Thanks for visiting my blog. Hope you find some helpful hints for organizing your time and space. My passions are to help you make home a refuge instead of a crisis center, and to help you function in peace rather than chaos - at home or at work. I have switched my main blog to 1-2-3 ... Get Organized on WordPress, so please visit me there.
Thursday, February 28, 2013
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
"It's just easier to do it myself!" I think at times. In the short run, yes. But in the long run, no. It does take time to teach someone else to do the task at hand. But when I do take the time, I am multiplying myself. Delegating is an essential skill to own, whether it is at work, at home, or in your leisure activities.
Reasons we don't delegate:
Some people find it harder to delegate than others. Here are a few reasons:
- They may feel they must be indispensable in order to keep their jobs. The thinking is, "If no one else knows how to do this, I can't lose my job." Not true.
- Sometimes we become possessive of our areas of expertise. We don't want anyone else to do it as well as we do!
- We may want to guarantee that the job is done in a certain way, and we think that no one else can do it as well. It's hard to give up control.
Reasons to delegate:
- Lack of delegation leads to being overworked. Enough said!
- Lack of delegation creates inefficiency. For example, if I'm the only one in my organization (work, volunteer work, or at home) who knows how to do a certain task, I may be interrupted from something much more important and urgent when someone else needs this task done. To that person it might be urgent and important, but to me it may not be. And what happens if I'm not there? When a task is known by several, the responsibility can be shared.
- If it would benefit others in the organization to know how to do a task, I would be doing a disservice not to teach them this skill. Building in check points insures quality control.
- The team mentality should be "the success of the team for the benefit of the team." When the team wins, individuals win. If individuals are not team players, the team suffers.
It's obvious how important delegation is at work. But what about in leisure activities?
For several years, I organized the annual women's retreat for our church. At some point, I realized I needed to make this job transferrable. I asked our retreat committee to write up job descriptions for their various functions.
Even though I could have written the job descriptions myself, I chose to delegate it, lightening my load considerably. And, obviously, they knew their jobs better than I did! After writing my own job description, I put all the information into a three ring binder. As it turned out, we moved rather suddenly and I was able to pass on this notebook to someone else, so no one had to re-invent the wheel.
And what about at home? When our children were at home and later when we had foster children, I was often tempted to put away the jam myself or wash someone's dish and put it in the dishwasher just to get rid of the clutter.
There were times when I did these things, but if I did it on a consistent basis, I would have trained my family to leave all the work to me. That would have turned into feeling taken for granted and feeling angry. Not a nice way to live!
I learned to give gentle reminders and occasionally reiterate what level of cleanliness I expected.
I also made the time to teach a skill or a segment of a skill, so our girls will be prepared to be on their own some day. If one of our foster daughters had no experience in cooking, for example, I worked with her - making sure she read the entire recipe and measured correctly. Even though there were spills and mistakes, I'd take a deep breath and remind myself what is really important. :-) Even small children can learn how to put their dishes in the dishwasher or fold their own clothes!
When we delegate, the task may not be done exactly the way we would have done it, but that leaves the possibility for it to be done better or in a more creative way. As I learned in my cross-cultural training, different isn't bad!
What are you struggling to delegate?
More about efficiency:
Prioritizing According to Energy Level
Three Steps to Time Management books (1-2-3…Get Organized series books and ebooks)
Creating Routines and Systems
Friday, February 22, 2013
I love this ingenious idea for organizing toys - from Redbook!
"Create cute bins for stuffed animals and toys by mounting a wire garden planter on the wall, at kid height. Because seeing the floor in your child's room is a beautiful thing".
Don't you love this?
More on organizing toys:
Three Steps to Organizing Your Child's Room
Organizing Legos - Or Not
Organizing "Messy" Toys
Teaching Children to Organize
"Create cute bins for stuffed animals and toys by mounting a wire garden planter on the wall, at kid height. Because seeing the floor in your child's room is a beautiful thing".
Don't you love this?
More on organizing toys:
Three Steps to Organizing Your Child's Room
Organizing Legos - Or Not
Organizing "Messy" Toys
Teaching Children to Organize
Thursday, February 21, 2013
While gathering your tax information, it’s a good time to look over your budget. Have your income or expenses changed in the last year? If so, updating your budget may be in order. Or if you don’t have a budget, you may want to create one.
The optimum way to create a budget is to look at your spending over the last year. If you don’t use a software program or other means of tracking your spending, gathering tax info provides ample opportunity to do so. If you have inadequate records, estimate your spending patterns.
