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Getting Organized in the Era of Endless

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Posts Tagged ‘get organized’

Organizing During A Recession

Saturday, September 24, 2011 @ 07:09 AM
posted by admin

In simple terms, a ‘recession’ is a period of economic contraction. When the economy contracts, we all do a bit of receding. We tend to withdraw back to basics as we wait for more expansive times. A recession is a challenging time. Some of my clients have lost their jobs and health insurance. Those who own their own businesses may have fewer clients and less revenue. I understand. I own a business too. Let me share with you what my clients and I are doing organizationally to hunker down during this long-lasting and rather deep recession.

  • Get lean. Now is truly the time to clear off your desk, toss out the clutter, find the prime ‘stuff” that needs doing, and make a plan for getting things done.
  • Get focused. As a recent episode of ‘Raising Hope’ but it “Stop procrasterbating!” There’s too much at stake. Get rid of the distractions of projects you’ll never get to. Get real about your commitments and promises. Now is not the time to spin wheels. It’s the time to act.
  • Get support. If you’re looking for work, hit the Internet for (free) job hunting exploration and consult with a career service. I recommend Jewish Family and Career Services. Anyone can participate but a donation would be nice.
  • Get thrifty. If you’re organized enough to cut coupons or download them from the Internet, keep them in your car where you’ll have at least a chance of using them. is very cool. Check out coupon apps at Resist buying techno toys and stock up on the stuff you use daily like office paper, toothpaste and wine (well, no need not to have some fun.) Consolidate your errands; the price of gas is going up again.
  • Get closure. Got an error on your credit card bill? Call and get it resolved. Have a lingering decision to make? Do your research, make the decision and live with the consequences because the less ‘open loops’ you have hanging around in these trying times, the less stress you’ll be under.

I know, I know, easier said than done. Hiring a professional organizer is a smart low-cost investment you can make during a recession if the above advice is difficult for you to implement. Professional organizers are experts at ‘lean and mean’, can get you razor-focused, and you’ll find nobody stronger in the ‘closure’ departments. Go to to find an organizer near you.

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The Leisure Dividend

Wednesday, August 10, 2011 @ 09:08 AM
posted by admin

The point of productivity is to generate a ‘leisure dividend.’ When you are productive you do more in less time leaving you time left over for not working, for having fun or just relaxing. At least that’s the theory. Some people are naturally productive. They can prioritize instantly, integrate new tasks on the run, and finish what they start. Productivity tools such as mobile devices with multiple functions, apps, and cloud-based tools can increase productivity. The problem is people tend to reinvest their leisure dividend into more work instead of into leisure. Only 38% of Americans take all of their vacation days. 72% check into the office during their vacations. You recall Clement Clark Moore’s Twas the Night Before Christmas? Remember the line “. ..and mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap, had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap. Not, “…had just settled down for a long winters nap”, but instead “…had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.” We need to rest our brains. All that information we are getting? It needs to be digested, it needs to sink in, be reflected upon and that requires rest.

How do you measure personal productivity? Some people are taking a crack at tracking all their time using a variety of apps. I think tracking our time holds some value but the time is takes to do all that tracking might be using up any benefit of time gained being productive in the first place.

If you are someone who strives for productivity but has difficulty realizing your leisure dividend, try doing the following

  • Take whatever vacation you have coming to you. Scientists have found that it takes at least 3 days to relax, and to feel you are on vacation, so take at least 4 days.
  • Full engagement in reading is also a good investment of your leisure divident. In-depth, hard copy book reading is a multi-sensory experience involving motor, visual, materiality, and focus that helps us be engaged but relaxed.
  • Exercise promotes weight control, lowers stress, controls cholesterol, and supports a good night’s sleep making it a top choice for investing your leisure dividend.
  • Sleep a little more or learn to nap.
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Cultivate Your Inner Dictator

