Saturday, January 30, 2016

Organizing Extra: Why it Pays to Procrastinate
Yes, I am profoundly aware of the irony of posting a link to an article on procrastination late. This one, however, was worth sharing regardless of the timing.

Unlike most articles, this piece from the New York Times about procrastinating on purpose is a great read for procrastinators and non-procrastinators alike. The author, a "get it done" kind of person, learned that achieving a balance between leaping into action and dragging his feet might indeed be a good place to be.

If you're wondering how that could be possible, you should definitely read the article. Now or later? Well, that part is up to you.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Reasons (x2) I Love my "Desktop Drawer"

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Yesterday, I wrote about my empty drawer. Inspired by talking to you about it, I had it redone within hours after I finished the post. It took less than an hour to put together, and I didn't have to buy a thing.

As I said yesterday, I was eyeing that space as a means of containing the paper clutter that accumulates on my desk, but I knew I needed to do more than simply toss it in the drawer. The solution I ended up with was simple, free, and true to both my I need to see it personal style and my drop and run organizational style.

I simply created my ideal desktop -- inside the drawer.

Here are three reasons I'm so excited about this plan:

  • It's visual. This is a must for my I need to see it personal style. By subdividing the drawer, I created specific homes for the things that typically end up on my desk. Because there are only three subdivisions (a box for papers, a spot for my calendar and an index card box), it's not cluttered; when I open the drawer, I can see what I need at a glance. 
  • It's easy to maintain. Because everything that belongs in the drawer has a home, I'm less likely to toss things into the drawer that don't belong there. In addition, the open box works for my drop and run organizational style.
  • It solved a problem. There are many places I could have stored all the stuff that's on my desk, but all of them required putting things out of sight. This was a conundrum because while that's exactly what I needed to do, I didn't want to forget about the stuff I was stashing away. With this solution, everything is immediately back in sight as soon as I open the drawer. Yes, I'll have to go through the papers in the box to find what I need, but I was doing that anyway.
And, for good measure, here are three more things I like about this set-up:
  • There's room to grow. The box? Formerly a home to hanging files. I selected it because it's larger than the 8 1/2 x 11 sheets of paper that will fill it, which will keep them from getting wrinkled and torn (are you listening, cram and jammers?). It's also deeper than a traditional paper tray, and deep enough to hold a stack of papers, but not so deep that the papers will reach  the top of the drawer.
  • It combines function with style. Making the inside of a drawer pretty may seem silly since drawers, by nature, remain closed most of the time. I believe, however, that we're more likely to use containers and systems we find attractive. In addition, if a space looks attractive (and organized) in the first place, we're more motivated to keep it looking that way. By adding contact paper to the box, I not only brightened it up, but I also secured the lid to it, creating additional stability if I want to pull it out of the drawer.
  • It has built-in motivation. The four repurposed mouse pads (there's one under the box that stores the papers and another under the calendar) not only line the drawer (instead of being stashed away in one), but also give me an incentive to get to the bottom of the stack. I love that they're being put to good use, brightening an otherwise bland spot.
The next step will be to sort the piles on my desk, deciding what will go into the desktop drawer and what won't make the cut. Once that's done, I'll need to get into the habit of dropping things into the drawer instead of onto the desk, but because I've put so much thought into setting up a system that works with my styles, I don't expect that to be a problem. My action remains the same; all that's changed is the location. 

How I feel when I solve an organizational problem.

For me, part of the beauty of organizing by style is validating the old saw that you can't judge a book by its cover. Yes, my desk is messy, but that's because I haven't yet found the right system, not because there's something inherently wrong with me. When we create systems that work with our styles we find so much more than simply order.

We find validation and hope.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Languid Person, Meet Languishing To-Do List
There's a fine line between laid back and lazy, and some days, I'm living on it. Between the 2 1/2 feet of snow that fell on Saturday and the two back-to-back snow days that resulted, I've been living in pjs and sweats for almost a week now. Tomorrow promises to be a rude awakening.

Snow days are like a reset button. Because they're found time, I feel as though I can do what I want to do instead of what I should do, but the truth is, I usually blend the two, taking on projects that have languished at the bottom of my to-do list. That pile of papers from last semester waiting to be filed? Done. Not only that, I cleared out the file drawer to make room for the inevitable influx of new papers.

The bottom drawer in my office that's in a prime location, but storing non-prime stuff? Empty except for two small file boxes with contact information (which will probably be streamlined into one on another day), and waiting for something to fill it. There are plenty of items on my desk and the counter in my office jockeying for position.

