Category Archives: Book Reviews

Getting Things Done: Processing – Getting “In” to Empty

You’ve gone through last week’s exercise of collecting everything that has your attention, now it’s time to actually wade through all of it. By the time you’re done with this step, you will have trashed the unnecessary stuff, delegated as much as possible, sorted through your own organizing system and identified any larger projects that are looming.

Check out the chart. Scary.

Basic rules: process the top item first, process one item at a time, never put anything back into your “in” basket. By “process,” Allen means “decide what the thing is, what action is required and then dispatch accordingly.” Your in basket is a processing station, not a storage bin, and the key question to keep in mind is “what’s the next action?” The action step needs to be the absolute next physical thing to do – such as “call accountant and set meeting.” If there is no real and immediate action that can be taken, you can trash it, incubate it or keep it as reference material in your filing system.

Once you determine the next action step:

Do it – delegate it – defer it.

Do it if the action takes less than two minutes.

Delegate it if you’re not the most appropriate person to do the action.

Defer it into your organization system as an option for work to do later.

Finally, shift your attention to outlining your projects – those outcomes that will take more than one action step to complete. Make a list of projects to ensure you have placeholders for all of those open loops. This project list must be completed, and maintained as the key driver for appraising your status and progress.


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Book Review – Brand You by David Royston-Lee

I went into this book thinking it would be the usual bullshit rah-rah cheerleading self-talk nonsense, but it was actually a great exercise in uncovering your “brand” the way you would in a planning session in the “real” advertising world.

The author uses leading, open-ended questions to coax the information out of you – a fresher way of looking at where your talents and values lie and how to translate that into a cohesive “brand” to present to the world.

The first exercise is to list seven peak experiences in your life and under each, complete the following information: talents used during this experience, how these talents were used, where were you, who were you with.

Pretty flat on the surface perhaps, but as I was completing the exercise, I began to notice a couple of trends throughout my experiences that were not previously top of mind. First, my best experiences took place with other people who had tested or auditioned or otherwise qualified into the program/situation. In other words, I don’t like working with stupid, unmotivated people. Big Shocker.

From your peak experiences, go back in and mine a list of talents. Then, go back and reorder the talents used in order of how much joyous energy you received from using them at the time – from most to least.

List 20 people you admire – living or dead, real or fictional followed by a list of traits that you most admire about them. Go back in and mine this list for all of the talents and categorize into 3-5 different categories from most to least important to you. After going through both parts of this exercise, I learned that the trait categories I most admire/aspire to are: (1) intelligence (2) humor/wit (3) high style/aesthetics (4) feminine strength/working mother (5) hardworking + genuine.

The next exercise was something out of Office Space.

How would you spend $5MM on yourself?

How would you spend $5MM on others?

If you had unlimited funds and everlasting life, what would you do? (Other than drink – a lot….)

Uncover your “archetypes” – both primary and secondary – and how to work those into how you present your brand.

  • Caregiver
  • Creator
  • Explorer
  • Hero
  • Innocent
  • Jester
  • Lover
  • Magician
  • Ordinary Guy
  • Ruler
  • Outlaw
  • Sage

I most identify with sage and explorer, with a touch of caregiver and ordinary guy for good measure. From there, the book instructs you to come up with a list of three things about you that are a “unique combo” and can be easily spit out at parties and online.  I’m going with…

I prescribe and implement custom workflow processes for creative agencies and design firms.

I create beautiful finished executions from art directors’ musings and clients’ deepest desires.

I’m a mother of two boys, a productivity + organization blogger and a crafty baker.

Overall, it was a good way to spend a few hours really thinking about what’s important to me, how it can translate into my working life, and how to distill that into a personal “brand.”

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Getting Things Done: Collection – Corralling Your Stuff

In this week’s installment of GTD, we finally get to take some action. Gathering all of your crap, sorting, tossing, and moving forward.

ImageSet aside several hours to gather all of your incompletes, your paper, your “stuff” into one place. Note: this works for both your home and office workspaces, so tackle the most egregious one first. Search your physical environment for anything that doesn’t belong where it is and put it in your in-box (or if you have a lot of crap, use an actual large shipping box), so that they are available for later processing.

What shouldn’t go into the in-box:

• Supplies

• Reference material

• Decoration

• Equipment

If something is clearly trash, go ahead and toss it, don’t put it into your in-box.

Order of attack:

• Start with your desktop

• Move to your desk drawers

• Countertops (stuff on top of cabinets, credenzas, etc)

• Then inside the cabinets

• Floors, Walls + Shelves

• Equipment, Furniture and Fixtures (anything you want to change about the physical space itself)

Once you’ve gathered your stuff to be processed or tossed (hopefully), you’re ready to move on to what David Allen calls “the mind sweep.”

