Saturday, October 31, 2015

Organizational Extra: Getting Organized at Work

Whether you work from home or out of the home, it's easier to be efficient when you're organized. Or, so I hear. Right now, I'm in the middle of numerous projects, and if things go on this way much longer....let's just say I'm looking forward to having time to implement these tips from Rice University.

Admittedly, some of them are a little Type A, but many of them are good, especially if you can find a way to style-ize them.

Personally, I'm in favor of anything that makes work easier.

Enjoy your weekend.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Three Keys Thursday: 3 Keys for Getting to a Goal

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause
Typically, I'm a global person, but sometimes, I charge through life with my blinders on and lose sight of the big picture. On Monday, I came face-to-face with the reality of a deadline I'd set for myself, and it became clear that continued procrastination would not work if I wanted to meet that deadline.

Neither would a global approach. It was time to take stock, break the remaining tasks into action steps and move forward. I needed to do away with distractions, structured procrastination and anything non-essential and focus on moving toward my goal.

When you get serious about achieving a goal, the best way to reach it is to create a plan. The steps I used aren't rocket science, but following through on them involves both discipline and motivation. Because the goal is important to me, I expect that I'll be able to find both, at least most of the time.

Want to get from here to there? Try this:

Lay it out. Clearly state your goal and think about what lies between you and its successful completion. What are all the things you have to do to get from here to there? Write them down (or type them up), breaking things down into logical chunks, each of which requires as few steps as possible (ideally one). When I prepare for class, for example, I need to:

  • create my presentation (including what I call an orientation slide); 
  • create and/or copy any handouts and
  • upload the information for my students.
Although creating the presentation is a multi-step process, this is something I do all the time, so "create the presentation" is a logical chunk. I separated out the orientation slide only because when I neglect to state it specifically, I sometimes forget to do it. Similarly, uploading the information may require more than one step, but everything is going to the same place and, since I tend to do it all at once, that's a logical chunk for me.
Break it down. Once you decide what needs to be done, you need to decide when you're going to do each thing. With class preparation, I tend to devote a chunk of time to doing it all, but with other tasks that include multiple small steps, I might allocate different tasks to different times, checking each off as I accomplish it.

Stick to it. Allocating specific times for each task, as described in the step above, is the first step in doing this. Blocking out times for each action step is like making an appointment with yourself. If you're really serious about reaching your goal on time, you'll make the same effort to keep the appointments you set with yourself as you do to keep those you set with someone else. If you wouldn't skip a dinner date with a friend because you're tired, you owe yourself the same courtesy when it comes to the tasks you've put into your calendar.

Do I do this all the time? But of course...not. But when a goal is important, setting the proper course is just as important. Otherwise, you're likely to find yourself sitting by the side of the road, admiring those who made it to the finish line.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Art of (Structured) Procrastination

I am a procrastinator. It's part of my makeup, part of my writing, part of my life. And so when I found John Perry's The Art of Procrastination in a local independent bookstore, I snatched it up. Humorous, self-deprecating and thought-provoking, it's a fun read -- one that pokes fun at the habit, but manages to analyze its pluses and minuses as well. So, this semester, I made it required reading for my first year seminar, and on the day I introduced it, I even wore my "Structured procrastinator" tee shirt.

Perry's premise is that structured procrastinators actually accomplish a great deal while they're procrastinating. We know what we're supposed to be doing, and while we're putting off doing that thing, we do other things instead. In the end, we get a lot done, even if none of it is what we're supposed to be doing.

I first read the book over a year ago, but it wasn't until last week that I realized one of the things that has cemented my structured procrastination habit.


Being a parent makes you a structured procrastinator. Oh, okay, it helps if you already have the procrastination gene (if there is such a thing), but I suspect that even the most task-oriented person can get sucked into structured procrastination while waiting for her children to do...whatever it is she's waiting for them to do. We learn to fill tiny pockets of time with quick little tasks in order to be efficient, but the irony is that what begins as an effort to not waste time becomes a habit that does exactly the thing it set out to avoid.

