3 Unexpected Places to Look for Your Important To-Dos

  3 Unexpected Places to Look for Your Important To-Dos During a virtual meeting with my team, my laptop was running loud and slow. While I struggled to share my screen over the noise of my fan, one of my virtual assistants suggested I might have too many tabs open. “Who ME????” Yes, ME. Whether Read More

 

3 Unexpected Places to Look for Your Important To-Dos

Beige desk with phone, laptop, planner. 3 Unexpected Places to Look for Your Important To-Dos

During a virtual meeting with my team, my laptop was running loud and slow. While I struggled to share my screen over the noise of my fan, one of my virtual assistants suggested I might have too many tabs open. “Who ME????” Yes, ME.

Whether or not you faithfully use a digital or paper planner, you might have some unrecorded and tasks lurking in hidden places. Here are three unexpected places to look for your important to-dos and tips for managing them.

Browsers

Although I am a professional organizer and help people organize their digital lives, that doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with tab-mania myself. A single project might require opening up multiple tabs to access programs, do some research, and keep up with email and virtual meetings. As I move through tasks, those tabs multiply and often don’t get closed in a timely manner.

On this occasion, so many tabs were open in my browser that I couldn’t even make out the favicons, those tiny branding images on browser tabs. In fact, a click of the drop-down arrow at the end of the row showed even more tabs open.

As soon as we finished our meeting, I started clicking and closing tabs. I also found myself writing in my planner. One tab reminded me I needed to finish some research. Another prompted an idea for a yet-to-be-written blog post. And yet another was a PDF of an online receipt I needed to save. Those tabs were important to-dos! Anything that took just a few minutes ago, I took care of immediately.

Perhaps neglected open tabs in your browser are unrecorded tasks for your to-do list. Like a tactful Apple store employee once told me, “Just like you need rest, so does your laptop. Turn it off at night.”

So I challenge you: Every night for a week, close all your tabs. That’s right, all of them. You can “pin” those you use daily (right-click on the tab) so they open when you restart your computer, or bookmark them so you don’t need to search. Either way, you will save time. Wait, did you catch the word, restart? Yes, shut that baby down for the night.

TIPS:
  • If you are not already doing so on a regular basis, pick one day a week to check for and run program updates, clear out cookies and caches (see the settings for your browser).
  • Check your device’s trash or recycle bin for items that can be permanently deleted. Until you do, items still take up space.
  • Check your device’s battery life and available storage. I can’t cover directions for all types here, but you can find them by searching for “how to check battery health/available storage on _____.”

Your browser is just one place your important to-do’s might be hiding. Here are two more places:

Voicemails

Occasionally my voicemail is full and I have to clear it out. Every single message is something I need to do. The car repair shop now has a part that I’ve been waiting on, so I need to schedule a an appointment. My mother sang “Happy Birthday” on another message and I want to save it to my cloud storage. Another message reminds a prescription is ready for pickup. That’s an errand to the pharmacy. All of these are tasks that need to go on my list of important to-dos.

TIPS:
  • If your phone had to be reset and you lost your voicemails, are there any you would be sad about losing? Download happy-memory messages you want to save to cloud storage. I am so happy I downloaded voicemails of my parents serenading me with “Happy Birthday” together. Since my father passed away, it is a comforting memento.
  • Check your voicemail greeting. You may wish to say something different or rerecord using a better microphone.
  • When you delete messages, they might still exist in a deleted folder. Empty the deleted folder to make room on your device.

Scraps of paper

If you frequently write on sticky notes, scraps of paper, and/or notepads, then you might be  a “paper planner” person. As much as I love technology for its efficiency, I use Michael Hyatt’s Full Focus Planner to keep track of my important to-dos. I love the feel of pen-to-paper and checking things off with a flourish. Clicking and swiping on a to-do app just doesn’t give me the same satisfaction, no matter how nice the interface is.

