Organizing is Like a Box of Chocolate

On May 27, 2014, in Productivity, by Janice Simon
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organizing is like a box of chocolatesForrest Gump, one of America’s early life coaches, taught us all many years ago life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you will find.

Sometimes organizing (and prioritizing) is like a box of chocolates, too.

After receiving a box of chocolate as a gift from a department I gave a presentation to, I stumbled across this stunning metaphor. What can I say? Chocolate makes me a genius.

When dealing with a box of chocolate, I eat the dark chocolate first, dark chocolate with fruit second, milk chocolate third, and milk chocolate with fruit last. If there’s white chocolate, it’s the very, very last. I love chocolate, but I have my priorities – which is my point.

We face boxes of chocolate each day, and we make choices on how we spend our time and what tasks we complete. It’s easier to choose chocolate over anything lurking on your to-do list. No matter how much I love dark chocolate, there are times when I have to deal with white chocolate, i.e. the stuff I don’t really want to deal with but I have to because I’m a grown-up with responsibilities.

You may not always feel motivated to work on your priorities. But, the good news is that there are things you can do to make it easier to focus on the right things at the right time.

5  Ways to Focus on Your Priorities

  1. Work on your MIT (Most Important Thing) First. One item on your to-do list has to be a higher priority than the others. If everything is important, then nothing is important. So, start with your MIT first.
  2. Take a bite. Whenever possible, spend time on your MIT before opening e-mail and getting sucked into the craziness of the day. Even if it’s just 15 to 20 minutes, it will make a difference to how you feel and how productive you are. Take a bite of your MIT and bask in that sense of accomplishment you will generate for the rest of the day.
  3. Limit multitasking. Turn off e-mail, the Internet, and other distractions while you’re trying to focus. Multitasking reduces our productivity by up to 40 percent which is why driving and texting can make you more dangerous than a drunk driver. To help you practice focusing, use the Time Timer app and set it for 15 minutes when you begin working on your project.
  4. Set yourself up for success. It’s easy to say something is our priority, but the execution is really what counts. You have to set yourself up for success by making it easy. Let’s say you want fitness to be your priority. How do you make that happen? If you want to exercise in the morning, lay your workout clothes by your bed (before you go to bed). If you want to save money by bringing your lunch to work, pack it the night before so it’s all ready to go. When you make decisions in advance, it’s easier for you to follow the priorities you want to follow.
  5. Use a map. Unlike Forrest Gump, I actually use the little map that shows what each chocolate is. Boxes of chocolate aren’t really mysterious, and you don’t have to pinch the corner or take a bite to figure out what you have. Since we humans don’t come with our own maps or guidebook, create your own
  • Schedule your priorities on your calendar to block off time to work on them
  • If you have a mantra or a goal, have it hanging up where you can see it
  • Keep track of  strategies that work well for you and incorporate them in your daily routines to help you manage your day

Knowing what your priorities are and making them the star of your day eliminates those chocolate surprises Forrest likes.

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Memorial Day 2014

On May 26, 2014, in General, by Deb Lee, Certified Professional Organizer®
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MEMORIAL DAYToday’s Memorial Day, a holiday in the United States, and the OTR authors have the day off. We hope you’re having a happy and enjoyable day no matter where you are.

If you’d like to catch up on some of our posts, please have a look at:

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Fact Friday: Women Are Happier, Less Stressed at Work

On May 23, 2014, in Fact Friday, by Deb Lee, Certified Professional Organizer®
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” … a newly released study in the Journal of Science and Medicine [found] that women were much happier at work than at home. And men were only moderately happier at home than at work. Both men and women were a lot less stressed out on the weekend – when they were home – than on the weekdays.

Read More:

Are you more stressed at home than at work? | | 5.22.2014



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*All book links are affiliate links.



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Creating an Outdoor Oasis

On May 21, 2014, in Home Organizing, by Naomi Cook
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Can you believe that Memorial Day is less than a week away? I am so relieved that the warm weather has finally arrived, as I’m sure you are too! Now is the time to expand your living quarters to the outside, whether you have a tiny patio or a big backyard, so that you have a place to relax as well as entertain friends and family.

Now, let’s do an exercise!

Close your eyes and using all of your senses, think about what your backyard oasis would entail. Open your eyes and while you remember what you saw, sketch it with colored pencils or markers. Then, write down what you smelled, tasted, felt, and heard.

Now, unless Oprah swings by your house with a check (how lovely would that be!), you’ll probably need to forego the swimming pool and grotto, and stick to the more basic and inexpensive ideas like planting flowers and getting comfy cushions for your chairs. But that can be just as great!

outdoor oasis

Look at your drawing and focus on the following areas to make your dream backyard oasis an economical, yet beautiful place to be.

  1. What did you see? Pick up on the colors that you used. Is there a predominant one that is visible? Work on incorporating that color into your backyard with flowers, as well as with pillows for your outdoor furniture. Also, pick up on any lighting that was in the picture. If you dreamed of your backyard at night, think about getting Tiki torches or a variety of solar lights.
  2. What did you smell? Pick up on any smells that come to mind. Did you smell the clothes drying outside on the line, or a beach-y scent like coconut? Or, maybe you are smelling flowers like Jasmine. Find an area to plant some near a place you’ll be able to appreciate it.
  3. What did you taste? Pick up on the foods that you enjoy eating in the summertime. Maybe that’s a juicy watermelon, corn on the cob, or a burger on the grill. Make sure you stock up on these favorites in the fridge and freezer.
  4. What did you feel? Pick up on any textures that feel great in the summertime. Think of your bare feet on a lush lawn. Make sure to take great care of your lawn, filling in any bald patches. Hopefully you didn’t feel any mosquito bites!
  5. What did you hear? Pick up on sounds like birds chirping, or a stereo, playing mellow songs for you to relax to.

I hope you were able to hone in on everything that created your ideal picture of your summertime backyard. Once all of your sensory elements are in place, sit down and enjoy it, and do a “here’s to summer” cheers with someone with a glass of iced tea!

What’s in your outdoor oasis? Share in the comments!

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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, (affiliate link), and

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.



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!



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 | | 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

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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

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

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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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