Children’s book review: Franklin is Messy

There are books available for adults on the whys and wherefores of getting organized but there are not that many for young children.

Franklin the Turtle is a Canadian book series that first appeared in the mid-1980s. I love this entire series of books. Franklin is amiable, cheerful, and enjoys playing with his many friends. These wonderfully illustrated books are written to engage beginning readers.

Specifically, Franklin is Messy recounts how Franklin misses opportunities to play with his friends because he can’t find his costumes or toys. Franklin gets exasperated at not being able to find what he needs as he attempts to do some tidying himself. His parents offer assistance and together they create storage solutions adapted to Franklin’s needs. I won’t spoil the ending by revealing Franklin’s perspective on his organized and tidy room!

When I organized families, younger children would often be intimidated and nervous that a professional organizer was going to overhaul the house, and possibly throw out all of their treasures. I felt that Franklin is Messy was so well written that I took it with me whenever a client had children under eight years old. I would have the kids help me clear a space on the floor and I would sit with them and either read the book to them or have them read the book to me. Often, I would tell the pre-teens to sit with us too — so their younger brothers and sisters would have familiar company.

Usually, as soon as we finished the book, the children would start organizing on their own. Sometimes it was because they wanted to find lost treasures like Franklin and other times it was because they understood that a tidy room meant more time playing with friends.

Franklin is Messy has been translated into over 30 languages and views the benefits of getting organized in a brilliant, well written way that children can relate to in their own lives.

For those who prefer to watch rather than read, the books were adapted for television in the mid-1990s. In this Youtube video, the Franklin is Messy story starts at 11:40.

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.

Kindle MatchBook lets you upgrade your print-edition book purchases to ebooks

We’re very excited. Today Amazon launched Kindle MatchBook, which lets you upgrade your previous Amazon.com print-edition book purchases for select titles to the corresponding ebook versions. The upgrade pricing varies. Some titles have free upgrades, while others are priced as high as $2.99.

Kindle MatchBook

This is a great way to reduce the physical space required for storing books you currently own. Having your books in an ebook format also allows you to reference them while on-the-go.

A relatively small number of titles are currently available for upgrade, but more are sure to be released in the coming months.

If you don’t already own an ebook reader, our current pick is the new Kindle Paperwhite. The new next-gen backlight is very easy on the eyes.

The Staples Vayder Chair is a cozy, sturdy ride

The following is a sponsored post from Staples about a product we believe in. For the past few weeks, I’ve been aggressively testing this product and the review is based on my first-hand experiences. We agreed to work with Staples because they sell so many different products in their stores, and our arrangement with them allows us to review products we use and have no hesitation recommending to our readers. Again, these infrequent sponsored posts help us continue to provide quality content to our audience.

When I was younger my grandfather told me, “Man was not meant to sit.” At the time I thought his cheese was slipping off of his cracker, but contemporary medicine backs up his claim. Dr. Camelia Davtyan, clinical professor of medicine and director of women’s health at the UCLA Comprehensive Health Program, recently told the LA Times, “Prolonged sitting is not what nature intended for us.”

Score one for gramps.

Today, my job requires me to spend tremendous amount of time seated behind a desk, so I want a chair that’s comfortable, supportive, well-made, easy to use, and not out to kill me. I’ve been testing the Staples Vayder chair ($399) for a couple of weeks and can say, a couple of quirks aside, it meets my needs and looks great doing it.

Vayder Chair from Staples

Assembly

Seriously, this could not be easier. In fact, I hesitate to call it “assembly,” as “snapping a few pieces together” would be more accurate. The chair ships in eight pieces: the seat, the base, the gas lift (or piece that sits between the seat and the base), and five wheels. It also comes with a small pamphlet that explains the three-step assembly process and usage details in English and French.

The wheels and gas lift snap into the base and the seat fits into the top of the lift. The whole process took me less than 10 minutes to complete. I will note, however, it’s not super easy to line up the bottom of the seat with the top of the lift by yourself, so if possible get someone else to act as your eyes and guide you. Also, one of the wheels only went about 95% of the way into my base, but the first time I sat in the completed chair it popped in the rest of the way.

