Organizing your job search

My sister-in-law recently finished a graduate program in documentary film making and has spent the past three weeks looking for her next project. I know very little about the movie industry and job hunting in it, but I know that my sister-in-law is extremely organized and so I wanted to learn more about her search.

I asked her how she has navigated the process, and she gave me a detailed response that I wanted to share with anyone who may also be looking for a new gig:

Dedication. Searching for a job is my full-time job. I have set hours for when I’m at my desk researching, corresponding, interviewing, and pursuing leads. This week I’m on target to work 40 hours at it. A job isn’t going to fall in my lap — I have to go after it.

I have to be organized with my search. I keep a spreadsheet of all of my job leads. It includes: date applied, company, position, contact name, contact information, status of lead, notes, and a correspondence log that links to my e-mail. I also have a group of bookmarks with job sites that I frequently search in my web browser and a folder with targeted lists in my address book of job-related contacts. I have set up alerts for follow-up actions I need to take in my calendar and automatic searches that run on sites like Craigslist based on keywords.

In addition to her searching, she also has spent a significant amount of time preparing her targeted cover letters, resume, and building her website and IMDB page showcasing her work. She attends as many networking and professional events that her schedule will allow and talks to any and everyone about her search.

Have you recently been searching for a job or work in hiring? If so, leave your tips for an organized job search in the comments section.

Unitasker Wednesday: Hot Potato

All Unitasker Wednesday posts are jokes — we don’t want you to buy these items, we want you to laugh at their ridiculousness. Enjoy!

A game of Hot Potato plays like this: Someone walks to the kitchen and grabs a potato. This person then tosses the potato to a friend. That friend tosses the potato to someone else. The potato is thrown around a group of friends until someone drops the potato. The person who dropped the potato is “out” and the game continues until only one person is left standing. The winner is named the “Hot Potato.”

The game is simple, straightforward, and fun for young children who are learning to throw and catch. You can even clean up the potato and use it later that day in a meal. This is not a game that I thought needed any improvement … but, apparently, I was wrong:

Now you can buy a music playing, batteries required, painted toy to substitute for nature’s fun: The Hot Potato!

Combatting backpack clutter

Reader Lisa, a college student, wrote in to Unclutterer asking if we might be able to help her with her backpack woes:

Pens and pencils, chapstick, scissors, flash drives, cell phone, iPod, granola bars, random electronics cables, pens, calculators, flashcards, earrings, more pens … etc, etc. And not only do I wind up with all this unwanted stuff, when I do want something I can never find it! I most definitely need some help.

I thought about saving this question for Friday’s Ask Unclutterer column, but with school starting for so many students I thought earlier might be better than later.

The first thing you’ll want to do is assess what you need to carry with you each day. The list you gave is a good starting point, but you probably also carry notebooks, textbooks, paper, folders, keys, and a few other odds and ends with you. Whatever these things are, set them out on a table so that you can see them all at once.

Next, evaluate these things. Are you missing anything you regularly need? Do you have duplicate items? Are the items in good condition? Are the objects durable for constant travel? Get rid of anything you don’t need and get your hands on those things you do need for the school year.

When evaluating durability, you’ll want to be honest with yourself about how hard you are on things. When I was in school, I found that I couldn’t use paper folders. Three or four weeks into the semester they would be torn and tattered. I had to use three-ring binders for all of my notes and an aluminum portfolio for my artwork (I started college as a painting major). This also meant that I carried a small three-hole punch at the front of each binder so that I could immediately store all of the handouts. (I also loaded 100 or so loose-leaf sheets of notebook paper into each binder for taking class-specific notes.)

Be sure to use sturdy containers for food stuffs, like your granola bars. It’s never fun to find smooshed up food at the bottom of your bag. And, don’t forget to regularly clean this container.

You will also want a backpack organizer of some kind to give all of your tools a proper place to live. I prefer the pocket organizers like the one pictured, but you could easily get a pencil case and put all of your supplies into one zipper pouch.

Finally, set up a routine for when you get home to immediately process all of the contents of your backpack. Much like you would sort mail, you will want to recycle, trash, scan, file, wash, and deal with everything from your bag. Within five minutes of arriving home, your bag should be empty except for your tools stored in your backpack organizer.

Lisa, I hope this advice helps to get your backpack organized. Good luck at school!

Hoarders: Geralin Thomas discusses her experience on the show

We’ve talked a couple times already about the new television show Hoarders on A&E, and I wanted to continue this discussion by directing you to an insider’s look into the show’s production. Professional organizer Geralin Thomas, who appeared on the first and second episode of the show, has written “Organizing a Hoarder’s Home for Television” describing her experience:

When working with a hoarder on this series, I have asked each client to commit to working with a therapist (counselor, psychologist, psychiatrist) and/or a professional organizer after I leave. (The organizing-filming only lasts 2 days and there are a lot of stops and starts for the film crew to change batteries, etc.) While it’s OK with me if the therapist isn’t on site at the same time I’m working with the client, I always stress the importance of the therapist-client-organizer relationship. There will be no lasting change if the hoarder is not willing to also work with a mental health professional for some period of time.

