Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Write It Down

I’m always surprised when I meet with clients who don’t have a calendar or any form of to-do list – I would be lost without mine. Now I know not everyone is as fond of lists as say, a professional organizer, but today I’m going to try to sell you on the benefits of writing things down.

Time-Saving Tip #3: Write it down!

Keep a calendar and task list - whether electronic or good old pen(cil) and paper. It's next impossible to remember all the places you need to be and things you need to do. Worse - trying to do so wastes mental energy and time. Write a task or appointment down when it first comes up so you don't have sticky notes floating around you head!

I currently use Google Calendar to keep track of my schedule. I have more than one job in addition to personal calendar items and the beauty of Google is that you can share multiple calendars – so I can see all of my appointments in one place. The two small companies I work for also use Google Calendars for scheduling. To take it a step further, my husband and I use it to keep track of evening and weekend things that come up as well as major events, such as business trips. It’s so convenient to be able to capture everything that’s going on in one place.

As for to-do lists, I use a combination of the task list that’s part of Google Calendar and paper. I have a notebook for each job – I write down tasks that come up when I’m out and about and then transfer them to Google when I’m back in the office, which seems to work pretty well for me. For household tasks, we are starting to get some good routines in place – routines are great for stuff that has be done regularly because once they’re in place, you shouldn’t need to put that item on your to-do list.

That’s another tip about lists – don’t clutter up your to-do list with routine tasks that you will remember to do anyway (like check your email or eat lunch) – to-do lists are meant for things that you might otherwise forget.

Admittedly, there is an overwhelming array of information management systems (planners, calendars, notebooks, smart phones, online tools) out there. Pick the one you are drawn to, whether it’s a pretty planner or fancy phone, and stick with it. I see people run into trouble, myself included, when they don’t commit to system or don’t put things in one place. If you’re a note person who like to ‘jot things down,’ I recommend getting a spiral bound notebook (or whatever you like) and using that as home base for things you want to remember – there’s nothing worse than piles of scrap paper or partially filled notebooks or pads.

The bottom line is that having a system of some sort for keeping track of your appointments and tasks is better than trying to keep track of all of it in your head. If you’re stuck and don’t know where to begin, a session with a professional organizer could give you the boost you need.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Keys Please

Last week, we launched our Time-Saving Tips series because it seems that most of us never have enough of it! As Peter Walsh points out in his book, Does This Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat?, everyone is busy and some people have just figured out and learned to accept what he calls the ‘time paradox’:

"There's never enough time, and there's always more time."

And as my colleague adds, “there’s always next time.” Time is funny and in many ways, just accepting this paradox helps me feel better about the hectic pace of life, but I also refuse to believe that we don’t have control over our own time and schedule – at least to some extent. One thing we can do is do our best to control unnecessary time-wasters. Hence the time-saving tips! Enough paradox talk, here’s the next tip…

Time-Saving Tip: Put your keys in the same place...always! It's amazing how many minutes a day are lost looking for misplaced keys. A simple hook or bowl near the door is all you need. In the photo you will see that I also have a Post-It Pocket that I got as a free sample to hold mail that’s ready to go out the door. Ladies - keep your keys in the same pocket of your bag to avoid frantic digging. And keep spare copies of all your keys somewhere useful (i.e. don't keep your only spare house key in your house).

Trust me, I speak from experience on this one – I once dropped my keys in a storm drain – yes, really (being organized doesn’t mean clumsiness and accidents don’t happen). I was thrilled to have a spare copy of my condo key in my wallet. And in our condo I had copies of most of the rest of the keys on my key chain. We now have multiple copies of all keys – I have moved the house key from my wallet to a better spot that can be accessed without any possessions and a trusted neighbor also has a basic set. If you lose a key, be sure to get new copies made right away. Let us know your key tips or stories – I hope I’m not the only one who’s had a key disaster. Happy Monday!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Summer Used to Be a Slower Time of Year

I can't tell you how many times I've recently heard someone say, "Summer used to be a slower time of year." It seems that for many people, summer is busier than ever. That's why we thought we'd start a series of time-saving tips to help you stay calm, cool and collected this summer and all year-round. Please share your tips and challenges too!

Time-Saving Tip #1: Automate your to-do's when possible.

This might be anything from setting up automatic bill-paying or membership renewal to using pre-printed grocery lists and email reminders for recurring or infrequent tasks. Doing so helps you avoid re-inventing the wheel and also relieves the stress of needing to remember to take care of these tasks.

If you're worried about putting things like bill-paying on auto-pilot, a few simple steps can help keep this time and worry-saver from back-firing:

  1. Maintain an account balance that's high enough to handle your automatic payments. If you're not able to establish a cushion, automatic payments may not be the best idea for you at this time.
  2. Know how to log into your account on-line. This means saving your username and password (or a hint) in a safe place.
  3. Sign up for email notifications when your monthly statement is ready. This email should be your trigger to log-in and review your statement. This might mean checking each transaction against your receipts (which you can save in a small accordion file or envelope) or simply doing a quick review for unfamiliar transactions.

Automating your to-do's can be a great way to reduce stress, save time and eliminate late fees from your life!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

With any luck, you spent the 4th of July holiday weekend having fun with friends and family…perhaps at the beach or watching fireworks or a family cookout or maybe a little bit of everything. Most of us were not tackling our home project lists (but good for you if you did). While spending time relaxing and having fun is absolutely wonderful and worthwhile, it can be tough to hit the ground running and get back on track the following work week . Here are five things you can do to keep your weekends or vacations from setting you back when it comes to keeping on top of your home and schedule.

  1. Unpack! I have to say this one first because for some reason, I am not a big fan of unpacking. But I force myself to just get it done – put the laundry in the hamper, put away the bags, unpack the cooler, hang the towels out to try. The longer it all sits there, the less fun it will be to deal with. And the worst danger is leaving it to be dealt with once your work week gets into high gear again – this is where overnight bags turn into full-blown, pile-starting clutter.
  2. Open and process the mail. Mail is one of those things that needs to be dealt with on a very regular basis. If you’ve been away, it’s had a chance to build up for a few days. Do yourself a favor and get to it. Recycle or toss what you don’t need and take action on the rest – either put follow up items in your ‘in box’ or better yet, tackle them right away if they’ll only take a few minutes. Set aside any catalogs to browse while you catch up on the evening news or your favorite TV show – be sure to recycle them as soon as you’re done.
  3. Schedule time for chores and errands. Chances are, your weekend fun may have bumped some of your regular chores and routine errands that keep life moving along smoothly. Don’t just assume you’ll fit them in somewhere, schedule them in to your upcoming week. Sure, you’ll be playing catch up and may feel a bit busier than usual, but planning when you’re going to take care of laundry, groceries, and the rest is the best way to avoid any last minute ‘emergencies.’
  4. Upload your pictures right away. This is another one that I’m sometimes guilty of neglecting. But dealing with your digital photos regularly keeps them from building up to an insurmountable task. Transfer them to your computer, delete the less-than-great shots, and share them with family and friends. This can be a great way to remember the fun, thank your hosts and keep your camera clear and ready for the next event. Doing it right away while the details are fresh will also help you better file and label your photos.
  5. Last but not least, get back to your healthy habits. Vacations and even weekends are notorious for relaxing your eating and exercise routine (if you even have one). But don’t waste time feeling guilty about the hot dogs or 48 hours of lounging, just get back into your better habits right away – you’ll feel better in a day or two. Weekends and vacations can also mean eating out more often – give your wallet and your waist a break by making healthy meals at home for the week.
Try out the tips above to make your transition back to the real world calm and chaos-free!