There is a practice that I have been using for years when it comes to my schedule and how I allocate my time. It is a habit I started doing years ago because I am very calendar-focused. I pretty much put everything on my calendar. And by everything, I mean even activities that most people wouldn’t think belong on a calendar. Most people schedule in appointments and planned phone calls, both personal and professional. They also layer on social events, such as parties to attend. But they almost never think to add activities on their calendar such as exercise, meals, sleep, hobbies, errands, etc. Those activities often seem too personal, or are solitary activities and, therefore, often don’t get precious space on the calendar, which means they get placed at the bottom of the priority order.

For years, it seemed natural to me to give space on my calendar to activities that most people typically don’t include. And I started mentioning this to my clients when doing time management and productivity coaching. I also started teaching this tool to my audiences when conducting a speaking engagement about time management and calendar planning. And what I have noticed is that it resonates with many people!

I’ve seen clients and audience members adopt this practice and it has resulted in major shifts in the way they spend their time. It gives them permission to focus on the activities that often don’t get enough attention. They wind up getting more sleep, eating healthier meals (and not skipping meals!), getting their exercise in, and engaging in hobbies and passions and other pursuits that they don’t usually make time for.

Could a simple practice of putting an activity on your calendar really make such a difference? The answer is yes. A resounding yes. But don’t only take my word for it.

Neil Fiore, the author of the book The Now Habit (which is a great little book about how to beat procrastination) calls this practice The Unschedule. Unscheduling is a massive shift in thinking from how most of us use calendars and schedules. It gives structure to unstructured activities and tasks. Instead of starting to build your calendar out the typical way, which is to first place the structured activities on your calendar (meetings, appointments, social obligations, etc.), you reverse your calendar and begin with the unstructured activities.

The premise behind the Unschedule is that you need (and deserve) at least one hour of play and relaxation a day, and at least one day off of work a week. You schedule the unstructured activities first, such as sleep, meals, exercise, commuting to work, hobbies, and other blocks of time you must expend each day. Then you layer on top of those activities everything else. The everything else activities are often the need to do, have to do, should do types of activities, whereas the Unschedule activities are often the want to do and love to do activities.

Can everyone do this? Yes, but to an extent. To be fair, if your calendar is so chock full with work, obligations, and other activities that there is no room for unstructured activities to be added, then this would be a tough practice to try to implement. However, let that be a wake up call. You could start a small version of the Unschedule by at least adding a proper amount of sleep and actual meal times so you no longer eat on the run or skip meals altogether. In time, you could aim to add in some exercise and other activities to start giving yourself some more me-time on your own calendar.

The key to the Unschedule really working is that you don’t only add the unstructured activities to your schedule, but you honor them. My clients and audiences have heard me talk about this often. Honor appointments with yourself the same way you would honor an appointment with anyone else. If you see a slot on your calendar is taken up with an unstructured activity that only involves you, and you immediately give that slot away because it is only “me time” after all, then the Unschedule loses its effectiveness. That’s really the beauty of the Unschedule. YOU get to be a priority on your own calendar, in your own schedule, and in your own life. That is the true power of the Unschedule as a worthy time management tool.

Try to Unschedule your calendar by adding in some unstructured activities and see how it feels. I hope you love the results!

So, you are searching for a new job?  Perhaps you are making a voluntary career transition.  Maybe you have been laid off, or worse, fired.  Regardless of the reason for your job search, one fact remains true: if you are conducting a job search, it is vital that you take an organized approach.  Managing your job search is just like managing any other major project.  You must create an infrastructure that allows you to operate in an efficient and productive manner.  A successful job search requires forethought and action.  Here are some tips for conducting an organized job search.

1. Declutter and Pre-Purge – If you are embarking on a job search, it will be difficult to do so if your physical space is covered in clutter with piles of papers everywhere.  Take some time to declutter.  Purge any unnecessary items, file papers that you need to keep, recycle junk mail, and get some order back into that space!  It will be easier for you to concentrate on your job search without all of that chaos and clutter around you.  Just be careful that you don’t spend too much time decluttering that you start using it as an excuse to procrastinate with regard to your job search.  A few days should suffice.  

