Alternatives to lists and reminders

My memory is terrible. To cope with this, I used to write myself many lists and pages of reminders. Then, I had so many lists and reminders that I had to make a list of the lists to remind me what was on each list. It was a little ridiculous.

Another problem was that I didn’t always have easy access to my lists, especially when we were moving houses. I saved my lists in a notebook and the notebook was packed in a box. I started keeping my lists on the computer and then the computer was packed in a box.

I decided to get some information off of my lists and put it where I needed it. Not only has this reduced the number of lists I have, other people can do certain jobs without asking me for information.

Rotating mattresses

Some mattresses need to be rotated or flipped every few months; others do not. I was losing track of which mattresses needed to be in which positions at which times. Additionally, every time we moved, we would have to look on “the list” to see which position the mattresses should be in.

To solve this problem, I took a Sharpie and wrote right on the mattress the first letters of each month. (A M J = April, May, June). These letters should be on the top of the mattress under the pillows for the duration of these months. At the end of June, the mattress gets flipped/rotated until “J A S” (July, August, September) is at the head of the bed. For mattresses that are only rotated twice per year, I wrote “Jan-Jun” and “Jul-Dec” on the ends.

Now, everyone in the family knows how and when to rotate or flip the mattresses that require flipping.

Off-season linen storage

All my off-season sheets and blankets, as well as any less frequently used guest linens, are stored in vacuum-sealed boxes. From one year to the next, I could never remember how to fold the blankets so that they fit nicely into the vacuum-seal boxes. One fall, I carefully removed a nicely folded blanket and slowly unfolded it. Then, I took a sheet of paper approximately the same dimensions as the blanket, (A4 or 8 ½ x 11) and folded it the same way I had folded the blanket. I leave the piece of paper in the vacuum seal box so I always know where it is. Every spring I use the folded paper as a guide to remind myself how to fold the blankets quickly and easily.

Disassemble and reassemble

Being a military family, we move frequently, but not frequently enough that I remember how to disassemble and reassemble all of our furniture and equipment. The following are things I’ve done to help me remember what to do:

  • Save assembly instructions and copy them to online storage (like Evernote) to be able to access them on my smartphone in case the paper copy is not accessible.
  • Write matching numbers on bits of furniture that go together.
  • Write directly on the equipment what size of socket or hex key is required.

These tricks have reduced the stress on my memory as well as reduced the number of lists and reminders that I keep. What tips and tricks do you use to save time and energy? Feel welcome to share your solutions with other readers in the comments.

Organizing your personal finances

Organizing your personal finances can be time consuming and even a little difficult, but that doesn’t mean it’s something you shouldn’t do. The following are a few tips to help you get your personal finances organized so you can save yourself time, stress, and even money over the course of the year.

Online banking

Set up online banking and learn to use a personal finance program. Personal Finance programs allow you to view all of your accounts including:

  • Everyday bank accounts
  • Loans and mortgages
  • Investment accounts
  • Credit card accounts

By being able to see everything in one place you will be able to take control of your finances and make good decisions based on accurate information.

There are several different personal finance programs available. Quicken is a very popular program for both Windows and Mac, but Quicken for Mac is only compatible with American banks. Mac users in other countries may wish to use iBank. Mint, because it is an online service, can be used on almost any computer or mobile device. However, it is currently only compatible with banks in Canada and the United States.

Track spending

Personal finance programs organize transactions into basic pre-defined categories but may not reflect your actual spending habits. Categories can be renamed or combined and new categories can be added depending on your lifestyle. It may take a few months of examining your transactions to determine the ideal categories for you. It is better to use a few broad topics at the beginning and then become more specific with use. After a few months of using online banking, you may choose to use sub-categories.

Shopping with your debit card instead of cash allows online banking to identify in what stores you shop and will help categorize transactions. You also may choose to keep receipts to enter more information about each transaction. Do not get too detailed. If you routinely purchase groceries and household items, such as garbage bags, laundry detergent and shampoo all at the same time from the same store, consider creating a category called “Groceries, Personal and Household Supplies”. This would encompass everything that is used for your home and the people in it.

Other categories to consider.

