Tuesday, July 24, 2007

phone numbers

I had a scary moment last night while standing at a client's front door waiting to be let in for an evening work session. When there was no answer to my repeated knocks, I pulled out my cell phone to call the client's home number (maybe she was upstairs and couldn't hear me knocking? She'd already told me the doorbell didn't work).

I reached back into my bag to pull out my datebook... and realized with a sinking feeling that I'd left it at home on my desk. Luckily I still had my all-purpose notebook with me, into which I usually enter all client info. I easily found her number and dialed it. But the episode gave me pause: What if I had really left home without that phone number?

Many people rely on PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants) - those small, hand-held electronic calendars and information databases like Palm and Blackberry - to manage their address books and phone numbers. When combined with mobile telephone and wireless internet functions, they literally allow you to have the world at your fingertips.

For the less-digitally-inclined among us, however, there is still old-fashioned paper. (In fact, it's always a good idea to have paper back-up for those times when the electronics fail. And they WILL fail...)

But how do you realistically (i.e. easily) manage all the phone numbers you need on a day-to-day basis? And how do you ensure that you always HAVE the numbers you need, close at hand?

I ran into a problem a couple of weeks ago when I was delayed at a client's and realized I was going to have to cancel a date I'd planned for later in the evening. My new friend and I had exchanged cell phone numbers, but I hadn't transferred his number to my datebook or cell phone - it was still sitting on my computer, in an e-mail he had sent me. (Luckily he called MY cell phone at the time we were supposed to meet, and I was able to cancel without too much hassle).

I now enter numbers into my cell phone as soon as I get them. I can easily delete them when I no longer need them. My new process is as follows: When I get a phone number (usually from a voice message left on my phone), I write it on a Post-it Note along with the name and other pertinent information.

The Post-it goes into my go-everywhere notebook. I then MAKE TWO COPIES OF THE POST-IT - one for my datebook, and one for my home address book. And I put the number into my cell phone. Odds are I won't loose ALL of those resources all at once. (Knock wood.)

My home address book, by the way, consists of THREE three-ring binders. One contains active personal numbers, a second contains active business numbers, and the third is an archive. Each book has alphabetical tabs, and one page for every contact. It's very low-tech: I just punch holes in a scrap piece of printer paper from my recycling tray (reduce, reuse and recycle!), staple a business card (if I've been given one) to the page, and stick Post-its with contact info onto each page as well. The full page gives me lots of room to make notes if I need to (handy when I'm keeping track of appointments or significant dates).

I haven't had much need for a computerized contact management system yet (although I sense that need is coming). At that point I'll probably add a spreadsheet step to whole the process.

copyright 2007, Michelle Lynne Goodfellow

Saturday, July 21, 2007

e-filing for dummies

I came across a product on the Sympatico homepage today that I'd never heard of before: Organize My Electronic Filing Cabinet for Dummies. Right now they're offering the basic package as a free download, and for $29.99 you can upgrade to the professional version.

I don't own this product, nor am I necessarily endorsing it, but I can imagine that it might be helpful for people who are overwhelmed by their electronic files.

It looks like the Dummies program offers a basic template of file categories, into which you can sort all your personal, household, and business electronic files. It also claims to be customizable, which in my eyes is a good thing. I have never met anyone who could get along with a "standard" organizing template.

How can you create something like this for yourself?

Start by browsing through your electronic documents. Write a list of all the document categories you can think of. My list would include the following:
  • Alexander technique
  • downloaded program updates
  • financial
  • images
  • music
  • POC
  • Word documents

Within each of these categories I may have several sub-categories, with documents from a variety of applications (Word, Excel, Finale) in each folder. Under "financial," for example, I have separate folders for all my different businesses, a folder for my personal finances, a folder for resumes and CVs, etc.

Under "personal finances" I have more sub-folders, including bank accounts, budgets, correspondence, gifts, income, income tax, and research on big-ticket items I'd like to purchase.

You can see why it's imperative that a filing system be customizable. No two people are the same, and we all have unique organizing needs.

