Confession: I'm a Paper Junkie.

Confession: I am a paper junkie. More specifically, a paper planner junkie. All through high school, college, and law school, I used a paper planner. That Target paper planner aisle sings to me with its sweet siren song.

And yet, as you know by now, I’m convinced most of us should run our lives on electronic calendars (I have a whole blog post on this so I won’t go into why here). But … I still can’t totally kick my paper planner tendency. So this is my middle ground approach...

Before I continue, let me be clear: my electronic calendar governs my life. EVERYTHING is in it. You absolutely need one calendar where you see everything you have on your plate (and, at the very least, a phone app that lets you see you work and personal calendars together).

That said, for some of us, something magical happens when we put pen to paper to write out our schedule. My solution? My life is governed by my Google Calendar, but I have two month-view @botanicalpaperworks’ free printable calendars on our fridge (this month’s and next) that list out the main events — travel, my husband’s ever-changing work schedule, doctor’s appointments, and childcare. All of these appointments are in my electronic calendar (and my electronic calendar governs), but writing out the month view big-event schedule and being able to scan it quickly while grabbing the milk is so helpful and lets it sink into my brain a bit more.

I tell you this to give you freedom to make your systems work for you. There’s no “right way” to do this. My only strong recommendation: have one place where everything lives (for me, my Google Calendar) — and if you want to supplement with something that makes you happy and that won’t confuse you, great!

Anyone else a paper lover and sometimes struggle in this digital age??

3 Tips for Dealing With Your Email Problem

My guess is you're not surprised when I tell you that you have an email problem. We all do. We spend way too much time living in our email inbox. There, we feel “busy,” but at the end of the day, we usually haven’t really moved the ball forward on our important projects.

This is likely because, as Chris Sacca put it:

Your email inbox is a to-do list created for you by other people.

Let that sink in.

Your inbox contains requests for your time from other people. Some of these requests are totally legit. Some align with or are part of your important projects. Others are not. Some are panicked emails shouting "fire!" because the sender dropped the ball and now wants you to bail them out -- and that panic can be contagious. (Sidenote: we should all have post-it notes that read "a lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine" stuck to our computers as reminders).

So here are three tips for dealing with email.

1. YOU decide. Before you dig into your email inbox, YOU must decide what tasks are most important for you to accomplish that day. I encourage clients to have weekly planning sessions where you do this planning ahead of time. But even if you don't do weekly planning sessions, you must take the time to decide what you need to get done each day -- before you check your email and get inundated by other people's ideas of how you should spend your day.

Don’t relinquish that decision-making power to whoever emailed you last night. Obviously things may need to shift based on what you see in your inbox, but getting clear on what YOU believe you need to get done will help you understand that other person’s request in the context of your priorities. For example, you may let that "fire!" email dominate the next two hours of your day if you're not clear on what else needs to get done, but won't if you've already reminded yourself that you have a big brief/report/grant/etc. due in three days that you must work on this morning.

2. Reduce the volume of email. There are many ways to do this, but I'll share three quick tips now:

  • Use Unroll.me to quickly unsubscribe from tons of junk mail. It takes less than 10 minutes and serves you well forever.

  • Send less email. You’ll get less email. This sounds so simple and obvious, but it's true. If you often engage in 15-message long back-and-forths with someone to resolve an issue, try calling instead of emailing – it’ll take less time and lets you put that issue behind you faster. I dread non-social phone calls too, but it really does pay off. We can be brave together!

  • Tell people not to respond unless there's an issue. Especially if you're emailing a group of people, put an end to the 15 "thanks" emails that serve no real purpose and just distract you throughout the day as they roll in. Write something like "No need to respond unless there's an issue" at the beginning and end of your email.

