Monday, March 30, 2009

Organizing Advice for the Unemployed

It seems that everywhere I turn someone has lost a job. Countless friends, clients, and family members are being affected by the economy, and find themselves in a confusing new environment - overwhelmed about what to do next. This major life change can cause a big disruption in your everyday routines, habits, and organizing systems. Your goals and objectives need to be re-evaluated; plans re-set; and working space within the home re-defined.

Here are some tips for surviving the organizational challenges associated with a layoff:

1) Communication. Now is the time to start a regular family meeting if you haven't already. Schedules will be in flux, morning routines changed, and you're likely to have more availability to participate in family activities and errands. It's also important to have open and honest communication about finances, emotional states, and short term goals. Your family will be better able to support you during this time of transition if you address issues head-on, rather than avoiding conflict or trying to be a self-sufficient superhero.

2) Treat your job search like a job. Set up your computer email files and workspace as you would your office, and set "office hours" for yourself where you will essentially go to work. Your job will be networking, checking job postings, writing letters/resumes/correspondence/social networking/etc. In setting office hours, you can also manage the temptation to constantly and obsessively be on the computer, which isn't healthy. Remember that this time of unemployment is also a time for reflection, self-evaluation, and re-connecting with your family and friends. Don't forget to set time aside for all of this, which is ultimately more important.

3) Re-evaluate your home office space. If you don't have a designated desk or workspace in your home, now is the time to set up some dedicated space for yourself. Even a small desk in the corner of a room will suffice. The important thing is that you identify a space where you will conduct your job search activity and that serves as your office. Shared space is OK as long as you can work effectively. Remember that Functional Places is never an advocate of having a desk or office in the bedroom if it can be avoided! You will also need to set up appropriate filing systems for your outplacement and severance materials, job leads, contacts, etc.

4) Consider meeting with a financial planner. Find a fee-only financial planner who is not tied to promoting any specific products. He or she can help you look at your current budget, spending habits, and scenarios. You'll know how long you can get by on your severance/unemployment, and what choices you will need to make short-term and long-term. This can help take the stress out of the unknown, and also set up guidelines for family activities during this transition.

5) A professional coach can help you re-evaluate your career goals and do some valuable self-assessment work. Sometimes a layoff offers an opportunity for a much-needed career change or shift; but it can be overwhelming to know where to start or what steps to take. A coach will work with you to identify your goals, set an action plan in place to get you there, and keep you accountable to completing tasks along the way.

6) Take advantage of outplacement services - but don't overdo it. Outplacement services are a wonderful resource, but it's easy to get caught up in trying to take advantage of every seminar, resource, and workshop. Choose the ones that have the most interest for you, and that will give you the most return on your time investment.

7) Keep a daily journal. It's all too common that feelings of depression and low self-worth can do a number on your self-esteem. Rationally, it's easy to say that a job loss in nothing personal; but emotions will certainly be up and down. Keeping a daily journal of what you have accomplished towards your goals, what you are feeling, and monitoring your self-care activities is a great way to keep you on track and give you some positive reinforcement. You will also begin to see patterns about which times of day are your most productive - so that you can set up your daily schedule accordingly.

8) Organize a support group of friends or colleagues that are in a similar situation. Use your meeting time productively - to share ideas, be accountability partners, and help with goal-setting (rather than as "vent" sessions).

9) Keep detailed notes of your networking efforts, and use systems like Outlook to set reminders to yourself for important follow-up phone calls and correspondence. Take notes about each conversation. Next time you speak with a particular contact, you can ask a follow-up question about your last conversation that really shows you are paying attention and on top of your game. Even something as simple as "How did your trip to Chicago go last week?" shows that you have attention to detail.

10) Make a list of projects that you want to complete around the house and prioritize them. Set a goal for what you will do each week so that you don't fall into the temptation of throwing yourself into home improvements and neglecting important job search and self-care activities.

Stay positive, organized, and focused on your goals. Remember that things happen for a reason, and take advantage of this time to make sure that the next step you take is the right one for you and your family.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Justifying the Junk Drawer

We all have one - the infamous junk drawer. Full of items without a home, like rubber bands, scissors, pens, stamps, crazy glue, sewing kits, missing buttons, safety pins, WD-40....

I'm here to tell you it's OK to have a "junk" drawer - provided you follow these guidelines:

Rule 1: You may only have ONE junk drawer. If you have too much stuff for one drawer, that's a sign that you have things that need to be given a home somewhere else. Or discarded.
Rule 2: Nothing that has a home elsewhere goes into the junk drawer. This is not a place to lazily toss stuff in when you are in a hurry.
Rule 3: No trash in the junk drawer. Don't drop in receipts, dead batteries, broken electronics "to be dealt with later."
Rule 4: Organize and review your junk drawer periodically (see below). It's pointless to toss things into a junk drawer to keep them if you have no chance of finding them again.

Organizing your junk drawer can be a quick and easy project that can get you in the groove for organizing other areas in your house. Here's how:

Step 1: Empty the junk drawer entirely. Wipe it out if necessary.
Step 2: Sort the loose items into categories. Put "like" things together in little piles, like all pens/writing utensils; sewing supplies; tape/glue; electronics/batteries; etc.
Step 3: Discard any trash, broken items, or excess/unnecessary items.
Step 4: Measure your drawer and select a drawer organizer that will take advantage of as much space as possible. If the drawer is deep enough, consider a two-level organizer.
Step 5: Place items into the organizer compartments, keeping "like" items together.
Step 6: Repeat annually.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Container Store: Sale, sale, sale!