Controls and adjustments

Of course, I plopped down into the Vayder before reading the instructions, and found myself sitting bolt upright. Fortunately, Staples makes it easy to configure the chairs six adjustment options for a custom feel. The control levers are made of plastic and bear icons that suggest their function. Most are easy to reach from a seated position, so you won’t need to move around to change things.

Seat hight is simple enough and raises or lowers the seat. Tilt Lock lets you lean back or forward and lock the seat back into one of four positions. For me, one click backward is perfect. To use it, just flip the lever down, move your back and then flick the lever back up to lock it into place.

The arm hight adjustment is something I kind of laughed at until I’ve tried it. When I was in college, I had a job filing and my chair’s arms were so tall I couldn’t get my arms on them and under the desk at the same time. The arms on the Vayder chair move up and down by several inches, and the armrests themselves also move forward and back.

Other adjustment options include back height adjustment (this is the adjustment you can’t make while seated), which lets you raise or lower the back support piece, and a slide seat adjustment that lets you move just the “bottom” of the seat, for lack of a better term, forward or back.

Finally, the tension adjustment is the most interesting. Both the chair’s seat and back are made of a mesh upholstery that’s supremely comfortable (more on that in the next section). Tension adjustment is completed by turing a cylindrical handle just beneath the seat. Move it forward for firmer feel, backward for more relaxed.

Comfort

This chair plain-old feels good. The mesh upholstery breathes so you don’t get hot as you would on a typically upholstered seat. I’ve got the mesh set to be pretty firm, and it feels great, especially against my back. The wheels roll nicely without making a lot of noise and I’ve never been uncomfortable, even after two weeks of 10-hour days. Plus, it just feels solid.

In conclusion I like the Staples Vayder a lot. It does have some quirks, like that stubborn wheel and the fact that assembly is a hassle if you’re by yourself, but those are minor quibbles. My real-world experience with the Vayder has been great and I look forward to many, many more hours in it.

And look at that, I got through this whole post without making one “Darth Vayder” pun.

Knife block with integrated stand for iPad (or any other tablet)

As someone who frequently uses an iPad in the kitchen to manage recipes, this knife block from Victorinox seems like a great solution to the problem of where to safely rest a tablet while cooking:

Knife block with iPad stand

Organizing paperwork with Staples’ Better Binders

The following is a sponsored post from Staples about a product we believe in. For the past month, I’ve been aggressively testing this product and the review is based on my first-hand experiences. We agreed to work with Staples because they sell so many different products in their stores, and our arrangement with them allows us to review products we use and have no hesitation recommending to our readers. Again, these infrequent sponsored posts help us continue to provide quality content to our audience.

When I travel (for work or pleasure) or have special projects, I almost always organize the corresponding paperwork in a three-ring binder. I like to have all of my necessary information in one storage system so I can grab it and go. I also usually have a scanned backup of the same data in Evernote or on Dropbox, but I see these digital copies as being useful only if something happens to my original binder. Usually I need physical copies of the papers I’m keeping, especially with projects, when the papers may be something I’m giving to clients or need to file with a legal entity.

Earlier this year, I was introduced to Staples’ new Better Binder system, and I’ve been using them ever since. I’ve taken them to a conference, on vacation, and am currently using one to store all the paperwork for our second adoption. When finished using the binder for one purpose, I’ve removed the FileRings and dropped them into my filing cabinet. They could also be useful for keeping yearly family or tax information or anything project where you’ll be actively using the paperwork for a period of time and then need to archive it when you’re finished with it.

In short, it is a three-ring binder whose FileRings spine pops out and allows you to file the contents of the binder directly into your filing cabinet. The binders themselves are reusable and additional removable FileRings are available for purchase. (They are currently in the $4 range for the replacement FileRings.)

Removing the FileRings is incredibly simple, especially after you see it done. Pull on the plastic pieces at the top and bottom of the FileRings spine to pop it out. You then push in the top and bottom plastic pieces to hang the FileRings in your filing cabinet. Inserting the FileRings is also simple — set them in place and then push in the top and bottom of the FileRings spine to secure them into the binder.

