Deciding when to let go of your children’s toys

If you have little ones in your life, you might also have a not so little situation known as toy clutter. Letting go of toys can be difficult because you may be considering passing them on to younger or future children or you might think that reducing the number of toys means that you’re depriving your children of enjoyment and learning experiences. You don’t have to be a parent to experience this dilemma. If you’re a grandparent or family member who often has kids stopping in for quick (or long) visits, you will likely need to determine what to do with an overabundance of toys.

How do you decide when it’s okay to let toys go? There isn’t a super hero to swoop in and take away toys that are no longer needed, nor are there flashing signals to let you know the exact moment when it’s time to let go of a toy. But, over time, you’ll begin notice whether your children’s interest in specific toys increases or wanes.

To help you recognize when it’s time to part with some of their playthings:

Oberserve your children during play time

When I was a teacher, I spent a good amount of time observing the children in my classroom. This helped me create lessons that suited their learning styles. Though interacting with them gave me lots of insight, I found that simply observing them when they were “in the moment” helped me to get to know them better. To truly discover the types of toys that your children love (or don’t love), you’ll likely need to do this as well. That doesn’t mean that you need to spend an entire hour with a clipboard in hand ready to jot down what you see. There will be plenty of opportunities for you to figure out which toys they reach for often and which one they don’t pay much attention to. Those that are not as interesting to them anymore are great candidates for donation. And, you can then decide which specific toys you’d like to introduce them to.

Look for toys that do similar things

I once worked for an organization where the motto was, “Each child is unique, precious, and unrepeatable.” Toys on the other hand, are not necessarily unique. You may have duplicates or several that function in extremely similar ways. As I mentioned before, your children will let you know which are their favorites based on their typical play habits. This means you can easily donate or give away the ones they don’t play with often.

Swap toys in/out regularly

Limiting the number of toys that your children have to play with will help you get a better sense of their likes and dislikes, and give them ample opportunities to play with specific things. Having fewer toys to focus on can be less overwhelming for them and they can get on with the business of fully learning about each one (rather than bouncing around from item to item). Rotating toys in and out will also stop them from taking over adult spaces and will make it easier to unclutter and maintain children’s areas in your home.

Once you’ve determined which toys your children no longer play with (and which ones you’ll keep in rotation), you can do a toy swap with friends or donate gently used items to a local family shelter. There are also several organizations, like Goodwill, Loving Hugs, and Second Chance Toys, that will accept used toys that are still in good condition.

Unitasker Wednesday: Cakepop chocolate dipper

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

To save money on our wedding, my then-fiance-now-husband and I decided we would make chocolate suckers for our wedding favors instead of buying a hundred small doodads. Neither of us had worked with candy before, but that didn’t stop us. We headed to a local cake and candy supply store and got all the supplies the nice saleswoman said we would need. We purchased chocolate discs, two candy molds, sucker sticks, candy bags, and headed home.

Making the chocolate suckers was fun and simple. We melted the chocolate discs in the microwave in a pyrex bowl, poured the chocolate into the molds, inserted the sticks, and put the molds into the refrigerator to cool. When the suckers were hardened, we put them in candy bags, tied them with a ribbon and were done. The saleswoman told us if we didn’t have a microwave we could have used a double boiler for melting the chocolate and if we didn’t have a double boiler could just set an aluminum bowl over a pot of water on the stovetop and create one to use when melting the chocolate. But, since we had a microwave, we went the easiest route of all.

Knowing now that melting chocolate is an easy process involving only a bowl in the microwave or a (real or make-shift) double-boiler on the stovetop, I was confused when reader Claw sent me a link to the Babycakes Chocolate Dipper:

It’s a mini-crockpot that keeps melted chocolate warm. You still have to melt the chocolate in the microwave or in a double boiler and then transfer the chocolate to the Chocolate Dipper to be able to use it. The one and only time I can imagine using this item is if you are having a chocolate dipping party of some kind … but even if you do have a chocolate dipping party, are you going to have so many chocolate dipping parties that you need a special device? A fondue pot could certainly be a good substitute, and if you don’t have one I’m sure someone in your neighborhood does that you could borrow for the one time that you have the chocolate dipping party. My guess is you could also just use your regular-size crockpot on a low setting to keep chocolate warm.

