Archive for the Organization Category

The Simple Office: How to Use a Minimalist Approach to Work

We spend a lot of time in our offices. In fact, the average person spends one-third of their life at work, which highlights the importance of a clean, organized space. Taking a minimalist approach to work and maintaining a simple office eliminates the clutter and chaos that can distract us from getting the job done. I’m a huge proponent of keeping a minimalist office and work life. I used to keep a tidy, simple office when I was in my corporate job and now that I’m self-employed, my office is even more minimal. Simply put keeping a minimalist home office helps me maintain a healthy work-life balance and it can help you too!

simple office clutter free

My minimalist approach to maintaining my workspace started with my first job. My boss insisted we keep a very tidy desk. I can still hear him now, “a professional keeps his desk clear of distractions! If your desk is a mess, so is your career!” The lesson on office simplicity stuck, and to this day I couldn’t agree more.

Over the years I’ve learned to cut out the office clutter, develop good work habits, stay organized and keep on top of tasks. Learning good habits in your work life has a profound effect: it reduces stress, allows you to get more accomplished, and helps you perform your job better.

For many of us, what’s great about our desk is that it’s uniquely ours. We often don’t share our desk with anyone else. A workstation is usually a small space, but it also is subjected to an influx of clutter, making our desk and workspace, the perfect spot to build good habits. We can discover organizational habits that work for us, without catering to the habits of other people we live or work with. In the small space of our desk, we can practice organizing without feeling overwhelmed by an entire house full of stuff. The real kicker I’ve found is the good habits you build at work spill over into your home life. Once you see the benefits of a simple office, your house might become more organized as well!

Question Everything

The biggest piece of advice I can offer is: question everything. The most dangerous words in business (and life) are, “That’s the way it’s always been done.” This mentality prevents us from growing, improving and changing; companies and employees that can’t change, improve and shift are the first to lose their jobs or go out of business.

question everything to make your work and office simple

When I took over a new position at my previous job, I was being trained on the various processes and paperwork. As we reviewed each step, I’d ask why it was important.  The person who was training me (and leaving the position) defended each step like her life depended on it. I documented each task as I took notes, questioning everything.

After training, I walked through the task list with my new boss. For about 25% of the items on my list, my boss said, “Oh I didn’t know that was still being done. We no longer need that step.” So, I eliminated it.  Next, I went to the people who received the reports and several said they didn’t really use them. So, I eliminated them. Then I asked what they needed in the reports and found half the metrics and fields weren’t used anymore or were never changed. So, I eliminated them.

When I finished, I discovered nearly half the work the previous person was doing wasn’t needed. I effectively cut the time required for the position in half. Later, I reduced the scope even further, all by asking questions, assuming nothing and doing a bit of digging.

Going Paperless

Paper is the number one way our desks become cluttered. Luckily more and more offices are going paperless, making workspace organization easier than ever. To tackle your paper pile, start by looking at the paper on your desk.  Ask yourself why each document is there in the first place. Remember to question everything!

going paperless for less messy desk

As you review your paper pile, you’ll find most documents fall into one of several categories. Sort them into each:

  • Paper that’s old and needs to be tossed
  • Paperwork that’s completed and needs to be filed
  • Papers waiting for action by others to complete
  • Paper waiting for you to complete

A funny thing about humans, especially when it comes to decluttering, is we often jump to the most difficult task, then convince ourselves it won’t work.  We talk ourselves out of the job before we even start. The first two tasks above are the easiest to deal with, so start there.

Schedule time on your calendar to sort the pile and throw out the stuff that needs to be tossed. Keep in mind, you need to shred some papers with confidential information. Easy. Done.

Next on our list is the paperwork that’s completed but needs to be filed or dealt with in some way. This step really comes down to having a good process to deal with paperwork right away (more on that coming up). Don’t let papers pile up if you know what to do.

Most home office printers can scan 50 sheets at a time and email them as a PDF document. If you don’t have a copier or printer with this capability, you can find one for around $40 that can scan 30 sheets at a time. If you do a lot of scanning convince your boss to buy a good desktop scanner for your office (my favorite scanner is Fujitsu ScanSnap i Series Duplex Desktop scanner).

A desktop scanner works fast and easily scans all your paper clutter. If you want to change a habit, replace it with a new behavior that’s fast and easy. If the new habit isn’t, it will never stick. With a desktop scanner, you won’t need to leave your desk or waste time waiting for the copier.

Sometimes you’ll have documents you don’t know if you should keep. This is where the decluttering process often falls apart. When something doesn’t fit the mold or the rule, it creates chaos.  Develop a way to deal with the questions now so you don’t fall later.

