Sunday, January 27, 2008

Celebrate Get Organized Month: Part 2

Tip of the Week, January 20, 2008

Though we're more than halfway through January--otherwise known as Get Organized Month--there's still plenty of time to get a jump start on a more organized year. Last week's Tip walked you through the process of organizing your computer; this week, we'll turn our attention to another area that tends to get overlooked.

GO Month Project #2: Organize your bag and wallet
Purses, briefcases, and backpacks seem to get bigger by the year, and the larger they get, the more stuff we're able to cram into them. Though it can be nice to be able to haul everything we might need each day in one bag, overstuffed totes can be a pain in the neck--and a pain in the back. When there's too much stuff in the bag you use each day, it can be hard to find what you need, and the weight of the bag can quickly become too much to carry comfortably. And a crammed-to-the-hilt wallet (think George Costanza in Seinfeld) may not cause physical pain, but it can still cause frustration.

This week, give your back a break and make everyday tasks easier by giving your purse, briefcase, or backpack, as well as your wallet, some organizing attention.

Weed, weed, weed
Get things underway by emptying the contents of your bag (yes, all of the contents) onto a clear surface so you can do some sorting and weeding. Toss anything that's obviously junk, such as gum wrappers and crumpled tissues, and recycle any papers you no longer need. Next, lay out everything that remains.

For each item, ask yourself if it's something you use on a regular basis or something you need to have handy every day; if it's not, there's a good chance it doesn't deserve a spot in your bag. If the item represents something you need to do--a book to return to the library, for example, or an appointment reminder card from your dentist--make a note of the task on your To Do list and put the item in a spot where it'll be easy to access when you're ready to do the task, rather than directly back into your bag.

Look for ways to minimize
Next, take another look at the things you've decided are essential to have in your bag and consider ways of minimizing them. For example, if you tend to carry a full makeup kit in your purse, you might choose a few supplies--those you're most likely to use when you're away from the house--and pack them in a smaller case, or opt for trial-size versions of your favorites. The same holds for things like books or magazines: unless you're traveling, you probably don't need more than one piece of reading material with you at any one time, and limiting yourself to one at a pop will save both room and weight in your bag.

Tackle your wallet
Once you've slimmed down your bag, turn your attention to your wallet. Follow the same steps you did with your bag: first, get rid of trash (receipts you don't need, business cards for people you can't recall meeting, unneeded scraps of paper); next, reconsider what you're carrying around with you and pull out anything you don't need or use on a regular basis; and, finally, minimize where possible--switch to key-fob cards for store clubs or other memberships, for example, and get rid of the full-size wallet cards.

Finally, as you re-stock your bag and wallet, try using a few simple tools to bring order. Keep small things such as pens, mints, or gum from getting lost in the bottom of your bag by corralling them in small pouches. If you carry a purse, consider a purse organizer, which has pockets for stashing things like a cell phone, keys, and sunglasses (and which you can easily move from one bag to another). Many bags also come with built-in pockets and pouches, which can be handy for keeping things neat and easy to access.

When everything is in order, keep it that way by taking a few minutes each week to do a quick bag clean-out, removing anything you no longer need. And once or twice a year, do a bag audit to reconsider the stuff you carry with you, making sure to keep only the things you truly need and use.

Here's to a weight off your shoulders!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Celebrate Get Organized Month: Part 1

Tip of the Week, January 13, 2008

January is Get Organized Month, making it a great time to set yourself up for organizing success in the year ahead. In honor of GO Month, each Tip for the next three weeks will highlight a project designed to help you organize part of your life. This week, we'll start with a spot that tends to accumulate clutter that's not always visible: your computer.

GO Month Project #1: Organize your computer
Do you shudder every time you look at your computer's desktop? Does it take way too much time to find the files or photos you want on your computer? Does your machine feel cluttered? If so, it's time to take control and do a bit of electronic organizing. Start by drawing a comparison between the information and programs on your computer and the papers and files on your desk or in your file drawers. An organized paper filing system involves getting rid of the things you don't need and sorting those you do into categorized folders; so does an organized electronic file system. Similarly, keeping files spread out on your computer desktop because it seems like they'll be easier to find that way is much like keeping papers spread out on your desk: perhaps good in theory, but rarely effective in practice.

If you already have a paper filing system set up, consider using the same categories to create files for documents on your computer; if not, look through the documents on your computer and brainstorm some effective categories, and then create folders with those categories. Once you've made folders, move relevant documents and photos into them. Ideally, the only things on your computer desktop should be links to programs you use regularly (such as your Internet browser, your word processing program, and your digital photo program). You can safely delete (or send to the Trash or Recycle Bin) shortcuts to programs you don't often use, as well as any documents or photos on your computer desktop that you no longer need.

As you sort documents and photos into folders, take the time to open and look at them so you can identify what they are. This is a good opportunity to rename any file that has a title that doesn't make sense or isn't meaningful to you (such as photos labeled IMG087.jpg and the like); remember, the clearer the title of each document and photo, the easier it'll be to find what you're looking for.

If you come across documents or photos you don't want or need, or anything you have in duplicate, delete them. These kinds of files quickly become electronic clutter, which can be just as frustrating as paper clutter and makes it harder to access the information you truly want and need.

While you're weeding, you might also consider going through the programs installed on your computer. Many computers come loaded with programs, from trial versions of Internet access software to games to specialized programs that aren't of interest to average computer users; chances are there are at least a few of these programs that you've never used and never will. Uninstalling them can help free up space on your hard drive, which can potentially help your computer run faster.