But, if you’re just working on your own and aren’t having a party, all you need to do is pop the chocolate back into the microwave for a few seconds if it starts to harden. If you’re using a double boiler, you just dip your item straight into the double boiler because the water keeps the chocolate warm.

This seems to me to be one of those items that could be useful once or twice, but otherwise just takes up space. And, since there are so many other ways to achieve the same results, its once or twice usefulness is even suspect.

A year ago on Unclutterer


  • Single socks and how they can help you learn to process what-if clutter
    If you’re someone who regularly plays the “what if” scenario in your mind, try giving the lost-sock basket a try in your home. Recycle any sock that remains in the basket for more than three months. Since you know the worst that can happen is that you might end up recycling two socks, it’s a relative inexpensive way to practice making these types of uncluttering decisions.




  • Folding kitchen island
    The folding island saves on space in the kitchen and it also serves you well while you need extra counter space.

Store and organize board games

I love board games, especially those with lots of great-looking components. It’s fun to gather around the table, set everything up and have a great time with family and friends. What’s not fun about playing board gams is cleaning up.

A few years ago, we shared some tips for storing your board games and puzzles. Today, I’m going to expand on that post and share ideas on storing pieces to component-heavy roll playing games. Games in this category often ship with several decks of cards, many dice, miniatures and “bits” as I call them, referring to the small game pieces that don’t fit into any of the preceding categories.

Plan Ahead

Opening a new game for the first time can be fun. My kids and I love to see what we got in each new box. Enjoy that excitement, but make mental notes at the same time. For instance, many games arrive with components that need to be punched out before play. They won’t lay nice and flat after you do that. Also, note if there’s a lot of one type of component: cards, dice, figures, bits. This will help you decided on what to use when it’s time to pack up.

Finally, consider the insert(s). Will all your stuff fit back in the box neatly or is there real potential for a jumbled pile? Once you’ve answered those questions, it’s time to pick a re-packing strategy.


Card bags. These are sold in a variety of sizes to accommodate cards from nearly any game. Bags Unlimited sells several varieties, from bags meant to hold a single card to those sized for whole sets. Several colors are available, too, which might help you remember which cards go with which game. Amazon also sells large sets very inexpensively. Also, using protective bags is a good idea for paper items if you store your games in a damp basement.

Zip-top Bags This one’s pretty obvious, but I’ll mention it anyway. Larger Ziplock bags can be used to store all sorts of components. Push the air out before resealing to reduce the amount of space they consume in the box.

35mm Film Canisters Remember these? They’re insanely useful once you’ve removed the film. Use a canister to store bits, dice, or other small and easily-lost pieces. Label the lid for easy reference.

Nuts and Bolts Drawers These storage drawers offer many little drawers for components (there are 25 on this one) that are easily labeled with a label maker. Consider keeping it out if you have a dedicated gaming area, or pack it away with the rest of your game materials. Go for one with see-through drawers for additional ease of use.

Custom Foam Board The interior of many game boxes store pieces perfectly in their shipping state. That often changes once you’ve played. You can buy some inexpensive foam board from a craft store and cut it to make custom compartments inside the game box. It’s easiest to trace the box on a piece of paper first, layout the components and figure out how it would work. Then measure, cut and insert! Your box is now perfectly capable of storing everything neatly.

Small Tupperware with Lids Get those little bowls you used for snacks when the kids were small out of the kitchen drawer and repurpose them for game pieces. I even use these during gameplay to keep bits from getting strewn across the table. When my son and I play The Legend of Drizzt, we store the tiny hit point tokens and other small items in these bowls on the table. That way they’re easy to find and grab as needed. Volitive candle holders work for tabletop storage, too.

There are several suggestions to keep your game pieces organized and neat. Not only that, it saves on wear and tear of the pieces. Components that don’t jostle around stay looking nice longer. Some of these games are expensive, and pieces are difficult or impossible to replace.

Now if you’re really ambitious, check out this custom solution built entirely of LEGO. I am blown away.

Has your motivation left you? Four ways to win it back

January is the National Association of Professional Organizers’ Get Organized Month. The timing makes sense as many people tend to be focused on resolutions, goals, and ambitions at the beginning of the year. But, in addition to the calendar year changing, holidays, your birthday, and even the change in seasons are great times to focus on the things you’d like to accomplish and begin implementing a plan of attack.

