Review: Organizing For a Living

How to Build a Profitable Career as a Professional Organizer

To quote one of the other reviews, “it will save you money because you won’t need any other books about professional organizing!”

You also won’t need any other books about being in business, or doing your accounting, or managing your time, or…

This is a great book. It is completely thorough. The author addresses every question one could have in detail.

I am giving this book four stars because there is, simply, too much material. In order to fit into its 304 pages, the book designer went to very narrow margins, small type, and even smaller type for “pull outs”–stories and quotations. I can only read a few pages at a time before my eyes rebel. I am accustomed to being able to read hundreds of pages at at time in well-designed books, so this beef is very specific to the design of this edition.

There is a LOT of content in Organizing for a Living, and it is all well-written, and it is all tailored to the organizing profession specifically. I simply wish I could read it easily.

Tracking Content

The problem I’m trying to solve is that I find myself in an enormous push of content creation–I’m creating blog posts in draft every morning, and I’m sitting on 50 draft posts on each of three different websites.  Not all of the draft posts are valuable, but I would like to get as many published as still have value, and I don’t want to dump everything onto my social platforms at the same time.

The Publicize plugin allows me to auto-share to social platforms.  All sites post to the same Linkedin and Twitter accounts.  Two sites share the same Facebook page.  Three sites post to the same Pinterest account, but different boards.  I don’t want the political comment to go to Linkedin, most of the time.

I’ve been using free paper calendars to manage client content for as long as I’ve been doing social media professionally. For small accounts, it works pretty well. It does not work for four different websites which feed two Facebook pages, and one each Linkedin and Instagram accounts. I can’t keep track of what’s going where, let alone paid promotions.

One client, one calendar fails when the client has several websites.

One client, one calendar fails when the client has several websites.

I realized I could type into the spreadsheet. Normally, I split my attention between the screen and a paper calendar. (I use one monitor, and most of the time, it’s the laptop display.) However, working in the digital spreadsheet, in addition to using it as the layout for a paper calendar, might be helpful.

Collating publication calendars into one spreadsheet.

The first printing gave me a format that was too crowded to use.  I can barely read my own writing. I did realize that it would be useful to have a Pinterest board on both of my accounts for “new website content.” I don’t know that it will be a major source of traffic, but it won’t hurt.

blog post tracker, first draft.

Using 8.5 x 14″ paper to see two weeks at once. Not enough room to write.

I need a way to identify those posts that are book reviews.  I need to know what has been scheduled to Instagram, not simply whether something has been scheduled to be published on a website.

Laying out publication schedules.

Laying out publication schedules.

The second iteration was a little better–more room to write, but it still wasn’t helping me see what I needed to see. The social platform cells need room for check boxes, not titles. Make more notes:

  1. The color as used is not helping me know what I’m posting where.
  2. I need color on the Blog name rows, not on the social platform rows.
  3. Twitter doesn’t care how often I post.
  4. Linkedin needs a row of its own. All of my websites feed to the same Linkedin Profile.

Continue to play, and develop a version that works well enough, and no sooner had I glued up a month of schedule, I had an entirely new understanding of my content management problem, heading toward a next solution.

Inventory of blog ideas that have made it as far as drafts, or images.

Inventory of blog ideas that have made it as far as drafts, or images.

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WD40 for Content Creation

Sometime in December, I noticed I was getting a little more content onto my websites than I had for several years. It felt like I had sprayed WD-40 into a very very rusty mechanism. I was just barely able to get some motion out of the machine, but I knew it would rust solid again very quickly if I didn’t keep up the effort. It was hard.

Over the past six weeks, I have written about clearing and cleaning and getting rid of stuff, and over the past two weeks, I have been getting rid of stuff in my digital world. Cleaning up my blogs.

Yesterday, I finished the exercise of aligning blog categories. Then I went on to inventory the posts remaining in draft status, that are not reviews, and there weren’t all that many. My brain thought there should have been more. I realized that I had lots and lots of ideas for blog posts, some of which had been documented with images, but many of those images had not actually been processed and uploaded to the web. In other cases, images had been uploaded to the website but never added to a blog post.

Listing of existing blog post content, either in draft or image form.

Listing of existing blog post content, either in draft or image form.

I looked around the folders where I keep my images, and I came up with the basic list shown in the picture above. Apparently, I didn’t take a picture of it before I started writing all over it.

Last night, I reviewed the list, and noted which posts are practically ready to go and simply needed to be proofed once, and which posts needed major amounts of work before they would be ready, and then there were some that simply weren’t ready to be evaluated at all.

