Friday, November 28, 2008

30-Day Organizing Challenge Wrap Up

In this 30-day challenge, we've learned workflow management, email management, and clutter busting. We didn't get to some of the bigger challenges, like tax organizing and that sort of thing. But I'll do another organizing challenge next year, and I hope you'll check in then.

I'd especially like to thank our guest bloggers this month: Wonderful professional organizers June Bell and Janine Adams and fung shui and design coach Alison Marks. You've been so much fun to work with and I thank you a million times for all the great suggestions you've shared for addressing a problem that stymies most of us at one time or another. I'll add links to their Web pages and blogs to the main page so you can find them in the future if you need to.

And now, a summary of what we've learned this month. Kind of like a clutter-busting table of contents:

Figuring out your organizing priorities.

Overcoming organizing overwhelm so you can get started.

Set realistic goals to avoid perfectionism and paralysis.

Organizing systems for email, filing, and mail.

Staying productive on Election Day.

Learning to let go of things you don't need anymore.

Five biggest organizing mistakes to avoid.

Identifying organizing tools and prioritizing organizing in your end-of-year shopping.

Using the buddy system to tackle the hardest organizing challenges.

Creating workflow organization.

Creating systems to manage paper.

Secrets to successful paper organizing and sorting.

I hope you enjoyed the challenge as much as I did.

As I look around my desk today, I can see a tremendous difference from the day the challenge started. I still have magazines under my table, but the massive piles to the left and right of my computer have been replaced by a plant on one side and a small pile to the left. (Progress, right?) I have a heavy-duty shredder that makes getting rid of unnecessary paper easier. And I feel better in my office.

How about you? What changes have you noticed as you've applied these principles?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

30-Day Organizing Challenge: Secrets to Sorting

Day 28's goal: Corral the Clutter

Yesterday, guest blogger Alison Marks shared the big picture for how to deal with paper. But then there's that moment that you're sitting there staring at all your paper and not sure how to tackle it. To address that issue, guest blogger and professional organizer June Bell is back and she's getting specific: What to keep, where to keep it and how to sort it. As always, leave comments below, or ask June questions directly by emailing her at junebell (at) aol (dot) com.

Bills. Receipts. Magazines. Catalogs. Copies. Clippings. Notes. Lists. Documents. Paper is everywhere, blanketing our tables and desks and filling our mailboxes, in boxes and out boxes.

Taking even a baby step toward conquering paper clutter may inspire you to take another and another … with increasingly positive results as you progress.

To reduce the amount of paper in your life, first, limit the amount of paper that you let in:

Junk mail. Sort mail by a recycling bin. Immediately toss anything you don’t want (for me, that’s supermarket circulars and any unsolicited ads).

Newspaper. As a veteran newspaper reporter, I hate to suggest that people ditch their subscriptions and read the paper on line. But if you’re battling piles of newsprint, this might (sob) be an option for you.

Magazines. If you’re not excited to find a new issue in your mailbox, consider canceling your subscription or not renewing it. When a new issue arrives, recycle or pass along the previous one. And instead of keeping the entire magazine, just tear out the articles you want to read or save.

Catalogs. Contact the Direct Marketing Association to have your name removed from mailing lists. You can also call catalog companies individually as you receive catalogs.

Tax-related paperwork. Set aside a shirt box or shoe box for all W-2 forms, dividend statements, 1099s (if you’re self-employed), brokerage statements, etc. Just drop them into the box throughout the year so that when you’re ready to start on your taxes, you’ll have everything you need in one place. Note: This is one category where you don’t want to discard as much as possible!

Office papers. The vast majority of what we file disappears into our filing systems, drawer or cabinets, never to emerge again. So before you routinely file (or add to a growing pile), ask yourself:

o How likely is it that I’ll need this again?
o If I do need it, can I get it somewhere else, such as from a manager, the Internet, a family member?
o What’s the worst-case scenario if I toss it?

