Monday, October 29, 2012

Work-Life Balance: Is It Time for a New Concept?

Drawing of woman in maternity ward, working on her laptop computer
Image by Mike "Dakinewavamon" Kline, found on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

You know that work-life balance that has been the goal of so many, for so long? A number of people I've been reading lately suggest we use another term that more accurately captures our reality. Here are some people's thoughts on why work-life balance doesn't work — along with some candidates for a replacement term.

1. Work-Life Harmony

Darius "Bubs" Monsef is a startup founder and CEO. He's also a husband and a father. He writes:
How I choose to run my life is to strive not for balance, but for harmony. I embrace that my personal and work lives coexist in the same 24 hours of each day. My founder brain doesn’t shut off and neither does my personal brain.

2. Work-Life Blend or Work-Life Integration

Ron Ashkenas has spent 30 years in consulting. He writes:
The reality for many of us these days is that our professional lives bleed into our personal lives. The boundaries are increasingly permeable and movable. ...

Maybe we need to accept the fact that the sharp demarcation between work and home is a thing of the past, and that the new normal is a life that integrates home and work more seamlessly. ...

We can stop feeling guilty about ... checking our emails at night; and by the same token not feel guilty about talking with our spouses, friends, and family members during work time.
Credit: I found this article via Julie-Ann Burkhart.

3. No alternative term, but not work-life balance!

Erin Doland is editor-in-chief of and the author of the book Unclutter Your Life in One Week; she's also a wife and a mom. Here's her take:
Whenever someone asks me if I have “work-life balance,” it makes my skin crawl. My work is an essential component of who I am. There isn’t a work me and a personal me. I’m just me, all the time. When I’m at work I often think of non-work stuff, and when I’m not at work I often think of work. I don’t have a work/non-work switch.

4. Just "Life"

This one comes in graphic form from Venkatesh Rao (or Venkat), and it's wonderful. The image is used with permission.

drawing - the evolution of work-life

I was drawn to these writings (and drawings) because they capture how I feel about my own life, where the idea of having firm boundaries between "work" and "rest of my life" disappeared long ago. But what's right for me and the people I've quoted isn't necessarily right for everyone. I'm curious about you; how do you feel about this issue of work-life balance? Let me know through email or by adding a comment!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Beyond the Basics: Storage Boxes with Style

storage box with alphabet design - but an adult look

The Bankers Box is an incredibly useful storage container — but what if you'd like boxes that look really nice sitting out on the shelves, or wherever you're placing them? House Industries might be a good place to start your search; its boxes, made from recycled corrugated cardboard, come in three patterns. The boxes are sold in sets of three; you can get three of the same pattern, or one of each. [via Boing Boing]

storage boxes shaped like Dutch canal house

If you don't need to stack the boxes, you might enjoy the whimsy of the Dutch canal house boxes from Tooko. [via Switched on Set and Babygadget]

three orange storage boxes, stacked - small, medium and large

Trunk and Orderly has some great-looking storage boxes. The company's web site says: "These are the real deal — not some flat packed, flimsy box held together with Swedish meatballs. These are a heavy-duty case with steel corners and label holders." [via Lissanne Oliver of Sorted]

three plywood storage boxes with faces painted on them

And if you want to splurge, take a look at the Face (Painted) Boxes from Ferm Living; they're made of plywood. [via Better Living Through Design]

Related Posts:
Back to Basics: The Bankers Box
Reader Question: Brightly Colored Bankers Boxes?
One Person's Story: Making Use of Storage Space

Monday, October 22, 2012

(Overly Optimistic) Estimates R Us

man, dog and vacuum cleaner

Hofstadter's Law: It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter's Law. — Douglas Hofstadter

Do projects always take longer than you expected them to? Join the crowd! Apparently this is so common that it's well-known as the Planning Fallacy. As Scott Anthony explains in the Harvard Business Review Blog Network:
The basic concept, first presented by Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman and his partner Amos Tversky in an influential 1979 paper, is that human beings are astonishingly bad at estimating how long it will take to complete tasks.
And why are we so bad at estimating? 