Sunday, June 12, 2011 @ 07:06 AM
posted by admin

Okay, okay, “cultivating your inner dictator” might be a little harsh, but one of the best organizing tips I give my clients is to be more selective (other terms: picky, choosey, more discerning, downright discrimminating.) Selectivity is a new organizing skill. That’s because the Internet is a real game changer in the organization/disorganization realm. Information is now unlimited. Shopping has no bounds (except poverty) and sharing videos/photos/thoughts/ideas is easy and unrelenting. If you are overwhelmed you are likely under-selective. How do you cultivate your inner dictator? Let’s say you have 300 hard copy photos. You easily could receive, depending on the size of your family, another 100 or more a year, digitally. This discussion could easily devolve into a debate about the best features of the zillion digital photo programs/services available. And you should use as much technology as will make the job of dealing with photos easier. But I’m making the case that cultivating the skill of selectivity trumps technology. Here is how it is done:


  • Have a criteria(s). It can be “appealing”, “most recent”, “something I don’t have already”
  • Schedule a sort time just before occasions (the week after a family reunion, a few days after Christmas, etc.)
  • Sort with a closed-mind using your criteria to guide you
  • Put an in/out ratio in place. For example, for every 100 photoes I receive I’ll get rid of 20

Being selective takes practice. Good items to practice on are your bookmarks/Favorites, e-books you’ve accumulated, and magazines. Bad items to practice on are tangible books, shoes, and office supplies. You simply cannot have too much of those!

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Tuesday, May 31, 2011 @ 09:05 AM
posted by admin

When it comes to organizing, categories are king. Categories are a fundamental organizing building block. They suggest what things go together. Categories make it possible to organize and store things for easy access and retrieval. An article about arthritis might go in a file called Health but a document about bird-feeders doesn’t. Most of us don’t store our belts with our cereal: unless you’re a category-bender. “Watching the birds at the bird feeder is relaxing. It makes my arthritis less painful”, says my client Roberta. So we file the article about bird-feeders under Health. Category-benders think about “big picture” and they see many connections between items that I would never think of. I tend to think of my stuff in a more micro way. It makes it easier for me to categorize it.

I was reminded of category-bending when my great niece (grand niece?) got a wrong answer on an elementary school quiz called “What Does Not Belong?” There was a picture of a shoe, a dog, a cat, and a bird. She circled the bird. When asked to explain, she said, “Well, my dog grabbed Mom’s shoe and ran around the house with it. Mom got mad and ran after the dog. She stepped on the cat’s tail. The cat ran under the couch. We don’t have a bird.” So there you go. Roberta belts are coiled in plastic bags next to the cereal in the pantry. “Weight loss”, she says. “I’m supposed to the eat fiber cereal everyday. The belt/cereal combination works for me.” So there you go.

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One Person’s Clutter is Another Person’s POP

Sunday, May 22, 2011 @ 07:05 AM
posted by admin

People who have a lot of stuff find it challenging to get rid of because they do not consider it clutter. They consider it ‘POP’. POP stands for Potential, Opportunity, and Potential. Think about it. What are people saying when they claim, “I can’t throw these empty plastic medicine bottles away. They may come in handy for storing something later.” The medicine bottles have ‘potential’. As plastic containers they have a latent quality that could be useful in the future. What are people saying when they state, “I’m going to hold onto the newsletters from my old job just in case I work there again.” Circumstances in the future might present an opportunity to return to an old job and the newsletters might become relevent. What are people saying when they explain, “Someone might be able to use the backs of those used index cards. I’d rather not toss them out.” The used index cards express a ‘possibility’, a thing that might happen. The thing about POP statements is that they are not untrue. It is true an item might be useful to someone or some event in the future. I never argue the truth of a POP statement (though, having a learned a thing or two about gambling from my parents, it is just as true the items will go unused.)