The tricky part is to keep your budget below what you earn!! It certainly is a reality check to track your spending. Without trying, you can easily find yourself in debt before you know it. Sacrificing immediate pleasure for future security takes discipline, but the peace of mind is worth it.
As newlyweds, my husband and I developed our first budget using an envelope system. I had never been on a budget and chafed at the idea. However, as the amount in my clothes budget grew and I was able to buy a dress with matching shoes and purse WITH CASH AND WITHOUT GUILT, I definitely saw the benefits of sacrificing immediate pleasure!
Include in your budget short-term and long-term savings. Short-term savings is for replacing appliances, unexpected car expenses, etc., so you don’t have to go into debt when you have an emergency.
Long-term savings is for a down payment on a house, retirement, college funds and such. If your employer has a matching retirement program, enroll!! Starting early multiples your investments exponentially! Even if you think you can’t possibly afford it, do it! If you wait until you can afford it, it may not happen.
Determine the categories to include in your budget and assign an amount for each. Don’t forget to include occasional expenses – vacations, gifts, etc. Whittle down amounts until your expenses are less than your take-home pay.
It’s takes work to create and maintain a budget, but it keeps you living in reality!
More budgeting tips:
A Dozen Tips for a Less-Stressed Wedding
The Very Best Apps and Websites for Holiday Gift List Organization
Destressing School Shopping
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
My pantry exploded over the holidays, as it does every year. Extra ingredients for those special foods = chaos.
In the past, I've made a bunch of cookies - everyone's favorites. But now that my husband and one daughter are gluten intolerant, my Christmas baking habits have changed drastically. And before Christmas my other daughter and son-in-law said they were going to try going gluten-free.
So ... Christmas baking was almost nonexistent! No need to store large quantities of baked goods. We did make some gluten-free goodies, but they didn't stay around long.
I have collected tins throughout the years in which I would store my cookie supply. We actually like fruit cake and ordered one from Collin Street Bakery for several years. And I've collected others along the way. This year, all these tins were just cluttering up my pantry!
I had a brainstorm last week when reorganizing my pantry. Why not store things that usually live in bags in my tins? Bags are messy, unsightly, and definitely not bug-proof!! I really don't like bags! Especially those with a zip lock a few inches from the top of the bag which makes it almost impossible to pour the ingredients without making a mess.
Tins are so much more pleasant! Ingredients are easily retrieved with no mess. I stored flour, powdered sugar, brown sugar, and chocolate chips in my tins. Then I labeled them for easy locating.
I love how this cleaned up my pantry, getting rid of those ugly bags. I even have empty tins in which to store other items in the future.
As you may remember, I've recycled clear plastic containers and canning jars as additional pantry storage. So a majority of my pantry storage is no cost. It may not be matchy-matchy, but the price is right and I'm oh so green!
What do you use for pantry storage?
More on pantry storage:
Three Steps to Organizing Your Kitchen
A No-Cost Organizing Solution for Your Pantry
Redbook: Clever Storage for Plastic Wrap, Foil, and Reclosable Bags
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Yesterday, my husband and I spent the holiday organizing our tax information. It was not too taxing (haha), as my husband had kept up with the filing of receipts. Aren’t I blessed?
It was a logical time to sort through our fire-proof safe and condense our important papers, too, as we usually keep our current year’s tax info in the safe. We also have a file for each of us which holds our birth certificates, degrees, Social Security cards, passports, and other information we would not want to lose.
We have a file of important documents for each of our children and for each set of parents. Another file holds our will and marriage license. And I have a file for important documents relating to my business – trademarks, licenses, certificates, etc.
We also copied pertinent credit cards, insurance cards, driver’s licenses, and other cards in our wallets. We each lined our cards on our copier and copied front and back, and placed those copies in each of our files. So now, if our wallets get lost or stolen, we have a copy of each card. A good time to declutter that wallet, too, and get rid of outdated cards.
Even though we had organized our important documents before, we found some items that could be removed, and some that had been removed, used, and needed to be returned. It was helpful just to look over what we had and know where it was.
So if we need to evacuate quickly, we can scoop up those files and know we have the most important information in our hands. We’ve also given our children the code to our safe in the event they need to get to our important data.
Next on my list: putting my password list in my file.
Can your family members find your important information easily? Would you be able to evacuate quickly if necessary? If not, take a little time to consolidate your important documents. It gives such peace of mind!
