Thursday, September 14, 2017

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Small Steps with a Big Payoff

Yesterday, I focused on the T in STYLE: Take small steps. Today, I thought I'd revisit a few small steps that help to ensure my days go a little more smoothly.  
  • Pack my lunch the night before. The contents of the kitchen won't change between dinner one night and mid-morning the next day. Packing my lunch, stashing it in the fridge and leaving myself a bright, visual reminder to retrieve it (fuchsia sticky note, anyone?) will save me precious get-out-of-the-house time. And, since I'm an I need to see it person, my favorite place to leave the sticky note is on the door I have to walk through when I leave the house.
  • Lay out my piles. This is something I'd do the night before if I lived alone. But, since other members of my family tend to object to my taking up the sofa or dining room table with my class-by-class files, I wait until morning to do this. Now that I have some clear space on the counter in my office, perhaps I can do it the night before.
My I need to see it personal style in action.
  • Check my calendar.  During the semester, my schedule has a pretty predictable rhythm, but there are always those days when extra appointments or meetings sneak in. Ideally, I've done a review of the week ahead sometime between Friday and Sunday night, but a quick peek at the calendar the night before is always a good idea as well. In addition to refreshing my memory for places I need to be and people I need to see, it gives me the opportunity to pencil items from my to-do list into my schedule. 
What small steps do you swear by to make days run more smoothly?

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Take Small Steps

Today's post is the second in a series on using the STYLE process to take your organizing to the next level. Last week, we focused on the "S": Start with successes. This week, we're moving on to "T": Take small steps.

My desk -- or the clearing off thereof -- has been on my list for several days. Unfortunately, it's merely annoying and not time sensitive, so it keeps getting bumped to the bottom of the list by tasks that have actual due dates. Meanwhile, I do what I can as I work -- filing this paper, recycling that one -- until I have time to dedicate to giving the surface my full attention.

We all know that getting organized is a time-intensive task. It's easy to forget, however, that staying organized also requires a time commitment. It's easier (and faster) to just put something down on a flat surface (the desk, the kitchen counter, the dining room table) than it is to put it where it belongs, but the time we save in the moment isn't really saved time. We spend that banked time when it comes time to put away the things we set down in a convenient spot.

We can take small steps in lots of ways. We can spend just a few minutes tackling a hot spot (Give it Five!) or work to improve our habits (Don't put it down, put it away!) We can set small goals, tackling one spot, one drawer or one shelf at a time until the whole area looks just the way we want it.  Or, we can pick up as we go, concentrating on making things just a little bit better. We can focus on finding one container that does double duty by creating a home for wayward items and looking pretty in the process. We can work on broadening the good habits we already have in place, taking all the out-of-season items out of a closet or finally getting that bag of donations out of the trunk of the car and to its destination.

No matter which steps we take, it's important to notice the improvements we make. Taking small steps can get us to our destination, but only if we recognize that we're on the right path.

What small step did you take today? Acknowledge it, congratulate yourself and pay attention not only to where you're going, but also where you've been. 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Ways to Set Up for Success

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
In yesterday's post, I wrote about focusing on successes. As I type this post (about twelve hours later than usual), it would be very easy for me to focus on the lateness of the post and to therefore go down the rabbit hole of self-blame. If instead, I choose to focus on the fact that this post is getting written despite the fact I had a very busy day, I'm starting with success. This simple change in thinking (combined with the fact that I don't want to let down readers who know which days new posts appear) motivates me to write the post instead of just giving up and watching reruns of The Big Bang Theory.

Keeping ourselves motivated about organizing often works in a similar fashion. It's so easy to focus on what's not working -- the piles, the clutter, the desk that never seems to stay cleared off for more than fifteen minutes. If instead, we choose to seek out what's working and build from there, we stop the blame game in its tracks. Often, this is the first step to creating a system that works.

Starting with success gives us a chance to celebrate the things we do well, and to use them as a means of developing the confidence we need to work through the process of getting -- and staying -- organized. Here are three ways to start with success.

Celebrate good habits and build on them. Do you make your bed every day? Hang up your coat when you come into the house? Hang your purse in the same spot every time? Toss the junk mail immediately upon bringing it into the house? Good habits form the foundation of our organizational successes. Adding one more step to an existing habit (ditching the junk mail and then sorting the rest of the mail immediately, for example) extends the habit and takes you one step closer to that elusive feeling of organizational success.

