All-star Tips from Starr’s The Personal Organizing Workbook

July 21, 2008 at 1:28 pm Leave a comment

Notes from The Personal Organizing Workbook, Meryl Starr

First impressions: wait, there’s pictures of purses and lipstick and closet organizers on the cover….whoops, that’s the wrong book…oh, no it’s not. 

The audience for this book seems to be working women.  There were some good ideas, and some ideas that weren’t that relevant to me.  Nevertheless, the book was practical rather than theoretical, and I appreciated that following the excellent, but exhausting Keeping Found Things Found and Personal Information Management.


Table of contents:


CH1 Stash your stuff

  • Questionnaire
  • Common Problems – and solutions
  • I’m overwhelmed. Where do I even begin?
  • I can never find the things I need.
  • I’m always lugging around a heavy bag.
  • I’m running out of storage space.
  • Projects
  • Project one: Clear out the car
  • Project two: Sort out your clothes closet
  • Project three: Conquer your paperwork

 CH2 Streamline your to-do list

  • Questionnaire
  • Common Problems – and solutions
  • I’m running behind schedule…again.
  • I’ll never get through my mile-long to-do list.
  • It seems like my job is never done.
  • Projects
  • Project one: Update your calendar
  • Project two: Reclaim your personal time
  • Project three: Get a head start on your day

 CH3 Manage your relationships

  • Questionnaire
  • Common Problems – and solutions
  • So many people, so little time…
  • I never get to see my friends anymore.
  • I hate to turn down an invitation, but my social schedule is wearing me out!
  • Projects
  • Project one: Pursue someone new
  • Project two: Add fun to your holiday plans
  • Project three: Entertain friends…and yourself!

 CH4 Stay Organized

  • Questionnaire
  • Common Problems – and solutions
  • I can’t seem to shake old habits.
  • What was it I was supposed to do again?
  • I trusted someone else to do it, and then it didn’t get done.
  • Are we having fun yet?
  • Projects
  • Project one: Seize the day!
  • Project two: Plan a winning week
  • Project three: Put your dream into action



Author’s acknowledgements

Author bibliography


P26 Under organizing solutions, I think the main key here is: everything has its place.

P34 Suggests lightening the load by cutting back on the amount of cosmetics I carry.  Check.  Oh and carry a smaller cuter wallet.

P48 I liked the mandate to toss junk mail and the comment “you can tell its junk…when the words ‘or current resident’ are present.  Any company that can’t take the time to write to you personally isn’t worth yours.”

P64 discussing to-do lists suggests writing a want-to-do list…  write down long term goal and start to make dreams come true….From Keeping Found Things Found, P268 The graduate student who took notes but rarely referred to them later.  The act of taking notes helped her understand the lecture better and also made immediately apparent the points that she didn’t understand in time to ask questions.  P362, “…both the act of writing and its visible results help us to think through the plans to be made”

  • Make dates on the calendar to pursue the items on the want-to-do list.
  • Check your calendar regularly
  • Get a convenient and even fun calendar – go with what works for you and plenty of space
  • Families should have a wall calendar
  • Improve on-time arrival by setting clocks and watches ahead.  Have a clock in every room, even the bathroom.
  • P68 other organizing solutions
  • Make priorities into urgent action items
  • Set reasonable goals by breaking down projects and being realistic how long tasks will take. 
  • Minimize multitasking and concentrate on one task at a time.
  • Group similar tasks together. 
  • Don’t try to do it all
  • get a jump on tomorrow today, create the next day’s list the night before
  • Cut down on the list
  • say no instead of maybe
  • negotiate tasks and due dates
  • graciously decline
  • Make tasks fun, e.g. Invite a friend or go to a cool store instead of one that’s more efficient but bland.