More on important documents:
Getting Your Affairs in Order
National Preparedness Month – Emergency Kit #8 – Emergency Documents
Get Your House in Order – A Great Wintertime Project
Friday, February 15, 2013
This is a sobering yet motivating story I read in the Washington Post by Michelle Singletary about having our lives in order should a tragedy strike. A great wintertime project!
"Over the past several months, I’ve dealt with a lot of death.
My youngest brother died in April. My father-in-law died in October, and a friend’s grandmother passed away in November.
The day after Thanksgiving, a close friend who was more like my sister died in an automobile accident.
I’d like to share with you what I’ve realized from all this tragedy: Get your house in order.
I’m not suggesting that you live in fear of death, but I am asking you to do what my 54-year-old friend, Juanita Ann Waller, did for the people who loved her. She left her personal affairs and her apartment in an awesomely organized manner.
I know you’ve heard this advice from me before. I’ve stressed over the years how important it is to have an estate plan. But Juanita’s death has touched me like few others. She was always thinking of her family and friends, and what she left behind is testimony to her thoughtfulness.
Yes, she had a will, life insurance and the necessary paperwork to take care of her estate. But there was a higher level of organization in her affairs than I’ve ever seen.
Juanita had a place for everything. She catalogued what was in her file cabinet. She had a composition notebook that detailed what was in each cabinet drawer. As a result, when our mutual friends packed up her belongings, we didn’t have to look through her private papers to be able to label the boxes.
She kept binders of her awards and accolades, including a letter to her signed by President Obama, protected behind sheets of plastic. She had sent Obama an e-mail saying that she was praying for him, and the White House responded.
There wasn’t a single junk drawer in her apartment. There were no stacks of papers on her desk threatening to unleash an avalanche of craziness on the floor. Nor did she have bags of papers stuffed in corners or in her closets.
She didn’t even have a trash can because there wasn’t much waste to throw away. Her closets weren’t overstuffed. Her pantry and refrigerator weren’t overstocked with food that would take months to eat or go to waste. There wasn’t a single item in any room that we could tell went unused for very long.
My friend could have been the spokeswoman for the simplicity movement, which strives to get people to reduce their consumption and material possessions. Her place was so tidy and uncluttered that I wept. It made me ashamed of my personal living space, my cluttered office and my hoarding of things that long ago should have been tossed or donated.
Over the years, I’ve promised myself to get organized. But whenever I clean my office, it’s cluttered again a few weeks later with piles of papers sitting in stacks on the floor.
Just think about this: If you were to die, how long would it take for people to go through your stuff? How many hours would they have to take off from their jobs to find and organize your personal property? Could they find your will? Where would they look for any instructions on your estate? Have you written down in a secure place the passwords to your computer or phone so friends and family can contact people if you pass away?
I wouldn’t characterize Juanita as obsessive with her orderliness. She never lorded it over anyone or criticized us for our clutter.
No, Juanita was organized for a purpose. She never wanted to cause confusion. Clutter can contribute to a sense of unease because you can’t easily put your hands on the things you need or the things others might need on your behalf. Every year, Juanita would purge her place of unneeded items, another friend recalled.
Juanita kept copious notes in her day planner and in notebooks, to remind herself and others, especially me, of things we needed to take care of. This practice gave comfort to her family members who could see their special events or moments documented over the years. No loose paper or sticky notes for her.
As we were boxing up Juanita’s possessions, we all felt embarrassed, mortified. We, in our abundance, saw a woman who kept only what she needed, knowing it was more than enough.
We all pledged to spend some time organizing and getting rid of stuff as a remembrance of Juanita, who gave an abundance of hugs. We promised her that we’d get our houses in order."
More on getting life in order:
Getting Your Affairs in Order
Choosing Emergency Contacts
National Preparedness Month - Emergency Kit #8 - Emergency Documents
Thursday, February 14, 2013
Here's another great organizing idea from Redbook: "Keep the basics you reach for as you head out — keys, umbrella, a dog leash — in a clear over-the-door shoe rack. Or think of it as a more-organized junk drawer, where you can stash batteries, rubber bands, or flashlights." Hidden inside your entry closet, it's a fantastic idea!
If you enter and exit through your garage, tack this to your garage wall or hang over your door.
More entry organizing ideas:
How to Avoid a Clutter Explosion When You Walk in the Door
Organizing Your Mud Room
Four Inspiring Ideas for Organizing Your Entry
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
If you are into Valentine’s Day, here are 50 ways to celebrate. Sheryl Kurland at Everlasting Matrimony wrote “50 Cheap Valentine’s Day Gifts For Your Sweetheart (Without Looking Cheap)”, and I thought I’d pass it along this post from the past, when Valentine’s Day was on Saturday (see #5 below). This is not necessarily an endorsement of all 50!
