The W.A.D.E. Formula for Managing Tasks

When we do studies of how people spend their time, we find, on average… a backlog of 32.4 hours of tasks. That means, on any given day, people feel like they’re drowning in work, like they’re never done, like they can’t ever relax.  There’s too much to do.  But finding a way to triage an overflowing to-do list, whether it’s backed up by a day or three months, is the most liberating action you can take for your workflow productivity and, not to mention, your sanity.


To-Do Apps... A Thing of the Past?

As a productivity professional, clients and audiences often ask if I can recommend a great To-Do app. I’ve looked.  I’ve tested.  I’ve spent more than one night at the App store far past a sane bedtime hour, evaluating what comes up under “productivity” and downloading dozens of top rated to-do apps.  Invested weeks giving them a good kick of the tires.

And guess what?  My answer is always the same…sorry, no --- I haven’t found a great to-do app that gets the job done.    

A sigh of relief usually flickers across the face of the asker.  Tech-savvy folks feel satisfied that they AREN’T missing out on some insider knowledge, and those who clung hard to their paper lists all along, (or gravitated back) feel vindicated. #WhosALudditeNow?

In a high tech world, paper is making a comeback—in a big way. Need proof?  The WSJ’s recent piece The Tech-Savvy To-Do List  focuses on the huge trend of a handwritten to-do note-taking system, (called the Bullet Journal) developed by a….(wait for it), digital designer.

People of every generation are zeroing in on the satisfaction of paper to-do’s for a number of reasons:

·      Paper to-do lists help you remember. The very act of physically writing pen (or pencil) to paper often emblazons the task on your memory, making it easier to recall (even if you never look at the list again.)  Research has shown that students who take notes by hand have a higher retention rate than those who work on screens. 

·      Paper to-do lists help you focus. Going onto a device to use a Task App means entering a carnival of temptations every time.  You inevitably end up lost in email, social media or pet videos- the opposite of getting things done.  By contrast, writing on paper forces a necessary screen break which allows us to access the deeper parts of the brain involved in strategy and decision making.

·     Paper to-do lists help you prioritize. How we fill our days is how we fill our lives. Yet, once tasks become dots on a screen, they seem to feel “cheap” and disposable like every other word we can type and delete on a computer. Handwriting your to-do’s requires a commitment.  Re-writing incomplete to-do's over and over forces you to consider the true value of a task and what's getting in your way. 

·      Paper to-do lists are quicker to access. Flipping open your notebook or calendar to jot down a to-do, right on the day you intend to do it, is much more immediate and less cumbersome than booting up an app. And far less rude in the middle of a meeting—where people take the opening of any device as a signal you are multi-tasking.

·    Paper to-do lists provide a visual record of what you got done—fueling your sense of accomplishment. It enables you to account for where your time has gone.  A system like the new BOUNDLESS notebook with re-arrangeable pages, allows you to organize and group your to-do lists by project, day or person, to assess your workload, and what you might be able to delegate or approach more efficiently moving forward.

So, are To-Do apps a thing of the past? If the surge in sales of paper notebooks is any indication, maybe so.  Simple apps like NOTES or Remember the Milk are fine for routine shopping and errand lists.  But for life’s big choices … Go paper.

5 Secrets of an "Intelligent" To-Do List

It’s essential to choose a to-do list format that works the way your brain works. It needs to allow you to organize your tasks in a way that makes it easier to get things done.  And don't worry if you can’t get to it all, it’s easier to prioritize when you have full context.  And when everything is present and accounted for, it’s easier to stay focused on the moment.

So how do you create a to-do list that works best for you?


The Kindergarten Model of Organizing

Organizing is not just about getting rid of clutter and making the space look “neat”. It’s about designing spaces that reflect who you are and what’s important to you, and arranging things logically and efficiently so that staying organized will be easy for you.

From the day I started my business, I have designed every home, office, and schedule on the model of a kindergarten classroom.