2. Create a Job Search Schedule– Let’s face it – searching for a job is hard work!  If you are still employed while you are conducting your new job search, be prepared to have an extremely busy schedule.  If you are currently unemployed, realize that you do, indeed, have a job – conducting a job search!  Create a job search schedule that gives you ample time for all of the activities you need to focus on in order to succeed: resume and cover letter preparation, surfing the web for jobs, networking, interviewing, follow-up, etc.  Block out time in your calendar for job search activities and treat that time as you would any traditional work commitment.  Be consistent in the amount of time you spend each day and week on job search activities so that you keep your momentum going, and don’t lose focus and miss valuable opportunities.

3. Get Your Gear in Order– Update your resume, cover letter, references, and writing sample (if applicable).  Ask for letters of recommendation and testimonials from previous or current supervisors, co-workers, and professional colleagues.  Get some nice new stationery, and stock up on print cartridges for your printer.  If you want to use an outside source for printing, some local printing shops will copy resumes for free during an economic downturn, so ask around!  Be sure to have a computer with high-speed Internet access.  An all-in-one machine for printing, copying, faxing and scanning will also come in handy during a job search.

4. Create Job Search Central– Set aside space at home (or wherever you will be conducting your job search activities) and make it job search central.  Keep all of your job-search related supplies in that location, which will make it easy for you to find them when you need them.  This will also help you to get into job search mode when you are in that space.

5. Create a Job Search Paper Management System– You may be acquiring a lot of paper in your job search: resources, articles, sample resumes and cover letters, business cards of networking contacts, contact-us-later or rejection letters, etc.  To the extent that you can maintain these items in a paperless fashion, go for it.  But if you have to maintain hard copy paper, be sure to create a job search paper management or filing system, to be stored in your job search center.  Keep it simple and use whatever system makes the most sense to you for ease of use (binder, portable filing bin, traditional filing cabinet, etc).

6. Plan Job Search Activities– Plan out job search activities on a daily basis, such as phone calls to make, resumes to send, online applications to fill out, informational interviews to conduct, etc.  Write down your job search activities as calendar items, to-do’s, or tasks so that you take them seriously and treat them as measurable goals.  Be realistic with regard to what you can reasonably accomplish in one day, but also challenge yourself!

7. Track Job Search Activities – Organizing your job search involves keeping track of all information and communications.  Keep a record of where you sent your resume and when, whom you have spoken to, when interviews took place, etc.  This information will prove vital when deciding when to follow-up with leads.  You can track all of this information using a calendar such as Outlook or Google, or an online tool such as JobFiler.com.  Whatever tools you use, it is important that you be able to track the status of your job search.

8. Manage Job Search Email – In today’s world, much of your job search will likely be conducted by email.  Therefore, before you even start your search, whittle down the amount of email in your inbox so that you can hyper-focus on your job search emails, which will add up quickly.  Create folders within your email system using categories that make sense to you, such as Companies Applied To, Contacts Submitted Resumes To, etc.

9. Polish Your Online Profiles – If you are conducting a job search in today’s market, you would be remiss not to develop an online presence on social media sites, especially LinkedIn, which is the most “professional” of the social media sites and can essentially serve as your online resume.  But also consider other social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.  The opportunities are endless for employers and contacts to find you online.  You may even have your own website, e-zine, or blog.  Maybe you post articles on various article-marketing sites, or serve as a guest blogger on other blogs.  If you maintain profiles on any of social media sites, or have any type of online presence, be sure to polish your profiles so that they promote the image you want potential employers and contacts to see.

10.  Change Your Greetings – Change the message that greets callers for any phone number that you plan to use for your job search so that it sounds professional, and conveys the information you want callers to hear.  Be prepared, not embarrassed!

11.  Stay Positive – The longer a job search takes, the more chance you have of becoming negative about it.  Try to maintain a positive attitude to the extent you can by monitoring your progress and staying active in your search.  When the going gets rough during a job search, many people take a back seat and give up, which is counter-productive.  Try to stay focused and make valuable contacts that are likely to lead to a job.  However, don’t be all consumed by your search for a job!  Maintaining some balance in your life at this time will serve you well.  Get adequate sleep, eat well, see family and friends for pleasure, and make time for exercise.

Organization is one of the single most important things you can do to keep your job search manageable.  Just like being organized helps you improve any other area of your life, home, or work, it will also help move along your job search in quick and efficient fashion and with less stress.  It may even wind up being the key to finding that dream job you always wanted.

When you put in so much time and effort to get organized, the last thing you want is to backslide and wind up back where you started. The good news is that you can stay organized once you reach an organized state of bliss (or even a semi-organized, “it’s better than it was and I can live with it state”!). All that is required is active maintenance. Oh no, you think – more work! Yes, but remember, it is a lot easier to stay organized than it is to get organized.