Valentine’s Day doesn’t just have to be for sweethearts – you can try out some of these ideas on your friends, kids, or other family members.
“If you’re like most couples, you’re watching your pennies this year and looking for ways to romance your sweetheart on Valentine’s Day without breaking the bank. The following list will help:
1. Create an indoor picnic with available props, i.e., picnic tablecloth, paper goods. Share finger foods and favorite treats along with a glass of wine. Spice up “dessert.” Enjoy your picnic on the living room floor or in bed. Play card games, board games, or make up your own.
2. Decorate a unique-looking jar or box with craft items. Write numerous love notes on small pieces of paper and fill the jar with them. Present the jar to your sweetheart.
3. There are many local and national Valentine’s Day giveaway contests with great prizes. Enter as many as you can and maybe you’ll get lucky.
4. For young couples with kids, get them involved in an all-family fun Valentine’s Day dinner at home. Mom can prepare a dessert for two and light the candles while dad puts the kids to bed.
5. Since Valentine’s Day is on a Saturday, celebrate with a day full of low-cost activities you both enjoy doing (depending upon your location and weather). Do something with your significant other that he/she rarely has time to do, but loves.
6. Take a 2-hour, one-time salsa or tango dancing lesson together. Or, identify some other interest you share and find a place to give you one-time extended lesson on Valentine’s Day.
7. Gals…Make the entire day full of his favorites: the breakfast of his dreams, the dinner of his dreams, TV that is his favorite, his music, etc. Don’t say anything about it, surprise him all day long.
8. Take the person you love to experience something spectacular in nature: a sunset, a sunrise, the calm of the beach, share an evening walk gazing at the moon.
9. Create a framed group of photos that put your relationship in chronological order of events, by months or years (depending on how long you’ve been together).
10. Create a CD with songs that make you think of your sweetheart, and give it to him/her.
11. Choose specialty foods, such as wine, cheese, fresh bread/dessert from a favorite bakery. Enjoy in front of your warm, toasty fireplace.
12. Create an at-home spa day for your mate. Deliver the gift in a basket filled with inexpensive candles, bubble bath, rose petals, facial mask and scrub. Then give your mate time to enjoy it. When he/she is done, heat up towels in the dryer for drying off.
13. Give each other long-lingering back rubs or head-to-toe body massages. Invest in luxurious lotion or oils.
14. Create a favorite drink together. Try all kinds of ingredients. Enjoy taste-testing. Be sure to record the ingredients, so you can make the “your” drink again on Valentine’s Day year after year.
15. Watch an old movie at home together, with popcorn and soft drinks and candy – movie-theater style.
16. Share a scrumptious dessert and latté at a local patisserie or bakery.
17. Pick a few household chores your Valentine usually does and surprise them by doing it before they get a chance, i.e., making the bed. It doesn’t sound romantic, but the thought will most certainly count.
18. Walk around a favorite part of town, stopping at a nice locale for a glass of wine and appetizers.
19. On Valentine’s Day, place three pair of sexy undies on your bed and let your mate pick out which one you should wear. It’s your secret!
20. Write a “Top 10 Reasons Why I Love You” list.
21. Since Valentine’s Day is on Saturday, if you’re a member of a wholesale club (like Sam’s or Costco) have fun eating all the free samples! Then fill in any empty holes left in your stomach by going out to lunch. (That way you won’t spend a lot of money at a restaurant!)
22. What’s a new activity you’ve both wanted to try that’s low cost? Do it. Or, how can you creatively modify it to make it low cost? Do it.
23. Leave a note on your mate’s pillow expressing how special you think he/she is. Place a couple of mints on the pillow, too (or a single rose)…all to be discovered at bedtime.
24. Guys…If you want to cook dinner, remember, she doesn’t care what you make. There are many easy recipes on food web sites that look like you spent hours in the kitchen. Be imaginative and set the table special. Play romantic music softly while you dine. Leave the clean-up until morning!
25. Guys or Gals…When you make that special dinner…Just like when you go to a fancy event and a “dinner menu” is put on each plate describing each food item, do something similar. For example, on your menu, write “Spaghetti & Meatballs, made with passion to be with YOU.” Don’t forget to give your “event” or “restaurant” a name at the top of the menu.
26. Make a simple dinner at home, then go out dancing or to listen to live music at a jazz club.
27. Buy two champagne flutes for use on Valentine’s Day only to annually toast your love. Keep them in a visible location as a year-round reminder of how special you are to each other.
