Thursday, March 30, 2017

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Organizing Myths to Bust Today

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Given the wealth of information available on organization, it would seem that getting organized is merely a matter of following a few simple rules. Follow the rules, connect the dots and you, too can have a house that looks as though it leapt off the pages of a magazine.

Yeah, right. And, if it were really that easy, would we need a wealth of information?

More often, getting organized is a matter of figuring out what works for you and trying to replicate successes as often as possible. Unfortunately, we've been led to believe that we're the problem when, more often, it's a matter of finding a match between how we think and what we need.

Here are a few more myths that lead us to beat ourselves up when it comes to getting it all together.

Everyone who looks organized is organized. Anyone can stash clutter out of sight when company's coming, but that's not the same as being organized. Being truly organized means keeping clutter under control and being able to find what you need when you need it.  

If a tool doesn't work, there's something wrong with me. For years, I tried to make file cabinets and three-ring binders work for me. Sure, they kept things neat, but they only created an illusion of organization. Out of sight became out of mind, making it all too easy to collect a bunch of things I didn't need and much too difficult to actually use all that I'd collected. When I found tools that made the process of storing things dynamic, getting organized became much easier -- and it made much more sense, too.

One size fits all. A sort of corollary to the second key, this also holds true across styles. As an I need to see it/drop and run person, I've discovered what works for me and how to put those things together to create systems that work, but that doesn't mean that the same tools in the same combination will work for everyone who shares my styles. 

Getting organized is a process (don't you wish you had a dollar for every time you read that here?), and beating ourselves up is not part of that process. If we spend less time beating ourselves up, we'll have more time to pay attention to what we do right, and use that as the foundation of an organizational system.

And, if you ask me, that's a much more productive use of time.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A Little Adjustment

Sometimes, we fall into patterns of behavior that seem perfectly logical. We continue with them almost mindlessly, until they become habits and before we know it, we're doing the same things in the same order without even considering whether or not there's a better way. 

I've been doing this with my class preparations. Then, each week, I chalk up the fact that I feel pressed for time to the usual problem: too much to do in too little time. That, and a healthy dose of procrastination atop the whole thing like some sort of wayward cherry.

Last week I decided to try changing the order of events a bit, and loosening up my self-imposed timelines.

What a difference. 

When I realized how much less stressed I was, I wondered why I'd continued to do things the same way for so long.

Habits are a funny thing. When they're good ones, they work in our favor, but when they're not so good, they drag us down. Unfortunately, it's sometimes hard to tell the difference between a good habit and a not-so-good one, and it's only when we make adjustments that we see how much better things could be.

I'm still adjusting a bit to my new way of looking at things, and arguing with myself about the looser time frames. Am I slacking off, or finally being realistic? Only time will tell. 

Luckily, whatever the answer turns out to be, I can always adjust.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Selective STYLE Shopping

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
About a month ago, a friend of mine who reads all of my organizing posts raised a semi-rhetorical question: "How do I stop myself from buying all these cute organizing accessories?"

How indeed.

Buying containers, planners and organizing accessories is a sign of optimism. We'd like to believe that somehow, somewhere, there is one single tool that will conquer our organizational challenges and leave us put together, on time and well-managed.

I'm a big fan of optimism, but that's a lot to ask from one tool.

Still, I'm also a big fan of organizers, too, especially when the price is right. Over time, however, I've learned how to avoid the purchases that give me buyer's remorse and bring home the tools that truly assist me in my (never-ending) quest for organization and time management.

Here are the three reasons I've come up with to leave that miracle organizer on the store shelf instead of bringing it home.

It doesn't fit your styles. If I've learned nothing else, I've learned that trying to organize counter to my styles backfires every time. No matter how pretty, cheap or practical the storage, if it has too many steps or puts things out of sight, it won't work. I'll drop and run instead of following a multi-step organizational process, and I'll forget all about papers put in a drawer, pretty box or file cabinet. If I want to remember to do it, I need to see it. Your styles may differ from mine, but, as you hold that lovely item from the clearance rack in your hands, ask yourself if it's a match for your styles. If not, you're better off spending your money on a fancy coffee or breakfast at the diner.

