10 Simple Steps to Stay Organized

balanceIf getting organized seems too complicated, many of us won’t do it. So keeping it simple is the key to being successful. This week I’m sharing 10 simple steps you can follow to be more organized. The original tips come from oprah.com and I was so impressed by their beautiful simplicity, I just had to share!

1. Walk away from bargains. Just because you can buy a cashmere sweater for $20 or three bottles of ketchup for the price of one doesn’t mean you should. “Ask, ‘Do I have something similar?’ and ‘Where am I going to store it?’ before making a purchase,” advises New York City professional organizer and author, Julie Morgenstern.

2. Make peace with imperfection. Efficient people give “A-level effort” to the most important projects (say, work assignments or a kitchen redesign), and for the rest they do just enough to get the job done, says Renae Reinardy, PsyD, a psychologist who specializes in hoarding disorders. Maybe you give yourself permission to bring store-bought cookies to a school bake sale or donate a bag of stuff – unsorted! – to Goodwill. “Trying to do every task perfectly is the easiest way to get bogged down,” says Reinardy.

3. Never label anything “miscellaneous.” You put a bunch of things into a file or box and write this catchall across the front. “But within a week you’ve forgotten what’s in there,” says Morgenstern. Instead, sort items into specific groups – electric bills, light bulbs, and so on.

4. Schedule regular decluttering sessions. Rather than wait until an industrious mood strikes (we all know where that leads), have a decluttering routine in place, whether it’s spending 15 minutes sorting mail after work or tackling a new project every Sunday afternoon.

5. Stick with what works. “I have clients who will try every line of makeup, every cell phone – it’s exhausting,” says Dorothy Breininger, president of the Delphi Center for Organization. Don’t waste time (and money) obsessively seeking out the best thing.

6. Create a dump zone. Find a space to corral all the stuff that you don’t have time to put away the moment you step in the door, says Breininger. Once you’re ready to get organized, you won’t have to hunt all over the house for the dry cleaning or your child’s field trip permission slip.

7. Ask for help. “The organized person is willing to expose herself to short-term embarrassment and call for backup,” says Breininger. Which is to say, that elaborate four-course dinner you planned? Change it to a potluck.

8. Separate emotions from possessions. It’s healthy to be attached to certain items – a vase you picked up in Paris, your grandmother’s pearls. But holey concert tees or cheap, scuffed earrings your husband gave you years ago? Just let them go.

9. Foresee (and avoid) problems. You wouldn’t leave the house on a gray day without an umbrella, right? People who appear to sail through life unruffled apply this thinking to every scenario, says Breininger. Have a cabinet packed with leaning towers of Tupperware? Organized folks will take a few minutes to short-circuit an avalanche before it happens. (In other words, rearranging that cupboard now is easier than chasing after wayward lids as they scatter underneath the fridge.)

10. Know where to donate. It’s easier to part with belongings if they’re going to a good home. Identify a neighbor’s son who fits into your child’s outgrown clothes, or choose a favorite charity. “It will save you from searching for the perfect recipient every time you need to unload something,” says Morgenstern.

ORGANIZE TO KEEP PETS SAFE FROM DISASTER

Pets prepare for disasterFor many of us, our pets are members of our family and keeping them safe from disaster requires particular organizing and planning. According to the Humane Society of the United States, there are a number of steps you can take now to be prepared and protect your pets in case of a natural or man-made disaster.

ID your pet. Every dog or cat should have a collar and visible identification tag with up-to-date contact information. Having your pet microchipped can help reunite the two of you and is a great back-up in case a pet’s collar or tags are lost. Be sure to include your current mobile number on your pet’s tag and stored microchip information. If you’re forced to evacuate, you’ll still be reachable.

Create a disaster kit for your pet. In addition to the human members of your household, your pet needs a disaster kit. Items should include:

  • Food and water for each pet – enough to last five days. Medications and medical records.
  • Garbage bags, litter box and cat litter.
  • Pet carrier, leash, harness – whatever you typically use for your pet. Keep in mind that shelters may require that your pet be placed in a carrier or crate.
  • Current photos and descriptions of your pets in case you become separated.
  • Pet bed and toys, which can help to calm your pet in what’s likely to be a stressful situation.
  • Written instructions for feeding, medication, medical conditions, behavioral issues and phone numbers for you and your veterinarian in case your pet needs to be boarded.
  • Other useful items include newspapers, paper towels, plastic trash bags, grooming items, and household bleach.

