Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Best Free Software - For Productivity, Organizing - Everything!

Computers are not useful without the right programs to do the tasks that you need to do. It used to be that the best software cost a lot of money - for instance, a standard Microsoft Office suite can cost upwards of $400. Times have definitely changed, as a tremendous amount of useful, software is available for the low, low price of FREE. What's really surprising is how polished and professional much of this open-source software is. While I still use commercial software, I'm finding myself drawn more and more to open-source alternatives, which I now am recommending with increasing frequency to my organizing clients.

To get an idea of what's out there, check out PC Magazine's roundup of the best free software of 2008 online at:,2817,2260070,00.asp

Do you have a favorite free software program that's not in the list? Post it in the comments!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

4 Top Year-End Organizing Tips

The final month of the year is here, and for many of us, it’s a time of wrapping things up before the new year rolls around. This year, as part of your year-end wrap-up, consider taking a few moments to revisit the systems that serve you every day, and see if you can improve them.

Clean out your paper files. Over the course of a year, most of us accumulate way more paper than we need, and much of it ends up in our file drawers. The end of the year is a great time to free up space in your files to make room for next year’s new documents. Spend some time going through your file drawer and see if the papers in there are still necessary and relevant to you. Look at your files with a cold eye and shred or recycle what you no longer need.

Revisit your filing system. While you’re in your file drawer, take the opportunity to look at how your filing system is set up, and make any changes that will help it serve you better in the future. Do the file names make sense to you? Are the tabs and folders clearly labeled? Are the file folders frayed at the edges? Are you trying to stuff too many documents in a slim hanging file, when a box-bottom file is a better fit? Now’s a great time to change file names, re-label, and get the right supplies to improve the system.

Donate unused supplies and other “stuff.” Look through your supply storage area, and chances are you probably have some supplies hiding in there that have never been (and likely never will) be used. Sure, those t-shirt iron-on transfers seemed like a good idea when you were at the office supply store, but are you ever going to use them? Free up space in your storage by getting rid of those things you either never used or just don’t need. Most non-profits are happy to take office supplies off your hands. Bonus – you may even get a tax-deduction for donating these supplies to a charity.

Delete junk from your computer. Files stored on our computer may not take up room on your desk, but they can fill a hard drive surprisingly fast. Delete drafts and out-of-date versions of files if you no longer need them. Use the search tools on your computer to find duplicate files, and keep just the ones you need. In your email program, if you no longer have use for a large attachment that was sent with an email, delete it. These can take up a surprising amount of space!

―Joshua Zerkel

Joshua Zerkel, Certified Professional Organizer and home office organizing expert, helps busy people save time, space and money by getting organized at home and at work. For more FREE organizing ideas, visit or call 415-830-6345.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Reduce Your Books and Get Paid Doing It

When I work with clients to help them cut their clutter, one area that generally gets weeded through is the bookshelf. It can be filled with books that are useful, not so useful, and maybe not even read! Getting rid of books that you no longer want or need can be difficult - unread books can be a huge source of guilt. That said, I encourage you to let go of books that you're not likely to get to anytime soon - after all, you can always check a book out from the library later!

Would it take the edge off if you made some money from the books that you're getting rid of? Well, a site sent to me by a client called Cash for Books can help you do just that. You tell them what books you have, and they pay you for them. Cash for Books will even pay for the shipping! Check them out at:

Cash For Books - We Buy Books & We Pay The Shipping!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Best On-the-Go Productivity Applications for your BlackBerry Smartphone

A few days ago, I posted the best on-the-go applications for the iPhone. BlackBerry users, I haven’t forgotten about you – here’s a list of top apps for your smartphones.

Do you have a favorite BlackBerry application? Post it in the comments.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Best On-the-Go Productivity Applications for your iPhone Smartphone

If you have a smartphone like an iPhone or a BlackBerry, you’ve probably realized that these handy gizmos can do so much more than just keep track of your schedule and make calls. With add-on applications, you can turn your phone into a database of maps, a direct link to FaceBook and other social networking sites, and a handy restaurant finder. Other programs can help you prepare expense reports or find the lowest price on office supplies. Here are some reviews of the best iPhone applications. Later this week, I’ll post some reviews for the best BlackBerry applications.,2817,2331274,00.asp,2817,2333964,00.asp

If you have any applications that you particularly find useful for your iPhone, please post them in the comments.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Great New Tool for Reducing Distractions

If you’re addicted to email, you probably know that not every message is truly urgent. What if there was a way for those truly urgent messages to get to you, even when you are not checking your email?

I just found out about AwayFind, which is a free (for now) service that lets people send you urgent text messages via an online web form. Instead of giving out your cell number to everyone, you can set an autoresponder in your email that says “Sorry, I’m out with clients right now, and won’t be checking my email until the end of the day. If your message is truly urgent and requires immediate attention, please fill out the form below which will send me a text message.” People can still reach you, but at least this way they won’t be interrupting you via email or a phone call.

There are lots of uses for AwayFind. I think it’s a great tool for helping get out from the deluge of email.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Don't Multitask!

Great NPR Series on Multitasking

People often ask me about multitasking – how to do more at once, how to get more done, etc. I’m a firm believer that multitasking just doesn’t work, at least on the tasks that are a priority for us. We need to focus in order to do our best work, and when we multitask, by definition we are splitting our focus.

NPR recently had a great series about multitasking. Check it out at:

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Organizing for Holiday Gift Giving

Where has the year gone? Believe it or not, the holidays will soon be with us. Along with the turkey and the trimmings, another holiday tradition – gift giving – is something most of us include in our annual to-do’s. Before things get crazy as they always seem to near the end of the year, now is a great time to plan ahead and get a jump on this year’s gift-a-palooza.

Determine your gift-giving budget. To prevent overspending, it’s always a good idea to know what your limit is. We are in a tough time economically, and splurges that you may have done in the past may not be possible right now. Instead of going into debt during the holidays, take a few minutes and look at your overall financial picture. How much can you afford to spend this year without busting your budget? I think most people will understand if this year’s gift isn’t as costly as in years past, and I doubt your loved ones would feel great about you incurring debt to buy them a gift. Make a budget and stick to it.

Make the list. Now that you have an idea of your overall budget for the holidays, it’s time to create your gift-giving list. Make a list with multiple columns – the person’s name, a few gift ideas, and the cost of each gift. Fill in each column, and at the bottom of the sheet, total up the amount that you’re projected to spend. If it’s on target with your budget, great! If not, see which gifts can be cut from the list. Keep changing items until you are within your gift-giving budget. What you’re left with is your final gifting list.

Look for the deals. With your final list in hand, it’s time to search out bargains wherever possible. Deal-finding sites like,, and comparison shopping sites like Google Shopping and can help you stretch your gift-giving dollars. Of course, not everything you’re looking for will have a discount, but it’s definitely worth spending some time looking – you might be surprised at how much you can save!

Find the time-savers. If you order online, look for stores that can gift-wrap for you and ship directly to the recipient – saving you time and a trip to the post office. Many retail stores offer gift-wrapping services as well. If you have a number of gifts that need to be shipped, gather them all together and ship them at one time, rather than in multiple trips to the post office. Finally, if you’re buying an item that’s likely to be in short supply, like a Nintendo Wii or a Teddy Ruxpin (yes, they’re back!), start your shopping right away so you don’t have to scramble at the last minute.

Remember, the act of gift giving should make you feel great – not overwhelmed – and your recipient should feel happy with the affection you’ve show in the form of a tangible item. Act now to organize your gifting, and you’ll have a lot less stress when the holidays come around!