P72 some more organizing solutions regarding running errands, I guess to the grocery store…

  • Limit errand runs to once or twice a week. 
  • Keep a pen and paper handy all the time so you can make note of what you need. [the last of my ‘KM made simple’ list: “And finally, always carry a pen and paper.  Maybe your pocketmod, or just the back of a receipt, but being able to capture those quick thoughts can be useful.”
  • Get an entire week’s meals covered and buy in bulk. 
  • Make a plan of action and do errands geographically. 
  • Set out your clothes and breakfast the night before.
  • Stay focused,
  • Do what you can no more
  • minimize distractions
  • tell other people that you are busy
  • keep momentum
  • don’t do it all yourself
  • create a chore board
  • trade tasks, divide and conquer with friends, ask for a favor once and a while, accept help graciously, pull a Tom Sawyer,
  • I add – always have a dinner plan in the hole for times when things are chaotic and the last thing you want to do is think about what’s for dinner.  A break-glass-when-hungry emergency meal.

P74 Calendar tips

Get the household on the same page with a household calendar….

Keep one calendar.  Review it often.

Seasonal ideas to add.


  • cleanup
  • planting
  • research summer camps
  • picnics
  • air conditioning serviced


  • check sports equipment
  • plan summer vacations
  • summer fairs and festivals
  • weekend getaways


  • stash summer items
  • bring out sweaters
  • household repairs done before cold
  • flu shots
  • winterize windows and check car tires


  • plan indoor entertainment
  • organize a book club

….also listed monthly ideas too…but I’m reminded of that book of lists I read a while ago, Checklists for Life by Lagatree – these lists don’t work for me, and they don’t really teach me how to write a good list…but then again in KFTF P220 it talked about creating and sharing organizational structures as sort of templates to help people get started with organizing…

P83 Some contradictory advice: suggests stealing an hour from sleeping time by getting up earlier than usual or staying up later to get things done, but earlier it asked P58 “How often do you forego sleep?”  And said ideal answer was never.  “As leading scientist point out, the cumulative effect of even a lost hour or two now and again can wreak havoc with your stress levels and productivity…”  So wait…two pages later says don’t forego sleep again and suggests ways to get better sleep: exercise, less sugar caffeine and alcohol, and making the bedroom a sanctuary – no work or TV in the bedroom.  I’m very confused here. 

P137 tips for staying organized…I liked “make room for an item when you buy it.”  Everything has a place.

P140 most of us shrug off memory lapses and say if it were important I’d remember, but the human brain has a tendency to suppress stress-inducing thoughts.  Instead trust crucial tasks to paper …group tasks into like categories.

P141 writing down intentions and stating them out loud are effective means prompting the brain to remember. Again from KFTF about writing things down, that they helped “make” the memory.

P143 make it a date, write down all appointments, Write that note NOW, short term memory is only able to store information about a minute.  Break things to memorize into bite size chunks, maybe we can remember only seven things – maybe only three.  Group items into chunks.

P144 delegating – telling someone to do something is only half of your task, following up is the other half.  Schedule follow up time.

Staying organized lists:



  • collect thoughts review, group tasks, geography, time
  • Think of one thing you’d really like to do and schedule the time to do it


  • look over to-do lists and check off completed
  • glance over tomorrows schedule
  • look at tasks you didn’t complete and why
  • review notes


  • Make a daily routine
  • Who needs to do what
  • Delegate
  • Find the right time slots


  • Include accounting, housecleaning, bulk grocery, recycling and garbage, phone calls for next week’s appointments.’


  • think small and take realistic steps to your goal, schedule these steps, take baby steps to the goal, and get help where you need it
  • Keep a journal so no inspirations are lost.

This book was a little weird to read when it was giving tips for going on hot dates, etc. but there were some good ideas.  It was a little of Allan’s GTD, a lot of optimism, and some practical advice.  But while it’s great to have a check box for cleaning out the closet, finding the time is impossible.


Entry filed under: PIM.

Computer-mediated intellectual activities and CoPs The Power of the Question

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