Sometimes I catch myself writing on sticky notes or notepads when on calls or webinars. I make a point of checking for these hidden to-dos on my desk at least weekly, putting them in the right spot in my planner. Often I make these temporary notes because I’m not quite sure when or if I am going to tackle them. The solution for this is a “grasscatcher list,” a master list of to-dos that aren’t urgent but shouldn’t be forgotten. Mine is in the back of my quarterly planner and I do a serious list sweep monthly and quarterly to weed that list down. David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) system refers to this as a “Someday Maybe” list. 

TIPS:
  • If you must write on a scrap of paper in a pinch, add the date. This will give you some frame of reference for what the note was about, if it is still relevant or even needed, when you come across it.
  • Before phone calls and meetings, determine the best place to record notes. I prefer paper planners with a two-page daily spread that includes a notes page for this reason. For client consultations, I have an intake form ready. The same goes for virtual coffees. I love using forms and creating them for my clients!
  • Use traditional phone message pads with a carbon copy feature to record voicemails and take calls. Fill in all the prompts for information. This can clear up half of your random note clutter!

Summary

Open browser tabs, voicemails, and scraps of paper are just a few of the unexpected places to look for your important to-dos. This digital and paper clutter can be prompts for tasks and they can pile up if not dealt with. Take care of them immediately or record in your planning system. Better yet, if not needed, delegate or discard.

Three things to do on a regular basis (think daily, every other day, or at least weekly):
  • Check your browser for open tabs and close them. If you need to access certain sites regularly, pin them or bookmark them.
  • Check your voicemail and clean it out, or at least add them to your to-do list and delete messages as you take care of them.
  • Corral loose notes and record them where they will be most useful.

With all your browser tabs closed, your voicemails cleared, and random notes recorded, you will get a good night’s sleep, and so will your laptop.

So, how many tabs are open on your device as you read this?

Need help with organizing your digital life? Call 904-500-7678 (SORT), message me or schedule your free consult. I’d love to help you get some clarity so you can live the life you desire!

Barbara Trapp, CPO®, Certified Professional Organizer® and Productivity Coach
Zen Your Den®  and Zen Your Biz™
Professional Member, NAPO (National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals)
Life Transitions Specialist, NAPO
Residential Organizing Specialist, NAPO
Workplace Productivity Specialist, NAPO

My Virtual Birthday Party

What does my virtual birthday party have to do with organizing and productivity? I promise to weave it in before the end! Thank you for being a loyal and patient reader. I so enjoy your comments and emails.  Virtual birthday party July was my birthday month! Since we were all social-distancing due to COVID-19, I Read More

What does my virtual birthday party have to do with organizing and productivity? I promise to weave it in before the end! Thank you for being a loyal and patient reader. I so enjoy your comments and emails. 

Virtual birthday party

Round birthday cake with pink flowers
Virtual birthday cake

July was my birthday month! Since we were all social-distancing due to COVID-19, I held a Zoom call with a few friends from different decades. I ordered my own birthday cake: strawberry cake with hummingbird filling, whipped white icing, and pink writing. Exactly what I wanted! One of my friends, Cathy Harrison, who owns Cathy’s Creations, delivered a big bouquet of mylar balloons for some background decor and to make sure I couldn’t downplay my big 6-0.

Thirty minutes before the event, I put on a pink rhinestone tiara that crowned me “Birthday Queen,” took a birthday selfie, and poured a glass of wine. I set my birthday cake next to me on the desk with a fork and plate and started my Zoom event. Then I waited. What if no one showed up? There would have been tears on my keyboard for sure! But they did, and it was just the right sized group.

As each friend signed in, I renamed them with the decade we met (Sandra – 1970’s, Linda – 1980’s). This gave a little context since I had moved a few times (about 20!) during my life. I introduced each person and we shared stories about how we met and some good memories. As we reminisced, I unashamedly grabbed a few forkfuls of cake. Although it was much different from how I imagined I might celebrate my 60th birthday – like taking a little road trip or meeting friends somewhere – this virtual birthday party was surreal and fun!

