Wednesday, February 28, 2018

STYLE Strengths

As someone who teaches psychology, I've long been interested in finding a link between Organizing by STYLE and empirical evidence -- something research-based that serves as some sort of proof of the validity of this approach. I know it works, and I've had others tell me it works for them, but finding something more solid than that had consistently eluded me.

Until I started researching and teaching positive psychology. This semester, as I was discussing strengths assessments with my students, the connection suddenly became crystal clear.

When we use our personal and organizational styles as the foundation for our organizational systems, we are engaging in a strengths-based approach. Instead of trying to take on someone else's systems -- the ones that work for their strengths -- we're building on our own.

In addition, strengths-based approaches advise us to make our strong suits even stronger. This may go against conventional wisdom, which often tells us to shore up our weaknesses, but there is definitely a certain logic to it. If we're already good at something, why live on a plateau? Why not work to take the things we're good at to the next level?

Organizing by STYLE does just that. Step by step, letter by letter, organizing by STYLE helps us to build a workable system on the foundation of things we're already good at, even if those things are dropping and running, cramming and jamming and needing to see things.

Hey, if it's not broken, why fix it?

Thursday, February 22, 2018

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Tackling that Organizational Achilles' Heel

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Yesterday, I shared my organizational Achilles' heel -- my car. As often happens, I shamed myself into taking action simply by writing the post. When I decided to take a few minutes just to "tidy up," I was amazed at how little time it actually took to make a noticeable difference. Writing the post served to get me thinking about what I wanted to do and, from there, it was only a few baby steps to taking action.

Sometimes, getting started is the hardest part. Whether we're motivated by embarrassment, spring cleaning or company coming doesn't matter nearly as much as the fact that we're motivated in the first place. Once we're motivated, it's a lot easier to make things happen.

Ready to tackle your organizational Achilles' heel? Here are three keys to making it happen.

  • Make time. Nothing frees up time on the calendar than a desire to make something happen! Even taking five minutes to assess the situation may reveal little things that can be done in ten minutes or less to get the project rolling. For me, it was simply cleaning up accumulated papers and items that didn't belong in the car. Most (straw wrappers from Starbucks runs, outdated flyers) could be disposed of easily, which immediately improved the space and gave me a sense of accomplishment. Getting started makes it easier to make a plan to finish the job, whether it's blocking out time or attacking the space ten minutes at a time.
  • Rethink the purpose of the space. Nothing like reminding myself that the primary purpose of a car is NOT to store stuff to make me think about what belongs in the car (or, more accurately, what doesn't). Sometimes, we fall into the habit of doing something (or storing something) without thinking about why we do it (or store it) that way. While it's okay to designate my car as a home for some things, they shouldn't take up prime real estate like the floor in the back seat or, worse yet, space on the seats themselves because that interferes with using the car for its intended purpose.
  • Consider your resources. I have organizers hanging from each of the seats, but they were sitting empty while my stuff was piled on the back seat. Yes, I know how ridiculous that is but, since I'm the only one who drives my car and I rarely have passengers, I didn't really think about it until I determined to get to the root of the problem. Whether it's a pile of frequently used items on the back seat, an accumulation of papers on the dining room table or a gathering of accessories on the dresser, the first step to restoring order is asking whether or not those things should be there in the first place. If not, where should they be? Often, we don't have to look very far to find the answer to that question.
Although my car is much improved, it's far from perfect, and, if I'm honest, that will remain the case. Many of our organizational Achilles' heels have gained this dubious distinction because they're low on our priority list, and that's okay. Life is all about priorities and making low priority spaces merely presentable might very well be all we want to do. 

After all, there's more to life than organizing. 

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

My Organizational Achilles' Heel

Josborne via Pixabay
Lately, this blog has been feeling like organizational true confessions. The collection of boxes in the company of Christmas trees still up in February (away and down, respectively). My email inbox (a d├ętente has been achieved, at least for the moment). And, today, my car.

My organizational Achilles' heel.

We all have one -- that place we don't want anyone else to look. A deep drawer. A closet in a room that's off limits. Multiple junk drawers.

Mine is my car. My primary styles are I need to see it/drop and run, but I also find myself drifting into I love to be busy on a fairly regular basis.

This is not a good combination for a small space.

While I have a system for keeping things together in my car, it's easily overwhelmed because the primary function of a vehicle is not to store stuff. When my daughter was small, I rationalized that my car was the Mommy-mobile, needing to be thoroughly outfitted for every possible eventuality but, these days, my daughter's car interior looks better than mine.