They also have available Better Dividers, which I really like. The tabs can be inserted on the top or the side of the divider, making them extremely versatile. There are times when having the tab at the top of my binder is helpful, especially when I only have a need for two or three divided sections.

The binder comes with a blank spine label you can tear off and easily slide into place, so you don’t have to cut up a sheet of paper to make one from scratch. The front panel of the binder also allows you to slip in a cover sheet of your own design.

Better Binders come in the traditional size (11” x 11-3/4”) for 8-12″ x 11″ sheets of paper. They’re available in 1″ (275 sheets of paper) for roughly $8, 1-1/2″ (400 sheets) for $9, 2″ (540 sheets) for $11, and 3″ (600 sheets) widths for $14. The binder comes with one removable FileRings spine, but additional FileRings must be purchased separately. Current colors are white, red, black, pink, orange, yellow, green, teal, blue, purple, dark teal, fuchsia, plum, olive, and multi-color combinations of some of these colors. I use the different binder colors to make it even more obvious which binder I need to take with me, in addition to the labeling I use on the binder.

Comparing video streaming services

The way we watch TV and movies is changing. So-called “time-shifted” television and on-demand movies make it possible to see just the programs we’re interested in when we have the time to watch. I love this practice because it lets me get work and family activities completed first, and save TV watching for when my schedule allows it.

There are many ways to access on-demand movies and television shows. Each has its own pros and cons. In this article, I’ll look at some of the most popular options, describing the benefits and drawbacks of each.


Netflix

Netflix started out as a way to rent DVDs through the mail, and today it provides streaming television and movies to millions of users. I’ve been a customer for about two years and I enjoy the service quite a bit.

Pros:

  1. Compatibility. Netflix is available on the iPad, Android devices, the Nook, Kindle Fire, the web, iPhone, Nintendo Wii and more. If you’ve got a connected smart device, it just might run Netflix.
  2. Original programming. Netflix has produced at least two high-quality original TV shows. Lilyhammer starting Steve Van Zant of The Sopranos and Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band was a delightful fish-out-of-water story that put a New York City mob boss in Lilyhammer, Norway, via a witness protection program. Meanwhile, House of Cards starring Kevin Spacey takes a look at the hard-scrabble world of D.C. politics. Netflix is also working to revive Arrested Development, which Fox shut down in 2006.
  3. Navigation. Using Netflix is easy. The company has released several updates to its web app and device-specific applications. It’s clear the team is determined to produce a high-quality product.
  4. The queue. You can identify shows or movies you’d like to see and store them in a queue. When you’re ready to watch, simply open your queue and make a choice from among those you’ve saved.

Cons:

  1. Mediocre selection. Overall, Netflix’s selection is mediocre. The TV selection is better than the movies. Once you’ve seen the ones you’ve heard of, you’re left with obscure documentaries and other films that didn’t make a splash at the box office. Now, many of them are quite good, but be aware that you might not find the latest summer smash in Netflix for quite some time.
  2. Cost. It’s not expensive, but at $7.99 for access to streaming content (DVD rentals are more), it adds up over time.
  3. Search isn’t great. It can take a while to find a title you’d like to see from among the many thousands on offer.
  4. Not very kid-friendly. Netflix features a “kid mode” that only presents child-appropriate content, but anyone can defeat it with two taps, no password required.

Hulu Plus

Hulu Plus is the paid version of Hulu, the online streaming service that works in a web browser, iPad, iPhone and more.

Pros:

  1. Kid mode done right. Unlike Netflix, Hulu Plus requires a password to exit its kid-safe mode.
  2. Fantastic TV selection. Hulu often gets episodes of popular television shows the day after they run, so you don’t wait. TV really is Hulu’s main strong point.
  3. Wide device support. Hulu Plus is available on many devices, from the Xbox to the iPad to Android tablets and phones.
  4. Nice image quality. I’ve watched several programs on my 27″ display and my HD television (via Apple TV) and they always look great.
  5. Picking up where you left off. You can start a program on, say, your iPad and pick up where you left off on your computer (to be fair, other services do this, too).

