What Should You Focus on Today?

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinby feather

Okay, this is not one of those posts that gives you a formal method for prioritizing your to do list once and for all. That’s not really my style. Here’s a post about not prioritizing, though.

Today I’m offering you a different way of looking at figuring out what to do next. A way that I hope will make you go, ahhhh. Because a bunch of rules to follow about what to do when just makes you cranky sometimes. Here goes:

Do the thing you’re inspired to do.

That’s it. When you are feeling full of good juju about a project, the work you do on it is going to be fabulous. And you’ll feel good about it. What could be better, I ask you?

Now, this might sound like you get to wait around for the muse and you can just go eat ice cream because you’re inspired to. I’m betting that eating ice cream is not on your to do list, though (because, really, no one should need to be reminded to eat ice cream. That’s just scary.).

To be clear, we’re just talking about the things you’ve already decided are a good idea to do.

We’re also not talking about the stuff that has a looming deadline. Yes, you have to do that stuff. The projects that don’t fall into that category are all prospective candidates for your work-energy today. So work you do on any of them is progress.

If you’re totally in love with all your projects, fantastic! You still have to choose something to work on now, today, because we live in a space time continuum that does not allow you to work on more than one thing simultaneously (even multitasking is not truly simultaneous. And I don’t recommend multitasking anyway.

This actually does dovetail with more standard advice about prioritizing, that you should use your most mentally alert time to do work that requires you to think hard. Use your low energy times for shuffling papers and sorting emails.

This strategy will bring out your best work.

When you pick something to focus on that inspires you, that project gets a rush of happy oomph to move it forward. And you’ll feel great. Did I mention that part yet?

Get out your listy list and scan down it, hunting for the thing that makes your heart sing. Whee! Then go do it and bask in the fulfillment of doing great work.

Green Decluttering

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinby feather

A common concern I hear from people when they’re decluttering is that they don’t want their stuff just to go to the landfill. They don’t want to be responsible for creating more trash, or they feel that their stuff could be useful to someone. They want to be green!

Here are some options:

Sell your stuff
Craigslist is a good choice if you want to sell things locally such as furniture and other large or hard-to-ship items.

Go with Oakland auction houses such as Michaan’s or Clar’s to sell big lots and expensive items. In this economy, people aren’t buying or collecting the way they used to, so selling is also harder. Both auction houses offer free appraisal services.

Selling on eBay means you’ll have to take care of shipping, so make sure it will be worthwhile for you. Check out what’s been paid for items like yours to find out how to set your price.

While selling your stuff seems like an easy way to make a buck, remember that you’ve got to do the work of posting your ad, including a photo (required on eBay and suggested on Craigslist), answering questions and scheduling pickups. Make sure your asking price is worth the time you’ll spend.

For this reason, I don’t recommend garage sales. They’re often a huge waste of time. Only do one if you publicize it well, get other households involved and don’t mind spending the day sitting in front of your house.

Give stuff away
If you can’t be bothered to sell, just offer up your goods for free on Craigslist or Freecycle. This is the fastest way to unload unwanted items. People want all kinds of wacky things, especially when they’re free!

For larger quantities of household goods, donating to local thrift stores is a good option. In some areas, pick-up services are offered. This varies a lot, so call your local store to find out.

Crafty items find a home at the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse. This store caters to artists and teachers. They accept items that you might not think of donating, such as imprinted stationery, maps, popsicle sticks, yarn and film canisters.

If it’s clothing you want to donate, consider getting together with friends for a clothes swap. This is especially good if what you’re donating doesn’t fit anymore. You’ll be able to replace it with cast offs from friends that do fit.

Don’t forget Oakland’s Bulky Waste Pickup program. This is the way to get rid of trash that’s too big to fit in your garbage bin, such as mattresses, broken TVs, tires and furniture.

Next Step
Make sure you actually get the stuff out of the house! Try not to stockpile unwanted items in your garage where they’ll gather dust and be forgotten about, while still taking up precious space.

Reminders for "Messies"

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinby feather

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!

Winner: most hilarious cleaning product

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinby feather

I just laughed out loud when I saw these dusting slippers in the current issue of Organize magazine!  They also come in hot pink!
I must confess, I love to Swiffer, but these also look like swell fun. My floors are wood, and I can easily imagine myself getting up some speed and then sliding across the floor in them. I bet they’re nice and slippery. Just put on some music and bust your best moves.

Giving Away Clutter

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinby feather

My friend Addie is a connoisseur. She’s also very picky and demanding and on a constant quest for the perfect __________ (fill in the blank). Luckily for her friends, she culls her possessions regularly to get rid of the ones that just aren’t up to snuff (we wear the same size! Wheeee!)

A few times a year, her friends eagerly paw over the bags of goodies she’s brought. She’s happy to see them appreciated and we’re happy to get them. Whatever remains unloved gets taken to the thrift store drop-off.

This is a terrific way to weed out your closet. Two caveats: don’t make it an exchange where others also bring things. If you do that, you’re in the mindset of getting as well as giving. When it’s just you, you’re only thinking about giving stuff away (you can certainly take turns being the giver).

Second, don’t take the leftovers home! You got them out of the house; that’s the hard part. Drive straight to the Goodwill, or leave the bags in your car till you can get there. To prepare for next time, keep a shopping bag in your closet so you can toss things in there the moment you decide you no longer want them.

