Thursday, December 4, 2008

Beating Back the Inbox, Part 1:

Do you open up your e-mail and find countless new messages? If you belong to a few list serves or online groups, the daily chatter can sometimes be overwhelming. Also, if you shop online, the websites you use like to fill your box up with lots of advertisements and sales.

An easy way to deal with those pile ups is to set up folders to receive the messages according to sender, and to create a "rule" to automatically place incoming messages into the appropriate folder so you can deal with them later. If you have one person who constantly sends you jokes or other forwarded messages, you can create a rule for messages from that person and you can review these message when/if you have time.

Here is a screen shot of my folders that I set up in my Inbox. I use Microsoft Outlook 2007.

Shown are folders for several list serves that I belong to, and a categoryI created for Shopping Offers/Newsletters and other stuff (non-urgent items which I can review and discard in bulk at a later time).

Here are the basics on how to do it, using Outlook 2007. This information was obtained from the following link on . If you follow the link, you will see additional information on other variations of creating rules.

How to Create a rule from a message

You can create a rule directly from a message. For example, you can create a rule to move messages from someone to a specific folder.

  1. Right-click the message that you want to base the rule on, and then click Create Rule on the shortcut menu.

    In the Create Rule dialog box, select the check boxes for the options that are already filled in with information from your selected message.

  2. Select the Move the item to folder check box.
  3. Click an existing folder or click New to create a new folder to store the messages.
  4. To add more conditions, actions, or exceptions to the rule, click Advanced Options, and then follow the rest of the instructions in the Rules and Alerts Wizard.

    Tip To run the rule as soon as you create it, select the Run this rule now on the messages already in folder check box on the last page of the Rules and Alerts Wizard.

    All the messages in your Inbox, or any folder that you choose, that meet the conditions and exceptions associated with the rule are moved to the specified folder. To test your new rule, open your new folder. Were the correct messages moved?

Using Google G-mail? G-mail uses labels instead of folders, and filters instead of Rules. Click to learn about Labels and Filters.

Using Yahoo Mail? Click here to learn about Filters.

I also create folders for items that I need to keep or follow up on and manually move messages into them. I will expand on those folder uses next month.

Wishing you all a very Happy and Healthy Winter Holiday Season and a Happy New Year!

If you need help with organizing, simply call Linda!

This article may be reprinted, shared, forwarded or re-posted on a non-exclusive basis as long as Linda Groat's name and contact information is included.

Previous month’s tips can be viewed at and at .

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Saturday, November 8, 2008

Permanent Record Storage; Not Urgent; but Important!

One of the things I usually find when I help people organize their home records is that many do not have a permanent home for their most important documents. Birth/marriage/death certificates, life insurance policies and passports are often mixed in with bills, car repair records and appliance manuals. Renting a safety deposit box is certainly one option for keeping these documents safe and provides secure storage in the event of a fire or theft; however; there is the added yearly cost and the need to go somewhere else to access any needed documents.

Another convenient option is to purchase a fireproof storage file box, like this one available from Target. The price here is listed about $100; however; I have purchased it at my local Target for around $45. It accommodates hanging files in a built in frame, which is very handy for finding what you need. It can be locked, if desired, and stored in the basement or a closet. It will protect documents for a specified amount of time from fire, and flood-proof boxes are available, as well. Be sure to check the label of the box before you purchase to make sure you get the one that will best meet your needs. Once you have purchased the file box, you can organize your records. Internal file folders are not necessary if you are using hanging files and will add bulk to your files. Just use one hanging file per topic. Print labels using your label maker to make it look sharp and professional. Here are some suggested organizational groupings.

• Adoption Papers

• Certificates (here you can group Birth Records, Marriage Certificates, Death Certificates, Business Certificates or DBA, Tax numbers, social security cards, professional certificates, jewelry appraisals, diplomas, loan payoff statements, automobile titles)

• House Deed/purchase information

• Important Stuff (passwords, copies of wallet contents, personal letters/Momentos)

• Letters to Children (written when they are small to be opened at some future date)

• Life Insurance Policies

• Passports

• Evaluations & Reports (psychological/education testing records)

• Resumes

• Trusts

• Wills/Health Care Proxy/Living Will/ Power of Attorney (for yourself and any other family members you may need to assist)

This list is merely a guideline and will be different depending on each person’s circumstances, but it gives you a starting point. I will never forget how about 10 years ago, I found that I was missing my husband’s car title, two years after its purchase, because I was purging my files and setting up my permanent record files and realized it was not there. It turned out that the dealership never sent it to us, but I would not have known that had I not been purging the unneeded info and sorting things out.

