Millions of Americans vow to be better organized every year. But did you know that being more organized can save you money? Yes indeed! Here’s how.

  • Organized finances – If your financial papers and systems are organized, you can easily assess your budget, track your spending and see where to cut corners if need be. It will be easier to access all the details of your accounts and finances. Knowledge is power and when your financial life is accessible and trackable, it usually results in more savings. An added bonus — you won’t have as many missed tax deductions due to your improved financial record keeping systems.
  • Effective bill paying system – Just imagine — no late fees or overdraft fees, your credit score goes up, and your interest rates go down. Sound like a dream? It is a reality for those that have an effective, and on-time bill paying system. By keeping track of your bills, and paying them on time, you can save a significant amount of money as finance charges and late fees can range from $1 to more than $35 per month. Setting up online bill paying and automatic bank account deductions can make financial organization painless, save you, money and protect your credit rating.
  • Donations = tax deductions – When clearing out your space, you may sometimes uncover items that you no longer need and cannot return to the store but are valuable to someone else. Charities need your excess stuff and you get a tax deduction.
  • Unwanted clutter for sale – You can sell your unwanted items (online, locally or through consignment) and cash in! Online services such as eBay and Craigslist are two ways to sell your items for fast cash. Consignment stores are another way to sell perfectly good clothing if you choose not to donate your items. Selling your items this way is usually quicker (and far easier) and results in more money than taking the time to have a garage sale.
  • No more duplicates – Many disorganized people buy duplicates or items in bulk that become obsolete due to expiration, failure to store properly, etc. Replacing items that have been “lost” or buried under the clutter is a big money waster because when the item has to be purchased again you are spending money you didn’t need to. By clearing clutter it allows you to see what you have and you don’t need to over buy.
  • Organized meal planning and shopping – By knowing what is in the refrigerator and cupboards of your kitchen, you won’t be over-buying and having food going to waste. Also, making a shopping list and planning out your menus in advance helps. An added bonus is that eating at home more frequently is less expensive than eating out.
  • Home and car maintenance – Keep on top of home repairs and car maintenance. If you take better care of the things you own, they will break down less frequently. Some examples include servicing your heating and air conditioning systems at home, changing the oil in your car, etc.
  • Don’t wait until the last minute – Another reason to be organized is to avoid paying a premium for things at the last minute because you are up against a deadline. Some ways to avoid late fees is to record due dates in a daily planner, sign up for email at the library to receive notices of overdue books before they incur a fine, buy gifts in advance, and book travel plans early. Also, you can save money by using your coupons, store credits, and gift cards before they expire, and sending in rebates on time.

The above tips are just a few ways that being organized can save you money. And who wouldn’t want to put some more money in his or her pocket in this “new economy”? So get organized, and reap the benefits financially.

Copyright © 2011 Lisa Montanaro of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC.

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Copyright 2011. Lisa Montanaro, “The Solutions Expert,” is Principal of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC, a professional services firm created in 2002 that offers professional organizing, business and life coaching, and motivational speaking to individuals and organizations. Lisa publishes the monthly “DECIDE® to be Organized” e-zine for the general public, and “Next Level Business Success” e-zine for professional organizers and entrepreneurs. Subscribe today at www.LMOrganizingSolutions.com.  Lisa also publishes the DECIDE® to be Organized blog at www.DecideToBeOrganized.com. Through LMOS, Lisa helps people deal with the issues that block personal and professional change and growth. To explore how LMOS can improve your home or work environment, or help take your business to the next level, contact Lisa at (845) 988-0183 or by e-mail at .

Professional Organizer + Disorganized Friend = Valuable Lessons

First, let me start by saying that, if it weren’t for my friend, Tracy, I probably would not even be a professional organizer, or at least, it would have taken longer to find the profession that is my true calling.  Tracy, demonstrating the intuitiveness that I have come to know is her classic style, guided me to the field of professional organizing in 1999.  I was living in Michigan at the time and working as a lawyer–the career I trained, studied, and prepared for most of my life, and which has never brought me real satisfaction–and expressed to Tracy that I wanted to do something more creative, hands-on, and that would directly help people.  My husband, Sean, whom I also must give credit to for helping guide me to professional organizing, used to tease that what I was really excellent at was planning lives.  Indeed, his slogan for my not-yet-created organizing and coaching business was “Montanaro, Inc. – We Plan Lives.”

Tracy was surfing the Web and discovered the National Association of Professional Organizers website (www.NAPO.net),  as well as that of the local New York Chapter.  She forwarded the link to me by e-mail and basically said, “See, what you do is a ‘real’ profession!”  This was news to me.  I thought, “People pay to have their lives organized?  There are ‘professional organizers’ who do this type of work for a living? Amazing. And awesome!”  I then spent a lot of time researching the profession, as well as brainstorming how and when I could “legitimize” my organizing skills by launching a business.

It wasn’t until the year 2000 when I relocated back to New York where my husband and I are originally from, that I seriously explored the organizing world as a profession.  I attended a one-day conference sponsored by NAPO-NY, “Putting the ‘Professional’ Into Professional Organizing.”   It was there that I learned what is involved in running an organizing business and what sets a professional organizer apart from someone who merely likes to organize.  I realized that I have been organizing people’s lives on an “amateur” level my whole life, and that my organizing and coaching skills transcended my work as a lawyer, educator, mediator, administrator, writer, public speaker, and performer.  Becoming more excited at the prospect of launching a business as a professional organizer, I decided to “practice” on Tracy, one of my closest friends.

