Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Just One Thing...or Maybe Two

pippalou via Morguefile
Organization and efficiency are wonderful things. But sometimes we need to wave the white flag.

Lists abound in December. It's two days until Christmas, and my lists still have lists.

'Tis the season to be...crazy?

I don't think so.

So I got to thinking. What's the opposite of a to-do list?

Just one thing.

Okay, maybe it's not technically the opposite of a to-do list, but it has been my plan for December, one that has served me well in terms of maintaining my sanity. But with two days remaining until the big day, and traffic slowed to a crawl, it's time to decide where to go from here, both literally and figuratively, especially since there seems so far from here.

And so my "one thing" has morphed into two questions:
  • Is it necessary? 
  • Do I love doing it?
Anything that doesn't meet at least one of those criteria goes to the bottom of the list. I won't dispense with those things entirely (at least not yet), but the likelihood of accomplishing them is greatly reduced. That means that the things that remain on the list are the ones that matter most.

Things can be necessary for a variety of reasons. They may be necessary for practical reasons (toilet paper is necessary), or because they make someone (you or someone else) happy. Any definition of necessary will do, as long as it's true to your spirit of the season. Doing it just because you always have? That's a recipe for stress, especially this late in the season. Better to make a conscious decision that it's not top priority than to not get to it and feel guilty.

As for things we love to do, those are the things that bring us joy, or that Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without. I used to love to bake gazillions of Christmas cookies. While I can't say that's a task I love any more, it wouldn't be Christmas without them. So, while I'll reconsider just how many kinds of Christmas cookies an extended family of less than twenty needs and plan accordingly, I will bake them. Really I will. 

Organization and efficiency are wonderful things. But there's much to be said for enjoying the season.

Merry Christmas, and may all of your celebrations be happy, healthy and peaceful.
See you in January.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Organizing Extra: Fun in the Kitchen

Mana-tea, anyone?

Okay, it's a stretch to call this an organizing-related post. But, I got such a kick out of these fun little kitchen gadgets that make life easier, and I thought you might enjoy them, too -- especially if you're looking for something fun for the cook on your list.

At the very least, a few of them should make you smile. Even if you're kitchen-avoidant like I am.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Strategies for Keeping your Mental House in Order

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
This time last month, I wrote about three items that helped me keep my thoughts organized when my schedule threatens to overwhelm both me and my organizational systems. Yesterday, I shared my process for dealing with the inevitable feeling of overwhelmed when it does, indeed, arrive (uninvited, thank you very much).

Today, I'd like to go one step further and share three strategies that contribute to keeping my mental house in order....or at least as "in order" as it gets this time of year.

Keep it simple. Now is not the time to try fancy new plans. If it's not broken, don't change it. If it can wait, let it. Trying to do it all is overrated.

Keep it consistent. The same things go in the same places -- time wise and stuff wise. Predictability might be boring under some circumstances, but it can be a lifesaver when things are crazy. And for many of us, there's even something comforting about a routine.

Try to avoid making a contribution
 -- to the pile-up, that is. Strategies like Give it Five! and Don't put it down, put it Away! can keep things from getting worse. While it seems that putting one more thing on the pile won't make that much difference, that one more thing you set down now becomes one more thing you have to sort later. Put it where it belongs, or start a homeless bin for all the loose ends without a location to call their own. That way, you need to look in only one place to find that thing you put in a safe place.

I'm happy to report that yesterday's sorting into bins cleared not only space, but my mind as well. I like this bin sorting system, but am struggling to figure out how to make it work in my office, where there is currently no room for the bins to live.

That's not a struggle for this week, though, or even next. For now, what I need is easily accessible, and it allows me to stick to the three keys above. Once I clear the next few hurdles (deadlines), I'll try to look at my space with new eyes and determine the possibilities. Organizing is, after all, a dynamic thing, and while growing pains are hard, the results are worth it.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

STYLE to the Rescue!

