Here are the details about an office space I put together for an entrepreneur who was having a hard time completing projects and getting creativity in gear due to her cluttered desk.
What is the first instruction anyone gets when there is a crisis at hand? Stay calm. How do I stay calm when my home has been turned upside down? When I can’t find anything and everything I wear or touch is dirty with soot? Staying calm is the answer, though, because panic helps no situation. I promise.
As a reminder, this was not a completely devastating fire. I’m sure there are readers that have been through natural and unnatural disasters much worse than this and I certainly don’t want to undermine their experiences. However, I’ve learned some interesting lessons during this event and recovery that can help anyone. Today. Now. You can benefit from my experience and I hope it helps just 1 person.
Things are just things and really don’t matter. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Nobody was hurt. People are irreplaceable; things are not. Case closed. We were extremely fortunate and didn’t lose anything super important or sentimental like wedding pictures or family heirlooms. On that note, your things take on a totally different meaning when they are covered in soot. I’ll admit that my desk was not the picture of perfect order and organization. I had stacks of business cards, receipts, notebooks, magazines, and other papers stacked on it just like a lot of you do. It was all super important to me which is why it was out in the first place. (Any of this sounding familiar?) I was going to work on them/ file/ read/ etc. them but there they were stacked up and messy. Now they were covered in soot. I don’t know if you’ve ever had experience with soot but it is not easy to clean. It’s not a dry dust you can just wipe away. It is oily and dirty so that when you wipe it, it leaves streaks. Not fun but dealing with that was a good thing. If it weren’t the case, I’d be writing about replacing papers because they would have all been burned up. It’s all about your perspective…
Those super important papers don’t seem so important anymore when you have to wear gloves to read them. Soot is a great equalizer. Magazines and notebooks can be replaced and receipts can be duplicated. If they had been soooo important I would have already read or processed them. I am guilty of time management issues just like you. I, too, get distracted doing “research” on Pinterest instead of recording business receipts. I get it. But time is fleeting and if you don’t take care of something in a timely manner, it will be much harder the longer you wait.
- Set up a time each week to go through papers like mail, receipts, and bills and stick to it. If you stay consistent the pile doesn’t get larger and it takes less time to process.
- Adopt a clear desk policy where you don’t leave papers strewn across your desk when you are finished for the day. This is a for-real compliance policy (it’s ISO 17799/27001 compliant for you compliance nerds like I used to be) that many heavily regulated corporations adopt and enforce to ensure that employees are not leaving private information out for others’ perusing. It’s good for civilians as well to make sure you are actually completing tasks and putting things away in a timely manner. When you are done for the day, clear the papers off your desk. It makes starting the next day there so much more pleasant, too.
- Apply the same policy to your computer so that you are saving files and sites in a timely manner. Leaving excessive windows open is akin to leaving open magazines or newspapers on your desk. Either bookmark the site or save the file so you can find it later.
- Get rid of the layers of papers. If they’re on the bottom layer, you probably haven’t missed them and could probably be tossed. If they are important, they need to go into a To Be Filed or To Be Paid or to be tossed pile.
- Set up a filing system and use it. Make it your own so it makes sense to you. Adopting someone else’s won’t do any good if you can’t follow it.
Set up a home filing system. While we are talking about papers and filing them in a timely fashion, I can no reiterate how important home filing systems are. Do you know where your birth certificate, passport, children’s birth certificates, adoption papers, wills, marriage certificate, etc are? If so, good for you and pat yourself on the back. A lot people have an idea of where these papers are but aren’t 100%. These are the types of papers that are a massive pain to replace. It can be done but with discomfort. These are the types of files to put in a Fire Box. We were fortunate and these documents were no where near the fire but I’m going to get one just for these documents. I’ve also heard from other organizers to store electronic copies of these in the cloud somewhere.
A filing system is essential for tracking all kinds of important family paperwork: medical records, paid bills, important letters, contracts, receipts, manuals, user guides, employment documents, bank notices, in addition to the documents I mentioned above. You need a system to file these things that makes sense to you so that it’s easy to manage.