Keep the tools that work, scratch the tools that don't. Yes, that file cabinet in your office is a great organizational tool, but if you stack papers on top of it instead of filing them inside, it's not a good tool for you. One size does not fit all. Look around at what's working, and keep it -- better yet, replicate it in other places. Then, get rid of all the other "good stuff" that doesn't work for you (or a family member) and toss out the guilt along with it. Creating style-specific systems allows you to let go of energy-sucking guilt along with the stuff that doesn't work.

mohamed1982eg via Pixabay

Focus on what you've done, and let go of what you haven't. Have you ever gotten to the end of the day and spent what was left of your energy beating yourself up for what you didn't do? Clearly, that sounds silly when we say it out loud, but I'd bet my next paycheck that many of us have done exactly that. If instead, we pause to reflect on what we have accomplished, not only does it feel better, but it can also energize us at a time when we need it most. If the things that remained undone are important, add them to the next day's list, but don't waste energy feeling guilty. If necessary, create a backwards to do list to lay alongside the list of things that remain to be done, and then move forward and enjoy some well-deserved relaxation.

Getting organized is a process -- one that is sometimes a one step forward, two steps backward dance. If we use success as our foundation, we can have a lot more fun at the dance.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Start with Successes

Susannp4 via Pixabay
Today's post is the first in a series on using the STYLE process to take your organizing to the next level. 

My home is by no means an organizational showplace. When I say I'm an organizational work in progress, I'm not kidding. I no sooner get one area under control than another demands my attention. And, when I'm tired and overwhelmed, it's easy to revert to the worst aspects of my I need to see it personal style and drop and run organizational style, which invariably leads to clutter quickly replacing clear spaces.

It's a process.

But every day, I make my bed. When I read in one of Marcia Ramsland's books that making the bed instantly tidies better than half of the room, I decided that the two to three minutes I'd spend pulling up the covers and tucking them into place yielded perhaps the best effort-to-value ratio of any organizational task I faced.

When I stop looking for perfection (the things I do every single time and/or every day) and focus on tasks I perform habitually (most of the time), it's easy to spot organizational successes. The counter in the kitchen where we used to dump our mail improved tremendously once I found a style-based solution to the influx. Assigning homes to the things I most typically drop when I'm in a hurry served to clear up not only floor space and counter space, but also to allow us to use furniture like sofas and chairs for their intended purpose: sitting. Using a visual system (labels, color-coding, patterned file folders) for paperwork eliminated the "guess what's in this manila file folder" game.

These successes matter. They remind us that we know what we're doing, no matter how lived in or imperfect our homes and organizational systems may be some days. When we focus more on what's working than what isn't, not only do we feel better, but we learn what to replicate other areas, and what to strive for to make our hot spots into neat spots.

The first step in getting organized by STYLE is to determine the styles that define you. In addition to taking the styles quiz, one way to do this is to see what works for you -- to identify your successes. Doing this will help refine your styles and determine the strategies that take you from frustration to organization.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Cool Tools for Back to School

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
It's after 6:30 in the evening and it's cloudy on the patio where I am finally sitting down to write a post that's usually posted by now. Earlier this afternoon, I sat down on the sofa to take a quick break before writing this post.

The next thing I knew, it was 5:00.

When I checked in with my laptop to get started (better late than never), I was greeted with the sad, gray screen that comes from being used for back-to-back classes then left in a school bag while its owner takes a nap.

First week of school. Predictable as ever.

Luckily, there are organizing tools that predict success even when their owners are snoozing on the sofa. Unlike laptops that have to be charged, low-tech tools that fit our styles help us to stay organized enough to find what we need when we need it.

Here are a few of my favorites.

Standard issue: A pocket folder. I've been using the same purple plastic pocket folder every semester for as long as I can remember. It's a report folder, actually, with prongs at the center so I can put the papers I reference throughout the semester in one safe place. The front pocket holds the syllabus, rosters and memos for one class and the back pocket holds the same information for another. When I teach three classes, I tuck a patterned file folder (leopard print this semester) with the same information for that class into the center. I'm not usually a pocket folder sort of girl, but since the same papers - nothing more, nothing less - go into it every semester, it serves as my on-the-go reference folder. Sheer repetition and defined locations have made this an essential tool that works for me, despite the fact that I usually ditch pocket folders for other paper-wrangling tools.

Three-ring circus: Ditching the binder. I use three-ring binders only rarely, preferring their more casual cousin, the accordion folder. At the beginning of the semester in particular, I swear by an accordion file with built-in handles instead of the usual Velcro or loop/tie closure. On the way to class, it's loaded with handouts, separated neatly into sections and on the way home, it's either filled with completed assignments or, some days, blissfully empty. By not loading all of this into my school bag, I can distribute the weight between my bag and the portable file, saving my shoulders from the saggy, aching sensation that follows a day of lugging supplies from place to place.

