Be Productive: Take Care of Your Mind

Posted By on February 7, 2011

This is the fourth in a five-part series on productivity and health

Clutter causes stress, and clearing the decks of your mind can help you reduce that stress and anxiety. Once you do that, you can organize the clutter, and your productivity will improve.

How to clear your mind

In the book “The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working”, author Tony Schwartz discusses the third quadrant of productivity: organizing and time management skills, all made possible via your thought process.

So far, we’ve discussed the physical and emotional quadrants of a person’s life as they relate to productivity. But finding peace and balance in the mental part of one’s life is equally important.

Here are some major areas of thinking related to organization:

Getting Things Done. You have a lengthy to do list but if you never tackle anything on it, it doesn’t help. Each day ask yourself what are your MIT’s – Most Important Things? What are the two or three actions you MUST get accomplished today? The answers help you prioritize your day. Everything on your action list does not have the same urgency for completion. If everything is important, then nothing is important – to borrow a phrase from uber-organizer Peter Walsh.

Calendar Management. Use one. It can be paper or electronic, but you need to have a calendar to remind you of appointments, important to-do’s and even what day it is. It’s easier today to have an electronic calendar since you can easily make appointments, change them if necessary, set up reoccurring appointments and set electronic reminders.

Paper Management. The old OHIO Rule of only handling it once is antiquated in today’s modern world. However, it’s important to make decisions when it comes to paper. My organizing colleagues and I recommend people use just a few folders to manage your action items.

Folders to keep your mind focused and organized:

  • Action: Your MIT’s go here (your to-do/action lists)
  • To Go: Meeting agendas, lists, anything to take with you
  • To Enter: Things you need to enter in the computer
  • To Pay: Any paper copies of bills (Clean out each month)
  • Taxes 2011: Receipts, papers related to your taxes
  • Ideas: A place to park those brilliant ideas
  • Me Folder: Kudos, work evaluations, CEUs, trainings

E-Mail Management. My rule is that e-mail is not for emergencies or something critical. If there is an actual emergency, you need to pick up the phone or make an in-person appearance. You never send an e-mail and then call the person and ask, “Did you get it? Did you get it? Did you get it?” Yeah, that won’t endear you to anyone.

Since e-mail is not for emergencies, then you can feel better about checking it several times a day instead of the constant 24/7 stream. Turn off the e-mail alerts. They’re distracting.

Digital Management. Today it’s easier and easier to go digital. Most of us don’t need lots of paper folders. Scan in documents and store the PDFs on your computer or external computer drive. Create the same folders you have for your paper folders. High speed scanners such as Neat Desk and ScanSnap scans in paper, business cards and receipts help you organize your paperwork.

The most important thing to remember about organizing is to make a decision. When something comes into your life, whether it’s junk mail, a bill or magazine, make a decision. Do I recycle or toss this? Do I need this? Do I need to take an action on this? Do I keep this? If I keep this, where do I keep it? How long do I need to keep it?

See also:

Be Productive: Take Care of Yourself (Part 1)
Be Productive: Take Care of Your Body (Part 2)
Be Productive: Take Care of Your Emotions (Part 3)


A Little Paint, Much More Function

Posted By on February 7, 2011

I had a little problem. Several of my bulkier necklaces wouldn’t fit into my slender jewelry box, and I wanted to find a way to keep them organized and handy. So I created these:

My Hobby Lobby pink jacket hanger knobs-turned-black necklace holders keep me fashionably organized.

During a trip to Hobby Lobby, I found two pale pink metal jacket holders with crystal knobs. The metal itself was embossed with fleur de lis. Perfect, I thought.

What was even better was that I was there on a day when all of the wall decorations were 50% off. Hobby Lobby enthusiasts also can find a regular coupon on the company’s website.

Tweak your treasures to fit your personality

I knew when I bought them that the baby girl pink was not the color I wanted or needed in my turquoise bedroom. So I unscrewed the pretty crystal knobs and painted the metal parts with a couple coats of black craft paint.

When it was dry, I reattached the crystal knobs which popped even more, as they say, with the black background. I hung them up on my bedroom wall near where I keep my jewelry box using wall anchors.

I divided up my necklaces and placed them on the knobs. Voila! The necklaces are organized.

Paint makes everything new again

When I complete a project like this, I think of my neighbor Josie who lived in my first apartment complex when I moved to Galveston. She and I loved going to junk shops to find stuff for our apartments, and she gave me some great advice: “It doesn’t matter what it looks like because you can always paint it.”

So true! It’s an adage that I still live by. Just this past weekend, I found an “as is” picture frame at IKEA that was used for a display model. It had a couple of scratches on the frame itself, and I knew that I could cover those up with paint or even a Sharpie marker – another great tool.

My faded green lawn chair on the left. Newly painted chair, right.

During the past year, I’ve been using the power of paint to transform. I bought some spray paint for plastic and have spray painted my faded patio chairs. So they go from faded dark green to a spritely spring green.

Re-painting an object can bring new life to it. And even organize a few baubles.


