Thursday, December 28, 2017

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Key Steps on the Path to "No"

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Yesterday morning, I wrote about learning to say no. By bedtime last night, I'd already said yes to two new things. In my defense, neither is a long-term commitment, and in one case, it was just the right thing to do.

Still, it seems as though this goal, like many others, might be harder than it sounds. Perhaps there might be some intermediate steps I need to take on the way to my big goal.

Pause. So often, those of us who say yes do so automatically. Simply stopping to think can keep us from making a snap decision that leads to a task that's not such a snap.

Say maybe. Lengthen the pause by not committing either way until you've had some time to think. The bigger the task, the more reasonable "let me think about it" becomes.

Delegate or teach. This works only when you haven't already committed to taking on the task in the first place; reneging on a task you promised to accomplish can come off as irresponsible or even obnoxious, especially if it's not handled delicately. But, if someone else is equally capable of doing the task in question, handing it off can be a very reasonable alternative, especially if the other person is willing to take it on. If someone else is interested in learning how to do the job, taking a few minutes to teach them what to do or assist them in getting started can save you hours of time later on.

If you decide to say no, remember that a little honesty and a lot of kindness go a long way. Explaining an overpacked schedule is preferable to making excuses. Expressing a desire to help at another time or in another way (if you are willing to do so) can make today's no more palatable.

Finally, whether the answer is yes, no or maybe, make sure it's for the right reasons. Balance is key: balancing time, balancing tasks and balancing care for others with care for ourselves can lead to a life that's not only fulfilling, but relaxed enough to enjoy.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Year of No

One of my recent beach reads was Shonda Rhimes' book, Year of Yes. As an avid viewer of Grey's Anatomy, I was curious to learn a little something about the woman behind the powerhouse Thursday night television line-up and, as a fan of Rhimes' characters, I loved her voice in the book. Rhimes' voice is not unlike that of her characters and more than once I found myself smiling at the patter that makes up her chapters.

Although it was a fun read, Ms. Rhimes and I have not only quite different lives, but also quite different problems. As I lay in bed this morning wondering when winter break had morphed from down time to blow-the-dust-off-the-neglected-to-do-lists-and-check-off-as-much-as-possible time, I began to wonder if 2018 should be my Year of No.

I have a long history -- more than half a century -- of saying yes. As I've gotten older, I've gotten better at making more of those yeses things I actually want to do.

Note that I said I've gotten better. I'm still not good at honing my yeses. I still say yes to things I think I should say yes to, even when I'd rather say no. I still say yes to things that other people really, really want me to do, even when I'd rather say no. And, I still have a set of interests so diverse that there's not enough room in a year to do all the things I want to say yes to. I find this last part especially frustrating and perhaps even the root cause behind "breaks" that are more catch up on "stuff" time and less catch up on downtime.

Time, like space, is limited. Just as we can only fit so much stuff into a space, we can only fit so many activities into a day, a week, a month, a year, a lifetime. My fifty-something self has many of the same interests that my twenty-something self had, but my life at fifty-something looks quite different from my life at twenty-something. In some ways, this is good, in others not so much, but the bottom line is that my choices need to be different, too. And, by different, I don't mean narrowed. Some interests have surged while others have faded -- a natural way of making room for new and exciting pursuits. Realistically, though, at fifty-something, it's possible that a few interesting options have already passed me by.

Later this week, I'll be setting my goals for 2018, a process I truly enjoy. By taking the time to reflect, I celebrate successes as well as looking forward to everything I hope to accomplish. Even better, by writing this stuff down, I find I actually prime the pump and end up accomplishing more.

And this year might just be my Year of No -- not in a negative, knee-jerk way, but rather in a thoughtful, deliberate way.

Mohamed Hassan via Pixabay
There are a few advantages my fifty-something self has over my twenty-something self, and most of those have to do with time. With a much better understanding of how precious time is and what it's worth, perhaps it's time for me to spend it a bit more discriminately. Unlike Rhimes, who set a goal to say yes to everything, I need to stop making yes my default response if for no other reason than the simple fact that every yes to one thing is a no to something else.

It should be an interesting year.

Friday, December 22, 2017

3 Keys Thursday/Friday: 3 Keys for Managing the Holiday Countdown

Late again! My apologies. The collision of the end of the semester, the week before Christmas and getting my dad situated in his new digs closer to us means my blogs took a hit. As I looked back on last year's pre-Christmas posts for inspiration, I decided to rework one I wrote this time last year. The advice still holds, and bears repeating.

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." Today, I tackled cards (better late than never) and most of the wrapping. Tomorrow, I bake...and wrap some more. One step at a time.

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. Now that the semester is over and my grades have been turned in, I'm ready to make Christmas top priority. After Christmas, a new list awaits...but I'm not even thinking about most of that just yet.

Don't take on other people's stress. Since I'm perfectly capable of stressing myself out without any outside assistance, I prefer not to outsource. My husband's lists often look different from my own, and it's all too easy to get sucked into tasks that are low priority for me. If I'm following my first key, it's easy to remind myself that what my priorities are. If they don't line up with someone else's, not only is that okay, but I also don't have to accept that person's stress as my own.

