My Top Tech Tools for Organizing

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This week’s article is a break from the usual topics of decluttering and home organizing. As a lover of technology, I am often amazed at how much I rely on it to keep my life organized. My husband Eric is a computer programmer with Groupon and has always been quick to utilize technology, while I have tended to resist. He may have felt at times like he was dragging me kicking and screaming into the digital age. Although I still tend to utilize notes on index cards for daily reminders, I have mostly transitioned to digital tools for almost everything. In this article, I will highlight my favorite tech tools for organization.

Google tools: Calendar, Documents, Sheets, Slides, and Numbers (iOS, Android – free)

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, you probably know about Google as a search engine. But you may not know about all of the free tools that Google offers. The fact that all of these are cloud-based means that I can get to any of them any time on any device in any location.

I mentioned before that I was a latecomer to a digital calendar. Now I can’t imagine ever going back to paper. With a digital calendar, there is no more, “When I get home, I’ll check my calendar and let you know.” I love the fact that I can share a calendar with other members of my family so that we can stay informed about each other’s schedules. Being able to color code different events by category really appeals to me visually as an organizer.  

I use Google Documents to create, store, and share documents. Groups of documents can be placed into different folders, much like a file folder system. It is easily searchable and sharable, no matter what kind of computer someone is using. When sharing a document, you can choose whether the person can view, comment, or edit the document. No more having to email yourself Microsoft Word documents to get them to a new device. It’s also great when a group of people (like a volunteer committee) need to jointly edit a document. Plus, you never need to hit Save – it is always saving all of your changes as you edit.

When I give group presentations, I love using Google Slides to create and store the presentation. It is easy to use, and since the information is stored in the cloud, I don’t have to worry about whether the venue at which I am performing has the proper connections for my laptop; I can simply use the machine that is already hooked up to the projector.

Reminders (iOS – free)

I truly cannot imagine what I did before being able to rely on this app. The fact that it can be tied to specific days, times, and locations via GPS is my favorite feature. I use it to remind me of a variety of things: from one time events to repeating ones, work and home-related tasks, from the critically important to the trivial. Here is a partial list of things that I have used my reminders app for just in the last few days: turn in my next Times News article by Tuesday, use my gift card at Panera, post a Monday motivational quote on my business Facebook page, put a new Kleenex pack in my purse when I get home, update my business spreadsheets every Saturday, etc. The thing I like best about using this app is that I can get all of those “I need to remember to…” items out of my head (because it is physically impossible to remember them all) and record them into a trusted system. I can also use Siri and my Amazon Echo (“Alexa, remind me to call my Mom in an hour”) to add items to my Reminders app.

AnyList (iOS – free)

Gone are the days of a paper grocery list. With AnyList, I have my grocery list with me all the time. I use AnyList not only for a grocery list, but for any store I frequently visit. So the next time I happen to visit Target for a specific item, I can look to see what else I need while I’m there. Items can be added to the list by scanning a product’s bar code. Best of all, since I can share the list with someone else, Eric always knows what we need at the grocery store. And I love being able to say, “Alexa, add bananas to the Kroger List.”

Trello (iOS, Android, MacOS, Windows – free)

Although AnyList is useful for most of my lists, Trello is more useful for higher level organizing or for groups. I use Trello to organize all of my To Do lists for my home and my business. Each broad category can have a different board, and items on the list can be prioritized in order of importance. This is where I store all of the ideas I want to work on in the future. Documents and pictures can be attached to items on each board. Multiple people can coordinate tasks and communication using Trello, and because it is Cloud-based, all of the information can be accessed from anywhere and is updated in real time. Evernote is a similar tool that is also easy to use and very highly rated.

CamCard (iOS, Android – free version for up to 200 cards)

It didn’t take long as a new business owner for me to realize that I needed some kind of tool to organize all of the business cards I was collecting. I knew I didn’t want to carry them all around, nor did I want to manually enter all of the information from each card. With CamCard, I can take a picture of the card (which is stored on my phone), and it also pulls all of the information from the card. The information can then be grouped and added to my contacts. Some cards that have dark backgrounds or unusual designs or fonts can be tricky for CamCard to correctly identify all of the information, but it doesn’t take long to check and edit as needed.