3. Stop letting email interrupt your entire day. Get intentional about when you check email - and turn off your notifications so you're not tempted to check at other times. If email is not part of your core job description (and it's usually not) (i.e., a customer service rep's core job duties include a quick email response time, but a doctor’s typically doesn't), you should NOT live in your email inbox. That's a very reactionary and interrupted homebase from which to attempt to focus on a project. You need distraction-free time to get your work done. If it’s appropriate in your role, check email only 3 times a day: morning, before lunch, and about an hour before you leave for the day. If that doesn’t work for you, find 2-3 blocks of time (each 2-3 hours) in your week where you go dark to ensure you get that required focus time. No email. No distractions. Just real work. Get creative and make sure you have no-email/no-interruption focus time in whatever way you can get it. (On a related note: get creative on where you have it. If you know people will interrupt you at your desk, work from home, at a coffee shop or, as one friend did it, find an empty office in your building and hide/work there. Get creative!)

Good luck! Let me know which tip works best for you.

For My Litigators: How to Organize A Legal Case File

Likely because there was no "how to stay organized during the day-to-day chaos" class in law school, many attorneys suffer from disorganized case files. Disorganized case files mean last-minute scrambles to meet deadlines, twinges of mild panic when clients request information that we can’t find quickly, and - most importantly - a lack of mental clarity regarding case strategy and status.

Initially, I was right there too. As a new attorney straight out of law school at a big law firm in Boston, I had no direction regarding how to keep my case files organized and important information accessible.

Over time, through experimentation, observation of some impressively organized attorneys and research, I figured out systems to help me keep important documents handy, discovery and electronic files under control, and deadlines met without undue stress or scramble. Given the lack of information on this front for new attorneys (and experienced attorneys, for that matter), I wanted to pass along my system in case it’s helpful to you.

A note: There’s not a “right way” to do this. But it is important to have one way you do it for every case, which keeps you efficient and helps you (and your team) quickly find information when you need it.

Here are three big-picture tips:

Tip 1: Organize by category, not chronology. Obviously, chronology has its place in legal case files. But I’m always surprised how many attorneys organize all case documents by chronology and only chronology (perhaps breaking out correspondence and pleadings). When they need a particular document, finding it requires remembering the date it was received - and that’s just inefficient. Plus, you can’t cart around alllll those documents when you only need certain critical ones most of the time.

Instead, organize by category. Broadly speaking, keep documents divided and stored in these categories: (a) foundational documents that you’ll refer to frequently (e.g., the underlying patents and/or contracts, a simple chart setting out case deadlines, your judge’s chamber rules, elements of causes of actions and defenses), (b) discovery documents (requests, responses and related correspondence), (c) documents relating to a particular motion (briefs, cited case law, exhibits and related correspondence), and (d) a redweld of miscellaneous other documents that you don’t need to refer to frequently but don’t want to shred. This structure mirrors how your brain works and will allow you to find the documents you need quickly — and have a better understanding of the issues in your case.

Tip 2: Binders are your best friend. While the immediate image of an attorney is one carrying around a redweld (those expandable file folders), binders can’t be beat in terms of how they let you easily reference material while maintaining order. And if you need to travel with the contents, just use a large binder clip to keep the documents together and transfer them into redweld for travel — and return the documents once you’re back home.

Tip 3: Have one main binder with the case’s most important documents. You could call this your case bible or your “case management notebook.” Whatever you want to call it, this puppy should hold the foundational documents of your case you’ll be referencing all the time. Having all critical documents in one binder lets you grab it quickly while dashing off to a partner’s office or jumping onto a client call, confident you have all important information with you.

If my system sounds appealing to you and you want detailed step-by-step instructions on how to set up your case management and discovery binders (down to the cover pages and tables of contents), how to structure your case deadlines chart, how to organize your electronic file storage depending on your document management system, and even get some guidance on managing your calendar, then check out my guide, How to Organize Your Legal Case Files.

What’s your favorite organizational trick when it comes to your case files? Comment below. And please share this article with anyone you think would find it useful!

3 Reasons To Put EVERYTHING In Your Calendar

Anyone who hangs out here for a minute knows I’m a huge proponent of putting everything in your calendar.  Tasks, time you want to protect for yourself to read that book, everything.  “What?!,” you may think, “That’ll clutter up my schedule, not give me more white space in my calendar!”

Yes and no.  Hear me out:

  1. You want to be able to trust the white space in your calendar.  Whether that stuff is in your calendar or not, you're already spending your time doing it.  In other words, if you currently don’t put everything in your calendar, you can’t trust the white space in it.  Instead, the white space means, “go look at your 3 to-do lists and 12 post-it notes to find out what to do during this window.” 
     