Once you've come up with your own list of the types of documents you store, divide them into broad categories (like my first list), and subdivide them as necessary. You can choose to keep your lists alphabetical, or in any order that makes sense to you.

When I was reorganizing my e-mail folders in Outlook Express this past winter, for example, I tried a few different categorization systems before settling on something that actually corresponded to the way my mind filed all the categories inside my head.

I started with an alphabetical filing system - in fact, I still use that for my online e-mail accounts. I can quickly transfer new e-mails from my inbox, or access old e-mails by finding and clicking on the alphabetically-filed name.

For Outlook Express, however, I wanted something more structured. I spend most of my e-mailing time in OE, and I refer back to old e-mails all the time. I chose several broad categories:
  • Alexander technique
  • business
  • church stuff
  • clients
  • computer
  • e-newsletters
  • friends
  • POC
  • volunteering

Within each folder (which I always keep in the expanded or "open" position) I have an alphabetical list of the different recipients, and I store all their e-mails (and my responses to them) under the recipients' names. Filing new e-mails is quick and easy - I just drag and drop.

The hard part comes when you have to actually transfer files to the new filing system - especially if they're scattered all over your hard drive. Yes, it can be time-consuming to put everything where it belongs. But the end result will be a filing system that works much more efficiently, and hopefully makes your life easier in the long run.

My biggest challenge as far as e-filing goes is choosing good names for my document files in the first place. Back in the days of DOS, it was a lot trickier - nowadays file names can be much longer, and the file extensions (.doc, .jpg, .xls) are tacked on automatically.

Should you file by date or alphabetically, though? Or a combination of both? I need to do a major sort of my own Word files - I have too many documents mis-labelled with the date before the subject (i.e. letter.20070721.mom, rather than letter.mom.20070721). In this case, it's more important for me to have similar files grouped together by subject rather than date.

I can't emphasize enough: Organize your files in a way that makes sense to you. Only you know how your mind works. Only you can decide the best system for your own needs.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

"have you always been this organized?"

Yes. Eat your heart out.

(Just kidding - about the heart part, anyway.)

That's the one question I'm most often asked by clients (usually right after they've seen my organizing kit or my car's trunk). (The second most popular question: "Is my house the worst you've ever seen?")

(To which I'm inclined to want to answer (but don't): "Do you WANT it to be?")*

Yes, I've always been this organized. But that doesn't mean you can't be organized, too. There's a difference between being organized and being a professional organizer - and I'm here to help you with the former. Don't even worry about the latter.

Organization is a skill that can be taught, and even the most disorganized person can learn some basic tools to create and maintain more order in his or her life. So please don't feel defeated when you see people who seem to have their acts together, and admit to having been that way their whole lives. (This would include most professional organizers. We're a strange breed.)

You, too, can live an organized life. There is hope.

A good place to start is to spend some quiet time with yourself, thinking about the way you'd really like to live. Do you have a friend or acquaintance whose life you admire? When you look at pictures in books or magazines, what kinds of homes appeal to you? What kind of lifestyles make you feel truly good inside? Do you pine for a fast-paced, hectic life, or one that's mellower - more laidback?

Pay special attention to the things you yearn for. If we truly love something, we are more inclined to do the work necessary to manifest it. Beware of trying to create environments you feel you "should have" or "should want." Are you happy living in comfortable clutter? Maybe you don't even need to do anything about it. Only if your life is negatively affected by some aspect of your disorganization should you even consider making a change.

If you're convinced you really do want to change, consult with a professional organizer who can help you prioritize your needs and create your action plan. Based on your budget and your time frame, you can then begin to address your organizing challenges.

*I have to admit that that line is not original to me. I heard it from a breakout session speaker - an American professional organizer named Lynne Johnson, who specializes in helping the chronically disorganized - at last year's Professional Organizers in Canada conference in Toronto. She was a terrifically funny woman, with a deadpan delivery reminiscent of Ellen Degeneres.

copyright 2007, Michelle Lynne Goodfellow