Unroll Me (Web-based – free)

This tool helps me organize my email simply because it significantly decreases the volume of emails I receive. UnrollMe will automatically identify any email subscriptions and give you the option to Keep, Unsubscribe, or Roll Up each one. If you select Keep, you will continue to receive emails from that subscription as a separate email. Unsubscribe doesn’t technically unsubscribe you (this requires going to the individual page, clicking Unsubscribe, which then takes you to another page asking your reason for unsubscribing). With UnrollMe, Unsubscribe means that an email from this subscription will be automatically directed to the trash.

Key Ring (iOS, Android – free)

I like the perks I get with loyalty cards, but I don’t necessarily like carrying them around all the time. Granted, if it’s a card that requires physically punching or stamping it, carrying the card is necessary. But for cards with a number and barcode, that information can be entered into an app like Key Ring by either scanning the barcode or manually entering the numbers. When making a purchase, simply open the app, scroll through the list to find the appropriate store, and the barcode can be scanned at the register. Key Ring has decreased the size of my keyring and my billfold substantially.

Focus Keeper (iOS, – free)

Focus Keeper has vastly improved my productivity by keeping me on track during work that requires mental focus. The principle underlying this strategy is that an auditory cue (the sound of a timer) can serve as a reminder to stay focused for a specific period of time (25 minutes). At the end of the 25 minutes, the user is rewarded with a short break (3-5 minutes) before another period of focused work. It’s a simple tool that has proved quite useful for me.

Mile IQ (iOS, Android, $5.99/month or $59.99/year)

Keeping track of mileage traveled for business purposes is one of a myriad of details that must be managed by a small business owner. For the first few months, I relied on paper to log my mileage, but this shortly proved cumbersome. MileIQ is a wonderful app that allows me to quickly record each trip as either business or personal. I know I’m going to be very glad to have this information readily available when I am working on my taxes. This is one of the few tools that isn’t free, but the time I save makes it worth every penny.

1Password (iOS, Android, MacOS – $2.99/month or $4.99/month for family of up to 5 users)

Passwords are a necessary evil when it comes to online security. Although it simplifies things considerably to use the same password for everything, this is not the most secure approach. But who can remember a different password for every website and app? Simply keeping a paper or digital list of all the passwords is easy but not secure. Password managers like 1Password allow you to remember only one password that will give you access to the many different passwords you need.

There is no doubt that tools such as these have greatly simplified my life. I hope this information is useful in your efforts to organize your life.

Happy organizing!

 

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5 Steps to Decluttering Success

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I don’t know about you, but I am so ready for spring! I have really been longing to get back outside to hike or bike, but I don’t really enjoy these activities when it’s cold outside. One good thing about being stuck inside is that I can focus on anything inside my home that needs to be done. When it comes to organization (my favorite of all activities), I believe the top priority should always be decluttering. Decluttering simply means removing what doesn’t belong in a space. Most of us would agree that we just have way too much stuff. When a space is overloaded with stuff, any efforts to organize that space are wasted.

My goal in this article is to give you a practical list of steps that you can use to declutter any area of your home. With this checklist in hand and a little bit of time, you should be able to tackle any space and make significant improvements. The list itself is from professional organizer and blogger Lisa Woodruff of Organize 365 (https://organize365.com/organization-stage-1-declutter/), and my comments follow each step.

But before beginning the decluttering process, you need to decide what space you want to work on. If your whole house needs to be decluttered, how do you decide where to start? There are several approaches, and it really just depends on your goals and your preference. Many people like to start with the area that is bothering them most or is most interfering with their daily life. Another great strategy is to concentrate on the most visible areas. Walk into your front door as if you were a guest coming into your home, and focus on the areas that a guest would see. I have worked with several clients who hadn’t been able to entertain in years because of the cluttered state of their home, and decluttering those common areas was life-changing because they were able to welcome guests into their home again. If I am asked which area to start in, I often suggest the master bedroom or the kitchen because we use these spaces every day, and improvements in these rooms make a huge difference in making our home a peaceful place.

