Saturday, November 28, 2015

Organization Extra: Holiday Planning
Perhaps you're one of those folks who Christmas shops all year long. Or maybe you're a serious Black Friday shopper and you spent yesterday making lists and checking them twice.

Maybe you're spending today patronizing local businesses in honor of Small Business Saturday. Or perhaps you're creating lists for Cyber Monday when you can shop from home in your pajamas.

No matter your shopping style, it's the time of year when tracking down gifts becomes a necessity for most of us. And shopping is just the tip of the holiday to-do iceberg.

Fortunately, although the holidays are creeping ever closer (as several of my Facebook friends enjoy pointing out on a regular basis), there's plenty of time to tackle things in an organized fashion. If the mere thought of getting ready for the holidays leaves you in a panic, check out this article by organizing guru Julie Morgenstern, who always manages to make planning seem not just possible, but palatable as well.

Not ready to tackle holiday planning yet? Just below Julie's article on holiday planning is one on organizing your mail.

Whatever you organize today, do it with STYLE. :-)

Thursday, November 26, 2015

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to a Happy Thanksgiving
Today, I'm looking forward to traveling to New Jersey to spend time with my family, which gives me all the ingredients I'm looking for to make this holiday a happy one.

Regardless of your specific plans, I hope you get to spend time with people who matter to you, eat delicious food and take time to be grateful.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

How do you List?

My 2016 notepad-style page-a-day
calendar came in the mail yesterday.
As we enter the season of lists, I find myself thinking about the efficiency of my to-do lists. When I was first retired and had lots of time at my disposal, my lists were beautiful and organized. I utilized my notepad-style page-a-day calendar to its fullest extent, and never wondered where my to-do list was. I kept two, in fact: one master list and one daily list, a combination of my schedule for the day and items pulled from the master list and assigned to available times in the day.

When things get hectic and crazy, however, I revert to dash-and-run listing: no piece of paper or writing utensil is safe. I have lists on the counter, lists on my desk, lists in the car and one big list clipped to the front of my grade book. School lists form on the front-of-grade-book sheet, and miscellaneous lists made up of things I remember on the run form on notepads in my car, scrap paper, and the backs of receipts. Somehow, when I need lists the most, I fall into the most inefficient pattern of list-making possible.

Why on earth would any sane person do this?
  • Lack of time:  As time to do things shrinks, my fear of forgetting things grows. In my rush to get from Point A to Point B, I grab anything handy to write down the things that pop into my mind before they get away from me. 
  • Fear of the big list: I once watched a colleague create a list that spanned several pages of a legal pad. I felt panic-stricken for her and vowed never to create a list that long. Multiple small lists may be inefficient, but they're less terrifying.
  • Where is the big list anyway? Again, the dash from Point A to Point B and points beyond plays a role. If my master list for the day is at home on my desk, it's inaccessible when I'm not home. Writing things down somewhere quickly trumps writing things down in an assigned space. Not writing them down isn't even an option.
Writing things down is good. Scattering lists like bread crumbs is not.

I know what works for me (that's why I buy that notepad-style page-a-day calendar every year), but time management is no different from stuff management. When we're overwhelmed, we sometimes forget to stick to the plan. When we're really overwhelmed, we sometimes forget there is a plan.
The solution? Keep it simple. The fewer the lists, the better, but if, like me, you're overwhelmed by one big, long, master list, organize your lists by topic (to do, to buy, to call), by location (home, work, car/errands) or by day of the week. By all means, keep notepads in a variety of places to catch those stray thoughts, but tape, staple, clip or otherwise attach the wayward notes to the main list so you're not wasting time and energy looking for the right list.

Next week, I'll talk about some list-making tools I like. Until then, if you have one you especially like, please share it in the comments below.

Meanwhile, I hope you have many opportunities to enjoy my favorite part of list-making....

Checking things off.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Organizational Extra: Getting Kids Organized

Photo: Jessica Gale via Morguefile
As I write this, the detritus of a rapidly dwindling semester surrounds me, with a fine layer of book launch panic sitting on top like a layer of gooey frosting. Meanwhile, my teenage daughter is celebrating her first Saturday off from work by cleaning her room.