A stack of paper usually represents a bunch of decisions you need to make: Take a cruise? Buy supplemental life insurance? Read a prospectus? So set aside time to make decisions on these items, or delegate those decisions to someone else.

Gradually you’ll reclaim the horizontal surfaces in your home or office.

Friday, November 21, 2008

30-Day Organizing Challenge: Prioritizing Paper Management

Day 27's goal: Tame the paper.

To wind up the organizing challenge, we'll be spending two days this week on paper paralysis. Today, guest blogger, life coach and feng shui consultant Alison Marks will talk about getting your paper organized. Marks is also the author of The Little Book of Sanctuary: A Beautiful Home is Simply a Choice and the forthcoming and workbook set, “From Clutter to Order in 8 Weeks.” For more information, please visit or email her at alison at InsideOutDesignCoaching dot com.

I’m a collector. And a piler. So what am I doing writing about organizing paper?

Over the years, I’ve become obsessed with systems. Having elegant systems doesn’t change my inherent nature as a piler and collector. It does, however, serve as a protective line of defense that keeps me shielded from chaos and overwhelm--at least most of the time.

A lot of people think that their world of paper is an endless black hole. The truth is that no matter how much you have, there’s only so much of it. If you learn to think in terms of systems, it’s not so hard to get organized enough to have a clear desk and be able to get your hands on anything you need quickly.

Here’s how to start:

Decide what the big chunks are.

Think about the different kinds of papers you have based on how you use and interact with them, not based on content. They really will only fall into a few (3-5) major categories – what I call “big chunks.” Most people have these big chunks:

- Active papers and files – includes anything you interact with frequently
- Storage files
- Reference files – information about topics you are interested in, sort of like a personal library
- Great ideas – used especially by business owners and people working on big projects

This will serve as the big framework for your organizing system. Now you know the first question to ask yourself when you want to find something or put something away: “Is it an active item, a reference item or a storage item?”

Do a gross sort.

Gather all your papers and sort them into the big chunks. This means all your papers – yes, every single sheet. Your mail, magazine articles, old files, old letters, great work ideas, conference notes, random business cards, post-it notes, financial files and papers – ALL of it.

I recommend investing in some bankers boxes for this task. They are easy to drop things into, easy to temporarily label, easy to stack up when you need to take a break, and usable for storage once you get things further sorted.

As you’re sorting, you’re likely notice that you want to start creating subcategories. By all means go ahead and do that where it will help you right now (for example, you may want to have a box for things with a deadline that you need to tackle soon). Otherwise, don’t get caught up in sorting within the big chunks yet.

Map it out.

Where does it make sense for each of your chunks to live? Think in terms of how you work. Your long-term storage files can go in the garage, while bills to be paid should be kept together at hand near your desk. Physically move the boxes to that area.


Now that you’ve gone through all your papers, you have a sense of both what kinds of things you have and how much of them you have. Now your job is to find the best home for each group of like items. Containers are anything that hold something else – files, boxes, binders, desk drawers, racks, shelves, sections of things, boxes, etc.


There’s something magical about labels.
Even if you’re the only one using the space, labeling all the homes with a description of what lives inside will help you locate what you’re looking for and will ensure that your system stays in good working order. Labels also help you recognize when your papers are creeping over and above their containment zone. That way, you'll know when you need to make changes in the system to accommodate your constantly changing reality.

Set up a good in-box system.

Practice good time management habits that help you stay on top of current to-do items and maintain your system over time. There are many good systems out there – one I like is David Allen’s Getting Things Done.

There are a lot of ways to make this process more complicated, but it rarely needs to be. Being aware of how your systems support you and following these simple steps will help you get a handle on your paper once and for all!

Monday, November 17, 2008

30-Day Organizing Challenge: Flow Through Work

Day 22's goal: Create a workflow plan

Every Sunday night I sit at my computer in the quiet of the waning weekend (can you tell I don't have kids?) and fill out my plan for the week.

