Practical Tips for Getting Things Done When Working From Home

Working from home is both a blessing and a burden. To have the flexibility to build your own schedule is wonderful, but it also means you must be motivated to accomplish important tasks, especially if you run your own business. Whether or not you get things done can make or break your livelihood and your work and personal relationships. Now, don’t get me wrong. Life is not only about tasks and achievement. It’s about character and who you are as a person; it’s also about friendships and family. But as human beings, were were meant to achieve and make something of each day. After all, don’t you feel good after a productive day? I don’t know anyone who doesn’t. Getting things done translates into a more organized, ordered, and fulfilling life.

So, how do we use the most of what we’ve got in the minutes and hours of each day when we work from home? There’s been a myriad of books written on the subject. But I want to approach this in a practical way, as someone who has lived it. I understand what it’s like to be “motivation challenged.” It’s so easy to get distracted at home – by Facebook, the sports page, TV or internet news, or even email. As someone who writes and blogs from home often (in between days of organizing clients and music lessons), I know what you are going through. So, here’s to you stay-at-home moms, bloggers, writers, artists, designers, and more. I’m not perfect. I’m still working on my priorities and trying to get the most important things done every day, but here are some tips that have helped me. These have little to do with actual tasks and more to do with your motivation, mind and body approach, and work atmosphere. Experiment and see which ones work for you.

Getting Things Done Working From Home
  • Create a task list the night before – If you have no system for tracking your tasks, start one today. The bottom line – you will get more done if you have a way of checking off your list of things to do. I have found it’s best to collect your thoughts the night before. You’ll go into the following day already knowing what has to be completed. Whether you use a paper list or an smart phone app, it sets a positive tone for your entire day.
  • Do a brainless task first, like laundry – If you are like me, it’s most difficult to get motivated in the morning. But if I do a couple brainless tasks first, that gets me moving. I start the washing machine or empty the dishwasher. Then, I feel better about achieving a “meaningless” task, and have energy to tackle something more important.
  • Set a timer – Some tasks can be accomplished quicker if you set a timer. Or, you may not want too spend too much time on a specific task, like checking email. Set your time limit and go for it!
  • Brush your teeth – No joke here. Do you feel like accomplishing a lot when you have food in your teeth? I don’t. :) Take a few moments to brush your teeth, freshen up, and then get back on track. It helps!
  • Go outside – Fresh air is liberating to the body! When you feel your mind slowing down and becoming ineffective, put on your shoes and walk around the block or do a short outdoor activity. Breathe deeply when you step into the fresh air. The physical movement alone will sharpen your senses and get you ready for more work. I like to take out the garbage or feed our chickens. It only takes me ten minutes.
  • Take a silly brain break – Again, set your timer, and take a 15-20 minute brain break. Do something fun that has nothing to do with your work. Watch a silly YouTube video, take in a short comedy on Netflix (with no commercials), play your favorite card game, or call a friend on the phone. Then get back to work. Make this a special privilege when you really need it. In other words, only do this two or three times a day, not every hour!
  • Do small steps – If you’ve got a BIG project in front of you and it’s overwhelming, take 30-60 minutes to break it down into smaller chunks. Actually write or type the steps. The time spent is worth it, because your mind will relax and “de-stress” when visualizing smaller tasks. You will be able to process it faster, making the entire project more manageable.
  • Organize your desk – As an organizer, I cannot leave this one out! If you work in clutter, you are more likely to have an unfocused, distracted mind. Clear your desk or work table from all extraneous papers, supplies, or trinkets. I even suggest keeping photos to a minimum. A clean work space leads to more productivity for most people.

Was today a productive day for you? If yes, congratulations. Keep it up. If not, there is always tomorrow! Here’s to making each day count, whether you work offsite in an office or from the comfort of your own home. Good luck!

What other practical steps have worked for you? Please share in the comments below.