This situation reminded me that your home filing system should also include a section for large home purchases like computers, TVs and other expensive electronics, washer and dryer, rugs, furniture, artwork, and for pretty much anything you paid a lot of money. You want to be able to find documentation on what you had, how much you paid for it, and where and when you bought it. Our washer and dryer came with our house and we had to do some research to find out how old they were. Write down on your appliance manuals what the price was, where you purchased, and when. This will help immensely with insurance if this ever happens to you or if you sell your home. It’s also a good idea to have a file where you keep all of your manuals and user guides. If you need further assistance or have questions about what should be in your home filing system, send me a message email@example.com.
So this is the first lesson that I learned from surviving a fire: if your papers are really important, deal with them promptly. The less you touch them, the less you are building an emotional attachment to them. If they are important, you’ll handle them quickly. Develop, or have someone help you develop, a good management system that’s easy and sensible for you. Stay tuned for more …
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Can you believe summer is officially here as of Friday and that half of the year is over? Me neither. So how is your New Year’s resolution to “get organized” panning out? Do you feel like you’ll never get there? Do you start an organization project just to abandon it after a few frustrating hours or minutes? Even if ‘getting organized’ was not on your resolution list, I would be willing to bet that you’d like parts of your home or office to have fewer stacks and piles, to be more clean and ordered so that you’re not wasting time looking for things and wasting money buying what you already have. Fear not, it is never too late to get started. Here is a list of suggestions for quick, mini- organization tasks you can do right now to get closer to your goals of calm, reduced stress, and more time to do the things that you want to do:
When was the last time you cleaned out your refrigerator? Can you identify what’s really in that old takeout container? Take less than an hour and toss out the bad stuff, clean out the shelves and drawers, and put the good stuff back where it belongs. Here is a link for detailed instructions on how to store food in the smartest spots.
What is the state of your command center? Do you know what a command center is? Learn more about why it’s essential to your sanity to have this part of your home in order.
Do you have a place for gathering tax documents for 2013? Designate a folder or box now for storing receipts, car tag statements, donation receipts, medical statements or whatever it is that you’ll need to locate next year to file your 2013 taxes. Also, don’t completely file away 2012. You’ll need to refer back to it if you do your own taxes or your accountant may need to review it as well. (no IRS jokes, please 🙂 )
Did you put away your winter sweaters without getting them cleaned or washing them? Food and sweat is what attracts moths and other bugs so make sure they are clean and not stored in plastic. Wool and cashmere need to breathe. On that note, take your winter coat(s) to get cleaned. Don’t forget scarves, hats, and gloves if they are not leather. Just take them out of the plastic bags when you get them home.
How is your personal filing system? Do you know where your mortgage statements, bank statements, EOBs, and appliance warranties are? Set up a personal business filing system in a desk drawer or file box with labeled hanging files and folders. If you have kids, how are you storing their school papers? Put together a file box for saving report cards, certificates, school pictures, programs, etc. Or ask Neatsmart about creating a “Box of a Lifetime.”
Have you ever cleaned out your glove box in your car? Are you the kind of person that just shoves your insurance card in there with your repair receipts and takeout napkins? In less than 30 minutes, you can separate and file your car’s paperwork into a document wallet so you can find all the necessary documents when necessary. Hopefully you don’t have to show that proof of insurance frequently.
All of these tasks are a good jump start to propel you towards more order less clutter. When you’re ready to go all the way in getting your life organized or you want to continue with the momentum you’ve started with this list, give Neatsmart a call. We’ll be there to take your home to the next level of organization so you can live more efficiently, have less stress, and more time to spend doing what matters most to you.
I recently worked with a repeat client and it is so interesting to see how a person’s life improves after getting just parts of their home organized, even if it’s not all at once. In the spirit of honesty, I will disclose that this client is my lovely and talented sister, Laura, creator of Mixonian Institute and expert communicator, who helps me infinitely and also was a key inspiration to my starting Neatsmart. “So, you’ve worked with her more than once, does that mean she is a hoarder living with 14 cats and a Red Sea pathway through her house?” No, quite the contrary: she lives with minimal contemporary societal trappings (meaning she doesn’t have a lot of excess stuff), has great appreciation for aesthetic beauty, is well educated and highly intelligent, eloquently charming and funny BUT she can be disorganized. Disorganization exists on many levels and in fact we are all disorganized about something in our lives so don’t think you are immune. There is only so much time in a day to get all the things done that we want to accomplish and organizing stuff is not something that most people want to allocate a lot of resources to do. I, on the other hand, love sorting, purging, organizing, etc. which is why I do it for others.
