Friday, November 26, 2010

When It’s Time to “Let It Go”

One of the goals of being organized is to have some sort of control in your life. I feel that when things are in order, all is right with the world. “A place for everything, and everything in its place.” Ah!

I’m learning (especially after becoming a mom) that not everything can be organized, and not everything can be controlled. Sometimes just the thought of that brings on visions of chaos! You can’t truly control your kids’ behavior (we’ll come back to this!); you sure can’t control the weather; you can’t stop or slow the passage of time; you can’t “make” other people like you; you can’t sterilize the world.

What you can do, however, is manage these things, but only to an extent. You can punish/reward your child’s behavior; you can prepare for bad weather; you can make the most of the time you do have and not overschedule yourself; you can treat others the way you wish to be treated; you still can’t sterilize the world, but you can be reasonably responsible for your little part of it.

Even after managing your world, be aware that your affect on the outcome can only go so far. When it comes to influencing others, they have the final say on how they will act. When it comes to preparation, there are always exceptional circumstances that you just can’t anticipate. When it comes to cleanliness, there are only 24 hours in a day, and you have other things going on in your life. This is the time when you just have to say “let it go.”

I remember when my aunt was dying, and I was responsible for making long-distance decisions for her care. It was frustrating not being there and having a “hands-on” view of everything, even though I called every day to get the information I needed to make an informed decision. I felt that I had to fight for her life. There came a point, however, when one of the doctors told me that she was at the point where only comfort should be given. “You’ve done everything you could,” the doctor told me. That was exactly what I needed to hear to give me peace about my final decision to release my aunt to hospice care. And it turned out to be the right decision, as her best friend visited my aunt the night before she died, and the friend told me that my aunt looked relaxed, comfortable and at peace.

On a less traumatic note, there have been times where I’m going through the house thinking, “This needs to be cleaned,” or “that needs to be swept” and I’ve stopped myself, saying, “It can wait another day,” or “I can delegate that to the kids.” I just release the worry for the time being.

The whole point of letting something go is to reduce your worry to a healthy level, though it may not eliminate it. For example, you will always worry about your wayward child, but you will stop beating yourself up over it. In some cases, the less important things will not cause the worry that they once did.

What this all adds up to is not control of the external, but control of the internal: your approach and your attitude. I have to say, it’s no one-shot deal. It’s a work in progress!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Slot Management

Before I get started, let me just say that this will not be about slot machines and gambling! If I knew the secret to effective slot machine use, I probably wouldn’t be blogging!

This story started early in my career when I became an order administrator after a few years in credit and collections in the same office equipment company. It was a small department that I was transferring to, which gave the manager the ability to streamline the order entry process across the whole department. What he did, basically, was break down each step in the process. For each step (i.e., edit order, questions for the sales rep, input order, etc.), there was a labeled slot in our overhead shelves. As the order moved through the process, the paperwork for the order (which was in a folder) moved through the slots.

There were several advantages to this: 1) if you were out sick, someone else could easily pick up where you left off, 2) you can figure out where you left off!, and 3) you could streamline your work by doing it in batches (like all your edits in one shot, for example).

I was only in order administration for a year and a half, but the concept of slot management is with me to this day. It came in really handy when I worked part time at night as a biller—the day person and I easily would be able to pick up where the other left off, keeping the company’s invoicing running smoothly!

It’s especially helpful to keep things organized if you are multi-tasking. I have a desktop rack in my cubicle for processing department invoices to be paid. Many times other items landed on my desk that were a higher priority, so the invoices had to be put aside; I would just put them in whatever slot they belonged, to be addressed later.

If you feel that this process would work for you, I suggest the following:

· You need desktop or overhead space to set up slots or a desktop rack.
· With overhead slots, label each slot; but with a desktop rack, label file folders instead.
· There will be times when a new slot/folder needs to be created due to a revision in the process; be sure that your slots/folders are movable.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Back to School – Are you ready?

In less than a week, my kids will be back in school. Some folks out there have kids who have been back for weeks already!

When we think of “back to school”, we usually think of shopping for school supplies and new clothes. Surely, that is part of the process. As I ponder the question, however, “back to school” really starts after the end of the prior school year!