Provided it doesn't get out of hand and keep us from accomplishing things that are important, structured procrastination is actually a pretty good idea. We get little things checked off our lists, and sometimes the little things are a warm-up to the big stuff. And sometimes, the big things -- especially the big ideas -- need time to simmer before the answers bubble up.

Stop by tomorrow for a three keys post on what to do when the procrastination -- no matter how structured -- isn't working.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Organizing Extra: Martha Stewart Tackles Fall

Leave it to Martha Stewart to organize things I never even thought of organizing. In light of the emergence of fall weather here in Pennsylvania, I thought I'd share some fall organizing tips. In honor of the temperate weather, some organize things inside the house, others make suggestions for outdoors.

I hope fall is as lovely where you are today as it is here.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Ways to Survive a Six-Day Week

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause
Last Saturday, I spent the day at the York Book Expo. Though I was only manning my table from 1-4, I spent the morning getting ready and, by the time I got home, I was wiped out. Though the day was a good one, it was a total write-off in terms of accomplishing anything I usually do on a Saturday.

Some weeks are like that. No matter how valuable or enjoyable the activity, "losing" one day out of the week can put us behind schedule, leaving us feeling stressed out in the week that follows as we try to "catch up."

When this happens, it's helpful to remember to do a few things as you tackle your "six-day week":

Breathe. Tension and stress do absolutely nothing to help us accomplish our tasks or reach our goals. In fact, they often do just the opposite. Breathe, try to relax, and tackle one thing at a time.

Triage. I'm not a medical professional, so my understanding of this term is limited to my extensive experience watching television medical dramas. Fortunately task triage is much less intense than triage in the emergency room, and boils down to three questions: Who matters most? What matters most? and What has a deadline?

I know, I know -- they all matter. It all matters. But you know what? It doesn't. Some tasks and some people take precedence. To quote Stephen Covey, "Put first things first."
Stop worrying about what you can't control. This includes other people being miffed because you didn't do what they wanted you to do. It's hard enough to make decisions about what comes first without trying to second guess other people's interpretations of your choices. And often, they're trying to make the same hard choices you are...which means they aren't even thinking about what you're doing.

I know. Easier said than done. The ideal situation is to have just the right amount of stuff to do each day with none that carries over into the next day, and for there to be seven fully available days in each week.

But if that happened all the time, how would we appreciate it when it does?

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Does Your I Love to Be Busy Style Need a Makeover?
From the beginning, I've identified myself as an I need to see it/drop and run person. Walk into my workspace, and within fifteen seconds, both of these will be evident. In my world, any organizational system without a visual component is doomed by the double whammy of two styles that feed one another.

And while I encourage those taking my styles quiz to claim one predominant personal style and one predominant organizational style, many of us have traits of the other styles as well. For me, the style that lurks in the background, arguably creating the biggest problem of all, is the I love to be busy personal style.

I haven't talked much about the I love to be busy style, except to suggest keeping systems simple and subdivided. Like many I love to be busy people, I have different bags for different activities, allowing me to grab what I need and go where I'm going. Many of these bags have subsections so that things that go wherever I go (car keys, wallet, phone) can be dropped into their respective subsections -- usually the same one every time -- so I can find what I need when I need it. Keeping all of my necessary materials together in one place (and separate from those for other activities) is key to managing my busyness.

Early on in the process of naming these styles, I love to be busy was called I like to be busy; the name change came about as a way of keeping style names consistent. But you know what? I don't love to be busy. And, the older I get, the more question whether or not I even like to be busy. Sure, I love (word choice intentional) having a wide variety of interests and activities -- that much is true. But lately, I've been craving a break from the craziness -- a life with a little less busy and a little more balance.
Once upon a time, I did love to be busy, and I took great pride in keeping all the balls in the air as I juggled multiple activities. When I was single and first starting out professionally, busy meant the opposite of lonely -- something that I suspect will be true again when I'm retired for real -- but for many of us in the process of raising families, busy means tired. Overwhelmed. In need of balance.

