Category Archives for "Time Management"

How to Replace Chaos and Clutter with Productivity and Order to Your Home Office – Part I

The Networking Web - Catherine Saykaly-Stevens - How to Replace Chaos and Clutter, with Productivity and Order to Your Office – Part IThis system worked so well for my home office that I’m sharing it. It took me a couple of days to completely revamp. Did you think order would be fast and easy? 

At the end of April 2013, I finished my 5-year plan and then panicked. I realized how much work I had to do, and a book to complete by September of that same year. The house was a mess, my office a disaster, and I had not seen my desk in over year due to all the stuff accumulated on the surface. Everything had to be in view. If an item was not in my line of sight then I would forget all about it. It was a terrible, cluttered mess.

A friend suggested reading, Getting Things Done. This book provided me with a system to follow that would keep chaos and clutter out of my office and off my desk.

While this system does not cost much money, it will cost some time.

The Tools You Need

  • 1 book – Getting Things Done, by David Allen – buy a copy as you will reread it once every six months. (Not kidding)
  • 1 filing cabinet
    • Inexpensive option: 3 collapsible/stackable file boxes. You may need more if you have much paper to file.
  • 6 boxes – use as stackable storage and keep common items together (You can get these at Office Depot, Staples, dollar store)
  • Loose paper or posted notes – Lots of it
  • 1 calendar – I use Google Calendar. I have it on all my electronic devices. You are welcome to use a paper version as long as it is always with you
  • 1 favorite pen – it is good to have sentimental value
  • 1 label maker with fancy label sheets
    • Inexpensive option: blank labels and neat hand writing
  • 1 physical Inbox-It is nice to have a fancy Inbox as it is a permanent fixture on your desk.
    • Inexpensive option: an old shoe box works just fine.
  • Anywhere from 1 to 3 days booked off to get this done. It took me 2.5 days (with few breaks)


Read Getting Things Done, by David Allen. It gives you all the background for the system.

Here is a short version until you have that system down.

Productivity and organization after only three steps:

  1. Empty your office
  2. Label and handle each item individually and only once
  3. Consult weekly updates

Empty your office.

Pile every belonging from your office in your hall or living room. I needed both. Move every item, including those from every drawer, bookshelf, closet, paperclip and even every file. No exceptions!

OK, one exception, the computer. It is temporary.

Note: it took me 2.5 solid days because of the volume of accumulated items. This blog post does not deal with computer files, although organizing them was what I did the weekend after.

Now that the entire office is bare, and clean. It may never be this empty again. It is easy to dust and wipe bookshelves without books getting in the way. I’m sure some of that dust has been there since you moved in.

Label and handle each item individually and once.

  1. Map out in advance where every item will now reside in your office.

(i.e. This shelf gets business books. That shelf gets magazines. This drawer gets paperclips, elastics, and bookmarks.)

Temporarily label those areas with posted notes. You are going to discover how many posted notes you will use in a month. Buy a large pack, multicolour if you can. I got two packs of twenty each at Costco and six months later, will need two more.

The Filing Cabinet

When adding files to the filing cabinet, use the label maker or write clearly. Have a filing system to start and then add each piece of paper to a labeled folder. Feel free to use my system.

  • Banking: business, accounting & tax, personal, receipts, savings, insurance
  • Personal: ‘personal stuff’, photos, medical, memorial
  • Resource: newspapers, pamphlets, handwritten notes, stats, specific books
  • Client: by company name
  • Rejection Letters: Yep! It has its own damn thick file! One day, I will make a collage.

Return all items to your office to a pre-assigned place.

With every item you are about to handle, ask:

  • Do I really need this? 1 of 4 choices: back to the office; basement/storage; recycle; toss.
  • Where in the office is it going to go? It does not enter the office without a designated place.
  • How will I store it in my office?

(i.e. Paper goes in a labeled file folder in the file cabinet. Dictionaries sit in the bookshelf on shelf #3, labeled Resources.)

  • One year from now, how will I know how to find what I need?

(i.e. All paper is labeled in the file cabinet. All books in the bookshelf sit according to its type. Old cell phone invoices are in the business bills’ folder. Loose leaf notes from the Writers’ Workshop in the To Transcribe bin in the bookshelf bottom shelf.)

Now bring every item back handling it only once – if it does not have a spot already go back to (c).

 Any future items brought into the office will have an automatic place, or it does not belong in your office. This is the only way to kill clutter.

Congratulations! You are more than half way there.

