Thursday, May 26, 2016

3 Keys Thursday: Managing Times of Transition

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Last weekend, I attended a writers' conference, and I came home with new ideas to try, and a determination to write more than simply my blogs on a daily basis. But, just as last weekend's conference collided with my daughter's prom, this week's resolutions collided with her graduation.

I'm no fool. I know what's really important in this equation.

Still, as one thing after another edged out the writing I'd just pledged to do, I had to remind myself that time management in times of transition is different that day-to-day time management. And, when the transitions are as significant as a high school graduation, it's important to keep in mind that managing time is less important than making the most of it.

With that in mind, here are my three keys for keeping your sanity when your brain says, "you should be doing this," but your heart says, "you should be doing that."

  • Be flexible. There's no harm in drafting a schedule, provided you write it in pencil. Things will change (that's why they call it "transition") and fighting that inevitability only makes us cranky and stressed out. Check things off as you can, and re-evaluate priorities as the day goes on.
  • Be available. Times of transition are loaded with opportunities to do valuable things that aren't on the list. Knowing that this is the last week my daughter's schedule will be this flexible makes me more apt to drop what I'm doing when she wants my attention. This week, deviating from the schedule led to a long talk and a fun shopping trip -- well worth sacrificing the things that didn't get crossed off the list.
  • Be patient -- and not just with others. All this flexibility and availability can be really hard, and   can lead to frustration over all that's left undone. As I seem to be saying a lot these days, it's important to focus on the progress we've made, not the progress we haven't made, and, it's even more important to remember what really matters.

Transitions mean change and change brings challenges. When in doubt, take a moment to ask yourself what matters most. That way, you can tackle the most important challenges first, and make the most of every moment.

And that's a style everyone can get behind.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Planning Passions in an Unorthodox Fashion
About a month ago, I broke down and bought the Passion Planner I've been eyeing since last fall. Sucked in by the beautifully illustrated pages that fill its Twitter feed, I needed to first make sure that someone lacking that degree of artistic talent could utilize its interior equally well.

My new purchase (with its undated pages) sat in my office for a few days as I decided what to do with it. I'm sure you're wondering why this was even an issue. I mean, it's a planner, after all. What does one usually do with a planner?

All sorts of things. As a fan of white space, I often use calendars to keep track of things besides appointments. I use a thin, inexpensive month-at-a-glance calendar to keep track of my writing and a smaller, spiral-bound, equally cheap school-year calendar (July to June) to keep track of the assignments and lessons for the classes I teach. This is in addition to the main calendar on my computer, duplicated in hard copy form on the bulletin board in the kitchen where it's accessible to all who live here.

And this new Passion Planner with its soft, leather cover was much too beautiful to use for something as mundane as word counts, assignments or appointments. Too thick to stash in my overstuffed book bag, and more journal than calendar, it begged to be used for loftier pursuits.

It didn't take long for me to dub it my "Brainstorm Book," and to create tabbed sections for projects I want to map out. Placing baby steps in individual squares not only makes big projects seem less insurmountable, but it also allows me to see progress as I check off each square as I accomplish it.

Yesterday, I grabbed my Passion Planner and started doing one of my favorite things: mapping out the summer. I pulled out my felt-tip markers and created areas on the page for the things I want to devote time to this summer, things that get pushed aside in the crush of class planning and teaching and grading. TED Talks. Reading for pleasure.

Then came the things that I want to focus on but not be consumed by. New promotional opportunities for my writing. My Thirty-One business.

Finally, I wrote in new ideas that popped up at the writers' conference I attended last weekend -- things I want to investigate or learn more about. And when I'd finished with those things, there was lots of blank space left for me to jot down new ideas that come up as the summer progresses.

Because I'm using the Passion Planner more as a project planner and less as a month-by-month life planner, I've yet to decide how to use the monthly reflection pages. I suspect that the perfect way to use them will occur to me as I continue to use the planner. Meanwhile, my I need to see it style is practically drooling over the sheer visibility of my goals laid out in a step-by-step fashion.

How about you? What typical organizing or time management tool do you use in an atypical way? How does it fit your styles?