Wishing you all a very Happy and Healthy Thanksgiving Holiday!

If you need help with organizing, simply call Linda!

This article may be reprinted, shared, forwarded or re-posted on a non-exclusive basis as long as Linda Groat's name and contact information is included.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Simply Access Your Credit Report!

In order to stay on top of your personal credit, you need to see what is on your report. Inaccuracies can include incorrect names, addresses, social security numbers, erroneous accounts, etc. Also, you may have opened accounts you no longer need or want. In order to monitor your credit, you need to access your Credit Report on a regular basis. If you find problems, information can be disputed and corrected using the process detailed by the credit bureau. The following information was obtained from the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse Website, and you can visit the site for more details.

“Thanks to the federal FACT Act, consumers nationwide are now able to get a free copy of their credit report annually from each of the three credit bureaus - Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion (FCRA sec. 612 (a)(1)(A)&(B)).

To order your free reports, you can call the official toll-free number, (877) 322-8228. You can also go online to where you can order your reports directly. Or you can print out the form and mail your request.

The World Privacy Forum has released a study that indicates that privacy-conscious consumers may be better served by ordering their credit reports by phone or mail rather than online. See for more details.

For more information about access to free credit reports, see the Federal Trade Commission's Facts for Consumers at

You are not required to order all three credit reports at the same time. If you wish, you can stagger your free reports over the course of a year by ordering one report every four months. This way, you are monitoring your credit reports on an ongoing basis. But if you are an identity theft victim or are shopping for credit, it is best to order all three at one time.”

Immediate access to online reports can be obtained by going to and completing the questions for each of the three bureaus. I would recommend filling out the form by mail, unless you require immediate access, as it can be difficult to print out the reports (they can be very lengthy, depending on your history and likely will use up lots of ink). I tried to copy and paste mine into Word Docs, but they were not formatted properly and it was very aggravating. Also, online reports can only be accessed for 30 days from the date of the request, and once you access online, a hard copy will not be sent unless you pay for it (approximately $10-15 each). Anyway, all said, it seems easiest to order it by phone or snail mail and then you have a nice hard copy to refer to.

Too Many Credit Offers Cluttering Up your Mailbox?

Don’t forget you can register at; the official website for the Consumer Credit Reporting Industry to accept and process requests from consumers to Opt In or Opt Out of firm offers of credit and insurance , or call 1-888-5OptOut (1-888-567-8688) to opt-out of these offers.

Too Many Solicitors Interrupting Your Dinner?

Here’s a GREAT tip…. If you get annoying calls from pre-recorded solicitors, try pressing 3 during the message. Many times it will delete you from the database (you have to answer the call to make it work). I tried this with the auto dealership where I bought my car (but no longer go to – and haven’t for about 8 years) but which insists on calling me every so often to “remind” me to bring it in, and imagine my satisfaction when I heard “Thank you, you have been removed from the database”! Now I am waiting for those calls so I can PRESS 3!!! Incidentally, when a "live" solicitor calls you, you can politely thank them and request to be removed from list, which also seems to work, but isn't as much fun. :)

If you need help with organizing, simply call Linda!

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Downsize your “To Do”!

For me, September always seems like the busiest month of the year. This year is no different, and in fact it feels busier than ever. Adjusting to new schedules, schools and activities, as well as the end of the summer celebrations and picnics takes mental and physical energy. With the addition of Megan Ling to our family, we seem to have so much more to remember and prepare for. She now has preschool and 4 different types of therapies so we have lots of appointments. Also, I have started back to work, organizing clients again, so life is very busy. My spare minutes for tasks like tip writing (or really any activity that needs devoted attention time) are so limited. Plus, I acquired an additional cat (this makes a total of 3 in my house), as I offered a temporary home to kitten in need.

My expectations are constantly challenged due to all of the demands on my time. I know that many of you can relate to this and are in the same position; although your “To Do” list may have different items on it.