I started doing this because of a very big problem: I was coming up against deadlines and realized I didn't know what I needed to finish. Or, I'd forget that edits were likely on stories I'd already filed. I'd turn in a story and become resentful when I needed to drop everything to make a few follow-up phone calls.

Now that's crazy. Edits, as any writer knows, are a very important part of the job.

What I realized was that I didn't resent the work. I resented myself for not allowing time for it. When I started this challenge, I got a lot of questions about creating time for marketing, time for invoicing and other administrative work like scanning and shredding or addressing mail, time for the gym, and time for personal things.

This chart is how I make time--and make my priorities.

My method is very basic--a Word document marked with eight columns. For you, it might work better to do it in Excel, in ACT or in your Blackberry's calendar function. The key is that whatever system you will use is the right one for you.

This is my low-tech solution, and these are what the columns include:

Column 1: Client/assignment.

On my form it comes out something like, "Chron-nabe" or "TMG-GINA." Any shorthand that helps me easily identify the project.

Column 2: Final deadline.

Self explanatory. It allows me to include both stories I've filed but for which I have expected edits and those for which I haven't invoiced. Everything stays on there until I send the invoice.

Column 3: This week.

Under this heading, I list what needs to be accomplished this week. For stories I've turned in, I always write, "Poss. edits"--possible edits--to remind me that work is not done. For stories I haven't begun, this usually means researching or contacting sources.

Columns 4-8: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday.

For each day, I write what I expect to accomplish or what I need to accomplish to stay on-target for my deadline. It also allows me to see that if I have three deadlines, as I do this week, I need to stagger writing them. That way I don't end up frantic and trying to draft three stories in one day.

How Many Rows?

I include a row for each assignment, from inception to invoicing, but also have ongoing tasks that get their own rows--so named because that's what I list as the deadline. It's not that they're not important. It's that they're always due. These include: Querying, Gym, Networking, Admin and Personal.

It reminds me that 1) these are real priorities and need to be scheduled in; and 2) I need to find time to do them every week. This is not optional.

In those "ongoing" rows, I include what days I'll hit the gym or go to yoga, include lunches scheduled with editors, days to scan clips and file old docs, etc.

How It Could Work for You:

Organize your rows.

Start by listing your deadlines by date. On my current list, I have an assignment that was due on Sept. 12 and one due Dec. 16. On the former, I'm waiting for edits, and I use the schedule to remind myself to drop a note to the editor. On the latter, I remind myself to get started this week seeking sources so I'm not slammed as people leave for the holidays.

After the deadline rows, I have the ongoing rows. On those, I remind myself to draft the update to my Web site, write posts to this blog and remind myself that my friend's birthday is on Thursday and need to buy her a present.

Get specific

It's not enough to just say I'm going to query this week in the query row. For me, it helps to list the specific query I'm going to send and the queries I'll follow up on.

The same goes for contacting sources in the deadline rows. I try to write which sources I'm going to call (listed by abbreviation to save space). That takes some of the crisis out of figuring out what to do next when I'm busy.

Make it visible

After finishing the chart, I print two copies. One goes on the bulletin board above my computer monitor, where I can look at it all day long if I choose. The other goes in my planner. It's small enough that it fits just fine.

Do it daily

The real gift of this list is that it saves me time when I make my to-do list for the day. (Not a list person? Sorry. This is the only way I can ever hope to get anything done.) When I fill out my to-do list for the following day--I write mine in the evening so I don't have to think about it when I get up in the morning--I transfer what I haven't accomplished today along with what my chart tells me I need to do. That way, I have a fighting chance to stay prompt with all my work and out of chaos and drama.

This, my friends, is the real source of much of my work serenity. Include everything, schedule it, and try your best to stick to it.