Tracy and I met through our high school chorus, and were co-stars of our high school musical.  Our friendship blossomed over the years through college, graduate school, relocation, and marriage.  We always supported each other and considered the other a nice combination of a guardian angel and a tough cookie; hence, our nicknames for each other–Thelma (Tracy) and Louise (Lisa).  I had been providing organizing and coaching services for Tracy for years: assisting her with writing letters to creditors, planning her vacations, reviewing her resume and cover letters, preparing her for job interviews, etc.  It seemed only natural to start my career as a professional organizer with my number one consistent informal client, my disorganized, but brilliant and wonderful, friend.

Interestingly, some people thought this was not such a great idea.  “Don’t mix business with pleasure,” is the old adage.  “You don’t want to spoil the friendship if something goes wrong,” people warned.  As a lawyer, I often referred friends and family to other lawyers when asked to assist, often because the area of law was one that I did not practice in but, sometimes, because I did not want to mix business with pleasure.  Yet, I felt entirely comfortable doing organizing work for Tracy.  “Well, she IS one of your best friends, and you had been doing organizing work with her all along,” you may be thinking.  This is true, although the work I had been doing for Tracy all along was never part of an official professional endeavor.  No, the reason I chose to do organizing work for Tracy was because it just felt natural.  Not just natural; more like it was what I was supposed to be doing.

So we started.  My first task was to plan her wedding and honeymoon in 2001.  Success.  We then moved onto organizing some of the rooms of the newlyweds’ apartment.  Done.  In 2002-2003, I assisted Tracy and her husband Mike with the first-time home buying process.  Voila—they now live only a few miles from my husband and I in the beautiful Hudson River Valley of NY.  Over the years, I have repeatedly provided organizing assistance to Tracy.  We have delved into time management, space planning, bill paying systems, paper management , and organized the master bedroom, master bathroom and home office.

Tracy is an extremely intelligent, self-aware woman who has made great strides when it comes to organizing, and benefits greatly from working with an organizer.  You may be wondering why she needed an organizer in the first place if she is so smart.  It is a common misconception that an intelligent individual who has it “together” does not need an organizer, and would not benefit from professional organizing assistance.  My clients are intelligent individuals that excel at many skills and have many talents.  However, they need assistance with organizing.  Organizing is a skill, but it is not taught in schools (a fact that NAPO is trying to change – check out NAPO in the Schools on the NAPO site).  My clients may not have had the benefit of a parent, teacher, mentor, work colleague, or friend that could serve as a role model with regard to organizing skills.  Some of my clients are organized at home, but not at work, or visa versa.  Some are organized physically, but their time management skills are lacking.  In other words, there is no standard disorganized person profile.  My clients all have their own strengths and weaknesses, and that is why good organizing means tailoring the system to match the needs of the client.

Due to her background and intelligence, I knew one way to reach Tracy was by helping her to examine the psychological side of being disorganized.  She is an avid reader (as well as one hell of an editor, proofreader and writer!) and has digested a plethora of organizing books.  She approaches each book as a true researcher, going deep into the topic, highlighting the pages, and marking them up with notes in the margins.  She then discusses them with me, giving me the important client-focused perspective.  She is convinced that her lifetime of struggling with organizing her time, space, paper and possession stems from having ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder).  Her light bulb moment has brought her a sense of clarity and understanding, as well as a renewed sense of hope that she can overcome these obstacles with the proper coping mechanisms and systems in place.  Furthermore, she is planning to write a book to share her story so that others can benefit from her knowledge and experiences with ADD and disorganization.

Indeed, that is what I have gained from this relationship.  While many outsiders may only see the benefit Tracy has received from being the guinea pig that I practiced on early on in my organizing career, I have truly benefited too.  I have been able to follow her struggles, research, revelation, and education process, while honing my skills and developing my unique approach to organizing systems.  This organizer-client relationship with a close friend proves that you can mix business with pleasure and not only have the friendship survive despite the business relationship, but improve the friendship and business because of it.

Copyright 2009 © Lisa Montanaro of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC.

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Copyright 2009. Lisa Montanaro is a Productivity Consultant, Success Coach, Business Strategist, Speaker and Author who helps people live successful and passionate lives, and operate productive and profitable businesses. Lisa publishes the monthly “DECIDE® to be Organized” e-zine for success-minded individuals, and “Next Level Business Success” e-zine for entrepreneurs. Subscribe today at www.LMOrganizingSolutions.com. Lisa is the author of The Ultimate Life Organizer: An Interactive Guide to a Simpler, Less Stressful & More Organized Life, published by Peter Pauper Press. Lisa also publishes the DECIDE® to be Organized blog at www.DecideToBeOrganized.com. Through her work, Lisa helps people deal with the issues that block personal and professional change and growth. To explore how Lisa can help take your business to the next level, contact Lisa at (845) 988-0183 or by e-mail at .

It is difficult enough for one person to be organized and maintain that state of organization on a daily basis. Now imagine being thrust into a living situation with a person you have never met before, who is not a relative or even a friend. A person with different sleeping, grooming, eating, and studying habits, who may be from a different background or culture, and who has a different schedule and interests to boot. Enter the college roommate. When described in the abstract, the college roommate situation reads like a recipe for disaster. Yet, thousands of college students manage to live successfully and harmoniously every year with a roommate who, just days before the beginning of the semester, they had no contact with. Often times, this exercise in living is a wonderful entrance into the “real world” for college students and can serve as an example of the importance of compromise and flexibility that will serve the student in years to come.

Two such young women decided to work with a professional organizer and life coach, hoping to not only improve their living situation, but their overall lives and habits as well. Let their experience serve as an inspiration to all roommates, college or otherwise, who find themselves living in close quarters with a person they’ve never shared a space with before.