When my clients make a POP statement, I engage them, not on the logic of their decision, but on the impact of it. If you keep something, it takes up space. It may need to be dusted, stored, protected from heat or dampness or other maintenance. Here’s another problem with POP. The item that is being kept will need to be remembered in order to be utilized when the potential, opportunity, or possibility presents itself. It is a kind of memory called ‘prospective memory’. Prospective memory is a form of memory that involves remembering to perform a planned action or intention at the time it happens. People who are challenged by disorganization are notoriously weak on prospective memory. What are the chances that while your grandson is visiting you with his guinea pig, the food pellet bag will break, and you’ll be game for sweeping them all up, and remember exactly where an empty medicine bottle would be to contain them. Better to grab a baggy. Will you be able to remember where those index cards are when you’re taking a message at the phone and need to write it down? Better to use the pad. Will you remember what’s in the newsletters when you get a call to come back to work? Better to read the latest ones online to get up to date.

One person’s clutter is another person’s POP. People don’t love clutter. But they do love potential, opportunity and possibility. It reflects a joy for the future. If you’re a POP kind of person, weigh your POP decisions against the burden of the past and the practicality of the present.

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The New Done

Sunday, May 15, 2011 @ 09:05 AM
posted by admin

My client Ann needs a new car. Armed with a rough budget and some preferences, Ann went online. She visited the best car buying websites, jumped into chat rooms, and used social media to find out what people thought of various vehicles. She checked CraigsList, and downloaded CarPerks to her iPhone (her 100th app!). Once on this research-train, it was hard for Ann to stop. According to the Information Overload Research Group (who knew?!) 53% of people surveyed believe that less than half the information they receive is valuable/useful. Still we find it hard to resist loading ourselves up on information. Not a great screen-reader, or adept at cut and paste pieces of webpages into files, Ann printed out reams of information. “I can’t be sure the information is in there,” Ann said pointing to her head. What began as a virtual search quickly turned into a seemingly unending tangible research project. When I visited Ann for our time management session she’d been at the car buying project for 3 months. Dan, her husband is supportive, but frustrated. “I know buying a new car is a big decision. But I’d gladly trade-in her thoroughness for getting the job over with.”

In an era of unlimited information, the pursuit of thoroughness is more than time-consuming – it’s impossible. There is always another opinion to listen to or another piece of information to obtain. I believe “done” needs a make-over. Here’s what I think The New Done needs to be:

  • It’s not about you. Finishing a task is not about your standard of completeness, but rather about meeting other people’s expectations or needs. Pleasing a spouse with making a final decision goes a longer way than making the perfect decision which doesn’t exist anyway.
  • Learn to live with your decision. Let’s say Ann narrowed her search to 2 cars and chose one over the other. Chances are great that there is so little difference between them that either choice would be one she could live with.
  • Coming through on your obligations and commitments enhances your relationships. Perfectionism and being overly scrupulous might give you a good reputation for being thorough but you’ll risk injuring your relationships.
  • If you think the stimulation of the hunt for perfect answers feels good, wait till you experience closure!

Organizationally-speaking, The New Done requires a few good practices (I’m not much of a fan of “best practices”. The question, ‘best for whom?’ always stops me cold in my mental tracks.)

  • Corralling information is key. Putting it in a form for easy use, retrieval and re-use such as a spreadsheet or a dedicated file is important.
  • Impose a time limit especially if the task had no deadline or due date. Go for perfect timing rather than perfect information/solutions/ answers.
  • Ask someone else to judge if you are done or not.
  • Know exactly what it is people want from you, otherwise you won’t know if you’ve satisfied them.

“He who knows that enough is enough always has enough” – Lao-Tzu

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How We Get Things Done Around Here – Organizing Digital Natives

Saturday, May 7, 2011 @ 07:05 AM
posted by admin

I was organizing a family of digital natives (DN) the other day. DN’s are a growing tribe in the US, families who grew up on the computer. Technology is so generation-compressing that the youngest daughter uses gadgets and apps her college-bound sister is unfamiliar with. The parents, technically not digital natives, but darn close, cannot recall a time when computers were not a part of their lives. “I never typed a term paper or balanced a check book manually. My chores have always been aided by computers. I’ve had the internet in my pocket since the kids were born”, notes Mom. Generations no longer span 20 years. Nor are they simply parent/child-oriented. In fact, generations are no longer even defined as shared experiences of a cohort group. The impact of technology is so strong it compresses generations. For instance, in late 2009 teens sent and received about 10 text messages for every waking non-school hour. Their older siblings, not their parents mind you, but their older brothers and sisters sent half as many. Child-based social networks are increasing giving rise to a mini-generation sure to differ from preteen siblings.