Since the big kid in this equation (that would be me) has given up on doing anything more strenuous that treading water in the organizational pool, today seemed like a good day to focus on organization for kids, especially with the holidays coming. The impending influx of material goods is often a big motivator for sorting and taking advantage of the Three Rs that make up the L (Let it Go!) in STYLE.

Though I rarely watch HGTV these days, a show that was on when my daughter was small (Mission: Organization) was a large part of the inspiration for the way I view organizing. Regardless of what is -- or isn't -- on the air, their website remains a great resource, so I wasn't surprised to find that their article, "Get Your Kids Organized at All Ages" offered some great ideas, packaged into an age-by-age  format.

So, while I sit down in my definitely not organized workspace with a large portion of humble pie, enjoy some tips from the experts, whose offices most likely look better than mine does today.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

3 Keys Thursday: My Three Indispensible Items for Managing a Crazy Busy Semester

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
This semester, I am teaching three classes -- two psychology classes and one freshman seminar. Three classes doesn't sound like very many, but, judging from the juggling act I've been performing this semester, three separate preps are enough to keep me running.

While I'm still searching for the organizational system that keeps the paper pile-up in check at home, I have found a few tools that keep my thoughts (mostly) organized:
  • A planner with a day-by-day view and a monthly view. I got a great spiral-bound planner at the dollar store in which I keep track of lessons and due dates. I use the day-by-day pages as a lesson planner and the month-at-a-glance view for due dates, which I've color-coded by class.
  • One to-do list. Last year, I created a single sheet to keep track of the details of my planning, but this semester, I've gone back to simple lined paper -- or pretty much any paper I can get my hands on when I need to make a list. Although the single page checklist format worked when I was teaching two classes, it fell apart when I was teaching three. I haven't given up on it entirely -- once I dig out at the end of the semester, I may re-envision it -- but for now, simpler is better.
  • My laptop. For my content-driven psych classes, I live and die by my slide presentations. While I wasn't planning on creating these for my freshman seminar, I've found that the visual does come in handy. I can upload my presentations to the course Moodle, email them to myself so that I can download them and use the classroom computers or even carry a flash drive....but I don't. My Macbook is my security blanket -- even when it refuses to communicate with the classroom PCs.
This weekend, I'm hoping to make some headway in the paper pile-up department. I've tried a succession of ideas; some have stuck and some have fallen by the wayside, overwhelmed by the sheer  volume of papers produced by three separate sections of students. Regardless of the tweaks I make in that system, however, the three tools above are here to stay. 

There's no way I'd have survived the semester without them.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

How do You Organize When Life is Overwhelming?
We tend to appreciate our organizational systems the most when we're "crazy busy." Unfortunately, this is also when we're most likely to notice the gaps in our systems and least likely to have the time to fix them.

Yet another reason to appreciate organizing by STYLE. (But you probably figured I was going to say that, didn't you?)

If we know and respect our styles, the stopgap measures we put into place in our time of need are more likely to help us build a bridge that spans those gaps. While it's certainly possible that we'll default to the worst traits of our personal and organizational styles when we're in a pinch, knowing the tricks and tools that work for us can also lead us to more constructive solutions.

  • I love stuff people may leave a trail of collectibles scattered throughout the house, but they might also gather up their treasures and put them into the logical homes they've assigned to the things that mean so much.
  • I love to be busy people may power through their calendars with barely a backward glance, but they might also take a few minutes to update their planners and return supplies to the special storage they've allotted for each activity.
  • I need to see it people may leave everything sitting out, at least at first, but they might also put their piles into lidless bins, see-through crates or color-coded folders when they have a snippet of time in which to make an improvement.
  • Drop and run people may leave evidence of every activity they've completed in the past week scattered in various locations, but they might also drop that evidence into the containers they've selected to corral the clutter until they can make time to sort things and put them in their rightful places.
  • Cram and jam people may stuff things into backpacks and storage spaces, but they might also stop short of cramming and jamming the quality out of their things by moving to a new (expandable) storage space when the old one is full.
  • I know I put it somewhere people may practice "out of sight, out of mind," putting things away in any available space, or they might also put everything into one "safe place" they've designated for "crazy busy" times such as these, cutting down on the number of places they must look to find things they've put "away."
Baby steps are still steps in the right direction, and it's important to keep in mind that organization is a process with ups and downs imposed by the ebb and flow of life.