So, why are they there, creating clutter, rather than inside the drawer? Because, to paraphrase Elaine from Seinfeld, I'm not sure they're drawer-worthy.

Empty drawers hold so much promise.
Space in my little office is, as I've said before, at a premium. If new storage opens up, I need to be strategic about how to use it. One entire empty drawer simply cannot be taken for granted. Instead, it needs to solve a storage problem.

Yes, I know I sound a little crazy. But the whole idea behind organizing by STYLE is choosing solutions that work for us not just today, but for the foreseeable future -- leading us from existing successes to easy upkeep.

The prime contender for the drawer is the paper clutter that accumulates on my desk, taking it from clear to catastrophe in no time flat. But I'm an I need to see it girl, so stashing it away in a drawer requires a plan so the drawer doesn't become a dumping ground, but instead, creates easy access to the things that land on my desk because they're important and need my attention.

I'm working on it. And since another snow day requires more snow (which I don't want), I'll keep chipping away at it. Just writing about it, in fact, sparked some ideas I want to try. I know that subdivision (an I need to see it style staple) will play a role, and I think I might have just the containers to make it happen.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Organization Extra: Let it Go!

Last night, I had my post for today ready to go -- that was the first part of the plan. The second part was that I'd get up, type up my blog and post it.

Photo: Ladyheart via Morguefile
In reality, Mother Nature dumped two feet of snow (and still counting) on us. As I lay in bed this morning, contemplating the day ahead, I decided that today was the day to tackle my student files. I figured I'd sort through everything, purge what I could (anything more than a year old) and get on with my day. Logical, really, as the office re-organization I undertook over break now meant I had specific homes for lots of previously homeless, drifting papers.

More than three hours, a full trash bag of shredding and a 6" stack of recyclable paper later, I'm finally sitting at my laptop, writing this -- entirely different -- blog.

For me, having the guideline of what to keep and what to toss was the motivation for undertaking a project that left me feeling not only accomplished, but also lighter (as a result of everything I got rid of). There's room in my file drawers, and I have a system that means I can safely drop things in the file folders and run onto the next thing, in keeping with my default organizational style.

Funny, actually, since file cabinets are rarely my choice of container. In this case, however, they're the perfect tool, despite my I need to see it personal style, because I'm using them for archived information. I don't need to access these papers often, if at all, but I can't yet get rid of them, so  a file cabinet with color-coded, labeled files is the perfect place for them. When it comes to day-to-day paperwork, however, file cabinets remain a disaster waiting to happen -- for me, anyway.

Looking to lighten your own files, but have no idea what to keep and what to toss? If you're confused, you're not alone. According to Consumer Reports, about half of us have no idea what to keep and for how long.

If you, like me, are motivated by guidelines that allow you to lighten your load in a guilt-free fashion, check out the IRS guidelines for tax-related paperwork here and other paperwork keep or toss guidelines from Consumer Reports here.

Whether you're shoveling snow or papers this weekend, stay warm and safe.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Key Considerations when Choosing a Planner

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
If you've been following my posts, you know I've been writing about planners for three weeks now, offering information on this important tool from a variety of angles. Today's post, the final one in this series, will be short and sweet, giving you three key things to consider as you make your choice.

Be true to your styles. Choosing an organizational tool that fits your styles not only makes it easier to use, it also makes it more likely that you'll still be using it a month from now -- or even longer.

Choose your view. Consider how busy you are and how detailed you need your planner to be. If you have a lot of meetings and appointments, you may quickly run out of room in a month-by-month planner. Personal preference plays a role here, too. What view do you like best?

Give it a good home. Whether it's paper or electronic, if you can't find it, you can't use it.

If you're looking for more details to go with the simple steps here, just scroll down and you're sure to find plenty.

Happy hunting.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Planners by Style: Questions to Ask as you Seek a Planner to Match your Styles
I was at the mall with my daughter on Monday and discovered that the calendar kiosk still has a few selections left -- at 75% off! -- which is proof that if you've procrastinated pursuant to your planner purchase, you still have options. Not a big fan of the leftovers? Online sites sell planners year-round, so no, you're not off the hook! I'm a firm believer that everyone should have a planner, and, like any other organizational tool, your planner should fit your styles.

Perhaps you've been delaying your purchase because you're in pursuit of the perfect planner. Here are a few things to ask yourself as you head online or to the mall to make this VIP (very important purchase). Feel free to skip over the styles that don't apply and focus on your styles.