But let’s keep talking about Laura and how her life improved by getting organized. By Manhattan standards, her home is enormous. By Southern standards she has a small, efficient house that she shares with her husband, sometimes 3 children (one has graduated college and lives away, one is in college but home for the summer, and one is in high school), and 2 dogs. Every piece of furniture has to be functional and everything in her home needs to serve a purpose. In reality, that’s the way it should be for all of us. An object’s purpose might be to look pretty but that is a valid purpose; we need to surround ourselves with things that we love, that serve us functionally, and that we find to be beautiful, as I mentioned in this previous post.
When I work with clients, one of the first thing I need to know is what is the order of priority; what area is giving them the most headache and will thus have the greatest impact on them. The first priority here was to get the office in order. There is the desk area in their living room with the computer, printer, supplies, files, and there is the personal work area which contains her laptop, cell phone docking area, books and magazines for research. While this might sound unconventional to those who have a designated room for their office, I know this set up is common for households that do share a computer. Her desktop computer is in a main part of the house and needs to be tidy (not an eyesore) because of its public location and service for work and homework. She needs this area to be an inspiring environment where she can be productive, find any supplies or files she needs in a split second, and have space for others to store their office and homework necessities. It is the ultimate shared workspace.
So what did Neatsmart do to get this shared workspace in order? I solved the majority of her desk clutter issue by installing a bookcase to store office supplies and her filing system. It is essential to any office space to be able to easily find stamps, envelopes, paperclips, scissors, extra printer paper, notepads, construction paper, glue, tape and anything else you, or anyone who uses that area, might need. They also need to know where to put it back once they are finished. In short, everything needs a home that is easy to find. If everyone would spend about 15 minutes a day putting things away, the entire world would be tidier and less stressed–talk about a butterfly flapping its wings.
We also got rid of things that didn’t need to be there or that weren’t being used–this has a huge impact because you realize that you have more space and can breathe! One of those things was the analog phone that had been collecting dust on the desk. They got rid of their house phone number but the base unit was still there. Why, you ask? Because nobody had time to disentangle it from the mass of other cords and cables under the desk. Sound familiar?
And finally, we sorted papers, notebooks, and files so that similar subjects and topics were stored together. Laura has several businesses she operates, including a non-profit organization, Charleston International Music School, so she needed to keep each entity’s materials but easily accessible. So everything needs a home but you also need to keep things together that belong together. We created distinct areas for Mixonian, CIMS, Coaching Clients, Books in progress, in addition to the regular files like bills, financial statements, school papers, and medical information. It is essential if you work from home that you have a separate filing drawer or cabinet for your personal and home related files. You definitely don’t want to co-mingle your EOBs, credit card bills, or mortgage statements with your Client Files!
So how has organizing her shared workspace improved her life? Here is what she had to say:
So I recently wrote about how to get more accomplished in the day by completing tasks in 1 or 2 minutes with this post but here is an article on with 101 Useful Things You Can Do in 15 Minutes or Less. Granted, not all 101 items on the list will apply to you but it’s amazing to think of what you can do in 15 minutes if you just do it. Sometimes it’s the avoidance of another, more daunting task that encourages this sudden surge in productivity but at least you are getting something done and marking it off your list. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, WRITE IT DOWN! Start a list of things you’d like to do such as….
- a list of places you’d like to go on vacation
- house projects you’d like to accomplish this year
- books you’d like to read (someday)
- movies you’d like to see
- recipes you’d like to try
- restaurants you’d like to visit
These are all pretty “fun” things to do and they are all about YOU. You deserve to invest in yourself. Whenever you have 5, 10, or 15 minutes free you can go back to this list and start thinking about what you really want to accomplish and if you are on a path to achieve any of that. Mark things off the list or add to it. This is a list that helps spur your creativity and will encourage goal setting. If you set goals, you’ll achieve goals. Achieving goals leads to feeling a sense of accomplishment which leads to your future success, which drives you to achieve more of your dreams. And it all starts with you, a pen, and a piece of paper.
