."

FYI, you can find out more about fuel efficiency here.