More Scheduling Options

With the challenge of there being so many possible solutions for each of our struggles, the prospect of finding our own approach can be daunting.  It all to easy to want to find an expert that will tell us what to do – break all the pieces down so we can follow it and poof, our problems will vanish.  Even when our experience shows how unlikely this is, we can still get caught up in wanting an easy answer.  Instead, when you know some basic ideas and approaches, you can pick and choose the parts that work for you and move forward.  It is definitely a process – it’s likely to take time – and here are some ideas to help you find your own solution.


Make a Time Map-

This is what Julie Morgenstern’s refers to as a “budget of your day, week or month that balances your time between the various departments of your life.”  I think about it as a chunking of what we need to do and how it relates to our schedule – a combination of the roles we fill and the ways we can shape our schedules to fit our life and style.  It’s a visual guideline for how we want to use our time; usually done in broad strokes (though you design it as you want or need) and from here you can see where to add any additional appointments or tasks.  Here are some sample time maps to see various ways you can design your own: Time Map Sample Booklet.

Since my schedule varies extensively, creating and using a time map is more challenging.  Instead I’ve considered how much time I’d like to spend on the various roles of my life each week – then I can add them in as my schedule allows.  The schedules we each have can vary so dramatically – this is where the strength of the time map can shine – you create it for your schedule, both the obligations of your life as well as your personal style.  This deserves more attention; so keep your eyes open for a future post on just time maps.

Get Curious-

Look for patterns in how you schedule and how you react to your schedule.  For instance, when you have an appointment, you find yourself energized or drained after it?  It won’t be that simple though, but it can begin to reveal your own style.  Do you repeatedly schedule things around other appointments?  Do you honor those scheduled tasks?  One of the key features of being curious is that you continue the curiosity – things change and evolve all the time.  Therefore, even if you think you’ve identified an important piece for yourself and schedule, work with that until it changes and then curiosity is still there to use again.

Experiment with the Variables-

Since there isn’t one right way of doing things, use that curiosity to test different options.  One easy thing to test out can be when you run errands – do you do it at the end of a workday or when you have a day off?  Or do you do a bit of both?  Whatever your approach is, consider changing things for a little while – test how the changes impact your schedule, time, and energy.  I’ve discovered that I function better with 1 day a week that has no appointments – even if that means I need to make a couple days longer to run errands.  I also use David Allen’s Getting Things Done 2-minute rule in a different way – where I will decide on an amount of time, say 15, 30, 45 minutes and then work on all the 2-minute tasks I can find during that time.

Brainstorm: What will help you to be more mindful of your schedule?-

Between my curiosity and experimenting I figured out how many working hours were realistic.  Yet, that didn’t solve how I’d sometimes over-schedule myself.  Considering my calendar schedule – I work with the iPad calendar and the week view – I decided to create an “appointment” with the work hours scheduled for that week.  This hasn’t eliminated my over-scheduling, though it’s helped tremendously and nothing is perfect.  You know your schedule and your challenges, what can help you?  The possibilities might not occur to you right way – sometimes they need to marinate.  Once you have an idea, try it and see what happens.  Each idea you try is a success regardless of whether it is a solution for you – at least if you give it a good trial.


I wish for all of us that an easy solution existed.  Once we find the pieces that work, it can seem easy.  It’s the process of discovering our own answers that can challenge us.  I’m here to tell you it can be done – have hope.  Not long ago I wrote 3 Common Scheduling Recommendations, which talks about probably the most common advice from time management experts.  It’s a journey – our path to figuring out how to make things work best for ourselves.  Good Luck and if you have any questions – you know how to reach me.

Organizing Digital Photos – Simply

We all know that there are tons of options – i.e. software – for organizing digital information, including our photographs.  This is not this blog.  A blog about photo software might never happen – although I have used several of them, none of them meet my needs enough that I use any of them exclusively (only when they serve a need I have).  Truth be told, I don’t want to give up control to a program – not completely, not ever.  What this means for you is that I am talking about organizing your photos on your hard drive – and then you can use any software you choose.

First, you need to get all your photos into 1 folder – which you might already be doing since computers these days often have a folder so labeled.  If your pictures are all over the place – even digitally – then you’re making more work for yourself in finding them when you want them.   If you’ve never had a system for organizing your digital photos, don’t worry about further organizing of these – you can do that over time.  Create the system going forward – and if you do nothing else, get all your precious photographs into one location on your computer – off your camera, phone, etc. – and take the time to do this regularly.

Second, you need to decide how you’d like to have your pictures grouped together (i.e. a digital folder) – it can be easy to set things up for chronological organization with digital photos.  At least it can be easy as long as your camera and phone have been set with the correct day and time – that data is included within the image.  Just because it’s easier to do chronological organizing doesn’t mean this is right for you – or that you can’t incorporate it into the system somewhat.  If your son’s birthday is in early October, you probably want to divide the pictures of him from the party and his costume for Halloween – though maybe you do want an “October 2012” folder.  I discuss this in Organizing Photos.

