Ready to Make a Change?

Yes? No? Maybe? Sometimes? I feel like a broken record as I reiterate that making any change can be hard.  We all know that it can be more than worth the effort too.  Some people are worn down by the “failures” of their prior efforts at change.  Others are worried about what those changes will bring with them – besides the positives they’re looking for.  And more are simply impatient for the changes to happen.  This is why I encourage you, first and foremost, is to allow yourself to be exactly where you are in the process.

Simply wanting things to be different doesn’t magically make them happen.  If only it were that simple.  Likewise, knowing there’s a process to making successful changes also doesn’t solve the struggles.  I’ve found that when I can remind myself that all of life – its up and downs – are part of the journey.  Although apparently misattributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, we’ve probably all heard the sentence,

“Life is a journey, not a destination.”

I apply this idea to making changes.  There are things you can learn along the way – those rocks that trip you up, the unexpected detour off your path, the storm that hides the trail you were following – all experiences, however difficult, can teach you things and help you down the road.  If you’re engaged in the process, wherever you’re currently at – your patience and resilience will see you through.

Again often this is easier said than done.  Regardless, please allow yourself to be exactly where you are – as I talked about in “Are You Ready?”  You cannot hurry yourself into being ready, let alone be cajoled into changing.  There are many factors that interfere with making changes and how you handle those can have a dramatic effect on your progress.

Recently I talked about “Listen to Understand” which was directed to our interactions with other people.  The same approach and skills applied to an inner dialogue can provide insight into what is getting in our way to making the progress we want.  Often this is when it becomes all the more challenging to remain nonjudgmental – to tell yourself that you’re just making excuses, or whining, or just stupid, lazy, or crazy, etc.  Don’t – seriously stop yourself.  Set backs are common, to be expected even – and we can take that opportunity to learn.

If you’re curious and questioning, you’re not making excuses – you’re searching, looking for what’s happening in your experience and how it impacts you.  And it’s not necessarily all about the negative impact – it’s about your perspective, all of it.  In our searching to understand, the solutions might elude us for a while.  We gain an insight here or there – move forward some and hit a roadblock.  “Rawr, I’m stuck (or back-sliding) again, why can’t I just do it right?”

We learn as we do.  The challenges we each face aren’t laid out with all their facets in black and white like an assembly manual.  We search and discover something a little deeper, hoping this will be the key to clear our path – which it likely will do for a little while.  Then it’s time to dig again – uncover more of our tendencies to reveal the next steps.

Our state of mind when we reach that stage of readiness to change can be so inspiring – even exhilarating.  The whole house needs organizing – I’ll do it all.  Yet think about what your reaction would be if someone who’s not been exercising said, “I’m going to work out 5 days a week for an hour each time.”  You’d probably cringe, worrying how they might hurt themselves, and maybe that they’re going to set themselves up for possible failure.  It can be hard to take things slowly.  To approach things methodically might feel counterintuitive to the energy and motivation.  “Oh at long last I’m finally ready and need to take advantage right now.”

Although I can guide you along the path to making changes – and caution you about some common pitfalls – this is your path.  Sometimes we need to have the experience for ourselves.  There’s nothing wrong about that – as long as you continue to move through the stages of making those lasting changes you’re searching for.  Try to keep the pessimism at bay, and encourage the curiosity – about yourself and what works for you.  The changes you want can be achieved – with some time, effort, and patience (remember, patience comes to those who wait for it!) – I believe in you. 🙂

Take Control of Your Schedule

Schedules provide the framework for our days, weeks, and months.  These schedules outline our obligations and then around these other appointments, we see the time remaining for accomplishing other things.  What the schedule looks like for each of us can vary dramatically – if we’re working, are the hours consistent or varied?  How many appointments do we have for this day/week/month?  Theoretically when we commit to other people to be somewhere and do something, we want to follow through – so all these obligations affect the time we have available for everything else.  And simply having a schedule does not magically mean your time is maximized.

First, I’d encourage you to recognize that you have a schedule – whether you’re working or not, whether you keep a record of it anywhere or not, whether you’re on summer break or not, etcetera – some people discount their having the schedule/framework based on their situation.  Do you know anyone whose schedule doesn’t have some appointments on it?  I can’t think of a single person.  Even the most relaxed retired people still have commitments and appointments.  Therefore, we all have that framework around which we manage other tasks and priorities.  Also, think about how you like to focus on your schedule – is it per day, per week, or per month?  It’s important to have a sense of what the upcoming days, weeks, and months bring, yet we tend to focus most on one of them – for me it’s weekly.

