No More New Year’s Resolutions!

How Clutter Affects Your Mental and Physical HealthI’m done with resolutions. Resolutions can be broken. Broken resolutions make us feel guilty. I was done with guilt a long time ago. I’m sure many of you may feel the same way. So what do we do to kick of the year? I feel like I have to plan something for 2017 even though big events are going to happen whether I like it or not. My one son is going off to college in the fall. The other one will be starting high school. I’m thinking about a career transition. So I know that we will all be going in new positive directions. But as an organized take-charge person I want to cause these good things to happen. I’m not the type to sit back and wait. (Remember waiting was what I did in December). So if you’re with me in wanting to look forward to this year, but you’re also done with the typical resolutions let’s try a new approach.

  1. Consider what do you want MORE or LESS of in your life this year?  I want more time with old friends so I’ve already started some initiatives to do this. I’m making plans to renew my play subscription at a local theatre for this year. That means I will see two of my closest friends at least 5 times for dinner and a show. I’m also making vacation plans to see my college friends, to take a trip with my daughter and to spend time with my family. These highlights will give me something to look forward to almost every month!  I also want fewer emails that I have to read, and act on, so I’m stepping down from volunteer commitments that cause me to receive so many. This will free up time for productive work and personal endeavors.
  1. What’s been on your TO DO list for a long time? Can you make that happen this year? What will it take?  For example, I want to update my bathroom. I secured estimates a few years ago but then the money wasn’t available so the project stalled. Since then, we’ve taken care of several other home improvements that were less expensive so I feel like we can do it this year. I’ll go back to the contractors, get new estimates and when I have a clear cost, I will start socking away the money until we can pay for the whole project. Then I will schedule it in a month when it makes sense, maybe in the fall when 2/3 kids will be away at school. For major home improvements you really need to think through the project: resources, cost, schedule. Then start making calls!
  1. Who can help you with making your dreams a reality?  If you want to get organized but haven’t been able to do it on your own, hire a professional. Likewise, if you’ve been thinking about a career transition and haven’t made much progress, hire a business coach like I did! I’ve been working with her for a few months and she knows the process so all I have to do is follow her steps and do my homework. That takes a big burden off my shoulders. Maybe you’re tired of cleaning your own house – hiring a cleaning person is a treat that many hard working women deserve. Just do it and save the money somewhere else in your budget. Most of us can’t reach our dreams without a little help.
  1. What’s something you can do every week to make you happy?  Is it mediation, an exercise class or a group that you can join to pursue a passion? Maybe you’ve done it once and just need to continue. Maybe you need time to think about what it is that makes YOU happy. Or maybe you need to do a little research on your options. For instance, I got back into yoga over the holidays when my daughter was home. I remembered that I loved it and I wasn’t doing it enough. So I’m going to continue every week doing yoga for my health and sanity.
  1. Put it all down in your calendar.  Once you have some plans, or ideas for the New Year, write them down on a one sheet Year-At-A –Glance calendar. That way you can see on your big ideas, events and goals for each month. Move things around as necessary. Look forward to the social plans, get excited about your home projects and fill in the blanks where there’s nothing good going on.

I hope you have a happy and fulfilling 2017!

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

spring fever
I don’t like waiting. I like initiating action, following a plan and getting things done. Anyone else with me on this?

And yet, here I am, waiting. Waiting for Christmas like many people are, but on other things as well.

Waiting for Amazon to ship.

Waiting for college kids to come home.

Waiting on insurance to come back with an estimate on my car that’s been totaled.

Waiting for my niece to get out of the hospital.

Waiting to hear if my daughter got the part, if my son got into the college of his dreams, if my other son earned a scholarship to high school.

Waiting stinks. Waiting feels helpless. But then maybe it’s an appropriate mode for this season of Advent. We make as many preparations as we can, but in the end we still wait. Everything is not in our control and things will happen. Hopefully good things will happen in their own time. Someone once told me, “We make plans and God laughs.” He must laugh at me a lot because I make a lot of plans. Many work out. Some don’t at least in my timeframe. And let’s face it, some don’t work out at all, so we go to plan B.

So what’s an organized, Type A personality to do in this state? The best I can come up with is making a list and checking it twice. Making a list is simply a way to keep track of projects or tasks that are not complete. This can be done in a planner or on a smart phone or just by having a visual reminder. I always have a “Waiting on” clear plastic folder that sits on my desk so I know what’s out there, beyond my control until it swings back around. “Checking it twice” just means I look in the folder every couple days to remind myself, and record any progress or see if there’s something I can do to move the process along. Yesterday I found something I could do to move the insurance company along – they needed the car accident police report so I went and picked it up, scanned and emailed it to them. And yet I’m still waiting, but maybe that check will arrive one day sooner.

The other thing to do is focus on what I can control. I can do my work, prepare for Christmas, and make myself a better person through reading, exercising, or taking a seminar. I can take on a creative project just to see some results. And through it all I will learn patience. It’s a virtue, my mother tells me.

So what is it you are waiting on? Can you take some action today to move it along? If not, what can you do to divert your attention?

 

7 Tips for Staying Focused at Work

spring feverHas Spring Fever hit you yet? Do you find yourself gazing out the window and losing focus at work? Is it harder to come back after your lunch break? I think we all can relate to that. So here are a few productivity tips that can help you focus on your work while you are there. And on the flip side, these tips may help you clear your mind when you’re not there!

  1. As you drive to work, pick a focal point on your normal drive and don’t think about the office until you hit that point. It’s like a visual reminder that you are switching your brain on to work mode. Likewise, do the same on the ride home. Give yourself a few minutes to power down from your busy work day and then let your mind wander for the rest of the ride home and allow yourself to think about what’s happening there or what will happen once you walk through the door.

    2. Start your day with a list of the 6 most important things you have to do. Prioritize them and schedule the hardest work when your mind is clear and engaged. Schedule easier items or low energy tasks for that part of the day when you feel sluggish.

    3. Don’t answer emails first thing in the morning. Instead, triage them. Take a look, see if anything is urgent, delete what is unnecessary and if you must answer some, set a timer on your cell phone so you don’t get sucked in for longer than 15 minutes. Remember, answering other’s emails is taking care of their “To Do” list, not yours.

    4. This goes against Feng Shui, but if you work in a cubicle, have your back to the opening. It keeps you from being distracted by passers by.

    5. Set up your desk like an assembly line – left to right or right to left. Have your “To Do” pile on one side, an open work area in the middle and a “Going Out” pile on the other end.  At the end of the day, move out what needs to be delivered, mailed, etc. and straighten your To Do pile with the most urgent item on top. Use this pile to create your list for the next day.

    6. Obviously, things come up during the day that may distract you from your plan. So take a moment at lunch to reprioritize. You may also have to do this at 3 pm to determine what will get done today and what will have to move to another day of the week.

    7. If you work in a high stress or fast paced environment, get up and walk outside during your breaks. This will clear your head and renew your energy to go on to the next thing.

What do you do to stay focused at work? I’d love to hear!

How Organizers Help Their Children

abs-coverHaving been in this business for thirteen years now, I have met many professional organizers like me who have children. I have been in their homes, heard their stories and it’s very clear that the organizational skills we possess are used not only in our businesses, but in our parenting skills as well. I was at one friend’s home last night and I had to laugh when I saw the “visual reminder” posted for her two young children in her kitchen. I recently put one on my own refrigerator to remind my boys of all the good/healthy things they should be doing every day; things that I find myself nagging them about constantly. To save myself some breath, I typed it up in a colorful professional memo. This list includes tasks like, floss, exercise, read a chapter in a book or an article, do something nice for someone else, etc. They are teenagers and I’m trying to get them to think outside of their own little world as well as to remember all the things I use to do for them when they were little.

So I thought about what our kids are exposed to in an organized household. There’s a lot of good there, but there is also a fine line. Too much structure, and the kids will rebel. So I’ve boiled it down to a few skills or lessons that you can learn from the professional organizer parent and apply in your own home if you are eager to calm the chaos and teach your children some life skills before they pack up and move away.

