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  • May 11, 2021 3:56 PM | Jeanne Fox Alston (Administrator)

    Penny Catterall

    Order Your Life

    May 11, 2021

    Multitasking is something a lot of us do without even realizing it. It has become a way of life in our crazy, non-stop world. According to the American Psychological Association, multitasking happens when someone tries to perform multiple tasks simultaneously, switching from one task to another, or performing two or more tasks in rapid succession. Multitasking reduces productivity.

    Dave Crenshaw, time management expert and author of The Myth of Multitasking: How “Doing It All” Gets Nothing Done, says “When someone tells me that they are good at multitasking, I know they’re inefficient. Saying that you’re a good multitasker is the same as saying that you’re good at using a less effective method to get things done.”

    He has a point. We are always trying to make the most of the time we have by doing several things at once, but multitasking, especially with complex tasks, has been actually proven to be counter-productive. If you’re the type of person who multitasks on a daily basis, now is the time to stop. Here’s why.

    The negative effects of multitasking

    If you search online for the negative  effects of multitasking, you’ll be swamped with articles showing how multitasking reduces productivity. To save you the trouble, I’ve listed the top three negative effects of multitasking and what science has to say about it.

    1.   Multitasking reduces productivity and increases stress

    Research shows that when we engage in task switching, our productivity decreases significantly. It can take up to 25 minutes for our brains to refocus after being interrupted from a state of flow. When you force your brain to constantly switch gears, you lose time and efficiency.

    These interruptions cause stress on the brain – a sort of mental overload. It’s also easier to make mistakes when you are in a state of stress, leading to poor work performance and anxiety. The world and the things we do to get by every day cause enough stress and anxiety. Why would we want to add more by multitasking?

    2.   Causes brain issues

    Multitasking is linked to causing several brain issues. This is because by switching from one task to another too quickly, our brain isn’t able to keep up. It is still focused on the first task and by the time it begins to focus on the new one, we have likely moved on to a third one.

    We believe we’re being productive by crossing off a lot of items on our daily to-do lists, . but productivity is not about how much you get done, it’s about working towards results. Busy is busy, it does not equal productivity. Multitasking won’t help you achieve productive results, because you’re not giving your brain the opportunity to focus on the task you need to accomplish.

    3.   Causes memory problems

    And our kids are learning from us. They see us trying to juggle several things at once, making them believe they can do the same. When we’re talking on our phones while doing something else, we’re not giving either thing our full attention. Kids see that behavior and mimic what they see. The Cleveland Clinic says teaching our kids to multitask is hindering their ability to work well. Multitasking makes it difficult for their still-developing brain to connect thoughts and it slows their ability to prioritize and make clear choices. [1] If you’ve been teaching your kids to multitask, stop now, and instead teach them how to stay focused on one task at a time.

    3.   Stunts creativity

    Decreased performance combined with increased stress, anxiety, and cognitive issues, add up to the third most negative effect of multitasking – a block in creativity. If you’re constantly jumping from one thing to another, how can your brain have the room to produce original work? You need to relax to get creative. That state of flow that you get when you focus on one thing is what brings about creativity, inspiration, and deep productive work.

    Tips to stay focused on one task

    Now that you know why multitasking is bad for your productivity, what can you do to fix it? If you’ve been a natural multitasker all your life, how do you change the way you work? Start here:

    • Pomodoro technique. If you have a lot on your to-do list, try this time management method. Spend 25 minutes on a task. When the timer goes off, take a 5-minute break. Then continue on with the previous task or start another one. That 5-minute break lets your brain reset itself so it can focus on the next task without needing to catch up. You can read more about this on my blog post here.
    • Turn off your notifications. How many times have you stopped working because you saw a new email, social media, or message notification? These little distractions are productivity’s biggest enemy. Turn off all your notifications when you need to focus on a task.
    • Find your best time of day. We all have a time of day where we feel most energized and ready to tackle anything. It can be first thing in the morning, mid-afternoon, or even at night. Try and notice when you feel most productive and dedicate that time slot to working on those really important tasks.
    • Create weekly milestones. Break large goals down into smaller, weekly tasks. Use some reverse engineering to figure out how long a certain project will take. Then work backward from its due date. Once you know how much time you have, create weekly goals or tasks. By the end of each week, you’ll be closer to a finished product.
    • Take breaks. That 5-minute break in the Pomodoro technique is super important. Your brain can only handle so much for so long. Give it a chance to breathe. Set a timer to go off every hour. When it does, get up, stretch, walk around, and step away from the computer. Five minutes is all you need for a little brain recharge.
    • Keep a notebook nearby. Jot down ideas as you do your work. Keeping a notebook handy is a great way to capture thoughts and other to-dos. This will help you keep track of what is next, without compromising the work of the task you’re currently working on.

    So, in a nutshell, don’t let yourself fall into the multitasking abyss. If you can focus on single tasking, it will ultimately help you better organize your thoughts and to-do lists, and ultimately achieve your goals. In my busy life, I have found Evernote to be a tremendously useful tool.  I offer consulting services to teach you how to use it and make it part of your daily routine. Find out more here. And be sure to check out last month’s post about The Best Time Management Tips to Boost Productivity, where I go into more depth about some of these tips.