  • Financial Charges: Many banks charge extra fees for cheques, using another bank’s automated teller machines, or making payments or withdrawals in a foreign currency. If you track this information, you can easily tell how much you’re paying in extra fees. Check the different types of accounts and banking plans offered by your bank. Switching to a different plan may help you reduce these fees.
  • Interest Expense: It’s a bit of a shock to see how much interest is paid out on loans or bank overdrafts but it may also be the incentive you need to pay off any loans.
  • Charitable Donations: By tracking any donations, you can easily generate a list at the end of the year that will tell you how much you have donated and from which organizations you can expect a tax receipt. It will also be easier to report this information to your country’s tax office.

Simplify bill payments

Reduce the number of bills you have to pay by hand. Sign up for online bill payment services when possible.

If you buy things on credit (a highly debated topic here at Unclutterer), use only one or two major credit cards and cancel store credit cards. Most major credit cards have lower interest rates than store cards and great loyalty programs, including cash-back programs. Remember, just because you pay off a credit card and cut it up doesn’t mean the account is cancelled. Inform the credit card company in writing that you wish to cancel the account. Verify your credit score to ensure that the report indicates the credit card account has been closed as paid in full.

You might consider bundling services where possible to reduce the number of bills you need to pay. By consolidating your various insurance policies with one company, you may be eligible for discounted premiums or other bonuses. Utility companies as well as media/communications companies provide discounts for bundling services like phone, cable, and internet access.

Most utility and insurance companies offer equalized billing. By having a fixed amount to pay every month, it will be much easier to set and maintain a budget. Some companies offer a pre-authorized payment plan where the monthly amount is deducted directly from your bank account.

Manage documents

Designate certain days and times each month to manage your finances. Use this time to pay upcoming bills and update your account balances. You may wish to do your finances every Saturday morning or the first weekday after your payday. Whatever day you decide, write it down in your agenda and stick to the schedule.

If you are using traditional paper billing, keep all necessary items for bill paying in one place. Fill a plastic bin/box with your chequebook, envelopes, stamps, address labels, pen, and calculator. Label the bin “BILL PAYMENTS”. You can even put your bills in the bin as soon as they arrive. Once paid, the paper bills can be stored in a filing cabinet for up to 13 months. Thirteen months is a good timeframe because it allows you to compare the current month’s totals to what they were the previous year — this is nice for things like water bills where you may be able to spot a small leak before it becomes a major one.

If you opt for electronic billing download your bill/statement into a folder on your computer labelled, “Bills to Pay”. Once paid, it can be filed in its appropriate electronic folder. Ideally, the folders on your computer should mimic paper files, e.g. “Utilities – Electric”. Ensure that the bill/statement is in an easily readable format, such as a .pdf file.

Whenever you receive receipts that you can use for your income taxes, such as those for charitable donations, place them in an “Income Tax” file. You won’t need to waste time searching for them come tax time. Many agencies send tax receipts via email so set up a folder on your computer’s hard drive labeled “Income Tax”. Save all electronic copies of income tax slips and receipts to this folder as soon as they arrive.

Organizing financial matters takes some time and energy but you’ll reap the rewards financially and come tax time. With low-cost personal finance programs available, it is easier than ever to track your spending and make better decisions about your financial future.

Improve your productivity by reading the manual

I recently saw a comment online that read something like, “All I use the iPhone’s Home button is for is taking screenshots. What else is it for?” Here at Unclutterer, we believe that knowing what your gear is capable of doing improves your productivity and helps to keep you organized. In short, we think you should always read the manual so you get the most of your technology and don’t waste your time and money. With that in mind, the following is a list of the things that simple little Home button can do for iPhone and iPad owners, as described in the products’ manuals.

  1. Go home. This is the most important feature. No matter where you are, you can get back to home screen with a tap. If he gets frustrated or lost, it’s comforting to know that a single tap of the Home button is the way out. He can start over.
  2. Take screenshots. Yes, it does this and it’s quite useful. Hold down to Home button and the power button (top of the device) for just a second to take a screenshot. You’ll hear a “camera shutter” noise and find the image in your Camera Roll
  3. Multi-Task Bar. A double-tap reveals the apps you’ve opened most recently, in order. Tap any one to jump right to it. Or, swipe the image of the app screen up and it will close the app.
  4. Wake. Tap the Home button to wake your iPhone’s display.
  5. Reset. Force a misbehaving iPhone to shut down by holding down the Home button and power button simultaneously until the screen goes dark. When you see an Apple logo, let go. Note that you only have to do this if your phone is seriously misbehaving.
  6. Siri. Press and hold the Home button to get the attention of Siri, Apple’s automated assistant.
  7. Accessibility functions. The Home button can perform one of five accessibility functions: toggle VoiceOver, switch the display to white-on-black, toggle zoom, toggle AssistiveTouch and ask which function should be performed. You can set this up in the Accessibility Settings.
  8. Exit “Jiggle Mode.” Jiggle Mode refers to the state your iPhone is in when you’re rearranging or removing app icons. To enter Jiggle Mode, tap and hold on any app icon. When you’re done, tap the Home button to resume normal functioning.

