Thursday, October 27, 2016

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys for Creating a Master List

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Last weekend, I dug into my various ways of keeping track of things I needed to do and did some streamlining. As I wrote yesterday, this not only helped me to get more organized, it also revitalized my excitement for all the projects I'd taken on. As I worked, a few key guidelines emerged.

Begin with a plan. I have a system for keeping track of my to-dos -- one that's meant to avoid little slips of paper scattered everywhere. For school, I use a steno pad with a separate column dedicated to each class. Once I knew my TED Talk addiction wasn't going away, I dedicated a two-page spread (with room to grow) in my Brainstorm Book to them, so I could keep track of the ones I "thought I might use sometime" for class. Finally, I keep track of daily, run-of-the-mill to-dos in a spiral-bound  notebook (when I'm on the go) and/or my page-a-day desk calendar (when I'm at home)...or in the classic I need to see it piles I can't seem to stop making. Admittedly, this last part needs some work.

Trust your styles. Why not just make one long list? Because it stresses me out. Partway through this process, as I closed window after window and organized my lists in a way that made sense to me, I began to feel energized. My default (all those open windows and reminder piles) had gotten out of hand, and so what I was doing was filing my to-dos in places that made sense to me and increased the likelihood that they'd get done. By filing things visibly (i.e. on lists), I could categorize things but still keep them accessible. One of the best things I came up with was the master list of all the links I wanted to get back to. Simple and functional, it let me put everything in one location that made sense.

Stay focused. While creating that wonderful a master list of links, it was tempting to just curl up and read all the good stuff I'd found, but that wasn't what I was supposed to be doing. If they'd gone unread long enough to linger, they could wait a little longer.

Finally, don't forget to finish what you started. I had a deadline, and the ticking clock added an undesirable layer of stress, making it tempting to stop before every last paper was put into its file just so I could eliminate the pressure. In retrospect, that might actually have been a good thing. Knowing that if I didn't finish before I left for my engagement I'd have to face an unfinished mess when I came back motivated me to keep going so I could come home and not only relax, but celebrate my mind-freeing organization.

And the icing on the cake? Going through this process inspired three blog posts. And this morning, I knew just where to go when I wanted to work on one of my articles.

Functional organization, built on what comes naturally. Gotta love STYLE.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Taking Stock

Photo: Lauren Mancke via Minimography
I am the sort of person who leaves multiple windows open on her computer. (Multiple doesn't begin to describe it). When I discovered that I could create a dozen or more different desktops on my MacBook, this made me love my laptop even more than I already did.

Any guesses what my predominant style is?

Whether our styles reveal themselves in an unmistakeable I need to see it, drop and run or cram and jam fashion, or in a subtler, more nuanced way, we all need to pause and take stock sometimes. For me, last Saturday was that time. This was not surprising; the end of the month was, at that time, a little more than a week away.

So, I set out to make a master list that would enable me to replace the visual clutter with one neat list. My goal was to close out the open windows on my computer and streamline the to-do lists on my desk.

I started out with one measly piece of paper, but quickly decided that to really get my house in order, I needed separate pages for key categories. This method would accomplish two things: it would organize my thoughts (by category) and keep my lists shorter, and therefore less overwhelming. I briefly considered going back to the color-coded list format I use in the summer, but decided that I'd be better off with pages in a notebook.

So, armed with my calendar, my work to-do notebook (each class has its own column) and my spiral-bound notebook, I dug in.

First stop: my laptop. I had tabs open in my browser for articles I wanted to read, use for blogs or reference for class, along with references for writing projects. I had presentations in various stages of completion, some old (for reference) and some current. I had writing projects galore. Beginning with the browser tabs, I took one thing at a time, adding each to the appropriate list and then closing it out.  Because it's easier to access links by simply clicking on them, I created a master list of the links I had open and wanted to return to and emailed it to myself. Now, instead of leaving all those tabs open, I simply have to open the email and click on the link I want.

Second stop: all those notes on my desk. This part was easy, because, as it turns out, there weren't that many of them. Apparently my paper system is working better than my electronic system -- something that was a nice surprise, but, in retrospect, shouldn't have been surprising at all. I am, at heart, a paper-and-pencil girl.

