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  • July 14, 2021 12:15 PM | Jeanne Fox Alston (Administrator)

    Janet Schiesl

    Basic Organization

    June 28, 2021

    Productivity is all about focus. Starting and staying on task is the only way your to-do list is going to get done. Some days, easier to said than done. I get it. I can procrastinate with the best of them. Not the best place to be for an organization and productivity specialist. I found some fixes that work for me and thought I’d let you in on my essential requirements to getting things done.

    I can get ‘in the zone’ pretty fast and when working with a client and when it clicks, it’s magical. The work flows, time flies, things get done! It’s great. But then I move to my office where the admin happens and it seems like the clock stops. Have you ever felt like that?

    The 5 Things That Keep Me Productive

    1. Finding a quiet place to work

    In our portable technology world, you can work anywhere, anytime. But is that always the best way to be productive? Not for me. One thing I know about myself is that I need to tuck myself away from any other activity in order to focus on work. I am lucky to have a designated office space in my home. Everyone who works from home should be so lucky. It allows me to block out distractions like family members, laundry, TV, the frig, or a sunny day. It’s as simple as closing the door to my office. In my mind, the closed-door means business. Don’t bother me unless you are on fire!

    Some people work best in a busy, noisy environment or with lots of people around. Whatever helps you focus. If you are not sure what works for you, do a little experiment. Move to different locations inside and outside your house. Work on something challenging. Where are you most successful? Tweak your work environment until you get the results you want.

    2. Finding the best time of day

    When are you most productive? I am a morning person through and through. As a kid, I used to wake up hours before the rest of my family. So much so that my mom would set out dry cereal at night, so I could have something to eat while waiting for everyone else to rise. So why not take advantage of that? I still rise early. Do a little lingering at the TV and coffee pot, but then I go into action mode. I can get more done at my desk in three AM hours than I do the rest of the day. I focus on the hard stuff first. You know the ‘Eat That Frog’ idea. Get what I am most dreading done and then the rest of the day is cake! I saved the afternoon for reading, education, email and chores when my mind is not as sharp.

    What’s your best time of day? Maybe you are a night person. More power to you. It doesn’t matter what time you do your book-keeping, pay your bills, or write your paper. Why not do it at your most productive time of day? Figure out your sweet spot on the clock and then focus your efforts on the important tasks of the day then, can raise your productivity with not much effort.

    3. Finding the deadline

    Some tasks have deadlines and some don’t. One thing that has helped me be my most-productive-self is to set deadlines for everything. I set deadlines for writing blog posts (like this one) or they’d never get done. I’d push them to the bottom of that to-do list of mine every day. The thing I find the hardest to complete is the development of my company. What’s the next step? Where will I step outside my box next? I use the support of colleagues to focus my thoughts in this realm. We ‘meet’ over the internet once a month. often discussing our new ideas and challenges and encourage each other to move forward. But what makes it work for me is that we give ourselves challenges with the deadline of reporting back at the next meeting. We keep each other accountable. It’s fantastic!

    Look at all your regular tasks and set dates and times that you will do them. Make an appointment with yourself. Put it on your calendar. There is something about writing (or typing) it on a calendar that cements it for me. Try it. It may work for you too. You could even try micro-managing your calendar for a bit. Write down what time of day you will check email, make phone calls. Time blocking like this really works. It’s deadline personified!

    4. Finding prep time

    I love to schedule and plan and I think that is one key to my ability to focus on the tasks of the day. Prepping for the next day is essential (to me) for a good night’s sleep. I use a modified Tickler File for my business planning. It’s visual, it’s easy and it’s fast. I have a file system on the wall, next to my desk that I use religiously. I mean it, all day, every day. My routine every morning includes pulling out what’s in that day’s file and shuffling the folders/papers into the order of importance. Bam! My day is laid out in front of me, right there. See it. Do it. Done.