You have nowhere to put it. This is really difficult to admit when you find something in your price range that does fit your styles. But, think about it. Does bringing home something that will remain homeless, drifting from one spot in your home to another, create an organizational solution or an organizational problem?

You don't have a purpose in mind for it. My love of organizers has made this puzzle piece the last one to fit into place. Admittedly, I've purchased things when my purpose was slim, to say the least; unfortunately, many of these "tools" are still sitting in my basement, waiting to be put to use. Now, on the occasions where the item seems to be a must-have, I make sure the store is easily accessible, I know its return policy and I give myself a deadline. It must find a use before the deadline arrives, or back it goes. Consequently, I take fewer chances and have a much higher success rate.

Much as we'd love to believe the hype, there is no one perfect tool that solves all of our organizational issues. We are the brains behind this organizational operation, and the containers and planners and folders merely tools at our disposal. When we align the tools with the brains of the operation, we emerge victorious. So, when you go shopping for all of those wonderful tools, be sure to bring your brain along with you.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Calculated Risks and Clean-Up

I wish my desktop were this uncluttered.
Icon via Pixabay
Last week, in an effort to get my computer desktop under control, I decided to resort to something a little outside my comfort zone. Because I have a Mac, I can have multiple desktops going at the same time. Because I'm an I need to see it person, I take full advantage of that option, giving each project a desktop of its own. I won't even tell you how many desktops I had going, but I will tell you that it was in the double digits.

But, it was starting to backfire. I had so much laid out on the desktop, that, like an actual desktop, it was messy, making it really hard to see what I had. Much of what I had was class prep -- slide sets, articles and ideas that I wanted to keep visible, but I also had several desktops worth of writing projects I was working on. Seeing these provided a nudge, a sort of, "you haven't forgotten about me, have you?"

But my Macbook, which is nearly five years old, was losing patience with this system. I don't know if the growing number of program shutdowns had to anything to do with my, ahem, system, but it was time for a change.

It was time for folders.

It isn't that I don't use folders -- they're all over my desktop. Unfortunately, they're buried beneath the class prep and writing projects. And they work. I just wasn't using them for my class prep and works-in-progress. 

Two folders later, my desktops were all but clear and my class prep and works-in -progress were neatly filed away. I was afraid that since creating folders doesn't change the fact that I'm an I need to see it person, it would be another case of "it looks pretty, but it's not working," but, so far, it's working quite well.

And you know what? Seeing the things that had been spread out across the desktop tucked neatly into a folder was a relief. They were far less overwhelming as closed files than they'd been as open files, and I could still see what I needed to do. All I had to do was open the (color-coded) folder.

Sometimes, we need to step outside of our comfort zones. As we become more aware of what works for our styles and what absolutely does not, it becomes easier to know which risks are calculated and which are likely to throw the system into upheaval. I know that, used in specific ways, folders can work for me (outside of file cabinets), so this was a calculated risk.

So far, it has paid off. Stay tuned to see if it stands the test of time. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Managing "Overwhelmed"

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Getting sick is no fun, and, while feeling better is wonderful, trying to catch up on everything that fell by the wayside when simply walking from the sofa to the kitchen was an accomplishment is not much fun either. Add snow and deadlines and it's easy to feel as though the to-do list is simply endless.

Until we can make the world stop when we do, feeling overwhelmed from time to time is inevitable. Knowing what to do when that feeling strikes can help us to take charge and feel a little less out of control. For me, this "take charge" approach includes:

Taking baby steps. When it's all too much, we start feeling the need to slay big dragons. Unfortunately, the pressure to get it all done at once, even if it's self-imposed, only contributes to that feeling of too much to do in too little time. Putting one foot in front of the other and taking one thing at a time can create a sense of accomplishment as we erase all of those little tasks from our to-do lists, one by one.

Prioritizing. As we approach each of those small tasks, it's important to ask ourselves if the baby steps we're taking are leading us in the direction of something that must be done now or something that can wait. While we have the luxury of mixing it up when we're not in a time crunch, we need to focus first on the here and now when we've hit the panic button. When we're overwhelmed, baby steps that make progress on a project due in two weeks may be less useful than the ones we take on the stuff that's due tomorrow.