Maintenance Should Become Second Nature

Organizing is a way of life that requires maintenance and ongoing effort until it becomes second nature. Think about something you do everyday, like brushing your teeth, for example. You just do it, right? It is a habit, something that comes naturally to you. You don’t need reminders, checklists, alarms and prompts. But imagine you just started brushing your teeth today. It is an entirely new grooming activity that you are now required to do. You may need a prompt to remind you to do this new activity. But after a reasonable amount of time, you would naturally incorporate this new activity into your routine and would no longer need reminders. You would just do the activity automatically. In order to stay organized, you need to slowly incorporate maintenance of organizing systems into your daily routines. After awhile, you don’t even think about it anymore, you just naturally maintain your systems.

Develop Simple Maintenance Routines

Integrate a daily and periodic maintenance program into your routine, but keep it simple. You’ve heard the old adage, “A place for everything and everything in its place.” Well, it goes a long way if your goal is to maintain organizing systems. Put things away at the end of each day at home, and at the office. If you start something, complete it if possible. If not, put the project items off to the side so that they do not become clutter in your way. If you use up the last of an item in the house, replenish it (at work, give notice to whoever stocks the supply cabinet). If you open something, close it. If you take something out to use it, put it away when you are done. Make this “finish it” policy a rule that all users of the organizing systems follow.

15 Minutes a Day Keeps Clutter at Bay

Want to maintain an organizing system? 15 minutes a day keeps clutter at bay! Once you’ve created an organizing system that works, take 15 minutes a day to keep it that way. If it needs much longer than that, chances are it is too complex of a system, or you are still in backlog mode with too much clutter. If so, then you need to focus on continuing to declutter and setting up simple, user-friendly organizing systems.

It is entirely possible that some areas of your life will be in maintenance mode while others will still be in the process of getting organized. That is expected. While you are getting organized, you will naturally finish some areas before others. For the areas that are already organized, use your maintenance routines. For the rest, keep plugging away! You will get to maintenance mode if you hang in there, I promise.

Don’t get caught up in the actual amount of time. 15 minutes at work, and 15 minutes at home, is an average. Some people need much more time to maintain their organizing systems, some need much less. It depends how many organizing systems need to be maintained, how complex they are, how many users are involved, whether someone is sabotaging the system by not cooperating in maintenance efforts, etc. Use 15 minutes as a benchmark to measure your maintenance efforts against.

Some people do their maintenance in the morning (washing dishes from last night’s dinner, choosing outfits for day, planning their schedule on their calendar, putting away files no longer working with, etc.), while others do it at the end of the day before they leave work and before they retire for the evening at home. The right time to maintain organizing systems is when it is easiest for you and you will actually do it. If you decide to maintain systems at the end of the day, be sure to finish activities at home and at work 15 minutes before you close shop, in order to leave enough time for maintenance.

Exercise: Schedule 15 Minutes a Day

Schedule in a recurring appointment on your calendar that prompts you to do 15 minutes per day of maintenance of organizing systems at home and at work. Remember, maintaining an organizing system should become second nature, like brushing your teeth everyday. But it may take time for it to become a habit, so be patient. Meanwhile, 15 minutes a day will help keep clutter at bay, and maintain your orderly new life!

Copyright © 2010 Lisa Montanaro of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC.

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Copyright 2010. 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 .

Recently, I attended the annual conference of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO), held in Baltimore, MD. I had the absolute pleasure of seeing and hearing the closing keynote speaker, Dan Thurmon. I first encountered Dan at the National Speakers Association (NSA) annual conference in Anaheim in July 2011, during which he was inducted into the NSA Hall of Fame. Dan is a performance artist and professional speaker who juggles, throws knives, and rides a unicycle on stage, all of which is very entertaining and exciting. Yet, his message is equally powerful. In fact, I was even more impressed with his ability to weave high-level content into his performance elements, which is not an easy accomplishment to pull off.

Dan’s keynote content was drawn from his latest book, Off Balance on Purpose. Two important meanings are intend ed. First, that we are most effective, productive and happy when embracing the “off balance” reality of life. And secondly, that we should intentionally choose to take action and initiate meaningful changes. While I have not read his book yet, I did love his message and the way he presented it to a group of productivity experts.