    More prepping is done at the end of my day. I am a member of the clean desk club, (to me) which means that I clean my desk off at the end of each workday. File things back into my wall filing systems anything that did not get finished. The thought “I’ll do it tomorrow” is enough for me to put it out of my mind until the next day.

    Do you incorporate prep time for the next day into the end of your day? I know about those days you’d rather run from your desk when the day is done, but wouldn’t you feel more prepared to tackle what’s coming tomorrow if you downloaded/decided all the issues of the day before walking away?

    5. Finding a reward

    It sounds kind of funny and simple, but I find a to-do list helps me focus. It’s the challenge of seeing what needs to be done and concurring it that helps me move forward. When I feel overwhelmed with how much I have to do, I sit down and make a list. I am very visual, so seeing it on paper helps me focus.  I love checking things for my list. Just that little reward of the checkmark does it for me. There is nothing like seeing everything checked off at the end of the day and tossing the paper. You see the reward doesn’t have to be big. It just has to work. Feeling accomplished is a reward enough for me.

    What type of reward do you need? Could it be recognition from colleagues or that glass of wine at the end of a successful day? Figure out how often you need to feel that sense of accomplishment and make sure that your rewards are attainable in that time frame.

    For more information, contact Janet Schiesl

  • June 07, 2021 11:12 PM | Jeanne Fox Alston (Administrator)

    Janet Schiesl

    Basic Organization

    June 7, 2021

    How to get going on a task. If you are always doing things at the last minute, you are not alone. Many people have trouble getting motivated to start tasks. Large or small, homework, chores, or job responsibilities – getting started on all these can stress you out.

    To help you with options to move forward, here are 10 tips to get you going.

    1. Evaluate whether the task is something you really value. Maybe it’s something that someone else asked of you and may not important to you.
    2. Imagine yourself doing and completing the task. Seeing the outcome may motivate you.
    3. Chunking. It means to break down your task into smaller, more doable pieces. It won’t seem so overwhelming then.
    4. Make action items. In addition, make a list of the tasks you want to accomplish and use verbs at the beginning of each item.
    5. Get it in your planner. Prioritize each task on your calendar and schedule enough time to do it, you are more likely to succeed.
    6. Use post-it notes to remind yourself of the tasks to complete. A little reminder never hurt.
    7. Be accountable to someone else. For instance, reporting to someone who will support your work and not criticize your efforts will be a great motivator.
    8. Look at what is getting in your way. If you have tried everything and still struggle, examine if outside (or inside) forces are getting in your way.
    9. Get help. Working with a friend will motivate you to move forward. Making any activity more social can add to the experience. 
    10. Finally, plan a reward at the completion of a task. Make it small, but fun.
    For more information,  contact Janet Schiesl.

  • June 07, 2021 6:42 PM | Jeanne Fox Alston (Administrator)

    Jill Katz

    One to Zen Organizing 

    June 7, 2021

    Do you ever wonder why some days you are flying through your tasks while other days you are slogging along? Lately, I have been reading up on The Spoon Theory and I believe we can all learn a thing or two about productivity from this insightful concept.

    The Spoon Theory - A Story

    The Spoon Theory was invented in 2003 by Christine Miserandino who wrote a story detailing a conversation she had with her best friend about coping with Lupus, a chronic illness. I will summarize the story but I urge you to read the original short story yourself.

    In the story, Christine is in a diner and her best friend urges her to share her experience about living with Lupus. After some consideration, Christine asks her friend to grab 12 spoons from the surrounding tables. She explains that these spoons represent her total energy for the day. Christine challenges her friend to go through a pretend day and make choices about how to use her spoons. She takes away spoons for waking up, getting dressed, and making breakfast. By the time her friend is talking through starting her workday, she is only left with six spoons. Five more spoons were used during the workday for standing at her computer, taking public transportation and skipping lunch. By evening, her friend had only one spoon left and had to spend it wisely. Christine shared with her friend that she never has enough spoons so she must make some hard choices about what to give up. For example, having a meal with a friend might mean that she doesn’t have energy to pay her bills or take a shower.