Identify a safe, pet-friendly place to stay before disaster strikes. Your local office of emergency management (find yours at FEMA.gov) can provide recommendations. Don’t ever assume that community shelters can accommodate pets, as some may not have the resources. If you are temporarily relocating to a hotel, these online resources can provide pet-friendly accommodation suggestions:

Bringfido.com
Dogfriendly.com
Doginmysuitcase.com
Pet-friendly-hotels.net
Pets-allowed-hotels.com
Petswelcome.com
Tripswithpets.com

If you evacuate – take your pet. If it’s not safe for you to stay, it’s not safe for your pet either. Pets left behind can be injured, lost or killed. And evacuate early, giving you more options for traveling with and relocating your pet.

If you shelter in place, take the same care with your pets as with other family members. Identify a safe area in your home where you and your pets can stay together. Close off places where frightened animals may try to hide and move dangerous items such as tools or toxic products.

Identify a back-up caretaker for your pets in case you can’t get home. This is a good idea for major emergencies, as well as lesser ones that could delay your arrival at home. Make sure your back-up caretaker has a key to your home and is informed about feeding schedules, medications and your pet’s habits. If you use a pet setting service, ask if they are available to help in case of an emergency.

Finally, recognize that emergency situations can be very stressful for pets. Loud noises, unfamiliar smells and your own anxiety can be unsettling. Give them extra attention and be very patient. With preparation, care and support from you, they can weather a disaster as safely and securely as possible.

Organize Your Next Event with Online Planning Tools

Blog Photo 9.10.2013Do you find the thought of organizing an event – no matter the size – absolutely intimidating? Or, do you consider yourself an event planning aficionado? Either way, all of the event planning tools around the web could be of great organizational benefit to you!

Utilize these online tools to make planning your next party or organizing your next event seem simply effortless:

Invitations – This is where your event guests will get their first taste of your fine soiree. Don’t disappoint… Impress! And a fun way to do this is by designing your own e-invitation. E-invites can be used for anything from an industry-wide meeting to the office holiday party or even to help organize your family’s annual reunion. Sites like Evite and Paperless Post allow you to be as creative as you like when designing the perfect invitation for your next event.

Guest Management – Managing who’s attending your event is, arguably, one of the most challenging aspects of party organization. Not to worry, there are many online tools available to help organize your RSVPs! If you utilized Evite to create your event’s invitation, you’ll also be able to manage your RSVPs with it – it’s simple, electronic, and in real time. You can even allow your guests to add their own invites and enable commenting. If your guests are active on Facebook, consider posting your event there as well. With Facebook, you’re reaching out to your event guests where they already are online, so they’re not having to take a lot of extra effort to respond to your invitation. With Facebook, you also have the option to utilize the site to attract extra attendees. Much like videos and articles, events can go viral when shared on Facebook – as friends of attendees see what events the people they follow are going to, they may show interest in your event too.

Event Logistics – Does your event’s success depend on others’ participation? Perhaps you’re organizing a community charity event… For times like these SignUp Genius could become your best friend. This site can help you organize volunteers and donations – you’ll know who’s going to be where when, or who’s bringing what where. All of those little details that can drive you nuts become organized in this one space! If an event spans any extended length of time – such as Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) events lasting the length of a school year – the calendar on SignUp Genius can become especially useful. When your event requires ticket sales, Eventbrite may be your answer. Eventbrite helps organize ticket sales and also incorporates PayPal, so your guests know their accounts are safe and secure when purchasing tickets.

Any way you look at it, online tools can be your saving grace when organizing your next event. So, what are you waiting for? Get busy organizing your next memorable soiree!

Guest author Stephanie Shalofsky is a New York City professional organizer and founder of The Organizing Zone. Since 2008, Stephanie has been transforming combat zones into comfort zones for her NYC clients.

