Thursday, June 30, 2016

3 Keys Thursday: Shake it Up!

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Organizing is a process. Sometimes we hit upon the perfect solution immediately, but more often, we try several solutions before we find the one that's just right.

This is a good thing. The flow of stuff into our house ebbs and flows, as do the number of our obligations and the amount of time we have at our disposal. Being responsive to these changes can lead us to tweak our systems, making a good fit even better.

Are you feeling as though it's time to shake things up a bit? Maybe these three steps can help.

  • Ask yourself why you're thinking of shaking things up. Is what you're doing working completely, or just sort of? Are you overwhelmed? Feeling the need to come up with something more efficient, or just in the mood for a little more style with your strategy? 
  • Start with successes. Don't, as they say, throw the baby out with the bathwater. Before you make any changes, look at what's working with your current plan and make sure you can replicate those successes with the new idea. 
  • Re-vamp/Re-purpose/Re-Invigorate. As you re-vamp your old plan, you may find new ways to use old things, making a good system even better. Or, you may toss out the old system completely and start over. Either way, change can be invigorating, especially when it's a change for the better. 
The energy we generate with a new idea, system or strategy can improve our mood and motivation as well as our organizational systems. Consistently troubleshooting makes Easy Upkeep possible, and each lesson we learn in one area shortens the learning curve in others as well.

So, what are you waiting for? Shake things up!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Wrangling Time

I have several spots in my home that have posed organizational challenges, requiring more than one attempt at a plan to stay under control. Eventually, though, I've found workable (if not perfect) strategies and containers for these spots, rendering myself the master of the space. How do I know I've reached a near-permanent solution? Setbacks (a fact of life) are easily rectified in a reasonable amount of time.

Wrangling time, however, is more of a challenge. Time is less messy to manage, but it's more mercurial, shrinking and expanding according to seasons, health and the needs of other people who are important to us. Because of this, our time management systems need to be flexible, too, especially if we're still working to find that near-perfect system.

Whether we're organizing things or time, the tools we use should be just that: tools. And, since time constraints change from day to day and from season to season, it only makes sense that we might need to change our tools to match our shifting time frames.

There's much to be said for celebrating the things we DO accomplish
instead of focusing on the things we don't.
This week, I dusted off a tool I started using back in February, then set aside in favor of more traditional lists and plans. As May slid into June, whose days dissipated like so many puffs of smoke, lists just weren't working for me. I was drowning in tasks and appointments and I felt the need to see what I was accomplishing.

Never underestimate the power of the right tool in the right hands.

Not only did I begin to see what I was doing with my time, but I also found it easier to focus on what I needed to do. I bought a new calendar -- one more in keeping with the current rhythm of my days--one that didn't allow me to co-mingle endless lists with daily deadlines. I found the courage to cull all of the half-finished lists on my desk and to re-think my day-to-day planning strategy. New lists materialized in a less haphazard fashion and I revamped my dormant tickler file to match my current needs.

My new calendar, which
I just realized, matches
my daily "did it" sheet.
Admittedly, novelty is part of the success of this plan, but the nice thing about novelty is that, when it comes to organizing, we can make that happen any time. Buy a new tool, try a new strategy -- or dust off an old one that worked but somehow got set aside.

Life changes. And so our strategies sometimes need to change, too. If a system is working, use it, celebrate it and leave it alone. But, if it's not? Troubleshoot. Find the unmet need at the root of your frustration and use it to guide you to a solution.

More on that tomorrow.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

3 Keys Thursday: 3 More Tips for Tackling that Inbox

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Yesterday, I wrote about my inbox frustrations and my plan for dealing with them. So, today, I thought I'd share three action steps on the same topic, culled from other sources. For more information on any of these, click on the name of the source.

From PC Magazine: Delete first. Before digging into your inbox, delete the junk. Unread.

From Julie Morgenstern: Completely avoid your inbox for the first hour of the day. Settle into your day and set your priorities --  don't let email derail you.

From Marcia Ramsland: Decide what to do with an email the first time you open it. Reply? Archive? Delete?