    For more information, contact Penny Catterall

  • May 11, 2021 3:24 PM | Jeanne Fox Alston (Administrator)

    Jill Katz

    One to Zen Organizing

    May 11, 2021

    What is “Worried Well”?

    When I was a new Mom, I would call the doctor at least once a week with a new question. I would call so often that, 17 years later, I still know the pediatrician’s phone number by heart. Every once in a while, that call would culminate in a doctor’s visit. On one such visit, the doctor needed to leave for a minute and he left his clipboard behind. Of course I took a peek, wouldn’t you? And what did I see written in big letters on the report: “WW (Worried Well).”

    When I got home, I spoke with a doctor friend of mine and found out that worried well is actually a code doctors use for insurance when the patient, or parent, is worried but all is well. This code indicates that the patient is suffering from health anxiety with no underlying physical ailment. I asked my friend if too many “Worried Well”s would get me kicked out of the pediatric practice. She laughed and told me that pediatric offices understand that new parents need reassurance and that I was in the clear.

    Increase in Worried Well Population 

    Fast forward to today. I subscribe to different online media about clutter, productivity and mental health and, for the first time in years, I saw that term again, “Worried Well”,  in various articles. These articles divulged that COVID testing lines are becoming too long because they are full of “Worried Wells”. In other words, people are overly worried that they might have contracted COVID without any rational reason. These “Worried Wells'' are running to get tested because they need reassurance that they are OK. 

    These articles highlight how COVID has turned us all into a “Worried Well” population. The vast majority of us are on high anxiety alert. Our life has been upended and we are trying to find a sense of control and a return to stability during uncertain times.

    Worried Well: What To Do When Anxiety Messes

    With Your Productivity

    When we are anxious we have trouble focusing and making decisions. Our productivity suffers and we can’t seem to organize our mental and physical spaces. Yet we need to continue to eat, work, and take care of ourselves and family members. Here are some tips on what to do when you are having a COVID anxiety:

    Limit your news intake and use reliable media sources 

    I experienced 9-11 as a twenty something working in midtown Manhattan. I still remember watching TV with my husband from our Bronx apartment. The media coverage was nonstop and we watched for days. Finally, we realized that watching the news constantly was making us feel sick. So we turned it off. Today’s news presents even more challenges with social media, fake news, and partisan leaning reports. Limit your exposure to the media and try to search for unbiased reporting (I like The Flip Side).

    Seek support from loved ones

    Now is the time to lean on our loved ones and friends. COVID might limit some activities but we can still chat or zoom with a friend or ask them to lend support with shopping or errands.

    Put less on your plate

    On anxiety-ridden days, we have a lower capacity. Limit your to-do list to three things. Delegate tasks and get takeout or give your kids peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner. Settle for “good enough.”

    Self care

    I am sure you have heard the word “self care” about a million times since COVID hit. “Don’t forget about self care,” says everyone. That is because self care is really that important. Now that you are limiting your “To-do List” you can focus on getting enough sleep, eating nourishing food (nothing fancy, a simple salad or cut-up veggies or fruit will do), meditating and exercising.

    Trust your instinct 

    Don’t  forget that “Worried Well” rests upon the foundation of anxiety without any real physical systems. If you are having trouble managing your anxiety,  you should seek out a therapist or psychiatrist for help. If you are experiencing physical symptoms, see your doctor or a specialist. Get inspired to listen to your body by reading this woman’s story.

    Create a routine

    Unstructured days create anxiety for most people. And the pandemic has changed or destroyed our routines before March 2020. Building new routines are key to establishing a calm day. Create boundaries in your day for work, rest, mealtimes, socializing, exercising and other activities and hobbies. 

    In Conclusion

    I made it through my “new mom worries” and I am optimistic that we will soon be viewing our pandemic worries in the rearview mirror. But as a population of “worried wells” we need to manage our anxiety in order to sustain ourselves so we emerge from the pandemic health, whole, and stronger than ever.

    For more information, contact Jill Katz

  • May 11, 2021 3:04 PM | Jeanne Fox Alston (Administrator)

    Janet Schiesl

    Basic Organization

    May 11, 2021

    There are only 5 steps to super simple paper management.

    I know, paper can pile up faster than dirty dishes. All those bills, receipts, records, statements can easily stress you out. Getting clear of the paper chaos in your life will save you time, money, energy and some say your sanity.

    Follow these five simple steps to organize all your paper records.

    Step #1. Toss what you can.

    • After reconciling your monthly statements, you can toss any receipts for small purchases. You should keep receipts for large purchases for the life of the item.
    • At the beginning of each calendar year, you can let go of all those monthly statements. Once you receive your yearly statement for an account the monthly statements can go. These types of paperwork include paycheck stubs, monthly credit cards, and mortgage statements, utility bills and brokerage and mutual fund reports.

    Step # 2. Hang on to what you must.

    • For tax purposes, you should hang on to any paperwork that supports your tax return, for seven years. After that time period, you can toss any supporting documents. Some of your supporting paperwork may include, W-2s and 1099s, year-end credit card statements, receipts for all deductible business expenses, charitable donations, child-care expenses, retirement account contributions, out-of-pocket medical expenses, mortgage-interest, and property-tax payments. Want a paper retention guide? Look here for a downloadable Paper Retention Schedule from Jazmine.
    • After the seven-year tax period has lapsed, you only need to retain your actual tax return.
    • You should keep receipts for major purchases and home improvements until you no longer own these items or you sell your home (and file taxes dealing with the sale).  It is also important to keep the confirmation slips that show beneficiary designations and the purchase price of stocks, funds, and other investments.

