Thursday, March 29, 2018

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Enjoying That Day Off

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
One of the hallmarks of Organizing by STYLE is personalization. Just as one size doesn't fit all in the organization of our things, one size doesn't fit all when it comes to managing time either. (And if you read yesterday's post, you know I remain a work in progress in the latter!)

When the miraculous gift of time known as a day off rolls around, we all have our own ideas as to what constitutes a day off well spent. Still, the approach to the day and the recap at the end of the day can lead us to very different conclusions about the value in the way we spend/spent our time.

Here are a few ideas for tackling that day off so that you enjoy it as much in retrospect as you did while it was occurring.

Rise and shine! As a night owl, my favorite part of a day off is not having to set an alarm. You, on the other hand, might prefer to follow the excellent Type A advice of getting up at the same time every day or, your day off may not coincide with other family members' days off, so you might not get to choose. Whatever your plans for rising and shining, this is the kick-off to your day. Up early against your will? Use it as an opportunity to do something you don't usually get to do, whether it's enjoying an extra cup of coffee in a quiet house or going out someplace special. Crawling back under the covers for some extra zzs? Enjoy them guilt-free.

Decide on your purpose. As you can imagine based on the paragraph above, I'm not a spring out of bed kind of girl. But, I am almost always awake for a while before I climb out of bed to face the day. I use those last few minutes in bed to take some quiet time in prayer and mentally lay out my goals for the day. Planning the day the night before can work, too, but for me, too much planning at bedtime sets my mind zooming when it should be winding down, so at night, I try to limit myself to jotting down a few not-to-be-forgotten items. Laying out my goals for the day each morning energizes me and primes my brain for action, especially when I'm planning a day off that stretches ahead, filled with possibility. Conversely, you might not want to set any plans at all, preferring simply to...

haengematteORG via Pixabay
Be flexible. Selfishly, I love having a day off when no one else in my house does. I sleep in, plan my day and actually accomplish most of the things I plan before I even climb out of bed. While the first two things still hold true when my day off coincides with another family member's, the actually accomplishing stuff part tends to fall short. Reminding myself at the start of the day that things might not go according to my plan (which is usually a tad overzealous anyway) helps me to be patient when my to-do list stalls and to see interruptions and changes in plans as opportunities instead of obstacles.

Whether your idea of a perfect day off is tackling a major project, crossing things off a to-do list or kicking back and relaxing, make the most of this gift of time by doing what you want, not what you think you're supposed to do. There's plenty of room for "shoulds" on all of those other days.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Late Again?

Alehandra13 via Pixabay
As we head into Easter, I'm looking forward to some days off. Though I've managed to take a few small steps forward in my office intervention (the pile of income tax receipts has been organized, totaled and removed from my counter permanently), serious progress has taken a back seat to class planning and grading, and I'm anxious to dig in again.

One of the small steps I took last night was going through a stack of pages from my page-a-day Happiness Project calendar. Their removal left a nice, albeit small, clear space on the counter -- yet another baby step in the direction of progress.

As I culled the pages, I came across a few that inspired blog post ideas, like the one that offered three tips to overcome chronic lateness:

  1. Time your commute. Late people often underestimate how much travel time they need.
  2. Don't try to squeeze in one last task before you leave. This is a common reason for tardiness.
  3. Get organized in advance. Don't wait until the lat minute to pull together everything you need to bring with you. 
I know all of these things, and I've gotten pretty good at eliminating issues with the first one. While I could certainly stand to improve on #3 (actually putting the items I need into my bag, for example, instead of just creating stacks that need to leave the house with me), that's not the biggest issue for me either.

But the second one? That one gets me every time. I've even written about ways to tame it. But, temptation lurks in the form things large and small that call out to me as I'm on my way out the door. I can't seem to help myself.

But I really should. It's not as though those things are going anywhere.

And that's the problem. Knowing those things will be in the same place when I come home nudges me to take that extra moment to put them where they belong before I leave. The misplaced optimism that leads me to believe that I can magically make it where I'm going in the time that remains doesn't stand a chance against the irresistible immediate gratification of checking something off my list. The result? A perfect storm of tardiness. I hate being late, but apparently not enough to put an end to the self-deceit that is one-more-thing-itis.
Yummymoon via Pixabay

But I will try. Armed with self-awareness and a short list of strategies, I will try -- again -- to overcome my one-more-thing-itis. The reward, though less immediate, will be a timely arrival at my destination, wherever that may be.

Wish me luck. 

