Thursday, May 31, 2018

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Factor into Time Management

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
For me, vacation and writing overlap substantially, as do vacation and house projects. Consequently, it's all too easy to fall into the trap of turning vacation into work and berating myself for not getting enough done, even when I'm supposed to be on vacation. I do better when I plan to really take a day off, but even on those days, the not-so-quiet voice in my head that says, "Do something! Be productive!" sometimes pokes at me throughout the day.

This is not a good thing. Time management means just that -- managing time. As human beings, we need down time as much as we need productive time and, if we forget that, we're in danger of jeopardizing both our health and our productivity. Healthy time management means managing work time so that down time is not only possible, it occurs on a regular basis.

Here are three often-neglected keys to factor into healthy time management.

Connecton. Yesterday, I spent the day shopping with my daughter, having dinner with my family and then watching a movie with my daughter. Yes, I got a blog post written before we left, but most of the day was spent unscheduled and in the company of people I enjoy. Not a bad way to spend the day. On Sunday, when my daughter leaves for a two-month internship, I guarantee you that when I look back, I'll be happier that I spent the day shopping with her than checking things off my to-do list. Don't just take my word for it. Study after study shows that the key to longevity, resilience and happiness is connection with other people. When we keep our noses to the grindstone for too long, limiting our real-world contact (work email doesn't count) with other people, we might be productive in one area, but we're shortchanging ourselves in another.

Relaxation. We aren't built to run 24-7, a fact I preach better than I practice. Recently, as part of a course I was planning, I downloaded a meditation app. I was incredibly skeptical, but I find that on the days I actually use it, I am calmer and more patient. I'm not completely transformed, mind you, but there is a noticeable difference -- to me, at least. Taking time for ourselves, whether it's meditation, an exercise class, a nap or a bubble bath, makes us more productive, not less. In addition there's evidence that giving our minds time to roam free, as it were, contributes to creativity as well.

Balance. Today's schedule includes a voice lesson, writing time and drinks with friends, meaning I somehow managed to put two slacker days back-to-back (yes, that was sarcasm). Spending two days in a row doing things I love is an investment in my productivity. If I were keeping score, I'm sure I'd still come up with a relaxation deficit if I matched this week against the second week of the month where I did little besides give exams and grade papers. Making sure the thrill of checking things off the list is matched by the thrill that accompanies the freedom to do what we want to do is truly managing our time.

How will you manage your time today?

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Happy Belated Paper Clip Day!

geralt via Pixabay
Yesterday was Paper Clip Day. I found out about this quite by accident when I was looking at my favorite daily celebrations site on Monday for some Memorial Day facts.

Until Monday, I had no idea that there was any such holiday. As someone who has a soft spot for office supplies, I must admit that I think paper clips are worth celebrating. Large, multicolored paper clips were actually on my Christmas list last year (not kidding). In fact, I might even be a little obsessive about the items I use to hold my papers together.

As someone with an I need to see it personal style, color-coding is often my method of choice. And, when it comes to clipping or clamping my course paperwork together, I often carry the color coding down to the tool that holds my papers together: green for my early childhood development class, blue for my child and adolescent development class, yellow for my first year seminar and pink for my positive psychology class. All the folders for these classes also match this color scheme, as do my electronic files, which my Macbook allows me to color code.

Sound silly? Maybe it is. But, when I'm working on two exams for two different classes, for example, a quick glance at the paper clip or clamp holding the pile together quickly tells me which is which. Tucking the papers into a file folder, usually a problem for someone with the I need to see it personal style, becomes less problematic when I know what the contents relate to before I even open the folder. Extending this color coding to my actual filing system in what I've come to call my topless file bins adds a uniformity (read: neatness) to the system that compensates for the fact that my file boxes of choice have no lids. I do, of course, need to label my folders, but I would do that anyway.

Some (my husband, perhaps) might argue that this is all an excuse for me to buy fun, new supplies when the perfectly mundane things I already possess would work just fine. I agree in part -- I do love the thrill of the hunt for new and unique organizers -- but I would argue that the mundane doesn't always "work just fine" for my style. A stack of manila file folders, no matter how well-labeled, does not offer me the same organizational benefit as a stack of file folders where each color or pattern represents a different task or topic. I can spot the blue folder in the stack much faster than I could sort through the labeled pile of manila folders.