Save Time & Money with Online Banking

Blog Photo 9.3.2013We could all benefit from a little more time in our day and money in our pocket. Banking and paying bills online is an easy way to save both time and money. With online banking services more diverse and secure than ever, this is great time to jump on-board if you’re not already taking advantage of your bank’s online banking offerings.

Paying bills online saves money because you don’t have to purchase checks as often or pay postage to mail your payment. Most banks offer online bill pay services at no charge, and setting up your account to make online payments is easy. You can pay bills as they come in each month or schedule recurring payments, which can be particularly useful for bills that are for the same amount each month, such as a car loan or mortgage payment. Depending on your bank’s relationship with the payee’s bank, they will issue an electronic payment or send a hard copy check (but they pick up the postage). Be sure to check payment dates carefully and be sure to enter payments online in time to meet bill due dates. Be sure your bank stands by its electronic payment system, paying any late fees and assisting you with any issues if payments are late but you entered them on-time.

Reduce clutter and paper in your home by switching to electronic bank statements, which you can typically receive by email or download to your computer from your bank’s website. If you use personal finance software, such as Quicken, you can download bank data into the software to track your spending, savings, investments and more.

Remote check deposit, originally available only for business account holders, is increasingly available for individual bank customers. The Check 21 Act, enacted by Congress in 2003, made electronic images of paper checks just as legitimate as the paper checks themselves. What does this mean for you? No more driving to your brick-and-mortar bank branch and waiting in line at the ATM, the drive-up window or inside to deposit a check. Many banks that offer remote check deposit services provide a smart phone app that allows account holders to take a photo of the check they want to deposit with their phone wand securely transmit it to the bank. Remote check deposit is particularly useful if you use an online-only bank. No more mailing checks and crossing your fingers that they get there safely!

Is online banking safe? According to Clark Howard, consumer advisor and author, many consumers don’t trust online and mobile banking. But consider what happens when you go to a bank:  you hand a check with your transit numbers to a stranger, who now has the information needed to drain your bank account.  If that teller isn’t honest, they have license to take as much money as they want because they have the transit numbers from your account. A Federal Reserve survey shows that one in five Americans use their mobile phone for banking – a number likely to increase as the convenience of these services appeals to more consumers and the security of services proves itself.

Check with your bank to learn which services they offer and how they secure your transactions. And then figure out what to do with all of the time and money you’re saving!

10 Tips to Stay Focused

Young Woman Sitting Looking at Laptop ScreenMany business owners experience information overwhelm as one of their biggest problems, which in turn leads to lack of focus, and therefore they don’t actually get stuff done in their business. They’re so busy trying to keep up with all the information that they’re being hit with that they don’t actually get around to any implementation and so they stay stuck.

With all the information that’s thrown at us via our inbox, social networks, and even through the mail, it’s so easy to become side-tracked and lose that focus and, like many business owners, I’m guessing you only have a certain number of hours in the day to work on your business.

If you’re going to grow your business and implement new programs and products, and continue to serve your clients, then you really need to stay focused and make the best possible use of your time.

Today I’d like to share with you my top 10 tips for beating the overwhelm and staying focused:

1. Only check email at certain times. You’re not going to do yourself any favors by checking your email every 30 seconds. Once first thing in the morning and again in the afternoon is enough.

2. Schedule in business development appointments. You need to work ON your business, right? So schedule that time into your calendar. This will get you really focused on creating that new program or product that’s been on your To Do list for the past six months.

3. Unsubscribe from ezines that no longer serve you – and, yes, I realize I may be shooting myself in the foot when I say this to you. But having fewer emails landing in your inbox will really make a difference and will allow you to focus only on those mentors/teachers that serve you best.

4. Likewise, unsubscribe from online groups such as Yahoo & Google groups that no longer serve you. If you’re not actively participating anyway, why add to your inbox by receiving group emails. You’ll only be tempted to check them!

5. If you want to remain in an online group, switch your emails over to daily digest. Instead of getting an email every time someone posts to the forum, switch to daily digest – that’s one email per day instead of many.