When I find papers I’m unsure about, I scan them into a separate folder. If the paperwork is important I’ll take the time to name the folder with descriptive keywords. I date the folder as well.   This way, if I ever need to find a document, I can easily go to the folder and find it quickly. Note: many scanners allow you to set up the date and file name to be automatically added to the document.

For the paperwork you’re waiting for follow up from someone else on, the process is simple. Question why the paper is there, then have a place to store it, and a process to follow up with it. When I’m faced with this issue, I often redesign the form to reduce it to a single page (front and back if needed). This greatly reduces the size of your paper piles.

The objective should always be to complete your work, but it’s important to consider how you can reduce the work needed (and the accompanying slew of paper). As they say, work smarter, not harder, which brings me to my next point…

Eliminate, Automate, Outsource

When you question everything, you’ll see huge gains in freeing up your desk and workload. Whenever you’re assessing work clutter remember:  first try to eliminate, then automate, then outsource.

eliminate tasks automate work and outsource jobs

The benefits of elimination are obvious. Eliminating the job should be our first step. If we can remove a task entirely from the equation, then we free up time, space and energy.

Automation is the second step of efficiency. Setting up automatic or streamlined processes will eliminate distractions. Automation shouldn’t be your first move, because setting up the process takes time. The task will still eat up part of your day, just not as much. If we had eliminated the job, we wouldn’t be doing it.

Automation may mean creating a macro in a spreadsheet; using a software function called autocomplete to type common phrases faster; setting up templates to copy and paste into common tasks, or creating forms that you use to make the work go faster.

There have been several times in my professional career where I’ve reduced my workload by setting up automation to complete my job quicker or easier, or even cut out the task entirely. For example, about 10% of my emails were common, repeated questions. I set up an FAQ template I could insert into an email reply with two clicks. I was also emailed for approvals often. 80% of the requests were for purchases under $100– a tiny amount for the company.  I instructed staff to not email for approvals under $100, which cut out most of my inbox clutter.

Many people freak out over this concept because they fear they’re working themselves out of a job. I’ve found the opposite to be true: in most cases, I was freed up to take on new, interesting projects which look great on performance reviews, I can do a better job with less on my plate and focus on the task at hand. I’ve also found, most bosses are too busy to notice and micromanage inefficiencies.

Create Systems

Systems make the difference between meeting goals and missing them. Systems create order from chaos and reduce decision making. A system is an approach to a task. In business, we might call them SOPs (standard operating procedures), checklists, or workflows.

create systems for better work flow

Start with your largest daily task. Gains on these tasks will have a far-reaching impact.  Think about the steps required and write them down. How can you eliminate some of them? Next, examine the remaining steps. Can you automate them? Create templates, forms and technological solutions to do the work automatically. Finally, how can you outsource?  I outsource jobs as much as possible, by empowering others, training staff to find information on their own and setting up rules for my involvement in a process.

I looked at my top three tasks at my previous job. Each of the tasks consistently required the same steps So I created tracking sheets with the steps to use as my system.  At any given time, I knew exactly where I was on a project and what I had to do next. I never needed to think about it.

When I create systems, I like to use checklists, tracking sheets and bullet journals. I create workflows, using the project management software Trello. The trick is finding a system that works for you. There are many great techniques and tools out there. When systems fail, it’s often not because the tool doesn’t work, it simply doesn’t work for the individual using it. Find your simple work organizing tool. For me it’s Trello.

In this post, I go into how I use Trello to organize my life.

Get Better At Managing Time… And Defending It

Here’s the hard truth: if you’re bad at managing your time, you’re bad at life. It sounds harsh, but there it is. Much like choosing a tool for systems, you need to find a time management method or tool to fit your needs. It doesn’t matter what time management tool you use, as long as it’s effective. I like to use Google calendar because it’s accessible on my computer and my phone.

manage your time so it doesn't control you and your work

Schedule time for each of your tasks throughout the day. Include tasks like lunch, meetings, relaxation time and anything else you plan to do. [link: https://thetinylife.com/minimalism-single-tasking/] I’m a big proponent of doing one task at a time, [/link]. Don’t try to do it all at once. Studies on multi-tasking prove it’s a highly ineffective approach. It’s better to group similar tasks together and then focus on one at a time.

Many people forget to schedule blocks of time to include their commute, prepping for meetings, meals and organizing their space before starting the day. It’s very important to take time at the beginning of the day to clean, organize and tidy things your workspace. This is the hallmark of a school of thought called “LEAN.” The first step of the process is to “Sweep.” Here’s how I integrate lean into my life.

