Brought To You By Emily Parks
Productivity Consultant at Organize For Success, LLC...
Helping You Make Every Minute Matter!

Monday, August 30, 2010

What's Sitting In Your Email Inbox?

If someone were to peer over your shoulder right now to look at your email Inbox, what would that person find? Do you keep just about everything received in your Inbox, making it such that you have several hundred emails in there right now? Do you keep action items in your Inbox, meaning the number of messages varies depending on how many items would fall on your to-do list? Well, here's a little tidbit that I've found can have an immense impact on increasing one's productivity: Your email Inbox is definitely not your to-do list. I recommend using your email Inbox as exactly that... an "In Box". New items funnel through as needed while action items are moved accordingly. A brief glimpse at how that concept plays out day-to-day is as follows:

- What has yet to be read is what remains in your email Inbox, an area to be dealt with when most convenient for you so that you control your technology rather than your technology controlling you.
- Any action that can be completed in less than 5 minutes after reading the corresponding email should be done at that time, particularly since it's common in such instances for the time to re-engage in the action to take longer than simply doing the action when first made aware it needs to be done.
- What requires more action gets moved to your electronic to-do list by creating a Task with subject indicating action and with a due date included OR to your paper to-do list by adding to your notebook of action items, a running data dump of to-do items, assigning to your daily tasks when appropriate.
- What indicates an upcoming appointment or specific time commitment gets moved to Calendar, allowing the subject to convey what action is to happen and outlining its set date, time and location.
- What has been completed but might need to be referenced later gets moved to Personal Folders, naming those Personal Folders to mirror your paper + electronic file management systems.

When adopting this approach, it's important to note that simply dragging an email from the Inbox to Tasks or Calendar folders will just copy the item in question, not actually moving it, unlike dragging an email to any of the Personal Folders for retention. Instead, to create a new Task or a new appointment in the Calendar, either right-click on the email in the Inbox or double-click to open it and click the "Move to Folder" link for selecting the appropriate folder, i.e. Tasks or Calendar. Once the email is officially moved, it's important to adjust the included components to accurately convey desired information (like Subject line to action or appointment description, Due Date, Location and Recurrence fields). And always hit Save when done.

At the end of each day, there should be no more than 10 emails sitting in your email Inbox. Following the approach above will get you there, but remembering how the Delete key is your friend will make it even easier... If it's a notification of something that has passed or if it's something you can find elsewhere (like on the sender's website), there is no need to keep that email. What is your current approach to processing emails arriving in your Inbox? Do you think adopting this approach might make life a little easier?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Happiness Happens Month

Posted by Emily Parks on August 29, 2010

August is "Happiness Happens Month", where you notice, discuss and promote your happiness while helping others to do the same. Isn't that a great concept?!? There are so many health and productivity benefits that come from being happy. Therefore, I suggest taking a moment right now to think about what makes YOU happy... I love music so I always gravitate toward a great song, but what song makes your toes tap? What TV show always makes you laugh? What was your fave food as a kid and does it still make you smile when you're about to eat it? What's your favorite holiday? What's the happiest moment you've ever had in your life? And who makes you smile just thinking about him/her?

Taking a moment to think about questions like this can be enough to boost your happiness quotient quite a bit... Yet, do you incorporate happiness in your day-to-day activities?

Simple options for making happiness happen include raise your activity level, do a good deed for someone else, learn something new, rid yourself of a nagging task, adopt a healthy diet, try to be more organized, think of the best scenario instead of the worst and seek out a hobby or passion.

What will you do today in order to make happiness happen? Have fun celebrating "Happiness Happens Month" throughout this last bit of August!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Overwhelmed By All That Needs To Be Done?

If your memory is anything like mine, it's just not possible to remember every little thing that pops into your brain, let alone all the requests, to-do's, phone calls, etc. Some things pop in and out of my brain fairly quickly, making it so very important to write things down. In fact, I've found the saying "what is written down gets accomplished" to be very true but only when done in a way that works for me. Operating directly out of my running list on a day-to-day basis can be quite overwhelming; however, I've adapted the process into a technique that has proven effective for many of my clients and might be helpful for you, too.