Joshua Zerkel, Certified Professional Organizer®
Custom Living Solutions
Tel. 415-830-6345

3 Things Every Home Office Worker Needs

When you spend as much time as I have working with different folks in their various at-home workspaces, you start to notice some of the things that consistently are important to being a successful work-at-homer. Of course, some of the things that help people do their best work are big, obvious things, like staying organized, managing one’s time well, and the like. But I’d like to shine a light on some of the things that are smaller and more easily overlooked – but are also, in my experience, very helpful. In fact, these are things I recommend to every person I work with in a home office:

- Everybody needs a label maker. Labeling files, containers, and drawers helps to define where your stuff and your paper live, and makes their homes more official. When things are clearly labeled, it’s easier to put things away and to stay organized. Label makers aren’t too expensive – some of my favorite Brother models can be found on sale at many office supply stores for under $30. Keep your label maker and extra label cassettes handy, and as soon as you create a new file folder or put stuff in a container, create a label immediately.

- Ensure the safety and security of the data in your business. Every person who uses a computer needs a system for regularly backing up their data. Imagine what would happen if your hard drive crashed or your laptop was stolen. How long would it take you to reconstruct your client database, your calendar, and your financial information – if you could even do it at all? If you’ve taken the time to create anything on your computer, it’s worth spending the time to back it up. Now, I realize that adding one more task to your already busy day isn’t the advice you were hoping for – but there is a solution. More and more, I recommend automatic online backup services, like Mozy, that work while your computer is idle and upload your data to a secure offsite server. Also consider keeping hard copies of key documents in a safe location offsite.

- Invest in insurance. This is probably the least fun thing in the world to spend your hard-earned cash on, but I believe having the right insurance is key to any business owner sleeping well at night. I’m consistently surprised how many of my clients just don’t have insurance – most just haven’t thought of it – and why should they? After all, if you already have homeowners or renters insurance, your home office is covered by your existing policy, right? In most cases, wrong. Many insurance policies require a special rider or provision for home offices and home-based businesses to cover the material owned by the business, such as inventory, computers and other equipment, and supplies. Additionally, you might want to consider general business liability insurance and/or specialized insurance for your profession. It’s a good idea to check with your insurance agent to see what can be added or modified on your existing policy to cover both you personally as well as your business.

Probably not the three things you were thinking of… but all are important to your home office. Of course, there are a great many other things that are important to creating successful home office, and they are all important to different degrees. These three are easy to take care of and can really help you create a strong foundation for your business.

Switching from Laundry Mode to Work Mode

My friends get pretty jealous about me having an office in my home, saying it must be cool to be able to sit around in my sweats and do all sorts of errands during the day. Well, while there are definite perks to working from home - spending nothing on gas (a big benefit in $4/gallon San Francisco) and eating a healthy lunch that I prepare – it’s important to remember the work part in the work-from-home equation. For most of us with home offices, it’s key to our success to find ways to put the “office” back in “home office.”

Reduce distractions. Here’s a scenario: even though you hate doing laundry, as soon as you sit down to start your workday, suddenly your laundry jumps to the top of your must-do list. You get out of your chair, collect your laundry, sort it, put it in the machine, and before you know it, you’ve lost 20 minutes that was supposed to be spent on an important project. Sound familiar? Most of us have distractions in our homes that can divert our attention from the work that we have in front of us. For us work-at-homers, it’s super-important to combat these distractions. True, we can’t make them go away, but look for ways to shift your focus back to your work. For instance, putting all non-work-related items out view of your desk, closing the door to your office, and turning off the ringer on your home phone during the day have all proven helpful to people I’ve worked with.

Set the scene. Is your home office set up to help you do your best work? If it isn’t, take some time to get the space organized, comfortable, and conducive for how you like to work. For instance, if you have trouble getting started each day because you can’t find your papers, take an afternoon and set up a paper management system. Are your frequently-used supplies all the way on the other side of the room? Move them closer so you spend less time getting up and interrupting your workflow. Does the space itself reflect your personal aesthetic? How things look and feel can play a big part in how much (or how little) we like our workspace, and when we like our space, we do better work. Spend some time “dressing up” your work area or desk with items that reflect who you are and the things you like.

Dress for work, not for home. Even though it might seem working in your home office in pajamas or sweats is a good idea (you’re already wearing them, right?), doing so doesn’t lend itself to enhancing your productivity or helping you do your best work. Your pajamas may be silk and your sweats designer, but chances are you’d never see a client or go to an office wearing these decidedly not-work garments. Dressing up helps us shift our mind into another state – in this case, dressing for work helps make the mental shift into work mode. I’ve seen people work much better when they dress as if they may be called off to a client site at any moment. For example, a client says when she puts on her shoes, she knows it’s time for her to go to work (even though her office is just down the hall from her bedroom). What outfit can you change into to signal work time?

Find the things that you can do, whether it’s putting on a dress shirt or closing your office door, to create a physical or mental “workspace” that is distinct from your home. When you do, you’ll find yourself being much more productive and enjoy your work more.

Joshua Zerkel, Certified Professional Organizer®
Custom Living Solutions
Tel. 415-830-6345

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

3 Top Tips for Dealing with Noise Pollution in Your Home Office

“If I do my invoicing, I’ll be able to reach my monthly cash flow goals, but I can’t concentrate with all the traffic noise!”

“I’d love to work on that proposal, but my neighbor’s dog just won’t stop barking!”

“Is that baby STILL screaming? I need to get this project off my desk!”

If any of these sound familiar, then you’ve run into one of the unique challenges of working from home – dealing with residential noise pollution.

Home office workers face a variety of challenges related to distraction, but noise is one that is typically overlooked. Most large offices and workspaces have a symphony of office chatter, the hum of copiers and other office machines, and even the low rumble of the A/C, all of which generally become a type of “white noise” – which we can usually tune out and stop hearing. At home, however, there typically isn’t any background noise – it’s usually just you and your trusty computer – and any outside noise can be especially jarring and make it challenging for us to focus.

In order to get our work done, we home office types need to find strategies to help us manage the noise pollution that can encroach on our productivity. Here’s a few tactics that I’ve found successful with my organizing clients:

The hills are alive… Well, maybe not the hills, but your home office can be alive with the sound of music. For many people, having the right music as background noise can help to get us “into a groove” and make our tasks go faster and seem more enjoyable. I emphasize having the right music, because background music while working is not a one-genre-fits-all affair. Some people find music with lyrics can be distracting while doing verbally-related tasks such as writing, reading, and editing. For these task types, you might want to choose instrumental or electronic music, or even nature sounds. Other tasks, such as organizing your office, might be perfect for that Top 40 song you just can’t seem to get out of your head. Match the music to the task at hand, and you’ll focus less on outside-world noise distractions.

The tech. As with most things, technology is there to help us deal with noise pollution. Noise-cancelling headphones can silence all but the most piercing of outside noises, and can create a quiet zone for us to work in. Sometimes, just having “white noise” can help us ignore the more unpleasant background noises. White noise generators, which create a static-like tone, have been used in therapy offices for many years, and help to drown out or mask things we don’t want to hear. You can find both noise-cancelling headphones and white noise generators online.

Shift your space. Recognize when it might be helpful to just get out of your chair, leave your office, and go someplace else to work. A change of scenery can shift our energy and allow us to focus in a different way than when we’re at our usual workspace. This can be an especially helpful tactic when you need or want to work on a specific task. Let’s say that you need to write an article for your newsletter, but it’s simply too noisy at your home office. Try taking a trip to your local coffee shop, library or park and do your writing from there – you might just find that you write a lot better in that environment. Sometimes, tying a specific type of task to a physical location can help reduce our distraction level and help us focus on the task at hand.

As I’m writing this, two sirens went off outside my window, a dog started barking, and a plane is flying overhead. I know what I’m going to do to get my focus back – what will you do the next time you’re distracted by your noisy environment?