So my tip for this month is that it’s okay if you allow yourself to make a choice to let some things go for the time being, to avoid overload. For the last several years I have been practicing the skill of simplifying my expectations and obligations. Dropping obligations means to really examine the types of things you are filling your schedule up with. If you look at them honestly, you may find that the activities you have filled your time up with are not really filling your heart with gladness and joy. If you find you are dreading going to something or dragging kids with you to these activities, it may be time to explore their place in your life.

Parents are often surprised to hear me say that children DO NOT have to participate in outside activities in order to be happy and successful. In fact, running kids around to too many activities can interfere with their ability to find ways to entertain themselves and get along with others. Many kids benefit from unstructured time to explore their own interests and friends (along with a healthy limit on media time). John Rosemond’s books can provide lot of further reading ideas and information on this topic.

Having lots of ideas and goals is terrific and can be very motivating. However, if you consistently find that you are falling short of your goals and feeling behind. It may be time to reevaluate, downsize.

I have several home projects and activities that I would love to accomplish, and there are numerous outside committees and groups I could give input to. But right now I know that is not and cannot be my priority. I realize that this is not the time, and so I have let go of the pressure on myself, which feels a lot better.

You can do it, too.

If you need help with organizing, simply call Linda.

This article may be reprinted, shared, forwarded or re-posted on a non-exclusive basis as long as Linda Groat's name and contact information is included.
Previous month’s tips can be viewed at and at
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Monday, August 4, 2008

Ready, Set, School!

For some of us, summer is a time we relax our expectations a bit and things run on a looser schedule. Rules may become a little lax as we allow our kids time to enjoy the endless stream of activities, friends and parties. Teens, who begin to age out of summer camp programs, may have become accustomed to sleeping in and more computer/TV/Wii time than usual during the school year.

It’s great and necessary for kids to have a chance to relax and set their own schedules. Towards mid-August though, it’s time to reign in the kids and begin to prepare for school.

Here are a mixture of ideas from myself and fellow organizer, Monica Premo of Practically Perfect in Warner Robins, Georgia, (478-918-7399) about how to prepare for the year ahead.

In the month before school starts:

· Get the school calendar and put the start date on the family calendar.

· Avoid scheduling vacations and social commitments the week before school starts and try to limit extra activities the first week of school, so that you have time for the deluge of paperwork and any emergency supply shopping trips.

· Encourage the kids to call their friends and see who their teachers are. Even if their friends are in a different class, they will have a little time to adjust before school starts.

· Tour ahead of time if the child will be attending a new school. Transitions from elementary to middle to high school are tough because it’s all new. Some schools may allow children to set up their lockers ahead of time, which is a big help.

· For preschool and elementary students, visit the playground.

· Start holding regular family meetings on Sunday nights, where everyone brings their planners and reviews the upcoming week. This helps with family expectations and communication about activities, appointments, testing dates, transportation and many other important issues. Chores, behavior and allowance can be addressed, too.

· Consider limiting access to media time (Computer/TV/video/Wii) by setting up and every other day limit, a certain number of minutes a day, or certain open/closed hours of availability.

Physicals and Medical Records

· Be sure your child has received all of the required shots and had a physical, if needed. Get the required forms from your school and bring them with you to the doctor.

· Prepare any allergy information for the school and have your doctor sign it at the annual physical.

· Make a copy of the completed immunization record, physical report and allergy/medicine forms and keep them in your medical records or school file.

Supplies and Clothes

· Set up a time with your kids to help them put their names on their supplies and set up the binders, etc. Homemade printed labels off the computer are easy to use and make everything look crisp and neat. Kids may enjoy designing their own with special graphics.

· Locker shelves are a must for middle/high school. They really help keep binders and books in reach and organized.

· Go through closets to purge clothes that don’t fit. Make a list of what is needed. Less in the closet makes it easier to choose outfits.

Transitioning the Week Before School Starts

· Get back to the school bedtime schedule. If there’s a big difference in the summer and school bedtimes, you may want to push it back 15 – 30 minutes a day for several days to ease them into it. Do the same thing in the morning to get them up. Post the bedtime schedule in a visible location.

· Re-establish the school chores if they differ from the summer ones. Your lifestyle changes from summer to school as do the chores, so realign the chores to accommodate the new activities and schedules.

· Decide how you’re going to handle lunch and snacks. Set up a lunch-making station with napkins, pre-packaged snacks, lunch bags, etc.

