The blog

Want to Live More Peacefully? Get Rid of Your Paper Piles!

You got your very first piece of paper—your birth certificate—when you were born. Your ability to manage that piece of paper, along with the thousands upon thousands of papers that follow directly impacts your life in numerous ways.

Your ability to find information on paper or electronically, will have a substantial effect on your financial security, your legal liability, your business accomplishments, your personal growth and development, your relationships, and your ability to enjoy life. Whether it’s the receipt you need to substantiate a tax deduction or the brochure from that incredible European hotel you enjoyed several years ago, a misplaced piece of paper can cost you time, money, and peace of mind.   

While you may feel more comfortable using paper for information you currently need or refer to often, there are numerous ways you can begin to eliminate much of the paper in your life. Here are seven suggestions you can implement, starting today!

1. Practice “The Art of Wastebasketry.” You can keep anything you want—if you’re willing to pay the price: time, space, money, and energy. Ask yourself, “What’s the worst possible thing that would happen if I didn’t have this piece of paper?” If you can live with your answer, shred, recycle, or toss it.

2. Pay your bills electronically. This is a huge time saver and will eliminate the paper you need to keep, making it easier to manage your finances and file your taxes. Create strong passwords for each of your online accounts with upper- and lower-case letters, digits, and punctuation.

3. Implement a scanning system for important documents. Most of today’s printers make the scanning process inexpensive and expedient. This not only eliminates the need for numerous paper files, it can be highly advantageous for information you need in more than one location—such as home and office, or multiple residences. Do not store personal identification such as social security numbers, passports, or financial information on your computer.

4. Eliminate unnecessary printing. It’s time to trash the “Today’s mail is tomorrow’s pile” philosophy of life. Create a simple system for organizing your electronic documents so you don’t have to print unnecessary emails and documents because you’re worried you won’t be able to find the electronic document. Be sure you have a computer backup service or device!

5. Request newsletters and monthly reports in electronic form. Examples include frequent travelers statements and other updates that do not include personal information you want to guard. Electronic newsletters are especially useful when there are only a few articles of interest to you. You can print just the parts you want to read or file.

6. Create a system for managing magazines, newspapers and catalogs. After removing labels from magazines and catalogs that you’ve read, place them in an easily accessible spot. When you have a bundle, take them to a retirement home, hospital, or doctor’s office.

7. Make recycling and shredding convenient and easy. People often hesitate to throw paper away because of their desire to protect our environment or their identity. But you don’t have to sacrifice your quality of life by keeping papers you don’t need. Local businesses and organizations frequently provide free shredding services at various times throughout the year. 

Look over the seven possibilities above. Which would be the easiest for you to carry out?  Start there, and keep moving forward as you are able. You’ll be amazed at how little you miss the paper and how much more you enjoy your home without the paper piles. Yes, you can live more productively, ever after! 

Celebrating 39 Years

Thank you to my business partner Andrea Anderson who put together this picture of the ACTUAL ad, placed on June 5th, 1978 in a New York City newspaper that launched my first business. It all started with the observation that “Clutter is Postponed Decisions” — and continues with “Together We Are Better.” My passion today is helping business and community leaders create a great culture in their organization by helping them eliminate the physical, digital, and emotional clutter that prevents employees from accomplishing their work and enjoying their lives.

What Does “Get Organized” Mean To Your Business?

The “Days of the Year” calendar lists April 24 as “Get Organized Day.” Nearly 40 years ago, I ran an ad in a New City newspaper that said, “Disorganized?  I organize closets, files, kitchen, You-Name-It. Call…” A few months later, I went to the Small Business Administration in Washington, D.C. to ask for their help in starting my  “organizing business” in that city.  The response was less than encouraging – “That’s not really a business.  No one is going to pay for organizing closets,” I was told. Fortunately, I was desperate for money to help support my family with three newly adopted children, and I didn’t listen! 

In 2010 the residential organizing industry was estimated to be a $1 billion industry, and it continues to grow, but many businesses have failed to take advantage of the increase in profit, productivity, and peace of mind that is possible when they educate and empower employees to “get organized.” 

What is “Organized?”

“Organized” for a business means creating a physical and digital environment in which everyone can accomplish their work and enjoy their lives.  One of the biggest stumbling blocks to that goal is clutter.  Research shows that 80% of what we keep we never use – and the most we keep, the less we use.  Most of us are aware of that applying in our homes – but what about business?   