Second, consider whether your schedule reflects your priorities.  Some people thrive on having a schedule that is full of all their passions while others become overwhelmed to have “too many” things on their docket.  This is why it’s about exploring whether your priorities and schedule get along.  Are you saying “yes” to too many voluntary appointments?  Are you filling your schedule so full that there’s not enough time for quality time with family or personal rejuvenation?  Quite often there are appointments that aren’t negotiable – we need to work or other things.  Yet what else is making it onto your schedule – are you being conscious and deliberate about what you agree to?

Third, remember that time is limited.  On one level we all know this and you might think I’m silly to make a point about this.  Yet it’s all too easy to discount the time required for our appointments (and the potential for delays with them) and forget to consider the time for the “basics” of eating and bathing.  It’s not that these later items need a place on our schedules or to-do lists, rather when we look that the schedule of what we’re doing today, we might not factor these into it.  There are 168 hours each week and if we get 8 hours of sleep each night that brings the total down to 112 hours a week.  How many hours are accounted for within your schedule (including the drive time)?  The amount of time remaining is the starting point for what else you will have time for – as well as what you simply won’t have time for this week (or day or month).

Finally, get curious and experiment, experiment, and experiment some more.  If you find yourself dissatisfied with how your schedule and tasks are functioning for your life, consider approaching it differently.  Or even if you’re satisfied, there might be a way to improve things. There are so many opinions and options for managing your schedule and time – and this is an important place to begin in order to maximize your life.  I’ll talk about some ideas soon.  Remember our schedule is the framework for making space for our priorities – and it is up to each of us to define what that means and looks like for us as an individual.

I appreciate the structure that schedules provide – the clear guidelines of my commitments.  The framework of the schedule delineates what other tasks may or may not be possible. Our schedules need to be reflections of our high priorities – whether that is simply working to earn money – at least a reflection of some of our high priorities.  That doesn’t mean we don’t have other equally (or greater) high priorities.  Our schedules are the framework for navigating within as we identify and make time for our other things we value and need.  Honor thy schedule and use it to identify the time you have for everything else.

More Brief Overviews of Organizing Products

It’s a bit mind-boggling that it didn’t occur to me sooner to share these various products – whatever they might be.  My thinking had been narrow, yet as I shared last time – just because I’m not prepared to write an independent review doesn’t mean these aren’t worth sharing.  In this world where we can be overwhelmed with the choices available to us, there’s a line between being informed and being paralyzed by the options.

Without further ado let’s jump right into the products.

1. DoubleSeal Envelopes from Ampad – We’ve probably all known someone who moistens the envelope flap and then puts tape over the flap as well.  Heck, there are times when the moistened seal doesn’t seem to be adhering well and we need the tape to keep the contents contained.  Here’s a product that provides that tape right on the envelope itself – no running to retrieve the tape – and adds that extra level of security.  This isn’t a product for everyone, though if this is something that would make your life easier – know that it’s available.

Double Seal Envelopes

Double Seal Envelopes from Ampad

2. Packaways  – This was a new product for me from this year’s 2013 NAPO conference and I really wished they had a miniature sample to bring home with me and let everyone play with it.  These are reusable plastic storage boxes that come in translucent and 3 bright colors in all three styles they make: classic (3 sizes), under bed, and tote.  There are a number of features which make them unique: they collapse and reassemble repeatedly without anything else required – no tape, they have wipe away panels for labeling on 2 sides of the box, corrugated plastic construction protects from water and humidity, and all styles are designed to have the same footprint which makes stacking them easy.  This was certainly a product that surprised me this year – playing with pressing the opposing corners to make the bottom fold into place and then collapsing them – I was impressed with the apparent durability and ease.  There’s a good chance I will purchase at least one of these eventually and if it’s as good as it seems, I will share my impressions with you.

Packaways green classic plastic storage box

Packaways Classic Plastic Storage Box

3. OrganizedUp Heavyweight Vertical File Folders from Smead  – Here’s another organizing product that offers the vertical option, although it does have the option for using and labeling on both the vertical and horizontal to make it more versatile.  I’m happy to see that the vertical options are growing – that approach makes it easier to identify the specific papers you are looking for since the title will be at the top of the opening.  This style also makes organizing papers in backpacks and similarly designed bags easier.  These are water resistant, closed on two sides, and designed to hold up to 25 pages.  Each pack comes with 3 colors – either earth tones or bright tones.

Upright file folder from Smead

Vertical File Folder, heavyweight, from Smead

4. Pliio – This product is a clothing filer – yes, a way for you to file your clothes (it just might help me shift my reaction to the idea of “filing”).  The design makes it quick and easy to fold your clothes while keeping the shape uniform which then means it’s easier to find the clothes you are looking for.  How intriguing that by using these you could line your clothes upright; no more toppling stacks of clothes as well as not needing to dig to the bottom of the pile to get the item you want.  These help make the most of your storage space and when you are packing for a trip.  Even better they are now available at Bed, Bath & Beyond so you can see them for yourself in person.

