Plan Your Work and Work Your Plan

“He who every morning plans the transaction of the day and follows out that plan, carries a thread that will guide him through the maze of the most busy life. But where no plan is laid, where the disposal of time is surrendered merely to the chance of incidence, chaos will soon reign.”  – Victor Hugo

 I find it amazing that Victor Hugo’s quote is still applicable today. When we think of the disposal of time being surrendered today we might think of email, surfing the net and playing on Facebook. Do you go on your computer with the intention of sending an email and find yourself hours later sucked into a rapid series of responses to other people’s request? Have you ever logged off and realized you never sent the email you intended? I admit I have done this.

So what can we do to combat this magnetic pull of technology and other “time sponges” in our lives? I believe you have to start with a plan for your day, your weeks and your months. Take the proactive approach not the reactive approach and set a time if you need limits. Here are 8 Steps to Planning Your Work & Working Your Plan:

  1. Choose a daily planner in a size that works well for you. This could be an electronic organizer or a paper one. Include appointments on a monthly calendar and tasks on the daily.
  2. Group like things (or tasks) together – this is One of my Absolutes of Organizing. Do phone calls at one time, computer work all at once, outside errands at another, or on your way somewhere. Planning these out can save you hours a day.
  3. When you get on the computer, have a mission don’t just play unless all your work is done. Make a list and check it off. Then take time to respond to others’ requests. Have an analog clock or set a timer so you can see the passage of time or be buzzed when time’s up.
  4. Limit your list to the 5 most important things you have to do each day.  A longer list may be too overwhelming.  This will also help you focus on priorities. The daily planning process takes about 10 minutes to write down.  You can do this either first thing in the morning or right before you go to bed – whenever you can think clearly.
  5. Check your progress around lunch time and re-prioritize if necessary. At the end of the day, if something is not done, move it to tomorrow’s list or the next logical day that it could be done.  If all five things get done, you can add some less important items to the list or take the rest of the day off to do some things you want to do.
  6. Plan out the weekly household chores like cleaning, food shopping, doing the laundry and taking out the trash. Assign each to one day and divide the duties among family members. For working parents if you can pay less than you make per hour to clean, do it! You can also break the laundry down into loads per person in the family, doing one or two per night so it is not a huge task. Have each family put away their own clothes.
  7. You may have repetitive monthly tasks like paying bills or doing Quickbooks or writing your company newsletter. Assign these to a day or week so you get in a routine. The nice aspect of routines is that once the task is done, you can forget about it until next week or next month. This frees up space in your mind and on your calendar!
  8. Speaking of free space, if you need more time to yourself or with your friends, schedule it. Spouses with children can give each other a day off. Groups of friends can plan a regular monthly get-together. Because those of us who work hard, need to play as well.

What do you do to combat the time sponges in your life?

Five Steps for Spring Cleaning

 Spring is here and you know what that means…you can see every  smudge on your windows, every dusty baseboard and you need to dig out the garden supplies from your garage. So what’s a woman to do? Spring clean of course!

As a Professional Organizer you may think my home is always pristine and clean. Not so. I have three children and a dog so we deal with mud and dog hair just like everybody else.  And although I do have routines for straightening daily and cleaning weekly, it’s time for that third step: cleaning out seasonally.

If you’re not sure where to start, here is a 5 Step Approach for Spring Cleaning:

  1. Look up –Tops of cabinets, lighting fixtures, even walls. These often get neglected in the regular cleaning process. So take a long handled duster, sweep away those cobwebs and wipe the tops of cabinets & bookshelves. Put a little Windex on a paper towel and wipe the lights.
  2. Look down – Baseboards collect dust and mud all over your house. So fill a bucket with water, add a little Murphy’s oil soap and use a soft rag to wipe them down. You might be surprised that they are white – not grey! One person can’t do the whole house so have your family chip in. Let everyone do their own bedroom and share the common areas. Use a towel or cushion to sit on.
  3. Look out – First the windows. In the morning light you can see everything: hand prints, water stains. So take some time to go through the house and clean your windows inside and out. If you’re lucky enough to have the windows that tilt in, you can engage your family, give the kids chores to do their bedroom windows and divide duties for the common rooms. If you have older windows, you might need to hire someone to clean the outside -or bribe your husband.
  4. Look around – Take a walk around your house and make note of the outside projects. For example, picking up branches, mulching gardens, picking up leaves, trimming bushes. Then see if there are any repairs needed as a result of the winter: loose shutters, falling gutters, etc. Once you have the list you can prioritize projects and get quotes if necessary.
  5. Do the switch – In your garage, make sure lawn, garden and sports equipment are accessible. Tuck away the winter supplies. In your closets, put away the heavy wool clothing and blankets and bring out the lighter spring clothes & linens. Rubbermaid bins that seal are the best way to store clothing. And Space Bags are awesome for condensing big blankets in the linen closet.

Spring cleaning doesn’t have to be drudgery. Take it one step at a time and pace yourself over weekends and days off. Engage your family in the process so everyone can feel proud of their home. Motivate your family with a special treat when they are finished. Need a deadline to motivate you? Shoot for Memorial Day weekend so you can relax & enjoy it.

Cleaning Out When a Loved One Has Died

Recently I had the experience of helping a family not only clean out their basement but deal with the death of their mother. The message I want to convey here is that although the task seems overwhelming, it can be done! (probably quicker than you think.) There are a few key steps to take though if you want it done without drama, tension and chaos. I believe this family had the right combination.

First of all, the daughter contacted me last year, shortly after her mother passed away. She was one of seven children in a combined family from a couple marriages. Her main goal was to help her step-father deal with his loss by removing many of her mother’s things so that he wasn’t “living with a ghost.” We walked through the house and assessed each room and what needed to be done.  I came back for a couple visits with the step-father and we did some sorting and purging in the basement, which was the worst room at that point. The daughter lives out of town so it wasn’t until recently that she was able to get back for a weekend. But in the meantime she had time to grieve and was more emotionally ready when the time came. She was smart to bring her husband, mother-in-law and brother with her for a planned weekend of “cleaning out.” In the meantime a storage unit had been emptied and many boxes were dumped in the basement. With grown children there always seems to be a revolving door so needless to say the basement was worst than I last saw it.

We planned a full day on Thursday and a half day on Friday of me working with the family to sort and purge. We knew there would be trash, donations, consignment items and also some boxes that other members of the family would have to deal with. Sam, the daughter had a plan of attack before I even arrived. We tackled the basement again but this time quite thoroughly. It took 5 of us working 6 hours to complete the room. When we finished we had a driveway full of trash, two corners piled with donations and one corner of consignment items. I set up two pick-ups: Phillyjunk.com came on Saturday morning to take the donations and trash and Consign & Design from Broomall, PA came on Tuesday to pick up the consignment items. The second day, we took care of her mother’s personal items. Again we had donations, consignment items and two boxes for the daughters. After Day 1, Sam’s step-father was amazed at the transformation. After Day 2, Sam herself felt like a weight had been lifted off her shoulders. Every family has one child who feels responsible for pulling the family together and she’s it in hers. Her brother graciously let her put her name on all the consignments. It’s quite possible she’ll recoup the cost of my services for those days.

I have to say working with her family was a joy. No one fought over what they wanted, everyone kept the goal in mind and kept moving. We even had fun laughing at some funny things that were saved. Sam and her brother, Jeremy reminisced about crazy Halloween costumes that their mom had made. And yes, some tears were shed as they inevitably are at these times. But we let Sam have her moment, take the mementos that meant something to her, and the rest of us kept working.  I know they were exhausted by the end of the weekend but everyone was happy that they could go home feeling some closure and knowing that their step father did not have to face this daunting task alone. We will all be there someday and I think there is a lesson in this for all of us:

Key Steps

  1. Give yourself time to grieve first.
  2. Set a date and recruit helpers, don’t let it drag out or do it little by little.
  3. Have a plan of which rooms to do first, second, etc.
  4. Give all family members an opportunity to take what they want within a deadline.
  5. Use pick-up services whenever possible.

(For before & after pictures of this project, go to my Facebook)