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summer travelAre you ready for this month’s 5-Minute Organizing Challenge? Each month, we explore what you can do for five minutes at a time to get more organized.

With the weather getting warmer and Springtime in full effect, more people are traveling and planning trips.So,our challenge topic this month is getting organized for warm weather travel.

Here are five mini-challenges (each one should take about five minutes to complete) that will help you prepare for you upcoming trips.

Get Organized for Warm Weather Travel Five Minutes at a Time

1. Do some research. If you’re staying at a hotel or someone’s home, find out what amenities are already there by making a call or searching online. Also, check the weather forecast. For example, will you need an umbrella for a subtropical climate?  Make sure you check the forecast the night before you leave, so you can pack any additional things you may need.

2. Make a checklist of items to pack. Write or edit your list at least a week before you leave. Start with clothing, toiletries, medication, and other important items you specifically must have with you.

As the week progresses, continue adding items as you think of them. If you have a written list, consider transferring your list to your laptop, tablet, or smart phone. Remember warm weather items like sunblock, aloe vera, flip-flops, and sunglasses!

3. Use packing organizers. If you have them packing cubes, use them. If you don’t, you can spend a few minutes looking online to shop for essential pieces. Commercial organizers can be well worth the cost if you travel frequently, or if you will be on vacation for an extended time.

Check out the selection of Eagle Creek packing cubes,available at EagleCreek.com, Amazon.com (affiliate link), and ContainerStore.com.

4. Start packing early. Several days before your trip, open your suitcase and start packing items you aren’t using. Continue to do this each day for five minutes at a time. At least 24 hours before you take off, pack whatever is still left on your list (toiletries go in last when you’re finished using them).

Shortly before you leave, rearrange your bag with the heaviest items on the bottom and place clothing on top. Be sure to pack travel-size toiletries in a plastic zip top bag or container to protect your valuables from potential leaks.

5. Pack healthy snacks. Whether you’re flying, driving, or riding to your destination, carrying healthy snacks is usually a cost-effective option — and it can be the healthiest one, too. Many airlines are cutting back on meal and snack service, and sometimes healthy foods are not available on road trips in rural areas, so pack healthy treats to hold you over until you get to your final destination.

The best vacations are usually the ones you’re most prepared for. Rushing to get to the airport or start a long journey at the last minute is never enjoyable. If you’re organized ahead of time, this can make or break the trip. By taking on a these simple 5-minute challenges this month, you will be prepared to take your trip with peace of mind.

What other 5-minute challenges can you recommend to prepare for warm weather travel?

 

Click Here to Learn More Ways to Get Organized in Five Minutes!

 

 

5 Reasons You Should be Using Bitly

On May 12, 2014, in Technology, by Nealey Stapleton
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bitlyHave you heard of Bitly?

If you have, do you know how cool the features really are?

If you haven’t heard of it, Bitly is a free service that shortens web addresses. This is extremely helpful for things like posting status updates to Twitter, but it’s SO much more than that.

I’ve known about Bitly for forever but only started using it in the last few months (kicking myself in the tushi!). Since I’ve started using Bitly for the last few weeks, I am loving it (as much as I love my digital calendar) for several reasons. As of now, I can only think of one drawback.  Here’s my review and five reasons why you should be using it.

Five Reasons I Love Bitly

  1. Shorten links – Let’s start with the most obvious fantastic feature: you can shorten web addresses. This is convenient for social media status updates, and shorter links just look better.
  1. Track links – This is my FAVORITE part. You can see the analytics of every Bitly link you create, like how many people clicked on your link, the source of the clicks, and more.

 

bitly

This is a huge time-saver when you’re trying to track how many click-throughs you’ve sent to another website from your own site, from all of your social media outlets, from your e-newsletter, and so on.

Rather than counting all of the click-throughs manually from each individual source, you can go to one place and see the results. I found this extremely convenient when tracking the amount of traffic I sent to my sponsor’s website for the month, for example.

  1. It’s free! Need I say more? There is a paid version (Bitly Brand Tools), but for the features I’m mentioning today, there is no cost.
  1. Access it from anywhere. Since it’s an online platform, you can log in from any computer anywhere in the world to see your Bitly link data. And, of course, there’s an app so you can access your account from your phone or tablet too!
  1. It’s easy. It’s REALLY easy. You simply copy the URL that you want to turn into a Bitly link, paste it in the “Paste a link here to shorten” box at the top of your Bitly dashboard, and hit Enter. Then use the shortened Bitly link it generates for you rather than the original URL. That’s it!

bitly

 

So far the only drawback I’ve come across with using Bitly is integrating it with Pinterest. Pinterest doesn’t allow Bitly links which makes sense with all of the spammers out there. However, it’s doesn’t fit into my check-all-link-analytics-in-one-place routine.