  1. Visual Reminders – Like the notes on the frig, anything that reminds a child to do something without mom or dad having to say it a million times is helpful. (I recommend the daily chore chart which can be downloaded from my Products page.) One of my absolutes is “put it where you use it.” So if your child needs to brush their retainer every night, put it on the bathroom sink. Need a bag for sports? Put it by your front door. But too many visuals can be overwhelming so limit the number.
  2. Routines – My daughter in college still likes to do her nightly routine. Her friends tease her as she brushes her teeth, washes her face, puts on PJ’s and starts to unwind. Many of them just crash in their bed whenever they get exhausted. But routines bring comfort. So help your children develop their own, like reading before bed, packing their lunch and schoolbag in the evening or cleaning out their locker every Friday. These routines will help their day and their weeks run smoothly.
  3. Time Management – As children get into middle school, help them find a planner that makes sense. Write down all their activities, part -time work and homework assignments. For long-term projects, help them work backwards from the deadline to meet certain milestones. Using a planner where they can see a month at a glance, a week at a glance and still have room for daily tasks will help them with meeting their goals. (Check out the Student planner on my Products page.)
  4. Goal Setting/Prioritizing –On more than one occasion I have sat down with my children and talked about their priorities. When so much is going on from exams to college applications to tryouts it’s easy to lose focus and get stressed out. It helps to talk it out and write it down. Ask questions like, what do you need to do first? How important is this? Limit the priority list to 3-4 items, so when daily stresses and decisions come up, they can ask themselves, “Is this supporting one of my priorities?” It also helps when they are bored and don’t know what to do. You can always do something to work towards your next goal.
  5. Decision Making – Any organizer will tell you that the crux of disorganization is the lack of decision-making. You can teach your children at an early age to make simple decisions. I encourage parents to do this with school art projects: go through the pile and let your child decide Yes or No to keep something. Then move on. They can do this with clothing, toys, etc. When they get older, it may be about activities to join, or colleges to apply to. Make sure they have some criteria for making the bigger decisions and that they think it through on the front end. Some people go through life avoiding decisions and second-guessing themselves, these people are usually unhappy.
  6. Money management – One thing organized parents do is give their children chores and pay them an allowance. This may be in the form of money or a point system. With a point system, the child can redeem points for extra screen time or a special treat. It all teaches them the value of work and money. When they start earning money through their part time job, it’s a great idea to have them put half in the bank and keep the other half for discretionary spending. Before they go away to college, make a budget plan with them. I suggested my daughter take the same amount of cash out of the ATM every week, this is her spending money. I discourage the use of debit cards because it’s easy to deplete your savings and not even know where the money went. It’s more “real” to spend cash. When it’s gone, it’s gone. Credit cards are even worse for college kids because they tend to live beyond their means, which is a bad habit to get into as an adult. As soon as they have a part time job, your kids could be paying for some of their living expenses like car insurance, and phone bills. If kids never know the cost of their own luxuries they will be in for a rude awakening when they start to live on their own.

So these are a few areas where I see many organized parents really instill good habits in their children. I hope you can take some or all of these tips and try them in your own family. If you think your kids won’t listen to you or if you want your kids to be more organized than you are, we are happy to work with your child directly. It’s my observation that children of really disorganized parents tend to be neater. And some children of perfectionists tend to rebel against the order imposed on them. So as with all things, moderation is key. If they have a good homework routine, and can make practical decisions, then dirty clothes on the floor may not be a big deal.

What organization skills have you taught (or would like to teach) your children?

Lessons from Groundhog Day – The Movie

billmurrayI hadn’t watched the movie, Groundhog Day in a long time but with the snow melting outside and thoughts of the new year, Time Management Month and personal life-changes in my head, I decided to watch it again. It’s a classic and there’s no other movie like it. I find there is something comforting about this movie with scenes of a cozy small town getting so excited about an age-old tradition like watching a groundhog and predicting the length of winter. I also think there are some life lessons to be learned from Bill Murray’s character, Phil Connors.

To summarize the plot: Phil is a self-entered jerk of an anchorman who gets caught in the loop of waking up everyday in the same place, Punxsutawney, PA where he is covering the events on Groundhog Day. At first his reaction is disbelief and curiosity about what is happening. Then he decides to take advantage of the situation and steals money, picks up women, etc. He then starts to wonder about how he can break this spell. When he believes he can’t, his mood turns to depression and he even attempts suicide. For a while he is just apathetic, going through the motions of the day not caring about what he does because it has no effect. He will still wake up and tomorrow will be Feb. 2nd again. Finally, he decides to use this time warp to his betterment. He takes piano lessons, learns to speak French, and make ice sculptures, etc. At least he is getting more out of life!  When he finally decides to use his predictable life to help those in need, he finds happiness and love and the spell is broken.

Lessons I pull from this story:

  1. We’ve all had a point in our life when we wake up and feel like we are stuck doing the same thing everyday and not liking it
  2. Routines can make us feel safe, calm, relaxed and comfortable but…
  3. Doing the same thing everyday can quickly get boring and leave us miserable, or apathetic
  4. Taken to an extreme, that boredom can turn to carelessness & hopelessness
  5. If we change the way we look at our routine we can make the most of our time each day
  6. Taking up a hobby or learning something new is a great way to break up the monotony
  7. There are people we see everyday. We can choose to ignore them, or talk to them and take an interest
  8. If we use our time to help others and make them feel good, life will turn around for the better
  9. Even if our life is predictable, changing our attitude and our actions can make us feel more productive, happy and hopeful.
  10. Don’t drive angry.

Leave a comment about what you think of the movie:

Organize Your Home-Based Business

cover shotMany moms I know are trying to create that life balance with a home-based business. It’s a great idea, and I should know because I’ve tried a few! When my first child was young, I sold Mary Kay. That was a great way to go out in the evening, meet with other women and make a little extra money. I also got my own products at a discount, which saved money too. But I soon decided I did not want to be out at night when my kids were in school all day. And keeping inventory was becoming a problem. So I created my organizing business, which had no inventory, and the hours I work evolved every year as my children grew along with my client base. So here are some tips I’ve learned along the way to help keep my business running smoothly. Keep in mind, that you’re never finished with this process, it’s more a “rinse & repeat.” You find what works well with your life as it is now and stick to the basics.

  1. Decide your hours – when the kids are small, working at night and on weekends might be a good idea if your spouse can take care of them while you’re out. When they are in full time school though, I found I wanted to work 9-4 so I could be there when they left and when they got home. Whatever works for your family – set the hours and stick to them. Take off your business hat when it’s time to be mom and vice versa.
  2. Create an office – Believe it or not I see people who work from home and drag their laptop all around the house, have paperwork everywhere and wonder why their business is not organized. Even if you have a small desk and 2-drawer file cabinet in the corner of a room, you can make it an office. I find it’s easier to concentrate on work when I sit there with everything I need at my fingertips.
  3. Keep a list of clients – From your first one to the person who calls you on the phone just to ask about your pricing. This will give you a list to go back to when business is slow. You can use a simple Excel spreadsheet or go to a Contact management system so you can send them information via email.
  4. Communicate regularly – Speaking of list of clients, what can you say to them? Well, a blog that goes out the same time each week, a monthly newsletter with some tips or news or an Evite for a special event. These are all ways to get in front of your customers over and over again. You never know what will spark their interest!
  5. Be easy to deal with – I see so many people caught up in logistics of running their business that they fail to just listen to what the customer needs and fulfill that need. Too much formality may scare some people off. Whether it has to do with payment, or scheduling or what type of work you are doing, try to be flexible and meet the customer’s needs.
  6. Use the phone! Given all the ways to communicate with people now, we often forget the phone. It is personal so that is key in a service-based business. Pick up the phone and check in with a no-pressure question that is specific to your client’s situation. When my appointment calendar is empty, I call it dialing for dollars. Just by making phone calls I will start booking with people who had been “meaning to call me.”
  7. Always look professional – in my business we get dirty but professional, and I always error on the side of being a little dressed up especially on my first meeting. As I get to know a client, I mirror their image and then step it up one notch. So if the client wears sweats, I might wear jeans and a casual top. If I’m working in an office of course I wear dress pants and a blouse.
  8. Share some personal info – but not too much! In a service business we get to know our customers pretty intimately. It’s good to share your own stories so they feel comfortable with you. But hesitate from giving too much information to where it becomes a discussion all about you. You are the professional; they are the clients so it’s really all about them.
  9. Say Thank You and ask for referrals – No surprise here but referrals are a big part of a small business. Many of us forget to ask for them! Make a point of this a few times a year and maybe offer an incentive to your clients for sending you their friends.
  10. Assess your financials monthly, quarterly and annually – When you love what you do and the checks are coming in, don’t forget to record them! Keeping track of your income & expenses may surprise you. You may be making less than you think or you might have peaks and valleys throughout the year. Use Excel or QuickBooks to track your money so you know what is worth doing over and where you may plan ahead for slow times of the year. Quarterly reports can help you predict the rest of the year and annual assessments can help you adjust your overall business plan.

What do you find hard about running your small business?