28. Play a sport together that you haven’t played in awhile, or that you rarely get a chance to enjoy. Before you start, determine what the “winner” gets (making it something to do with caring, loving, etc.).
29. Leave a “racy” picture on your mate’s cell phone. Text a romantic message at a time of day when you know things get hectic.
30. Present your Valentine IOU coupons: I will make dinner; I will do the laundry; I will take care of the kids one day a month for the next year; I will clean the kitchen for a week; I will serve you breakfast in bed.
31. Together, go “shopping” at a sex-toy store without spending any money. It’ll give you ideas and get you “in the mood.”
32. The tough economy has lured many upscale restaurants to have high-end early-bird specials. Find out what’s available in your area.
33. Some volunteer fire departments use holiday fauna to create flower and rose bouquets as a fund-raiser. Prices are reasonable; just get there early.
34. If she loves chocolate…Take her on a chocolates tour. Find your hometown chocolate purveyor and ask for a behind-the-scenes tour. Next, go to a restaurant that serves her favorite chocolate dessert. Return home to snuggle with a cup of hot chocolate.
35. Use a bar of soap to draft a love note on your bathroom mirror. Or, if you shower first, write a love note to your sweetheart in the steam on the mirror.
36. Write “I love you because….” notes and insert them into balloons. Blow up the balloons, and spread the balloons throughout your bedroom for your Valentine to pop and capture each message.
37. Many drug stores with photo departments offer a variety of Valentine’s Day specials to make gifts from photographs. Use a good picture of the two of you together.
38. Make homemade chocolate-covered strawberries: 1) Melt a package of chocolate chips in a double boiler and add a small amount of oil; 2) Remove from heat and quickly dip the strawberries into the chocolate; 3) Place on wax paper and refrigerate for several hours until chocolate is firm.
39. Guys…If you want to order flowers for your gal, supermarket florists are generally half the price of the stand-alone or on-line stores, but the trick to for seeing real savings is to order two weeks or more in advance and pay for the flowers up front………..Another trick to save money, get other guys who want to order flowers to join you and place your orders to the same florist all at once. The florist may give you a “bulk” discount. Again, important to plan ahead.
40. Plan a scavenger hunt. Write clues and place them in envelopes, and place the envelopes around town. Make the final clue a doozey of a destination.
41. Get a small radio and take your partner dancing at a romantic hideaway, such as the woods or riverfront or ocean.
42. Use fabric paint to decorate a Valentine’s Day pillowcase for your loved one. Check arts-and-crafts web sites for other easy-to-make gifts.
43. What did you do on your very first date? Repeat it.
44. Create a year-long calendar with photos of just the two of you above (top page) each month. Office supply stores will insert the spiral/binding for you.
45. Have a progressive dinner. If you’re single, appetizers at his place. Entrée at her place. The middle course, dessert, after-dinner cordials…map it out a few days ahead. If you’re married, one course at home, one course at her office, his office, etc. Use your imagination to set locations!
46. Write new “updated” wedding vows, both serious and humorous, and share them with each other over a glass of wine in a candlelit room.
47. In the morning, tuck a love note in his pocket or her pocketbook or other certain-to-be-found spot. Jot down some meaningful words on a piece of paper – “Can’t wait to wrap my arms around you tonight!”; “What’s for ‘dessert’?”; “You make me happy every day!” – and tuck it in a conspicuous location to be easily discovered during the day.
48. Have a 15-minute kissing session and try some new ways and places to kiss. The same old smoocheroo can get boring. Use your imagination…and perhaps a little whipped cream, chocolate syrup, etc.
49. If you don’t have a special sweetheart, focus on bringing a smile or laughter to everyone you come in contact with on Valentine’s Day.
50. What are your mate’s quirks and habits that irk you? Don’t nag about any of them the entire day. Then try to extend the no-nagging effort to every day of the year. Remember, you’re never going to change the other person.”
Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Even though you've labeled your storage boxes, do you have trouble finding specific items? For example, if you only use part of your Christmas decorations each year and want to use a different combination each year, you may find yourself unpacking and repacking until you find what you want. Or, do you have trouble finding those items you use only once or twice a year?
Take labeling a step further! Take digital pictures of what is inside each box. If you have several levels in a box such as Christmas ornaments, take a picture of each level.
You can either tape the pictures to the side of the box or lay them in the top of the box. You can also store them in a file, labeling each picture with the corresponding box number. Or save the pictures on your computer with the box number noted for each.