Joshua Zerkel, Certified Professional Organizer®
Custom Living Solutions
Tel. 415-830-6345

Monday, September 01, 2008

Evernote - so handy!

On a recent quest for note-taking tools, I've come across Evernote, a multi-platform (Mac, Windows, Web, and mobile) tool for taking and syncing notes. I loved using Microsoft OneNote, but Evernote is like OneNote on steroids - it syncs everything across your devices, and makes your notebooks accessible anywhere you have an internet connection.

Note-taking tools such as EverNote or OneNote are great for collecting random thoughts that might otherwise be in an unorganized notepad, on a napkin, the back of an envelope, or the dreaded sticky note. One person even uses Evernote to organize their medical information.

Check it out at

-- Joshua Zerkel,

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

New Year’s Organizing Tips

Make 2009 your year to get organized!

Set up new systems. This is a great time of year to look at what’s working and what isn’t, and to develop new strategies to serve you better. Are you frustrated with your current piles of paper? Make some time to set up a paper management system. Is your closet overflowing with clothes? Set aside a few hours to edit through your stuff and put things back in a way that makes sense for you. If you haven’t yet figured out a strategy for processing your email, look up a few ideas on how to get through your inbox, and try a few on for size. Take an honest look at where frustration arises in your life, and create ways to combat it.

Tweak current processes. If you’ve already developed some strategies to help you manage life’s details – great! The New Year is the perfect time review what you’ve put in place, and make adjustments to ensure that everything is working as well as it can. For instance, in your filing system, do all the category names still make sense? Are the tabs legible? Are the folders still in good condition? Take a few minutes to review your categories, print out new labels, and replace frayed folders with fresh ones. Review all the systems you currently have in place, and see where small changes can be made. Making these small tweaks can help your systems continue to serve you well.

Give yourself some time. We all could benefit from more “me” time, and this is a good opportunity to build some into our lives. Make a personal “wish list” of projects or interests you’d like to pursue if you had a little bit of extra time. Look at your calendar or agenda and see where you can carve out some extra time for yourself – even just a few minutes a day or an hour or two a week. Set it as an appointment on your calendar – writing it down helps make it real. Use your wish list as a guide for what to do with that newfound extra time.

Joshua Zerkel, Certified Professional Organizer ®, specializes in helping clients maximize their creativity and productivity in their small and home offices. For more FREE organizing ideas, visit or call 415-830-8297.

© 2007 Joshua Zerkel and Custom Living Solutions. All Rights Reserved.

Joshua Zerkel, Certified Professional Organizer ®
Custom Living Solutions Tel. 415-830-6345

Top Organizing Tips for Graphic Designers

As someone whose previous career was in the design industry, I know how much of a challenge it can be for busy, creative people to get and stay organized. When you’re faced with meeting client deadlines and marketing yourself to find your next gig, it can seem like getting organized is just “one more thing” on the ever-growing to-do list. But taking the time to get organized can help you – and your business – in a variety of ways:

Recognize the benefits of getting organized. When I work with creative professionals of any stripe, one of the concerns they raise is that getting organized could stifle their creativity. In fact, what I’ve seen with my clients is that getting organized can enhance creativity by letting you focus on what’s important to you – rather than the details of “where’s that important client file” or “under which pile of stuff is my extra printer ink.” Getting organized takes a little time and focus up front, but can save you lots of time and stress down the road.

Set aside time to organize. I know you’re busy with design projects for your clients, but remember, taking care of the administrative end of your business, including managing paperwork, billing, and email, is critical to the success of any endeavor. Unfortunately, your admin and organizing-related work won’t do itself, so schedule time to work on your organizing projects. Once they’re completed, build a regular appointment with yourself into your calendar to maintain your systems. One rule of thumb – it takes about 15-30 minutes each day to deal with that day’s worth of new paper. Make sure you have enough time set aside to process your paper – especially client billing!

Get creative with your organizing tools. When I’m working with designers and other creative folks, I frequently hear this refrain: “but the organizing tools are so ugly!” Unfortunately, it’s mostly true – many of the containers and other organizing gizmos out there are pretty bare-bones and focus on functionality over form. That said, there are ways to make sure that your organizing tools match your aesthetic sense. One technique I like to use is to get clear containers, and then line them with decorative paper from a high-end paper store. By doing this, you can completely customize the look of your storage, rather than trying to find an off-the shelf solution that fits. Look for organizing tools that you can customize in various ways – either by decorating, painting, or using in new and unexpected ways.

Give things a home. One of the most important concepts when you’re organizing is to recognize when your supplies, files, and other stuff don’t have assigned homes, they simply can’t be put away – they have no homes to go back to, and they become clutter (or “homeless stuff,” as I like to think of them). Make sure to take the time to assign homes for each of the things that are around your design studio or office. That way, when it’s time to find things, it’s easy to do so – and it’s equally easy to put things away when you’re done with them.

Joshua Zerkel, Certified Professional Organizer ®, specializes in helping clients maximize their creativity and productivity in their small and home offices. For more FREE organizing ideas, visit or call 415-830-6345.

© 2007 Joshua Zerkel and Custom Living Solutions. All Rights Reserved.

Joshua Zerkel, Certified Professional Organizer ®
Custom Living Solutions

What to Do with Your Unwanted Stuff

A frequent by-product of the organizing process is usually a bunch of stuff you’ve decided you no longer want, love, or use. Getting rid of all this stuff can sometimes be a challenge – but don’t let that stymie your progress! Here are three ideas of what to do with your castoffs:

Sell them. If your belongings still have financial value – for instance, electronics in good condition, designer clothes, or antiques – you might be able to recoup some of their cost by selling them. While having a garage sale might seem like the easiest way to sell your stuff, I generally don’t recommend it. Garage sales take a lot of prep work and planning, not to mention the time you have to spend staffing the sale. Unless you live in a densely populated area and expect most of the stuff you’re putting out will sell, skip the garage sale. Instead, try posting your most valuable items on eBay or Craigslist. You can do some research online to see how much you can expect your goods to sell for – helping you decide whether it’s worth your time to sell them or not.

Give them away. For stuff that isn’t saleable but is still in perfectly good condition – clothes that no longer fit, the extra microwave that’s been sitting in the garage, etc. – it’s best to donate them so someone else can use them. Your local Salvation Army or Goodwill are great places to start, as they generally accept a variety of items – call them before driving over to see what they’re currently accepting. For things they won’t accept, get creative – other places may still value your stuff. For instance, if you’re getting rid of stacks of magazines, why not drop a few off at the gym or at a hospital waiting room? Have extra TVs or VCRs? See if a local shelter could use them. Many things that you think aren’t valuable may in fact be desired by someone else – try posting on Craigslist in the “free” section or on Freecycle – the results may surprise you! With clients, I’ve found that when we match their donations to places which will actually use them, they feel much better about letting those things go.

Recycle them. Some of your stuff may not have any more useful life left and should be discarded in an environmentally-friendly manner. In many communities, recycling options abound for items like paper, plastic and aluminum, but what can you do with the rest of the stuff you want to recycle? This is where you have to get creative and do a little legwork. For electronics, some Goodwill locations and places like GreenCitizen will recycle your goods (sometimes for a small fee). See if old clothes can be used as art scraps at a local sewing center or school. Try calling your garbage company and see if they offer any resources or referrals for recycling beyond what they regularly pickup. Your local NAPO-affiliated Professional Organizer can also be a great resource for recycling and reuse ideas.