Don't forget to have fun. Aside from family and friends, sense of humor is probably the most important thing to keep close by in the days leading up to Christmas. As time ticks away, so do patience and energy, and it's 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 20, 2017

Attacking the Basement

There aren't enough hours in our break to get our basement looking like this.
Last night, I asked my husband to find a home for a mattress topper we'd purchased and rejected. Chances are good that it should go to the trash pile (and that at some point it still will), but it was one of those expensive mistakes that we can't quite get rid of. Yet.

Like so many other no-longer-useful items in our house, it ended up in the basement, which ended up sparking the discussion we have at least twice a year at my house.

We really need to clean out the basement.

While I agree, there never seems to be a good time to do it. From time to time, I take my own advice and chip away at a section, but progress continues to be of the one step forward, two steps back variety. Invariably, once a space is emptied, it becomes a magnet for something else we don't know what to do with/can't bear to part with.

Certain spots in the house tend to become clutter magnets, attracting every item we want out of the way, either temporarily or on a more permanent basis. As I analyze the cringe-worthy collection in our basement, I see two culprits at work: time and indecision. We always seem to have too little of the first and too much of the second.

As a former school counselor, I know that identifying the problem is the first step to solving it. While I can't create more of the former, I can be determined to utilize less of the latter. In other words, in the next few weeks, while everyone is on vacation, we need to set aside time to tackle the task and approach it with the determination to be decisive.

This is, of course, easier said than done. No one is excited to spend vacation time cleaning out the basement, and no one immediately becomes decisive at the snap of a finger.

So, the goals need to be realistic. An entire week going through items one by one? Not gonna happen. Setting aside several hours (perhaps adding up to an entire day) over the course of break to make some headway? More likely.

As for decisiveness,  I know how it's done; I just need to do it. Three piles: keep, don't keep and not sure. Everything we keep will need a home. Whatever we don't keep will need a destination, and whatever we're not sure about will need a deadline.

So, here I am, going public. Feel free to hold me accountable. Despite the fact that I write about this stuff, there are tasks I find odious and this is one of them. When that's the case, we sometimes need a little nudge, or even some partners in the process. Join me, nudge me, ask me how it's going.

It is, after all, a process.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

3 Keys Thursday: Taming One-More-Thing-itis

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Yesterday, I wrote about how my one-more-thing-itis is a double-edged sword. Sure, I get a couple of extra things done, but this "progress" comes with a price.

Since I'm unlikely to ditch this habit any time soon, I've decided I need to finesse it a little; Organizing by STYLE is built, after all, on turning liabilities into assets. Here are a few things I'm considering.

Set a deadline. I'm less likely to fall prey to one-more-thing-itis when I have a clearly determined end time. Sure, I might try to sneak in a couple of extra tasks, but when I know when I'm supposed to stop, I'm less likely to run it down to the wire.

Set an alarm. Another problematic part of this habit is that I lose track of time. Once I've set my deadline, I need to also set an alarm. That way, my deadline doesn't come and go, leaving me scrambling to get out the door on time, apologies in tow.

Write it down. Once the alarm announces my pre-set deadline, I need to stop doing stuff. Clearly, that's where I run into trouble, so I need to employ some list-making strategies. If it's already on the list and it's important, I can highlight it, circle it, star it or put a big #1 beside it. If it's not already on the list, I can add it.

So, now that I have a plan in place, only one question remains. Should I start right away (it is, after all, peak list season), or wait and make this a New Year's resolution?

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

One More Thing-itis

geralt via Pixabay
I have a terrible "disease." It's called "one-more-thing-itis."

I always seem to think I have time to do "just one more thing." As a result, I consistently run just a little bit late.

A lot.

While this "doing one more thing" plan is very optimistic in a way, it's also inconsiderate. While I'm checking one more thing off my list, usually before running out the door to go somewhere, I am, often unintentionally, keeping someone else waiting.

The funny thing is, this not-so-funny habit seems efficient. It seems as though I'm using my time wisely, not wasting a moment, working through my to-do list. While I am, indeed, garnering all these benefits, their value is greatly reduced by the guilt that inevitably arises when I lose track of time and realize I am keeping someone else waiting.

There are a number of things that could improve this situation. Shorter to-do lists come to mind immediately, but that solution is unlikely. The truth is, it's a habit, and I need to decide whether to break it or press it into service.

I have a few ideas, but I'm going to put it out to you, too. How would you cure this time management disease? Leave me a comment, and I'll include your ideas, along with mine, in tomorrow's "3 Keys Thursday" post.

Stay tuned :-)

Friday, December 8, 2017

3 Keys Friday (Oops): 3 Tools that are Keeping My End-of-Semester House in Order

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
As I race toward the end of the semester, my determination to keep things in balance still intact, I'm discovering the benefits that come with refining a system over time. I've noticed that several of the systems I take for granted have evolved with use.  Each success builds on the last, making things come together more quickly and creating routines that are not only easily integrated into daily life, but make daily life easier.

Here are three things that are helping me keep things together when they are in danger of falling apart.

Folders for my classes. This fall marked my eighth semester as an adjunct. I've tried many systems of folders, files and binders (what was I thinking?) since I started. Over time, a system emerged and, once I found the right fit, it stuck. I know exactly what has to go in my bag each day and keeping it all color-coded appeals to my I need to see it personal style. 

