Quick Tip Thursday: Never Be Empty Handed

One of the most effective ways I’ve found to keep some semblance of order in my home (and with 3 kids that’s not always easy) is to never leave a room empty handed.

Now, sometimes my hands are full of kids. 

But if I’m leaving any room, for any reason, and I don’t have a child or two in my arms then I’m carrying something else that needs to be re-homed.  Maybe it’s a dirty glass that gets put in the dishwasher, some forlorn stickers that need to make their way to the trash, a child’s coat that needs to be hung up, or a basket of clean, folded laundry that needs to make its way to the bedroom.

It can be large or small.  But this small simple act of moving one (or more!) item out of it’s misplaced position to the right spot will do wonders for keeping things a little less cluttered on a day-to-day basis.

Still looking for a New Year’s Resolution – Never Leave A Room Empty Handed just might be it.

Refresh & Renew

Now that I’ve had a week and a half in this new year, I’ve been able to get my plans together.  I don’t know about you but Jan 1 is never a very good day for me to make a radical life change.  It’s just too chaotic.  Sometimes the holiday decorations are still up making it hard to feel like it’s a new year.  Sometimes I’ve been up much to late the night before making it hard to stick to anything too out of my normal routine.  And it always feels like too much pressure to be perfect from the get-go.

But having a few days under my belt into the year allows me to gain perspective and think about goals for the year.  And I’ve been able to plan what topics we’ll cover this year here on the blog.  Things to look forward to are:

Loving your spaces
Making your own Luck
Spring Cleaning
Vacations & Travel
Lazy Days Organizing
Autumn changes
Holiday preparation
Being Thankful
an Organizing Advent

Sounds like fun, right?  Well, I’m excited about it.

But before we can get into the meat and potatoes it’s always nice to clear the slate a bit.  Think of these next 2 weeks as your palate cleansing sorbet before we dive into the main dish.  Through the end of the month, I’m going to walk you through some simple tasks that will help you prepare your space and your brain for the challenges of living more organized.

Welcome To Your Life

There’s an overabundance of talk today about starting fresh.  Everyone is talking about their resolutions, things they want to improve, and just generally starting anew.  The dawn of a new year tends to bring out our most basic instinct to get our proverbial house in order.  And I am no different.

But while everything in my being is telling me to get cracking on achieving every goal I’ve had for myself since I was 13, my better judgement is tempering my thoughts today.  Let me tell you that I haven’t made any resolutions.  Would I like to lose weight, make more money, be more organized, etc, etc like everyone else?  Of course!  But years of New Years have taught me that I’m not a very good resolution-keeper. 

Instead I’m going to spend some time today making a list of achievable tasks that I actually believe I can accomplish this year.  This are things on my to-do list that can be checked off – not the perennial “lose 20 lbs” – more along the lines of “upgrade bathroom light fixture.”

So what am I doing today?  Today is a family day.  But in between time with the kids and watching bowl games I am working on the following “fresh start” actions:

* Clear out my voicemail – home & mobile
* Change the filter in the water filtration system
* Download pictures off my camera & erase them from the memory card
* Review my DVR timers and weed out those I don’t watch
* Finish my Christmas Thank-You cards
* Put away the last of the Christmas decorations (there are a handful of things lingering that didn’t make it in the first round of picking up)
* Make my 2011 check list (a list of do-able actions, not unobtainable goals)

And if I get to it… clean out my email inbox & contact lists.

How will you be spending this first day of the year?  If the thought of trying to become a new person in one day is daunting (it is for me) then try not to think of it as a new start.  Think of it as your life – just one more day in your life that you are trying to make as good as it can be.

28 Days To Living Organized – Day 18 – Time: To-Do List

28 Days to Living Organized

Time: To-Do List

We’ve talked about space and we’ve talked about email. Now we’re going to talk about organizing your TIME.

Have you ever….

• Made an appointment but forgot to write it down so you missed it?
• Committed to an activity that you didn’t make it to?
• Been late to an event?
• Been too early to an event?
• Left home without everything you needed for what you were doing?
• Skipped a few days of housework and ended up feeling overwhelmed by the results?

I’m guessing you’ve done at least one of these. I’m guessing almost everyone has done all of these at least once.

I want to talk today about your to-do list. I believe there are three keys to having a successful, useful to-do list. If you will do these three things I guarantee you will accomplish your goals – both big and small.

Write It
Read It
Do It

Brilliant, isn’t it? And yet despite the simplicity and obviousness of these three steps, how many times have you skipped one or more of them and then wondered why you weren’t getting things done.

1. Write It – Have a to-do list in written form.  Thiss can be done in a number of ways. You can use a pad of paper and pen, make a spreadsheet-style list, use some fancy notebook feature on your cell phone or you can use one of the many online options such as Ta-da Lists or Remember The Milk.

