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