Third stop (which perhaps should have been first): the multiple piles that scream, "An I need to see it/drop and run person lives here!" Why weren't they first? Because I'm more organized than I look. The really important, to-do list qualifying stuff is on my computer or my desk.

As I worked on the list, a funny thing happened: I started to get really excited about tackling all of the things I was writing down. While visual reminders can be helpful, having too many of them for too long can become exhausting, and therefore counterproductive. After a while, they all blend together and become a congealed mass of things to do.

Thank goodness I have my nice, neat list.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys for Managing the Transition from One Month to the Next

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
I can hardly believe the end of October is almost upon us! At school, in particular, this gets my attention because November is the last full month of the semester -- and it's split up by Thanksgiving break. Returning from fall break to discover that it was almost time to flip the calendar page was a rude awakening.

Over time, I've discovered a few tips that help to keep the shock of "you mean that's next week?" at bay. They're not foolproof, but their consistent use has kept me from missing many important events and appointments.

Look ahead. Flipping the calendar page to the next month is the simplest way to see what lies ahead. The trick is to do this far enough ahead of time that you have the opportunity to prepare for what lies ahead. Ten days to two weeks ahead of time is usually sufficient.

Create a sign post. Always meaning to look ahead, but forgetting to do so? Jot important first-week-of-the-next month tasks or appointments on a a small, square sticky note and attach it to a calendar square at the beginning of the last week of the month.

Do a weekly check-in. My family just loves this (yes, that's sarcasm), but it helps us to make sure that we align our calendars and don't miss appointments. It also helps with planning. We usually have our "calendar meeting" at dinner on Friday, but you can pencil in any time that works for your family. Once this becomes a habit, it's something you can accomplish in five minutes or less.

Investing a little time in your calendar can make things run more smoothly every day of this month...and the next one as well.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Stick to It

I love Post-it Notes. They stick without being sticky. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Perhaps best of all, their bright colors are a great match for my I need to see it personal style, not only calling attention to the things I need to do, but standing out amid a sea of nondescript to-do notes on a desktop or table.

Last April, I wrote a post for about, a site by the makers of Post-it Notes, filled with great ideas for ways to use them. I'm not even going to try to compete with the creative ideas you can find there, but I wanted to share a couple of my favorite uses.

  • Family notes. At our house, the place to find a note from someone who has left the premises is on the range hood in the kitchen. A sticky note attached to the range hood is an eye-catcher, almost directly in the line of vision, and extending beyond the range hood to make its presence -- and message -- known.
  • Calendar notes. A few years ago, I bought one of those large, Post-it Note calendars to use as a planning tool, but it ended up not working for me -- at least not in the traditional way. Although I've reverted to my usual calendar/planner set-up, I've used those pages as project planners, even creating an entire fictional writing workshop (with color-coded events) for a character in one of my novels. I also use single sticky notes to remind myself of recurring events and due dates (you know--those "third Thursday of the month" events) a week ahead of time. I simply write the name of the task on the sticky note and put it on my desk calendar so that if I need to prepare anything, I have time to do so.
  • File folder tabs.  I love all things stationery, and colorful file folders in fun prints are one of my favorite things. I use and reuse them until they begin to tear or become otherwise unusable, and they often serve multiple purposes before I retire them. Consequently, I hate to write on the tabs. I could write in pencil (that's what I do on manila file folders), but pencil doesn't show up well on colored file folders, so instead, I put a small, square sticky note on the tab and label it in Sharpie marker. If I'm feeling really fancy, I might even pull out my label maker. Then, when I'm ready to use the folder for something else, I just replace the Post-it Note, under which is a pristine file tab.
Inventive? Not terribly. Functional? Very!

What's your favorite way to use a sticky note?

Thursday, October 13, 2016

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Characteristics of a Working Organizational System

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Last Saturday, a trip I'd planned fell through, leaving me a bit bummed out, but with "found time." So, motivated by my last few blog posts (which had gotten my wheels turning), I decided to tackle my closet.

Some people clean when they're upset. Others read.

I organize.