Memories

This event brought back memories, and of course, I thought about how much things have changed over the years. Besides a lack of technology, growing up we had rotary phones, bomb drills during the cold war, weird aluminum ice cube trays, seatbelts that were just lap belts, and jungle gyms. And yes, I stuck my tongue to a frozen metal bar on the playground once.

It’s a wonder I’m still alive. Here are a few near-death experiences:

Laundry baskets make good baby carriers

When my daughter April was born, the hospital staff had to inspect our baby carrier to make sure it was secured correctly in the back seat of the car before they would let us take her home. This is a far cry from my own journey home from the hospital as a newborn. My parents bundled me up and placed me in their laundry basket in the back seat of their 1956 Rambler and off we went. No appalled hospital staff running after the car and calling the police about child endangerment! Once home, my bed was a dresser drawer until Grandma Trapp protested and bought a nice crib for me.

Before my daughter April was born, my mother asked if I would like my old crib. I declined it because it didn’t meet all of the current safety standards of the 1990s with its wider-spaced rails and old varnish. My earliest memory is knawing on that top wood rail! As for the laundry basket? My mother is still using it for laundry.

Mercury is fun!

I learned about liquid metals during third grade at Will Moore Elementary in Bismarck, North Dakota. Our teacher had a sample of mercury to show us and let us pass it around. I do not remember if it started off in a glass beaker, but I remember it ended up in our hands, being passed from kid to kid. It was heavy and cool (not 1960’s slang, but the literal meaning). Then it ended up on the floor, first spilling into a shiny silver puddle and then breaking off into shiny little silver beads that rolled away in all directions. We scurried to catch them all, which (fortunately) was impossible to do with our hands, but it was fun to try. My memory is fuzzy after that…

A glue-sniffing skunk

When I was little, if anyone asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answer was an actress or singer. But I was pretty shy, so after we moved from Bismarck, North Dakota to Tallahassee, Florida, my parents enrolled me in drama class with the Tallahassee Little Theatre. We met on Saturdays at the Unitarian Church and yelled and jumped around the stage to warm up our expressive young selves.

One Saturday morning, we auditioned for the summer production of Winnie the Pooh. I had a cold and stuffy nose and blame that for my casting as a skunk. But not the real skunk. No, I was the understudy to the real skunk. Nevertheless, all understudies needed their own costumes since the stage needed to be full of forest animals. I even had two lines: “AAAAAAAgh,” and “Kanga’s coming!” I had arrived.

My mother dutifully sewed my skunk costume with white yarn fringe from the top of my head to the end of my bushy tail. On dress rehearsal day we forest animals were lined up for inspection. One thing was missing from everyone’s costumes: noses. Instead of face paint, they decided pink pom-poms would be more visible. Out came the rubber cement! We each got a swipe of it on our noses and had to hold the pom-poms in place for a bit while it dried. It stung, smelled, and gave us headaches. This was repeated for the live performances and we got used to it. We were a bunch of high little forest animals. Ponds lemon cold cream removed the residue and face paint. I still have that nose in the empty jar and it smells like lemons and rubber cement. Why did I keep it? Because it makes me laugh.

Mementos

Barbara Trapp wearing pink birthday tiaraMy friends chide me for some of the mementos I keep. I still have the ballet flats I painted ruby red for my role as Dorothy in my high school’s production of The Wizard of Oz. Then there’s a pair of wrap-around Sea & Ski sunglasses from the ’60’s that I got at a yard sale with my best friend Donna when I was about nine. She called them ‘boy watchers’ and I decided I needed those for my teenage years. And I have a flattened paper hat from my first job at Krystal, the job that made me realize I had a good work ethic.

Aren’t all Certified Professional Organizers minimalists? It’s all about personal choice. I’m not an extreme minimalist and I don’t push that on my clients. The few things I’ve saved don’t take up much space or cause quality-of-life issues. For now, they spark joy, but eventually, I’ll let them go so my daughter doesn’t have to deal with them. But if I have to choose, I’ll pick my new tiara over the dried-up skunk nose any day. Every woman needs a tiara!

