Thursday, September 29, 2016

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Strategies for Shaking Up the Schedule

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
When I'm not writing, I teach. Or, more accurately this semester, when I'm not teaching, I write. But lately, with a full course load, I'm finding it difficult to make the writing thing happen. My blogs are getting done, but I'm making little progress on my other writing projects.

And when I don't write, I get cranky.

All of us have those things we want to do that keep getting pushed to the bottom of the list. We set a time, but something more important or urgent rises to the top. We get started, but we get interrupted. Or maybe we just can't find the time to get started in the first place.

And then we give up.

Well, I'm not giving up. I am going to find a way to adjust my schedule.

To do that, I need to take a closer look at not just my schedule, but also my mindset. Am I efficient, or just busy? Am I managing my time, or is my time managing me? Am I setting realistic deadlines, or falling prey to the "more is better" school of thought?

I don't think I want to see those answers in print.

I also don't want to create a schedule so hemmed in that I lose flexibility or the joy of becoming immersed in something I enjoy. But I can...

Rein it in. Sometimes, an activity really needs an inordinate amount of time, but, more often, I let myself get sucked in. Setting a time limit for one thing frees up time for something else. And, when both things are equally important, it just makes sense.

Accept unfinished. This one's a lot harder. Getting partway through a task and then letting it linger unfinished can be tricky. Knowing that a job is sitting there, waiting can create an uncomfortable feeling of pressure -- much like the one I'm trying to resolve right now. I'm going to give it a try, though, reminding myself that spending a little bit of time on two things can be better than finishing one and leaving the other neglected. And, who knows? Maybe that pressure will morph into motivation to get back to the unfinished job.

Shake off the "shoulds." The more I worry about what I should be doing, the less I get done. Lecturing myself about what remains undone just wastes precious energy that could be spent on something else I want to do -- maybe even sleep or relaxation. In addition, worrying and berating myself just makes me feel bad, which does nothing to improve the situation.

It's clear that to make this work, I have to get out of my own way. I may not be able to create more space on my calendar, but I can take some steps toward balance so that I'm spending as much time as possible on the things I love to do.

What would you love to do, if only you could find the time?

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A Passion for Planners

I'm not even counting my Passion Planner (my dream book)
in my total! If you want to see beautiful planner interiors
in action, check out Passion Planner on social media.
Photo: @passion_planner

I currently have four active planners -- five if you count the kitchen calendar that I use only when I don't want someone else in my family to miss something. Six if you count the combined planners on my phone and laptop as separate calendars (I don't because they update each other).

It really is more organized than it sounds, and, except for the nagging feeling that it "should" be streamlined, I've almost got my list-making/time management system exactly where I want it.

For work (school), I use:
    • One planner that's specifically designated for class planning, course overviews/due dates and keeping track of lesson plans. It's a lesson plan book and long-term planner in one.
    • One steno notebook where I keep all of my work-related to-do lists. I don't include this in my planner count because it's undated and I don't use it to keep track of deadlines. 
This system is working, so regardless of how many Type A organizer rules it breaks, I'm not messing with it.

At home, I use:
  • A portable, spiral bound planner with enough space to write appointments and due dates in the weekly view, plus a month-at-a-glance view for long-term planning. This was supposed to be my writing calendar, too, but during the busy start to the semester, I haven't had much writing to keep track of.
  • My word-of-the-day desktop calendar with two columns that come with their very own boxes so I can check off what I accomplish.
  • The calendar on my laptop which syncs with the one on my phone. This is my safety net, as all the family dates go on here, and the most important ones get transferred to the kitchen calendar.

It's the home set-up that feels somehow unwieldy. My goal? Planners that transition from home to life and back again. Much as I love my desktop calendar and my laptop, they don't do that, which is how I ended up with the spiral-bound addition that's useful, but somehow feels like an over-the-top duplication. But, unless I learn to love the calendar on my phone (unlikely), I need something more portable than any of the other components.

If I compare my work and home set-ups, the logic is clearly the same: a space for recording appointments and long-term planning and a place for making lists -- lists that may be longer than what I can fit in my portable planner without going on visual overload. Adding the laptop and the kitchen calendar brings my family into the loop and reinforces the weekly conversations we have when I transfer things from my laptop (main calendar) to my planner and we review the week ahead. This also nudges me to keep current on what's coming up.