As with all organizing endeavors, one of the things that either makes things work or makes them break down is the quantity you are grouping together.  Therefore, consider the number of pictures that will make it worthwhile to create a folder to keep them together.  The challenge can be that we all have some random pictures that don’t quite fit into a larger category – so we need to decide how we’re going to handle this.

Let’s talk about specifics – if you want to go chronological it could look like this:

a chronological folder set-up

Here’s 1 way to set up a chronological folder system for your photos

You can see that the months are in alphabetical order rather than chronological, although your photos are still organized chronologically – at least all of one year is together within that folder.  This is one reason some people will use numbers – and put them in the format of “year–two-digit month–two-digit day (when applicable) [space] and other data (if desired)” so that the view then matches our expectations.  Then you have different options – though here you can see the way the computer organizes the folders based on name.

chronological showing different format options

Here are the two format options for month and year

You could make the year folder or if you’re using the date formatting, you don’t absolutely need it.  Although here is an example still inside the year folder – if you kept with the date naming, the pictures would all be chronological.  If you look at this example, there are two folders that do not include the day – and those get placed before any folders with days listed, so keep this in mind as you decide about the folders you make and the format of how you label.


labeling folders with year, month, date and info

Using “xxxx-xx-xx info” is another way to order photos chronologically

This is the easiest way to organize photos.  You don’t need to worry about labeling each image – as the images are collected and organized within their labeled folder and tend to be chronological due to the metadata in the image.

Some people choose to label the picture itself.  The biggest challenge with this approach can be the time and energy to do this for each and every image – and deciding what information to include in the name.  The longer the name, the more of the text might be hidden, and could make the process of finding specific pictures more cumbersome.  Of course, you could also do a combination – where you label the folder with the broad information and then the photos have more of the details of the image.  Here are two examples of how long names can impact what is visible: on the left is the list and on the right are the mini-icons and both have pictures with a “…” which indicates that the full name is longer than the available space.


Showing how long names can be hidden

The “…” on both left and right sides show long names being shortened

How ever you choose to organize your digital photos – make it work for you.  I use a combination – where our trips get a folder for each year.  Then there are other folders that are simply more general – some of which include dates.  Here’s a view of some of how I’ve organized my digital photos – though I’ve discovered it needs a tune-up!


my personal photo organization system

Here’s a view of how I’ve organized my digital photos

Remember, organizing your things – whatever they are – is setting things up so they work for you.  How do you look for things?  Would it make more sense to have a folder for your children – and then subdivide from there?  It doesn’t make a difference how you do it, it matters that it makes sense for you.  It’s all about being able to find and appreciate your photos when you want.

Reasons We Lose Things

The list of possible causes for misplacing things might be endless.  As with life, there are many variables and complicating factors.  It’s probably not as simple as “here it is, the sole cause for why I can’t find my things” and rather a combination of different reasons.  Therefore, considering the common causes can help us identify our own triggers, which is the first step toward limiting how much we lose things.  Here I’m talking about emotions – their tremendous impact in both organizing and locating our things.

  • When we’re distracted, tired/exhausted, angry, hurried/impatient we are exponentially more likely to forget where we put things.  We’re also not being thoughtful about what we are actually doing.  This is not a good time to make decisions about how to set things up for future use – wait until you can focus on the process.
    • I’m a big fan of being mindful, being in the moment as much as you can.  And if we could will ourselves to be in that state all the time we could eliminate this as a challenge.  Yet we all know that it’s not that simple.
    • Sometimes we can catch ourselves and control the distraction or whatever – “now is the time to focus on this.”
    • Other times it means recognizing that you are not in the best mindset for dealing with your stuff – do it later when you can be mindful.  If there is some urgent need to get things elsewhere, get like items grouped roughly together and find a place you can get them out of your way – rather than attempt to actually organize anything.
    • There are times when you need to take a few seconds to get things into their home; if you frequently misplace necessary things like your keys, cell phone, wallet/checkbook, etc. – take the seconds it will take to make sure you put them into their home – however frustrated or impatient you might feel.


  • Likewise, when we’re in the middle of strong emotions like any of the above – it becomes extraordinarily easy to become blind to that thing we are looking for.  This is turn can exacerbate our feelings – the frustration of panicked searching – the idea that we’ve lost something again and then when we found it and it was “right there all along” (if it was).  For some people, the mere suggestion something has been misplaced will send them into this state of stress.
    •  We can become frazzled when we can’t find that thing we need – whether it’s our keys and we need to leave the house or if it’s some paper we need in the next week.  This state – the adrenaline pulsing means we’re reacting emotionally rather than logically – and therefore our ability think clearly is compromised.  No wonder it’s harder when we feel stressed about losing the thing to then find it.
    • If you can recognize when your mind is racing, practicing stepping back – find a way to relax and calm your mind.  This is easy to say and can be excruciating to try to apply!
    • When you become aware of how your emotions are dictating, consider the true urgency of finding that lost thing – is it something that can wait, even for an hour or more?  If finding the item can wait, then distract yourself with something else – something that will take your attention for a while.  Then you might find when you revisit the search that you can be calm and methodical and it’s found quickly.
    • If you need the item urgently, it’s likely your reactions are going to be that much stronger and you’re going to be more emotional too.  Ideally you can take a minute or two to calm yourself.  This can be anything that helps the anxiety subside – in order for you to think and process more clearly.
    • This is not the time to problem solve what contributes to your misplacing things.  The stress of dealing with this frequently is often a motivator for finding solutions.

