Ask The Organizer – An Interview with Joshua Zerkel, Certified Professional Organizer

artists-marketing-business-academy-interview-with-expertsDo you ever have trouble getting – or staying – organized?

If so, you’re not alone – organizing your space, managing your time, and keeping track of your information can get pretty overwhelming.

In this open forum Q&A call, members got answers to their most challenging organizing questions, problems and conundrums from Joshua Zerkel of Custom Living Solutions.


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Joshua Zerkel

Joshua Zerkel, CPO® is the President of the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of the National Association of Professional Organizers and the founder of Custom Living Solutions, a productivity and organizing consulting firm. Joshua specializes in helping entrepreneurs and small businesses find easy ways to get control of their information, technology, and clutter so they can reduce stress and make more money. Although he doesn’t consider himself freakishly organized, Josh does admit to spending his free time alphabetizing his comic books and fixing the tags on his MP3 collection.

For more of Josh’s practical (and sometimes pithy!) organizing tips, check out his website –

Debra Recommends Songwriting with Jason Blume

Debra Russell recommends, songwriting, Music BusinessFellow TAXI Drivers Ed Faculty -I often talk about getting feedback from qualified experts – and Jason certainly is that!

Songwriting tutor and cross-genre hit maker Jason Blume recently celebrated ten years of BMI-sponsored workshops and seminars. Since the BMI Songwriters’ Workshop inception in 1997, Blume has mentored more than 6,000 aspiring songwriters from at least 38 states. More than 120 workshops have been held in music hotbeds and invigorating locales including Nashville, Austin, San Juan (Puerto Rico), Kauai, and Atlanta.

If you want to learn specifically how to write hit songs, songs that will sell, Jason is the guy.

Check out Jason Blume’s Website



Debra Recommends Songwriting with Steve Seskin

Debra Russell recommends, songwriting, feedback, Music BusinessI’ve known Steve Seskin for several years as we are both speakers on the Music Conference circuit.  Steve is renowned as one of the best songwriting craftsman around and you can learn tons about the art and craft of songwriting from him.  He can teach you how to make your songs good and then how to take your good songs and hone and polish them until they are truly great.

One of the best in the business – and an exemplary teacher.

Find out about studying the Art of Songwriting with Steve Seskin


Debra Recommends John Braheny

Debra Russell recommends, John Braheny, Craft and Business of Songwriting, Music Business

From left: Joann Braheny, Debra Russell, John Braheny

I met John Braheny and his wife Joann several years ago at the West Coast Songwriter’s Conference and they introduced me to Michael Laskow, CEO of TAXI. When I recommend a place to get expert feedback on your songwriting – John is always one or two or three names on the list.

John is in demand as a top consultant for songwriters, performers and industry entrepreneurs. He is a consultant and screener for, the worlds leading independent A&R company and offers valuable feedback on songwriting craft and business and career strategies for performers.  He is one of the most respected people in the music industry, and, more specifically, in the songwriting community. He is referred to as “the songwriter’s best friend” for his tireless efforts to create education and discovery opportunities for songwriters, to help bring public attention to songwriting as an art form and to champion songwriters’ rights. His activities in these areas include:

It is with devastating sorrow that I give you the news that John Braheny has left us.  On January 19th, 2013, John died of cancer.  He will no longer be able to teach you songwriting in person.  He will no longer be offering in person songwriting and music business advice to songwriters.  But his brilliance lives on in his book and the videos he did for TAXI TV.  And in our hearts.  We miss you, John.

John’s book – Craft and Business of Songwriting

John’s Website –



Debra Recommends Music XRay

music business, A&RI have recently been listed as an expert – under career coaching for Music Xray.

Music Xray is a resource for both musicians, composers and the buyers of music to connect in a professional and transparent environment.  Music industry professionals use Music Xray as the preferred, direct and transparent method for interacting with artists.

Music Xray is developing unique applications, patent-pending methods and user interfaces that leverage the cutting edge of Music Information Retrieval Science.

Music Xray also funds, licenses and commercializes research, development and patented technology created by several of the most prestigious universities that are engaged in expanding the science of music information retrieval.

Music Xray is currently providing related products and services to notable legacy and startup companies within the music industry. Technology and services provided by Music Xray enable:

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Music Xray’s technology and services are designed and developed to radically minimize the effort currently required to quickly connect any artist/song to both intra-industry and consumer audiences.

