I'm swooning over the new Brother P-touch Cube

17 August 2017

The Brother Cube is a game changer

Professional organizers love our label makers. I’ve owned a few Brother P-touch label makers over the last dozen years an have always appreciated the clean, crisp laminated labels and the QWERTY keyboards. (I blogged about how to select a label maker back in 2015).

None of my label makers has been perfect. The LED readout on my PT-2030 isn’t backlit and sometimes it’s hard to read. The keyboard is too small to touch type, so typing can be laborious. Navigating the little readout to make corrections is tedious. But it still makes great labels.

I’m delighted to report that Brother has upped its label maker game and created the Brother PT-P300BT aka the Brother P-touch Cube and it’s a game changer. The Cube is a bluetooth-enabled label printer that links with a smartphone app. You download the P-touch Design&Print app and use it to type and design your labels. (The app is available for Apple and Android phones.) Your phone communicates with the printer wirelessly via bluetooth. And it works like a charm.

I just finished up a large team organizing project that required my making a lot of labels. I had read about the Cube on an online forum for professional organizers and was intrigued. But I didn’t see an immediate need to shell out $60 for a new label maker. After labeling 20 or more bins on this job, I realized that if I could dictate my labels rather than type them, the process would go faster. I had a day between the third and fourth sessions of this job, so I purchased the Cube (which was on sale for $45). Yesterday I created 20 or so labels at the end of the session and it was so fast and easy. I’m in love with this new technology.

Here are a few of the features packed into the Cube and the Design&Print app:

  • It’s smaller than a traditional label maker (though at 4.6” x 4.6” x 2.5” it’s by no means tiny).
  • It uses regular TZ laminated tape cartridges, so I don’t have to buy new label tape.
  • There’s lots of flexibility in terms of designing the labels; the app has many frames and symbols.
  • The app comes with templates for attractive labels for typical uses (cords, flash drives, clothing bins, kitchen, for example).
  • You can use any font that your phone has available.
  • My team members can put the app on their phones and print to my printer (using my tape) from wherever we are in the client’s house.
  • You dictate your labels like you dictate your texts!

Is it perfect? Of course not. Here’s my wish list to make it better:

  • I wish it had a rechargeable battery (like my phone) rather than my having to use the included power adapter or my own batteries (it takes 6 AAA batteries, not included).
  • I wish it had an automatic label cutter. Instead I have to press down on the cutter between labels.
  • I wish I didn’t have to pair my phone to the device each time I use it. In fairness, I’ve had it for less than 48 hours—maybe there’s a fix for that.
  • I wish it would default to one label to be printed so I didn’t have to touch the quantity each time. (Again, perhaps there’s a setting for that I haven’t found.)

The Cube is on sale for $45 at all the online outlets I checked (Office Depot, Amazon, Staples). I believe that sale price expires on August 19. That said, I would have been happy to pay the full price of $60. For me, it’s well worth the price tag.

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What can you do in five minutes?

9 August 2017

I’m a big believer in using a timer to motivate me to work quickly and get stuff done. I have a seriously full calendar but a relatively free morning today so I thought I’d see if I could some clutter spots and other small tasks taken care of.

So I pulled out my phone and asked Siri to set a timer for five minutes. I did it seven times. Here’s what I managed to accomplish in just seven five-minute blocks:

  • I printed a couple of genealogy-related documents, wrote a cover note, and mailed them to a friend who doesn’t have internet access.
  • I whittled away at my email inbox, taking it from 78 messages to 35 in two five-minute sessions
  • I took out of the car and put away a bunch of containers that I’d taken to a client session
  • I inventoried those containers
  • I put away and inventoried a different of set of bins that are stored in my basement
  • I cleared off the completely cluttered countertop in our extra kitchen. It had become a bit of a dumping ground (to say the least).

That’s a lot of distracting clutter busted in just 35 minutes!

Because I apparently have no shame, I’ll share with you that cluttered counter and how it looked five minutes later.

It’s not amazing, but it’s a heck of a lot better for a really small investment of time and effort. (This is a room I don’t spend much time in, but I’d been turning a blind eye for so long!)