6. Don’t take unscheduled phone calls – let it go to voicemail. Unscheduled phone calls are an interruption – they take you off task and you will need to spend time refocusing again once you hang up.

7. Allocate specific blocks of time for client calls. Rather than having your client calls/appointments all haphazard in your calendar, create blocks of time when you’ll be available to speak or meet directly with clients.

8. Focus on only participating in one program/teacher/mentor at a time – immerse yourself in the learning and implement before you move on to the next program.

9. Only work on those activities that contribute to the big picture for your business, i.e., those activities that will create new revenue streams and increase your bottom line. Either outsource or ditch the rest.

10. Focus on YOUR big picture – remember why you started your business in the first place. With the constant bombardment of “I’ll show you how easy it is to create a six or seven-figure business” emails, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and feel like you’re a failure if you’re not at that level. There’s nothing wrong in striving for this goal (or perhaps don’t even want to be), that in itself can be a source of overwhelm. Don’t follow the shoulds. Be yourself; remember why you got into this in the first place; and enjoy what you’re doing.

Learning how to manage your time and stay focused is one of the crucial components you have to learn to master if you want to create a sustainable, long-term business.

Online Business Development Strategist, Tracey Lawton, teaches solo service professionals how to create a thriving and profitable business through the implementation of simple business management strategies and online marketing systems, which leads to more clients, more profits, and more freedom. Find out if your business is on the right track with the free quiz, “Is Your Business Set Up To Fail?” at http://bizsuccessquiz.com

New Year’s Resolutions in August

Ah, New Year’s Resolutions. Remember those? Did you make any for 2013? Have you stuck with them?

Though they can sometimes get a bad rap, resolutions aren’t a bad thing. We typically resolve to make changes that will improve our lives, our health, our relationships, our finances. But according to data from StickK, a website designed to help people achieve personal goals, January is the worst month to try to make major changes in your life. So when are you more likely to make successful resolutions? August – with back-to-school preparations and new routines – is the best month to try to change, according to StickK.

New Year's Resolution Data

According to the Journal of Clinical Psychology, 45% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, and it’s impressive that as many as 46% of those resolutions are maintained more than six months. But sticking to New Year’s resolutions isn’t easy and 24% of respondents in the study reported that they never succeed on their resolution and fail each year.

But there’s good news too – the same study also found that people who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don’t explicitly make resolutions. And those who stick to their resolutions for at least three months are likely to maintain their changes long-term, no matter what time of year they’re made.

So what can you do to be successful in achieving the goals you set with your New Year’s – or August – resolutions? Here are a few tips that can increase your opportunity to see them through:  

  • Write your goals down and put your lists someplace you’ll see it regularly – your computer monitor, your car dashboard, your bathroom mirror. Make them hard to ignore.
  • Make your resolutions specific and measurable. Rather than resolving to “live healthier,” you might resolve to go to bed by 10pm on weeknights so that you get eight hours of sleep each night.
  • Create your dream team. Enlist a family member, friend or co-worker to support you in your efforts, keep you accountable (we all have those days where we just don’t want to go to the gym), and celebrate your successes. You may need to identify different support team members for different resolutions; it’s unlikely that one person is a fit for every one of your goals.
  • Focus on goals one at a time. Trying to make multiple changes at once can leave you feeling overwhelmed. Prioritize the resolutions based on their impact on your well-being and work through them individually.
  • Be okay about slipping up. It’s going to happen. Changing behaviors is often difficult work and establishing new routines takes time. If you start to revert to old habits, use it as a learning experience and re-start with new focus.

Apps to Help Students get Organized

Apple IPad StockThe calendar may say August, but it’s back-to-school time for many students. And with so many students, parents and schools embracing technology through smart phones and tablets, there is great opportunity for students to utilize mobile apps to stay organized and make their research, studying and collaboration efforts more efficient.

Here are a few top-rated apps to help students organize their assignments and make other school-related tasks easier.

ORGANIZER / CALENDAR APPS

iStudiez Pro ($2.99) for iPhone, iPad and iPod is an award-winning app designed to help students organize their schedule, plan assignments, track grades and set alarms for deadlines and project due dates.  A free version, iStudiez Lite, is available if you want to give the app a test run.

