Increasing Your Productivity

September 22, 2009

Take a look at your to-do list. I bet there a bunch of things on there that require a high level of concentration, and then there are a bunch of things that require very little effort (they just need to get done).

Now, think about they way you work. Are you a morning person? A night owl? Mentally, when are you at your best?

Schedule those “high level concentration” items during the time of day when you’re sharpest. Handle the “busywork” during the hours when you’re a bit more sluggish. This way, you can give that “thinking task” the attention it deserves and still manage to power through all those little items (like online bill pay, sending birthday cards, filing papers). At the end of the day, you will have crossed a ton off your list!

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Ask the Organizer: Traveling with a Baby

September 18, 2009

Help! We are traveling with our infant for the first time!  There is so much stuff involved! How can I streamline this?

When there’s a baby to consider, the preparation for a family vacation can be so daunting that it’s hard to look forward to a week of family togetherness.  You could fill a skycap’s cart with bags packed JUST for your little one – forget packing for your own needs!

Here are some tips to help you travel light.  By following these helpful hints, you’ll be able to focus on the pleasures that your destination offers once you arrive, rather than the stress of just getting there.

Don’t schlep it, ship it! In a time when airlines are sticking to strict weight limits and charging passengers for extra checked luggage, it’s important to keep baggage to a minimum.  Think about bulky or heavy items that you could ship to your destination ahead of time (be sure to call your hotel or your host to let them know to expect the packages). is a great resource to purchase a week’s supply of diapers and formula at a discount – but before you box up your spare Pack’n’Play, call the hotel to ask if they have cribs available.

Consistency is Key. By now, you and your baby have developed certain routines  – bath and bedtime rituals, naptime schedules, songs you dance to every night.  Whatever your routines, try your best to stick to them, even on vacation.  Purchase small toiletry bottles and travel with baby’s favorite bath products and lotions.  Bring along the CD that never fails to soothe.  Most importantly – never forget the security blanket (whatever that blanket is to your child).

A busy baby is a happy baby. You don’t need to take along every toy your baby has ever had an interest in, but it’s a good idea to travel with a few items to keep baby occupied.  Think about things that can fit easily into your carry-on:  board books and bubbles are great options.  Don’t forget that almost anything can entertain your child – got a near-empty Altoids tin in your purse?  Throw in some pennies, close it securely with a rubber band and voila!  A brand new rattle!

Make time for Mommy (and Daddy too!). Vacation is a wonderful time to spend with your family – but if you spend all of your time as a caretaker, the relaxation aspect is lost.  Try to plan some time for yourself – whether it’s an hour at the spa or an evening with your spouse.  Visiting a relative?  Perhaps they can watch the baby one evening.  Traveling to a hotel?  Most concierges can put you in touch with a reputable babysitting service – calling ahead will give you the chance to check the service’s references and credentials.

Note: This post originally appeared as an article in CribNotes’ August 2009 issue.

Safe travels!

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Ask the Organizer: What To-Do, What To-Do?

September 11, 2009

What’s the best way to manage your to-do lists? I’ve got at least 7 different lists floating around – sometimes the to-do item appears on all 7, and sometimes things fall through the cracks. I had good intentions, but it’s not working.

I absolutely give you credit for the list-making. Getting those to-do items out of your head and onto paper is a great way to feel in control of a project, a shopping trip, a life… Trouble is, with 7 lists out there, you now have to check 7 different places to make sure you covered everything. I strongly believe in having all your to-dos consolidated in one place – whether it’s set up:

  • Digitally – there are some great Apps out there for this purpose (like Remember The Milk), but a running Word doc could also work
  • In a notebook – perhaps with dividers/sections for the areas of your life that require to-do lists, or
  • On the wall – products like IdeaPaint makes it easy to create a whiteboard on just about any surface, and you can create your own sections using electrical tape

The trick is to find a to-do list type that works for  you. Visually, I love the look of a sectioned whiteboard – with one glance I can see everything that’s going on, broken down by category. Trouble is, I also love the physical act of crossing something off my list. Erasing from a whiteboard simply doesn’t give me the same satisfaction. Plus, when an item is erased, it’s gone forever – but when it’s crossed off, you can look back and see what you’ve accomplished. So for me, the answer is a whiteboard/notebook hybrid. Here’s a look at the way I handle my own Chaos Theory to-do list (those blackout shapes are there to protect client identities and other sensitive information):