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Office Intervention, Part 3: I See Counter

Okay, my counter doesn't look this good...yet.
Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash
Oh, my office...

...has a counter!

I already knew that, of course, but my poor counter seems to be a catch-all for, well, everything. Yesterday, I noticed that one section consisted mostly of a stack of file folders. Since that implied items that had previously been organized, it seemed like a good place to start today.

Well, right after I got rid of a stack of three plastic tubs I'd set there temporarily much too long ago. But that meant going into the cabinet above the counter to get rid of the old tubs that the new ones would replace (one in, one out), which led to my wondering why I had two small bins labeled notepads...which led to a brief trip down memory lane as I went through the notebooks and discovered drawings and scribbles my daughter had made over decade ago....which of course I had to take pictures of and send to my daughter....

But the clock was ticking. And I didn't want all of my accomplishments to be behind closed doors, nor did I want to devote more than an hour to this task. So, I consolidated the notebooks and vowed (once again) to stop buying notebooks. I got rid of what wasn't usable, emptied out a container with obsolete items, set aside a box of crayons to put with my coloring books and returned my attention to the counter.

By the end of my hour, I'd gone through nearly the entire pile and found logical homes for everything...kinda. As I sort, I'm discovering some categories of things (hard copy pages of a novel I'm working on) that will expand to need a storage spot of their own. For now, I can put them with similar items but I know, in time, they're going to need a their own solution.

Two days in a row, I've been reminded of how easy it is to get sidetracked when we dig into a long-awaited project. Though my primary personal style is I need to see it, I'm sentimental enough that I have to fight the urge to keep items that have outlived their usefulness (I love stuff) -- items which inevitably surface when I start sorting. Taking pictures of the drawings and sending them to my daughter wasn't just fun, nor was it a waste of time. It was strategic -- a way to create a memento that allowed me to electronically store drawings that are, I'm sure, duplicates of what we have in bins in the basement. Then, I could more easily part with the originals. In addition, I made a connection with my family when I texted them to my husband and daughter.

I'm extremely excited by what I've been able to accomplish in a little over two hours in a room that was beginning to seem hopeless. This excitement is fueled by emerging clear space in some areas. Others, unfortunately (my desk, most notably) have taken a temporary hit.

Still, I'm intentionally starting out with tasks that will give me visible evidence of the work I've done. I could just as easily have started with cabinets and drawers, clearing out space to store the items piled on the counter, but that would have been much less satisfying. For one thing, all of my hard work would have been hidden. In addition, a quick scan of the contents of the cabinets tells me that much of that stuff isn't going anywhere.

So, at the end of day two, there's still a lot of work to do, but I'm making progress. Fewer real world issues intervened today, as I'm home alone and not pressed for time. Today's scorecard:

wokandapix via Pixabay
Empty space where there once was clutter? Yes
Extraneous stuff eliminated? Yes
Improvement in at least one area? Yes
Some idea of where to begin next time? Yes
Lesson learned: Set a timer and make active decisions about how to spend my time. 

"Onward" will get a little tougher with no gifts of time (a.k.a. snow days) in the foreseeable future, but there's something about the momentum created by success that will, I hope, provide the nudge I need to keep at it. I might have to adjust my time frame, and my scorecards might be a little less perfect, but...

It's a process.

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Coping with a To-do List that Runneth Over

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Earlier this week, I wrote a post at the Porch Swing Chronicles about lists and priorities. More philosophical than practical, it encapsulated the attitude I try to have on those days when the list gets ditched for other things.

But what about the days when time stretches out before you, but your list still seems too long? Time isn't the issue -- or not the main one anyway -- but you just keep getting in your own way.

What then?

Here are a few things to try on those days when procrastinating (or going back to bed) feels like a better alternative than tackling the list.

Cross things off before you start. Take a look at your list. What are you realistically not going to do today due to time constraints, mood or circumstances? Excise those items from today's list and save them for another day.

Celebrate what you accomplish. Yesterday, I finally got my Christmas decorations put in the crawlspace, where they belong, but I was so guilt-ridden and embarrassed by the fact that it took me until MARCH to do this that I sucked all the joy out of getting it done. It was only when I forced myself to take in the beautiful empty space I'd created (finally!) that I began to let go of the guilt and realize the most important thing: this is no longer on my list! The myriad reasons why it took me so long to get to this task are best saved for another day.

Keep track of what you've done, not what you've left undone.  Most days, we do much more than we give ourselves credit for. Instead of crossing things off your list, highlight each item you accomplish. Did you do a few things that weren't on the list at all? Routine things like meals, laundry, emptying the dishwasher? Add them to the list and highlight them as well. At the end of the day, sit back and congratulate yourself for a day well-spent.