When I sat down at my desk this morning, my brain had been working on the list overnight. The handwritten notes running vertically indicate huge amounts of new content I want to write. I also realize that some of my idea notebooks are moving into the lineup. I don’t know what’s in some of these notebooks.

One set of notebooks, some of which have article notes.

One set of notebooks, some of which have article notes.

This must be what it was like to start one of those enormous wagon trains that crossed the country 200 years ago. The leaders started moving, and it might take days before the movement reached the back of the train. The settlers at the back were no less important to the effort than the ones at the front.

Perhaps some of the content has been aged out. I can let it go.

Listing of notes for future blog posts

Listing of notes for future blog posts

Some of the notes will be useful. By the time I get what is already in draft, published, I’m sure there will be 3 or 4 more pages of ideas lined up waiting for pictures and content and production.

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Levels of planning 

I wrote the post about big rocks and 30,000 foot views yesterday. This morning, I started thinking about what specifically happens at each of these levels. I thought there was a blog post in it, so I made a sketch of the collage of pictures that were attached to the post, and let myself think. What happens in each of these levels?

what type of thinking happens at different levels of planning

Thinking about what happens at the different levels of planning from yesterday’s blog post

At the very highest level, Blue Sky Thinking, is the name of the business, the understanding that if I simply put in 20 hours a week it will all work out. This may not work for some people, but I do know through past experience it works for me. My brain will figure it out.

There’s not much difference between the top image and the one below with more fluffy clouds; just a little bit more detail. This is where looking at what other people do helps me figure out what I need to be doing. How do they work?

When you get low enough to realize there’s a river coming up, it’s time to think about the specifics: what are the tangible, real-world challenges I’m going to have to solve sometime between now and having an income producing company. I already understand intellectual property and copyrights, for the most part. I’ll need a website. Already bought the URLs. What do I need to solve for?

Deep in the clouds, I need to trust my instruments. I need to have a pretty good idea of what I need to know, what I need to do, so that when I can’t see what’s ahead, I can be making progress.

When I first posted the picture of the plane sitting at the gate, I thought it was similar to flying on instruments, but this morning I realize that it’s actually more about going over checklists. Everybody connected with that flight professionally is reviewing checklists to make sure everything is okay. The pilots, the ground crew, the flight attendants: they’re all doing prep work, getting ready, getting things in place.

Flat fold stash, for weaving and sewing.  Inaccessible.

Flat fold stash, for weaving and sewing. Inaccessible.

For me, the equivalent is creating space for my look for my art, creating systems, documenting systems as best as possible, and thinking about how to create when I need to create reliably, and repeatedly. I need to set up better access to raw materials. I already know to work in series. With series, come checklists. I have most mine in my head, and they need to be documented.

I need to write a post about Doctorow’s statement that you can get to California from New York City with no more vision than you can see in the distance illuminated by your headlights. I have to straighten that stash out. It always looks different in the dark, but if you kind of know where you’re going. It doesn’t matter,. You can still make progress.

Finally, on the ground, in the fog, it can be pretty hard to know what to do when everything’s confusing and nothing makes sense. At this stage, doing nothing might be doing something. Meditation is usually good for me. I can also fall back on simple tasks like the Fly Lady’s 27 fling Boogie, when I clean something up. Vacuum, rake, mow the grass, do something. With a pretty good understanding of where I’m going, there’s usually something to be done in my life.

On a Clear Day

I live between two rivers, not far from two substantial lakes, one of which cools a nuclear power plant. As a result, we get fog. Not fog like San Francisco, but reliable fog in the morning when the seasons are changing and air, land, and water may have substantially different temperatures.

Today was a foggy morning. For a while, I couldn’t see the church steeple at all.

There's blue sky in the upper left, but I can't see the steeple.

There’s blue sky in the upper left, but I can’t see the steeple.

I know there’s blue sky above me. As the morning shifted, I could even see patches of blue above the church. But I still couldn’t see the steeple.

There are times, especially in the evening, when this familiar landscape looks completely different.

Time of day matters. Fog at night can distort a vision.

Time of day matters. Fog at night can distort a vision.

Given I am writing a series of posts about planning, the metaphor hit me like the bricks we make in this town.

What is my planning elevation? What is my planning point of view?

David Allen talks about the 10, 20, 30, and 50,000′ points of view; of taking a look at your life from different perspectives to see where you are going. It can be hard to know which one you’re at.

This morning, on the ground, I could barely see 100 yards ahead. I could, possibly, get up to 100′ and have a better idea of what was going on, but I still wouldn’t know anything about what’s happening at ground level because we are socked in. It’s hard to “do the next right thing,” and it can even be difficult to “do the next thing,” so I can only “do something.”