Meet Marta and Maria: So Alike and Yet So Different

Marta Anderson-Winchell and Maria Boere found out they were each other’s roommates about one week prior to heading to college. They had never met before.  In many respects, Marta and Maria have a lot in common. Both entered Pace University in September 2003 as freshman and reside on the Briarcliff, New York campus, in the suburbs of New York City. Both attend Pace on a soccer scholarship, are interested in pursuing a career in human services, maintain good grades, and consider themselves family oriented. Yet, there are many differences between the two young women. Marta not only plays soccer for Pace, but also basketball, which forces her to engage in some serious time management. Marta’s family lives within an hour’s drive from campus, which means being able to head home every two weeks to do laundry. Maria isn’t so lucky, as her family resides in Nashville, Tennessee. Maria shared a room back home with her older sister, while Marta never had to share her space before. Although in the same year of college, they are almost an entire year apart. Most importantly, however, is the fact that the two have very different habits when it comes to organizing and maintaining their space and lives.

When I first visited Marta and Maria, I was struck by how small their dorm room is, but isn’t that par for the course in college? What separates organizing a college dorm room from a traditional house bedroom is that the college dorm room must function as a lot more than just a place to sleep. If you split the dorm room into zones, you realize how multi-functional the space must be. There is the sleeping zone (bed and dresser), the dressing zone (armoire style closets), the food zone (mini-refrigerator and dry food storage), the studying zone (desk and bookshelf), and the hanging out zone (television and chair). That is an awful lot of stuff to cram into one space, but then you also need to double almost everything in order to accommodate two people. It’s no wonder college students are often disorganized – there’s too much stuff in one little space!

Maria is a self-professed procrastinator. She likes things clean but let’s the chores go until she cannot stand it anymore (sound familiar, all you procrastinators out there?). In fact, she will let her laundry pile up until she runs out of undies (if she runs out of clothing such as sweatshirts, however, she often steals Marta’s!). She admits that this stresses her out and she’d like to “change her ways.” Marta does more of the general straightening of the room on a daily basis, while Maria actually does more of the cleaning, such as sweeping and mopping the floors. Neither really likes to or has time to cook, so they usually eat in the cafeteria, but they do keep some food staples in their room (although not near the fridge, but we’ll get to that later).

Doing Better Than They Think But There Is Room For Improvement…

So how are they doing? Not bad. Not bad at all. For two people who have never lived together before, Marta and Maria have managed to figure out a way to make it work. Instead of working against each other’s weaknesses, they compensate for each other. Heck, some married couples could learn from these two! But before we give them a freshman-student-living-together-harmoniously-award, let’s focus on what can be improved.

The actual room set up and design is working. However, Marta and Maria have a huge bean bag chair in the middle of their room. When asked if either ever really sit on it, the answer is once in awhile. Do guests sit on it? Sometimes. How often do they have guests? Not that often. Thus, we discussed storing the chair under Maria’s bed where there was adequate space. That would give a sense of openness to the small room. When guests drop by, they can just take beanie out from under the bed. Interestingly, once we discussed moving the bean bag chair from its precious center room location, the two confided during a later visit that they have been using it more often! Sometimes, when faced with the prospect of purging or relocating an item, a person realizes its value and begins to appreciate it and use it. At least now, however, when it is not being used, it has a “home” to go to that is a bit more out of the way.

Another design flaw of the room organization is that the dry food and cooking supplies are stored on the sole shelving unit across the room from the small fridge. I recommended moving the food and cooking supplies to an open area next to the fridge, which is now unused space. It is a narrow space but there is a lot of room vertically. Often times, vertical space is sorely underutilized and can provide the answer to a storage problem.  So we used a narrow, but tall, clear plastic drawer unit with 5 smaller drawers on top, and 2 deep drawers on the bottom. All of the food easily fit in, as well as the few cooking supplies. Now, they have an actual “food zone.” An additional advantage to this reorganization is that it freed up the shelves where the food used to be for storing things like videos, CDs, photo albums, and their toiletry carts (the bathrooms are down the hall, which means carrying toiletries back and forth). We stored those items in pretty open wicker baskets of varying sizes with removable cotton muslin lining for ease of cleaning. The design provides easy access as the baskets are open, and add charm to the space. We used a matching, but smaller, wicker basket to store extra videos that they watch more frequently on top of the television.

The clothes inside their small armoire closets are pretty well organized. However, their shoes are actually on top of their armoires. They claim they can easily see and reach the shoes up there, and they do not want them in the bottom of the closets so the shoes can air out properly after use (remember we are talking athletes here…). One thing organizers know to do is to work “with” the client, so we left the shoes up there as the system works for them.

As for Maria and her laundry, I recommended setting aside one night per week after soccer practice as “laundry night”. Using positive association, I offered up Thursday night as she can put in her laundry before Friends begins, watch the half hour episode, and then switch the clothes to the dryer. She can then take an hour or so to check and reply to e-mail, and then fold the clothes while listening to she and Marta’s favorite radio show, the Delilah show (which they bonded over when they first moved in together and realized they were both huge fans) while winding down before bed. Using positive association will help Maria not dread laundry, but instead think of it in association with fun television shows, e-mailing friends and family, and winding down with music and perhaps a chat with Marta. Having her laundry done every week will also avoid the pile up that stresses her out and causes her to run out of clothing. She gave this a try and said it did help somewhat. I reminded her that it takes time to make new habits, so she plans to keep at it. I have no doubt she will improve her laundry situation as she is motivated to change this behavior, despite her tendencies towards procrastination.

What Does the Future Hold?