Still, even with the best intentions, you might find yourself struggling to stay in touch with your usually motivated self. You didn’t mean for things to end up this way, they just did. In fact, you most likely started out with an abundance of enthusiasm. You were in sync with the part of yourself that was feeling particularly inspired. And, then one day you realized that you sort of drifted apart. You started putting those important goals aside until you didn’t feel like doing them anymore. Your motivation simply got up and left.

For most of us, the break up with the positive feelings that keep us pushing toward a goal is not uncommon. We even know when it’s going to happen. A new study conducted by Andrea Bonezzi, assistant marketing professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business et al. appears to back this up:

Whether you have a business goal of increasing market share, hope to lose 20 pounds, or have vowed to read Moby Dick, you may have noticed that somewhere around midway to your goal, motivation wanes … this sort of fourth-inning slump is a common, predictable pattern.

The author goes on to say that if your starting and ending points seem very distant from each other, you’re likely to “lose motivation to keep working toward that goal.” What should you do if your motivation deserts you? Though you might be feeling the burdensome weight of a (seemingly) irreparable relationship with your formerly motivated self, there are specific actions you can take win your motivation back.

The first step, of course, is to recognize that feeling less eager to complete a task may very well happen. Life’s little (and big) adventures can sometimes leave you feeling discouraged. But, since you know this ahead of time, you can:

Make a solid plan

By now, you’ve read some of our posts that suggest you break your goals (especially the big, hairy ones) into manageable, attainable chunks. To fortify your resolve and keep moving positively toward your goal, why not also include mini trophies for each milestone you reach or task you accomplish? Knowing that you have something to look forward at various points in your journey can help you stay motivated. You might choose to have different rewards for small steps and a large one when you’ve reached the finish line.

Join a program or support group

Think you need a bit more support to get your motivation back even though you have a well crafted plan? There is truth to there being strength in numbers, so consider seeking the support of others. You may want to take a look at Peter Walsh’s 31 Days to Get Organized challenge. He has been sharing daily organizing tips on his Facebook page ranging from getting control of kids toys to tackling paper piles. Since many of his tips are recorded, you can watch them whenever you need to on YouTube. In the Unclutterer Forums, we have an active group of people who are trying this challenge and writing about their successes and hiccups in our community. The discussion is Peter Walsh’s January Organizing Challenge, if you’re interested in participating.

The Apartment Therapy January Home Cure (daily tips and ideas to stay motivated) is coming a close soon, but you can still sign up and see all the Cure assignments. They will also be offering another Cure later in the year, but, in the meantime, check out the companion book, Apartment Therapy: The Eight-Step Home Cure. Again, we have a group in the Unclutterer Forums discussing their progress in this program in the discussion January Home Cure.

Use resources that you’ve had success with in the past

If you’ve ever read a book or blog post or even listened to a podcast that left you feeling ready to conquer your projects, dust them off and give them a second look. Chances are, if they worked for you in the past, they’re likely to work for you again. Of course, you can check out some of our previous posts on what to do when you just don’t feel very inspired. You can also hop on over to the Unclutterer Forum to share your experiences.

Take something off your plate

I’ve discovered that sometimes my motivation goes on walkabout when I have said “yes” one time too many. I want to be helpful, but more than that, I want to make sure that when I do say yes, I can do my absolute best. Feelings of being overwhelmed and stressed can increase when you feel pulled in too many directions. Take a look at your responsibilities to see if there is something you can share or pass on to someone else entirely. You’ll breathe a little easier and will probably start feeling more positive.

Though you may not feel as enthusiastic about your goals as you did at the outset, don’t give up. Revise your plan and look for ways you can keep your spirits and motivation high.

A year ago on Unclutterer



  • Unitasker Wednesday: BeanSlice
    It is rare that someone submits a unitasker and my first thought is, “I want that!” But this week, that was my response. Even I, the UNCLUTTERER, am tempted by plastic doodads that do the exact same thing as the knives I already own.
  • Are you sabotaging your uncluttering and organizing efforts?
    There are hundreds of ways to sabotage your uncluttering and organizing efforts, and just one solution for all of them — admit to yourself that you’re sabotaging your success.



Ask Unclutterer: Identifying common uncluttering goals in a relationship

Reader Jay submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

My wife and I agree that our house is much, much too cluttered. I have been saying it for years, and now that we have two kids and about 5-kids’ worth of toys, she agrees with me.

