Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A Few Crazy Tips
Sometimes, we're motivated to be efficient or get organized. We get in the zone and things get done. We dig into a pile and it gets sorted and the things in it get put where they belong...and maybe, just maybe, we even divest ourselves of a few things.

Other days, it's like Sisyphus and the rock. Any progress we make is immediately undone.

Those are the days when we need to make it interesting.

In the past, I've shared a few strategies that give me a nudge, get me over a hurdle or prevent bigger problems. Don't Put it Down, put it away helps me avoid creating piles in the first place. Pick up one thing helps make a dent in a pile that magically appeared. Give it Five helps me get started when excuses begin to outnumber piles. My backwards to-do list helps me to focus on things I have done instead of things I haven't.

And now, there's a new mind game in town. The "I'm too tired" list.

You know all those little tasks that eat up prime time? The mindless tasks we do instead of the things we're supposed to be doing? Often, many of them can be moved out of prime time and into down time. Instead of cleaning out my inbox when I'm supposed to be writing a blog, for example, I can do it while I'm watching TV. It's a mindless task -- one undeserving of prime time -- and simply moving it to downtime makes me more efficient.

Lots of tasks are like that. And when we opt into them, that's one thing. But when they get in the way of bigger projects, we get bogged down and the important stuff doesn't get done.

So I've decided to give those tasks their own list: The "I'm too tired" list. That way, when my brain is fried and I sit down to watch television, instead of berating myself, I can check my list and do one of the things on it. That way, I get something accomplished -- something relatively mindless that needs to be done -- in a time when energy and motivation aren't very high to begin with.
Last week's "I'm too tired" list included inbox purging, social media updates (personal and professional) and tabbing the pages in a textbook I'm using this semester. By matching the level of task to the level of energy, I'm making better use of my time, and I'm more likely to get more accomplished.

Seems only efficient to me.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Organization Extra: 10 Simple Tips for Fall Home Organization

Photo: NovemberRaindrop via Morguefile
How'd you do with last week's projects? Tackle anything interesting?

Now that it's officially fall -- my favorite season -- I thought I'd follow up on last week's post with a similar list suited to fall. Like last week's projects, these 10 Simple Tips for Fall Home Organization also come from the folks at Organized Living. and they're a way to get on top of things before the cooler weather really kicks in (if you live in my neck of the woods, anyway, where I'm still wearing sandals).

And if you're really lucky, maybe you can check a few of these off before the Christmas decorations pop up in your favorite retail establishment.

But you may be cutting it close.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Effective Time Management

Photo credit: Dodgerton Skillhause
The semester has begun, and I feel as though time is managing me rather than vice versa. As I sit down to write this, for example, it's 11:14 PM -- about 24 hours later than I'm usually finalizing a Three Keys Thursday post, and yet I'm just getting started.

How ironic that the post I planned for today is on time management. Fortunately, two of the three keys are brought to you by people wiser than me.

Zoom in, zoom out. This one was inspired by Marcia Ramsland, who talks about managing time horizontally (from the beginning of the week to the end of the week) and vertically (from the beginning of the day to the end of the day) in her book Simplify Your Life. Doing only vertical time management gives us tunnel vision and creates pressure to get it all done in a small space of time, while managing time only horizontally may leave us planning in generalities and neglecting the step-by-step process necessary to get to the things on the weekly calendar. Balancing the two helps us balance small tasks and big ones.

Pencil it in: Set a time or it won't get done. I first read this in a book by Julie Morgenstern, and it makes a lot of sense. Making lists is a great start, but often, if we don't assign times to things, they don't get done. If something's been lingering on your to-do list, pencil it into your calendar so you can get it off the to-do list.