Need help getting your systems in place and decide what to keep and let go of?

Call 904-500-7678 (SORT), message me or schedule your free consult. I’d love to help you get some clarity so you can live the life you desire!

Barbara Trapp, CPO®, Certified Professional Organizer® and Productivity Coach
Zen Your Den®  and Zen Your Biz™
Professional Member, NAPO (National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals)
Life Transitions Specialist, NAPO
Residential Organizing Specialist, NAPO
Workplace Productivity Specialist, NAPO

Win Your Day with Time Blocking and Time Boxing

When stressed and overwhelmed, even the most disciplined person can lose their way. According to Parkinson’s Law, work will expand to fill the time allotted to it. Cyril Northcote Parkinson’s direct quote is, “It is a commonplace observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” He wrote this in reference Read More

When stressed and overwhelmed, even the most disciplined person can lose their way. According to Parkinson’s Law, work will expand to fill the time allotted to it. Cyril Northcote Parkinson’s direct quote is, “It is a commonplace observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” He wrote this in reference to bureaucracy, but it is a perfect explanation for what happens to tasks and projects without boundaries. Tiffanie Wen provides an excellent deep dive in her article, “The Law That Explains Why You Can’t Get Anything Done.

Projects and Tasks

Every project should have a deadline. A deadline, whether imposed by you or someone else, creates a boundary, and boundaries are good. Not only do they provide structure, but they also help you prioritize.

According to David Allen’s GTD system (Getting Things Done), anything that requires two or more tasks to complete is a project. And if a project has a deadline, the tasks that support it should also have their own deadlines. If you have six important tasks to accomplish in a month, but only four have specific deadlines, those tasks with deadlines will be prioritized at the top of the list. The two tasks with vague or non-existent deadlines will flounder at the bottom of the list and may not get done at all.

So how can you structure your day so that your tasks and projects actually are completed? How do you motivate yourself when you are staring at a monitor or junk room and overwhelmed at the enormity of the work ahead? By putting boundaries around your time with Time Blocking, Time Chunking, and/or Time Boxing.

Before I explain how this works, let’s weed out one term. Time Blocking and Time Chunking are used interchangeably, so I will refer only to Time Blocking and Time Boxing in this article.

Time Blocking

Schedule for Time Blocking in 25 Minute Increments

Time Blocking involves dedicating a block of time to a task or project. With the Pomodoro Method, developed by Frances Cocirillo, you work for 25 minutes, take a five-minute break, and repeat. One round of this is referred to as a Pomodoro (think of a traditional tomato-shaped kitchen timer). After the fourth round, take a longer break. Are you dreading a big, time-consuming project? It’s less overwhelming when you only have to commit to 25 minutes of intentional work at a time. This graphic shows what that might look like.

That’s a strict schedule but with about six hours and forty minutes of focused work time. Think that’s not enough? According to a study of 2,000 office workers, most people who work an eight hour day are only productive for about three hours. So, if you achieve this schedule, you are twice as productive as most. There are health benefits for breaking up your work session. According to the American Optometric Association, to prevent eye strain, follow the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, take 20 seconds to stare at something at least 20 feet away. Working within short blocks of time can help achieve that.

Hacking the Tomato (Pomodoro)

Schedule for Time Blocking in 50-Minute Increments

For most tasks, the Pomodoro method works for me. But when I get in a writing zone, I don’t want to stop. If stopping after 25 minutes feels like an interruption that stymies your workflow, try different durations until you find one that works for you. In his book, The Time Chunking Method: A 10-Step Action Plan for Increasing Your Workflow and Skyrocketing Your Productivity, Damon Zahariades found he works better with longer blocks/chunks of time. This graphic shows a much more condensed schedule for six and a half hours of focused work.

Time Boxing

Time Blocking is an excellent way to stay on track, but you can still stretch a project out without additional boundaries. Enter Time Boxing. With this technique, you set a limit on the amount of time you will spend on a task or project. If you want to get a blog post written in four hours, schedule the time on your calendar and get to work. At the end of the four hours, evaluate if the task is done or “good enough.” If you absolutely must spend more time on it, then schedule the minimum amount of time you might need to finish.

