Friday, October 28, 2011

Keep a Lid on Your Inbox

Most people I know have trouble keeping up with incoming email in this information and technology-crazed world we live in. It's no surprise that this can quickly lead to an out-of-control inbox. Some people simply leave the majority of their email sitting in one big "pile" in their inbox, relying on the relatively good search-ability of today's email programs. While this works for some people, many corporate environments have storage limits that can lead to panicked deleting frenzies when you've hit the limit. Also, most people I know feel at least slightly overwhelmed by their over-stuffed inboxes. It's like a giant pile of papers on your desk - at some point you don't know what's in there and you don't know what you're missing, leading to missed deadlines, opportunities, and miscommunication affecting business and even personal relationships. But enough gloom and doom - you can stay on top of your inbox! Just like any other organizing task, there is no one right way to manage your email, but I can tell you what I do, which is a place to start if you're feeling overwhelmed.

1. Set a limit or personal goal for the number of emails in your inbox. My personal goal is 50. In an ideal world, your inbox would be limited to just incoming mail and perhaps action items (though I try to keep those in a separate folder). This limit helps me know when it's time to do a little extra maintenance (see below) to get things back under control.

2. Use folders to organize emails you want to save. I personally have 3 action-related folders, Action, Read/Review, and Waiting For, that help me keep tabs on active emails. Then I have a series of folders to organize emails I'm saving for reference. This means that I don't generally need to "search" for emails - I usually know where to find them. One word of caution, if you set up action-related folders, you must look in them regularly (likely daily) so you don't miss items you need to deal with. Just like any other habit, this takes time to get used to, so reminders on your calendar might be helpful for the first month or so. 

3. Maintain, maintain, maintain. An inbox can "pile" up in just a day, so a regular (again, likely daily) maintenance plan is a must. To keep things under control, treat your inbox "pile" just like a regular pile of mail. Go through each item, one by one, and decide what needs to happen to it. The options are delete, reply, take action or save for reference. If you can take care of something with a quick reply, go for it. Otherwise, move action items to your Action folder to be taken care of at an appropriate time. If there's something you'd like to read, but don't want to get side-tracked know, throw it in the Read/Review folder. You get the idea.

Note: If you are starting from an overwhelmed place, my advice is to implement a simple system (like the above) immediately for incoming mail and also spend 10-15 minutes a day dealing with the backlog until you are cleaned up. Follow the same process described above. Often, old emails can be dealt with (and likely deleted) quickly because they are no longer relevant, so the clean-up may be faster than you think. Do yourself a favor and delete e-newsletters, etc. that are older than a few months - nobody has time to read everything they receive.

Bottom Line: Setting up some folders and spending just a few minutes a day to make sure all new emails are dealt with or filed is all you need to keep a lid on your inbox!

Friday, October 21, 2011

What can you do in 15 minutes?

Recently, I've talked about a 5 minute fillers list...little things you can get done when you get a few free minutes of time. The other day, I was reading one of my favorite blogs...The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. She posted a list of tips to stop procrastinating. One of them was Suffer for 15 Minutes..."You can do anything for 15 minutes," she says. She's absolutely right and that tip hit home with me. There are certain organizing tasks that even I don't like to do! This mantra ("you can do anything for 15 minutes") allowed me to make some much-needed progress on these not-so-favorite tasks over the past week. It's a simple concept with magical powers!

Here are a few ideas of nagging organizing tasks that you can chip away at with just 15 minutes a day...and maybe even 15 minutes a week once you get them under control:

  • File papers. You know, the stacks on your desk or dining room table. If you need a new file for a new category, go ahead and make it - it doesn't need to be fancy, it just needs to exist.
  • Weed files. These first two can be done together (or separately). As you file a paper, take the time to review that file and weed out anything you no longer need.
  • Shred papers. - This includes items you've weeded out of your files and other items like solicitations that may have your personal information on them.
  • Organize your computer files or digital photos. Create appropriate folders and delete what you don't need.
  • Clean up your inbox. Delete, delete, delete. Or archive/file emails you want to save and be able to search for in the future. Most email programs are so easily search-able, that you can save your inbox for incoming mail...I know, easier said than done :)
  • Put things back where they belong. Enough said.
  • Reconcile financial transactions. This might be in your checkbook, on-line, or maybe filing receipts, depending on how you keep your records. Confession - this is one of my nagging tasks.
  • Get rid of expired coupons.
  • Recycle old magazines and catalogs. Keep the latest issue or 2 and recycle the rest.
  • Clean out past-due food from your fridge and cabinets.
  • Round up items for donation. Take a quick pass through your closets and drawers and see what you can part with. Put them in a bag and take it to your car right away.

