Should I Save or Should It Go?

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Originally posted 2008-06-26 10:00:00. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

People who are collectors love to tell me that things they've held onto for years and years have actually come in handy, so it was worthwhile to keep it. There's often a note of triumph in their voices when they come to the story's punchline, "and I had one!" They assume that I'm against keeping things and they want to head off any suggestions I might have for downsizing.

Sometimes, the story is that they decided to get rid of a bunch of stuff that hadn't been used in decades and "the very next day" they needed one of those things. They reluctantly decide it's a big mistake to get rid of anything at all, although they would like to have less clutter. What to do?

I heard a story like the latter one recently and it occurred to me that the storyteller was asking the wrong questions to determine what to keep and what not to keep. He asked himself if he'd used the item in question in the past few years and the answer was no. So, out it went.

But if he had asked, "what will I do if I need this next week and I don't have it?" he would've gotten more helpful answers. Could he borrow one, rent one or buy a new one? Could he farm out the item on long term loan to a friend with the proviso that he could borrow it back as needed? Could he make do somehow with items he did keep? And how would those options feel? If none were acceptable, keeping the item would be the best answer.

The idea is to look into the future ("what will I do?") and not the past ("I haven't used this in years") to make your decision. The future is where you're going to use it (or not).

[White elephant courtesy of Lenny Montana's photostream]

How to Organize Your Wallet

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Originally posted 2008-06-12 10:00:00. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

It may be small, but your wallet can be chock full of clutter. You don't want to be one of those people who holds up the line trying to find her preferred shopper card, do you? Or the guy with the unsightly rectangular growth on his backside (because we know it's not all money)? Of course not. 

So, empty your wallet and let's see what's in there.Wallet

  • Coupons:  Are they still good?  Are they worthwhile?  If you're not in the habit of using coupons, they can be more trouble than they're worth.
  • Frequent buyer cards:  These can be like coupons.  Only use ones from stores you patronize regularly AND where the clerk asks you for it (otherwise you may forget to present it).
  • Membership cards:  Most establishments will allow you to give your phone number instead of presenting your card.  Much less wallet clutter.
  • Receipts:  Why are you keeping them?  To balance checkbook?  Tax purpose?  Possible return?  Assign a pocket in your wallet for receipts and regularly take them out.
  • Credit cards:  You really only need one, or two if you have a business.  You have to be very organized to take advantage of perks like frequent flyer miles on credit cards.  Make sure using these perks doesn't cause you to buy things you don't need.  And make sure you have time to manage and track your benefits.
  • Scraps of paper:  Dedicate some space in your date book for little notes and ideas.  Reminders should go on a dated page.  Phone numbers into the address book, even if they're only temporary. 
  • Currency:  Keep your bills in denomination order.  Not only is it easier to find the amount you need, but you will have a better idea of how much cash you have at any given time. 
  • Stamps:  Can be handy, but only if you remember they're there.  Otherwise, you'll find them by accident and discover they're 41 centers

See if you can pare down to what you really need and use. The short list:
Driver's license or CA ID card
Health insurance card
Car insurance card
Credit card
Bank or ATM card
BART or other transit ticket

The Costanza Wallet (George, from Seinfeld) wallet courtesy of shareski's Flickr stream

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.

Clutter is Tiring

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Originally posted 2012-01-17 15:58:31. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

It’s exhausting, actually.

It’s hard on the eyes.

It hems you in.

Sometimes it feels like it’s just in the background, just there in case you need it. But then you remember how relieved and calm you felt last time you cleared out that clutter, as if a weight had been lifted.

Clutter niggles at you, subtly draining your energy.

Old magazines whisper “read me!” Piles of clothes coax “come sort me!” Your crafts bag says “come play with me!” This creates a low level of background chatter in your brain that’s more distracting than you realize.

One of my clients has a lot of clothing. More than will fit in her closets. The last time I saw her, the ironing board in the bedroom and the chair next to it were piled high with clothes. We’ve made progress, but it’s a big project.

It seemed to me that she was feeling worn down by constantly seeing the piles and waking up to them every morning. So, we moved them to her office. Now, that’s not a solution, it’s just an interim step in this long project.

Her mood lightened up right away.

She took a big breath and stretched her arms out. The room suddenly felt bigger and more restful to the eyes. I predict she’s sleeping better at night too.

If you have a lot of sorting to do, try to keep it contained or covered in between sessions. You’re not hiding the truth, you’re letting yourself focus on other parts of your life instead of being nagged all the time by this undone project.

Here are a couple of sorting techniques to try: triage and quick declutter.