Do I have to match the paper clips and clamps to the color-coding? Not really. But, I must admit, what began as a fun little touch really does help at points in the semester when the papers begin to pile up and any visual cue is a lifeline to task translation.

Will I spend a ridiculous amount of money to carry this out? I will not. I have price thresholds in mind and often shop sales, dollar bins and at the dollar store in order to keep the price of my systems in line.

But I certainly won't object to -- or ask the price of -- any office supplies Santa may leave in my Christmas stocking.

bluebudgie via Pixabay

Thursday, May 24, 2018

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Key Pieces on Organizing by STYLE

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
In addition to writing about Organizing by STYLE here, I also blog about it at and  sometimes for print magazines and online publications as well. Last spring, three of the pieces I wrote for the Today's Catholic Teacher website focused on a pairing: one of the personal styles and one of the organizational styles. Entitled "Exploring the Way We Organize by STYLE," each piece went into two of the styles in a bit more detail. Since the styles are mix and match, so to speak, the styles didn't necessarily work together as a pair, but the pieces were, as the title suggests, a way of exploring one personal style and one organizational style.

I was reminded of these pieces as I put together my presentation for the Pennwriters conference last weekend, where I introduced Organizing by STYLE to writers. It occurred to me that it might be a good idea to share these pieces here as a way of getting back to basics and/or zooming in on each of the styles.

So here they are: the links to the pieces. Still not sure of your style? Try taking the Styles Quiz, then use the information below to find out how to make those styles work for you.

Exploring the Way We Organize by STYLE: I Need to See it and Drop and Run

Exploring the Way We Organize by STYLE: I Love Stuff and I Know I Put it Somewhere

Exploring the Way We Organize by STYLE: I Love to Be Busy and Cram and Jam

Which styles hold the key to your organizational success?

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Goal-Setting the Toddler Diet Way

nietjuh via Pixabay
The three weeks between my last final and the first day of my summer class have filled up in record time. I anticipated at least a week's worth of do-nothing (or at least no deadlines or appointments) weekdays, even if they were scattered throughout the three-week period. But, with a writing conference, a car search, Mom chauffeuring thanks to being down by one car and the myriad other things that fill days when we're not looking, open-ended days have been hard to come by.

Never one to readily take no for an answer, I stubbornly elbowed my way past the obstacles in my calendar and persisted in working my way through as much of my list as possible. Last Monday (one week down, two to go), I cleaned off the coral Wall Pops dot where I'd listed my May deadlines (which I met, thankyouverymuch), grabbed my trusty white board marker and replaced May deadlines with the key elements that I wanted/needed to fill my summer days. Writing. Class prep. Reading. House stuff. An online course I'd signed up for. Meditation.


I'd post a picture, but you'd laugh at the ridiculousness of what I set out to accomplish on a daily basis.

If I lived by myself in a cave somewhere with some sort of miraculous access to takeout and an endless supply of clean clothing, perhaps I could actually do all the things I set out to do. But this silly thing called the real world insists on butting into my best laid plans.

On Monday, I came close. I really did most of the things for most of the time increments I'd set (An hour of class prep? Check). I didn't exactly do all of them, however, and I didn't exactly finish at a reasonable hour.

So I decided this wasn't exactly a workable plan.

On to Plan B: The Toddler Diet.

When my daughter was small, I remember reading that parents shouldn't judge the quality of a toddler's diet by what she eats (or doesn't) in one day. Instead, it was important to take the long view, looking at what she ate over the course of a week. Even toddlers, who are smarter than they look, tend to take in what they need to take in, given time and healthy choices.

If a toddler can do it with food intake, I can do it with goal-setting.


So, I'm taking the long view. I might not get everything in every day but, by the end of the week, I should have spent at least a little time on all of the things on my list, taking in what I need to take in and making incremental progress toward some healthy steps forward in the areas that matter most to me.

Each evening, while there's still time left to get a few things in, I take stock by jotting down what I did with my day. This backwards to-do list keeps me motivated (inevitably I've done more than I think I have), shows me where the real world stuck its nose in and helps me to decide what I want to do with what's left of my day.

Hey. If a toddler can craft a balanced diet out of grilled cheese and Cheerios, I can cobble together a summer schedule.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Excavating Those Piles

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
In just a few hours, I'll be on my way to the Pennwriters conference! Not only will I be recharging and learning stuff, but I'll also be presenting on Organizing by STYLE. I'm very excited!