Sit with a stack of blank printer paper and a big ass marker and write out each thought, each idea, each project or thing that has your attention on its own separate sheet of paper. You will be processing these items individually, so it’s best to put each thought on its own sheet. Stick these sheets into your in-box.

To assist in your brain dump mission, you can use this trigger list – go item by item to make sure you’ve included everything.

Print out your important emails, transcribe important voice mails – it sounds terribly analog – but make everything paper-based and physical and put it into the in-box.

Once you have an overflowing in-box and feel that everything is physically and psychically in one place, you can tackle next week’s step: “Getting ‘In’ to Empty.”

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Book Review – Get Organized: Your 12-Month Clutter Killer Guide by Collette Leigh

This image makes me want to hit myself with a hammer until I pass out.


If your place is truly a disaster, like above, you want to spend a long and structured amount of time to get your sh!t together, and you don’t know where to start, this book might be for you. Get Organized breaks out each month according to an area in your home and provides projects to be completed by month’s end (usually over a weekend, natch).

• Month 1: Master Bedroom

• Month 2: Master Bathroom

• Month 3: Kitchen

• Month 4: Reassess existing organizing systems + revise as needed

• Month 5: Guest Room/Home Office

• Month 6: Children’s Bedrooms

• Month 7: Additional Bathrooms

• Month 8: Reassess existing organizing systems + revise as needed

• Month 9: Garage/Laundry Room

• Month 10: Family Room

• Month 11: Dining Room, Entry, Hall Closet

• Month 12: Patio/Backyard

Our place is already in fairly decent shape with only a few exceptions. I’d like to whip the coat closet, office closet and kids’ toys/closets into shape. Also need to wrangle my shoe situation so that I’m not digging through bins to choose that day’s footwear. However, I tend to tackle that stuff in a single day/weekend rather than stretch it out over the course of several weeks or months and analyze it to death.

Ms. Leigh also offers some additional, room-neutral suggestions in the form of the following “Crazy Clutter Killers:”

• Create a catch all for everything that’s out of place – throw random, out-of-place stuff in there throughout the day/cleaning project – then put away at the end of the day

• Toss 10 Game: look around and throw out 10 things per room every day until there’s nothing left to unload

• Hide it: buy furniture that doubles as storage (not really killing clutter, just moving it…)

• Shopping elimination diet – like the “buy nothing day” or “buy nothing week”

• Create one new home organization habit per week – such as: toss all receipts when they come in, corral your loose change, put the mail in an in-box – and stick with it

Personally, I do a sweep of the house every night after the kids are down and before I settle in and relax. I/we go through every room, put random crap where it belongs, wash dishes, straighten towels, put up laundry and stray clothes/shoes and basically make everything neat and tidy.  I don’t sleep well until this is done.

For further reading, here is some info about “Buy Nothing Week”

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Book Review – Why People Fail: The 16 Obstacles to Success and How You Can Overcome Them by Siimon Reynolds


I know I’ve mentioned points from this book on this blog before, but I wanted to dive more deeply into the content. I am totally bonkers in love with “Why People Fail,” it was such an interesting read, super thought provoking. I’m not typically into rah-rah self-help bullsh!t, however these tips were totally in earnest, and the book makes no promise that you’re going to be a gajillionaire or any of that Tony Robbins-type nonsense. WPF just clarifies some basic steps you can take in your everyday life to make room for more joy and more “success,” however you choose to define it. I went through each chapter with great intensity and focus and really thought about the questions Reynolds poses in each.

Here’s an overview (using my language, YMMV…):

  1. Failure to define goals (from short-term daily to lifelong dream)
  2. Destructive thinking – going into every day feeling negative and not psyching yourself up and being thankful for the good things that you have going
  3. Low productivity – wrestling your to-do list to the ground and making it your bitch
  4. Having a fixed mindset – failure to participate, giving up before you’ve even started
  5. Weak energy – crappy eating, crappy sleeping, lazy fatassitude (guilty!)
  6. Not asking the right quality questions – what would you do if you couldn’t fail?
  7. Poor presentation skills – don’t be afraid to stand up in front of a crowd (and no, imagining your audience is naked doesn’t work unless you want to gross yourself out)
  8. Mistaking IQ for EQ – smart people are smart but sometimes they don’t know how to deal with people….learn how to deal with people
  9. Poor Self Image – waaaaah!
  10. Not enough free time to think – you should set aside 20 minutes a day to just think – no working, no iTems, no phone calls, etc
  11. Institute Daily Rituals – (see my “chain” productivity post from earlier in the week)
  12. Stress – I haz it
  13. Relationships – you need an “inner circle” of trusted people who you can run ideas by, get feedback from, and drink with
  14. Lack of Persistence – Meh.
  15. Obsession with Money – this should be a bonus, not your primary focus (hard to do when student loans are on your ass)
  16. Not focusing on your strengths – figure out what your strengths are first (the Clifton Strengths Finder is a great tool, I’ll address it in a future post), and then center your life around these strengths.