A pre-stocked bag. Last fall, I purchased an organizer that lives in my school bag. If I switch bags, I move it into the new bag so that I know I have everything I need, from an adapter for my laptop to writing utensils, including a white board marker in case I find myself in a classroom without one.

A way to organize my course stuff at home. This is the system that has taken the longest time to develop and, thanks to a recent family room makeover, I'm still putting the final touches on it. The closer I get to my mother's adage ("A place for everything and everything in its place") with respect to my school stuff, the more efficient I feel.

Developing systems that work creates not only a sense of organization, but peace of mind as well. When we know where things belong and when where they belong makes sense, we can find what we need when we need it and we feel prepared to tackle important tasks. Organizing by STYLE has helped me to approach not just my stuff, but also my life, with a plan that makes sense.

And that is a very nice feeling to have.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

You Say "Stack" Like it's a Bad Thing

olluszka via Pixabay
I have reached the point in the semester where pretty much every time I show up to teach a class, I collect a pile of papers to be graded. As I barrel into the home stretch of the semester, continuing to aim for balance, all of these papers need temporary homes -- safe places where I won't forget about them or, worse yet, lose a piece of work on which one of my students spent hours. Since I do most of my work at home, that means these safe places intersect with our living spaces.

I'm happy to report that this semester, things look a little more organized. As an I need to see it person, I still have piles, but they're organized piles. Thanks to a new work table in our family room, I can keep my works in progress in neat stacks (one for each class) in a location somewhere besides my dining room table. Colored folders separate one class from another, and a bright pink folder holds items of immediate concern.

Clearly, this is a temporary solution, one that lasts only as long as my family's patience.

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that I often say, "it's a process," and that is absolutely true here. As the papers are graded and the piles diminish, the rubrics, notes and other plans and notes to myself will need a home besides the work table. A new set of file bins in the family room -- one that keeps things off the table, somewhat out of sight, but not completely out of mind -- will help me keep things accessible. Even better, it'll keep things off the dining room table and the living room furniture, two spots that have, in the past, become victims of the end-of-semester deluge.

What sounds like a simple solution arose only after multiple semesters of trial and error, with an almost embarrassing amount of time wasted on dropping and running combined with traditional methods that don't work for my styles. Committing to systems that fit my styles means that things are, for now at least, rarely out of sight, but slowly, I am finding ways to keep things visible but still tidy.

While organization is a valuable payoff here, perhaps even more important is the peace of mind that comes with a system that actually lets me keep track of things. Getting to this point was not easy or quick, but the more I listen to my styles and stop trying to do things the way I'm "supposed to," the more useful and efficient the whole system becomes.

It's a wonderful feeling to walk through my living room without being visually accosted by papers and projects in progress, and it's nice to be able to actually eat at the dining room table. Taking the time to think about what works and personalizing my system accordingly has been well worth the time it took to get here.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys for Bringing the Christmas Spirit

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Yesterday, I wrote about creating balance in my work life but, at this time of the year, that's only part of the story. All of those end-of-semester responsibilities I'm juggling are set against a very important backdrop: the holidays.

My love for Christmas runs deep and, although this will be my first Christmas without my mom, I still want to celebrate, even if it will feel different. Last weekend, bored of our usual outdoor holiday decorations, my husband started cooking up some new ideas and after some shopping and discussion, we created a new look -- one I love.

In addition, for the second year in a row, we put up the tree -- much earlier than I was ready for -- because we wanted to do it while my daughter was home from college. And, as I type this, I'm doing so by the light of a small Christmas tree with Christmas in Rockefeller Center playing in the background. The tree used to stand in my parents' living room and, right now, it's bedecked only in white lights. For now, that's enough.

Last year at this time, I reflected on three things I think holiday decorating should be. This year, I'm striving for the same goals. I want my decorating, planning and celebrating 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 none of us wanted to wait until the very hectic week before Christmas. While decorating can't always be fun, deciding when and how to approach the task, whether all at once or a little at a time, 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 is bedecked with a collection of ornaments we've been growing since my husband and I were first married. My parents' tree has its special spot, particularly this year. Our nativity scene, which will go up closer to Christmas, will have its place of honor as well. Making sure there's a reminder of the reason for the season and the people who matter 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.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

And So it Begins

kraphix via Freepik
Last night and early this morning, as I was thinking about this post (that I hoped I would have had time to post already), I had my topic all worked out -- learning to set boundaries for tasks that have oozed out of their allotted time slots and into leisure time. It went something like this:

'Tis the season to grade papers -- it's one set after another -- and I'm working on keeping things on an even keel. I could spend large chunks of days doing nothing but grading and, in the end, I probably will. But it's also the season for other things, and I would like to have a life.

I've been at this long enough that I'm slowly learning how to find balance, though admittedly, it has been an uphill battle. 

I was so excited when I first got this job that I threw myself into it completely. I willingly gave it all of my free time, assuming that at some point, with experience, it would get better. Unfortunately, the schedule I set stuck and, before I knew it, every day was a work day, at least in part.

