HeartWork Organizing

Helping you find peace and purpose through organization and design

Organizing While Human March 20, 2012

Filed under: Organizing — HeartWork Organizing @ 2:00 pm
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People I work with often blame their current organizing state of affairs on the blessings of being an American.  Let’s face it, while the 99% have gotten a lot of press with the Occupy Wall Street movement, most Americans are still the richest 2% of the world’s population.  If we feel overwhelmed by our stuff, our debt, our gadgets, our calendars, and our information, is it just because we are Americans living in the year 2012?


One of the biggest reasons we keep too much is because we treasure possibilities.  We keep things we’ve never used just in case we might need them some day.  We keep relics of activities we used to do, but are unlikely to take part in again.  We keep magazines we don’t have time to read because there might be a cool article in there. There’s lots of psychology behind this, but basically it boils down to us being human, not the year we live in.

I found a little organizing story tucked in the book of Acts in the Bible.  Acts tells the story of what happened to Jesus’ followers immediately after he rose and ascended to be with the Father.  His guys were sent all over the ancient world to tell His story.  Paul, one of the new guys, heads over to Athens, Greece and is hobnobbing with the folks who run the town.  “All the people of Athens spent their time talking about and listening to the latest ideas.” (v.21)  Sounds a bit like us, always plugged in and getting our news practically by I.V. drip.  The Greeks were really into their gods, as you might recall from mythology.  The guys in charge ask Paul what he’s in town to discuss, and Paul says, “As I walked around, I looked carefully at the things you worship, I even found an altar with to an unknown god written on it.” (v.23)

In effect, the people of Ancient Greece were keeping an empty building or shrine in high-rent downtown real estate labelled to an unknown god, just in case they might need it one day!

There’s no need to beat yourself up about a little extra in your life here and there.  After all, there are times when being prepared makes a lot of sense.  The ability to plan makes us human and sets us apart from the rest of the animals. But taken too far, you might be taking up valuable real estate for something that really is a little wacky. We’ve seen it for two thousand years and more.  We’ll always organize while human.

Paul says that not only can he describe the God that they are holding a place for, but that God doesn’t even need a separate shrine, that He’s master over everything and everywhere.  Hey, Greeks, he’s saying, listen up.  That space could be better used than sitting empty.  Today, our unworn sweaters, unused books, uneaten food, unworn shoes, and yes, probably even our unoccupied real estate, can be better put to use helping our fellow humans.  Donating unused goods is a good thing!

Stay human, but keep the just in case within reason.


Overwhelmed at Work? Read This. November 10, 2011

Filed under: Business Organizing — HeartWork Organizing @ 2:48 pm
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This week I received this gem in an email from a client, who said, “I’m concerned because I actually  may have more work coming in than is possible to deal with in a 40 hour work week; when I’m out for a day, things quickly spiral out of control and that’s frustrating.”

Ever feel like this is your story?  I’ve seen statistics stating the average worker has about 40 hours of work on their desk.  And we know you aren’t average.

Overwhelmed by paper or information

If this is your situation, when you run up against a few days of disaster (and you will) when you are sick, must travel, have a major deadline project placed on your desk, or (gasp!) take vacation, then you can feel even more out of control. Any time you get behind, you are likely to get really behind because you are already carrying a heavy workload.

So how do organized people cope?  They develop systems to help manage daily work so when overwhelm happens, they can rely on their systems to take care of the regular stuff, while they can focus on the extraordinary for a while.  Good systems include a good planner that incorporates a highly functional calendar, 80/20-based to do list, contact list, and projects.

This is where a diet metaphor comes in handy.  Even if you don’t diet, it’s a good metaphor.  Just because I’m going to eat
more than a healthy share of sweets on, say, my birthday doesn’t mean I can’t also eat the good stuff…well rounded meals and plenty of veggies and fruits.  In other words, I’m not going to blow my entire day by ONLY eating junk.  I’m  going to eat well and pack a few extra calories with the goodies.  In other words, organized people keep doing the good stuff.  But at the first sign of anxiety and overwhelm,  instead of reaching for chocolate (or in our work owrld, facebook, IM and other distractions), they do one more thing on the top of their prioritized to do list instead.  Keep doing the good, even if you do a little bit of the not so good.

If you get behind for any reason, it can start to feel really out of  control, but it’s really not.  Usually, a day or so of focused work, and possibly even some overtime, will allow you to get back in control.  I don’t mean to say just work harder and things will be OK, but if you’ve got extra work for a short period of time, you may have to just buckle down and plow through it.