What works for you to keep yourself on-track in work and life?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

30-Day Organizing Challenge: Buddy Up

Day 17's goal: Get Help and Have Fun

Ever feel like you're on the losing end when you try to face down a pile of clutter? Maybe it's because you're doing it alone. Today, the fantastic organizer June Bell is back with another entry in her ongoing guest-blogging series on the fundamentals of organizing. This time, it's about safety--and effectiveness--in numbers. If you have questions directly for June, feel free to email her at junebell at aol dot com. Otherwise, leave a comment below.

You’ve got a friend …

A big part of my job as a professional organizer is to be an empathetic listener, a fresh pair of eyes and a low-key encourager. You probably take on those roles from time to time for a friend, colleague or partner. So if either of you needs help getting organized, you can tap one another for support.

Here are some ideas:

 Smashin’ fashion show:

Hang the contents of your closet on a clothes rack and ask a trusted friend – the one who’s French, always well dressed, or works in a boutique (or all three!) – to suggest some new outfits using the separates you own. Also ask her to flag any garments, shoes and accessories that look dated, shabby or worn. Don’t argue with her. Just discard or donate them.

 Two’s company:

If you dread tackling stacks of paper in your home office or fear getting your tax papers ready for April 15, find a friend in the same boat. Work together at your home to halve the burden of filing and sorting. Then commit to meet at his house to do the same for him.

 I’ve got your back:

There’s no one like a good friend to help you become a better version of yourself. That might mean getting you back on track when you’re slipping or helping you acquire a new, positive habit. When you’re out shopping and begin eyeing yet another black sweater, this friend will kindly remind you that you already have at least six similar items in your closet. This very same friend will, for your birthday, upload your favorite ‘80s songs onto your iPod so you can discard those dusty cassette tapes under your bed.

 Set a goal together:

If you’re both committed to reducing clutter or using a new calendar to better manage time, work together to achieve your aim. Break down the steps you’ll each need to follow to meet the goal, set a timetable for action and then check in with each other daily, every few days or weekly to chart progress. Make sure to set an appealing reward that you’ll both enjoy upon achieving your mission. Having a “goal buddy” lets you draw energy from your pal’s motivation even when you don’t feel so enthusiastic.

Next week: So much for a paperless society. Despite our reliance on (and addiction to) e-mail, we’re still deluged with paper. I’ll have some tips on how to manage it, organize it and control it.

I can vouch for the goal buddy idea. I have one of those, and have used her to help me make scary phone calls to my student loans, to help me face my taxes and other scary tasks. And I've sat there and helped another goal buddy face down the clutter on his desk. It really works.

Have you ever had a friend help you with your organizing? How'd it go? Would you do it again?

What keeps you from inviting a friend or partner into your disorganized space?

30-Day Organizing Challenge: Putting Together Your Organizing Tools

Day 15's goal: Put together your organizing toolkit.

At the end of last year, I looked around my office and felt dejected: Piles of paper on the floor, my one tiny bookshelf crammed with books and magazines, and the rest spilling onto the floor, underfoot and under tables. Every week, I was looking for a new way to hide the things I needed to conduct business.

The system wasn't working.

Today, things are better, but not perfect. I was inspired by reading Janine Adams' tips on the biggest organization busters, and struck by the tip to delay buying organizing supplies until you've weeded out what you need to keep. I didn't do that with my organizing efforts, but happily it worked out OK.

As I prepare to spend money on my business for end-of-year tax deductions, I'm thinking about what the tools are in my organizing toolkit, which work, and which I need to add or replace.

My Current Organizing Toolkit

Yours may be different but here's what I have so far:

A taller, bigger bookshelf on which most of my magazines and books fit;

Stackable trays for printer paper, to-file/to-scan papers, and to-shred receipts.

A faux-leather bin in which I store irregular-size items that don't fit on the bookshelf, and office supplies like document protectors, file folders, manila envelopes and a spare mouse.

Filing cabinets for old article files and clips for potential story ideas.