Now I'm emerging and loosening. I'm realizing that not every paper has to be given back at the next class meeting. And, more important, it's better for both my students and me if I don't do that. Taking time to grade papers means that I grade them more thoughtfully and patiently and the feedback I give is better and more useful. Not responding to emails at all hours of the night means that I'm more prepared to start fresh the next day. Rediscovering weekends means I'm less grumpy when I'm doing all of this.

That was yesterday.

Today, one class and three meetings stayed (mostly) neatly within their allotted time slots, but e-mails of desperation flooded my inbox, joining their comrades that appeared between 11pm and midnight last night, necessitating quick, if not immediate responses.

Tonight, I turn off my phone (and its nagging email chime) at a reasonable hour.

It's a balancing act and...say it with me...

It's a process.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Habits Worth Breaking

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Happy Thanksgiving! Like anyone else, I have bad habits when it comes to keeping things neat and running smoothly. As we head into the holiday season and things get hectic, here are a few of the habits I'm trying to break.

Piling. When I get busy, my default organizational style (
drop and runkicks in. I put things down instead of putting them away. I set stacks of things aside, intending to get to them later. This isn't too bad if the stacks are meaningful and this process doesn't go on for too long. But, when this habit continues unchecked, I end up with a major project on my hands.
Solution? Don't put it down, put it away. As often as possible.

Procrastination. More often than not, the most difficult part of a project for me is simply getting started. Once I stop whining and start doing, I generally get wrapped up in the task I was dreading and find it much easier than I expected it to be. And progress is a wonderful motivator.
Solution? Give it five. Knowing I have an out after five minutes helps me get started, and since getting started is half the problem, giving it five gets me halfway there.

Not writing things down. This one creates less obvious chaos than the others, but it creates plenty of mental chaos. I have notepads in plenty of locations and designated places for particular lists. When it comes to not writing it down, I really have no excuse.
Solution? Just do it.
How about you? What habits will you break this holiday season?

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Love the One that Fits

I'm the kind of person who, when she finds a piece of clothing she really likes, runs out to buy another one just like it. This is true for basic pieces, mind you, not every item of clothing I own. But most of my favorite work trousers, comfortable, low-maintenance sweaters and even soft, warm pajamas have twins in my closet.

The same is true for organizing tools. I have a stack of accordion folders, purchased when they were in the dollar bins at Target. I just ordered another set of file bins with open tops to use in our family room and, although I have a drawer full of manila, patterned and colored file folders, I just added a box of colored file folders to my shopping list. I need enough in each color to effectively color-code the files that I'll be moving into the new bins.

I am not suggesting that you go out and buy everything in triplicate. Often, however, it's a good idea to stock up on basic organizational tools that have been proven to work for you, especially those that help to keep paper clutter under control. Amid my go-to tools, I have a number of unique items that add a different sort of style to my workspace, but when it comes time to whip a space into order, I like to know that the tools I depend on are at my fingertips.

Accordion folders, file folders in colors and prints (along with a stash of the basic manila variety) and any storage container I can peer into top my list of favorites. What's on your list?

Thursday, November 16, 2017

3 Keys Thursday: Fun Discoveries While Revamping a Room

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Even the best systems need to be revamped from time to time. And the ones that aren't working or that we've outgrown? Well, those definitely need revamping.

I've been in the midst of that sort of project. Spurred by the purchase of new furniture for a room that was overdue for repurposing, I've been moving some things around and trying to move other things out. One piece that had to go had served as significant storage, so it was time to find something that was both style-specific and STYLE-ish to shoulder the organizational burden.

As has probably become clear, I love doing this sort of thing. Part of the reason for that is the challenge, but another reason is that these projects usually serve as a reminder of key ideas, such as:

  • Being open to new ways of doing things. I'd never been happy with the DVD storage we'd set up. It fit and it kind of worked, but it was unwieldy, yet I couldn't come up with a better idea. When I cleared off a shelf in one of the cabinets, a new solution presented itself. My I need to see it style was overwhelmingly excited by the simple sight of a row of DVDs all lined up alphabetically by title. I'd never considered using that space in that way before, but now I have a new solution that works -- and has room to grow.
  • Breaking habits. Sometimes, we've had the same things in the same places for so long that we don't even see them anymore. Such was the case with some catch-all bins (a great drop and run tool) on top of one of the storage units. When I stepped back and really looked at it, the area looked more like clutter than storage, so getting rid of it was a no-brainer. Not only did clearing it off make things look better, but it also provided a place for storage that was actually functional.
  • Remembering the decor. Finishing touches might not be organizationally necessary but, by making the space look attractive, they encourage us to keep things looking that way. I had space for five file bins on top of the storage unit, but I had only four bins. Suddenly, the empty space looked very appealing, but it needed something. A candle on a tall stand filled the space, quickly taking it from practical to polished.
I'm not finished yet but, since watching the new personality of the room emerge is a lot of fun, I'm to in a big hurry. Besides, I sometimes get my best ideas when I remember to relish the process.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Dreaming Up New Ideas

gr8effect via Pixabay
One night last week, a freak accident on our street had us awake at 4AM. Aside from damage to cars, the only casualty was a good night's sleep.

Though I was determined to go back to sleep, sleep eluded me. So, as I often do when my usual endeavors to fall asleep fail, I started rearranging things in my head.

