Get Your Life in Order for ’09

Productivity expert Peggy Duncan talks streamlining, forward thinking



Last year saw economic disaster, record joblessness, and a discouraging outlook for 2009. Though the outlook seems bleak, there are ways to manage the challenges ahead.‘s Janell Hazelwood talked with Peggy Duncan, productivity expert and author of The Time Management Memory Jogger, on how to better organize your life, both at work and at home. As people move into the new year, what are some ways they can make 2009 more productive—both at work and in their home life?

Peggy Duncan: People waste hours a day always looking for something. At home, one of the best things you can do is organize your closet. Go through everything. If you didn’t wear it last year and don’t love it, donate it. If you love it, save it one more year, but if you don’t wear it in 2009, don’t let it see 2010. Put like items together in your closet and sort by color (e.g., suits, light to dark). You’ll start each day with less chaos and stress.

At home and work, prepare for the next day the day or night before.

At work, clear the mess off your desk and create a logical system for paperwork, much like your closet, by putting like subjects together. Then create that same logical system for your computer files. Go through every project you’re doing and develop smarter ways to get them done. Use the right technology to speed everything up.

You have a background in technology. What are some ways people can better use technology to help in their productivity?

[Many] aren’t aware of features in the software they use every day that’s been there for years. Very few take classes, and still use the computer like it’s a typewriter. They don’t click the buttons, nor do they wonder what the buttons do. They spend hours doing something [themselves] that the technology they already have can do in minutes, seconds, or nanoseconds. You can record a quick macro (a series of commands you can capture and run anytime you need to perform the task) that will handle mundane work with the click of a button. A formula in Microsoft Excel takes work you do by hand and figures it out before you can blink.

You can link the information in a spreadsheet with a graph in PowerPoint that gets updated every time Excel changes. You can manage your entire life in Microsoft Outlook: drag from the inbox to the calendar or tasks, save multiple signatures to quickly insert information you send often, view multiple calendars in the background to let you know when everyone can meet, and so much more.

What do you tell someone who is so used to disorganization that it is difficult for them to get into a more streamlined and organized way of living?

They have to want it. A lot of times they’re working like that because no one has ever shown them a different way. They

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  • Peggy,

    Outstanding! As usual, you together with your very broad expertise is so immaculately shared.

    Best regards for continually being upward bound!!

  • Well said. A great article with some depth. Thanks for not reiterating the obvious.

  • Peggy, Great article! I tend to be very organized and use many of the tips you’ve shared. However, as an entrepreneur I find that many of the customers and colleagues I work with have chaotic schedules, disorganized work lives and a healthy supply of stone tablets and chisels! (The computer as a glorified typewriter syndrome!) Have any suggestions for dealing with other people who bring chaos?

    PEACE. Rick S.

  • @Rick Sherrell, Hello Rick, Thanks!

    It’s amazing to me how people work like this…much by choice because they won’t stop long enough to figure out a better way. I like breezing through life and naturally look for ways to make work easy. My business mantra is to make a bunch of money for the least amount of work. Being organized, having better processes, and being a technonut make this possible.

    I’m in control of my time and I refuse to be an enabler of other people’s bad habits. So if you call me at the last minute to help you with something that I know you procrastinated about, sorry but I’m not the one. But if you call me with a plan that I know has been well thought-out, I’m there.

    Find the pain. Discover what their chaos is preventing them from doing and offer solutions. For instance, if Joe says he hates that he can’t take his son to more ballgames, show him how getting organized could give him back hours a day. Or suggest that spending a few hours learning his software will give him back days, weeks, or more (I’m serious…it can). Bottom line here: refuse to be an enabler of the chaos and find their pain and offer solutions.

    Hope this helps.


  • @Elian, Oooh, thanks Elian. That’s exactly what I was trying to do.

  • David Motkoski

    Great article Peggy, I tried this voting thing and I think I did it wrong. This article is a 5 out of 5. What I finally did to help me get organized is that I imagined looking at my self from above and on paper I decribed in words what I saw. What I did through the day, how that looked, what I did with paper and how that looked and after discribing myself to me and then reading it a few times, it became easier for me to correct my mistakes and get organized. I helped my wife do the same and she had great results as well. Peggy you have been a great help to me in getting organized, thank you.
    On a side note I have been trying to reach you, I need one more blue desk file sorter, do you still sell these? Thanks for all you do.