Think about it. Before your child (I’ll say “he”) starts the next grade, you need to:
- make sure he passed all his classes. If not, summer school may be the next step.
- throughout the summer, ensure he does his summer reading and any other summer work the school may have assigned.
- get back into a regular bedtime schedule if you don’t have one already. I’m finding this is critical yet hard to enforce for my teenagers!
- budget for school lunch money, if needed.
- find out if there are any changes in the bus schedules (I find that the school system is pretty good at communicating this).
- assess the clothing situation. Do they really need a whole new wardrobe? Between my two kids, it turned out that all that was needed was long-sleeved shirts for my daughter. Don’t forget sneakers for gym, as well! (Yes, she needed those.)
- in some cases (I find especially in elementary school), wait until after school starts to buy the school supplies. It seems that every teacher has a different list. The timing is unfortunate, since the sales seem to be well before school starts.
- make sure your child knows where to go and what to bring the first day. In the upper grades, you really can’t walk them to homeroom anymore! So let them know what room they’ll be in and be sure they’re armed with their summer reading reports, emergency forms (if given to you beforehand), etc.

Are there any other ways folks get ready for the Big Day? Let me know—I may need it!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Economy of Motion

As a business major in college, one of the things we studied was economy of motion. Our focus was mainly on a manufacturing setting; the premise being that the less movements a person has to make, the more efficient they are and therefore the more productive and profitable they are. Theoretically, this would involve time studies of different processes to determine which process was the most efficient.

Economy of motion figures into work process as well as work area design. Ergonomics naturally springs forth from this principal, with an emphasis on less strain and smooth movement.

As my life evolved into that of a working mother, I knew I needed economy of motion! Time was limited and I needed to make the most of it. I also needed some time just to “chill”, so time needed to be carved out for that as well. But I wasn’t about to do any time studies (after all, that required time!).

As I went about household chores, errand running, etc., I would ask myself, “What’s the best method of doing this thing?” and “How can I kill two birds with one stone?” For example, you can schedule your errand-running for one day (Saturday is usually mine) and decide, based on where each errand is located and if there are any time or perishability constraints, what order you’ll hit each place.

I could be following a certain process for years because “I’ve always done it that way.” Then one day, a new way of attacking the chore will hit me and turn out to be more efficient.

Has anyone out there changed their ways of doing things?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Before Anarchy and Chaos Take Over

Originally this post was going to be called “Anarchy and Chaos” and was going to be a stern warning about letting the administration of our lives get out of hand before our ultimate end. It was inspired by my aunt’s passing.

Being the closest to my aunt, I took it upon myself to gather her papers, work with probate, etc. I took a trip to where she lived and saw her apartment for the first time.

I was stunned.

There really wasn’t any kind of order, and there was no way I was going to be able to organize anything during my trip. Papers had to be shipped back to my house, to be sorted later. I wondered if I was ever going to figure everything out. And I wondered how anyone could let things get that much out of control.

As I went through her papers, I sorted them out between assets, liabilities and informational. I put papers in folders according to account name. Then I began to piece together the puzzle that was her life.

Last year, after being hospitalized for heart failure, my aunt had been in and out of hospitals many times. I wasn’t even aware of all the times she had been hospitalized; she liked to keep that information to herself. With each hospitalization, there were many bills and insurance claims. Thrown in with that were a change in health insurance provider and a move from one apartment to another. Top that all off with being on all sorts of medications to treat her maladies, and it was no wonder that the administration of her life got away from her.

Thus, anarchy and chaos.

As our population ages and health problems increase, it’s clear to me that taking care of ourselves physically is big, time-consuming business. When you’re already sickly and your mind is entering its senior stage, it can get simply overwhelming. So what steps can we take to manage it all?

Probably the first thing that needs to be done is swallow your pride. Realize that you’re at a point where you need outside help. (I know this is going to be a tough one for me.)

Next, think of who you might ask for help: your adult child, a good friend, a neighbor? Perhaps some of our health care agencies might know of some resources to assist seniors with their paperwork.

When you get that help, make sure to tell them to keep your paperwork handy to where you can get at it if you or anyone else might need it.