4 Tips for Easier Emailing

Do you feel like email has taken over your life? Well, you're not alone - in a recent study by Information Week, over three-quarters of the people surveyed said that email is essential to their lives - and an additional 15% say they'd rather lose their spouse than give up email! It's important to remember that email is a tool that we can control - one that is meant to improve communication and make our lives easier. To that end, here are four top tips to wrangle that inbox:
• Smarten up your subject line. Put as much descriptive information in the subject line as possible, and your recipient will know what your message is about without having to even open your email. For instance, "Rescheduling Meeting: Orig. 6/1/07 3PM - New 6/1/07 5PM" is a lot better than "Meeting time changed" - the more descriptive, the better.
• Don't use your inbox as a filing cabinet. Instead, create descriptive folders in your email program - by topic, client, vendor, etc. As you're finished reading your messages, file them accordingly.
• Filter your messages to save a step. Once you've set up some folders, you can then tell your email program to automatically put messages from specific senders or with specific subject lines into the folders where they belong. For instance, if you're receiving dozens of newsletters, create a "Newsletters" folder, and have your email program filter those emails right into the folder, bypassing your inbox entirely. In your email program, search the help for "rules" or "filters" for more instructions.
• Beware the 4000-message inbox. Instead of letting emails "pile up" in your inbox indefinitely, set a limit for how many messages you want to have sit in there at any given time - I recommend no more than 25 or so (once you have more than that, it's hard to actually see what's in there). Once your messages start growing past the limit that you set, schedule some time to process your email.
For more tips and ideas on ways to work smarter and organize your work life, visit

What is a Professional Organizer, Anyway?

With the incredible explosion of organizing TV shows, books, and magazine articles, many people are taking active steps to combat clutter in their homes, offices and lives. Often, the easiest and most effective way to get organized is to work with a Professional Organizer – a professional who is dedicated to helping you meet your organizing goals. Choosing the right Professional Organizer is important – this professional will be working with you in your own home or office, and will see things that most other people may not see.

According to the National Association of Professional Organizers (with nearly 3000 members, it’s the industry standard professional association), a Professional Organizer helps people take control of their surroundings, their time, their paper and their lives by using organizational principles, concepts and products. This usually includes developing strategies and systems to meet your organizational challenges, and helping you learn the skills to keep up the systems on your own. Professional Organizers come from a wide variety of educational backgrounds and their skills and experience vary widely. For most of the field’s 20+ year history, many organizers came out of the corporate world, where they previously may have been in systems administration or administrative/office manager types of positions; now, it’s increasingly common to see newcomers to the profession choose organizing as their first job. When choosing a prospective organizer to work with, it’s important to ask about their education and professional experience, as well as whether they have any ongoing professional education related to organizing.

While many organizers are generalists and work in many home and office settings, some find a niche within the field and serve a particular subset of the population. Some organizers specialize in areas like estate organizing (dealing with the belongings of the deceased), financial organizing (setting up bill payment systems, managing tax-related paperwork, etc.), or working with seniors (downsizing or preparing to move to assisted living). One of the areas I specialize in is working with entrepreneurs in small and home-based businesses, who often need systems developed to manage their businesses flow of information, paper, and time management.

On TV, organizing shows often portray the Professional Organizer as a taskmaster, forcefully “encouraging” clients to get rid of their stuff and chiding them when they don’t want to let go (hey, it makes for good TV). In reality, we usually help clients look at what they value and what they don’t – what they don’t value might go away. For what stays, we’ll help them develop storage strategies and systems. If you really want to keep Grandma’s broken pie plate and the resumes from when you were 22, it’s my job to help you find the most effective way to store them.

In reality, a typical session might start by identifying what project we’d be tackling during the session – for instance, setting up a filing system or editing one section of a closet. We’d then work side-by-side on actually doing the work – setting up the categories, files and folders in a paper management system or reviewing the articles of clothing in a closet and deciding what to do with each. Finally, we would end by cleaning up the area we’ve been working in, then reviewing what we’ve accomplished and what the next steps might be.

Pretty organized, right? Well, that’s the idea. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, disorganized, or maybe that things just aren’t working as well as they could, working with a Professional Organizer could help you bridge the gap between how things are, and how you’d like them to be.

_Joshua Zerkel


Joshua Zerkel, owner of Custom Living Solutions, helps busy people save time, space and money by getting organized at work and at home. For more FREE organizing ideas, visit or call 415-830-6345.

© 2007 Joshua Zerkel and Custom Living Solutions. All Rights Reserved.

Joshua Zerkel, Organizing Expert
Custom Living Solutions Tel. 415-830-6345

Moving Towards Effectiveness

It’s more than just being productive!

I recently met with a new client at her office, whose stated goal was to feel like she spent each day being very productive – that she got a lot of things done that day. In our culture of production and consumption, being “very productive” has become a goal unto itself. As a Professional Organizer, I encourage clients to look beyond just getting a lot of things done; rather, I believe you are better served striving for effectiveness rather than just productivity. Let’s look at a few ways to make that happen:

Know your goal. Before you sit down to work on a task, decide whether your goal is to be productive, efficient, or effective. When you’re productive, more often than not you’ll have completed a number of tasks, but your focus may not be on completing each task particularly well – checking them off your list is your priority. You’ll get a feeling of accomplishment, but it will be more about how many tasks you’ve completed rather than about the tasks themselves. A cousin of productivity is efficiency – getting this done expediently or in a streamlined way. Both productivity and efficiency can lead you toward overall effectiveness. Effectiveness means that your tasks are not only getting completed, but they are completed well. When you’re effective at work (or at home), you’ll know it – you’ll have that unmistakable “job well done” feeling, an intangible reward for completing your work.

Don’t multitask. People frequently trick themselves into thinking that they are being particularly productive by multitasking, or doing more than one task at once. It may seem like you’re getting much more done by multitasking, but in most cases it is just not so. Studies have shown that when you multitask, each individual task can take up to four times longer than if it had simply been completed on its own. Additionally, by definition multitasking means you are splitting your focus among two, three, four, or more tasks at once. When we are unable to focus on a task, the quality of our work usually suffers. Multitasking also can contribute to a sense of overwhelm or of doing too much.

Block out time. Instead of multitasking, it’s better to create blocks of time on your calendar for the various tasks that you have to do. Give each task the time that it requires to get completed well. For most people, when things are put onto the calendar, they become “official,” and thereby get done. Here’s a tip when blocking out time: always overestimate how long tasks take to complete. Most people underestimate task time, so they end up always feeling rushed. Build a little breathing room into your calendar, and you’ll be much better off.

As with all things that are worthwhile, building your effectiveness habit takes time and effort – but it’s worth it. Over time, you’ll notice yourself feeling more satisfied with your work and more in control of your day.

_Joshua Zerkel


Joshua Zerkel, Organizing Expert, helps busy people save time, space and money by getting organized at home and at work. For more FREE organizing ideas, visit or call 415-830-6345.

©2006 Joshua Zerkel and Custom Living Solutions. All Rights Reserved.

Joshua Zerkel, Organizing Expert
Custom Living Solutions
Tel. 415-830-6345

Making Organizing a Part of Your Life

When it comes to organizing, routine does matter!

Organizing is about so much more than developing the right systems to meet your needs or buying the latest organizing gizmo. While those things are undoubtedly important, the most critical factor of whether your organizing projects will be successful is how well you integrate organizing into your life. Here are a few tips to build new routines around organizing:

Start small. The biggest organizing mistake that people make is to set unrealistic expectations for how much time and effort organizing takes. The tendency for many people is to say, “this weekend, I’m going to organize the whole house” or “I’m going to purge my 20-year paper backlog today.” Projects like these are big, and need to be broken down into smaller mini-projects that are more easily completed. Take these larger projects apart, and you’ll see there are smaller tasks within them – for instance, organizing just one kitchen cabinet, or purging just one part of one file drawer. It’s far better to start with a small project that you can make immediate, visible progress on, instead of a large, nebulous, undefined project. Start doing smaller projects regularly and you’re guaranteed to see continual progress.