Thursday, May 19, 2016

3 Keys Thursday: The Procrastinating Packer

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Tomorrow morning, I'm leaving for a weekend conference. Yesterday was crazy, but when I got to the end of the day, I was excited to realize that I had all day today to plan for my trip. 

That is, until late last night when I remembered that something important had to be done today -- something that would take a big bite out of my planning time. Panic ensued. 

I'm not one of those people who plans everything out ahead of time, so when I say I need to devote the whole to packing, I mean pretty much the whole day because I waited until today to do what needed to be done.

Fortunately, I'm always more ready than I think I am, even if it doesn't look that way, partly because I've done a few things leading up to the packing.

If you, like me, are a packing procrastinator, here are a few tips to help you get ready:

  • Pre-Pack. With the exception of make-up and medicine, all of my toiletries are always packed. And long before I put anything in a suitcase, I'm making lists and tossing odds and ends into bags so I don't forget to pack them.
  • Pack as you go/stash it when you think of it. I always pack make-up and medicine the day I leave, immediately after I use it. That way, I'm less likely to forget something I need. On days like today when I'm behind, I pull out contenders for the suitcase as I pull out the things I need for the day. One pair of pants to put on, another to pack. 
  • Develop your own routine. For me, it's laying everything out on a flat surface where I can see it, which makes it much easier for me to figure out what I have and what's missing. To my husband, my plan looks like chaos, but it works for me, so I stand by it. Likewise, your plan doesn't have to make sense to anybody else; it just has to work for you.
I certainly don't recommend waiting until the last minute to get everything together. But, if you find yourself in that situation, as I so often do, getting it together successfully is possible.

Happy Trails.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Chipping Away

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Last week, I wrote about chipping away at a long overdue project. Since I am, by nature, a procrastinator, I have quite a few of those items and projects at my house. And, when time is limited, their number increases almost exponentially.

The short space of time I spent sorting stuff in the basement between wash cycles set in motion a new habit I'm trying to cultivate: tackling one of those "something I've been meaning to do" items or projects each day.

Since I started this new endeavor about a week ago, I've tackled small things (making a phone call, writing an e-mail, stitching up a hole in an article of clothing), medium-sized things (dropping off donations, making a decision) and big things (re-organizing my closet, updating the system I use to keep the information for one of my classes in order). And you know what?

It feels good.

I've even clipped a pen onto my wall calendar so I can easily jot down what I've tackled. Big tasks (the closet re-organization took up a big chunk of a weekend afternoon) sometimes give me a free pass for the next day, and small tasks sometimes get me on a roll so that several get completed in one day. Jotting them down gives me a dose of positive reinforcement -- a reminder of all I'm getting done and a nudge to keep at it.

The rewards come in other ways, too. Every time I open my closet and things are where they belong, rather than in a between-seasons jumble, I feel a little bit of stress leave my body. Not only did re-arranging things leave the small space feeling better organized, but it made it feel a little bigger as well. Best of all, I'm not reminded every time I open the closet that "I need to do something about this."

I'm not keeping a list of jobs to tackle -- at least not one specific to this project -- but I when I find myself looking at a space in my home and thinking, "I need to do something about this," or copying the same item onto a new to-do list more than once, I know I've got a contender.

My new plan doesn't keep me from procrastinating, but by Taking small steps, I'm transforming my house step-by-step, one item (or project) at a time.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

3 Keys Thursday: Simple Habits for Making Progress When There's Plenty of Clutter, but NOT Plenty of Time

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
When we're striving for organization, clear, wide open spaces are beautiful to behold. Unfortunately, when life gets busy, those spaces fill up faster than free parking at the beach.

Committing to three simple habits can yield clear spaces amid the chaos -- even when life itself is chaotic.

Make the bed. I used to be haphazard about doing this, but when I read Marcia Ramsland's Simplify Your Life and she wrote that 50 -70% of your room is tidied up by this simple action, I was convinced. Now, even on days when it seems that every other surface is cluttered, that lovely stretch of bedspread is a balm for overwhelmed eyes.