To-do lists are supposed to work in our service, not the other way around. When you find yourself feeling mastered by your list instead of being the master of it, take a deep breath and find a way to show that list who's really in charge.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Office Intervention, Part 2

Oh, my office....

Looks better.

It didn't start well. I set a timer on my Echo Dot for an hour, cued up some Jeopardy games to play while I sorted and started with the space just below my new Wall Pops. Midway through the second game, as I was trying to find a home for a homeless item, our wireless went out briefly.

So much for my timer (or so I thought). I asked Alexa how much time remained, but she remained silent.

I'd no sooner gotten back to work than my phone rang.

My daughter.

An hour later, my first hour incomplete (its end marked by a signal from Alexa during my phone call), my office looked worse. Not wanting to waste time, I'd started sorting things while I was on the phone with my daughter, so my desk, formerly not so bad, was now not so good.

Conversation ended, I set the stopwatch, shooting for thirty minutes of work time. Already in sorting mode, I decided to dig into a group of folders and miscellaneous items that had taken up residence on the floor, leaning against my bookcase.

It was a half hour well-spent. I got rid of a lot and, eliminated one problem spot and found a solution to another one.

There's still a lot of work to do, but I am making progress. Real world issues intervened (as they usually do), adjustments had to be made (as they usually do), but the scorecard looks something like this:
Empty space where there once was clutter? Yes
Extraneous stuff eliminated? Yes
Improvement in at least one area? Yes
Some idea of where to begin next time? Yes

Office Intervention: Part 1
(text mine)
Oh, my office.

When you work at one paper intensive profession, finding enough storage in a tiny office is challenging. When you work at two paper intensive professions (writing and teaching), it's downright frustrating.

Storage is limited. First drafts are only the beginning of the story. Couple these with an I need to see it personal style and a drop and run organizational style and...

I need an intervention.

Since the snow day I wished for materialized, today seemed to be a good day to kick off an intervention. I'd been thinking small steps -- 15 minutes a day -- but an attempt at that strategy last night left me frustrated and overwhelmed.

And so now, with two blog posts under my belt, I am venturing forth (guilt-free since I got some writing done first) to spend an hour trying to make headway in my office. Motivated by the dry erase decals I purchased to keep track of upcoming projects, I want to make the rest of the room look as good as the wall with the Wall Pops does. I won't accomplish that in an hour, nor do I even quite know where I will begin, but....

Stay tuned. I'll report back.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Managing Your Time Your Way

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
I am behind schedule. And I'm okay with that. 

I'm not okay with it on a regular basis, but right now, my daughter is home. My twenty year-old daughter who lives away from home for the better part of nine months is eating our food, sharing our living space and sleeping under our roof. 

And I'm willing to make adjustments. 

Time management and efficiency are important parts of organization, but there are times that we need to let go a bit and let a thing two slide because something else is more important. Maybe it's not efficient, but it's the kind of time management that makes us happier in the long run.

Here are three keys to managing your time your way.

Keep your priorities in mind. Sometimes, efficiency, meeting deadlines and checking things off our lists will be the priorities. Other times, watching a movie with your spouse, reading a bedtime story to your child or having a late-night chat with your teenager will be the priority. When in doubt, zoom out and take in the big picture. A week from now, a month from now, ten years from now, which choice will lead you to look back and smile? Which will make you grateful about how you chose to spend your time?

The way you've always done it isn't the only way to do it. Yesterday, my daughter and I went shopping. As a result, I didn't finish grading the exams I'd administered on Tuesday so I could get them back to my students today. I always return exams in the next class period. It gets them out of my to-do pile and puts my students' minds at ease by allaying their uncertainty. But, there's no rule that says I must return exams in the next class period; that's a random rule of my own creation. And spending the time on the exams would have meant giving up time with my daughter. The exams will be here next week. She won't. Decision made.

You don't have to say yes. One of my New Year's resolutions was "just say no." I have a tendency to take on too many things and, while this interest in a wide variety of things is a good thing in general, it interferes with my ability to get things done in a timely fashion. In addition, it limits how often I can say "yes" to cool things that pop up unexpectedly. Then, instead of doing the cool thing, I'm doing the thing I said yes to that I perhaps wasn't so excited about in the first place. In the long run, overcommitting doesn't make me feel good; it makes me feel resentful, especially when there's not enough time to do the things that really matter to me. The best way to short circuit this is to think before I commit in the first place: is this something I really want to commit time and energy to? If not, it's easier to say no in the first place than to let it throw everything off-kilter down the road.