This is an excellent practice if you have perfectionist tendencies. And if you often miscalculate how much time a task or project takes to complete, this technique will help you create more realistic estimates – a key component of good project management.

Time Blocking vs. Time Boxing

So which technique should you choose? Either will help you manage your time better, but they can also be used effectively together. Use Time Boxing to schedule when you will complete a task and Time Blocking to keep your focus and momentum during that time limit.

I’d love to hear what works for you. How do you manage your time?

Need help with productivity? Call 904-500-7678 (SORT), message me or schedule your free consult. I’d love to help you get some clarity so you can live the life you desire!

Barbara Trapp, CPO®, Certified Professional Organizer® and Productivity Coach
Zen Your Den®  and Zen Your Biz™
Professional Member, NAPO (National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals)
Life Transitions Specialist, NAPO
Residential Organizing Specialist, NAPO
Workplace Productivity Specialist, NAPO

Get a Password Manager and Get Organized!

Note: This post includes referral links and although clicking on them won’t cost you more, as an Amazon Associate and LastPass affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases. You Need a Password Manager “It’s on a piece of paper somewhere. Maybe the back of an envelope or a Post-it note? Where is it?!” And so begins Read More

Note: This post includes referral links and although clicking on them won’t cost you more, as an Amazon Associate and LastPass affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

You Need a Password Manager

Colorful sticky notes on laptop keyboard
You need a password manager!

“It’s on a piece of paper somewhere. Maybe the back of an envelope or a Post-it note? Where is it?!” And so begins the typical search for an elusive password. Eventually, we find it, or give up and create a new one. And that one is hastily scribbled on a small piece of paper, or added to a sheet filled with other user names and passwords, some crossed out and with question marks. I am impressed by how much writing can fit on one page. Words fill the margins, some crossed out and erased, while others swirl around the corners as if in a vortex.

When I work with clients, friends, parents, and other family members, password discovery and recovery is often a time-consuming part of my digital organizing* work. It is frustrating for all when our momentum is stymied by having to stop and search, wait for reset emails to arrive in the inbox, and enter codes and answers to secret questions. But more importantly, weak or overused passwords increase the risk of information and identity being stolen. I always recommend a password manager of some type.

*Digital organizing is streamlining and decluttering your computer and digital workspace such as online accounts, email, document storage systems, photos, spreadsheets, basic word processing, etc.

Everyone needs a password management system, whether paper or online. My preference is an online system, but if you prefer paper, consider a logbook made for that purpose. Please avoid these:

  • A blank notebook. If you handwrite passwords, make it as easy as possible by having templates that include space for a website URL, user name, password, and notes (for security answers, and PINs). If you are in a hurry, you might miss something if you have to write the prompts.
  • Random pieces of paper (this is a habit to break!)
  • Excel or Word (or any other spreadsheet or word processing program). If you are worried about a vetted online password manager being easily hacked, do not try to create your own.

Here are the pros and cons of password logbooks and online password managers:

Password Logbook

What it is:

An organized notebook with templates for storing passwords, similar to an address book. Most have a removable cover to make it unidentifiable.

Pros:
  • Paper can’t be hacked; just keep it in a safe place.
  • If you are not comfortable with technology, this is a simple alternative.
  • You can see everything at once.
Cons:
  • Once found, paper can be read!
  • It’s portable, but not really. In fact, I recommend password logbooks be left at home to reduce the chance of loss or theft. Since you won’t be carrying it with you, you won’t have access to your passwords when you need them. If you forget to bring your insurance card to the doctor’s office you may not be able to easily pull up your insurance site on your phone and email them a card.
  • Passwords must be updated manually.
  • You might be tempted to use simpler passwords that are easier to write quickly.
Here are two examples:
  • The Personal Internet Address & Password Logbook: The cover is removable so as not to identify the contents. Sections are included for internet information such as WIFI set-up, email accounts, internet service providers, etc. Peter Pauper Press offers this in many designs and this brand is my favorite.
  • BookFactory Password Journal/Password Organizer: This book is spiral-bound, which makes it easier to hold and flip through. But the cover has “*******” on the front, so if you purchase this book purely for the spiral binding, cover the title.