Streamline your workload with the 4 D’s

There will always be more work to do than time to do it. The goal is to make sure you are doing the most important tasks, so you can leave every day with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

Most workers are confident that when push comes to shove, they know what’s truly critical.  But letting go of the excess is a struggle.  Why? We are overly optimistic. We have a hard time saying no. Yet, the burden of a too long to do list is depleting, and makes it hard to turn work off at night.

Just as summer is a great time to declutter your space, now is also a wonderful moment to clear your to-do list.

When your to-do list runneth over... 



3 Time Management Lessons from Mr. Brown

               The most common goal of executives who hire me for time management coaching is to free up time to invest in their teams and to spend with their families.  Intuitively, they know that time spent with people forms crucial bonds, enables personal development and reduces fire drills.   Yet, daily urgencies frequently preempt time reserved for weekly 1:1’s, for “walking the halls” to stay visible and getting home in time for dinner. 

               Protecting time for others requires a willful shift from being reactive (to every distraction and mini-emergency) to being proactive about long term priorities. Is it easy? No.  Is it worth it?  Yes.  To inspire us all, I can think of no better role model than my beloved elementary school Principal, Martin. K. Brown.

               I met Mr. Brown on my first day of 6th grade. My family had just moved to Center City, Philadelphia, and I was nervous about entering a new school where all the kids had been friends since kindergarten.

                Wearing my coolest pleather jumper and a burgundy pullover, I took a deep breath and walked in the front door of Greenfield Elementary School. And there, waiting at the top of the steps, was Mr. Brown, my new principal. “Hello Julie,” he said. “Welcome to your first day!”

                The warmth of that greeting is emblazoned on my memory.  I was stunned; not only was the Principal stationed at the entrance, but he knew my name!  I felt safe, I felt important, and I felt that I belonged. My time at Greenfield ended up being the most formative of my life— a defining era that even now, I can go to in my mind to connect to my most authentic, capable self.

                Not too long ago, Mr. Brown surfaced alive and well on Facebook.  His profile became a super-magnet to students from around the globe.  Within months, hundreds descended upon Philadelphia for an elementary school reunion.

              As I reconnected with friends who looked exactly the same as when we were ten years old (I swear), and alumni from across the decades, one thing was apparent: Mr. Brown had made a similar lifelong impression on every single student who passed through that school.  The accolades revealed that it wasn’t just because Mr. Brown was such a wonderful, wise person…it was because of how you felt in his presence.  

          "When Mr. Brown was around, you just knew everything was going to be alright” 

           "He created an environment that allowed us to soar." 

           “Mr. Brown represented high ideals, and inspired us to do our best” 

                 I sat down with Mr. Brown recently, and asked him how he approached his job, to see what we could learn from him.  His primary goal, he said, was to create a positive environment -- a place that kids (and parents) would remember and feel good about.  To make that happen, he spent his time and attention in three very particular ways. 

  •         He invested time getting to know each student personally.  He learned our interests, personalities, strengths and dreams.  And because our leader recognized us, we felt we could be ourselves. Even 40 years later, at the reunion, we marveled that he not only knew each of us by name, he remembered the names of our siblings and parents. He made us feel like we mattered.
  •         He organized his day around “being there.” No matter what else was on his plate, Mr. Brown did not want students to see him only when they got into trouble. He stopped by classrooms and made sure we saw him in the hallways and lunchroom and at recess. We felt safe, seen and taken care of, because someone was visible and present.  
  •         He promptly resolved issues with love.  Because he had taken the time to establish a good rapport, when kids acted out, he didn't need to yell or threaten. Instead, he'd say (with a glint in his eye), "I know you can do better." He meant it, and we listened.  Conflicts were resolved quickly, with everyone’s dignity intact.

Certainly, Mr. Brown had a rare gift for understanding human behavior and what people need.  But his vision and grace translates to three concrete behaviors we can all practice, whether we are leaders, managers, parents or friends.  No matter how demanding our jobs, it's important to remember that devoting time and attention to people is the best investment you can make. It inspires everyone to be the greatest version of themselves, and leaves a lasting legacy.