The second bedroom in our house has never actually been a second bedroom. It's been a catch-all for homeless furniture and belongings, an office, a place to stash everything we didn't want falling into the hands of a curious toddler and a playroom. As you can imagine, many of these roles overlapped; there was rarely a time when the room stopped being one thing and became something else entirely.

We are, once again, in one of those transition stages. My daughter, who just turned twenty, has outgrown the playroom, yet many of the trappings of that space (not to mention the collections that lived there) are still in the same places they were in when she was a toddler.

Two months ago, we committed to taking the next step to making the room into a family space that reflected our current family configuration and bought grown-up furniture. We knew it was a little large for the room, and that existing pieces would have to go, but the jury was still out on what was going and where it would go.

So, bit by bit, I've been working on the transition. It's a lot like working a jigsaw puzzle that has somehow collected pieces of another jigsaw puzzle: most of the pieces need to stay, but it takes a lot of sorting to figure out what we need and what we don't.

And so last week, as sleep eluded me, I lay in bed visualizing the room, trying to determine what could go where and, perhaps more important, what could go. This curious combination of zooming in on an image I had to recall actually helped me to arrive at a solution. Somewhere in the midst of this process, I fell asleep, but when I woke up, I was excited to get started.

maklay62 via Pixabay
There's still work to do. One pivotal piece -- a lateral file cabinet I'm attached to -- has to stay put until my dad relocates and can re-claim it. But, in the meantime, I've not only figured out where its contents will go, but also set up the systems that will hold them. Now, bit by bit, I can move things from Point A to Point B.

Eventually, the furniture will fit the room, and the room will have a new personality. In the meantime, I'll keep dreaming up new ideas.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Strategies for Finding (and Working with) Your Styles

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Hi, my name is Lisa and my styles are I need to see it (personal style) and drop and run (organizational style). Yes, I've been at this for a while, and yes, these are still my styles. Organizing by STYLE doesn't mean changing my styles; rather, it means learning to work with them instead of against them.

If you don't know what your styles are, take a minute to take the STYLE quiz. If you're taking it for the first time, you might very well find a little of yourself in every category.

How do you narrow the field?

Think about what's most outstanding. For me, the need to see things stands out more than anything else. Although I file important papers and keep lists and a planner, I'm still the girl that leaves the empty prescription bottle on the counter as a reminder to call in a refill. My strategies keep my style in check, but they don't erase all signs of it, and I'm okay with that.

Look for the overlap in approach. Does one style feed another? If so, finding strategies that work for one style may resolve issues in another as well. My drop and run organizational style and my I need to see it personal style feed one another, so choosing tools and strategies that work for one often helps the other. Containers with open tops, for example, allow me to put things away in a single step, simply by dropping them into the container....where I can see them. Check out the charts section of this blog to see if your style overlaps come with container overlaps, then experiment away, but don't forget to...

Trust your gut. If a tool or strategy feels wrong, it probably is. It really doesn't matter how popular it is. If it doesn't work for you, find something else that does. I ditched binders ages ago in favor of simpler tools like accordion folders and open top files. Their simplicity makes me more likely to use them and visibility they provide suits my I need to see it personal style.

In the end, the style labels you choose should serve only one purpose: pointing the way toward strategies and tools that work for you.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Rediscovering the Big Three

geralt via Pixabay
When the fall semester started, I slacked off on my Big 3 list/habit. With so many days already filled with class work and class preparation, what I needed to do seemed obvious. Why write it down?

Because, to paraphrase a book title, when I don't write it down, I don't make it happen.

In the past month or so, I've begun to become frustrated by all of the little things I don't seem to be getting around to. I had a little chat with myself about restoring balance, and that was a good start. Right around the same time, though, I realized that it had been a long time since I'd written down my Big 3. So one morning, feeling a little overwhelmed, I jotted three things down.

And then I did them.

Funny how that works.

Without my Big 3 list, stuff gets done. Time sensitive stuff. Previously scheduled stuff. Already promised stuff. All of that is good, but it still leaves a lot of stuff undone.

My Big 3 list is my way of making sure all of that other stuff gets on the list because apparently, that's the way I get things done. The Big 3 list is not a miracle or a magic wand, but it is an effective strategy. And, whether we're managing time or stuff, when we find a strategy that works, we need to make sure it becomes a habit and remains a habit. It's easy to rationalize, make excuses or even offer good reasons for why we're not using it. But, as I discovered (again) recently, all of these juicy rationalizations are easily counterbalanced by one simple argument.

When we use strategies that work, things get done.

Funny how that works.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Things I Want in that Mythical Work Bag

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Yesterday, I wrote about my ongoing search for the perfect bag. In the process, I've gone through quite a few contenders and have discovered a few of the attributes that matter most to me.

A pocket (preferably external) for my cell phone. Putting my cell phone in the same place every time saves me a lot of digging through my bag to find it. Putting it in a pocket on the outside of the bag makes the access even easier.

An interior pocket or two. Sometimes one really is better because then I don't have to remember which pocket I put something in. And there's always something I need to put in a pocket.