After learning how to better manage your time, you need to get even better at defending it. When you set a schedule, stick to it. There will be a lot of distractions that try to pull you off track. For me, it was email and not setting boundaries with my coworkers. Now while I’m working on a task I close my email and silence my phone. Many office phones have “DND” or do not disturb button. This prevents your phone from ringing and sends callers straight to voicemail. Unless you’re a doctor, the caller can likely wait. Trust me! People often fight me on this concept, but they eventually discover taking an hour to call someone back isn’t the end of the world.

I focus on one task at a time, complete the job, tidy up, then move on to the next item on my schedule. A few times a day I’ll open my email inbox. I deal with each email right then and there. Email and phone are major workflow disrupters–decide to control them and don’t allow them to control you.

The biggest challenge for me (and most people) is saying no and setting boundaries with coworkers. This is a big topic, but the truth is, you need to get comfortable with saying no. Most of us want to be helpful, friendly and agreeable. We say yes to activities we have no intention of doing or don’t have the capacity (mentally or time-wise) to do. This is where saying no so important.

Saying no to your coworkers is uncomfortable at first when they’ve procrastinated and need help. It’s tough when they’re interrupting your flow at work, but it will get easier. Saying no to your boss, on the other hand, is tricky. My advice is to turn the situation around and make it a little painful if they aren’t respecting your time.

Tell your boss “I’m working on this project for you.  If I switch to this new task, I’ll have to push back the delivery date. Which is more important?”  This approach shows your boss the consequences of adding last-minute tasks to your plate. It also forces them to decide between doing one task or another. Finally, it puts the responsibility on them for any negative outcomes. This approach takes practice, but it works wonders.

So that’s how I take a minimalist approach to my work life: whether it’s keeping a simple office in a corporate setting or managing time while working out of my minimalist home office. It boils down to being intentional with your approach to work, minimizing the clutter on your desk, not letting email rule your life, and setting up systems for success.

Your Turn!

  • What tricks have you learned to keep your office space simple?
  • What do you do to keep a work-life balance as a minimalist?

How To Organize Your Life With Trello

Trying to keep on top of things in life is sometimes daunting.  If you’re like me, I’ve tried a lot of different things over the years, but finally I have found something that works for me.  It’s called Trello and it’s a free web app and also has a really good iphone app for free too.

how to organize life and keep organized

Before I get into Trello, I wanted to share a little bit about my philosophy of use and then also a break down of other things I’ve tried over the years.

Applying a philosophy of use to productivity tools

A tool is only as good as the skill of the user.  The truth is that most tools work really well, it’s when you bring a human in the mix that things go awry.  We have a plethora of tools at our disposal, what we need to do is bring in a way of thinking on how we use them and form habits around them.

Start with your goals

know where you want to go

The biggest thing I see people failing on is not having goes.  If we don’t know where we are going, how can we figure out which direction to even go?  How can we validate that the things we do are even the right things?  What if we are doing things that are actually working against us!?

Take big goals and break them down to bite sized pieces

When you are setting out on a ambitious journey it’s very helpful to think about the first step you need to take.  If you focus too much on the entire goal it can be overwhelming, it can seem impossible, but when we break it down into smaller parts, we then realize all we have to do is this one thing today.

Understand you can only work on a few things at any given time

focus on one thing at a time

In many cases it’s better to focus on one thing at a time, tackle that head-on.  I will often work on a few things at once because there is often time when I’m waiting on someone else (email response, contractor to finish work, etc).  Have a select few things means I can work until I have to stop, then transition to work on that other thing.

Understand you’ll get to the other things later

This is something many people struggle with a lot.  I see it time and time again.  When you set your goal, you must understand that trying to do all of them at once will get you nowhere.  Like I said above, focus on 2 or 3 things at once and put the rest to the side.  This is where people falter; putting things aside for now, isn’t the same as putting them aside forever.  We need to get over the emotions that

The Tiny Life guide to using Trello to manage your life

 

Your Turn!

  • What do you use to organize your life?
  • What tricks work for you?

90 Lessons for Living Large in 90 Square Feet (…or More!)

If you’ve been a follower of the tiny house movement for the past few years, chances are you’ve seen this video tour of Felice Cohen’s 90-square-foot micro apartment in Manhattan:

Felice moved to Manhattan to pursue writing, and the 12’x7′ apartment gave her the freedom to write her first book full time without having to worry about astronomical rent payments. The video tour of her tiny home in the concrete jungle has been viewed almost 12 million times on YouTube, and people from all over the world wondered how she managed to thrive for five years in such a small space. Luckily, Felice recently released her latest book, 90 Lessons for Living Large in 90 Square Feet (…or More), to share her experiences and tricks of the trade.Bookcover

Felice was kind enough to send us a copy of the book, which I devoured (figuratively). The book is part organization manual and part lifestyle guide. She draws from her experience as a professional organizer to dish her tips for organizing any size space. Felice bookends these lessons with a memoir of her journey to tiny living, as well as the aftermath of YouTube fame and settling into a positively palatial 490-square-foot pad.