Class Buddy ($1.99) is an Android student calendar and organizer that allows students to manage homework assignments, projects, tests and meetings, as well as track grades and GPA.  Import events from CSV or Google Docs files; export to email/text or Google Docs, and sync with Google Calendar.

MyHomework (free) is a viable replacement to a paper student planner, school diary, or academic agenda. The app’s clean interface and design work for middle school, high school or college students and accommodates high school block schedules. This free app allows student to track homework, tests and other assignments and offers an easy-to-read calendar display.

STUDY / NOTE-TAKING / COLLABORATION APPS

Evernote is a powerful note-taking app for iOS, Android, Windows and Blackberry. Not only can you clip web pages, share and sync all your notes, you can also keep your research notes about a topic across various sources in one location. 

If you have an iPad, Evernote Peek helps you prepare for upcoming quizzes by quickly turning your notes into a study tool, using your iPad’s Smart Cover to quiz yourself.

Dropbox Mobile saves you to the hassle of transferring files from device to device and helps you keep your documents, photos and videos in one easily accessible place. Share documents and photos with project team members and use pictures taken on your phone in reports or slideshows without having to email them to yourself first. First-time Dropbox users get 2GB of storage free, but you can add 500MB more for every friend you recommend.

Scribd is the world’s largest document-sharing library with millions of books and documents in its database, including notes, texts and study guides shared by users around the world with contributors ranging from Random House, New York Times, World Bank and President Obama.

Dictionary.com for Apple or Android can help you understand the meaning or find the correct spelling of all of the new words you’ll come across this school year.  Just type in a word or use the voice-activated search to get results quickly.

StudyBlue is an ingenious mobile flashcard app that allows you to use text, pictures and audio to create your flashcards and test yourself. The app will also track your progress and help you focus on tougher materials.

Inherited Things

Blog Photo 7.31.2013If you’ve inherited things, perhaps from family members who have passed away or downsized their homes, you may find that your own living space has become cluttered with items that aren’t…well… yours. But because they once belonged to loved ones, you may feel obligated to keep them. The trouble is, you’re eventually going to be challenged to find space for three sets of china from three different grandmothers, or your uncle’s stamp collection that fills multiple shelves of your bookcase, or the photographs your parents took on their many travels, stacked ceiling-high in your attic. If you’ve had inherited things for some time, you may even be hanging on to them out of sheer habit rather than because they hold meaning for you.

If you’re finding yourself overwhelmed and your space cluttered with inherited things, recognize first and foremost that you are not required to keep them and you’re not dishonoring the memory of your loved ones if you get rid of their things. Here are a few suggestions to help you through the process:

Take some time. If a loved one has died, it can be difficult to make decisions about what to do with their things. Beyond those items specifically bequeathed in a will, you may have a house full of furniture or closets packed with clothing and mementos to sort through. You may be able to pare down some items quickly, though what those items are will depend on your own attachment to them. Once you’ve reduced the number of items to an amount you can reasonably store (in your home or offsite storage), make appointments on your calendar to go through them periodically. Discarding items in the time immediately following someone’s death can be very difficult, but parting with some things over time may be less painful. That way, you’re left with only those items that hold special meaning and memories for you.

Be creative. One professional organizer shared a story about dealing with her grandfather’s clothing. After his death, her aunt was tasked with emptying his home. The grandfather was a farmer and wore overalls every day, so he had LOTS of them. The aunt hired a photographer, brought family members together and they each donned a pair of overalls and took photos in the corn field. Afterward, she asked each family member to take the overalls with them, to do with as they pleased. The result: the overalls were gone and everyone had special photographs to remember their grandfather’s iconic clothing.

Be selective. You can’t keep everything, so focus on those items that evoke special memories. Perhaps you don’t have room to store all your grandmother’s china, but you can keep the mixing bowl she used when she taught you bake her secret-recipe cookies. You probably don’t need and have space for your father’s collection of more than 100 neckties. But hold on to the one you gave him for Father’s Day when you were a child, or the one he wore for your wedding.