Organizing Overwhelm Cure

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6523852953_592dddf0e1_nWhen you feel overwhelmed by an organizing project or task, it’s often because you’re looking at the entire forest and not each individual tree. You can’t see the trees for the forest, to bend a common phrase.

Looking at the big picture is worthwhile, but in order to get down to work and sort through things and organize, you need to focus on each individual tree. The forest will just distract you.

I went through tote bags and handbags with a client recently. She has lots, enough to more than cover her dining table. When we dumped them all out, she backed away from the table, feeling overcome by the sheer quantity. It seemed impossible to her that we could make any order out of it.

But soon we were putting the bags into categories. Slowly, some sense emerged from the pile. As long as she was able to concentrate on each bag, recognize it and identify it, she could be complete and move on to the next.

That last part is key. When you look at the entire forest, your mind darts back and forth and never settles anywhere. All these unmade decisions and unfinished plans! Putting attention on one thing, making a decision and moving on is the way to get through.

Build Your Own Organizing System

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Originally posted 2009-04-14 11:06:01. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

I don’t follow a particular organizing method or recommend a specific system. My clients all have their own unique needs, ways of thinking and taste. The challenge is to come up with something that works with the least amount of fuss and bother.

My friend and fellow entrepreneur, Erin Saul, has developed her system by trial and error. The visual aspect is important to her, as is being able to see a whole month at a glance. It’s not, as she says, “elegant,” but it does the job and she likes it. I asked her to share it with my blog readers, so here’s her description:

IMG_0429 When I quit the day job to run two businesses from home, it took me a while to get organized in a new way. I finally came up with a weekly schedule that would apply some kind of — if not routine, then maybe STRUCTURE to my week. But with the way my mind works, it was difficult to find some existing method of keeping me on track. I tried a couple versions of some productivity software, but they didn’t really work. I had to make it myself.

It’s rudimentary, but it made sense to me. And then I found that it didn’t work… but it sure was a good idea at the time!

Instead, now…  I’ll admit it: I keep three calendars:

IMG_0431 1)  The TO-GO PLANNER, which is a dual week-at-a-glance/month-at-a-glance color-coded piece of brilliance I found at The Container Store, and which I take EVERYWHERE with me. The MONTHLY part is what I use when booking events with clients and hang-time with friends. The WEEKLY pages have a timeline/appointment section and also a color-coded section which corresponds nicely to my ‘Business 1′, ‘Business 2′, and ‘Personal’. I can make more granular notes of what to do when, and see how my day is weighted. This weekly part informs my DAILY to-do list…

2)  I make a separate DAILY to-do list on a 3×5 index card, which fits in my pocket, and which I can access easily and frequently throughout the day to check on my progress, and add more things that need doing, as I think of them. Part of that to-do list is the MAKING of it, which is when I consult the WEEKLY color-coded part of the TO-GO PLANNER I carry around with me. That’s when I try to make sure everything matches.

3)  The BIG WALL CALENDAR is mostly for fun, but keeps my head in the game when I’m in my home office, planning my days and weeks and months. I’m a visual learner/rememberer… so the color-coded stickies are for visual reference: Do I have enough pink ones to achieve my goals? Do I have everything done far enough in advance of the yellow events? Did I send birthday cards? And, maybe most importantly, this is where I can see days that have NO events, where I can spend the day on those pesky tasks it takes all day to do (like taxes!).

I realize that this all seems like the OPPOSITE of a simple, elegant system… but it works for me. Digital calendars and PDA solutions don’t help me because I can’t get a good VIEW of a day, week, or month the way my mind needs to see it. When my head starts swimming with random, disorganized things-to-do… that’s when they slip through the cracks, and when I start getting cranky. I’ve learned these things about myself… and also that I’m one of those bizarro organize-y people who just love calendars. This way, I get to use three! The key is to find something that works for you and to be diligent about it. I also found that I love routine. When I get to start my morning making my daily to-do list with some hot tea, that grounds me. Then I’m off and running toward a productive day!

Erin’s company, Namaste Mofo™, designs and sells T-shirts with “irreverently reverent yoga slogans” on them. The company motto is that all human beings are complex and can honestly embrace holistic ideals and still be totally punk rock. She rocks!

Use Email to Stay Organized

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Originally posted 2008-10-08 17:26:08. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

I asked my friend David over dinner one night how he manages to keep on top of all his projects at work. I don't always talk about organizing with friends, but I often discover new ways to do things from them, and that's always fun. He said that he uses his email program.

How does that work? For each project he opens a new email and starts typing in bullet points for all the tasks that need to be done that day. The emails are automatically saved as drafts and he can quickly cycle through them to see at a glance what's happening. He continues to add to them during the day, including notes from conversations and other emails. So he ends up with an outline of all project activity for the day.

