Manage Expectations with Email

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People put a variety of information in their email signature files, from business phone numbers to favorite quotations to colorful images of their signatures. I recently got an email that had a very clever sig line, as follows:

"I reply to emails at 8AM, 2PM and 4PM.
Calls returned: 10-11AM, 1-2PM and 5-6PM."

Short and sweet, gets right to the point.

If you find yourself constantly interrupted by emails and calls (and can't seem to resist answering/looking at them), try managing the expectations of your correspondents this way. Tack a similar phrase onto the end of your outgoing voicemail, too.

Organize All Over

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Hedge maze Accepted wisdom has it that you should concentrate on organizing one spot at a time. No wandering about, getting distracted and off task. Usually, that’s good advice.

For general tidying up, however, I think it works well to be all over the map. One of the problems people have with focusing on one spot is restlessness. Focus requires mental attention and physical discipline. When the physical part is difficult, moving around is the solution. Hence, the walkabout tidy-up.

Instead of making a pile of stuff that goes to other rooms, just take the things there as you find them. When you get to the next room, see what you can tidy while you’re in there. Move from room to room as it suits you. Staying in motion can do wonders to keep you on task. In fact, it’s important not to sit down because you don’t want to start reading that magazine you just picked up (no reading while standing!).

Walking around also gets your blood moving and helps energize you. Sprinting from room to room isn’t necessary, but if it makes the job more appealing, try it! It’s always worthwhile to try a technique you haven’t tried before. It could work, or it could give you new insight into why you do things your way.

Hedge Maze from kevingessner‘s photostream.

7 Things to Look For in a Professional Organizer

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Working with an organizer can be immensely helpful to get you to your organizing goals faster, just as hiring a personal trainer keeps you on track with getting in shape.

It can be a little intimidating to think of hiring a stranger to come inside your home, so I wrote this list of things to consider.

  1. Trust is vital. You’ll be sharing with your organizer parts of your life that you’re embarrassed about or even ashamed of. The organizer should make you feel comfortable and supported. Good organizers adhere to a code of ethics and promise confidentiality and respect.
  2. A good organizer offers an objective viewpoint. When you’re overwhelmed, it’s pretty darned hard to get perspective on your own situation. Your organizer should be able to make a nonjudgmental assessment that focuses on how things are now, how you want to change them and how that will happen, rather than mistakes you made or skills you lack.
  3. Look for an organizer who understands your unique situation. You are the one who chooses the goals you want to work toward. A capable organizer will ask questions to assess what’s going on with you and help refine your goals, but not make assumptions about what you want. Whether an organizer is a good fit for you should be determined by how easily you can communicate.
  4. Pay attention to personality and temperament. An upbeat, high energy organizer may be ideal for you to stay motivated and charged up. Or that organizer might make you feel anxious and tired. You’ll be spending hours at a time with your organizer, so make sure you click.
  5. A good organizer listens actively, taking in not only what you say but how you say it and how you feel. As I mentioned above, getting organized can bring up some uncomfortable feelings. You don’t need to let it all hang out, but an organizer can help you better if she knows what you’re feeling.
  6. Creative problem solving is an essential skill. People who seek out organizers often have tried to get organized by reading books, but find the programs too hard to follow, or just not suited to them. A good organizer uses her professional experience and understanding of the client to develop solutions that are tailor made for each one.
  7. Don’t forget to find out if the organizer can work with your schedule! If you can only devote time to organizing on the weekends, a Monday-Friday organizer can’t help you. You’ll get better results if you commit time to your organizing project. If you work full time, squeezing in sessions on weekday evenings isn’t ideal. The time and energy you put into the project will pay you back generously with a sustainable organized space.

Did I leave anything out? What would you look for?

Shorten Your Piles by Skimming off the Bottom

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Are piles of paper getting the best of you? They can seem like they're made of stone; as much as you hack at them, they don't get any smaller.

Here's a quick way to whittle them down: take papers from the bottom of the pile instead of the top. Why does this help? Because the oldest papers in the pile usually have the least hold on you. They're either out of date, no longer applicable or ready for filing.

Generally you can tell which category they're in right away and make a decision on them right away too. And then, voila, your pile is that much shorter.

Pile from striatic's photostream.

Save Web Receipts Easily

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I’ve had my MacBook Pro for about a month now and, having been a PC user for so long, I continue to learn new things about it. Since I like to make things easier for myself, I also search out shortcuts and cool tips like this one from the Mac Observer to quickly save web receipts as PDFs.