· Make a list of lunch and snack items to add to your weekly grocery list.

· Write checks for school lunch and/or breakfast.

· Pick out clothes for the first day of school.

· Figure out the bus routine and post the pick-up and drop-off times. Just for fun, have a “Hooray, it’s the First Day” party with your neighbors and bring muffins and juice to the bus stop the first day or celebrate after school with cupcakes.

The First Week of School

· Be prepared to fill out LOTS of paperwork. Set aside extra time in the afternoon or evening to do so. Copy the forms before sending off to school so you can easily use the same information next year. File under SCHOOL.

· Make sure all of your emergency contact information including e-mail, phone numbers, and persons authorized to pick-up your child, are up to date.

· Have a special snack after school and ask how everything went. This is important for middle- and high-schoolers, too.

· Make a list of each child’s schedule, teachers and their e-mail addresses.

· Mark all school holidays, test and report card dates on your family calendar.

Have a wonderful year!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Perfectionism causes Procrastination!

The easiest way to get things done is to “Keep it Simple”. For example; I received a 20” x 30” poster collage of our trip to China as a gift from my thoughtful sister-in-law. It was on its way to our house even before we arrived home. I loved it and immediately tried to find a frame to hang it. This was not as easy as I first thought because it was slightly larger than a standard poster frame. I got stuck there---with all that I had to do, it was not, and could not be a top priority to frame the poster. I laid it flat on the dining room table (you may remember that technique from previous tips J) and I tried not to pile things on top of it.

After a couple of weeks, I found a similar sized poster we had already framed and decided we could use that frame and flip the poster inside over and use the back as a mat, but even that task proved too time intensive so then it laid on that framed print for another few weeks.

Finally, this past weekend, I had a burst of insight. A little voice inside my head said “just hang it up!” I listened. I dusted off the poster, got some blue fun tack and stuck the poster to our sliding closet door in the hall between the front door and the kitchen; a pass way we use a hundred times a day, and the way all visitor go through to enter the house. I hung it low enough for Megan Ling to get a good view and showed her how to get a stool to look at the pictures up higher.

We have enjoyed that poster so much and have looked at it every day. Someday, it will have its frame and be hung in a more permanent place of honor, but for now we can enjoy it the way it is.

Keep it simple and get it done. Good doesn’t have to be perfect.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Joy takes up A LOT of Room!

Well, I did it. I went to China with my family of four and came home a family of five! My sweet daughter, Megan Ling was received into our family on May 13th, as natural as can be. She seemed pleasantly curious about us at first, and then positively happy, which gave way to joyful as we got to know each other more and more. She is easy going, loving and gentle, and is quickly learning the ways of our lives and routines.

Here we are with our guide in Guangzhou, headed to Hong Kong, then home.

And a photo of my three children dressed as Chinese royalty.

