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Five Tips for Organizing the Home Office

Categories: Career, Hacking Life

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Our home-based businesses are becoming busier every day, and it has become necessary for me to purge and organize the home office. I can’t work amid clutter. The closet had become a dumping ground for all kinds of things that didn’t have a place elsewhere in our home. I had old office supplies that I no longer used, piles of papers to sort through, and a lot of items I had been holding onto to sell, but hadn’t got around to. Organizing our homes office so that is efficient for two home-based businesses turned out to be a bigger task than I had anticipated.

I recently sat down with Laura Watts, a professional organizer and operator of her own home-based business, Double Take Organizing, and listened as she shared her tips for getting the home office organized and how to keep it that way.

Here are five of my favourite tips that Laura provided for organizing the home office.

1. Paper is the cause of a lot of disorganization in a home office. Laura recommended that to help eliminate clutter from paper, touch a piece of paper only once! That means that if you print something, file it. If you write a list, refer to it as soon as you can and discard it when you’ve completed the tasks on it. There are a ton of electronic tools and apps available to help you manage a paper problem or eliminate its use.

2. Magnetize with paint. This idea has me totally captivated! I love a magnetic surface for getting things up off my desk. I especially like magnetic clips that will hold bunches of coupons, photographs, paint chips or kids’ artwork, and being able to put these up on a magnetic wall surface sounds like a terrific way to organize the home office. Further tips for using magnetized paint can be found here.

3. Use a business card capture app such as Abbyy. A few years ago I tried out a business card capture app for my iphone but I wasn’t happy with the results. The technology just hadn’t advanced to the point where the data capture was accurate. Abbyy is a great app that is very accurate and totally worth the $4.99 I paid for it if it means my data won’t get lost and I can maintain up-to-date, accurate records of my business contacts.

4. Ask yourself if you’ve used the item in the last year. There comes a time in every home office organization project when purging becomes necessary. To ease the difficulty of eliminating extra clutter from the home office, get rid of stuff! Give it away, donate it to shops such as Salvation Army or Value Vilage, or throw it in the garbage. I usually have to wait until the right mood strikes me to do this, but when it does, look out! I had five garbage bags of stuff picked up last week and another five will be picked up next week. It feels good.


Another pile ready for donation. Get out of my house!

5. Go vertical. The amount of wall space in my office that is left blank is dwindling. Almost every wall has either a shelving unit of some kind, a bracket or basket for holding files and documents that I can’t throw away. When you run out of space to actually work at your desk, go up!


Even this space beneath my office window is being used to help me stay organized. No space is wasted!

What is your favourite method for organizing the home office?

What to do (Before and) After Your Cell Phone is Stolen

Categories: Hacking Life

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Last week I experienced what can only be described as the shock of having my cell phone stolen. Or so I’d thought. (More on that later.) In that hour or so of panic, I learned some valuable lessons about what to do if your cell phone is, indeed stolen.

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I was doing errands on a beautiful, warm afternoon, and I pulled into a small plaza to pop into a discount dollar store to pick up a couple of gift bags. I left the windows down in my truck about three inches, grabbed my purse, leaving my phone in the center console, and locked the doors behind me.

I went into the dollar store, went directly to the gift bag aisle and retrieved what I needed, paying the cashier before returning to the truck. I was in the store a total of about two or three minutes.

I settled myself back into the driver’s seat and reached for my phone.

My phone wasn’t where I’d left it.

I rummaged hastily through my bag, and the phone wasn’t there, either.

I checked between the seats. I checked under the seats. I checked under the truck.

I asked several people if they’d seen anyone reach into the truck. A kind man on the sidewalk offered to call my phone for me and I accepted. Nothing happened.

I could only assume that someone had watched me leave the truck and was now nearby hiding somewhere, looking at my list of contacts, my photographs, reading my Facebook feed, making long distance calls…I wanted to cry.

I left a business card with the dollar store owner in the rare event the phone turned up, and left. I felt lost. I had many emotions during that drive to meet my mom: sadness, anger, embarrassment, confusion…I cried. I was so angry at myself for leaving the phone in the truck in the first place, for being trusting and naive, for thinking that I could leave something valuable in the vehicle twenty feet away from where I was shopping without it being stolen. I imagined having to tell my husband what had happened and how we’d have to go out of pocket for a new phone.

When I met up with my mom, the friend that was with her called my cell phone. I didn’t hold my breath. Then, miraculously, someone answered.

The plaza where I’d been shopping also had a bank and the person who answered my phone was a bank teller. Someone had picked up my phone off the ground and brought it in. I guess my phone hadn’t been in the console, after all. I had somehow managed to drop it on the ground without realizing it and in the brief time I was in the dollar store, it had been returned. My faith in humanity restored, I went back across town to retrieve the phone from the bank teller.