Marta and Maria plan to continue living together as roommates in their sophomore year. They already heard that they are moving to a different dorm. Their actual room will be smaller (yikes!), but it will be part of a suite with another room for two other students, and a common living room and bathroom for all four to share. I have no doubt that they will make the smaller space work, and I plan to check in on them to see whether they have been able to maintain the organized systems we put in place. And when I do, I imagine they will whip out the bean bag chair from under the bed for me to sit on. After all, I may be their professional organizer, but I am also their guest.

This article originally appeared in Balance magazine in 2003.
Copyright © 2003 Lisa Montanaro of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC.

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Copyright 2003. Lisa Montanaro is a Productivity Consultant, Success Coach, Business Strategist, Speaker and Author who helps people live successful and passionate lives, and operate productive and profitable businesses. Lisa publishes the monthly “DECIDE® to be Organized” e-zine for success-minded individuals, and “Next Level Business Success” e-zine for entrepreneurs. Subscribe today at www.LMOrganizingSolutions.com. Lisa is the author of The Ultimate Life Organizer: An Interactive Guide to a Simpler, Less Stressful & More Organized Life, published by Peter Pauper Press. Lisa also publishes the DECIDE® to be Organized blog at www.DecideToBeOrganized.com. Through her work, Lisa helps people deal with the issues that block personal and professional change and growth. To explore how Lisa can help take your business to the next level, contact Lisa at (845) 988-0183 or by e-mail at .

While “green” and organizing may sound unrelated, promoting green consciousness is a natural extension of the organizing process.  Professional organizers enter homes and businesses on a regular basis, and armed with proper knowledge, a professional organizer can assist clients in becoming more Earth-friendly.  As the Chair of my Town’s Earth Day Clean Sweep for the past five years, I am well aware of the importance of reducing and recycling, and relish the opportunity to influence clients and the general public in this regard.

What can you do to get better organized in a “green-friendly” way?  Here are some tips.

  • Think Before You Buy – Try to transform your buying habits so that you are not accumulating too many items in the first place.  Most of the environmental damage is done in the manufacturing stage, so the less consumerism, the better.  According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans produced 254.1 million tons of household trash in the year 2007 alone.  In 2008, however, as a result of the economic recession and the resulting decrease in disposable incomes, landfills reported a 30% decline in waste levels.
  • Pay bills Online – According to Javelin Strategy & Research, 53% of Americans currently use online banking services, rising to an estimated 67% by 2012.  The report also estimates that Americans could prevent the logging of 16.5 million trees every year if all Americans switched from paper bills to Internet banking.
  • Repurpose and Reuse – Consider repurposing or reusing existing items in creative ways to avoid buying more and to give new life to forgotten items that are just taking up space.
  • Recycle – Throughout the sorting, purging, and organizing process, think of the benefits of recycling.  Often times, a person is unaware of the recycling guidelines in his or her particular area, or whether a particular item can be recycled at all.  For a list of lesser-known recycling programs, visit the Donation and Recycling Resources page of my website at https://www.lisamontanaro.com/donations.html.  Get educated so you can stop adding to landfills and recycle more.  Consider setting up an organized recycling center in your home or business to make it as easy as possible to recycle.
  • Donate – Remember, recycling includes donating items that you no longer love, need, or use often to those who could truly put those items to good use.  Adopt a charity, or even a particular family to donate to (check out www.TangibleKarma.com).  If you just want to unload items for free, consider giving them away on Freecycle (www.Freecycle.org).

Think “green” when organizing.  You will not only be able to reduce your clutter and find things more easily, you will be helping the Earth in the process.

Copyright © 2009 Lisa Montanaro of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC.

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You can, as long as you use this complete statement:

Copyright 2009. Lisa Montanaro is a Productivity Consultant, Success Coach, Business Strategist, Speaker and Author who helps people live successful and passionate lives, and operate productive and profitable businesses. Lisa publishes the monthly “DECIDE® to be Organized” e-zine for success-minded individuals, and “Next Level Business Success” e-zine for entrepreneurs. Subscribe today at www.LMOrganizingSolutions.com. Lisa is the author of The Ultimate Life Organizer: An Interactive Guide to a Simpler, Less Stressful & More Organized Life, published by Peter Pauper Press. Lisa also publishes the DECIDE® to be Organized blog at www.DecideToBeOrganized.com. Through her work, Lisa helps people deal with the issues that block personal and professional change and growth. To explore how Lisa can help take your business to the next level, contact Lisa at (845) 988-0183 or by e-mail at .

Spring marks the transition from winter into summer. It is a time that most of us equate with renewal, increasing day length, and a symbolic changing of the seasons. Spring is seen as a time of growth, when new life (both plant and animal) are born. The term is also used more generally as a metaphor for the start of better times. For many, it is also a time for cleaning and organizing – i.e., the Spring Fling!

During the winter, we tend to stockpile. It is in our nature. Chances are you’ve got some clutter left over at work, at home, in your car, on your computer, and in your head. This is an ideal time to do some eliminating. The old adage, “Out with the old, in with the new” definitely applies this season. To help you with your Spring Fling, the following are some tips for clearing the clutter.