    Putting tasks in your calendar and planning out when to do them means that where there's white space, there's actually free time!  What a novel concept.  
     
    And when you know when your free time is (and sometimes can move things around to move that free time to when you want it), you can plan to use it doing something you love.
     

  2. Get Real.  Putting everything you spend your time doing in your calendar means you have to get real about how much you can do in a day.  
     
    And that's great news! It forces you to prioritize and helps you feel accomplished at the end of the day (instead of disappointed that you didn’t get everything done even though it was impossible for you to do it all in the first place!).
     

  3. Just say no.  Saying “yes” to a new invite/project from your boss/etc. means saying “no” to something else.  Always.  Even if the “no” is to a quiet night in by yourself with a glass of wine and your favorite show/book.  
     
    Once you start calendaring everything (tasks, internal deadlines for work, time protected for yourself), you see in black and white (or fun Google Calendar colors) what exactly you’d be saying “no” to if you took on another project, went out for that acquaintance's birthday, etc.  I’m not saying you have to say “no” to everything or can’t adjust your calendar to make a new opportunity work. I adjust my calendar all the time! I’m just saying you'd be able to make more informed decisions about how you spend your time, and that gives you confidence and ownership (which feels a lot better than uncertainty/feeling lost).

When you can trust the white space in your calendar, set more realistic expectations for yourself about what you can accomplish in a day, and say “no” to protect time for yourself, you’ll see your free time better and can plan to use it in ways that make you happy (instead of stumbling upon it when you don’t expect it and frittering it away on Instagram because that sounds way more fun than checking those 12 post-it notes for something you “should” do).

Give it a try. If you want to learn more about this, download my free guide: The Busy Woman’s Game Plan To Getting It All Done.

Protect Your Calm + Focus - Edit Your Phone Notifications

The whole point of a phone notification is to interrupt you no matter what you’re doing to make you pay attention to something else.

Really let that sink in.

A notification’s ENTIRE purpose is to interrupt whatever you’ve CHOSEN to focus on to get you to react to something else you did NOT choose to focus on.

The takeaway: be stingy with what you give that much power to.

I recommend only allowing notifications for these everyday apps:

  • Texts,

  • Phone calls, and

  • Calendar events/tasks.

Also, keep the alerts that you rely on, that serve you well, and don’t go off incessantly. For example, I allow notifications for the below apps because they notify me very infrequently and usually only when it’s super relevant:

  • Uber/Lyft,

  • My weather app Dark Sky (it comes in with a handy “bring your umbrella with you” alert),

  • Airline apps (they don’t alert unless I’m traveling, and they let me know about flight delays, etc.),

  • Reminders (which I don’t use often, but I love being able to tell Siri to remind me to do something when I get home), and

  • My local emergency notification app.

No email. And definitely no news or social media. There’s no reason for you to let those things interrupt what you’ve chosen to spend your time doing. (For those of you resisting turning off email notifications, I just want to point out - if there’s an emergency, they’re going to call you.)

Recent studies have shown cell phones are raising our cortisol levels in a real way, which may shorten our lives. (WHAT? Though, also - I probably could have told you that based on my past experience with alerts.) By reducing the number of notifications you get, you’ll reduce the interruptive, stressful role of your phone. We’re saving lives here, people. 😉

Want to make a change? Right now, go to your phone settings and, assuming you have an iPhone, select Notifications. Scroll through the apps listed there and turn “Off” the “Allow Notifications” buttons — except for those you want to authorize to have that interruptive power over you. For email notifications, if you want no notifications but do like that little number that shows up to tell you how many unread emails there are, leave notifications on, unclick the alert/banner options, turn off sound, but leave “badges” on.

Get intentional and take control. You’re in charge. Not your phone.

Organization ain't about perfection, Ladies.

It ain’t about perfection, ladies. It’s about being able to use your systems to quickly dig out of the chaos life inevitably causes.

The last two weeks have been a bit crazy over here — I went out of town for five days, my husband and I had a staycation at a hotel (well, he had a conference, and I worked in the quiet hotel room, but still), our daughter’s teething, and, when I had spare time, I wanted to get work stuff done, not stay on top of the incoming mail, travel receipts, etc.