Is there a moral to this story? Yes, I think there is a whole discussion we could have about when to have faith in your fellow citizens instead of assuming the worst. There is a discussion to be had about where cell phones belong in a vehicle (safely stowed in a bag, for example). There is also a discussion to be had about what to do when your cell phone is stolen.

This experience taught me that some of the things you can and should do after your phone is stolen or lost.

1. Report the loss/theft to your service provider. My provider’s policy, for example, is to suspend the phone and block it from further use so that the owner isn’t liable for the costs associated with usage by the individual who stole it.

2. Change the passwords on your bank accounts and social media applications to prevent someone else from logging into them from your device.

3. File a police report. While this might sound drastic, your insurance company and/or service provider may require it and this could help prevent further fees being incurred. Lysa Myers of The Mac Security Blog writes, “Anything you want to do from this point forward will be best accomplished with a police report in place. So go to the nearest law enforcement office and document the theft. Your cell phone company may require it and your insurance will definitely require it. And if you get information from a Device-Finder app, the police will be better able to help you recover it.”

To help ensure the security of your data and personal information before your phone is lost or stolen:

1. Set the password/lock feature to the highest level possible. My phone is now set to lock, requiring the password, after one minute of inactivity rather than five minutes. After all, I thought it had only taken a couple of minutes for the phone to be lifted from my truck, and in that time the phone would not have become locked.

2. Activate “Find My iPhone” if you’re using an iPhone or install another app that will use the GPS to help track down the location of your lost or stolen phone.

3. Pick a spot to keep your phone when you’re on the go and consistently stick with it. I’m seriously thinking about picking up a belt clip for my phone and making a habit of keeping it there!

Have you ever had your phone lost or stolen? How did you handle it?

Five Easy Steps for Successful Meal Planning

Categories: Hacking Life, Making Time, cooking

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The road to becoming a successful meal planner is paved with good intentions, isn’t it?

I’m a chronic recipe collector. On a daily basis, I tear recipes out of magazines, pin recipes to the personal Pinterest board I call “Yumminess,” I print recipes from websites and stash them into a binder, I borrow cookbooks from friends and neighbours and post ideas for delicious dinners to my blog’s Facebook page. Does all of this make me a successful meal planner? You’d think it would, but no, it does not. It makes me a chronic recipe collector.

Homemade Pita Pizzas

This summer I’m determined to be a better meal planner. Planning meals makes life so much less stressful, and for busy working mothers, it can be a life saver during the time of day that is usually so rushed and when so many demands are being made by members of the family.

Standing in front of the refrigerator trying to figure out what to make for dinner drives me crazy, and avoiding that craziness is what prompts me to do meal planning. I want to go from recipe collector to meal planner!

You can do meal planning on as small or grand a scale as you’re comfortable with. When I do meal planning, sometimes I only plan a week in advance, and leave out the weekends, assuming we will do takeout one night and leftovers another. Other times I’ve done a whole month in advance, plotting each meal on a dry erase calendar, using my recipe collection as inspiration.

Regardless of the scale upon which you decide to plan meals for your family, here are five quick steps for making your dream of becoming a meal planner into reality.

Make Meal Planning a Breeze…

  1. Collect recipes. (See my habit, described above.) Make it a habit to grab recipes or dinner ideas you think your family will enjoy wherever and whenever you see them. If your kids are old enough, get them into recipe collecting too, and engage them in choosing healthy meals they’ll actually eat.
  2. Pick a day to make meal planning your task. I use Sunday afternoons or evenings, usually, to sit down with a sheet of paper and plot out five meals I want to make over the coming week.
  3. Plan your grocery list around the meals you have planned. For example, if I know I’m going to make spaghetti and meatballs on Wednesday night, I’ll see if all of the ingredients I need are on hand. Whatever isn’t in the pantry, fridge or freezer goes on the grocery list.
  4. Shop according to your plan. (Better yet, if you can afford it and want to save time, arrange to have your groceries delivered.)
  5. Post your meal plan somewhere prominent in your kitchen so you’ll easily remember each morning if there’s something you need to defrost or if you need to carve out some afternoon time to prepare the meal. Mine often gets clipped to the front of the fridge, but I’ve used a dry erase board, too.

Try to stick to the plan, but if for some reason, you can’t don’t sweat it. Meal planning is meant to make life less stressful. Swap out a meal for another night or give yourself permission to call for pizza if you run out of time.

What are your favorite sites for recipe hunting?

What tips do you have for integrating meal planning into your life?

How to Add More Hours to the Week

Categories: Hacking Life, Making Time

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My husband and I are partners in a seasonal business that got underway for the year just this past week. Between that and our other means of earning a living, by the time Friday arrived, our week was officially a couple of hours short.

On Friday while he was on his way home from work, Graham sent me the usual text message.

“What’s for dinner?”

I groaned and texted back, “Don’t know yet, gotta hit grocery store before daycare pickup.”

Later that evening after I’d managed to scrape something together for supper, my plans to hit the local grocery store foiled, Graham suggested I do a little research into the possibility of having our groceries delivered.