My Top 5 Phone Apps for Organizing

My iPhone is a multi-purpose tool. Yes, I make calls, send texts, and share photos on Facebook. I even play the occasional Pac-Man game when I’m really bored. But even more than communicating with the world, I use my phone as an organizing and productivity resource. I know you’re thinking, “She is an professional organizer. Of course!” Don’t let my career choice fool into thinking that your smart phone is not as valuable.

Your phone can organize your life!

Top 5 Apps for OrganizingOur world is filled with amazing technological advances and the apps available to smart phone users are no different. I want to share with you my top picks for organizing my life and schedule. These apps aren’t the only choices. In fact, there are so many great app choices, that sometimes it’s difficult to decide on the right one for your needs. My encouragement to you is try different ones, especially if they are free to download, and see which ones you like the best. There are pros and cons to every app, but you’ll discover which ones work best for you, even if you are not a “techy” person. Use your phone for more than just communication. Organize your life!

1) ThingsThings is by far my most useful organizing tool. It’s like my second brain, keeping track of all my to-do’s with ease. The most comprehensive task manager apps will cost you money; Things is $9.99 in the App Store. But there are some decent free ones, as well. If you don’t need something as extensive as Things, try Google Tasks, Wunderlist, Remember the Milk, and Toodledo. Keeping lists in any one of these apps is the best way to get things done! You will love being more productive.

2) Evernote – The more I use Evernote, the more I like it. The best part about it is that it’s free! You create notes within notebook categories. I have notebooks for recipes, gardening, health, books to read, travel ideas, quotes, Christmas lists, and more. Within those notebooks, I have many notes relating to that particular category. You can also create notes with photos and voice memos. Evernote is the best way to get rid of paper clutter! I recommend downloading the free desktop version as well. Evernote will automatically sync all your devices. To learn more, read my helpful blog post entitled Overcoming Paper Piles with Evernote.

3) 1Password – One of my huge organizing accomplishments in the last year was transferring all my passwords from paper to a digital format. My identity is more secure and my passwords are safely locked away. After much research, I choose 1Password, because I only have to remember one main password to get into the app. The easiest way to set up 1Password is to download the app for your desktop computer, create all new passwords with the help of the password generator (you only have to do this one time), and then you can download and open up the app for your smart phone. 1Password will automatically sync your “password vault” between your computer and phone. To be honest, the entire set up process takes quite some time, but once it’s done, it’s done. And yes, it is expensive, but a password app is worth spending money on. You will be happy that your passwords are secure in one place!

4) Calendar – The iPhone’s native calendar app is not perfect. Scrolling up and down while creating an event is a hassle, but it works well enough. The main reason I use it is to keep track of my schedule. I place all events, including repeating ones, into the app and use the alert feature to remind myself of important places to be at the right time. If you lose track of your time or forget events, I encourage you to use the calendar app on your phone. If you have an iCloud account, it will sync with your computer and tablets as well.

5) Docs to Go – I use Docs to Go infrequently, but when I do, it’s very handy! This app uses the Cloud to access all your computer files, including Word, Excel and PDF formats. When I don’t have my MacBook with me and need to look up a file, I open up Docs to Go and find the information I need. I use the free app, but there is a premium version for those that need more powerful editing tools.

I received no compensation from any companies or app designers for this post. I just wanted to share with you my favorite productivity phone apps! I hope this information is helpful in organizing your life.

Which smart phone apps do you like and use the most? Please share in the comments below.

5 Tips for an Easy Back-to-School Morning Routine

back to school tipsNow that school has begun, your fall schedule is going smoothly without any hitches, bumps, or obstacles, right? :) If only life were that simple! For most families, September is a crazy month of transition. But it doesn’t have to be so stressful. Consider your morning routine. It sets the tone for your entire day. Take time to organize. Make your days easier by implementing my five tips for an easy morning routine. Not only will your blood pressure go down, but your kids will be less rushed and harried. They are watching and learning from you. The more they see you relax, the more they will relax!

alphabet on blackboard1) Set out clothes outfits the night before. How many times has your teenage daughter stood in front of her closet half-asleep saying, “I don’t know what to wear!?” Adults are no different. I do the same thing!  My morning is much easier if I lay out my clothes for the next day, on the night before. When their clothes are chosen beforehand, children can get dressed without fuss. For little children, you can pick their outfit for them.