Cons:

  1. Abysmal movie selection. This is a sticking point for most streaming services but it seems to be a real issue for Hulu. I can often find something to watch on Netflix. On Hulu, I stick with TV. The movie selection is not to my liking at all.
  2. Cost. Just like Netflix, Hulu Plus will run you $7.99 per month. Not a lot on its own, but it adds up when purchased along side other streaming services.

PBS

The PBS app for iPhone and iPad is very nice. Here are a few things I like about it.

Pros:

  1. The scheduling feature is quite helpful. Tell the app your home location to browse a full programming calendar. You can even create reminders to catch upcoming shows.
  2. Favorites. After creating a free account, you can monitor your favorite shows and receive notifications of relevant information.
  3. Great navigation. This app is beautifully laid out and easy to use.
  4. It’s free!

Cons:

  1. Restricted to PBS programming. That’s not a bad thing, especially for PBS fans, but the drawback is obvious: you can’t watch anything other than PBS shows.
  2. Some series are incomplete. For example, I was able to find Julia Child’s Cooking with Master Chefs, but not The French Chef (which I prefer).

iTunes

Apple’s media behemoth iTunes is a great choice for people who want access to current TV and movies in HD.

Pros:

  1. TV shows are current and movies often hit iTunes when they’re released on DVD.
  2. 720p and 1080p HD programs are available.
  3. The iTunes software is available for Macs and Windows PCs.
  4. Renting is less expensive than buying.
  5. The iTunes Store is updated weekly, so content is always fresh.
  6. Apple’s iCloud lets you store iTunes purchases on Apple’s servers for playback on any approved, compatible device.

Cons:

  1. Unless you’re using iTunes on a Windows machine, you must have an Apple device to view rentals and/or purchases. There’s no Android support here.
  2. A la carte pricing. This sounds good, but it’s a lot less economical than the all-you-can-eat flat fee of services like Netflix and Hulu. Every time you want to watch anything, you must pay for it (unless you’ve bought it outright, of course).

Amazon Prime Streaming

Prime is Amazon’s service that includes two-day shipping on qualifying items plus access to its library of streaming video. It’s a good deal for those who shop with Amazon and love streaming video.

Pros:

  1. Cost. At $79 per year, Amazon is much cheaper than the other services listed here (save PBS). That works out to about $6.58 per month, and includes the shipping benefit.
  2. Prime members with an Amazon Kindle can “borrow” books as well, essentially turning Amazon into a lending library.

Cons:

  1. Selection. It’s not good. The movie section is especially lacking. You’ll find some hits that are around 20 years old, but other than that you have to dig.

Vdio

There’s also a newcomer to the group. As of yesterday, audio streaming service Rdio has added streaming video to is business: Vdio. It’s only available to Rdio Unlimited subscribers in the US and UK for now. In the few hours I spent looking at it, I found the selection to be small in number but big in names. Recent hits like Lincoln, Les Mis, The Hobbit and Life of Pi are available right now. Vdio is young but definitely a service to watch. (Sorry for that pun).

So there’s a look at the more popular video streaming services. There are more, of course, but this post is already long enough. It’s really nice when you can schedule TV viewing on your own terms. The whole process becomes more efficient with less time wasted. Have fun watching TV in “the cloud!”

Modo modular desktop organizer on Kickstarter

The organizers of a new Kickstarter project got in touch with us yesterday because they thought our readers might be interested in the modular desktop organizer they’re trying to crowdfund. Watch the following video:

The design seems both simple and flexible. We’d love to see them produce the base in a variety of woods though. While sustainable, bamboo isn’t always our cup of tea.

At a pre-order price of $26, we’re still impressed.

Organize your photos and videos with This Life

Many people use their computers to manage four things: work, browsing the Internet, music, and photos. For my family, photographs are a big deal. My iPhoto library is bulging at 32 GB, and that’s with 2009 – 2010 archived on an external drive. In short, my wife and I take a lot of pictures with our digital cameras and smart phones.

Keeping the lot organized is a challenge. Not to mention sharing with far-flung family and friends, as well as finding that one shot you’re after. While I love Apple’s iPhoto, I’ve been looking for something that’s platform-agnostic (Mac, Windows, whatever), easy, tidy and even fun. There are many contenders, but for right now, This Life is what we’re using.

