Uncomplicate your computer

Our digital devices are working overtime right now helping us with work, school, information, and entertainment. But when was the last time we showed them a little maintenance love?

Last year I contemplated getting a new desktop computer. Yes, I am one of the few that doesn’t have a laptop. Given my line of work, I don’t need a laptop to perform my regular organizing tasks and I prefer the larger screen on my desk. 

I seriously considered buying a new computer because 1. mine was 8 years old and 2.  running sooooo slowly. It would take too much time to switch screens, open windows, or even save a file. 

But before I took the plunge to spend $$ on a new system, I checked with my friend, Chris Strickland to see if he could help.

Chris owns CleverGreen Technology which is like a help desk for personal computer users. You can check out his website for more of his wizardry capabilities. Long story short, he fixed my computers issues quickly and efficiently with some additional RAM and attention.

So when a client recently reached out to me seeking advice on computer clean up and organization, I reached out to Chris. 

He provided me with some excellent ideas and tips that you can do at home to help #uncomplicate your computer. 

Here are Chris’s expert tips tips for you to uncomplicate your computer so it keeps working well:

1.     Know where your files are saved

  • Identify a central file/folder location that’s easy to find – iCloud, OneDrive, Google Drive
  • Give you folders names that make sense and are searchable
    • Example: Finances -> 2020 -> January; 
    • Example: Family -> Vacations -> 2020 -> Location

2.       Use tools like Malwarebytes to detect malicious software on your computers

  • The free version works for most people and gives you the ability to scan when you feel like something’s amiss

3.       Keep your devices clean

  • Clean your mobile phones and tablets
  • Don’t spray anything directly on your technology’s surface
  • Use a microfiber cloth
  • Don’t use aerosol sprays, bleaches or abrasives
  • Don’t over-wipe it could damage the finish of your screen

4.       Make sure you have enough internet speeds to accommodate new ways of working and schooling

  • 70Mbps download speed is a good threshold to aim for. If you have less than 70MBps, you may run into spinning wheels or screen choppiness
  • Call your provider to check your service level
  • Use speedtest.net to test the WiFi around your home – either the website or mobile app

One last tip that I will give since I ❤️ decluttering:

  • Delete any files you no longer need. One way is to go to Finder and sort your files by Date Last Opened. Only Delete files, spreadsheets, and documents. Leave any file that you don’t know its “Kind” alone.

Uncomplicate your desk

Welcome to my least liked day of the year:  Daylight Savings Day. Losing an hour of sleep just makes me crazy. I know it’s minor but a fun fact about me is that I loathe losing time…..and sleep!

Here’s a heads up for this week:  Tuesday is National Organize Your Home Office Day so I’m going to help you get ready for the festivities early.

I always get questions about organizing home offices because it’s a relatively new concept. It’s not like we grew up watching our parents work out of their home offices. 

Correctly setting up and organizing a home office is hard because home is supposed to be relaxing, easy going, and calm. We don’t want to think about strategies, deadlines, rules, and expense reports in the same place we binge on Netflix, raise families, and share meals with loved ones.

The reality is more of us work from home  today, at least some of the time, and ALL of us need some kind of office to pay bills, go through the mail, and file important papers. 

Where do you get started on uncomplicating your office? At the top: the top of your desk

Understand that any horizontal space can become a clutter magnet. Your desk quite easily becomes the home of “I don’t know what to do with it so I’ll deal with it later but I don’t want to forget about it.” Sound familiar? 

Today is the day to make those decisions and finally #uncomplicateyourdesk

  1. Pick the easy stuff first and throw away any obvious trash on your desk: dirty tissues, papers you no longer need, receipts that you don’t need, etc.
  2. Remove everything that doesn’t belong in the room / area. These would be your coffee cups, extra sweater, kids’ lacrosse gear, Amazon shipment that isn’t office supplies, etc. 
  3. Next, group the remaining contents by category which will be unique for everyone. Some examples are:
    * work related
    * bills to pay
    * papers to file
    * pictures to put away
    * sentimental cards to save

    Notice that the last 3-4 categories are “things that need to be put away and thus not stored on the desk top”
    Ultimately, you are going to have to designate a home for these items. It might be a pretty box or basket for sentimental cards and photos; a file folder for home or car related papers & bills.
    ***I’m putting together a workbook on uncomplicating & organizing your papers at home. Stay tuned!***
  4. The only things that should be on your desk at this point are things that you need there because you are actively working on it and things that you really want there because it makes you happy, like flowers or pictures. 
  5. If you’re not actively working on something, off to its home it goes!

 This week: I want you to organize your desk top. Follow the steps above to get the top cleared off. Going forward, follow these guidelines to keep it that way!

