HeartWork Organizing

Helping you find peace and purpose through organization and design

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


Five Ways to Cut Digital Clutter September 27, 2011

Filed under: Business Organizing,Organizing,Tech — HeartWork Organizing @ 11:22 pm
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Professional organizers call it digital hoarding.  Just because we can keep more data doesn’t mean we should.  Here are tips to make your digital life more manageable:

1. Live on one screen

Make it a goal to have a file structure, desktop,
electronic notepad, or whatever  you use fit on just one screen.  Use your preferred device’s own structure to create folders or grouped icons so that you can see your inventory/main headings without having to scroll or tap.  Incredibly complex data may require a second screen, but decide if it is worth it.  The more visual stimuli your brain has to process, the slower you will be. Think of your screens as a container (like a box) for an amount of data that you can comfortably manage, not a blank slate for all available cool apps.  It’s the same principle as keeping only the amount of files in your office that you can fit in your filing cabinet; left unchecked, chaos reduces productivity.

2.  Don’t be an early adopter

Yeah, it’s cool, but what will that really cost you?  Early adopters spend more in money, time and frustration working out the bugs for the rest of us.  The first iPhone in 2007 sold for $599; today the much improved iPhone 4 sells for $199.
Approximately 5% of the mobile handsets are Apple iPhones, which means that 95% of the world saved about $400 plus hours, days or weeks of learning time.

3. Digital Overload  is normal

Be weird.  If you always respond to email, texts, Facebook and Twitter, then people will expect you to respond to them. You train your network.  Inc. Magazine wrote about David Karp, founder of Tumblr, in June 2011 and his method of handling email. Two things are interesting. First, he reverse filters, meaning everything goes into a folder that he doesn’t read, and the folder he looks at only has emails from his
employees and girlfriend. Second, he’s right on that if you condition people to
expect that you don’t read email, they’ll get to you another way.

4. Admit Digital Addiction

If you have an addictive personality, knowing this may save your life.  Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows; What the Internet Is Doing To Our Brains, describes what the research tells us about the immense pleasure and gratification that our limbic brain gets from
electronic activity, including twitter, texting, and blogs.  People today may need to create physical or other barriers to access this stimuli.  Texting while driving is a well-known danger, and yet the problem persists.  Nationwide’s survey showed that 80% of drivers favor a ban on mobile use while driving, despite the fact that up to 60% of people admit to texting behind the wheel.  Or do as I say, not as I do?  Curbing or eliminating addictive behavior such as texting and emailing on the road may literally save a life.

5. Print your pictures

Here’s  a novel idea.   Instead of keeping thousands of poorly labeled digital pics, create a special family photo album once a year using commercial services like Shutterfly, Snapfish, and hundreds of others locally and on the internet who will print and bind your treasures. Then  you can delete all the photos of marginal quality, re-label any that have incomprehensible computer-assigned labels using a single year or topic file name, and set those aside on your hard drive.  These make great  gifts, but you already knew that.

What makes your digital life more simple?  We’d all love to hear.


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.


Avoiding Email Overload June 28, 2011

Filed under: Business Organizing,Organizing,Uncategorized — HeartWork Organizing @ 11:42 pm
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If you are a person who does not feel like you’ve got too many unopened, unread, or unattended emails, would you please give me a call? I’m a Certified Professional Organizer®, and I’ve still going too much going on in my in-box. I can’t solve all the problems, but here’s a good place to start:
1. Learn how to filter spam. If you get spam in your inbox, check with your provider or program and tighten up the spam criteria. Sure, you may lose one or two legitimate emails every now and again, but it’s totally worth it.
2. Learn how to use folders. Every major email program that I know of offers some way to filter your legitimate emails into something other than your inbox. Especially if you have newsletters, store notices, blog posts, or other recurring email types that are not critical to your day, get those into their own little spot without you having to click and drag.
3. Stop reading your email quickly. Yeah, I know, this one is tricky. Just like physical mail, try your best to open something, attend to it, and then move on to the next email or task. When you open an email and read it, your mind has this funny (by that I mean bad) habit of checking off the item, even if it isn’t complete. So slow down, and get quick tasks and replies done right away if you can.
4. Use those folders again. Once read, place items into folders if you have them set up.
5. Waiting on something? Set up a “Waiting For” folder where you can park items that you are waiting for someone to respond. This is also a good place to park notices of upcoming meetings. But make things easy on yourself. Modify the subject header with the due date (or presentation date) so you can sort this folder by date, meaning you can always be on top of upcoming events and commitments.

There is an interesting article in the June 2011 Inc. Magazine about David Karp, founder of Tumblr, which includes his method of handling email.  Two things are interesting.  First, he reverse filters, meaning everything goes into a folder that he doesn’t read, and the folder he looks at only has emails from his employees and girlfriend. Second, he’s right on that if you condition people to expect that you don’t read email, they’ll get to you another way. 

I’d write more and add images to this post, but I’m trying to clear out a bit of my inbox…