Pliio fold, file, and find your clothes

Pliio – clothing filer

5. HomeZada – This is online and mobile software for organizing your home with a free version and a paid, premium version ($59.00 a year or $5.95 a month).  With the free version, Essentials, they offer: a home inventory where you can collect warranties, owner’s manuals, receipts, and pictures; property documents where you gather insurance and mortgage documents, plans, permits, and tax documents; contacts for your service providers and emergency contacts; and news & alerts which provide you with maintenance tips and seasonal checklists.  With the premium version you get everything that Essentials include as well as many benefits relating to home maintenance and a section for home improvements projects: templates, financial planning for the projects, and shopping comparisons, and finally the option to manage up to 3 homes, which could be great for landlords.

Screenshot from Home Zada and home maintenance

Screenshot from HomeZada and its home maintenance section

As with any and all products it’s important that we evaluate what could help us and avoid the temptation to get simple because it’s neat.  For me, the Pliio is the latter – it seems neat and could be fun, yet I already manage my clothes well, it wouldn’t help me simplify.  We also need to be mindful for the time and energy we have to put into things – when it comes to programs, it’s easy to become enamored of the idea that it could make things easier except that we’ll need to learn it and use it – sometimes this easier said than done.

I’ve tried to include a variety of products that are out there which were developed to help us get and/or stay organized.  These are not products I’ve used (and abused) to see how well the function – they are simply options that I know about.  Would any of these meet your needs?  Are there things that you need yet the products you know about don’t fill those needs?  What products are you interested in knowing more about?

Misplacing Things?

It happens to all of us – we forget where something is or can’t find that thing we need.  I’m currently even in the middle of one of those times – one of our magazines has a place, I’m sure of it – yet I cannot seem to locate where they are.  It bugs me!  And granted I can be a bit of a perfectionist; it’s more than that though, it’s unsettling to know you have something yet cannot get your hands on it.  Although on some level losing things is inevitable, it’s worthwhile to work at minimizing that.  Therefore let’s look at some of the causes of losing things as well as steps to take in order to limit how much we misplace.

  • We don’t put things away when we’re done with them.
    • Put things back into their home when you are done with them.  How’s that for an obvious solution?  Yet, the better we can get about this, the easier our lives can be.
    • This can happen for any number of reasons and sometimes it can even make sense at times.  There are steps for dealing with things we aren’t ready to put away so they won’t get misplaced in the process.  First, is there a place nearby the home that keeps the item more accessible?  For instance you have an item you pulled out of the bathroom medicine cabinet/drawer/cabinet and want to leave on the counter – it might be the reminder of seeing it or making it easier to access.  I have a counter of sorts for in process stuff – everything goes there, waiting to be used and then returned to its home.
    • Also, keep things moving toward their home – I know I don’t always want to run upstairs/downstairs to just put something away – yet I have containers for items that need to go in that direction, so the next time I’m moving that way, I take it along and take the few moments when I get there to put the things away.
    • Does something else need to change?  We had a chronic problem with scissors in our home – they kept disappearing.  When we talked about it, we realized that we really wanted more around – it was too inconvenient and not easy enough – and once we got a couple of more pairs, they each go back to their homes after they’ve been used.
  • We put like things in different places – whether that’s forgetting where we’d put that x thing before, or wanting those x things in multiple areas for ease of use, or changing our minds about where to keep x and not moving the earlier place into the new place.
    • Put x in only one place and do it every time.
    • Early on in getting things organized, focus only on choosing a place and putting the things in that place.  That’s the most important consideration initially and later you can think about other considerations.
    • Also, if you’re early in the organizing process, remember to think in broad categories first – so all “office” supplies get put in one place, or like I talked about recently with papers in Paper Pyramid, all papers to be filed in one place.  You can refine these once you’re further along, though those things will likely be close together at that later point too.
    • There can be times when having more than one place for x thing: cleaning supplies in each bathroom, items you want on each floor of your home, products that are currently open and being used like Ziploc bags, toilet paper, garbage bags, etc. are examples that might have two locations – those that are in use and those that you pull from when needed.  As with almost everything, it’s not completely an absolute – unless you can make it so.

Here I’ve only covered two of the reasons we can misplace things among the many possibilities that exist.  I’ll discuss more in the coming months.  And you will probably begin to see how much overlap there can be among the culprits that lead to our misplacing things.  With these two examples – we might not put things away when we’re done with them because that item could go in more than one place – so it’s easier to simply not put it “away.”  It can help to examine which is your primary struggle with misplacing things and then try different strategies to limit or even eliminate these tendencies.