To be “productive” literally means to produce. Therefore, many of us tend to translate being productive to mean that we need to keep doing and going and producing, and all at the same time. However, this can cause a ton of stress in our lives and make the quality of what we are producing decrease. I am just as guilty of that as others. So it takes a brave person to realize that you can have it all, but just not at the same time!

As Dan was juggling, he explained to us that you must release one item in order to catch the ot her item. He is never actually holding more than one item that he is juggling at once! This was so powerful. It sometimes takes a visual exercise like this to snap us into realization.

In our own lives, we tend to want to do it all and right now. Yet, we then sacrifice the quality of our work, relationships, and life overall if we take on too much. We wind up doing a bunch of things at less than 100%, and then berate ourselves for not being able to keep up.

It takes a brave person to stop and say, “I can have it all… just not at the same time!” There is a time and a season for everything. Maybe this year is the year you work on your career transition. Maybe this month is the one to focus on cultivating a new hobby. Maybe this summer is the one when you (finally!) get organized. But if you try to get organized, embark on a career transition, and cultivate a new hobby all at the same time, while still juggling all of the other responsibilities in your life, you may fail miserably at all of them, or not enjoy any of them.

I admit that I am a go-getter! I like to stay busy, thrive on change, and am a life-long learner with an adventurous spirit. But I have had to make choices. I realize I cannot do everything, and certainly not at once. My Mom used to tease me that I should have been a cat, as it will take nine lives to do everything I want to do in this one life time. And that may be true. But I have much more awareness now that I can’t have it all at the same time, and I will drop a lot of balls I am juggling if I try to.

So I like Dan Thurmon’s message and plan to adopt it as my own. Juggle one thing at a time, continuing to release and catch, as you go. It is okay to be “off balance on purpose” in order to live a more fulfilling and, ironically, balanced life in the long run. Care to join me?

 

 

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Copyright 2012. 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. Through her work, Lisa helps people deal with the issues that block personal and professional change and growth. To explore how Lisa can h elp take your business to the next level, contact Lisa at (845) 988-0183 or by e-mail at .

Paper. It should be a benign part of our lives. It means no harm, really. But somehow, when it piles up and has a paper party with its friends, it becomes dreaded clutter! What to do?

Grab a RAFT and sail to an organized shore! (Okay, technically, it should be RAFTS, plural, but that just didn’t work well in a sentence, so allow me some leeway.)

  • Sort your mail daily – use the RAFTSmethod:
    • Recycle – Junk mail that is not confidential.
    • Act – Bills to pay, invitations to RSVP to, and forms to fill out, etc.
    • File – Vital documents that must be kept long term (only 20% of paper needs to be filed!).
    • Toss – If you unfortunately do not have paper recycling in your area.
    • Shred – Anything with financial or confidential information on it.
  • Designate a spot for your mail.  If there is no “mailbox” in the house, you will “deliver” it to a different spot each time, or in a location that may not be best suited to paper flow (for example, the dining room table!).
  • Keep the recycling bin, garbage, shredder, and calendar/planner nearby to immediately be able to take action.  Whatever is brought in the house should be pre-sorted by recipient, category or any system that makes sense for your household.  For a large household, consider separate mail slots per person.
  • Evaluate whether you want to continue to receive magazines and newspapers that you are not regularly reading.  Cancel subscriptions, rotate them, or share with a friend or neighbor.  Get in the habit of cutting out only those articles you know you will refer to again, and recycling the magazine itself.  Set up those articles by subject matter in your home filing system.  Start by throwing out the piles of unread junk mail and catalogs.
  • If you have a home office, use it!
  • If not, set up a Home Information Center.
    • Home offices do not need to be a room, but can be a “hub” somewhere in the home.  A likely spot may be in the kitchen, as many people do paperwork and pay bills in the “public” areas of their home.  If you do realize you need a larger space, re-evaluate the space you have in the home to determine where the home office should be established.  For example, if your child is away at college, repurpose the room as a home office. Invent the room that best suits the space and the activities that will take place in your “office.”

When you have a high functioning paper management system, you will be motivated to actually get the work done and keep it organized.  If you have good systems in place, you will be able to find what you need more easily and be able to do the mundane tasks, such as bill paying with less stress!

Now, go find your RAFT and climb in. Happy sailing…

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 .

“To do two things at once – is to do neither.”
~ Roman philosopher Publilius Syrus, 100 A.D.