    Step #3. Give your papers a home.

    • You don’t need fancy office furniture to get a handle on your paper piles. Designate a corner of a room or space in a closet to store your vital documents, so you will know where to find them when needed. You’ll need a filing cabinet or file boxes and file folders to complete your project.
    • You’ll want to keep vital records such as birth and marriage certificates, insurance policies, deeds, and other permanent records in a fire-proof safe. Make sure that your heirs can access the safe if needed.

    Step #4. Be systematic.

    • You need a plan for processing all this paper. Have space where the paperwork that you need to act on will live until you are finished with it. But, once finished, the key to keeping up your system will be to file or toss each piece of paper. Don’t pile, act!
    • A simple file system will work for most people. Have a folder for tax-related materials, credit card statements, financial statements, utility bills, etc. Taking the time to set up a filing system will save you time in the long run.

    Step #5. Tackle the backlog.

    • Once you have a system in place, you’ll need to deal with your accumulation. This can be done slowly, so you don’t get overwhelmed. Sort through and make decisions on an inch or two of a pile each day and the backlog will slowly disappear.
    • Soon you’ll find that your system is saving you time, money, and frustration. You’ll love the peace of mind that you have created for yourself.
    For more information, contact Janet Schiesl

  • April 05, 2021 1:36 PM | Jeanne Fox Alston (Administrator)

    Penny Catterall

    Order Your Life

    April 5, 2021

    Time management is the ultimate tool for productivity. But how often have you told someone you can’t do something because you’re “too busy?” How many times have you heard that from people you know?

    Don't confuse being busy

    with being productive

    Busy is the new "I'm fine," response when people ask each other how they are.  There's nothing wrong with being busy. But too many people confuse being busy with being productive. The truth is they're not the same. 

    Productivity can mean different things to different people. Debbie Rosement from Simply Placed says it's "getting the desired results in the most effective and efficient way possible." But you can't be productive without one key element. Time management.

    Here are a few of the benefits

    of time management:

    • Increased productivity.
    • Less stress and anxiety.
    • Greater focus.
    • Better work/life balance.
    • More time and freedom.

    Time Management 101

    Improving your time management doesn’t have to be difficult. It all comes down to figuring out a system that works for you. The basics of time management are the same. Julie Morgenstern, author of Time Management from the Inside Out, has an accomplished system you can read about here. But here are the top five steps to get you started on your time management journey.

    1) List Your To-Dos

    First, sit down and write everything you need to do. And I mean everything. Don't skip even the smallest task. This is what David Allen of Getting Things Done calls a mind sweep. Try and use action verbs to get more specific. Words like "call, email, review and pay" are some examples. You don't want to look through your list and wonder what you meant by writing "office policy." Writing "review office policy" is more to the point.

    2) Define Your Goals

    Once your list is complete, it's time to define your goals. What do you really want to accomplish? Circle anything on your list that you've put off over and over. Circle anything that really needs to get done. If you find you're circling everything listed, take a step back. Go back to the list once you've really narrowed down your major goals.

    3) Prioritze

    Look at your circled tasks. On another sheet of paper, create four columns. Label each one Year, Month, Week, Day. Which of your circled tasks can be completed in a day? Add them to the Day column. What tasks might take a week or more to complete? Do you see the pattern? Do this for every circled task until your done.

    4) Plan

    If you don't have your planner with you, now's the time to get it. You can also download a time management app like ToDoist or Microsoft To Do for this part.  Look through the next twelve months. Look at your four columns. Start planning when you want certain tasks done. Mark it in your planner. Do this until all the tasks from your four columns have a due date.

    5) Flexibility

    This steps isn't so much something to do, but it's something to be aware of. Plans change. Life happens. Things can come up without warning. You must be flexible. If something happens that gets in the way of completing a task, don't think that you've failed. Simply reschedule it. Understand things are going to happen. But also understand that tasks can be rescheduled.

    Overwhelmed? Don’t panic just yet. In fact, be proud. You completed the first — and most daunting — task of all. You planned. That is the first step towards using time management to be productive.



    • Now you need a plan to work on your plan. That’s where strategies and techniques come into play. Time management is nothing but a tool. And sometimes a tool needs a tool. Here are some ways to stay on top of your time management:

      Set Deadlines 

      You’ve already done this by planning out your tasks. But now it’s time to set more strict deadlines. For example, if you have a work proposal due on Friday, set a deadline to have a draft finished by Tuesday. This gives you two days to edit what you put together.

      Another trick is setting a time limit. People perform better when there’s a time frame because they have no choice but to focus. Remember when you took the SATs and you had 40 minutes per section? You were never more focused than in those 40 minutes. If you have a lot to do on a certain day, work on each task for 25 to 30 minutes each. Deadlines are a vital productivity tool. They’re a motivation booster and done right you’ll find yourself checking off a lot of tasks in no time.

      Chunk Similar Tasks Together 

      Are there any tasks on your list you can do together to achieve greater efficiency? For example, if you’re doing laundry anyway and you’ve been meaning to reorganize your supplies, now’s the time to do it. Note products you’re low on so your grocery list stays up to date as well.

