Worth repeating: Preventing late fees

28 May 2020

I originally wrote this post back in 2013, but given the current cash-flow challenges brought on by the pandemic, it seems worth repeating.

This month, I forgot to pay my credit card on the 17th. I don’t know what happened. I never forget. But on Saturday, I realized that the bill was due two days before and I’d forgotten.

Luckily, I had a back-up plan. About 18 months ago, at the advice of my friend, Shannon Wilkinson, I had arranged an automatic payment of the minimum amount due on the 17th, for instances just like this. I like to pay my credit card in full every month and up until now had done that before the automatic payment would kick in. But, since I forgot this month, at least the minimum payment was made and I avoided a late-payment fee.

I doubt I avoided an interest charge, to my dismay. I haven’t paid an interest charge in a couple of years, since I paid off my cards back in 2011. But a couple of days’ interest on a not-huge balance isn’t a big deal.

I could change my automatic payment so that the whole balance is paid, but I worry that that could spark a cash-flow problem. So, for me, this backup measure is a good one.

Late payment fees can add up and are definitely worth avoiding. If they’re problem for you, perhaps you could arrange for the minimum to be paid like I do. This month, I was sure glad I did!

(I do get an email reminder about the payment, but I think I’ll adjust it so that it comes closer to the due date and I don’t blow it off.)

Do you have any other tips for automating payments, not forgetting due dates, or otherwise avoiding late-payment penalties?

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Trello + automation = productive bliss

26 May 2020

I’ve been using Trello for a few years and love it. (You can see my posts about Trello by clicking the Trello tag.) I like it for project management, for keeping lists of things and, most of all, for task management. I’ve created a variety of task management Trello boards. Typically I switch it up depending on my mood.

About three weeks ago, I read this Trello blog post about some fun new features of Trello. The most exciting of them was the ability to add a little icon to a list title that sparks a little burst of confetti when you move a card into that list. It’s perfect for the Done Today list on my task board. That little confetti reward is so powerful! (Another fun addition is that a checklist wiggles when all its item are checked off.)

Here’s a little video of the confetti. Isn’t it fun?

Two weeks ago, I discovered the Daily Task Management Trello template and it has been a game changer for me. My master list of tasks is contained in the Backlog folder, with one card per task. Each day I move the tasks I want to do that day to the To Do Today list. When I do a task, I move it to the Done Today list (as in the video above). I also keep a list that contains cards for tasks that I like to do every day, like yoga, walk my dog, and blog. I added stickers to the cards in the Daily Task list, just to keep it playful.

Here’s my sample Daily Task Management board, a simplified version of my actual board:

So far, I bet this sounds useful, but perhaps not exciting. Automation—using Trello’s built-in automation tool, Butler—is what turns this board into productive bliss. The creator of the template, Mitchell Fry, suggests some automation and demonstrates how to use Butler to create them in this blog post, a link to which is found in the template explanation. Once I learned how to create his suggested automations, it was easy for me to create others to make my task board every more useful and exciting. I am loving it.

One important caveat: To use this automation, you have to have Trello Gold, which costs $5 a month (or $45 when paid annually). In my opinion, it’s well worth it just for this automation, but it also allows me to upload my own pictures for board backgrounds among other benefits. (See note at the end of this post for additional information.)

Here’s a list of some of the things I’ve automated:

  • Every night, the cards in the Done Today list are moved to a new list with the previous day’s date on it.
  • Any list of Done tasks dated more than a week ago is archived
  • Any tasks left undone in the To Do Today list are moved to the backlog list
  • All the tasks in the Daily Tasks list are copied onto a new To Do Today list (and their stickers are removed, so each card takes up less space)
  • Any card with a due date of tomorrow is moved to the top of the To Do Today list.

