Thursday, December 29, 2016

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys for Maximizing the Week Between Christmas and New Year's

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
In yesterday's blog, I dubbed the week between Christmas and New Year's the week of organization. This morning, a friend posted a great article from The Onion about straightening out one's entire life during the week between Christmas and New Year's.

You might say I identified with the article -- just a bit. It definitely made me laugh, while simultaneously absolving me from my guilt over binge-watching a Gilmore Girls marathon last night.

This is a great week to get stuff done, and, for those who've acquired new toys, clothes and household items over the holidays, organization can play a key role in making the transition into a new year. Still, it's important to remember that those of us fortunate enough to have this week off should also take advantage of the respite it provides. That, too, plays a key role in making the transition into a new year.

I suspect that if I did a keyword search on this blog, "balance" and "process" would be near the top of the list of most frequently used terms. So, with that in mind, here are my three keys to maximizing the week between Christmas and New Year's.

Process: Tackle a project or two -- but not all of them. If a project brings you satisfaction or peace of mind, by all means, do it. The multi-step rearranging of the playroom/family room/man cave at my house yielded piles of papers to be disposed of, new space, and a(nother) new purpose for the room, along with a wonderful sense of accomplishment. Well worth the time.

Balance: Segment your days. Did you just spend the whole day on a long overdue project? Cap it off by taking some time for yourself. All work and no play makes us not only dull, but cranky.

Wholeness: Socialize. If you, like me, truly enjoy a good organizing project, you know how easy it is to work in solitude, particularly if you're working out the details as you go along and/or your styles differ from those around you. Make sure you take time each day for some in-person interactions (social media doesn't count). A family meal. Dinner with friends. A coffee date. Okay, so it doesn't have to involve food -- just people.

The Onion article got a lot right, not the least of which is that vacations fly by. Make sure to make the most of yours.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Out with the Old

I love this time of year. I love the holidays, of course, but I also love the week between Christmas and New Year's.

The week of organizing.

The downstairs bedroom in our house was never a bedroom. Before my daughter was born, it was an office. When she was a toddler, we turned it into a playroom. And every year, after Christmas, we played the "how do we fit the presents in the playroom?" game.

Organizing a small house is a little like putting together a jigsaw puzzle; when you find the perfect fit, the picture is quite lovely. Until then, when the pieces are scattered on the table (or under the tree...and in the hallway...and in the playroom), it's hard to imagine how it will all come together.

As my daughter outgrew the need for a playroom, it gradually morphed into a family room/man cave. A few weeks before Christmas, my husband bought a table to use as a desk -- in the playroom/family room/man cave, which is already quite well-stocked. To fit the table into its designated space, we need to sort the stuff, thin the collections, and rethink how we'll store what remains.

Phase One was begun before Christmas, when my daughter started sorting through various bins and containers. Phase Two began today, as I sorted through files so we could move the file cabinet to make room for the table/desk. A couple of hours and several tall stacks of papers (some to recycle, some to shred) later, the desk was put into place.

Later this week: Phase Three -- the portion of the project in which the remaining puzzle pieces must be put together. I have a few ideas, made possible by the items that were removed as part of Phase One and Phase Two, but I suspect that luck will also be an essential ingredient, much as it is (for me, at least), when I'm putting together the pieces of sky in a jigsaw puzzle.

In the end, the old will have been culled and removed to make room for the new, and the next phase of the room will begin, along with the new year.

Seems only appropriate.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Managing the Holiday Countdown

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Three days until Christmas. Ready or not, here it comes!

I'm not ready, but I'm also not stressed. Of course, it helps to stay in the house and away from the traffic and panic going on "out there."

If I sound calmer than I did yesterday, it's because my grades are done, placing the fall semester behind me. And today, I checked a few Christmas things off my list.

Maybe I'm less stressed because now that all three of us are back in the same house, the most important part of Christmas is already taken care of. Maybe, after surviving four fall semesters, I've finally got this crazy, last minute stuff figured out.

Or maybe I'm living happily in denial.