Created with Canva
The semester is drawing to a close, and, if the paper blizzard in my house is any indication, my organizational systems could use some tweaking. True, many of these papers will be returned to my students, and, in my defense, this is the first semester I've taught three classes, and the first time I've assigned homework on close to a daily basis. As a result, the number of papers I've had to deal with has increased tremendously, overwhelming any system I had in place in my small home office and making my I need to see it/drop and run default styles readily apparent to anyone who steps into my house.

Now what?

Simple. Go back to STYLE.
  • Start with successes. Right now, this is challenging. My system and I are both so overwhelmed that it's harder to see what's working than what isn't. Some of the things that have homes do make it there somewhat regularly. Others that don't...well, they follow a pattern. Despite the fact that I know file drawers and binders don't work for me as a drop and run organizer, I love the fact that when I do use them, retrieval is easy, so I keep trying to make them work...and ending up with paper blizzards. So, I know that filing things is good (a success), but, when life gets busy, having to file them in more than a drop and run fashion doesn't happen. Consequently, the files need to be all in one place, general and flexible (try filing by class instead of class, unit and topic -- one step instead of three) and easily accessible.
  • Take small steps. Papers don't belong on a chair in the living room, and yet that is where they are living. Taking even five minutes at a time to sort, clear and return my chair to its intended function yields a huge payoff. I know. I've tried it.
  • Yes, it has a home! No, it doesn't, in most cases. Therein lies the problem.
  • Let it go! This one will be easy. The majority of the papers will be returned to their rightful owners. Anything that remains will be sorted, giving me a visual of what needs to be tossed and what needs to be kept. The size and composition of the keepers will help me to determine what adjustments I need to make. Do I need to clear a drawer in my neglected file cabinet and establish it as the home for all course paperwork? While this is not typically the best choice for an I need to see it person, an active file used daily and color coded by one parameter (class) just might work.
  • Easy upkeep. Why bother? The semester is over. Why not just clear the clutter, file what remains and move on without making any changes? Because I am likely to have this same course load again next fall. Spending a busy semester using an outgrown system left me feeling scattered and left my house reflecting that fact. Something needs to change for easy upkeep of both my living space and my sanity.
As I finish this post, I feel simultaneously energized and overwhelmed. I want to dig in and do this stuff, but there are papers and projects to grade, and those must come first. Still, keeping what comes next in mind and chipping away at it gradually as I work will help me make the progress I need to make. Knowing my new system will focus on a revised version of my current class-by-class system, I'm going to grab three bins from the basement (one for each class -- and, yes, I always have containers on hand) and sort by class as I go, making both my current work and my future work easier.


Saturday, December 12, 2015

Organization Extra: Re-Gifting -- In a Good Way

Photo from Magic 106.1 FM, Guelph, Canada
via Facebook
When my daughter was small, we started a book tradition at our house. I can't remember where I found the idea -- it might have been Family Fun magazine -- but I do seem to remember that it was just a front-of-book snippet by a parent. "Just" a snippet turned into a tradition that, at our house, lasted until my daughter was into her teens. And when a writer friend posted the photo at left on her Facebook page earlier this month, it had "Organization Extra" written all over it.

The process is a bit time consuming up front, but very simple. In November, gather all of your child's Christmas-themed books. Then, sometime before December 1, wrap each book individually. Beginning December 1, your child can open a book a day (or a book a week, or somewhere in between, depending upon the number of books you have available). Secretly purchasing new books I could add to the pile was fun, too, and less expensive than it would seem, as many old favorites endured for years.

My daughter loved coming downstairs each morning and opening a "new" book, and, as a bonus, it started each day with reading. Although mornings worked well for us, you could just as easily do this after dinner (or before dinner to procure some late afternoon peace and quiet), or at bedtime.

Once all of the books have been opened and the season has passed, gather them up again when you gather up the decorations and put them in a special box (labeled or unique so you can find them quickly in November). If you're feeling really industrious, you can wrap a few (or all of them) before you put them away, saving yourself some time at the outset, but choose carefully. You may find that your child deems some of this year's books too babyish next year.

