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It’s a Date

Knowing where something is situated in time is as important as knowing where your stuff is space-wise when it comes to being organized. When my clients and I sift through stacks of paper or get into a box in the garage, the most important things I need to know are when the item came into their lives and when was the last time they looked at it. If the item is not dated, it becomes a time-consuming process.

The following very simple habits can make staying organized a whole lot easier.

Regarding bills and incoming mail, such as bank statements, keep a yellow highlighter handy and immediately highlight the dates.

• Date everything. Even if it’s a grocery list on a Post-it note, start by dating it in the upper right-hand corner. If you keep the practice consistent, you will never waste precious seconds scanning notes for the date or a clue to the “when” of the item. This is especially important for compulsive “to-do” list makers. If we know which list is freshest, the others can be tossed without worry.

When you create a file on the computer, consider adding a header or footer that automatically posts the date (and even the time) each time the document is opened or updated. That way, when you print you will always be able to identify the latest version. Don’t rely on your brain to remember changes you made — let the computer take on that task by showing you the date/time and free up your brain for more creative thinking.

• Synchronize religiously. I use the cordless “cloud” to synchronize information from my computer calendar to my phone calendar so that I always have the latest version on both devices, but occasionally technology has let me down. I still have to plug my phone in from time to time to be sure everything has synced properly.

Also, make sure you have the latest version of your syncing software downloaded at all times. I ignored downloaded notices for new versions, thinking, “How much could it possibly have changed from Version 10.1.21 to Version 10.1.23?” The changes were enough to keep my devices from syncing and necessitated an inconvenient trip to the Genius Bar at the Apple store.

When printing photos, date stamp them or write the date on the backs right then. This will save you loads of angst later when you are organizing photographs or attempting to create a photo album with a semblance of chronological order.

If you tear articles out of magazines, highlight the date or at least write the month and the year on the article or photo with a pen. When you are ready to cull through your reference or reading files later, knowing the date can make the difference between “keep” and “toss.”

For items in storage, I encourage clients to put dates on the boxes when they put them into storage. If something has been in storage and not looked at in one, five, or 10 years, why are they keeping it? Also, if a client has items, such as memorabilia, clothing or paper archives that they do not want to look through yet, we box them and date the box. We then set a future date by which the items must either be sorted,