 Consult weekly updates

In order for this system to continue working over time, you now have to plan your weekly consult. Any new item into the office goes into one place: the Inbox. Set time aside every week for the items in the Inbox.

  1. The Inbox

The Inbox must capture all the ‘stuff’ you have to do. It can be anything from:

  • the two chapters you have to write by Tuesday
  • the empty battery case you have to pick up
  • the document you have to get signed
  • the query letter you have to write this week
  • the book you must review this week

How the Inbox works:

  • Saythatyouhaveabooktoreview.
    • Place the book into the Inbox as the reminder
    • If you only have a digital copy of the book, on a sheet of paper or a posted note write ‘review this book’ and put the paper into the Inbox
    • Once the book review is done, remove said item from the Inbox
  • Anyitemthatmustbedonecan be written on a sheet of paper and placed in the Inbox. Remove that paper once the task is complete.
    • I have a whole sheet too much so I use posted notes.

How to keep the Inbox from accumulating?

If you are not on top of it, looking at a full Inbox can cause stress.

  • Set aside a weekly or twice a week regiment.
  • Handle every sheet once. If you cannot do it now, set a date to complete the item. Put that date on a calendar.
  • Write book review Tuesday afternoon
  • Email Mary the stats by Wednesday noon
  • Mow the grass Saturday morning

Now your Inbox also extends to your calendar for priority items. I do this step every Sunday by spending 1-1.5 hours in a Weekly Plan and watch the calendar for items due sooner. I prefer to use the ToDoIst reminder App along with the Google calendar.

Warning: If you let your Inbox accumulate and do not have a place for something you brought into the office, the system ceases to function. If need be, double your Weekly Plan time when you are busy.

You may find that you have taken on too many projects on the paper planning stage. It’s better to learn now, rather than later, that you have taken on too much.

Fall off the clear and clutter wagon? I do. Every few months. Here’s how to get back on.


Related Post: Part II – coming in January – What to do when you get overwhelmed and how to get back on track. 

How to Get the Most Productivity Out of 3 Hours 

The Networking Web - Catherine Saykaly-Stevens - How to Get the Most Productivity Out of 3 Hours Procrastination is our lifelong, unwanted companion.

Many authors have full-time jobs. Some have families to raise and other obligations. Finding the time to write is difficult, and when you do, you may be challenged to muster the energy to stick with it.

I’m trying a new way to get 3 hours of productivity, which includes breaks. I invite you to try it.

Distractions destroy your productivity. It is hard to concentrate and stay focused when the mind wanders. Squirrel!

Anyone who has ever met me knows that I strive to learn best time management practices. While different things work for different people, many practices have not worked well for me. Even something that started out strong lost effectiveness over time.

I’m attempting a useful new time management practice and invite you to try it.

Once you’re figured out your available time blocks to work during the week, write them down. Here’s how to make the most out of a 3 hour time block when you’re stuck with a short attention span.

First – Get rid of the greatest distractions.
Phone – silent or off.
Email – closed.
Door – closed.
Social media notifications – whatever beeps, bleeps, peeps, rings or signals, put it away with the volume down.
Advanced: Put your phone away in another room and close the door.  You can do it!

Second – Set a timer.
There are timers online, your smartphone, an egg timer. You can even use the microwave timer if you need to.
Once you’re ready to start, set the timer to 30 minutes. No more!!

Third – practice a little discipline. It’s only for 30 minutes.
Why is this effective? It’s effective because you’re going to take a forced break for 5 minutes once your 30 minutes of work are up.
Your 30 minute is not a long time. So don’t stop working! You know a break is coming fast.

Fourth – when the timer rings, you must take a break.
Stand up.
Get up and get the heart moving. Do a few stretches.
Use the bathroom.
Grab your water/tea/coffee/whatever your poison
You should be able to do this all within 5 minutes.
Set a timer for your breaks as well.

Fifth – Rid the clutter occupying your mind.
Before you start again – clear your mind.
Grab a post-it notepad and write all the things that are on your mind – 1 item per sheet.
Then stick each sheet on the wall beside you until your mind is free and clear to start again.

If something is bugging you while you’re in the middle of the 30 minutes. Fine! Write it on the notepad and stick it to the wall.  You’ll deal with it later and get it off your mind now.

Now rinse and repeat.  Put 30 more minutes on the timer.

With my work schedule, the longest I’ve gone for is the 3 hour block. If anyone tries this for a full day, let me your results. Do you find this effect?  What works for you?