Money pro tips: A Q&A with certified professional organizer Lisa Mark

by Myelle Lansat
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Money pro tips: A Q&A with certified professional organizer Lisa Mark

Each week, we ask a personal finance or business expert for their money pro tips. This week we talked to Lisa Mark, certified professional organizer and founder of The Time Butler. Want more money pro tips? Sign up for the Easy Money newsletter to get fresh advice from money experts in your inbox each Friday.

How does a time management expert manage her own time? What does your day look like?

My days, weeks, months, and years are (mostly) planned. I use a calendar to track meetings with clients, colleagues, and my volunteer work, but I also schedule my deep-dive, brain-intensive project time.

A typical week looks like this: About 40% to 50% is client work, 20% is a deep-dive brain-intensive project work, 10% to 15% ‘running the business’ work, and 20% is downtime.

Downtime includes time with friends, family and colleagues — even if we’re doing work during the colleague time. The downtime is important so I keep energized for all of the other work that demands my attention. Without it, my productivity falls considerably and I get a lot less done than I need to.

Can good time management make us more money?

Yes, definitely. If you know what to expect and when to expect it, you can prioritize based on any number of factors, one of which is financial return on investment. My experience shows that when things are not prioritized, we often deal with what is ‘screaming loudest’ — what is causing us the most pain, and this may not be what can return the most for our investment of time and resources.

How can an organized desk improve workflow?

An organized desk is crucial to knowing what needs to be done and when it needs to be done. The definition of organized has nothing to do with being neat; it only means that you can find what you need when you need it and that you have an idea of the relative importance of the items that catch your eye.

Many humans are visual creatures — we act upon what we see and what is right in front of us. If we see a pile of papers, for example, we may pull the top one out and start working on that one, even though there are more important things to work on. Keeping your desk organized helps those of us who are visual processors to see what is most important and focus on that.

How do you organize your wallet? What’s something unexpected you keep in your wallet?

My strategy for not lugging around things I don’t really need is to keep a very small wallet. Actually, it’s not a wallet but one of those RFID-blocking metal things that has room for just a few things. I’ve downsized my credit cards to three main ones: business, personal and online shopping. I have two store membership cards , my driver’s license and my professional membership info … and that’s mostly it. There is really nothing unexpected in my wallet, and that’s the point.

What’s the last thing you resisted buying?

A beautiful pair of silk pants by my favorite designer, on sale at a local outlet. I didn’t even try them on because if they fit I’d feel obligated to purchase them and I don’t need another pair of fancy slacks. So, I resisted and bought face wash, which I need, instead.

How did you resist it?

My strategy when purchasing anything (except food and toilet paper, which will ultimately be consumed, so not hanging around to make me feel guilty) is to ask myself the following questions:

  1. Do I really need it or do I just want it?
  2. Is there anything I’d be willing to part with if I buy it?
  3. How important is it for me to have this item?

Whenever I resist buying something I want, whether it’s a cup of coffee or a pair of silk pants from my favorite designer, I keep a mental tally of what I’ve saved by not indulging. Then, when I see something I really want (and need), I often feel freer to purchase it because of all the money I saved by not buying other things.

What’s your current money goal?

In a less than concrete sense, my money goal has always been to have just enough but not too much. Working for what we need, especially when we do work that we love, seems to add that much more value to what we have. As I consider retiring in the next decade or so, I’d say that my money goal is to have enough to live a bit less frugally than I currently do and not have to worry about any medical issues bankrupting me.

How are you working towards that goal?

I am a bit of a super-saver. I save whenever and wherever I can. I started a 401k in my twenties that is worth 20 times what I put into it. I also have an IRA, a Roth IRA and a SEP IRA. My spouse and kids also save. With the exception of the Roth, these are all pre-tax dollars so the savings provides a tax incentive as well.

I find that if I put money into these accounts automatically, I don’t feel the loss of funds as acutely as I would if I had to come up with a chunk of money all at the same time. And, over time, the funds do tend to grow.

What’s the best financial advice you’ve ever gotten?

From my dad, who was a certified public accountant, on what would become his deathbed (except none of us knew at the time that he was dying): “Take advantage of your employer’s 401k, be willing to take some risk when you invest but don’t be stupid, and, for God’s sake, avoid stock market short selling.”

Other than good-bye, when I left that night, those were his last words to me.

What about the worst?

When we asked for help with a down payment on a house in Palo Alto, CA, in 1985, one of the most expensive housing markets in the world: “Don’t be silly. That dump will never be worth anything.” Five years later, it sold for 10-times what we would have paid for it had we had the down payment. Because of that decision, we are forever priced out of that market.

If you could buy a home anywhere, where would it be?

Somewhere in the free world, by a beach.

What would you do with a $1 million windfall?

In the area where I live, which is not wealthy as much as it is expensive, a million dollars is not exactly a windfall. But if someone presented me with this money, I’d invest 25% in international funds, 25% in domestic stocks and save 25% in an emergency fund. With the other 25% I’d do some much needed home repairs, take a vacation to Hawaii, and buy my spouse a new (used) car.

How can a CEO manage their time well and their company’s?

Be strategic with your day and your time and know what to expect each day. Use a calendar, and then be sure to honor your appointments with yourself for project work as much as you’d honor appointments with others. Expect interruptions and build time into your day to accommodate them. Know the difference between an important interruption, which can be accounted for, and something that is not so important, and then respond accordingly.

What’s the hardest part about starting a business?

Most new business owners don’t know what they don’t know. This can cause not only lost time but also lost funds. The other hard thing about starting a business is knowing how to value your time and charge accordingly. So many new business owners don’t do that and then realize that there is a whole lot of unbilled background work that goes into running a business that they were unaware of when they started, and that eats into their profits and time spent.

What’s the most rewarding part of starting a business?

Having control of your own schedule and working towards your own dreams rather than what someone else wants. Also, not having to work with the very small percentage of people who are obnoxious. Most humans are amazing, and as a business owner, I can work with people who are a good match for my strong points to move them towards their goals.

This interview is intended for informational purposes and should not be considered legal or financial advice. Consult a professional to learn what financial products are right for you.

Image: Nastia Kobzarenko