Dear friend,


Overwhelmed by everything you have to do? Tired of post-its taking over every space in your office? Read on for proven strategies to add efficiency and order to your to-do lists.


Once you get those to-do lists in order, be sure to check out the interview with Andrew Mellen, aka VirgoMan. He is an organizational expert featured in Oprah magazine with a book ready to hit the shelves this Spring.  Read on....


Simply yours,



Proven Strategies to Add Efficiency and Order to Your To-Do Lists
For most of us, to-do lists (be them post-its stuck to every inch of your desk or scribbled lists on the back of a receipt) are our guides to productivity. They are the scripts that lead us closer to achieving our goals. While some tasks are lofty – world peace – and others slightly less so – get new tube of toothpaste – all of these tasks occupy vital space in our mind. By writing out our tasks on lists, it allows us to free up that precious space in our mind. Based on my own personal experience and tips from getting-things-done gurus like David Allen and Steven Covey, here are some strategies to add efficiency and order to your to-do lists.


  1. Respect Your Calendar: Your calendar is for time-sensitive tasks ONLY. If you have a meeting tomorrow at 4, this event goes on your calendar, not on your to-do list. If your need to work on a project for an hour today, this task goes on your calendar. Your calendar is sacred ground. Respect its ability to organize your day by ONLY putting time-sensitive information on it. Now what about everything else....
  2. Create Context Specific To-Do Lists: I picked up this tip from David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done, and have found it increases my efficiency ten-fold. Rather than one master to-do list with everything imaginable listed in no specific order, create separate lists based on the context needed to complete them. For instance, all errands go on an errand list. All calls, go on a call list. Here are my suggestions for some categories:

· At Computer: Any task that you need to be sitting at your computer to complete goes on this list (Internet research, pay bills on-line, buy gifts on-line, write proposal for work, etc.)

· Calls: Any calls you need to make go on this list. I also find it helpful to list the phone number next to the name so you do not waste time looking for a phone number when you have the opportunity to make a call.

· Errands: Any errands that require you to leave the house and do/buy/return something go on this list. This list is great to have with you when you are in the car so you can refer to it. If you happen to be out for lunch, the list can trigger your memory that you need to pick something up at the hardware store that happens to be down the block.

· Spouse/Partner:  Once your head is out of the clouds and your feet are planted firmly on the ground, you realize that being in a partnership is not all roses and chocolates. Someone actually has to pick up the cat food, take the kids to school, make the dinner reservations, etc. I keep a list of all of the things I think of throughout the day that I want to review with my partner. When we’re sitting down to dinner it’s easy for me to talk about these different tasks and know that I’m not forgetting anything.

· Books/Movies: How many of you have been told: “You have to read this book. It’s amazing!” Of course, when you get to the library or book store, you can’t remember for the life of you the name of the book or author. I like to keep a short list of movies and books that I want to watch or read.

· Someday/Maybe: Someday I will learn Spanish. Maybe I will take fly fishing lessons. Someday I will read the top 100 classic books. These tasks are definitely things you want to remember and refer to on a semi-regular basis.

· Waiting For: This list is to help remind you of things you have done and which you are waiting for a response. For instance, I sent a letter to the court house refuting a ticket I received. I put this on my Waiting For list to be sure that I get a response from them.

By creating separate lists, you can go directly to the list you want based on what tools you have available (phone, computer, in your car, etc.). Now rather than sifting through a long list of EVERYTHING you need to do, you can efficiently go to one list and start completing items on this list. It is more productive to focus on one activity at a time, rather than constantly switching from one type of task to another.

Now where do you keep these lists? For most of you, you will have an electronic calendar that allows you to create to-do lists (Outlook, Gmail Calendar, etc.). Others of you may prefer to keep your lists on the notepad on your phone. And some of you may rely on a paper day planner. Whatever system you use, these context-specific lists can work for you. On my blog, I will post updates on how to set up these lists on the two most common systems – Outlook and Gmail Calendar.

Interview with Andrew Mellen, aka VirgoMan

This month in honor of Virgos everywhere (aka – the organizing gurus of the zodiac), I sat down with none other than VirgoMan himself. Andrew Mellen has an organizing company called VirgoMan. He has been featured in Oprah magazine and has a new book that will be hitting the shelves Spring 2010. Read on to learn more about this organizational expert and his new book.


AH: How did you first become a professional organizer?


AM: When I moved back East from Seattle I had a job producing an award ceremony at the Kennedy center. And one of our awardees was Elie Wiesel (a writer, professor, political activist, Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor). He’s an amazing man.

So I came out to New York to look at photos that I was going to use to put together a slide montage when he came to collect his award. I went up to their office in New York and their photos were in complete disarray. Things were mislabeled; things were missing; things were loaned out and never returned. In the course of going through things and having a conversation with Mrs. Wiesel, she said to me that she had a woman who was going to come in and organize the photos. The woman worked for about half a day and then she never came back. She asked: “Would you like that job?”

And I said “Oh that would be lovely, what an honor, of course I would love to do that."