In addition, I added some tasks that come up weekly or monthly to Butler, so that they appear on my task board on the appropriate day. For example:

  • A card titled “Podcast show notes” shows up in my To Do Today list every Tuesday
  • “Plan newsletter” hits the backlog list on the 14th of each month
  • “Social media analytics” is added to my To Do Today list on the last day of each month, with a red “top priority” label since it has to be done that day. (I check various social media metrics on the last day of every month and add them to a spreadsheet.)
  • A card titled “Do laundry” and another titled “Weed garden” appear in the Backlog list every Saturday morning.

I also created a couple of board buttons to prioritize the To Do Today list so that the daily tasks are on the bottom and also to shuffle the backlog list to keep it fresh.

One other thing I did, which I think I’ll create a separate post about, is to create a shortcut on my iPhone so that I can easily dictate a task that is automatically added to the bottom of the backlog list. Squee!!

The automation is like magic. It might sound strange, but I admit to being excited every morning to see what my task list looked like, since it changed overnight. I encourage you to give it a try!!

Edited to add: The day after I posted this, I discovered that personal Trello boards have a 200-command-runs-per-month quota and I used mine up in two weeks. So in order to continue using the automation I so love, I signed up for Trello Business Class, which costs $12.95 per month per user or $120 per year if paid annually. It’s still worth it for me.

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Creating a custom heirloom photo book

21 May 2020

One of the readers of my genealogy blog, Jacqueline Krieps Schattner, sent me a link to a post she wrote recently on her genealogy blog, Seeds to Tree, that described the decluttering she’s been doing during the pandemic (she’s used her time very well!). The blog post also presented an idea that I think is absolutely genius, so I asked her permission to write about it here (and on my genealogy blog, Organize Your Family History).

Jacquie’s decluttering work has been very thorough during the pandemic. She got so much done that she turned her attention to the family treasures around her home. In her post, Pandemic De-Cluttering and a Heirloom Book, Jacquie described taking stock of some of the treasures she has collected over 40 years of marriage (and inherited from her parents and grandparents). In thinking about what will happen to these heirlooms if she and her husband were to downsize or were not around to tell the stories, she points out something very wise:

Heirlooms without stories are just stuff.

Jacquie came up with a great solution to the problem. She created a book with photos of each of their heirlooms complete with captions that capture their stories. That way, when the time comes, her daughters will be able to make decisions about which of these heirlooms they would like to keep. She titled the book, Why Did We Save This?

Jacquie spells out in detail how she went about creating the book (via Shutterfly) and what it looks like, and what she’s done with the copies. This is such a helpful idea that I’m thrilled to share it!

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New issue of Secrets of Getting Organized magazine!

18 May 2020

I am always delighted to be included in Secrets of Getting Organized, an ad-free magazine published by Better Homes and Gardens. I received an email recently that the new issue, Summer 2020, has just come out and I’m quoted in it! This Summer 2020 issue is an exact reprint of the Early Spring 2018, which is back by popular demand. The cover is different, but the interior is the same. They also reprinted that issue last year, as the Summer 2019 issue.

I’m quoted in three of the articles: Stop Paper Pileups, Goal: Conquer Media Room Clutter, and a kitchen-organizing article called In the Zone.

Here’s the cover:

If you haven’t already read this issue, you can purchase it at grocery stores, home centers, big box retailers, drugstores, discount chains—places that continue to be open to the public. It went on sale on May 15 and will on the newsstands until August 15. If you don’t want to have to leave the house to get it, Meredith (the publisher) also has an online store that sells printed copies. Of you can buy a pdf version at Zinnio.com.

I’m tickled to have been involved with an issue that has proven so popular!

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My recommended paper planner

14 May 2020

When it comes to managing my tasks, I tend to focus on electronic options. I do occasionally write my daily tasks down on a piece of paper, but it’s been a long time since I purchased a planner. Don’t get me wrong: I love paper planners. Nothing would make my heart go pitter patter when I was in my twenties than a sleek planner system. But nowadays, I’m more drawn to the portability, flexibility and ease of use of electronic task management systems.