There are a few things I like about This Life, and I’ll describe my favorites. It recently came out of its beta testing period and is now available to the public.

Getting Photos Into This Life

You can’t start using This Life until you fill it with photos. Fortunately, the process is easy. The company has made a free “uploader” application for both Macintosh and Windows. Simply download it, open it and follow the instructions. It will begin uploading any photos you throw at it. Depending on how big your library is, it may take a while, so go make a sandwich.

You can also import photos from many popular services like Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, Twitter, Picasa, SmugMug and more. I moved my Instagram and Facebook photos over to it easily.

Once your photos are in This Life, it’s time to start organizing.

Who’s Who

Many photo-management applications offer face recognition, but I haven’t found one that works as well as This Life’s. Facial recognition technology lets you give a name to a face in one of your photos. This Life then looks for that same face in the other photos and assigns that name to it. The idea being that you can search photos by face (“Jane Smith”). It isn’t 100 percent accurate but, boy, does it work well. It also runs in the background so you can do other things on your machine.

Once you give it a name/face combination to ponder, This Life gets to work. The next time you launch it, you’ll be given a few guesses to confirm. The next time, a few more. As This Life gets more confident, it does greater and greater batches and eventually leaves you alone. It works well.

Dupe!

This Life also handles duplicates very well. Specifically, if it finds two copies of the exact same photograph, it keeps the one with the highest resolution and deletes the others. That’s very handy and saves me from having to find those on my own.

Organizing

There’s no This Life application for the Mac or Windows (aside from that uploader utility). Instead, you use it in a web browser. It’s organized in a very clever way. By default there are two “views,” or ways to look at your photos: My Story and Library.

The library view presents all of of your photos at once, in chronological order, from left to right (oldest on the left, newest on the right). There are three rows of photos and a pretty little drop shadow makes them appear to be resting on a big table. A slider on the bottom of the screen lets you move back and forth, and if you have a mouse with a scroll wheel, that will work, too.

Click any photo to zoom in and share via Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr or email. You can also leave a comment and perform simple editing tasks like “Image Magic,” which attempts to correct for lighting and color balance (hit or miss in my testing) and rotation. Finally, you can delete the image or download the full-resolution original to your computer.

That’s great, but the real beauty is in Stories.

Stories

This Life lets you group photos into what it calls Stories. You can think of Stories as albums, but they’re more than that. This Life’s developers refer to them as “living albums — they are a dynamic collection of photos, videos and notes.” I’m a big fan of This Life Stories.

Creating a new Story is simple. Just click “New Story” in the upper left and give it a name. Adding photos and/or videos to a story is even easier: just place your mouse over it and click the heart that appears. That’s it. Honestly, you can add dozens of photos to a Story in seconds. To switch to a different Story, select it in the drop-down menu and resume clicking hearts.

Stories are also collaborative. You can invite others to contribute to a story and upload their own photos and videos. My family has a reunion ever year, and everyone takes pictures. It was fun to invite them to my “Family Vacation ’12” Story and see their contributions come in.

There’s more to love like searching by location, which shows all photos taken at a certain geographic location, and tags, which lets you describe what’s happening in the image. This makes search very powerful, as you can enter “Jane eating cake at Grandma’s house” and find exactly those shots. Super.

Sign Up Options

This Life is free to use for up to a certain amount of storage, and additional plans increase based on the amount of storage you require. There are many photo management options out there, and This Life is definitely worth your consideration.

Review: Martha Stewart Home Office with Avery Dry Erase Decals

We receive a lot of offers to test products and write reviews for the site, and we almost always decline. Very rarely do the items look like they would actually be useful. A few weeks ago, however, we got an offer from the Martha Stewart company to try out their new dry erase boards that looked like they might be useful, so we agreed to give them a try. I received the new Martha Stewart Home Office with Avery Dry Erase Decals (free of cost from the manufacturer) to test out a few days later. Two of the key features are that they can stick to many surfaces (including walls, stainless steel, glass, and plastic) and they’re removable (and, therefore, can be repositioned as many times as you want).