According to a 2010 study by Brother International, an office products company, the cost of messy desks and time spent looking for misplaced items in corporate America is about $177 billion annually. That price tag, figuring the time spent daily hunting for misplaced files, staples or documents, added up to 76 hours—or nearly two work weeks—a year. According to the same study, it is also taking a toll on pocketbooks, since nearly one-third of those surveyed failed to get reimbursed for a business or travel expense because they misplaced or lost a receipt. 

Start at the Top

Entrepreneurs and managers think “big picture,” but following through on details can be a struggle. They like to start things, but finishing them can be a challenge. Often the more brilliant a person is, the messier their office. Sorting and filing seems like a lower priority than creating a new product or serving your customer. But is it? It’s easy for observers to wonder, “If someone can’t manage their own office, how can they manage a department or a company?” 

Ask the Right Questions

There are numerous ways an office can be organized, but statistically, most offices simply have too much stuff. Look at each item in your office and ask the question, “Does this help me accomplish my work or enjoy my life?” If the answer is “No,” but you’re still reluctant to get rid of something, ask “What’s the worst possible thing that would happen if I didn’t have this?” If you can live with your answer, “donate, recycle, or toss it”—and work happily ever after. 

Once you’ve organized your office, set a day for your employees to do the same.

For ideas on how to make the day one that employees will love, send an email to barbara@barbarahemphill.com with “Productivity Party” in the subject line.

Why Clutter Hurts Your Leadership and What You Can Do About It

It’s a simple fact: Clutter is postponed decisions. Many entrepreneurs and managers have cluttered offices—unless they have an organized assistant. If you don’t believe it, just start looking around you. Begin in your own organization, and then look in places like the manager’s office of your local retail store.

Entrepreneurs and managers think “big picture,” but following through on details can be a struggle. They like to start things, but finishing them can be a challenge. Often the more brilliant a person is, the messier their office. Sorting and filing seems like a lower priority than creating a new product or serving your customer. But is it? It’s easy for observers to wonder, “If someone can’t manage their own office, how can they manage a department or a company?”

According to a 2010 study by Brother International, an office products company, the cost of messy desks and time spent looking for misplaced items in corporate America is about $177 billion annually. That price tag, figuring the time spent daily hunting for misplaced files, staples or documents, added up to 76 hours—or nearly two work weeks—a year. According to the same study, it is also taking a toll on pocketbooks, since nearly one-third of those surveyed failed to get reimbursed for a business or travel expense because they misplaced or lost a receipt.

What is the Problem? Getting and staying organized is not easy—if it were, there wouldn’t be so many highly successful, intelligent, creative people who struggle with it. Unfortunately, organization skills are not taught in school, so unless you were born organized or had a good role model for organization when you were growing up or in a job situation, you’re out of luck.

The combination of computers, and a desire to reduce overhead expenses, means fewer administrative assistants, and as a result, messier offices.

Solving the Problem: There are numerous ways an office can be organized, but statistically, most offices simply have too much stuff. Look at each item in your office and ask the question, “Does this help me accomplish my work or enjoy my life?” If the answer is “No,” but you’re still reluctant to get rid of something, ask “What’s the worst possible thing that would happen if I didn’t have this?” If you can live with your answer, “donate, recycle, or toss it”—and work happily ever after.

If organizing doesn’t come naturally to you, it’s unlikely that with even the best system you will have a continuously neat desk, but cleaning it off at the end of the day, or at the very least, the end of the week, will be a cinch if you simply have a SYSTEM (Saving You Space Time Energy Money).

Designing Your SYSTEM, the Magic 6: Half of any job is using the right tool. Here are six tools you can use to eliminate the clutter in your office, and accomplish your work and enjoy your life:

  1. In/Out/File: Place three containers on your desk within reach of your chair.
  • One for the items you have not yet looked at.
  • One for items you need to take somewhere else—another person’s office, the post office, etc.
  • One for items you need to file in a location within your own office that you can’t reach from your chair.

 

     2. Wastebasket/Recycle/Shred: Make it easy to get rid of what you don’t need. For example, if you have a shredder, but you can’t reach it from your chair, use a desk drawer, or a small box under your desk. Then develop a system for actually getting the paper shredded—whether you do it yourself or hire your child to do it!

    3. Calendar: One of the biggest contributors to a messy desk is papers that serve as reminders to do something. Keeping an open calendar on your desk for making direct entries can help eliminate this issue. While most of us are great at making appointments with other people, we’re not so good at making appointments with ourselves. We need to care for ourselves in order to meet the needs of others.