Do a little each day. Organizing doesn’t have to be a quarterly or annual event – in fact, it is a lot better to build organizing into your life on a daily or weekly basis. If you can devote fifteen minutes a day toward clearing clutter, you’ll help ensure that those areas you so carefully organized will stay clutter-free. For most people, it’s easier (and more enjoyable) to spend a few minutes a day on organizing, rather than blocking out an hour or two once a week. Organizing won’t become such a chore, and you’ll be reinforcing the habit that living without clutter is a priority for you.

Remember, organizing is a process. Organizing is not a do-it-once task; rather, it can be helpful to think of it more as a lifestyle change. There may be a big push to complete a particular project, but it’s the maintenance that happens afterward that helps ensure success – and that maintenance is all about your habits. I’ve worked with lots of clients, and the ones who are most successful realize that while certain projects might have defined completion parameters, there is no “end point” for being organized. It’s a skill you can develop and grow throughout your life.

Getting your office or home organized is one of the best investments you can make in yourself and your space. You’ve spent time and resources to get organized, and by using some of these tips, you’ll be able to stay organized for the long term.

_Joshua Zerkel


Joshua Zerkel, Organizing Expert, helps busy people save time, space and money by getting organized at work and at home. For more FREE organizing ideas, visit or call 415-830-6345.

© 2005 Joshua Zerkel and Custom Living Solutions. All Rights Reserved.

Joshua Zerkel, Organizing Expert
Custom Living Solutions Tel. 415-830-6345

Strategies for Success

Reach your organizing goals with these easy tips!

The prospect of getting organized at home or at work can seem pretty daunting. Working towards your organizing goals can be energized with anticipation and effort, or can be derailed by frustration and confusion. It’s critical to understand that getting organized is a process – and as such, it will have its highs and lows. Whether your goal is to clear that pile off of your desk, to organize your computer files, or to finally see the floor in your closet, here are some strategies to help you to hit your target:

Have a plan. The most common downfall that people who try to get organized run into is they haven’t planned out their project. Often, they’ll begin without first defining the smaller tasks in the project, and how they will recognize when they are finally finished. Before you start your organizing project, take a few minutes to write down your plan of attack – your goal for the project, the steps involved in getting the project completed, and what some important milestones are. This way, as you complete each task, you can check it off and visually see the progress that you’ve made. And if you run into trouble, a good Professional Organizer can help you develop an organizing plan that’s right for you.

Set aside time. Take a look at your calendar for the month. Do you have an extra 15 minutes each day, or a free hour on the weekend? Those might be good times for you to schedule time to make progress with your organizing. Once you find the right time in your schedule, make sure you write it down as “organizing time.” The simple act of setting time aside for working on your project can go a long way towards your success, because you’ve just let yourself know that organizing is a priority that has earned time in your schedule.

Enlist help. Organizing can be a solitary activity, and if you’re a social person, getting organized alone can be torturous. If you enjoy having another person around to bounce organizing ideas off of, work with a Professional Organizer, or get an “organizing buddy.” You and your organizing buddy can put your heads together on each other’s organizing projects, and can share that extra bit of support when it’s needed.

Reward yourself. As you make progress on your organizing plan, give yourself a treat for reaching important milestones. You don’t have to wait until you’ve completed your project to sit back and enjoy the work that you’ve done! Some great times to reward yourself might be when you can finally see the top of your desk, when you have just gathered a bag of unused clothes to donate, or when you’ve got that undeniable feeling that things are starting to get “under control.” You get to choose your reward for reaching those important milestones!

Remember, getting organized is a process, one that can help you build skills that will last for a lifetime. Individual projects can take awhile, so be patient and don’t get mired down in the day-to-day ups and downs of your organizing. Try the strategies mentioned above and you’ll be well on your way to success!

_Joshua Zerkel


Joshua Zerkel, Organizing Expert, helps busy people save time, space and money by getting organized at home and at work. For more FREE organizing ideas, visit or call 415-830-6345.

© 2005 Joshua Zerkel and Custom Living Solutions. All Rights Reserved.

Joshua Zerkel, Organizing Expert
Custom Living Solutions Tel. 415-830-6345


Meeting Life’s Changes Head-On

A wise person once said, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” We organizers work with our clients on transforming their lives by making changes to their habits and their environments. If a client truly wants their lives to become more organized and to effect a deep, profound, and long-lasting transformation, then they have to be open to change – sometimes big changes, sometimes small ones. Opening up to change can sometimes be tough, but here are a few ideas to make the process a little easier:

Look at the big picture. When changes occur in our lives and our environments, it can be stressful and scary – or fun and exciting, depending on the circumstance and your perspective. As something in your world is going through a change, take a step back and assess the bigger picture. What positive things might come out of this change? What new challenges come about because of this? Most importantly, changes usually signal an opportunity to grow – but you have to be willing to do it.

Bend, don’t break. Avoiding or fighting the changes in your life can be much more difficult than adapting to meet them. Trying to keep things from changing and holding on to past goals and idealized histories can keep you from moving forward. As difficult as it may be at first, learning to be adaptable and flexible can help you meet life’s changes with aplomb and poise.

Pick your battles. Not every change is one worth making, and some things are better left unchanged. The key is learning which is which – and putting your energies into making the right changes, not every change. When you notice that a change is about to occur in your life, try to think about the potential effects that it might have on you, and how you can best use your energies and resources to meet it.

Learning to adapt to changes in your life and your environment is an ongoing part of the human experience. Life is full of changes large and small. How you meet them can be a key factor in determining how much you get out of life. Chances are that you’ll have plenty of opportunities to practice adapting to change – as change is truly the only constant in life!

_Joshua Zerkel


Joshua Zerkel, Organizing Expert, helps busy people save time, space and money by getting organized at home and at work. For more FREE organizing ideas, visit or call 415-830-6345.

© 2005 Joshua Zerkel and Custom Living Solutions. All Rights Reserved.

Joshua Zerkel, Organizing Expert
Custom Living Solutions Tel. 415-830-6345

Terminating Your Tolerations

Four Steps for Minimizing Life’s Little (and Big!) Annoyances

Irritated. Annoyed. Frustrated. Do these words describe your daily life? If so, chances are you are putting up with a lot of tolerations – things that irk you regularly, but that consciously or unconsciously you have decided get to be a part of your life. Well, they don’t have to be! Follow these steps to reduce the amount of frustration you feel at life’s little (and big!) annoyances:

1. Make a list. Instead of feeling like you have lots of undefined things in your life that are driving you batty, start writing those daily tolerations down. Sit down for a few minutes with a notebook, and make a list of the tolerations in your life. Carry around the notebook with you for a few days and write down all those things that you regularly put up with – all the distractions, clutter, rude co-workers, the slow-draining sink – whatever is a bother to you, make a note of it. Write down not only what is bothering you, but why you feel bothered by it.

2. Evaluate and strategize. Once you’ve spent some time noticing and writing down your tolerations, it’s time to start looking at them in a proactive way. At their core, tolerations are problems waiting to be solved. The key to defeating your tolerations is to look beyond the problem, and focus on potential solutions. For instance, if you’ve grown tired of the clutter on your desk, one way of dealing with it is to get organized. The problem co-worker could be an opportunity for you to practice your communication and management skills, and so on. For each of your tolerations listed in your notebook, write down a few potential solutions.