For some people, losing things is virtually a catastrophe.  While for other people, it might be uncomfortable; it is something they largely accept as part of life.  Both sets of people as well as everyone in-between still have to deal with strong emotions around misplaced items – no one is exempt.  It’s amazing and sometimes disturbing how our emotions can distort our thinking and perceptions as well as how challenging it can be to keep them in check.  And not just in one-way, but both sides – trying to organize or finding our things.  This doesn’t mean avoid your feelings, rather when we can see their impact, we can make smarter choices – which sometimes means simply (or not so simply) waiting for a better time and state of mind.

Review – Containers


  • a way to keep like items together
  • can maximize space
  • can increase accessibility
  • useful for smaller items of similar category


  • not a guaranteed solution for organizing struggles
  • contents within can “disappear”
  • can become more work to access and replace in its space


Here’s another somewhat nontraditional review – since it’s on containers in general, not a specific container.  When I talk about containers I am referring to any object that has the ability to keep things grouped together.  This means that a drawer, a filing cabinet, a bin, a bag, a basket, and so on are all containers – even your purse, if you use one.  We all use some containers under this definition although how useful the containers we use will depend on who we are and how we use them.  There are times that using containers can make things more challenging – even if you want to use them.  With this broad definition of a container, you might consider when and how they work for you and when they’re actually counter-productive.

In many ways the world seems to assume that we all need containers – we’re “weird”, maybe “wrong” if we don’t want to or can’t use containers.  The filing cabinet is a great example – many people believe they have to use a filing cabinet – “it’s what it is designed for.”  This is one of the fallacies of containers – even when they are designed for a specific purpose it doesn’t make them function for everyone.  Then it’s time to consider other options for keeping items contained.  You can create systems for containing that doesn’t require containers.

Figuring out when and where containers will help you is the most important thing – for if they only complicate your process, that’s defeating the point.  Therefore let’s cover a few situations that can make containers more useful.

  1. Are there things that seem to get “lost” frequently?  Small items in a bigger drawer can be one of these things getting lost.  This can be a time to consider a container of some sort to keep those smaller items together and accessible.  This is when it’s time to consider if you simply need a bin – in this example, something without a top to provide visibility and is easy to use – or if another solution needs to be found.

    Pantry drawer showing containers

    Here’s one of my pantry drawers – using containers to corral smaller items together

  2. Are there areas that are harder for you to use – spaces that are less accessible for you?  If you are shorter, high shelves can be a challenge to use – although if you put less frequently used items into a container, it provides easier access.  As a short person, the lip of a container means that you can slide the things you need out without the hassle of getting the step stool.  And it’s not just the lip of a container – it’s the handle, lid, whatever – having the items contained means you have access to hard to reach areas and the things you store there.  This can apply equally to deeper areas and low areas if it’s a challenge to bend or sit on the floor – containers offer easier access to get and move the things to a more convenient area while you need the contents.  The key to making this work is to limit the weight of the containers in the hard to access areas.

    Tall closet showing containers

    Both these shelves are hard for me to reach – yet by putting like items into containers, I can grab the handle, loop, edge to get easy access. This applies even to that box above.

  3. Do you need (or want) to maximize the tall and/or deep shelves?A cabinet shelf – one of any style stand-alone shelf – can help make the most of tall shelves in closets and then you use containers on top and bottom of these, as they’re useful for you.  One of the challenges of tall and deep shelves and using the cabinet shelf without containers is that loose things can topple off and things can disappear behind things – so the combination of tall and deep shelves and using containers means that you can make the most of the space.  You can also stack containers in these spaces, though that can make it harder to get to all of them and then possible resistance to returning them to their spot. Containers used in the front of these types of closets can then be easily moved when you need access to the items further back, which hopefully are need infrequently.

    Stand alone shelf in a tall and deep closet shelf

    Here’s a stand-alone shelf in one of our tall and deep closet shelves – where the containers on top and below provide greater storage. There are containers behind on both levels as well – helping to make the most of the space.

With all the variations of containers available to us, it is worth evaluating what features will assist you in getting and staying organized when a container is called for.

  • What size do you need?

Remember, wait to get a container until you have gathered and sorted all the like items you want to store together.  By doing this, you will know your specific needs.  It’s worth considering if the amount of items is typical too – are you likely to pick up more things that would need to be stored there too?  Do you actually have more than you’d like to store normally, so in the future a smaller container would make more sense?

  • What is the container made of?