Your turn. Do you have a spare five minutes? What can you do in that time to make a difference in your home?

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Worth repeating: Visual task management

31 July 2017

Last week, I took an ICD tele class on Personal Kanban for people with ADHD. I was familiar with personal kanban, having tried it out myself a few times over the last seven years. I was happy to hear Jim Benson, who gave the talk, state that while there are plenty of platforms in which to do kanban digitally, he recommends that people start out with Post-It® Notes and a whiteboard, like I’ve always done. The overriding principles with kanban are (1) visualize your work and (2) limit your works in progress. Here’s my August 2010 post about my experience with personal kanban.

As I blogged last month, I’ve been experimenting with personal kanban for task management. It’s based on a Japanese model of project management, adapted to personal tasks.

I’ve found it to be simple and effective (though I haven’t dug into all the theory behind it) and thought I’d share my thoughts on it. It seems to me that the system is particularly good for visual people, who like to keep things in their face.

Here’s how it’s worked for me:

I took a 30” x 24” white board and divided it (using dry-erase markers) into three columns:

  • Backlog (which takes up half the space)
  • Doing (which takes up 1/6 of the space)
  • Done (1/3 of the space)

I did a brain dump of my tasks, one per Post-it note (I use 3” x 3” Post-its) and put them in the Backlog section. I add tasks as they come to me.

When it’s time to plan my day, I peruse the backlog, selecting up to five tasks to put in my Doing column. I never allow more than five tasks in my Doing column.

When I finish those tasks, the Post-it moves to the Done column. At the end of the day, I remove the Done tasks, placing some back in Backlog if the task wasn’t completely finished.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? It seems very simple to me, though when you start digging around on the Internet, there’s lots of theory and jargon behind it.

Here’s today’s board, at the beginning of the day, after I took off my Dones and figured out the day’s Doing:

Daily tasks are stashed in the lower right area.

I’ve found some great benefits to this system:

  • It keeps me focused on the few tasks I’m supposed to be doing at any given time, rather than flitting from one to another or feeling overwhelmed by my backlog.
  • I use my intuition to pick the tasks that move from Backlog to Doing. I don’t do any fancy prioritizing. (I hate prioritizing tasks.)
  • I get to see my progress as the Done section fills up over the course of the day.
  • I don’t have to keep track of tasks—I just put them in the Backlog section.
  • It’s easy to color code, which gives me a sense of the time I’m spending in various arenas of my life. I use different colored Post-its to represent general business/client work, work on e-commerce, work on business-related volunteer projects and personal items.
  • The physical limitation of the Backlog section forces me to get stuff done (or throw tasks out).

Every now and then the Backlog section gets really crowded. When that happens, I follow the suggestion of Jim Benson, the personal kanban guru, and do a Time Capsule in which I pluck off a bunch of small tasks, put those notes on my desk, and power through them. That’s very effective. If I spend an hour or so a week doing that, lots of little things get done (and off my board).

The biggest drawback, so far, to this system (for me) has been the lack of portability. I’m accustomed to keeping a to-do list with me (like my Autofocus list, one of the systems that preceded this effort). When I’m out and about, I have to jot down the task and remember to put it on my board.

I just today downloaded a personal kanban iPhone app called iKan, which may solve the problem. I don’t like the the idea of having both electronic and physical boards, so I envision the iKan for me to capture tasks. But I haven’t even played with it yet. I’ll report back.

If I were into electronic task management, I could use an electronic personal kanban system, like LeanKit Kanban. But the physical one is working nicely for me.

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Using Evernote to organize my Kindle library

28 July 2017

As I posted back in 2013 in a post called there’s no such thing as a free book, I have no shortage of books on my beloved Kindle Paperwhite. (I still love it and I’m still using the same device I bought in December 2012!)

Because it’s so easy to download free Kindle books, thanks to Bookbub and my local public libraries, I have hundreds of books on my Kindle. Unfortunately, the user interface of on the Amazon website under “Your Content and Devices” offers only two ways to organize my vast library. One is to sort it by Title, Author, or Acquired Date. The other is to put books into collections. Neither is sufficient, in my opinion.