  • Adopt a clear desk policy for your desk at home. This means that you put everything away on your desk before you shut down for the end of the day. 
  • Get a pretty basket or bin to (temporarily) store your papers to be filed. Think rectangle, open top, no taller than 3″ high.
  • Take advantage of any vertical space and keep the papers that you are actively working on within easy reach with a desktop file sorter like this one, or this one in gold or rose gold, or this fancy acrylic one.
  • Set aside 5 minutes each day this week to work on some aspect of your desk: filing papers, putting away things that don’t belong there
  • To help you out, I’ve attached a copy of my Organized Office Essentials Checklist to help with your office organization.

Depending on the state of your desk, there will be a lot to do but once you get a system in place, it will be a cinch and you’ll breathe much easier. 😁

Photo by Canva

Mail Management Made Easier

mail management tips

One of the biggest challenges I hear from clients and on social media is how to manage mail. Even though most of what’s in our mailbox is junk, it comes everyday and deposits more and more on our already lengthy to-do list.

While we all thought paper was going away 20 years ago, it is here to stay and has a much stronger effect on our well being that we realize. If we don’t deal with it in a timely manner, we can face late charges, fines, fees, in addition to a mountain of papers cluttering our home.

To manage your mail most effectively you need to set up a system for storing and processing it quickly and easily Here are my tips to make it easier on you so you can go do something fun!

  1. First and foremost: do not bring junk mail in your home! Go through it if you can before you bring it in the door and throw away any junk. Drop it in the recycle bin so you don’t have to process it again.
  2. Get a pretty basket or bin that you can use to put the mail when it comes in your home. It should be large enough to hold magazines and large envelopes so get something that’s at least 10” x 14” but no taller than 4”. The larger it is the more stuff will get dumped in there.
  3. Open mail as soon as you can. It’s good to separate the bills and important financial statements from the personal and toss any unnecessary paperwork like extra envelopes or fillers. 
  4. Designate a location and time for paying bills. The location should be close to where you will actually pay the bill so that might be your desk where your computer and/or checkbook and stamps are. Once you pay the bill, file the statement in the appropriate folder (see #6).
  5. Process personal mail as soon as you can. Put social occasions and appointments on your calendar. I like to keep the invitation and personal letters for a while on a bulletin board but it’s not necessary. 
  6. Set up a filing system for the bills and mail that you want and need to keep.* Life is much easier when you can just drop the statements or letter in a labeled, open top hanging file. The more actions you have to complete to put papers away (such as pulling out boxes, opening lids, lifting papers out, etc) the less likely it is to be completed. 

Overall, it’s best to minimize the amount of unwanted mail you receive so that there is less to process. To take yourself off of credit card and insurance offer lists, go to optoutprescreen.com and register your address to opt out of receiving credit or insurance offers. For catalogs, call the company’s Customer Service department directly and ask to be taken off their list.

While people aren’t sending as many personal letters these days (hey, let’s bring that back!) we certainly do have more papers coming in to our mailbox than our parents did. Take a few minutes to set up a system and you’ll spend less time dealing with it later when you’d rather be doing something fun or productive!

Happy organizing!

*If you’re not on the list already, go to Neatsmart.com to get your copy of my Paperwork to Keep resource which tells you how long to keep important papers like bank statements or financial documents.


Organization Client Case Study: Shared Workspace

I recently worked with a repeat client and it is so interesting to see how a person’s life improves after getting just parts of their home organized, even if it’s not all at once. In the spirit of honesty, I will disclose that this client is my lovely and talented sister, Laura, creator of Mixonian Institute and expert communicator, who helps me infinitely and also was a key inspiration to my starting Neatsmart. “So, you’ve worked with her more than once, does that mean she is a hoarder  living with 14 cats and a Red Sea pathway through her house?” No, quite the contrary: she lives with minimal contemporary societal trappings (meaning she doesn’t have a lot of excess stuff), has great appreciation for aesthetic beauty, is well educated and highly intelligent, eloquently charming and funny BUT she can be disorganized. Disorganization exists on many levels and in fact we are all disorganized about something in our lives so don’t think you are immune. There is only so much time in a day to get all the things done that we want to accomplish and organizing stuff is not something that most people want to allocate a lot of resources to do. I, on the other hand, love sorting, purging, organizing, etc. which is why I do it for others.

But let’s keep talking about Laura and how her life improved by getting organized. By Manhattan standards, her home is enormous. By Southern standards she has a small, efficient house that she shares with her husband, sometimes 3 children (one has graduated college and lives away, one is in college but home for the summer, and one is in high school), and 2 dogs.  Every piece of furniture has to be functional and everything in her home needs to serve a purpose. In reality, that’s the way it should be for all of us. An object’s purpose might be to look pretty but that is a valid purpose; we need to surround ourselves with things that we love, that serve us functionally, and that we find to be beautiful, as I mentioned in this previous post.