2. Read It – Refer to it regularly. Some of you are like me. You write it down then lose what you wrote it on and so you make a new one. In the meantime, you try to remember your items in your head. Don’t do that. Put it somewhere you can see while you are at home or away. And look at it at least every day – if not more than once a day.

3. Do It – When you look at it… DO SOMETHING. Making lists is fun for organizing geeks like me. But it is so much more satisfying to actually get things accomplished than it is to just write about what you wish you could get done.

In a few weeks, look for a follow-up for more advanced to-do list techniques. But for now remember this:

Write It
Read It
Do It

28 Days To Living Organized – Day 17 – Check & Adjust

28 Days to Living Organized

Check & Adjust
It’s time to come back to your original organization project from earlier this month and figure out how it is going.  It’s time to make any necessary adjustments.
So… you’ve been living with the new solution/space/routine for 10 days now.  How does it feel?  Is it working?  Are there glitches that you didn’t forsee.  To do a quick assessment, ask yourself (and your family members) these questions:
1. Is {INSERT PROBLEM} still a problem in our home?  If you answer No to this then hats off to you!  If you answer yes then let’s keep going.
2. Have any positive changes been made?  If yes, what are they?
3. What areas are still a problem?
4. Did my original plan not work (or only partly work) because it was not a good plan or because I didn’t execute it?
4a. If it wasn’t a good plan, it’s time to think of a different solution
4b. If it wasn’t executed you need to ask yourself why and address that.  It could be that you didn’t carry it out because it was too hard or time consuming – if so, you probably need a new plan.  Or it could be that you just got busy doing other things.  If this is the case, you might just need to make it a priority.
I’ll give you my assessment.  My problem was with clutter on the island in our kitchen.  Our solution was to create folders for the mail that tends to accumulate and put those folders into a nearby drawer.
The current result is that there is a folder for medical receipts (something I need to track separately from the regular bills) but the folders for the other bills has just not been created.  Why?  Because I just didn’t do it.  It wasn’t too hard or costly.  I just.didn’t.do.it.  It was that simple.  So I don’t really need a new plan, I just need to implement the one I’ve got.  And now that the health status in our home is back on the upswing I’ll be working on that tonight.

28 Days To Living Organized – Day 16 – De-Clutter Day

28 days to Living Organized

De-Clutter Day

On our last de-clutter day we cleared a space.  Today we’re going to stop the bleeding.

I mean let’s keep the clutter from coming in the door – both your physical door and your electronic door.

Follow these simple steps:
1. Opt out of pre-approved credit card offers.  This is the official site.  Yes, you do have to put in your social security number.  This is legitimate.  This will eliminate most “You’re Pre-approved!” offers from your mailbox.  The exception is that your current creditors can still send you things.

2. Stop the phone calls.  This doesn’t make physical clutter in your life but it sure is annoying and can suck your time.  The National Do Not Call Registry will block those annoying telemarketers.  Know that some groups, like charitable organizations, are excempt.

3. Cancel your catalogs.  You ordered something from “Cute-Stuff-That-You-Probably-Don’t-Need-Anyway Corporation” three years ago and you still get their catalogs.  Next time one arrives, call and ask to be removed from their mailing list.  They should be accomodating since they don’t want to spend money on postage to someone who isn’t going buy anything.

4. Eliminate the “fluff” mail.  I’m talking about e-mail here.  Specifically e-mail that you have no use for.  Not real junk mail – there are spam filters for that.  I mean newsletters you subscribed to but never read, sale “flyers” from companies you ordered from years ago.  All of them should have an “opt-out” or “unsubscribe” option at the bottom of the email.  Use it
A word of warning… don’t select “unsubscribe” on an e-mail from an unfamiliar source.  Those can lead you to unsavory websites.  And if you are not sure if the link is okay, you can find out what it really is.  Just because it says http://www.cnn.com/ doesn’t mean it isn’t sending you to horrible-site-that-will-give-you-a-virus.come
To check, hover over the link with your mouse.  It will very likely give you a pop-up with the actual link.  If it says www.amazooon.com instead of www.amazon.com then it’s probably a scam.

It’s a lot easier to manage what’s really important when you don’t have to sort through the things you don’t need.

28 Days To Living Organized – Day 15 – Email: Clear The Backlog

28 days to Living Organized

Email: Clear The Backlog

You’ve set out on a good course of tackling new messages as they come in and not letting them sit as a to-do list in your Inbox. 

Now it’s time to deal with those many months (or years) of email you have to catch up on.  There are several ways to do this and anyway that gets your Inbox to Zero is appropriate.

One option (not my favorite) is to move all the old stuff to a “Old Stuff” file that you will defer until you have time to go through it.  This is not my favorite because I know that personally I would just leave that file there forever and never go through it.