My problem would arise when I finished a book and wanted to figure out which one to start next. If I looked at the Amazon site, I would see one screen of books, usually the ones most recently acquired. I tried making collections, but that was cumbersome and less than helpful.

Then I thought about Evernote, which I already use to I organize virtually everything else in my life. Eureka!

I created a notebook called Kindle Library. In the notebook I entered about 30 books from my library that I was fairly sure that I wanted to read. Each book gets a note. The title of the note is the book’s title. The body of the note contains the author and the date I acquired it.

Here’s a screenshot of the most recent notes in my library:

Using Evernote to organize my Kindle library

I use tags abundantly to make it easy for me to figure out which book to read next. I have tags for genre and for favorite authors. And I use a tag called Next Up for books I know I’ll be anxious to read. I tag library books so I can try to read them before they expire. I also tag a book Read once I’ve read it.

I’ve created the habit of adding a book to the Kindle Library notebook as soon as I acquire it. That is the key to the success of this system.

I read a lot and I try not to spend a lot of money on books. (Apologies to the authors out there.) With my daily Bookbub email, I try to only consider downloading free books. And lately I’ve been resisting even those because I know they will just clutter up my Kindle library (and the device itself).

Using Evernote for my Kindle library has taken away the slight stress that my Kindle had introduced into my life. Now when I finish a book (I try to read a book a week), it’s easy for me to pick the next one. The key, again, is creating a note for each book as soon as I download it.

Once again Evernote comes to my rescue!

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Shifting priorities

25 July 2017

My dad comfortable back at home.

I recently scheduled a one-week trip that had me in Portland, Oregon, for the wedding of dear friends, followed by five days in Walla Walla, Washington (a 4.5-hour drive from Portland) visiting my father.

Things didn’t go quite as planned. I had a marvelous time at the wedding on Saturday and headed to Walla Walla on Sunday as scheduled. But I discovered on the way that my father had fallen in his condo, where he lives alone, and had been unable to get up for 16 hours. That’s scary business for an 86-year-old. Fortunately, he was able to get up and get help and he was driven to the emergency room. I arrived at the ER about 30 minutes after he did.

Suddenly, the tenor of my trip changed. I quickly extended my day of departure from Friday to Monday. I spent five days hanging out with and advocating for my father at the hospital. On Thursday, the day before I was originally scheduled to leave, he was transferred to a skilled nursing facility for rehab. He did so well there that he stayed only a week. (The original estimate was one to two weeks.) When Monday came, the day of my rescheduled departure, it was very hard for me to envision leaving him without my assistance in handling his home safety visit and transitioning back into his home. I ended up extending my stay again, by a week.

Looking back, the decision seemed like a no brainer. Of course I should stay. But at the time, it was difficult. I had to reschedule about a half dozen client appointments (some of which involved rescheduling teams). I had to adjust my flights and figure out what to do with my rental car (the original plan had me driving the car back to Portland for my flight home), all while trying not to rack up a huge bill. I also was feeling bad about being away from home, where my husband, Barry, was doing all the care for our poodle, Bix, in blistering hot weather.

The minute I made the decision to stay and started changing plans, I felt relieved. Thankfully, I didn’t take too big a hit financially and my clients and team members were, of course, understanding. And Barry was great about it.

I am so glad that I have the flexibility to make adjustments like these. Nothing else I could have done at that time was more important than helping my father stay safe, continue his remarkable recovery, and know how loved he is. At his age (and after a fall-related concussion) it was hard for him to understand everything the medical professionals were telling him, so I was glad I was there to explain things and ask questions on his behalf.

When I left Walla Walla after two weeks, I felt comfortable that my father was safe and could take care of himself. We were both overwhelmed and gratified by the show of concern and support from his many friends. So I’m feeling okay about being back in St. Louis.

Sometimes when life throws things at us, we have to make some tough decisions and shift our priorities. In this case, I’m really glad I followed my gut.

Oh, and by the way, even though my trip swelled from seven to 17 days, I still only wore half of the clothes I brought in my suitcase! Thankfully, I had easy access to laundry facilities.