Online Password Manager

What it is:

An online tool to manage your passwords. Most have free versions and/or a trial period and an upgrade. The paid versions are subscription-based.

Pros:
  • You can sync across devices and access them from anywhere.
  • Your login information can be auto-filled.
  • You can generate random passwords and have them updated automatically.
Cons:
  • As with anything online, it can be hacked. Follow the recommendations for how often to change and update your master password and follow any recommended protocol – such as two-step authentication – to reduce your overall risk.
  • If you are not familiar or comfortable with using technology, then it might be a challenge to learn.
  • If you lose your “master password” (the one you use to access the site) it may be irretrievable (as with LastPass).
My recommendation:
LastPass by LogMeIn logo in red and black
A password manager and vault app

I’ve been using LastPass for years and it is the password manager I recommend to clients. Each year I check reviews, and as of this writing, it still ranks very high. There are some other good ones – Dashlane and 1Password, for instance – but I have no reason to switch (if I did, I could export the data). I asked two internet security experts about their opinion of password managers in general. Although I expected them to recommend a password logbook, both said they use LastPass!

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Passwords vs. Passphrases

Even if you choose to use an online password manager, there is one password I encourage you to write down and keep in a safe place: your master password. That’s the one you use to access your online account. If you lose it, it can’t be recovered. So what do you use for this critical password?

“Through 20 years of effort, we’ve successfully trained everyone to use passwords that are hard for humans to remember, but easy for computers to guess.” ~ Randall Munroe, author of the popular webcomic XKCD

The differences:

I’ve been hesitant to write this blog post because of all the different and changing expert advice in the tech community. There is some controversy/dialogue over the effectiveness of passwords vs. passphrases. What’s the difference? A password is (or should be) a random group of letters and numbers with maybe a few odd characters thrown in. The key here is random. A passphrase, on the other hand, is made up of random words with or without spaces in between. Although random, you can actually remember it. Some sites might still require you to include a capital letter and number, but a random word grouping with those tweaks is still easier to remember than a random group of characters. Here are examples:

Password: d96wsk!wp3iQ

Passphrase: dog pipe carpet what soup or dogpipecarpetwhatsoup or dogpipecarpetwhatsouP2

Choose your system:

You can dive deeper into the comparison in this article by Ben Wolford from Proton, but this is what I do:

  • I use LastPass. You can find a quick demonstration of LastPass in my YouTube video, A Few of My Favorite Apps at location 6:40.
  • Create a passphrase of five random words for my master password.
  • Let my password manager generate random passwords for all of the sites I store.
  • Designate someone to have emergency access to my password manager.

Do you still want to write things on sticky notes and scrap pieces of paper? Then write the date on them so you’ll have a clue as to what the note was in reference to or how dated the information is. Perhaps the extra work will inspire you to record that information in the right place – like a password manager!

Need help getting your system in place?

Call 904-500-7678 (SORT), message me or schedule your free consult. I’d love to help you get some clarity so you can live the life you desire!

Barbara Trapp, CPO®, Certified Professional Organizer® and Life/Productivity Coach
Zen Your Den®  and Zen Your Biz™
Professional Member, NAPO (National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals)
Life Transitions Specialist, NAPO
Residential Organizing Specialist, NAPO
Workplace Productivity Specialist, NAPO

Virtual Organizing: Nonjudgmental Help From a Distance

Do you finally have time to get organized but don’t know where to start? Need guidance but are practicing social distancing? Well, get ready to Zen Your Den® or Zen Your Biz because Virtual Organizing is here! One afternoon while helping a client organize her closet, I blacked out once and fell off a shelf Read More