By reading the manual we discovered this one button can do eight separate things.

Think about all of the devices you own and all of the buttons on those devices. Do you know what every single one of those buttons does? Can it perform more than one function? If you have technology in your home or office and you don’t know all that it can do, take a few minutes now to read the manual to save you time and money in the future.

Kicking off February with Valentine’s Day resolutions

Last year, I was inspired by David Seah’s post “Ground Hog Day Resolutions.” In the post, he introduces a set of goals that he revisits monthly with standardized check-ins. Each goal is meant to provide a tangible means of fostering success throughout the year. I came across this practice on Valentine’s Day, so my list of Valentine’s Day resolutions (VDR) was born.

Defining a VDR

A Valentine’s Day resolution is a monthly goal. I’ve decided to focus on professional resolutions, not personal ones. To be considered, a goal must meet certain criteria. Specifically, a VDR must (this list is strongly influenced by Seah, as his list is darn-near perfect):

  • Make me more visible.
  • Build a product inventory.
  • Create a reason for people to visit my site.
  • Build a new habit.
  • Build excellence (practice makes perfect).

Review Days

A goal that meets all five criteria will be considered. Once a goal is set, it requires a monthly check-in, so that progress/success/failure can be determined. To make things easy, I’ve made the check-in date for each month equal to that month’s number on the calendar. For example, in April, my VDR review day (VDRR) is on the 4th. In May, the 5th and so forth. Therefore, my schedule looks like this:

March 3 — VDRR #1
April 4 – VDRR #2
May 5 – VDRR #3
June 6 – VDRR #4
July 7 – VDRR #5
August 8 – VDRR #6
September 9 – VDRR #7
October 10 – VDRR #8
November 11 – VDRR #9
December 12 – VDRR #10

There are no goals set for January, as the beginning of the new year is set aside for reflection and relaxation.

My February resolution

My main professional goal for 2014 is to improve my writing skills. This February, I will write one post per day on my personal site. This satisfies all of my criteria: it increases visibility, builds a product inventory, creates a reason for people to visit the site, reinforces a productive new habit, and fosters excellence.

I encourage you to play along. You needn’t adopt professional goals, of course. Anything will work. Define the criteria that will represent success for yourself and set up monthly review periods (that’s the crucial bit). And, by December, I should have accomplished nine awesome monthly goals.

Getting big projects done: best practices from successful writers

Writing a book is a huge project; many people who have a book they would like to write are so daunted by the effort required that they never get that book written. But successful authors have strategies for getting the work done — and these are strategies all of us can apply to our own big projects, regardless of type.

Break the work down into bite-sized pieces

Matt Swanson captures the overwhelmed feeling some potential authors have:

I’d like to write a book, but I don’t have time to do all that work.

But do you have an hour to outline a table of contents? Could you write 500 words today?

As Swanson indicates, focusing on just the next small step can get someone going — and step by step, the big project gets done.

In her book Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott writes about focusing on “short assignments.” An example of one short assignment:

All I’m going to do right now, for example, is write that one paragraph that sets the story in my hometown, in the late fifties, when the trains were still running. I am going to paint a picture of it, in words.

Michelle Richmond echoes that thought:

Don’t be afraid to write a paragraph here, a page there. Not everything has to be a full-fledged chapter in the early stages of novel-writing. If you have a scene in your head that you know you want to write, go for it. But if you sit down at your computer and feel flustered and uncertain, allow yourself the freedom to think in small bits. Tell yourself, “Today I’m going to write 1200 words about where my character lives,” or “Today I’m going to write 500 words about what’s troubling the narrator.”

Lamott also quotes E. L. Doctorow:

Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.

What this means for the rest of us: Our big projects could be things such as preparing our tax returns, uncluttering our photos, or getting our files in order. We can emulate these authors, and break each project down into small pieces that feel doable.

Create a daily habit

Over and over, writers talk about the importance of writing every day — or at least five days per week. Some set a goal regarding number of words; others focus on hours spent doing the writing.