3. Prioritize. Now that you’re solution-focused, start separating your tolerations by how easy they will be to solve. In your notebook, make one column for easy fixes (lubricating the squeaky door, taking the pile of clothes to the dry cleaner) and one column for more challenging or time-consuming ones (organizing your closet, letting go of that commitment that no longer makes sense in your life). Once you’ve done that, you can prioritize the order that you’ll attack the tolerations. The most stressful or frustrating items get top priority in each list, and the tolerations that are less annoying get lower priority.

4. Act and Eliminate. Now that you have your list of problems and solutions prioritized, it’s time to move into action. Grab your prioritized list and your calendar, and set aside time to actively work on reducing your tolerations. Begin by scheduling time to focus on getting rid of the tolerations that are at the top of your priority list –eliminating the big ones can create a tremendous sense of accomplishment. If you have just a few free minutes a day, start with the tolerations that are on your easy list. By doing so, you’ll have freed up some of your time, and soon you’ll be able to focus on your more challenging tasks.

Reducing your tolerations can be an incredibly satisfying endeavor. Moving from annoyance into action will leave you feeling empowered and in control. In time, the amount of things that you tolerate will be far fewer, because you won’t let them enter your life in the first place.

_Joshua Zerkel


Joshua Zerkel, Organizing Expert, helps busy people save time, space and money by getting organized at home and at work. For more FREE organizing ideas, visit or call 415-830-6345.

© 2005 Joshua Zerkel and Custom Living Solutions. All Rights Reserved.

Joshua Zerkel, Organizing Expert
Custom Living Solutions Tel. 415-830-6345

Organizing Your Personal Finances

4 Steps to Getting Control of Your Receipts, Statements, and Bills

One of my top requests as a Professional Organizer is to help clients organize their personal finances. For many of us, the myriad bills, receipts, and statements that enter our homes are quickly overwhelming us. It’s hard to keep track of all that information if you don’t have a good system in place to manage it. Here are four simple steps to help you get your personal financial papers organized:

1. Gather it up. The first step to organizing your finances is to get all financial-related information in one place. If your personal financial papers are currently piled into paper bags, stuffed in shoeboxes, and dominating your desk, start by putting all the various bills, receipts, and statements in a box or pile. It’s much easier to organize when all your information is in one spot!

2. Sort and separate. Now that your papers are all together, it’s time to sort them into categories. The simplest way to organize personal finances is to separate tax-related items from ones that you won’t be claiming (ask your tax preparer for more information about your specific situation). From those two main financial types – tax/non-tax, your papers will start giving you clues to some broad categories – utilities, electronics, auto, home, etc. Create piles for each of those categories.

3. Find homes. Now it’s time to create dedicated spaces where your financial papers can live. Purchase an accordion folder and some hanging files. Into the accordion goes your tax-related info – one tab for each sub-category. The benefit of the accordion folder is that it can be easily stored for safekeeping when the tax year is over. Your non-tax-related financial information goes into the hanging files – one file for each of non-tax-related category. Continue filing receipts, statements and bills into their new homes as they come in.

4. Track it. Once you have all your financial information sorted, separated, and filed, it’s easy to take the next step and track where your hard-earned cash is going. Easy-to-use computer programs like Quicken or Money take your previously-organized financial information and let you generate budgets, reports, and projections – letting you stay in control of your financial life.

If it’s been awhile since you last organized your finances, or if it’s your first time doing so, I know the process can seem daunting – but it can be simple if you take it step-by-step. Getting your finances organized can be incredibly empowering – and the process can be easy if you follow the guidelines above.

_Joshua Zerkel


Joshua Zerkel, Organizing Expert, helps busy people save time, space and money by getting organized at home and at work. For more FREE organizing ideas, visit or call 415-830-6345.

© 2005 Joshua Zerkel and Custom Living Solutions. All Rights Reserved.

Joshua Zerkel, Organizing Expert
Custom Living Solutions Tel. 415-830-6345

Choosing a Professional Organizer

With the incredible explosion of organizing TV shows, books, and magazine articles, many people are taking active steps to combat clutter in their homes, offices, and lives. Often, the easiest and most efficient way to get organized is to work with a Professional Organizer – a professional who is dedicated to helping you meet your organizing goals. Choosing the right Professional Organizer is important – this professional will be working with you in your own home or office, and will see things that most other people may not see. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you’re considering working with a Professional Organizer:

What is a Professional Organizer, anyway? According to the National Association of Professional Organizers (the industry standard professional association), a Professional Organizer helps people take control of their surroundings, their time, their paper, and their lives by using organizational principles and concepts. This usually includes developing strategies and systems for to meet your organizational challenges, and helping you learn the skills to keep up the systems on your own.

Background and experience make a difference. Professional Organizers come from a wide variety of educational backgrounds and their skills and experience vary widely. It’s important to ask about your organizer’s education and professional experience, as well as whether they have any ongoing professional education related to organizing.

Are they truly a “professional?” See whether they work as an organizer full-time and how long they’ve been in business. Find out how whether their business license is valid and if they have liability insurance. Ask if they are a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers, and how frequently they attend chapter meetings. The answers to these questions can give you key information about how dedicated the organizer you’re considering is to the profession of organizing and how serious they are about their business.

Know what services they provide. Organizing often bridges several related professions, such as project management, interior design, carpentry, cabinet design and personal assisting. Ask your organizer if they are qualified to do work in any of the related areas, and if not, if they have a network of professionals that they can refer you to.

Ask for testimonials or references. My clients have found that organizing has made such a difference in their lives that they have been happy to provide testimonials. Ask any organizer that you’re considering if their past clients have provided testimonials or are willing to act as references. Satisfied clients can be a great indicator of the quality of service that an organizer can bring to your projects.

Choosing the right Professional Organizer for you may seem like a complicated process, but it doesn’t have to be. Follow some of the guidelines that I’ve outlined and you’ll be on the right track to finding your partner in the fight against clutter.

_Joshua Zerkel


Joshua Zerkel, Organizing Expert, helps busy people save time, space and money by getting organized at home and at work. For more FREE organizing ideas, visit or call 415-830-8297.

© 2005 Joshua Zerkel and Custom Living Solutions. All Rights Reserved.

Joshua Zerkel, Organizing Expert
Custom Living Solutions Tel. 415-830-8297

De-Cluttering Your Digital Photos

Easily organize your digital photos in 4 easy steps!

Digital cameras make it easy and fun to capture your memories. Many digital cameras can store hundreds of photos at a time – many more than the 24 or 36 that film cameras can. Organizing the sheer number of photos that can come from one memory card can be a challenge. Managing your digital photos can be easy – and fun – with a few simple tips:

1. Toss the junk. Unflattering photos, bad camera angles, and just plain awful shots can take up lots of space on your hard drive. Before organizing your photos, go through your digital photo collection with a fine-toothed comb, and make sure that you’re only keeping photos that you like. Not only will you free up space on your computer, you’ll make it easier to organize your photos by reducing the number of photos that need to be sorted.

2. Sort and separate. If you’ve been keeping all of your photos in one folder on your hard drive, it can be tough to find the one that you’re looking for. Instead of using just one folder, create multiple folders by month and year, or by month/year and subject or event. Once you have your folders set up, them sort your photos into their new, separated homes. As you take new photos, create folders in the same manner to store your new shots. This will make it easy to find your photos later on when you’re looking for them.

3. Software makes it a snap. Once you’ve set up your folders, managing your photos is easy, using readily available software. On a Mac, iPhoto is the standard, and on the PC, I usually recommend Picasa or Adobe Photoshop Elements. These software tools are designed to make it easy for you to organize, fix, search, and print your digital photo collection. Using software, you can browse your photos in various thumbnail sizes, repair the dreaded red-eye effect, add tags to your photos to make them searchable, and create slideshows to share with your friends and family.