Limiting Your Collection Places – Including Technologically

You’ve heard me say this before: “I love containers” – all of them: any shape, material, size, etc.  I absolutely drool over them.  And fight the temptation to bring them all home.  It can be a problem.  I’ve ended up with large boxes just filled with empty containers – waiting for the perfect thing to use them for.  You could say I have a tendency to “hoard” them.  They are always useful – at least they have the potential for it.  Yet, there’s the point – potential usefulness.  Just because something is or can be useful does not make it worth using or keeping.  Also, “useful” is subjective – is it actually useful for you and your life?  This applies to technological solutions – programs and apps – as well.

How are containers and programs/apps alike?

  • They are designed to hold things within them.
  • They are there in essence to benefit us – make our lives easier.
  • It can be too easy to go overboard – collect different options.
  • With too many being used it’s all too easy to lose track of where things are.
  • It can be easy to get the “container” before you’ve identified your specific need.
  • Neither are the end-all, be-all answer for your stuff.

Recently in my newsletter I mentioned my “hoarding” of quotes and how I have a great program that contains them well.  That didn’t stop me from drooling over programs that were designed for the organization of quotes.  My husband cautioned me to avoid them; one of the reasons is that some software can become irrelevant quickly.  Yet, there’s a more important reason to avoid collecting programs or apps – how much do you want to disperse the information you are saving?

Sure, there are programs designed for this exact type of information and getting it organized.  Then there’s this program for that type of information.  This can go on ad infinitum probably.  And it might be tempting.  Yet, then you have to keep track of where your specific information is as well as the data itself.  It’s easier when just a few programs can help you maintain and organize various types of information.

The program I use to organize my quotes, NoteShare, is also used extensively for recipes, craft projects, and other lists.  The features of the program fit my needs in more than one context, although I’m contemplating alternatives for my collection of quotes, i.e. EverNote.  With NoteShare, between the ease of adding images and the wonderful ability to expand and collapse entries keeps the various files manageable, the program is quite versatile.

Just as with the extensive options for types of containers, we are now overloaded with choices for containing our information – both with the devices as well as the software.  With all the capabilities of the various devices it can be tempting, as well as inexpensive, to collect software to handle each different types of information we need and want to keep.  One of the obvious challenges though is that many programs can overlap in their ability and function – and then where did you actually store the information?

We need to be thoughtful about what we truly need and make sure it will help us.  A container will become cumbersome when we have too much or too little to store within it – as well as any number of other factors that make them counterproductive to our lives.  In fact containerizing isn’t even the right answer sometimes.  The options for containing our digital stuff need to be equally deliberate about – what do you need?  How will it help you?  Sometimes that means using programs that are extremely versatile, while at other times you have specific needs – like a photographer using complex photo editing software that would exasperate the rest of us.

The solutions that will work for each of us will not always be obvious.  Similar to setting up organizing systems that we think will work well for us that fall flat; finding the right containers – if containers are even needed for this or that – might well be a process.  I liked EverNote when I started using it, yet didn’t appreciate how versatile it was.  It wasn’t a “container” that I used much while now I’m using it more and more.  Our solutions for containing our stuff – physical or digital – can evolve.  We just want to make sure that we remain mindful about our choices, which will help us from getting overwhelmed with our stuff (again).

Herding Papers into the Filing Cabinet

I have a vision of trying to herd cats – with them flying in all directions!  I’ve only met a few people who actually enjoy filing, and the rest of us try to manage it.  This can be especially challenging if you have put off handling your papers once you’ve finished the action they needed – as well as if your filing system is over-full from lack of purging.  When you are facing this situation you have a decision to make about what your first step will be – do you begin with thinning your filing system or by corralling all those loose papers?

First some questions: (familiar from my “Paper Pyramid”)

  1. Do you currently have a system for your papers?
  2. Is there room within your system for adding papers? (i.e. is your filing cabinet or whatever stuffed full or not)
  3. Are you happy (relatively speaking) with your current system?
  4. How many papers are waiting to be added to your system?

If you can answer yes to the first 3 questions, then your progress can move forward more easily – how much so will depend on your answer to the final question.  (If you answered no, check out the link above to Paper Pyramid.)

The most satisfying first step regardless of your answers is typically to get all those loose papers together.  Toss all those that you don’t need or want to keep – as long as it’s obvious quickly; otherwise wait to decide until you get farther along.  There will be more opportunity for purging in the process.

Just like if your answers from above were no, the foremost consideration as you look at each piece of paper is whether you will need this in the short-term or not.  Depending on the amount of papers, this might be all the distinction you need – 2 piles of papers: needs action and to file.  It’s critical that you keep all papers that need your attention separate and together through this process – until they can be tossed or moved into a pile for organizing/filing.