  • Do you need to see it? I need to see it folks can be very picky about the view. Some like month-at-a-glance, while others are die hard day-by-day planners. Finding the view that works best not for just your life, but for your personal preference plays a role as well. Personally, I need to see white space. A cluttered planner stresses me out, so trying to cram everything into one of those pocket-sized calendars is an absolute guarantee I won't use it, no matter how cute the cover is.
  • Do you like to be busy? I love to be busy folks need calendars that travel easily. Many I love to be busy people choose electronic planners and apps for just that reason. Whether you choose paper or electronic, however, finding a consistent home for your planner is key. A lost planner is of no use whatsoever, and is more stress-inducing than no planner at all.
  • Do you drop and run? Then you need a place to corral all of those appointment cards and reminders or you need a planner that makes them obsolete. Electronic planners or desk planners may rise to the top for this style because it's less likely that we'll set down a device that serves multiple functions and forget about it than a single-function paper planner. Your personal style may also lead the way here. An I love stuff/drop and run person may gravitate toward a different planner than the I love to be busy/drop and run person.
Photo: dhester via Morguefile
  • Do you know you put it somewhere? Once again, location is key. While personal style may lead the I know I put it somewhere organizer to a particular planner, the most important thing for someone with this organizational style is deciding on a consistent, convenient home for the planner so that it always goes in the same "somewhere." Electronic planners, desk calendars and the ever-faithful kitchen calendar just might do the trick.
  • Do you cram and jam? Electronic planners and apps may be your saving grace. Not only do you not have to worry about deciphering all the information you crammed into a small square on a paper planner, but their electronic counterparts will notify you of all the things you tried to squeeze in as well.
  • Do you love stuff? You might be reading this post hours after you started it because you made a run to the mall to check out those 75% off calendars! Using just one calendar is often your battle. Notice that I said using, not owning. I love stuff is not my primary personal style, but I do love stationery stuff, so you'll find multiple calendars in my house. Each has its purpose, however, and when it comes to scheduling appointments, they all must go on one calendar.

Tomorrow we'll wrap this up with three key questions that tie all the planner posts together.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Organization Extra: Planner Parade

This planner, from the Denise Albright Studio, is one of
many planners on Etsy. 

If you're looking for a planner, you can always check the usual places: Wal-Mart, Target and other similar stores that sell a little bit of everything. If you're on a budget, you can check dollar bins or dollar stores; if you're looking for something businesslike, there's always the office supply circuit -- Staples, Office Max, Office Depot and online retailers like Penny Wise. And, if you want something that's a cross between a planner and a journal, you might like the Passion Planner, which I've written about before.

But what if you're looking for something different? Something artsy, perhaps. Something that doesn't look like every other planner on the block. Well, you might want to check out Etsy. Lots of planners, lots of layouts, lots of styles, all in a place where uniqueness and creativity is celebrated.

Happy shopping. If you find something cool, be sure to share it with us here.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

3 Keys Thursday: Planning Planners: Newfangled or Old-Fashioned

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
The grocery store offers paper or plastic -- or, perhaps, reusable. When it comes to planners, the choice is paper or electronic -- or, perhaps, both.

Last week, I started my 3 Keys Thursday post with some considerations on the topic of paper vs. electronic, sharing my eventual hybrid choice. This week, I'd like to explore three questions to help those still on the fence to decide on the option most likely to succeed.

Do you need to write things down in order to remember them? For many of us, the very act of writing something down helps us commit it to memory. If you worry (or if experience has shown) that once you type it into your phone, it's forgotten, you might be better off with a paper calendar.

Store sign at 'Round the Clock Diner
York, PA
Do you need 24-7 access? This one comes down to personal preference. Although many of us take our phones everywhere we go out of sheer habit, it's just as easy to develop the habit of taking a paper planner with us. The key here is making sure that your planner of choice has a consistent home as you travel from place to place. I know many women whose calendars live in their purses, which means these ladies are just as likely to have their paper planners as they are to have their phones when it comes time to make an appointment.

Do you need reminders and other bells and whistles? No matter how much you love that beautiful paper calendar you so lovingly chose, it's not going to send you notifications. If you need reminders for all of the dates in your planner, you might want to go electronic. While medical practices routinely call to remind us of our appointments, they won't tell call to remind us of our lunch with Aunt Sue.

One final consideration: no planner is foolproof. Phones and electronic devices need charging and both electronic planners and paper planners can be lost. And, every planner is subject to human error. If we enter an appointment incorrectly (or not at all), having a planner is little help.

Next week, we'll wrap this up by tying planners to styles. Meanwhile, if you've found tips, tricks or a planner you love, please share in the comments below.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Who? Me? Organized?