My daughter's visit was wonderful. It was nothing extraordinary, nor was every minute packed with family fun or even family togetherness. She slept late, I had to go to work, she had appointments, I had appointments....but, at the end of the day, we were in the same place and, as long as she was here, I was willing to set aside whatever I was working on in order to give her my attention. 

And that is exactly how I wanted things to be.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Wisdom Behind the Wacky Names

Heidi Sandstrom via Unsplash
My daughter is home on spring break this week, and today, we are going shopping. Since my spring break was the week before last, I still have my regular workload, and so I need to find ways to free up some time so I can go shopping with her guilt-free.

And so today, I'm reposting a previous blog. This one first appeared here in September 2015, but since it fits very well with some of the themes I've been exploring lately, it was worth revisiting. In addition, I've learned that where we are in our personal organizational journeys influences our takeaways; in other words, as we progress, what we take away from each post changes and progresses as well. 

Whatever your styles, I hope this post leaves you with a new idea, a new outlook or a renewed faith in yourself.

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that I believe that you don't have to look organized to be organized. In fact, I swear by that philosophy. 

Sure, all of us would like to look like we know what we're doing. But the truth is, sometimes we know what we're doing even when it doesn't look that way. 

When I started on this organizational journey, I set out first to organize myself and then to help my elementary school-aged students who struggled with organization. Fun style names encouraged them to claim their styles proudly and create their systems accordingly. Along the way, I discovered that adults enjoyed the wacky names, too; as it turns out, a sense of humor is an essential tool for those of us who are organizational works-in-progress.

So today, I want you to think about what lies beneath the organizational styles, because (believe it or not) behind every organizational style lies an understanding of a concept that can form the foundation of a plan that shows the rest of the world that we know what we're doing.

Don't believe me? Read on for hidden gems and the "what nows" that can create those all-important first steps.
  • Cram and jam and I know I put it somewhere kids and adults often have rooms that look neat, at least at first glance. 
    • What do they know? Believe it or not, they're trying to use an important construct of organization: putting things away. 
    • What now? Focus on finding logical homes for everything instead of just stuffing thing into the nearest open space or stashing them away. For maximum success, choose containers that match your styles and will help you find the things you've put away.
  • That trail of belongings leading into the next room or the evidence of a week's worth of activities in various locations is the telltale sign of a drop and run organizer. 
    • What do they know? Drop and run organizers understand the importance of keeping related items together. 
    • What now? The simpler the storage solution, the better. Lids, snaps, zippers and other closures are impediments to those who just want to put things down, preferably in a pile. Focus on finding one-step storage solutions you can just drop things into.
  • Adults and kids who leave things out so they remember them are identifying an I need to see it style. Although this is a personal style, it often influences our organizational choices.
  • Emma Matthews via Unsplash
    • What do they know? Leaving things where they can see them helps them remember to do them.
    • What now? Focus on finding (and using) the right containers -- ones that allow them to see what's inside even when things are put away. Some I need to see it folks do well with color-coded or labeled containers.

Go ahead. Show 'em your organization.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Putting Doubts in Their Place

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Have you ever had the feeling that, despite your progress with respect to organization, you really don't have it all together?

Yeah. Me too. So much so, that yesterday, I even wrote about it.

Because this is a process, we all have those days when we feel as though not only don't we have it all together, but perhaps we never will. It's a terrible, defeated feeling, and it's one we need to shake off. It's okay -- normal, even -- to have doubts, but there's no point in letting them win.

Here are three keys to putting the doubts in their place.

Put it in perspective. Usually, when these feelings emerge, something has gotten in the way of our progress. Maybe it's a shortage of time, maybe it's an influx of stuff, maybe it's that one spot that just won't stay organized. Temporary setbacks are not the same as permanent problems. Keep using your style-specific strategies and this too, shall pass.

Focus on what is working. Often, the best way to put things in perspective is to seek out specific examples of solutions we've put into place. While these successes don't negate the things that bug us, they remind us of what we're capable of. There's a reason the S in STYLE stands for Start with Successes.

Remember who the systems are for. No one else has to like, approve of or understand the systems you choose to use. The only person your system has to work for is you. So, if it doesn't look perfect or spotless, it doesn't matter. Not as long as you can find what you need when you need it.