      The same goes for when you’re running errands. If you have dry cleaning to drop off and your pharmacy is down the road, stop at both places to knock out two tasks at once. Try to get all your calls done at the same time, as well as answer emails at specific times of day, rather than answering them as they come up.

      Reward Yourself 

      We all love praise. Work performance naturally increases when your hard work is acknowledged. Incorporate this method not just for work, but for home as well. Treat yourself with little rewards when you accomplish something.

      Finished meal prepping early? Take ten minutes to scroll through social media. Cleared out your inbox with minutes to spare? Step outside and inhale the fresh air. Rewarding yourself — no matter how big or small — will show you how productive you can be.

      Use Helpful Apps

      I mentioned Todoist and Microsoft To Do earlier. These are both great apps to help you track your tasks, projects, and goals. They sync to all of your devices and offer web extensions or desktop apps which make it really easy to get your To Dos out of your head and into a trusted system. There are dozens of other time management apps out there – what you use really depends on what works best for you. I suggest trying a few free ones out before committing.

      You can also use an app I love called FocusBooster which helps you power through blocks of time with greater focus using the Pomodoro Technique. You can read more about how this highly effective time management technique works here.

      Most importantly, if you use a digital calendar like iCal or Google Calendar, use it to time block your days. You can also set reminders, sync with all your other devices, color-code tasks and more.

      Anyone can be productive with the right time management skills. Remember, it’s about being productive, not busy. Time management is a tool to get you there. When you nail down a system that works for you, you’ll reap the benefits before you know it.

      For more information, contact Penny Catterall at

  • April 05, 2021 12:55 PM | Jeanne Fox Alston (Administrator)

    Jill Katz

    One to Zen Organizing

    April 5, 2021

    Do you consider yourself an organized person but all of a sudden feel disorganized and out of control? You are probably experiencing a life transition. 

    I experienced a major life transition in my late 20’s. Within the span of 2 years, I moved from New York to Maryland, and changed my lifestyle from a business-travelling marketing executive to a stay-at-home mom. My days centered around diaper changes, naps and feeding instead of business meetings, market analysis and networking. After a while, I adjusted to and even embraced my new role as Mom. I joined the PTO (formerly known as the PTA), volunteered, and met other moms through playdates and park outings.  However, for years I held on to all the brochures and marketing materials from my old job as I mourned my former identity. It took 10 years before I was finally ready to let go of the remnants of my old life and embrace my new one.


    Life transitions are life-changing events. Some examples of common life transitions are having a new baby, moving, taking a new job, retiring, or experiencing the death of a loved one. A life transition can often involve a combination of many smaller changes. We are all experiencing a life transition now due to the pandemic. Here are some important facts about life transitions:

    • We all experience life transitions 

    • They can be caused by both positive or negative events

    • They often upend all habits and routines

    • They cause a temporary increase in anxiety

    • They cause us to rethink our former selves and our identity

    In Bruce Feiler’s book “Life is in the Transitions: Mastering Change at Any Age”, he calls major life transitions “life quakes.” Life quakes are often involuntary, but the choices we make to rise above them and to move into the next phase of our lives are the real life transitions. 

    Feiler identifies 3 stages in a life transition: “the long goodbye,” in which you mourn your pre-transition self; “the messy middle,” in which you transform your habits and routines; and “the new beginning,” in which you emerge from the transition with your new identity.


    Many of my clients reach out to me during a life transition such as a move or the death or a loved one. Here are some things that I have learned from these clients:

    Face the “Long Goodbye”

    Bruce Feiler characterizes the first stage of a life transition as the “Long Goodbye,” and grieving that change is an important part of a successful transition. Grief is a slow process. It takes time and there is no way to speed up this stage. Listening to clients who are grieving a person or a former way of life is an important part of the organizing process. When encountering objects or spaces that stem from a life transition, I give the client space to describe any feelings or emotions that come up. This is an imperative step the client needs to take before moving forward with reorganizing his or her mental and physical clutter.

    Take Advantage of the “Clean Slate”

    A life transition is the perfect time to start a new habit. For example, were you frustrated by the mounds of unopened mail piling up in your entryway? A new move is the perfect time to set up the habit of opening your mail the same day it arrives. Or perhaps you found yourself eating unhealthy lunches? Well, you can establish new routines in your new job that will support a healthier meal plan such as frequenting the salad bar down the street or bringing meals from home. When a client is in transition, I often help that person set up new systems and routines that help them take advantage of their new situation.

    Go At Your Own Pace 

    People need to move at their own pace when navigating life transitions. For example, one empty nester might transform their child’s room into an exercise room the day after the child moves out. Another person might need to mourn this life change by leaving their child’s room untouched for a year or two. When working with a grieving client, I am careful not to push the client to make any rash decisions. I might help the client create a pile of “maybe” items and put a date on them. When that date arrives, we revisit the items to see if my client is ready to “let them go.” 

    Use Rituals to Embrace Change

    Rituals help us make sense of life transitions. For example, when a family welcomes a new child, they might schedule a photo session so they will have pictures with their latest addition. In contrast, after a divorce or difficult breakup, a person might purge their space of photos with their former partner. When I am organizing with someone grappling with a life transition, we often utilize rituals. For example, I had a client leaving a 20-year career who had difficulty throwing out multiple items related to their old line of work. I suggested that they choose one or two commemorative items or awards from their old job to frame. After hanging up those items, my client found it much easier to toss all  the unnecessary papers, files and binders.