4. Backup for safety. Losing all of your memories if your computer crashed could be disastrous. For that reason, I always suggest backing up your digital photos to CD or DVD (preferably the rewritable variety, so you can reuse your discs again and again). Many of the software programs used for organizing digital photos have a backup feature built-in, which can make the process of storing you files for safekeeping very easy.

Photos (digital and traditional) are meant to be seen. Once you’ve organized your photos, it’s easy to share those memories in photo albums, prints, and slideshows. Spending a little time organizing your photo collection can make sharing your memories easy and fun once again.

_Joshua Zerkel


Joshua Zerkel, Organizing Expert, helps busy people save time, space and money by getting organized at home and at work. For more FREE organizing ideas, visit or call 415-830-6345.

© 2005 Joshua Zerkel and Custom Living Solutions. All Rights Reserved.

Joshua Zerkel, Organizing Expert
Custom Living Solutions Tel. 415-830-6345

4 Tips for Eco-Friendly Organizing

Simplify your life while being environmentally responsible!

Getting organized can be a fantastic way to simplify and streamline your busy life. The process of getting organized can involve weeding through (and discarding) some of the belongings that have been keeping you from living how you want to live, and finding other products that can help you live in more comfortable, effective way. Tossing some things out while also potentially getting new things may seem to be at odds with eco-friendly living, but there ARE ways to be eco-friendly while getting organized. Here are four things to keep in mind:

1. Repurpose what you have. Before getting rid of your stuff, see if you can use what you have in new and different ways. Turn things on their sides, take them to different rooms, and match things up in unusual ways. For instance, an extra bowl from the kitchen can make a great “key-catcher” by the front door. Checkbook boxes transform into drawer dividers, and plastic trays that fancy chocolate comes in are great for organizing earrings. Another example: I have a client who is a scrapbook artist. We used transparent plastic bins to store her supplies, which were functional but not very attractive. Instead of buying new bins, we used some of her extra decorative paper to line the bins and hide the contents. Look around your space – what can use differently?

2. Buy eco-friendly products. You may need to buy specialized organizing products, such as desk accessories, drawer dividers, and other things that will help you get and stay organized. Stores such as Good Girl Goods ( and the Container Store ( carry many products that are made from recycled or natural materials. Consider products that will make it easier for you to recycle, such as sorters that can help you separate glass, paper, compost, etc.

3. Store the right way. Store your items in a way that will best preserve them. First, make sure you have the right containers. If you’re storing photos or documents, choose acid-free boxes, not plastic bins. Keep clothes in a sealed container, not in a suitcase. Second, be conscious of the location where things are stored. Keep issues such as moisture, light, and temperature fluctuations in mind. A damp garage isn’t the right spot for paper, and a bookshelf in direct sunlight will quickly fade your precious photos.

4. Discard responsibly. After weeding through your stuff, you’ll probably be left with lots of things that need to find new homes and some that can be recycled. When working with clients, I usually recommend that they get rid of things in this order: sell, donate, and recycle. Items of value can be sold on eBay (, Craigslist (, at a garage sale, or in your local paper. Call your favorite charities and see what items they are accepting – frequently charities will come and pick up your donations for you, saving you time. Items that are left over after selling or donating can often be given away via Freecycle ( Finally, the items that have no value to you or others can be responsibly recycled.

Simplifying and organizing your life while being environmentally responsible is possible! When embarking on your next organizing project, keep these four tips in mind. You’ll be able to feel good about taking steps toward living the life you want in an eco-friendly way.

_Joshua Zerkel


Joshua Zerkel, Organizing Expert, helps busy people save time, space and money by getting organized at home and at work. For more FREE organizing ideas, visit or call 415-830-6345.

© 2005 Joshua Zerkel and Custom Living Solutions. All Rights Reserved.

Joshua Zerkel, Organizing Expert
Custom Living Solutions Tel. 415-830-6345

Managing Your Time

Master your calendar with a few easy ideas!

Time flies when you’re having fun, but what if you’re not having fun and your time still seems to “fly away?” Do you ever feel like your schedule runs you, rather than the other way around? Maybe you’re feeling like you can’t get everything done, or that you don’t really know where your time goes. Sound familiar? If so, a “time makeover” might be just what you need! Here are some simple strategies to help get your calendar under control:

Take stock. To truly maximize your use of time, it’s helpful to first find out how you’re currently spending your day. In a journal or on a notepad, write down what you’re doing from hour to hour for a few days. Note what your current daily schedule is (if you have one), what’s working, and what isn’t. Also notice what your energy rhythms are – are you more “up” in the evening, or are you more of a night owl?

Check it out. After keeping a log for a few days, start looking for patterns. Are you spending most of your time on the things that you want or need to do, or are you wasting lots of time procrastinating or surfing the web? Where is time being used well, and where do you see room for improvement? Also see whether the things that are most important to you are synchronized with when you are the most “up.”

Build blocks. Group your different daily tasks into categories, and then make the categories into “time blocks.” Common categories are work time (time you spend at your job or business), admin tasks (paying bills, processing paper, etc.), pleasure time (breaks and other downtime), and kid-related time (carpooling, getting the kids ready for school).

Fill it in. Look at a blank calendar, and start setting up your revised schedule. Put your time blocks onto your calendar, based on how much time the tasks within each category take up. As things come up during your day or your week, you’ll now have time literally “blocked out” for the tasks to fit into. Try to group related tasks together – for instance, if you noted in your logs that you were paying bills online on Tuesday and writing checks on Friday, try to group those together on your calendar. Every process that you can group or streamline will make a difference in how efficient you can be.

Keep at it. After you’ve filled in your time blocks with tasks, you’ll be left with a revamped schedule. Try implementing your new schedule slowly – that way you can make adjustments and tweaks. If something works well – great! If not, see if you can shift a task to another time block or shift the blocks around. Keep with it until you find the mix that works for you.

You CAN get control over your schedule! With a little advance planning and a few of my tips, you’ll soon be master of your day once more.


Do you need help managing your time at home or at work? Joshua Zerkel, San Francisco’s premier Professional Organizer, can help you get organized at home, at work, and in your life! Contact him at 415-830-6345 or at today!

Joshua Zerkel, Professional Organizer
Custom Living Solutions Tel. 415-830-8297

Managing Your Workspace

Improve comfort and increase productivity with a few simple tips!

Once an afterthought, people who spend time at a desk have come to recognize the benefits of creating an ergonomic, efficient workspace. Whether you’re spending time at a desk at home or at an office, a comfortable, well thought out space can go a long way towards making you feel more productive. Here’s a few tips to get the process started:

Choose the right workstation. Think about the functions that you’ll be doing at your desk. Analyze what you do in a day, and make sure that your desk or workstation will be able to accommodate your needs. Will you have lots of cables running from a computer and other equipment? Choose a desk with built-in cable management and an adjustable keyboard drawer. Will you be doing a lot of paperwork or making scrapbooks? You’ll want a desk with lots of flat space so that you can spread out.

Streamline your storage. Planning your storage in advance can result in significant time savings later. Group the things you need to store into categories (office supplies, filing, books, inventory, etc.), and then measure the items. That way you can determine just how much space you’ll need for storage. Decide what type of storage (a desk hutch, bookcase, freestanding shelves, drawer unit, etc.) makes sense for the space you have available and the amount of storage that you need.

Have a plan. Based on the information you just gathered, develop a storage plan. Make a map of the shelves or drawers, and assign items to each shelf or drawer in a way that makes sense for you. Keep more frequently-used items closer, and place infrequently used items higher up or down lower – away from the “prime real estate” of eye-level storage. Make sure to leave extra space in your plan for items you’ll purchase in the future. According to the storage plan that you just created, arrange your items on the shelves or in the drawers. Containerize smaller items as necessary.