Strong straps and a bag that distributes weight well. The biggest problem with big bags is the obvious one -- they become unmanageable. When I was younger, I considered it a badge of honor to be able to pick up heavy stuff; now I prefer things that don't strain my back and hurt my shoulders. As I continue to "try on" bags, I'm discovering that two bags of the same size aren't necessarily equal when it comes to manageability.

So, when I find my perfect bag, will it need to have anything else?

Just one more thing. It has to be cute, too.

How about you? What qualities do you look for in a bag, be it a purse, a briefcase or a bag you can use after a productive day at the mall?

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Another Day, Another Bag

I am once again engaged in a struggle to find my "just right" bag for work. This is especially ridiculous, given the fact that I sell bags, but there you have it.

Then again, maybe that's part of the problem; too many choices can, indeed, be a challenge. And finding a bag that holds everything isn't my problem.

The issue is finding a bag I can still lift after I've filled it with everything I need.

The perfectly appointed bag would be stocked with all the stuff I know I need, along with the stuff I might need and the stuff I used to need a few semesters ago, but haven't needed recently.

Hmm. Is that what I need or what I want?

I have a great rolling bag, but it's so...conspicuous. I could get past that -- and I often do on days when I have a lot of stuff to transport -- if it were less challenging to lug my wheeled bag up and down stairs. I could always take the elevator, I guess, but that's a habit I've been trying to break.

For now, I've (once again) settled on a combination that works -- a tote bag I can throw over my shoulder, coupled with a laptop case (I have several of those as well). There's room in the tote bag for the laptop, but its addition makes the bag a little too heavy, since the bag is already stocked with all the stuff I know I need, etc., before I put anything in it.

As I write this, it occurs to me that perhaps I've reached the point in the semester when it's time to check the need/want ratio for the contents of my bag. Like any other container, the ones that we carry with us routinely tend to collect both essential and non-essential items, and it's only when they overflow or we begin to have trouble lifting them that it occurs to us that some sorting and -- gasp! -- purging might be in order.

Although this process looks similar in both containers that are primarily stationary and containers that are portable, it can be harder to cull the contents of the bags we carry with us since we're often planning for a variety of eventualities. Not having something in a purse, diaper bag or work tote often means doing without; we can't simply walk into another room to get the item we wish we had.

Still, there comes a time in the life of every bag, tote and purse when a little sorting and re-organizing is necessary. When we reach that time, we have to confront the balance between the essential and the non-essential, as well as the too big, the too small and the "just right."

I know my bag fits my personal and organizational styles. Now it's time to make sure its contents are a perfect fit as well.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Organizing Favorites

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile

My post yesterday about unique solutions got me thinking about organizing staples -- furnishings that are standard, but lend themselves to non-standard uses. Here are three of my favorites.

  • Open shelving. Some may see storage for books, but I see opportunity. While most of the open shelving in my house is, indeed, laden with books, open shelves can store almost anything. Storage cubes, bins, baskets and other containers can add a decorative touch, or can simply keep things looking neat.
  • Double duty organizers. I love furnishings with hidden storage. I'm the proud owner of two ottomans (one upstairs, one downstairs) with storage space inside. (The downstairs ottoman is a replacement for the original, which went off to school with my daughter). They have held everything from blankets to files to stuffed animals. (No word on what my daughter is using hers for). Our latest acquisition is a cocktail table with a hinged top that can be raised to create a work surface (or a snack surface). Best of all, it has storage inside.
  • Bins, baskets and miscellaneous containers. These are the elements that make STYLE stylish. Whether they roll away, contrast, match, coordinate or fit into nooks and crannies, they come in such a wide variety that finding one (or many) that fit your personal and organizational styles is a snap. Not sure where to start for your styles? Check out the charts tab at the top of the page for some container checklists.
How about you? What are the building blocks of your organizational system?

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Shopping for a Solution

Last Saturday, my husband and I did a little shopping. We started out visiting a local market that left us disappointed when it turned out to be something completely different than either of us had expected. As we left, we discussed whether or not there was anything nearby worth exploring. We ended up at Home Goods (clearly my suggestion), where we browsed to the tune of almost $100.

I love Home Goods. I can have fun there whether I'm looking for something in particular, or just browsing. Although Saturday's trip was impromptu, once inside, I quickly thought of a couple of things that might spruce up our space. Cruising up and down the aisles discussing the possibilities was a lot of fun. Since I only sort of knew what I wanted, many things were possible.

Sometimes, even when you know what problem you want to solve, browsing offers the best solutions.  As someone with an I need to see it personal style, I'm a big fan of unique containers and offbeat uses for traditional items. I'm always willing to trade in a traditional tool for something less traditional, or to use something in a different way than it was intended to be used, especially if it looks good and functions well. 

I'm a firm believer that organizing should be fun and that the end result should be stylish as well as practical. Window shopping to brainstorm solutions can lead to things we never thought of -- ideas that bring the practical and the pretty together . 

So, the sign in the photo at the top of this post? Not the way to approach organizing. The more open we are to recognizing that there's more than one way to do things, the more fun and satisfying this whole process will be.

As for us? We replaced some area rugs, solved the problem we set out to solve and fixed a long-term issue I'd all but forgotten about as well.

Not a bad way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Making the Seasonal Switchover

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Yesterday, I wrote about putting away warm weather clothes and changing my wardrobe over to fall. One of the advantages of doing this slowly is that it's less overwhelming, allowing me to give consideration to each item instead of just moving piles from Point A to Point B.