As a result, my desk got a bit wonky.

The before: My desk after two weeks of neglect.

The before: My desk after two weeks of neglect.

Yesterday, during my daughter’s nap, I got a glorious hour of digging-out-the-desk time. I love systems — again, not because they have to be followed rigidly (obviously not - see the first photo), but because they let you get life back in order fast so you can enjoy the rest of your day. At the core of my system is this: don’t try to do it all now — do the quick stuff and then schedule when you will do the rest. The result: You’ll actually tackle the mess because you know it’ll only take about an hour, you won’t expect too much of yourself (setting yourself up for failure), and you’ll eliminate stress because you’ll now have a game plan of when you’ll get it all done.

Yesterday, in that hour, I calendared some calls, logged expenses for my business (scanned and tossed receipts), entered some contact info in my CRM (then tossed the business cards), figured out when I’ll fill out a stack of paperwork for my daughter (it’s now hanging out in the action tray), and got my email inboxes cleared out (including calendaring when I’ll handle some bigger issues and snoozing the emails until then). I didn’t get to my filing, but who cares - it’s not time sensitive. Function over perfection. And I got to spend the rest of my day at a friend’s house with my daughter, cooking a great meal, and enjoying it outside with my husband when he got off his shift. All without those pesky, nagging thoughts about what I may be forgetting to do. Love that clarity and ability to be present to enjoy life.

If you want help developing systems so you can be there to, reach out to me via the “Work With Me” link above. I’d love to help.

The after. After an hour of digging out the desk and getting stuff done/scheduled to get done.

The after. After an hour of digging out the desk and getting stuff done/scheduled to get done.

Calendar Your Hobbies

While we’re typically really good at calendaring meetings with others, we don’t usually schedule in time for activities we like to do alone – like journaling, getting back into water coloring, or taking a weekly hike with your dog.  However, that usually means they’re the first to go when conflicts come up — in part because we don’t see them on our calendars when scheduling an appointment or call. So change that. Start blocking out time for your hobbies and activities that bring joy, even if you’re enjoying them alone.   

I’ve had a client resist this, claiming scheduling those downtime activities would make her feel too rigid and stifled.  If you have a similar aversion, try to reframe a calendar’s role in your mind.  By scheduling those activities, you’re not forcing yourself to do them – you’re protecting time for those activities from the other meetings and action items that will definitely try to take over that time slot.  How you spend your time reflects your priorities.  If certain activities affect your happiness, prioritize and protect them.  To do that, block out the time you’ll need to do them in your calendar.  

Plus, you don’t need to be rigid with it. For example, if you know you like to hike on Friday around 4pm, schedule a repeating, weekly two-hour block in your calendar for your hike. Now, one week, let’s say you get an invitation for an event at 4pm that Friday. You look at your calendar and are reminded of your planned hike (which, if it weren’t in there, you may not remember until, on Sunday evening, you realized the reason you felt off was because you never got your hike in this week). If you want to go to the event, you can look to find a free two-hour block on another day for the hike. If there isn’t space for the hike at another time, then you can decide whether the event is worth missing your weekly hike for.

There’s no right or wrong answer here. Regardless of what you decide to do, you’re now making an intentional decision about your priorities and how you want to spend your time instead of just reacting to life and crossing your fingers that you get your hike in that week. Use your calendar to maximize the chance that you’ll get to live the life you want to live by allowing you to be intentional and informed about how you spend your time.

So, your action item: think about what activities you love to do but don’t get to do often enough because … well, life.  And stop letting life happen to you. Start using your calendar to make your life be what you want it to be.

How to Make Your Google Calendar Notifications Better – Use CalAlarm 2's More Persistent Alarms

Your calendar makes your life easier only if you reference it every day. And if you’re like me, you don’t have time to pore over your calendar — you rely on notifications to tap you on the shoulder to remind you of events/action items.  

I love my Google Calendar, but I do have one criticism of it: its notifications. Despite all playing-with-settings gymnastics, Google’s (and my iPhone’s default) notifications basically disappear before I can read them and its snooze function is pretty worthless.