There are days when it’s perfectly clear on the ground, and I can’t see 300′ above. These are “do the next thing” days.

Clear vision on the ground, and socked in above.

Clear vision on the ground, and socked in above.

There are days when getting up to 10,000 feet only helps a little, because the path is completely obscured at that level, only for different reasons. Back to “do something,” or “do the next thing,” if I can manage that much clarity.

10,000 feet and visibility is even more limited, sometimes.

10,000 feet and visibility is even more limited, sometimes.

Sometimes, I can be at cruising altitude and know pretty much what track I’m on, but actual activity happens on the ground, and knowing the route at 30,000 feet tells me absolutely nothing at all about what to do next, today. 30,000′ views help me to distinguish between important and urgent and offer some general idea about what direction the “next right-ish thing” might want to take.

Cruising altitude, clear skies, and no information about ground level activity.

Cruising altitude, clear skies, and no information about ground level activity.

Sometimes, the 30,000′ view gives me some idea of what major challenges might be coming my way.

From here, you can see there is a river to cross.

I’m going to tie this to a separate post about calendar formats, and how I need to work with different views of the future to have a better idea of how to use the time and energy I have today.

Next right answer: if the view is obscured at my current level and I don’t know what to do, move up or down one and see what I can see from there.

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For Pinterest:

Planning points of view.

Planning points of view.

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Organizing my websites

I run four websites for my own business activities:

  • Red Tuxedo, where I talk about productivity and being useful in social media
  • Rugs from Rags, where I write about making textile art
  • Karen Tiede Studio, where I sell my Textile Art
  • Karen Tiede.com, where I write about all the other artsy things I do for love and fun including hula hooping

It’s a handful.

January turned out to be a month of clearing and decluttering and getting rid of stuff and putting stuff in places I could find it in a pinch. This mostly happened in my real life. I’m not done, but I have hauled a lot of stuff to the swap shed and the recycle bins.

February is turning out to be a time of cleaning out my electronic life. My digital records. I started my going through my pictures folder, where I have over 14 gig of images, many of which are duplicates or junk or not needed. I know digital storage is cheap, but my backup system only takes 125 gigs and I have exceeded it a couple of times already. It’s worth a little bit of TV time to cull pictures and reduce that total size if I can.

I found myself creating two and three blog post day the sites I routinely manage. I’ve learned how to dictate blog post from my phone, and upload pictures directly from my phone, and it’s all very fun and easy.

What it’s not, however, is “clear.” I don’t know where stuff goes. I don’t know what to call it. I don’t know where to put it. And I do believe that “if you can’t find it, you don’t own it,” and if I can’t find an article on a website, neither can you. All this content is not driving any business my way if nobody can find it.  Even worse, none of this content can drive traffic until it is published, and I had nearly 100 posts sitting in draft status at the beginning of last week, over 8 years of managing websites.

It became obvious it was time to align my websites, so that I could tell reliably where stuff went, so I knew how to categorize blog posts and where to put them, and so I knew what I had.

Three years ago, I moved my websites from one host to another, and it was a royal muck-up. Pretty much all the content got duplicated against three different sites. I  wrestled the bigger pieces apart, but the older blog posts wound up everywhere.

The first step in organizing was to cross-check each of the sites against the other, and make sure blog posts lived on the site where they belong, and not on any others. This was fairly simple. I displayed both two sites’ post listings side-by-side, checking titles and deleting duplicate posts from the site where they did not belong. This resulted in the loss of roughly 50 posts on each site. Progress.

Then it was time to make sure each of the posts was listed in the correct categories. This turned out to be much more challenging.

I have, from time to time, turn to the Dewey Decimal System as an organizing principle. It’s academic, I agree, I understand, and that’s me. Deal with it. It is also widely understood and followed, and reliable.

I have a paper (book) guide to the Dewey Decimal System, which goes to the two-digit decimals. It is about an inch and a half thick. A guide that goes to three decimal places is approximately 6 feet long. Google will not give me helpful results in asking about what category a particular idea belongs in. Google just sends me to Dewey Decimal references. I think there ought to be a better way, but I can’t find it. Therefore I have to trust my book and its index. This may be a bit of a force fit; yet I’m able to be consistent.

Revising blog category listings to be consistent.

Revising blog category listings to be consistent.

I had to start with the major categories. Mostly, I write about technology, and Fine Arts, although there is a little bit about ideas, so I cover the 000, the 600s, and the 700s. I use those as my major headings and then used second headings for the subcategories.