  • @David Motkoski, Hi David, that’s interesting. If your eyes always see a mess, your mind will become one so it sounds like you’re thinking more clearly now. Congratulations!

    On the tickler file, I’ll send you a direct email about that. Don’t want BE to kick us off the site.

  • Peggy,

    I enjoyed your article and will put your tips to use. You suggested that readers should consider a computer class. Do you think online classes are good for individuals who use their computers like a typewriter?


  • Hi Paula, thanks for writing. It depends on their learning style, their previous experience (they know some things by trial and error but are missing out on a lot of the power), how complicated the program is that they’re trying to learn (e.g., PhotoShop), and what type of online training you’re talking about.

    The ultimate for any training is being in a traditional classroom with an instructor who can see when you’re lost or confused. If it’s online with an instructor (Webinar), that’s almost as good as being live (but not for a novice). If the training is computer-based, meaning you follow the instructions screen by screen, it’s easy to get bored and not finish because that doesn’t fit your learning style. This type of training works best when it’s delivered in small chunks (e.g., the lesson is only on mail merge). Then you have weird people like me who can sit for hours with computer-based training or reading a computer book or a Webinar. So I guess the bottom line is it depends. I hope this makes sense.

  • Judith

    “Guilty as charged” for not knowing how best to use my computer software. I’ve learned alot in the last 5 years, but am beginning to realize that there is much more to learn. Thanks for the nudge: I’ll look for a class!
    Good article!

  • Hey Peggy,

    Your organizational tips are awesome. Any chance of us seeing your tips on video? I am a visual person and would love to see your tips in action.

    All the best


  • Peggy this was a great informative article. Thanks so much for sharing your tips for organization and productivity. I am a firm believer that organization in life and business is a must, and we should embrace constant change too.
    It was a pleasure meeting you at the SCORE 08′ Conference, and I wish you continued success.
    Thanks again,
    Africa Riviera

  • @Africa Riviera, Thank you, Africa. I remember meeting you at the conference. Disorganization is at the root of so many other problems. Help me spread the word.

  • Excellent tips, Peggy. What is that on the quick macro link?

  • Hi Al, I don’t know that software. That’s a BE link. You can record a macro directly in your software for free (I use the Office suite).

  • You’ve given your fans the “WoW” factor once again!
    This is the type of positive energy we all need in this world of chaotic change. Keep giving it!

    My question is how can I finally begin to write my book on small/large business networking and netweaving in a corporate/government environment.
    Of course each entrepreneur author has that unique niche expertise to be able to tell a story. You’ve obviously found yours, how do I tell mine?
    Your biggest fan!

  • Peggy Parks

    This is a great article!!!
    I always learn good stuff from you.
    Thank you!

  • @Maurice L. Threatt, Thank you Maurice! Sounds like you have a little procrastination thing going on. Don’t think of a whole book…that’s too overwhelming. Break it up into small projects by writing articles. Before long, you’ll have enough to develop into a book.

    The hardest thing to do is get started. So write a paragraph today, one tomorrow, and so on until you hit a groove and want to keep writing. Get to it!

  • Announcement: I just confirmed that I’ll present a time management seminar at Black Enterprise’s Women of Power Summit in Orlando. I’m on the agenda the afternoon of Friday, Feb 13th. My info should be added to the site soon. Hope to see you there!

  • Another GREAT article!! Thanks for continuing to share your resource bank of knowledge (smile).

  • Great article Peggy!

    You offer excellent time saving tips as always.
    Congratulations on securing a presentation slot for the women’s summit.

  • Hi Peggy,

    Excellent article. You’re always on point. I especially appreciate the points on making better use of the computer to increase productivity.

  • BE fan

    Janell, this is a great article. The questions you posed to Ms. Duncan were spot on. Your article is fantastic. I enjoy reading your articles.

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  • Making the decision to get your closet organized is a step in the right direction. The task can see too much in the beginning, but with some helpful tips you will get the job done.

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