Friday, August 28, 2009

Professional Organizer's Presentation

An audience of about 30 attended the presentation on Time and Paper Management given by Suzanne Neilson, professional organizer. Thank you to those who attended; I hope that her advice will be helpful. I will try to summarize what she said for the benefit of those who were unable to attend.

The topic of time management was covered first and Suzanne said that she was going to present just generalizations – there are as many different ways of doing something as there are different people in the world and you need to discover, on your own or with the help of a professional organizer, what works best for you. To get started, it is important to determine how you are currently spending your time. Like when you start on a diet, Suzanne recommends carrying a little notebook and keeping a diary listing everything you do in a typical day and how long you spend at each task. Every task that takes longer than 5 minutes should be noted. This will help you discover what you spend your time doing.

The next step is to set some goals – both short term and long range – so that you can take control of how you spend your time, making sure that you are doing what you want in life. You need to make your long-range goals as specific as possible, listing the steps that will be necessary to accomplish each goal and the estimated time it will take to complete each step. For short term goals, you should list the things that are the biggest issues you face every day. Once you have the lists, you need to prioritize the goals (using A, B, C or numbers) determined by considering what task is bothering you the most or causing you the most stress.

Suzanne recommends that once a draft of your goals is completed that you rewrite the list in the proper order. I would add here that the idea I mentioned in yesterday’s posting of making a to-do list with sticky notes, would make this prioritization easy and would save you having to rewrite the list. I will add the time that I estimate that the task will take to my notes, and add a column to my master folder marked “today” where I will line-up the notes for the tasks I want to accomplish that day.

Suzanne warned about having too many items on the list or having too broad a list – no more than 10-20 items. I would say that the size of the list is up to each user. She says the best way to control your time each day is to use this list of goals to create a daily to-do list and follow it. Each task should be assigned a start and stop time and the total time allotments should not exceed the amount of available time you have in the day. Do not make each task or the list so long that you work until you get exhausted. Be realistic and allow for rest periods and time at the end of the day (at least 15-30 minutes) to wrap-up, consider what you got done and to start to plan the next day.

She says that to avoid procrastination, start the list at the first task and work on it until it is done (or until you get enough of it done to be able to move it further down the list.) Completing a task alleviates a lot of stress. At the end of the day, the things that did not get done should be put at the top of the list for the next day. Having a start and a stop time is critical and should be monitored with the use of a kitchen-type timer. This kind of scheduling will keep you from getting lost in your email or immersed in a task so long that you lose track of time.

Be disciplined; avoid interruptions. Don’t plan to check your email more than 3 times a day; disable the inbox alert feature. Turn off your phone; close the door. If you are frequently interrupted by family members, announce that you need a few hours of uninterrupted time so “get your questions asked now” because after this, you will not be available for your pre-set amount of time. Ask your spouse or partner to assist you in eliminating the interruptions. Be disciplined also in avoiding distractions. Distractions are interruptions that are caused by your own inattention. Stay on task and get the job done.

Suzanne cautions about any system or method you try; if it doesn’t work for you after a few days (and you will know) throw that idea away and try something else. Don’t keep laboring under a system that you will never assimilate.

The next topic Suzanne addressed is paper management and her prime recommendation about managing the paper in your life is to reduce the volume of paper that enters your life in the first place. To get off direct mail lists, contact Mail Preference Service, Department 8067068, Direct Marketing Association, P.O. Box 282, Carmel, NY 10512. Give them your name and address, tell them that you don’t want any more junk mail and sign the letter. She has also used the postage paid envelopes that are often included with a solicitation to send the material back with the message, “Please remove me from your mailing list.” This will generally stop the mailings, since they don’t want to have to pay for returns. The website is where you can request to stop delivery of particular catalogs or you can call the 800 numbers of the retailers themselves and ask to be removed from their mailing list. To end credit card offers, call 1-888-5OPTOUT (567-8688) or visit their website at Consider canceling (or not renewing) magazines that you don’t read regularly and every time a new magazine arrives, you should discard the oldest one.

Since the daily mail is where the majority of the paper enters your home, she recommended setting up a recycle bin (or shredder) in the garage or near the front door where you can deal with the junk mail before it enters your home. Immediately throw away, unopened, promotions, sales brochures, fliers, catalogs that you don’t look at, etc. Tear up or shred all credit card offers. This will probably reduce the quantity of the pile of mail by half. After entering the house (and putting your keys in the spot you have designated for keys) deal with the remainder of the mail before doing anything else; make it a habit to spend 15 minutes putting this information where it belongs. As Marcia Ramsland said in her book Simplify Your Space (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007) “Remember, one pile sitting out is the potential beginning of a complicated life. Keep your life simple, and put the pile away.” Sort items into folders or baskets designated for a specific purpose. Pay bills immediately or open them and file them in order of the date they are due. You should put bill paying in your schedule and plan to pay bills every two weeks or set up automatic bill paying online for your routine bills like water, trash, cable, etc. Have a folder for items you need to act on (such as invitations and personal correspondence) and one for items you are considering (such as promotional offers). Have two separate containers (baskets, racks, trays) to sort magazines and catalogs. These should be kept where they can be read or browsed at your leisure or in time you have designated for the task.

Suzanne has a “locations list” where she records the designated location for where items are kept and says that the key is to store all like items together. Have a fire-proof box where all of the important documents are kept – will, birth certificate, marriage license, social security card, etc. Tax records need to be kept for seven years, and receipts for all home improvements (not maintenance) need to be kept until the sale of the house. If you don’t deduct the money paid for certain bills, then throw them away after verifying the amounts and paying the balance. Retirement information and a record of your stock purchases need to be kept in order to know the cost basis when you go to sell. There is no need to keep the ATM receipts after they have been checked against your bank statement.

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