Why is this an "Organization Extra"? Because managing our stuff doesn't always mean getting rid of things. Sometimes, it means rotating things from season to season so we can keep and enjoy more of what we love, without creating organizational mishaps along the way.

Merry Christmas, especially to my I love stuff friends. I've just given you an excuse to acquire more books. Then again, we authors do that.

Thank you to Carole Brown, who posted this photo on her Facebook page, 
bringing back many lovely memories.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

3 Keys Thursday: Reduce as You Reuse

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Did yesterday's blog convince you to reduce as you reuse? If so, here are three keys for combining decorating for the holidays with organizing those holiday supplies.

As you take things out, take inventory of your containers. Can you lift them? Find what you need? Are like items stored together, or are the ornaments mixed in with the outside lights? As you take things out, think about how you'd prefer to take them out next year. Then, make a list of what you need to make it happen.

Plan by style. Using a system that sucks the joy out of decorating? Maybe it's backbreaking (like my crawl space), unwieldy (those big bins that looked so roomy in the store are just plain heavy when they're full of decorations) or confusing (endless stacks of identical brown boxes). Re-evaluate your system now and upgrade it with containers that work for your styles. If you can hold off revamping your system until after the holidays, you might even get what you need on sale.

One in, one out. If you, like me, enjoy hitting the after Christmas sales, make room for new things by weeding out any decorations you haven't used in the past two years. Then, when you buy something a new treasure, get rid of something old. Sometimes it's easy. When I got my new black boots, I had no trouble parting with the old ones (they hurt my feet), but when I get something new that's part of a collection (a new charm for my Pandora bracelet), I'm unwilling to make an even exchange. In that case, I'd choose to let go of something else, preferably something bigger so I get some extra space out of the deal. Fortunately, even exchanges are pretty easy to pull off with things like decorations, and even easier when we're replacing something that's stopped working with something style-specific.
Photo: LadyHeart via Morguefile

The goal here is to plan what comes next so that after the holidays, when the craziness subsides, you can put your plan into action. Then next year at this time, you can decorate with style.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Decorating + Organizing = A More Peaceful Season

Photo: GaborfromHungary via Morguefile
Does the thought of decorating for the holidays give you a headache? At our house, all of the decorations (at least the ones I'm responsible for) are in the crawlspace. When my daughter was still small, I came up with a great storage solution, but since then, ten years' worth of collected treasures (which tend to pile up in front of the lovely, clear drawer units housing the decorations) have created a barricade that triggers procrastination every year.

Every year seems to be busier than the one before, and this year, I decided that the only way to keep my Christmas spirit (and my sanity) was to do things a little at a time. In addition to keeping things manageable, this approach promises to help me reach some organizational goals as well, namely re-evaluating both my Christmas collection and my organizational system.

Each year, I promise myself I'm going to weed out my Christmas decorations, but so far, I've only managed to eliminate a few stray ornaments. This year, because I'm only taking out a few things at a time, I can make a decision now, instead of after the holidays, about what's worth keeping and what isn't. If I have no place to put it, perhaps I should reconsider keeping it. If reduce my collection now, I'll have less to deal with later.

As for my storage system, it's great for an I need to see it person with a drop and run organizational style -- plastic drawer units with clear drawers that open and close easily, even when I'm hunched over in the crawlspace. What I need to re-evaluate is its capacity, along with the value of the barricade of treasures between the door and the drawers. If they're truly worth keeping, they need homes -- potentially in the existing drawers, if I weed out my decorations sufficiently. If not, perhaps it's time to let them go.

Decorating mindfully helps me to enjoy not only the decorations, but the process itself. Reducing as I reuse promises that clear space is in my immediate future, and helps me to feel organized as I begin a season full of surprises.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Organization Extra: Expert Assistance from Marcia Ramsland

As I've mentioned before, there are a few organizing experts whose work I particularly like. One of those is Marcia Ramsland, whose book I picked up almost by accident at a local discount store. It was love at first read, particularly when it came to time management concepts.