Make time to manage time. Ironically, it takes time to manage time, especially when you're trying to coordinate multiple schedules. Pausing to take a look at what lies ahead each day (or the day before) and each week gives us a better sense not only of what we have to do, but of time itself.
Still, despite the best strategies, time management is an imperfect process. Time is a non-renewable resource that often seems to run out much sooner than we'd like, and when it comes to time management, a certain amount of energy is required. When we feel overwhelmed or exhausted, it's hard to look at to-do lists and calendars and weave them together into a pattern that makes sense. At our house, Friday dinners have become our opportunity to talk about what everyone has planned for the upcoming week, and to coordinate our calendars so we all have some idea of what lies ahead. Admittedly, I'm more enthusiastic about this than anyone else in my house; perhaps that's because I'm the one who needs it the most.

Especially this semester.

See you next Thursday. After all, I've got it on my calendar.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Which Style is Running the Show?
I have a love-hate relationship with the process of organization. Because it's just that -- a process -- that means that at any given time, some things are working and some things aren't. It's both frustrating and inescapable. And while perfection is never a realistic goal, I've found that planning with my personal and organizational styles in mind leads to successes that keep me going when the clutter threatens to overtake me.

From my perch on the sofa in the family room, I can see papers that need filing, a bin that needs culling and a pile of my daughter's stuff that needs to find a home. These are all projects in need of time (at least), or perhaps an intervention.

But I can also see labeled bins that house what they're supposed to. A few steps away, the closet and drawers in my bathroom make getting ready in the morning a breeze, and one room over, the mail system in the kitchen is finally working; after twenty years (I wish I were kidding) of operating against my styles, I finally found a tool that works them instead of against them. How do I know it works? I use it, the surrounding area has remained neat and clutter-free, and if I fall off the organizational wagon, it takes only minutes to get things back in order.

As it turns out, the solution to my mail woes was
as simple as a decorative file bin. (This one
is from Thirty-One Gifts).
I'm an I need to see it/drop and run organizer, in that order. Me personal style always trumps my organizational style. You'd think that when it comes to organizing, that my organizational style would lead the way, but that's not the case. My personal style consistently and insistently asserts itself, which means that any system that fails to take my I need to see it style into account has a snowball's chance in Miami of working for more than fifteen minutes. When I use both of my styles together, staying organized is just as easy as dropping and running, and leaves much less detritus in its wake.

I've resigned myself to the fact that I'm an organizational work-in-progress, and I probably always will be. The truth is, I like to tinker with my systems, tweaking and re-arranging until I get things just right. And once it works, upkeep really is easy, and that makes all the difference in the world.

How about you? What's your organization success story? And which leads the way -- your personal style or its organizational counterpart?

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Organizing Extra: 5 Organization Projects to Tackle in Really Hot Weather
It's mid-September and today's Days to Summer countdown tells me there are 4 days left in the summer of 2015. Though I'm sorry to say good-bye to many aspects of summer, I'm not a big fan of hot weather, so I'm not entirely sad about these waning days.

Just as each of us has our favorite seasons (mine is fall), some organization projects lend themselves more to some seasons than others. Toward that end, Organized Living has come up with some seasonal suggestions, in 5 Home Organization Projects to Tackle in Really Hot Weather. Many of these would also work on rainy days...or any other day where venturing outside seems less-than-desirable.  

What will you organize today?

Thursday, September 17, 2015

3 Keys (+1) Thursday: Strategies for Global Thinkers

Some weeks, despite our best-laid plans, it does not all come together. This is one of those weeks. Since I've started doing list blogs over at The Porch Swing Chronicles on Wednesdays, I thought I'd share one here for today's "3 Keys Thursday," because, after all, managing the details 
is a key part of getting organized and staying that way.
I'll be back next week with a new 3 Keys Thursday. Thanks for reading.