I knew I didn't want to create a big mess, so I set aside an hour to review the bin and drawer situation, which is approximately one third of the job. Because my system is (mostly) working, an hour (okay, an hour and half) was enough time for me to make visible progress. And, when you're an I need to see it person, visible progress is the best kind.

Last week, I focused on closet habits that can get you into trouble. This week, I want to focus on a few that prove you're doing it right, and what to do if your current system just isn't earning its keep.

When your system is working:

The side effects of your default styles are minimized -- or better yet, gone. Pile-ups, mystery locations, crushed, torn or broken items and that horrible feeling of being completely overwhelmed by stuff are wispy memories when your system is working. In fact, the thing that told me that my closet needed to be re-evaluated was the re-emergence of pile ups and visual clutter. If my storage systems were 1) working as they ought to and 2) consistent with my styles, there should have been few pile ups and little visual clutter. Finding the why behind the visual clutter and planning accordingly by rethinking what went where resulted in streamlining that will (I hope) make those side effects a thing of the past.

You use it on a regular basis. Good systems are easy to use and maintain. If you're bypassing the system, a key component of one of your styles is probably going unaddressed. Set aside the "shoulds" and plan realistically. Maybe that metal file cabinet that keeps everything hidden is a great tool for your spouse, but if you pile things on top of it instead of opening the drawers, maybe a file holder with an open top is a better fit for your style.

You can find what you're looking for.  To me, the true test of being organized is that you can find what you're looking for in five minutes or less. Smoothly running systems earn their keep in saved time and reduced stress. If you have to go on a scavenger hunt for something every time you need it, it may be time to re-think the location you've chosen. This is also true when the supply of something has overrun its container or when you remember where it is, but it takes you more than five minutes to dig it out.

At my house, the first battle of the closet re-vamp wars has been won. I got rid of a few things and  relocated a few things, which created space. Then, what appeared to be visual clutter could easily be given home of its own.

As it turned out, the stuff that was out of place was only a symptom; the real visual clutter was the storage containers themselves. Because they were in the wrong place, they displaced other things, creating an eyesore which greeted me every time I opened the closet door. Once I moved the bins to a different spot in the closet, everything not only worked better, it looked better, too.

And I didn't even need to buy new stuff -- although I did come close.

Designed by Kjpargeter -
But the best payoff of all was discovering that the system I'd created was working; I had the right tools and I was using them well. Still, as the contents of my closet grew and changed, I had to remember to adjust my system as well.

This time, the adjustments were mostly about location. As I tackle the rest of the closet, I suspect that the issues will have to do with quantity and will require me to give more thought to the three Rs than this week's task did.

But this week's task left me feeling so good, I think I'm up for the next step. Who knows? I might even free up more storage space.

And in a small closet, that's like hitting the jackpot.

The Thursday Post That Was Supposed to be a Wednesday Post

On Tuesday, I made a decision that made no sense from a time management perspective. In the midst of grading papers and exams, posting midsemester warning grades and preparing for a long-awaited trip to see my daughter, I decided to carve out a chunk of time to visit with a friend.

There were plenty of other things I could have been doing (writing this blog post, for example). There were plenty of other things I should have been doing (see the first paragraph of this post), and, when I got home, there were plenty of other things that remained to be done. And you know what?

I have no regrets.

As I type this Wednesday post a little after midnight (making it one of two Thursday posts), it promises to be a late night. I've finished grading most of the papers I needed to grade, but a few still remain. A Wednesday post on another blog has also been shifted to Thursday.

But I had a great day. I got to spend uninterrupted time with a friend I see face-to-face only a few times a year. We got to laugh and commiserate and enjoy each other's company. And the food at the restaurant was pretty good, too.

I realize that this is a strange post for a blog about organization. My very structured, practical husband told me (more than once) how surprised he was that I opted to meet with my friend when I had so much to do, and I'm pretty sure most professional organizers and productivity experts would have advised against it.

But I'm not a professional organizer or productivity expert -- something that's abundantly clear if you read this blog on a regular basis. If organizing by STYLE means embracing the styles that come naturally, then managing time by STYLE means embracing our priorities and planning accordingly. For me, that means making sure to spend time with the people who matter to me, even when it means posting a blog later than usual or making a late night even later.