But, never fear! For iPhone users, CalAlarm 2 is a perfect solution — it pesters you until you complete, snooze or move the reminder. And you’re given multiple snooze/move window options that you can customize. Think: Outlook desktop snooze function for your phone. Note: I only use CalAlarm 2 for its notifications function and use Google’s apps for entering/viewing calendar events. 

For Android users, I’ve heard Calendar Notifications Plus gets the job done. If you try it, let me know how it goes.  I’d love to learn more about it.

Turning back to CalAlarm 2, here’s how to use it:

This assumes you already have your Google account set up on your phone and, in your phone settings, have granted your phone’s “Calendars” access to your Google account. 

  1. Install CalAlarm 2 on your iPhone.  It costs $2.99 and is worth way more than that.

  2. Go to your PHONE settings and find "CalAlarm.”  There:

    • Allow access to at least your calendar and "background app refresh."  

    • In “Notifications,” chose how you want it to notify you.  I prefer all three notification options are on - "Lock Screen," "Notifications Cener," and "Banners." I want it to really nag me!  I don't have it alert me with noise, but you could allow it if you'd like that.  

    • I also recommend turning off the "Notification Grouping" function so you see each separate reminder on your lock screen.

  3. Open the CalAlarm app, and go into its settings (cog wheel in top left of the main screen), and make sure it's set up how you want it.  Some tips:

    • I like the "open location in" to be set to Google Maps.  

    • I have it nag me "every minute."  This makes sure I see the reminder, which I can then snooze for a longer period of time if I can’t deal with it right then.

    • I set "snooze" to 15 minutes.  Taking a step back, when you get a notification on your lock screen / banner, you can press down on it and get three options: "Stop," "Snooze," and "More."  Stop means it'll stop nagging you – i.e., only hit this if you’re done with the event/task.  Snooze means it'll snooze the event for your predetermined snooze window -- which is the "snooze" window you’re setting up here (the 15 minute one).  "More" gives you more options, including snooze windows of other lengths of time.  For example, let's say you set your default "snooze" to be 15 minutes in the settings.  Later, if you want to snooze a specific event for 45 minutes, you hit the "More" option and then select 45 minutes.  That'll make more sense once you start using it.  

    • In "Customize Snooze & Move," you can … wait for it … customize your snooze and move windows.  “Snooze” means the event stays where it is in your calendar and the alert is just snoozing.  “Move” means CalAlarm 2 will actually move the event in your calendar by a couple hours, days, or 1-2 weeks.  You'll be able to see that move in your actual Google Calendar.   

  4. On the main screen of the CalAlarm 2 app, in the bottom left corner, there's a calendar icon.  Tap on that.  You can then select which Google Calendar sub-calendars you want to get notifications for.  I allow notifications for all of my calendars, but you could avoid notifications for, e.g., your partner’s personal calendar.

Let me know if you still have questions.  Good luck!

4 Easy Steps To Using Your Calendar To Organize Your Life: Schedule Your Events & Action Items - And Then Back Them Out

No one really teaches us how to use a calendar.  It’s odd.  A calendar is this tool that’s meant to help us run our lives and, yet, growing up, no one showed us how to really take advantage of it.  Even more weirdly, despite this lack of education, women in particular feel shame for not knowing how to manage the bajillion things we’re supposed to manage – work, home, pets, babies, social lives, finances, etc.  So, let’s change that.   Here are some basics on how to use your calendar to make your life easier. 

Step One: Use your calendar to make life easier for “Future You.”  Organization at its core is all about making life easier for the person you’ll be tomorrow, next week and next year.  When it comes to your calendar, approach it with the mentality of “what can I put in my calendar now to make life easier for Future Me?”  A nice side effect of this mentality is reduced stress for you now.  Once you know Future You is all set up and will receive the reminders to get that task done, you can stop worrying about it.