Srinivas Rao, who is writing a number of shorter pieces rather than a book, realized he’d never makes his commitments if he waited to be inspired, so he started writing 1,000 words every day:

If I woke up at a place that wasn’t home, I wrote 1,000 words.
If I had no idea what to write, I put my fingers on the keyboard … and I wrote 1,000 words.
If I didn’t feel like it (this one is really important), I wrote 1,000 words.

That meshes with the advice James Clear shares, from Khaled Housseni:

You have to write every day, and you have to write whether you feel like it or not.

What this means for the rest of us: We can also create daily practices, with specific goals. We could set the equivalent of a daily word-count goal; for example, we might commit to going through a certain number of files, papers, or photos. Or, we could decide to spend a certain amount of time working on our big project every day. Either way, we don’t have to make a huge time commitment — we’re not doing this for a living, as authors are with their writing! But seeing daily progress might be just what some of us need to keep going and get our projects done.

Here’s a strategy that Darren Rowse shares:

  1. Identify what you want to achieve.
  2. Allocate 15 minutes a day to it.
  3. Over the next year you will will spend 91 hours on your task.

Getting started with a daily routine

A few years ago, I was fed up with the frenzy of realizing something important was due … two hours after I had missed a deadline. After much trial and error, and a little dragging of my feet, I’ve established a workable daily routine. For me, adherence to a routine is especially important. Since I work from home, I’ve only got six hours to myself while my wife and kids are at school, and enough work for much more than that. I keep it all manageable, in part, with a fixed routine. It’s all about knowing what’s coming, preparing ahead of time, and finding a “home” for key items and ideas.

The view from up here – knowing what’s coming

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of my routine, I must briefly address projects. I define a project as David Allen does: anything that takes more than one action step to complete. Therefore, “land the new client” is a project, but so is “give Jr. permission to go on the field trip.”

In Getting Things Done, Allen emphasizes the importance of dealing with your stuff “when it shows up, not when it blows up.” If you can get past the Doctor Phil-ness of that rhyme, you see the wisdom in it. Remembering Jr.’s permission slip is no good after he’s been at school for two hours.

With this in mind, I have a running list of what tasks need to be done. My list is a week long, and it lives on a bulletin board behind my desk (I’ve previously written about my search for the perfect bulletin board). Each Sunday, I review what must be done over the next week, write those actions on index cards, and pin them to the board.

Preparing ahead of time

It took me years to learn this lesson. Remember the kid who was always rushing last second to finish that paper in school?

Hello. Nice to see you again.

Today I’ve finally realized that I’m not an adrenaline junkie, and that last-second frenzy is not something I enjoy. As a result, my daily routine actually begins the night before. As evening draws near, I:

  1. Make sure the kids’ bags are packed for school and that all required papers, etc. are inside those bags.
  2. Ensure that clean, weather-appropriate clothing is available for school the next morning.
  3. Review the “home” calendar (I have a separate work calendar) for pressing to-dos (sign permission slips, special pick-up or drop-off arrangements, etc.) and act accordingly.
  4. Review what’s due at work tomorrow, make sure it’s written down, and any necessary materials are ready to go for the morning.

Your evening prep list might look different, but the idea is the same: review what’s due tomorrow — be it a PowerPoint presentation or snow boots and gloves — and get it as ready as you can the night before.

Finding a home

Being who I am (warning: one NSFW word in the title of the linked post) I tend to misplace things. Just like the sun tends to be hot. So, a part of my daily routine has been to ensure that everything is where it needs to be.

This isn’t the same as my evening prep. Instead, I’ve established a “home” for important items when they’re idle. For example, car keys are always in the Roscoe, New York, coffee mug on my night stand. Always. My coat and hat live on the second peg of the closet door. Even when I’m walking around, I know which pocket each doohicky should inhabit (phone is right front, every day).

Following these rules impacts my day significantly. I can’t afford to spend 10 minutes here and 15 minutes there looking for who knows what. I’ve done that and it’s not fun. An ongoing part of my daily routine is to put everything in its proper place as I go.

General guidelines

The website Personal Organizing has shared some good, general tips for establishing and, more importantly, adhering to a daily routine. Some highlights include:

  1. Make breakfast simple. Find something nutritious that you can routinely prepare without much fuss.
  2. Organize the kitchen and pantry cabinets. Meal prep is easier, and everyone living with you can answer, “where does this go?” all on their own.
  3. Have a good mail management system. In regards to paper mail, my wife and I have our own desks for processing this stuff, and that’s been a godsend.
  4. Get the pets on a schedule. It takes some doing, but it’s definitely worth it.

