Could your family use some time-management?

While we’re taking time off from the TV, and because the weather is getting nicer, this is a perfect time to take a step back and look at how your family spends it’s time.

Are you constantly eating on the run? Living out of your minivan? Did you ever forget to pick up a child? Maybe your family needs a mini time management class. And I say “mini” because I know anyone with two or more kids does not have the time for an all day seminar on time management! So here are my 3 STEP PLANS for Family Time Management.  Creating routines and writing things down can really help you get a perspective on whether your family is running efficiently or not. Maybe less activities could also mean less stress for you – or creating routines could help you remember all you need to do.

If you have time to digest more on this information, check out my book, “Absolutely Organize Your Family” available on my website or through Amazon.

3 Steps to Monitoring Your Child’s time:

  1.  Fill in a weekly time sheet of how he/she spends time now. You don’t have to get too detailed. Just look at blocks of time after school and after dinner and before school if that applies.
  2. Identify what’s missing and what is too much. Too much computer? Not enough outside time? Doing homework too late in the day? Looking at how it is on paper can help you to plan a better routine.
  3. Talk with your child about what they need to be doing and what they want to be doing with their time. This is the beginning of teaching them to balance their schedules. School work, required practices and play time all have their value.

3 Steps to Time Planning:

  1.  Plan out a month with your child.  Prioritize school projects first and break them down into smaller tasks. Let them see the month at a glance.
  2. Plan out a typical week – including your child’s activities, chores and down time. You might want to make a colorful chart and post it on the refrigerator so they can look at it each morning.
  3. For middle school & high school students, help your child choose a day planner that makes sense to them.

 

3 Steps to Choosing Seasonal Activities:

  1.  Look at an entire year for your whole family by mapping out what activities happen in each month.
  2. Talk to your child about their favorite activities and help them choose one for each season.
  3. Before joining an activity, know the time commitment and talk to other parents about carpools.

3 Steps to Developing Routines with your family:

  1. Practice getting up at the same time each day. For each family member the time may be different depending on work & school schedules.  Do everything upstairs before coming down for breakfast. After breakfast, brush teeth and pack bags.  Use visual or tactile reminders if necessary.
  2. Create an after-school routine that allows time for homework, a family dinner and getting to activities. Designate a place for the children to put backpacks, coats and papers.
  3. Stick to a night time routine that settles the children down and allows everyone to get a good night sleep.  Go to bed at the same time each night.

This week is National TV Free Week – What can you do with that extra time?

My husband and I once changed all the interior doors of our home (a total of 15) over the course of two months just by doing two doors a week. We did this to break down the cost (about $80 a door) and to spread out the time it took to hang and paint the new doors. Normally we reserve big home improvement projects for the weekend. But as we get into spring and summer the weekends are busy with baseball and travel. I had a deadline that year which was motivating me to get rid of the brown flat doors in our older home and replace them with white paneled doors. I was hosting my sister’s wedding shower in August. We found that if we worked together we could hang the door and do one coat of paint at night from 7-9 pm. The next morning I would put the second coat of paint on two doors and we were set. The only thing we were giving up was about 2 hours of television! Amazing what you can fit in when you have a goal and not a whole lot of time.

So I started thinking, what other home improvement or organizing projects could I complete in just two hours? If you stop watching TV for a week, assuming you watch a couple hours after dinner, you’ll have 7 blocks of two hours where you could accomplish some of those little chores that you never seem to have time for. Here are a few things I’ve done on my own and with my clients:

  1. Organize a pantry – Taking all food out, checking expiration dates, wiping down the shelves and replacing good foods in categories.
  2. Organize a garage – Yes, believe it or not we do our garage twice a year in two hours. One hour to take everything out and one hour to put it back. We purge as we categorize everything we take out. Then we sweep or blow out the leaves and dirt and begin putting categories back. Of course we have 5 people doing this – my hubby and three kids. Although you know who does most of the work.
  3. Switch out your clothes – Take last season’s clothes out of your drawers & closet and replace with the next season’s clothes from storage. First I empty the drawers & closet putting everything on the bed that I want to store away. Anything that I haven’t worn in a year, or that doesn’t fit goes in a donation bag. Then I bring down the stored clothes and put them in the drawer or closet. Finally the out of season clothes are packed away into plastic bins or hung in a cedar closet.
  4. Clean out files at the end of the year. Take out whatever you saved for taxes and put aside for the accountant. Print end of the year statements from your bank or credit cards. At the end of a school year you can go through kids’ papers. Put artwork in a portfolio, awards & ribbons in a scrapbook and all else can be recycled.
  5. Do a “Great toy clean out” – This is another one you can involve the kids with. Have them bring all their toys into one room. Sort into piles. Here are some suggested categories: learning toys, outside toys, balls, games, arts & crafts, building toys. Anything that is broken, toss. Any toys that are no longer used go into a donate pile. Then collect any containers you have for storage and decide where all the toys will be kept. I recommend certain categories in the bedroom and others in a common room in the house.

Tell me what you’ll do this week instead of watching TV.

Could you use some Administrative Assistance?

One problem with being a solopreneur (and I’ve been one for nine years now) is we have no one to handle the administrative work.  With Secretaries Day approaching I am often reminded that I would love to be able to hire an administrative assistant.  Actually what I need is a scheduling secretary, but with three kids who are active and multiple clients every week, that person would have to follow me around and be inside my head at the same time.  Even more frustrating is that my accountant husband told me the income level I need in order to hire someone full time. Let’s just say I’m not there yet! So in the meantime I do it all: the writing, the scheduling, the social networking, the delivery of services, the invoicing and the promotion. Whew, I’m tired just typing this!

So what’s a control freak to do? Well, I’ve come up with interim solutions until I get to that income level where I can just hire someone to do my logistical work so I can concentrate on organizing, writing and speaking.

  • I have kids, so I’ve trained them.  This is not a sweat shop, but it’s not a free ride either. Since they were 5 years old, my kids have put away their toys, clothes and cleaned their places at the table.
  • I took the craziest time of day (4-6 pm) and delegated the duties. Someone walks the dog, another person sets the table, I make the dinner and we all sit down together for a family meal on most nights. After dinner my husband and I split the homework & clean up duties.
  • I realized I was spending half a day every week cleaning my house and that I could be making more money spending that half day working for a client. So I hired a cleaning person and although she comes every other week, I’m okay with that. If the house starts to look hideous in between I do a “quick clean.”
  • I hired someone to set up my social media connections. Last year I had an urgent need from my publisher to participate in a Twitter Party and I didn’t even have an account yet. I hired an old friend and had her do the set up and then give me a simple tutorial on how I could manage my Facebook, Twitter and Blog on a daily basis.
  • I hired someone to revamp my website and business cards to create a unique brand. Up until this year I’ve been maintaining my own website and functioning with basic white & blue business cards.  Now I have a style.
  • I’ve decided to swap services with a business coach. I need to build my business and she needs to get organized. It’s the beginning of a beautiful relationship.
  • I’ve agreed to teach someone how to become a professional organizer in exchange for helping me with some administrative work.

So you see there are alternatives when you can’t afford to hire a full time employee, and you can’t afford not to get some help. We all have our areas of expertise, admitting what you’re not good at is the first step, letting go of something you don’t need to handle is another. As a woman you may feel like you have to be Supermom with a great career and a perfect house.  Let your family pitch in, they will appreciate you even more. Be creative, make offers to other professionals and soon you’ll have a support team at home & at work that could take your business to the next level.

AVOID THE TAX RUSH – NEXT YEAR

This may sound like another New Year’s resolution, and it is in a way. But if you found yourself stressed out over the last month, trying to find papers and receipts to give to your accountant, you’ve got to be thinking, “There must be a better, simpler way!” And there is.