Worth a think, no?

Mostly I just wanted to write this post so I could scour the failblog for awesome fail imagery…

OCD Book Review – Frugillionaire by Francine Jay

I’m no Ms. Moneybags…or Mitt Romney type, and between moving to a place where my pay rate is greatly reduced from NYC levels, paying for our own health insurance, and having a new mouth to feed, dinero is pretty tight around Casa Lopez. Not to mention, we’re notorious spenders – it’s sad. We get a peso and it’s gone in an instant.


So, I spent about 45 minutes (really, that’s all it took, one bus ride…) and read another fluffy book – easily digestible in a one suggestion per page format.

99% of these ideas seem totally obvious to me – throw a dinner party instead of going out to eat, stop subscribing to newspapers and magazines, take the bus, blah blah.

My problem is, we spend a fortune on every dinner party we have. It’s crazy. Hundreds of dollars gone – because we like to drink great booze and cook amazing food. It’s really more like a supper club, the way we do it. Haven’t thrown a great dinner party since the holidays, sadly. I miss it. Sigh.

But really, suggestions such as: “stargazing” as an acceptable substitute for bar hopping? Sorry, but I just can’t adjust my attitude that much. I guess what I was looking for was concrete suggestions and hacks on how to cut our insane water bill or save at the store.

And, really, “don’t buy what you can’t afford?” Come on already, duh.

On the other hand, I do like the “keep a money diary” thought because I have no idea where our money goes – I just know it’s gone. Other suggestions are right out of the Suze Ormond playbook: pay yourself first, invest in a Roth IRA, automate your investments, evaluate your tax withholding, etc. This week’s to do list includes looking into credit unions and opening a Roth IRA, but that’s more thanks to reading the Suze book, so I guess have that going for me…just need to take action.

Overall – I guess I pretty much know this Frugillionaire stuff already – what I really need is someone to put a boot to my throat and literally force me to be disciplined and far-sighted in my spending habits. Boo.

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Getting Things Done – Reference Files

What is your general reference filing system like? Do you have two, big-ass metal file cabinets, meticulously organized and lovingly labeled? Do you have big canvas-covered hanging file boxes (as I do) and keep only the bare minimum? Do you have hoarder-esque stacks of crap lining the walls of your office? Or are you all digital, scanning receipts and tossing them later?


According to David Allen, in “Getting Things Done,” your filing system must be “fast, functional and fun, or you’ll resist the whole process.”

Allen recommends an “alpha system” organized entirely by A-Z as opposed to multiple systems. One simple alpha system files everything by topic, project, person or company so that it can only be in 3-4 places if you forgot where you put it. I’m not sure I’m down with this, as I like to keep my reference files according to subject (i.e. – vacation ideas, childcare articles, etc). He also recommends using the heavy-duty metal filing cabinets, having sh!t-tons of fresh file folders available, and labeling every damn thing with a label maker. OK, I agree with all of that. Also, files should be purged at least once a year – for sure…

 OCD: End of month gut check

OK so this month, I put routines in place for morning and night, started writing up and accomplishing two weekly goals every Sunday, instituted the grocery list template, the menu planner, the wipe-off chore list, a petty cash system and clipboards galore… I think I’ve really taken February by the balls here. Doing my best to get into some better habits – maybe acting like more of a grown up (now that I’m pushing 40)… All that good shit…

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Why People Fail – Productivity Exercises

Started reading this awesome book last week – “Why People Fail: The 16 Obstacles to Success” by Siimon (no that’s not a typo) Reynolds.

In my opinion, productivity is all about doing the tasks that get you what you want and chucking all the extraneous crap. An impossible feat, if you don’t know what you want. The first part of Why People Fail is dedicated to exercises aimed at helping you figure out your goals, followed by methods to streamline your life in support of those goals. The following drills are meant to clarify your thinking.

Life Purpose – what is the primary reason you get up in the morning?

Write three possible life purposes that should inspire you and make you more effective.

Job Purpose – write down the three most important tasks you have at work and put them in order of priority. This should help you clarify what action items really need to be done towards your purpose, and what items are BS.

Weekly Purpose – every Sunday, write down the one or two most important tasks that you’d like to accomplish the following week

Ideal Person Clarity – write down what type of person you’d really like to be; choose five character traits you wish you possessed. Then, act the part. (A little weird, but you get the picture).