   4. Contact Management System: Another big source of office clutter is papers (and electronic files!) with contact information—names, addresses, phone numbers, e-mails, etc.

   5. Action Files: These files should be located close to your desk. They contain the papers you need to work on your current projects. They can be sorted in different ways:

  • By date (files labeled 1-31 for the current month, and Jan – Dec)
  • By type of action (e.g., “Data Entry” “Expense Reimbursement,” “Waiting for Response”
  • By name of project, client, or event

 

Most people have a combination of the three. For example, the August 15 file might remind you to write a new ezine, while the project file labeled “Ezine Ideas” would contain the information you need to actually write it.

   6. Reference Files: These files contain all the papers you may not need on a daily basis, but don’t want to throw away. They can be located in or outside your office. Your “To File” box will serve as a place to hold the papers that need to be filed.

Some projects may have both an Action File and a Reference File. The Action File will contain the papers you are currently using on a project, while the Reference File will contain the completed papers that you want to retain for historical or legal purposes.

So here’s your challenge: Set aside four hours. Clear your desk by putting everything on it in a box.  Set up The Magic 6 to stop future clutter, and provide a system for every new piece of paper in your office.

Maintaining Your Success: Organizing is an art! People often ask, “What should I do?” but the real question is “What will you do?”

No one likes to think about maintenance—but unless you figure out how you can maintain any system, you will fail. You can buy a Lamborghini, but if you don’t complete the necessary maintenance, you will soon have a pile of junk. You can go to a health spa and lose a lot of weight, but maintaining good exercise and good eating habits are essential if you don’t want to gain back everything you lost. One way to think of maintenance is “plan + habits.”

If you know yourself well enough to know you won’t maintain it, and you want your office to reflect the quality of the products and services you provide, hire someone to help a few hours a week. Your office will look better, you will feel better, and your leadership will shine!

Moving Memories as Easy as a Gentle Breeze

Mom decided suddenly last October to move herself. To leave her home of 50 years, the home in which we spent most of all our childhood, and move to a retirement complex where she would have the three things she needed most: company, meals and freedom from the constancy of caring for her beautiful but rambling and now empty home.

Thanks to Barbara’s wisdom and the five-step program’s guidance, we had resources and a clear approach.

I hadn’t reckoned with my own internal sense of loss. It hit me, powerfully, like a tractor dragging a load of 100-foot tree trunks. The weight and enormity of going through 50 years of our family’s stuff and helping her determine what she wanted – I quickly realized that I needed help.

Fortunately, there is a local firm (Gentle Transitions) that specializes in having these conversations, holding mom’s hand and spending time with her so that she could, a few hours at a time, tackle what she needed to go through.

As is her nature, mom immediately started worrying about what was to go to everyone else, but I was able to calmly and firmly say, “Let’s start with you. What do you want and need? They will help you get that selected, organized, design a new floor plan for your apartment, figure out what will fit and where you will have to make some choices and then, only then, we will worry about the rest. Let’s get you moved and set up first! Whatever you want you take.”

So we did just that. The team at Gentle Transitions headed by dear Nan was wonderful. Their system was just like it says the book – File, Act or Toss became Move or Stay – a green dot sticker for Move, a red one for Stay.

It took six weeks to go through and prepare, meeting a couple of times a week so as to not do too much at once, and then it took one day to pack and one day to move and set up. Before the packers arrived I went around and took pictures of the colorful green and red dots scattered throughout her home. After the move I took pictures of mom in her new home with pretty much most things where she wanted them. She commented, “It is so wonderful having all my favourites in view. In the big house I often missed seeing them.”

Then the next step: we went forward with the File-Act-Toss technique, which turned into three piles: Give to Family, Give to Charity, and Junk (we color-coded all of the family members’ items and kept a written list of each person’s requests in mom’s little book as she requested a record of what was going to whom).

We had to go through every cupboard and every drawer. I laughed when my sister visited after we thought we had finished and she said she had found two drawers and a cupboard full of stuff. I replied, “Yes, I was sure I had gone through every drawer and had the cleaning done and I also found another full one last week”. Big houses are complex, with lots of nooks and crannies.

Then, we called the charities and had them walk through and see what they wanted, at which point we found a man who specializes in clearing the junk. They hauled off the oddest objects: rusting old bed frames, dilapidated wooden picnic benches, stained rugs, old blocks in the basement, paint cans, hardware, broken kitchenware, etc.