Photo: Pippalou via Morguefile
Sometimes, I feel dishonest writing a blog that focuses on organization. One quick glance around my house -- especially now -- makes it clear that I don't have this organization thing licked. Life takes over and so does the stuff, and many days, I cringe at the thought of someone coming to my house unannounced.

But then I remember: that's why I write this blog.

Sure, there are plenty of professional organizers out there and I'm sure their homes look better than mine does. But, when I read what they say about organizing, much of it doesn't work for me. I know the "rules" and I realize that many of them make sense. And, while there's much to be said for creating new habits and using standard tools, most people who struggle with organization have already tried that path. I know I have.

I really believe in what I write about. Furthermore, I've seen it work. I've seen kids' faces light up when they realize they're not broken because they don't do well with binders and pocket folders. I've watched adults relax and even smile at the idea that what they do naturally could actually be the plan they've been seeking, and I've heard the confessions of many people just like me who are relieved to know that file cabinets and neatly tabbed folders don't work for everyone. I've seen -- and experienced -- firsthand what a difference an accordion folder can make.

Created with Canva
As long as I know I'm on the right path, I need to remind myself that every path has obstacles, and that the Easy Upkeep part of  STYLE comes only after I've completed the four steps that precede it. Right now, I'm living on the T (Take Small Steps), determined to practice the Y (Yes, it has a home) and as much L (Let it go!) as I can muster, because the alternative is to stuff it all in a bin so things look pretty and I know from experience that that backfires. Every time.

So, until I'm prepared to take an entire day and forgo writing my novel, catching up on my reading and all the other things on my "between semesters" list, progress will be slow. But, as long as I'm chipping away at my collected stuff in pursuit of Easy Upkeep, I know that what lies at the end of the path will be worth all the work, because a system that works makes life so much easier.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Organization Extra: How to Pack

Photo: Kolobsek via Morguefile

Last summer, I bought a notepad that says, "I love to travel, but I hate to pack." It's a packing checklist, one I use only when I'm going on a longish trip -- one that lasts longer than a weekend.

Certified professional organizer Janine Adams has a list of her own: Five Ways to Make Packing Easy. I'm proud to say that I do all of them, but the make-up packing idea is my favorite. The nice thing is the things on the list don't only make packing easy -- they are easy.

How do you pack?

Thursday, January 7, 2016

3 Keys Thursday: Planning a Planner

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
A few years ago, while my husband and I were browsing at the warehouse club near my parents' home, I came across a spiral-bound planner. It was done in lovely florals and pastels and reeked of optimism. I couldn't help myself. I picked it up. I opened it, and was immediately overcome by one thought.

Are they kidding? If I could fit my life into these skinny little columns, I wouldn't need  a planner!

Nearby, a binder called "the ultimate organizer" (in soothing lower case letters) also called out to me. This one offered to be the tool that put my life in order, but all I could think was that if I had time to file things by category and use all the lovely labels and folders provided in this beautiful, Type A tool, I would have already done so, which would render this system just as useless as the pretty floral planner with the skinny columns.

Don't get me wrong. I'm sure these organizers work for someone, and that someone will be overjoyed not only to flip through these tools, but purchase them and take them home. There, they will use them and reap the benefits proclaimed on the front covers.

I'm just not that someone.

Planners are the first step toward organizing our time and, as such, should match our styles just as our organizational systems do. As we set goals and make plans for the new year, the right planner can help us to keep track of not only our appointments, but our goals as well.

If you're still looking for something to suit your styles, here are a few questions to get you thinking before you shop:

Electronic or paper? Do you use your phone for everything? If so, you might already have the perfect planner at your fingertips. Don't like the calendar on your device? Analyzing its strengths and weaknesses when it comes to your planning needs can help you figure out what you're looking for....
and what you're not.

As an I need to see it girl, I prefer hard copies, but I like the convenience of entering and keeping track of my appointments on the calendar on my laptop. So, after a great deal of experimentation (and a few missed appointments), I've adopted a system that gives me the best of both worlds. I use the calendar on my laptop, but print updated copies throughout the month, which I review with my family (so I can add things that are on their schedules, but not written down anywhere). Then, I post the printed copy on the bulletin board in our kitchen. We've also tried syncing the various calendars electronically, but haven't always had success with this. Until we do, I'll stick with my paper back-up.
Parked or portable? For most people, having just one planner or calendar is best. That said, I know some I love to be busy folks who keep separate calendars for work and home. If you are one of those people, be honest with yourself about how well it's working for you. How often do you forget something that's in the "other" calendar? Never? Great! Keep up the good work! Sometimes? Maybe you need a plan for combining your calendars.