So we made a date a few months from now for me to go to work.  In this time I spent a couple months in Washington and then I moved back to New York. I had been in the city for maybe a week or two at that time. I had picked up a job doing some copy editing for a children’s publishing house. So I was doing copyediting and proofreading for them. The day before I was supposed to go to work for the Wiesels, their secretary called me up and said Marion (Mrs. Wiesel) had to travel unexpectedly so let’s re-schedule for January. I said that’s fine.

This happened two more times. The day before I was supposed to work for them I would get a phone call delaying it. By March I decided - I don’t want to chase them. It seems unseemly. If they don’t want to do the work for some reason I don’t want to pester them because it’s not appropriate.

But in the meantime three or four months had elapsed and I had told everyone I had this gig creating a comprehensive photographic archive for Elie Wiesel.  We’re going to organize their photos.  I will be contacting places and retrieving photos that had been loaned out.  And maybe we’ll publish a coffee table book. You know, I was very excited about what was possible with this project. And in having these conversations with friends and colleagues, a friend whom I also worked with at the publishing house referred me to her accountant who needed a filing system.  And so I did create the filing system for the accountant, and then the accountant started referring me to clients of hers who hadn’t filed taxes for years. People showed up on my doorstep with duffle bags full of receipts and said “I don’t know how to begin, can you make sense out of this?” And through that word of mouth, the business just started to build upon itself. And as I said, I never went to work for the Wiesels but it launched this business for me.


AH: So it was very organic process?


AM: I did not set out and think, “Hmm, now that I’m no longer doing non-profit arts administration, what should I do next? I should start organizing people’s individual lives as a business.”

As an arts administrator I had run a theater in Seattle, Washington. I had run a multidisciplinary arts center in Washington D.C. I had a lot of experience running businesses – non-profit businesses – but businesses nonetheless. Between that and my work as a director, producer, and writer, I had this broad skill set that really was useful to individuals and businesses. I think what we do is what used to be called efficiency experts. We’re professional problem solvers. People come to me with a conundrum, with a challenge, a problem, a conflict and have no perspective of how to solve it. They are too deep into it; they are scared; they are in areas where they are perhaps less skilled. So that’s often when I get called in. Whether that is an entire environment, an estate, a start-up business, a business that’s going through some transition, a business that’s having difficulty with something. It’s typically when they get stuck and they need some assistance that they start to look outside for help and then I get the call.


AH: Through all of your work do you see any particular organizational areas with which your clients seem to struggle the most?


Andrew: I think that the things that stick people the most are paper, whether that’s virtual paper or real paper, there’s those things. There’s sentimental objects. And the third one would be clothes. Those are the areas where people seem to get the most stuck. And then there’s obviously everything else. But paper seems to freak people out. And so do sentimental objects. Because they are attached, it is very difficult for them to discern where they end and where the object begins.


AH: Tell me in your own personal life what do you do to stay organized?


AM: The same things I tell my clients, consistency is going to be the thing that is going to keep you organized. Self-discipline is something that we all have more of, less of, everyone falls somewhere of that continuum of self-discipline. People are really disciplined about some things and less disciplined about others. I find that consistency is going to build the habits and the behavior that is going to create a mechanical order.


AH: Tell me about your book and what inspired you initially to write it?


AM: Well I want to get the information out there. Our colleagues have written some books and they are good. But I feel there is obviously room for another one and that’s why I am writing it. I feel like the book that I’m writing is a clear how-to book. It gives a great deal of simple to understand, simple to execute instructions which is something I feel has been missing from a lot of other books. I feel like they’re anecdote-rich and information-light.


And I know that my clients are often looking for good, clear, kind instruction. They are missing a piece of information, they want that information, they want some direction. I don’t like the therapeutic model of you tell me what’s going on with you. I feel like when I go to an expert I am going there for an expert opinion. If it was up to me to figure it out, I don’t need to spend 45 minutes talking to you trying to figure it out. I come to an expert for information.


I feel like that philosophy carries over into my work that I do with my clients. I’m not a therapist as I believe that I’m there to give them information. I’m not waiting for an epiphany to occur in some magic way for them. I want them to experience the information and do things. It’s a working cure, not a talking cure. So for me, the book is about putting this information out there. Since I can’t obviously be with everybody one-on-one, it gives me the opportunity to share this information.  Everybody who’s reading the book as I’ve been writing it has commented on how clear the voice is and how much they feel as I’m there having a conversation with them. I’ve written it in that way. It’s not a lot of hypothetical information. It’s a bunch of practical information. So it’s not “In an ideal world, this might be how one would get organized.” It is specifically “this is how you can get organized. If you follow these steps, you will come out on the other side organized and lighter.”


AH: Tell me the name of the book.


AM: The working title of the book is “Unstuff Your Life.”


AH: It’s expected to come out?


AM: May 2010. The publisher is Avery/Penguin.


AH: Will people be able to get it anywhere?


AM: I certainly hope so! Penguin is publishing it so I’d like to think they are not going to keep it a secret!