Make it yours. For many people, a desk or workspace doesn’t feel right until they decorate it in some way. Personalizing your space can go a long way towards making you feel more at home and productive. The key here is to not go overboard and clutter up your desk with mementos, photos, and personalized mugs. Instead of dozens of personal items, choose and display a few that really mean something to you. Monthly, swap your mementos for others that have special meaning – that way, you’ll get to honor your treasured items, while also keeping your space clutter-free!

Working at home or work at the office can be more comfortable and productive than you previously may have thought. By implementing a few of these simple tips, spending time at your workspace can be a pleasure!


Do you need help setting up and organizing your home office or business office? Joshua Zerkel, San Francisco’s premier Professional Organizer, can help you get organized at home, at work, and in your life! Contact him at 415-830-6345 or at today!

Joshua Zerkel, Professional Organizer
Custom Living Solutions Tel. 415-830-6345

Organizing For Taxes

Take the stress out of tax time with a few simple tips!

Preparing for tax time can make anyone stressed out – but there’s hope! By using a few easy organizing techniques, you can sail through your taxes come April.

Who’s preparing your taxes? Think about who will be preparing your taxes, and what sort of information they’ll need. Preparing your own taxes is a lot easier if you make a checklist of what documents (W2s, bank statements, etc.) are needed. With a checklist, you’ll know if any important information is missing when you sit down to prepare your taxes. If you’re going to be giving your information to a tax preparer or CPA, ask them how they would like to receive your information. Some tax preparers want a list of expenses, while others are happy to take receipts and do the totaling for you.

Plan in advance. If your system thus far has been to toss all your receipts into a shoebox, now’s the time to spend one or two hours a week (or just 15 minutes a day) gathering and sorting your documentation. This will save you lots of time and stress when you or a professional are actually preparing your taxes.

Record your expenses. If you don’t have an organized way of keeping track of your deductible expenses, you may be missing out on big savings come tax time. Create a list of your expense categories using a simple list, a ledger, or a computer-based system, such as NEAT Receipts. A great benefit of using NEAT Receipts is that not only will the system assign tax categories to your expenses; it will also store a digital copy of your receipts, statements, and other supporting documentation. That way, if you ever were to get audited, all your information will be safely stored in one place.

Keep everything together. Scattered receipts and expenses can lead to lost deductions – and lost money. Instead of losing your receipts or keeping them in a shoebox, purchase an inexpensive accordion folder or scan them into NEAT Receipts. If you choose an accordion, label the folder’s slots with your expense categories, and as you get a receipt, drop it into the corresponding slot. If you’re using NEAT Receipts, your receipts will automatically be categorized. Either way, totaling your expenses for each category at tax time will be a breeze!

What about next year? Don’t wait until next year’s tax time rolls around to start thinking about your 2009 taxes. Start using your new, more organized strategy for keeping track of your receipts and expenses now! Staying on top of receipts and expenses throughout the year can eliminate tax-prep related stress.

Paying taxes is a fact of life, but the stress surrounding tax preparation and keeping track of your receipts doesn’t have to be! Use some of these simple strategies, and when the taxman cometh this April, you’ll be more than ready.


Joshua Zerkel, Certified Professional Organizer
Custom Living Solutions
Tel. 415-830-6345

Organizing With Kids

Are you tired of asking your children to pick up and put away their things? If “clean up your room!” is a popular refrain in your household, there are some simple things that you can do to help your kids get on the organizing bandwagon.

Give them control. Kids love to solve puzzles and are often full of ideas. When working with your kids to organize their room or playspace, instead of you making decisions for them, see how they’d like their toys arranged or their clothes sorted. Maybe they want their clothes organized by color instead of type, when you thought doing the reverse would work well. Work with your kids to find out where they think things should go, and use those ideas to find appropriate homes for all of their stuff. Your kids will feel a lot more invested in a system that they can help design, rather than one that is imposed on them.

Keep it simple. A common pitfall of people who organize for their children rather than with them is that they create complicated systems that are oriented towards adults. Don’t create a system with many complicated categories and hard-to-use organizing gizmos. Keep categories straightforward and age-appropriate, and make sure that any containers or specialized organizing tools, such as craft boxes, re-closable plastic bags, etc., can be safely and easily used by your child.

Make storage accessible. Chances are, your kids can’t reach as high as you can, and can’t lift as much as you either. I’ve gone into a number of homes where well-meaning parents had storage bins full of toys that had been stacked nearly floor-to-ceiling. When I asked how easy it was for the kids to access the toys in the bottom bin, the parents usually say “not very.” If your kids can’t easily access their storage system, they won’t use it. Instead of stackable bins, use storage drawers. Make sure that everything is at a height that’s accessible for your kids, and that they are able to pick up and move things without straining.

Label everything. For kids (as well as for adults), a label on something makes it “official.” Once a drawer has a label says “socks” and a storage container is labeled “dolls,” those become the official homes for those items. As long as everything has a clearly labeled home, the chances of items finding their way back to their homes become much greater.

Use color. Finally, kids love color – so use it in their organizing systems! Color-code storage areas, drawers, and other containers as another way of “labeling” functions of the storage system. Organizing containers don’t have to be white, black, or clear – so use color where appropriate with the systems you and your kids develop.

Spending time with your kids developing organizing ideas and solutions can be a fun and rewarding family activity. Soon, you may find that your kids’ rooms practically clean themselves!

-- Joshua Zerkel

Joshua Zerkel, an expert Professional Organizer, helps busy people save time, space and money by getting organized at home and at work. For more FREE organizing ideas, visit or call 415-830-6345.

© 2005 Joshua Zerkel and Custom Living Solutions. All Rights Reserved.

Resolutions That Stick

It's never too early to start thinking about those New Year's Resolutions....

It didn’t quite happen last year, and the year before that didn’t work so well, but this year, it’s going to be different! This is the year that you are finally going to stick to those New Year’s resolutions. How, you ask? By following a few simple tips:

Don’t go overboard. One reason why so many people aren’t able to keep their resolutions is because they simply have too many of them. When you’ve got more than one or two, by the time the year gets into gear on January 2nd, it’s easy to lose track of what you were trying to change. Make a list of the resolutions that you had in mind, and pick the two that you’d most like to see happen. Two resolutions are much easier to achieve than ten!

Write it down. After you’ve selected one or two resolutions to focus on, write your resolutions down in places where you’re likely to see them – the refrigerator, the mirror in your bathroom, your computer, etc. This simple reinforcement will remind you that you’ve committed yourself to making a change.

Be specific. Resolutions that are vague are inherently hard to stick to. When you can’t visualize exactly what you want to do, it’s hard to know when you’ve done it. Goals such as “I want to lose weight,” “I want to exercise more,” and “I want to read more books” are harder to visualize than goals like “I want to lose fifteen pounds,” “I want to go the gym three days a week,” and “I want to read two books a month.” By making your resolutions specific, you can much more easily picture what it is that you want to achieve, and you can measure your progress toward your goals.

Set a timeline. Take a look at your calendar for 2005. Make notes on your calendar of how much of your resolution you’d like to have accomplished by the end of each month of the year. As the months go by, you can monitor your progress and see how well you’re sticking to your schedule. You’ll likely need to make adjustments as the year proceeds, as life tends to happen and schedules shift. Even so, having a loose, adjustable schedule is better than having none at all.

Don’t give up. Even if your resolution doesn’t stick right away and you don’t find yourself transformed by January 7th, stick with it. Most experts say that a new habit takes between a four to six weeks to develop, so give your resolution time to get integrated into your life.

The New Year is ripe with possibilities, and you CAN make this year’s resolutions happen, with a little planning, determination and commitment.

Joshua Zerkel, Professional Organizer