Instead of printing out your receipt, go to the Print menu, select the PDF button in the lower left corner and then select “Save PDF to Web Receipts Folder.” Name the receipt and you’re done. No more wasting paper and trying to find those receipts you printed. No more wondering what the heck you spent that money on because you didn’t save the receipt.

[Nifty vintage receipt from Laineys Repertoire]

Turn Clutter into Decor

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Vintage bowl
The fastest way to spruce things up a little when guests are coming isn't to shove all the clutter into a drawer, but to leave it out and disguise it as decor. I have used Ryan Korban's trick of sliding a handful of small clutter into a decorative dish before, but never thought of recommending it as a decluttering solution. Korban suggests this in the current issue of Domino Magazine (although that article isn't available on the site, unfortunately).

His other good trick is disguising stacks of books on the floor as decor by placing a vase of flowers or a small objet d'art atop them. Instantly, it looks like you meant it that way!

When I was in college, I used to clear the decks after a particularly hectic week by tossing all my clutter into an extra large black trash bag. This included library books, dirty clothes, dishes I stole from the cafeteria and other rather large objects. I don't recommend that strategy though. It's easy enough to find attractive containers to aid in last minute pick-me-ups. Antique painted dishes, colored baskets, handmade bowls, etc. All of them do a great job of distracting attention from what would otherwise be a pile of junk on your counter.

Vintage bowl from LePetitPoulailler's photostream

Where Are My Keys????

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Keys Choosing a place to put your keys the minute you come in the house is a really productive thing to do. How much time have you wasted searching for those &$%(*@ things? They're small, they get into tricky spots quickly, and they don't come when you call.

The best place is right inside the front door (or whatever door you use). If there's a table there, station a cute bowl or basket on it. If not, put a hook in the wall. Just use a cup hook or get something fancier. Some key holders have the word KEYS in big letters on them. If that helps you remember to use it, all the better. I don't recommend the kind with doors; you need to see it.

Put your keys there all the time. It doesn't matter if you're leaving the house again in 5 minutes. The idea is to get used to having that go-to spot for the keys. Save your cursing for the next traffic jam. 

To recap:

  1. Devise a way to stash your keys right near the door
  2. Put them there ALL THE TIME you're in the house, everyday
  3. Start today

Hi, glad you’re here! Come on in.

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We all have stuff in our lives, and have different thoughts and feelings about it. Just for the record, having stuff in itself is not a bad thing. It’s only bad if it’s in your way or you can’t find it, i.e., if it’s not supporting you to live your best life.

What’s your deal with stuff (that includes time!)? Leave a comment, ask a question, tell me what’s helped you the most, or what your philosophy about this whole thing is. If a post grabs you, please retweet it using the green button on the right. I would love to hear from you!

There’s a ton of info in my posts about overcoming procrastination, getting things done and reducing clutter. All the things that get in the way of you living the life you truly want to live. Because that’s really what it’s all about.

Take my free ecourse that will guide you through the seven steps to getting organized at home or at work. The ecourse begins at the beginning, defining why you want to get organized, so that you’ll have the motivation to see it through.

Or check out some of these “best of” posts:


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Since I got on Twitter (come follow me: @ClaireTompkins), the microblogging site, I've been thinking about other applications of "micro." Can it work for organizing? Sure! Here are some ideas for organizing at home.

As Lao-tzu said, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." It can be a little step, as long as you keep going forward. Often, people put off organizing because it seems like such a huge project. But if you pay attention, you can find tiny pockets of time to put away one thing, to dump that newspaper in the recycling on your way out the door, to jot down an idea before you forget it.

What else? Put the remote back, hang up your jacket, take a mug back to the kitchen, update Twitter ;). Doing these things throughout the day, as you notice the need, means you don't have to log hours of clean up time on a Saturday. It also means that you get used to where things belong and used to finding them there. That's the essence of organizing; being able to find what you need when you need it.

Microorganisms from kaibara87's photostream.

Get a Deadline

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Calendar At a presentation I did the other day, one of the participants came up with a great way to manage her time better: get a deadline. Someone had asked her for information and she wasn't willing to take time from her own work to give it right away. However, she didn't want to leave the person hanging either. If she knew when the info was needed by, she could work it into her schedule and not let it interrupt her.

Be proactive and give deadlines yourself. Make it easier for others to help you by letting them know exactly what you need and when you need it.