    • Purge Your Paper Inbox – When is the last time you’ve seen the bottom of your paper inbox at work and at home? Make it a goal this spring. Develop a paper management system to try to keep it that way.
    • Eliminate Email Clutter – Schedule some time to clear your email inbox. Delete unnecessary emails, capture contact information, delegate tasks that can be done by someone else, send those “replies” finally, and set up filters and folders to avoid back-log in the future. Once you get your email inbox down to one page (where you can see all emails without having to scroll down), try to maintain it.
    • Go on a Calendar Diet – Take a look at your busy calendar and try to clear 2-3 social or work obligations that you said “yes” to that you now realize you should not have. We all do it (yes, even the professional organizer/time management expert!). Time is limited and precious, so think carefully about what you want to fill it with.
    • Switch Clothes– If you have not already done so, this is the perfect time to switch your clothes from the cold weather items to the warm weather ones. Make 4 categories:
      1. Purge (damaged clothes)
      2. Donate (clothes that do not fit, you do not like, or that are out of style, but can be worn by those in need)
      3. Keep (clothes that fit, that you love and wear often)
      4. Dry Cleaning/Tailoring (clothes that need to be professionally dry cleaned or mended).
    • Retire the Christmas Decorations – You think I am kidding on this one. I am not. You know who you are. If the Christmas decorations are still up outside or inside your home, it is high time you put them away. Go do it, now. Your neighbors will thank you.
    • Take Care of Your Taxes – Yes, the official tax-filing deadline for personal income taxes is April 15th. However, many people take an extension, which means they will be filing this summer. Stop procrastinating! Gather the documents to get those taxes done. And for those of you that already filed, purge old tax records that no longer need to be saved (check with your accountant, but generally, the average person needs to maintain 7 years of tax records in case of an audit claiming fraud). Don’t forget to shred!
    • Declutter the Car – You will be passing many car washes held by various charities this time of year. You’d like to get your car cleaned, but you don’t want anyone to see the inside! Sound familiar? Clear that car clutter. Empty out the garbage that has accumulated, bring in items that you purchased that are sitting in bags in the trunk, and return all sorts of “stuff” to its place in the home or office that found its way into your car. Ah, now go get that car wash or, better yet, treat yourself to a full car detailing.
    • Organize Outlying Areas – Clear clutter in the garage and shed so that you can find the things you need this spring and summer. Take out the patio furniture and grill, dust off the bikes, and put away the snow blower. If you can’t reach the lawnmower, chances are you will not use it as much. You may have put the Christmas decorations away, but with that jungle you call a yard, your neighbors will still not like you very much.
    • Mend the Medicine Cabinet – Clear out any winter medications that you stockpiled, such as cough medicine and cough drops that have expired. Ditto for prescription medications that have expired. Buy yourself some new sunscreen, as that also has a limited shelf life.
    • Makeup Makeover – Makeup attracts bacteria. Therefore, purge any makeup that is “old.” While there is no exact life span for makeup, if you haven’t used it in a year, it is time to go. For more exacting makeup safety guidelines, visit http://tinyurl.com/punhg9.
  • Overhaul Your Toothbrush – You should replace your toothbrush every 3 months. Period. Get a new one. It feels great!

There you have it — the Spring Fling checklist. Take your time, and work through it. I guarantee you will feel a sense of renewal, while clearing the way for a productive and pleasant summer season.

Copyright © 2009 Lisa Montanaro of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC.

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You can, as long as you use this complete statement:

Copyright 2009. Lisa Montanaro is a Productivity Consultant, Success Coach, Business Strategist, Speaker and Author who helps people live successful and passionate lives, and operate productive and profitable businesses. Lisa publishes the monthly “DECIDE® to be Organized” e-zine for success-minded individuals, and “Next Level Business Success” e-zine for entrepreneurs. Subscribe today at www.LMOrganizingSolutions.com. Lisa is the author of The Ultimate Life Organizer: An Interactive Guide to a Simpler, Less Stressful & More Organized Life, published by Peter Pauper Press. Lisa also publishes the DECIDE® to be Organized blog at www.DecideToBeOrganized.com. Through her work, Lisa helps people deal with the issues that block personal and professional change and growth. To explore how Lisa can help take your business to the next level, contact Lisa at (845) 988-0183 or by e-mail at .

Well, summer is finally here, and for many people, that means vacation time!  Whether you plan to drive, fly, or travel by other means (a cruise, perhaps?), planning ahead will help your travel experience go off without a hitch.

I not only love to travel, I love to plan to travel. I can spend hours researching locales and lodging choices, preparing itineraries, packing, etc. Therefore, it seems only fitting to share some of my well-honed travel planning tips so that you can benefit from my travel planning addiction, and enjoy an organized travel experience. The 11 tips that follow may be common sense, but are not always commonly applied.

  • Create a Personalized Packing List – Create a packing list on your computer so that you can revise it constantly as you travel and realize what you forgot and would have liked with you, and what you could have left behind. My packing list is organized into the following major categories: Essentials, For Business, For the Beach, For Overseas Travel, For Active Vacations. It is then further broken down into subcategories that are specific enough to easily grab and check off each item without too much forethought (and certainly without that nagging feeling of forgetting something). My list has been customized over years of traveling. Make your list work for you and your family by personalizing it to match your needs.
  • Freshen Up Your Suitcases – Air out your bags before you pack. There is nothing worse than putting clean clothes in a stale smelling bag. (Hint: A scented dryer sheet or lavender sachet can work wonders.)
  • Check Luggage Guidelines – Go online and check your airline’s luggage guidelines to ensure that your carry on will fit, and that you will not be charged extra if you exceed the weight restriction.
  • Pre-Pack and Weigh – Print out your packing list in advance, and start laying out items so that you can get a visual snapshot of what you are bringing. It is wise to pre-pack in advance, especially with today’s strict airline luggage guidelines. I even recommend putting the items in the suitcase and weighing it. Better to know if you will make the cut at home when you can still remove things than to suffer an unexpected luggage fee at the airport.
  • Pack Extra Storage Bags – Pack a few storage bags for small items, like shoes, etc. Make sure that one is waterproof in case you need to pack wet bathing suits on the trip back home.
  • Get Your Gadgets in Order – Empty memory cards, and charge your phone and camera before you leave home. Consolidate power cords, chargers and extra batteries in your carry-on.
  • Refill Prescriptions – Refill prescription medications in advance, and pack in your carry-on in their original packaging in order to pass muster with the TSA. This also provides you with an easy way to remember the exact specifications in the rare event that the medication gets destroyed (melts in the sun, gets wet, etc.) or you are delayed longer than expected, and need to arrange a refill while still away from home.
  • Copy Important Documents – Carry duplicates of your passport and visa (if traveling outside of the country), travel itinerary, and any other vital documents that you need for safe travel, and keep them in a different location than the originals while traveling. Consider also emailing electronic copies to yourself or storing at a secure online site.
  • Give Your Wallet a Diet – Pare down the contents of your wallet to only what you need during travel. Only bring essential documents, such as driver’s license, medical insurance card (check to see if you have coverage if going outside of the country), passport, and credit cards.
  • Alert Credit Card Companies – Contact your bank and credit cards companies before you depart and inform them that you will be traveling, so that they will not be alarmed by out-of-town charges and put a security hold on your account.
  • Inventory the Contents of Your Suitcase – Take photos of your clothes, shoes, and jewelry, which will serve as documentation if your luggage gets lost or stolen. Download the shots onto your home computer or upload them to an online site just in case. It may seem like overkill (don’t all insurance and risk management measures seem so unless you need them?), but it will save you a lot of stress and money if your luggage gets lost or stolen, as well as peace of mind while traveling.