Though I like all of Marcia's information, one thing I especially remember about her books is that she  devoted chapters to the organizing projects and organizing for holidays. This month, her Facebook page is like the intersection of Christmas Avenue and Organization Street, complete with resources and lots of pretty pictures. And, since they're Facebook posts, it's easy to scroll through even if you have only a few minutes.

Just what I needed. Another excuse to hit Facebook.

Friday, December 4, 2015

3 Keys...Friday?? 3 Tasks, Once Each Day

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
'Tis the season...for an overabundance of responsibility! It's easy to push the panic button, or, alternatively, curl up in the fetal position and avoid it all. Or, if you're stubborn  (like me), you create a plan, preferably one that's easy enough to guarantee successes, no matter how small.

So today's post, while still in keeping with my "Three Theme," isn't so much "Three Keys" as it is "Three Things." And, since I deviated from the schedule this week and am posting this on Friday, I figured it was a good opportunity to change things up a little bit.

Next week, the posting schedule returns to normal. I think. Meanwhile, I will...

Take one step toward Christmas. I wrote about this in Wednesday's post on The Porch Swing Chronicles. Overwhelmed by all that needs to be done for the holidays on top of everything else that needs to be done, I decided that simply moving forward slowly was better than standing still and stressing out. A side benefit? I'm savoring things a bit more.

Do one thing to promote my new book. Like it or not, promotion is part of the territory when you're an author. Fortunately, I enjoy the promotion aspect, and, since I have a list (of course), taking things slowly now means laying the groundwork I need to tackle the events themselves when January rolls around and my teaching schedule is less demanding.

Tackle one pile. Yesterday, it was accumulated mail. The day before that, it was a project in the playroom/man cave that freed up space for a Christmas tree  -- one that will reap clear space benefits in the new year. My standard for selection? Whatever's bugging me that day.

What's your plan for managing December with your sanity intact?

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Tips and Tools for Making Lists
As I type this, there's soup on the stove and I've checked things off my list, so I'm trying not to focus on the fact that this blog is being written much later in the day than I would like and that too many projects loom between now and midnight.

So, where was I? Ah, yes. Lists

Last week, I wrote about lists and the best laid plans, promising that this week, I'd share some of my favorite list-making tools. While I hope that some of them appeal to you, what's more important than trying new things is sticking to your styles and the solutions that work for them.
  • A calendar with room to make lists. Last week, the featured photo was my 2016 Page-A-Day calendar. Although this is the first year I've gone with the word-a-day option, I've been using one of these for at least five years. The best way to use it is to take time on Sunday evenings to transfer the schedule for each day of the coming week onto the page, leaving space in between appointments to show me (an I need to see it person) where I have space for errands and tasks. Then, I can fill in the things I need to do, assigning them time blocks so they're more likely to actually get done. Or, you might prefer something with a different set-up, like the Passion Planner, pictured at right -- something that keeps the appointments and the rest of the day separated.
  • Post-it Notes. If you're someone whose lists have lists, try making your supplemental lists (the ones you dash off when you can't get your hands on the original list) on sticky notes. That way, you can stick them together and keep them all in one place. Try keeping sticky note pads in the places where you tend to think of things you need to write down. And, if you find waterproof sticky notes that can be used in the shower, please let me know. That's where I get my best ideas.
  • Electronic lists. My husband the I know I put it somewhere organizer loves using his phone to keep track of his lists. I've tried this, but as an I need to see it person, I find that this method fails me as often as it helps me. There are all sorts of list apps out there, but I mostly use the notes app that comes with my iPhone. Or, more often, I email myself with the item that needs to be added to the list in the subject line. Electronic lists can also be great for the cram and jammer who can always manage to fit one more thing on a physical note, if not into a 24-hour period.
Finally, when I'm really overwhelmed, I try the backwards to-do list. In fact, now that I think of it, I could have used that today. The backwards to-do list is perfect for days when you're busy all day, yet it seems as though you've gotten nothing accomplished.

What are your favorite to-do list tools?