Designate "no-drop" zones."Drop zones" are another popular concept when it comes to organization -- those assigned spaces where things reside temporarily when we first walk in the door. The trouble is, it's all too easy for drop zones to become homes and for piles to accumulate. To avoid every surface in your home becoming a "drop zone," designate a clear space as a "no drop" zone at a time when it's already blissfully clear. Then, stick to your guns -- don't put anything there, and don't allow anyone else to either. Feeling really brave? Designate a "no drop" zone in each room.

Give it Five! When you're feeling overwhelmed by clutter and/or time is scarce, set a timer and Give it Five! Better yet, set a timer and have everyone in the house Give it Five! When the timer goes off, you'll have made progress (I like to focus on clearing off one space if I truly have only five minutes). If you have time and you're so inclined, keep going beyond those five minutes, but remember that if you've given it five, you've met your goal. Now you're just showing off.

These three habits may not make your home clutter-free in busy times, but they'll ensure that your tired eyes have a place to rest, which is a pretty nice short-term solution.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Buried Treasure
Last Saturday, while I was waiting for my washing machine to finish the last few minutes of its cycle, I started poking around in the piles of stuff in my basement. Previously, I've referred to my basement only as the place I go to visit my container collection so I can see if I already have what I need before I spend money on something new.

Until now, I haven't mentioned that my basement is also the packrat museum.

When my daughter was small, she was the embodiment of an I love stuff personal style. With age, she's acquired less patience with extraneous stuff, and has actually gotten pretty good at weeding out. This is a very good thing since she goes to college in the fall and will be living in a very small space.

But I digress. The fact is, my daughter didn't come by these tendencies by accident, as thirty seconds in my basement will prove. Though I've also grown more ruthless with age, I still have a hard time letting go of things that have sentimental value (and so does my husband). When these mementos collect in the living spaces of my house, it's less of a problem than when they gather in my basement.

Does that sound backwards? Let me explain. Over time and with frequent pruning, only the real treasures survive in the living spaces. But, since pruning and purging happen less often in my basement than dumping and forgetting (an unfortunate cousin of drop and run), the aforementioned piles of stuff grow unchecked for long periods of time. This makes the overwhelming collections of stuff in my basement a perfect place to practice the Give it Five! strategy.

Last Saturday's Give it Five! yielded two items for the recycle bin and plans for some empty containers. First, I started filling an empty box with random items I "discovered" and want to donate. When the box is full, I'll call one of the agencies that collects household items and they'll come and pick it up. Easy enough.

I also started another bin. This one will collect things my daughter will need when she leaves home in the fall -- items from the massive shopping list I printed out last weekend and plan to chip away at this summer. This second inspiration came when I unearthed old blankets and comforters we'd saved "just in case." I'll wash and pack what she needs and wash and donate what she doesn't, and slowly divest myself of unnecessary stuff as I make the transition to this new phase of her life.

Photo: Ashley Schweitzer via Minimograhy
My Give it Five! session also yielded some unexpected emotional treasure. This time, instead of finding something I wanted to hang on to, I found something I was ready to let go of: the planner from my last year as a school counselor.

When I retired, I kept that planner (along with some others that are still packed away) for both practical and emotional reasons. Four years later, getting rid of it was like letting go of old baggage. The planner represented an old part of my life, one I've slowly let go of over the last four years. What's important from that time remains in my memory, nurtured by the interactions I still have with friends from that time. I don't need a planner for those things. And four-year-old appointments certainly don't need to take up room in my basement.

After removing personal information from the planner, I placed it in the recycling bin. It didn't take up much space, which seemed a little strange.

In the short space of time between rinse and spin, I let go of the past and made plans for the future.

Not bad for five minutes in the basement.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Benefits to Organizing by STYLE

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
When I set out to teach Organizing by STYLE to kids, and later on, to adults, I wanted to reach people who struggled to get organized and stay that way. These people -- kids and adults alike -- were smart and successful in other areas of their lives, but the appearance of disorganization detracted from the image they projected, not to mention their self-confidence.

And that bothered me. Maybe because I knew just how that felt.

The more I do this, the more I like it. Here are a few reasons why.

It builds on successes. Everybody does something right, which we sometimes forget when things feel out of control. Starting with what's right puts a positive spin on the process from the outset, and helps us to feel more confident about what we can do.