Now, you are prepared to travel. You can relax knowing that the essentials are in order. Enjoy, explore, and make great summer vacation memories. Bon voyage!

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I was working with a client recently to organize her home papers. We were purging papers that were no longer needed, and sorting the keepers into categories so that we could put them into files for future retrieval. So far, so good. My client confided that she considers herself organized at work, and actually likes a fairly clutter-free environment. She shared that at home, however, she has a really hard time dealing with paper. This is not uncommon. Some clients can maintain organizing systems at work, and not at home, while others can keep it together at home, but things fall apart at work. There are many reasons for this organizing disparity, and I assumed that as I worked with this client, the reasons would surface.

And surface they did. As soon as we started to set up the filing system, I noticed that my client lacked confidence in her decisions. When I would ask her what to name a certain file, she would get very nervous, mention a possible name, then second-guess herself almost immediately. She became visibly distressed, and started to lose steam. We took a break, and started discussing what she was feeling. She was feeling overwhelmed with choices, and was scared that she would make the wrong choice (her words) and not be able to find papers when she needed them later on. This, my friends, is what happens when someone does not trust his or her instincts when organizing.

It is not a surprise that my client became overwhelmed as soon as we got to the implementation phase. This is when you set up the organizing system in a way that makes sense to you, and can be integrated into your life (for more information on the stages of organizing, check out my unique approach to organizing, DECIDE). For many people, this is the toughest part, as it requires the person to make decisions and own them. If a person lacks confidence in his or her ability to set up a system or to maintain it, that lack of confidence usually manifests itself through indecision. For my client, this reared its ugly head more at home than at work. At work, often the systems are already in place and an employee merely has to follow them. For some, this makes it harder as the system may be far from what he or she would have created. However, for others, following a ready-made system is easier as it takes the decision-making part out of the equation.

So what to do? Use your instincts. Go with your gut.

If you were unfortunate enough to have to sit for the SAT exam in high school, you may remember the common tip that people would give: do not change your first answer, as it is usually the right one. You can say the same thing when it comes to organizing systems. I often will say to a client when they are having a hard time choosing a name for a file, “Quick, what file name would you think to look for this paper under?” I am trying to make my clients use free association, and not over-think the naming process. File names are only important when it comes to retrieval, not storage. Most people get caught up in what to name a file because they are focusing on the front-end – the storage process. But filing is most important on the back-end, during the retrieval process, when you need to access something quickly after time has gone by and your memory is not as fresh.

I am amazed how often clients will fight their natural organizing habits and tendencies. For example, a client will explain that he is having a hard time with mail being everywhere in his home. He will advise that he has a mail slot system but is not using it. I ask why. He tells me it is hanging by the front door, but he uses the back door. I then suggest moving the mail slot to hang near the back door. My client will say, “Oh that makes sense, why didn’t I ever think of that?” Sometimes the easiest solution is staring you right in the face, but you don’t trust yourself to grab it. Organizing systems should be intuitive, not difficult.

Back to my recent client. She realized that she wanted to set up her filing system by using each family member’s name and then using sub-categories within each person’s file area. For example, let’s say her son’s name is Tom. She wanted to have a main category called Tom, and then file folders within that category for Tom-Auto, Tom-Education, Tom-Medical, Tom-Work, etc. The reason for this, she explained, is that she tends to think of each person as a universe unto him- or herself. Once she is within that universe, then she wants to break it down by subject matter category. Others set up their filing systems based on main subject matter categories of Auto, Education, Medical, Work, etc. and then use each family member’s name as the sub-categories and file folders within.

Which is right? Well, both, actually. It depends on the way your brain thinks about and processes paper. For my client, this system worked. As soon as we set up her filing system in this manner, I could see her confidence come back and her spirits rise. This felt “right” to her. She just lacked the confidence to try it before.

So, when organizing, trust your instincts. They usually guide you to a great solution. 

Copyright © 2009 Lisa Montanaro of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC.

Want to Use This Article in Your E-zine or Website?