I've gotten really good at the first one. As for avoiding email first thing, I've settled on a compromise. I skim the emails for anything that seems important or personal, deleting everything else as I go. That way, I can get survey what's there, get a head start on the important stuff (which counts as derailing, I suppose) and see what, if anything, needs to be added to my schedule for the day.
When it comes to #3, I'm hoping that fighting the urge to check my email on multiple devices (i.e. when I'm not prepared to deal with it right away) will help me, but I don't think the "touch it once" strategy will work for me as a rule of thumb. Rather than being a time saver, it ends up derailing me; I do much better with fast, frequent checks (where I can delete the unnecessary stuff) and a dedicated time later in the day to focus on all the emails that need action.

How about you? How do you see these action steps fitting into your email management strategy?

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

E-Mail Conundrum

I am drowning in emails. Something's got to give.

Unfortunately, I don't have a nice, neat, style-based answer. The truth is, I've never found a good way to manage the deluge. Last year, when I brought my Macbook to the Apple store to resolve an email issue, the tech was visibly surprised by the number of emails I had accumulated -- and he laughed out loud at my clearly I need to see it desktop, which was, admittedly, in need of some tidying up.

But that's another story.

Here's what I know:

  • I'm overwhelmed. I have multiple email accounts, each of which serves its own purpose.
  • I'm outnumbered. I could spend an entire day digging through this stuff, and still not make permanent progress, because, for every email I delete, three more (at least) find their way in.
  • The junk outweighs the meaningful, personal stuff. If I had to venture a guess, I'd say the ratio is about 10:1.
  • Checking email on multiple devices compounds the problem. Instead of increasing efficiency, it perpetuates a "read now/tackle later" cycle that leads to my spending more time on email -- the electronic version of "drop and run," if you will.

At first, I decided to tackle the virtual clutter problem the same way I'd tackle a real-world, material clutter problem. Sort. Divest. Put away.

Steps #1 and #2 worked just fine. I clustered emails by source and deleted entire blocks of unwanted and/or outdated correspondence.

I ran into trouble at Step #3. Where does an I need to see it person "put away" the emails she wants to keep? Printing them out is quintessential I need to see it, but that creates an entirely new pile of things to be dealt with, which is counterproductive, so I end up leaving them in the inbox, where I can see them.

Here's what I've figured out: 
  • I need more information. I need to know what else my email program can do. Whether I learn this from a book, a tech-savvy friend or a workshop of some sort, I need to find a container besides the inbox in which I can "file" my emails. And then I need to come to terms with making this invisible place my designated home for certain kinds of email. This will be a challenge.
  • I need more self-control.  Checking my email at every opportunity just because I can is counterproductive. I've decided that, given the quantity of information flooding into my inbox, I need to check my email in several five-to-ten minute bursts throughout the day, deleting the junk and either dealing with the rest, or setting a time to do so, which means...
  • I need to apply a scheduling strategy. There is just too much of this stuff for me to manage as it comes in. In addition to my five-to-ten minute bursts, I need to set aside a time block of at least an hour during a non-productive time of day to tackle the to-dos that arise from my inbox. At that time, I need to either watch the videos, reply to the requests and take care of the to-dos, or I need to schedule a time for any specific task that remains. That last part will be a challenge.
  • I need to read the fine print.  I've already unsubscribed from a number of lists. Now it's time to see if I can decrease the frequency of emails from the people whose lists I've chosen to remain on. If not, I may need to reconsider their importance.
  • I need to reconsider my need for multiple accounts. One account is almost entirely junk mail. But, because I like the email address and the occasional gold nugget creeps in from time to time, I've hung on to the account. It's time to monitor this account and determine its value.


I'm always happiest when I have a plan, so I'm excited to see where this one takes me. Meanwhile, if you have great ideas for email management, please share them in the comments. 

It's clear I have a thing or two to learn on the subject.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

3 Keys Thursday: What Makes it Hoarding?

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Yesterday, I referenced hoarding, and so today, I'm lifting my three keys from a source more informed than I. As I went in search of information on this topic, I found a fantastic PDF from the International OCD Foundation, which defined compulsive hoarding as ALL THREE of the following:
  1. A person collects and keeps a lot of items, even things that appear useless or of little value to most people and
  2. These items clutter the living spaces and keep the person from using their rooms as they were intended and
  3. These items cause distress or problems in day-to-day activities.
Let me begin with the emphasis placed on ALL THREE (capital letters theirs) and the word "and" (italics mine). I cannot stress enough that all of these criteria must be met. If you are "simply" a collector or "simply" have a cluttered living space, that does not make you a hoarder.