As the house gradually cleared and the piles diminished to just a few to be delivered, including two books of interest to the local library, the feeling was one of rebirth. The open, fresh joy of our family home came to life. Mom said she “loved seeing the house empty with its beautiful hardwood floors she had cared for.” She could renew her memory of joyful years spent within its adobe walls. And so could I. The last night there I could not sleep and found myself spending an early morning just breathing in the feel of the place in the living room on the old leather couch (which needed to be refurbished and ended up going to a foster youth organization that will refinish it and resell it to help fund their program), and for just that morning I was back as an eleven year old doing my math homework and getting help from my dad with the logic problems.

Thank you, Barbara, for your life’s teachings that made it possible for me to go through this transition with joy.

Productivity Is an Art! How’s Your Studio?

 

Productivity is an art!  I’ll never forget the first time I helped a client set up a stand-up desk!  Another client had an office full of sticky notes with reminders.  When I asked her what kind of calendar she used, she replied, “Oh, I hate calendars. They are so ugly!”  A red leather calendar became one of her most beloved tools.

Sadly, I see many people whose office or home environment is obviously not supporting them, but they’ve abandoned the idea that they can do anything about it. Perhaps they tried changing it themselves, and failed, or even hired an organizing consultant.  It looked great for a few months, but they couldn’t maintain it.  Organizing anything is not about the “stuff,” – it’s about the person or people!  More importantly, it is about stewardship of our resources.  If we have something we are not using that could benefit others, it is our Christian responsibility to make our clutter someone else’s blessing.  If we think something about ourselves or others that is not supported by Biblical truths, it is time to ask for God’s help to eliminate that emotional and spiritual clutter.

Often people ask me, “What should I do?”  My reply:  “That’s the wrong question.  The real question is, ‘What WILL you do?’”  In order to discover the answer to that question, I have developed:

 

“The 5-Step Productive Environment Process™.”  

  1. State your vision.  (What would success look like?)
  2. Identify your obstacles. (What has prevented or might prevent you from success?)
  3. Commit your resources. (What or who could help you? How much time and money are you willing to invest to solve the problem?)
  4. Design and execute your plan.  (This step is 80% of the solution, but you must understand the first three steps first.  Otherwise, you’re just continuing the same clutter cycle.)
  5. Sustain your success. (This is the most important step for long-term success.  Be open to change when appropriate.)

 

Notice the common word in those five steps is “your!”   One of the reasons that I still love my work so much after more than 35 years is that God created every person and every business to be totally unique — so every day is a new opportunity with new challenges.  

Interestingly enough, one of the major contributors to customizing an individual workspace is art — whether it’s a calendar that fits our style, music that puts our brain in the state we need to be most productive, a painting that inspires us, or a “dream board” that reminds us of why we work. Make your home and office a place that inspires your best for the sake of the Kingdom!

So here’s my challenge:  Ask yourself the question: “What is the most important step I need to take in the next year to make my business and my life all that I believe God intended it to be?”  Then apply the 5-Step process to making that vision a reality! Everything you feel or think about that issue is one of the five steps.  If you’re not sure, don’t be afraid to ask us for help!  

Trademarks are property of Barbara Hemphill

 

What a Difference a Weekend Can Make!

organizing-paper-at-home-ebI recently received this email from a reader who did more than just read  Less Clutter More Life and Organizing Paper @ Home — she took action!  Here’s what she wrote:

“I had a wonderful weekend, and you were no small part of it. I committed to finishing the paper project that I started, and I did it! Here are the overall highlights, in no particular order:

  • ALL paper throughout the house has been rounded up and processed.
  • I took two lawn & leaf bags of shredding to Staples on Saturday.
  • I eliminated the need for 1 four-drawer filing cabinet. Now, everything fits in one small filing cabinet that holds our printer.
  • The day bed in our office is now entirely clear and is once again a perfect reading spot.
  • Our dining room table and kitchen peninsula are now free from piles of paper.
  • The File Index is great! It helped me so much to organize files in my head. At first, I worked with a draft. As I started processing the papers, it became obvious that I needed to modify the index. Having it on the computer made the process so simple. I was able to print labels for the folders once.
  • And my husband and I both know where things are!”

In the few days since I completed the project, I am already reaping the rewards. Last evening after dinner, I went back to the office to read a book with my little dog. The best part was that I had no guilt about the chaos surrounding me. Do I have things to do around the house? Yes, of course. But I know when I’m going to work on them.