A desktop file holder for current articles.

A bulletin board on which to pin my weekly workflow schedule, a timezone map, reminders about journalism award deadlines, my business plan cheat-sheet and papers I'll need but don't want to file away and lose, like my itenerary for my flight home for Christmas.

Small, pretty storage boxes in which to place CDs/CD-ROMs, DVDs, reporters' notebooks, and miscellaneous office supplies that I need access to but don't use often.

A wall calendar.

A monitor riser with a drawer for postage, business cards, pens, highlighters, push pins, paper clips, scissors and the like. (I don't have any drawers in my desk.)

A shredder for personal documents, non-deductible reciepts, etc.

An all-in-one printer/scanner/fax/copier so I don't have to go to the local copy center to scan things.

A recycling bin next to the shredder to place all paper products that don't need to be shredded.

How It All Works Together

All these things for an organizing system:

After I'm done with a file, I put it in the to-file bin so I can either put it in the filing cabinet or scan what I need and shred or recycle the rest.

The bookshelf holds the current and back issues of magazines to which I pitch stories.

When I get an email from my accountant about how much and when I should pay my quarterly taxes, I can stand and put the due date and amount on my calendar immediately--and then forget it.

All these things are arranged around me in a corner of the room so I don't have to reach too far for any of them. I can turn left and pick up the stuff from the stackable rack to scan or shed, turn around to the all-in-one behind me to scan it, and turn to the right to shred or recycle it.

Whenever any of these things gets too full, I know it's time to act on it. So I set aside a half an hour to do some shredding (an oddly cathartic activity), or a half an hour to scan or file some of the things in the to-file bin.

I mention all this stuff because I know some of you don't know what you might need for organizing your offices. Maybe this will give you some ideas.

Finding The Right System for You

Or better yet, figure out what will work for you. Here's how I did it:

I inventoried what I had and what I needed.

I knew I needed magazines. I knew I needed someplace for mail to go. I knew I needed a place for my files to go once I finished with the stories (not everyone uses files, but they work for me). And I knew I needed my own shredder to quickly and easily get rid of things without asking my roommate to use her shredder. So I went out and bought one last week at Costco.

I asked myself how I would use the things I kept.

I knew I needed my magazines visible, but that I didn't want to see extra iPod cables or spare highlighters. I knew I didn't want to get rid of my story files in case I covered the same topics again, but I didn't want to look at them. I knew I wouldn't replace the printer paper if I had to dig for it. I knew I'd never file anything if the pile didn't stand there mocking me.

Consequently, I figured out that some things needed to be in open storage (magazines, current files, stuff to shred or file) and others needed to be hidden away (completed story files, miscellaneous office supplies).

I thought about and envisioned what might help me accomplish those goals.

File storage was easy--they make things for them. They're called filing cabinets. Magazines were also easy. A larger bookshelf would fit the bill nicely.

Other things I just guessed at. I made a start. Would small boxes fit the computer software CD-ROMs? What could I do with those weird-sized office supplies without buying a closed-storage cabinet (I'm doing this on a budget, after all)? I took a gamble, took a ruler to some things for good measure and then put it all together like a puzzle last December.

Finally, I envisioned what I wanted my office to feel like when I walked into it.

For me, I always knew I wanted plants in my office. That meant I'd need clean, uncluttered spaces for potted plants. I knew I wanted to feel like everything would flow easily. So I arranged my office supplies in the half-circle to make it easy to access it all.

Tweaking the System

Of course, a year later, not everything is still working so well, and my organizing system continues to evolve. For instance, I didn't think about the fact that I'd need someplace to store old printer ink cartridges until I could recycle them. Right now they pile on my desk to the right of the computer.

It likewise didn't occur to me that the pretty cherry-and-tempered glass bookcase I bought wouldn't be able to hold as much weight as shelving that was made of solid wood. Consequently, my magazine storage was obsolete before the year even began.