When we need to accomplish many tasks, we do 2-3 things at once, sometimes more. We do this in order to be more productive. Multi-tasking has basically become the American way. In fact, employers often include “multi-tasking” as one of the desirable traits they look for in job descriptions. But is multi-tasking really leading to increased productivity?

According to some experts, the answer is no. Multi-tasking is generally less efficient than focusing on one thing at a time. Studies show it impairs productivity. It is impossible to do 2 tasks at the same time without compromising each. Supposedly, it takes your brain 4 times longer to process than if you focused on each task separately.

David Meyer, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor has spent the past few decades studying multi-tasking. His research shows that not only is multi-tasking inefficient, but also can cause problems at work, at school, and even, in some cases, be dangerous. Meyer explains, “It takes time to warm up to a new task, especially if both require the same skills.” Apparently, the transition time between switching back and forth from one task to another is where multi-tasking starts to result in decreased productivity.

In addition, studies show that some tasks that are frequently grouped together conflict with one another causing a decrease in productivity. Have you ever been writing an e-mail and chatting on the phone, and realize that you are saying what you are typing, or typing what you are saying? Supposedly, it’s impossible to do both of these tasks well because each requires language skills and short-term memory. What about reading your email and talking to someone at the same time? If you’re trying to actually read your email, as opposed to maybe just skimming the names in your inbox, conversation with someone becomes difficult because you’re tackling two language activities at once: reading and listening.

Meyer has also studied the effect of multi-tasking on students (stay with one homework assignment at a time, kids), and on cell phone use while driving (read: don’t do it unless you are prepared to seriously impede your ability to drive). To see some of Meyer’s work on multi-tasking, visit his page at the University of Michigan.

Some people feel that multi-tasking helps them to stay fresh and alert, not get bored, and ward off fatigue. Some even claim that they can’t help it, as their brain gets easily distracted and goes from one thought and task to the next. However, most experts agree that the average person does not know how to multi-task well and, therefore, should refrain from doing it at all. Jim Loehr of the Human Performance Institute has spent a great deal of time studying multi-tasking and writes, “Multi-tasking is the enemy of extraordinariness. Human beings, sorry to say, can focus fully on only one thing at a time. When people multi-task, they are not fully engaged in anything, and partially disengaged in everything. The potential for profoundly positive impact is compromised. Multi-tasking would be okay–is okay–at certain times, but very few people seem to know when that time is.” For more information on Jim Loehr’s research on multi-tasking, visit the Human Performance Institute.

Some people claim to truly thrive on multi-tasking. But are they really increasing their productivity in a quantifiable manner, or just giving themselves (and perhaps others) the perception that they are getting more done? If you are really getting things done in a more productive manner by using multi-tasking, fine, and good for you. You have somehow managed to prove the experts wrong. But, if you have too many balls in the air, you may need to re-think your strategy — unless you learn how to juggle.

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 .

“The goal in marriage is not to think alike, but to think together.”
~ Robert C. Dodds

I’ve worked with many couples as a professional organizer over the last 7 years. Many of them are married, some are domestic partners, others just roommates, etc. My background as a trained mediator often comes in handy during these client sessions. Often, during an organizing assessment, a client will mention that another user in the home cannot maintain an organizing system (or that the other user IS the organizing problem!).  When I inquire as to whether the system was created with the other user in mind, the client usually responds in the negative.  Therein lies the problem.

Here is some insight into why couples often have a hard time agreeing on organizing systems, as well as some tips for getting and staying organized when faced with the challenge of a perceived “uncooperative partner.”

Learn Each Other’s Organizing Styles: Yes, everyone has an organizing style, even if you don’t know exactly what it is! If you are familiar with the four learning styles, start there. They are Visual (learn by seeing), Auditory (learn by hearing/listening), Kinesthetic (learn by doing), and Tactile (learn by touching). Often times, couples have very different organizing styles, making it difficult to set up and maintain shared organizing systems. Give some thought to the organizing style of each person using the system so that it makes sense to both users.

Reach Compromise on Shared Systems: If the organizing system you are creating is to be a shared system, you must give consideration to both users.  Failing to consider both users is a common mistake and often causes the system to fall apart.  So, do yourself and your partner a favor – communicate!  Spend the time brainstorming how each person plans to use the system, and create a compromise that makes the most sense.  The solution may be built around the most common user, or a combination of both users.  This may take some extra effort, but usually results in a system that is maintained more effectively.