Overall my opinion of Bitly is very high, and I would recommend using it. What has your experience been with it? Leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you!

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Fact Friday: Lack of Sleep is Harmful to Your Brain

On May 9, 2014, in Fact Friday, by Deb Lee, Certified Professional Organizer®
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“A recent study published in the Swedish journal, Sleep showed that, rather than boosting productivity, staying up all night is actually harmful to your brain. 

The researchers measured blood levels of certain proteins associated with brain injuries such as concussions and found protein levels were 20% higher in those who pulled all-nighters compared to when they got a full night’s rest. Although not as high as protein levels post-concussion, the study proves skimping on sleep can do real brain damage.

Read More:

How Working Late is Harming Your Brain | FastCompany.com | 4.29.2014

 

 

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How to Organize Your Family First Aid Kit

On May 8, 2014, in Emergency Preparedness, by Lauren Halagarda
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Please welcome our newest OTR blogger, Lauren Halagarda! Lauren loves DIY projects and for today’s post, she’ll share how you can make your own first aid kit. ~Deb

Recently, I met up with a friend and her 2 ½ year old for a play date at the park. I learned that the bees also like the park in springtime … something about the sun on the playground equipment. Anyway, the bees were all over the playground equipment where our children were playing.

first aid kit

Original Image Credit: Amazon.com

The kids had just started to warm up to each other when my friend’s child started screaming. It took us a few minutes to figure it out, but he got stung by a bee … and that’s when we realized that we were both completely unprepared for toddler emergencies.

Even with the remnants of the first aid kits we had on hand in our purses and cars, most of the supplies wouldn’t be appropriate for a 2-year old. Luckily, I happened to have infant acetaminophen in my diaper bag to provide some pain relief eventually. Thank goodness he didn’t have an allergic reaction. Poor little guy!

Later on, I looked around the house to see what I had on hand and found a first aid kit I had bought ready-made a while back. It only had a few basics left: some bandages, a packet of aspirin, and a packet of antibiotic ointment … oh, and did I mention it expired in June of 2004?

OMG! And, I call myself a professional organizer?! Bush league!

How to Make Your Own Family First Aid Kit

I decided it was time to build my own family first aid kit and began my research. I came across this ICE-Qube To Go kit for a mere $150. Yes, you read that correctly — 150 buckaroos!

Um, I was looking for something a BIT more economical. I hate paying for things I don’t need and I wanted to customize it to my family’s needs. Plus, I knew I was planning to keep the kit in my car where it would be subject to extreme temperatures and I would need to rotate out the supplies.

After a bit of research, I decided on the items listed below for my family first aid kit. This is a kit you can replicate yourself and make any adjustments based on your family’s unique situation.

Also, I’m going to store the first aid supplies in my car in an insulated cooler bag like this one:

 

Supplies for First Aid Kit
  • Adhesive bandages, and plenty of them, in all shapes and sizes
  • Alcohol swabs for cleaning AROUND a wound or disinfecting tweezers, etc.
  • Antibiotic ointment w/ pain reliever
  • Anti-diarrheal medication
  • Antihistamine (include Children’s formula if you have young ones)
  • Anti-itch
  • Antiseptic swabs (Benzalkonium Chloride) for cleaning a wound
  • Couple of bottles of Water
  • Eye wash
  • Gauze
  • Infant/Children’s Acetaminophen
  • Instant cold pack
  • Lactose pills (hey, you never know when you’re going to have an ice cream emergency, right?)
  • Latex-free gloves
  • Motion Sick pills
  • Pedialyte (or you can premix 1 Tablespoon of Sugar and ¼ teaspoon of salt to add to a 16.9 oz water bottle to create your own homemade Oral Rehydration Salt )
  • Scissors
  • Sterile cotton balls
  • Tape
  • Tweezers
  • Tylenol, Ibuprofen, and/or Aspirin
Emergency Info for First Aid Kit

I am going to add these phone numbers to my cell phone and also print them out and tape them inside my kit, just in case:

  • Pediatrician/Family Physician
  • Hospital
  • Poison Control (1-800-222-1222)
  • Local Police & Fire Departments
  • Two or three closest neighbors (home and cell phone numbers)

Other Helpful First Aid Information

Get a free bag. Johnson & Johnson’s offers a free first aid kit bag when you buy any three qualifying first aid items. Participating retailers include:

  • CVS
  • Walgreens
  • WalMart
  • Target
  • Rite Aid
  • Meijer

Buy a pre-made kit. Here’s a solid ready-made option if you prefer to go that route (available online at Target and Amazon.com)

Get Helpful First Aid Guides.