Finally, I realized that three half-filing cabinets were too many for me. So I bought an external hard drive and started a process of scanning and shredding or recycling old story files and personal financial records.

Plans for This Year's Organizing Shopping

As I plan for this year's tax-deductible shopping, I turn my eyes toward organizing once again. Just like a business plan, an organizational system is an alive thing, and it contributes to my prosperity in the year ahead.

This year's plan, so far:

Swap out the glass-shelved bookshelf for a solid wood one that will both hold more and be more sturdy.

I'm eyeing a low bookshelf which I can place under my window and on which I can place plants and my printer. The vision is to create something airy and organized.

Ask fellow freelancers how many back-issues they keep of their target magazines.

Then I'm going to purge the magazines I don't need, or get rid of magazines that have gone under or I don't plan to pitch in the next year.

Plan storage for new purchases.

I expect to buy a digital recorder and digital camcorder to branch out into multimedia journalism next year, and I have to think about where those will be stored. I'm also going to figure out where and how to store the spent ink cartridges that now clutter my desk.

What's your organizing toolkit, and what more do you need to make your office functional?

Monday, November 10, 2008

30-Day Organizing Challenge: Day 14

Today's goal: Skip the mistakes.

Have you ever noticed that your great organizing ambitions fizzle after a day? It might be because you've been too ambitious, too perfectionistic [Ed. note: Guilty!], or not intuitive enough. Today, we have a new guest post, from professional organizer Janine Adams, owner of Peace of Mind Organizing and president of the St. Louis, Missouri, chapter of the National Association of Professional Organizers. She specializes in helping those of us who are chronically disorganized and also blogs on organizing on her own site, so be sure to check it out. Questions for her? Comment below and I'll get them to her.

We all make mistakes. Getting organized isn’t a precise exercise and there are lots of ways to approach it. But there are some things people tend to do that will actually undermine their efforts. See if any of these ring a bell:

Mistake #1: Storing things far away from where you use them.

Organizing systems need to be simple and convenient. Store things where you use them. The more steps it takes to put something away, the less likely it is to get put away.

Mistake #2: Buying organizing products before weeding stuff out.

For lots of people, the most fun part of organizing is going to The Container Store (or equivalent) and picking out products. That’s great, but wait to do it until you’ve after you’ve purged your stuff, so that you know what you need. Most of my clients have lots of bins and baskets before I ever get there. And they still have clutter. Save money by buying exactly what you need and nothing more.

Mistake #3: Not paying attention to your piles.

If you have stuff that piles up in a certain place on a consistent basis, maybe you need to use that particular spot for storage. A pile can become perfectly acceptable if you store it in a pretty container.

For example, my husband leaves the dogs’ leashes on the table by the front door, rather than crossing the room to put them away. (I clearly had made Mistake #1 when deciding to store the dog leashes across the room from the door.) The pile of leashes was unsightly. I put a cloth-lined basket under the pile and now it’s an acceptable storage system. If you’re consistently leaving things in a certain place, there’s usually a reason and it’s usually convenience. Rather than fighting it, make it work for you.

Mistake #4: Delaying decisions.

Clutter is nothing but delayed decisions. Don’t pick up a piece of paper and put it right back down because you can’t decide what to do with it. Instead, decide to decide. Make that decision and then act on it. Get into the habit of making decisions about your stuff and you’ll keep clutter at bay.

Mistake #5: Trying to be perfect.

It’s kind of ironic that perfectionism can lead to clutter, but I’ve seen it over and over. Perfectionists don’t want to start the organizing process until they know exactly how they’re going to do it. They feel the need to know what systems they’ll put into place before they even start the process. While the perfectionist waits for the perfect system to materialize, the clutter accumulates. And overwhelm sets in. Rather than striving to be perfectly organized, I encourage you to try to be just organized enough so that you can find what you need without undue stress.

Life is messy; don’t try to make it perfect.

