Friday, December 8, 2017

3 Keys Friday (Oops): 3 Tools that are Keeping My End-of-Semester House in Order

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
As I race toward the end of the semester, my determination to keep things in balance still intact, I'm discovering the benefits that come with refining a system over time. I've noticed that several of the systems I take for granted have evolved with use.  Each success builds on the last, making things come together more quickly and creating routines that are not only easily integrated into daily life, but make daily life easier.

Here are three things that are helping me keep things together when they are in danger of falling apart.

Folders for my classes. This fall marked my eighth semester as an adjunct. I've tried many systems of folders, files and binders (what was I thinking?) since I started. Over time, a system emerged and, once I found the right fit, it stuck. I know exactly what has to go in my bag each day and keeping it all color-coded appeals to my I need to see it personal style. 

A pre-stocked bag. Last fall, I purchased an organizer that lives in my school bag. If I switch bags, I move it into the new bag so that I know I have everything I need, from an adapter for my laptop to writing utensils, including a white board marker in case I find myself in a classroom without one.

A way to organize my course stuff at home. This is the system that has taken the longest time to develop and, thanks to a recent family room makeover, I'm still putting the final touches on it. The closer I get to my mother's adage ("A place for everything and everything in its place") with respect to my school stuff, the more efficient I feel.

Developing systems that work creates not only a sense of organization, but peace of mind as well. When we know where things belong and when where they belong makes sense, we can find what we need when we need it and we feel prepared to tackle important tasks. Organizing by STYLE has helped me to approach not just my stuff, but also my life, with a plan that makes sense.

And that is a very nice feeling to have.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

You Say "Stack" Like it's a Bad Thing

olluszka via Pixabay
I have reached the point in the semester where pretty much every time I show up to teach a class, I collect a pile of papers to be graded. As I barrel into the home stretch of the semester, continuing to aim for balance, all of these papers need temporary homes -- safe places where I won't forget about them or, worse yet, lose a piece of work on which one of my students spent hours. Since I do most of my work at home, that means these safe places intersect with our living spaces.

I'm happy to report that this semester, things look a little more organized. As an I need to see it person, I still have piles, but they're organized piles. Thanks to a new work table in our family room, I can keep my works in progress in neat stacks (one for each class) in a location somewhere besides my dining room table. Colored folders separate one class from another, and a bright pink folder holds items of immediate concern.

Clearly, this is a temporary solution, one that lasts only as long as my family's patience.

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that I often say, "it's a process," and that is absolutely true here. As the papers are graded and the piles diminish, the rubrics, notes and other plans and notes to myself will need a home besides the work table. A new set of file bins in the family room -- one that keeps things off the table, somewhat out of sight, but not completely out of mind -- will help me keep things accessible. Even better, it'll keep things off the dining room table and the living room furniture, two spots that have, in the past, become victims of the end-of-semester deluge.

What sounds like a simple solution arose only after multiple semesters of trial and error, with an almost embarrassing amount of time wasted on dropping and running combined with traditional methods that don't work for my styles. Committing to systems that fit my styles means that things are, for now at least, rarely out of sight, but slowly, I am finding ways to keep things visible but still tidy.

While organization is a valuable payoff here, perhaps even more important is the peace of mind that comes with a system that actually lets me keep track of things. Getting to this point was not easy or quick, but the more I listen to my styles and stop trying to do things the way I'm "supposed to," the more useful and efficient the whole system becomes.

It's a wonderful feeling to walk through my living room without being visually accosted by papers and projects in progress, and it's nice to be able to actually eat at the dining room table. Taking the time to think about what works and personalizing my system accordingly has been well worth the time it took to get here.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys for Bringing the Christmas Spirit

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Yesterday, I wrote about creating balance in my work life but, at this time of the year, that's only part of the story. All of those end-of-semester responsibilities I'm juggling are set against a very important backdrop: the holidays.

My love for Christmas runs deep and, although this will be my first Christmas without my mom, I still want to celebrate, even if it will feel different. Last weekend, bored of our usual outdoor holiday decorations, my husband started cooking up some new ideas and after some shopping and discussion, we created a new look -- one I love.

In addition, for the second year in a row, we put up the tree -- much earlier than I was ready for -- because we wanted to do it while my daughter was home from college. And, as I type this, I'm doing so by the light of a small Christmas tree with Christmas in Rockefeller Center playing in the background. The tree used to stand in my parents' living room and, right now, it's bedecked only in white lights. For now, that's enough.

Last year at this time, I reflected on three things I think holiday decorating should be. This year, I'm striving for the same goals. I want my decorating, planning and celebrating to be:

Fun. Although I had no desire to put up a Christmas tree in November, it wouldn't have been any fun putting it up without my daughter, and none of us wanted to wait until the very hectic week before Christmas. While decorating can't always be fun, deciding when and how to approach the task, whether all at once or a little at a time, can make a difference.

Peaceful. While this may be too much to hope for in the actual process, it's not too much to expect from the end product. Decorating, whether for every day or for the holidays, should enhance your home. I love coming home late in the afternoon and switching on the tree, candles and white lights that are part of the decor. It almost makes up for daylight savings time.

Meaningful. Our Christmas tree is bedecked with a collection of ornaments we've been growing since my husband and I were first married. My parents' tree has its special spot, particularly this year. Our nativity scene, which will go up closer to Christmas, will have its place of honor as well. Making sure there's a reminder of the reason for the season and the people who matter is an important part of getting ready for the holidays.

Whenever and how ever you decide to do it, may all of your decorating be merry and bright.