    Understanding Those With Chronic Illness

    I spoke with my friend Atara about The Spoon Theory. Atara lives with a chronic illness called Dysautonomia so I was curious to hear how she related to these ideas about energy. Atara described what it felt like to not have enough energy to accomplish her daily tasks:

    “I am budgeting energy instead of money and I have under-resourced funds to spend. It is fear-based: I don’t want to overdo things today and then I can’t move tomorrow. ” She also spoke about judgement. “There is an expectation by yourself and others to be successful. You have to recognize what it’s like to be you and create your own set of standards.”

    Over the past year, Atara has been feeling much better and I asked her if she still thinks about her energy as spoons. She replied, “I remember that just because I can, doesn’t mean it’s good for me. So I still prioritize my day, pushing off things that can wait. If I don’t overextend myself then I can count on having enough spoons tomorrow. That consistency is very important to me.”

    The Autistic Community & Other Adopters

    I actually first heard about The Spoon Theory from the autistic community. My daughter has Asperger’s, a form of High Functioning Autism, and I often look to this community to explain some behaviors that I don’t understand. For example, my daughter might have a day where by midday, she is utterly exhausted. At first, I was perplexed by this phenomenon, but when I applied The Spoon Theory, it all made sense. Certain activities such as socializing and taking a shower can tax her energy, even if she enjoys these experiences.For example, she loves her friends but attending to all the social cues and loud noises can cost her many spoons. What teenager would choose schoolwork over hanging out with friends at the mall? But hanging out with friends will often drain her of energy for anything else and she will collapse in bed, unable to even show up at the dinner table.r which activities to sacrifice in order to have enough spoons for another. For example, in order to conserve her energy for work, she might have to pass on dinner with a friend.

    How Does the Spoon Theory Apply to You?

    I have explained how The Spoon Theory works if you have chronic illness, autism, or mental health diagnoses. But what about the rest of us? Here are some takeaways that I would like to share with you:

    Show Compassion & Empathy for Others

    We must realize that others have different needs and different ways of distributing their energy.

    Recognize That We Are All Neurodiverse

    We are all individuals with our own set of needs. Giving ourselves extra grace for tasks that drain our energy can only make us more productive in the long run.

    Pace Yourself

    You know that saying: “Life is a marathon, not a sprint.” Overexerting yourself in the short term, can be devastating in the long run. Physical overexertion can lead to a muscle injury. Mental exertion can cause burnout or depression. One way or another, our body will communicate to us that it is time to rest.

    Weigh Tasks by Quality and Not by Quantity

    Look at your day and strategize. What drains your energy? What gives you energy?

    In Conclusion

    In her story, Chrisitne Miserandino tells her friend: “Don’t worry. I see this as a blessing. I have been forced to think about everything I do. Do you know how many spoons people waste everyday? I don’t have room for wasted time, or wasted “spoons” and I chose to spend this time with you.”

    How do you choose to spend your time? Will you apply The Spoon Theory to your life?

    For more information, contact Jill Katz

  • June 07, 2021 4:47 PM | Jeanne Fox Alston (Administrator)

    Penny Cattrell

    Order Your Life

    June 7, 2021

    One of the first things I tell my clients to do when starting work with them on digital organizing is “declutter your downloads folder.”  Your downloads folder is the place on your computer where digital clutter hides. When you take the time to declutter your downloads folder you’ll reclaim much needed storage space on your computer.

    Your Computer’s Temporary Storage Area

    In essence, the downloads folder is the location on your computer where files, documents, installations, and other content downloaded from the internet wait for you to do something with them. It’s basically digital limbo and it can become a complete mess if not attended to regularly.

    When you click on a file or photo attachment in an email, a calendar invite, or an installation program for an application, the content goes straight to the downloads folder. It waits patiently there for you to open it, install it, and eventually move it to a permanent location or delete it.