Now you can locate exactly what you want without having to rummage through several boxes!
(BTW - I noticed my Walmart still has red and green clear plastic storage boxes on sale for a great price.)
More on labeling storage:
Color-Coding Your Storage
Storage and Moving Boxes - Thinking Outside the Box
Organizing, Purging, and Storing Christmas Decorations
Monday, February 11, 2013
Are you thinking about selling your house this spring? Start now to declutter so you're ready to list when the time comes. Why? Here are some reasons from RealtyPin.
"If you think you can go through and get rid of all that clutter when it comes time to pack up and move out of your home, think again. Before you list your home for sale, you've got to make de-cluttering a priority.
1. You need to show off your home's natural beauty
Your house has its own character, personality, and beautiful features. If you want to sell your home sooner rather than later, the home selling experts at Realtypin.com can help. You have to make sure that potential buyers get to see all of them.
If, for example, you've got an awesome wooden fireplace in your living room that really adds a unique character to the entire house, show it off! But if you've got a ton of family pictures sitting on the mantle or a ton of knick-knacks around it, potential buyers are going to be distracted -- and that's the last thing you want!
2. Clutter makes your home look smaller
If your master bedroom has random stuff shoved into every nook and cranny, it's going to create a major optical illusion. By covering up all of that floor and wall space, you're making the room look a whole lot smaller than it really is -- and that's a big problem.
Remember, American homebuyers don't have as much money as they did a few years ago. In fact, recent studies show that the average American has lost 40% of his net worth since the recession began. As a result, many homebuyers are trying to do more with less. Instead of buying that giant (expensive) house, they're looking at more affordable (smaller) options. As a result, they want to make the most out of every single inch.
Bottom line -- you're doing your home a real disservice if you make it look smaller than it really is. In the end, you'll wind up with a lot of people passing on it!
3. People want to see storage space
As excited as potential buyers might be about your great backyard, your updated master bathroom, or your gourmet kitchen, they also want to know that your home offers a ton of space for all their stuff. Prepare for them to dig around in closets, in your basement, in your garage, and in your attic.
Unfortunately, if all those places are jammed full of stuff, potential buyers may not be able to tell how much storage space your home really has to offer. If they think there's any possibility they're going to be cramped if they move in, they're never going to buy.
4. You may not even see it -- but potential buyers will
If you've had that pile of shoes and umbrellas sitting by your front door for the past five years, you probably don't even notice them anymore. However, everyone who walks in to tour your house will! Something as minor as a cluttered foyer can make a poor first impression. And once potential buyers have even a remotely bad feeling about your home, it's tough to get them back!
5. Clutter makes the house yours -- not theirs
Remember, your goal is to make potential buyers feel like they can call your house "home". But if you've got clutter all over the place -- like magazines, personal trinkets, and even messy computer or TV wires -- it makes the home feel distinctly yours. Potential buyers will feel like they're walking through your personal space, instead of envisioning themselves living there."
More on preparing your home for sale:
Three Steps to Downsizing to a Smaller Residence
Bev Shares Downsizing Tips with "Smart Moves" Columnist Ellen James Martin
Want to Sell Your House? Get Organized Now!
Thursday, February 7, 2013
Looking for apps for increased productivity? Overwhelmed at the choices? Mark Harris has done the work for us! He offers his top picks in the areas of:
- to-do lists,
- tracking how we spend our digital time,
- syncing an Android phone with Google calendar,
- project management, and
- mind mapping ideas.
I was enlightened and hope you are, too!
"You can never be too rich, too thin or, these days, too organized. Smartphones, tablets and Web programs have improved our productivity, but there’s a tradeoff. Emails and tweets can eat up an entire day; working on the fly is a great way to lose a memo; and extreme multitasking means nothing ever gets your full attention.
But don’t despair. There’s a universe of digital apps and services out there that can help you reclaim your organizational mojo — or at least free up a few minutes here and there for a sanity-saving meditation break (or another cup of coffee).
Because so many options can be overwhelming, I’ve whittled the list down to just five that I've found to be easy to use and superior to their competitors. A good way to assess buying apps to assess what you consider your weak suit: Are you always running late? Do you have trouble following through with plans? Could you use a gentle reminder to stay focused? Need help getting everything done in the day? Then get the one(s) that promises to help you with that. But if even those doesn’t work, you may need that personal assistant after all.
1. Tackle your to-do list with Things ($50 Mac, $20 iPad, $10 iPhone)
If you haven’t heard of productivity guru David Allen's Getting Things Done (or “GTD” to its many fans), you’ve probably been too busy running around in circles. Over the past few years, this time management system has taken the business world by storm. GTD motivational books have been translated into 28 languages, and Wired magazine has called it “a cult for the info age.”