The problem is that we don’t see eye-to-eye on how to accomplish our goal, to find our house livable. She thinks we have an appropriate amount of stuff, just that we have nowhere to put it. I think we have much too much stuff. Her solution is to put shelves around the house to store the things that are out. I have at least two problems with that. The first is that we have shelves. They are just already filled with stuff! … the second problem is if I add shelves, we will just acquire more stuff, and they will become like the shelves we have …

The clutter has gotten so bad that I hate coming home from work some days. The house never gets “straightened” and certainly never gets cleaned. (It’s not dirty, just only ever gets surface cleaned – swept, basically) … This can’t be an uncommon problem.

Jay, I think there are many readers who can sympathize with your situation. You are frustrated. The clutter is increasing your stress and anxiety levels, and it has left you feeling overwhelmed. I’ve been there and remember well how it feels. And, if what you say in your first paragraph is true, your wife empathizes with you. You might not yet see the same solution, but you definitely see the same problem — clutter!

Lucky for you both, you have a partner with which to battle the clutter. And I’m not sure how old your kids are, but you might also have two wonderful little helpers to join your team. Right now, you feel like it’s you against the clutter and you against the others in your home. It’s not. The humans are a team, and that team can be victorious against the clutter.

You should start by figuring out exactly what you want. Both of you can head to the library, grab a bunch of home, design, and architecture magazines, and flip through the pictures. With your cell phone or a digital camera, snap images of your favorite rooms. Don’t snap pictures of specific solutions, snap pictures of entire rooms you like. After 30 or 40 minutes, call it quits and head home.

Look at the pictures you both took. Talk about why you like the images. What caught your eye? How do the rooms make you feel? What is it about those spaces that you think could work for you? How much clutter is in the images? How much storage is in each room? Do either of you have images the other person likes, too?

Once you have identified common themes that work for both of you, take pictures of your current space and review them. Then, compare your current space to the images you both like that you found in the magazines. What is different? What changes could you make to your space to give it the feel of the images from the magazines?

You don’t need to remodel, move, or even buy a piece of furniture to move toward your common goal. Aim for recreating the sense of the images you like, not recreating the actual room. You need to have a common goal for how you want the space to be when you’re finished, so you will know how to get to that goal.

Uncluttering your home is going to be something you and your wife and kids tackle together. I recommend setting aside 30 minutes each night after dinner to work on a specific room. Play upbeat music while you work and have fun together. You’re getting rid of clutter — enjoy it! You won’t get rid of all the clutter in 30 minutes, but you’ll make a dent and the next night you can do more and the next night even more. Create piles for keeping and purging (throwing away, recycling, donating to charity, giving to a friend). Just remember, only keep the things that meet the vision of your ideal place. You might get rid of a little or you might get rid of a lot — it doesn’t matter, as long as it meets your goal.

Our site is full of articles about the actual logistics of uncluttering and organizing. Head to the search engine in the middle column and type in words for specific problems you encounter, and it’s likely we have written about that topic already. For a primer on these subjects:

Get a vision of where you want to go together, and you can get there together. If this method doesn’t work, I suggest bringing in a professional. A professional organizer can help you better define your common goals, and if a professional organizer doesn’t work your next step would be to go to some marriage counseling sessions to talk about your goals more in depth. Until you discover a common goal, though, you’re both going to continue to be frustrated by the clutter.

Thank you, Jay, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. I hope I was was helpful to you and be sure to check the comments for even more great ideas 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.

Organize, store and buy computer cables wisely

The personal computer industry supposedly went “wireless” several years ago. But you’d never know it by looking at the back of most desks. It seems like the convenience of every Wi-Fi enabled laptop, smartphone and printer is offset by a corresponding cable or wire elsewhere in the office. That’s not counting old cables that are no longer in use due to age, condition or obsolescence. If you’ve got a drawer full of cables, or if you’ve ever played “unplug it to see what turns off,” this post is for you. I’ll tell you how to organize the cables you use and store those you don’t, plus a few cool tips and tricks.