  • First Aid Swabs & Towlettes. This guide will help to make sure you don’t harm anyone by using the wrong type of pad/towelette.
  • Anatomy of a First Aid Kit.  Helpful information from American Red Cross about creating well stocked kits and where you should keep them.

 

Make Your Own Ointment. Here’s a link for how to make your own single-use ointment packs: DIY – Single Use Antibiotics Packs.

 

Other Supplies to Consider Including. A few items I came across in my research that you may want to include if they apply to your family would be:

  • Epinephrin
  • Asthma Inhaler
  • Any regular medications

I’m so excited that I have finally done this!! And, I hope this post has been helpful for you, too! Please share the wealth and let me know in the comments your essential family first aid kit items.

 

*All product links on this page are affiliate links (excluding Target).

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Timers1The kitchen timer has been around a very long time! Often used to increase productivity at work, a timer can also be used to improve organization at home.

The timer can be sand in an hourglass, a tomato or shaped like a pig, or a tech timer on your smart phone. No matter what shape it is, the humble timer can have a positive impact on how well you manage your time and help you keep your family organized.

8 Ways to Keep Your Family Organized Using a Timer

 

1. Work on difficult tasks.  If you’re working on a family project together, a timer can help you work for only a specific time frame. Decluttering can be hard for families to work on together, especially when there are other things everyone would like to do.

Set a timer for 30 minutes to clean and organize your home together and when it goes off, everyone can stop.

2. Make organizing fun. Set the timer for 5 minutes to distribute toys and clothes and to manage other household chores (like packing and unpacking the dishwasher or starting a load of laundry).

Then, let everyone play “Beat the Clock” to see if they can really put everything away in 5 minutes.  A fist bump when the timer rings is a nice way to congratulate everyone.

3. Work in focused time blocks. Try using a timer during homework time. Set the timer for 15 minutes to complete one subject area.  If needed, you can add an additional 15 minutes.  Your kids can also have a 5 minute break between subjects to get extra energy out and refocus.

4. Create extended work blocks. You can also try using the timer with The Pomodoro Technique (affiliate link) for bigger homework projects or study sessions. Instead of 15 minutes, your children will work for 25 minutes with 3-5 minute breaks in between each 25-minute session.  This method can also work for you with your own projects.

5. Track time elapsed. Are your kids in the shower too long? Set a timer to alert them when it’s time to finish. Do they think that 30 minutes has elapsed when it’s only been 10 minutes? The timer can help them get a better feel for specific time ranges and be more successful at tracking it.

6. Set limits on specific tasks. Timers are a great alternative reminder for your children’s technology limits. Set the timer for the length of time they are permitted to be online on their computer, iPad, or tablet, rather than verbally remind them.

7. Transition from one activity to another. Transition your kids from play time to another activity by setting a timer for 5 minutes. Children often move from one activity to another more easily when they have signal or reminder that it’s time to move on to something else.

8. Be on time leaving the house.  Set the timer and alert your family that everyone has to leave at a time you specify (e.g., in 10 minutes or a particular time). When it rings, off you go!

Timers You Can Use

 

If you use a smartphone, you may have an app already installed. Other timers you may want to consider for your family include sand timers and the Time Timer (affiliate links).

The sand timers (pictured on the left) include a set of 6 timers ranging from 30 seconds to 5 minutes. These can be helpful to show how long short time frames “feel,” and can work well for tasks that take only a little time to complete.

The Time Timer (shown on the right) offers both visual and audible cues so your children will see the time elapsed and hear a beep when the time is up. This a great timer to help you “see” time as it goes by.

Of course, you’re not limited to just these two choices. There are many timers that you can use. The key is finding the right one and you may need to test a few timers until you find one that works well for you and your family. Once you find “the one,” be sure that it becomes regular part of your routine.

What are ways you use a timer with  your family? Please share in the comments.

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In her 1988 book, Elizabeth Takes Off, legendary actress Elizabeth Taylor talks about gaining weight while in the public eye and how she lost weight.