When I work with clients, one of the first thing I need to know is what is the order of priority;  what area is giving them the most headache and will thus have the greatest impact on them.  The first priority here was to get the office in order. There is the desk area in their living room with the computer, printer, supplies, files, and there is the personal work area which contains her laptop, cell phone docking area, books and magazines for research. While this might sound unconventional to those who have a designated room for their office, I know this set up is common for households that do share a computer. Her desktop computer is in a main part of the house and needs to be tidy (not an eyesore) because of its public location and service for work and homework. She needs this area to be an inspiring environment where she can be productive, find any supplies or files she needs in a split second, and have space for others to store their office and homework necessities.  It is the ultimate shared workspace.

Workspace Before
Workspace Before

So what did Neatsmart do to get this shared workspace in order? I solved the majority of her desk clutter issue by installing a bookcase to store office supplies and her filing system. It is essential to any office space to be able to easily find stamps, envelopes, paperclips, scissors, extra printer paper, notepads, construction paper, glue, tape and anything else you, or anyone who uses that area, might need. They also need to know where to put it back once they are finished. In short, everything needs a home that is easy to find. If everyone would spend about 15 minutes a day putting things away, the entire world would be tidier and less stressed–talk about a butterfly flapping its wings.

Bookcase to the rescue
Bookcase to the rescue!

We also got rid of things that didn’t need to be there or that weren’t being used–this has a huge impact because you realize that you have more space and can breathe! One of those things was the analog phone that had been collecting dust on the desk. They got rid of their house phone number but the base unit was still there. Why, you ask? Because nobody had time to disentangle it from the mass of other cords and cables under the desk. Sound familiar?

And finally, we sorted papers, notebooks, and files so that similar subjects and topics were stored together. Laura has several businesses she operates, including a non-profit organization, Charleston International Music School, so she needed to keep each entity’s materials but easily accessible.  So everything needs a home but you also need to keep things together that belong together. We created distinct areas for Mixonian, CIMS, Coaching Clients, Books in progress, in addition to the regular files like bills, financial statements, school papers, and medical information. It is essential if you work from home that you have a separate filing drawer or cabinet for your personal and home related files. You definitely don’t want to co-mingle your EOBs, credit card bills, or mortgage statements with your Client Files!

So how has organizing her shared workspace improved her life?  Here is what she had to say:

Laura Camacho“I feel better and am already more productive. Seeing your workspace neat is a major motivator. Seeing that one space can be organized shows you that anything can be organized and orderly. You feel a wonderful sense of accomplishment.”    Laura Camacho

Happy organizing!

An Unconventional Home Office Organization Project

Here is another example of a home office project that I recently completed that I wanted to share. This office was a little unconventional in that my client works from home at her dining room table and travels across the country. She needed to have her work materials easily accessible and had 2 cabinets in a buffet (remember this is her dining room) set aside for office storage.  No problem. The issue was that it was very inconsistent with what was put in these cabinets and office supplies ended up being scattered throughout the house. The printer was next to the kitchen, extra paper was in the living room, personal papers like medical records and bills were mixed in with client papers, books were stacked with work related items, and you get the picture. There wasn’t a huge amount of chaos but it was just cluttered which is where I think a lot of us live. We aren’t about to be featured on Hoarders but we end up wasting a lot of time looking for things and then spend money buying things that we already have because we can’t remember where we put something. Starting to sound familiar?

Here is the office storage. I didn't crop this picture like I normally do. The round lump in the lower right hand corner is a cat.
Here is the office storage. I didn’t crop this picture like I normally do. The round lump in the lower right hand corner is a cat.

Closeup of the cat. She was not happy to see me.
Closeup of the cat. She was not happy to see me.

So here is how we fixed the problem:

Right cabinet before
Right Cabinet Before

Left Cabinet Before
Left Cabinet Before

Separate work from personal– It doesn’t matter where you work you must separate personal stuff from work stuff, even if you work on it in the same room. This can mean a separate drawer or box in the same cabinet but you should not mix these types of papers in your filing system. You should also store personal books separately from “work” or business books. It is important to have defined spaces in your home for where you store and manage specific information so that you know where things go and how to find them later. This is critical for the home based executive or entrepreneur so that you are establishing boundaries between work and home activities. In this project, the first thing we did was to clear out the personal books, bills, mail, bank statements, etc that didn’t have to do with her day job out of the 2 cabinets and located them elsewhere.

Cleared out personal stuff and got a shelf to make good use of vertical space. Binders are labeled so time isn't wasted wondering what is in each of them.
Cleared out personal stuff and got a shelf to make good use of vertical space. Binders are labeled so time isn’t wasted wondering what is in each of them.