Hoarding is distinguished by a pattern of symptoms that causes distress for the person experiencing them, but it's treatable. Appropriate treatment, however, usually requires more than simply advice on organization and the good intentions of friends and family members. Tough love and forced removal of beloved objects can sometimes cause more harm than good.

It's possible for any one of us to show symptoms of hoarding. But clinical hoarding, like any other clinical disorder, is typified by a pattern of symptoms -- not just a few isolated symptoms that ebb and flow with stress and busyness.

If you've been successfully making progress with your organizational systems, even slowly, you're probably not a hoarder.

If you understand that other people don't see the same value in certain objects that you do, and you can distinguish true trash from true treasure, you're probably not a hoarder.

If, prior to purchasing the super jumbo family pack at the warehouse club you ask yourself where you're going to put it when you get it home, you're probably not a hoarder.

If you have surfaces that collect clutter, but you can still move through your home and use the rooms and appliances for the purposes for which they're intended, you're probably not a hoarder.

If, however, anything in this post has you concerned, please click on the link at the top of the post to access a great, clear FAQ page from the International OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) Foundation that distinguishes common, non-clinical behaviors from those that are more concerning. Or, click here to read more information on hoarding from the Mayo Clinic.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The First Step to Getting Organized

I'm in my happy place this week...even if it rained this morning!
Despite my best intentions, clutter often takes over. As a writer and instructor, I'm especially prone to paper clutter, which piles up in everything from accumulated business cards to unconsolidated to-do lists to books and magazines I want to read.  

The accumulated business cards are easy -- they have a home. Once I get past the temporary lapse in my drop and run organizational style, they are clutter no more. Unconsolidated to-do lists, too, are pretty easy to manage. It's just a matter of finding the time to sort and update, or, better yet, setting aside time to do this on a regular basis and storing my lists in the right desktop "container" until I reach that previously scheduled time. 

The reading material? That's another story. One thing that helps me to make a dent in the pile is to take some of it along with me when I travel. I'm particularly fond of stashing magazines in my travel bag, because I can usually find time to read an entire issue (or more than one, depending on the length of my trip and the amount of down time I have) while I'm away. I clip any articles of interest, then recycle the rest of the magazine, ensuring that once it's out of my house, it stays out. And, as a bonus, I travel home just a bit lighter, and, perhaps even a bit smarter as well.

I grabbed one of those magazines on the way out the door on Monday, as we left for the beach. As it turned out, not only did this last minute addition to my tote bag include an article on clutter, but it was also on an aspect of organization I rarely discuss.

For most of us, clutter is merely an annoyance -- something to be sorted, tamed and put away. Sure, we have obstacles -- not enough time, not enough space, a system that hasn't quite come together yet -- but for most of us, it's simply a matter of persisting until we find the solutions that work for us.

For some of us, however, deeper issues are at work. Someone suffering from depression will have trouble with clutter for reasons that are entirely different than not enough time, not enough space and a system that hasn't quite come together. Those who hoard also face deeper challenges than merely finding style-based solutions that work for them. 

In both of these situations, there are emotional factors at work that make the chore of clutter reduction not merely difficult, but truly insurmountable. This article does a great job of exploring them.

All of us are likely to find that our emotional states impact our organizational successes -- or the lack thereof. We may know that baby steps, building on successes and viewing organization as a process are important aspects of getting organized, but sometimes, that's not enough. Until we take care of ourselves, taking care of our things can feel insurmountable. Caring for ourselves is truly the first step in getting organized.

I'm on vacation this week, so I've got the taking care of myself stuff conquered, at least for the moment. What are you doing today to take care of you?


Thursday, June 9, 2016

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys for Doing That Thing You've Been Meaning to Do

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Despite the fact that I've been retired for four years, my body clock is still set on an elementary school schedule -- globally speaking, that is. Though I've reverted to my natural night owl tendencies when it comes to my 24-hour schedule, I still hit many of the familiar peaks and valleys.