In her article on how to be a better judge of time, Heidi Grant Halvorson says there are three reasons we get things wrong.
First, we routinely fail to consider our own past experiences while planning. When my husband tells me it will take him 15 minutes to vacuum the carpets, he is ignoring the fact that it took him an hour to do it last time. ...

Second, we ignore the very real possibility that things won't go as planned. ...

Lastly, we don't think about all the steps or subcomponents that make up the task and consider how long each part of the task will take. When you think about painting a room, you may picture yourself using a roller to quickly slap the paint on the walls and think that it won't take much time at all — neglecting to consider how you'll first have to move or cover the furniture, tape all the fixtures and window frames, do all the edging by hand and so on.
So how do we avoid making those overly optimistic estimates?

If you haven't done anything similar before, following Mike Gunderloy's advice seems wise:
When you’re faced with a large piece of work to estimate, don’t try to come up with a single number to cover the entire job all at once. Break it down into pieces, and then break those pieces down into pieces until the pieces are small enough that you can see how you would do each one and put a number on them.

As a general rule of thumb, if the pieces take more than 4 to 8 hours, they’re not small enough yet. Most people have trouble guessing their time to perform any job that will take longer than that.
But if you have done something even somewhat similar, some people suggest using a different tactic. Here's what Oliver Burkeman wrote about that:
Intuitively, it feels sensible to work out in detail what your projects involve, to break them into chunks and estimate how long each part will take. But the problem with unforeseen delays is you can't foresee them, no matter how finely detailed your planning.

And so, writes Eliezer Yudkowsky on the Oxford University blog, the unlikely trick is to plan in less detail: avoid considering the specifics and simply ask yourself how long it's taken to do roughly similar things before. "You'll get back an answer that sounds hideously long, and clearly reflects no understanding of the special reasons why this task will take less time," he writes. "This answer is true. Deal with it."
Note: You can also read Eliezer Yudkowsky's thoughts on the Planning Fallacy over on LessWrong.

Another Approach: Use a rule of thumb to increase your estimates.

Here's Mike Gunderloy's rule of thumb:
When estimating a task, take your first estimate, double it, and add 50%.
And here's the advice Ira Hyman, Jr. says he was given:
First, make your best estimate, then double that, and finally increase your unit of measurement. If your estimate is one hour, then make it two hours, and finally two days.

Credits: Photo by Mitsy McGoo / scmtngirl, found on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

Unison Consulting pointed me to the article by Heidi Grant Halvorson. 99U pointed me to Ira Hyman, Jr. And if you liked what any of the people I've quoted had to say, head on over and read the full articles; it's interesting stuff.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Organizing Tools in the News: Binders

four different ring binders

How many chances does an organizing-related blog get to be topical? Since binders hit the news last night, this seemed like an ideal time to share my latest binder finds — some of which can help those of you who want PVC-free school (and office) supplies. The cardboard binders shown above come from Ferm Living; you can get them in blue, coral, yellow and green.

3-ring binder, floral

DCWV has a number of nice-looking binders. Some are offered at discounted prices on the DCWV website, and you can also buy them through

three patterned 3-ring binders

Capri Designs has four binders which you can buy on the company's web site, or you can get some of them through See Jane Work. They're made of heavy-duty paperboard. Update on Oct. 29, 2013: Capri Designs doesn't see to make these any more.

oilcloth covers for 3-ring binders

Finally, if you already have binders but just want to jazz them up a bit, you could get oilcloth binder covers from rbt Bags, in patterns ranging from stripes and polka dots to designs like the ones shown above.

Related Posts:
9 Alternative 3-Ring Binders
3-Ring Binders: Now We are 12
2-Ring and 3-Ring Binders: Now We Are 18
For Office Supply Fans: 3-Ring Binders to Admire

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

2013 Calendars with Cats, Dogs and Bunnies — and Whales

2013 calendar - painting of dogs in bed with people

For those who prefer paper calendars — with plenty of space to note appointments — it may be time to start looking for a 2013 calendar. Let me show you some of the ones I've found on Etsy recently, starting with the Whimsical Animal Calendar from Sara Pulver of 3 crows.