Tolerance for Clutter: Different people have different levels of tolerance for clutter. Some are “outies,” meaning that they like the exposed areas like counter tops, to be clear, but can tolerate clutter in hidden zones, like closets, drawers, closets, etc. They just want their outward appearance to look organized and they don’t want to see the clutter. Others are “innies,” meaning that the clutter can pile up on exposed surfaces, but their drawers, closets, and filing cabinets are pretty well organized. They are “pilers,” leaving clutter out for all to see, but keep their private, inner spaces orderly. If an “innie” and an “outie” live together, there is often a big disconnect in the way they tolerate and handle clutter.

Leave Judgment Out: I know it’s hard but you really need to make a conscious effort to approach your partner in a non-judgmental manner. Otherwise, your partner will just become defensive, and shut down to any creative solutions that could be reached. Try to approach your organizing projects with a sense of humor. If your partner has difficulty with setting up and maintaining organizing systems realize that organizing is a skill and can be taught. Show some empathy and be patient as you try to find each other’s organizing strengths and overcome weaknesses.

A Sanctuary of Disorganization:  Just like Superman had a Fortress of Solitude (yes, I am a superhero fan!), couples may need to allow each partner to have one space that is off limits to the other partner’s organizing efforts. It should not be a space that is shared, and probably not in the most public areas of the home. Allowing your partner to have one place where he or she can be him- or herself and not worry about you organizing it will go a long way to keeping you two from driving each other crazy. Think of it like granting your partner a ‘free pass’ in that one area.

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 .

Creating an Organized Home for Your Prized Possessions

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add,
but when there is nothing left to take away.”

~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery

When conducting an organizing presentation or teleclass, I often mention the idea of creating a Memory Box for each family member.  Many participants share that the Memory Box tip is their favorite, and one they cannot wait to act on. (See, for example, this blog post by June Bisel of BusinessCardContacts.com).

A Memory Box is a container in which each family member can store his or her most treasured possessions. The size should be big enough to fit the prized possessions, but small enough to grab and carry out of the house, in case of an emergency. The actual container can be a no-nonsense functional type, like a plastic bin, or it can be a lovely decorated stylish box, bin, or basket. My personal Memory Box is an old trunk that has handles on the side to carry it in the event of an emergency evacuation.

The location for storing the Memory Box is also a personal decision. Often, because of the confidential or personal nature of the items in the box, it makes the most sense to store each person’s Memory Box in his or her room, at the top or bottom of a closet, under the bed, etc. But some choose to store all of the Memory Boxes for the family in a basement or attic, so that they do not take up precious space in the living areas of the home, and can be grabbed easily in one fell swoop if need be.

I would not recommend storing vital documents such as your will, birth certificate, etc. in the Memory Box. Those items should either be stored in a safe deposit box at the bank, or at home in a fire resistant box (remember, there is no such thing as a fireproof box for the home!). Some people store their vital documents in a regular file folder in their filing cabinet, and keep copies (or the originals) in a separate location. In the event that an emergency causes a very quick evacuation, the people and pets go out first, followed by the vital documents, and then the Memory Boxes.

What goes in a Memory Box? Well, that is up to you, of course. But here are some ideas.

  • Start a Memory Box for your children’s prized artwork, sentimental childhood possessions, schoolwork, etc.  They can decide, with you, what goes in it.  You can have a master Memory Box, and one for the current school year.  At the end of the school year, your child, with your help, can revisit the year, purging any items that are not vital enough to go in the master Memory Box.
  • If you have a few sentimental favorite articles of clothing that you just can’t part with, but don’t wear, store them in your Memory Box.
  • Want to revisit your love life? Store old love letters, poems, your corsage or boutonniere from your high school prom, a playbill from the first date with your spouse, etc.
  • If you plan to store documents or photographs in your Memory Box, consider getting an archival quality document or photo box to insert the paper and photos in, and then store the document or photo box inside the larger Memory Box. This will ensure paper and photos do not get destroyed over time.
  • If an item is much too large to fit into the Memory Box, and you can bear to part with it, take a photo of the item, and store the photo with a description of the item in the box. This works well for items that you are merely keeping out of obligation. For example, that hideous painting your aunt made for you that you will never hang up! Take a photo, write a note saying, “Aunt Gertrude meant well” and donate the painting to someone who will appreciate its unrecognized beauty.