The Apple program (Things, now on version 2) is one of the great tools for actually getting things done. It breaks down even the most daunting tasks into achievable, bite-size chunks and brings list-making into the Internet era. To use the program on your phone, iPad or computer, just type in everything you need to do, whether a single chore, like clearing out a closet, or such weekly projects as taking out the recycling. You can put a time limit on when tasks need to be completed and group many individual jobs into larger projects or categories like family and work. Every day, Things presents you with a checklist so you don’t forget anything. (You can print or share this digitally.)
One of the great things about Things is that it automatically syncs lists across all of your Apple devices. You’ll appreciate this when you suddenly remember something while out and about, and you can simply tell Siri to make a note of it. The publisher of the entertainment magazine Source, James Kendall, says of Things: “I think it’s the best organizational app, and having it on my desktop and on my phone is essential. You just have to get into the habit of using it.”
2. Slash digital distractions with RescueTime (Mac/PC; free or $6/month)
You watch your calories, and you keep track of how many miles you walk or run in a week, so why not monitor how you spend your digital days? RescueTime is a program for desktop computers that records how much time you expend on everything from Excel spreadsheets to balancing your bank accounts online to watching surfboarding kittens on YouTube. Every time you switch to a new window, RescueTime resets the clock but keeps a running tally that creates a comprehensive picture of how you use your computer.
The next day, you can call up easy-to-understand tables and graphs that show exactly how you’ve used your time (and where). The program can even highlight your most productive days of the week and times. This much is free. There’s also a paid version that can keep you on-task. This cyber-watchdog can automatically block certain websites for the amount of time you specify to help you focus on things that need to get done.
You can choose how strict you want the blocking (i.e., so it will allow you to check Facebook in a "social emergency”). The theory is that over time, you will become better at resisting temptation and managing your time without the need for a digital nanny.
RealTime can’t access your private information, like passwords, and tracks only the names of applications and websites you use. If even that makes you uncomfortable, you can ask it to record just those websites you find particularly distracting.
3. Sync your Android phone and your Google calendar with CalenGoo (Android; $6)
One of the best ways to get a team or family functioning smoothly is to make sure everyone knows what everyone else is doing. Google Calendar is a great free service that lets you set up collaborative schedules where all the parties can make entries, as well as private diaries for planning your life in the weeks ahead.
Being able to connect to those calendars on the move makes arranging everything from doctor’s appointments to birthday parties a whole lot easier. This useful app puts a widget on your Android phone’s home screen to let you see what’s coming up, and alerts you via pop-up reminders, emails or text messages. You can set the phone to automatically mute during events, or to prompt you to call friends on their birthdays. There’s a pretty good Google Tasks list manager built in, too.
4. Care for your most precious business asset — time — with Freckle (Web; from $19/month)
If you find you’re spending more time managing your business than actually getting work done, check out Freckle. This Web service isn’t a substitute for an accountant or office manager, but it’s a heck of a lot better than the back of an envelope for analyzing whether or not to take on a job.
On Freckle’s user-friendly website, you enter details of how you (and/or employees) spend workdays. For example, you input which projects you’re working on and for how long. Freckle then creates time and budget breakdowns for each person and job, individual activity graphs plus an accurate summary of billable and unbillable hours.
While it sounds ideal for accountants and Web designers, Freckle is also popular with one-person home workers and family businesses. It can give you an early warning if a project is heading off-track, or highlight when you’ve scheduled 12 hours of work to fit into a 10-hour day. It can even invoice clients automatically when the assignment is done.
5. Visualize success with Mindnode (Mac $20, iPad $10)
Mind-mapping sounds like science fiction, but it’s actually a well-established method of brainstorming fresh ideas and arranging information visually. Instead of another endless vertical list, mind-mapping organizes concepts and tasks in a colorful web that looks a bit like a public transit map.
The theory is that these large, pictorial networks mirror the way our brains work, making it easier to spot connections and insert new ideas. In Mindnode, you start a mind map by writing your overall goal in the middle of a blank screen. You then add connections, make notes and split out smaller things that need to be done.
Don’t worry about running out of room on-screen for exploring the possibilities. Mindnode has a canvas that grows automatically to accommodate even the most ambitious projects, like your daughter’s wedding, and the Mac desktop version lets you embed images and documents alongside your ideas.