As you pull out one season and put away another, here are three things to consider.
  • Weed if you can. Take time to consider the usefulness and desirability of what you're moving. Is everything you're putting away now something you'll wear next spring? Is everything you're taking out a match for your current fashion sense?
  • Check out your system. Nothing is a better test of the limits of your organizational system than the seasonal changeover. Regretting your great idea to store sweaters in the dark recesses of your closet? Discovering an entire shelf laden with things you can't remember when you wore last? Now's the time to consider what might work better.
  • Use style-friendly containers for ease of retrieval. If you're like me, you'll end up looking for random items between seasons, so the easier it is to figure out what's in each container, the less of a mess you'll make in the process. Do you like see-through containers? Labeled boxes? Both of these work well for I need to see it and I know I put it somewhere styles, while cram and jammers might prefer fabric bins that expand and "create" space. Use what you know works for you so that things end up where they belong instead of in limbo. 
Who knows? Maybe you'll uncover some gaps in your wardrobe that require a shopping trip. And when you get all your new things home, you'll know just where to put them.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Changing Seasons

Fall has been unseasonably warm here in Pennsylvania and it's wreaking havoc with my clothing organization. Though it's often October before I complete the seasonal switchover (there's nothing worse than switching everything around only to hit a stretch of warm weather where I end up dragging out the things I just put away), I've usually made more progress by now, at least in one aspect of the changeover. But everything from shoes to clothes to pajamas is a bit of a mishmash. And, with 70 degree temperatures still in the forecast, putting things away too soon might still mean dragging them out again a few days later.

So, I need a stopgap measure. This morning, as I rooted in my closet for actual shoes (instead of sandals), for the second day in a row, it occurred to me that I could approach this just a little bit at a time (one of my favorite methods, as you probably know by now). By using the one in/one out principle I apply to new purchases (buy something new/get rid of something old), I can transform my closets and drawers at to match the (snail's) pace of the change of seasons.

So, for each pair of shoes I take out, I'll put one (or more) pairs of sandals away. Even if the warmer temperatures stick around, there are some sandals (strappy, bare, white) I know I'm finished with until summer.

This plan has an additional benefit as well. It allows me to let go of my beloved sandals one pair at a time.

Hey. It's a start.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

3 Keys...Tuesday?

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Hi everyone! Between midterm grades and life in general, last week just got away from me. Since I had a post planned already, I didn't want to retrospect, I should have done just that!

So, since I have a couple of days off this week, I thought I'd get caught up and share the post I planned for last Thursday. It synchs rather nicely with my post from last Wednesday, even if I did take "Starting Slowly" to a bit of an extreme!

As an adjunct, I share an office, so I can't exactly take over with all of the stuff that I think is essential. In addition, I do much of my planning at home, so I need all of that stuff at my fingertips there. Here are three tools I use to make sure I have what I need where and when I need it, at least most of the time.

A rolling bin. I ordered three of these from The Container Store years ago, and all have been pressed into various forms of service over the years in multiple small spaces. The bin at right began in my office at school before I retired, and was one of my first style-specific (I need to see it/drop and run) purchases. Now it lives under my desk in my tiny home office where it holds course materials. My daughter has a white one just like it under her desk in her dorm room.

Photo: ThirtyOne Gifts

A pre-packed bag. Okay, so this isn't entirely true. I'm still in search of the perfect bag, but I make sure the stuff I need every day I'm on campus is safely stashed in a soft organizer I can swap from bag to bag each day. Not only does it keep me prepared, it saves me a lot of time each morning getting ready because I don't have to worry about whether or not I have everything I need.

Tools that have proven useful in the past. If you've read it here once, you're read it a thousand times (okay, maybe not quite a thousand): organizing is a process. When, within that process, we discover things that work, they form the foundation of our entire system. I have a system of folders (color-coded by class) that I use every semester in exactly the same way. I also swear by my steno book and planner to keep tasks and ideas organized and all in one place.

Every semester, I tweak my systems, but the amount of tweaking I need from one semester to the next decreases dramatically every time I upgrade my system with a new tool or routine that works. Finding these style-specific tools and routines helps to create the systems that not only keep us organized, but also are easy to maintain.

See you tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Starting Slowly

At the beginning of every semester, it always takes me a little while to get into a routine. New classes, new ideas, a different schedule every day. Before I know it, my I need to see it personal style has run rampant, leaving piles in its wake.

This semester, even though my styles haven't changed, a few things are working to my advantage. I'm not teaching any of my classes for the first time, so there's a lot less reinventing of the wheel, which helps to keep things a bit tidier. I start at the same time every day, which allows me to settle into a routine that feels a little more predictable. And, with each semester that I teach, I have the opportunity to further refine my system so it works to my advantage.

While I can't say I'm living a pile-free existence, most of my stacks are confined to logical homes like folders and a file sorter, at least most of the time. Some changes in our home furnishings have also led to other, less obtrusive, temporary homes for papers that I leave out because they need a quick turnaround time. Translation: my living room furniture is free from piles of papers, at least most of the time.