Especially when we're "crazy busy" and the flow seems to be drowning the ebb.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Organization Extra: 52 Ideas to Organize Your Home

I'm a big fan of chipping away at jobs that feel oversized, so I was delighted to find this post from She Knows: 52 Ideas to Organize Your Home. Billed (rather logically) as an organizing tip a week, it has ideas for every style. Some are one-and-done and others can form the foundation of a new habit.

So, if you want to dig in, but aren't sure where to start, check it out. Progress is a beautiful thing.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Ways to Organize a Drawer

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Today's post is actually three riffs on the same theme: drawer organizers. Subdividing drawers  maximizes space, helps to keep drawers neat, and makes it easier to see what you have so that you don't waste money. 

The basic concept behind all three is the same. The variables? Flexibility and cost.

Easiest? The standard, rigid drawer organizer. Usually made of plastic or wood, it has set openings molded into it, so whatever you're organizing has to fit into the pre-set spaces. Good for organizing office supplies and small doodads.
Bamboo drawer organizer

A little more wiggle room: A flexible or expandable organizer like the one at right from The Container Store allows you to adjust the size of the compartments. Good for utensils and wide or oversized items.

Cheap, but some assembly required: Use small gift boxes (the kind used for jewelry) or strips of wood or cardboard to create your own grid. Or, begin with the gift boxes used for shirts and cut the lids to your desired size by cutting up one side, straight across the top and down the other side and placing them beside the intact box bottom to create "sliding" compartments on either side of the box (much like the bamboo organizer at right). If you wish, use decorative duct tape or Washi tape to create visual interest at the top of the grid, or inside it. By making it yourself, you can create compartments that are just the size you want them to be.

Drawer organizers are a great tool for nearly every style. I need to see it people like the visibility, I know I put it somewhere people can see where "somewhere" is, cram and jam organizers have limited choices for cramming and jamming and I love to be busy and drop and run folks benefit from the ease of access and one step organizing.

What drawer do you want to organize?

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Start Somewhere
Life has been hectic lately, and the clutter control at my house has taken a beating.

Who am I kidding? It's gone out the window. Almost entirely. Too busy most of the day to set aside the necessary time to tackle it and too tired at the end of the day to even attempt to make any headway, I've become increasingly frustrated by an I need to see it style run amok and made worse by its drop and run companion.

Baby steps have kept things from growing completely out of control -- don't put it down, put it away! is particularly valuable in stopping the clutter from inviting friends to join the pile -- but, truth be told, this does not look like the house of someone who writes about organization.

Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays I teach just one morning class, and, though I'm rarely home before noon, I have more time available in my day to tackle non-instructional things than I do on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Today, I arrived home with the usual list scrolling through my head, but, for some reason, I felt the need to set it aside and make some headway. Maybe it was the fact that my daughter was here, providing me with an enjoyable interruption between work and more of the same. Maybe it was the fact that uncluttered surfaces are becoming an endangered species at my house. Or, maybe it was the fact that the day was still young, and my motivation was still high.

For whatever reason, I did what I often do when I want to make a dent. After my daughter left, I set aside the twenty minutes remaining until the half hour to improve the situation -- sort of like four back-to-back Give it Five! sessions.

And then I went to work. Plucking things off surfaces and putting them where they belonged. Picking up the "how long has that been there?" items I wouldn't miss and throwing them away. Making decisions about homeless items and taking action. There was no real rhyme or reason to my rampage. Anything in my way was fair game, and the main idea was to keep moving and get as much done as I could in twenty minutes.
And you know what? It was very fulfilling. It didn't take long to turn messy spaces into empty spaces, and, with clear space as my reward, I was motivated to keep going. While I needed to stop after twenty minutes to tackle my list of non-organizational tasks, getting started was enough to ensure that no trip for the rest of the afternoon would be done empty-handed. Getting up for a drink? Pick up that wayward item and put it away. Taking a break from the blog or grading? Grab those papers and recycle, file or shred them. Now.

There's nothing like a little success to motivate us to keep going.

Or to inspire a blog post.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Organizing Extra: Organizing Books

Karen Arnold via
I've loved reading since Dick and Jane ran with Spot. I don't remember my book collection overtaking my space when I was a kid, but then again, when I was in middle school, we moved to a house with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, giving me plenty of space for my Nancy Drew collection -- and then some.