Step Two: Put everything in your calendar.  Our lives are too busy these days to trust that we’ll remember what we need to do right when we need to do it.  So, schedule everything from doctors’ appointments to work calls to a reminder to make coffee for yourself in the morning (Future You thanks you).  Now, this is where an electronic calendar – and more specifically, Google Calendar – really shines.  For those repeating to-dos that could really clutter up your calendar, make a separate “Repeating To-Dos” calendar in Google calendar full of those items.  Then uncheck the "Repeating To-Dos" calendar so you never see that calendar in view when you’re looking at your overall schedule.  But then why have it, you ask?  Because those "Repeating To-Dos" will still trigger reminders to pop up on your phone.  Tada!  The nagging to-do is out of your brain, in a system that’ll pop up and remind you to do it, it’s with all your other to-dos in one place – but it’s also not cluttering up your calendar.  Magic.

Step Three: Calendar an event, and include all the information Future You would love to have when the event comes around.  You likely already know how to do a lot of this.  Calendar an event – name it (e.g., Doctor Appointment with Dr. Smith), schedule it for the right day and time, estimate how long it’ll take so the full amount of time is blocked out, and enter any applicable address or phone number.  (Again, an unaffiliated plug for Google Calendar: on the day of the event, you can then tap on the address and Google Maps will take over and lead you there.)  Now, take your calendaring up a notch by thinking of how to make going to an event / making that call / etc. easier for Future You.  Do you need to bring any paperwork to the meeting?  If so, write “BRING INSURANCE CARD + PAPERWORK” in the title after the title (e.g., “Doctor Appointment with Dr. Smith – INSURANCE CARD + BRING PAPERWORK”).  If the event is a phone call, write “SEE NOTES” after the title (e.g., “Phone Call with Jane – SEE NOTES”) and then, in the notes section, include Jane’s phone number, a note on who’s calling who, and write a quick agenda for the call.  This way, if you sit down one minute before the call, you’re not scrambling to find that email with the call-in number or recall why you’re calling Jane in the first place.

Step Four: Now that that event is calendared, back it out.  What I mean by that is think through all the steps you need to take before the event or deadline – and schedule those action items, too.  Let’s start with something fun: you get an invite to a party and are asked to bring an appetizer.  You calendar the event: “Party at Maddie’s – BRING APP AND BOTTLE OF WINE” on June 19 at 6:30pm.  Note that you calendar 6:30pm because that’s when you want to get there even though the party starts at 6pm (you could write in the notes section “FYI Party starts at 6pm”).  You enter Maddie’s address in the address section.  Done?  No.  Also calendar when you will “Decide what app to bring to Maddie’s Party on 6/19; add ingredients to shopping list – and a bottle of wine,” “Grocery Shop, including ingredients for Maddie’s Party app & a bottle of wine,” and “Prep Maddie’s Party app.”  Calendar these with as much wiggle room as possible as life happens, and you may need to adjust.  You may also want to calendar when you’ll leave for the party (better to figure out now that it’s a 40 min drive, not a 15 min one like you thought) and, particularly if you have kids, when you’re going to shower and get ready for the party. 

Calendaring those action items takes an extra 2-3 minutes but saves you from those laying-awake-at-night fun hangouts with nagging worry that you’ll forget to do something (it’s in your calendar now so rest easy!) and the last-minute scramble to throw an appetizer together.  Plus, calendaring those steps out now lets you see conflicts before they happen.  For example, if you thought you’d make something intricate and warm for the app, it’s super helpful to realize two weeks in advance that the party falls on a day when you have a day-long deposition or a kid’s swim meet, so … maybe you should just prep something fast and cold the night before the party.  Conflict avoided.  Life runs smoother for Future You. 

This applies to all things.  For a work example, if you have a legal brief due in a month, calendar out when you need to have it to your client for review, and therefore when you need to have it to your colleagues for review, and therefore when you need to complete your editing, drafting, researching and outlining (I find thinking it out working backwards from the end result is best in those scenarios).  Again, this takes an extra three minutes of calendaring but gives you a game plan and peace of mind. For client meetings, schedule in your prep time and the time it’ll take to drive to the meeting if necessary.  If you need supplies or product samples for an event, calendar when you’ll order them to make sure they come in in time.  Can you start to see how spending the extra minutes it takes to calendar these leading-up-to-the-event/deadline action items decreases stress, makes you feel like you have your sh…tuff together, and helps you show up strong and in charge? 

It’s a game changer.  Try it, and let me know how it goes.