Music Xray plans to end the need for artists to engage in inefficient, pre-popularity promotion.

Check out Music Xray


Debra Recommends Concerts in Your Home

music, concerts, live musicFran Snyder has created a great resource for musicians who are looking to perform in house concert venues as well as home-owners who are interested in creating wonderful events in their homes.

Their Mission:
CIYH creates and nurtures opportunities that pay artists to perform in a listening environment, while bringing communities together with a renewed passion for live music.

It’s increasingly challenging for touring performers to draw audiences to clubs, and more difficult still to connect with these audiences in a meaningful way. Most venues offer too many distractions (televisions, loud conversations, etc.), and are far too reliant on alcohol sales and a “Top 40” atmosphere.

CIYH promotes the concept of house concerts to artists and music lovers across the U.S. and beyond. Through the web and word-of-mouth, this site promotes the appeal of house concerts and helps turn music fans into concert promoters.

Concerts In Your Home

Ask the Organizer

Some of the biggest energy and time wasters in our lives results from an ineffective system of organization. This can show up in many ways.

It can look like a lack of time management – but really you’re spending too much time looking for things you’ve lost. It can look like getting distracted because of things you’ve forgotten or feeling confused and overwhelmed because you’re surrounded by clutter in your space.

It can look like avoiding or procrastinating – but really, you haven’t organized your goals and To Do list in a way that helps you to prioritize what needs to get done – so you can’t get started.

So, for this month’s Words to the Wise edition, I’m going to hand the reins off to an Organization expert – Joshua Zerkel – for some tips on how to organize your time to avoid communications distractions. (While writing this introduction, my phone rang 3 times!)

Warm regards,
Debra Russell
Certified Business Coach

Boost Focus and Productivity by Reducing Communication Distractions

By Joshua Zerkel
During the course of a given day, think about how many different ways you might be distracted from the tasks you have in front of you – a notification pops up in the corner of your screen letting you know you have a new email, your phone vibrates to let you know you received a new message on Twitter, the phone rings… and the list goes on and on. Let’s face facts – we live in distraction oriented culture, where we’re encouraged to be in near-constant contact with the outside world.

While staying in touch is great in theory, being constantly available to the outside world can be an ongoing source of distractions and interruptions. In my work with clients, many of them say that dealing with these distractions has become a major part of daily life, and is taking a toll on their productivity. Here are some strategies for stemming the tide of interruptions and getting back on track towards being more efficient:

Prioritize your key tasks

Before you start your work each day, take a few moments to write down what your priority tasks are going to be that day. Set aside time on your calendar to work on those tasks, and make those times “communication free zones” – meaning that you won’t check email, answer calls, or instant-message during those times, unless doing so relates specifically to the project you’re working on. Setting aside this space to work on your projects will help you stay focused and get closer to your goal of finishing a given task.

Beware of “helpful” notifications

Pretty much every system we use to communicate, whether it’s instant message, email, social media, voice mail, text messaging, etc., has a way to notify us when we’ve received a new message or communication request. Ask yourself, are these notifications serving you, or are they an interruption? For most of us, the latter is the case. Instead of allowing these tech tools distract you, set specific times during the day when you will check for new messages, email, etc., and turn off the notifications. You could check your various inboxes twice a day, every few hours, or every hour, depending on the volume of communication you receive. Very, very few messages are so urgent that they can’t wait an hour or two for you to return the communication.

Don’t get sucked into the social media vortex

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace… these are all great tools, and can be a lot of fun. They can also generate a voluminous amount of messages that require your attention and time. If you’re using these tools for purely personal use, limit your use of them to outside business hours, and set some parameters about how much time you’d like to spend on them. If social media is a part of your business, make sure to set aside time on your calendar during your work day to process your new messages and friend requests. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that managing these sites is something that can be done in the ever-elusive “spare time” – keeping current with your profiles has to become part of your scheduled tasks.

These are some of my favorite ways to reduce communication-related distractions – what are some of yours?

Joshua Zerkel, CPO® is a the founder of Custom Living Solutions, a San Francisco-based productivity and organizing consulting firm, specializing in helping busy people save time, space and money by getting organized at home and at work. For more FREE organizing ideas, visit or call 415-830-6345.