2) Make lunches the night before. Place each child’s lunch in a labeled plastic container in the fridge (with their name on it). In the morning, have them pack their lunch into their own lunch bag. Teach them how to fill their own water bottle and grab their own after-school snacks. Better yet, prepare groups of snacks on Sunday afternoon for the entire week. Bag up raw veggies, nuts, seeds, and dried fruits for each day of the week. The idea here is to plan ahead. The more you do, the less stressful making lunches will be and the more likely your children will choose healthy snack options.

3) Sign permission slips, check homework, and load up sports bags the night before. Do you see a pattern here? :)

4) Maintain checklists for each child’s activities. One child is in gymnastics, the other in swimming, your oldest in football, and the youngest in art class. Oh yeah, your middle child has piano lessons on Wednesdays! The best way to maintain order is to keep current checklists and calendars for each child. Place a calendar in each of their rooms, so they can be prepared for the next day’s activities. Teach them how to pack supplies for their own activities using checklists.

5) Make simple but healthy breakfasts. Boxed cereal may be fast, but it’s not healthy or sustaining. Your children will be dying for brain food an hour into their school day. Give them healthy but easy-to-prepare breakfast food that can get them through math, reading, and social studies before the lunch break. Here are some ideas. Click on the links to read the recipes. I’ve tried several. They are delicious!

What is your favorite tip for an easier morning routine? There are many great ideas. Share yours and I’ll post the best comments in my next newsletter. In the mean time, enjoy a more relaxed morning routine, even if you are not a morning person. 😉

Using Lists for Successful Holiday Planning

Does planning a Thanksgiving meal seem daunting? Add in-laws or distinguished guests on top of that, and holiday dinners can drive you crazy before the event even happens!

Whether you are a seasoned cook, or a novice in the kitchen, you can organize and execute a welcoming Thanksgiving party with good planning. One of my favorite organizing tools is lists. Yes, you heard me correctly. The value of creating and using lists is often underestimated. Lists not only start your event on the right track, but help you remember every detail to the end. The key is to write it down, or in today’s technology, put it in electronic form. Lists do no good in your mind. If you are like me, you will forget what you were supposed to remember five minutes later.

The great thing about lists is that they are customizable to your needs and personality. There is no right or wrong way to use a list. Just do it, in other words. Here are some tips to get you going.

  • Decide what kind of list to use. Some people love paper. If that’s you, then write down your lists in a compact notepad that can be carried with you. If you have a smartphone, I suggest you download a list app, like Remember the Milk, Things, or Evernote. Things is my favorite organizing app. The initial cost may seem steep, but it’s worth every penny in the long run. Evernote is free and has multiple organizing tools, like taking photos and audio clips, in addition to typing notes.
  • Keep your list with you at all times! This may not seem important at first. But you’ll remember the next ingredient of your gluten-free pumpkin dessert at the strangest time! Like while listening to the radio in the car. Just write it down at the next stoplight!
  • No matter how small, put it in your list. It may sound funny, but I don’t trust my mind to keep track of my life anymore! Do you? You’ll ease the pressure of remembering every detail by using your lists continually, even if the reminder seems insignificant.
  • Create many lists and use liberally. You can have as many lists as you want. Electronic space is virtually unlimited with current technology. You can use a list for everything from recipe ingredients, to grocery shopping items, to gift-giving ideas, to party favor details, to phone call and email reminders, to workout goals after the new year!

Does this stimulate your appetite for using lists? Well, maybe turkey with dressing and apple pie sounds more mouth-watering. Still, creating and using lists can ease your stress this holiday season. Try incorporating lists into your everyday life. You’ll be glad you did.

I wish you and your family a well-organized and delicious Thanksgiving holiday! Whatever happens with your planning, remember that relationships are the most important part of the season.