Shake Up Your Email Inbox

compter personOk, so it’s the end of the week and I like to wrap things up so when Monday morning comes, I know exactly what I have to do. Also, if there are any responses I can get in before the week is up, I like to do those too. But like many of you I have a full inbox in my email. By the end of the week I’m tired of looking at certain messages. They are in there because I don’t want to deal with them or I’m waiting on something. Let me explain that I use my email “inbox” as sort of a TO DO bin. If it’s in there, I have to do something with it. And if it’s been there for a while, it means it’s not urgent. So I think I need to shake up my in bin – just like I would do with a stack of papers that has been sitting too long on my desk. Re-arrange it and take a fresh look and maybe something magical will happen! Here are a few ideas to help you as I help myself get that mailbox as close to 0 as I possibly can:

  1. Tri-age your inbox every day – delete what you don’t want right now or don’t have time to read right now. If you find yourself deleting the same messages daily, consider “unsubscribing” to certain email lists.
  2. If you can answer it now – DO IT! The ball is in receiver’s court once you answer.
  3. Leave messages in your inbox if you will answer them at a later time. Hence creating your virtual “TO DO” bin.
  4. Try sorting your inbox by “sender.” That way you can see all messages from one person and possibly handle all the issues with one phone call. Then delete those messages.
  5. Try sorting your inbox by date received. You can start with the oldest dates and then decide if something is more than a week old, for example, it’s over. Let it go. Delete and move on. Ok maybe a month old is more reasonable.
  6. If you sort with the latest dates on top, handle what you can first then as you go down in the list you may be able to delete some items that are no longer urgent.
  7. You can also sort your inbox by the subject. That way you can pull together all comments on a certain subject and possibly eliminate a few or keep the latest.
  8. If you’ve got some important information in your inbox that you need to save for future reference, make a file folder -just like you would do with paper. Don’t forget to peruse your file folders occasionally to see if anything is irrelevant and can be deleted. Remember the bigger the file, the less likely you are to use it. So keep files specific.
  9. If the virtual TO DO bin is not working for you, consider transcribing all these TO Do’s into your daily planner. Assign each to a reasonable day of the next week when you can handle them. Everybody remembers differently but writing and seeing these items on a daily calendar will make them more tangible than a list on a computer.
  10. Shut down your email and enjoy your weekend!

How do you clean out your email? I would love to see your comments:

Absolute #10 – Routines are a Must!

deb4_0689-300x225Ok, so here it is – the final Absolute of Organizing. It’s the most important because after organizing is a project it really is a process. A process that you have to do every day or you’ll be back at square one with a mess on your hands. So create daily routines to keep your life & home running smoothly.

Think about it – did you ever walk out of the house without brushing your teeth or putting on deodorant? Ok maybe once or twice but not daily. That’s because you probably have a hygiene routine you follow each morning. If you forget something crucial, it’s most likely because your routine was interrupted. So if other things about your life are frequently forgotten, think about where you need a routine.

Mail – The most common routine I see missing is how to handle the mail. Many of you know this so I’ll just keep it simple. Open the mail, sort it into: To Do, To Read, To File and then move your piles to where you will handle them.

Email is much like the paper mail. You must have a routine or you will get sucked in! Triage it in the morning. This means mark as spam any messages that you will NEVER read. Delete messages that you won’t read today but may want sometimes. RESPOND to anything that is a quick answer or urgent. FILE any emails that you will need to reference in the future (yes you can create folders right on your email). And if you are in a rush or your timer has gone off, leave all remaining emails in your Inbox – these are your To Do’s which can be handled later. At lunch time, check for urgent emails again and then in the evening if you have time, clear those non-urgent emails in your inbox.

Hectic times of day – if it’s the morning rush or the post work/school rush that has you pulling your hair out, create a routine. Maybe it’s to put on the news while you cook dinner or clean up dishes from the day. Maybe it’s to delegate to your children setting the table or walking the dog. Whatever it takes to calm down a chaotic time. If you have a morning routine you can actually doing it while sleep walking!

Weekly/Monthly Tasks – Think about the things that have to get done weekly like trash, laundry, and food shopping, then assign a day for each. Monthly tasks like bill paying should also have a routine that includes one place where you put the bills and all the materials you need to pay them at hand. Then you need to schedule it.

Straightening the house – The simplest way to keep a house straightened is to have all family members straighten their bedrooms in the morning and the common areas at night. At the very least, get items to the right room even if they are not put away.

 I hope that gives you some ideas to get your routines started in the place where you most need them! What are some of your organizing routines? Leave a comment:

Help Your Kids set Goals

goalsAt this time of year there’s a lot of focus on adults getting their acts together. We want to get in shape, save money, make more money, reach new milestones. But what about our kids? If we help them develop goals, gain focus and make a plan, I believe that will give them a life skill that they will use over and over again throughout their lives.

Just the other day, my sixth grader received a letter that he had written to himself one year ago. His clever fifth grade teacher had each child fill out a simple form with: Books I’d like to read in 2014, Things I’d like to learn more about, One thing I’d like to change,etc. Then she had them address the letter to themselves and she mailed them this January 1. That’s one way to do it, and it was interesting to see where his mind was at last year, but if he never looked at those goals or made a detailed plan to reach them what are the chances of success? Not very good I tell you.

As parents, here’s a few things you can do to help your kids start off the year with some attainable goals.

1. Write it Down Annual Goals – Sit down with your child one on one. Ask her what does she want to achieve this year? Maybe it’s an academic achievement, or making a sports team, or learning a new skill. Then talk about when he/she can do on a day to day basis to reach that goal. Putting it in writing solidifies the goal. And posting it on a bulletin board, white board or a simple post-it on the desk gives him a constant visual reminder of what he’s working towards. Also put daily or weekly tasks into a daily planner so your child remembers to do these.

2. Check in on a weekly basis – Sunday nights might be a good time to talk as your family looks ahead to the new week. Check academic assignments or tests that are coming up. See what your child has planned in the way of extra-curriculars for the week. Don’t overload the schedule but make sure that there is time for productivity.

3. Positive Feedback – As your child reaches little milestones, tell them you are proud. If you want to reward them in other ways, okay. But parental approval and confidence does go a long way in motivating your adolescent to keep going!

4. Have a plan B – So it might not all go perfectly. Kids fail tests, they don’t make the team, they don’t get elected sometimes. It’s a life lesson that they may as well learn now. So help them dust off and come up with a plan B. For example if your son doesn’t make the school football team, is there a less competitive team he can play on during that season? If your child fails a test, immediately ask the teacher about extra credit. If your child runs for an office and loses, is there another committee he/she can volunteer for? You may be surprised how many options are out there until you search and ask the question.

5. Help them re-prioritize  – Each year in school brings a new challenge. This is especially true in high school. One year the goal might be to get a driver’s license, another year it’s get into a dream college, or get a part-time job. There’s so much thrown at students these days that it’s really helpful for a parent to narrow down the priorities to maybe three per semester. Talk about them, post them and this helps the kids focus.

I will say that I have learned this through experience. I have a daughter who was very involved in high school. She was loyal to her various committees and activities. Sometimes I had to remind her to focus on her own priorities of getting good grades, getting into college and working a part-time job. On a day to day basis, this helped her focus. My sons are athletes and the competition gets tougher the older they get. My husband helps them design a workout routine to make sure they are at their best condition when tryouts occur. I help them look at long term projects and set interim deadlines. Kids seem to think they have all the time in the world and they only think about what’s happening tomorrow. Parents can provide a great service in helping them see the big picture and plan ahead to meet their goals.

 

Get Ready for the Holidays!

RoastTurkey

Happy November! If you’re a planner, like me, you can’t help but think about what’s around the corner…Thanksgiving, and Christmas, family meals, gifts, decorations, cards, oh my!  But a little planning and a few deep breaths can go a long way in helping you get prepared and then enjoy the holidays as you should.

Here are a few things you can start doing now in order to get a jump start on the winter holiday season:

1. Asked your loved ones for gift suggestions. Or just be very observant if you don’t want to ask them outright. Start forming a list of ideas, especially if you have kids and a spouse that you buy for every year. Then you can start looking for those things on sale or grab coupons for the stores they love and buy a little early.

2. Clean out your pantry to get ready for cooking. Spices has expiration dates so toss the old stuff. Check your recipes for your traditional holiday meals or maybe a few new dishes you want to try and make sure you have all the ingredients. Again, make a list of what you need and then go shopping! Make sure your carving knife is sharpened for the turkey.

3. Talk to relatives about the holidays to know who’s coming when and if you need to spruce up the spare bedroom, now is the time! Clear the clutter that may have been tossed in there all year and make sure you have some nice sheets and towels for the guests.