The good feelings that are created when we do things that matter to us linger.  There will always be blogs to write and papers to grade, but my friend won't always be in town.

And I hope I'm never so grown up that I forget that people are more important than papers.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Closet Habits that Lead to Chaos

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
After writing yesterday's post, I was hoping today's would be somewhere along the lines of "three things that are working in my closet," so I opened my closet door and looked inside.

There are definitely things that are working, but I'm not sure they're going to stay the same. Although the containers are working, thanks to the fact that they're style-specific, I can't swear that after I start taking things apart, the same things will end up in the same places. Consequently, it feels dishonest to call them "successes" at this stage of the game.

Still stumped, I went back to an old post -- one from May 2015 -- and re-read an amusing Buzz Feed article I'd shared. It was still amusing, and, better yet, I found three things that explain why I don't dread opening the door to my closet. Choosing not to engage in these habits promises to make even the most intimidating closet overhaul a little less challenging.

Tossing. Your mother was right -- clothes don't belong on the floor. Clothes on the floor of the closet are a sign that something's not working. Maybe you need a system, maybe you need a drop spot (even just a laundry basket on the floor of the closet), or maybe you just need more hangers. Find the "why" behind this shortcut that's really not a shortcut and let it lead you to a solution.

Stuffing. Shoving too many clothes into one drawer or bin or onto one hanger leads to wrinkles and confusion -- perhaps for you as well as your clothes. Decide whether to hang or fold (crush, stuff or otherwise spindle or mutilate should not be an option) and store accordingly. If a rod, drawer or bin becomes too full, it's time to reassess and either let some things go or shake up your storage system.

Allowing a big space to go undivided. Closet shelves are a blessing and a curse. That nice long one that runs the width of the closet (in particular) is an invitation to piles and inefficiency if you don't subdivide it. Use bins, boxes or shelf dividers to create sections to store whatever you decide belongs there.

I took one baby step toward my closet reorganization today, moving some tee shirts into an empty drawer and recapturing some closet rod space in the process. I still have miles to go, but knowing I don't have to start by clearing the floor or subdividing the long shelf (already outfitted with bins)  helps a little bit.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Closet STYLE

I am struggling with my closet.

Strangely enough, it's one of the best organized spaces in my house, but, as an I need to see it person, I find its dark recesses intimidating.

I've tried adding light, and that helps, but not enough.

I've tried buying skinny hangers, but my clothes still get crushed (I know. Get rid of some).

I am on the cusp of a clothing reorganization.

But where do I put everything? My house is small enough that I have to move clothes around when the seasons change, so a closet overhaul promises to be an intimidating endeavor.

There's that word again.

Would you be surprised to know that I have some drawers I'm not fully utilizing? Combined with the big, rectangular space that is my closet, I have space -- theoretically, anyway. The problem is determining how to best use it, and how to get from here to there.

All of my usual small steps tactics aren't enough. This requires making a big mess in order to create order.

Fortunately, STYLE provides the blueprint I need to make this work.
  • Start with successes. I know some drawers and sections of my closet are working and well-utilized, so the first step is to decide what I don't have to change. That shrinks my task considerably, and sets me up to...
  • Take small steps. Once I know what I have to fix, I can make a list. Then, I can either set aside an afternoon and make a big mess, or I can chip away at it drawer by drawer, section by section.
  • Yes, it has a home. The heart of this project is determining which homes are working and which need to be changed, so as I... 
  • Let it go and get rid of items that are out-of-style, out-of-shape, no longer my size or no longer to my liking I'll be able to decide which things belong in which homes (I hope). Once I've weeded out the non-keepers and put everything is in its (new) place, I'm on my way to...
  • Easy upkeep. My end goal. Right now, the upkeep is not easy because some of the space is well-utilized, but other spots are overstuffed and therefore clamoring for attention. 
Funny how this process is cyclical. When the upkeep is no longer easy, it's time to go back to the beginning and Start with what's working. Not only does this help me identify what I need to fix, but it also reminds me what I'm aiming for. If something's working, it's probably true to my styles, and something I should try to replicate in the spots where things aren't working as well.

Having a plan makes the whole process much less intimidating. 

Now all I need is the time to put my plan into action.