Book review: Joseph Ferrari’s Still Procrastinating

Still Procrastinating: The No Regrets Guide to Getting It Done is a book that explains, in an easy-to-read format, the results of the past 20 years of scientific studies on procrastination and procrastinators.

The book defines procrastination as “the purposive delay of the starting or completing a task to the point of subjective discomfort.” More simply, procrastinators voluntarily do not work on important tasks and feel bad or uncomfortable about their delays because they know that this course of action will have negative effects in the future.

Studies cited in the book indicate that although everyone procrastinates about a few things, approximately 20 per cent of adult men and women are chronic procrastinators — they procrastinate habitually in many different areas of their lives. The studies also show that procrastination is a learned behaviour. If people understand why they procrastinate, they can get the support they need and develop strategies to help them learn new behaviours.

There are several types of procrastinators identified in the book.

Thrill-Seekers: These procrastinators claim they do better under pressure, when they feel the deadline is looming. Scientific studies show that these types of people are easily bored and the adrenaline rush of completing the task just before the deadline is a thrill they enjoy. What the studies also show is that even those these types of procrastinators believe they produce better results at the last minute, in reality they make more errors and do not complete all of the task’s components thoroughly.

Indecisives: These types of procrastinators delay making a decision until a choice is made for them. For example, they may wish to purchase tickets for the symphony but they can’t decide which night to attend and they delay so long that there are no tickets available. Studies show that Indecisives may have grown up in situations that did not allow them to acquire good decision-making skills.

Self-Saboteurs: These procrastinators intentionally place obstacles in their paths to prevent successful performance of a task. In this way they can blame external factors, such as not having enough time, to mask their anxiety and self-doubt. However, if this type of procrastinator completes the task successfully despite the obstacle, he/she will protect his/her self-esteem. Many of these self-saboteurs have low self-control. They are unable to delay their need for instant gratification and focus on the task at hand. They do not often reward themselves for a job well done and instead enjoy the “fun stuff” before they get their work done.

Perfectionists: Perfectionist procrastinators maintain impossibly high standards. They delay starting or finishing a task because being perfect is not realistically achievable. These types of procrastinators have a strong desire to be liked by others and show how hard they are working. They often justify their procrastination by saying delays will result in a better quality of work but this is not usually the case.

Regardless of the type of procrastinator with which people identify, Dr. Ferrari is optimistic about procrastinators changing their habits and behaviours. He suggests starting with small changes and gradually progressing. He indicates that getting organized is “Your Secret Weapon in Task Completion.” Do any of these four types of procrastination ring true with you or are you someone who only occasionally puts off tasks?

Professional organizers can certainly help procrastinators in their efforts to become non-procrastinators by helping them declutter, minimize distractions, and improve their time and task management skills. Sometimes consulting a mental health professional such as a cognitive behavioural therapist, may be helpful. Seeking support from family and friends who are non-procrastinators is advisable. These are the people that care for you and will hold you accountable for your changes in behaviour. Checking in daily with an accountability partner or having someone hangout with you as you work on a project at home (like cleaning out your closet) can be beneficial.

Dr. Ferrari states that procrastination is more than just having poor time management skills. Procrastination is an ineffective strategy to cope with the challenges of everyday life. By focusing on the positive aspects of your life and taking action, you can become less stressed and more productive.

Keeping New Year’s resolutions

Have you resolved to get more organized in 2014? The following suggestions are ways to ensure you actually accomplish the goals you’ve set.

Get a buddy or a support group

Here’s what works best for me when I’m trying to keep a resolution: involving other people in helping me reach my goal. One of my goals is to go walking daily. I have been most successful when I had a walking buddy as we’d keep each other going. Another thing that worked, although not quite as well, has been to get a Fitbit. I have friends that also use Fitbits, and we see each other’s daily step counts, and cheer each other on.

I’ve also found that having an accountability partner works well for me. For the past few months, I’ve been exchanging daily emails with a friend, telling her what I accomplished that day, and often mentioning my plans for the next day; she sends similar messages to me. Knowing I’m going to tell someone what I’ve completed inspires me to have good news to report every day. We’re each other’s cheering squad — and who couldn’t use one of those?