These are only the beginnings of ideas. I’ve got a ways to go before I hit this point in my life, but I’d welcome any ideas or considerations.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Structured Day

Back in the prosperous ‘80’s, when Fortune 100 companies had money to blow on training, I was in a formal training class for my first job in credit & collections. Our little class learned the ins & outs of the mainframe computer system we used, the tedious processes we had to follow, and various tips on how to work our assignments most effectively.

One of those “tips” was The Structured Day. It wasn’t a micro-managed uber-structured use of our time; rather, it was more like, “When is the best time to do X?” A credit rep’s structured day was typically:
· review that day’s follow-up’s (what you had scheduled for that day)
· make phone calls during peak times (9:00 – 11:30, 2:00 – 4:30)
· do paperwork/computer work during off-peak times

To me, this made a lot of sense. Once I got used to the rhythm of my job, I learned to adjust the schedule to accommodate meetings, unassigned inquiries and even time to finish a full cup of coffee!

More than the actual schedule, the reasoning behind “when” certain tasks were done is what has stuck with me. With the various restrictions in my life (job, kids, etc.), I have to ask myself again, “When is the best time to do X?”

Take vacuuming for example. You usually can’t vacuum when the baby’s napping, so you wait till he’s awake. When the kid grows up, you may be working away from home, so perhaps the weekend is the best time, or maybe the kids could do it during the week.

Being a list-maker, I write down when I’m going to do the task. Once I think of all my tasks, the time I have to do them in, and then finally schedule them, pretty soon I’ve created my own structured days. Yes, there are times (oh, are there times!) when a monkey wrench is thrown in and the schedule goes out the window. But I haven’t found it difficult to get back on track. For me, having some framework is better than having no framework.

Does anyone else have a method of organizing their day? Let’s hear it!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Getting the Most Out of the Friendly Skies

Recently I went out of town on some urgent family business, which required me to make travel arrangements (flight, hotel, rental car). It’s been about six years since I’ve done that, but I managed to find really great deals on and

What I was forgetting about in my emotional turmoil were many of the logistics of the meat of the trip. I did one Mapquest printout, but not the return trip, which would have been helpful. I could have used a few others for possible changes in plans as well. Also, since it had been so long since I flew and because I was not so intimate with the traffic patterns of the city I was in, I nearly missed my flight!

So I thought, “Next time I’ll…”

· review TSA’s security check-in rules (available on the airport’s website) & follow them to the letter. No matter what Airport A does, Airport B might be more strict. In my case, my netbook had to go in a completely separate bin from my other stuff; my things had to be re-scanned.

· print to and from directions to each destination. This may require planning the visiting order of your destinations. Also, it might help to double-check the websites (if available) of your destinations regarding where to park. This helps if you’re dealing with one-way streets.

· leave the hotel shampoos in the hotel. Unless you follow that “3-1-1” rule and have a one-quart zip-top bag to put them in, you will have security issues. I tossed mine in the garbage before scanning.

· leave the keys in the rental car, write down the mileage and, if needed, the fuel level. Normally, there are rental car peons everywhere to help you out. Sometimes there isn’t. I had to go to the Customer Service desk, who asked me all these questions. I didn’t have to go back to the car, but it would have cut a few minutes off check-out time.

· plan to be at the airport two hours ahead of take-off time. Because it was the weekend, I did not anticipate such heavy traffic on the way to the airport (you never know when there will be an accident to snarl things up).

To the degree your pre-flight schedule allows you, the above can save on some unnecessary headaches. Does anyone else have some valuable travel lessons learned? I could probably use those, too!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Organize While Driving

I’ve been getting into a little habit lately when I’ve been dropping my kids off to school. Mentally, I go over the things I need to do when I get home. Out loud, I list those things in the order I need to do them. Sometimes I revise the list as I remember, for example, that it’s garbage day or laundry day.

By the time I get home, my mental checklist is ready and I go into automatic pilot. This saves me some time (not wasted on, “Now, what was I going to do?”) and I have the comfort of knowing that everything that needs to get done does get done.

Does this always work 100% of the time? No; there are instances when I forget a routine item. But it does up my game.

One quick note, however: this is to be done mentally, not in writing or on your Blackberry! Remember, you’re driving your car; let’s stay safe!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Use this Tool/Trick/Tip!

There are tons of books, websites, articles and programs out there that promise to get you organized in X days. They offer checklists, products, processes! There are a lot of great ideas out there. I like to keep on top of the latest tips because I’m always looking for a better way of doing things.