I couldn’t get to the computer fast enough.

I was delighted to discover that there was, indeed, a grocery delivery service in our area and they would even accept payment at the door. No credit card required! As much as  I wanted to save time, I wasn’t willing to pay interest on our weekly food bill.

I put in an experimental order, arranged a delivery time and presto, the very next morning our groceries were dropped off, all packed up beautifully. All I had to do was pay and put them away. It was beautiful.

I started to wonder what other services I could use to save time, essentially adding hours to my week.

As I gushed on Twitter about my newfound love for grocery delivery, friends online revealed they have shirts cleaned so they don’t have to iron them. Others proclaimed their undying love for their cleaning ladies. One person even admitted to ordering tampons and paper towels for delivery to avoid multiple errands in a busy city.

As for my family and I, we will be having our groceries delivered for the next little while. I’m giving us the gift of time, for a small delivery fee that is totally worth the cost.

What services do you make use of to save time and energy?

How to work politely in public

Categories: Hacking Life, Making Time, The Juggle

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The other day, I was sitting in a corner of my local community center’s lounge, trying to finish writing an article on deadline while my daughter was in her gymnastics class.

A mom and her daughter came in a few minutes after I’d settled myself into my work. She must have a child in the same gymnastics class as my daughter, because they’re there at the same time I am every week. And, every week, the same thing happens: She starts talking loudly, either to her older daughter or on her cell phone, while moving furniture around to create a space in which her daughter can do her homework. If there are books on the small table in the lounge, she dumps them on the floor with an exaggerated sigh, and then (loudly) tells her older daughter to start her homework. She glares at the two or three other people in the room if we look up from our books or our laptops. She goes through her daughter’s folder, reading comments from the teacher out loud and announcing each grade on each test.

Which made me think: There should really be a set of rules posted somewhere, for people who have to work in public.
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4 tips for making the most of your money

Categories: Frugal Living, Hacking Life

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piggy.jpgFor years now — decades, really — I’ve challenged myself to make the most of my money. The ability to stretch a dollar or pinch a penny can mean the difference between feeling like we “have” and feeling like we “have not” when it comes to things like groceries and birthday presents for preschoolers’ parties; being the breadwinner makes the process easier in some instances (I know exactly how much money is coming in and going out) and harder in others (I know exactly how much money is coming in and going on).

I’ve found that, for my family, the most straight-forward and simple money-saving tricks work but, at some point, “just spend less money” or “cut out the things you don’t use” isn’t helpful advice. How do you spend less money when you’re spending it on essentials, like childcare when you work full time? What if you can’t cut out cable because you need to have high-speed internet access for your job?
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When the work-life balance scales tip over

Categories: Hacking Life, Making Time

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A good friend once told me that she thinks it’s hilarious that I write about work-life balance when I  have so little of it myself. I tell them that I really write about juggling work and life, my full-time career and full-on family, which means that when it comes to balance, I’m the fulcrum on which it rests, not the one who actually achieves it.

But still, she’s right. And now that my primary office is inside my own house, the scales have tipped way over to the work side of things. Which means that I need to do a better job of going from “work mode” to “home mode.”
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Are moms healthier and happier because they work?

Categories: Career, Hacking Life


A recent study of 1,364 new mothers found that, over the course of about a decade, the moms who worked at least part time were healthier and happier than those who decided to stay home with their kids — especially when their kids were very young.

It sounds like the latest battle in the ongoing Mommy Wars, but it doesn’t have to be. The health benefits, the happiness… I think it all boils down to whether you’re doing what you really want to be doing.
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Working moms: We need to believe that it’s not selfish to take care of ourselves

Categories: Hacking Life, Making Time

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I’m supposed to be on vacation this week but, as usually, I have once again discovered that I don’t know how to unwind. Even when I’m not at work, I rarely feel like I can just sit still and be; there are people to see and chores to do and the house to (fake) clean and kids to feed/amuse/maintain. And, after a while, I feel like a wind-up toy that’s stuck in the “on” position, gears rapidly working toward burnout.

The problem is that, with so much on our to-do lists all the time, we working moms have conditioned ourselves to believe that really taking care of ourselves is selfish, or at least not that important. When we do it, we justify it, almost as if we feel guilty about it: We “deserve” time to ourselves, we need to “make time” to exercise. Or, at least, I do.

And it turns out that I’m not alone.
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Helpful holiday hint: Stop trying to be in control

Categories: Hacking Life, The Juggle

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Hi, my name is Lylah. And, in addition to being the Queen of Procrastination and the Empress of Clutter, I am a Control Freak.

This will come as no surprise to anyone who has spent more than an hour in my company.

It’s not that I need people to do exactly what I say when I say it (though, honestly? That’s kind of nice). It’s that I feel more secure when I know what’s going on, and I’m more likely to know what’s going on if I’m the one holding all (or most) of the cards.

Not realistic. Or healthy. And it only gets worse around the holidays.

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