Even with all the technology, the family still suffers from what I call “time displacement”. Time spent on video games, texting, and surfing the web displaces family time. “We rarely eat together and when we do, everyone has their iPhone out.” Meanwhile, non-virtual chores are not getting done such as the kid’s cleaning their rooms, or the parent’s changing the oil in the car. Taking a page (or actually several pages!) from my new book co-authored with Allison Carter, Sync or Swim: 201 Organizing Tips You Need to Survive the Currents of Change, we created a “How We Get Things Done Around Here” manual. It’s a web-based calendar built on Google that details who has to do what and when it needs to be done. It is searchable by keyword with links to a description of each chore with more detail how to get it done, and it has built-in reminders synced to everyone iPhone. Not so long ago, a big family calendar on the fridge did the trick, and that still works for families with really young children, people who need visual rather than instruction-based information, or families that are not very mobile.

The second step for this time-displaced family was setting up device-free face time. “We have dinner together just once a week, but it’s the real deal. Everyone helps shop, cook, and choose the menu. We sit down together and talk undistracted, about school and the news. Then we all clean up. Magic!” notes Mom.

Don’t hesitate to contact a professional organizer (especially a digital native professional organizer) if your family needs help getting organized and supporting family life.

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Organize for Disaster

Wednesday, April 27, 2011 @ 06:04 AM
posted by admin

As I listen to this morning’s ominous weather forecast, I am reminded that “organization” has countless beneficial applications. Being able to access what we need when we need it, setting priorities, planning ahead — core elements of organizing, can be applied to every aspect of life yielding productivity, effectiveness and efficiency. Another benefit of organization is that it allows a person time to think. During a disaster, when confusion and fear is high, clear headedness can be the difference between life and death. When I provide disaster services to my clients I emphasize that being disaster prepared is about clear-headedness and self-reliance. Here are simple, mainstream ways to get disaster prepared, not in the heat of the moment, but planned in advance.

  • While you’re organizing your taxes or preparing for vacation, copy vital documents and store them offsite.
  • When you organize the pantry, isolate a section of food that can be prepared without heat.
  • When you spring clean, find a logical place for flashlights, batteries, and extra bottled water. Clear out clutter on the stairs and near the windows that could obstruct a rapid escape.
  • When you organize electronic files, download essential files to a disc and secure it offsite.
  • When you organize the basement, mark the gas, water, electric, and other utility on and off mechanisms with clear labels.
  • When you schedule your vacation, schedule time to create a family communication plan.
  • When you organize photographs, make excellent copies of heritage photographs. Display the copies and store and protect the originals.

Consult Organize for Disaster: Prepare Your Family and Your Home for Any Natural or Unnatural Disaster for more information or go to the American Red Cross .

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The Starbucks Effect

Tuesday, April 19, 2011 @ 06:04 AM
posted by admin

It wasn’t a scientific survey. The results would never hold up under academic scrutiny. But when 23 people are asked the same question and 100% of their responses are qualitatively the same, it’s safe to conclude you’re onto something. That’s what happened to me when I discovered what I call “The Starbucks Effect”™. I carried a clipboard to make me look official, and color copies of the covers of my books proving that I’m a published author. With a big smile, I approached people in Starbucks who seemed to be doing work. “Hi, I’m sorry to interrupt. I’m Judith Kolberg, a local author of books about getting organized. I’m doing research for my next book about how people get their work done. My survey takes less than 6 minutes. Mind if I ask you a few questions?” Here’s what I asked: “Is Starbucks a good place to get work done?” To a person, each person answered, “Yes, Starbucks is a good place to get work done.” Why? Being away from the distractions of the office or home was a popular response. And the chocolate/caffeine rush figured into most people’s explanation of why Starbucks is better than the office or home. “It’s kind of noisy”, I said commented over the roar of the espresso machine, clatter of cups and din of voices. “Doesn’t the noise and commotion bother you?” I asked. “No” or “I don’t even notice it”, everyone said.