  • First of all, write down the categories of papers that your accountant asked for. Not everything you gave him, because often people give the accountant way more than they ask for only to pay a higher price for the accountant to sort and make sense of it. So give him/her what he wants and no more.
  • Now make files for those categories. I’m a big believer in specific folders for: Business Expenses, Medical Expenses, Investment income, Income receipts, charitable contributions, etc. Think in terms of your line items.  If you have one filed just called “Tax Stuff” you’re going to have to sort it next year anyway. Put the files close to your desk and drop in statements and receipts all year long. At the end of the year you can tally and staple these receipts together, voila – no more sorting for the accountant.
  • If you pay taxes quarterly, make monthly files for income/expenses. Get your First Quarter 2012 together now. It’s much easier to gather statments quarterly than annually.
  • Use one bank account and one credit card for business. If you have a card that offers a year end statement – that’s perfect – they will categorize your expenses for you! For miscellaneous cash expenses for business, just remember to get a receipt and drop it in your Business Expense file.
  • If your family needs to keep track and itemize out of pocket medical expenses, have a folder for those receipts as well. You can keep another Medical file for each member of the house which contains medical reports, labs, diagnosis, etc. That you keep forever. The expenses file you can clean out each year.
  • No need to keep weekly paystubs once you get a correct W2 form. And no need to keep ATM receipts if you are balancing your bank account every month. The monthly statements will support the transactions.
  • Finally, once you have your tax “back-up” ready, pull it out of the filing cabinet and put it in a manila envelope marked with the year. In some cases you may need a banker’s box. Give the accountant what he needs and then file the completed return with all the back-up info. As you put in this years, shred the tax file that is 6 years old. *

*always check with your accountant about what you can toss – everyone’s circumstances are different but 6 years is a general guideline.

Once a Week Organizing Tips

I had the pleasure of working with a teenage client the other day. My daughter warned me that it was going to be tough to get a high school student organized, but I felt up for the challenge. Even the mother who hired me warned that her daughter did not seem motivated to do anything. But that did not deter me.  Often it’s the tension between a parent and child that halts any progress towards organization. Suggestions from a third party often seem novel and interesting compared to a parent’s constant nagging to “clean up your room” or “get your schoolwork together.”  I’m happy to say the session went well and we were able to clean up her bedroom, schoolbag and even make a plan for upcoming school projects in a matter of three hours.

What I notice about teenagers is yes, they can’t be bothered with organizing for organizing sake. They have better things to do. So if I suggest some habits that only have to be done once a week, I am much more likely to gain compliance. If this works for teens, why not adults who can’t find the time to do tedious tasks every day?  So here are 10 simple habits you can do ONCE A WEEK to stay functionally organized and motivate your family to help you with a lot less stress:

  1. Go through your mail pile. Throw out envelopes, filler and sales offers you don’t want. Move reading materials to your magazine rack or favorite chair, bills and action items to your desk and receipts and statements to your filing cabinets.
  2. Straighten your bedroom. Put books on the bookshelf, wash the sheets, pick up clothes & shoes off the floor and move items out if they don’t belong there.
  3. Put your clean clothes away. In my house each person’s wash is done once a week so you only have to put it away once.
  4. Wipe down the bathroom sink and toilet, wash towels and washcloths.
  5. Clean out your pocketbook. Put make-up back in the bathroom; ATM receipts in your checkbook ledger or in a file and dump the trash.
  6. Clean out your car. Climb in the back of that minivan and see what the kids have left. Hopefully it’s not stuck to the carpet!
  7. Kids can clean out their backpacks on Friday. Give parents any papers they need, trash old assignments if you can. Put other study materials in the right subject folder.
  8. Go through your bills and put them in date order. Pay anything that’s due in 2 weeks.
  9. Take a basket and straighten the whole house, moving things to the right room. Start at the top and work your way down.
  10. Take your planner or calendar and plan out your week with your spouse & kids if necessary. I like to do this on Sunday nights.

What things do you do once a week just to stay on track? Leave a comment.

My 10 Absolutes or Rules of Organizing

Sure we all have our “spring cleaning” seasons where we throw out the old stuff, organize what we have and feel like we’re ready for a fresh start.  Then life happens and this leaves many of us wondering, “How can I maintain this newly organized room/area in my home or office?” I always say, first it’s a project and then it has to be a process. So here are my “absolutes” for organizing. If you think about them, and apply them to all facets of your life you may find you are a becoming a more functionally organized person.