Everywhere I go, I always have with me a small, lined notebook. From a psychological perspective, it's important that the notebook is in a color or pattern that makes me happy and puts a smile on my face, making me more likely to use it and not avoid it. A good example of something that would work for this notebook is Franklin Covey's Floral Lined Journal, which can be found at, or Wellspring's Flip Notes, which can be found at For individuals that prefer electronic solutions over paper solutions, the Notes or Evernote applications on any smart phone can work, too. My notebook serves as a "master to-do list", basically a data-dump. When a to-do item, an idea, a voice mail message I must return, meeting notes or the like arises, it gets written in my notebook, freeing my mind for what pops-up next or, better yet, to focus on the day's priorities.

Then, at the end of each day, I review my "master to-do list" for what are the next day's priorities, pulling 3 - 5 items which absolutely must be completed. In my strategy session, I review upcoming appointments that require planning, pending deadlines and what appointments are scheduled the next day requiring certain preparation or that I take related items with me, taking into consideration anything impacting what are those 3 - 5 action items. With all that gets thrown at me (and my clients) during any given day, I find that 3 - 5 action items are about all that can be planned in advance while realistically expecting them to be completed. Finally, those 3 - 5 action items are written on a 3"x5" index card, something to keep in front of me when working on my computer or carry with me between that day's appointments.

If you take just a few moments at the end of today to plan for tomorrow, it could make a world of difference in how your day goes, enabling you to accomplish more and avoid overwhelm from what's not important or not time-sensitive. How do you currently handle your to-do items? Is your system working? If it is working, what do you like best about your system? On the other hand, if it is not working, what frustrates you most about your current system for handling to-do items?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

How'd You Simplify Your Life This Week?

As we come to the end of national "Simplify Your Life Week", what do you think it means to SIMPLIFY? Think you'll need to give up all your worldly possessions to become a hermit and live in a cave somewhere?!? Luckily, simplifying is really all about having enough without having too much... Cutting back on physical clutter is part of the picture, but the emphasis is on slowing down and focusing on your true priorities. For some, this may mean working fewer hours and taking a cut in pay to have more time with friends and family. For others, this may mean buying a smaller home that is closer to work so as to lessen the daily commute while cleaning out unused items throughout the home. Meanwhile, others may take this as the opportunity to simply say "no" to more of each day's endless requests from others, saying "yes" to only requests that fulfill personal & professional goals.

Did you celebrate this "Simplify Your Life Week" by making a change to simplify your life? If not, where do you see excess in your life? Whether physical objects, paper in your files, commitments made or emails arriving in your Inbox, is there something you can purge and begin to simplify? To eliminate overwhelm and ensure success sticks, start with ONE change in ONE area of your life... What can you change today?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Don't Give Up... Get Better Odds in the Change Game

A fresh calendar each January inspires us to do what can become impossible by July... "Get organized" often ranks high on folks' lists of new year's resolutions, but things don't always pan out the way we envision. Each new year's resolutions come at the wrong time of the year, surrounded by excessive calendar clutter amidst great fun and frivolous celebration, making change a very difficult thing to accomplish. Therefore, the inevitable bit of backsliding we experience can make us feel like we've blown it or the game's over. Hold on! Rather than waiting until next January, let's take a moment to really think this through... If you were driving from Florida to Maine and got lost in North Carolina, would you simply turn around and return to Florida? Not likely. Instead, you'd probably find your way and continue traveling to your destination. Getting organized is the exact same thing: it's a process, not just an event. A little bit of backsliding doesn't mean we give up on the goal of making our desired changes; instead, take today as your New Year's Day and start over with your resolution to "get organized", understanding that "good enough" is so much better than "perfect" in the process of organizing. Your best bet for long-term success is small, slow, realistic steps with transformation coming from incremental change. Take it easy on yourself. Don't feel guilty if you backslide, and do not give up. Try a moderate approach that will produce better results in the long-term, and stay tuned to this blog for tips and ideas about how to make that happen. Here's to a great, more organized remainder of 2010!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Organize Your Home Office