With all the options out there, we’re virtually unlimited in our choices – plastic, canvas, wicker and woven materials, metal, and so on.  Yet, there are more than preferences for the material involved.  For instance, wicker and other woven type containers can snag things unless they’re lined.  Some people want to avoid using plastic, though that often means the contents aren’t visible from the side.  Are solid sides important?

  • Will you forget what’s inside if it’s not transparent?

Some people are quite visual – if you can’t see it, it’s like it doesn’t exist.  Sometimes this means that labels aren’t enough, so being able to see the contents becomes critical to the system working.  Other people, who are visual in a different way, come to strongly associate a particular container with specific contents – where the orange bin is autumn decorations.

  • Does it need a top or will the top just get in the way (or get lost)?

Lids can be important when we are stacking containers on top of each other, or if you will need to tip the container and not have the contents spill out.  They can help keep dust and dirt out of the contents too.  Other times, it makes more sense to have open containers – it’s easier to put things in and pull things out.  Inside a drawer is a prime place to avoid lids – you can see and access the contents easily.

  • Is there a shape that will work better for the stuff or the space?

Most of the time, a square or rectangular container is going to help maximize your spaces – since most spaces are designed with right angles.  Yet, is this container going into such a space?  If it’s a decorative hamper that you’re going to put in the corner of your living room to hold your yarn – it doesn’t need to have right angles for the space or the contents.

  • How much does it matter if it has a place for a label or is challenging to label?

One of the challenges with containers is the ability to label – or rather the inability to label them.  Many adhesives don’t attach securely to canvas, metals, wicker and woven materials and so on.  There are containers designed with a built in label while the bulk of them don’t provide this feature.  Figuring out how valuable this is for your situation is important.  Of course there are alternatives for hard to label containers – I’ve gotten attached to binder clips holding the label – as they can work with most containers.

Despite the perception that containers should work for everyone and are the solution for organizing challenges – it doesn’t make it true.  We need to consider our situation, the space, and how we work.  As much as I love containers, they do not function equally well for me – it depends on different factors.  This means that to discover what will work for us, in whatever context, we need to evaluate our needs.  Containers certainly help us contain our belongings, yet they are not the only way for us to keep our items together.

Going Shopping – In Your Home

We all have more things in our home than what we are currently using.  We might even have a lot of things collected – things we bought when we couldn’t find the other ones and/or things we bought in bulk or when it was on sale.  Our spaces might be significantly limited – so there’s only room for a few things close by where we use them.  I am asked regularly whether I think people should get rid of these duplicates – “don’t I need to purge the excess stuff?”

Some people think that most things in excess are the very things to pass along – donate, recycle, even throw away.  You’ve probably heard “experts” talking about how if you have clothes that don’t fit, get rid of them.  If you have 10 bottles of shampoo – donate them to a shelter or something.  The bottom line of the thinking seems to be to remove all those unnecessary things and free up the space in your home.

With much of what I talk about – I believe that there are no absolute answers for people.  Yes, you can create more space by donating the clothes that do not fit.  Yet, what are the factors that motivate you to keep those same clothes?  Considering your own situation means that the solutions fit your life.  Remember, there is no one right answer.

Therefore, consider that all those things you have “extra” of are the things that you can go shopping for – right in your home.  And you won’t have to buy them – again.

This idea is familiar with those who have a root cellar – or simply keep some of their food in the basement.  Yes, it can function as a food supply in case of an emergency, yet it is also hopefully food that you move upstairs when you run out of that particular item and then replenishing the supply.  We can apply this idea to other things that we have more than what we’re actively using right now.

The key is to make it relatively easy to find what you’ll need – it is about making it more like going shopping.  What are the broad categories of things you have?  If you have beauty products – shampoos, toothpaste, lotion – get these all together.  Initially it can be the general group of bathroom items and then you can make sure each division is together.  That way when you run out of shampoo, you go to the place where the extras are and pick up another bottle to resupply your shower.

If you have more than one size of clothes, consider what it is like to grab one of them not knowing if it will fit you.  Like with anything you are keeping “extra” of, getting them sorted can make all the difference down the road.  Get all the clothes that are one size down from where you are right now and keep them together.  Under the bed bins can be great for this – it keeps the clothes out of the way, maximizing your usable space, and allowing them to be accessible when you need them.  Where you store clothes that don’t currently fit isn’t as important as keeping them out of your usable space and having groupings for each size.  Then when it’s time to dig into another size – hopefully smaller – you know that what is there are all things that will fit you.  You get a “new” wardrobe without spending any more money – all by going shopping in your own home.

Many of us already do this to a lesser degree, we have an extra shampoo and whatever – so we don’t have to rush to the store if we run out or forget to pick it up at the store.  When we pull out that duplicate item to use, we add it to the list for the next shopping trip.  Even when we don’t pick up another – whether the store is temporarily out or we simply forget despite the list – there’s enough time to get that thing on the next shopping trip before we’ll need it.