Photo credit: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Last Friday's post got me started on the topic of global thinking, a topic I continued with Monday's post. where I realized just how pervasive my big picture perspective is. Since taking the counselor out of the school doesn't eliminate her need to strategize, I'm wrapping up today with four things that can help my fellow global thinkers to manage the details when the details seem to be managing them.
  • Empty your head. I mentioned in my last post that I have little notes to myself all over the house. I also have little notepads stashed throughout the house to corral the ideas and "oh, yeah, I've got to do that" notions that pop into my head. Carrying the details around in my head and trying to keep track of them is exhausting; dumping them onto paper is not only a stress reliever, it also increases the chances that things will actually get done.
  • Use master lists wisely. For a big picture thinker, a to-do list that goes longer than, say, ten items becomes a burden rather than a tool. Try creating separate lists by category (household, professional, creative, dreams -- or any other separation that works for you). Because they cover one topic only, they'll be shorter and less intimidating.
  • Map it out. Big picture thinkers are good at visualizing the destination, but sometimes, we struggle with the path to it. Taking time to create a map in the form of action steps, no matter how small, can not only bring the destination into focus, but also help us get there faster.
Photo: Vicky53 via Morguefile
  • Make time to make sense of the details. The temptation is to just keep forging ahead, but for the global person, this can feel like a blind pursuit. Pause every so often to make sure you're focusing on the details that lead to your desired destination. This is especially important when you're pursuing more than one destination at a time. If that sounds contradictory (I mean, how can you end up in multiple places at once?), stop for a moment and think about how many projects you're working on simultaneously. If each carries its own set of action steps, it's really easy to get lost if you don't stop from time to time and assess where you are and where you're going.
Finally, keep in mind that flexibility is a good thing. Life won't always go according to plan, and while this can pose a problem for detail-oriented people who don't like it when their details are disturbed, big picture people often find it easier to step back, reassess and, well, you know...

Look at the big picture.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Digging In: Making the Most of Your Styles, No Matter What Your Age
If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that I believe that you don't have to look organized to be organized. In fact, I swear by that philosophy. 

Sure, all of us would like to look like we know what we're doing. But the truth is, sometimes we know what we're doing even when it doesn't look that way. 

When I started on this organizational journey, I set out first to organize myself and then to help my elementary school-aged students who struggled with organization. Fun style names encouraged them  to claim their styles proudly and create their systems accordingly. Along the way, I discovered that adults enjoyed the wacky names, too; as it turns out, a sense of humor is an essential tool for those of us who are organizational works-in-progress.

So today, I want you to think about what lies beneath the organizational styles, because (believe it or not) behind every organizational style lies an understanding of a concept that can form the foundation of a plan that shows the rest of the world that we know what we're doing.

Don't believe me? Read on for hidden gems and the "what nows" that can create those all-important first steps.
  • Cram and jam and I know I put it somewhere kids and adults often have rooms that look neat, at least at first glance. 
  • What do they know? Believe it or not, they're trying to use an important construct of organization: putting things away. 
  • What now? Focus on finding logical homes for everything instead of just stuffing thing into the nearest open space or stashing them away. For maximum success, choose containers that match your styles and will help you find the things you've put away.

  • That trail of belongings leading into the next room or the evidence of a week's worth of activities in various locations is the telltale sign of a drop and run organizer. 
  • What do they know? Drop and run organizers understand the importance of keeping related items together. 
  • What now? The simpler the storage solution, the better. Lids, snaps, zippers and other closures are impediments to those who just want to put things down, preferably in a pile. Focus on finding one-step storage solutions you can just drop things into.

  • Adults and kids who leave things out so they remember them are identifying an I need to see it style. Although this is a personal style, it often influences our organizational choices.
  • What do they know? Leaving things where they can see them helps them remember to do them.
  • What now? Focus on finding (and using) the right containers -- ones that allow them to see what's inside even when things are put away. Some I need to see it folks do well with color-coded or labeled containers.

                     Go ahead. Show 'em your organization.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Organization Extra: Ikea to the Rescue!

One of my favorites in this piece.
I've never been to an Ikea store. Sad, really, since I grew up not far from a number of them. And, after scrolling through Buzzfeed's 37 Clever Ways to Organize Your Entire Life with Ikea, I'm thinking I might have to plan a trip. The ideas here are clever (as promised), creative and suited to a wide range of styles.