90 Lessons is a nice quick read, but packed with immediately actionable tips to improve your space and your life. The core of the book mirrors the ethos of the tiny house movement itself – that lessening your attachment to objects and keeping them in order frees up our most precious resource – time. Felice is also a fantastic storyteller, and it was great to learn the story behind the person in the YouTube video.

Think of this book as a more approachable version of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” The central message is similar – downsize first, then organize – but this book is better for beginner downsizers just getting their toes wet. And because Felice successfully lived the tiny life abiding by these lessons, you know they’ll work for you in your tiny house!

Felice and her apartment were a big inspiration to me as I was just discovering small house living. No matter your lifestyle, her book will be a valuable addition to your bookshelf.

90 Lessons for Living Large in 90 Square Feet (…or More) on Amazon

 

Building A Capsule Wardrobe

cap·sule

noun \ˈkap-sÉ™l, -(ËŒ)sül alsoËŒsyül\   ::  an extremely brief condensation

The notion of capsule wardrobes has become a bit of a fad in recent months. In fact, for the last two years a number of lifestyle blogs, periodicals, and style eZines have covered the topic. And while it may seem like a rabbit hole topic for a tiny house blog it is actually an important micro-conversation for the tiny house set. The main idea is this. Instead of having a walk-in closet or some enormous array of closets, bins, baskets, boxes, and storage containers, constantly adding new pieces of clothing and rarely discarding old, you pick practical pieces that make you look good, make you feel good, and are well made.Capsule Closet

Then you rotate in a few select “seasonal” pieces that jazz up the standards and thereby create a “capsule” of clothing with which to take on the world in. When autumn (also known as pumpkin spice latte season) arrives and summer is but a distant memory you put away the pastel polos, the sun dresses, and anything in white, and add in a good scarf, a favorite sweater, and perhaps a pair of leggings. This way you are minimizing your regular spending and teaching yourself to shop your own closet.

When considering life in a tiny house capsule wardrobes just make sense. Mostly because you are dealing with very limited closet and clothing storage space but also because one of the largest reasons for moving into a tiny house is to have less of a carbon footprint, learn to love what you have, and create a larger understanding of ethically made products. Far too many Americans prefer to fall back on retail therapy or spend a hard-earned paycheck each Friday night on cheap, trendy clothing from some chain retail outlet instead of searching out regionally made, well tailored, quality wardrobe pieces.

Buy less, choose well

~ Vivienne Westwood

One of the earliest capsule training regimens was the brainchild of minimalist blogger Courtney Carver. Carver is a wife, a mother, an author, a photographer, and an inspiration to many. With her website bemorewithless and her Project 333 she has taught countless consumers to simplify life and really start living.

Capsule Wardrobe Layout

Project 333 is aptly named as it is makes consumers focus on creating a capsule wardrobe for 3 months consisting of just 33 pieces. This capsule does not include under garments or workout attire (within reasonable parameters) but does not include scarves, jewelry, neck ties, belts, etc. Each participant is recommended to shoot for having 4 capsules by the end of the project; one for each season. Items overlap the capsules. Courtney herself says that she only uses “one small side of my closet, whenever I am creating a new collection, I hang the pieces that I know I will keep on one side, and the maybe’s on the other. If the maybes aren’t put into the mix, out the door they go.”

Her initial capsule included:

1 Sunglasses
1 Purse
1 Laptop/Camera Bag
2 Dresses
2 Skirts
1 Jeans
2 Shorts/Capri
1 Dress pants
2 Light Sweaters
2 Blazers
2 Tanks
1 Button Down Shirt
5 Shirts
1 Sweatshirt
4 Shoes
1 Trench Coat
2 Bracelets
1 Necklace
1 Scarf
__________
33 Total Items

Carver then spent a few weeks determining which pieces would fill the aforementioned slots. What sunglasses would she keep? What shoes would give her the most flexibility while also giving her the most comfort and support? And which scarf would she hold on to? Would it be warm enough on cold days but light enough for merely windy ones? Before she knew it she had turned her generalities into specifics and her closet included pieces such as an emerald green open cardigan, a blue V-neck short sleeved shirt, purple heels, and a necklace her sister gave her.

Your Turn!

  • What pieces would be in your capsule wardrobe?
  • Have you seriously considered revamping your day-to-day clothing?

 

Via

Coin Card

I’m a nerd at heart, its true, I have no shame in that fact.  So two things that I’ve always looked to pare down are my wallet and my key chain; I’ve done my best in reducing what I have in both, but at some point you can only get so small. The simplest way pare down even more is with some technology.   So I found this today and thought it was really awesome!

 

Capture

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