Step one: know your cables

There are a huge number of cables available. Each performs its own job, though there is some overlap. Here, I’ve presented some of the most common household cables. This is by no means exhaustive, but should cover most of what you have at home. Learning to identify them on sight will help you find what you need more quickly, and will make storage easier, as I’ll explain later. Pictured above are:

  1. USB to mini USB You’ll notice one end is a flat rectangle shape and the other is a small trapezoid shape. These are often used with digital cameras and often short, in the 1–3 foot range.
  2. FireWire 800 These feature a squared-off end with a plastic “bit” in the center. FireWire 800 cables are typically used on high-end external hard drives and some video equipment. They transfer large files between machines and drives quickly.
  3. Standard USB One end features a flat rectangle and the other a square with once side slightly rounded. Many printers uses these cables, as well as some external hard drives.
  4. FireWire 400 Which, is also called “1394 cable” in some circles. Also used for storage peripherals like hard drives and some older video cameras. Transfer speed is slightly slower than that of its sibling FireWire 800.
  5. DVI These cables end with a wide terminator with many pins and two screws to hold it in place. You’ll find that many computer monitors and projectors use these. Length can vary greatly, but most are around 3 feet long.

The following are less common than the others, but still popular enough that many of you may have them.

  1. Apple 30-pin connector These are used with many of Apple’s mobile products including the iPhone (models other than the iPhone 5), iPad (except the iPad mini and 4th generation iPad) and iPod touch (older models). Apple has recently replaced them, as you’ll see, but there are still millions in circulation.
  2. Thunderbolt These are pretty much exclusive to Apple right now, but those who’ve bought an iMac or MacBook Pro recently could have use for a Thunderbolt cable. They connect very high-speed external drives to a computer.
  3. Lightning Apple replaced the 30-pin connector cable with the Lightning cable. It can be identified by the tiny little “nubbin” end. It’s small, thin and, unlike the old connector, doesn’t care if you put it in upside-down or not. The iPhone 5, iPad mini, newest iPad and latest iPod touch use the Lightning connector.
  4. HDMI Used with your HD television, some displays and the Apple TV. Easily recognized by the roughly trapezoidal shape on each end.

Now that we’ve got the cables identified, let’s look at a few ways to keep all of these things organized.


Call me picky, but a rat’s nest of unwieldy cables just makes my skin crawl. A beautiful workspace can be marred by a collection of cables flopping all over the place. Fortunately, solutions are plentiful and easy to come by.

  1. Cable management I use the Galant Cable Manager from IKEA. It screws to the underside of my desk and I run everything through it. That keeps the cables from hanging down and looking ugly (not to mention attracting the pets). Here’s a great idea from Michael Desmond at He ran several cables and an adapter into a nice-looking storage box, using standard office clips to keep the cables out of each other’s way. The box looks good and eliminates a mess on the floor. Speaking of binder clips, you can clip the large variety right to your desk to hold cables at the ready. Ingenious (and cheap!)
  2. Identification I love to label my cables. You can use color-coded twist-ties, bits of ribbon or even yard-sale tags. But I like Mark Brothers Cable Labels (pictured above). Aside from being cute, each features a spot that you can write on. That way, you know exactly where each one goes and what it powers. If they’re too cutesy for your taste, consider the Kableflags DIY variety. Much more utilitarian. Finally, consider color-coded tape. One piece on the device end, another down at the socket.


First, a quick rule: if it’s obsolete, worn or from a product you no longer own or use, throw it out! Unless you’re running a cable museum, or have a soft spot for wayward, abandoned wires, let them go. Remember: stuff that sits around serving no purpose is clutter. That SCSI cable from 1993 definitely counts.

I sort my cables by type into clear plastic bins. I use my label maker to create stickers that say “USB” or “Audio” and affix one to each bin. Before a cable enters the bin, I wrap it up with a rubber band. Now, I know what’s in each bin by reading the label and I can see how many of each type I have by peering through the clear bin. There’s no need to pull each out and open it to see inside the box.

Here’s another cool trick from Sharon Harris on Picasa that makes use of toilet paper tubes. Hair clips work, too. I love it!

When you wrap your cables up for storage, let each end stick out just a bit. That way, if you need it in the future for a job that doesn’t require its full length, you can access either end without pulling the whole thing apart.

Buy Wisely

I’m going suggest something that sounds pro-clutter, but I assure you it’s not. If you travel often, buy doubles of some of your cables. For instance, when I worked in an office I had an iPhone cable and wall charger that lived at my desk. Yes, that meant I had two to take care of but it also meant I could keep my phone charged during the day without having to remember to bring one cable back and forth. I did the same with the charger cable for my laptop.