If you truly love to be busy, more power to you. Keep the organizational systems for your activities simple and separate and ready to go at a moment's notice. Revel in your ability to juggle, spin plates and keep track of everything.

But if you, like me, are finding that your verb is changing, or maybe you even have a love-hate relationship with busyness, maybe it's time to consider re-organizing your time just as you would your stuff. Just as we take a look at our possessions and decide what to keep and what to get rid of, so should we take a look at our calendars and find ways to let go of the clutter. Maybe we should consider using the idea of one in/one out not just with purchases (getting rid of something old when you buy something new), but with activities as well. Or even putting dates with ourselves into our calendars so we're not left without time to take care of ourselves.
Organizing is a balancing act. With possessions, we balance stuff with space. With activities, we balance stuff with time. Our society seems to think that busier is better, but is it?

If too much stuff can tip the scales into disorganization, might it be true that too many activities can tip the scales into exhaustion?

How busy do you really want to be?

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Organization Extra: Life Editing

Photo: Tat via Morguefile
Graham Hill lives in 420 square feet of space -- by choice. In his TED Talk, "Less Stuff, More Happiness," he shares three guidelines, all in under six minutes:

  • Edit ruthlessly.
  • Small is sexy.
  • Make multifunctional.

While this TED Talk may cause palpitations in I love stuff people, it's worth watching if only to see the 420 square foot space, and the cool things he used to make it work. And while it may be hard to edit ruthlessly, the other half of his advice in that area was to stem the inflow, something that many of us find much easier to do.

Organization is important. It's also much easier when the amount of stuff we have fits well into the space we inhabit. Personally, I'm still working on that, but when I watch TED Talks like this one, I'm more motivated to do some of that ruthless editing.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

3 Keys Thursday: Managing a Day that Doesn't Go According to Plan

Yesterday was one of those days. I started with a list (part of which, quite honestly, carried over from the day before), and it seemed reasonable at the time. I'd added one item I was less-than-thrilled about (time wise) to my schedule, but that didn't seem to be too big a deal.

And then reality set in.

Fortunately, nothing awful happened, and in more than one case, I was right where I should have been exactly when I should have been there -- and in a totally unplanned fashion.

Unfortunately, yesterday's blog post was late, and by the time we sat down to dinner (after 7 pm), very little had been checked off my to-do list. I was quickly growing grouchy.

Throughout the day, I tried to remind myself:

  • What matters most. Yes, not getting through my list was frustrating. But the things I was doing instead involved making inroads with people. Meeting with students. Swapping stories and strategies with another instructor. Spending unexpected time with my daughter. Any one of these things is a good thing, and together, they were a worthwhile way to spend my time.
  • Worrying and stressing solves nothing. My main unplanned trip for the day involved going somewhere out of my usual realm of travel. My route-planning skills being what they are, I chose a route that was more circuitous than necessary, then white-knuckled it for most of the ride there. No matter how pale my knuckles got, it didn't get me there any faster, nor did it make the trip more pleasant.
  • A sense of humor is both essential and priceless. We opted for a different route home (for obvious reasons) and just as I got in the lane to pull onto the main road, we heard about an accident -- you guessed it -- right where we were headed. All we could do, despite the unpredictable and sometimes unpleasant, afternoon was laugh.
Note that I said that I tried to remind myself of these things. As the day wore on (and the hours to accomplish things grew shorter), I was reminded that knowing these things and using them to offset my frustration are two different things. Sometimes, just knowing them is enough.

Other times, you have to write a blog post.
Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Managing the Seasonal Switchover

Photo: Smileyhaiku via Morguefile
Today on The Porch Swing Chronicles, I wrote about 4 things I'm looking forward to over fall break. One of those things, not surprisingly, is related to organization.