It feels less like shopping when you have only the single duplicate, yet it’s about using what you already have.  If the things you have are things you are going to use eventually – then why not set things up so you can access and use them with minimal effort?  The key is to make sure they are things you will use – want to use – and part with those things you won’t use.

We can apply this idea to various things:

  • any consumables i.e. food, cleaning products, beauty products, paper products, etc.
  • clothing
  • a supply of possible gifts
  • the décor you don’t have room for right now but want to switch out periodically or are simply not ready to part with

As you can see it is not necessarily about having to get rid of the things you are not currently using, it is about making sure you can use and appreciate the things you do have – even if it’s at some future point.  Sometimes it even feels fun to “go shopping” in your home and rediscover the treasures you are now ready to use – some people have compared it to Christmas or a birthday, you have all these gifts you’d not quite remembered.  This can happen even as you sort the things – preparing them for future use.  If you will use those extra things in the future, you can create the systems to make it easy to find and then use them – to go shopping in your own home.

Organizing Photos

This can be a daunting prospect, especially if you have little to no system in place.  It’s similar to dealing with paper – these relatively small things that each need to be looked at and dealt with.  Yet photographs are often one of our most prized possessions, and creating a system means that not only are we protecting them, but also that we can appreciate them when we want.  As I touched on last month in Technology – Digital Pictures, organizing photos is becoming even more of a challenge to organize since we often have both physical pictures as well as digital ones.

As with virtually everything that we need to organize, the first step is to figure out what you want to do with your photos – besides keep them of course.  Do you want to put them into an album?  Do you want to scrapbook them?  Do you want them all printed or scanned – keeping them all in one specific medium?  How would you like to be able to appreciate them?  There is no wrong answer – although many people are embarrassed they don’t want to do more with them than have some order.

Let me make a couple of things clear early on – one, you do not have to set aside a weekend or a day to begin organizing your pictures, you can decide to spend an hour here and there (as with all organizing endeavors).  Two, as precious as photographs are, challenge yourself to part with the blurry and unnecessary duplicates.  Three, if you want to keep the physical images safe, look for archival containers (including albums and pages) that might not be available locally.  Four, consider whether you need to organize the larger pictures independently from the standard size pictures.

Often the traditional thinking with pictures is to get them into chronological order.  If the mere thought of figuring out the chronology of all your pictures leaves you wanting to scream, don’t worry – there are other options.  The ideas for organizing photographs can work with both physical and digital – though digital has other challenges associated with it.

One approach for organizing photos is to consider a broad timeline idea – more than chronological.  One person I worked with chose this idea: since kids, couple-hood, before spouse, and earlier generations.  In this situation, we needed 4 empty boxes/containers for those categories and we sorted the boxes of pictures into them, just adding another box into the category when the first was filled.  In another situation, after using floss to remove old pictures from albums, we spread out the pictures to divide them into decades – the ‘10s, ‘20s, ‘30s, and on.

If you think about scrapbooking – not that you are going to do this – the idea is to have a theme, the focus of the particular scrapbook and gather those photos together.  You can use this idea for organizing, the themes for your family and life – trips; family traditions (i.e. holidays, celebrations, etc.); athletic/theatrical/nature-loving/etc. kids; family “monsters” (pets); state of the home (garden pictures, renovations, etc.).  This is a time for you to think about your family and the things you are capturing in the pictures.  These themes become your broad categories – the piles or boxes that you sort into.

Imagine having a collection of pictures from each year your child was in soccer (or whatever activity) all together.  Organizing your pictures in this way allows you to see the progression over the years – there is a continuity to the photos that also offers perspective, “look how much they grew from that first year until their last year.”

Even if you stop at this point in the organizing process you will have a system in place.  Of course, you can continue to refine that system more – breaking those broad categories down so that specific photos can be found.  This is when you can use other groupings within the larger category – so all the Halloween pictures of your kids or Halloween pictures of your kids from the 1980’s are together.  You get to create the way you break it down or not.

From a preservation standpoint it’s recommended that you refrain from labeling the photographs themselves as inks can end up damaging the images.  From an organizing perspective, labeling each picture can be time-consuming and maybe even frustrating.  It’s easier to label the envelopes, index cards, and box for each category.

There it is – the process to getting your photographs into a system.  Yes, it will take time to get through your photos and into the organizing system that makes sense for you.  Yet with these dear memories, how wonderful would it be to have easy access to walk down memory lane or to find pictures to share with others?  And with the system in place if you decide later on to do something different – like make an album – the photos are already organized.  Any new pictures coming in can also be easily added to their place in the system.

3 Common Scheduling Recommendations

What comes to mind for what ‘schedule’ means to you?  There are times that I think of my calendar specifically – those appointments that are concrete and involve other people.  Other times it’s broader than just my calendar – where it’s all the various pieces on my agenda.  And let’s be honest, we all have an agenda – whether or not we write it down or make consistent progress.  When we struggle with our schedules it’s setting us up for crazy-making – we feel guilty, lazy, and head towards being overwhelmed.  And no matter what any expert might claim, what will help you is something for you to discover, so let’s consider some approaches that you can experiment with to find out what will help you.


