Katherine Denton is a taskmaster, bookkeeper, personal assistant, professional writer, and senior advisor. She has over 20 years of experience working with small businesses, real estate brokers, agents and owners, high net-income / net-worth individuals, seniors and their adult children, and people in transition. Katherine is the owner of My Friend, Katherine, where she offers financial and business management services.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I grew up all over Ohio, Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. By the time I was 12 we had moved 5 times. I used to tell people my parents were running from the law. I think moving around helped reduce my attachment to “things.” I had three siblings and my mom was extremely well organized. She made moving feel like an adventure.
Growing up I had severe OCD and anxiety. At that time, it was not customary to get mental health help. My therapy came in the form of competitive gymnastics. Spending 3-6 hours at the gym every day gave me a reprieve from the anxiety and helped me feel empowered. My coaches taught me discipline, goal setting, and how to use mental imagery. I would visualize my routines and new skills in my mind before performing them. Since we moved so often, I was exposed to many different coaching styles. I learned a lot about what motivates as well as what defeats someone.
When I wasn’t at the gym I was outside exploring or reading. I liked to read the transcendentalists and write haikus, poems, and stories. I also had a collection of books of quotes. I was fascinated by how a couple of words strung together could impart such deep wisdom.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
Embrace who you really are. Stop trying to be someone else. “Imitation is suicide. Insist on yourself; Never imitate” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson. As an introvert with OCD, I always felt like an oddball. At times I hated myself and my compulsion for order. But once I genuinely embraced who I really was, my life changed. What used to make me different, now made me special. Sometimes your greatest weakness can be your greatest asset.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
“There’s a cookie-cutter formula for helping a person get organized.” False!
Over the past 25 years, I have learned that each person learns differently and has their own unique way of staying organized. As a professional organizer, you need to craft a custom plan that is sensitive to their strengths, weaknesses, and lifestyle. What works for one person does not always work for the next.
When Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up came out, I was excited to see the profession come to the masses. It is exceptionally well written and inspirational. Her advice that everyone in your household put every single piece of clothing they own in the center of your home is more suitable for the Japanese who have smaller homes and closets. But in America with our supersized homes and closets this often results in a desperate call to a professional organizer or a mountain of frustration.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
“If you’re going through hell, keep going!” – Winston Churchill
I had just graduated from college and started working at an advertising agency in Atlanta. I had everything I thought would make me happy: great salary, office with windows, clothing allowance, free parking, reduced work hours. But I was having panic attacks daily and felt miserable most of the time. I lived like this for two years. One day I just decided that this job was not honoring my true self, so I quit. I had no backup plan and no savings to speak of and everyone surrounding me thought I had lost my mind.
It was a risk that ultimately worked out. Since I had no money or job, I ended up working a temporary job where the regional manager recognized the beauty of my organizing skills and hired me to be his personal assistant. This gave me the confidence to place ads in community newsletters advertising my organizing skills. Before I knew it, I had a successful small business and the panic attacks subsided.
Only you can rescue yourself when you find yourself in an unhappy situation. You are master of your own ship. Figure out what will make you happy. Take the time to listen to your inner voice and explore the options. If you focus on what can you do now, and suspend judgments about the past or the future, you can move mountains. Don’t let fear stop you. Look at the big picture. It won’t happen overnight. Make a step each day to improve your situation.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
Asking myself, “what can I do to support myself at this moment.” This keeps me connected to the present moment which is where all your personal power is to make positive changes in life. When my mind is exploding with fears of the future or worrying about the past, this question brings me back to the now every time.
What is your morning routine?
Good time management skills in the evenings allow me to wake up leisurely in the morning. I plan the day the night before, so I don’t feel rushed in the morning. I wake up at 7:30 am. Lounge around in bed drinking coffee until 8. I work out from 8:30 – 9:30 every weekday and hit the ground running after.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
I am a true introvert and respect my need to take time out for solitude. Spending time engaged in painting, reading, writing, yoga and just plain lounging keeps me able to perform when I need to.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
This is a great question. There seems to always be an endless list of things to do. The secret to being productive and time-efficient is to decide what is most important on that list. Urgent doesn’t necessarily mean important. The most important depends on what your short and long-term goals are. When deciding what to do first, choose the one that will make the biggest impact on your daily goal, even if it isn’t the most urgent. I also like the old adage, “Eat the big frog first.” Attack the item that is hanging over my head the most. This way you achieve some relief once it’s done. And lastly, I remind myself it doesn’t have to be done perfectly, just do your best because that is good enough!
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
I had a passion for the written word from an early age. When I was ten, I remember reading from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. I was incredibly moved by the message of intentional living. The concept of living in the moment and examining your own life gave me a sense of peace. His writing about simplicity and self-reliance really spoke to me. I became a minimalist.
In my early twenties, I was introduced to two very transformative books: Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet and Creative Visualization by Shakti Gawain. The Prophet addresses different aspects of our lives with a spiritual slant. The book’s chapters, which include thoughts on marriage, children, work, etc. inspired a new perspective on what was most important in my life and how to pursue it. Equally intriguing, Creative Visualization helps you get in touch with who you are and what you really want in life. Once armed with this valuable knowledge, the book presents a clear path to reaching your goals through the art of mental energy.
Lastly, another book I recommend is Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson. It is a very quick and entertaining read revolving around some rats stuck in a maze with a cheese station. The cheese is always there until one day it isn’t. Eventually, the rats realize that the cheese isn’t coming back. They have to go find new cheese and they all have different ways of coping with the situation.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
“Karma is a bitch so don’t be one.” I’m a big believer in “what comes around goes around,” so I try to keep infractions to a minimum. When bad things happen, I like to think that I’m burning off some bad karma.
“Do your best.” Don’t try to be perfect or do things perfectly. Doing your best is good enough.