Sometimes a friend might ask, “What should I do to be more organized with __________?” My first instinct is to reach into my mental file and pull out a tip or tool that can help them. Later on, however, I find that my friend is struggling with the same problem. They didn’t take my advice.

I used to think, “What is their problem? Why won’t they listen to me? I know my solution will work!” I couldn’t figure it out. There was one person who did this continually. I knew they didn’t hate me, so there had to be something else.

Over time, I watched this person and their lifestyle. And it turned out that the key word was “lifestyle.” The person was pretty unencumbered by “things”…never had an organizer, didn’t have one place to put the things they’d need every day. There was no way they were going to go out and buy an organizer, let alone use one. In other words, traditional organizational tools are lost on people like this.

Clearly, there are people (A) who are very compartmentalized and like their ducks in a row and (B) who live life by the seat of their pants and somehow it mostly seems to work out for them. Traditional tools and tips are made for people A. But what about people B, who say they want to be more organized, but whose minds simply aren’t wired that way?

I think some of the answer lies in my belief “Use the right tool for the job.” With a person B, you need to redefine what “the job” is – what does it look like from their perspective? For example, I often use my paper organizer to plan my week and schedule my appointments. Sometimes, though, I might forget to look at my organizer, especially early in the morning (pre-coffee!). That didn’t help me when I was supposed to pick up a co-worker on the way to work. Although it turned out that it worked out for her (long story), I was mortified! And I made sure it never happened again. After that, I used my cell phone’s alarm system to ring out just before pick-up time. When I heard the alarm, I didn’t even have to check my cell phone; I remembered what I was supposed to do.

Figuring out what a person B needs to be more organized takes more work, that’s for sure, and a little more creativity. For a person A like me, that can be a challenge! But who knows? Maybe the least obvious way of doing something may actually be better!

Any B people out there? Got some funky tips for us?

Monday, May 3, 2010

List Management

“I’m home all day long, but I don’t think I’m doing as much as I should,” a stay-at-home mom friend told me recently. She spoke of starting things, but not finishing them and of feeling that she had to stop everything when the phone rang. “After all, I’m not working, so I should have the time. But it ends up that I don’t get anything done!”

When I was pregnant with my son, I was laid off from my job due to the office re-locating. On the one hand, it solved my question about maternity leave. On the other hand, suddenly having all that free time was intimidating! I had spent 8 years in the working world at that point, and I didn’t want to lose my edge or have my brain turn to mush.

I decided that I would become a manager -- of my home! No, I wouldn’t have org charts or weekly meetings. But I knew that if I viewed home management as a business, I would feel more fulfilled as I went through those daily tasks. What I came up with is the advice I gave my friend.

“Take your organizer, or if you don’t use one, just a pad of paper. Each day, write down a list of what you want to accomplish that day. This helps you focus on what you want to do,” I told her.

I got a lot done during those months before my son was born, which helped that nesting instinct! And after he was born, the lists of course got shorter, but I was still able to cross things off. Once my daughter was born and again when I took a part-time night job, the lists came in handy as I decided my daily and later weekly priorities. Where I couldn’t accomplish everything in one day, I would break up tasks (like “clean the house”) over the course of the week.

Making a list makes you set a daily or weekly goal. Why not start today? What is one thing you want to accomplish today?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Welcome to the Grand Opening of The Efficient Matrix!

Lately, folks around me have asked for advice about organization, productivity and efficiency, and I’ve found that I actually have something to offer. I would discuss their situations and obstacles, suggest improvements, and offer advice. I also have always loved to write. As a child, I wrote stories; as a teen, poetry; and as a young adult, most of my writing would be for business. Now these two strengths have come together here.

I’ve always been kind of a “Felix Unger”. But when I became a mom, I learned that being organized and neat wasn’t good enough, nor would it work necessarily. I had to re-prioritize and discover optimization rather than perfection. Then I became a working mom and the ante was upped yet again. Not only did my stuff have to be organized, my time had to be organized –my family had to be organized!

I’d like to share what’s worked for me, ideas I’ve gotten from others and even a little organizational philosophy (after all, it’s a mindset, I believe). Do you have questions, good ideas, resources? I’d love to hear from any readers out there.