Using the plan. In an effort to find shortcuts and super solutions, we often get in our own way. When this happens, we need to stop, step back and assess the plan(s) we have at our disposal. If they work on a day-to-day basis, they might just be the life raft we're looking for when seas get stormy. Choose the most appropriate plan and put it into action. Even a semblance of a plan can help us feel less out of control.

How about you? How do you keep things under control when you're feeling overwhelmed?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Doing the Dance of the Impossible

The file folder emblazoned with the same philosophy
as my notepad. Also a TDB purchase :-)
Into every life, some snow must fall, and that's exactly what's happening here as I type this. I'm always wildly optimistic about what I'll get done on a snow day, and then annoyed with myself when the reality is the relaxing, few-things-checked-off-the-list kind of day I not-so-secretly hoped for.

Counterproductive, you say? Well, you're right.

I have a notepad (one of my Target dollar bin buys) that says "Do The Impossible," which pretty much sums up my philosophy of life. My head knows this is, well, impossible, but my work ethic takes it as some sort of twisted challenge.

Lately, even doing the possible has been harder than usual. I'm getting things done, but seem to have inexplicably fallen back into the "go to bed too late/get up too early" cycle I'd begun to nip in the bud just a week or so ago. A week ago, I was getting up with the alarm (more or less), recapturing some of that morning time lost to slow starts, and now....


Daylight savings time.

It's not me. I am getting up at the same time. It's the time on the clock that's different.

So, where am I going with all of this? Snow days. Doing the impossible. Daylight savings time.

Just as organization is a process, so is life. We can establish routines, create lists and set goals -- and we should -- but we are not machines. Weather happens. People need us. Daylight savings time knocks us flat, messing up our plans and shortening our days until our bodies adjust.

So, we have to adjust, too. We have to be patient with ourselves, give it time, recognize that life cycles and everything is a process.

And it's only a matter of time until we're ready to tackle the impossible once again.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Sometimes, Advice Bears Repeating

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Today's post is a repost from two summers ago. While I try to limit reposts, some days, they're unavoidable, and today was one of those days.

Organizing by STYLE is a unique blend of tools and strategies that work for you and general principles that work for everyone. With that in mind, here are a few organizational tools that are useful additions to everyone's organizational toolbox.

How you incorporate each one will depend on your styles. In my opinion, everyone needs:

  • A to-do list (to manage tasks). The length, location and specificity are up to you. I like having a master list as well as a day-by-day list that I keep on my calendar.  
  • Containers with room to grow (to manage stuff). Every container should have a little bit of empty space in it to allow for new additions. I'm not advocating something twice the size of what it houses -- just enough room that your whole system doesn't fall apart when you need to add to it.
    Fold 'n' File from
    Thirty One Gifts*
  • A filing system (to manage paperwork). No matter how much we tout "going paperless," most of us need hard copies to some degree. And where there are hard copies, there must be a filing system. Whether it's a file cabinet loaded with with color-coded, labeled folders, a clear file bin with an equally clear lid, or a lidless box that lets you see the contents at a glance, it's a filing system. If you can easily put things away and retrieve what you need in less than five minutes, it's working. I have more than a half dozen of the fold 'n' file bins (at right) on shelves in various rooms of my house, each dedicated to a specific type of paperwork. As an I need to see it person, I love that this bin is open on top and that it comes in various prints so I have a visual cue of what's where.
Truly paperless? I'm impressed. Chances are you have an online filing system. Just don't forget to back it up regularly.

Organizing by STYLE means the systems may be similar, but their elements work best when personalized. Keep in mind that the purpose of working on this whole organization business is to be able to find what you need when you need it.

And if you can be stylish in the process, so much the better.

*Full disclosure on fold 'n' file: I'm a Thirty-One consultant, so I might be a tad biased.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Happiness Through Habits

Alexander Stein via Pixabay
For the second time in as many weeks, my Happiness Project Calendar has inspired a blog post. Last Thursday, on a page with the header "Happiness and Order," Gretchen shared this:
A few quick, easy habits will give you a greater feeling of order:
  • Replace lightbulbs and empty rolls of toilet paper right away. 
  • Make sure every door or drawer closes easily. 
  • Throw away pens and Magic Markers as soon as they run dry.
Easy and logical, right? But, if you're like me, there are probably myriad "little things" staring you in the face every day that you keep planning to get to, but still haven't managed to tackle. Things like tossing pens and replacing lightbulbs and toilet paper are easy -- they require only a moment, and the inconvenience created by not attending to them is much greater than the expenditure of time necessary to make things right.