When I put it that way, it all makes sense. Perhaps it's more complicated than it needs to be -- but, to me, it's clear and intuitive. So, unless my system stops working, I guess what I really need is a dedicated home for all these time management supplies.

Good thing I have some extra drawers.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

3 Keys Thursday: 3 of My Favorite (Free) Things to Repurpose

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
One of the best ways to try new organizers is to get them for free. That way, if they don't work, you've lost nothing.

Here are a few of my favorite freebies that pull double duty as organizers.

The stuff that linens come in. Whether it's a fabric drawstring bag or a plastic zippered pouch, the containers that protect sheets, blankets and comforters on store shelves make great storage after you get them home. I use the drawstring bags to pack shoes in my suitcase and the zippered pouches to store out-of-season linens or to pack linens when I travel.

Toilet paper rolls. This one I stole directly from Pinterest, where I saw toilet paper rolls decorated with washi tape used as storage for charging cords. Not only do I like using them to corral the cords for my phone, my iPad and my Kindle, but I have fun decorating them, too.

Pretty boxes. Okay, so I've bought a few of these, and they don't come cheap. So, when a pretty gift comes in a pretty box, I hang on to the box for future use. Some of them get stashed in drawers and used to keep small items separate and safe, while others (especially the larger ones) serve both a decorative and organizational purpose.

Matching containers to styles can be challenging, Why not take advantage of a free trial offer?

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

A Place for Everything, An Item for Every Drawer

Now this would be a cool
addition to my office!
Photo: Pixabay
In my office, I have two unassigned drawers -- that is to say that they currently serve as "home" to no specific items. One has served several purposes, but, because of my I need to see it style, none of those plans have stuck. Right now, it holds some writing projects and some "miscellaneous files" (always bad news from an organizational perspective), but I wouldn't call the space well-utilized.

The other is drawer is a small one, the lone, empty drawer in a three-drawer unit. Its companions hold, among other things, FitBit wristbands and toilet paper tubes decorated with washi tape and pressed into service as cord storage. Unlike my drawer-in-limbo, it's an organizational coup -- easy to use and in keeping with my styles, I can find what I'm looking for in under five seconds. Because these small drawers have clear, labeled fronts, I can not only glimpse the contents, but I also know what's inside even before I open them -- the labels remove all the mystery.

As an I need to see it person, I need this, ahem, transparency. That's why my wonderful, large drawer with projects and miscellany is a drawer in limbo in a room that still has piles that need sorting. I could take a page out of the I know I put it somewhere handbook and transfer the stacks from my counter (which looks much better this week, I must say) to the drawer. Unfortunately, that would simply hide the problem, rather than solving it; my counter would look better, but I wouldn't be any more organized. Worse yet, those papers could sit in that drawer, hidden from sight, for years before I paid attention to them again, which means that I'm taking a significant risk if I put anything important or time sensitive in that wonderful, practically empty space.

Meanwhile, in another spot in the office, a rolling bin has been pressed into service as file storage for my active class files. Previously, it collected dust as the official storage place for all of my notes on organization, but, when I needed a place (besides the chair in the living room) to keep my class files, I rethought the plan. I moved the organization files -- which I don't need to access on a daily basis -- to the family room to create space in my office for the files I touch every day.

What, you may ask, is the purpose of all of these stories?


Balance between overstuffed and just right = room to grow (my empty/unassigned drawers).

Balance between my I need to see it personal style and my drop and run organizational style = a "just right" container that allows me to put things away (instead of down) in a place where they're visually accessible.

Balance between the easy answer and the one that makes sense = time + patience + trial + error.

It's amazing how easily we fall into -- and stay stuck in -- habits that don't work. Getting organized and staying organized means constantly reassessing what goes where and whether or not the storage we choose is the best choice. It means finding what works and replicating it so that eventually, everything has a home that's as easy to use as the default surface we choose when we're too exhausted to put things where they belong.

Needless to say, it's a process.

And sometimes, empty drawers share space with homeless piles.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Key "Night Before" Ideas

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile

This morning, as I was racing around before work gathering my supplies, I asked myself why I don't pack my bag the night before. Then I remembered this picture:

Yep. That's my I need to see it personal style in action.
With one schedule on MWF and another on TuTh, if I don't lay out all of my supplies just before packing my bag, I'm afraid I'll forget something. (Personal experience tells me there's good reason for me to have this concern). My global nature (the need to see the big picture) and my I need to see it style collide, making what sounds like a very practical idea impractical. 