Organizing Product Review: Noteshelf

Posted By on February 3, 2011

The iPad is great for taking notes to keep you organized, but some people don’t like typing on the iPad unless they have the blue tooth keyboard. One option is Noteshelf.

What it is: Noteshelf is an app for your iPad that allows you to handwrite notes. You can choose from blank paper, wide or narrow ruled paper, graph paper or the old school yellow notebook. To write, you can use your finger but it’s best to use a rubber-tipped stylus. I found mine at Best Buy for $19.99, and someone else told me that they’re available at Microcenter for $15.99.

Why it’s awesome: You can write on what looks like paper and create digital notebooks of your notes. The notes can be uploaded to Evernote and Dropbox as PDF’s or you can send it via e-mail to yourself or someone else. There is a handy wrist protector mode so your resting wrist doesn’t mark up the screen. My favorite feature is the zoom – which allows you to write big but your writing turns up smaller on the screen. This lets you save room and get more on the page.

Drawbacks: Yes, you can upload your Noteshelf notes to Evernote, Dropbox and e-mail as PDF’s, but there are some problems. For e-mail, you can only send five pages at a time. For Evernote and Dropbox, each page comes up as a separate PDF vs. being uploaded as one document. That’s annoying.


Why Companies Should Hire Professional Organizers

Posted By on January 31, 2011

I remember the keynote well. I was sitting at a table at the National Association of Professional Organizers national conference in 2003, in Chicago that year.

A growth strategist spoke about the future of professional organizing, then growing by leaps and bounds. She said companies in the future would hire their own in-house professional organizers as a way to save money and help their employees.

“Cool,” I thought to myself. “I’m trendy and didn’t even know it.”

Company puts professional organizer to work full-time

Last week I celebrated my 11th year at MD Anderson Cancer Center, where I am an in-house professional organizer. I am still the only in-house organizer in academic medicine as far as I know, and I’ve been doing the organizing work for 10 years.

When my boss and I decided to offer my organizing services in 2001, we had no idea that it would explode as it has and become my job. I have a very cool gig that I wouldn’t trade for the world.

Two other organizers I know are working for businesses, one in Chicago and one in Vegas. Another was providing organizing assistance part-time but on a cost recovery basis. I know many other organizers who are interested in working for companies, but companies are not sure what to do with an organizer on the payroll.

Business professional organizers are consultants too

Business types have never shied away from hiring coaches and consultants as needed – whether it’s for strategic planning, leadership development, conflict management, team building  or other similar issues.

It would be a good thing for businesses if they embraced professional organizers the same way they have embraced other coaches and consultants. Every time I see bad customer service in action or hear on the news about badly run or overly bureaucratic companies, I think, “Wow, they need an organizer.” And yes, that includes state and federal government.

I know firsthand how having this kind of assistance for employees can help companies  protect their bottom line.

Professional organizers, who specialize in business and corporate clients, may call themselves productivity coaches and consultants, but no matter what the title, our work still centers on the same principles.

Here are a few ways professional organizers can help companies:

Safeguard resources (save money). If you can find it (supplies, equipment), then you don’t need to buy it again. It’s always good to see what you have.

Organize existing resources. Again, you need to be able to see what you have and figure out what you don’t need. Messy supply areas lead to multiple purchases. Every time I help people clean out a supply area, it’s like Christmas. Surprise! It’s 5,000 staples!

Create workflow systems. Organizers can smooth out work flow issues, help create regular work routines for employees and navigate problem areas. This also includes helping individuals as well as companies to be as productive as they can be.

Manage paper. We  are striving to become a paperless society but still generate a great deal of paper. The antiquated “Only Handle It Once” rule doesn’t work very well in our world today either. Organizers can help clients manage department and individual files, create a paper management and retention system.

Go digital. Speaking of paper, more and more clients are interested in going digital. Hurray! Like with paper, you need a process on how to organize and manage electronic files.

Help with technology. In today’s world, technology means everything from managing e-mail and creating PowerPoint presentations to working on iPad and Smart Phones. Technology is not the answer to everything, but it sure does help.

Work with assistants. Some bosses aren’t sure what they should ask their assistants to do, and some assistants are afraid to speak up. This happens more in the beginning stages of a new work relationship. I’ve also had some clients who have worked with their assistants for years, but when their job duties change, the boss and assistant need to “renew their marriage work vows” to get back on the same page.

Assist with special issues. Speaking for myself, I have worked with clients who have had memory loss from chemotherapy, ADD/ADHD, paralyzing perfectionism and procrastination, post tenure burnout, unresolved grief and complications from stroke.

Support ergonomics. This is an area that I don’t have to focus on with my work since we have a department who is responsible for ergonomics. But some business organizers do have experience with making sure employees are working safely and reduce their chances of injury.

This is just the tip of the iceberg.

If you want to help your business make more money, hire a professional organizer. Through NAPO you can find organizers who specialize in business and corporate work and interview them to make sure they’re the right fit for you.


Be Productive: Take Care of Your Emotions

Posted By on January 28, 2011

This is the third in a five-part series on productivity and health

Someone cuts you off in traffic, or a co-worker takes credit for your work. You feel your body tense up and face grow warm. Those pesky emotions. They get to us every time.