When buying cables, skip the big box stores. You’ll typically find much better prices on sites like Amazon and I recently needed an DVI-to-HDMI adapter cable. A local big box electronics store wanted $50 for one. I found another online for under $3. It works perfectly.

Cool Tips and Tricks

OK, now for the fun stuff.

  1. The Cable Turtle is very cute and keeps a variety of cables tidy.
  2. Learn how to braid an extension cord. Technically it’s not a cable, but this is a fantastic trick. I store all of my extension cords this way.
  3. Likewise, there is a right way and a wrong way to wrap a video cable. Over/under is the right way.
  4. Instructables has posted a tutorial for inexpensive, under-desk cable management.

Unitasker Wednesday: Hot Air Popcorn Popper

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

This is one of those unitaskers that at one point had a convenience value, but doesn’t really have that any longer. Say, “hello,” to a relic of the distant past, the Hot Air Popcorn Popper:

You’ve always been able to pop fresh kernels of popcorn over a burner on your stovetop. A heavy bottom pan splashed with a shot of oil, some kernels, the burner set to a medium-high heat, a nice-fitting pan lid, and in a few minutes you have freshly popped popcorn.

But the stovetop isn’t even the easiest method for popping this treat. Grab a brown paper lunch sack (I prefer the compostable, biodegradable ones), pour in some fresh kernels to cover the bottom of the bag, fold the top of the bag over a few times, set the bag on its side in the microwave, and microwave it on high for about two minutes. That’s it. You don’t even need to use oil with this popping method and you avoid all the chemicals found in store-bought microwave popcorn pouches. Best of all, there aren’t any parts or pans to clean up afterward or appliances to return to pantry shelves, just toss the empty bag in your compost or recycling bin.

Farewell, Hot Air Popcorn Popper. You served us well, but it’s time to free up some space in the pantry.

A year ago on Unclutterer


  • Cabin fever? Organize your summer travel plans now
    At least for those of us in the northern hemisphere, January is a great time to make summer travel plans. You are able to beat the rush and still get some good deals on popular travel destinations, as well as you are able to think about things other than the cold and wind and snow currently going on outside.


Reclaim your junk drawer: Five steps to get it organized

A junk drawer can seem like a helpful storage space, but in reality it’s usually not. That is probably because all drawers with the “junk drawer” moniker house a lot of the stuff that doesn’t have a proper storage space or is clutter. Lots of miscellaneous things get added to the drawer, and because you can close the drawer, it’s easy to to leave it cluttered — until you start frantically searching for something that you need. Sadly, this poor experience doesn’t improve your life or home in any way.

When free of clutter and organized well, though, junk drawers can be the one of the most useful, non-junky storage areas in your home. They can transform from junk drawers into utility drawers. These drawers can hold things that are used frequently (pens, notepads) or items that you need at specific moments (picture hanging kit), and do so in a way that adds utility to your space. Don’t let your junk drawers languish. Unclutter them. Reclaim them. Turn them into areas that let you easily find what you need.

Follow these five steps to get started:

  1. Determine what’s inside your junk drawer. The first step will be to see exactly what is living in there. Sometimes, there is such a huge variety of things stored in the drawer that you may not know where to begin. So, try starting with an easy step. Remove things that are obviously trash or don’t belong. When you start with things that are easily trash, the uncluttering process will seem less daunting.
  2. Categorize your items. Dump all the non-obviously-trash items out of the drawer onto a flat surface, like a table. Next, group your items into categories (tools, office supplies, keys, etc.) by putting like objects together. If you have multiples of items, can you get rid of any duplicates? You may want to keep multiple pens, for example, but those without ink or that are dried out can be tossed in the trash.
  3. Decide what will be kept in the drawer. This is a great time to think about the things you do want to keep in the drawer. What you put inside will depend on the items you need to have available near where the drawer resides. For each of us, this can be different. There are no right or wrong items to keep, however, they should be things you need and they should be easy to access. You shouldn’t have to dig through the drawer to get what you need.
  4. Use dividers and containers. Just as you sorted like items together when you were uncluttering unnecessary objects from your drawer, you’ll want to keep these items together in your new utility drawer. Drawer organizers (like these from Rubbermaid) can work well, but you probably already have containers that you can use, like ice cube trays, resealable bags, plasticware, or even baby food jars.
  5. Don’t put anything in the uncluttered drawer that doesn’t belong. Once the drawer is organized, you’ll have to stick with the plan and not put anything into the utility drawer that doesn’t belong in there. Be ruthless. Unless there’s a section of the drawer designated for a specific item(s), don’t put clutter into your drawer. It’s also a good idea to check the drawer every couple of months to make sure that it’s still organized and that no stray things made their way inside your utility drawer.

