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.

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? 😉


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!

Your Tasks have Needs

Endless to-do lists exist everywhere.  Even when you get caught up on your current tasks, more to-dos are bound to come your way.  There’s no escaping them, whether you write them down or keep them in your head.  Living our life, there is always more to do.  Finding a way to organize your to-do list can be just as individual as anything else – discovering how to make it work for you is most important.  Part of making things work for you is to make the most of your current state.

It’s not uncommon that some of us are most successful with completing certain types of tasks.  What do those tasks have in common?  What makes them easier to handle?  What’s similar between tasks you tend to avoid?  What leads you to feeling successful with your to-do list?  What’s the biggest challenge with your list?

Our current state can have a dramatic impact on how we move through or avoid our tasks.  Too often we wait until our feelings to lead us to our to-do list, “Now I feel ready to work on my list.”  Yet what happens when you are always too tired, too sick, too overwhelmed?

I challenge you to consider your tasks in a different way – match the tasks with what you are capable of right now.  Although there any number of ways to break tasks into categories, for this particular approach consider these two factors – the physical and mental requirements – for each task on your list.

It’s more likely that you get the physical tasks accomplished when you feel like you have enough energy to tackle it.  Yet, when you are struggling with consistent fatigue or pain issues, those active tasks might be put off.  This makes sense.  Although if you begin to consider your tasks according to how physical they are, you can also begin to figure out how to make the most of your energy when it’s available – you’ll know which tasks to make a priority.

Likewise when you have little to no energy, you probably have tasks that are less physically strenuous.  If you’ve identified which tasks those are, you can tackle those.  And be sure to consider if there are ways to make some tasks less physically demanding – like the drawer you can pull out completely and put it next to you on the couch.

The second category can be just as important as the physical requirements per task.  Our mental state and completing tasks has the potential to backfire – think about organizing something when you are practically brain-dead with exhaustion (which hopefully you wouldn’t do anyway).   There are tasks that we can complete almost automatically – you don’t need to be completely focused to get your dishes done.  Other tasks need more attention – we have to think and make decisions.

Both of these 2 categories are both really a spectrum – it’s generally not as simple as sedentary versus active – it’s a scale where you move between the two extremes.  I generally think of tasks as falling on one side or the other though – for simplicities sake.  I apply the same rules to the mental category too – complex versus simple (often thinking of them as intellectual vs. mindless).  Yet, even by putting tasks into these extremes brings awareness about what each task will need of my attention whether they easily fit into those extremes.  Then you also can alternate among the different categories to maintain or even increase your progress through your to-do list.

Therefore if you can match up the tasks on your list to your current state, mentally and physically, you can probably get a lot more crossed off your list.  By pairing up your tasks with your current abilities, you will also prevent the need for a long recovery – physically or emotionally – from accidentally overextending yourself.   Considering your to-do list with these factors in mind offers you the opportunity to make the most of your time and energy to get things accomplished in a sensible way.

Paper Pyramid

Are you trying to imagine a literal pyramid of paper?  Fortunately I am not talking literally – though it might be interesting to see one, though I’d imagine none of us would want to deal with it.  Nevertheless, papers are the most common struggle we all face – and it can feel like a pyramid.  And there can be a pyramid effect to papers, just like my recent discussion, The Pyramid Effect of Getting Organized.  Because papers are challenging, it warrants its own discussion – these small pieces need to be evaluated and have a decision made about each one – time and energy consuming.

First some questions:

  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?

When your answers to the first 3 questions aren’t all yeses, it’s time to consider using the idea of a pyramid to deal with your papers.  And if you answer no to all 3, then the pyramid will be the most efficient way to handle those papers.  This also reduces the chaos in the short term.  Warning – it might feel inefficient and time consuming – that’s because we’re looking at the bigger picture of getting your papers organized in order for you to maintain them and be able to find what you need when you need it, in the long run.

Think about the base of the pyramid – it’s wide and broad.  Figure out your broad categories of papers in your life – like financial, health, recipes, articles, personal/kids, memorabilia, photos, and etcetera.  There’s a caveat though – you don’t want to separate them into file size divisions.  It’s too soon in the process to be attempting this – you’ll get there.

One important category will be those papers that need action from you in the short-term.  You need to make sure to keep those available during the process, though once you’ve taken the necessary action you can add them to one of your other categories.

These categories are also meant to be small enough that when you’re ready to move onto the next step, you’ll be close to creating the files.  The categories are based on your life, your comfort, and the papers you are dealing with.  With one client, the bulk of papers we’re organizing are from her years as an art teacher and her own art supplies – so we created broad categories of images/pictures, technical art info, projects/ideas, blank papers, art history, recipes, articles, and health info.

Keep going through all the papers you can find, adding them to your broad categories – fewer than 10 categories total.  Ideally you will not move to the next step in the pyramid until you have gotten all your papers into these groupings – whether they stay in the same category or get moved later in the process.  It’s simplest to have all the papers you need to organize all together – in order that you can figure out what and how much you are dealing with.  Therefore don’t forget the papers that are already in your filing system, as these will need to be considered in the next step.

Now you’ve gotten all your papers into their broad categories, you pick one of your categories and begin to subdivide that.  This is when you can start to think about your specific files, though I’d wait until you’ve sorted everything in that category before doing any actual labeling or filing.  As you’re making the piles of papers, you can begin to visually see how small or big they are – giving you a chance to consider whether another division would make sense in order that a file doesn’t become unmanageable.

Once you’ve sorted one category, you can label, put into files (and hanging folders), and into the filing cabinet – if that’s your system.  This can also be the time to consider other approaches since using a filing cabinet is only one option for having a system for your papers.  Being at this stage means that you will know what your needs are for your papers – at least for this category – and what options are even possible.