Although packing my work bag the night before doesn't always work for me, here are three key things I could do the night before to save myself time in the morning.
  • Pack my lunch. The contents of the kitchen are not going to change between dinner one night and mid-morning the next day. Packing my lunch, stashing it in the fridge and leaving myself a bright, visual reminder (fuchsia sticky note, anyone?) on the back door will save me precious get-out-of-the-house time.
  • Lay out my piles. This is something I'd be more likely to do if I lived alone. But, since other members of my family tend to object to my taking up the sofa or dining room table with my class-by-class files, I don't do this. I guess this is just one more incentive to clear off the counter in my office.
  • Check my calendar.  During the semester, my days have a pretty predictable rhythm, but there are always those days when extra appointments or meetings sneak in. Ideally, I've done a review of the week ahead sometime between Friday and Sunday night, but a quick peek at the calendar the night before is always a good idea. In addition to refreshing my memory for places I need to be and people I need to see, it gives me the opportunity to pencil items from my to-do list into my schedule. 

Notice that I said these are things I could do. Now I just need to work on putting that could into action.

How about you? What are your morning time savers?

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Take Away Ten

I have a love-hate relationship with the counter in my office. It has the potential to be a lovely, long stretch of potential work space, and, for brief periods of time, it is.

The trouble is, this lovely, long stretch of work space is also a clutter magnet. A convenient drop spot for homeless items, papers, receipts and files (not to mention the items that actually belong there), it rarely affords me more than 11" x 14" of viable workspace.

Because clearing off the counter feels insurmountable, it's a task I relegate to the bottom of my to-do list. So, in an effort to reclaim the space, I've been playing a game with myself. Each day, I need to remove 10 items from the counter and put them away (I can't count them if I just move them to another location where they remain homeless). If I don't take away ten, they get added to the next day's quota.

Following a great piece of organization advice I heard years ago, I sometimes start from the bottom and work up. Sure enough, the papers and miscellany at the bottom of the pile are usually easily -- and quickly -- dealt with.

After my last serious attack on the counter, I became more careful about just how much dropping and running I did, so, although my "take away ten" strategy is helping me make progress, it won't solve the main problem: a small stack of items with a photo album as its foundation. When I bought the photo album, I knew I was solving one problem (finding a home for miscellaneous photos) while creating another one (finding a home for my new purchase). Consequently, my no-longer-new purchase is still sitting on my counter, taking up more than its fair share of space.

I knew better, but I bought it anyway. Bad idea.

The good news, though, is that once I decide on a home for that one item, I'll more than double my available space.

I think I see a light at the end of the tunnel of papers.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Overcoming Motivational Obstacles Unique to Your Styles

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
I've been writing about Organizing by STYLE for over a decade, so you'd think I'd have discovered the link between my styles and motivation long ago. Not true. In reality, it took me until last weekend to make the connection.

Thankfully, the solution was an easy one; merely listing my accomplishments at the end of the day took them from invisible to visible, satisfying my I need to see it personal style and salvaging my motivation (and my pride).

Yesterday, I wrote about the motivation issues that may arise naturally from our personal and organizational styles, so today, I'd like to share three keys to bringing motivation back.

Listing. While these serve as proof of accomplishment for the I need to see it personal style, they serve as item locators for those with the I know I put it somewhere organizational style. Being unable to find something you've stored "in a safe place" is a real motivation killer. Cheat sheets bring order and a system to the sometimes haphazard organization of the  I know I put it somewhere organizer.

Chunking. A popular strategy for saving time (run all the errands that are in geographic proximity at the same time) and memory (chunk bits of information into related groups (think of phone numbers) to get more information into short term memory), chunking can work as a motivator, too. The I love to be busy person can actually see progress when he or she breaks organizational tasks into bite-sized pieces that can realistically be accomplished between meetings, appointments and practices. The drop and run organizer can save time digging through piles if each pile ("chunk") contains one category of items. It may take a little creative dropping, getting into the habit of putting all the items for one activity in the same spot, but it's the beginning of a system.