Be generous. Share your inherited things with other family members and friends, but take care not to over-burden them with lots of items you don’t want. Select items that have special meaning for them, or let them choose something that they want to hold onto. Donate clothing and household items to a local charity, give books to your local library, sell or donate collections that you don’t love.

Organize Your Home as You Prepare for Vacation

Blog Photo - 7.1.2013As you prepare for vacation, don’t forget the importance of organizing things at home before you leave. Though it’s fun to focus on the things you’ll do while you’re away as you prepare for vacation, your return home will be more enjoyable if you organize before you go.

Secure your home

As you prepare for vacation, be sure that your home doesn’t advertise the fact that you’re away. Install timers on a few lamps throughout your home, and turn on a radio or television. Have your mail held at the post office and suspend newspaper delivery, or ask a neighbor to collect them for you.

Let a trusted neighbor know you’ll be away and leave contact information where they can reach you in case of an emergency. Invite them to park their cars in your driveway occasionally to make your home look lived-in.

Check to be sure that all windows and doors are locked before you leave and turn on your security system if you have one.

Include only your cell phone number on luggage tags – no need to advertise your home address to airport personnel.

Don’t leave garage door openers in your vehicle – at home or at the airport. Together with the address on your vehicle registration (which most drivers leave in a glove box), it can make your home an open target.

Keep it Efficient

Adjust your thermostat so that your air conditioning (or heater, in cold weather) runs on a very limited basis while you’re away.

Unplug appliances and electronics to save energy and protect them from damage in case of thunderstorms.

If possible, shut off water to your home. Even a very small leak can cause major damage over a few days.

Dispose of all perishable items in your refrigerator and empty all trash cans before you leave.

A Welcoming Return

Declutter counters, take care of laundry and put clean linens on beds – it will make your home much more pleasant to return to at the end of your vacation.

If you employ a housekeeping service, schedule a cleaning just before you leave so that your home is fresh and tidy when you return.

Guest author Stephanie Shalofsky is a New York City professional organizer and founder of The Organizing Zone. Since 2008, Stephanie has been transforming combat zones into comfort zones for her NYC clients.

Do You Have a Shopping Addiction?

For many, shopping is a recreational activity. It does offer positive rewards, such as new, needed items for your wardrobe, home or office and social time with family or friends. But for some, shopping goes further – it’s compulsive, an addiction. Buying more than you need can lead to debt, stress, anxiety and waste.Blog Photo 7.17.2013

A good guide for all shoppers is to pause before each purchase. Ask yourself:

  • Do I really need this?
  • Can I afford it?
  • Do have space to store it and time to maintain it?
  • Do I already have something similar?

 

Giving thought to each purchase can save you money and keep clutter under control.

Shopping can become a compulsive disorder, where buying brings about a temporary high. This behavior can cause significant damage to both finances and relationships and goes way beyond the occasional shopping spree.

According to Licensed Family and Marriage Therapist Angela Wurtzel, these questions can help determine if you shop/spend compulsively. For each, answer almost always, once in a while, infrequently or not at all.

  • Do you buy things you want even if you know at that moment you do not have the money to pay for it?
  • Is it difficult for you to save money?
  • When you have some extra cash that you could save, instead, you think of other things you would like to buy?
  • Do you cheer yourself up or give yourself a reward by “going shopping”?
  • Does more than a third of your income go to pay credit card bills, not including rent or a mortgage payment?
  • Have you had to move credit lines because you typically don’t have the money to pay off your credit line?
  • Do you pay the minimum balance on your credit card most of the time?
  • Are you inclined to keep buying more of your favorite things – clothes, makeup, cd’s, books, computer software, electronic gadgets – even though you do not have a specific need for them?
  • When and if you have to say “NO” to yourself, or control yourself from buying something you really want, do you feel intensely deprived, angry or upset?

 

If you answered always and once in a while to at least four of these questions, you may have overspending tendencies. If the last questions provoked an always or once in a while response, compulsive spending/shopping should be considered as a real concern. A professional therapist and/or debt counseling can help.