On KarenTiede.com I write about home ec. I used to write about sewing on that website before I moved Textile Art to Rugs From Rags, so I left those posts there. That they have huge numbers of links. (Today, I would put those posts on rugs from Rags, but I don’t want to move them.)

On Rugs From Rags, pretty much all the post fall under Fine Arts, specifically 746 textiles. There’s a little bit of marketing.

Red Tuxedo turns out to more challenging, because it’s mostly about business and social media. My edition of the Dewey Decimal guidelines doesn’t even have Facebook in the index. It was written long before the internet. I may have to go to the library and walk around the nonfiction section slowly, looking for Dewey Decimal numbers to know where to put stuff.

I am an amateur taxonomist. I enjoy walking around a large store, imagining the taxonomy behind product display.  Taxonomy is why you can walk into the grocery store and pretty much figure out where things are going to be. Websites ought to be the same way. I think it would be helpful if websites could send you clearly to articles you might be interested in.

For today, applying the Dewey Decimal System to my own content is going to have to do. It forces me to think about what do I write about, and where does it go, and how is any one of these posts related to any other.

I want all the days 

My new year-view planner arrived yesterday and spent the day rolled out on the floor being flattened. Before I went outside to exercise this morning, I pinned it to the door across from my desk, so it would be there when I came back into write.

Now, I’m sitting at my desk, with the calendar in front of me when I look up, and I’m feeling a discomforting yearning.
I want all the days.

Year View planner from Best Self.

Year View planner from Best Self.

I want all the days to be wide-open, unstructured, with the freedom to make art, or write, as much as I want, and I want it to be like this all year. Most of the time, I don’t experience this feeling as acutely as I am experiencing it right now. Most of the time, I don’t look at an entire year at one glance.

Perhaps this is why I have not done a lot of full-year planning before.

A friend of mine says, “you can’t drive all the cars on the highway,” when he talks about road rage. I can’t have “all the days,” not all at once, not all rolled into one.

All I have is today. Even less than that, all I have is this exact moment, 8 a.m., dim light, probably going to be a sunny day but not sure about that yet. That’s why I didn’t edit the photo to make it look any brighter. This is exactly what it looks like right now, at this moment, from my desk.

I think I need to look ahead more than I have been doing. I certainly can’t defend my previous planning exercises based on the results. I believe I am more useful to myself and to my art if I have some moderately clear idea of what I would like to have accomplished within a certain period of time. Certainly, it would be useful to look ahead, and know where my big obligations are coming, so that I can be more ready ahead.

And at the same time, I am not thrilled with this discomforting feeling of wanting to know how the whole year is going to be. Perhaps better planning, which in my case is any planning at all, might make it possible to have more days be the way I love them being: no makeup, no driving, no appointments, lots of art. Still, planning doesn’t solve for one day at a time, and living in the moment, and “hell is wanting to be somewhere else.”  I’m going to cut that header off the calendar.  There is no winning and losing; there is only today, right now.

Incidentally, I do not like the weekends being marked in bright yellow.  They could have been marked in a shade with much much less contrast.  Similarly, the black “day” boxes are illegible, and useless from here.  I can tell Monday; it’s the day after yellow.  Sigh.

I find myself wondering if this is more a planner or a tracker; time will tell how it turns out.

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Oh no, It’s one of THOSE things!

Wire file folder desktop rack.

Wire file folder desktop rack.

I’m cleaning off one of my desks. At the back of the desk, I found two wire racks.

“What is it?” I wondered. And then it hit me: this is one of those racks that supposed to hold file folders upright, at the back of your desk, so you can see them all.

Death on a stick. Look carefully: there’s another one of these racks, in smoke plastic, right behind the wire rack.

I bring these home, from the swap shed, from the thrift shop, & I think somehow, if I can see all the files I’m working on, I’ll be more on top of things.

Instead, what happens is that the racks get pushed to the back of the desk, or they get full of file folders that I never look at, and maybe they get dumped. They don’t serve their intended purpose, certainly, not in my house; not on my desk.

“Hi Ho, Hi Ho, to the metal bin we shall go,” just as soon as my local dump opens again after the ice storm shut down. That’s why I’m cleaning out today anyway–the ice storm. Can’t go anywhere else; might as well create some more space for myself.

One day, I will come to terms with my organizing style, and quit bringing these things home. That may or may not be now. Don’t make promises about what’s going to happen tomorrow, when I find the perfect matching set of desk accessories. For today this will go.

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Year view planner

I’ve been cleaning out my studio; I found a 2004 calendar that I had saved for the pictures. At the back were two pages designed to show the full year, day by day.