If admitting there's a problem is the first step, I'm there, but even the problem is multi-faceted. I not only need to rethink what goes in my car in the first place (and what has needed to come out for quite some time), I also need to think about taking care of the aesthetics of the vehicle in the first place. When a surface or a room in my house needs de-cluttering or re-vamping, I'm quick to come up with a plan, but except for the momentary groan I utter when I toss my school bag into the back seat, I don't give my car's interior more than a moment's consideration.

So there you have it. I've identified the problem. I know why it exists and what I need to do. Join me tomorrow for 3 keys to making it happen.

How about you? What's your organizational Achilles' heel? Maybe we can apply the 3 keys together.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Staying Motivated as You Tackle Big Tasks

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Why is it that it takes more time to de-clutter than it took to create the clutter in the first place?

Sometimes, in this organizing game, the baby steps seem so small. Those are the times that we need a little reminding -- not of what still needs to be done, but of what we have already accomplished. Here are a few ways to stay motivated when projects seem overwhelming.

  • Set monthly goals. Big projects deserve big time lines. Allowing more time than we need can also lead to that wonderful feeling of finishing sooner than expected, and breaking big goals into smaller action steps can make the overwhelming seem more manageable.
  • Before/after photos. Take a picture of what's not working, then take a picture after you've turned it into a space that works. Or, maybe even take a series of photos along the way to keep track of your improvements as they transpire. After all, isn't a picture worth 1,000 words?
  • Did it! list. In previous posts, I've also called this a "backwards to do list." Instead of writing down what you need to do at the beginning of the day, write down what you do as you do it all day long. While this can be overwhelming on a busy day, it can be inspiring on days when you feel that time has slipped away from you and/or the list of things that remain to be done is longer than you'd like.
So, the next time you feel like a job is endless, remember to create some small, happy endings along the way. They just might re-energize you for the rest of the journey.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Losing at the Zero Sum Game

ijmaki via Pixabay
Have you ever looked at your e-mail inbox and wondered what would happen if you just deleted everything and started from scratch? After spending some time last year in an attempt to get my inbox under control, I am seriously considering this drastic measure. As long as I don't hit "delete trash," it should all still be there, right??

I've written on this topic before and I'm embarrassed to say I haven't made much progress since I tried to get serious about this problem two years ago.

Yes, you read that right. Two years ago.

I've created some folders, which helps, but only a little.

I've unsubscribed from a number of emails, but I still feel as though I'm trying to hold back the ocean. It seems that for every successful "unsubscribe," five new unsolicited emails appear.

I've tried setting time aside to make a significant dent -- and have successfully deleted hundreds of emails at a clip on numerous occasions. Still, the influx is so enormous that missing just a daily read-and-delete session or two drives the numbers right back up again.

I'm a big believer in taking small steps (after all, it's the second step in the STYLE acronym), but small steps don't seem to be bringing me the progress I need.

In a couple of weeks, I have a semester break coming up. Perhaps setting aside a chunk of time one of those days to get really serious about email will get things down to a manageable level. What I'm doing is working, after all, I just need to do more of it.


The trouble is, I don't have control over this problem. I can read and delete (and file and unsubscribe) to my heart's content, but I can't stop the emails from coming in the first place. When our homes get too cluttered, we think more seriously about what we purchase and therefore bring fewer things home. When we get into the one in/one out habit, we replace duplicates before they become triplicates and quadruplicates. And while tangible mail arrives daily, I can't think of a single day in my entire life when I received hundreds (plural) of items in my mailbox.

So, perhaps my best strategy is to use the Serenity Prayer strategy: to pray for the wisdom to accept the things I cannot change (unsolicited correspondence) and the courage to change the things I can (by unsubscribing, filing and reading and deleting).

But mostly the wisdom to know the difference.

Perhaps at heart I'm just not an empty inbox girl. After all, I do need to see it.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

3 Keys Thursday: Planner Form, Function & Style

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Every once in a while, a post qualifies as both a "3 Keys Thursday" post and a "Throwback Thursday" post. Since I wrote about planners yesterday, today I wanted to revisit an earlier post on three elements that are important not just for a planner. Form, function and style also happen to be the three most important elements to consider when purchasing a container.