Be willing to adjust if necessary

If you find you’re having a hard time with a particular resolution, maybe you need to rethink it. For example, could you reach your goal using a different strategy than you originally had in mind?

Let’s say your goal was to keep up with your mail (or your email) and not let things pile up in your inbox. Maybe you intended to clear out your inbox every day. If that’s not working for you, what could you adjust? Would it work better to tackle this at a different time of day? Would it work better to set this as a weekly goal rather than a daily goal? Would it help to focus on eliminating the incoming mail, so there’s less to go through each day? Could someone else do a part of the “dealing with the mail” work?

You may find the resolution you set was simply overly ambitious. Maybe the answer is to set a new goal that still moves you in the right direction, even if it doesn’t take you quite as far, quite as quickly.

Make things easy; remove barriers

Continuing on the mail example: Do you get a lot of items that require shredding? If so, do you have a good shredder?

More generally, make sure you have the tools you need to support you in reaching your goals. For example, when I needed to get more exercise, one thing I needed was a pair of better shoes than the ones I had.

Understand the science of habits

Stopping bad habits and developing new ones isn’t always easy. If you understand more about how habits work, you may find it easier to get those new habits in place. One place to start would be The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg, which looks at some recent research on this subject. Steve Silberman has an informative review of the book, as well as an interview with Duhigg.

It’s also worth realizing, as Margaret Lukens points out, establishing new habits might take longer than the 21 days or 30 days you’ve probably heard about. If it’s taking a while for your new habits to become automatic, that’s normal — and no reason to get discouraged.

Creating New Year’s Resolutions for 2014

After Christmas each year, the search function on our website gets a lot of activity by people looking for articles on “how to get organized” and “be more organized.” This is of little surprise since “Get Organized!” is such a common New Year’s Resolution.

Over the next couple weeks, we are going to address New Year’s Resolutions in a series of posts — how to create them, how to make a plan for achieving them, technology that can help you work on them, and even an alternative perspective on how not to make them. We want to help the thousands of people looking to get rid of clutter and find more organization in the new year, just as we do every day, but also lend a helping hand to those of you creating resolutions that have nothing at all to do with clutter and disorganization.

Brainstorm

Grab a pen and paper, find a quiet and comfortable place to sit, close your eyes, and take a deep breath. Spend a few minutes in solitude trying your best to think about nothing. If you’re like most people (myself included) it will be very difficult to clear your mind, especially if this is not an activity you do regularly. Responsibilities, concerns, wishes, dreams, embarrassing situations, and maybe a few random jokes will flood your mind. As they do, write down these thoughts on your paper and then quickly return to trying to clear your mind. Eventually, you’ll either tire of the activity or be successful at having a clear mind, and this is when you can stop the meditation activity and review the list you created.

Do you notice any themes among the items on your list? Do you see items that evoke strong feelings — good or bad? Are there items on your list of things you wish to change or improve upon or achieve?

While reviewing this list, think about how you want to feel in 2014. Like most people, you probably wish to have more energy, more happiness, and less stress. Are there any items on your list that will help you achieve these feelings of contentment?

Work through your notes and begin to draft your resolutions for the new year.

Be precise

After brainstorming, “Get Organized!” may still be at the forefront of your resolutions. Unfortunately, it is an extremely vague resolution, and people who make vague resolutions are more likely to fail at achieving them than people who make precise resolutions.

Do you want to get organized at work or at home? Is there a specific area of your life where, if you were more organized, you would have less stress? Do you have one or two projects that are out of control and a little organizing can help them succeed?

The more exact you are with what you want to change, the more likely you will be to create steps to help you achieve your resolutions. Instead of “Get Organized!” perhaps you want to create precise resolutions like: Better organize the children’s bedtime routine; Organize and file medical records and bills; Unclutter clothes that don’t fit from bedroom closet; Research, acquire, learn how to use, and maintain a new project management system at work.

Be realistic

There are a number of things I would like to change about myself, but I am not super human. I have limitations — limited time, energy, finances, etc. As a result, I’ve never been successful at achieving more than 12 resolutions (one per month) in a given year. And, most years, I’ve only been able to achieve four or five large resolutions. You know yourself best, so be realistic with what you can achieve. If you have a newborn at home, you may only want to have two or three resolutions for 2014. If “Get the proper amount of sleep each night by going to bed by 10:00 pm” is one of your resolutions, as it is one of mine, put it at the top of your list. The more energy you have, the more likely you’ll be to achieve the other resolutions on your list.