Put Tasks Into Your Calendar-

Most time management experts say that we need to put tasks into our calendar – you choose a block of time and add it directly, making it into a concrete appointment, with you.  If you’ve never tried doing this, I would suggest you test it out and see if it helps you.  This seems to be one of the most popular and common recommendations – sometimes even part of the foundation of time management approaches.  It’s also a prime example of something that works for some people and falls flat with others.  Although I play with this from time to time, it’s something that fails to benefit me.  Maybe my inner child rebels against that much structure or I’m aware of how negotiable those tasks really are – yet more often than not, any tasks in my calendar end up getting done in other time slot or avoided.  The one exception can be errands – where I choose the errands based on time and location, so it’s really the most convenient to do it then.

Identify Your Roles-

This is another popular piece of the foundation for managing your time – identify your values and the life roles you fill.  Another way to think about these is what are your big picture goals for your life – those important things that you want to spend time on.  I’ll even go a step further and tell you to make sure one of those things on your list needs to be: personal/self-care or some other name that means you’re making yourself a priority in order to have the energy for the other things.  If we identify “relationships/family/friendship” as a role we value, we can then make room in our schedule for attending to that.  I talk about this in Tasks – Big Picture View, and share my own list of 5 roles. The list of your roles will work more effectively if it’s short (again time is limited) and then you make effort to include fulfilling aspects of it in your schedule.  You can use these roles in other experiments – both to help you include them in your schedule and to see if you are living your values the way you’d like to be.

Include Time Estimates with Each Task-

Many experts talk about writing the amount of time you think a task will take right after the item – regardless of what the task is or how time consuming.  As I talked about in Take Control of Your Schedule, we all only have so much time to work with and it only helps us if we can avoid over-scheduling ourselves.  I’ve talked before about how our perceptions of time can be distorted – in either direction – so writing down your estimate about how long each task will take you helps you to be mindful about what you’re trying to accomplish and whether it’s a task for another day or time.  Also by having the time estimate there, you might realize how you need to adjust the allotted time for certain tasks, more or less time – helping you control your schedule in the future.  Although I do not write time estimates each week on my to-do list, I use this as needed – whether to remind myself that this or that task will take more time or to clearly show that just because most tasks are “small” the time still adds up.  I’ve also noticed that when I am feeling overwhelmed that including the time estimates on my to-do list helps lessen my anxiety and stress, which translates to making the most of my time in smart ways.  Of course, if you use a digital calendar and put your tasks directly into your calendar, you are blocking the time – the estimate of the time that task will take you.  Even if you don’t physically record your tasks, you can consider the time required when you’re thinking about what’s on your agenda.


These 3 approaches to handling your schedule more effectively are probably the most well known, although I’ve got several more on my list of options for scheduling experiments for another time.  None of these are the end-all be-all that will solve any schedule challenges.  They can all be used together or not – although knowing these approaches, even if you don’t actively use any of them, can be important as you work with your schedule.  If you haven’t tried any of these, test them out for yourself and your life.  Do they add any benefit for your schedule?  Is there a particular time or context that they could help you?  Remember, it’s all about finding ways to help make your life easier.

Review: Ampad Shot Note

4 out of 5 stars

Ampad ShotNote

Ampad ShotNote


  • take written notes and turn them into digital notes
  • share notes with other people and programs
  • easy to use
  • pads of paper come in various sizes as well as blank,  wide ruled, and dot graph
  • iPhone app is free
  • ability to make a multi-page note


  • focus was quite variable
  • requires purchased paper to use
  • no control with sending to Dropbox


When I decide to write a review, I approach the product with as much of a blank slate as possible – keeping my mind open to see the benefits and drawbacks.  Except with this one – the Ampad Shot Note (paper and iPhone app), I discovered I had high expectations.  I’d been imagining how I could use it – even modifying it to suit other ideas.  And I immediately began trying it out in these other ways – before exploring it in the way it was designed.  As soon as I realized this, I took a step back and began testing it out exactly as they intended.  Similar to my trying to use it with the variations, my experiences shifted and changed throughout my using it.

As with many of the products I review, it came from the NAPO conference where they shared some of the paper and gave us a demo on how it works.  The paper has special symbols on the four corners, which the app uses.  You take notes, sketch, doodle, or whatever on this paper and then use the app to take a picture of it.  These images are limited to the paper – it uses those corner codes to eliminate anything else – so you won’t get distracting background.  It also keeps the image straight.  It’s easy to make your notes more than 1 page when needed, even when it’s an afterthought.  After taking the pictures of your notes, the next step is to put in a title and if you want, a description and tags, which will help you find your digital notes later.  That’s the process.  If you want to share it, you have the option for different methods: camera roll, email, Evernote, Dropbox, and Twitter.

Once I slowed down, I wrote out things on their paper to use with the app.  Although I wasn’t in the brightest of places, I could not get the app to capture an image of my notes that was crisp and clear.  I need to add the caveat that I often have a tremble that can make taking focused pictures challenging.