4. If you send holiday cards, decide now if you are going to use a photo that you have or take a new one. Then place your order on-line with Shutterfly or Snapfish or anywhere else you can purchase photo greeting cards. If you are sending traditional ones, purchase them now.  In either case, make sure your address list or book is up to date and create mailing labels in a word document to make it easier to address the envelopes.

5. Take a look at your calendar or day planner and map out all the major things you want to get done before the holidays. For example, your checklist might look like this:

  • Shopping for gifts
  • Decorations Up
  • Cards Addressed
  • Presents wrapped
  • Tree Decorated
  • Cookies baked
  • Food shopping for the holiday meal

Then assign a week for each task (probably more than 1 week for shopping) and put that goal on your calendar. That will give you something to shoot for and help you focus on one task at a time. Try to finish everything a day before the actual holiday so you have time for last minute details or unexpected events. Then do something festive that you enjoy after all the hustle and bustle is done.

Organizing Your College Student

Most of what parents talk about when moving a child to college is all the “stuff” they need. I have never been an organizer who focuses on the products – I focus on the process first. And so it was with moving my daughter to college. All summer her friends where buying bins, containers and bookshelves and we waited until a couple weeks before her move to do that. Don’t get me wrong, I loved going to the Container Store with her and buying some pretty stacking bins and then some new bedding at Bed, Bath  & Beyond. But I first talked with her about her chosen major, career development and money management. We also talked about social issues and what she might see in college that she hadn’t seen in her sheltered life here at home.

So life skills that I believe college students need to know:

  1. Budgeting their money – There are basics like writing a check, keeping a ledger and balancing your account. With debit cards its very easy to loose track of what you’ve spent.  If you give your student a lump sum to take with her and put into a new account, also give her a weekly budget. For example:  If you have $1000 for a semester (16 weeks) you can spend $50 a week and still have $200 left over at winter break. Other points with money:
    • if you have a meal plan, don’t waste money on other food
    • If you have to spend more than your weekly allowance, call home and we will discuss
    • Don’t get a credit card while in college
    • Do take a part time job on campus if it doesn’t interfere with studies
    • Make sure you know your cell phone plan so you don’t run up the bill
    • It’s good to have a job at home you can come back to on winter break and next summer
  1. Keeping themselves safe – There are certain things that we do for our children to keep them safe at home, so remind them:
    • Lock their dorm room doors at all times
    • Travel in groups
    • Keep the locator on their cell phone
    • Report suspicious people to campus police
    • Know the fire escape route in the dorm
  2. Staying healthy – College students notoriously beat their bodies up so go over good every day habits like:
    • Stay hydrated
    • Wash your hands
    • Take vitamins
    • Eat fruits & vegetables
    • Boost your immune system with vitamin C, exercise, sleep!
  3. Making major decisions – Bill Rancic and I do the same thing, we make pros and cons lists when making a big decision. I also tell my kids to talk it out:
    • If I do A, what will that look like? Feel like? Will that effect other people? If I do B what will that look like? Etc.
    • Do I need more information to make this decision?
    • When does this have to be decided? Can I sleep on it?
    • What is my gut telling me?
  4. Finding a career – Probably the biggest decision your child will make in the college years is what to major in. For my daughter who has a talent and passion for theatre I said, “Do what you love and figure out how to make money at it.” Some parents might not agree with me and that’s okay. But her passion earned her a scholarship so that got her in the door. Now she needs to learn in four years how to make a living at it. That might mean taking on a minor or a dual major. Or it might mean switching her major before she graduates. All of this is common today and I told her not to worry about in the first year. What I did tell her was:
    • Just do the best at what you’re doing right now.
    • Take advantage of every opportunity or career connection your school has
    • Ask people in the business for advice
    • Have a plan B

Many kids have no idea what job they want to do. For them I say, look at big categories of careers and decide what you don’t want to do to narrow it down. Think about:

  • Health care
  • Law
  • Business
  • Entertainment
  • Education
  • Computers

Once you have a short list of possible career industries, look at schools that offer all of those and start with general courses. The fact is, there are jobs out there that you’ve never heard of. Once you get into different subjects in college the light bulb might go on!

Arranging Your Office Cleaning

Arranging the big business clean you needWhen it comes to getting that big seasonal cleaning solution for your business, finding the right professional cleaning services can be difficult. With so many needs and possibilities, what is the best way to find the right services to suit your requirements? Getting your business as clean as possible is one thing, but finding the right company to provide those real deep clean services can be quite another. However, it can be made a great deal easier by following a series of steps designed to filter out the companies which don’t suit your needs. Follow these steps in order to find out just how to find out which company is able to suit your seasonal cleaning needs:

 

1. Timing – The first thing to establish when planning a big cleaning solution is to figure out the time frame in which you would like to operate. By establishing the best time in which to get your cleaning done, you can ensure that the operation does not interfere with your business commitments. While the general idea behind seasonal cleaning for your business is to make sure that customers get the best possible experience, this should not be done at the expense of your company’s ability to perform to its full potential. By finding a time which suits you, your business and your customers, you can ensure that your seasonal cleaning service provides the maximum amount of return on investment without interfering with your trade.

2. Scope – As well as establishing which time suits you best, it is also vital to establish which services you will need, such as upholstery cleaning, floor cleaning, window cleaning, carpet cleaning and more, in order to get your place of business as clean as possible. With every company requiring various services, the list of requirements will vary from company to company. As such, it is important to understand which services will benefit you the most and to plan your office cleaning accordingly. Depending on the type of business you run, whether it is a store front or an office space, the services which you require will alter accordingly. If this is the first time which you have performed a deep cleaning operation at your business, it might be worth enquiring with a professional office cleaning service as to which solutions will make a real difference. Once you have an idea of what you need to get the best results, then it is time to move on to the next step.

3. Frequency – Do keep in mind that seasonal cleaning can be a one-off ocurrence, while you can greatly benefit from a contract with a cleaning company for a more regular, everyday solution to your cleaning problems if you believe you need it. You may want to hire a fully vetted cleaning company, allowing you to trust them and what they have to offer. Read the contract carefully and see what responsibilities it covers on their end before you sign. Choosing an individual over a company may be a decent choice for a smaller business, but if you’re running a company this will not be the most logical choice in terms of efficiency.

4. Budget – Armed with the knowledge of when you will be needing the cleaning solution and which services you require, you can now begin to get in contact with professional cleaning services in order to find out what the possible price will be. By contacting a number of companies, you can compare and contrast prices, allowing you to make sure that you get the very best value for money. As well as comparing prices, talking to a number of companies will allow you to better establish which services will really suit your needs and the chance to talk to a cleaning expert can better inform you of how to go about the cleaning operation.

Once you have found the company with whom you wish to do business, the only thing which remains is to sit back and enjoy your newly cleaned business premises. With the cleaning services rendered, both you and your customers can enjoy the benefits of a thoroughly cleaned property. After the service has been completed, it might be worth asking the cleaning company for any tips which can help you maintain this level of cleanliness for the longest possible time.

Guest Post by: Ella Andrews

Ella Andrews is dedicated writer and keen home improvement specialist. She gets inspiration by exploring new sources of information regarding household maintenance. Presently she writes mostly about office organizing.

Absolute #8 – Finish One Thing Before You Start Another

secretaryLong before any one heard of ADD, mothers across the globe were telling their rambunctious children to “finish one thing before you start another!” In our world full of distractions today, we adults would do well to heed this mantra.

As a professional organizer, much of what I do entails keeping my clients on task. Just by standing next to them, I encourage them to finish the pile in question, sort it, make quick decisions and then move on. Some don’t like this, they would rather cherry pick – do the task that looks interesting or fun. “We’ll get to that,” I tell them, all in good time. So I always have a plan when organizing with clients and that includes following my own absolute of finishing one thing before we start another. If we are focused on a room, items that belong elsewhere go in a pile or bin right by the door. We don’t leave the room until we are finished. They we move things around. If we are focused on a certain category, like photographs, we don’t worry about the bookshelves in that room. We just do photos until they are under control.

Take a look around your house. Just for fun, try to find all the projects you’ve started and not finished because you got distracted. If you can, put them in a bag or box and mark it. Then prioritize the projects. Next, get out your planner and make an action plan to get them done. If they are a bunch of little things, try to finish all of them in one Saturday. With larger projects try one per week or month. With these projects complete, you’ll have less clutter and more room for fun stuff!