Whether your two planner system is less efficient than you'd like or you simply prefer to keep your calendar parked, a system for keeping track of appointments you make on the run is essential. You can try a pencil and paper plan, such as jotting them in a notebook that you check regularly so your calendar stays up to date, or something a bit more tech-savvy, such as syncing your calendars or sending yourself an email to remind yourself to add the on-the-fly appointments to the calendar.

Tight shot or panorama? What kind of layout do you like? A page a day? The whole week (or month) at a glance? Do you need space to make lists, room for addresses, phone numbers and future plans? Or do you just need a small calendar with dates that will fit in your purse or pocket?

Although all of our appointments go on the calendar on my laptop/kitchen bulletin board, I love my  6 x 9 page-a-day desktop calendar because it gives me room to make lists and put my appointment reminders right where I can see them. Over time, I've started using inexpensive calendars to track goals, ideas and progress for my writing and a separate calendar to keep track of assignment due dates and what I've covered in the classes I teach. While the calendar on my laptop holds all of my appointments, I find that an inexpensive month-at-a-glance calendar with room in the back for notes is useful for tracking progress. No, I'm not breaking my one calendar rule; I use these calendars as notebooks with date. No appointments go inside.

What's the most important feature of a calendar? Its ease of use. It doesn't matter if your calendar is a clearance bin generic version or an expensive personalized agenda with a monogrammed leather cover.

What matters is whether or not it will make your life easier, and it can't do that if you won't use it.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

It Gets Worse Before it Gets Better

This cart, formerly parked under the counter in my office
as a storage center, now holds a combination of displaced
items (top shelf) and potential storage solutions (bottom
shelf). When I have just a few minutes to spare, I can make
progress by sorting the things on the cart. 
I've been joking with my friends that my house, especially my office, is currently in the "it gets worse before it gets better" stage of organizing. If I doubted this, my daughter offered me verification when she came into my office on Saturday, looked around and said "It doesn't look any better in here."

No. No it doesn't.

A busy fall semester that crashed right into the week of Christmas has left much of my house in need of serious attention. And, while I began this project with high hopes during the last week in December, it's turning into an even bigger project than I thought it would be.

When you live and work in a small space over a long period of time (two decades in this house), organization is always a domino effect. Retiring and bringing my business home and into a small office that was once a side patio has pushed already overwhelmed systems to the breaking point, making it necessary to re-envision and re-vamp my office. That takes time and creates a mess -- one that is creeping into other parts of my house as one storage system impacts another.

When I'm finished, I'll have purged a lot of unnecessary things, tweaked my style-specific systems so that they have room to accommodate the inevitable influx of new papers and projects and improved other spaces in my home as well.

If organizing my office was the only thing I had planned for the time between December 26 and the
start of the semester in two weeks, this ugly duckling stage would be long gone my now. But vacation is filled with many wonderful things that bite into our most productive times of day and, in so doing,  lengthen the process. Even as much as I love to organize (and I do, though it currently doesn't look that way), I also love reading, writing and spending time with family. Achieving a balance among these activities does not, unfortunately, lend itself to keeping clutter to a minimum.

What's replacing the cart.
As an "I Need to See it" person, I need
to label anything that's not see-through.
The other drawers will get their labels
when I decide what goes inside.
If you, like me, have chosen to tackle a big project to get the new year off to an organized start, be patient with yourself. Take steps toward your goal each day, but don't expect miracles or a sudden appearance from the organization fairy. Try to keep the detritus of the process from creeping into other areas of your living space and thus creating more work for yourself, but understand that this might happen, especially if you're working in a small space.

When you set out to organize in a way that's compatible with your styles, and therefore workable for you in the long run, embracing the process is just as important as reaching the finish line.

And organizing for the long haul is definitely more of a marathon than a sprint.

Special thanks to Cerella Sechrist, who encouraged me to post before and after photos, despite my hesitation to do so. 

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Organization Extra: 16 Ways to Get 2016 off to an Organized Start

Created with Canva at

When it comes to Saturday Specials, I look for things that inspire a feeling of relaxation or inspiration, and today's Huffpost Home article does both. I've spent enough years making New Year's resolutions to know a recipe for disaster when I see one, and this piece neatly sidesteps those land mines in favor of easy first steps and creative projects.

Is organization one of your 2016 goals? If so, today's article is a great step toward doing it with STYLE.

Happy New Year! What will you organize this year?