What is the most important space to organize in a home? Some might say the bedroom because that is where you spend (hopefully) at least 8 hours of your day. Some might say the kitchen because if if you’re constantly looking for something to eat or tools to make something to eat and can’t find what you need during the 3x a day you’re in there, you’re having a lot of bad days. However, I’m going to argue that the Command Center, frequently housed in the kitchen, is the most important place in American’s homes to have organized.
Why is that, you ask? Because this is where all activities are managed, bills are paid, supplies are stored, and paperwork is filed. This is not to say that all homes are like this but the majority of American homes built since the 1960’s have incorporated a work area with a desk, drawers, and a couple of cabinets for managing exactly these types of activities. Interestingly enough, as homes are now evolving to have a full time office space, there is still a need to have at least a corner of the kitchen carved out to be a Command Center. Some trends today are to use chalkboard paint to indicate this area and provide a place for notes and lists, using modular pieces like hanging calendars, magnetic boards, or hanging in and out boxes. Since the kitchen has evolved to be the center of activity in a home, it makes sense to have this go-to area located there, especially if you live in a house with children. More people to manage = more stuff to keep track of!
So what happens in a Command Center? It will be different for everyone because we all function a little differently but this is a great place to house the following:
- Car keys: Get a bowl or hook to put them so you’re not looking for them later.
- Cell phone: Put a charger here and plug it in when you walk in the door.
- Calendar: A visual representation of all important activities for everyone in the house. Little ones start to learn time management early by seeing their activities on a calendar.
- Computer: Especially if you have kids, a publicly located computer is great for homework, looking up recipes, listening to music, and so forth.
- Clock: You need to know what time it is and it’s important for that morning or afternoon rush to get out of the house.
- Mail: What doesn’t get tossed immediately can be kept here for reading later.
- Bills to be paid: It’s nice to have that visual cue that you need to take action. You could even clip them to your calendar until they are paid.
- Purse or wallet: Save yourself time and pain by knowing where it is at all times.
- Glasses and/or Sunglasses: If you need readers, this is a perfect place to have an extra pair. Sunglasses are essential for driving so I keep mine here.
- Stamps, pens, scissors, paperclips, scrap paper, tape, batteries, envelopes, coupons,
The most important part of organizing any area is assigning a home to everything in your home. The Command Center is a great place to house a lot of the supplies necessary to conduct your life stress- and drama-free, able to find what you need, when you need it so you can lead a happy life!
Any other ideas for how to best use your Command Center? Need help putting yours together? Contact Neatsmart to get started on creating the most efficient, functional, and stylish Command Center you’ve ever had!
Here is another example of a home office project that I recently completed that I wanted to share. This office was a little unconventional in that my client works from home at her dining room table and travels across the country. She needed to have her work materials easily accessible and had 2 cabinets in a buffet (remember this is her dining room) set aside for office storage. No problem. The issue was that it was very inconsistent with what was put in these cabinets and office supplies ended up being scattered throughout the house. The printer was next to the kitchen, extra paper was in the living room, personal papers like medical records and bills were mixed in with client papers, books were stacked with work related items, and you get the picture. There wasn’t a huge amount of chaos but it was just cluttered which is where I think a lot of us live. We aren’t about to be featured on Hoarders but we end up wasting a lot of time looking for things and then spend money buying things that we already have because we can’t remember where we put something. Starting to sound familiar?
So here is how we fixed the problem:
Separate work from personal– It doesn’t matter where you work you must separate personal stuff from work stuff, even if you work on it in the same room. This can mean a separate drawer or box in the same cabinet but you should not mix these types of papers in your filing system. You should also store personal books separately from “work” or business books. It is important to have defined spaces in your home for where you store and manage specific information so that you know where things go and how to find them later. This is critical for the home based executive or entrepreneur so that you are establishing boundaries between work and home activities. In this project, the first thing we did was to clear out the personal books, bills, mail, bank statements, etc that didn’t have to do with her day job out of the 2 cabinets and located them elsewhere.