Containing. Choosing containers that match our styles increase our motivation to put things away instead of down, and to use the organizational systems we set up. Cram and jammers whose containers are large and/or flexible are less likely be defeated by crumpled, ripped or broken items. I love stuff folks protect their collections by containing them in ways that keep them safe and out of harm's way.

It's hard not to get discouraged when our styles don't match those of our Type A organizer friends, but remember that consistency is key, no matter your styles. Finding tools that work and using those tools consistently leads to habits and systems that work because they've arisen out of what comes naturally. Celebrating small successes and using tools whose form, function and style are a good fit for you keeps motivation high and the piles of stuff low.

Even better? It feels a lot less like work.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Motivational Mishaps

Created with Canva
Last weekend, I discovered one of the drawbacks of the I need to see it personal style. I don't know why it surprised me (but it did), and it got me thinking about the drawbacks that accompany the other styles.

Let me assuage any fears that this is going to be a "beat up on the styles" post. I hope you know by now that's not my, um, style. We're all aware of the drawbacks of our lovely styles when it comes to organization. What occurred to me the other day is that they get in our way from a motivation perspective as well.

As an I need to see it person, I tend to downplay any progress I can't see. I can spend an entire day chipping away at things that need to be done, but if I can't see any difference by the end of the day, I feel as though I've done nothing.

Those with a cram and jam or I know I put it somewhere organizational style can have exactly the opposite problem. They think they're more organized than they actually are. Because things are put away--all in one place for the cram and jammer and without an overall plan for the  I know I put it somewhere organizer--they look organized. Other people (unsuspecting parents, teachers and spouses, for example) might even believe the cram and jammers and I know I put it somewhere organizers are organized--until they look more closely. Then, when they can't find what they need, those with these styles are often blindsided, embarrassed and overwhelmed.

People with an I love stuff personal style may have a similar problem. To them, their collections and piles are organized, and their love of their belongings makes them resistant to any recategorizing of their beloved treasures. Change is hard for the person who has all her stuff just the way she wants it.

Time, or the lack of it, can be a motivation killer for other styles. Drop and run organizers often rely on time as a retrieval cue, as in, "no, it can't be that deep in the pile because these papers are from last week," leading them to struggle to find things that don't adhere to the drop and run schedule hierarchy. Folks with an I love to be busy personal style may never feel fully organized due to time constraints and may constantly feel that they're playing catch-up when it comes to getting their supplies for even one activity organized.

Is it any wonder I prefer a lighthearted approach to organization?

As with anything else, though, knowing these things is the first step to overcoming them. Tomorrow, I'll share three keys to help manage those motivational mishaps.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

3 Keys Thursday: My Favorite 3 Tools for Starting Fall Semester

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Beginning a new semester is always a messy proposition -- at least for me. As new ideas proliferate and mix with old papers, I end up with piles which, if not put in some kind of order, threaten to bury all those great ideas before I even get started. Since my styles haven't changed, I know just which tools I need to get me through the transition from summer to semester. Here are a few of my favorites.
  • Flat surfaces. I hinted yesterday that my sofa is one of my organizational tools, but the truth is, any flat surface will do when it comes to packing my bag for school (or packing anything for anywhere, for that matter.) To make sure I don't forget anything, I lay everything out, separated into piles by course (a general psych pile, an early child development pile and a freshman seminar pile). Then, each pile goes into a hanging file folder that goes into my bag, and off I go!
  • Steno book. This is a new addition to my arsenal. The two column layout allows me to put two classes on the front of each page and my third class and my writing projects on the back. This keeps all my to-do lists in one place, held together by the spiral at the top of the book. In the past, I've used single sheets divided into sections, but they quickly become crumpled in my bag and the lists invariably intermingle. I'm very optimistic about this new approach, especially since my writing, which gets short shrift during the semester, has its own column among all of the teaching stuff.
  • Planners--this year's and last year's. When it comes to my classes, I use my planner as a combination calendar/journal. I write all my due dates (color coded by class) on the month-view pages and use the daily pages to keep track of my progress. Then, when it comes time to set due dates for the coming semester, I simply go back to my notes to create my course calendar. As a global person, I'm much less stressed out by the details of due dates when I have a reference point, and, once I've updated this year's planner, I can set aside last year's version, grateful for its assistance. I'm not quite ready to get rid of it yet, so I'll store it with my reference materials.
Having the right tools is key to getting off to a good start. What are your favorites?