At my house, it's that time of year when some of the clothes (and shoes) that are easily accessible are summer clothes and a growing (and still slightly disheveled) portion of my accessible clothing works for fall. I spent a little time on my closet a couple of weeks ago because I needed to make space for some new clothes, but otherwise, the summer-to-fall conversion has yet to take place. Yes, I know it's October, but there's nothing worse than switching everything around only to hit a stretch of warm weather where I end up dragging out the things I just put away.

I've yet to discover a way to do this that makes it fun, but creating a good set-up by putting things away in a personal and organizational style-savvy manner at least makes it less dreadful to contemplate.

For me, shoes are the biggest challenge, mostly because I store my out-of-season shoes in a narrow closet with a sloping, Cape Cod roof. The front of the closet (which houses my in-season shoes) is set up in a very I need to see it fashion, with all of my footwear on shelves, arranged by color, so once the switchover takes place, it really is "easy upkeep." And if I take the time to put things away properly, the process is time-consuming, but not terribly difficult -- at least not from an organizational perspective.

As you pull out one season and put away another, here are a few things to consider.

  • Weed if you can. If you, unlike me, are able to simply move clothes from one closet to another, take some time to consider the usefulness of what you're moving. Hang pieces one at a time in their new space, considering whether or not everything you're putting away for the cool months is worth keeping. Anything you haven't worn in a while?  Something too big or too small or of sentimental value, but not worth the space it takes up? Get rid of them if you can. If you can't (this means you, l love stuff friends), try hanging them with the hanger facing backwards and don't start the next season with them in your closet (go after them only if you need them). Or, pack them away, using some of the tips and tools below.
  • Keep like items together (all skirts, all the shirts) or keep sets together (belts with the outfit they go with), but not both. If you're consistent with your method, retrieval is easier, especially if you find yourself looking for one particular item in a hurry. This benefits all styles, but especially the I know I put it somewhere folks who tend to stash without a plan. 
  • Revert to your containers of choice. Do you like see-through containers? Labeled boxes? Both of these work well for I need to see it and I know I put it somewhere styles, while cram and jammers might prefer fabric bins that expand and "create" space. Use what you know works for you. 
  • Keep it simple. If you're like me, you end up looking for something between seasons, so the easier it is to figure out what's in each container, the less of a mess you make in the process. Keeping it simple and as accessible as possible works for all styles, but can be especially beneficial for the I love to be busy folks who might end up doing their seasonal switchovers a little at a time, when they can squeeze it in.
Photo: SeeMann
via Morguefile
Sadly, this is not a project suited to the drop and run folks who just want all of this to be over with as soon as possible. Their payoff comes in choosing the right storage for the "incoming" stuff -- containers that will make putting things away as easy as dropping them....wherever.

How about you? Any great tips to share when it comes to the inevitable seasonal switchover?

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Organization Extra: What to Do with Empty Prescription Bottles...and other Good Stuff

Photo: Orchid via Morguefile
Earlier this week, I wrote about the junk in my car trunk (stop by tomorrow to read about the junk in another author's trunk :-) If I'm to be honest, there's good stuff in bags in other places in my house, too. Toys and clothes that haven't yet made it to the consignment store. Stuffed animals in good condition that my daughter has outgrown, but I don't know where to send.

And those empty amber prescription bottles.

I figured there had to be a place to recycle them, but had no idea where that might be, so when I found this list at Less is More Organizers, I had to share. Some of the information is specific to the Chicago area, but the stuffed animal information and the prescription bottle information works for anyone willing to clean donations and ship them.

I still haven't found a home for that decorative hat box... but I have a few ideas. I will get the junk out of my trunk!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

3 Keys Thursday: Dealing with Organizational Obstacles

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
No matter how successful we are at getting organized, sometimes it's an uphill battle. Let's face it: Organization is a process, which means that even once we have workable systems in place, we never quite get to check it off our lists and say, "Done! Organized!" There are always new things to add, old things to sort and life changes that necessitate re-thinking our strategies.

In addition, there are day-to-day obstacles that make organizing a challenge.