One piece of her advice in her book was about elastic waistbands:

“I know I’ll never again buy clothes with elastic waistbands. They’re dangerous because they allow you to put on pounds and feel comfortable.”

This is why I always put my yoga pants through the dryer, but I digress. Clutter can be just like those pesky elastic waistbands.

If you have some vacant space and troublesome boundaries, you will fill any empty space you have without realizing it.

When I bought my house, I went from living in a one bedroom apartment to four bedroom house. As you can imagine, I had oodles of empty space.

clutter elastic waistbands

Original Image Credit: Amazon.com

Amazon link is an affiliate link

Five years later, I’m standing in one of my spare rooms and feeling a bit overwhelmed. This is the room where my childhood has come to roost after taking the last of my stuff from my parent’s house. I carefully placed it all on the shelves in my spare room, and I thought I would go through it all when I needed to.

Now I need to.

I have to clear some space for my niece, her boyfriend, and baby to move in with me for a couple of months. When my niece lived with me last year for a few months, I didn’t have to move much out of her way since she had very little. Now she’s coming with extra people and stuff, and these tiny babies do come with a great number of accessories.

I know exactly how this happened. My house has become a giant pair of elastic pants. I had the space so I filled it.

It’s easy to put things to the side especially when you have the space for it. As I sift through my spare room, I’ve been asking myself:

  • What’s important? With my childhood stuff, my favorites are my Barbie dolls and my Spirograph. Those are important to me. I took my Barbies and put them in a shadowbox, and it’s a great way for me to treasure them.
  • Do I use it? I never used the beverage dispenser that looks like a sandcastle that a friend passed down to me, and I’m sure there is someone out there who will love it and use it.
  • Do I want it? Some decorative items I had in my apartment haven’t made their way onto the walls or shelves of my house, and I’ve realized that I’m over them. So I am bidding them goodbye.

Take a look around your space and see what areas of your life has become a little more elastic than you would like.

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Fact Friday: People Make Poor Decisions in the Afternoon

On April 25, 2014, in Decision Making, Fact Friday, by Deb Lee, Certified Professional Organizer®
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It turns out that the tendency to make bad decisions for our health and our productivity aren’t the only risks in the afternoon—we also make poor moral choices as our energy is depleted. 

Recent research by Kouchaki and Smith shows that people are significantly more likely to lie, deceive, and act immorally in the afternoon than in the morning.

Read More:

Good People Do Bad Things in the Afternoon | PsychologyToday.com | 4.21.2014

 

 

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It’s time for this month’s 5-Minute Organizing Challenge! You’ll be able to explore five things you can do for five minutes at a time to get your life more organized. Since Earth Day is tomorrow (April 22nd), I challenge you to implement some simple eco-friendly tasks that will also help you feel more organized.

eco-friendly

Original Image Credits: Wikipedia (1, 2)

Task 1:  Each night, walk around your home and turn off all the lights in rooms you are not currently using. Saving energy is an important part of conservation, but this will save you money as well. Do this every few hours each day, and before you know it, this will become a new habit.

Task 2: If you don’t have a green power supplier, and you would like to help reduce carbon emissions, look for one. Spend a few minutes online and make a list of green power suppliers you can call to gather information from and potentially switch to their service.

Task 3: If you usually drive everywhere, use public transportation once this week. It will take you less than five minutes to look up the round trip schedule for the bus, light rail, or train. You’ll contribute to reducing air pollution every time you do this or ride your bike locally instead of driving.

Task 4: Make a list of all the electronic items in your home that you need to e-cycle. If there aren’t too many things, gather them in one container or box. Instead of throwing them away on trash day or dropping them off at a dump, find an eCycling center that will reuse parts from the items. By doing this, you will be saving natural resources and reducing electronic processing.

Task 5: One more! If you don’t already have reusable grocery bags (affiliate link), search your closets or other storage areas for a few strong bags you can designate for this purpose. Many retail businesses and companies at conventions hand out promotional bags that you may have saved. Most grocery stores are either charging for disposable bags, or they are paying small rewards to customers who bring reusable ones. Store these where you will remember to grab them, so they aren’t forgotten and you can help protect the environment when you shop.

By taking on a few or all of the challenges this month, you will be organizing your life in a more earth-conscious way. Perhaps you already implement some of these short eco-friendly tasks, and there are a few more here you’ll take on this week.

What other 5 minute challenges would you like to share with everyone to celebrate Earth Day?

Click Here to Learn More Ways to Get Organized in Five Minutes!