Productivity Lessons from My Garden: Tips for Creating and Maintaining the Life You Desire

My life’s work is helping people organize their homes and offices to create and sustain a “productive environment”—an intentional setting in which everyone can accomplish their work and enjoy their lives. With the upcoming gardening season, I have realized how many similarities there are between the organizing techniques which apply to creating a productive environment in your home, and to growing and sustaining a beautiful garden. Read on to learn seven techniques that apply to both!

1. Successful organizing begins with a vision.

Organizing in and of itself has no value. It’s simply a process to help get you from where you are to where you want to be. The initial question I ask every client is “If we were to meet three years from now, what has to happen for you to feel happy about your progress?”  Their answers vary widely, and include such statements as “I’ll be making $100,000/year,”  “I’ll be taking six weeks of vacation every year,” “I’ll be working at home,” or “I’ll be happily married.” If we don’t have something to aim for, we’ll never get there.

The most beautiful gardens are first planted in someone’s mind!  Haphazard planting will most likely result in haphazard results.

2. Organizing doesn’t have a ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’

The most exciting aspect of my work is the “art of organizing.” I frequently tell our clients, “You paint a picture of what you want to accomplish, and we’ll help you create and sustain an environment to make that happen!” What works beautifully for one client would be a complete disaster for another.

And so it is with gardens. A friend of mine has a garden with incredibly beautiful flowers, but with recycled coffee cans containing new plants, piles of weeds for mulch, and no apparent order to the plantings. It would cause me great angst to look out my kitchen window and see it, but to her it’s full of promise!

3. Today’s mail is tomorrow’s pile™.

One of the services we offer our clients is The Office Miracle™  — one day in your home or office, and we guarantee a system which allows you, or anyone else you designate, to find any information you need in seconds – or you don’t pay for the service! We start by organizing your desktop where you most likely have the newest papers. You can worry about all those old piles later! After you get the new system in place, you can incorporate the old files into the new system. If you don’t, they’ll eventually be old enough that tossing them will be easy.

While it’s certainly important to clean up the trash, weeds, and other undesirables in your garden, if you limit yourself to that activity, you can work very hard and see little results. One of the things my landscape designer taught me was to pick one small area and start planting. The results inspired me to keep going on to bigger and better things!

4. Clutter is Postponed Decisions®.

Closets fill up to overflowing because we haven’t decided if we’re really going to lose that ten pounds, what to do with the candlesticks from Aunt Sally, whom we dearly love, but they really don’t fit the decor, or whether we’re ever really going to use that exercise equipment again…  Often we are afraid to decide because we might make a mistake.

For years, my fear of failing prevented me from enjoying the experience of gardening. Now I’ve learned that every attempt teaches me something, which permits greater success the next time!

5. Put Like Items Together.

 When organizing anything, one of the first steps is getting “the big picture.” That means not getting bogged down deciding about each piece of paper or item of clothing, but grouping items together by category. Then you can decide how much space you’re willing to give up for each category, and deciding is easier.

One of the first steps in creating any rewarding garden is determining what kind of garden you want – vegetable, herb, cutting, perennial, etc.  As great as all those options are, if you try to have all of them in the same space, the result will be disappointing. Creating a specific area in your garden for herbs, another for cut flowers, etc. will most likely produce more desirable results.

6. Half of any job is using the right tool!

Note I said “using” – not “having!” So many times, people struggle with organizing their lives simply because they don’t have the right tools. Often the changes required are simple ones:  For example, instead of an “In Basket” which frequently becomes a depository for postponed decisions, substitute three baskets: In, Out, and File.

It took a blister to convince me to buy a new pair of loppers to finish trimming the butterfly bushes. With the new tool, pruning was easy and painless.

7. “Organizing is a process not a destination.”

Maintaining any system requires continually asking three questions:  “Does it work?’’ “Do I like it?” “Does it work for the others I care about?” Be willing to take risks, don’t worry about mistakes, and just keep learning!

A garden, like organizing, is a continual process of reassessing what you like, what you don’t, rearranging existing plants, and trying new varieties. The results can be rewarding beyond your wildest dreams to you, and to others.AAEAAQAAAAAAAAgYAAAAJGQ4YTc3MWZiLTc1YWItNDc1YS04OTQzLWM5N2NmNjhjY2Q0NQ