Hopefully if you answered yes, you’ve already made the decisions about how long to keep papers that are exempt from governmental guidelines.  If not, there’s still hope – you just need to think about and decide for yourself how far back you need to keep certain records.  There are many opinions out there about how long to keep your papers (besides property and tax related) – which I talk about some in Paper Retention.  Remember at this stage it’s fine to add all papers to their pile, the decisions can be delayed for the time being.

Depending on your answer to the last question, “How many papers are waiting to be added to your system?” the next probably step is to subdivide.  For instance, get all your financial papers together, all the instruction manuals, everything that can fit into a category – make sure the pile of papers is relatively small so that the filing process can move along smoothly.

Since you answered yes to the first three questions, consider another question:

  • When was the last time you purged papers from your files, even if they are not overflowing?

If you don’t know or it’s been more than a year – as much as you might not want to hear it, this is the ideal time to organize your files.  This is not about emptying the file drawer and surrounding yourself with piles of papers.

It is about taking the best opportunity to make sure only papers you need and want are taking up the valuable space in your system.  Therefore, you have a pile of financial papers ready and waiting to go into their file.  Pull out the file – completely out of the filing cabinet.  Look through it, this doesn’t need to take much time once you’ve decided how long you’re keeping each type of paper – and remove all those papers that are older or no longer relevant.  Then add the sorted papers you’ve gathered from around your house into their appropriate file.  Continue with each file.

One of the things I’ve done to streamline the purging of older papers is to place a single tabbed divider between each year in every file.  This means that at the beginning of the next year I pull out all papers in front of the first divider and shred them, and move the tabbed divider to the back of the file and add all current papers behind it.  This makes regular purging a simple process that requires virtually no thought.

Remember that one of the things that can break a filing system down is having too many papers in one file.  There’s a fine balance between too few and too many papers in one file.  And to state the obvious, if we don’t purge the papers from our files, they will overflow – or more likely we’ll stop doing the filing to avoid dealing with that cramped file.  Any way that you can make purging papers an easy part of the process will save you time, energy, and most importantly – your sanity throughout your life.  Your files will no longer threaten to explode and any resistance to getting those papers into the filing cabinet will come more from just the dislike of the filing process than actual problems.

Getting papers from around the house into the filing cabinet should not at all be like herding cats.  Ideally it’s not a chore, it’s something that can happen fairly easily.  Although I admit, filing remains a chore for me.  It’s still not like herding cats – I have an inbox designated for papers that need filing in a discrete place that also has limited room for growth – the paper corral.  If my papers have moved past any necessary action, they go directly to the “inbox,” and this is where they stay until I manage to get them into the filing system.  This means my papers are in one of three locations only: action needed, the “inbox,” or in the correct file.  It’s only the last step that I can still struggle with – yet it’s completely organized as it is.  It’s all about finding what works for you – so herd those papers into the filing cabinet and regain control of your space.

Review: NeatDesk Scanner

4.5 out of 5 stars

The Neat Company's Neat Desk Scanner

The Neat Company’s NeatDesk Scanner – desktop scanner I’ve used


  • Eliminate paper
  • OCR (character recognition)
  • Searchable files (due to OCR)
  • Ability to edit PDFs, including copying parts of it elsewhere
  • Scans can live within program or not depending on your needs
  • Multiple pages into 1 document
  • Color or black and white
  • Double-sided scanning option
  • Scans papers, receipts, and business cards
    • Can add business cards into your contact program
  • Create reports, including ones for taxes (from any or some of the receipts)
  • Versions for both PC and Mac
  • Desktop (NeatDesk) and portable (NeatReceipts) models


  • Limited ability to scan to other programs (i.e. Evernote)
  • Occasional image problems
  • Cost
  • Document primarily – less suited for photos
  • PC and Mac models are not interchangeable


Three yeas ago I talked about the temptation of “Creating a Digital Filing Cabinet with a Scanner” – and that all the tools around us have both pros and cons.  Getting and using a scanner in order to reduce paper is the answer for only some of us.  Just as I knew I would eventually, I picked up the NeatDesk scanner from The Neat Company.  It was a little more than a year ago now.  My husband and I both used it independently – scanning papers in so that we could then recycle the paper out of our space.

I can be a bit of a control freak (about my own stuff) – I want to be able to make the decisions and to control where and how things are organized.  NeatDesk allows me that freedom with one setting.  Not everyone wants to make decision after decision about each scanned item – and they provide for that as well, containing everything you scan to the program – if you choose.  I have less experience with this, although I know that you can export any files from the program to somewhere else when/if you need to.   They also offer the ability to export data into spreadsheets and create reports for various expenses, including for taxes (US and Canada).