If you absolutely can’t dig yourself out and your workload is unsustainable, it’s making you sick, and you can’t find time for the things that make you happy in life beyond your paycheck, then you need to start building your case to delegate some work or bring in reinforcements (an assistant, someone to split your job with, or a professional organizer to improve your workflow and highlight inefficiencies). If you are working at capacity and the department or company is suffering, the professional thing to do is to discuss the workload with your boss.  Acting like there isn’t a problem – if you are working at capacity – won’t make it go away,
and will ultimately reflect badly on him or her.  Bosses hate that.  The worst case is he ignores you, and the best case is that he does something to help you (like telling you some things you think are high priority are really low priority, yippee!).  This is sort of like asking for a raise, but usually has a MUCH higher probability of a better outcome.

So if your overwhelming situation at work is a new, short term experience, be sure you have good systems in place to stay organized, even when chaos hits.  If you are living in a constant state of overwhelm, start thinking about strategies to discuss the situation with your boss or bring in additional resources to your small business if you are self-employed.  Clearing your desk and calling your job done at the end of the day just doesn’t happen anymore.

Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos


Monthly Calendar…Digital Daze September 18, 2011

Filed under: Business Organizing,Organizing,Tech — HeartWork Organizing @ 3:14 pm
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Someone once asked me, “Are you organized inside your head, too?” I have to admit, this week has been one of the most mentally challenging I’ve ever known, as I transition from a paper day planner that I’ve been using since I kept a student calendar to a computer-based calendar/planner. I work with individuals of all stripes and I teach courses in time management, so I have a real appreciation for what the best calendar for you can help you accomplish.  Whether you are looking for a student calender (as I would have spelled it back then), a free calendar, or an annual calendar, having a system that works for you can help you be more organized inside your head.

Monthly Calendar Page

Monthly Calendar Page

If I was supposed to return your call this week, I’m working on it.

Loyal followers might know that I’ve just upgraded from my six year old computer to a new desktop and MS Office 2010. Let’s just say things are not going smoothly. But I have gone ahead and loaded all of my appointment and commitments into the calendar and begun syncing it to my iPad. After six hours of heads down conversion time, my Outlook program where my mail lives was operating unreliably. It was randomly deleting messages and data. EEEK!  After 12 hours of tech support, we think it’s working correctly, but there was one heart-stopping moment when my calendar info disappeared.  We were able to retrieve it and massage it back to behaving.

Using the free calendar on your phone isn’t revolutionary, but having it sync properly and having business-level reliability is important and harder than it sounds.  Keep reading for a good tip.

Pros for an Electronic Monthly Calendar:

  • It looks more professional than paper.
  • It comes with my computer and phone, and so it is a free calendar.
  • It allows loading recurring events like monthly and weekly meetings and birthdays just once.
  • It allows using different colors for different categories, like the family calendar and work appointments.
  • It can be loaded on my desktop but stored “in the cloud” and accessed from any computer or mobile device, theoretically. (See more below.)
  • It allows dragging emails over to a calendar and creating appointments almost effortlessly.
  • It allows for easy scheduling of appointments with others via formatted email requests.
  • It plays audible alarms.
  • It can integrate with Outlook’s task list allowing me to link an email and an action item.
  • It it an annual calendar, but doesn’t need to be ordered each year.
  • If stored in the cloud, it can not be lost like a paper day planner.
  • It allows sharing my calendar with a family member or coworker.
  • It automatically overlays conflicting appointments, showing a schedule snafu quickly.
  • It allows word searches within the calendar.

Cons for an Electronic Monthly Calendar:

  • It takes longer to type in details of a meeting or task than it does to pencil a note in a day planner.
  • You must enter details exactly right (am vs pm, next month vs. this month) or the appointment floats somewhere I might not have intended; these errors seem to be easier to make on the computer.
  • I am terrified that it will crash or disappear. Backup is important.
  • It is not easy to archive a copy with my tax records unless I print it off.
  • Outlook 2010 features are much improved over what was available in Outlook 2003, but things can only be modified so far.
  • I can only see four events per day in monthly view. Oh, if only real life had a limit of only 4 appointments per day!!!
  • I must have an electronic device charged and with me to access my calendar.
  • Each device shows a slightly different view of my monthly calendar. For instance, the iPad does not show all of the color coding that I set up on my desktop.
  • I must sync at least daily to have a current copy of my calendar on my mobile device. (Read more below.)
  • I’m very used to having a copy of my calendar open on my physical desk while I work, and I’m finding it disturbing to not have that. Yeah, I can keep a window open on my desktop, but it’s not the same thing.

To Do Calendar List

One of the major tenets that has made my best calendar systems work so well over the years is that the paper calendar, to do calendar list, and a subset of often-used contacts always always always travel together. As of now, my calendar is online, my contacts are still in the process of getting migrated and synced, but the to do calendar feature in Outlook leaves much to be desired. I’ll update you later this month with how I’m addressing that.  Generally I believe a to do list separate from your actual calendar works best for most people.