Test 1 First test of the Shot Note

First test of the Shot Note

I continued to experiment – testing out the same notes outside on a bright day in the shade and then out in the sun.  It was surprising how blue the notes were in the shade.

Test 2 outside shade

Test 2 of Shot Note
-outside shade

The best has been the note that was taken outside in full sun.

Test 3 outside full sun

Test 3 of Shot Note
– outside full sun

During this process it occurred to me that some of what this product is offering might be available from simply using the camera within the phone.  Therefore, I tried using the iPhone camera to see how the images compared.  Inside, the iPhone performed better and you have the option for flash with it.  With your iPhone (maybe other smart phones?) you also have the same options for sharing with email and Twitter.  It’s already on your camera roll.

Although neither of these pictures are truly good – the words are blurry – they show the (blown-up) differences between the Shot Note program and a general iPhone picture of the same note.  Both of these were taken with the first batch, inside.

Close-up of Shot Note

Zoomed in picture from Shot Note


Zoomed in image of same Shot Note with iPhone camera

Zoomed in image of same Shot Note with iPhone camera













As far as Evernote options – the Ampad Shot Note gives you the option for connecting the two programs, so all your captured notes with Shot Note will go into a specific Evernote folder.  That specific Evernote folder is assigned within settings, so this isn’t something you decide with each specific note.  Everyone who has an Evernote account also has a special Evernote email address where you can email anything directly into Evernote.  You can also choose to send emails into specific folders in Evernote on a case-by-case basis.  Evernote has handwriting recognition, so any note is then searchable – regardless of its original source.  Both Shot Note and camera images with writing had the same recognition within Evernote, as long as the images were clear – the blurry though still readable to me images did not come up with the search.

With Dropbox, Ampad Shot Note creates a folder in your Dropbox where everything you share with it goes – you cannot define where each note goes (other apps are giving you the option for choosing it’s exact places, i.e. within other folders).

From the moment I was introduced to this product, I asked about using it without having to buy the paper.  They explained that the 4 corner codes are critical since the program uses those in how it processes – the app has guides/boxes on screen that you center over the 4 corner codes – although they said otherwise, it should work.  I had what I thought was a great idea… to use those 4 corners with other papers.  I cut all 4 of them out and placed them on the 4 corners of another piece of paper and tried to use the app.  It tried to take the picture and I received an error message, although it did save the image where you can share it.  I then tried cutting off the top and bottom of the paper and placing the 2 strips on the top and bottom of another paper – the same thing happened.  Somehow the app is smart.  The program isn’t “complaining” when you place another piece of paper on top of the pad with the corners showing – and will treat that image just like it was your notes, sketches, or doodles.

The idea of this is wonderful – a way to unite the paper world with your digital realm.  This means that first you are already comfortable with the technology, that you appreciate the digital aspects available to you.  Second, it’s also designed for people who are largely limited to their phones (and computers) for their access – since you can more easily use an iPad for taking notes with your handwriting.  Then the question is whether you have a need for the features of this product.  It’s not often I take handwritten notes that need to be with me or that I want to share with someone else – or rather if I do, I use my iPad for that.

Can you think of how this can benefit you and your life?

Get the Help You Need

Smilingly I would comment to people when they called that if there weren’t lots of people struggling on their own, my profession wouldn’t even exist.  This experience of feeling unable to handle things on their own elicits responses that vary widely – some people are nonchalant and comfortable while others are deeply ashamed and feel like they might be somehow broken.  And if you fall into this latter group – read on as I discuss how understandable it is to be embarrassed and why it’s completely normal to have someone help you.

Anyone can be nervous about the state of his or her home and spaces.  And I mean anyone – from the “hoarders” to those in an immaculate home, and everyone in-between.  The self-described “hoarders” are often quite embarrassed – though by labeling themselves as such, they’re putting themselves in with the extreme situations shown on TV.  Then there are plenty of people being labeled as “hoarders” by their families and don’t necessarily realize that having some (even a lot of) clutter doesn’t make you a “hoarder.”

Our loved ones can sometimes unintentionally make things more challenging (if we’re giving them the benefit of the doubt, and I like to give everyone that).  There are people who seem to struggle to understand how anyone could get so behind, or not handle things more efficiently.  As I’ve interacted with some people like this, it seems that they cannot conceptualize anything beyond how they “just do what needs to be done” so why can’t everyone else do that?  Others are frustrated and hurt at how things have fallen apart and their emotions interfere with being helpful about getting things back on track.  And that can lead to becoming hopeless about things ever improving – for everyone involved.  These messages – whatever they might be – can then add to the embarrassment of both the situation as well as needing help at all.

I desperately wish there was a way I could shift everyone’s thinking to understand that we all need help.  It doesn’t make us a failure nor does it mean that we are broken in any way.  Although it is contrary to many people’s conceptions of a professional organizer, professional organizers will call in other professional organizer’s to help them with their own spaces.  Why would they need someone to come in?