I do have clients who struggle with task management who prefer a paper planner. And, depending on their needs, my go-to recommendation is the Planner Pad® Organizer. It was the last paper planner I used before going electronic. The company’s been around for over 40 years and I started using it so long ago that it came with a cassette tape instructing me how to use it.

Recently the folks at Planner Pad reached out to me and asked me to be a part of their affiliate program. (I get a small commission if you purchase from one of these links.) I asked them to send me a sample of a current planner to make sure it hasn’t changed since I last used it. I was happy to see that the design has stood the test of time and hasn’t really changed at all. I am pleased to recommend it to people who are looking for a paper planning system that allows them to see and schedule their tasks.

The Planner Pad is a two-page-per-week organizer. Each month opens with a month-at-a-glance page and a full page for notes. In the opening pages, there is also three-years-at-a-glance page and several two-page-per-year planning pages. So you get a variety of calendar views for planning purposes.

But the day-to-day use is in the two-pages weekly. Those pages are divided into eight columns, one for each day of the week and one to makes notes of calls or expenses (as well as three thumbnail monthly calendars for the immediate past, present, and future months).

Each spread is divided into three horizontal sections. The top section is where you write your weekly task list, divided up by category. The middle section allows you to assign those tasks to a specific day. And in the bottom, timed section you can schedule the work around your appointments.

When I was using the Planner Pad, I loved that I could group my tasks by category (financial, clients, personal, etc) and see them all in one spread. That beginning-of-the-week brain dump was very beneficial. Then scheduling the tasks meant they actually got done.

And I also liked the calendars at the back of the planner that allowed for future planning.

One advantage that electronic task management tends to have over paper planners is that you don’t have to re-write tasks. The Planner Pad addresses that by printing a dashed line on the corner of each right-hand page. They suggest that you turn down the corner if you haven’t finished all the tasks on a spread so that you can easily revisit it when planning your week’s tasks, without having to rewrite. In reality, I found that hard to implement and would just rewrite the tasks. But it is an intriguing idea.

Planner Pad comes in loose-leaf and spiral-bound editions. It comes in three sizes and in dated and undated versions. There’s a dated version that starts at the beginning of each quarter, so you don’t have to wait until the new year to start! To learn more about Planner Pad Organizers, check out their website, where you’ll find all the products (including some accessories), along with videos and testimonials. Planner Pad comes with a six-month guarantee for new customers.

Between now and June 30, 2020. you can use the coupon code AFF2020 to get 20 percent off your purchase!

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Worth repeating: Completing a jigsaw puzzle five pieces at a time

11 May 2020

I originally published this post just seven months ago, but since so many people are doing jigsaw puzzles these days, I think it’s worth repeating. I’ve had several people say to me that if they start a puzzle, they can’t pull away from it and will stay up all night until it’s completed. And therefore they don’t do puzzles! Perhaps I’m just wired differently, but I love my five-piece-at-a-time method because I can sneak in small, enjoyable snippets of puzzle-solving without it taking over my day. And this method allows me to extend my enjoyment and savor the puzzle! The picture is of the puzzle I’m currently working on, Washington, DC from White Mountain Puzzles. I’m thoroughly enjoying it. (It makes me want to visit Washington, DC, where I lived for five years after college!)

I enjoy doing jigsaw puzzles. One-thousand-word puzzles are just the right size and my favorite kind to do are collage puzzles. I think I like collages because of all the easy sorting that can be done.

Last month I completed a 1000-word collage puzzle five pieces at a time and mentioned it on Episode 68 of Getting to Good Enough, the podcast I host with Shannon Wilkinson. I’m just about to finish another puzzle using this method, which I devised for myself, and I find the method so successful (and relevant to other parts of my life) that I thought I’d share.

I do jigsaw puzzles at the end of our dining-room table. There’s room there, since there are only two us of eating (unless we have guests). But I don’t want a puzzle to languish there untended. I also don’t have hours a day to devote to doing puzzles. And I don’t want to wreck my productivity on a workday by getting sucked into a puzzle. So here’s what I do.