Once you’ve decided where to start, you need to completely empty the contents of that space. It may sound a bit extreme and possibly unnecessary, but for some reason, we look at items differently when they are removed from their normal home. For example, if I am decluttering my utensils but simply look at the items in my countertop utensil container and my utensil drawer, I may not notice that I have 11 spatulas. Only when I take them all out and group them will I realize that fact and ask myself, “Who in the world needs 11 spatulas?!” (I am not making this up; a recent client had 11 spatulas). Also, once that container and drawer are emptied, I can thoroughly clean them both; after all, that probably hasn’t been done in years.

For the purpose of explanation, I am going to use the example of a linen closet as I talk through the steps. Depending on how much time you have to declutter, you may not want to do the entire closet at one time, but instead focus on one category at a time. Either way, you’re going to pull the items out of the closet before beginning. Now, let’s see how these steps translate into action in decluttering a linen closet:

  1. Eliminate all trash, food, and broken items. This first step is usually pretty easy because things in this category are easy to identify. You wouldn’t think there would be trash or food in a linen closet, but after working with so many people, let me just say that you just never know what you’re going to find. In a linen closet, you might find towels that have been there for 20 years that are frayed and ready to become rags. When we buy new towels, we often stuff the old ones into the linen closet instead of taking the time to purge them.
  2. Sell or consign anything of value you want to sell. In a linen closet, you might find a comforter and pillow set that is valuable enough to sell. There are many options to sell your items: garage sales, consignment shops, local Facebook sale pages, Craigs list, and more. However, keep in mind that this adds additional steps and time, and the items won’t be leaving your home immediately. I always encourage donation if possible.
  3. Bag up any items to donate, and deliver them to the donation center. Obviously I would recommend getting them bagged or boxed up and continuing the decluttering first, not stopping what you are doing to immediately drive them to the donation center. Often times, I will go ahead and load the items in my car so that they are ready to go. I schedule the time to take the donations on my calendar so that I don’t still have those same items in my car months later (anyone else been there, done that)?
  4. Collect everything that goes in another room and locate it in that room. Again, it never ceases to amaze me how an item that belongs in the kitchen gets into a linen closet, but it happens. So that you don’t disrupt your decluttering momentum, I suggest having a container to put items that go elsewhere in your home. At the end of the session, take those items to the appropriate place.
  5. Make a list of any spaces that need organizers or items that need to be replaced. Only after you’ve gotten rid of anything that doesn’t belong can you determine whether you need any organizing supplies. In a linen closet, you might want some sort of container for different sizes of sheet sets or for a category of toiletries. If you found items that were broken, you need to make note of that so you can replace them. If you realized that although you had 27 sheet sets in your linen closet, only 2 were complete sets of the correct size, you probably want to jot that down on a shopping list. (By the way, my favorite way to make lists is on the free app Any List. You’ll always have it with you if you have your phone, you don’t have to keep up with a piece of paper, and you can also add items to the list using your Amazon Echo or Dot).  

What if this list sounds great, but you don’t have enough time to fully declutter your spaces? I would suggest using a technique I learned from well-known organizer and author Peter Walsh called the Trash Bag Tango. I love this suggestion because it doesn’t take much time, it involves the whole family, and it can achieve big results. Here is Peter’s description of the process:

“Here’s what you do: Every evening for one week, set a timer on your cell phone and get everyone in the kitchen. Give each person two trash bags and for 10 minutes everyone has to run around the house. In one trash bag put garbage — old magazines, torn clothing, broken toys, takeout containers; in the second bag put things you no longer need or want. At the end of 10 minutes, you’re done. Put the first bag in the trash and the second in the trunk of your car for Goodwill. It’s amazing.” (http://lat.ms/1kG9rCV).

I hope you’re feeling energized and equipped to declutter. I have seen some amazing results with these techniques. I promise that you will be glad you have invested that time. As always, I’d love to hear about your results, your questions, and your challenges.

Happy organizing!