[Ed. note: Man, I feel called out! Janine, you nailed me! Perfectionist, unrealistic organizing plans, etc. But there is one place where I feel like I've made progress:

Today, I was at Bed, Bath and Beyond with my girlfriend, who is going to let me organize her room as my Christmas present this year, and she asked, "What do you think we'll need to buy? What will we need to spend?" I replied that I thought first we needed to figure out what to keep, then we could figure out what to buy.

There seems to be hope for me yet!

What about you? Which of these mistakes do you make regularly? Which have you learned to stop doing?]

Thursday, November 6, 2008

30-Day Organizing Challenge: Day 10

Today's challege: Let it go.

I've written about letting go in this blog before, but never in this context. Today, guest blogger and organizing expert June Bell takes on the challenge of how to determine what needs to stay and what, though you love it, needs to go. For questions or advice on organizing issues, feel free to email June directly at junebell at aol dot com. To suggest more subjects for the challenge, comment below.

Should it stay or should it go?

In my last post, I nudged you toward organization by suggesting you start small. That was the encouragement some of you were waiting for.

But for others, the mere suggestion that you toss what you don’t need induced panic, denial and other fearsome emotions. If that describes you – and if it does, you’re definitely not alone – you may need to take a different approach to organizing.

Remember that “getting organized” is not equivalent to “getting rid of all my stuff.” Organizing is not merely purging – it’s about finding ways to make your environment a place where you can function efficiently,and be surrounded by what you love.

For many people, letting go of unneeded items is much easier if they know that this “clutter” will find a good home elsewhere. This knowledge was a huge help last week to Linda, one of my clients.

We spent a morning emptying her kitchen cabinets and examining the contents. On the shelves above the fridge, she found a dusty tortilla warmer, an unopened box of blue and white tile trivets, an electric can opener and an iced-tea maker. Some were wedding gifts older than her teenager. Others were purchased with the best intentions, used once and then relegated to culinary Siberia.

She agreed she did not want or need these things but wavered on saying goodbye to them. After all, she’d kept them so long. She might want them again someday. Some were wedding gifts. Some were from her deceased mother-in-law.

Then Linda realized that her cleaning woman, Lupe, had a large network of friends who would not only gratefully receive these items but would also appreciate and use them. She quickly filled two large plastic storage bins with her surplus and set them aside for Lupe.

Here are some suggestions on how to ease the sting of letting go of stuff you don’t want or need:

Find someone who needs it more than you do. Give that polka-dotted scarf to your niece for dress-up. Donate your old PC to a teen mentor program. Or list your stuff on craigslist or freecycle with a note that you’d like them to go a charity or school.
Don’t confuse an object with a person. You will always fondly remember your favorite aunt regardless of whether you keep the itchy mustard-color afghan she knitted for you years ago.
Consider an item’s karma. Hanging on to love letters from a two-faced, cheatin’ SOB creates a little cloud of funk in your home. Ditto for gifts you hate, clothing that’s too small or outdated and items you don’t like anymore. Let go and go on.

Next week: I’ll show you how to team up with a friend to make organizing easier and even, yes, fun.

[Ed Note: I'm curious: What do you have the hardest time letting go? Is there something people are always telling you to get rid of? Why do you keep it?]

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Staying Serene--and Productive--on Election Day

It's a beautiful sunny day here in San Francisco--a respite from the days of pouring rain we've had. That's cause enough for excitement, but the election has me more giddy than I can communicate. There's a sense of hopping enthusiasm in my every action today, an election-based ADD. Right now, I'm fighting the urge to go outside and see how long the wait is at my polling place--to document it like the reporter I am. This feels historic in so many ways, and there's at least one ballot measure here in California that will effect my life personally. My mind keeps jumping from my work to daydreams of what will happen if my candidate wins, if that scary ballot measure passes, if voters--any voters--are kept from the polls.