In any event, Christmas will be here in three days. I can enjoy the process, or I can make myself a nervous wreck. Here's how I plan to do the former:


Prioritize. Last week, I wrote about my priorities. None of them was directly related to Christmas, but each of them was something that had to be done prior to Christmas. Now, I'm ready to move on to the B list -- the things that must be done in the next two days. Behind the B list, there's a C list -- the things I'd like to do, but have accepted I might not get to. With three days to Christmas, there is no D list -- anything that far down the list has long since been jettisoned, along with the guilt that accompanies its removal.

Don't take on other people's stress. These items would be the E list. My husband, for example, loves to take on"necessary" household tasks right before the holidays. He'll deny this, and when he does, I'll remind him of the wall he decided to dispense with a week before a Christmas open house we were hosting about twenty years ago. (I might not remember yesterday, but I remember when walls disappear). When I suggest that some of these things can keep until after Christmas, I get nowhere. I can either take on the additional tasks (and stress) or I can pitch in as I'm able while staying focused on my own lists. Since I'm perfectly capable of stressing myself out without any outside assistance, I prefer not to outsource.

Don't forget to have fun. A sense of humor is probably the most important thing to keep in your pre-Christmas toolkit. As time ticks away, so do patience and energy, and it's all too easy to take the merry out of Christmas. Nurture that sense of humor by remembering to sit down and take a break occasionally, even if you can only squeeze in a few minutes of downtime. There's no thing so important that it's worth all of your time and energy.

Regardless of what you celebrate, how you celebrate it, or with whom, I wish you a season of relaxation and celebration.

And, of course, STYLE.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Three Christmases

One good thing about an artificial tree is that
it can be put up any time.
We picked my daughter up from college last Friday. On Saturday, she baked cookies and attended a family party with my husband. I stayed behind because the party venue had cats (I'm allergic) and my own home venue was festively adorned with end-of-semester papers to be graded. Since then, my college kid has gone shopping, wrapped gifts, visited with friends and exercised her right to stay up late and sleep in. 

Back in November, before my daughter returned to school from Thanksgiving break, my husband suggested that we put up the tree. In fact, he made this suggestion even before she came home. I pooh-poohed him -- put the tree up in November? Long story short, he was right. We put it up the Friday after Thanksgiving, all together as a family, and it has been lit every day since. In the intervening time, my husband has put up outside lights, purchased and wrapped gifts and written his portion of the Christmas cards.

Which brings me to the third Christmas.

Since last Friday, I've graded stacks of papers, administered a final, graded more stacks of papers and calculated grades. In between, I've written a Christmas letter and a few cards, wrapped a few gifts, tried to keep the competing Christmas and end-of-semester piles in check, done some online shopping and basically tried to fit Christmas into the cracks of the end-of-semester stuff while ignoring the date on the calendar. If I take my blinders off and truly consider how much I need to do in the next three days, I will be unfit to live with.

So, I keep checking things off. My family helps (see "she baked cookies" and "his portion of the Christmas cards" above) and will help even more if I just ask them. The problem is, my lists are in my head and I don't completely -- hang on a second, I want to text my husband and ask him if he can pick something up --

Know what I need to have done.

And that's pretty much how my brain is working right now.

Chipping away at things really does work for me, but there are times when it drives those around me (okay, my husband) a little crazy. And, to be honest, there are times that I question its efficacy. I was just telling a friend this morning that in the muddled middle -- when it's all started and nothing is finished -- this idea of dedicating a little bit of time to everything, rather than tackling one task from start to finish, can feel foolish and overwhelming.

Then again, this time of year seems to feel like that no matter what plan I have in place. It's all too easy to let the lists expand to not only fill, but also overflow the time available, and to forget that more isn't necessarily better. 

Chipping away helps me dial it back, but I'm thinking I also need to make better use of my available resources. For some reason, it's just now occurring to me that my family has reached the stage where it  consists of three adults. That I can text my husband or my daughter and say, "hey, would you mind...?"

Photo: Ponce Photography via Pixabay

That I don't have to do Christmas all by myself. 

Which is a good thing. Because without them, I'm pretty sure Christmas at our house would come sometime in January. 