And STYLE-ish, of course.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

And So it Begins

kraphix via Freepik
Last night and early this morning, as I was thinking about this post (that I hoped I would have had time to post already), I had my topic all worked out -- learning to set boundaries for tasks that have oozed out of their allotted time slots and into leisure time. It went something like this:

'Tis the season to grade papers -- it's one set after another -- and I'm working on keeping things on an even keel. I could spend large chunks of days doing nothing but grading and, in the end, I probably will. But it's also the season for other things, and I would like to have a life.

I've been at this long enough that I'm slowly learning how to find balance, though admittedly, it has been an uphill battle. 

I was so excited when I first got this job that I threw myself into it completely. I willingly gave it all of my free time, assuming that at some point, with experience, it would get better. Unfortunately, the schedule I set stuck and, before I knew it, every day was a work day, at least in part.

Now I'm emerging and loosening. I'm realizing that not every paper has to be given back at the next class meeting. And, more important, it's better for both my students and me if I don't do that. Taking time to grade papers means that I grade them more thoughtfully and patiently and the feedback I give is better and more useful. Not responding to emails at all hours of the night means that I'm more prepared to start fresh the next day. Rediscovering weekends means I'm less grumpy when I'm doing all of this.

That was yesterday.

Today, one class and three meetings stayed (mostly) neatly within their allotted time slots, but e-mails of desperation flooded my inbox, joining their comrades that appeared between 11pm and midnight last night, necessitating quick, if not immediate responses.

Tonight, I turn off my phone (and its nagging email chime) at a reasonable hour.

It's a balancing act and...say it with me...

It's a process.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Habits Worth Breaking

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Happy Thanksgiving! Like anyone else, I have bad habits when it comes to keeping things neat and running smoothly. As we head into the holiday season and things get hectic, here are a few of the habits I'm trying to break.

Piling. When I get busy, my default organizational style (
drop and runkicks in. I put things down instead of putting them away. I set stacks of things aside, intending to get to them later. This isn't too bad if the stacks are meaningful and this process doesn't go on for too long. But, when this habit continues unchecked, I end up with a major project on my hands.
Solution? Don't put it down, put it away. As often as possible.

Procrastination. More often than not, the most difficult part of a project for me is simply getting started. Once I stop whining and start doing, I generally get wrapped up in the task I was dreading and find it much easier than I expected it to be. And progress is a wonderful motivator.
Solution? Give it five. Knowing I have an out after five minutes helps me get started, and since getting started is half the problem, giving it five gets me halfway there.

Not writing things down. This one creates less obvious chaos than the others, but it creates plenty of mental chaos. I have notepads in plenty of locations and designated places for particular lists. When it comes to not writing it down, I really have no excuse.
Solution? Just do it.
How about you? What habits will you break this holiday season?

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Love the One that Fits

I'm the kind of person who, when she finds a piece of clothing she really likes, runs out to buy another one just like it. This is true for basic pieces, mind you, not every item of clothing I own. But most of my favorite work trousers, comfortable, low-maintenance sweaters and even soft, warm pajamas have twins in my closet.

The same is true for organizing tools. I have a stack of accordion folders, purchased when they were in the dollar bins at Target. I just ordered another set of file bins with open tops to use in our family room and, although I have a drawer full of manila, patterned and colored file folders, I just added a box of colored file folders to my shopping list. I need enough in each color to effectively color-code the files that I'll be moving into the new bins.

I am not suggesting that you go out and buy everything in triplicate. Often, however, it's a good idea to stock up on basic organizational tools that have been proven to work for you, especially those that help to keep paper clutter under control. Amid my go-to tools, I have a number of unique items that add a different sort of style to my workspace, but when it comes time to whip a space into order, I like to know that the tools I depend on are at my fingertips.

Accordion folders, file folders in colors and prints (along with a stash of the basic manila variety) and any storage container I can peer into top my list of favorites. What's on your list?

Thursday, November 16, 2017

3 Keys Thursday: Fun Discoveries While Revamping a Room

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Even the best systems need to be revamped from time to time. And the ones that aren't working or that we've outgrown? Well, those definitely need revamping.

I've been in the midst of that sort of project. Spurred by the purchase of new furniture for a room that was overdue for repurposing, I've been moving some things around and trying to move other things out. One piece that had to go had served as significant storage, so it was time to find something that was both style-specific and STYLE-ish to shoulder the organizational burden.

As has probably become clear, I love doing this sort of thing. Part of the reason for that is the challenge, but another reason is that these projects usually serve as a reminder of key ideas, such as:

  • Being open to new ways of doing things. I'd never been happy with the DVD storage we'd set up. It fit and it kind of worked, but it was unwieldy, yet I couldn't come up with a better idea. When I cleared off a shelf in one of the cabinets, a new solution presented itself. My I need to see it style was overwhelmingly excited by the simple sight of a row of DVDs all lined up alphabetically by title. I'd never considered using that space in that way before, but now I have a new solution that works -- and has room to grow.
  • Breaking habits. Sometimes, we've had the same things in the same places for so long that we don't even see them anymore. Such was the case with some catch-all bins (a great drop and run tool) on top of one of the storage units. When I stepped back and really looked at it, the area looked more like clutter than storage, so getting rid of it was a no-brainer. Not only did clearing it off make things look better, but it also provided a place for storage that was actually functional.
  • Remembering the decor. Finishing touches might not be organizationally necessary but, by making the space look attractive, they encourage us to keep things looking that way. I had space for five file bins on top of the storage unit, but I had only four bins. Suddenly, the empty space looked very appealing, but it needed something. A candle on a tall stand filled the space, quickly taking it from practical to polished.
I'm not finished yet but, since watching the new personality of the room emerge is a lot of fun, I'm to in a big hurry. Besides, I sometimes get my best ideas when I remember to relish the process.