Utilize your vertical space-This particular cabinet was a decent size but most of it was vertical. We got 2 shelves from the Container Store that fit perfectly in the cabinet (measure twice, shop once) which allowed us to store notebooks on the shelf and smaller items on the bottom. You have to be careful when retrofitting shelves into an existing piece especially an antique, to make sure you have the right size and you don’t damage anything. Be careful of sharp edges and corners.

Labeled binders for traveling to client locations are now stored together.
Labeled binders for traveling to client locations are now stored together.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”– This client travels extensively for work so we created separate notebooks for each area that she visits regularly, expanding on her existing organziation system that works well for her. She had started notebooks for each location but some were makeshift folders or old binders that were falling apart. Now each place she visits has its own labeled binder that is easy to find and put away when she comes back from her trips.

Filing cabinet for personal information, printer, paper, and ink cartridges. Talk about neat being smart!
Filing cabinet for personal information, printer, paper, and ink cartridges. Now neat really is smart!

Keep your personal life in order– This project did necessitate the acquisition of a filing cabinet which served 2 purposes: a place to store personal files and documents and it holds the printer and extra paper and ink. These items had all been stored in different rooms of the house because no home had ever been assigned to them. I can’t tell you how important it is to designate a home for everything in your life. Think about it, you need to know where to put your cell phone, keys, winter clothes, gift wrap, scissors, tape, and so forth. The same applies to your office and really any room in your house. Now my client has an easy filing system for her bills, medical information, financial statements, etc. and a place for all of it. Her printer is now located close to her work area which means no more traipsing through the kitchen to pick up a document that was printed. Extra paper and ink cartridges are stored in top drawer so no more going to the living room to find backups. Even better, the filing cabinet is on wheels so it can be moved when she entertains….talk about multitasking!

This was an example of one home office that is a little different from those that are in specified rooms and now it functions really well for my client. She reports that she’s very happy with the results and has saved time getting ready for trips because she can find everything easily. Also, she feels more motivated to get work done because her office isn’t so cluttered and her materials aren’t scattered in different, possibly unknown locations.

I think she’s found out that neat really is smart and now it saves you time and money as well!

Happy organizing!

Home Office Organization Project

It’s amazing how our homes have evolved through the past few years to no longer have formal dining or living rooms and instead a home office is absolutely imperative. Forget about formal entertaining and guest rooms; we need a place to set up a computer, phone, supplies, etc. It’s the same in my house but our problem is that we have 2 people who work from home. I’m sure there is some social evolutionary commentary that could be made but I’ll leave that to you readers.

I recently worked with a client who needed her home office organized so she could find what she needed at any particular time. Although she knew where things were (roughly) there was no method to the madness and the stacks were getting higher. Here is her Must Have list:

  1. Catalogs from suppliers
  2. Samples to send out – business cards, pens, notepads, totes, cups
  3. Order files
  4. Project files pending later date
  5. Project files I am working on now
  6. Rush order file
  7. Printer supplies – ink, paper
  8. Idea files – for my creative thoughts that happen spontaneously during the day or night…ha ha
Fortunately, she had plenty of available space in the office with built in bookcases and cabinets. We didn’t have to buy any furniture either. I just had to figure out the best way to maximize the available space and designate homes for all of her different supplies, catalogs, files, orders, etc.

Cabinet had become a disorganized dumping ground for all kinds of supplies. She wasn’t even sure what all was in here.

Another cluttered cabinet. She knew some of what was in here but the space wasn’t designated for anything specific.

Desk area before. Her papers kept falling out of the stacking file and the stacks were starting to take over.

So you’d probably agree that this wasn’t the most inspirational place to work, let alone be productive. That’s one of the hidden costs of disorganization: you not only spend valuable time looking for things but you also have to work harder to motivate yourself to work in a cluttered, draining environment.

After discussing her needs and work patterns in more detail, I got a better idea of what she needed to have access to on a regular basis and what her day typically entailed. I was able to designate specific areas for some of her important tasks like sending samples to clients, accessing vendor catalogs, storing office supplies, storing shipping supplies, tracking current “active” projects, and my personal favorite, a calendar so she can easily determine ship times, current and future activities, and other important dates.

Office supplies now have a home. This includes software manuals, tape, paperclips, special printing papers, etc.

This is where samples to be sent out are stored next to shipping supplies thus grouping similar activities together. Smart and neat!

Nice desk. All active project information is easily accessible in stacking file holder.

But I ask you to take a look at the finished product and tell me how you feel. Isn’t neat, organized, and clear smart? I thought so. 😉

Happy organizing!