In my lifetime, I've worked in three different bookstores, and I trace the origins of my "too many books, too little space" conundrum back to those jobs, which fed my inner book collector -- sometimes at the expense of my bank account.

Our house is a Cape Cod, so when I wanted to find resources about organizing books, I was excited to find posts on the Apartment Therapy site, where they specialize in fun ideas for small spaces. And, in a decision that matches my bookstore behavior, I couldn't decide, so I'm posting both.

The first is an article (with great pictures) that explores various ways to organize books, depending on your style (I had to grab that one!); the second, geared to a weekend project approach has videos. Both provide ideas and maybe even a little motivation for taking control of book overrun.
While I'll be contributing to book overrun this weekend as I put the finishing touches on my novel, I'm looking forward to putting some of those ideas to work this winter, when I have more time to tackle my list of organizing to-dos.

Happy organizing! And, if you manage to make it through the process without getting sucked into a book you forgot you had, you're stronger than I am.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

3 Keys to Organizing by STYLE

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile

There are many strategies and nuances we can use when we decide to organize by STYLE, but since today is Three Keys Thursday, I'd like to distill organizing by STYLE to its simplest components. This blog has plenty of posts and charts that can provide details on each of these key principles, but when we're drowning, we just want to grab the nearest life jacket. When the clutter is winning and you feel as though organization is as far away as a rescue ship is from the Titanic, it's time to get back to the basics.

  • Claim your styles. Decide which personal style and which organizational style best describes you. You may have traits of others as well, but begin by identifying, well, what you most identify with.
  • Decide which one dominates. I'm an I need to see it/Drop and run person, but typically, my I need to see it style prevails. If I keep that in the forefront of my mind when I clear clutter and restore organization, I'm more likely to set up a plan that works long-term.
  • Choose the right tools. Although my I need to see it style is typically dominant, my personal style feeds my organizational style and vice versa. Consequently to break the drop and run habit, I need to find tools that allow me to see what I need. Closed, opaque storage systems (like the traditional file cabinet) don't work for me. Away is forgotten, and I revert to dropping and running so I can see what I need to do and organization goes out the window. If, however, I do something as simple as using a file box with an open top, putting things away is easy, and, though they're more out of sight than they'd be on top of my desk, they're easily accessible. In addition, I can see enough of them to satisfy my I need to see it personal style.
Grandiose plans are wonderful in theory, but expensive and difficult to maintain in practice. When you're feeling overwhelmed, go back to basics. What are your styles, and what are they crying out for?

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Musings on Mood-Driven Organizing
Some days, I start with a list. Other days, I flit.

Sometimes, I'm a linear thinker. I create a to-do list and work my way through it, step by step, item by item. Methodically. Efficiently. When I'm drowning in projects, as I am right now, this happens a lot.

Other days, I'm more scattered, or the piles are too massive, or...something. On those days, I flit. I do this mostly in the morning, with more speed and energy if I'm also drinking my favorite Starbucks beverage (iced chai, preferably a venti, with an extra pump of chai syrup). Caffeine seems to increase my efficiency.

I start at the top of a pile (did I mention that there are typically multiple piles?) and simply move from one thing to another, tackling whatever's in front of me, in no particular order, except the order in which I uncover/come across it. I develop a rhythm, and though I may leap from item to item and project to project, I get a lot accomplished. One paper leads to another, which leads to a file, which leads to a magazine I must thumb through before tossing. The piles diminish, my stress level drops and the desktop - or at least a small portion of it - becomes visible once more.

Other times I start at the bottom of the pile -- an organizing trick I learned years ago, probably on HGTV's Mission: Organization. The items at the bottom of the pile, by virtue of having been there longer, are often outdated and/or easier to part with.

I'm a professional organizer's nightmare, moved by mood, not method. I'm a visual organizer, an I need to see it person, someone who has to see things in order to remember to do them. And, as a writer, I'm a creative person, dropping bits of ideas like so many bread crumbs, but lacking the time to sweep them all into a neat pile. When it comes time to make sense of the mayhem, I like being able to choose my plan of attack. 

My Type A friends shake their heads and smile that smile that says they think I'm hopeless.

I prefer to think of myself as flexible.