2013 dog calendar - page shown is a dachshund

I think this 2013 dog calendar from Square Paisley Design is just wonderful.

2013 calendar with Maneki Neko lucky cats

Three Cats Graphics has a 2013 calendar featuring Maneki Neko lucky cats.

2013 calendar with rabbits - page shown is bunny flying a kite

I've written about Nakisha's calendars before, and I'm delighted to see she's got a 2013 calendar with her rabbit paintings at her shop, Blue Dog Rose.

2013 calendar showing animals winning championships - whale on cover

And finally, Sally Harless of Sadly Harmless brings us her 2013 Grand Champions Calendar — with a whale, a rhino, some foxes, and much more.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Quick Canister Update: Two Total Gems

Canisters can be used to store so many things: the flour, sugar and other food products they were originally intended for — or anything else the right size. The most stunning canisters I've seen lately are these, from Owl Creek Ceramics.

But I'm also very fond of the canisters from Heidi Fahrenbacher's architecture series. They're mostly shaped like houses, but the geodesic dome canister is the first one that caught my eye. Heidi's Etsy store is Bella Joy Pottery.

Related Posts:
15 Notable Canister Sets: From Simple to Silly
Containing with Canisters

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

File Folders That (Almost) Make Filing Fun

file folders with colorful flowers

If you want to splurge just a little bit on cool organizing products, you could consider getting some spectacular file folders. The ones above come from Compendium, which also has another attractive set.

file folders with images from the sea - waves, starfish, etc.

I'm also very fond of the Karen Foster Design file folders, sold via

patterned file folders

And then there are the file folders from Lotta Jansdotter, sold by See Jane Work and Update on Oct. 17, 2013: These are no longer sold by See Jane Work.

Cavallini makes gorgeous bird file folders, as I've noted before — but these, sold by Wisteria, also look lovely.

file folders with polka dots

Or you could go with simple geometric designs. Among its many designs, Barker Creek has polka dot file folders in red and white, and in black and white. You can also get these from Wayfair Supply.

striped file folders

These Kate Spade file folders are available from Greer Chicago and See Jane Work. Update on Oct. 17, 2013: I'm no longer finding these being sold anywhere.

file folders with stripes

And Semikolon, from Pierre Belvédère, also has its stripes folders — horizontal stripes, rather than vertical. You can get these online through Bindertek or See Jane Work. Update on Oct. 17, 2013: You can also find them on

Related Posts:
File Folders: Moving Beyond Manila
File Folders: Four More Eye-Catching Alternatives
For Office Supply Fans: Four File Folders

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Containers from Camila, Camilla, Camilla and Karin

Are these bone china storage jars the cutest things ever? They come from Camila Prada, and are available for pre-order. The website says these are very popular, and encourages you to order now before they sell out again. [via Apartment Therapy]

But wait! Maybe the Familjen Pots from Camilla Engdahls are the cutest things ever! There are seven designs, all of which are quite wonderful. Some places to buy them outside of Sweden are Huset and Storefront & Studio. Her Arla Birds are pretty wonderful, too.

And this is part of a series called Container Stories — a collaboration between illustrator Camilla Engman and ceramicist Karin Eriksson.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

An Organizer's Thoughts on the Pinking of October

I have nothing against the color pink — except that it looks bad on me. And if people with cancer, or people who have loved ones with cancer (or who have died of cancer) find it comforting to wear or use the pink items sold as part of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, then I firmly believe they should go right ahead and do so, and take that comfort.