Further reading

When creating New Year’s Resolutions, I always think about the brilliant and inspiring Danielle LaPorte. Her book The Desire Map is one of the best books I’ve encountered for helping to decide what new path or paths you wish to take in life.

Uncluttering the project to-do list

I have a few to-do items that have stayed on my project list for way too long, and a few weeks ago I decided to do something about those items before the end of the year. I wasn’t aiming to necessarily complete each project, but I wanted to get each one in motion.

First, though, I had to figure out why I was stuck — why I wasn’t making progress. And in each case, I found that I was stymied by the first step.

Project 1: Getting routine medical work done

I was overdue for my annual lab work and physical exam. Why? My doctor had retired and I hadn’t settled on a new one. I’d asked a few friends for recommendations, but many of them were in the same situation as I was, having used the same doctor.

Once I decided I really needed to tackle this project, I realized I could easily take a few small steps to move past this decision-making logjam:

  1. Expand the geographical range I was willing to consider.
  2. Send an email to a larger group of people whose opinions I trusted, asking for recommendations.

And this worked out perfectly. Two people raved about their doctors; I picked one and had a first appointment, which went well. After that, I got my lab work done last Thursday, and I have my physical exam set for this coming Friday.

Project 2: Dealing with a broken lighting fixture

I love the lighting fixture in my bedroom, but it has a design quirk that has caused some recurring problems, which my handyman has repeatedly fixed. The last time it stopped working, I just brought a basic blah-looking lamp into the room as a temporary measure and lived with that for way too long. I was unsure what to do as a more permanent solution, so I did nothing.

But finally, I decided to decide and my decision was to give up on the fixture I had and buy a new one. I went back to my favorite lighting store, where I’d bought that first fixture, to see what was available. The store has great customer service and a wonderful selection; the only drawback is that it’s not close to my home. Once I got there and explained my problem, I wished I’d made the effort to come in sooner. The owner said that if I brought in my old fixture, the technicians could probably make an adjustment to prevent the problems I was having!

I got someone to remove the fixture from its ceiling mount, and I took the light into the store. The folks there expect to make the fix and install the light for me again shortly after Christmas.

In both of these cases, once I determined my first steps, everything else fell into place. I just needed to get past the first decision-making hump.

Project 3: Replacing some carpet

I have one final big to-do hanging over me: replacing the worn-out carpet in my home office. This is yet another project where I’m stymied by the first step, which is selecting the kind of floor covering I want. Because of my cats and the way the room is used, carpeting seems like a poor solution. The room already has a lot of wood, so wood flooring sounds like a poor choice, too.

This one is a big decision, as the cost will be non-trivial. But, I’ve got the Internet at my fingertips, there are some good flooring stores nearby, and I know some people to consult — so I’ll be off investigating my options before the end of the year. Because I’m determined to not let this project languish any longer because of one decision-making obstacle, I’m sure to get it done.

Staying on top of everything

Being a full-time military wife, mother, and entrepreneur, my life can be very hectic. I’ve got to keep on top of everything so that things get done and my life stays balanced.

A number of years ago, I realized that the method I was using to keep track of my tasks and projects had reached its limit. I started falling behind. I was working inefficiently, spending time on items that were not necessarily the highest priority. Details were falling through the cracks. I kept forgetting to follow-up with people from whom I was expecting information.

I attended a conference in 2009 and learned about a book titled, On Top of Everything: Manage Your Projects and Life With Ease by Laurence Seton. A few weeks later, after hearing some colleagues’ testimonials and reading the reviews, I purchased the book. It is well written and very easy to read. The book introduces a system called “Projecteze®: The Ultimate Organizational System”.

Projecteze® uses tables in Microsoft Word to create a simple, elegant, yet powerful system to track projects and tasks. Most people are familiar with MS Word so there is no need to learn a new software program to implement the Projecteze® system.

Although the author recommends MS Word, I believe that other programs such as Pages for Mac or WordPerfect would work equally well if that is the software you are most comfortable using.

The benefits of using word processing software for Projecteze® include:

  • Low cost — most people already have access to word processing software
  • Ease of use — most people already know how to use word processing software
  • Flexibility — of entering, formatting, and presenting information
  • Accessibility — information can be viewed on almost any computer and easily accessed online
  • Sortable — tables allow information to be sorted by project or by priority so you’re working on the right tasks at the right time
  • Transferable — easy to hand over projects, or parts thereof, to co-workers for completion

On Top Of Everything has many examples of how to use the Projecteze® system in several different types of businesses, for managing school work, and for just following through on personal projects at home. The following is an example of my personal chart to give you somewhat of an idea how the system looks and operates:

When my copy of On Top Of Everything arrived in the post, I read it from cover to cover and immediately put the theory into practice. I designed my Projecteze® table and filled in all of my tasks, projects and plans on which I needed to work.