I still crave a break sometime between 2:30 and 4 pm.

And I still view the beginning of the summer as the time to take stock and dig in to projects that have been dormant. This year, I even got an early start when, quite by accident, I kicked off an anti-procrastination project. By the end of May, I'd tackled 15 long overdue projects, ranging from five minute hand-sewing projects to an afternoon-long closet overhaul. I wish I could say I'd planned it this way, but the fact is, it was completely serendipitous.

Are you ready to face some long overdue projects of your own? Here are some keys to making progress with them.

Zoom out, zoom in. Big project? Small project? Detailed project? All of the above! I don't have an actual list--at least not a comprehensive one. Sometimes, I tackle the long overdue thing because I have to (time to put away the boots and pull out the sandals), other times because I'm tired of looking at something (when's the last time that table didn't have stuff on it?) Sometimes, I focus on the details, sometimes the big picture. Mixing it up not only means that more things get accomplished, but finishing the quick projects also motivates me to tackle the big stuff.

Let the spirit move you. Though we can't always wait for the mood to strike, there's nothing like being in the right frame of mind to spark motivation. Sometimes, we can set ourselves up to be ready to tackle something by planning on it; other times, we can just tackle whatever we feel like digging into at that moment. Either way, something gets accomplished.

Don't forget to celebrate your matter the size of the project. One of the things that turned my accidental accomplishment into a pattern was my decision to keep track of the things I accomplished. I simply grabbed a pen and attached it to my wall calendar. Then, any time I did one of my long overdue items, I jotted it down on the day I did it. That's it. Seeing all I've accomplished nudges me to do more, and seeing blank spaces reminds me there's always something I can improve upon.

Whether you take stock in January, June or both, checking things off your list is a wonderful feeling.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Write it Down!

The full-to-overflowing schedule that flooded the end of May at my house has continued to pour into June. Yesterday morning, I woke up with lists scrolling through my head, so I did the only thing I could do.

I wrote everything down.

Then I tackled my email, and the list grew longer.

As an I need to see it person, I have a love-hate relationship with lists. Because I need to see things, I love dumping "stuff" out of my head and onto paper -- to a point. If the lists get too long, however, I start to get overwhelmed and I need to subdivide. As I wrote yesterday, some of that subdivision came naturally as I indented bullet points beneath topics that had more than one thing to do beneath them.

Does your list-making reflect your styles, or do you have a different style altogether when it comes to making lists?

  • If your personal style is I need to see it, do you subdivide and color-code for visual efficiency?
  • If you're a cram and jammer, do you cram as much as possible onto one page?
  • If you're a drop and run organizer, do you make your list, set it down and forget about it, only to return to it later?
  • If you have an I love stuff personal style, do you need to find just the right paper before you can write anything down?
  • If you're an I know I put it somewhere organizer, do your lists go missing because you put them in a "safe place"?
  • If you have an I love to be busy personal style, are you as efficient with your lists as you are with your time?
In my case, my list-making does reflect my styles. I've already revealed my I need to see it tendencies, and I do, indeed drop my list and run, only to return to it later on. Fortunately, the mere process of writing it down reminds me of the things I need to tackle, so when I return to my list, I've typically made some progress, even if I was in one place and it was in another.

Whether your list-making style mimics your personal and/or organizational styles or deviates from them isn't what matters. What matters is whether or not your list-making works for you. With lists, as with all other aspects of organizing, one size does not fit all. 

Thursday, June 2, 2016

3 Keys Thursday: Coping with Global Mindset

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Yesterday, I wrote about the zoom out/zoom in of global/detail-oriented thinkers and planners, and I promised to share strategies for making the global mindset work for you. So, as promised, here are three keys for planning when you're a big picture thinker, along with three keys for working with a global thinker when you deal in details.

Allow plenty of time. For global thinkers, procrastination is often the "default setting" when planning something big and/or important. Overwhelmed by the task, we vacillate from unrealistic, enormous plans to the bare bones basics, finally landing somewhere in the middle -- as long as we give ourselves enough time to work through the process.