Productivity, simply understood as planning a task and carrying it out, is a huge challenge for many people. I’m always trying to figure out the reasons why some people pull it off more than others. The Starbucks Effect is one key. It works like this. The external noise and commotion cancels out internal distractions so that a person can concentrate on the task at hand. The more scientific explanation for this is ‘white noise’. In other words, some people can’t take in what’s going on around them, listen to what’s going on in their head, and perform a task at the same time. The mind cannot do all three. Something has got to go. Apparently, the noise level at Starbucks is goldilocks – not too high, not too low…just right to not be distracting itself. It cancels out internal distractions such as random thoughts, ideas, worries, mental to-do list and self-talk so that you can do the task at hand: study, balance a checkbook, read a report, fill out a form, or write an article. I’d always thought the best conditions for getting work done are a quiet spot, without a lot of background commotion going on. For some people it turns out that a quiet environment devoid of activity is itself distracting. It lets those internal distractions run wild. If you are a person who finds it challenging to execute tasks from end-to-end, to finish things, or you’re dissatisfied with your level of productivity, maybe the Starbucks Effect can work in your favor. It doesn’t have to be Starbucks. I have a client who does his taxes at the airport!

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“I Was Here” – A Universal Organizing Principle

Wednesday, March 9, 2011 @ 12:03 PM
posted by admin

I recently traveled to The Netherlands to address organizers from throughout the region. In Amsterdam, a city crisscrossed by small bridges over canals, I saw graffiti, in particular the ubiquitous “I was here” post written in Dutch. I’ve seen that graffiti expression in every city I have ever been in. One day I was organizing with Mary, a chronically disorganized retired teacher. Teachers have lots of excess stuff, especially older teachers who entered their careers before the internet was commonly utilized. Like many disorganized people, Mary has a lot of incomplete projects. She has kept a great deal of teaching materials now obsolete. She has saved student essays and writing projects, and hundreds of magazines about teachers.  While we were rummaging through her stuff,  I was reminded of that graffiti.

I believe that some people with lots of clutter find it difficult to discard because tossing it out undermines the sentiment “I was here.” I believe they are saying, “I was here. I became a teacher. I influenced all these kids. I did not finish everything I set out to do, but I had dreams.” I believe what looks like simple stacks of papers and piles of stuff to others, is actually the human need to be acknowledged, to say “I was here.” At the conference in The Netherlands, I presented this idea and it was received very well. Perhaps this is a universal organizing principle, that we keep stuff that is representative of our hopes and dreams, efforts and even failures out of a human need to chronicle being here.

If you are similar to Mary, someone whose disorganization is tied up with memories and the past with no room for the future, let this idea sink in. Realize that your clutter makes perfect sense as an attempt to be acknowledged. Then, when you are ready, I encourage you to find a way to honor your dreams and efforts and achievements without drowning yourself in the remnants of them. For instance, Mary and I gathered a few items from her teaching career: a photo of her students, her “best teacher” award, and a framed essay from a favorite student. We put them together on a pretty table with fresh flowers. Then we tossed out all the obsolete materials, and made room for the next chapter in her life. It was not easy. It took time. We had to stop now and then for Mary to process the emotional reactions she had to opening up not just boxes, but memories. She needed to tell stories and relive the past a bit. And retirement, the ending of a an entire career can be tough. But it was worth it. “I can move on now. I’m ready for the next chapter of my life”, Mary observed when we’d gotten things in better order.

You can find more organizing methods like this one that are compassionate and non-judgmental in Conquering Chronic Disorganization . And I look forward to hearing from you on what you might think about the relationship between universal needs and organization/disorganization.

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