Why Every Business Should Have An E-mail Newsletter

On April 14, 2014, in E-mail, Technology, by Nealey Stapleton
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Business eNewsletterHey small business peeps! Do you have an e-mail newsletter? Do you send it out to your subscribers regularly? If your answer to either question is no, then this article is for you. I’ll explain the importance of having an e-newsletter and how to send it out regularly without much effort. Enjoy!

What is an e-mail newsletter?
An e-mail newsletter is a digital bulletin that delivers valuable tips and the latest news to your subscribers. Sending one out is a very common business practice, so let’s talk about how it can boost sales and ways to implement it efficiently and effectively.

Why have an e-mail newsletter?
An e-mail newsletter is CRUCIAL to your business. This is one of the things I wished I had paid more attention to earlier, so listen up! Your e-mail newsletter is one of your biggest business assets!

It’s the tool that can turn cold leads into hot sales…repeating hot sales. It ensures that you stay on the mind of your potential and active clients, and by offering consistent quality content, you become a resource that your subscribers think of first. It is pure gold.

Five Steps to Set Up Your Business E-mail Newsletter

1. Come up with a system.
A lot of hesitation around sending an email newsletter regularly is the amount of time it takes to do so. One of the things that I do that is a huge time-saver is to use a template that can be copied and pasted easily.

E-Newsletter-HeaderMy newsletter has a header at the top with the name and some nice photos, an introduction section, a featured article section, and a recommendation section. The right hand column contains my social media links and sponsor advertisements.

I simply copy and paste the template when it’s time to create a new e-mail. Then, I customize the introduction with a personal note and update the featured article section with new content. Sometimes I’ll change the recommendation section and include a new product or service, but not always. That’s it! It’s so easy and convenient for me that procrastinating about sending out my newsletter is at an all time low.

2. Send out your e-mail newsletter regularly.
With everything that I’ve read regarding e-mail newsletters, it seems that the consensus is to send it out at least once a week. I sent mine out once every other week for years and found it successful. Figure out what your sweet spot  is and go with it (how often would your audience like to hear from you?). The bottom line is that you need to send out your e-mail newsletter consistently.

3. Automate specific tasks.
Use the automatic welcome e-mail to immediately and warmly introduce your new subscribers to your community. When people sign up for your newsletter, they are usually interested in something right away. That’s where the welcome e-mail comes in. You give your new subscriber a warm welcome and explain again them what to expect from your newsletter. It’s also a good idea to encourage action, so link to your website or social media profiles and encourage them to engage with you.

E-Newsletter-AutoresponderThe autoresponder feature is another e-mail automation that is invaluable. It allows you to send out follow up emails automatically. This keeps you in front of your subscribers’ minds on a regular basis without spending too much time on it. Set it up once and you’re done. I love it!

4. Offer your subscribers a free gift.
E-mail addresses are not given out willy-nilly these days. People don’t want junk in their digital inboxes, just like they don’t want it in their physical mailboxes. You must offer value up front and build a relationship of trust. You do this by offering a free gift to those who sign up for your newsletter.

This could be a report, an ebook, a tool kit, but it must be something of value to your target audience. TAKE NOTE, it has to be a quality product. If you hype up a free gift that is junky and doesn’t offer a lot of value, then your subscribers are not going to stay very long.

Instead, put good time and effort into developing your free gift. Make it something you can stand by and be proud to offer. Impress your followers again and again, and they’ll stay loyal to you and keep coming back for more regularly. THAT is what will make your e-mail newsletter pure gold.

5. Use an e-mail service provider.
It’s worth the investment to use an e-mail marketing provider, AND a lot of the services out there offer a free option. Using a platform like Constant Contact (affiliate link), Aweber (affiliate link), or Mailchimp makes it super simple to do all of the above, and I highly recommend that you find a service provider that works for you.

If you’d like to see examples of everything in this article – a free gift, a welcome email, an autoresponder and an email template – check out my newsletter, Life On Track. Sign up here and you’ll see all the goodies!

What has your experience been with e-newsletters? What is your biggest frustration when it comes to sending one out? Biggest success? Let me know what you think in the comments section below.

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“According to a new study from Rice University and University of California, San Diego, scientists and engineers without kids have still felt the stigma associated with “flexible” schedules within their work culture.

The study found workers can have a negative attitude towards their place of employment and were less interested in staying at their jobs when they felt their employers looked down on individuals that needed a more flexible schedule.

Read More:

Work-Life Balance Even Affects Those without Kids, Study Finds | Parents.com | 3.31.2014

 

 

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