It just goes to show you: When you combine designated uses of storage items with all of the possible non-standard uses, the possibilities are endless.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Key Elements of Planner Purchase

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Every once in a while, a post qualifies as both a "3 Keys Thursday" post and a "Throwback Thursday" post. In the case of today's post, the content isn't recycled...exactly. It's just that the three most important elements to consider when purchasing a planner also happen to be the three most important elements to consider when purchasing a container: form, function and style.

No, we can't contain time. But like containers, planners are organizational tools, and the likelihood that we'll use them effectively increases when we consider the same three elements.
  • Form. Despite the fact that my iPhone and I are inseparable, when it comes to planners, I'm a paper and pencil girl. I don't know whether it's the writing things down part, or physically opening up a book and seeing everything at a glance -- or maybe both -- but even when I use the calendar on my laptop, I need a paper back-up. You may be just as staunchly electronic when it comes to planner as I am old school. What's most important is that you know that and honor it so you can choose something you'll use and access frequently.
  • Function. All planners have one function in common: to help us to organize our time. What we need to look at more closely is the details of how they'll perform that function -- things like ease of access and layout. I struggle with the calendar on my iPhone, but love the version on my Mac -- one is just easier for me to get to and manage. 
          What type of layout do you need? Monthly?
          Weekly? Both? If you're choosing a paper planner, how much room do you need to write?
          Do you need to keep track of your whole life in one book, or are you just writing down 

          Price is also a factor. I like my months tabbed, but as long as the inside layout works, I 
          actually enjoy customizing a cheapie calendar with sticky tabs for months and sections. 
          Finally, do you take your calendar with you or hang it on the wall (or both)? Are you trying to     
          sync your calendar(s) with someone else's? Although it's usually a good idea to keep track of 
          all your obligations (work and home) in one planner, I've seen people successfully dovetail 
          planners and master wall calendars, particularly when the wall calendar brings together the
          individual planners of several family members. To make this work, however, you must set aside 
          time to transfer events from the planner to the wall calendar, or you're likely to overbook or 
          miss something important.
  • Style. My planners can be cheap and boring, but the wall calendar in my office has to be pretty. Conversely, when I took a survey about planner choice among my young adult students, the words "Vera Bradley" and "Lilly Pulitzer" popped up as a part of the descriptors on a number of the young women's answers for the planners they carry with them. While some of the young men in the group rolled their eyes at this, these young ladies were on to something. Many of us are more likely to use a tool that's aesthetically pleasing. 
Taking time to choose a calendar that's "just right" for you -- both outside and inside -- is the first step toward taking control of time management. Next week, we'll talk about some keys to that very subject.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Workspaces for Kids

Photo: Maena via Morguefile
Last week, in the midst of the insanity that is the first week of the semester, I took a step back from kid organization, posting instead about making adult workspaces, well, work. 
This week, I'd like to get back on the kid bandwagon, and focus on study spaces for kids.

When my daughter was in elementary school, she wanted a desk that would fit in the corner of her playroom. We found one that fit the space, and although it offered no drawers, it had nooks and crannies to stash things in. She worked at the desk once or twice before she chose the wide open spaces of the dining room table instead. Shortly thereafter, the desk became a dumping ground for various and sundry items that needed to be put away in the playroom. A few years later, the desk was de-cluttered (it's amazing how much stuff can be crammed into those nooks and crannies, not to mention the containers we'd added for storage) and broken down, and the space was reclaimed.

My daughter is now a senior in high school. A few years ago, she wanted a desk for her bedroom. We ended up with a desk that was similar in design to the one we'd gotten before (table top, no drawers, shallow shelves instead of nooks and crannies), but this one fits below the window in her bedroom, not in a corner. Applying the lessons she learned from her experience with the corner clutter-catcher desk from elementary school (not to mention a decade of additional maturity), she not only uses this desk daily, but also keeps it organized. The containers housing supplies are kept to a minimum, and her graduation from paper and pencil to a laptop has helped define the type of desk she wants.