At first glance, they look like giant gift labels (about the size of a piece of notebook paper), but they’re really a bit more than that. They can be used to write reminders, to do lists, a grocery list, or even a fun, positive quote for the day. Since I really like to handwrite lists, I was curious to see how well they would work.

I decided to use one of the decals for a task list and placed it in a location that was very visible (so that I would be reminded to use it) — on the glass window of the main entry door to our house. This was the perfect spot for me as I often remind myself to take things when I’m leaving home by putting them by that door. To remember everything on my list, all I had to do was snap a picture of it before heading out to run errands.

Here’s my to do list from last week:

I used the other label on the wall adjacent to my daughter’s room door. This time, I wrote down books I wanted to remember to buy for her. It could be used by older children (or their parents) to jot down updates to their schedule (like a change to an extracurricular event). Or, you could write the instructions for a new recipe or a note to call a client at a certain time. Perhaps you need a visual nudge that says, “Work on important project today!” (that could work well if the decal is placed by your workspace) or a happy face to help you get through an eventful day.

The decals were very easy to apply to both the glass window and wall, and I had no problem removing or repositioning them on either surface. It didn’t leave a residue or take off wall paint. The writing surface is very smooth and erasing was just as easy as using a typical dry erase board. They work well for capturing ideas and reminders, though you will need dry erase markers close by. I will be continuing to test the decals in my home office (to write future blog topics) as well as on the fridge (to write a grocery list). They seem to be a nice solution for someone living in an apartment with restrictions on nailing things into the wall. If you want to give them a try for your home, office, or dorm room, you can find them on Amazon and at Staples. They cost in the $3 to $5 price range and come in a variety of styles, which is relatively inexpensive especially in comparison to most traditional dry erase boards.

Are you ready for an uncluttered career?

I’ve written a handful of times over the years that I believe there are two types of jobs that help people achieve an uncluttered life. Those jobs are:

  1. The immersed career. A career that you love with a deep passion, surrounded by great colleagues who support and believe in a similar vision, and that is an integral part and reflection of who you are. Your career and your personal life bleed into each other, happily.
  2. The detached job. A job that has regular hours, no demands on your time beyond your scheduled work day, generates enough income for a comfortable lifestyle, great colleagues, and a positive corporate culture. You clock in, do your job, have no major complaints about being at work, clock out, and rarely think about work when you’re not there.

Other types of jobs lend themselves to creating frustration, unproductive stress, and disappointment. If you are immersed in a career with people you can’t stand, you’ll be miserable. If you’re in a detached job but have a boss that calls you on your free time expecting you to drop everything and come back to the office, you’ll be resentful. And, in case it isn’t obvious, I’m of the belief that misery, resentment, frustration, and unproductive stress are clutter.

If your job is clutter, financial circumstances might make quitting it difficult, especially if you’re in a part of the world where lining up a new job is very difficult. If your career is clutter, you have the financial aspects to consider, as well as quitting can leave you feeling like you’re cutting off a part of yourself. For many people, though, the clutter of a bad job or career may be too much and worth quitting and taking the risks of something new.

If you’re wanting to leave your current employer and looking to have an immersed career, I strongly recommend checking out the new book The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau. His book is an efficient blueprint for creating a job that helps you to achieve your vision of an uncluttered life.

Before I started my writing career, I was afraid of all the things that could go wrong: What if no one wanted to read what I had to say? What if I never sold a single article? What if I hated writing from home and missed a traditional office environment? What if? What if? What if? Having fears about starting your own business or pursuing the career of your dreams is common. So are fears about finances and being able to pay the bills when your revenue stream is anything but certain. But if you’re ready to ditch a cluttered job or career and face your fears, Chris’ book can help with seasoned, practical advice and case studies of dozens of people who have done exactly what he recommends and succeeded.

The book is rich with real-world wisdom, but my favorite part of the text relates to his recommendation to create a one-page business plan. If you can’t describe what you plan to do in a single page, you’re going to be slow to act and slow to find support for your idea. You need to know where you’re going and how you want to get there (just like with all things uncluttering related). In short, you should be able to explain your “product or service, a group of customers, and a way to get paid” in one page. If you have ever seen a business plan, almost all are notebook size and brimming with unclear business lingo and buzzwords. Chris advises you to abandon that and just get to the heart of what you want to do. Have a clear vision for your future. You can download or print a free copy of his one-page plan at 100startup.com if you’re interested in creating one for yourself.