You can, as long as you use this complete statement:

Copyright 2009. Lisa Montanaro is a Productivity Consultant, Success Coach, Business Strategist, Speaker and Author who helps people live successful and passionate lives, and operate productive and profitable businesses. Lisa publishes the monthly “DECIDE® to be Organized” e-zine for success-minded individuals, and “Next Level Business Success” e-zine for entrepreneurs. Subscribe today at www.LMOrganizingSolutions.com. Lisa is the author of The Ultimate Life Organizer: An Interactive Guide to a Simpler, Less Stressful & More Organized Life, published by Peter Pauper Press. Lisa also publishes the DECIDE® to be Organized blog at www.DecideToBeOrganized.com. Through her work, Lisa helps people deal with the issues that block personal and professional change and growth. To explore how Lisa can help take your business to the next level, contact Lisa at (845) 988-0183 or by e-mail at .

To-do lists. Just the name of them sounds exhausting. They have become the thorn in many of my client’s side. Whether they are written in long form on paper, or maintained electronically on a computer or handheld device, they cause much stress.

And here’s one reason why. Most people unknowingly combine their master to-do list and daily to-do list together. This one act causes the list to become lengthy and overwhelming, which in turn almost guarantees failure. The person with this massive all-in-one to-do list will either abort the list altogether, or try desperately to get tasks done, all the while feeling inadequate and like a failure due to his or her inability to accomplish the items on the list.

What to do (yes, pun intended!)? Keep ’em separated!

Create a master to-do list and a separate daily to-do list. The master list includes tasks you plan to and want to get to, but cannot accomplish in one day, similar to a project list. Your daily list is only made up of the tasks you intend to, and can realistically accomplish, in one day, which is usually only about 3-5 items. The daily list puts your master list into action on a daily basis. That way, you get the satisfaction of actually crossing off your daily to-do’s, but have a more comprehensive list so you don’t forget tasks you need to tend to at some point later on.

 

Here’s an example. You need to do a home renovation project like paint your basement. Your master to-do list reads: paint basement. But the daily to-do list will break down that master item into several separate entries over a longer period of time.

  • Monday: choose paint color
  • Tuesday: call 3 painters for estimates (this is called delegating, but let’s save that for a future blog post!)
  • Wednesday: clear furniture from area to be painted
  • Thursday: buy paint.

Get the picture? The master to-do list names the project and the daily to-do list breaks out the action steps in a manageable, reasonable and realistic manner in order to accomplish that project. That way, the items actually get done. And isn’t that what a to-do list is supposed to be for anyway?

Copyright © 2009 Lisa Montanaro of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC.

Want to Use This Article in Your E-zine or Website?

You can, as long as you use this complete statement:

Copyright 2009. Lisa Montanaro is a Productivity Consultant, Success Coach, Business Strategist, Speaker and Author who helps people live successful and passionate lives, and operate productive and profitable businesses. Lisa publishes the monthly “DECIDE® to be Organized” e-zine for success-minded individuals, and “Next Level Business Success” e-zine for entrepreneurs. Subscribe today at www.LMOrganizingSolutions.com. Lisa is the author of The Ultimate Life Organizer: An Interactive Guide to a Simpler, Less Stressful & More Organized Life, published by Peter Pauper Press. Lisa also publishes the DECIDE® to be Organized blog at www.DecideToBeOrganized.com. Through her work, Lisa helps people deal with the issues that block personal and professional change and growth. To explore how Lisa can help take your business to the next level, contact Lisa at (845) 988-0183 or by e-mail at .

For most people these days, keeping up with the daily onslaught of email is a major challenge. In fact, experts estimate that e-mail has added an extra 1.23 hours to the average person’s workday (E-Writing: 21st Century Tools for Effective Communication by Diana Booher; Managing Your E-Mailby Christina Cavanagh). If you multiply 1.23 hours by 5 days for 52 weeks, the average person is spending 320 hours per year of extra time handling e-mail. Wow! That is a lot of time spent on email. And experts estimate that the time lost to email has caused workers to shave time elsewhere, causing a productivity crunch.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the average U.S. worker spends up to four hours a day sending and receiving e-mail. Of that four hours, it is estimated that one hour each day is spent on the 36 percent of e-mail messages that are either irrelevant, or relevant but do not require a response.

So how do your survive the daily email attack? The following tips will help you manage the flow of email:

  • Turn off e-mail alarms and prompts through your e-mail preferences tool. Many people have alarms and prompts set to go off every few minutes upon the arrival of e-mail in their inbox. These continual interruptions make people respond like Pavlov’s dogs every time they hear the “you’ve got mail” chime. Turning off the chime will keep you from interrupting what you were doing to read e-mail in the midst of other projects.
  • Plan for the reading and response of e-mail in your daily schedule. Create a proactive method of managing e-mail by setting up time in your day dedicated to e-mail. Do not check e-mail the first thing in the morning, or you risk becoming reactive. Instead, spend the first hour working on the most important project or planning your day out.
  • Estimate the amount of time you are spending on e-mail now, and cut that time in half. Deadlines usually make most people more efficient. You may want to spend half of your allocated email time in the morning, and the other half after lunch or before you finish working for the day. The time constraint forces you to prioritize. The e-mails that do not get answered are probably not that important and, thus, deleted, or archived in file folders for future use.
  • Create e-mail folders, and direct the flow of e-mail. Create folders in your e-mail system that mirror your paper filing system to reinforce storage and retrieval of important information. In addition, create the folders to reflects your active projects and change your e-mail settings to direct e-mail that contains project-related language to those folders within your inbox. Added bonus: many e-mail systems impose limits on inbox size, but not in a folder.
  • Use computer storage folders. For e-mails that need to be kept for a longer period of time, create an electronic filing cabinet, with electronic folders for category names that match the physical files. Use Word or any system your company utilizes and backs up often.
  • Save the most recent only. Delete the earlier string of emails and just keep the most current one to avoid saving redundant emails.
  • Just save the attachment. If e-mail has an attachment and that is all you need, only save the attachment.
  • Control the flow of the e-mail exchange. People often feel they must respond to email instantly. Take time to consider your response and slow the flow of email when an immediate response if unnecessary.
  • Refrain from sending irrelevant e-mail. Be careful not to send e-mail just because it’s quick and convenient. The same rules apply to e-mail as regular correspondence – if it doesn’t have to be said, don’t say it.
  • Create templates. If you frequently send the same types of emails, create templates that you can use over and over (changing only the specifics each time).
  • Create an e-mail ritual. Every Friday before you leave the office, be ruthless about deleting e-mails no longer needed, saving those you need for a week or longer to personal folders, saving those you need longer to Word, and reviewing those in the personal folders to delete any no longer necessary. Make this a weekly habit and your e-mail will be a lot more manageable. You can also do the same thing at the end of every day if you so choose.