People are often surprised to hear that I have a Memory Box. “You, a professional organizer?” Yes! Organizing is about decluttering your life of the stuff that does not serve your goals, and letting the cream rise to the top. It is about giving your favorite possessions a place of value in your home and life. My personal Memory Box includes select sentimental items, including my handwritten journals, my baton (yes, I was a baton twirler – don’t laugh!), my middle school graduation dress (loved it!), love letters from my husband from before we were married, letters and cards from friends and family members that are precious to me, and poems that I wrote growing up.

Ms. Bisel shares that her new Memory Box will contain her kid’s baby books, drawings from elementary school, some treasured photos, and other memories from her kids’ childhood. She says that her kids love looking through the stuff, and it would be great to have it all in one place. Before she attended my workshop, the items were scattered around the house, and now they will be stored conveniently together, in a place of distinction.

So, what’s in your Memory Box?

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 .

What is a Meta Decision?

A meta decision is an umbrella-type decision that impacts all of the smaller decisions that come thereafter.  It is made with the intention of impacting or replacing a number of future decisions.  Thus, meta decisions are crucial to organizing because they save the mental anguish and time involved with making hundreds of individual decisions one by one.

How Can You Use Meta Decisions to Get Organized?

You can use meta decisions with clothing (“I will not keep anything that I have not worn in the last 2 years”), magazines and newspapers (“If I have not read it in the last 3 months, it gets donated or thrown in the recycling bin!”), e-mail (“I will check email for 1 hour in the morning, 1 hour after lunch, and 1 hour in the evening only.”), requests for social events (“I will commit to 3 social events this month only.”), etc.

Let’s take paper for example. You can make a meta decision to purge any business paperwork that is over 7 years old.  Then, all you need to do as you are sorting is look at the dates.  Anything that is older than 7 years automatically gets purged.  This takes the guesswork out of reviewing and making a decision regarding each and every document.

Essentially, using meta decisions is a clever way to establish rules and set boundaries.  Try it!  I guarantee it will free up some of your mental clutter, allowing you to purge more of your physical clutter.

Copyright © 2010 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 2010. 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 .

I have worked with many clients over the years to organize after the loss of a loved one. Living in the greater NY metropolitan area, I helped many 9-11 widows and widowers organize after losing a loved one in the World Trade Center terrorist attacks. It is an emotionally draining process. My best advice is to take it slow and go at your own pace. After the death of a loved one, some people are tempted to sift through belongings and make decisions quickly. If this feels natural to you, fine (consider checking with a grief counselor before moving too quickly through the process). But most people need more time after a loss to organize a loved one’s possessions. So give yourself permission to grieve first, heal, and then organize later.

Some clients only needed a few months, while others waited years until they took on the task of organizing their loved one’s possessions. Indeed, some clients only took on the project due to necessity – moving, selling a house, clearing room for new family member to move in, etc. If you aren’t ready to handle the project but you must do so by necessity, then you may need to temporarily box up your loved one’s possessions. Label the boxes so that you know what the contents are, which will make it easier for when you are ready to sort them at a later date.

Although many organizing projects can be done alone, some people find it helpful to sort through a loved one’s belongings after a loss with another person – a family member, close friend, or professional organizer. I also recommend doing the project in stages, as it can be emotionally demanding as well as physical. Be careful not to make decisions too quickly and be sure to check in with other family members who may consider some belongings special that you are considering letting go of. You may want to sort into categories based on family members, friends, donations to charity, antique appraiser/estate sale (for valuable pieces that you are not keeping), archive/storage, etc.

I often tell my clients to choose items that embody the person’s spirit, remind you of details of his or her personality, or that carry special memories. There is no magic number of how many items to keep, but remember that sometimes less is more. You don’t want to be smothered by items that you don’t have room for, or that will drudge up painful memories. You want to be able to enjoy the selected items and let them serve as reminders of your loved one’s well-lived life. But don’t lose sight of the fact that our greatest treasures our the actual memories, not the “things” themselves.

Sadly, I recently lost my mother to pancreatic cancer. Many family members and friends assumed that I would quickly go in and sort my mother’s belongings due to the fact that I am a professional organizer by trade. But I recognize that I need time to process this profound loss, grieve, and heal before I can take on the task of going through her possessions. The only items that I am taking quick action on are the medications and medical supplies so that I can donate them before they expire and someone else can benefit from their use. I plan to take my time with the process, include family members, honor the possessions, and select items to keep and cherish. That way, my mother will always be with me.

Wishing you warmth and strength if you are organizing after a loss. Be kind to yourself.

Copyright © 2010 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 2010. 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 .