The Big To-Do

I wanted the look of a whiteboard on paper – but it needed to be able to handle a lot of information. The answer was an 11″x14″ sketchbook that I divide using a ruler and a sharpie. I assign categories to each section (General Chaos Theory, Client Projects, Business Development, NAPO, Blog Brainstorm, and On My Mind), and when I think of something I have to do, I write it into the proper section. New project arises? Adding a section is as simple as drawing a blue line.

So that’s the master list. A great source of information, but overwhelming if I wanted to use it for the day-to-day. That’s where my ONE sticky note comes in:

Friday's to-do list

Each evening, I plan for tomorrow. Using a combination of deadlines and my general whim, I peruse the larger list and decide what I will get done the next day.  That gets listed on the sticky, stuck to the master notebook, and thrown out at the end of each day. Then I make my master list cross-outs for the day (oh the pleasure!), and plan for tomorrow. Something I didn’t get to today? That’s OK, it can move to tomorrow’s sticky. Find myself with extra time? I can peruse the master for a task to fill the hour.

Like the way I set this up? Try it on your own, using the to-do categories of your life. If this isn’t the solution for you, there are plenty of methods out there. If you need help figuring out what’s right for you, don’t hesitate to email!

Happy listing!

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My Dirty Little Organizing Secret #1

September 9, 2009

There are many preconceived notions about Professional Organizers. Whenever I tell anyone what I do for a living, the follow up questions/comments always run along the lines of “your closets must be insane!” “do you freak out if something’s not in the right spot?” “does everything on your desk line up at a right angle?” As it happens, my closets ARE very well organized, I DO have minor meltdowns when things are out of place, I love right angles, and my desk reflects as much.

But then there are some surprises – or, what I’m labeling My Dirty Little Organizing Secrets. Today’s is this: I could not care less about how I load the dishwasher.

I know there are plenty of people out there who have their set way to do this task — they’ll even go in to their dishwasher and re-arrange the dirty dishes if someone else had loaded it “incorrectly.”

Not me – throw those dishes and glasses in there any way you want, as long as they’ll get clean.

When it comes to putting those clean dishes away, well then I’m back to my “organizing persona.”

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Defining my space, defining my goals

September 2, 2009

My “office” is just a corner of our living room. It can be distracting to live and work in the same space. I wanted to define that corner in some way so when I sit down at my desk, my attention turns to Chaos Theory, and Chaos Theory alone. My solution — a vision board.

Vision Board

So what’s up there? That long handwritten page you see in the middle is actually two lists:

  • What do I want? This is the big picture stuff – the loftier, longer term goals like “be recognized as an expert in the organizing industry” and “get my BCPO Certification.”
  • How do I get there? These are actions I can take right now which will bring me one step closer to those aspirations. Here, I’ve listed things like “start the blog, pitch to media to showcase expertise,” and “read 2 recommended organizing books from the CPO list per month as I build up my client hours.”

My marketing materials are scattered around the board (both sides of my business card, the text and pictures from my brochure), serving as a constant reminder of the Chaos Theory brand as well as crucial talking points for potential client phone calls.

So, you could say those are the “functional” aspects of my board. Then, I’ve got the more fun aspects – my nametag from this year’s NAPO National Conference, quotes about organizing that inspire me (A professional organizer is better than therapy – she makes housecalls and you see results after just one session), a few magazine clippings and pictures with RB (because Chaos Theory simply could not exist without his support!)

There has been a lot written about vision boards and laws of attraction and The Secret. Personally, I don’t totally ascribe to all of that. For me, my vision board is simply a daily reminder of what I want for my business and how I plan to get there. Plus, it was super-fun to make.

If collages aren’t your thing – keep it simple! Write down your goals – business, organizing or otherwise. Display the list somewhere you’ll see it everyday. Let the daily reminder inspire you to take strides in the right directions.

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