Rule breaker: Multiple planners. I'm not primarily an I love stuff person, but I have a weakness for planners. My personal planner lives in my purse and holds all the family and non-work appointments, most of which are duplicated on the family calendar in the kitchen. My larger school planner serves as a place to both plan and record my course information and the semester schedule. My chunky, lined, 6 x 9 calendar lives on my desk, providing a one-day-at-a-time approach to lists and appointments; this is the place where home and school converge. I'll be the first to admit that this is probably an inefficient system but, the fact is, it works for me. I am a paper-and-pencil girl through and through, and keeping separate planners means reducing visual clutter; everything is organized either by home/work or day of the week. Yes, I sometimes end up writing the same thing in different places, but that repetition works in my favor, reducing the likelihood that I'll forget something important.

One of the reasons these tools work for me is because I know what goes in or on each of them. By using the same tools in the same way over time, we develop systems and habits that make it easy to stay organized.

And, if we're really lucky, we might save enough time to sneak in a nap.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Simple Strategies that Make Things Better

geralt via Pixabay
A new semester has started and my drop and run organizational style is in full bloom. I'm trying to keep after it, but my I need to see it personal style insists that course materials stay visible, at least until I've gotten into a routine and am less likely to leave the house without the essentials.

Changing seasons and busy times have a way of bringing our default styles to the surface. To make things worse, these two things often collide, overwhelming both us and our organizational systems. Sometimes, this is a sign that we need to update our systems; other times, it just a short-term problem easily solved by the passage of time.

Meanwhile, short-term strategies can come to our rescue. I'm a big fan of Give it Five! -- which is just what it sounds like. To Give it Five! all I need to do is allocate five uninterrupted minutes to improving one space that looks as overwhelmed as I feel. Some days, when the to-do list is long, this five minutes actually serves as a nice break between tasks, and leaving an area better than I found it is always motivating.

Give it Five! is a reactive strategy, however -- one that fixes something that's already a problem. To be proactive, I need to avoid creating hot spots in the first place. One way of doing this is using Give it Five's companion strategy, Don't put it down, put it away! As a recovering drop and run organizer, I sometimes have difficulty with this, but when I remember to do it, I create a lot less clutter in the first place. Pairing this strategy with Give it Five! can be particularly useful for those of us whose default styles make spotless surfaces simultaneously desirable and difficult.

Still trying to decide which styles best describe you? Click here to take the styles quiz. Have a few great short-term strategies of your own? Share them in the comments below!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

3 Keys Thursday: 3 (+1) Keys for Sending Them off to College

Dodgerton Skillhause via MorguefileWhen 
I've spent this past week at my daughter's disposal as she prepares for her sophomore year of college. As they did last year, shopping lists replaced my to-do list nearly every day, leading me to re-visit my posts  from last summer about packing her up and moving her out.

This year, though, I'm approaching the trip to dormville with some experience under my belt. What follows is my advice from last year's move-in, updated with this is year's knowledge, experience and perhaps a bit more laissez faire than was good for either of us.

Last year's advice: Make a list--early. This year? That was the plan, but my daughter was much more relaxed (admittedly, so was I) and so the lists didn't materialize until much later than I would have liked. Last year, the comprehensive list of all the things (and then some) my daughter might need for school (one I found online) was a wonderful starting point. I started chipping away at it right after graduation, picking up extras of toiletries on each trip to Target so we didn't have to do a massive shopping spree the week before she left. This year, a combination of knowledge (knowing what stores were near campus), experience ("Mom, I don't really need that") and leftovers made the process simpler. Our lists were much shorter, allowing us to finish on time, despite a much later start.

Last year's reminder: You will forget things. This year? Still true. We had a list of three things I needed to send her (in addition to the list of things to buy once we got her back to school) before we even got to campus. Reduce your stress by making it your goal to forget as few things as possible rather than to forget nothing at all. If you haven't done this before, or haven't done this since your own college days, you will forget something. If you're putting your child in charge, s/he will forget something. Aiming to do otherwise merely adds unnecessary stress to an already stressful situation. Why do you think the parents who've done this before recommend Amazon Prime?

Last year's advice: Be flexible. This year? If you haven't already accepted this as the cardinal rule of parenting, now might be a good time to do so. Make lists and make plans, but expect them to change. In addition, be prepared to be flexible about who's in charge and when your child is leading the way, resist the urge to micromanage. This is their life they're preparing for, so let them own the preparations as much as possible. Not only is it good practice for what lies ahead, but sometimes, they have good ideas. 

Last year's advice: Make your relationship with your child the most important thing. This year? Okay, maybe this is the cardinal rule of parenting. Long after these preparations are complete and your child is launched, he or she will remember how you handled these days -- and so will you. Some of my best days with my daughter were the crunch-time shopping trips we did just before she headed back to school. Cherish this time, even if off-to-school nerves bring out your child's more challenging side. Soon enough, the house will be too quiet, and then, before you know it, all the stuff you just took to campus will be back in your basement for another summer.
4Me2Design via Pixabay