Utilize your vertical space-This particular cabinet was a decent size but most of it was vertical. We got 2 shelves from the Container Store that fit perfectly in the cabinet (measure twice, shop once) which allowed us to store notebooks on the shelf and smaller items on the bottom. You have to be careful when retrofitting shelves into an existing piece especially an antique, to make sure you have the right size and you don’t damage anything. Be careful of sharp edges and corners.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”– This client travels extensively for work so we created separate notebooks for each area that she visits regularly, expanding on her existing organziation system that works well for her. She had started notebooks for each location but some were makeshift folders or old binders that were falling apart. Now each place she visits has its own labeled binder that is easy to find and put away when she comes back from her trips.
Keep your personal life in order– This project did necessitate the acquisition of a filing cabinet which served 2 purposes: a place to store personal files and documents and it holds the printer and extra paper and ink. These items had all been stored in different rooms of the house because no home had ever been assigned to them. I can’t tell you how important it is to designate a home for everything in your life. Think about it, you need to know where to put your cell phone, keys, winter clothes, gift wrap, scissors, tape, and so forth. The same applies to your office and really any room in your house. Now my client has an easy filing system for her bills, medical information, financial statements, etc. and a place for all of it. Her printer is now located close to her work area which means no more traipsing through the kitchen to pick up a document that was printed. Extra paper and ink cartridges are stored in top drawer so no more going to the living room to find backups. Even better, the filing cabinet is on wheels so it can be moved when she entertains….talk about multitasking!
This was an example of one home office that is a little different from those that are in specified rooms and now it functions really well for my client. She reports that she’s very happy with the results and has saved time getting ready for trips because she can find everything easily. Also, she feels more motivated to get work done because her office isn’t so cluttered and her materials aren’t scattered in different, possibly unknown locations.
I think she’s found out that neat really is smart and now it saves you time and money as well!
One of the most frequently asked questions I get about organization is “how do I organize my kids’ constant paperwork?” While the same principles apply to organizing adults’ paperwork, typically a parent will get this started and then it gets passed down to the child to maintain, thus teaching them valuable organization skills. The problem comes when no system is in place and it feels like a herculean task to get it sorted out to begin with, much less come up with a system to maintain going forward. This is where Neatsmart offers you an easy method to manage the paperwork and activity-tracking chaos:
- Get a small filing box for each child. This is where you can get creative with your choices. Everyone from Container Store to Office Depot has an option for you. Choose something with a lid to protect the papers from dust and other damage and so you can stack them if necessary.
- Fill the box with hanging files in a pretty color or your child’s favorite color. Create a tab for each year of school.
- Here is what goes in the box: at least 1 school picture for each year, copies of recital programs, honor roll announcements, sports brackets, newspaper clippings, report cards, special cards or letters sent, etc. Think of this as the school memories box that you’ll eventually pass on to your child (because you will) and fill it with the little things you never really know what to do with but you’ll both enjoy looking back on years from now.
This accomplishes 2 things: it gives a home for these types of papers and it helps to teach your children organization skills. You probably won’t file every paper every day but I would designate an area of your home to temporarily capture these papers and then as your children get older they can help you put these papers away. It will be a fun trip through memory lane each time you look at old pictures and report cards that your kids will ultimately be glad you saved.
Here is what does NOT go in the box: birth certificate, passport, adoption papers, social security card, and artwork. The first 3 or 4 items should be in a separate file where you are storing the family’s important papers. These are not things that you’ll need to readily access and you don’t want your kids rummaging around in at this point.
Artwork can be handled a variety or ways, depending on the volume. Some should be displayed in the house whether it is on the refrigerator or a large bulletin board where it can be admired. Important pieces that you want to keep can go in a portfolio binder. Others can be photographed and later made into a book or just viewed online. I know it is hard to throw away any of these pieces but you just can’t keep everything unless you have unlimited storage and time to catalog it all.
Another thing every family with kids needs is a calendar that everyone can see. Most often this will be in the kitchen or mudroom or family room. All activities that involve the kids should be put on this calendar: birthday parties, sports practices, sleepovers if they are scheduled in advance, birthdays, doctors’ and dentists’ appointments, games, vacations, application due dates, church events, I could go on and on. It is especially helpful if this is kept close to where mail is opened so that you can immediately put the event on the calendar when you are advised of it via mail like invitations and appointment reminders. Everyone in the family can see what is going on and start to take responsibility for their activities. This doesn’t mean everyone remembers everything J but it does mean everyone knows where to find out what is going on. I know lots of us have personal planners that we keep with us either in our purse or briefcase or on our phone and, yes, this is duplicative. The benefit of this calendar is that everyone can see it. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to write things twice to help remember better!