Bottom Line: Just 15 minutes a day can help you make a huge dent in those nagging organizing tasks that we all avoid. Remember - "you can do anything for 15 minutes!" Thanks, Gretchen, for some great inspiration!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Get Your Garage in Gear

Just like any other storage space, your garage may need an organizing intervention or at least maintenance. This is especially important before winter hits – anyone out there wishing they could pull their car into a cluttered garage? There is hope if you commit some time to this often-neglected, but important storage space. Here are a few key steps to help you get your garage in gear for winter.

1)    If you can, clear everything out of the space and sort items into major categories. This is a great project for a beautiful fall day! If it's not possible or practical to take everything out of the space, at least do your best to sort items into separate zones...gardening equipment, ski gear, holiday decorations, etc.

2)    Review what you've found and get rid of items you haven't used or won't likely use. Sell or donate what you decide to part with. Of course you should also get rid of any obvious trash or recycling.

3)    Take the time to clean shelves and floor space that you clear during the process. The sand and salt of winter are about to creep their way in, so it's a good idea to start with a clean slate. Bonus - it's much more pleasant to take things out and put things back when it's relatively clean!

4)    When you put items back in, keep like items together in zones and save the prime real estate - easy to reach areas - for items that will get the most use this season. This will ensure you don't have to dig for what you need over the next few months.

5)    Last but not least, take care of any tune-ups for winter sports equipment or snow blowers, and make a shopping list for items you need. Buying these items now will ensure you have what you need...when you need it. You know what I mean if you've ever shopped for a snow shovel after the first big snow storm.

If you need help with storage solutions for the garage, think vertical! Using vertical space always allows you to store items with lots of clear floor space – super important if your goal is to park your car(s) in the garage. Simple shelving units (plastic or metal) from a home improvement store along with sturdy see-through containers can do wonders to contain smaller items like tools, car accessories, garden equipment and even extra household goods. Sports equipment like bikes can be efficiently stored using wall hooks or a free-standing rack. If you’re not-so-handy, installing items on the wall is a simple task for a handyman. And if you’re looking for a more robust garage upgrade, companies like Elfa, Monkey Bars, and Closet & Storage Concepts can install custom storage solutions to create the garage of your dreams. Don’t forget, your favorite professional organizer can help you map out and implement a garage organizing plan, ranging from simple, low-cost to high-end custom solutions!
Bottom Line: Spending some quality time clearing out and organizing your garage will make your life easier this winter and all year round!

Friday, October 7, 2011

5 Minute Fillers...Revisited

Let's face it - we live in a crazy, busy world. Unless you're on vacation, most of us have way too much to get done in the time we have. Often, when it comes to organizing or just getting things done, we give up before we even start because the overall "project" just seems too big to tackle. The key to success here is breaking things down into much smaller tasks. Most of us don't routinely have large blocks of time to get large projects done at once. Does that mean we can't get anything done? No! It just means we need to know what short tasks we can tackle in the short windows of time we do have.

In January, I wrote about the idea of creating a 5 Minute Fillers list - tasks that take just a few minutes to complete. I challenged myself and all of you to look around your house or your office to create such a list so you know what you can do the next time 5 free minutes present themselves.

I recently realized that this concept is more important than ever for me now as a mom of a 4 month old. My new job taking care of her is 24-7 and I only get sporadic, unpredictable free blocks of time...usually very short. And to make matters worse, my brain is so fried from sleep deprivation that I could look around my condo full of things to do and not be able to think of a single completable task. That's why I need to make a renewed commitment to keeping a 5 minute fillers list. So here goes - here's my new list:

  • empty dishwasher
  • put away clean clothes
  • update baby book
  • check/respond to email
  • open mail
  • finish magazine (yes, there can be fun things on the list)
  • clean bathroom
  • wipe down counters
  • put away toys/equipment
  • vacuum couches
  • make grocery list
  • post on facebook
  • lift weights
  • return phone calls
  • sit down :)

That's just a start! There are many more things that I can and will add to the list after I get a few things done. How about you, what does your list look like?