Five ways to successfully manage interruptions at work

Would you be surprised to learn that when you are distracted while working, you can make mistakes when you get back to your intended task? The results of a study by the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that you also have a greater chance of “resuming at a different point in [your] train of thought” then if you had not been interrupted. Perhaps the most telling thing the researchers discovered is that even quick interruptions of less than three seconds made participants more likely to make a mistake.

They reported:

… when their attention was shifted from the task at hand for a mere 2.8 seconds, they became twice as likely to mess up … the error rate tripled when the interruptions averaged 4.4 seconds.

Interruptions seem to be a part of everyone’s daily work life and they can come in a variety of forms: a request from a colleague, a phone call from a client, or even your own desire to do something other than what you’re supposed to be doing. All of these moments stop you from fully focusing on your important tasks. It’s not that those other things may not also be worthy of your attention. They very well may be, but when you attend to them is essential to how productive you can be.

Since shifting your focus even for short periods of time has a direct effect on the quality of your work, it makes sense to:

Figure out what your regular interruptions are

Are there interruptions that happen frequently during your day? Do specific people continually seek your attention causing you to pause what you’re doing? Do you respond to all phone calls and emails immediately? Take a few minutes to jot down all the things that tend to take your focus away from your intended tasks.

Come up with a game plan

No matter what the interruptions are, you can thwart them with a strategic game plan. Create a time plan so you can manage your tasks. By doing this, you’ll be able to set realistic timeframes for working on your to-do’s and setting your schedule accordingly.

Share your calendar with others. Make your schedule available to colleagues so they’ll know when you’ll have time available to meet or talk with them. You may still get interrupted, but hopefully your colleagues will begin to request your attention when they know you’re not otherwise occupied.

Use friendly, but direct reminders. When you do get interrupted, consider using statements such as:

  • “I’m working on a project that is making my brain spin and requires a lot of focus. Can we meet this afternoon at 3:00 to discuss your matter in detail? I’ll be much more helpful to you then when my mind isn’t filled with this project.”
  • “Unfortunately, I’m swamped today finishing project X so we can meet the deadline. I won’t be able to help today. Have you talked to Sally? I know she has been interested in getting involved in a project such as this.”
  • “I’d like to help, but if you need an answer today, I’ll have to to say no.”

You can also post a sign on your office door (if you have one) or cubicle panel, and you can even wear one. When I worked in the corporate world, my workspace was in a highly trafficked area and it wasn’t unusual for someone to tap me on the shoulder with a request. Since I didn’t have a door that I could close, I sometimes wore a sign that said something like: “I’m not here. I’ll back at 3 pm.” Of course, I explained to others in the office what I was doing so that they wouldn’t be caught off guard or be put off by my sign.

Control self-imposed distractions. Remove the temptation to share your attention with unimportant activities by turning off email notifications, silencing your phone, or forwarding your calls to voicemail or another person. You can also use a browser extension like Leechblock to block your favorite websites while you work on your most important projects.

Stop interruptions before they happen

Planning ahead is a great way to limit distractions before they occur. Is a teammate, project manager, or client waiting on information from you? If the next action lies with you, consider completing it ahead of schedule — before they contact you with a reminder. This is a win-win solution for everyone and you’ll be rewarded with a solid block of focused time. Additionally, you can be proactive and keep others up-to-date with your project by communicating with them first, and on your schedule. When others are well-informed of your progress, they won’t interrupt you to see how you’re doing.

Use strategies to help you get back on track

Whether you need to take a phone call or reply to an urgent email, try to keep your time away as short as possible. And, think about writing down your thoughts before you stop working so you have a frame of reference for when you return. You could leave yourself a note with your voice recorder or you can type in your last train of thought directly in the document you’re composing.

When possible, go to another location

If you find that you’re getting an influx of interruptions, find a different workspace (if possible). Pick an alternate location that allows you focus and get stuff done (library, local cafe, co-working office, conference room).