    Life transitions can leave us shell shocked, and it takes time to recover. However, the resulting struggle with disorganization is only temporary and we emerge wiser and more empathetic and resilient.

    For more information, contact Jill Katz at

  • April 05, 2021 12:39 PM | Jeanne Fox Alston (Administrator)

    Janet Schiesl

    Basic Organization

    April 5, 2021

    It’s Spring! If you are looking for an organizing project that will get you ready to enjoy the new season, this is a great time to clean out your closet.

    Come on, dig out all your winter weather clothing and move the short sleeves, skirts and sundresses to the front. It’s an easy project that will get you ready for the season.

    In the world of professional organizing, we call closets “Prime Real Estate”. This is where you should store everything you use regularly. Because it is such an important storage location you need to evaluate what you are keeping there more often and now is a good time to do it.

    Here are a few tips on how to start and complete the project in one Spring afternoon.

    Step 1 – Set the stage for success.

    You will need to make four categories for the decisions you will make about each item: Keep, Donate, Trash and I don’t know. Everything will end up in one of these categories.  To complete the project, I want you to be able to make a quick decision about each item. The keep items will end up back in your closet. The donated items will end up in bags to go to charity. The trash items will also end up in bags, so make sure you have clearly separated these two. The “I don’t know” category will help you not get bogged down with making decisions at the beginning of the project.

    Step 2 – Evaluate what you have.

    I know you don’t want to do it, but take everything out of your closet. I don’t want you to feel overwhelmed by starting this way, (it will get better quickly) but this is the best way to evaluate what you have. This is a great time to pull out the vacuum cleaner and dust cloth and clean those never-seen corners of your closet.

    As you pull everything out, you need to sort items into groups, like pants, shirts, skirts, dresses, suits, sweaters, shoes, etc. Now it’s time to evaluate what you have. Look at one type of item at a time. Ask yourself these questions: Do I love it? Have I worn it the last Spring? Does it fit me? Is it in style? Don’t take the time to try things on. It will really slow you down. You should work as quickly as possible making these decisions.

    The clothing that you answered “yes” to will go back into your closet. But not quite yet.  Just put them aside and keep making decisions until you have evaluated everything.

    If you answer “no” to any of the above questions about an item of clothing you need to let it leave your space as a donation or trash. How do you decide which it is? I tell my clients “If it is nice enough to give to a friend then donate it”. But if it is stained, ripped, faded, or ugly, let it go.

    What about those items that you hesitate on? This is where the “I don’t know” pile comes in. You’ve hesitated because these items may have more meaning to you. We’ll revisit this pile later.

    Step 3 – Time to organize your closet.

    Are you saying, “That is what I thought I was doing along?” Well, it is, but now is the time where you will see the benefit of all your hard work. Let’s start with the “keepers”. Hang or fold everything neatly. Keep each category together. Locate where each type of item will live and put it away. Do you like your shoes on the floor, on shoe racks, or in boxes on the shelf? How about sweaters? Since Spring is here, will you relocate your heavy winter sweaters to another area of your home or would you prefer an under-the-bed box? If you have space, by all means, store your sweaters on the closet shelf. If you really want to do a bang-up job you can sort further by separating pants into dress pants, casual pants, jeans and continue doing this with each category.

    Step 4 – The final decisions.

    Now let’s make some space. It’s time to take out the trash and donations, all the way out of your house. Put the trash bags at the curb and the donations bags in your car so you can drop them off right away.

    There is only one pile left. I want you to go back to your “I don’t know” pile and reevaluate each item again. Look to see how much space you have gained in your closet. If the “I don’t know” pile will crowd your closet and negate all the work you have done so far, you need to ask yourself if they are worth keeping.  At this point, you may need to try on some things. This is the hardest part for a lot of people, but keep your focus because this is the last step.

    Wow. You finished! Take a moment to stand at the door of your closet and look at the great job you did. You should be proud. Now you are ready to celebrate Spring with an organized wardrobe. Are you excited to get dressed tomorrow?

    For more information, contact  Janet at

  • March 10, 2021 12:22 PM | Jeanne Fox Alston (Administrator)

    Janet Schiesl

    Basic Organization

    March 10, 2021

    Your digital photos are the same as all your other digital files – they need to be organized to find what you want and know what you have.

    Not as easy as it sounds. In a recent post, I suggested that you create an unopened email folder within your email account and drag all your unread emails into this folder as a first step to getting your inbox to zero. Let’s consider doing the same with your digital photos. One of the reasons that people avoid organizing photos is that there are SO MANY! It can be overwhelming. So to start the clean-up process, make up a folder for ‘Uncategorized Photos’ and move all of your photos that you have not sorted into this folder. Instant organization! Yes, kind of. Maybe more like instant calming of chaos.

    Start with Folders

    Now, decide how you’d like to organize your digital photos. Maybe chronologically, by year and month (that’s how I do mine), or maybe by holiday/event or family member. Start making up folders for your system. Don’t feel obligated to start sorting your photos this minute. Baby steps work well with this kind of project. It’s the next step.