I start by connecting the edge pieces of the puzzle, which has always been my favorite part of the puzzle. (I can’t imagine working on the interior with the edges set up…I wonder what that says about me?)

Once I have the edge pieces connected, I tell myself that I will connect five puzzle pieces and then I’ll stop. That’s it. It’s that easy.

Much of the time in the early stages of completing a puzzle is spent sorting. With collage puzzles, I sort pieces into likely sets. I use empty boxes for the sorting. (At last! a use for those Apple boxes I can’t seem to throw away.) To achieve my pieces, I will connect pieces within those sets and/or I’ll connect pieces within the puzzle itself. If I connect a group of already-connected pieces into the puzzle, that counts as one piece.

This is the puzzle I’m currently working on (The Games We Play from White Mountain Puzzles), taken a week ago.

Here are some of the boxes of sets.

And here is the puzzle this morning. I’m almost finished! This puzzle has been particularly enjoyable.

As I see it, here are some of the benefits of my five-pieces-at-a-time method:

  • It makes the puzzle feel very achievable
  • The goal is so small I can easily grab a little pocket of time to do it, so the puzzle doesn’t languish
  • I get to enjoy working on the puzzle many times a day
  • I don’t get so caught up in the puzzle that I don’t go to bed or work (it’s kind of like setting a timer)
  • I get the pleasure of watching the puzzle emerge slowly
  • I get to enjoy little achievements over and over again while doing the puzzle

I think that last point might be most important and also really relevant to other (non-puzzle) tasks. By setting tiny goal after tiny goal, I get the thrill of achievement each step of the way. I am literally never frustrated by a puzzle because I can always find five pieces to put together. (That might be because I like collage puzzles…I think I’d find puzzles with vast swatches of monochromatic areas frustrating.)

Next time I get stalled or frustrated while working on a project, I’m going to think about how I might make it more like a jigsaw puzzle and just set my sights on connecting the next five pieces.

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Tiny projects challenge: Day 5

8 May 2020

On this fifth and last day of my personal tiny projects challenge, I moved out of my office to the living room and spent less than 15 minutes on the end table next to the chair where I watch TV, write postcards to voters (and in doing so practice my hand lettering) and knit.

I use different lettering techniques on my postcards depending on the content. So I bring to the end table different pens from my collection (stored elsewhere in the living room) to figure out how I want to letter. The trouble is, I’m not so great at putting the pens back. The clutter had reached critical mass by yesterday morning when I took this picture:

I set my stopwatch this time, so I know that it took me only 13 minutes this morning to get from there to this:

In that time, I separated out the pens that I’m using in the current postcard project, giving myself plenty of choices of colors, and tested all the black mono-line pens, since I knew some were wearing out. I threw away the bad pens and put the good ones together in a jar. I stored the colored pens that I’m not using on my current project, so now the pens that I want immediate access to fit in two tidy jars.

I had started five postcards last night and they remain on the table, and I moved my clipboard with addresses to my postcard supply area. It all feels great, though I realize now that I need to turn to my attention to my larger collection of pens, which has gotten a bit unruly.

My takeaway: I’ve noticed this week that by setting a timer and mindfully taking on a little challenge, rather than simply tidying up, I’m taking extra beneficial steps. This time I actually tested pens so I could toss dead ones and checked for expiration dates so I could throw away expired snacks. On Day 1, I actually scanned and filed, rather than tidying those papers into an orderly pile!

I’m going to stop blogging about my tiny projects, but I won’t stop doing them. I hope these posts have provided you a little inspiration for selecting some small and doable organizing projects so you can enjoy frequent wins and feel productive. It’s certainly felt good to me this week—and I invested a total of only about 90 minutes!

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About Janine

Hello! I’m Janine Adams — a certified professional organizer based in St. Louis, and the creator of Peace of Mind Organizing®.

I love order, harmony + beauty, but I believe that the way that you feel about yourself and your home is what truly matters.

If you’re ready to de­clutter with a purpose and add more ease to your life, you’ve found the right blog — and you’ve found the right gal.

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