But finishing one thing before you start another also applies to consumable products. Do you have 5 half squeezed toothpaste tubes in your bathroom? Six different shampoos or lotions open? How many ketchups do you have in your fridge? Just sayin…I once cleaned out a fridge that had 10 half gallons of ice cream in it. Some were freezer burnt so the homeowner would never feed those to guests. I suggested that if it’s not good enough for guests, it shouldn’t be there! When you do a kitchen or bathroom clean out, remember to keep the best, toss the rest and don’t buy anymore of that item until you really need to. If something is getting low, put it on your grocery list.

By following this rule, you can stay focused on tasks, feel a lot more productive on a daily basis and waste fewer products around your home.

What is it YOU need to finish before you start the next project?

Simple Summer Pleasures

beach

Now that I am back from vacation, I’d like to share with you some simple pleasures that I find at the beach. My hope is that we can incorporate some of these into our daily lives, even when we are not at the beach or on vacation. As Hemingway said, “Paris is a moveable feast.” So too, is vacation. Simple moments can bring us calm, peace and help rejuvenate us in a hectic world if we are organized enough to make them a priority in our lives.

 

 

Simple Joys

  1. Biking every morning
  2. Going to a farmers’ market and eating that food in the next couple days
  3. Sleeping with the windows open so you can hear the birds in the morning
  4. Ice cream in the afternoon
  5. Having just enough food and clothing to get through the week
  6. Reading on the porch
  7. Cocktails with friends outside
  8. Outdoor showers
  9. Digging your feet in the sand
  10. No computers

I once saw a friend take a beautiful vacation picture of an island beach and pin it to her visor in her car. She said she looked at it every time she needed to take a little vacation – even if she was stuck in traffic. This is the same idea.

What are some simple pleasures you enjoy in the summer?

Absolute #6 – Start with a Good List

cover shotStarting with a good list and sticking to it is just like planning your work and working your plan.  Just the other day, my sister asked, “Are you ready for your graduation party?” Although I haven’t bought a thing or made any food, I said “Yes, I have my plan.” Which basically means I have a list of decorations I want and food I’m planning. I’ve ordered what I can ahead of time and now I just have to execute. The second part of the list is my calendar where I have a list of “To Do’s” each day. I will shop for decorations one week before and then the fresh food the day before the party.  All set.

So if you are a list maker, ask yourself, “Is it thorough and do I stick to it?” A prime example of this is when you go shopping. The point of a shopping list is to keep you on track and sometimes on budget. If you stray from the list with a lot of impulse purchases, you’ve really defeated the purpose. Take your time when making the list and think it through. Then trust it.

Likewise if you start your week or your day with a list of tasks you want to accomplish and then stray from the task at hand, the list does you no good. Obviously things come up that are not planned for, but if you refer back to the list and re-prioritize it on a daily basis, it still keeps your organized. And don’t fall into the habit of having a list of 100 things to do in one day. Assign a date and timeframe that is realistic, otherwise your list will overwhelm you. Make a list of big goals, and then make sure your daily tasks support those goals.

Packing for vacation is a great chance to practice your list making skills. I keep a standard list on my computer for going to the beach for one week. I list food and house items as well as personal things like clothing and sundries. When we pack, I give my kids the list: 4 shorts outfits, 2 bathing suits, books, chargers, etc. I sit with them as they pack so I know they won’t forget anything. Each year I change up the menu but I trust that the list will guide us from year to year. Many things on that list haven’t changed in 10 years.

 

So you don’t need a list of lists but make sure your lists are:

  1. Thorough
  2. Documented on your computer for re-use
  3. Prioritized
  4. Realistic
  5. Followed

5 Organizing Products I can’t live without!

Sometimes it’s the simple things that I realize really keep me and my family organized. Don’t think that you have to spend a lot or fill your cart at Bed, Bath & Beyond or the Container Store to “get organized.” I often say, it’s the process not the products but I do have a few favorites:


 

 

 

 

 

1. My daily planner – Really, how can you live without one? Mine is a Franklin/Covey and it is on paper. I like to touch and see what I have to do. Then I like to cross it off when I complete the task. I have a month at a glance for where I need to be and a daily page to write all the details of my tasks, hourly time schedule and notes about who I spoke with, etc. I plan my week out on Sunday night and then consult my planner each day. You could use a simple notebook and write the date on top of each page, but you still need that month at a glance to get the big picture.

2. My step basket – It sits on my steps and as I straighten the living room each night, stuff that belongs in the bedrooms goes in it. When we go to bed, everything gets back to the right room.  When I’m straightening the bedrooms it gets filled again to go downstairs. Great way to tidy up fast for company, too!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Family Calendar – I have two boys now on 4 baseball teams and a daughter who works and does theatre. Need I say more? My husband and I have to coordinate who’s going where and who’s taking who each night. So it’s all on the family calendar hanging on the fridge. Color coded for each child, of course.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Shoe racks, shelf dividers and double hanging racks for the closets – Ok, technically that is three in one but these are the items that work in most closets. The trick with the shoe rack is to count your shoes before you buy the rack. Most shoe racks have room for 12 pairs, but Container Store has a rolling rack that holds 50! If you have the wall space in your closet, this is my favorite. Now realize you might still have to put out of season shoes away because most women I know have more than 50 pairs of shoes! The shelf dividers keep sweaters from toppling over and the double hanging racks are great for increasing the hanging space if you have the vertical space

5. Big Rubbermaid plastic bins – really you can put these all over your house! Use them for storing old tax papers that you don’t need in your file cabinet. Use them for sports equipment in the garage, pool equipment outside and for putting out of season clothes away in the attic. And of course the color coded ones are great for holiday decorations. These keep moisture, dust and critters out of your items in storage.

What organizing products do you use on a daily basis?

Absolute #4 – If you don’t plan it, it’s not going to happen

 

 

Wow, how many times have you said, “we’ll get to that someday” or “we should get together and do lunch (dinner or coffee)?” The reality of today’s fast-paced, over-scheduled society is that if you don’t intentionally put something on your calendar and plan a date to do something, it’s most likely not going to happen.  And this applies to friendly get-togethers, big projects and even little tasks. Here’s five examples of how you can make it happen and bring some balance and satisfaction to your day, your week, your month and year!

  1. Have a standing date with your best friends or family. I have heard families say to me that every Sunday is dinner at mom’s. Whoever can make it does and mom always makes spaghetti and meatballs and the rest of us bring side dishes. How nice to know that if you want to see your parents or catch up with siblings, you know where they will be every Sunday. Likewise I have for years gotten subscription tickets to a local theatre so five times a year (every other month from Sept. to May) I have a date with my close friends. We go to dinner, catch the show and catch up with each other’s lives.
  2. Plan your year – When it comes to big goals, it’s a good idea to start the year off with some big plans. Whether that is a nice vacation with your spouse or family or it’s a big idea for your job or business. Set a few achievable goals that you can work on through the year. Too many will set you up for failure so stick to a max of three for each area of your life. If you reach those early – by all means, set some more! One year I decided I was going to write a book. I got started in January, did some research on publishers, read some “how to” books and although some of this was luck, I had a publishing contract by May! Imagine what you could do if you set your mind to it.
  3. Plan your month – I always start a month off by looking at what I’d like to do on a personal level and a professional one. I write those goals or projects down in my daily planner. Then when I plan my daily/weekly tasks I make sure they support the larger project. Or if I have an unexpected day or half day to myself and I just don’t know what to work on, I check the list. Anything not accomplished gets carried over to the next month. But it’s still in the plan!
  4. Little projects around the house – Putting work and professional goals aside for a moment, think about what you need and want to get done around the house. Month by month you can plan home improvements. For example, Spring & Fall are good times to clean out places like the garage or basement or closets. You may have to look at the weather but pick a Saturday to do the garage as a family and it will go quickly and may even be fun. Winter months are great times to do inside painting or renovations. Tax time is a great time to clean out the file cabinet and end of school is a great time to clean out kids paperwork. Put it in your planner or on the family calendar.
  5. Who or what have you been neglecting? Think about whom you haven’t spent one on one time with and make a date. If you’d like to continue, make that a weekly or monthly date. How about exercise? I’m sure a lot of us have that gym membership that is going to waste. The only way to get regular is to plan it. Look at your typical week and see where a little extra time can be found. Maybe it’s early in the morning before you have to shower and get off to work. Or maybe there’s some dead time in the evening (7-9 pm) where you could exercise instead of watching TV.  Try it for a few weeks and see if it doesn’t become a habit.

In the interest of work/life balance it’s a good idea to plan something that you enjoy doing every day, every week and every month.

“For in the dew of little things, the heart finds it’s morning and is refreshed.”