I was surprised to learn that filming only occurred over two days, and I think this explains why viewers don’t get to see anything other than the purging process. Geralin is an amazing individual and a highly skilled and trained professional organizer. Her insights into her experience are definitely worth reading and I’m glad she took the time to write her post.

Flattening the Never Finishing Monster

We want to again welcome guest author Alex Fayle, the writer and professional organizer behind the helpful anti-procrastination website Someday Syndrome. This is his third post of three in a series on fighting procrastination.

We’ve vanquished the Getting Started Monster, conquered the No Momentum Monster and now all that’s left is to finish up. You’ve uncluttered your space and managed to keep at it until everything is nicely streamlined. You’ve even put things back where they belong.

Well, almost everything. You have a few things that don’t fit in your current storage spaces, so you’ve left them on top of your desk while you figure out what type of storage you need for them exactly.

And then months pass with them still on your desk. A few bits and bobs not done don’t really matter you tell yourself every time you see the pile of things waiting to be given a home.

But it does matter because from that pile of things not put away the clutter starts to grow again, creeping out from that spot to take over the office again.

When we don’t finish projects we leave the door open to chaos. We let the Never Finishing Monster into our lives and everything around the place needs just a few adjustments to finish, but nothing’s totally completed. The baseboard is missing on the living room trim. The bedroom needs curtains. The email inbox still has a few dozen messages from two months ago waiting to be looked at.

Why don’t we totally finish? Because often we leave the fiddly bits to the end, the stuff that we’re not quite sure what to do with, or the stuff that we hate doing.

Dedicating Time

Fortunately, unlike getting started and moving forward, there is a trick to kill the Never Finishing Monster — it’s called the Get It Done Sprint.

I use this all the time with my writing. I’ll start a project and move it forward slowly and steadily but as I get closer to the end of something I slow down to a crawl that wouldn’t win a race against 80 year old snails.

When I notice that I’ve reached this point, I schedule a block of time (for my writing projects a week is usually a good amount of time) where I dedicate several hours a day getting the project done. The Never Finishing Monster doesn’t stand a chance against such dedicated effort.

It’s like the end of a 10km race — you pace yourself throughout the race until the finish line comes into sight and you sprint to the end.

Apply this same thinking to your organizing projects. When you almost reach the end, change your approach to the project and commit to getting it done within a very specific (and very short) timeframe. Schedule a day to go buy the supplies you need and enlist (or hire) help to put in that extra bit of effort to wrap up the project.

And don’t delay. Schedule the sprint as soon as possible. The longer you leave the project unfinished, the less likely you’ll get around to it and the more likely all your hard work will undo itself.

So tell me, what’s left to get finished in your house and when will you schedule the Get It Done Sprint that will squash the Never Finishing Monster flat?

Prioritizing uncluttering and organizing projects

Reader Jane wrote in and asked us how she should decide where to begin uncluttering and organizing in her home. I got the feeling from her e-mail that she feels overwhelmed by the tasks ahead of her and doesn’t know where to start.

I always suggest starting in one of three ways:

  1. Small. Tackling a drawer or single shelf in a cupboard can be a simple step moving in the right direction. You’ll get a quick boost of motivation and figure out your uncluttering and organizing pace. From something small, you can move onto another small project or gradually enlarge your scope.
  2. Grating on you. When you are in your home or office, what is the thing that causes you to grumble the loudest? Whatever is the one thing that irks you the most is where you should begin your uncluttering and organizing project.
  3. First thing you see. If the first thing you see when you wake up in the morning is chaotic, your entire day starts off on a bad foot. Organize your closet, your bedroom, or your coffee station if they are where you first focus. At work, organize the first place you see when you walk in the door. Having these Firsts organized will help you move onto the Seconds and Thirds.

I also recommend establishing a minimum of three piles when sorting through your things and creating a plan of action for what you want to accomplish before you dump or pull everything out of your cluttered space. A little preparation will pay off in the long run.

Also, don’t run out and buy organizing supplies before you know what you’ll need. Wait until all of the clutter is gone before deciding how it’s going to be contained. You may find that you don’t need any extra bins, boxes, or doo-dads than what you already own.

How do you prioritize your uncluttering and organizing projects? Add your suggestions for Jane in the comments.

Banishing the No Momentum Monster

We want to again welcome guest author Alex Fayle, the writer and professional organizer behind the helpful anti-procrastination website Someday Syndrome. This is his second post of three in a series on fighting procrastination.