Unfortunately, too many deadlines too close together and a return to running Mom's Taxi Service have led to a time crunch, so I'm re-posting a previous blog post. This one appeared in February 2017 but, as I look around my house in the wake of the end my semester, my daughter's return from college and preparation for a conference, it is (sadly) very appropriate. 

And exactly where my organizational attack needs to start. Next week. :-)

See you then!

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know I'm an I need to see it/drop and run person.

This combination makes me the Queen of Piles.

This drives my husband a little bit crazy, and, truth be told, it bugs me, too.  While I'm still very much a work-in-progress, I have found a few ways to deal with the piles, and even make some of them go away.

Do you put things down instead of away? Here are three questions to ask yourself so you can do things the other way around.

Is it always the same stuff? At my house, it's usually the homeless items that end up in piles (next to the things I don't want to forget to take care of). While I can't quite bring myself to get rid of the reminder piles, eliminating the piles of homeless items is as simple as finding them a home.

Is it always the same place? Most homes have spots that are clutter catchers -- the kitchen counter, the dining room table, the dresser in the bedroom. Ask yourself whether the items that are piled there should be stored nearby, or if the spot is merely convenient. Then, organize accordingly.

Will a strategically placed container solve the problem? If so, maybe, just maybe you can keep the pile. Just make sure that the container is sized properly. Too big, and you'll lose sight of what you need. Too small, and you might as well just keep the original pile.

As an I need to see it/drop and run person, I've come to terms with the fact that piles are a part of my life. But, by asking some strategic questions and employing the right tools, I can keep them under control.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Choosing Containers

Alexas Fotos via Pixabay
Last week, we brought my daughter home from college. When we sent her off to school last year, we weren't sure what her storage space would look like, so we sent a variety of containers -- soft and squishy, round plastic without lids, rectangular see-through plastic with lids, rolling....

It was quite a combination. Some have survived the transition from one year (and one dorm room) to the next; others have been abandoned based on space restrictions, functionality or both. 

Container selection is one of my favorite parts of organization, but it can also be the most overwhelming, especially when each year brings a new room in a new building. There are so many choices, both functional and beautiful, that it's easy to get lost in the aisles, trying to narrow the choices. Add responsible shopping (matching your styles and your budget) to the list, and it can be tempting to run screaming from the store, empty-handed. 

Confused about what might work for your styles? Check out this chart, which summarizes the preferred container qualities for each personal and organizational style. As you look over the chart, think about whether or not the recommendations match your personal preferences. Where can you find crossover? 

As an I need to see it/drop and run person, I can use containers that are clear, color-coded, labeled and/or unusual/unique because these container attributes match both of my styles. My container preference, however, will change depending on what I'm storing and where I'm storing it. In addition, two people who identify themselves as the same style will have different personal preferences. Clear drawers may be a perfect match for one I need to see it person, for example, but be a disaster for another because she can’t see what’s at the back of the drawer.  

What if you've identified yourself as one style, but you're drawn to containers listed in another category? As long as they haven't proven unsuccessful in the past, give them a shot! There’s no harm in trying different things to get an idea of what works and what doesn’t. 

Once the chart reflects your personal preferences, tuck it into your wallet, your purse, your glove compartment or your reusable shopping bag so you have it with you when you go to the store. 
If you’re still in the sampling stage, there are many worthwhile containers to be had at dollar stores, grocery stores and on sale at variety stores. 

If you know just what you're looking for, more power to you! Feel free to buy those perfect containers in multiples if you already know they work for your styles. Just keep the receipt in case you over-buy or underestimate in terms of size or usefulness. (Not that I would know anything about that).

What's your favorite container?

Thursday, May 10, 2018

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Getting it All Done When You Have Too Much to Do

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
This morning, I administered my final final. As I type this, I'm in the car on the way to Connecticut to pick up my daughter from college. (My husband is driving, obviously). A week from today, I leave for a writing conference at which I am presenting two workshops.

I think it's safe to say that life is busy.

Although I wouldn't have chosen to cram quite so much stuff into so little space (a recurring theme!), it's all stuff I either want to do (see my daughter, go to the writing conference) or accept that I have to do (grade papers, give finals, calculate grades). Meanwhile, regular life tasks remain on the list as well. 