Are you frustrated, unproductively stressed, and miserable in your cluttered job? Are you ready for a change that will land you into an immersed career where you’re doing something you love or in a detached job that allows you to pursue your other interests freely outside of work hours? What’s keeping you from letting go of job clutter? Would a giant push in a new direction help you to finally let go of the job clutter? Would a book like Chris Guillebeau’s The $100 Startup help you to work through some of your fears, make a plan, and help you get on the path to an uncluttered work life? Speaking from experience, I can say I’ve found an uncluttered career worth the risk of making a change. If you don’t like clutter in your home, do you really want it in your career?

Ask Unclutterer: What tools should I use to digitize my paper piles?

Reader Rose submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

Before I ask my question I have to tell you I am seriously not computer savvy. I don’t understand the lingo. My question is: Since technology changes so quickly and your article ["Scanning documents to reduce paper clutter"] was written 5 years ago, would you still recommend the same scanner, software etc. to be able to accomplish my purpose? Is it possible to use the scanner on my All-in-One printer? Does the software allow you to create categories to put the articles in? Please if you have a recommendation for the simplest to use of these items that would be so gratefully appreciated!

You’re asking a number of questions and all of them are fantastic! I’ll address them in my response, but be sure to check out the comments for even more answers from our readers.

Your first question is if I still recommend the same scanner and software for tackling a paper pile (or two or ten). The short answer is yes, I strongly recommend Fujitsu ScanSnaps, their scanning and optical character recognition (OCR) software, and DevonTHINK document organizing software. The long answer to that question is more nuanced.

In the long answer, I’ll tell you that you need to find equipment and software that works best for you. If you already own an all-in-one scanner, you likely have no need to go out and buy a new scanner. However, you may want to acquire software that provides OCR processing if the software with your scanner doesn’t have this capability. Or, if you’re comfortable with storing documents online, I suggest opening an Evernote account. After you scan a document, you can upload your files to Evernote, which can read words found on documents and in images and even some handwriting (and it lets you organize your papers, too, in a way that works best for you). And, if you want a great tutorial about Evernote, check out Brett Kelly’s terrific Evernote Essentials downloadable guide. There are numerous options available to you, not just the ScanSnap-DevonTHINK one I provided in the earlier article.

Since you don’t mention what all-in-one scanner you have, I don’t know if it has document organizing software as part of its package. Most don’t, but some do have these features. You can also just nicely organize the documents on your computer in folders like you do all the other work you save on your computer. I recommend saving all files as PDFs, because if this file type ever goes out of style, you can bet there will be conversion programs that will allow you to turn PDFs into whatever becomes the new standard. To save a file as a PDF, follow the instructions in “Printing to PDF.”

Next, you asked what is the simplest way to turn your physical paper pile into digital files — and the truth of the matter is the easiest way to do it is to have someone else do it for you. Simply do a search online to find local document scanning service providers. I also recommend checking out reviews on Angie’s List to be sure the company you’re going to have scan your papers is reputable and secure. Most companies will shred your documents after they scan them. There will still be some work for you before you hand off your papers and after you receive the digital files, but having someone other than yourself do the scanning is the easiest method. (Sort your papers before you give them to the scanning company so you are only paying for important documents to be scanned and then you’ll have to organize all the digital files once they have been scanned.)

My only additional notes are to be sure to back up all of your scanned documents saved on your computer to an online site like DropBox or the previously mentioned Evernote. The last thing you want to have happen is to lose all of the documents you so diligently digitized when the hard drive on your computer crashes (which it will). And, lastly, if you are doing the scanning yourself, don’t forget to shred all of your paperwork after you digitize it.

Thank you, Rose, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. Good luck digitizing your paper collection and kudos to you for taking on this worthwhile task. Since you were able to fill out a contact form on Unclutterer to send me this question, I already know you’re more computer savvy than you give yourself credit for being.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.