Make lists -- incrementally, if necessary. As an I need to see it person, visually overwhelming lists feel insurmountable, so I often create lists by category. For my daughter's graduation party, for example, I made lists of decoration ideas, food to serve and grocery lists -- on three separate pages. My detail-oriented husband wasn't the least bit intimidated by putting it all on the same page, but for me to do so would have re-started the procrastination and slowed my forward movement.

Don't let the details get you down. Breathe. List. Act. Just take one detail at a time. Yes, there are lots of them, but, little by little, they'll line up just the way you want them to if you just take them one at a time.


What if your house, like mine, is home to a big-picture thinker (me) and a detail-oriented person (my husband)? Planning the same event can become a battleground unless one person does it all, or both people learn to speak the lingo. Here are three things detail-oriented people can do to make the most of their partnership with a big-picture thinker.

Try to take in the whole picture. I know that's asking a lot. Detail-oriented people often have as much difficulty zooming out as global people have zooming in. If you can take a step back from the details long enough to imagine the finished product, you'll not only get a sense of where your global partner is coming from, but perhaps prioritize your own lists as well.

Avoid the impulse to offer a smorgasbord of details. Feed details to your global partner in bite-sized pieces, and preferably off just one page of the menu. When she's focusing on the food list, don't offer decoration ideas and vice versa. If she's already drowning in details for one area, offering details for another may just sink the ship. (And that's enough metaphors for this section).

Ask how you can help. My husband has become very, very good at this strategy, which allows the global person to relinquish one detail at a time. One caveat: be aware that you must choose your tone very carefully when asking this question of a stressed out global thinker who still thinks her overly optimistic plan is possible.

Unlike the personal and organizational styles, these planning styles actually complement one another, so, temporary complications aside, being partnered with someone whose style is the opposite of yours can be just the thing to ensure that your event comes together beautifully.

Down to the last detail.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Zoom Out, Zoom In

When it comes to major life events, I'm a clear-one-hurdle-at-a-time kind of girl. My annual writing conference, my daughter's last day of high school, her prom and her graduation came in quick succession, leaving me a little breathless. The only way I could manage them was to take one event at a time, subdividing (writing conference/zip home for prom pictures/back to writing conference) only when absolutely necessary.

This is the kind of plan that sounds good in theory, but has some real time flaws. I envy those who can pull off graduation parties the day (or weekend) after graduation; this is not a skill I possess. There are simply too many details involved in both, and the stress of fitting all the pieces together would suck all the joy out of the celebrations and leave me a huddled, puddling mess.

I am a global thinker. I love big-picture planning. Details drive me crazy, and the fear of missing an important one causes me to procrastinate feverishly.

This leads me to the real time flaws, like the timing of my daughter's graduation announcements. I argued that they were announcing a graduation we might not have tickets for (tickets were theoretically limitless for an outdoor ceremony and restricted if we ended up indoors), and should arrive close to the date of her graduation. My husband, the detail-oriented thinker, provided counterarguments.

The flaw in my plan was that those announcements also carried an invitation to her party -- ten days after her graduation -- effectively giving people less than two weeks notice for the party. My clear-one-hurdle-at-a-time approach ensured that regrets, perhaps more numerous than if the announcements had been mailed out earlier, would indeed be a fact of life, but I figured it would all work out. Our party space, too, was limited, and while I'd miss the friends who could not attend, with my plan, I stressed less about overfilling the room. (As it turns out, optimism is part of big-picture thinking, too.)

I don't remember the source behind my initial introduction to global vs. detail-oriented thinking; such things weren't important to me then. I do know that the initial assessment surprised me a little, and it took some real-world events (and teasing from my colleagues) to get me to the point where I nodded knowingly, accepting this style, which involves equal parts planning and procrastination.

Now, I embrace my globalness, in part because I've learned the strategies I need to successfully embrace it, just as I embrace my I need to see it/drop and run styles. I, too, can shake my head and laugh at my big-picture focus -- and even defend it -- at least most of the time. I know it's part of what makes me event-avoidant, but I'm also able to tackle events head-on when necessary, though I need to structure them in specific ways.

More on that tomorrow.