Mind maps are automatically shared between the Mac and the iPad apps, and it’s easy to convert them into a Word document or digital image for sharing."
More on helpful apps:
Apps to Help You Go Paperless
Wunderkit - An iPhone App for Collaborative Projects
Time Management App for iPhone - Lucid Lists Free
Wednesday, February 6, 2013
Routines and systems promote consistency, efficiency, and focus. For example, if you start each work day with a routine that includes your most important and urgent priorities, you will start the day with clarity and direction. If not, it may take a while to get down to work because you don’t know where to start.
Routines promote peace and security, whether at work or at home. When everyone knows what to expect, it provides a sense of well-being. If activities and schedules are erratic and unpredictable, there is a higher sense of stress because of the unknown.
For example, when a child has a nightly bedtime routine, it becomes familiar and prepares him for bedtime. It is known and expected - he knows that after he takes a bath, brushes his teeth, has a story and cuddle time, it’s time to go to bed. Consistency is comforting.
You may have several areas where a routine or system might improve your efficiency. The following steps can help you create productive systems:
1. List areas in your work life and home life that would be enhanced by creating intentional routines or systems.
2. Write down the steps for each routine.
3. Evaluate each system for efficiency.
4. If appropriate, delegate the system.
By creating systems, your routine becomes habit, resulting in consistency, efficiency and a sense of well-being.
Do you have systems or routines that work for you? Please share!
More on systems and routines:
Three Steps to Time Management books (1-2-3...Get Organized series books and ebooks)
Schedule Daily Clean Up Times
Getting Organized for School - A Successful Day Starts the Night Before
Monday, February 4, 2013
"Filled with games, toys, and books in the backseat, a plastic cleaning caddy turns into a portable entertainment center for little ones. Or take it over for yourself, with sunglasses, wipes, whatever. "(another idea from Redbook)
More on car clutter:
Three Areas to Swap Out This Sprping
Clutter in Your Car = Danger
Spring Cleaning the Car
Friday, February 1, 2013
Part of getting organized is setting up sytems that allow you to maintain your organization. One that nourishes my soul is having everyone clean up what they have messed up and pick up what is theirs before going to bed. It is pretty discouraging to me to get up in the morning and be greeted by a messy living area!
A way to make it a fun event is to have a Family Five Minute Challenge. Designate a container for each family member - a basket, a bucket, a shower caddy - have fun with it! During the day your family members can deposit their stuff in their containers.
If by the time you start your evening routine for bedtime, things are still out of place, set the timer for five minutes. Each family member searches the main living areas and drops misplaced items in his/her container.
Then set the timer again, and they take their containers to their rooms and empty them. You'll need to "inspect what you expect" so the items don't end up in a pile, in the closet, or under the bed. The key is to have a home for everything. But that's another topic.
Even your toddler can participate in the Family Five Minute Challenge with a little training and/or help. Because the attention span is so short at that age, I usually did it with my girls. Of course that means I needed to have my stuff cleaned up beforehand!
When our girls were pre-school ages, we did such clean up activities three times a day. Once before lunch/nap, once before dinner, and once before bedtime. Otherwise, it was too overwhelming for them, and I started twitching with the mess. Yes, I know ... your child is supposed to put a toy away when she takes another out. But that doesn't always happen, does it?
Do the same thing for your kids' rooms: set a timer for younger children or a time limit for older ones to declutter and straighten their rooms. By setting aside time each day, it creates a system for maintenance.
For older children, make sure they put away dishes they've used in the dishwasher, too!
If clutter is out of control at your house, have a Family Five Minute Challenge several times each day to help you and and your family get to a manageable state. Designate containers for giveaways, throwaways, stowaways (toys/clothes that are too young for one child until the next child grows into them - label according to age), and/or tradeaways/sell.
Take before and after pictures, to share the sense of accomplishment. Once you get the clutter under control, do something big to celebrate and to reward everyone's hard work!!
To encourage consistent decluttering, reward the person with the least number of items collected each night. It doesn't have to be big, but positive encouragement goes a long way. So much nicer than if we are growling and grumpy!
If there comes a night when everyone's containers are empty because they have gotten into the habit of putting things away (is that a possibility!?!), celebrate by doing something special the next day.
By taking a few minutes each day, clutter doesn't pile up and become overwhelming. And home is inviting and peaceful and calming.
More on similar topics:
Clutter in Your House or Office Means Clutter in Your Mind
Schedule Daily Clean Up Times
Getting Rid of Stuff While Saving the Environment
Three Steps to Organizing Your Child's Room (book and ebook)