    So, here we go. Start sorting your photos. If you are going to organize by date, look up the creation date of each photo by right-clicking on the photo and clicking on properties. This will give you a creation date. Then move that photo into the correct folder. This sounds like it will take a lot of time, but once you get started it goes pretty fast since you will be able to group photos from the same occasion easily. And don’t think that you need to do ALL your photos at one time. This project is workable to complete in small increments.

    Here’s another tip from my colleague Seana Turner, of The Seana Method, on deleting photos.

    Or you could be like me. Just start today, by creating folders for the system you want to use and start dropping photos in a current folder starting today. Don’t worry about the older photos. They can live in your ‘Uncategorized Photos’ folder for now. I’ll tell you a secret. I started sorting my digital photos in 2011 and have not yet gone back and organized my older photos yet. For me, that’s organized enough.

    Remember to Back Up All of Your Work

    By the way, you could do the same exercise with a cluttered computer desktop. If you have tons of documents on your desktop, create an “old desktop documents” folder and slide everything in there!

    For more information, contact Janet Schiesl at

  • March 10, 2021 11:56 AM | Jeanne Fox Alston (Administrator)

    Jill Katz

    One to Zen Organizing

    March 10, 2021

    I grew up in New York City (a Queens girl, born and bred). The culture there taught me to always move. If you stop on the street in Manhattan (“The City”), you will most certainly be overrun by people who will yell at you. 

    Then I moved to a suburb in Maryland. Life did not move quite as fast but I still carried with me the idea of being a “mover and a shaker.” I continued to believe that being busy is the same as being productive. So if I was not active every moment then I was not using my time wisely.

    Yet as I got older, something in me shifted. I had children and one of them had ADHD. I got into yoga. I started working with adults who had ADHD, OCD, and other brain-based conditions associated withchronic disorganization. I learned to stop and breathe. Amidst all these life changes, I realized that in order to create consistent organization and productivity, we need to pause and reflect. We need to stop and consider events happening around us and how they affect us both physically and mentally. We need to question our choices to see what is working or not working. Finally, we need to use this data to plan and strategize new choices . And that is the power of “The Pause.”


    The Pause is beneficial to all but particularly vital to those with chronic disorganization. When my daughter was diagnosed with ADHD, I was told that I needed to help her with “executive functioning.” Naturally, I read up on this new term and discovered that my daughter is “neurodiverse” --- her brain thinks differently than the average non-ADHD brain. Her brain has trouble intuitively learning the cognitive processes required to plan, including the ability to organize and to manage time.(Executive Skills in Children and Adolescents, Third Edition: A Practical Guide to Assessment and Intervention By Peg Dawson, Ed.D, and Richard Guare, Ph.D)

    One important component of executive functioning is known as Metacognition: The ability to stand back and take a bird’s-eye view of oneself in a situation in order to develop critical thinking, decision making and problem solving skills. This part of executive functioning is difficult for the average person but is particularly challenging for someone with ADHD. When you have ADHD you are concerned with the “right now.” So once an event occurs the ADHD brain is rushing onto the next task (the new “right now”) with no regard for the past or future. Without stopping to reflect on events, the ADHD brain is not exercising metacognition and has trouble changing future outcomes. 

    Consider this: Theresa is an ADHD woman who has a 10am coffee date with a friend. She goes about her morning and then suddenly realizes that she is running late for her appointment. She hurries as fast as she can and makes it to the coffee shop 30 minutes late. Theresa’s friend is annoyed at having waited and is angry with Theresa. Theresa impatiently waits for her friend to finish her tirade, shrugs it off, and quickly moves on to the task of choosing a delicious cafe concoction. The next time she schedules an appointment, she is likely to be late again. 

    Now consider a different scenario. Theresa is, again, late for her coffee date. However, after she arrives, instead of shrugging off her tardiness, Theresa pauses and sits in the discomfort of knowing that her actions had a negative result. At the most basic level, Theresa realizes she feels bad and doesn't want a repeat performance of this feeling. Pausing to feel lousy results in metacognition. This self reflection will propel Theresa to strategize and try to change her behavior. Similarly, if she pauses when she feels good, she will be motivated to replicate that positive behavior. Of course, it might take Theresa many times and some experimentation to figure out how to improve, but "The Pause” is the first critical step in creating positive change.

    “Science tells us that by taking time to pause and pay attention to the thought or emotion, and then to name it, you diminish its emotional power over you. It gives you the ability to observe it rather than be consumed by it. Name it, and you tame it.”


    Those with Anxiety and OCD can also draw huge benefits by exercising “The Pause”. When a therapist works with a person with OCD or high anxiety, the therapist often recommends Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT. Here’s how it works. A person with OCD or anxiety experiences an event that triggers their anxiety. The person will immediately try to lower their anxiety by either avoiding the trigger or performing a series of compulsions. The premise of CBT is that although a person experiences an initial uptick of anxiety, if the person sits with the anxiety, it will reach its peak and then abate.

    For example, Daniel is a man with OCD who is nervous that something bad will happen to his house. When he leaves his house (the trigger), Daniel experiences a high level of anxiety. He normally performs a series of rituals -- tapping his feet 7 times and locking and unlocking the door 3 times --  in order to combat his anxiety. With CBT, Daniel still experiences an uptick of anxiety when he leaves his home. However, instead of turning to his compulsions, he pauses and rides out his anxiety, which will initially increase and then slowly decrease to a manageable level. With a therapist’s guidance, Daniel can learn to live with his OCD and anxiety. However, without “The Pause,” he will never learn to redirect his intrusive or anxious thoughts. 