Have you tried this? Got other ideas to share? Leave a comment below!

Note: I grew up in Mexico City and used to shop at the Liverpool Department Store. Haven’t thought about it in ages!

The Seven Deadly Organizing Sins: Lust

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinby feather

Just for kicks, I’m going to start a little series based on the seven deadly sins: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride. It’s a way for me to provide some organizing tips in a lighter, more amusing way. So, don’t take it too seriously.

Lust. This would be desiring fancy, expensive organizing gear and spending lots of time, money and energy on it, to the detriment of actually getting things done. It’s lust when you cannot resist the shiny object no matter how little sense it makes to acquire it.

None of us is completely immune to this. We see ads for delectable, sexy, sleek iPhones and we desire them. Advertisers know this, of course. They’re not interested in what we need, they want us to crave the product.

To avoid sin: There’s no harm in looking, but try to curb your shopping impulse until you get to know the device in question well enough to want to go steady, rather than just have a one night stand and then throw it in a drawer.

Swamp Lust from Marxchivist’s photostream

Donating is Green

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinby feather

Your local Goodwill store, never on the cutting edge of anything at all, has leapt into the spotlight with a campaign to increase donations, complete with Facebook and Twitter buttons. Wow!

They've got a logo that they want to be as ubiquitous as the recycle logo so that people are always reminded to donate. A nifty graphic calculator lets you enter in your donated items and see what services they provide, such as an hour of on-the-job training. You can see the direct link between your unwanted items and helping someone get a better job. Pretty nice. And inspiring.

Keeping usable stuff out of the landfill is what makes donating green. I know my clients are always happier to fill up a bag for Goodwill than they are to throw things in the trash. Here's my tip: keep a shopping bag in your closet so every time you come across something donatable, you can toss it right in. As soon as the bag is full, take it to Goodwill! Your clutter could be someone else's classic.

Pen vs. Keyboard: Which helps you organize better?

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinby feather

I have a hybrid organizing system that involves pens and keyboard. I use a Palm for my datebook and address book and I write my to do lists by hand. I’ve tried to get the whole system on the Palm, but it just doesn’t work for me. Partly, it’s because of the thinking process that goes into writing my lists.

I noticed back in college that I remembered more about a lecture when I took notes, even when I never looked at them again! I could actually visualize the page where I’d written a particular note and recall what it said without opening the notebook. I also occasionally read that hand writing activates different areas of your brain than typing does.

I’m reading a productivity book that recommends going entirely over to writing by hand and I have to say I’m tempted. I plan to review the book, Todoodlist, when I finish it, but right now I’m just intrigued by why it’s so different to move a pen across paper.

When I write a list by hand, lots is going on. I stop to doodle in the margin, I write smaller or larger, I notice more graphically how long my list is, I make symbols in the margin to group items, I make sublists out on the right margin, I scratch the cat’s head with my pen, etc. I find I’m thinking, planning, visualizing, daydreaming and strategizing much more than I do when putting to do’s into the PDA. It’s also more enjoyable. That’s got to be worth something!

I also prefer writing on unlined paper. Maybe that’s another good blog topic…

What do you prefer and why?

Writing from tosaytheleast’s photostream

Snail Mail 101

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinby feather

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.

Get My Organizing Book for Free

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinby feather

Cover design2 Get my book one chapter at a time for free! I've written the second draft of my book, 52 Simple Ways to Get Organized. I could start on draft number three, but I want to get it out there where it can help people (that why I wrote it). This will be kind of a beta version of my book because I'll be asking for your feedback as I go. 

The deal is that I'll post a new chapter here on the blog every week, probably on Wednesday (I'm making this up as I go along). I will also offer a subscription program so you can sign up to get a new chapter every week via email (should be up by next week). After a year, you'll have the whole thing!

I can’t guarantee that what you'll have will be the same as the finished book because 1) I will use reader feedback to make it better as I go along and 2) I find it very hard not to rewrite things when I get a brainstorm to do so. Ideally, the final version will be even better.

The book is made up of 52 short chapters. Each chapter is about an organizing tip or technique, briefly introduced, with an action step you can take right now. It could be used as a year-long program to gradually create your perfect organizing system. It can also work if you open it at random when you just want to know one quick improvement you can make right now.

My style is more Heloise than Proust (i.e., short, not long). I like to address a specific problem with an immediate solution so that you can get back to whatever you were doing, and be doing it more easily. Without further ado, here's chapter one.

Simple Way #1

Feeling overwhelmed by those piles
of paper everywhere? It can be a challenge to figure out how to tackle
them. My suggestion: start at the bottom of the pile. The stuff on the
bottom is older and by now most of it is irrelevant. Isn’t that handy?

It’s usually much easier to make a
decision about something that’s been hanging around for a long time.
Sometimes the decision gets made for you because you’ve missed a
deadline or an offer. Sometimes you’re just not interested anymore so
the energy has gone out of it. Just say goodbye and toss it.

Right now:
Go find a pile, pull out the
bottom piece of paper and see if you can get rid of it. If not, put it
where it belongs. If for some reason you can’t do that right now, at
least stick a Post-It on there telling you where to put it.