Whether your home office is simply where you take care of the mail and pay each month's bills or is the spot in which you complete all the tasks of your full-time occupation, having an organized environment in which you can find anything needed at the exact moment you need it is extremely important. Such an environment can be good for your mental and physical health, can lower your stress, can improve your efficiencies and can provide you with extra time for doing the things you really enjoy in life, rather than just the things you "have to do" in life. Here are a few tips for achieving that environment:

Clutter is the result of postponed decisions... Whether it is paper, an electronic file, a tool used to perform your job, postage to mail checks in paying your bills or the information that fills your home daily, give items a "home" so you will know the answer of what to do with them upon receipt and after each use.

Use just one notebook for recording all messages (phone, exchanged face-to-face, transferrred from email or snail mail...) and for keeping all your notes together, rather than posting sticky notes everywhere.

Keep email manageable by retaining only those necessary and dealing with action items as quickly as possible, wether creating a task assigned to a specific time or completing the necessary action immediately. If the requested action takes less than 5 minutes, do it now; if longer time is required, schedule accordingly. Then, since the most recent message of a back-and-forth conversation usually includes the content of all previous messages, keep only the most recent and adjust each subject line to better indicate the content for easier locating later.

Make sure to keep only one calendar / planner... Anything more leads to forgotten commitments, appointments falling through the cracks and unnecessary stress... Plus, incorporate color whenever possible. For example, add items from the same area of your life in the same color of ink to show they are of the same facet in your life.

When naming paper and electronic files, balance carefully between generic and specific. You want each item to be filed fitting within one fo the files available, but you do not want any item to be filed abled to fit in multiple file options. Furthermore, be certain to use the same names in both paper and electronic filing systems, streamlining things.

These are just a few ideas to get you rolling along, but what are some of your favorite techniques? How do you organize your home office? Can't wait to hear all your ideas!

Looking For a Little Inspiration?

Did you know that organizing your space can help to lower or eliminate your stress? As we move towards April, which is National Stress Awareness Month, could you use a little inspiration for organizing your space? In the Photos section of The Container Store's Facebook fan page, which can be found at!/containerstore?v=photos, there is a section of Fan Photos. This is an area where customers can upload images of how they've utilized The Container Store's products for bringing calm and order to their home and office spaces. I just love the utilization of color in these spaces, whether to add a little sunshine or to group like with like or to help locate important items as they are needed. Enjoy all the great work spaces interspersed throughout, and feel free to contact Organize for Success at 919-981-6397 or if you need a helping hand in converting your space into something similar.

When Your Office Is On The Run

If you have a mobile office, it absolutely must be efficient. Use these organizing tips to keep your necessary supplies at your fingertips and your mode of transportation neat as a pin.

Use an on-the-go filing system to get papers under control... For travel by automobile, one cost-effective option is Real Simple's Portable File Tote, available at Target or online. However, if you prefer, your local office supply store should have a wide array of portable, lidded file boxes in addition the opton of a simple plastic crate. Label hanging file folders with broad categories, and slide important papers into the correct spots. If traveling by air or train, invest in an expandable briefcase. Very important... Always make sure to have extra folders and labels so you can create new files on the run as needed.

Keep office supplies contained and handy... Stock a small, lidded, plastic box or a small Ziploc bag with essential office supplies, like pens, sticky notes, note cards & envelopes, stamps, return address labels, correction tape, paper clips and a roll of Scotch tape. Don't forget business cards, brochures and other promotional materials. If not in that same bag, keep pens and pencils in one of your automobile's cup holders. Always pack your supplies in the same area of your box, bag or auto organizer, and keep everything together... For auto organizers, I recommend the Case Logic Front Seat Mobile Office Organizer, the Sunshine Kids Travel Pal or the High Road Front Seat Organizer, all available from Target's website. Before leaving home or your physical office, give your in-vehicle storage solution a quick once-over to make sure it is completely stocked, and take a moment to fill in any missing items or those running low.