So have her styles.
Photo: Sgarton via Morguefile

When we buy furniture for our kids, we take a lot of factors into account -- things like price, size and design, for example -- but we often buy these things before we have an awareness of our kids' styles.  Not surprisingly, desks that don't match their styles tend to become ignored as workspaces. We become frustrated because we "paid good money" for a surface that collects dust and junk instead of books and homework, and our kids become frustrated because homework is a big enough chore without adding the annoyance of an uncomfortable workspace.

As a new school year begins, perhaps it's a good time to ask this question: How does your child work best?

  • Does she need enough space to separate projects by class or subject?  This is often the case for I need to see it and I love to be busy kids, while cram and jam kids may need only sufficient space -- enough that papers don't get crushed and crinkled. Is it any surprise these kids end up at the kitchen table?
  • Does he work better if the workspace allows for only one task at a time? This may be less a matter of style and more a matter of temperament; kids who struggle to stay focused and/or stress out over what remains to be done often do better with smaller workspaces that allow them to concentrate on only the task-at-hand.
  • Does she need a place to stash the things she's not working on now, but will need later? Drop and run kids may be more picky about the surroundings than the workspace itself. Or, you may be picky about their choice of location because they're perfectly happy dropping their stuff on the floor and creating a trail to their chosen workspace.
  • Does he need to work at the same spot consistently? Once a workspace is set up, the I know I put it somewhere organizer may want to work there regularly because he knows where everything is. Less time spent looking for stuff means less time spent on homework as well. 

  • Is she more comfortable working in a space that's been personalized? More likely to relax when surrounded by a few of her favorite things? This may be true for the I love stuff  kid. One word of caution, though: if your I love stuff  kid also has trouble focusing, you may need to set a limit on the number of distracting items in the immediate workspace.
Myriad other personality traits factor into choice of workspace, but if you can find a match between the organizational style and the work surface, you can build up from there.

And if the workspace of choice is the family room floor, you've literally got nowhere to go but up. 

Photo: bluekdesign via Morguefile

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Organization Extra: Choosing the Perfect Planner
Last week, I devoted time in my classes to discussions about planners. In my 200-level class, I sought opinions on the topic, in order to share upperclass wisdom with my freshmen (and to illustrate the concept of descriptive research). In my freshman classes, I assigned "planner show and tell," putting them in groups to discus the attributes of each other's planners, then creating a master list on the board of what people look for when they buy a planner.

When I was working full-time as a school counselor, I spent a lot of time and money tracking down the "just right" planner. Motivated at first by a Marcia Ramsland book I was reading, this quest became an annual event -- one that I thought was just one of my little idiosyncrasies. But the more I talk to people across a wide spectrum of ages, the more I realize how much planners matter to us.

In Thursday's post, I'll talk more about planners, but for today, I'd like to leave you with an example
suggested to me by friend and fellow author Laurie J. Edwards. I haven't ordered one yet because so far, what I'm using is working. But I think the Passion Planner is definitely worth a look. It comes in a several styles (I'm eyeing the academic classic because I like lots of space to write and I still think of the world in academic years), gives you lots of stuff at a glance, and I like that it was created by a young entrepreneur.

But try not to plan too much this weekend. It is, after all, a holiday weekend.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Non-Tangible Things Everyone Needs, Regardless of Style

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
If you've been reading this blog from its inception, you know that my passion for this subject has emotional roots. Motivated by an unwelcome office change, I sought out information on organizing to make lemonade out of lemons.

It worked.

Not only that, but I also figured out that if I could teach my students these skills while they were still in elementary school, I could teach them about more than organization. I could restore their self-confidence.

When my crazy style names appealed to adult audiences, I realized that they needed the humor and low-key approach just as much as the kids did -- maybe more. A lifetime of feeling like Plan B in a Type A world takes its toll. Despite studies that correlate disorder with creativity, adults who struggle with organization feel self-conscious and somehow flawed. And in a world where Type A organizers feel justified intruding into a co-worker's space and tidying up, the feeling of being a second-class citizen is intensified.