I went through all of these exercises last week – a bit personal to share, but super thought provoking. My favorite is the weekly purpose – on Sunday evenings, I write down two tasks (in my Moleskine, natch) that I want to do either every day the following week (to get into a habit) or to complete by the end of the week. This week I’m bringing my lunch every day and starting my workout in our sexy home gym (aka: the garage). Last week I went out for a 30 minute walk in the sun every day and did the reworked the monthly budget. Good stuff.

If you’re interested, I highly recommend the book. You can also check out his blog at’s-blog.aspx


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OCD Book Review: Everygirl’s Guide to Life by Maria Menounos

OK, I was skeptical at first…What could an impossibly hot, wealthy, celeb reporter conceivably have to put forth in the way of productivity advice? But, I have to admit, Maria Menounos is an OC-Delight. She’s unexpectedly marvelously anal retentive and her book had a few great take-aways that even a chubby, old mom like myself can put into play. Admittedly, the book reads like it is primarily aimed at young women just starting out on their own, heavy on very basic (and obvious to us elderly chicks) career advice, fashion do’s and don’ts and makeup tips. At my advanced age (did I mention I’m old?), I’m pretty well-versed on these subjects as well as keeping a home and “dating.” I guess I must have done something right – since I have a couple of husbands under my belt 😉

At any rate, the first couple chapters on organization and productivity are a fun read and offer a couple of good nuggets. Pics of her immaculately OCD-organized closet alone are drool-worthy. I immediately wanted to march my paycheck over to Container Store and go on a spree. However, since I can’t afford to install a spa or a screening room in our little casa, several of her suggestions in this realm were ridiculous.

Useful advice:

Create your own “Little Black Book” for reference – meant to house your most important information, so someone could theoretically “operate as you” if you were trapped under a bus.

This is a three-ring binder stocked with plastic sleeves and divided up into several categories:

• emergency contact information : names and numbers of most important friends and family members

• medical information: numbers for allllll of your doctors, dentists, Rx numbers and information, insurance card copies and information, allergies + conditions

• account information: photocopies of bills w/ account numbers and login/passwords, insurance, etc (should also have a digital version of this)

• important numbers: fire, police, attorneys, vet, business managers, landscapers, maintenance, basically all of your services

• insurance + warranty company info – home, life, auto, etc

• information and contact/account numbers for utilities – water, cable, power

• copies of SS cards, birth certificates, drivers licenses, plates

• travel information: accounts, frequent flyer numbers, car service, hotels

• birthdays + anniversaries perpetual calendar, along with address list for card mailing

Travel checklist – put a basic travel checklist in your iPhone notes and go through it/ print out + use every time you go on a trip (I do this now – but for specific trips, so I put a basic list in the phone to copy and paste…)

Grocery list + food diary templates. I use better templates than hers, but I embrace the concept anyway.

Bottom line: mostly frivolous and frothy (at least for anyone over 30) with a few good pieces of advice… Read the above points and save yourself $15.


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Getting Things Done: The “Next Actions” List

Returning to David Allen’s “Getting Things Done,” I’ve reached a portion of the book that I object to… The “next actions” list – as a separate entity from your calendar – or, in other words, the abolition of the to do list.

Maybe this is my reptile brain, pulling back from this concept in revulsion – but my daily to do list is a habit I don’t think I can or want to break. I’m totally dependent on it. At any rate, in the spirit of journalistic integrity, I’ll share his concept with you:

Allen maintains that there are two basic kinds of actions:

  • Those that must be done on a certain day and/or at a certain time (meetings, appointments)
  • Those that just need to be done as soon as you can get to them, around your other calendared items

Your calendar must show only the “hard landscape” around which you do the remainder of your action items. Allen goes on to say that the old habits of daily to-do lists are “bad” (gasp!) because you put actions on the calendar that you think you’d really like to get to that day, but actually might not, and then you have to shift them to the following day. Therefore, the “as soon as I can” stuff should be organized into different lists based on context required for that action. In other words, you have a “calls” list for when items that must be taken care of by phone, and an “errands” list for tasks that must be taken care of in the car, etc. All totally separate from your calendar. You get the picture. So now I have a calendar as well as SEVERAL different to-do lists (I’m sorry, “next action” lists…) that sounds like crazy talk to me. How is that possibly more streamlined than my Moleskine page-a-day 2012 journal? My appointments for the day are there, and I don’t mind having to rewrite an action item on a following day. In fact, it’s a useful exercise to review the list throughout the day and shift as needed, and then to close out my day with a final look – moving stuff over to tomorrow and beyond. It’s soothing, it’s meditative.,. then I know what I have ahead of me tomorrow and I can drift into dreamland with my glass of pinot noir… etc. etc.…

Maybe I’ll adapt this by breaking up my DAILY lists into these categories – as opposed to keeping a separate list/document for each that isn’t assigned to a day. I’ll give that a shot next week and report back.Image

What daily system to you use to manage tasks and appointments? And what are the pros and cons – do share!

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