Happy Saturday! Carolyn here again. (Or at least I think it’s Saturday…) I don’t know about all of you, but quarantine has thrown me for a loop. Getting used to sharing a workspace with my husband, strategizing our grocery store runs, and just trying to keep up with everything going on in the world—it’s all been unexpected, to say the least. I’m going on week seven of staying at home and finally starting to feel like I’m settling into a routine.
I know I’m not only one who’s felt this way, which is why I thought we could all use a few organization tips in the next Saturday Series. Let’s face it—we’re all trying to feel more organized on a good day, let alone when the world has been turned upside down. Though I have a few established strategies of my own, I definitely don’t consider myself to be an organization specialist. I decided to call in the experts, otherwise known as Olivia Nicoletti, Owner & Lead Planner at Olive Fine Weddings in Chicago.
Olivia and I actually met at the Hello Adams Family Holiday Party, and her Instagram quickly became one of my favorite accounts to follow (even though I’m no longer planning a wedding!). Olivia is a delight in every way, but her networking and organization skills are truly unparalleled. Olivia was kind enough to walk us through a few of her go-to organization strategies, along with her advice for staying on track while working from home. I think you’ll find her tips to be helpful for any profession!
Q: With meetings, calls, events, and weddings all happening year-round, I have to imagine your calendar is jam-packed. Can you walk us through how your calendar is organized? Do you color-code or block off personal time? Do you keep one calendar for work or life, or do you keep the two separate?
A: I am a big believer that an organized calendar reflects an organized mind. Like many of you, if an event or meeting is not on my calendar, it’s just not going to happen! So, I take extra care to make sure my calendar is up to date and complete. And, since I am an entrepreneur, I don’t have the obvious division of calendars between a corporate office and home since I use one computer for everything. Furthermore, since I’m in the wedding industry, my busy days are everyone else’s leisure days (on the weekend!), so it’s imperative that I can compare personal / work calendars at-a-glance. Phew! That said, I am an avid Google Calendar user and employ a few strategies here:
- Color-coding is my JAM. I have a calendar that’s attached to my personal email (pink) that holds brunch dates, OrangeTheory classes, phone calls with friends and family, and personal extracurricular activities. My second calendar is for work (green!) and it’s attached to my business’ G-Suite. This includes all calls (and you can integrate Zoom so that all meetings can become calls with the click of a button), meetings, venue tours, client touch bases, etc. I invite all relevant parties to these meetings, especially since I often work across time zones and want to make sure we’re all on the same page. My third main calendar is a shared calendar between me and my husband. We were always asking (and re-asking!) each other about weddings, travel, and family stuff, so we built this 5 years ago, and it’s a game-changer. We block off weekends and anything after work so that we can keep up with each other’s schedules.
- I just started time-blocking my calendar and MAN does it make a difference. For example, when I work a wedding on Saturday, I am usually a bit behind on other projects by the time Monday rolls around, so I block Mondays from all other calls, meetings, and projects besides catching up on all things work and life. It puts me in a better mindset for the week and takes the pressure off my Sundays. I also block at least half of another weekday and Fridays from meetings so I can get big projects done or prep for Saturday events without distractions. Further, I put 30-minute blocks in the morning and the evening to create barriers around my day. Like many of us, I could work late into the evening without noticing, so I find that if I have a “Start your Day!” calendar hold at 9AM and an “End your Day!” at 7PM, my work / life boundaries are much clearer.
- You’ve got to be flexible. Each Friday, I try to peek at the following week and move things around as needed. Sometimes, I have tough deadlines that need some extra attention, or I had a doubleheader weekend and I need Monday for recovery. If I look ahead and notice that I put too much on my calendar, I try to consolidate and carve out other time later in the week.
Q: What’s your system for taking notes? Do you use a program like Evernote, or do you handwrite everything? How do you balance staying engaged in meetings while also feeling like you need to write down every detail?
A: I really miss the days of handwritten notes! I love a good notebook and pen. BUT, when I’m constantly sharing notes with clients or I need to search notes for something specific while building a wedding day timeline, electronic notes are so, so much better. I manage everything for myself and my clients in Google Drive, so I have a “Meeting Notes” folder in each clients’ drive where I keep careful notes.
Balancing note-taking during meetings/calls is definitely tough, but it works in both mine and my clients’ favor that I’m meticulous. My notes are often a mess after a meeting, but I always take a few minutes to organize them, highlight to-dos, and share as a link after meetings so we’re all on the same page.
Q: Okay, let’s talk EMAIL. I happen to know that you’re an inbox zero person, so how do you manage the neverending flow of emails? Do you answer emails throughout the day, or do you set aside a few specific times to tackle your inbox?