Though I can't say times like this aren't stressful, I've learned that they are manageable. Here are three keys to getting through the times that challenge our time management techniques.
  • Focus. Make lists by due date, color-code them, create a big calendar -- whatever works best for your styles -- but do make a list. This is not the time to keep track of things in your head. Then prioritize in a deliberate manner. Create your Big 3 for each day (or each morning and afternoon, if necessary), set things up by due dates -- again, whatever works. Best part? Cross each thing off (or erase it, if you're a whiteboard fan like I am) as you accomplish it. 
  • Take strategic breaks. No matter how long the list, you can't work 24-7. Spend some breaks doing things that need to be done but aren't as urgent (cooking dinner and doing laundry never looked so good!) just to change your focus for a bit, but don't forget to give your body and brain a real break as well. It can feel counterintuitive to stop working when there is still a lot to do, but the goal is to keep the momentum going. When you feel yourself stalling or getting cranky, you need a break.
  • Don't forget the basics. Eat. Sleep. Talk to actual human beings. Burying yourself in work is exhausting. Recharging physically and socially is essential to both physical and psychological fitness.  
This afternoon, as I contemplate having just one more set of papers to grade, I'm proud of what I've accomplished in the past two weeks. What lies ahead is busy, but less intense, and I'm certain it's within my grasp. 

Especially after some family time and a night out with friends.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

To Toss or Not to Toss?

Painter06 via Pixabay
Last week, my daughter did a presentation on food insecurity. As part of the discussion that followed, she found out about an organization near her school that accepts donations to help families who might be struggling. She hoped to find some donations among her own things but, as a college student, she keeps her belongings pretty minimal to begin with. 

On recent trips home, she's been pretty ruthless about what to keep and what to toss -- a mindset that's a significant shift for someone who embodied the I love stuff personal style as a child. Fortunately, a box of things she cleared from her closet last trip home was still sitting in our basement so, when we go to pick her up tomorrow, we're bringing some donations from here to contribute.

How about you? Are you a sentimental I love stuff  keeper or a ruthless tosser of all things non-essential? Read on for some style-related thoughts on the "to keep or not to keep" dilemma.

At the heart of any organization project is a decision -- to keep, or not to keep. Finding systems, shortcuts and containers that complement your styles is important, but even the best of these containers is neither bottomless nor infinitely expandable. Like it or not, going through the "stuff" and determining what to keep and what to toss (or dispose of otherwise) is an important step toward getting organized.

And for many people, this is the most difficult part of organizing -- just ask an I love stuff person. The mere mention of getting rid of anything is painful to those who love stuff because each item holds a memory or significance, endowing it with a life of its own. 

Cram and jammers and I know I put it somewhere organizers, on the other hand, are usually able to be more heartless about this task (unless, of course, their personal style is I love stuff!) They may not like the labor involved, but their "out of sight out of mind" outlook makes it easier for them to separate trash from treasure. I love to be busy folks and drop and run organizers may also have little difficulty making the "keep or toss" decision, as their organizational struggles arise more from a lack of time than from an attachment to their things. And we I need to see it people are often delighted to get rid of things because it reduces the pile and, along with it, the feeling of being overwhelmed by how much we have to do.
That's not to say this is a simple task. Even for those who may find it easy (or even cathartic) to de-clutter, the task can be time intensive. If getting rid of things is hard for you, try taking baby steps. Eliminate containers that aren't earning their keep, schedule a Give it Five! session with an eye toward tossing anything outdated, broken, damaged or missing pieces. Feeling brave? If wacky weather has delayed your seasonal switchover as it has here, keep an eye out for clothing that no longer fits or is out of style, then pack it up to donate or consign.  

If this is really hard, do what you can and congratulate yourself. Getting rid of things we once loved can be the most traumatic part of getting organized. Take small steps and remember that every little bit helps.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Saturday Special: Productivity

From a photo by GregReesevia Pixabay

Hi everyone! Every once in a while, my Porch Swing Chronicles posts are a good fit for Organizing by STYLE as well. Yesterday over at PSC, I shared a post about a great article I found in Success magazine on habits that get in the way of our accomplishing the things we want to accomplish. Less than a five minute read, "10 Harmless Habits to Drop if you Want to be Successful" is about balance as much as productivity. I liked it so much that I made a copy to tuck into my calendar so I can use it as a reminder when I set my monthly goals.

Happy reading!

Thursday, May 3, 2018

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Guidelines for Repurposing

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
This morning, as I dropped some items into a bargain glass placed strategically in my I need to see it-arranged bathroom drawer, I got to thinking about the three R's. No, not reading, 'riting and 'arithmetic.