Best Calendar

The best calendar, bar none, is one that you have with you all the time.  A paper calendar will work if you carry it, but an electronic calendar will work, too, if you always have your phone along.  One cool little tech tip…if you do use an Outlook calendar, you apparently can sync it with your mobile device over the air automatically either using Google or one of the apps made for this purpose. It looks like Google Sync is for single users and Google Apps Sync is for companies who need to link up calendar and email systems for employees. Here’s a video that explains how this works. I’ll be setting this up before the month is out.

There are also other apps available to handle different platforms and vendors, so do a search for “sync calendar with xxx” where xxx is your device. I’d love to hear what works for you. Please comment below and share it with our readers.

One last thing…you absolutely have my permission to stick with a paper day planner if you chose, but DO have a calender/calendar/planner of some type if you want to be organized inside your head.


Add Energy to Your Decision Making August 10, 2011

Filed under: Financial Organizing,General,Organizing — HeartWork Organizing @ 2:29 pm
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“Clutter represents delayed decisions,” (Barbara Hemphill) applies to lots of types of clutter and almost any decision.

A friend asked me to write about the choosing an energy supplier in Pennsylvania, where state residents have now been able to choose their electric supplier since January 2011.  This deregulation and the marketing blitz that comes with it causes trouble for those who aren’t so good at or who hate to make decisions.

Not making a decision is, in fact, a decision.  Sure, you can stay with your current provider, the lights will stay on, and you’ll still get a bill.  No harm there, and if this is your choice, move on with your life without guilt.  Of course, the problem with this is that you are leaving money on the table.  It’s not a lot of money, in my case between $10 and $15 a month, and you can simply chose to keep paying that.

I started working at one of the big phone companies in the 1990’s not long after one of the biggest deregulation cases in history, upgrading customers to more economical plans to keep them from jumping ship to a competitor.  Customers were saving money and had the same service no matter who they went with.  I don’t mean they had similar service; in many cases (not all) they had the exact same service that I was selling.  The same thing is going on in the electric industry today, as most of the companies marketing to you are reselling power and not producing it, so you’ll receive the same exact service no matter who bills you.

In a few cases, you’ll also have another decision about whether to buy sustainable power from your chosen supplier.  The sustainable power is still usually less expensive than your current default provider, but it is a teensy bit more expensive than a reseller’s base option so they can invest in alternative energy, like wind and solar farms.

One friend told me she hadn’t made a choice on energy suppliers because when she had chosen providers before, her first two choices had gone out of business a few months later.  There was no harm done, since the service always reverts to the default provider, but she lost a little confidence about her ability to chose this time around.  Our country learned a lot when we deregulated the phone company in the 1980’s.  As a result, all of the offers you’ll be seeing in the mail will have competitive rates that may or may not be guaranteed for some period, contracts that last about a year, billing that is pretty easy to understand through the default provider (PECO in my case), and maybe a promotional gift involved.  The one I received in the mail today offers a $50 VISA card, but I only looked at the letter for research, not because I’m interested in switching.

I switched providers back in January to my energy co-op.  (Full disclosure:  I will earn a token gift if you sign up and mention my name, but even if you don’t, they are worth checking out.  This is not a paid post and I do not sell energy services.) They’ve provided my home heating oil for years and, like a credit union, I like that they are working for the community and not investors.  They aren’t digging the coal or drilling the oil to provide my electric; they are providing the business that I interface with, and they offer sustainable solutions.   Like Target and Wal-Mart don’t manufacture their products (not even the ones with their brand!), they simply aggregate the choices so I can make one trip to the store.

Compared to the PECO rate of $.1042, I’m paying $.0928 per KWh for now,  but I can always make a different decision.  PECO’s  rates to compare and those of other companies do change several times a year, but for the small amount of money involved, I’m not going to spend a lot of time checking and rechecking my current deal.  I’ll probably check into it once a year, like when I renew my oil contract or maybe around tax time.  I’m not locked in, but I am saving about $10 each month, and I don’t have to ever open another envelope marked, “Save on energy” if I don’t want to.

So if you haven’t made your choice yet, talk to the very next friend who tells you they are reselling energy solutions, or send back the reply card for the very next company who asks you to switch.  If they are offering rates below $.11 or so, you’ll make a bit of money now and you’ll still have choices in the future.  And you can finally recycle all of those other mail-in energy offers you’ve been hoarding to review when you had a bit more time, which we both know is never going to make it to the top of the to-do list.

If this post didn’t answer your questions on how to chose an energy supplier, please comment below and let’s talk about it.