Okay, I'm kidding. Sort of.

So, as you deck the halls, keep in mind that this is supposed to be fun. That the anxiety, as one of our priests reminded us in the homily on Sunday, is of our own making. Keep the lists minimal so you can maximize the time you spend doing things you love with people you love.

'Tis the season, after all.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

3 Keys Thursday: Key Priorities

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Since last Saturday, I've graded 60 psychology papers, 24 projects and 26 take-home responses. This morning, as I thought about this blog, I determined that my three keys for today would be:

  • Listening to eight group presentations (before noon) and jotting comments (which will need to be translated into grades).
  • Listening to 23 presentations from my freshmen, linking success with course readings.
  • Going to Connecticut to pick up my daughter from college.
Most of the time, the three keys I write about  are much less specific (and personal) and have much more to do with organization or time management than today's do. But, sometimes the keys to a having a good day lie in setting priorities. 

Some days, we can set our own priorities; other days, they're set for us. Today, my two final exam periods, scheduled by the college, defined the outline of my day. Key #1 needed to be checked off before I could move on to keys 2 and 3. Setting a long list of other things to do when my day had already been prioritized would be not only foolish, but frustrating and futile as well.

And, when you think about it, the key to success in anything is knowing where you're going and what's most important, making priority-setting perhaps the most important organizational tool of all.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Reading Day

Photo: Strecosa via Pixabay
Today is Reading Day -- that cushion day tucked between the last day of classes and the first day of final exams designed to provide preparation time. I still have plenty of things to grade, and will be getting to them...soon...but I promised myself that today would also include taking care of some of the things that have been neglected in the past two weeks. Fun things on my list include clearing off my dining room table -- which has been emptied of the first wave of student papers and is awaiting the influx of the next -- doing laundry, and putting up a few more Christmas decorations. I'd like to include wrapping presents on the list, but even Reading Day has only twenty-four hours.

In a season where "overwhelmed" describes the emotional tone of nearly every day, Reading Day is a lovely luxury. Sure, there's a lot to do, and sure, final exams and projects -- not to mention Christmas -- await, but today is a day to catch up. Even the name sounds peaceful -- a day to read, to prepare, to make progress. A day at my disposal, without a set schedule. Sure, it's up to me to use the time wisely, but honestly, that's true any day.

So far today, I've caught up on some work emails, purged some junk from my inbox, written a blog and half and had some lovely conversations. I'm in comfy clothes at Starbucks, preparing to do a writing sprint as soon as this is posted. Later today, I have exam questions to grade and packing to do.

Reading Day is one of those lovely things available to college students, most of whom don't realize how lucky they are to have such a day at their disposal. But, who says Reading Day should be limited to college kids? This just might be the time of year when all of us need a "Reading Day."

So, why not schedule one? Keep in mind that, with a name like "Reading Day," some sort of leisure activity is almost required -- a little down time in the midst of the preparation.

Why not give yourself a Reading Day? Or maybe put one on your Christmas list. After all, 'tis the season to be jolly, and, for many of us, a Reading Day makes that possible.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys for Making Things Just a Little Bit Better

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Yesterday, I wrote about making things "just a little bit better" around my house. By taking baby steps and being content with slow, but steady progress (for the time being, anyway), I can chip away at everything that has to be done and get a sense of accomplishment even when there's still a lot to accomplish.

I've written before about some of these baby steps, but, since we're on the subject, I thought I'd share them again today.

Strategic list-making. Yesterday, I talked about making sure my lists had a mix of short-term and long-term items on them. While this is a good strategy at any time of year, it's essential as the holidays approach. If we're not making at least small progress on our holiday preparations, we can lose the joy of the season in the last-minute mad dash that results from letting the day-to-day task overwhelm the preparations for the not-so-distant future.

Give it five. As Christmas approaches, the clutter at my house can grow exponentially. Gifts to be wrapped and decorations to be put up (among other things) begin to encroach on living space. 'Tis the season to employ Give it Five! not just for quick pick-ups, but for decking the halls as well. Rather than dragging out a huge bin full of decorations, why not open the container and select only a few decorations (one five minute session)? Then, put those up before taking out anything else out. The house gets decorated more slowly, but grows more festive as the holidays approach.