-Kahlil Gibran

Summer Sanity Savers – Review

The first thing I like about this book is that it’s short and to the point. Because as a work-from-home mom of three, who has time to read a 200 page How To book?

Prerna offers some great ideas for how to streamline your workload , which really apply to all year, not just the summer. And she offers some great suggestions for delegating, simplifying and prioritizing all the other tasks that go along with being a mom and having a home to run.

I agree that when you delegate to other people, and give your kids responsibilities in the home your business will grow as a result. Years ago I hired a cleaning person to come twice a month so now I just have to straighten daily with the help of my family and do basic cleaning on the in-between weeks. Financially it makes sense too because I pay her less per hour than I make. Less time cleaning = more billable hours for me. And I don’t worry about when I’m going to clean the house.

There are several applications and helpful links that Prerna provides. Personally I’m going to visit Quick Notice and WWSGD to help grow my contact list automatically and create some Canned Responses to emails. I think these will be great time savers for my business.

I love the meal planner sheets because although I sometimes do this in my head, it helps to write it down so that my kids and husband can see the list and we can do a “first one home starts the dinner” kind of approach. In my case, I do not work from home every day, but rather run a business out of my home.

The parenting and activity ideas were also good for pre-school children but the one thing she doesn’t address is the coordination of schedules when your kids are older and more active.  When you have more than one child and throw part-time jobs, summer camps and having friends over into the mix, it gets nutty. The author admits that her husband also works from home and they coordinate their time with their daughter – which is nice and tidy but not a reality for many moms. If she thought the summer with one three-year-old was tough to work through – my life would look like a battlefield in comparison! (Maybe this will be covered in a sequel.)

Start Fresh On Monday with my Special Offer!

I’ve something I want to share with you and it’s coming Monday.

It will help you organize, freshen the house and your life and with Spring we’re all looking for fresh starts.

Want a hint?

Coming Monday, March 24th, the All Organzied eBundle.  A refreshing way to start.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s information on:

  • Organizing

  • Working from Home

  • Schedules

  • Cleaning and

  • Moms

So come back Monday, March 24th at 8am.

 

10 Tips for an Absolutely Awesome Holiday Season

  1. Set a budget and decide how you will pay for Christmas.  For some people it’s easier to take out the cash and only spend that.  If you do a lot of online or catalog shopping, maybe use one credit card or debit card.  If you use a credit card you may want to tuck away your budgeted money into a savings account until the bill comes.  This will prevent that post-holiday shock in January.
  2.  Make your list and check it twice.  In order to set your budget, you’ll need to make a list of all the people you buy for.  Include family, friends, teachers, charity donations and service people that you typically tip for the holidays.  Estimate how much you will spend on each.
  3. With kids, stick to a number of presents and not a dollar amount.  Typically the little toys are cheaper and the kids don’t know the cost anyway.  So if you spend more on your teenager it’s okay.  That one IPod might equal 5 V-tech toys but that doesn’t mean you have to buy them to be fair.  You could set a limit like:  3 toys, one outfit and one book per child so when the presents are un-wrapped it all looks even.
  4. Shop efficiently This could mean doing all of your shopping on-line.  Many companies offer free shipping in Nov & Dec.  Or it could mean going to a store only once.  If you go to Toys R Us for example, take your list and get all the toy gifts at that time. It could also mean buying the same thing for multiple people.  If you buy for your nephews, you could get each of them a sweatshirt in their favorite colors.  Before you go shopping, take all your retail coupons in an envelope with you and check the fine print before you buy so you get the best deal.
  5. Automate your holiday cards.  With so many digital photo companies now, it’s easy to make a great photo card for all your family and friends.  Make sure you do these early so you have them in time.  Also, if you don’t have your address list on the computer, this is the time to do it.  Printing labels is so much easier than writing.  Plus, you can have the children help you stuff and address the envelopes.
  6. Decide when and where the celebrations will take place Speak to both sides of the family and make sure you leave some down time for your immediate family to spend together.  This is a big cause of stress during the holidays – trying to make time for everyone else.  Think about what you want too!
  7. If you are hosting a meal, ask for help.  Most people are willing to make a dish or bring a bottle of wine to a holiday dinner so don’t be a martyr. You provide the entrée and one dessert and let the guests bring the rest.  If you make a big Christmas Eve dinner, then keep Christmas day simple and serve cold cuts.
  8. Remember the kids.  If you are traveling for the holidays even for a day trip to Grandma’s, remember to bring something for the kids to do.  Adults might be fine with having drinks, snacks and catching up with the relatives.  But the kids will be bored if that’s all there is.  Bring along a special craft or a holiday movie to watch.  Or even let them open a new toy when you arrive.
  9. Remember the reason for the season.  It’s not about the stuff you get. It’s more about the time with family and close friends, celebrating a wonderful season. It’s a little about what you give but don’t let that stress you out. Whether you like it simple and quiet or loud and fun, enjoy!
  10. Manage your time.  Like any other project, you have to set interim goals for the holidays.  Here’s a sample schedule:
  • Decorations – outside decorations up during the first weekend of December.
  • Shopping – use the first 2 weeks of December
  • Wrapping & sending cards – use the 3rd week of December
  • Food shopping – make a complete list and go the week before the holiday.
  • Christmas tree – decorate the week before on a Sunday night.
  • Baking and food prep – one or two days before Christmas.

Two Methods of Organizing

I get asked all the time, “How do I keep my house this organized?” especially right after I finish with a client. Organizng is a project first and then it’s a process. Many of you have probably taken a day or more to clean out a room in the house , only to find that a week  – the clutter is back! Life doesn’t stand still so neither does your stuff. The trick is to keep up with things like paperwork, cleaning, laundry, food storage on a regular basis. And if you want to keep up, I believe you’ve got two methods to choose from: The Full Barrel, or the Daily/Weekly Routine methods.

The Full Barrel – I love this term (which I borrowed from a book on food allergy reactions) because it’s so visual. You know what a full barrel looks like. And when it comes to organizing many people use containers (bins, baskets or boxes) to contain their clutter. So the method is that you contain one item or category to a container and when the container is full – you clear it out. That means sorting, purging and taking care of the items or putting them back where they belong. For instance, many people use this for laundry. You have a basket and when it’s full, you do wash. You can also think about a recycle container for newspapers. When its full you move it to the curb.

This system works well for visually motivated people and those who don’t like to live by a strict schedule. Be warned, however that the barrel may spill over at an inopportune moment. But you also don’t have to do any of these tasks until the bin is full so let it go and move on to something else!

The Daily/Weekly Routine – On the flip side, if you don’t want to wait for barrels to spill, and if you like predictability in your life, try the routine method. Invariably there are tasks that we all do every week like; food shopping, laundry, cleaning and taking out the trash. By assigning each task to a certain day you know that once a week these areas will be back to normal. This frees up your other days to do other things. For example, if you food shop on Sunday you can plan ahead for meals, lunches etc. and every week spend about the same money. If you run to the store every other day it’s more expensive. I also believe  if your family has seven outfits, it’s okay to do wash only once a week. Have somebody fold it and everyone can put their own clean clothes away. It’s not hard if it’s only once a week.

Then there are the daily routines like checking email, US mail, cleaning up the kitchen, walking the dog, etc. Delegate where you can so one person is not doing it all. Also set a timer for things like checking email so you don’t let that effect the rest of your day. Whatever is a priority do it first. For example, if you want to go to the gym and work out, don’t turn on your computer or answer the phone before that. Trust me, it will set your whole day off schedule!

Speaking of which, this system works well for people who like a schedule. If your life is such that you don’t have one – then make one! Be your own boss and set hours for certain things like exercise and reading if that’s what you want to do. When left to chance these things will not get done. But don’t forget to leave a little white space in your daily and weekly routines because if you’re over scheduled you’re over stressed!

What routines do you have that keep your home or office running smoothly? Leave a comment.

