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Anyone who knows me, knows that I always have a pocketful of “sticky notes.” I always thought myself quirky, until I recently read The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload. This book offers the tip of carry around index cards (or in my case, sticky notes,) to free your mind of clutter, enabling better organization and productivity. As the author says, your mind, and thus productivity, are too often distracted by thoughts of things you need to remember to do. So, by simply keeping stack of index cards in your pocket or purse, when you think of something you need to remember to do, jot it down on a card…and forget about it…for now. So, if I’m at work, and need to remember something to do at home, I make a note, stick it in my pocket. When I get home, I clean-out my pockets, and take care of those tasks those items I wrote down. In this way, I am not distracted trying to remember minor things, when I have other things to think about at the moment. The notes are also great to have next to my bed, as often, in the middle of the night, my resting mind thinks of something, and I’ll stay awake half the night trying to remind myself to remember. But, by writing the thought down, and thereby clearing it from my mind, I can get a better night’s rest.

There are some “fancy” supplies that you can purchase to write and manage index card “to-do” lists, such as offered by Levenger. In addition, some people prefer to use a digital version; however, for myself, and as Facebook’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg, admitted in her book Lean In, I find that the physical action of writing things down with paper and pen helps me remember things better. So, I just stick with plain sticky notes and any writing utensil close by.

Another tip offered by Levitin’s The Organized Mind book is to eliminate the need to clutter your mind with inconsequential items…such as where are your keys or reading glasses? So, if you place a bowl or hook near the door for your keys, and get in the habit of always placing them there, you will never need to worry about finding them, as they will be where they are supposed to be. And regarding reading glasses, I utilize his suggestion of having a pair of reading glasses in each room…so I don’t need to go looking for a pair when I need one. (I just make it a habit to leave each pair in its room when I leave the room.) Making items like these a habit, it allows your brain to focus on more important things.

Also, one organizational habit that I developed decades ago is having an actual “to-do” list…not on sticky notes in my pocket. I am one of those people that loves physically crossing-off things on a list. I learned from my mother, who had lists for everything – Thanksgiving meals, holiday planning, household tasks – that crossing things from a list helps you feel productive, because you have visual proof that you accomplished something today. My lists are kept on a simple, lined legal pad, and I have a separate pad for every area of my life. Most of these to-do lists are longer-term items, such as task goals for this week, this month, or at an indeterminate time in the future. (Things like “remember to drop off the client bills” typically go on a sticky note and into my pocket.) I list my long-term “to-do” items at the top of the lined page, working down to those items that need to be done in the more immediate future. That way, I am crossing off items at the bottom of the list, keeping the others above intact, as I work my way up the list. I found that setting aside 5-10 minutes each morning to rewrite my “to-do” list on a new sheet of paper, it enabled the following benefits: 1) my mind was more organized and less cluttered; 2) I was able to better recall the list without having to look at it repeatedly throughout the day; 3) it allowed me to reorganize/re-prioritize the tasks, as needed; and 4) it ensures my list is fresh and neat every day. (My co-workers have great fun “reorganizing” my desk, to mess with my “neatness” idiosyncrasy.)

Finally, my last bit of organizational advice is most crucial – do not become tempted to procrastinate in organizing. I find that spending only 20-30 minutes a day in organizing tasks will help immensely down the road. Here are some examples of things that can be accomplished in the 30-minutes allotted:

  • When you are done using the item, put it back where it belongs.
  • Log your expense receipts, bills, invoices and payments into your bookkeeping software every day! It will save days of work at tax time. (See some of my recommended solutions for software and tax preparation on my Toolbox page.)
  • Clear-off your desk or work area when you are finished working for the day. Purchase a simple file system…nothing too complex, or you will not use it! Whether it is a filing cabinet from Craigslist, or a filing tote from Walmart, keep your paper records organized…and off your desk. For tasks that are “in process,” use labeled file folders in desk trays. The goal is to have a physical and visual “end” to the work day, enabling a smoother and less stressful start for the next work day.
  • Open your mail daily, and sort it into a manner that makes sense to you. It is recommended that you create a mail tray system, organizing the mail into what needs to be dealt with right away, as well as those items that can be dealt with later. Even my non-organized friends become stressed at their pile of unopened mail, which they tried to ignore, to eliminate dealing with what the mail may contain, but the ignoring only made them more stressed. By simply opening the mail and organizing it, it alleviates stress, and helps your mind to develop a plan for dealing with it.

I know there is a lot of information here, but the goal is to work on one organizational habit at a time. Trying to make an “organizational overhaul” will simply stress you out and cause you to give up. So, start slow, and see how your mind and life can become less cluttered with one habit change. And once you have solidified one new habit, add another…and then another. In no time, you will be more organized…and more productive! And that is truly the ultimate goal or organizing – making your business and life as successful as it can be.

Until next issue…Best wishes in your endeavors!

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