Many people are familiar with the above tips, but few actually implement them, leaving them to be reactive instead of proactive. Organizing your e-mail, like any other organizing behavior, allows you to be more productive and better utilize your time and energy. So stop the madness, and do what it takes to take control of your email. Remember, e-mail is supposed to be an electronic communications tool to assist you, not drive you crazy.

Copyright © 2009 Lisa Montanaro of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC.

Want to Use This Article in Your E-zine or Website?

You can, as long as you use this complete statement:

Copyright 2009. Lisa Montanaro is a Productivity Consultant, Success Coach, Business Strategist, Speaker and Author who helps people live successful and passionate lives, and operate productive and profitable businesses. Lisa publishes the monthly “DECIDE® to be Organized” e-zine for success-minded individuals, and “Next Level Business Success” e-zine for entrepreneurs. Subscribe today at www.LMOrganizingSolutions.com. Lisa is the author of The Ultimate Life Organizer: An Interactive Guide to a Simpler, Less Stressful & More Organized Life, published by Peter Pauper Press. Lisa also publishes the DECIDE® to be Organized blog at www.DecideToBeOrganized.com. Through her work, Lisa helps people deal with the issues that block personal and professional change and growth. To explore how Lisa can help take your business to the next level, contact Lisa at (845) 988-0183 or by e-mail at .

Time management is a major issue for many people.  And it’s not getting any better.  Experts estimate that during the last 25 years, our leisure time has declined by 37% while our workweek has increased by a full day.  The American’s Use of Time Project at the University of Maryland revealed that the average American spends more than 20 hours per week on housework.

Even if you are an otherwise excellent time manager, a disorganized physical environment will steal a large amount of time and energy from your day.  USA Today reports that Americans collectively waste 9 million hours every day looking for misplaced items.

Here are some small time management tips that can help make a big impact:

  • Take 15 – At the end of every day at the office, take 15 minutes to put things in order.  Put away files that are no longer in use, plug in to do’s on your daily list from your master one, take out files to be used the next day, etc. That way, you come into a clean ready-to-work environment.  At home before you go to bed at night, spend 15 minutes picking up stray items and putting them back into their proper homes.
  • Prepare for Your Morning the Night Before – Prepare for your morning the night before.  Gather everything you will need, such as your pocketbook, briefcase, knapsack, keys, etc. If you have a “home” for these things near your entryway, you will never have a problem scurrying around for them when you are leaving the house.  Choose your clothes and set them out in a convenient location for dressing.  Get out what you need to quickly and easily prepare breakfast.  And be sure to pack your lunch the night before also!
  • Set up a Gift Zone – Buy cards in advance for many types of occasions and even consider some generic gifts for house warming, birthdays, and baby showers.  Keep the items together in a gift, card, and gift-wrapping station with everything at your fingertips if you need to write out a card, choose a gift and wrap it.
  • Record TV Shows – Turn on the television only when your show is scheduled to begin and turn it off when it is over.  Turning the television off 1 hour per week gives you 52 extra hours in a year.  Some people record shows even if they are home to be able to avoid commercials and not interrupt themselves but save the show for when it is most convenient for them to watch.
  • Listen and Learn – Listen to audio books or podcasts for your commute (learn a foreign language, work related, novels, etc.), or consider carrying a mini-recorder to dictate work assignments or even personal ideas.
  • Portable Reading – Carry a “to read” file with you for those times when you are waiting on line, waiting at the doctor’s office, on the subway, etc.  If the reading material sits in a pile at home, it hardly ever gets read!
  • Delivery Anyone? – See what services offer delivery, like office supplies, dry cleaning, food, etc.
  • Organized Errands – Run all of your errands at one time, starting farthest from your house and ending up closest to home.
  • Call & Confirm – Call ahead before going to the store to see if they have what you need, call to confirm appointments before you show up, call to see if the restaurant has seating.  Save yourself unnecessary drives.

Copyright © 2009 Lisa Montanaro of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC.

Want to Use This Article in Your E-zine or Website?

You can, as long as you use this complete statement:

Copyright 2009. Lisa Montanaro is a Productivity Consultant, Success Coach, Business Strategist, Speaker and Author who helps people live successful and passionate lives, and operate productive and profitable businesses. Lisa publishes the monthly “DECIDE® to be Organized” e-zine for success-minded individuals, and “Next Level Business Success” e-zine for entrepreneurs. Subscribe today at www.LMOrganizingSolutions.com. Lisa is the author of The Ultimate Life Organizer: An Interactive Guide to a Simpler, Less Stressful & More Organized Life, published by Peter Pauper Press. Lisa also publishes the DECIDE® to be Organized blog at www.DecideToBeOrganized.com. Through her work, Lisa helps people deal with the issues that block personal and professional change and growth. To explore how Lisa can help take your business to the next level, contact Lisa at (845) 988-0183 or by e-mail at .