The problem: An overbooked schedule. Try as we might, we often say yes to one -- or ten -- too many things. When our schedules get crazy, we get tired, and perhaps a bit lazy as well. Even the best systems get ignored in favor of the easiest option, which often does not include putting things away.
The solution: Do what you can and live by Give it Five! Work within your simplest systems, making sure to use them as much as possible so things don't pile up. When they do pile up (and they will), don't despair. Give it Five! as often as you can until you have time to dig in again. And, when that time arrives, step back and see what you're dealing with. Have you uncovered chinks in your organizational armor? If so, putting some new systems into place (perhaps a new container or location is needed for some things?) can make a difference the next time your schedule explodes off the calendar.

Park City Computer Desk and Hutch by Legacy Classic Kids
The problem: Tiny spaces. I love our little house -- most days -- but, oh, what I wouldn't give for a walk-in closet! And our Cape Cod is a luxury home compared to the tiny apartments college students and city dwellers routinely call home.
The solution: The right storage. Look for containers and furnishings that are tall or stackable (maximize vertical space), fit underneath furniture and/or do double duty. Check out places that offer unusual items (import stores, flea markets, consignment shops and secondhand stores) that can fit into small spaces or function as whimsical touches and practical storage. While some kids' furnishings are obviously designed for children, others are often just the right size for smaller adult spaces. Finally, whether you live in a dorm or a studio apartment, never underestimate the September sales that pop up after the college students have gone back to school. Many dorm furnishings can be a lifesaver in small, non-dorm residences.

The problem: Opposing styles. You've taken the quiz. You've identified your styles. You've even figured out what works for you. The trouble is, your I need to see it style drives your I know I put it somewhere spouse just a little bit crazy.
The solution: Educate, evaluate...and compromise. Try to help your spouse understand why you've chosen the solutions you have (and I'm assuming we're talking about actual solutions here, not simply leaving everything out where I -- uh, you -- can see it) and listen to why your partner has opted for his/her system. Together, decide which systems are working (that is, they're being used) and which are less-than-ideal. For those that aren't working, try to find the points of agreement between styles before settling on a new solution. Clear or labeled containers, for example, can work for both I need to see it and I know I put it somewhere organizers, albeit for different reasons. And, when it comes to  systems that one person uses significantly more than the other person (his man cave, your closet), the chief organizer of that area should prevail...unless the other person wants to take over the maintenance of that space.

Above all, be patient with yourself. Sure, we could spend our whole lives getting things just so, but that doesn't sound like much of a life. As long as you're making progress, you're moving in the right direction.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Junk in the Trunk

Reusable shopping bags are one thing I try to always keep
in the trunk of my car. (Photo:
Last week on The Porch Swing Chronicles, I wrote a post about things you'll find in my car but not my husband's. A friend of mine "piggybacked" (her word) on my post and raised the question, "Packrat or prepared?"

Which are you? And how does it affect your organizing?

If you're an I love stuff organizer, chances are you fall into the packrat category...but chances are also good that you're the one who has what someone else is looking for, making you prepared as well.

Regardless of your answer to the packrat vs. prepared question, it comes down to how do you organize. Not surprisingly, the same principles we apply to organizing our homes also applies to organizing our cars, but because space is so limited, there are a few questions we should asks ourselves to guide our choices of what we keep and how we keep it in our home on wheels.