Organizing Your Back-to-School Entryway

The end of summer and the month of September mean one thing for parents and kids: back to school time! With new books, new clothes, and new homework every day, the beginning of the school year can be chaotic--but it doesn't have to be! Here are a few ways to keep your entry way clean and clear during the busy start of school season.

Instant Mud Room

Create an instant mudroom with a front hall organizer to keep everything tidy. Keep incoming and outgoing items like supplies, books, and papers stored in bins with labels for easy access. 

Wall Mounted Containers

For all the little things, explore the possibilities of a wall mount with magnetic hanging containers. Perfect for keys, school forms, mail--anything important that might get lost in the shuffle. As your needs change, you can switch out components to accommodate your most active types of items. 

Coat Hooks

To add some creative flair to your front hall while keeping coats organized, consider adding decorative wall hooks--instantly functional art!

Five Ways to Build a Better Bedtime Routine


Labor Day’s late arrival was a mixed blessing. It extended the lazy days of summer with extreme generosity—but now we feel pressured to make up for lost time. As we  rush into fall routines, I’d like to suggest you focus on a critical task: Sleep. 

That might seem counterintuitive when you feel like you never have enough hours in the day. But sleep deprivation is epidemic , and it steals your energy and productivity. Studies also show it can lead to weight gain, memory problems, irritability, and even illness.

A  sleep study released just last week found that people who sleep six hours a night or less are four times more likely to catch a cold, compared to those who spend more than seven hours in slumber land. 

Here's how to get the sleep you need:

  • Change your mindset. Consider whether you think of sleep as the end of one day, or the beginning of the next? Folks who think of sleep as the end of the day often have trouble letting go at night – like little kids who refuse to leave a party for fear of missing out on some fun. Try flipping your thinking—when you view sleep as the beginning of the next day, you can’t wait to get into bed and recharge your batteries.

  • Give yourself time. If you have kids, put them to bed at least 90 minutes before your own bedtime so you can chill out.  

  • Unplug. Set an alarm to go off at least 60 minutes before bed, which indicates it’s time to shut down all devices….no more email, social media, online shopping, or cat videos. While we often turn to them to unwind, research shows they stir us up. Cover all electronics that emit light in your bedroom (alarm clocks, laptops, cable boxes, etc.) Those hazy green lights can make it hard to relax.

  • Establish a soothing routine. Try deep stretches, soft music, a cup of herbal tea or an almond-cherry smoothie. Lay out your clothes for the next day, walk around the house locking the doors, straighten the sofa pillows and bookshelves if that relaxes you. Try spraying your pillow with lavendar. Read a great book in bed (but not on a tablet that tempts you to surf!), or meditate.  

  • Give it a month. Building a new routine takes time and practice. For the rest of September, keep a daily log of whether you succeeded in your sleep goals, reflecting on what worked, what didn’t, and why. Then make adjustments until your sleep routine is as automatic as brushing your teeth. The payoff: Fewer colds, sharper focus, and the energy to bring the best of yourself to your work, friends, family, and goals.

Let me know how these techniques worked for you. To sleep, perchance to dream!



Keepin' your Summer Livin' Easy!

Summer is here and the livin’ is easy! Whether you are a lakeside lounger, poolside recliner, an outdoor adventurist, or a grilling guru, summer activities can be accompanied by a lot of stuff and can leave your best laid organizational plans in a pile of clutter. Here are some ways to keep clutter by the wayside while you get your summer on.

Bike Storage

Keeping bikes up and off the floor make them easy to take out and put away, and keep your space neat. If you have a garage, try hanging bike storage. City dwellers can use a stylish hanging wall mount like this one.

Messy Clothes

Muddy or wet clothes contained right away upon entering your home by creating a receiving station by the front door, in the mudroom or in the garage. Store plastic bags on a paper towel holder to quickly bag up the mess, keep some wet wipes and a towel nearby. Use a wet shoe rack to avoid tracking or dripping, or if you are feeling crafty, make your own!