But what do our emotions have to do with productivity? Everything.

Tony Schwartz outlined how emotions can hamper or enhance our productivity in his book “The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working.”

Avoid burnout, heed your emotions

Last week, we talked about our physical needs as they related to productivity.

Just like getting more exercise, sleep and healthy eating habits, we need to monitor what and how we’re feeling.

It’s difficult to be productive when you’re angry, depressed, irritable and downright cranky.

Our emotions can change in an instant. One minute, we’re fine, working along, and the next, we’re angry or upset. In that split second, we’ve been triggered.

Emotional triggers send us reeling from what Tony calls the “High Performance Zone” straight to “Survival Zone.” In Survival Zone, our flight or fight instinct is engaged, and we come out swinging.

If you spend too much time in Survival Zone, you can slip into “Burnout Zone” – which lives up to its name. People who are burned out, depressed, sad or feeling hopeless reside here a little too long and become empty shells.

Balance your “sprints” with downtime

Now you might think that you want to live in the High Performance Zone all the time. That would be nice but unrealistic. Tony points out that our natural energy dips every 90 to 120 minutes. With this in mind, Tony utilizes his 90 minute “sprint,” which is where you limit interruptions, shut the door and work.

Once your sprint is finished, you should go into the zen and calm Recovery Zone. During Recovery Zone, check email, return those phone calls, grab some water, or take a walk.

By using a couple of these 90 minute sprints a day, you will feel and be more
productive. I received an email the other day from a doctor who heard me talk about these sprints. After my presentation, she went home, turned off email, and worked for 90 minutes to finish up a manuscript she had procrastinated one for three weeks. See – it works!

Pause and breathe when agitated

But what do you do when your emotions have been triggered? Stop. Take a deep breath. My friends and I refer to this as “the deep yoga breath.” By taking your deep yoga breath, your body instantly calms down, and you can think more clearly.

You may need to sit quietly with your eyes closed and breathe deeply in and out for a few minutes. This mini-meditation helps you to lower your blood pressure and move you from the Survival Zone and back to the land of productivity.

See also:

Be Productive: Take Care of Yourself (Part 1)
Be Productive: Take Care of Your Body (Part 2)


Be a Good Customer: Be Organized

Posted By on January 24, 2011

The woman was definitely not organized. She decided to go through the piles of clothing in her cart at the cash register and had the clerk ring each thing up and then decide if she wanted it or not.

The kicker is that there are price scanners throughout the store. An organized shopper could have checked prices on her own before getting to the cash register. Instead this woman held up one of the cash registers. The rest of us who were behind her crowded into another line and just stared at her with flashes of anger and annoyance. The woman acted oblivious to the problems she was causing, and I really wanted to tell her.

People always talk about the importance of good customer service, but what about being a good customer?

Bad customers are inconsiderate

We’ve all experienced bad customers. Heck, we may have been one ourselves a time or two. Customers behaving badly affect all of us. Cell phone usage also makes us a bit rude instead of having that human contact we need to have for an effective customer service experience.

Here are a few bad customers I’ve seen in action:

  • The person ordering four or five beverages at Starbucks – in the drive thru.
  • The people on their cell phones in line, not paying attention when they’re checking out or placing their order.

Be organized, learn good customer etiquette

So how do you be a good customer?

Behave with your cell phone: First, get off the damn phone when you need to pay attention and talk to someone else other than the person on the phone. This includes the drive thru. You know it’s a problem when businesses have to post signs asking people to get off their cell phones while they’re in line.

Be present, human: When you talk to a customer service representative (i.e. the barista, wait staff, clerk, manicurist, etc.), make eye contact and smile. Yeah, I know this sounds very elementary, but we need to remind ourselves that we are humans dealing with other human beings.

It’s easy to hide behind technology and forego human relationships, but we need to remember that the people waiting on us are just people too.

Take big orders inside: If you are ordering a large amount of food and drinks, park and go inside. Don’t go through the drive thru. You’re more likely to have a complete and accurate order if you go inside, and you’re less likely to incite road rage in your fellow customers behind you in the drive through.

Answer pricing questions before checking out: If you need a price check, use the price scanner if the store has one. If not, go to customer service with the item and ask before getting in line. If that’s not an option, make sure you ask the clerk up front to check the price for you.

Now, there are moments when we are high maintenance and need to ask lots of questions. Think of when you’re trying to figure out what kind of cell phone, TV, or appliance to buy. You may need to take up the time of a customer service rep.

Mind your manners: Always apologize up front and say, “You know I have a lot of questions, and I’m not sure what I want. Can you help me?” You can even apologize a second time by saying, “Sorry this is taking so long.” It shows the compassion you have for their time. Yes, I know it’s their job to help you, but we need to acknowledge what they do for us more often.

Manners count. Tossing in please and thank you goes a long way to fostering a healthy, short-term relationship with the customer service rep. You don’t have to take them to lunch, but showing some kindness and manners help.

If you receive bad customer service despite being a good customer, you have every right to complain to their manager or another higher up.