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Worth repeating: Finding time to feed your soul

20 July 2017

I wrote this post in 2014 and I’m happy to report that I’ve managed to make doing genealogy research part of my morning routine so I’ve succeeded in finding time to feed my soul. If there’s something beneficial you’d like to start doing regularly, this post might help you find a way to find time.

Finding time to feed your soul

I love doing genealogy research. It’s a fairly big part of my life—I blog twice weekly (most weeks) at my genealogy blog, Organize Your Family History, so I actually think about my family research quite a lot.

But I don’t actually research as often as I’d like. And that’s a shame, because researching my family history feeds my soul.

We’re all busy with the daily activities of life. Throw kids, aging parents, demanding work, needy spouses or sick pets into the mix and sometimes it feels like we don’t have any time to do those things that really nourish us.

I believe that doing those things is really important for self care. So how can we find the time?

Time management is all about managing priorities. If you put everyone’s needs before your own, all you’ll be doing is putting out fires. And that’s not good for you. So I think it’s important to figure out little pockets of time that you can set aside as “me time.” During that special time, you can do that thing that keeps you going and that feeds your soul.

How can you find some pockets of time when you’re already so busy?

  • Get up a half hour early to feed your soul
  • Drop an activity that you’re doing because you think you should, not because you want to
  • If you’re a TV watcher, have a no-TV day each week and put that time toward your desired activity
  • Find people who also do what you want to do (like a knitting group) and agree to do that activity together.
  • Block off time on your calendar for your soul-feeding activity
  • Explain to your family your need to have to time of your own and arrange for a redistribution of chores

The list could go on. Perhaps you just need to be a little creative.

If you’re saying to yourself, I can’t take time out for myself while my house is messy…that’ll have to wait until I get organized then please stop. It breaks my heart when people stop their messy homes from allowing them to live. Sure, work on your home, bit by bit (or hire someone to help you), but reward your efforts with some soul-nourishing activity.

Our lives our important and they should be as happy and fulfilling as possible. I’m a firm believer that we can take control of our time and do those things that bring fulfillment.

Can you make some time for yourself this weekend?

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Recap of my 30-day challenges

17 July 2017

Back on June 1, I wrote about the power of the 30-day challenge and created an ambitious list of eight things I wanted to do every day for 30 days.

I just looked back on that list and thought I’d share whether I was able to do all eight things for 30 days. In a word, no. But I did pretty well! Here’s what I accomplished:

  • Genealogy research every day for at least a half hour
  • Back exercises every day
  • I completed the 30-day plank challenge
  • I was mindful in my spending (with the possible exception of buying a car, but I was mindful about that)
  • Four blog posts per week (split between this blog and my genealogy blog, Organize Your Family History)

Here’s what I didn’t manage to accomplish from my list:

  • Clear off my desk every day
  • Make daily progress on new products I’m writing. (That petered out after about five days.)
  • Work on Quickbooks daily. (I lasted about one day on that.)

I feel pretty good about what I was able to get done. But having such a long list of things I wanted to do every day is a great example of overreaching and setting up unrealistic goals.

I’ve tried (and failed) the 30-day plank challenge in the past but the reason I was successful this time (and I’m still planking) is that my friend and colleague Julie Bestry of Best Results Organizing read my June 1 post, offered me planking accountability and started a Facebook group for planking. She’s been amazing. I’m confident that there is no way I would have worked my way up to holding a plank for five minutes at month’s end if it weren’t for Julie and the Facebook accountability.

So the lessons I learned are twofold:

  1. Accountability is critical. Having an accountability partner or other ways of being held accountable can be really beneficial in keeping up with challenges and with creating new routines.
  2. It’s important to set realistic goals. I kept up with five things for 30 days (and I’m still going with some of them). That’s huge! But because I set goals of keeping up with eight things for 30 days, I feel like a bit of a failure. Next time, I’ll keep the list shorter.

My routine got thrown out of whack by a trip to visit my father and some time spend in the hospital with him because he fell. So I’m all discombobulated. But I hope to get back on track as soon as I slip back into my routines at home. (Thanks to Plank Constant, I’m still planking daily, though!)

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About Janine

Janine Adams

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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