A: This is absolutely my biggest challenge! Emails come in literalllyyyy all day long, and I could stare at my email the entire day and never tackle anything else. Also, so much of my work exists in my email inbox (drafting emails, using content from emails to build timelines, etc.), so it’s not like I can close it for hours at a time and only set certain times to check. I wish! Therefore, many of the strategies below are to not only organize my inbox, but also to provide ways to keep my inbox from distracting me all day. That said, the strategies I list below are still (somewhat) aspirational and I have to work at them every day!
- I just started using the Priority Inbox feature of Gmail. Basically, it automatically puts my emails in three buckets — “Important and Unread,” “Starred,” and “Everything Else.” This means that I can skip the step of categorizing my emails—Lyft receipts and subscription emails go into “Everything Else,” while all client and vendor emails filter their way to the top. The other benefit of this is that you can minimize each inbox on the screen, so the existing emails aren’t so distracting.
- Then, I apply labels to all the “Important and Unread” emails. Once again, color-coding is my personal heaven. I have colored labels for “Client,” “Projects,” “Leads,” etc. I set filters so that some are automatically applied, and I color-code them based on urgency so that I can get a quick at-a-glance idea of what’s the most important.
- I recently added a plugin from CloudHQ called “Pause Inbox.” Right under the compose button is a big “Pause Inbox” button. You can literally pause your inbox from showing you new emails, and you can set a certain time frame (30 min, 2 hours, whatever). For someone like me who needs my inbox open often, but doesn’t want to be distracted, this is a godsend.
- The elusive inbox zero. Gosh, I wish I could tell you that I get there at the end of every day. There’s something so magical about a managed inbox! So, at the beginning of every day, I review all of my “Important and Unread” emails and respond to the quick ones to get them out of the way. Then, I read everything else and decide whether it needs my attention today, or if it can wait. If it needs my attention today, I set it to unread, so I’ll come back to it. If it can wait, I mark it as read and add it to the “Starred” section. Part of my morning routine is to review all starred emails so I’m sure to get back to it. At the end of the day, I do the same thing: did I get to all those unread emails? If not, I add it to the starred inbox so I will take care of it in the morning, or I just take a few extra minutes to answer it right then! The best tool that exists on Gmail right now is the ability to schedule emails….!! See below.
- Schedule send emails. Oh, sweet Gmail. The best way to get and keep inbox zero is to schedule send emails. If I’m at the end of my day getting through final emails or sending out a bunch of inquiries at once, I can schedule them all to be sent the next morning. Emails are just boomerangs waiting to fill your inbox back up, so if you can postpone the response until the next morning, it’s an evening game changer. Highly, highly recommend!
Q: As a small business owner, it must be hard to “turn off” at the end of the day. How do you make sure to take time away for yourself? What are your favorite ways to de-stress?
A: This is such a great question, and something many of us struggle with! Since I am a business owner and work primarily out of my home, it’s so easy to just work all the time. (I’m sure many of you are feeling this as you’re forced to WFH, maybe for the first time, in this time of COVID-19!) Like I mentioned above, I schedule an “End your Day!” 30 minutes on the calendar, and have a few tasks that I take care of during that time — reviewing my inbox one more time, getting prepared for next-day meetings, and organizing my to-do list. Not only does this force me to have a productive end of my day, but it also psychologically puts a barrier on my evening. There is a before and after. After that 30 minutes, I turn my monitor off, turn off my office light, and leave my phone in my office. I am guilty of spending too much time on my phone, and now that we’re home all the time, my phone usage has gone through the roof. But I know that I sleep better, and that I’m a better wife and person if I can separate myself from the endless desire to check it. So, I leave my phone in my office during dinner and evening activities. I’ll check it once or twice, but mostly leave it behind! It gives me some serious space between my work and my life. To de-stress, I love working out (I miss Orange Theory so much!!), reading, catching up on TV, and spending time outside. I am itchingggg for Chicago summer!
Q: If you could only give one piece of advice to someone who’s feeling really disorganized, what would it be? This can apply to work, life, or both!
A: Find tools that work for you! Just like skincare or clothes, not everything works for everyone. First and foremost, be honest about how you like and need to work (love a good pen and paper, but everything needs to be shared electronically? You’re making more work for yourself by taking notes on paper and transcribing them. Find another way to use that trusty pen and paper — could be as simple as a morning mindful journal). Then, look for tools to help you meet those goals. Besides Gmail (obviously), I really love Todoist, Trello, Calendly, and Planoly. But, I think the most important thing is to have an organized physical space. Wherever you’re working (even if it’s your dining room table right now!), make an effort to tidy up, close your notebooks at the end of the day, clean off errant dishes, and wipe down all surfaces. It will make a worlddd of difference. Happy organizing!