He sends the emails to himself using the date and project in the subject line and then keeps them in the appropriate project folder. Sometimes they're also mailed to other people working on the project, saving him the step of copying information from other sources. And he has a chronological, easily accessible log of project activity.

I like this idea because it's simple and fast, it uses a program he already knows (no learning curve) and the information is easily transferred elsewhere, including to other people.

Juggler from jayniebell's photostream

The Six Styles of Procrastination

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Originally posted 2011-06-01 10:47:17. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Hey, it’s like a quiz! Don’t you love taking quizzes? Identify your particular procrastination style and try the suggested solutions. Or try any of the solutions that appeal to you, even if you don’t match the style. If it works, it works.

These definitions come from the book It’s About Time, by psychologist Linda Sapadin, condensed by me. You may have characteristics of several types; that’s okay. Pretty normal, actually.

The Perfectionist
These people don’t want to finish, or even start, a project that they fear won’t be perfect.  They waste time refining and honing their work, but adding no value.

How to overcome:

  • Set absolute deadlines.
  • Devise other criteria and adhere to it.  Remember that anything can be improved infinitely.  There’s no ending point for improving something.  You have to pick an end point and stick to it.
  • Most of the details you’re worrying about won’t matter in the end
  • Keep in mind how much effort you can afford, given everything else that’s going on in your life.

The Dreamer
These people are better at ideas than execution.  Actually doing the work seems tedious and boring.  They are vague about how to make things happen and tend to believe they’ll be magically rescued.

How to overcome:

  • Make plans in writing
  • Talk to others regularly to “test your reality”
  • Give yourself specific tasks to do, some routine and some that make your dreams reality
  • Use a timer to keep yourself on track and honest.

The Worrier
These people fear risk and always worry “what if?”  They put off acting if it means doing something unfamiliar or uncomfortable

How to overcome:

  • Remember that avoiding decisions is still deciding
  • Motivate yourself by focusing on the positive outcome you desire
  • Break down your tasks as small as possible to circumvent fear

The Defier
These people hate feeling controlled by others.  The feel oppressed by mundane chores.  “You can’t make me” is their line.

How to overcome:

  • Realize that people are requesting you to do something, not demanding it
  • Don’t take it personally!
  • Do what you know is right, even if it means “giving in.”

The Crisis Maker
These people are adrenaline junkies.  They thrive on and even create near disasters because they’re exciting.

How to overcome:

  • Don’t wait to feel excited about a project.  That might not happen until you get involved in something.
  • Satisfy your need for speed in more benign ways, like speed cleaning your kitchen.
  • Before you act, focus on how you’ll feel later, not just in the moment.

The Over Doer
These people are indecisive and unassertive.  They say yes to everyone and then get stuck.  They over commit and burn out.

How to overcome:

  • Realize you aren’t superwoman, and you’re fine the way you are now.
  • Don’t let the priorities of others take precedence over your own.
  • Remember that you are already in control of your time.  You are choosing what happens to you.  Let that empower you to make positive decisions.

Still stumped? You could get a few customized tips to deal with your particular brand of procrastination during a free 20 minute consultation. I’m offering this for another week or so. Jump on it!

How to Organize Books

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Originally posted 2008-06-04 09:46:00. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

I like an organic approach to organizing books. By that I mean that I suggest paying attention to how you use your books and what works well with your current set up before rearranging them.

  • You may find that books you use a lot are already on the most convenient shelf. If not, that's a good place to start. It doesn't matter if those books are on different subjects and are different sizes, keeping them as handy as possible is a good idea. If you have a visual memory, returning your books each time to the same spot makes it easier to find them next time.Bookshelf
  •  If you like a fun, decorative look to the bookshelf, arrange your books by the colors of the spines.
    When I first saw this method it seemed silly to me, but then I realized that it would be easy to start remembering my books by their colors.
  • If your bookshelves are spaced far apart, maximize the space by putting
    your books on the shelves horizontally. This also makes it easier to
    read the titles.
  • Use loosely grouped categories where needed. My bookshelf has several sections: professional reference, travel, decorating and home care, and gardening are some of them. Not all the books are categorized. It makes sense to categorize them when I'll refer to more than one at a time.
  • Once you start reorganizing, make sure you really want and need each book. People often find it very hard to get rid of books, but just like anything else in your home that you don't use, books can be clutter. Release the ones that aren't serving you anymore.

Gorgeous bookshelves courtesy of chotda's flickr stream.


Organize All Over

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Originally posted 2009-07-10 12:44:54. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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.