Back to School Survival Tips for Moms

 Before the tide changes and we go from carefree summer days to the scheduled and often over-scheduled fall, take a moment to consider some of these organizing tips to get you and your family ready for September:

  1. Go through the kids’ clothes to find out what still fits.  Make a list of what they’ll need as far as shoes, clothes, jackets, etc. and go shopping for those items.
  2. Pull out the required school supplies list and see what you already have in house.  Check off what you have and take the list shopping to buy other supplies.  Put everyone’s supplies in their backpack or a separate bag.
  3. One week before school starts, (or at least a few days) practice going to bed on time and waking up when you would need to for school.  Use the extra time to spend outside in the morning, or catching up on things you wanted to do all summer.
  4. If you don’t have one, make a file for “School Information” and “Kids Activities” for each child.  This could be a hanging file or a pocket folder.
  5. Create activity bags for after school sports, lessons or classes. That way the kids can grab & go! Have hooks for these bags in a mudroom or front closet.
  6. Decide where & when homework will be done.  For younger children the kitchen or dining room table might work if they need help from parents.  For older children a desk in their room is better for concentration.
  7. Establish a morning routine for yourself and the kids. For non-readers you can make a pictogram of what they need to do in the morning:  get dressed, make bed, eat breakfast, and brush teeth.
  8. Hang a family calendar in your kitchen so everyone knows where they need to be each day.  Also mark half days and days off so you know when you need to be home for the kids or have a babysitter.
  9. Handle school papers and forms every day.  Go through the papers as the kids are doing homework.  Read each, trash it or put it in a “to do” or “to file” pile.  Mark significant dates on a Family Calendar and throw away the paper whenever possible.  Keep your To Do pile on a desk or hall table so you look at it every day until it’s done.
  10. When the kids are back in school – take a day off for yourself! Get a massage, a haircut or mani/pedi. Get together with other moms & celebrate – you survived the summer!

Get Motivated to Organize!

Let’s play a word association game. I say “organize” and you think…Yuk? Boring? No time?

Well what if I told you there are some people who think it’s fun? Organizing is one of those things like exercising and paying taxes that we all have to do at some time in our life, so why not make it fun? And yes there is a small majority of the population that already enjoys organizing. Did you catch Sheldon Cooper on the Big Bang Theory recently? He begged Leonard, “Oh please, can’t I stay just five more minutes?” when he was organizing Howard’s closet. I like to believe you don’t have to be a geek to enjoy organizing.

So for those of you who don’t long to get your hands on a labeler and sorting bins, I offer the following motivation for you and your family to get motivated to organize and have some fun in the process.

1. Set a time limit. Don’t make an organizing project an endless weekend of drudgery, but then again don’t fool yourself and think you can answer the phone, or run out and do a quick errand in the middle of a project. Typical limits are 6-8 hours for a full room overhaul and about 2-3 hours for a typical closet. Set a timer and try to beat the clock. Turn off the phones & TV’s and any other distractions. Do put on some music with a fast beat, have a drink and a snack ready when you start. When time starts to run out, make the music faster and challenge yourself to get it done. (My family cleans out the garage twice a year and we can now get it done in 1.5 hours)

2. Enlist some help. If you have kids and a spouse, get them involved! Or if you’d rather, ask a girl friend to help you and then you can help her with one of her projects. Delegate duties based on everyone’s personality. A big burly husband can do the heavy lifting. A kid who can’t keep still can be the one to drag boxes or bags of donations out to the car. A person who likes to sit in one place can sort or shred papers or make labels. When the project is finished, take everyone out for a meal or a special treat. (pizza and ice cream are always crowd pleasers)

3. Treat yourself. When you’ve completed a room that could use a little sprucing up, go shopping for new curtains, a nice picture, a plant or throw pillows. (I love Home Goods for this stuff)Finish your closet and go shopping for clothes that you need, but not too much! It’s your reward for an organizing project well done. I say make room for the good stuff. Many of my clients tell me after a room is finished, they keep going back to it just to enjoy how it looks! When you finish your closet, it’s like getting a new wardrobe.

4. Make it a game. When my kids were toddlers, I would trick them into picking up the toys. We had different colored round tubs for each category: one for stuffed animals, another for balls and so on. I’d ask my daughter to pick up the stuffed animals, my son to pick up the balls and they would shoot them like basketballs into the right container. (Nothing like a little sibling competition to finish first or get the most in)

5. Make some money. The first time I had my boys clean out the toy bin, I sold their give-aways at a children’s consignment shop and told them they could keep the money. They each made $25 and they were more motivated to do it again the next year! Check out local consignment shops to see what you could sell from your unused clothing, household items and toys. Money is always a motivator.

Are we having fun yet?

If the chaos of December is putting a “ba-humbug” in your holiday, it’s always best to start with a plan. There are little things you can do before, during and after the holidays to ensure you have it all under control.

 Before

    1. Start with a good list of who you need to buy gifts for and a budget for each person. Once you have gift ideas, make a list of stores where you need to shop so you can hit them each once.
    2. If you like to shop on-line, do it early and save the receipts in a folder marked, “Waiting On.” That way you can keep track of what should be delivered. It’s easy to forget in holiday rush!
    3. To budget your time, make a list of the eight most important things to get done for Christmas. Do two a week.

During

  1. If you’re sending greeting cards it’s easiest to have a file with mailing labels on your computer.  Then, as you receive your holiday cards you can make note of any changes in people or addresses right on your file so you’re ready for next year.
  2. If you’re hosting the holiday dinner, make the entrée and one side dish. Ask those who are coming to also make a side dish or dessert or bring the wine. Everyone sharing the load makes it a lot easier on the host and most people are happy to oblige!
  3. If you’re going to grandparents’ house, bring something for the little ones to do: a craft, a movie or one new toy.

 

After

  1. After the holiday shopping is a great time to clear out your pile of catalogs and magazines. Scan the magazines for any great ideas and place those in a folder or binder.  Recycle the rest and get ready for a whole new year of new ideas and things to buy.
  2. As you are packing away the holiday decorations, take a look at what’s left in boxes. Toss or donate the decorations you did not put up this year. Places to donate: schools, libraries, senior centers or local theatre groups.
  3. Make a “use it or lose it” date for your left-overs. Sure those turkey sandwiches taste great but a week or two later all should be gone. Give your refrigerator a fresh start too. I recommend square & clear containers for the refrigerator.

What do you do to keep the holiday peaceful?

Scheduling Your Projects

Life is so busy these days with both parents working and kids involved in so many activities, how does anyone keep their house organized? you may wonder.  I believe that involving the family in the projects and the process is the answer and in the long run, being organized will save you,not cost you time. Here are 5 tips on how to get through all your organizing and home improvement projects:

1. Check the Project Plan weekly– If you have a “House Projects Plan” book or binder I suggest you keep it in a central location where you and your husband can easily access it.  As you plan out your week together you can refer to this book if your schedule allows for a home improvement project. Don’t wait for that one magic day when you all have noting to do.

_______________________________________________

Absolute: If you don’t plan it, it’s not going to happen!

_______________________________________________

2. Don’t leave all the home improvement work for the weekend either.  Sometimes a project may only take 2 hours and you could get it done together on a weeknight.  Or sometimes a big Saturday project may take some prep work that could be done on Thursday or Friday evening.  For instance, if you are going to paint the living room on Saturday, maybe the two of you could move furniture, bring in the drop cloth, and put up the painter’s tape on Friday night after the kids are asleep.  Then whoever is painting can jump right in on Saturday morning

3. Consider your kids – When scheduling projects think about what the kids will be doing at that time.  If one parent can tackle a job, then the other parent can help by taking the children out of the house.  If you both want to do a project, then maybe you can have the kids go to a friend’s or grandma’s house. If possible, plan projects for a weekday if all your kids are in school and you and your husband can take a day off.  When your children are old enough you can involve them in the family house projects. You want everyone in the family vested in the outcome.  Motivate your family with incentives like, “If you all help clean out the garage on Saturday, we can go out for dinner and a movie that night.”

________________________________________________________

Where there’s a will there’s a way and where there’s not, there are excuses.

________________________________________________________

4. Leave yourself enough time – Having done this job for 10 years, I can estimate that in an average home you can organize a room thoroughly in one day. If you agree that an average size house has 10-12 rooms, that means you can organize your house in 2 weeks.  If you need to fix, paint and organize a room, estimate that it will require a week to organize. Then you’ll be finished in 3 months.  If your rooms each require a lot of work, let’s say one month per room, then you still can estimate that in one year you will have your home exactly as you want it. Not bad when you consider how many years it took to get it the way you didn’t want it!


I’m learning!

Ok, so here’s what I’ve done with my smartphone today. I took pictures at a fun event this morning. The NAPO Philadelphia chapter volunteered to help with NPR’s fundraising campaign on the radio – 90.9 FM in the Philadelphia area. We got there at the crack of dawn – 6:30 am and stayed til 10. We had a great time answering phones, meeting our goals, (some of us can get very competitive) and chatting during slow times.  The staff at WHYY treated us very well with coffee and breakfast and even took us on a tour of the station. So I took pictures with my phone for the first time, AND posted them to Facebook! I also tweeted while we were there to get more people to call the donation line.  It was all happening so quick and I finally felt like I could keep up with the speed of social media.