And a photo at home taken yesterday of Megan Ling and her brother baking brownies! Things are going just great for us.
Slowing life down to include an active toddler was a necessary and normal piece of this whole journey. It took me a full week to find enough time to get through the pile of mail that accumulated while I was gone. It took another week to simply put away all the things from my trip and the various post trip activities. I still have yet to vacuum any room but the kitchen, let alone dust or clean bathrooms (except for the most cursory of clean ups). I am telling you all of this because I suspect this rings a bell with many of my clients and readers.
Typically, people I work with are not inherently disorganized; but rather what I call “Situationally Disorganized”. What this means is that “something”, a significant or life changing event occurs and impacts life in such a way that it is difficult to recover while life continues to pile it on. These events can be both positive and negative (or a mixture of both), such as a new job (or increase in old responsibilities), marriage, separation, loss or addition to the family, a move, illness, injury and many others. It can subtly start when people allow their boundaries to gently erode as they over commit to too many causes. When this kind of pressure builds, most people start to pile things up. I know I started to use my dining room table; first, before the trip to China for packing, then after for disbursement to the rest of the house. This can become a problem in several ways: one, it makes it tough to find what I buried underneath. Two, it is hard to stop doing this because it is so tempting to just keep piling. And three, it is just plain hard to dig out.
So what is the answer? I know of no ultimate solution, but here are some things that worked for me:
  • First, Phone a friend: I accepted the help of the wonderful friends who offered an hour of their time. I did not abuse it and I thanked them dearly. My mother-in-law came and helped me skim the top off the dining room. She helped me sort things into piles (I used a clear rolling cart with three wide drawers to do a gross sort of my three kids belongings) and move them into the right owner's room. Two of my friends offered to entertain Megan Ling for an hour or so while I got some personal and business tasks done. It takes discipline on my part to stay focused during the precious time. One of my friends is in my backyard right now with her, as I write this post.
  • Second, hire help if possible: I have someone who helps me clean, but I decided not to have her come while I was home for the summer with Megan Ling. I have since changed my mind and asked her to come back once or twice a month even while I am home. It is a luxury and a pleasure and I am grateful that I can take advantage of it. This investment allows me to focus my energy on my family without the added pressure of having to do it all myself. It also allows me to let go of the responsibility for a perfectly clean house every minute. I can keep up in-between visits and I know Rebecca will be here soon.
  • Third, say “No”. This is the hardest for me. As I wrote last time, I think I can do everything and have trouble keeping it in check. I am trying to be realistic and let go of any goals that are not in the immediate future or absolutely essential. I will always struggle with this. I so admire my daughter, who achieves her expectations and sets realistic goals for herself. She is an excellent student and is responsible for herself. She does not start months in advance or stress over her goals. She is very private about it and disappears to her room and comes out hours later with a completely redone bulletin board or a handmade picnic set for her Webkinz or an I Love NY Project. She is learning and mastering her own pace and somehow, she keeps it realistic. I strive to emulate her. She is the first to tell me “Mom, you need to relax” and I try (not always successfully) to listen to her suggestions.
  • Fourth, do a little at a time and be patient. Chip away at your projects. Set small goals that you can achieve. Settle for imperfection-good enough. Put your energy where it really matters most. This is where Megan Ling has helped me the most. She is a constant reminder of what is really important. All else pales in comparison to her need for me. I can let everything else go because she needs me now. For others, the important things will be different, but deep down; each person can know what their true purpose is, if they listen to their heart. It speaks, sometimes loud, sometimes soft, but it speaks.
This is a long post. I hope I haven’t lost anyone but I certainly understand if you don’t have time to finish reading in one sitting!
If you need help with organizing, simply call Linda
(I am taking a short break from organizing until September 2008 to be with Megan Ling
-thanks for understanding).

********* Don’t forget to Drop off your hazardous waste at the upcoming collections********
Saturday, June 21, at ECC South on Rt. 28. (Orchard Park, NY)
Click Here for directions to ECC South.
Call 858-6800 to hear a recorded message with details on accepted items.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Make Room in Your Life for Joy!

Sometimes when we are too busy, and our minds too cluttered, it is easy to ignore the deeper needs of the heart. I am an especially high energy person and my typical MO is to say yes to way more than is humanly possible to do in 24 hours. Sometimes my “yes” is outward to others but many times it is a more subtle “yes” and internal, to myself. I may not even realize that I have extended myself well beyond my comfort level.

We all do this to varying degrees and every once in a while it is important to take stock in what we have committed ourselves to and make sure that our energies are being spent in the right places. I did this very thing 2 ½ years ago. I was working as a full-time School Psychologist, at a job which I held for 16 years. I loved what I did, and the children I worked with, however, the stress and pace were increasingly difficult for me to manage, given the needs of my young children, my husband’s work schedule and my perfectionistic/anxious personality style. I knew a change was in order. After many aborted attempts, I finally mustered up the courage to walk away from my secure job and change my life. I did not know what I would do next, but I knew I wanted to have more family time and a flexible part time schedule.

What I learned during the next few months shocked me. I found that with the extra space in my heart and head, I was able to hear a voice telling me to read about adoption. I did, and I felt immediately drawn to adoption from China. My husband and I decided to take a leap of faith and begin the application process to adopt a little girl. I would never have imagined that all the busyness of my daily life was hiding this deepest desire, but there it was. I could not and would not ignore it. That was the beginning. In May, I will board a plane for China, and fly across the world to unite with my daughter, a beautiful 3 ½ year old little angel, named Ling. I cannot wait.

While your joy may not be as dramatic as a transcontinental adoption, it is equally important and meaningful to your life. Whether it is a walk through your garden, developing a hobby, lunch with a friend or a total life alteration, it is essential to make space in your life to allow your deeper desires to surface. You just may be surprised at what you find!