Well, you can tell the economy is tough when retailers roll out the big sales. Continuing their marketing with Oprah Winfrey's "Clean Up Your Messy House Tour," TCS is now offering 25% off the entire store for nearly a month - through April 13th. To take advantage, visit their website and download a printable coupon to use in store. Or, use the promo code at check-out and try their Click & Pick Up Service.

And, their Elfa line of closet and storage systems is on sale at 30% off through May 10th. This is a great opportunity to invest in some tools to make your space work better. But buyer beware: shopping here is addictive, and too many containers can become clutter, too!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Great Products: Miche Handbags

I'm a sucker for product commercials on TV. In fact, I'm pretty sure Billy Mays could sell me anything. So a few weeks ago, when I saw the spot for Miche handbags, my inner voice said "Don't do it! You don't NEED a new handbag. They're probably not great quality..." You get the idea. But before I knew it, my Amex card was out and I was completing my online order.

It took a few weeks for the shipment to arrive, and during the "cooling down" period, I'd pretty much prepared myself for disappointment. But I can honestly say, I'm thrilled.

What won me over the most about the Miche bag is that it's a very streamlined way to have many different handbag styles without needing all of the storage. The concept is this: you buy one bag and it comes with various "shells" in cute designs, that attach to your bag with credit card-safe magnets. No more swapping out the contents of your purse or stuffing out of season bags on the top shelf of your closet. My Miche also came with a hanging organizer, in which I can store the folded/flat shells. Now I can swap out the shell and have a new look, and the bag comes with two strap lengths for added flexibility.

I expected not-so-great quality, but the bag itself is cute and the shells attach easily and look great. There are a few good compartments inside the handbag itself, too. Two thumbs up!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Reader Question: Office Paper Overload

I got a great question from a good friend who is a young adult author on the Functional Places Facebook page, and decided to post the answer here as part of this blog.

How do I keep my office from becoming awash in paper? I have folders for bills to be paid, and an accordian file for receipts, but somehow my desk ends up *covered* in junk mail, slips of paper, business cards, magazines, and other crap. Help!

Hi Erin, thanks for the great question! Paper management is the biggest challenge my clients face everyday. It takes a lot of work to get it under control, but here are some ideas to get you started.

1) Cut down on how much paper comes into your office in the first place.
  • Consider going paperless and requesting electronic copies of your bank statements, bills, credit card statements, etc. This will greatly reduce the amount of mail that you receive. Of course, you will need to set up folders on your computer to save PDF versions for tax purposes, and remember to back up the files. Check out Carbonite for an easy back-up service.
  • Visit Catalog Choice to opt out of catalogs you don’t want to receive. Remember that most stores have their full inventory online anyway. But be careful…it’s easy to opt-IN for MORE catalogs on this site, too!
  • Opt out of unwanted junk mail at the Direct Marketing Association’s DMAChoice website.
  • Take a hard look at your magazine subscriptions. Which ones are your must-reads? Do you keep up with them? Could you get articles online instead?

2) Purge papers you don’t really need.
Contact your accountant for some advice about how much you need to keep for tax records and for how long. And then take a hard look at what you’re saving and see if some of it can go. Shred anything with personal information on it, or use a shredding service like Northeast Data Destruction.

3) Try scanning (or scanning services) to reduce even more paper.
If you need to hold on to copies of papers for any reason, consider that they can be electronic copies. Here are a few services that I love for this purpose:

  • Pixily is a Netflix-style service for paper scanning. For a subscription plan, you get pre-paid envelopes in which you send in documents for scanning.
  • NeatReceipts is a scanner combined with software that lets you turn your loose receipts and slips of paper into electronic files approved by the IRS.
  • ScanDigital will scan and digitize photos, slides, and even home movies.

4) Set limits and create “homes” for the papers that will remain.
  • Magazine files work well for establishing a space limit for periodicals and catalogs. And when the new one comes in, it’s out with the old issue.
  • Use labels to clearly identify what paper belongs where. It may seem obvious at first, but over time lines can blur, so a label will help you keep everything straight.
  • For business cards, try to enter information into a contact management system and then toss the card. If you prefer to keep the actual cards, look for a rolodex or binder with business card insert pages and organize them by category rather than alphabetically – it’s much easier to maintain.
  • Set up systems that treat papers according to what the next step is that you need to take: to pay, to read, to file, etc. Color-coded folders work really well for this purpose.
  • Consider that ultimately, papers you keep will fall into three categories: be for immediate access, “I might need it in the short term,” and “I have to keep it but will probably never look at it.” The first category of papers (for immediate action) should be located at your fingertips, in action files. The second should be in a filing system that is accessible to you. And the third should go into cold storage or somewhere that doesn’t impact the usable space in your office.

5) Don’t let it build up.
Tackle the mail every day. Recycle or shred junk mail immediately and put the rest into your appropriate action files for processing later. Working on your paperwork in a batch mode can be very effective and efficient. And if you don’t let it build up, it will be far less overwhelming. Set a goal for a once-weekly attack of the paper pile.

Good luck and let me know how it goes!