    Pausing has transformed the way I organize for myself and others, and not only those with chronic disorganization.Sometimes I am working with a client and we need to stop for a minute as I consider the next step in our process. I used to worry that the client would think that I was wasting time. Now I recognize the value of taking that moment--doing so. That moment often yields some brilliant ideas (if I do say so myself!). Other times I pause because the client needs time to process something we have done togetherour session. He or she might be giving away an item that belonged to a loved one whothat died. Or perhaps my client is shedding an old identity and needs time to grieve that loss. Conversely, we both take a moment to celebrate a success such as clearing a table, saying goodbye to 5 bags of donations, or finding a lost $1500 check.


    In a society where busyness is praised, it can be scary to stop, reflect, and uncover what we need and feel. We must adjust our thinking and place a value in pausing. The rewards are huge:- a better understanding of ourselves so we can organize and strategize to get what we need. Our neurotypical or neurodiverse brains will thank us.

    For more information, contact Jill Katz at

  • February 18, 2021 10:10 AM | Jeanne Fox Alston (Administrator)

    Janet Schiesl

    Basic Organization

    February 18, 2021

    Leveraging email can be an effective and efficient way to communicate or it can be a nightmare of wasted time. Here are some ways to use it to your advantage.

    Keep your messages short.

    It will save you and your reader time and better communicate your message. Use this tip for long back-and-forth communication.

    If you don’t need a response, say so in your message.

    Again, this will save you and your reader time. I just like to end this type of email with “Thank you. No need to respond”.

    Ask yes-or-no questions and ask for a simple response.

    This will make it easier for your reader to process their emails more quickly. Maybe this will mean that you’ll get a response back sooner.

    If you are responding to questions in a long email, use a different color with your answers.

    Making your emails very visual is helpful to better communicate your message.

    Unsubscribe to mass mailings.

    You know. all those emails you never open. You can also re-subscribe later if you miss them. If you make any online purchases, you’ll get automatically subscribed to sites, so you’ll have to revisit this exercise occasionally.

    Schedule time to process your inbox and enforce a time limit on this task.

    I like to set a timer, so if I do “fall down the rabbit hole” I’ll be alerted that my time is up. Timers really help you focus!

    Do not open unexpected attachments. 

    They could be spam. Make it a rule that you don’t open any attachments from anyone you don’t know.

    Leveraging email can be an effective and efficient way to communicate or it can be a nightmare of wasted time. 

    A little frugality and focusing ways of leveraging email can create new-found time in your day.

    For more information, contact Janet Schiesl at janet@basicorganizationcom

  • February 18, 2021 9:28 AM | Jeanne Fox Alston (Administrator)

    Jill Katz

    One to Zen Organizing

    February 18, 2021

    Most people dread tackling paper clutter. But I love it! Not my own papers, of course. But I enjoy looking at YOUR papers and figuring out how to solve your paper puzzle. I get childishly excited when your eyes register a clarity about paper, and I have successfully communicated the “hows'' and “whys” of paper clutter. And I relish your sigh of relief when you realize you now have control over your piles. Mission accomplished!

    I like using the term “Paper Trail” to talk about the process of  tracking your papers and the path they take through your house. No, this process has no relation to tax audits (although serious clutter can lead to that) I am talking about how papers enter your house through the mail, your work bag, or your kids backpack. Pages are printed or notes and doodles are created at home. And then where do they go? What happens to them? 

    As an organizer, I walk into your home with my eagle eye and visually assess all the paper. I make a mental note of the types of paper in your house and then attack each category.

    Here is an organizer’s view, my view, of the “Paper Trail,” including the signs you have a problem and the potential solutions.


    Mail is the primary way paper enters the house. I often encounter three mail issues. Some households put off opening their mail. The second thing that trips people up is filing. People are unsure of which papers they need to keep, and so many documents that can be thrown out end up in a pile. Finally, I see many people puzzling over paper that requires follow-up. I like to call them “To Do” items. People don’t have time to deal with an item when opened, so that mail gets tossed in a pile and, ultimately, buried.

    The signs: Envelopes all over the place, piles of mail near the door, piles of mail on a kitchen or dining room table

    What I do:

    • First I will follow your mail paper trail to get to the root of the problem. Where do you receive your mail? Where do you open it? What do you do with it once opened? 

    • If receiving and opening your mail isn’t the problem then I will dig deeper. Do you have trouble identifying and recycling “junk mail”? Do you need to shred a huge pile of paper with personal information? Are you getting stuck with filing or “To Do”/follow-up items?

    • Once I identify the problem, we will establish a good mail routine. We will also choose an area for mail that needs to be filed or stored and will discuss how you make the decision to file something.

    • FInally, we will establish a system for mail that is a “To Do” and needs follow up. For example, putting a sticky note on a wedding invitation, and writing the next step (“Check Calendar”or “Purchase A Gift”). Finally, the system must also include scheduling time to carry out what the sticky note dictates. 