In my first post in this series on Unclutterer, I talked about vanquishing the Getting Started Monster and hopefully you were able to defeat your own personal Getting Started Monster.

Great! If it’s an organizing project you’ve started, you’ve probably cleared a surface and streamlined your stuff. Maybe you’ve even managed to clear off the dining room table for the first time in years. Momentum has supposedly kicked in and you’re ready to keep going.

But you don’t.

The rest of the space stays disorganized and the papers start piling up again on the dining room table and you feel totally discouraged. Why bother when it’s just going to get cluttered again?

I’m the same way with my writing. Unless I’m vigilant about my writing, I can let it slide by the wayside and without really noticing I’ve come up with enough excuses not to write for over two weeks.

Not good.

You think I’d want to write every day. After all, it’s my passion and writing every day brings me closer to my goal of being a published author?

Yes, but it’s also work. Hard work. And there’s no immediate pay off. Yes, I have the reward of 200 or 2000 words written, but I get nothing, no gold star, for doing so and my long term goal is still a long way off.

Unfortunately, just like with getting started there’s no trick to continuing. You can use positive enforcement of mini rewards, or picturing how happy you’ll be after you achieve your goal. You could also use negative motivation by imagining how much regret you’ll feel for not doing the thing that you’re procrastinating about.

In the end, however, there’s only the choice to continue.

The Power of Choice

There’s a saying about courage: A brave person feels fear and continues anyway. For getting around to it, a productive person feels like quitting but continues anyway.

Looking at it another way — every single day is a new start so getting back to a task you did the day before is exactly like starting it all over again facing the same Getting Started monster.

Almost every single goal I can think of requires a series of smaller steps to complete. Many times those small steps are repetitive and require a long-term commitment. The longer the commitment the easier it is to lose energy and enthusiasm until you’re moving less than a run-down grandfather clock.

If you’re the sort of person this happens to (I certainly am) all you need to do is make a choice to keep going. When I don’t feel like working, I remind myself that I’ve chosen my goals and if I don’t want to achieve them I don’t have to. Of course I wouldn’t be happy letting most goals fall by the wayside so I say “okay, fine” and get back to work.

With some goals, however, I truly do lose interest and I realize that the goal isn’t for me. By offering myself a choice to continue or not, I sometimes do choose to stop, often with a huge sense of relief.

So, how do you make sure you remember this choice? By repeating it to yourself every day.

I’m not big on affirmations where you stare in the mirror and tell yourself good things that you’re supposed to believe about yourself. The phrase in this exercise is meant as a daily wake up call, reminding you to keep the autopilot turned off and to stay engaged in everything you do.

And just what’s the super fantastic phrase that’s going to keep you motivated and moving forward?

I choose all my actions including what I’m not going to do.

That’s it. By taking responsibility for your actions, every day you’ll make a choice to continue or not, but remember – it’s your choice, no one is making you do or not do anything.

A year ago on Unclutterer



DIY project for transient items

Reader Dawn tipped us off to a blog post on the website The Red Chair Blog for how to organize “transient” items. This DIY solution can be made with four sturdy cardboard boxes with lids and a narrow set of storage cubes.

A description of the transient storage system from Amy at The Red Chair Blog:

Clients often ask me how to organize items that are “just passing through” their homes. You may have seen “transients” like these in your home: the library books that need to be returned, the sweater that you need to mail to Great Aunt Myrtle for her birthday, the DVD that you borrowed from a friend and need to return, or that pair of Goodwill-bound go-go boots.

Here’s a simple, cost-effective storage solution. It won’t win any awards for good looks–just keep it tucked in a closet or storage area–but it gets the job done.

I agree that this would be a perfect solution for a closet near the main entrance to your home, and an easy weekend DIY project.

Image from The Red Chair Blog

Ask Unclutterer: Trinket overload

Reader Nick submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

My full name is Nicholas, and so ever since I was a little kid, my family has been buying me figurines of St. Nicholas, Santa Claus. Large Santas, small Santas, fragile Santas, expensive Santas, cheap Santas, and of course some ugly Santas.

When I moved out I managed to leave the majority of them at my parent’s house, but still have plenty.

How can I get rid of these things without offending my family?

When I was a child, I had intense phobias for tadpoles and frogs. The creek that ran through my grandparents’ farm was full of them, and my cousins thought my screams of horror upon encountering them were hysterical. So, up until recently, everyone in my family gave me frog stuff whenever they gave me gifts.

Like you, I didn’t want to offend anyone, so I kept all of the frog stuff. Which, of course, bred more frog stuff from people beyond my family. Friends would come over, see my collection of frogs, and then buy me frog things for gifts thinking I loved frogs.

This all ended abruptly when I got rid of the frogs.