It used to frustrate me that it takes so long for me to settle into a new routine each semester but, over time, I've accepted it as an occupational hazard. As I've said here so often before, organizing is a process. What I've come to realize is that, inherent in the concept of a process is the element of time. Put simply, processes take time -- they can't be rushed.

The irony, though, is that the less I worry about it, the more easily things fall into place. Perhaps I'm re-directing my energy from worrying to strategizing, or maybe, just maybe, the process is working.

Only time will tell.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Friday Feature: Talking to Myself

Do you talk to yourself? As it turns out, that might not be a bad thing. Founder and CEO of WordSmithRapport Karima Mariama-Arthur cites self-talk as one of the "5 Things You Need for a Successful Mindset."

Not just any self-talk, though. Mariama-Arthur echoes the sentiments of therapists everywhere when she encourages readers to make that self-talk positive, as its accumulation contributes to our sense of who we are. The conversations we have with ourselves -- internally and externally -- lay the foundation for so much more than day-to-day decisions; they can set us on the path to achieving the things that matter.

What will you tell yourself today?

Thursday, October 5, 2017

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Easy Upkeep

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Yesterday, I concluded my letter-by-letter interpretation of STYLE with some thoughts about Easy Upkeep. Today, I'd like to share three key components of organizational plans that lend themselves to Easy Upkeep.

They're individualized. Everything from the containers to the categories to the locations works for you. No binders if you prefer accordion folders, and nary a file cabinet in sight if to you, out of sight means out of mind. Systems that work are built on the personal and organizational styles of the person who owns them.

They're simple. Every storage solution requires as few steps as possible. No lids for drop and run folks, no compartments for cram and jammers and no monochromatic storage systems for the I know I put it somewhere person to tear apart trying to figure out which red box the ink cartridges are in.

They're attractive. Beauty isn't everything but, very often, organizational systems that are attractive function better. Sure, they need to be practical and easy to maintain, but when they look good to begin with, we're more likely to be motivated to keep them looking that way.

Don't be discouraged if Easy Upkeep only makes an appearance in certain areas at first. Once you get the knack of Organizing by STYLE, the upkeep only gets easier.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Easy Upkeep

Today's post is the final post in a series 
on using the STYLE process 
to take your organizing to the next level. 

Easy Upkeep is, at its heart, the simplest of the steps. If you've put a system in place -- one that honors your styles -- the upkeep is, indeed, easy.

Notice, though, that the "E" stands for "easy," not effortless. Even when all systems are go, so to speak, striving for ease of upkeep sometimes exposes the flaws in the systems. In other words, if the upkeep isn't so easy, that's a sign that you should, perhaps, go back a few steps.
  • Start with successes: Have you set yourself up for success, letting your styles be your guide for locations, containers and systems?
  • Take small steps: Have you given a small container a big job? Started an enormous project only to run out of time before finishing?
  • Yes, it has a home. Do the locations for your things make sense, or are they too small, too scarce or out of reach?
  • Let it go. Is an area overpopulated? Do you need to do some strategic sorting to make it work?
Once all of these pieces are in place (your styles are in charge, your containers reflect both your styles and the task to which they were assigned, your locations are logical and your piles reduced), upkeep can, indeed be easy. If any of these remains problematic, go back and take another look, asking one very simple question:

How can I make this easier?

Sometimes, in our enthusiasm for newer and better, we make things too complicated. If your upkeep isn't so easy, assess the location in question with an eye toward simplifying.

One final caveat: Easy upkeep doesn't mean things will be perfect all of the time. What it does mean is that you have a system in place that works for you and when things begin to feel disorganized, you know what to do to set them right.

And that can make things feel easy indeed.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys for Jump Starting the Let it Go Process

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Yesterday, I wrote about Let it Go! No, not the song from Frozen, but rather the necessity of reducing the amount of stuff we have in an effort to keep things organized and efficient.

Unfortunately, this is often easier said than done. Here are a few keys to kick starting the process.

Start at the bottom. I wish I could take credit for this idea, but the truth is I heard it long ago on HGTV and have been using it ever since. With clothing and paper in particular, the oldest items are usually on the bottom of the pile. Outdated and forgotten, they're relatively easy to get rid of. Consequently, they can prime the pump. Once we've tossed a few things, the whole Let it Go! process just feels easier.

Pick a season. Although I mean to go through all of my Christmas stuff in the off-season and my school files over the summer, what usually happens is that the need for these items (or new versions of them) is what finally motivates me to attack the piles. As with strategy #1, tackling old stuff can be just what I need to stop procrastinating and start de-cluttering, especially if it means making way for new and improved versions.

Don't try to do it all at once. Nothing makes me procrastinate faster than feeling overwhelmed. Promise yourself you'll eliminate one pile or work for half an hour, and then walk away, secure in the knowledge that you've made progress. Maybe even play "Beat the Clock," setting a timer and seeing how many items you can toss or put away before the timer goes off.

When Let it Go! feels too challenging, it's easy to procrastinate, which is sad because we miss out on the benefits a good de-cluttering session can provide. At its best, Let it Go! can help us feel lighter as we eliminate the old to make room for the new, or to free up the most beautiful of all organizational sights -- clear space. If letting things go is hard for you, be patient with yourself as you tackle this task a little at a time.