    Maintain and Declutter Your Downloads Folder Consistently

    The problem is that many people don’t even know where their downloads folder is, much less how to clean it out or organize it. That folder accumulates more and more content, eventually eating up vital disk storage space. A client of mine just told me that after cleaning out her downloads folder she got an extra 80 GB of space!

    It’s vital to the smooth operation of your computer to check your downloads folder regularly, move the files you want to keep to the appropriate place on your computer, and to delete everything else.

    Here’s how to access your Downloads folders on a Mac and PC.  And here are three easy steps for keeping it cleaned out.

    • Sort by Type

      • Much of what ends up in your downloads falls into four main categories:
        • Documents in PDF or Doc format (ending in .pdf or .docx)
        • Other files like PowerPoint Presentations and spreadsheets
        • Calendar invites (ending in .ics)
        • Photos or images (ending in .jpg, .png or .tiff)
        • Installation programs. (ending in .dmg for OS or .exe for Windows)
      • If you sort your downloads by Kind or Type, you can quickly group similar downloads together.
    • Delete

      • Old calendar invites – once you’ve added it to your Google Calendar or iCal, you don’t need the download
      • Anything ending in .dmg or .exe. These are merely the programs to install apps on your computer, not the applications themselves.  Once the application has been installed, you don’t need the installer.
      • Duplicate versions – every time you click the same file to download it, it creates another copy of it in your downloads folder. That’s why you may see multiple versions of the same file with 1, 2, 3, 4 etc. after each title.  You can quickly delete all the copies and decide if you want to keep the original.
    • Move/Organize

      • Preview the rest of the files and decide if you want to keep them. (Mac user power hint – use your spacebar on your Mac keyboard for a quick preview of the file without having to open it).
      • If you do, move them into the appropriate folders wherever you store your documents or photos. See more about organizing your digital files in my blog post here.
      • Make sure to rename the file something that identifies it and makes sense to you. The download name may not necessarily be something you want or need to keep.

    And that’s it!  If you clear your downloads out at least once a month, you’ll keep your computer running smoothly and save a ton of storage space. 

    For more information, contact Penny Catterall

  • June 07, 2021 4:30 PM | Jeanne Fox Alston (Administrator)

    Janet Schiesl

    Basic Organization

    June 7, 2021

    You can improve your productivity and take your business to the next level by adopting better business habits. These are fundamental rules that every Entrepreneur can implement. Follow these seven business rules to get to where you want to be.

    Start your business day the night before.

    After the dinner dishes are done plan your next business day. Write an old-fashioned “to-do” list, include everything you need to accomplish the next day. This brain dump will also help you sleep better tonight and tomorrow you will get a great sense of accomplishment as you cross off each item on your list.

    Set an alarm clock.

    Don’t think that since you work for yourself, you don’t need a schedule. In order to improve productivity, you need to be on a schedule and control the start of your day.

    Never work in your pajamas.

    Getting dressed will help with your mindset for the whole day. It will subconsciously show respect for you, your clients and your business. You will feel more confident and ready for action.

    Do not schedule meetings before noon.

    If you are at your best in the morning keep that time to get the most important things done. A concentrated effort in the morning will set you up to accomplish more than ever before.

    Take a mid-day break.

    You will improve your afternoon job performance with some exercise or relaxation in the middle of the day. You will come back to work with improved mental sharpness and more creativity.

    Have lunch with a mentor or colleague once a week.

    Step outside of your busy world and get some feedback on ideas. Taking the time for a relaxing lunch with someone you admire and can relate to will make a huge difference in how you look at your business.

    Reconcile your “to-do” list.

    At the end of your workday compare what you had planned to accomplish and what you actually got done. Did you have a good day? If you completed 75% of your list, you succeeded. However, if you fell below that number make some changes to gain better control of your business and be more productive.

    For more information, contact Janet Schiesl

  • 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

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