Be smart in recording expenses... Dedicate an envelope to hold business-related receipts, emptying it once each week. Don't forget to keep a mileage log tucked into your visor, door pocket or glove box for tax purposes. Cardinal Brands sells a great, 3.25" x 6.25" Vehicle Mileage with Annual Summary log that can be found on its website or through Office Max, which is an especially great option for recording mileage due to its compact size.

Don't forget to say "thank you"... Always have a box of "thank you" notes and envelopes on-hand to write while on-the-go. Also, since you'll have postage stamps and return address labels in the aforementioned plastic box or bag, always make sure to have your address book (or method of looking up people's addresses), too. If you want to personalize your postage, just like you can get professional-looking, pre-printed return address labels, you can order stamps that include your business' logo from Zazzle's website, delivered directly to your home or office.

Utilize technology for improved efficiencies... If you have a laptop computer, store as much information on it as you can, like phone numbers, calendars, client information and important documents. Or, if not your laptop computer, any "smart phone" cell phone will work, too. This will limit the hard copy materials you'll need to lug around, but make sure that you back-up your electronic files and information regularly.

Keep reading material together in one file... When you receive a new magazine, thumb through for the articles you'll want to read and add them to your "to-read" file. When you find yourself waiting for an appointment or the next leg of your travels, take that opportunity to catch up on the latest industry news or clean unnecessary information out of your briefcase.

Consider some specialty car organizers... There are visor organizers for CDs, auto litterbags for trash, auto tray tables and back-of-the-seat organizers for cleaning wipes, tissues and an extra bottle of water. Case Logic is an excellent and well-known brand for these items, and their items can be found online or at Target stores nationwide.

Make sure you don't forget your brilliant ideas... or the "to-do" list items that randomly pop into your head... or that great comment made on the phone call you just wrapped up... or anything else that is filling up your mind. Stash a small, hard-cover or spiral-bound notebook to catch those moments and details. On the other hand, to keep your eyes on the road, tote a mini-recorder, use the voice record feature on a "smart phone" or call your own voice mail to leave yourself a reminder message.

Toss it out and tidy up each day... Keep a nylon or plastic garbage bag in the vehicle so messes get cleaned up as you go. Simply take five minutes at the end of each day to empty the bag and tidy up the entire vehicle. This small investment of time will prevent the need for a longer clean-up later.

How Do Your Files Look?

Since what goes into your files typically must come back out at some point in time, what is your retention schedule? For financial documents, individuals and businesses should keep tax returns forever, supporting items for at least 7 years and non-tax paperwork for no more than 3 years. Although businesses should consult with their accountants and lawyers for more information, individuals can visit this website:

Just as important as "what" you keep is "where" you keep those items... Use 3 zones for filing: fingertip files for active & daily-used items on desktop, regularly used files in a file drawer nearby, rarely used files in an archive area. The items in your fingertip files should be action items in current use, keeping them visible to remind you of what needs to be done for each.

Are you keeping the right items for the right amount of time? Are you purging often to make sure things are current? Many people keep every tiny scrap of paper, but not everything needs to be kept. In fact, many items that once were available only as papers can now be found online... When evaluating what papers to keep, ask yourself, "Can I find this on the Internet?" If the item can be easily found elsewhere or easily reproduced, is keeping it worth the time, effort and space invested in doing so?

Since it's ideal to review your files twice a year, usually in April and October, feel free to contact Organize for Success, LLC if you need help creating a filing system, purging your current files or establishing a schedule for future purges.

Smart Planning Makes Quick Work of Your To-Do List

When your desk is piled high with "to-do" items, it's easy to stall if you don't know where or how to begin... Here are tips to increase your productivity and tackle projects, both big and small.