The number game. Don't have time to clear the decks? Pick a number and pick up that number of items and put them away. My number varies based on the size of the pile and the time I have available, but shrinking piles and clear space are great motivators. Once you get started, you might just keep going.

Or, you might step back, enjoy the improvement, and take a break. After all, you need to conserve your energy if you're going to celebrate the season.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Just a Little Bit Better

Wednesday is my two-post day -- the day I post both here and at the Porch Swing Chronicles. Technically, it's a three-post day, if you count my STYLE Savvy post at, but, since that post has an earlier deadline, I'm less likely to feel the posting crunch there. 

Some Wednesdays, I get one--or both--posts done ahead of time. Through a wonderful confluence of time and creativity, I not only figure out what I want to write about before Wednesday rolls around, but I manage to write the post and set it to publish automatically.

Today is not one of those Wednesdays. Today, I'm writing both posts from scratch on Wednesday, grateful that I'm tackling them while it's still morning. And, as I was thinking through the possibilities, another sort of confluence occurred.

A theme. 

So today, I thought it might be fun to try something. Although my post here and my post over at the Porch Swing Chronicles have different content, they have the same title. I hope, if you have a minute, you'll take the time to read both of them.

'Tis the season for piles -- at least at my house. Some piles are good (piles of presents), some not so good (piles of papers to grade). Augmented by the duties of the season, my lists are longer and more diverse than usual, too. The day-to-day responsibilities haven't decreased, but the duties of the season keep piling up, giving me the feeling I'm on a treadmill of productivity: always moving but going nowhere fast.

It's easy to get overwhelmed and self-critical. 

While I have no magical solution to a quick dispensation of the pile-up, I do have one strategy that helps me keep my sanity.

Each day, I try to make things just a little bit better. 

It's not a good short-term strategy, in that the piles diminish slowly, and some stacks overstay their welcome by days, or even weeks. But, then again, losing my mind over a little clutter isn't a good strategy either. 

Each day's list contains two kinds of items: time sensitive tasks and preparations for the season. Intermediate deadlines are sprinkled in, too, as the day's schedule permits, so I can tackle them before they become time sensitive. 

Photo ivoxis via Pixabay
In some ways, this is akin to burning the candle at both ends; on one end, I have the "do it now" things and on the other the end the planning pieces that will make Christmas special and fun, or, perhaps, set up my break between semesters to be both productive and relaxing. Some days, I feel as though I'm standing in the middle of the candle, trying to avoid the flames closing in from both sides, but most days, tackling both kinds of tasks minimizes the panic of the lengthy holiday to do list and gives me a sense of accomplishment as I check a variety of tasks off my list. 

Would I love to see my house pile-free? Absolutely. But, unless a magic wand materializes, I'm going to have to settle for baby steps, reminding myself of what I say here so often.

It's a process. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys for Decorating for the Holidays

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Last weekend, before my daughter went back to school after Thanksgiving break, we put up our Christmas tree.

It's the only thing I've done ahead of schedule all month.

It got me started on holiday decorating, though, along with inspiring some thoughts on what holiday decorating ought to be.

Fun. Although I had no desire to put up a Christmas tree in November, it wouldn't have been any fun putting it up without my daughter, and we didn't want to wait until the very hectic week before Christmas. While decorating can't always be fun, deciding when and how you want to approach the task, whether all at once or a little at a time so that things come together slowly and peak at Christmas, can make a difference.

Peaceful. While this may be too much to hope for in the actual process, it's not too much to expect from the end product. Decorating, whether for every day or for the holidays, should enhance your home. I love coming home late in the afternoon and switching on the tree, candles and white lights that are part of the decor. It almost makes up for daylight savings time.

Meaningful. Our Christmas tree might have gone up first, but a key feature in our Christmas decorating is the nativity scene. Making sure there's a reminder of the reason for the season is an important part of getting ready for the holidays.

Whenever and how ever you decide to do it, may all of your decorating be merry and bright.

And STYLE-ish, of course.