Not everyone is a Type A organizer. More important, not everyone needs to be. If health or hygiene isn't an issue, you can function effectively in your space and you can find what you need when you need it, your organizational system is probably functioning just fine.

Aside from the more tangible aspects of organization I talked about last week, there are some non-tangible things that are important to keep in mind, regardless of your particular style. We all need:
  • A plan that works for us. Just because your mom got up and cleaned the house from top to bottom every Saturday morning, that doesn't mean you have to. Maybe you're a night owl, or an I love to be busy person who cleans in bits and spurts.  Maybe you're lucky enough to be able to pay someone to do it for you. Bottom line? If your house gets cleaned, how it gets cleaned isn't important. And if your space is organized, how it's organized isn't important either.
  • An appreciation of what works for us. Traditional tools (e.g. binders, file cabinets, pocket folders) don't work for everyone, yet we often equate organization with traditional systems. Chasing after something that doesn't work wastes time and money. Conversely, knowing what works and what doesn't keeps you from getting sucked into expensive systems (usually designed by someone else) and saves you money. Before you buy, take your styles into consideration. Will you really use the item? No matter how nice it looks in the store or in someone else's house, if it doesn't fit your style, leave it where it is and choose something else.
  • Patience with ourselves. We all know that perfection is impossible, but it's sometimes hard to give ourselves a break when we feel judged. Organization is a process, and one that can be painfully slow for some of us. The good news is that once you create a system that works for you, it becomes self-sustaining, and you can move on to the next organizational challenge. Some days, it feels as though all we're doing is running from one pile to the next -- and some days, we are. Be patient. Creating systems that work with your style (let alone transfer to family members with other styles) is time-consuming, but well worth it.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

I'm Just an L-Shaped Desk Girl in a Small Office World

Not my porch. I wish.
(Photo by Jade, via Morguefile)
The room that is my office used to be an open-air porch. Not a wraparound porch like the ones you see on beautiful old southern homes, but rather, a step-outside-and-check-the-weather cement slab structure with four corner posts and a roof. When my daughter was small, she loved sitting out there with my husband when it rained. Although my husband has forgiven me for enclosing the porch (he was complicit in the decision, after all), my daughter has not. The patio we installed off the back of the house is consolation, though, and she's coming around.

I've spent a lot of time over the past several months organizing my workspace by my styles. But space is a fixed quantity, and there's only so much I can do to create work space and storage. What I'd really love is an L-shaped desk so I can cater to my I need to see it style and spread the stuff I'm working on out on one leg of the L.

But an L-shaped desk won't fit into my converted porch office. And I do love the desk I have and the small niche I've created, so I have to get creative. In the absence of my L-shaped desk, I:
  • Use a tray table. Turns out it's useful for more than eating dinner in front of the television. Perfect for a small space, it folds up when it's not in use, and can get pressed into service as the makeshift "L" when I need to see things I'm working on. 
  • Pull out the rolling bin that lives under my desk and stores files. I love my rolling bin, purchased close to ten years ago at The Container Store. The bin used to be auxiliary storage in my office at school, and now that I'm retired, it's parked under my desk where it houses years' worth of information I've collected on organization. If I simply need a place to park a binder or textbook I'm using, I roll out the bin and lay the materials on top. When I'm finished, it tucks back under the desk. (I also have the top of an old tray table that I can use if I need to make the top of the bin more desk-like).
  • Flip the lid of the bin beside my desk. In a small workspace, auxiliary storage is a fact of life. One such storage solution is a fabric bin beside my desk that holds class files and notebooks. When I'm finished working, a lid covers it all up. Flipped upside down, the lid holds loose papers and files I'm in the process of using, keeping them contained in the process.
None of this is rocket science, but rather, an extension of organizing by STYLE. Once you know what works for you, solutions sometimes present themselves. After all, nothing's easier than using  your "default settings."