  • How often do you use it? My car is rarely without tissues, napkins, a notepad (or three) and writing implements. I use these frequently, and would truly be at a loss without them. All of these are in the front of my car -- tissues and napkins in the glove box, writing implements between the seats (and one in the organizer on my sun visor) and notebooks/note pads in the pocket on the driver's side door (and two smaller ones in the organizer on my sun visor).
  • When you need it, how desperately do you need it? I don't use the blanket I keep in my back seat very often at all, but should my car ever break down on a cold day, I definitely want to have it. I use the hand sanitizing wipes in the trunk more often than the blanket, but when I need them, I really want to have them. Neither of these things is stored in the front of the car, though. Their importance earns them a spot in my vehicle, but neither them gets used often enough to take up prime real estate.
So far, I think we're in the prepared category. Get ready to cross over.
  • Is it just taking up space? I have a decorative hat box that has been living in the trunk of my car for -- oh, I can't even admit it in print -- too long! Originally intended as a donation, it didn't work out as such, but once I got it out of my mudroom, I wasn't putting it back. I've been meaning to find it a new home, but as an I need to see it person...well, I don't see it, so I haven't dealt with it. Packrat. Definitely packrat. It's in the way when I put groceries in the car, it's getting faded from the sunlight that pours in the back window of my car (I have a hatchback) and while I can rationalize that it's collecting loose items in the trunk (it sort of is), it's gone beyond not being an efficient use of the space to being in the way. It needs to go.
I think it's fair to say that I live on the line between packrat and prepared. And, one of the reasons I love writing these blogs is that they spur me to action. Clearly, it's time to find that big intrusion of a container a new home.

How about you? What belongs and what doesn't? And what will you do about it? 

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Organization Extra: 18 Things You Can Get Rid of Right Now

Photo: Godserv via Morguefile

Do you have too much stuff? I know I do. Even when we get inspired to downsize, it's sometimes hard to know just where to start.

Family Circle to the rescue! Diana Reese's fabulously visual 18 Things You Can Get Rid of Right Now offers starting points gentle enough to appeal to even those with an I love stuff style. Items are listed by category, and the article is almost completely devoid of the "throw it away!" mentality so painful to many of us who long to de-clutter. Instead, Reese focuses on gentler ways to let go, such as passing your castaways along to someone who'll love and appreciate them. Some of the tips even come with videos to give you organization tips.

If the posts from the past few weeks have you in a project mindset, this article can help you keep up the momentum. If you've been looking for a starting point, you might find that here, too. Every time I scroll through the pictures, I think, "I can do that!"

So go ahead -- take a peek. You've got nothing to lose except a little bit of clutter.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

3 Keys Thursday: Breaking Away from the Binder (1 Key, 3 Tools)

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
When it comes to organizing papers, there's really only one key to success: finding the right tool. For Type A organizers, this is easy: Break out the binders and the file folders. Secure appropriate labels and file behind closed drawers.

But for those of us who cram and jam, need to see things or know we put that paper somewhere, traditional systems don't always work. When I was working with elementary school kids whose paper toting needs were somewhat minimal, I discovered that accordion folders were a big help to those who struggled with binders and pocket folders.

Backpack folders from
Backpack folders, loadable from the top and meant to stand upright in a backpack were also a cool tool.

But what about grown-ups who manage piles of papers? Or even high school and college students who still need hard copies in an increasingly paperless world?

As an adult navigating the on-campus world on a part-time basis, I love my totefolio. Each section is big enough for a stack of handouts or graded papers, and wide enough that a file folder fits inside as well. I've labeled and re-labeled the tabs using the little card stock inserts as well as Post-it notes and sticky-back labels from my label maker. It's big enough to hold what I need, but not so big that it becomes unwieldy.

Globe-Weis tote folio from

For keeping papers in line at home, I like file bins with open tops, but if those files need to be transported as well, you might prefer a file tote. Its open top keeps things visible and makes it easy to put things away. They come in a variety of price points, too. The least expensive ones are glorified accordion folders with lids that flip over and close with a latch of some sort. Others come in decorator prints or even leather so that they look more like a handbag or briefcase.

If you haven't found your perfect paper organizer yet, don't despair. Many of the tools I use today didn't exist when I first started writing about organization. Make periodic trips to office supply stores, national chains, dollar stores, home decoration stores and fabric stores and see what's new. Check out the handbag section as well as the home section if a store has both, and investigate the areas of the store devoted to dorm life during the back-to-school months. Stores like Tuesday Morning, T J Maxx, Ross, Marshall's and Home Goods often stock unusual organizers that work for a variety of purposes.

Just remember to keep your purposes in mind when you're making your selection.

Vaultz Metal Personal File Tote from