A better option (in my opinion) is to simply tackle it with a few easy steps.

1. Sort by the “FROM” column.  This will make it easy to see ones that be quickly deleted.
2. Follow the 6 rules – Delete/Archive, Delegate, Respond, Defer, Do
3. Delete/Archive – this should be the easiest category.  If you’ve had them this long do you really need them anymore?  Probably not.  I expect most things will fall into this category
4. Delegate & Respond – Unless these emails are only a few days or weeks old it is probably well past the time to make any kind of response.  But there may be a few in there that still require you do respond or ask someone else to respond.
5. Defer – Um…. haven’t you already done this long enough?  Forget this category and do one of the others
6. Do – A favorite here, right after Delete

It may take you awhile depending on how much backlog you have.  I suggest setting a timer or putting a few songs on a playlist and challenging yourself to get through as much as possible (all?) in 15-30 minutes.  If you don’t get through all of it you can set aside another time later in the week.

Happy deleting!

28 Days To Living Organized – Day 14 – Email: Do

28 days to Living Organized

Email: Do
“Do” email?  How is that different from Respond?
It’s different in that you get off your rear-end and DO something.  Maybe you walk to a coworker’s desk and have a conversation.  Maybe you fill out some paperwork and file/fax/mail it.  Maybe you make a phone call.
There are times (hard to believe, I know!) that our email requires us to do something other than sit at our computer.  If you receive an email that requires some action on your part and you can do it quickly and easily then simply get it done.
At this point, if you’ve taken one of the 6 actions on each item in your inbox that was newly received your inbox should be EMPTY!  But…. you still have the backlog to deal with.  We’ll get to that tomorrow.

28 Days To Living Organized – Day 13 – Email: Defer

28 Days to Living Organized

Email: Defer
Sometimes you get an email that you just can’t respond to right now.  Maybe you don’t know the answer.  Maybe it requires some kind of research or collaboration with others.  Maybe it’s a non-urgent request that you need to get to sometime in the next 14 days.
It does happen sometimes.  Although it’s usually better to respond right away there are times it’s just not possible.  When that is the case, you can defer things. 
How do you defer?
* Make sure you make a tickler for yourself that you do need to do it!
     – put a task on your to-do list for the follow up steps you need to take or phone calls to make
     – move the email to a “Defer” folder that you check at the end of each day (or each week).  Set aside time each day (or week) to spend an hour working through the things in your “Defer” folder.
I firmly believe that this step is the that makes most of our inboxes so large.  We leave things there that we need to do something about but don’t want to do it right now.
Two simple steps:
1. Defer as little as possible. 
2. What you must defer, set aside time to come back to. This is critical if you don’t want to have a “defer” folder that is just as large as your inbox used to be.  You can’t defer forever.  And if you are going to defer forever then go back up to step one and DELETE!

28 Days To Living Organized – Day 12 – Email: Respond

28 Days to Living Organized

Email: Respond

Scenario: You receive the following email on Sunday night.

To: You@Yourmail.com
From: Friendwithaquestion@theirmail.com
Re: Friday night

Hey You! I hope you are getting over that cold you had last week. How do you feel about getting together this Friday for drinks after work and then a movie?  It’s been too long since we’ve seen each other.

~ Friend.

Multiple choice:
After reading this email you immediately:
a) respond with “Yes, that sounds great.” or “Sorry, I’m busy Friday but can you do Saturday afternoon?”
b) Think “That sounds great but I need to check my calendar” and then proceed to check your calendar and respond on Monday
c) Think “That sounds great but I’m not sure if my spouse wants to go out to dinner on Friday so I need to check with them.” Then ask your spouse, wait for a response until Wednesday and get back to your friend then
d) Think “Sounds good but I need to get to bed.  I’ll respond tomorrow.” and then send a response on Thursday apologizing for your late response and hoping your friend is still free.
e) Go to the next email in your inbox with plans to come back but don’t respond until Saturday with a blushing “Sorry!”

If you do anything but a) or b) you need to rethink your habits.  I’m guilty of it.  Sometimes I “check” my email when I have no intention of actually “working” my email.  I’ll read a note like this, plan to respond tomorrow and then get back to the person too late.  There are a few problems with this.
1. It is rude.  If this person is your friend, and even if they are not, they still deserve a response.
2. You might miss out on some great opportunities by procrastinating.
3. It’s rude.  That was worth saying twice.

Even a quick response of “I need to check my calendar and I’ll get back to you by Tuesday” is a good one.  And then… get back to them by Tuesday!  Wouldn’t you be annoyed if you put a question out there and got no response? 

Emails like this fall into the easy Do It Now category.  Just respond.  Simple as that.  If you have to do more research or fact finding, that’s fine.  But then put it on your to-do list and let the person know you got their message and are not ignoring them.