But there's also something a bit unsettling about the "shop to fight breast cancer" approach. Many years ago, Barbara Ehrenreich wrote about the "cornucopia of pink-ribbon-themed breast-cancer products," saying:
You can dress in pink-beribboned sweatshirts, denim shirts, pajamas, lingerie, aprons, loungewear, shoelaces, and socks; accessorize with pink rhinestone brooches, angel pins, scarves, caps, earrings, and bracelets; brighten up your home with breast-cancer candles, stained-glass pink-ribbon candleholders, coffee mugs, pendants, wind chimes, and night-lights; pay your bills with special BreastChecks or a separate line of Checks for the Cure.
And that was back in 2001. There are many more pink items to choose from now.

Reactions are decidedly mixed. Many people buy such products — but some, like Tim J, find the whole pink ribbon thing hurtful: "My mom died of BC last year; I work at a place that makes bagels in the shape of 'pink ribbons' all October. I hate it."

This year, the person whose voice I'm noticing the most is Xeni Jardin, who has been undergoing her own treatments for breast cancer since her diagnosis in December 2011, and sharing her experiences on the internet. Lately she's been writing about the profusion of pink, and today she posted this series of tweets on Twitter:
Instead of #PinkNausea, use $ to help a woman dealing w bc: cooking dinner, taking out for coffee, etc.

If you want to “support women with breast cancer” in #pinktober, find 1. Bring her groceries. Pay a medical bill. Drive her kids to school.

Reject pinksploitation. Help directly. Volunteer to drive a woman in your area who needs help getting to/from chemo, radiation, surgery.

Reject breast cancer profiteering. Find someone in treatment. Buy her a housecleaning. Or @uber credit. Or takeout.

One of the most beautiful things you can do for a woman w/breast cancer is accompany her to treatment. Just bear witness. Don’t wear pink.

Instead of buying #pinktober crap where most $ lines corporate pockets, use your money & time one-on-one to help a woman with the disease.

Amazon or Whole Foods certificates are even cool. Be creative & pragmatic. Reach out. Engage. Help one of us directly. BC isn’t contagious.

American Cancer Society matches volunteer drivers w people who need help getting to/from treatment. Road to Recovery.
And I'm noticing this because it's such a stark reminder that the best gifts we can give people are often not things, but our time and our assistance.

So give it some thought, and then do what seems right for you this October. Certainly, not everyone selling pink stuff is doing it from an exploitive standpoint, as even the famously "anti pink ribbons and teddy bears" Barbara Ehrenreich stated in that article I quoted. And Xeni says her line above about "don't wear pink" was a joke. "Not interested in being combative or telling anyone what to do," she wrote. So wear that pink if you want to.

But also consider making a direct donation to one of the many organizations funding cancer research and/or support services for cancer patients — and then following Xeni's advice about reaching out to help a patient who could use a hand.

Sticky Notes from Japan: Cute and Clever

baby chick sticky notes

If you're going to use sticky notes to help you stay organized, you may appreciate these ridiculously cute and/or clever alternatives to the basic square. Let's start with these baby chick sticky notes from Banana Chicken — but head on over to the Banana Chicken web site to see the baby cats and baby penguins, too. You can buy the chicks, cats and penguins from MochiThings, based in Seattle. [via Book of Joe]

Cat sticky notes - various shapes that fit together like puzzle pieces

Then there are the Puzzle Point Marker sets from Midori. There are eight different sets — dogs, zoo animals, etc. — but since I had to pick one to show you, I picked the cats. You can get these from The Journal Shop (U.K.), Pig's Paper Clip (Canada) and Paperpoint (Australia).

sticky notes - circle and half circle

Moving on from cute to clever, we've got the sticky notes from Drop Around, available in a range of geometric shapes. You can buy these from Papercookie (Australia), Present & Correct (U.K.) and Uguisu (Tokyo, but with prices in U.S. dollars and worldwide shipping) [via Swiss Miss] Update on July 24, 2013: I'm no longer finding these at Uguisu.

sticky note shaped like a clock face

And finally, take a look at these clock-shaped sticky notes from Muji — another clever idea. [via Better Living Through Design]

Related Posts:
The Ubiquitous Sticky Note
Sticky Notes: Post-it Notes and Much More