It's realistic. Taking small steps and working organization into your schedule may not be the fastest way to get organized, but if it leads to developing a system that works for you, it is the most efficient. Trying to fit ourselves into systems that don't work, on the other hand, is neither realistic nor efficient.

It's individualized, not one-size-fits-all. Most of us who embrace Organizing by STYLE haven't had success with traditional methods that seem to work for everyone else. Making the plan our own not only makes sense, but it helps us to take charge of our stuff, rather than the other way around.

What do you like best about Organizing by STYLE?

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Have I Mentioned That it's a Process?

No, my house doesn't look like this, but I have learned that even
an I need to see it person can learn to adjust to labeled storage
provided it's set up properly. (Photo: Thirty-One Gifts)
The semester is drawing to a close and piles are appearing. Okay, in some places, they've been hanging around for a while. But, generally speaking, things aren't as bad as usual. While part of this is due to the fact that I taught only one class this semester (as opposed to the three I taught in the fall),  part of it is a testimony to the newest incarnation of my organizational system.

Last semester at this time, my house was a mess. Piles had migrated from my home office into the living spaces of the house. There was a chair in the living room and a section of the dining room table  that remained covered with papers and materials from Thanksgiving to mid-December.

So, when I cleaned up between semesters, I knew it was time to take stock and make changes. This semester's load would be light, but next fall, I'd be back to juggling materials for three classes again. If I stood any hope of using my furniture for the purposes for which it was intended, something had to change.
A new office with a big closet would've been a great solution, but that wasn't going to happen. A patented a step-by-step process to follow would've been great as well, but the truth is, given my styles and the size of the space I was working with, it was more of a simultaneous assess/purge/
re-purpose/put away process.

Before I could start, I needed to re-envision the existing room and consider how I was using the space I had. Were there things in the office that needed to go? (Yes). Containers that weren't right for the space and/or weren't earning their keep? (Yes). Did I need to reconsider how I was using all of the major storage areas of my little office? (Yes). Was I on budget? (Yes).

In our house, moving one thing quickly turns into a game of dominoes. I wasn't quite ready to get rid of a cart in the office that was sturdy and in good shape, but wasn't earning its keep, so I moved it to the living room. This led to my relocating a small piece of furniture, along with another container that held books and magazines. The cart ended up solving a storage problem in the living room, and it needed a little dressing up, but that was the fun part.

Meanwhile, back in the office, I needed something to replace the cart. I bought an inexpensive, not-quite-right three drawer unit to tuck under the counter. Style-wise, it wasn't perfect, but it functioned as I needed it to: it put all my papers out of sight. Dangerous for an I need to see it organizer, so I made sure to set up the drawers by broad category and label them. Nothing goes into any of the drawers that doesn't fit its category, so I can work with it (just three categories to remember), and it looks immeasurably better.

I snagged two small drawer units (with clear drawers) from our basement and set them up next to the larger, new three-drawer unit, completing my under-the-counter transformation in the office. No longer was I wrestling with awkward, difficult-to-access bins. Putting something away was as easy as putting it in its labeled drawer, making Don't put it down, put it away! easy to put into practice.

I was so excited about this drawer idea...but it seems to
be too much of a style stretch for my I need to see it style.
I could go on and on, but I won't. Suffice it to say that by the time I was finished, I'd put the space in my office to better use, cleaned up a corner in the playroom (and procured two fun fabric bins for myself in the process) and put a small shelf unit (from the playroom) to use in my kitchen. Most of my "new" stuff was re-purposed old stuff, so I purchased only one new item. I still have two empty spaces (one small drawer and one lidded fabric bin) in my office, so I have room to maneuver and grow. In addition, I have one larger drawer that's not earning its keep and will most likely be re-purposed between this semester and next. This summer, I'll do some tweaking and dispense with the remaining piles.

I still smile when I look under the counter in my office and see how much better that space -- along with the spaces under the counter in the kitchen and under the window in the living room the -- looks and functions.
That's the best part. When it's easy to put stuff away, life is so much easier.

And the piles are smaller, too.