So spend a little time putting your file box and file folders together and they’ll serve you for many years to come. You’ll have a box full of memories ready to pass down to your kids who I promise will thank you later. J Get your calendar up and start putting all of the family’s activities on it to keep everyone schedule straight.
First off, Happy Valentine’s Day, readers! Thanks so much for stopping to read my blog and I hope you all have lovely days. I am usually a little bah humbug about Valentine’s because for a long time it was a reminder of not having a Valentine and I resented the Hallmark holiday. I am happily married and still feel like you should show your love everyday instead of just once a year but I have to admit I get caught up in the decorating aspect and just having fun with it.
This does lead to a question that I get a lot from clients which is how do I deal with paper memorabilia? What do I do with the old birthday cards, letters, notes, etc. from various holidays? Of utmost importance is that you decide what you want to keep and what you want to throw away. Now that I’ve said that, know that you can’t keep everything. What I think you really want to focus on are the ones that mean a lot to you—special birthdays, cards with memorable messages written in them, notes from relatives, etc. I don’t think the generic birthday card from your dentist or insurance company warrants keeping unless you have a special relationship with them. J
So what do I do to manage these cards, notes and letters that I want to keep?
- Designate a location for them: this is an absolute MUST! Get a pretty lidded box or designate a drawer in a piece of furniture for this type of memorabilia. Everything needs a home and if you know where to put it, it won’t end up in a pile of other stuff somewhere.
- Box it up: Semi kolon makes some great looking boxes for this and they look fabulous on a book case or shelf. These are found at Container Store and Sam Flax. I used one for cards and things from our wedding. I knew I wasn’t patient enough for #3 but I at least know where everything goes and enjoy going back through the box periodically. You can also get attractive wicker or rattan boxes at Cost Plus or HomeGoods. Just make sure it has a lid to keep the contents dust free.
- Make a scrapbook: This suggestion is for the crafty people out there. You can make a really nice book out of the cards by using a photo album or empty scrapbook. Etsy has an amazing selection of unique, handcrafted ones.
- Scan or take pictures of the cards and messages. You can make a photo book easily with Shutterfly or TinyPrints. Even if you just keep the photos, you can organize them on your computer so you can easily retrieve them to view later. Just remember you need to back up your computer on a regular basis
I hope these ideas help you in managing some of your paper memorabilia. Remember to keep and honor what is important to you. Having multiple, random piles is not honoring the memories; having a pretty, accessible home for them is. Do you have other suggestions for how you keep up with cards, notes, and letters?
I was trolling the inter-webs this week doing some research on organizing paperwork and email. I know how I do it but I wanted to see what other people had to say the best way to set up filing systems and manage bills. Everyone wants to know what is the best way to organize their kitchen, closet, office, paperwork so they can implement this solution and move on. I wish it were that simple and straightforward but, then again, I’d be out of a job if it were. The simple truth is there isn’t just one way to organize anything. Organization is very personal and means different things to different people. We all process information differently. We communicate differently. We have different tastes (thank goodness!). How on earth could there be an effective, one- size- fits- all method for organizing anything?
The emphasis on the above sentence is “effective.” For an organization system to be effective it has to suit your needs, lifestyle and you’ve got to like it and understand it. I saw some very pretty, multi-colored, multi labeled systems for creating files via Pinterest but I can tell you they wouldn’t apply to me. I’m sure they work well for the people who created them but it wouldn’t fit my needs.
So don’t get organization-envy when you look at Real Simple or Martha Stewart Living magazine. While they offer great suggestions, they aren’t living your life and don’t know what you specifically need to stay on task, keep up with activities, and file your paperwork. Their picture is perfect because it has to look good for the magazine and appealing to a consumer. For you to have an effective system, one needs to be designed specifically for your needs, lifestyle, and you’ve got to like it. Look at the magazines and Pinterest for ideas, certainly, but ultimately it has to customized and set up for you to be effective, which is all that matters anyway.
So what’s the best way to organize anything? For you, it’s your way.