It's the other stuff. The frame that needs to be re-glued because it mysteriously fell off the shelf. The stack of books you know you'll never get to the bottom of, but that you haven't made time to sort through. The bedroom ceiling that really needs to be repainted. You notice them at odd times or when you're in a hurry and, since they require more than a few minutes to fix, you put them off. Meanwhile, they keep staring at you, nagging at you, exhausting you by their mere presence. After reading last Thursday's page on my Happiness Project calendar, those nagging tasks in my house did everything but jump out at me and wrestle me to the ground.

But I still didn't do them.

Gretchen's got the right idea. Why not add a new habit to those like tossing pens and replacing lightbulbs and toilet paper? Why not tackle just one of those nagging, annoying tasks every day? Okay, maybe not repainting the bedroom ceiling, but how long will it really take to reglue that frame or sort through those books? Give it Five! might not be quite enough, but I'm pretty sure fifteen minutes will do the trick.

I think I know just where to start.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys Underlying the Success of the Make it Better Approach

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Yesterday, I wrote about my "necessity is the mother of invention" strategy of making it better. Beginning as a form of solace ("just make it better"), over the week that followed, it became more.

Part mindset, part mantra and part strategy, "make it better" became the way I looked at piles, the phrase I repeated to myself as I walked past clutter and the steps I took to make progress when I simply didn't have the energy to take anything more than baby steps.

The mindset: Overwhelmed by burgeoning clutter, yet lacking the energy to really "dig in,"  I adopted the mindset that simply making it better was a good starting point. This absolved me from any guilt and set me up to win every time I took even a baby step. Accepting this as a mindset (admittedly, I had little choice) influenced my outlook, too. Instead of seeing every pile as one more thing to do, I saw it as something I could improve upon, even if only a little at at time.

The mantra: How many times have you walked past a pile and inwardly groaned "that's still there?" "Make it better" gave me an answer to that. That's still there? Yep. Make it better. Since picking up just one thing made it better, I found myself groaning less and de-cluttering more.

The strategy: Small successes inspire big successes. Every time I walked past clutter, the only thing I had to do was make it better. Since every item picked up and put away accomplished this, it was easy to feel successful, one item at a time. Watching piles get smaller inspired me, once I was feeling better, to dig into the clutter that predated my illness.

It took getting sick to remind me of a basic idea: setting small, reachable goals is the key to success, whether in organizing or in life. Because I couldn't manage big, impressive goals, I had to stick to a simple one, and, with time, it proved its value as philosophy, mindset, mantra and strategy.

And I have the clear surfaces to prove it.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Making it Better

GraphicMama-team via Pixabay
Last week, one of the many viruses wending its way through Pennsylvania landed at our house. While an upper respiratory infection usually leaves me tired, sniffly and at least a little crabby, I can still manage to fake my way through most of my daily responsibilities.

Not this time.

I faked it for the first day or so, but, after that, I did only the bare minimum. One peek at any room of my house served as clear evidence for this illness-inspired turn of events.

Unfortunately, this malady was not only slow to exit, but it took my husband down with it along the way. Lacking both the time and the energy to do much more than take antibacterial wipes to doorknobs and light switches, I needed a plan that would make inroads -- or at least stem the tide -- without requiring energy I didn't yet have.

Enter "make it better."

Simple, efficient and progressive, this strategy dovetailed nicely with my wish for my health and my husband's. Cutting myself slack because I wasn't at 100% efficiency, I looked for any way to make any improvement anywhere. Slow progress, admittedly, but progress nevertheless. As a result, I not only stemmed the tide, but turned it back, a few simple actions yielding promising results and the nudge I needed to finish the job. Slowly but surely, I was making it better.

Today, when it came time to write my post for The Porch Swing Chronicles, I decided to apply my philosophy there as well because really, when you think about it, isn't that a worthy goal no matter the task?

Tomorrow, I'll break down "make it better" into the components that emerged. In the meantime, what can you "make better" today?