My friends noticed immediately (since they’re in my house more often than my extended family members) and none of them has ever mentioned it or given me a frog since.

I openly told my family that I stopped collecting frogs and donated their years of gifts to my friend who is a biology teacher to display in her classroom. No one had any objections and I haven’t received a frog from any of them in years. I told them by showing them a “before” picture of my bathroom (where the frogs had been displayed) and then the “after” picture of my redecorated space.

In your situation, you could give your Santa Claus collection to someone who is obsessed with Christmas decorating or to a local store to use in a holiday window display. Take a picture of the collection in its new home so that your family can see that the gifts are still being loved by someone else.

I kept a few of my favorite frogs, but have them covertly displayed throughout the house so that they’re not obviously a collection to visitors. I also photographed the full collection before getting rid of it, so that I could remember who gave me what over the years. You could keep your favorite Santas in a small collection, too, and just bring them out at the holidays.

It’s the grand purge that seems to get people’s attention, however, and will let your family know that you’ve reached Santa Claus overload. Other people don’t want you to feel burdened by their gifts, so don’t worry about saying goodbye to something that is cluttering up your space. Also, get the Santas you left at your parents’ place out of their space — it’s never a good idea to make your clutter someone else’s responsibility.

Thank you, Nick, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. Good luck to you on your Santa Claus purge! Also, check out the comments for more advice from our readers.

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.

Workspace of the Week: Portable office

This week’s Workspace of the Week is BirdDog10’s morning workspace:

Summer days in D.C. are swampy, hot, and sticky, and working outside is a miserable experience for me and my computer. So, I’ve been visiting BirdDog10’s photograph in our Flickr pool the past three months and longing for the days to get cooler. Thankfully, fall has had an early arrival and this past week I’ve spent a good chunk of my work day out on my porch. BirdDog10’s image also has served as a reminder to take advantage of the spaces afforded to you in your workplace. Since I work from home, my porch is my second office. When I was a teacher, many classes were taught at the picnic tables in the school’s garden. And, when I worked downtown, I could sometimes be found on the break patio, high above the city streets, with my laptop. Often times, switching up your work environment to a more casual location can inspire you in ways that your cubicle walls cannot. Thank you, BirdDog10, for this serene, minimalist, and blissful addition to our Flick pool.

Want to have your own workspace featured in Workspace of the Week? Submit a picture to the Unclutterer flickr pool. Check it out because we have a nice little community brewing there. Also, don’t forget that workspaces aren’t just desks. If you’re a cook, it’s a kitchen; if you’re a carpenter, it’s your workbench.

Vanquishing the Getting Started Monster

We want to welcome guest author Alex Fayle, the writer and professional organizer behind the helpful anti-procrastination website Someday Syndrome. This is his first post of three in a series on fighting procrastination.

Has this ever happened to you?

You decide to get your bedroom, kitchen, garage, or whatever organized. You get a book and read about it. You watch an organizing show and take notes. You then plan out how you’re going to tackle the room and what you want it to look like afterward. You know all the steps that it’ll take to go from start to finish. You even know how long it will take and you have resources lined up to help you.

And yet you do nothing.

You know that the block comes from a combination of inertia and a fear of the unknown, failure, success, or whatever. You could probably talk for an hour about why you’re not starting.

And yet you still do nothing.

If you think this post will give you some trick, or little game to play with yourself, I’m sorry to disappoint. There’s only one thing to get yourself started – and that’s getting started.

Yeah, real helpful, I know. Unfortunately it’s the truth. If you aren’t willing take action, take even a small step toward your dreams, then there’s nothing I can do to help you.

Achieving your dreams requires work. Once you get into it you might not think of it as work because you enjoy it so much, but it’s hard work.

My passion is writing and yet every time I go to start a new project, I create a huge monster out of Getting Started and play at running away from it, doing everything but actually typing words into the computer. And then by simply opening up my computer and writing the first sentence the monster disappears and my passion for writing takes over again.

In the meantime, however, I’ve let the Getting Started Monster distract me for huge blocks of time.

Don’t let the Getting Started monster hold you back from your uncluttering projects (or any other project you haven’t got around to yet).

Fortunately it’s easy to beat the Getting Started Monster: simply write down each time you start something and keep a log of all the projects you’ve successfully started. Then post the log wherever you most procrastinate about not moving towards your goals. That might be the living room, the bedroom, the back deck, but I highly doubt it’s the office, so don’t post the log there.

This log celebrates the moments when you started taking action and serves as a reminder of the number of times in the past that you have started something so that when you feel the big scary Getting Started Monster creeping up behind you, you can look at your list of new starts and say “Ha! You don’t scare me! I start things all the time!”

By choosing to get started, you take active control of your life and you don’t let your fears or inertia keep you from achieving your goals.

So tell me – what version of the Getting Started Monster have you vanquished recently?