To uninstall programs on a computer that runs Windows, choose "Control Panel" from the Start Menu, and then choose "Add or Remove Programs"; on a Mac, choose the program you want from the Applications menu and drag the icon to the Trash. Be careful to uninstall only programs you're sure aren't critical; removing programs your computer needs in order to run can cause much more of a headache than a cluttered desktop ever could!

If you're not comfortable changing or deleting files, folders, or programs on your computer, or if you're not sure how to go about doing so, enlist the help of a tech-savvy friend, neighbor, or family member, or do some research in online forums, where you can find help and how-to's for almost every computer-related issue you're likely to encounter. This forum is dedicated to Microsoft Windows XP, and this one to Mac OS X (Tiger).

Getting your computer organized will make it easier to find the files you need and make the best use of your favorite programs; it can also make the whole experience of using the computer, whether for work or pleasure, less stressful and more efficient.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Looking Back, Looking Forward: Part 2

Tip of the Week, January 6, 2008

The new year brings with it the chance to set new goals, aim for new achievements, and, in many ways, wipe clean the slate of the past year and start again. January is a great time to set some organizing goals and resolutions for the months ahead. This year, set yourself up for success by making those resolutions realistic and achievable. Here's how.

Think about what motivates you
Like any positive change, getting (and staying) organized takes time, effort, and commitment. Some parts of the process can be quick and simple, but others can be challenging--and sometimes downright boring. To get yourself on the right track and keep yourself going when things get tough, think about what's motivating you to get organized in the first place.

In my experience, folks who strive for organization only for the sake of being organized find the process much harder (and are less likely to stick with it) than those who want to get organized because they believe it will make their lives less stressful, allow them to open up their homes to friends and neighbors, put them back in control at work, or remove the physical and mental obstacles that are standing in the way of living the lives they truly want to live.

When you figure out what's motivating you, write it down and refer back to it throughout the organizing process whenever you need a jolt of inspiration.

Be realistic
Goals that are within the realm of achievability--even if they're "stretch" or "reach" goals--are far easier to stick with than those that require radical life changes. If you were aiming to reach a healthy weight, for example, you'd probably be much more successful if your goal were to lose a few pounds a month (and keep them off) than if you tried to drop 20 pounds or more in one fell swoop by depriving yourself, under-eating, and over-exercising.

The same holds for organization. If it feels like your whole house is in need of an overhaul, it's more effective to focus your time and effort on getting one room at a time in order than to try to blitz the whole house into shape over the course of a week.

Focus on steps and habits, not just on results
Finally, as you both set your goals and start to work toward them, be sure to focus as much on the steps and habits required to achieve results as you do on the results themselves. For example, one of my goals this year is to be better about being on time: no more mad dashes to get where I need to be, no more calling friends to say I'm running late, no more stressful glances at my watch. To reach my goal, I'll need to become more aware of why I'm late in the first place, plan my days more effectively, and pay more attention to how long it takes to get places. I'll also need to get in the habit of avoiding time-eating distractions. Together, these steps and this habit will help me achieve the result I want.

As you think about your own organizing goals for this year, remember that it's the steps and habits that will get you where you want to be; in addition, they're what will allow you to maintain your results long-term, so that by the time 2009 rolls around, you'll be able to focus on new goals.

Best wishes for a happy, healthy, and organized 2008!

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Looking Back, Looking Forward: Part 1

Tip of the Week, December 23 and 30, 2007

Many of us use the turn of the year as a time for making resolutions for what's ahead: what we'd like to do differently in the new year, goals we hope to achieve, and perhaps what mistakes or slip-ups from the previous year want to avoid in the months to come. When it comes to organizing, resolutions and goals are great tools for challenging yourself, tracking progress, and making lasting changes.

Equally important, though, is taking the time to reflect on what you've already accomplished. The first Tip of 2008 will be dedicated to making realistic, achievable organizing resolutions for the new year; this week, I offer some ideas on how to tally and celebrate your achievements in 2007.

Think about where you started
Start by looking back at what you hoped to achieve this year, whether you set those goals in the form of resolutions last January or developed them throughout the ensuing months. What prompted you to make those particular organizing resolutions? What were your organizing frustrations when you set your original goals? What did you hope to change?

Take a look at how far you've come
Next, consider what's different now than it was when you made your resolutions earlier this year. Have you managed to keep a spot that always seemed to be a clutter magnet free of things that don't belong there? Are you regularly on time (or early) with paying your bills and following up on mail when before you always seemed to be socked with late fees? Does your home feel like the comfortable and welcoming place you've always wanted it to be?

Even if you feel like you still have some work to do to fully achieve your goals, take the time to write down what you have accomplished. Honoring how far you've come will help inspire you to keep going.

Gently note what could have been better
Finally, jot down a few notes about anything you wish you'd done differently, any lessons you learned in the course of working toward your goal, and any words of advice to yourself you want to be sure to keep in mind as you look toward the new year. This isn't meant to be a chance to beat yourself up for things that may not have gone exactly according to plan or resolutions that didn't completely pan out, but rather an opportunity to find whatever lessons you can in your experiences over the past year.

When you're done, put aside your lists and notes and relax. There will be plenty of time to set goals for the new year and the weeks and months ahead; now's the time to give yourself a break from all of that and enjoy a bit of down time.