2004 Year-view planner

I use a lot of outdated calendars as record books. They show up in the thrift shop stream. If all I need is the shape of the week, or the month, or the dates, I relabel the date-day information, and use the spaces for my purposes.

I tried marking the 2017 weekends in yellow highlighter, but the grey weekend markings of 2004 still showed up. I’m not completely sure I need to know when the weekends are for the purposes of this exercise.

I started making notes. My business would be different if I sent out a newsletter twice a month, so I marked that on the calendar.

The notes on the large yellow sticky, lower left, are about posting from my phone directly into WP, and from there onto social sites using the Jetpack Publicize tool. I have only recently started creating website content live, using pictures uploaded from my phone and dictating directly into WordPress. It’s easy for WordPress sites, but I don’t think I can do it for my Shopify store, yet. I need to look into that.

At this point, it was obvious I had a rough draft, rather than a finished plan, so I started making notes directly on the calendar as well as on stickies.

I don’t need to track individual posts on a year view planner, although I might track marketing activity, so that I meet my goal of running a paid ad every day.

I thought about creating 365 posts, distributed across the various websites I manage. I can do that in my sleep. I’m good at posts.

As I worked with the calendar, and thought about my business, and thought about what needs to happen, I had a nagging feeling that all I was doing was the planning equivalent of rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Not to be too severe about it, but I do this already. I have great documentation of what I have done. Looking at my posts over a full year on one page, isn’t really any different than logging them on monthly calendars the way I have been doing for 3 years. Deep in my heart, I knew nothing would change. Deep in my wallet, I know a lot needs to change, quickly.

I also know that there is an entirely new product line waiting to be developed, and it has been waiting for either 20 years, or 6 months, or both, depending on how you look at it. I call it my greeting card line, although it is bigger than that. It’s about incorporating my answers on Quora, with my life philosophy, and perhaps a new body of work I am calling the Illustrated I Ching, and a lot of other new art. It needs to be created, developed, and marketed. It’s not getting done under the current system.

That thought first showed up on the purple sticky, and then I realized how important it was. I moved it to the page in blue Sharpie.

That seemed like a breakthrough, but after a moment’s reflection, I realized I still hadn’t figured out how I was going to get the new work done. Except I do know how to do that. I’ve done it before.

Three years ago, I faced a serious cardiac problem, one that didn’t have a great medical solution. Rather than going home to sit around and get sicker so that I qualified for a pacemaker, I changed my life, one day at a time. In the real world, that looked like showing up to daily exercise (one day off a month), changing my diet, giving up diet drinks, taking new supplements, and incorporating everything that showed up to have a healthier life (not repairing the riding lawn mower when it broke, for example, and instead, moving 1.5 acres with a push mower).

Art is no different. I am an Anne Lamont fan: her readers will recognize both “start with one bird,” (Pirsig fans will remember the same thought as “one brick”), and “write really shitty first drafts.”

In other words, Show. Up. To. The. Work.

I was done for the moment; I turned to email. I had to laugh. I had an offer from the good people at AppSumo, for a $15 large format full year planner for 2017 (special offer good through Jan 17), in exactly the same format. The calendar from Best Self (same calendar, purchased directly) uses a top and bottom layout to fit everything on the page. On one hand it shouldn’t matter, and on the other hand, it always does. I bought the planner and will cut it and glue it together so that I see the whole year at one level. The weekends will be correct for 2017.

Until it arrives, I will keep working on this draft version. I need to put time in my life for new work. It’s harder to schedule; it’s not clearly defined the way client work and teaching prep are. That’s the problem, and that’s why it needs to be planned into the year. If I don’t make the opportunity happen, it won’t, and it will be November and I’ll still be thinking about creating a greeting card line.

Stay tuned.

Vertical version of the image to use for Pinterest.

2004 Year View Planner.

2004 Year View Planner, rotated to make a better Pin.

Notes on Optimizing

From Bob Lewis, IS Survivor: July 9, 2012

Posted here because I can never remember all six of the “good, fast and cheap” real life dimensions, and they matter.  Just like change comes in project change and application change, and defects come in project defects and application defects, and they are all very different things.

Understand, I’m a theory-of-constraints guy.

Theory of Constraints says that for every business function, right after ranking the six dimensions of optimization (fixed costs, incremental costs, cycle time, throughput, quality, and excellence) in order of importance, the next step is identifying the most serious barrier to improving the top-ranked dimension, doing what’s necessary to remove it or reduce it until it’s no longer the most serious barrier. If that means customizing the supporting software, so be it.

Repeat ad infinitum.

It’s straightforward. It works.

Even better, you won’t need to renegotiate terms after the thrill of an outsourcing deal is gone.