One of the most important considerations for me was the ability to copy part of a PDF into another program – the time saved by not having to type up a section of the paper.  For instance, my mom sent me an article about the benefits of getting out into nature – I wanted to save the whole article, so I scanned it.  Then I wanted to share just a paragraph in the bottom part of my newsletter, and I was able to open the scanned article and copy and paste just the part I wanted to share into the newsletter.

The cost can be a large factor: the desktop NeatDesk scanner is about $400- and the portable NeatReceipts scanner is about $180- though they do have sales periodically.  Since cost is something to consider – wait to buy a scanner until you are prepared to use it.  Just like any new tool, it takes time to get familiar with it – the learning curve.  I found the NeatDesk to be fairly easy to learn and use; even remembering with gaps between using it.

The Neat Company's Neat Receipts scanner

The Neat Company’s NeatReceipts scanner – their mobile scanner

A regular challenge for me can be to obsess about using the new tools – the temptation to block out all other activities for doing it all.  In this case, I knew part of me would want to sit down and scan everything in sight! I also know that this isn’t the best way to handle things.  First, it leads to a strong possibility that I would scan things that were unnecessary.  Second, life doesn’t stop simply because I have a new system.  Third, like so much, it might never be done – I still get paper magazines with articles to save.  These points mean that incorporating scanning into my life would be more helpful.

Therefore I set up a file in my small desktop filing box called “To Scan” and as I came across papers that I’d want to scan I put them in the file.  Then about once a month I sit down and scan all the papers in that file – a focused time for only this purpose which also means I’m also saving time and energy from scanning one paper here and another there.  This also gives me time and space to be clear about the decisions I’m making about what I’m scanning and then how and where to organize the scanned papers.

The versatility of the settings makes it valuable as well – being able to scan both sides, multiple pages into one document, color or black and white means that we as the consumer have less work – the scanner can more easily benefit us.  As with any tool we use, one of the most important considerations is how it can assist us with our priorities and limit additional effort on our part – the NeatDesk scanner succeeds well in keeping things simplified.

In some ways The Neat Company products are designed for organization within their program.  The ability of where you can direct your scanned documents to go is more limited than I would like.  Since I continue to discover how helpful Evernote is, I’m a bit disappointed that I cannot scan directly into my Evernote account.  On the other hand, I use Dropbox a lot as well and NeatDesk scans my papers there quite easily.  Despite the Evernote limitation, I would not give up my NeatDesk scanner – the functionality of it meets my needs (and it’s not hard to add the documents to Evernote, it’s simply another step).

Some of the documents I scanned came out blurry, though it does seem to be a rare occurrence.  This year I scanned many of the tax related documents for my husband – when there was grayed or colored areas those were barely legible.  Except that when I repeated the scanning of them with a different setting, they scanned in beautifully.  This isn’t always the case – I have a black and white printout from a presentation with the PowerPoint slides and its appearance leaves something to be desired – though part of that could easily be that the printout itself is less than ideal.

Since I waited until I was ready to get the NeatDesk and have used it regularly for over a year I can share with you that it’s a tool that I truly value.  It offers me important options for getting papers into a digital format and makes it easy to do so.  Being mindful of my own tendencies, I knew going in that I would need to establish systems with it that would benefit me.  Just because I have found it to be a wonderful tool doesn’t mean you need to create a digital filing cabinet with your papers.  What are your needs?  What are you comfortable with?

The Neat Company's Paper Monster

The Neat Company’s Paper Monster
Isn’t it cute? 😉


Are You Ready?

“Ready for what” you might ask?  At any given time you could be prepared for various things – the need to adjust or even make abrupt changes – those things that life inevitably demands.  While there are times that any change, even minor adjustments, can be overwhelming.  This is part of life – whether we like or accept it.  A valuable skill to develop is to learn to recognize what we can and cannot handle – at least at certain points in time, since this too shifts with different variables.

Therefore for this moment – are you ready to work at getting organized? And it most definitely can be work.  When we let things slide or we never learned the skills to develop and maintain an organized environment, it takes time and effort to bring your spaces into order.  As FlyLady says, the state of your home didn’t happen overnight and it can’t be fixed overnight – whatever the actual state of things in your own spaces.

And to be blunt, just because you are frustrated and overwhelmed doesn’t automatically mean that you are “ready.”  And equally, it doesn’t mean that you’re not “ready.”  There are “Stages of Change” or “Stages of Readiness” people have identified that we all move through and among – along our individual paths.  These apply to any changes we want or need to make in our life – from getting organized to any other changes we want to implement.