  1. CPR is the method:  Categorize, Purge and Re-arrange – Believe me, it works. Whether you are talking about a junk drawer or an entire basement. The hardest part and sometimes the most time consuming is to categorize everything. Then you can see how much you have and begin to purge. Of course you can also purge as you go for obvious items. It’s like taking apart a car engine. The Re-arrange step is where you get the bins, baskets and organizers and put it all back together.
  2. Keep purging simple with “yes” and “no” piles – People often get bogged down with dividing up the stuff they want to give away. I hear, “This is donated, this goes to so and so, this will go to the church bazaar…” Keep it simple by only giving yourself 2 options: Yes or No. You can hammer out the details at the end of the project. Or if you’re lucky enough to be working with a Professional Organizer, let him or her take care of the distribution for you.
  3. Keep only what you use – Don’t keep something because of guilt or “just in case.” If you use it or really appreciate it like a special piece of art, then keep it. Life is a lot simpler this way.
  4. If you don’t plan it – it won’t happen – How many of us wait for “someday?” Or a day when there’s nothing to do and you’ll get on that scrapbook or clean out that closet? Really who has that kind of time these days? If you want to accomplish something the first thing you have to do is schedule it. Put it on the calendar, estimate the time it will take and then focus on that project, eliminate distractions and don’t let anyone keep you from holding that appointment.
  5. Keep like things together – Sounds elementary but you wouldn’t believe how many people don’t do this. It happens when we get too detailed in our categories. For example, lacrosse equipment goes in the mudroom, and baseball goes in the bedroom, but hockey goes in the garage. A better system is to put all sports gear in the garage & have different racks or bins for each sport. Again this works all over the house: kitchen, bedroom, family room, etc.
  6. Start with a good list – Whether you are shopping, planning a big project or packing for a trip, the list is essential. Put more time and thought into the list and your task will be easier.
  7. Subtract before you add – When re-doing a room, a closet or an office, the tendency is to buy organizers for everything that is in there first. But if you use CPR and pare down to what you really use and need, you may not need the organizers at all. Don’t mistake shoving everything in boxes or bins as organizing.
  8. Finish one thing before you start another – Again an elementary lesson probably learned in first grade, but how many of us pride ourselves on multi-tasking? Try mono-tasking. Things will get done more completely and in less time. You can also apply this rule to consumable items. Don’t open the new toothpaste until the old one is finished and in the trash – stop wasting.
  9. Organize from big to small – Don’t arrange deck chairs on the Titanic! If your whole house is a disaster, look at the big picture first. Establish the function of each room and make sure the only items in each room serve that purpose. Then you can go room by room and get it in ship shape.
  10. Daily routines are a must – Routines bring comfort, and help us remember what we need. Ever forget to brush your teeth? You probably broke your routine. Even a 15 minute routine at the end of your work day can set the tone for a better tomorrow. Place your TO DO’s on the left of the desk, file loose papers, clear all voice mail messages, take out your deliver-ables. Even if your day is chaotic, your morning & nighttime routines will help center you.

 

Organize for Your Health

People often assume that the goal of being organized is to have a nice house, or to be productive. But did you ever think about how your organizing skills can help you live a healthy life? I’m sure you have noticed that the opposite is true. Those who live in a cluttered home with no organizational skills can’t clean or cook a meal from scratch for obvious reasons. I mean, did you ever see the people on Hoarders? Do any of them look healthy?  So I started to think about what organizing can do to improve your health. I know it has helped me and my family in many situations. Starting with the most basic, leading to more complicated situations here are some motivations to get organized for your health:

  1. An uncluttered house is easier to clean. Clutter collects dust, holds heat and attracts grease in the kitchen, mold in wet areas. Some clutter can actually be a fire hazard. The less you have, the less you have to dust! And if you can’t see your rug, you can’t vacuum it either.
  2. A refrigerator that is packed so full you can’t see anything is not a healthy place to store food. Leftovers become moldy if you forget they are there. If grabbing a healthy snack from the frig is difficult, you may just go for chips. Not to mention you are probably buying too much of what you already have. Keep like things together so you can see what you have. Label clear square containers of leftovers and use them fast. Make it easy to grab a piece of fruit or make a salad.
  3. For kids with food allergies you’ve got to be organized about where you put food and who has access. When my son was younger and had 21 food allergies, he had his own snack drawer down low.  We also maintained a rotation diet with a chart on the refrigerator, and had clear instructions printed out for any babysitter.
  4. If anyone in your home has a chronic illness where medicine is required, it is vital to know when and how much to take on a daily basis. It’s also important to know when prescriptions need to be refilled. If you buy things in 6 month increments, you can mark your planner way in advance on when to restock or refill prescriptions. Expired medications should be tossed and all current ones kept together for easy access.
  5. For children with chronic conditions, medicinal and emergency instructions (especially for diabetics) should be printed up and carried with them and their supplies at all times. I know this from taking care of my sister who was diabetic and from my son’s friend in preschool. Taking blood sugars and dosing out insulin is a precise science.
  6. As far as preventative maintenance of your health, routines really come into play. Exercising, taking vitamins and going for check-ups all fall under healthy routines. If you don’t plan it – it’s not going to happen! With the summer months coming, add to that list:  using sunscreen (that has not expired) and checking for ticks are other healthy routines we all should adopt.
  7. When you do have a major illness or hospitalization your paper organizing skills will be challenged! Believe me, I had a heart operation last year and had to deal with the bills and paperwork a month into my recuperating. My husband’s idea was to sit on the bills for a few months. That wasn’t making me feel comfortable so I laid them all out on the table one night, put them in chronological order, got rid of duplicate bills and started to add up what we had to pay. Once my deductible was met, I didn’t pay anymore bills but rather called my insurance company and asked them to handle it.  It would have been very easy to just keep writing checks, but we would have paid way more than necessary.  I even called the hospital to get a sizeable refund which they were sitting on!

On a final note, when I was hospitalized and out of commission last year, it was nice to know that my family continued our weekly routines and my kids know how to do laundry, make a meal and take care of their own hygiene. If a mom does everything, the house falls apart when she is not there. It’s not perfect, but it is functional. I was proud that my kids and husband could function without me and I could just focus on getting well.

Memories…fill the corners of my home

 

Memorabilia, mementos, whatever you call them, they are the items you save for their sentimental value. Many people assume that we professional organizers don’t save anything and that we make our clients part with things that they have been saving. This is not the case. I have a memory box for each of my children and two for myself! In addition, my family makes scrapbooks every summer so that the children can put their awards, ribbons, pictures and ticket stubs in a nice book which I hope they will cherish for many years. The trick with memorabilia is to 1. Identify it in your home 2. Give it a place of honor so you can truly cherish it and 3. Have a plan for what to do with new memorabilia that you are accumulating.

 

Mementos I have found with clients have appeared in some unconventional places: kitchen cupboards, dresser drawers, pantries, china cabinets and of course the conventional brown boxes packed away in the attic or cellar. If yours are scattered all over the house you may discover them as you clean out one room, or you could do a treasure hunt and deal with them all in one day.  To give your memories of place of honor, here are a few ideas on what you can do to consolidate and display various kinds of items:

 

Mugs from your travels - hand them on mug hooks in wood beams on your ceiling, use as pen holders, or give them their own display shelf in your kitchen or bar area

 

T-shirts – cut out squares that show the insignia and make a quilt out of them, frame it or use it.

 

Ticket stubs – staple them side by side on bulletin boards, display in your man cave, basement or family room.

 

Kids’ handmade ceramics – color coordinate them with rooms in your home and use for display or practical uses like ring holders, cotton ball containers or spoon rests.

 

Kid’s newspaper clippings, awards, etc. – Even if your children are grown and out of the house, you can give their memories a place of honor by hanging a bulletin board for each one in a family room. Laminate the paper so it doesn’t get dusty & torn and make a collage for each child. You can reminisce about all their accomplishments as you pass it by each day. And the grandchildren might just get a kick out of it too!

 

For new accumulations you can place all flat memorabilia in a box or drawer until you are ready to scrapbook, while the bulky items can be placed in a decorative trunk or hope chest.  (Home Goods has a great selection of these) Place these “memory boxes” in areas of your home where you can look at them. When the box gets full it’s time to go through it and weed out what is no longer special to you.

 

I used my college steamer trunk as a coffee table and a nightstand before I retired it to the attic with all my high school and college memorabilia.  Now I have a wooden hope chest at the foot of my bed for all the new items that I want to save. So much easier to lift the lid and tuck something in, than it is to dig a plastic bin out of storage!