No, we can't contain time. But like containers, planners are organizational tools, and the likelihood that we'll use them effectively increases when we consider the same three elements.
  • Form. Despite the fact that my iPhone and I are inseparable, when it comes to planners, I'm a paper and pencil girl. I don't know whether it's the writing things down part, or physically opening up a book and seeing everything at a glance -- or maybe both -- but even when I use the calendar on my laptop, I need a paper back-up. You may be just as staunchly electronic when it comes to planner as I am old school. What's most important is that you know that and honor it so you can choose something you'll use and access frequently.
  • Function. All planners have one function in common: to help us to organize our time. What we need to look at more closely is the details of how they'll perform that function -- things like ease of access and layout. I struggle with the calendar on my iPhone, but love the version on my Mac -- one is just easier for me to get to and manage. 
          What type of layout do you need? Monthly?
          Weekly? Both? If you're choosing a paper
          planner, how much room do you need to write? Do you need to
          keep track of your whole life in one book, or are you just writing down
          Price is also a factor. I like my months tabbed, but as long as the inside layout works, I 
          actually enjoy customizing a cheapie calendar with sticky tabs for months and sections. 
          Finally, do you take your calendar with you or hang it on the wall (or both)? Are you trying to     
          sync your calendar(s) with someone else's? Although it's usually a good idea to keep track of 
          all your obligations (work and home) in one planner, I've seen people successfully dovetail 
          planners and master wall calendars, particularly when the wall calendar brings together the
          individual planners of several family members. To make this work, however, you must set aside 
          time to transfer events from the planner to the wall calendar, or you're likely to overbook or 
          miss something important.
BiljaS via Pixabay
  • Style. My planners can be cheap and boring, but the wall calendar in my office has to be pretty. Conversely, when I took a survey about planner choice among my young adult students, the words "Vera Bradley" and "Lilly Pulitzer" popped up as a part of the descriptors on a number of the young women's answers for the planners they carry with them. While some of the young men in the group rolled their eyes at this, these young ladies were on to something. Many of us are more likely to use a tool that's aesthetically pleasing. 
Taking time to choose a calendar that's "just right" for you -- both outside and inside -- is the first step toward taking control of time management. Next week, we'll talk about some keys to that very subject.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Curling Up with a Good Planner

AlionaShets via Pixabay
Last Thursday night, I treated myself to a planning session, which morphed into a goal-setting session. So often, I just keep running -- sometimes out of necessity and sometimes out of habit -- and I forget that one of the best tools in the organizing and time management arsenal is simply taking time to plan.

It started out as a "reduce the physical clutter" session and quickly turned into a "reduce the mental clutter" event. I put away a bunch of little things that had collected on various surfaces, clearing off several spaces that should have been clear to begin with. When I sat down to sort out the papers I'd collected, I quickly discovered that they included a variety of to-do lists that needed to be consolidated.

It's amazing how satisfying it is to consolidate old to-do lists. Almost always, several of the items (at least) have been completed, and so even when the lists are combined into a longer list, a sense of accomplishment prevails. And, when I'm in the frame of mind to do this sort of accounting of activities, it's easy to split them up. Whether it's by category (to do, to buy, to call) or assigning different tasks to different days, I always walk away feeling lighter.

Every time I do something like this, I wonder why I don't remember to do it more often. Running from task to task checks things off our lists, but taking time to contemplate the lists gives us a chance to reconsider their contents and re-establish priorities.

When was the last time you took some time to plan? Or, are you a planner by nature, building planning into the schedule regularly? Share your ideas and successes in the comments below.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys for Reclaiming my House

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
So yesterday, I used the "m" word: mess. I try never to use the "m" word because I find it judgmental, not to mention counterproductive to a positive outlook on getting organized. And honestly, it just slipped out yesterday. Had I thought about it, I might never have used it, no matter how apt a description it is for my current state of affairs.

Clearly, the situation at my house needs to change and a return to organizational normalcy needs to occur. Since I can't add more hours to the day (that item has been on my wish list for years), nor can I quit my job to stay home and organize, all I can do is take it one step at a time. So here's my plan.

  • Be patient, but not complacent. I need to recognize that sorting and re-organizing is a process, one that won't happen overnight, and so patience with the timetable will have to be part of that process. That said, it's all too easy for things that stay in the same place for too long to blend in and for clutter to become a permanent part of the landscape. I need to battle complacency by doing something -- no matter how small -- every single day to get things in order.
  • Use the tried and true. In and among the things from my parents' house are duplicates of things I already own, making this a good time to practice "one in, one out." I've already done this with one piece of furniture (out of necessity -- there's not enough space in the room for both pieces), but I need to do it with the small things as well. After all, how many can openers does one person need? In addition, I need to practice "Don't put it down, put it away!" consistently to avoid adding to the piles.
  • Aim for maximum impact. When we were unpacking at my dad's new place, I zeroed in on a large box in the living room. Not only was it the biggest space hog in the room, but it was also filled with clothes -- easy to put away. Unpacking that one box didn't take long, but it cleared up a big chunk of floor space, which was both satisfying and visually pleasing. 
Are you struggling with a space in your house that's in need of a major organizational overhaul? If so, let's do these steps together.