  1. Pre-contemplation/ Initial Rumblings
  2. Contemplation/ Identifying Possibilities
  3. Preparation/ Reaching Out
  4. Action/ Beyond Talking
  5. Maintenance/ Life Jolts (increase in commitment)

–       first items are taken from “A ‘Stages of Change’ Approach to Helping Patients Change Behavior”; second items taken from ICD’s fact sheet, “Readiness for Change – Revised” (pdf link FS-010, second from the bottom of page)

Remember I also said we move among these stages – the idea of relapse – where we falter in making the progress we want, is moving to an earlier stage in the process.  It’s completely normal and simply means you’ve encountered some additional challenges and can move back toward the progress you want – when you are ready.

Being “ready” isn’t a solitary, concrete event.  It is moving through the process at your own pace, influenced by your life and experiences.   It’s all about you and where you are at within these stages.  Making changes is challenging – even when we desperately want to make them – hence that it is “work.”  Also it is rarely a straight line – making consistent, steady progress from the moment you begin to developing the skills in maintaining the change you’ve identified.  If you think about any change you have made and even those you set out to change – what was that process like for you?  Likely, it was challenging – it took time and effort – especially initially.  It quite probably required learning new skills, or how to apply other skills in new ways.

One of the best things you can do for yourself – as you embark on making changes, even with getting organized – is to give yourself permission to be exactly where you are in the process.  You will likely not be right where you are now as time passes – moving through the stages doesn’t necessarily require that you “work” those stages, they can happen naturally.  Lasting change comes from within – your own motivation or where you are within the process of making changes you’ve personally identified – and being patient with the process.

Wherever you are in the process, whatever changes you want to make – you can begin anytime.  Waiting until you are solidly in an “action” stage isn’t required.  Although you can also wait until you are ready for taking action.  There is no one right answer – it’s about you and what will work for you.  And it never hurts to find support as you embark on the process of making changes – whatever that support looks like.

These Stages of Change can provide you with a framework for how we all process. This outline also doesn’t address other complicating factors, which I’ll talk about soon.  It does illustrate what is typical for all of us – it’s not as simple as flipping a switch and presto things are fixed.  If only it were that easy.  Hopefully it will encourage you to be gentle with yourself as you strive to make changes – whether that’s getting organized or whatever other changes you want to make.  Truly it is simply part of the process – even when it’s annoying – it’s still “normal.”

What changes do you want to make?  Where are you in the process?  Are you taking action?

To-Do’s – Technology and Traditional

My adamant approach to all things we do – whether organizing, managing time, cleaning, or working on our goals – is to find our own, individual way.  There is no one right way to do anything.  Take what works from each approach and combine it into something that works for you, even using any of your own unique ideas no one’s ever mentioned.  And no matter how good or logical something sounds – follow your own needs.  Additionally change or adapt it when it makes sense.  When it comes to to-do lists, it can be completely personalized, where only you matter.

Recently I talked about my to-do program on my iPad – Appigo’s Todo. Yet, as much as I use it and wouldn’t give it up, it’s only part of how I handle my to-dos.  I do rely on it and is the place where I try to capture all the tasks I need to do – eventually. This is often called a “brain dump” where you get all your tasks – regardless of priority, relevance, timeline, limitations, and etcetera – out of your head.  It’s not important how you capture them outside your head as long as they’re saved somewhere besides your brain.  This is one of the important aspects my technology to-do list serves for me.

This complete collection of all your to-dos can be utterly overwhelming.  I’ll confess that quite often looking at my whole to-do list can paralyze me.  It’s not that I don’t recognize what needs to be done or that many items are for the future – it’s just that there’s so many – ugh.  A pro for a digital collection of your tasks is that it stays neat and never requires you to rewrite it since you can move, rearrange, and modify any and all tasks easily.  I’m pretty confident that I am saving significant time simply by not rewriting and reorganizing my lists!

For exactly this reason as well as some other reasons, I sit down once a week with this master to-do list, my calendar, and my ARC notebook.  I review most of the tasks on my list considering the time and energy I’ll likely have to dedicate to working on these items.  Then I date the page in my ARC notebook, “June 3-9, 2013” and proceed to list typically 7-14 tasks, the goals of what I want to accomplish during that week.  The process of writing them down serves me in a couple of way – it forces me to be mindful of how many tasks I’ve set out to do since I find that just a digital list can too easily grow unrealistically.  Also, writing them down seems to help my memory of them without the list in front of me – there’s research that supports the process of writing connects our brains with it more than just reading it.

A couple of notes:

–       generally I recommend not setting more than 3 goals/tasks per day as a common struggle is to overestimate how much we can do which can then lead us to feeling unsuccessful and more overwhelmed though of course varies according to your own life

–       some people find it helpful to add their tasks directly into their calendar which is great if it works (my inner child rebels against that vehemently! lol)

Even with this process, it doesn’t mean that I don’t look at my master to-do list during the week.  First, my master list has regular daily or weekly tasks that aren’t included on my weekly handwritten to-dos.  Second, as much as we might try to plan our weeks (or days) things can arise that require we adapt or change our focus.