It’s easier to do things when you’re not alone.  I cannot claim to know why this is so – yet many, many people talk to me about this.  I feel this same way, and have asked friends over to simply keep me company while I work on something.  We are social animals after all.  Things seem less onerous and there is someone to bounce ideas off of.  It can be amazing that simply having another person present can reduce how overwhelming things feel.  Maybe it’s an implicit accountability – “I’ve invited them over to talk to me while I do x, I better do x.”  When someone is right there with you, you’ve got a place to turn for support if you need it.

Some people are more likely to view things from “new eyes” when there’s someone with them.  I’ve noticed that myself – when we had a small party, I suddenly saw all the cobwebs on the ceiling that I’d missed and how this and that spot felt a little cluttered.  It’s like I was viewing my home from each guest’s eyes – at least possibly.  And when you bring in a professional, they can go a step further than simply another set of eyes – they can recognize how things could be improved (though most of us aren’t going in looking for that randomly – just when someone hires us!).

It saddens me that any of us would be ashamed of needing help.  If we think about it, there are lots of things we all need help with and have no embarrassment about – so why is there a double standard about needing help with some things (even within ourselves) that brings up shame?  Maybe those who are comfortable are those who recognize that getting help is the next logical step – it’s not a big deal.  Whatever you might be struggling with – I encourage you to lose the embarrassment or at least set it aside and find someone to help you through it.

Technology – Digital Pictures

Technology is here to benefit us.  At least it’s supposed to and we can do our best to not let it take over.  This can be challenging – as I’ve talked about many times before.  Recently it occurred to me that taking pictures with our phones, tablets, and digital cameras is a good example of technology here to support us.  It’s also an illustration of how when we’re not careful, we forget to only use it to our advantage.  It’s important for us to use this wonderful technology of digital pictures to supplement our memories.

Pictures can be one of those things we all have a lot of – and often it’s not as organized as we’d like.  As you’ve probably heard me say before, one of the factors of getting organized is the quantity you have to deal with – and with digital pictures that quantity can quickly become overwhelming.  And then when you consider you probably have both physical and digital pictures to organize – it can be paralyzing to consider organizing them – and the organization aspects are topics for other blogs.

This technology of being able to take pictures digitally has many benefits for us.  There is no cost for taking the pictures – we don’t need film, let alone rolls and rolls of it on hand, just in case.  We don’t actually have to spend money getting our pictures developed, although we might choose to have some printed up and those will be ones we know are good and worth the time, money, and effort of getting the physical copies.  We have the immediate visual feedback about whether an image was captured – did someone blink at the exact wrong moment – and give us the chance to try again (and again and again).  Then there’s the possibility of catching each and every adorable expression of your grand-kids.

On the other hand, this same technology also makes it easy to take the pictures and avoid doing else with them.  It might even be a case that you might not really even look at them after taking them – the excitement of picking the developed film up to discover what was captured doesn’t apply with digital photographs.  And then the options for organizing them can be quite a bit more overwhelming and procrastination becomes easier – they’re saved and you can always do it later.  Just because these digital pictures don’t take up our physical spaces doesn’t mean they’re not consuming space and that space carry its own risks also beyond fire and water.

The most important thing is that there’s a difference between living the experiences and capturing it all to relive later.  When you have the camera (or photo capturing device) out taking pictures, you are only partially attending to what’s going on around you and missing the experience of being fully present.  Your memories are more likely to be of taking the pictures, not of the event itself.  This isn’t to say that taking pictures should be eliminated – rather that when we’re not careful it’s easy to get caught up in trying to capture the experience rather than relishing each experience and getting some pictures to highlight that.

As a client and I recently talked about, would you rather watch the beautiful sunset and savor it or try to capture the beauty of the sunset in a picture to remind yourself in the future?  This is definitely something I struggle with – oscillating between the extremes of regretting what I didn’t capture since I didn’t even pull out the camera to the other end of realizing that I’ve taken 350 pictures in the last 2 hours.

Let’s be honest – who wants to look at 500 pictures of your daughter’s birthday party or your vacation to the Everglades?  Will you even want to look at that many pictures in a year, 5 years, or 25 years?  And I’m a bit tongue in cheek since I’m probably one of those who would enjoy looking through that many pictures.  Yet, even though I do like looking through tons of pictures, I can also share that I avoid looking at pictures – physical as well as digital – since it will take time to look at them all.  This means that they’re not being appreciated and cannot remind you of your lovely experiences – it has ceased to benefit you.  Imagine what it would be like to have a manageable number of pictures that do their simple purpose of reminding you of this and that experience – is it difficult to picture that?

There’s a balance between being fully present in the moment and capturing some images for the joy of reminiscing in the future – and what that balance looks like for you is not likely to match what it looks like for me.  What matters is becoming aware of our tendencies – do you want to savor the moments more as they happen?  Taking pictures is technology – whether we’ve thought about it in that way or not – and just like in all other arenas, the goal and purpose is to support you and your values.  Don’t be lulled by the possibilities – make technology work for you.