Barbecuing doesn’t have to be a full weekend production. Prep your food by marinating meat and cutting vegetables over the weekend so that you can enjoy the grill even on a weeknight. A handy tool like this prep station will keep you organized while cooking, and make clean up a breeze.



3 Practical Ways to Break Your Email Addiction

I'm always asked about the title of my book, NEVER CHECK EMAIL IN THE MORNING. Why not? Should I really wait until noon? You don't mean check at all??? My point is that while email is an incredibly powerful tool, it is also highly addictive. Unless careful, it will derail us and prevent us from getting anything else done.

A recent study featured in the New York Times, Stop Checking Email so Often, provides new scientific evidence that you will save time, increase efficiency and reduce stress by resisting the temptation to check email every 5 minutes.

I'm not saying it's easy to break the email addiction, and even when you do, there's a strong chance you'll slip back into your old ways the minute you let your guard down. But, with all of these facts in mind, it's worth refortifying your effort.

Check out this video blog to learn more about three ways to break your email addiction and gain control of your schedule.

  • Completely avoid email for the FIRST hour of the day. This will allow you to center yourself before the distractions of the day hit.
  • Batch process email at designated times throughout the day. Treat email as a focused task -- in intervals that work for your life (e.g. every 2 hours, 3x per day, etc.).
  • Completely avoid email for the LAST hour of the day. Science shows us that screen time overstimulates us and makes it hard to go to sleep at night.

Keep in mind that as with any "addiction," you'll suffer a bit of withdrawal for the first few days, distracted with worry about what you're missing when you are disconnected for an hour or more. But hang in there -- before long, the payoff (time reclaimed to think, create, connect and relax) will become self-reinforcing. Try it. You'll like it.

It's a New Year: Un-JAM Your Life

Tea Cabinet.jpg

This is my tea cabinet. I love going into it every day. Looks great now, but last year, it was an overstuffed mess. Maybe it was the Polar Vortex, but that cabinet became jammed with so many boxes of different kinds of tea that it made my simple pleasure difficult.

In November, I finally took half an hour to get rid of the teas I had bought and crammed in on impulse but never really drank. (Luckily, a dear friend was happy to inherit my castoffs.) 

What I love about this cabinet now is how easy it is on me. It holds ONLY the teas that I use and enjoy. I don’t have to pull things out to see what’s in the back or reach past one box to get to another. That’s one less battle every day. One more way of taking care of myself.

As a professional organizer, I know all too well that New Year’s is the time for traditional messages about self-improvement: Set Big Goals and Achieve Them!  Make it a New Year, New You!  But in 2015, those resolutions seem vacuous and stale—like old cigar smoke lingering on the upholstery and walls.

Seven years following the economic meltdown, what we all need most is to be reminded to nurture ourselves.  We’ve been pushing hard for years, resolving to survive, reinvent, stretch budgets, learn new things. This is not the time to push harder—it’s the time to un-cram our lives to make room for the things that enrich us.

Yesterday, a wonderful, dynamic client told me that she has begun prioritizing sleep since our last session. As she was headed to bed, she’d fought her usual impulse to clean up a pile in the living room and instead climbed under the covers and read. Yes…I told her, remember that moment whenever you have the urge to jam something else in, and build more of those restorative choices into each day. 

My tea cabinet is a symbol of what I mean. Overstuffing anything—not only a physical space but also our time—is a way we put conflict into our own lives. Instead of shoving in another revision to an already good document, squeezing in an extra topic at a meeting, or wedging more projects onto your to-do list, leave some breathing space.

Choosing the peaceful path will slowly, subtly change the texture of your days—from one giant force of will, to a more fluid rhythm of effort and renewal, effort and renewal.  Rather than saving all your rest for bedtime, build in renewing moments throughout your day.

This creates a sustainable life. An enjoyable life. It makes you happier—and surprisingly, more effective in everything you do. Not the traditional way, but an easier one. Try it.

Here’s to a wonderful year.


PS—And if you don’t already have a tea cabinet, make room for one.