Recycling, reselling and repurposing: the 3 Rs to consider when it's time to let something go, but tossing it in the trash just seems too harsh. While the first two Rs actually get the items out of the house, repurposing simply moves them to a new spot.

Like my glass. I bought it super cheap one summer, thinking it would be bright and fun for outdoor use but, the truth was, I didn't need another drinking glass. Sure, it was bright and fun (and cheap. Don't forget cheap.), but none of those attributes created space for it in my cabinets.

So, when I was rearranging my bathroom drawer, I repurposed it. Now, it's bright and fun and earning its keep. For cheap.

If repurposing a beloved (or simply useful) item gives it new life or helps it earn its keep, then hanging on to it is actually a good long as limit how many things we do this with and follow a few simple guidelines.
  • Repurposing implies purpose. It's right there in the name. Is the item in question being used, or is it merely taking up space? One or two decorative items that add personality to a space, or a collection that's housed in an aesthetically pleasing way is one thing. A pile-up of "I know I'll use this someday" is quite other.
  • For items in limbo, designate a purpose. In our DIY, Pinterest-fueled society, it doesn't take much searching to come up with new uses for everything from empty soda bottles to old furniture. Here's where you have to be honest with yourself. Are you really going to do that project? If so, when? And where will the supplies "live" in the meantime?
  • Be selective: You can't save it all, yet the reasons we have for keeping things vary according to both styles and personality. Sentimental people keep things because they make us smile when we look at them or bring back a special memory. The more practical among us save things that solve a storage problem or serve more than one purpose. Those who are frugal often keep a backlog of things they don't want to have to pay to replace. Whatever your reasons, you need to set a limit to how many of those things you can realistically hang on to.
Often, Let it go is the toughest step because, inevitably, we come up against some things we just can't seem to get rid of. Considering the value an item has to you or to someone else can actually be the first step in letting things go and escaping the fourth R.


Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Collecting or Hoarding?

In preparation for my upcoming organization book as well as a presentation I'm giving, I checked a book out of the library on hoarding. I'm afraid I didn't get very far into it before deciding it wasn't the reference for me and seeking information elsewhere. 

Why am I looking into this? Because I talk often about organization, I think it's important to distinguish between typical organizational issues and those that require intervention beyond determining our styles and acting on them. While most of us who love stuff are what our grandmothers referred to as "pack rats," for others, the problem goes deeper.

How do we know if we should be concerned? According to the International OCD Foundation, compulsive hoarding is defined as ALL THREE of the following:
  1. A person collects and keeps a lot of items, even things that appear useless or of little value to most people and
  2. These items clutter the living spaces and keep the person from using their rooms as they were intended and
  3. These items cause distress or problems in day-to-day activities.
Let me begin with the emphasis placed on ALL THREE (capital letters theirs) and the word "and" (italics mine). I cannot stress enough that all of these criteria must be met. If you are "simply" a collector or "simply" have a cluttered living space, that does not make you a hoarder.

Hoarding is distinguished by a pattern of symptoms that causes distress for the person experiencing them, but it's treatable. Tough love and forced removal of beloved objects can sometimes cause more harm than good, and appropriate treatment typically requires more than simply advice on how to get organized. 

Why do people hoard? It could be personality or family history. Or, it could be triggered by a stressful life event that is a challenge to cope with. Sometimes, it is connected to anxiety, depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

It's possible for any one of us to show symptoms of hoarding. But clinical hoarding, like any other clinical disorder, is typified by a pattern of symptoms -- not just a few isolated symptoms that ebb and flow with stress and busyness.

If you've been successfully making progress with your organizational systems, even slowly, you're probably not a hoarder.

If you understand that other people don't see the same value in certain objects that you do, and you can distinguish true trash from true treasure, you're probably not a hoarder.

If, prior to purchasing the super jumbo family pack at the warehouse club you ask yourself where you're going to put it when you get it home, you're probably not a hoarder.

If you have surfaces that collect clutter, but you can still move through your home and use the rooms and appliances for the purposes for which they're intended, you're probably not a hoarder.

If, however, anything in this post has you concerned, please click on the link near the top of this post to the International OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) Foundation. There, you'll find a clear document that distinguishes common, non-clinical behaviors from those that are more concerning. Or, click here to read more information on hoarding from the Mayo Clinic.