    Magazines and catalogs are fun! But people only have a limited amount of time to read them. If you receive more than 2 magazine subscriptions a month, consider unsubscribing to some of them. Otherwise, unread magazines pile up along with a sense of guilt. I can’t tell you how often I hear people exclaim “I really should catch up on my magazine reading.” The other issue: keeping magazines forever. Most houses don’t have the space to turn a room into a magazine library, so be prepared to throw out your magazines after a limited amount of time. 

    The signs: Piles of magazines in the bedroom, in various rooms on the floor, taking up space in a overloaded bookshelf

    What I do:

    • When I see many magazines lying around, I will ask you to list all your subscriptions including how often they are delivered.

    • I will add up the number of magazines you receive a year so you can understand the entire picture.

    • We will then come up with a plan for where to place the magazines in the month they are received (by the door, on a coffee table) and what you would like to do with the magazines after a month and/or once they are read.

    • Solutions might include reducing the number of subscriptions, storing important info from an article by tearing it out and filing it, inputting info in a digital file or binder, or even bookmarking an item on your computer.


    People are so different! I run into clients that want to file everything “just in case,” and I have other clients who would prefer to get rid of everything. The biggest issue with filing is that people are unsure what to file and so they throw items in a pile instead of filing or trashing them. 

    The Signs:

    • Multiple filing cabinets in one office or in different rooms of the house, overstuffed filing cabinets, papers waiting to be filed

    What I do:

    • First I will give you this list and we will discuss what items are important to file and which papers are unnecessary.

    • Then I will go through your filing cabinets and we will structure a filing system that makes sense for you. You should be storing only necessary documents, and they should be easy to find and access when needed.

    • We will also discuss whether some items should be scanned and stored on your computer, accessed through an account, or tracked on a spreadsheet in order to limit paper, with the understanding that each person has a different comfort level with digitizing.

    Sentimental items

    This could easily be its own blog post (or several). Sentimental items are tricky because they are connected with strong feelings and needs.

    The Signs:

    • Kids artwork, photos and cards taking up space around the house.

    What I do:

    • First, we will put “like with like” - All cards should be put in one box, all artwork together, all photos together

    • Then we will determine what to keep: I believe that: “If everything is special, then nothing is special.” You must differentiate which cards, photos, or artwork are worth keeping. This is difficult but we organizers have some tricks up our sleeves to make it easier for you.

    • Finally, we will determine what you would like to do with these items: You could store them or display them, for example, or take a picture of them and upload them to a digital photo frame.

    • Whatever path you take with each item, by the end of our time you will have a system in place for handling each future card, photo, or kid’s masterpiece .

    Information on paper (recipes, trip ideas, craft ideas, movie ideas)

    What do you do when you are on your computer and see a great tip, recipe or trip idea? For many people, the answer is to print out the webpage-- If you are in this group, you know who you are. You may also tear out pages from magazines, and keep the instructions and manuals that come with every product you buy. You will also keep information from old courses “in case you need it.”

    The Signs: Tons of printed papers, articles torn from magazines, information about products, many binders or files with different categories of information

    What I do:

    • First I establish what categories matter to you (ex. Recipes, Crafts, Professional Info, etc.)

    • Then we discuss your level of comfort with accessing data online versus in print

    • Together, we will reduce the amount of items that you print or earmark based on how important it is to you and how comfortable you feel going digital in that category

    • Finally, we will establish rules to help you decide what information is worth keeping and how you will store it (ex. binders, Evernote,, Pinterest, online spreadsheet).

    Kids Schoolwork

    Pre-COVID, kids would come home from school with many pieces of paper including school work, school announcements, forms and artwork. And unless you have a system for handling all this paper, it will end up in various paper piles.

    The Signs: Old notebooks, binder and folders filled with classwork stowed in closets or on shelves. A refrigerator that looks like a warzone with old artwork and tests with “100” marks remaining for months.

    What I do:

    • First I put “like with like”: old classwork in 1 bin, artwork in 2nd bin and “to do” items like signatures for a field trip in a third bin.

    • Then we discuss systems for each category moving forward. For example, every month your older child will review all his/her papers, toss those not needed and place other classwork in a large binder for future reference (midterms/finals). At the end of the year, he/she will need to go through every notebook and toss most of the work keeping a few beloved projects.

    • Now that we have a plan, we can declutter the bins in front of us according to his new system.


    Are you the type of person that has many ideas throughout the day? Or perhaps you write the details of a phone call on the closest scrap of paper, be it a notepad, napkin or post-it. If so, you might find your space scattered with pieces of information which is very overwhelming.

    The signs: Post-its all over the house, Multiple notepads with phone numbers and ideas scribbled on them, pieces of paper on every surface and in drawers with lists, names and phone numbers.

    What I do:

    • First I point out that you need one centralized place to take notes so you can find them

    • Then we strategize a note taking system where you can use one or 2 planners or large notepads so you can keep track of your daily notes

    • Finally, we discuss forming habits for transferring the information on those notes. For example, at the end of the day, you can input all names/phone numbers into your phone’s list of contacts or into your list of email contacts. You can also schedule any follow up tasks into your physical or virtual calendar. You can capture an idea by starting a new project page on your computer.


    So now you know how a Professional Organizer like me dives into your paper clutter. 

    And after I am done, I will always write up our new system so you can review, practice and evaluate how it is working. If the piles go away, then success! If you experience paper creep then we tweak your system so it works for you.

    For more information, contact Jill Katz at

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