Do the hardest thing first... Instead of starting your day by checking messages, rifling through the mail or taking care of easy administrative tasks, attack the hardest, most challenging or least enjoyable task earlier in the day, when your energy level is probably higher and your mind is most certainly clearer. Carve out a chunk of time each morning to tackle those heavy-duty projects, avoiding the procrastination often associated with large jobs. In other words, plan to be "proactive" in the morning so you can be "reactive" during moments that pop-up later, knowing your most pressing projects have been handled earlier in the day. It may not be easy to start with the hard stuff, but you'll get the momentum going and feel accomplished all day long.

Know your natural energy patterns... Although being proactive early so you can be reactive later is very important, it is equally important to tackle the hardest tasks when your energy level is at its highest, which may be first-thing in the morning or may come at another point in your day. Monitor your reaction to various activities at different points throughout the day over the next week so you can schedule your day accordingly. Then, once you know the time of day during which your energy level is at its highest, schedule your toughest tasks during that daypart, and be firm about maintaining those appointments with yourself.

Clear the clutter out of your brain... Write it down! Since the average desk worker spends 3 hours per week sorting piles to find the project needing to be worked on next, you can start getting your work under control by writing down the "to-do" items and bright ideas floating around in your head. By relieving your brain from remembering tedious details, you allow new, creative thinking to develop in there. Create a running list of phone calls to make, things to discuss with coworkers, supplies to get and other small-detail tasks. Create another running list for brainstorming, creative planning, ideas to attack down the road and life-long goals. Keep all your lists in one place, like a multi-subject, spiral-bound notebook, in your planner or on your computer / PDA, making it easier to see what can be delegrated and preventing the endless search for Post-It notes scattered about. Then, as you work into this system, use that same location for meeting notes, phone messages, things to be recalled from ongoing discussions and everything else that's been needlessly filling up your mind.

Plan for tomorrow at the end of today... Take the last 15 minutes of each workday to create tomorrow's "to-do" list, but be realistic about what can be completed in one day. Focus on 3-5 priority tasks, which can be written on a 3" x 5" index card to keep in front of you throughout the next workday. This habit of planning will give you the gift of focus, allowing you to get a jump-start the next morning, particularly important when following the "do the hardest thing first" suggestion listed above. By writing down everything that needs to be accomplished tomorrow, you create a map and can prioritize so urgent needs get done. The process of putting your thoughts in writing helps you relax at home because you'll know the "to-do" items that have been scrolling through your head are now all down on paper. Plus, during the end-of-day planning process, you can reflect on the great work you accomplished during the day, enabling you to leave work feeling proud as well as excited for tomorrow.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Benefits of Being Organized at Work

The average desk worker has 36 hours of work on his or her desk and spends three hours per week sorting piles trying to find the project to work on next. Does that sound familiar? If you're struggling through mountains of desk clutter, realize that you'll help your business run better AND you'll reap multiple personal rewards by becoming more organized.

You'll increase productivity once you have an organized and efficient schedule to keep you on track. You'll be amazed by what you get done in shorter amounts of time. By focusing on your priorities and goals, you'll be able to move ahead towards reaching them, but the benefits certainly don't stop there.

Once you are organized, you will have a positive self-image because your organized office will allow you to present a professional image to coworkers, clients and superiors alike. A clutter-free environment is also easier to manage. Your stress level will decrease dramatically. When you can find what you need, are on top of your to-do items and arrive on time, you will feel calmer and have more peace of mind. No more feeling overwhelmed by life --- You will be the one in control. You'll discover more time for yourself. When you are organized, your days go a bit smoother, and you get a lot more done. That leaves more time to indulge in a little "me time". Doesn't that sound nice?

If the benefits of getting and staying organized, efficient and more productive sound good to you, keep checking this blog frequently for tips, tricks and technicques... all courtesy of Organize for Success, LLC. For additional ideas, you can become a fan at Plus, if you'd like direct business organizing assistance from Organize for Success, LLC, freel free to call 919-981-6397 or email today.