Now, do I want to stay on this treadmill? I’m not so sure. But when I want to slow down, I can always silence my phone and tuck it away in the pouch of my handbag and get back to real life.

So check out my Facebook Page to see the photos!

Transition to techy

Ok so I got my new IPhone on Saturday and immediately started playing with it. My contacts did not copy over from my old phone, but I decided that was not a problem. I like having a clean slate. I added my family members first, my doctors (in case of an emergency) and then my close high school friends. After that, I thought about fellow organizers who I frequently talk to regarding our NAPO chapter, then added local parents of my kids’ friends (for carpools and tracking kids down). There, that’s all I need in contacts for now. I will add others ad-hoc if necessary.

So I am thinking of all the possible Apps I can use, and like any good organizer, I made a list. I had to calm myself down from trying to do everything over the weekend. Sometimes technology just gets me frustrated. So here’s my list:

1. Add all my events for the month of October to my Yahoo Calendar.

2.. Sync my Yahoo to the phone.

3. Download some songs from my ITunes account

4. Load the Twitter app so I can tweet from my phone

5. Purchase a nice case for the phone and pick up a Square so I can start taking credit cards for my business.

Well, I’ve got my work cut out for me. The first hurdle is the calendar. I have successfully loaded my family’s activities, my work appointments and social events for October and any items that repeat are set up for the rest of the year. I even took it a step further and subscribed to someone else’s ICal (for my daughter’s performing group) and now all those events and rehearsals are automatically in my calendar! That was easy. I love the color code option for each member of my family – the only problem is I can’t seem to print a nice color coded copy of the month-at-a-glance Yahoo calendar! I want to post it on my refrigerator so all members of the family can see it.

Does anybody know about this? Can you print a hard copy that looks at nice as the on-line version? 

My other option is to explore other calendars. I think I will do that before I enter November’s events.

Suggestions are welcome!

 

 

Follow me as I take the leap!

Many people were excited about the roll out of the IPhone 5. I was too, but not for the same reasons. I was waiting for a free IPhone 4 because I have yet to take the leap to a smartphone. My husband and teenage daughter are still working the IPhone3 so they are contemplating an upgrade.  The commercials would have you believe it’s easy – free IPhone 4 and $30 a month for data plans.   Well, lucky for me I have a husband who very thoroughly investigates every nook & crannie of new technology before he purchases.  We use Consumer Reports like an Encyclopedia at our house.  So for the next few weeks I will be blogging aobut my transition from an old-fashioned phone, and a paper calendar to my smart phone. As a tactile person, I’m hesitant to say the least. But as an organizer I know there must be a better way to keep track of a business, three kids and an active social life.  So first things first. I am getting the phone this weekend.

Here are the different topics we needed to consider before making my purchase/leap to the world of constant information:

1. Our cell service – When my husband & daughter purchased their cell phones years ago, the only carrier was AT&T. We had Verizon, so we switched.  Now Verizon offers the IPhone so do we switch back? That would mean 4 new phones for our family and $10 more per month than going with AT&T.  We took into account that sometimes with AT&T there are places in my own home where I can not get cell service. But Verizon has their dropped calls too, so we decided to stick with AT&T.

2. Our calling plan – We have such an old plan, they don’t offer it anymore but have allowed us to grandfather it. We get 700 min, unlimited data for $30/month per user and unlimited data for the family at $20/family. We considered the Share Plan where you purchase an amount of data for a certain amount of devices. Then pay $40 per device.

3. Finally the phone – Do I go all out and get the new IPhone5 for $199? It does have a faster keyboard, new earphones, and the fastest operating system. Or do I take the 4S for $99, it’s has Siri (not that I really care about talking to a robot) and a double sided camera which might come in handy. Or do I ease into this whole thing with the free IPhone 4 (no S) I’m told it has 8 gig, the old 4G operating system. Mind you, my kids had to explain to me that the G does not stand for gig when I said, “I thought it was 4G not 8?” Could they make this more confusing? I mean why is the IPone4 not Iphone 5 and everyone would be getting excited about the 6! So as I’m discussing this, a commercial comes on and says, “The Next Thing is Already Here” it’s the Galaxy. Oh no.

 

If you have questions or suggestions about this whole process, I welcome them. Leave a comment!

Letting Go of Routines

As we squeeze the last few weeks out of summer, I am torn. I look forward to the routines that come with the fall. For one, I know where my children will be from 8 am to 4 pm – school.  And I know who will be watching them- the teachers. During the summer, things are much more day-to-day as I work with clients and my husband often works from home. Our time management usually consists of a Sunday night briefing of all that is going on, followed by daily updates communicated by scribbling on the family calendar and texting during the day. More than once I have gone to pick up my teenager from camp only to see a confused face and hear,”Why are you here? I have a ride.” Ahh the stress of changing schedules by the hour! I will be happy when that is over.

But I’m trying to stay in the spirit of the relaxed summer schedule and adopt my boys’ attitude. They wake up with no plan. If they’re hungry they eat. If they want to watch TV or play games they do. When they’re hot, they go swimming. It doesn’t matter what time of day it is. Ahh! to be young with no responsibilities. ..So I have on occasion been spontaneous this summer. If I did not have a client, I did my work early in the day and then said “Ok kids what do you want to do now?” Not a lot of enthusiasm as they’d rather I drive them to a friend’s than do something with them, but I have gotten them to see a few movies, go shopping and even go kayaking with me. These are the best moments of the summer.

Of course, the trick is to find balance because sometimes no routine means no work for mom and boredom for the kids. I have also heard, “What are we going to DO today?” And then I feel guilty if I’m working and they are bored at home.

I don’t have all the answers here. It is a constant struggle to balance work & family time, schedules and free time. But if you have flexibility with your work, take it! I tried to schedule all my clients this summer in the morning so I could be home for the boys in the afternoon. I could still be on the computer or phone but they could have friends over to swim. On my days off I tried to do something with them and on the rare weekend when we all were home and not scheduled, I try to do spontaneous family outings or at least meals together! I firmly believe one of the tricks to maintaining balance in your life is knowing when schedules are helpful and knowing when to let go. When you do, you also let go of stress and allow happy things to happen because you weren’t too busy to notice them.

 

What fun things have happened to you when you abandon your schedule?

Create Routines for a Successful School Year

Before the first day of school every family should have a plan for the new morning routine. Why? Because good routines help you remember all you have to do to keep life moving smoothly. All busy moms need them to keep the family running with efficiency. Routines also become second nature so you can practically do them in your sleep!  To establish one for your family, here’s what you have to do:

Start with the time that each family member needs to be out of the house in the morning and work backwards to establish what time you need to get up.  If your child likes to sleep until the last possible minute, then she will only have time every morning to do the essentials such as get dressed, make her bed, have breakfast, brush teeth and head out the door. If your child likes to take his/her time in the morning then you’ve got to establish an earlier wake up time to allow for that. Talk to your children about what they need or want to do each morning and you as parents have to estimate the time all that will take.

Once you have a list of “to do’s” for the morning, think about the most efficient way for your children to do them. You can do a physical prioritization like do everything upstairs first, then come down for breakfast. Or you can set up the routine by doing most important tasks first like eat breakfast, then get dressed & make your bed.

Once you have established the morning routine, you need to train your children to follow it. Here are several options.

  1.  Visual reminders. This could be a chart on your child’s bedroom door or mirror. Pictograms are the easiest to use. Either draw them yourself or download some clip art on your computer. Keep it simple: a bed, clothes, toothbrush and a healthy breakfast. That should tell them all the basics. Add other symbols as necessary.
  2. Another way to remind them visually is to lay things out like their clothes, library books or musical instruments as they need them for school. Put them in an obvious place so they can’t be missed.
  3. To remember their “special” classes,like gym or library, that may only happen once a week, you can post a chart in the kitchen. Get them in the habit of looking at it each day so they know what they need to bring or wear to school.
  4. For a very tactile approach, you can make up index cards for each chore and have the child flip them over or put them in a certain place after they have completed each task. For example the cards can be on their dresser in the morning and then brought downstairs when they have completed them.

Set up your routines a few weeks before school starts and hopefully in a month or so you may not need the visual reminders or the mom nagging to get everyone out the door, on time with all that they need for a successful day!

And don’t forget the evening routine. Designate a place for your kids papers, homework, backpacks & shoes. Talk to your kids about whether they can do homework right after school or after dinner. Do they need a quiet place like a desk in a bedroom or do they need to be in the kitchen or dining room near mom & dad? Set up the homework area and then hold them to the routine each night. Remember place for everything and everything in it’s place.

What routines do you have for the school year?