This is when I find the digital to-do list additionally helpful.  Most (maybe all?) digital to-do programs come with multiple features for organizing your to-dos.  How you set those up and how you use them is quite personal.  I’ve designated areas or “roles” of my life (which I talked some about in, Tasks – Big Picture View): Routines (this is new for me), Business, Household, Health, Personal, Volunteering.  Ideally I spend some time each week in each of these areas and if I need to shift my goals for the week, I can consider if I want to focus on a particular area and use the program to only look at those tasks.  I have some tasks set with an alarm, which helps make sure they’re dealt with.

Another way the digital to-do list helps me is that I set up contexts (only 1 per task) and tags (no limit per task), both of which I can sort with and see only those tasks that relate to what I’ve specified.  There are times when I put off certain types of tasks and then find myself motivated to tackle them.  Let me give you an example – what I consider “technical” phone calls are disturbingly problematic, those phone calls where

  1. there’s a strong probability that it will either be phone tag and I’d ideally be around to limit the phone tag or
  2. require being on hold indefinitely

Chances are that only those types of phone calls are even on my master to-do list and by setting the context as “@Phone calls” I can pull all them up regardless of what category they fit into and burn through them when I have the time and feel up to it.  Similarly one way I use tags is for identifying types of tasks that match my current capabilities – my physical and mental state like I talked about in Your Tasks have Needs.

I’ve combined my to-do list into using both technology and more traditional methods.  Some might find my way to be slightly redundant.  Yet it’s my way, not anyone else’s – it’s been changed and modified over the years according to what does and doesn’t work as well as working through how to make it more successful.  I doubt I will ever be done tweaking it – like the written list that sometimes has a specific day written by the tasks and sometimes time estimates while most of the time it’s just the task.  It’s most important that you find ways that work for you – a system for handling your tasks that supports you in making progress through them – whatever that ends up looking like for you.

Listen to Understand

My husband was sharing how he overheard some coworkers talking – Dave was asking about the family situation of John.  Then Dave began to tell John just what he needed to do.  Meanwhile my husband knew a bit about John’s situation and saw how Dave wanted to give advice more than understand the choices John and his family had consciously made.

Families can be notorious for having the answers for each other.  The mom/dad/sibling who knows just what you need to do, and it would solve all your difficulties.  Except they really don’t. This doesn’t just happen in families, it happens with coworkers and friends, almost anywhere.  We all like to think we understand what the other person is dealing with and how to help them.

We share a common bond – we’re human and have similar life experiences.  We went to school.  We have a family.  We’ve felt unwell.  We’ve loved; we’ve lost.  We want to connect.  Yet with all our shared, similar experiences, the way we think and feel about those things can be dramatically different for each of us.  Our perspective about these events is based on more than the actual event – it’s colored by our prior life experiences, our own personality, the effect of that experience, and the list can go on and on.

Some people think that as a professional organizer I will come on in and know just what to do to fix their struggles.  I could try to do that – although I won’t.  It wouldn’t be sustainable that way, since it doesn’t take into account the individual and their situation.  The cause of their struggles could be any number of things and without understanding that – how much of a true solution could there possibly be?  All those variations based on their life need to be considered.

That doesn’t mean that I won’t present lots of ideas and share stories.  I will even discourage someone from tackling things in a certain way.  Yet, each person is truly an individual so that means they need to learn and experience things their way.  How many of us touching a hot stove at some point in life, despite being told not to?  Sometimes we need to learn things for ourselves, through direct experience.

What I try to do most is to listen.  Then I ask questions to follow up on what they’ve shared.  I listen to the language they use – are there lots of “shoulds” in what they are choosing?  What are those “shoulds” about?  How did this or that experience effect them?  My answers are not their answers, just as my experience is not their experience – the perspective we take away can be strictly our own.

This was illustrated a while back for me as I was working with one of my clients.  I wish I remembered the specific details more, though she was sharing an experience with me.  She and I have several things in common – I can relate to many things in her experience, and I almost jumped in with a comment about “yeah, I know how you feel…” Then I caught myself (it does take practice to counter the familiar response of jumping in with both answers and relating) and instead asked her how that felt.  Her response was not what I’d expected – despite our similarities.  That is exactly what stuck with me – by listening and asking more, I heard her and learned more about her experience.

One of the greatest gifts we can offer people is to listen to them.  Really listen to them.  Get curious – about yourself and others – and ask follow-up questions.  How did you decide on that?  What influenced this choice?  Deep down what we all want is to be heard – hoping to be understood.  Everyone could be understood – their choices came from their life and experiences.  Practice listening – it’s harder than you might think!