We all have those days where doubt digs in its heels. A little shot of confidence might be all it takes to loosen its grip.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Validity of a Different Approach

madsliebst via Pixabay
Lately, due to some fun opportunities that have come up, I've found myself talking with friends about Organizing by STYLE. In the process of these conversations, a strange thing has happened. My voice has dropped, and I've become suddenly apologetic about the fact that I write about this topic.

It's not that organization isn't a valuable subject -- even my listeners agree that it is -- but rather, that I am the one writing about it. I feel exposed, somehow, as though my every organizational flaw has been magnified and as though the listener will suddenly burst into raucous laughter and say, "You? YOU write about...organization?"

None of them does, of course.Yet the feeling of being an imposer persists.

I've known from the start that what I write here so often is true: that I'm an organizational work-in- progress. I've also known that's part of my charm, so to speak -- I'm writing not as a someone who has gained expert status through training and certificates, but rather through research and experience. I know this and find value in it, yet I allow it to highjack my self-confidence when I'm in the presence of Type A organizers. The very judgment I seek to eradicate in my readers, I impose upon myself.

Rather self-defeating, don't you think?

After walking away from several of these conversations annoyed with myself, I've come to realize that these interactions, uncomfortable as I have made them, have served only to remind me why I started writing about Organizing by STYLE in the first place. Organization is not a one size fits all concept, look or process. Yes, I would love my house to be spotless, and no, it never will be. And, if it is, something has gone horribly awry because the only way it will happen is if I stop living my life and instead devote my time solely to organizing.

Not gonna happen.

Still, I need to find a way to shake the imposter syndrome. I'm proud of how far I've come, of the work I've done and of the fact that I can make people laugh when I talk about a topic that has frustrated them and made them feel like impostors, too.

And then today, even as I was contemplating this post, I was reminded (again) of the value of an alternative approach. I met with a student -- bright, articulate, creative, funny -- about a paper she is writing for my class. She has tons of ideas, but getting them from her head to the page without them colliding with one another and creating a mess in her head before they get to the page is a struggle for her.

As I watched her jot her notes and listened to her articulate where she ran into trouble, I saw a fellow I need to see it person. Instead of trying a standard (Type A organizer) approach using outlines and multiple drafts that suck the life out of the paper before it's written, I suggested that she write each of her (many) ideas on a Post-it note and arrange them and rearrange them to her satisfaction before she started writing. In listening to her, it was clear that she needed a way to manipulate her ideas before she started writing and, that if she could do that, she could retain her excitement over what she wanted to say and avoid getting sidetracked and missing connections. Sure, we were talking about organizing ideas instead of stuff but, recognizing not only what she said but also how she organized it enabled us to come up with an approach that allowed her to feel good about herself -- justifiably so as her ideas were good -- and that made it easier to complete the difficult work of writing a paper.

Though I respect my Type A colleagues, I will never be a binder-and-file cabinet kind of organizer who uses outlines to write. And, while many people -- including me, in moments of weakness -- see this as a potential credibility issue, I think the world needs more Post-it note, open storage people who mind map their papers.

Now I just need to put my self-confidence where my passion is.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Turning Your Styles to Organizational Strengths

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
If you, like me, have an I need to see it personal style, there are most likely days when you (not to mention those who live with you) don't see this style as an asset. At its worst, this style is a clutter creator but, at its best, it can be the way I remember where things are, what to do and what's due.

Each of the personal and organizational styles has the potential to be an asset or a liability. Here are three ways to make sure they work in your favor.

Embrace them. Because the dark side of the styles can be an organizational obstacle, it's difficult to view them as strengths. But, when pressed into service, that's exactly what they are. When we stop seeing our styles as stumbling blocks, we unlock their potential as tools for getting organized.

Use them to manage stuff. When we work with our styles, they can lead us to workable solutions. Sometimes, they can even spark creativity. Whether we're color coding our systems, pressing unique containers into service or jazzing up clear containers with Washi tape so we can remember which safe place holds which items, letting our style strengths lead the way can make organizing less intimidating.

Use them to manage time. Do you swear by a Post-it note reminder system for appointments? Prefer  the calendar on your phone to a planner and a pen? Create lists in grids so you have room for all of your activities? You're probably listening to your styles. When we really think about which strategies and tools work for us instead of trying to mold ourselves to the strategies and tools that we think are supposed to work for us, organizing time and stuff becomes less of a chore.

Sure, the style names are silly. Sure they can cause trouble when we let them get out of hand. But, when we look at the purpose they serve, these liabilities become the strengths that drive our organizational systems.

Organizing is something we have to do every day. Shouldn't we make it as much fun as possible?