After doing this with each category you’ve created, not only will the paper pyramid be gone – it will be organized.  By following this process you’ll have created a system that has been tailored to your own needs and will be easy to use – at least when you get around to putting those darn papers away! Yet, with having gone through this process, when the time comes for adding more papers to your system – there will be room and no additional dread.  Hopefully now there’s less dismay when you’re ready to tackle the paper pyramid.

My Top Paid App Picks (plus one free app)

Continuing with the theme of technology and productivity, it’s time to talk about apps that might be worth paying for.  Remember the most important aspect to any technology is what your personal needs are – how do you use or want to use your tools.  Using our technology tools, we all vary in what we need and how we use them.

The chances are that there are some free apps that could help you avoid spending money.  Yet even then there are times when it makes more sense to purchase something that will meet your needs.  As I’ve said more than once, I tend to be frugal and especially dislike spending money on something that may or may not meet my needs.  I have more than 100 apps, yet have spent money on only a few.  Apps tend to be significantly less expensive than your traditional computer programs, and I appreciate that.

So, moving on, these are the apps I purchased and why.

1. Todo ($4.99)

This is exactly what it sounds like – a to-do program.  In many ways it functions like many of the other to-do programs available.  It allows you to create projects and checklists as well as a simple to-do item.  You can create multiple categories – like home, work, personal, etc. as well as repeating tasks, start date, priority, alarms, etc.  It also offers you the option of setting tags and contexts – so you can sort by these and see all your tasks that fall under one of these – like all your phone calls or those tasks that require your spouse’s help.  One of the reasons I like it is that my past do items (yes, I do have past due to-do tasks!) are listed yet aren’t quite as annoying as with some other apps.  This program is my brain dump for all tasks, it’s where I collect all those tasks that I need to remember and accomplish.

To Do

One image from Todo app (this view from phone, not tablet)

2. Pages ($9.99)

It’s a word processing app, the equivalent of Word for Mac, and it does allow you to save your files as a Word file (DOC) as well as a PDF.  This is certainly an app that is useful only if you want and have a need for doing a fair amount of typing on your iPad.  Not everyone adjusts to the keyboard or even needs to do much typing; I have written more than one blog on my iPad using this app.  The iPad version is friendlier than the computer version of Pages.  It is very straight forward and easy to use – not much of a learning curve.


One image from Pages app

3. Notability ($1.99 “on sale 60% now”)

A month ago I said I’d only purchased 5 apps, this one was my 6th purchase as I was looking for another program that would allow easier note taking at the NAPO conference.  It offers you the option of audio recording while you take notes, linking the place in the audio to your place in the notes.   You can use the keyboard or writing (finger or stylus) as well as import PDF files to take notes on.  You can export all of these out of the app if you want them elsewhere later.  Since I’ve only just begun using the app, I can only comment on my usage so far, and I really like it and it’s versatility.


One image from Notability app

4. iAnnotate ($9.99)

This is an app for taking notes and annotating PDF files (though they’re now offering Word and PowerPoint annotation with a free account).  It offers a number of options for how to mark-up the PDF’s and how to export them.  I’ve found it a little cumbersome for note taking during conference sessions, though some of that depends on the format of what I’m annotating. When there’s not such a time constraint as being in a session, I prefer this app for annotating for it’s cleanliness and versatility in how I save and export it. Recently I had a PDF I needed to scan and get back to someone, I opened it in iAnnotate, signed and dated it, and emailed it back to her – all within the app.  It was wonderful and saved the hassle (and needless paper) of printing it, signing in, scanning it, and attaching and emailing it back to them.


One image from iAnnotate app

5. Numbers ($9.99)

I use this one the least and primarily for a few business needs – it’s a spreadsheet app.  Like Pages above, it’s the Mac equivalent for Excel, and allows you to open and send files as XLS (Excel) files.  It has many features to offer the user the versatility to do what they need with their spreadsheet.  This is a good example of an app that some will need, while it would be unnecessary for many people.


One image from Numbers app

Last month I said that I’d share the 5 apps I paid for and that 4 of them are indispensable to me.  You might notice that there’s only 5 apps listed and one of them is quite new for me.  The ones I’ve found to be indispensable are ToDo, Pages, and iAnnotate.  There’s an app that I thought I’d paid for, and yet as I look at it now, it’s free!

That’s Penultimate.  This is a great handwriting app. You can create multiple notebooks and sync them with Evernote – an apparently new feature that I’ve not used.  This year I created a notebook for phone calls – a place to take notes on both the messages I collect from voicemail and while talking to someone.  They’re all in one place and there’s a way to view all the pages within a notebook, so when I need to find my notes on a specific phone call it’s easy to do.  It’s also the place I can quickly write something down, even with my finger (though it’s messier than with the stylus) and when I want to “throw” away the note, there’s an option to clear or delete the page.  You can also send a whole notebook or even just a page within a notebook with email.


One image from Penultimate app

One of the things I’m realizing is how this tool – the iPad with associated apps – are moving me naturally toward being more paperless.  This didn’t happen overnight – it’s actually taken me years of using it and adapting to using the technology.  Yet, with my growing comfort and considering things in different lights I’m realizing how to utilize the various features more fully.

Some people believe tablets will replace computers before long, there’s nothing I can think of that you can’t do on a tablet.  I still find my computer to be quite useful and in some ways easier to use – though we all know how fast technology changes.  Now I’m going to feel like a broken record – find and use the tools that will assist you in making your life easier.  🙂