I'm distracted. All I want to do is be with friends and watch the results roll in. It turns out that I'm not alone. Starting yesterday, I saw comments from other freelancers all over the country--and in other countries--reporting a similar lack of focus, an inability to do work. The brilliant freelance writer (and Canadian) Diane Selkirk calls it Election Distraction Disorder.

It turns out I don't have ADD. I have EDD.

And if you do, too, you may be fighting with yourself to work, or to play hookie. In any case, getting paid work done may be a challenge for you today. So I asked other self-employed people what they're doing to treat their EDD. Here are my favorites:

* Work on election-related stories: Friend and former j-school colleague John McGrath reports, "I've been doing nothing but work on elections stuff for the past month--helping write the programs that will supply the [where he works] with updated election data--called races, exit polls, demographic data, etc., for the whole country, down to the county level--every few minutes throughout the evening and night tomorrow. Which is the perfect cure for EDD--have a job that requires you to be drowning in election data all day, every day."

To translate this to freelancers, you can use your election obsession to brainstorm and pitch stories based on the election. It doesn't have to be literal: Interesting personalities, trends, etc., are all fodder for the query mill. This will give you an excuse to think about the election and work on your marketing.

* Use work to distract yourself from EDD: Writer Earon Davis reports that work is the only think keeping himself sane right now. "My EDD is too powerful," he says. "The only reason I'm getting my work done is that it helps keep my mind off of the elections for a brief time. This is a stressful time - dealing with lots of fears about the elections. It feels like the stakes are unusually high. So, I do as much work as I can - and then get updated with the Internet, TV and even radio."

* Reward yourself: My friend and fellow freelancer Kimberly Olsen and meditation teacher Algernon D'Ammassa both are using the carrot-and-stick approach to EDD. "If I complete a specific task (say, write 500 words for a story I'm working on), I can then watch 15 minutes of CNN or check," says Olsen. You can also set a timer and write/call/work for 15 minutes and watch TV for 5 minutes or whatever you decide. That way, you know you're getting work done and you're getting your politics fix.

* Vote early: Massage therapist and freelance writer Ramona Turner reports that she voted by mail so she could put her part of the election behind her and move on. Some are combining this with...

* Limit your TV/radio/political blog time: Freelance writer and designer Mariann Garner-Wizard looks at the 24-hour political news stations this way: "The talking heads can only be repeating themselves now -- the play has started, and we can only wait for the dust to settle to see who comes up with the ball." In other words, you aren't missing anything. Really. It's okay to just work for a few hours.

Then there are a big group of people who are waving the white flag.

"I'm no longer attempting to stem the disorder," reports financial journalist and fellow j-school alum Charles Keenan. "The major papers, Huffington Post, Daily Kos et all are like crack, so I might as well feed the addiction. After all, it's been a while since we've felt this good of a vibe in a presidential election. Time to indulge."

If you're endulging too, here are some sane ways to do it:

* Make it official. Take today off. Look at your calendar and reschedule what you have planned. Greg Poulos, president of Bluefin Productions, reports that he's taking off the last half of Tuesday off and Wednesday morning, as well.

* Volunteer for the causes you believe in: It's not too late to join last-minute electioneering. If you set aside half the day or even just an hour of your day for your favorite candidate or cause you can give yourself a political outlet, do your part, and still be able to concentrate the rest of the day.

* Remember, it's your right to care about the election: One of the joys of living in a democracy is that we have a say in our government. We should be engaged and excited. "Don't fear EDD!" urges life coach Cindy Eubanks. "This is an historic time in our country--a presidential election like no other we have seen. Allow yourself the hours leading up to the election and the day after to immerse yourself in it without guilt. This is a time to pay attention!"

As for me, I have a bunch of interviews scheduled and will do them. I'm with Earon. I want to distract myself. And what better way than with income-generating work, and thinking about other things that are important. Plus, I wrote this blog post.

How are you dealing with your EDD?