In less than a week, I was in love and comfortable with this new system. I immediately saw what I had already accomplished, what needed to be done, and where to concentrate my efforts. I could keep track of all my tasks and projects. I was proactive — working on the most important things first instead of reacting to whatever dropped on my desk. I was also able to keep tabs on when I was expecting information from other people — something that I always had trouble with before. I was able to follow up at the appropriate time instead of bothering people constantly or forgetting to contact them at all!

As a professional organizer, I recommended the Projecteze® system to many of my clients and I was pleasantly surprised to read their glowing reviews on Amazon.

Selecting the right bulletin board for home or office

I recently admitted that I need a bulletin board in my home office. They really are supremely handy. Bulletin boards can serve several purposes (often more than one at a time) and come in a variety of materials and sizes.

The problem was that a quick online search resulted in several options that were, honestly, pretty ugly. Plain cork board and thin, one-inch plywood borders reminded me of the sad, half-abandoned classroom bulletin boards of my youth. I just didn’t want that hanging in my office, where I’d see it every day.

But before we get to the design options, the first step is to identify what role a new bulletin board will play.

Purpose

I knew I couldn’t make a successful purchase until I clearly defined what I role I expected my board to play. I came up with several options:

  1. Decorative. My daughter has a small bulletin board in her bedroom, which she uses to display photos, mementos, and other paper-based keepsakes. It’s all fun and no business. Some “files” partially cover others and the contents don’t change very often. Occasionally something is added, but rarely anything is taken away.
  2. Reference. Unlike a decorative board, reference boards are more orderly and purposefully organized. The idea is to store oft-referenced material right out in the open for easy use.
  3. Communication hub. For many of us, I’d bet the family refrigerator fills this role. As I’ve said before, this is a tempting but ultimately ineffective practice. Still, I see the appeal of a public communication hub. When I was a college student, it was a common practice to put a dry erase board on the door to one’s dorm room (note: this was long before texting and smartphones existed). Today, it’s a great idea for busy families.
  4. Short-term memory. I maintain a form of this with 3″ x 5″ index cards. There’s always a stack on my desk and I’m always grabbing them throughout the day to jot down something I need to remember but can’t attend to when it arrives. Again, I see the appeal of a larger version of this hanging on a wall, especially when processing all of that incoming “stuff” at the end of the day.
  5. Combination. Of course, it’s quite possible for a bulletin board to meet any combination of the above listed needs. A communication hub with pictures from that summer at the lake? Sure. A reference board with a corner dedicated to quickie tasks? Absolutely.

Knowing your needs can help you choose the type of board to buy, as some materials are better suited to one function over another.

Types based on purpose

  1. Decorative. In this case, boards with felt straps are a great choice. The straps keep you from having to poke pin holes in treasured mementos. Find one that looks great, as looks are a big part of the experience here.
  2. Reference. Unlike a decorative bulletin board, this one has strictly utilitarian needs. Find something that will stand up to wear-and-tear as you’ll be moving things around a lot. It needn’t be ugly, of course, but aesthetics ins’t your primary concern.
  3. Communication hub. For this bulletin board to work, it’s got to be easy to use. Having a bulletin board with a dry erase board is a great option, as is a DIY chalkboard paint option. You might also want to consider a magnetic and push pin board, so kids can quickly attach notes from school to it, for example.
  4. Short-term memory. Dry erase or chalkboard paint combined with a heavy-duty push pin board is again the way to go here. This is for temporary storage of information that is captured quickly, and then purged when no longer necessary.

And, of course, there are boards that combine all four. Find the one that best suits your plans and go for it. As for me, I want something that will give me an overview of what needs to be done for the week: articles due, school stuff for the kids, un-missable calendar events. A magnetic board will work, but I’m going with something that can accept push pins. My current plan is to buy large sections of cork board and cover it with old, decorative burlap sacks we have with vintage farming graphics. I’ll wrap the result in a nice, painted frame. That way I won’t feel badly about putting pins into it and it won’t look terrible on the wall.