Thursday, August 30, 2018

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Choosing Those Ten Small Things

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Yesterday, I wrote about my 10 Small Things day last weekend. It was a great strategy, but it wasn't perfect. Here are three things I'd do differently next time.

Focus on the visible. Most of the things on my list made little visual impact, whether done or undone. Since tackling them made an impact on my stress level (decreasing it), I'm glad I did them, but next time, I might try to do more things (at least five of the ten) that make the visual impact my I need to see it personal style craves.

Focus on the weighty. Not weighty in terms of physical heaviness, but weighty in terms of mental heaviness. Before beginning, it’s worth considering which tasks are weighing on you and how long it would take to get those things done. If time permits, do the one that will give you the greatest sense of accomplishment first.

Focus on getting the biggest bang for your buck. This might mean doing several related projects (balance the checkbook, pay bills, reconcile receipts -- that's three things, by the way) as part of your ten or, it might mean doing one thing that's standing in the way of tackling another project. Alternatively, it might mean beginning with the question, "how much time do I have?" and making your list accordingly. I had a whole afternoon at my disposal, so I was likely to accomplish several things, even if I worked at a leisurely pace. If I'd had only an hour, I might have chosen my tasks differently.

My afternoon of 10 Small Things made a dent in what had to be done, and eased some of the deadline stress I was feeling as a new semester approached. This week, as my days are carved up by classes and appointments and my time at home is greatly reduced, I can still feel the impact of tackling those looming tasks. Because they're no longer lingering on my dining room table or in my mind, I can approach what I need to do today with fewer distractions. Little by little, I'll chip away at the remaining tasks but, because the big stuff is done, getting them done is easier.

It's a process.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Ten Small Things

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know I live by taking small steps and finding non-threatening approaches to digging into organizing projects. I often set a timer as a means of getting started and/or devoting some time to a project that needs to be done, or I choose a certain number of items to pick up and put away in an effort to make a small difference (take small steps!) when time is limited.

Last weekend, as I was trying to balance too many projects in too little time, I felt a constant cloud of stress engulfing me. I'm listening to a great book, The Upside of Stress, in which author Kelly McGonigal takes a new look at stress and how we can manage it instead of vice versa.

It occurred to me that the cloud that was enveloping me had to do with all of the things I was leaving undone as I zoomed in on the "get ready for the semester" tasks. I'd already promised myself that after fulfilling one morning (school-related) obligation, I was going to devote the rest of Saturday to tasks that would leave me at my family's beck and call. My daughter was leaving to go back to school on Sunday, and I did not want to spend her last day home with my eyes glued to a computer screen and my nose buried in textbooks. This meant that any tasks I took on needed to be of the "drop it and attend to someone else" variety.

Enter ten small things.

Often, when we're feeling stressed out, it's the little things that get to us. The dishes that need to be washed, the checkbook that needs to be balanced, the laundry that needs to be folded. These small things pile up to create a mountain that is perfectly surmountable if only we have nothing else we're supposed to be working on. (HA!)

So what if I chipped away at the mountain?

After an impromptu lunch with my daughter and her friend (delighted to be invited!), I ran a couple of errands with the girls. When I got home, I grabbed a piece of paper and wrote "10 Small Things at the top before throwing in a load of laundry.

And then I wrote "1. Towels (laundry)" on my list.

Thing #1.

Finding things to fill the list wasn't difficult (but getting them all done took longer than I expected). Everything was necessary, but nothing was the kind of task that made me crabby if someone interrupted me because they needed something. And, at the end of the afternoon, I could probably find ten more things that still needed to be done.

But I had my list to prove that I'd been busy. I'd made progress. I'd accomplished something.

If you're thinking that this is a lot like my backwards to-do list, you're right. The difference? I (randomly) chose a set number of things I wanted to accomplish. I could choose any ten things that crossed my path, but the object was to tackle nagging tasks that contributed to that cloud of stress swirling around me like Pig Pen's dust in a Peanuts cartoon.

geralt via Pixabay
The combination of actually accomplishing ten things and having written proof was a powerful one. Despite the fact that more back-to-school prep loomed and my daughter was still leaving in less than 24 hours, I felt less stressed at the end of the afternoon.

Often, it's the little things that drag us down. Getting them out of the way frees us to concentrate more fully on the bigger things, which means they get done more quickly and efficiently.

Every little bit helps.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys for Managing the Back-to-School Paper Flow

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
The school district in which I live started school this week, which means parents here are already drowning in those first week of school papers and announcements. While a countertop or table is a good place for your family drop spot, you'll want to create style-appropriate storage for the things you'll want to hang onto for reference--school calendars, lunch menus, field trip information, etc.

While your styles should dictate what this long-term reference spot should look like, function should lead this charge. Because most of the information that goes into this reference spot will be rendered obsolete in a short time, what matters most is ease of access.

Here are a few things to consider as you create this sanity-saving system.

Who's the primary user of this system? If you are, then your styles trump everyone else's. Like binders? Use one. Prefer accordion folders, a fancy clipboard or a family bulletin board? Go for it.
Be careful, though -- this also makes you the disseminator of information. If you want others to contribute to and access this storage, you may need to make it friendly to other styles as well. Want to have it both ways? Create a system that works for you and a drop spot that works for everyone else.

How will you manage the flow of papers? Are you a keeper or a tosser? Not you personally, but your style. If you write information down, then toss the form or flyer, you won't need much paper storage, but if you keep the original as a reminder until its date has passed, you'll need to make provisions for filing or posting the paper. Function is key, but let your styles be your guide.

Where will you put it? This goes back to who's using the system. If you're a Type A organizer, you probably have a nice file drawer somewhere with all of this information tucked inside and labeled, but if you're an I need to see it or I know I put it somewhere person, the words "drawer" and "inside" just made you cringe. If you want your family members to look up their own information, your system will look different than it will if you want to be the information clearinghouse.

No judging here--I can identify with the information clearinghouse model. If I know where things are at all times, they don't get lost. Be honest with yourself about how you want this to work, not how you think it should work. If you're most comfortable being the keeper of the originals, then use that part of your style to make yourself the back-up--an external hard drive of sorts. Encourage your family members to create their own parallel systems, with you as their safety net. This can be a great way to help kids build organizational systems of their own.
ArtsyBee via Pixabay

If your child's school has gone paperless, the solution is even simpler. Bookmark key locations on  your phone or computer or, if you prefer, designate a home for a cheat sheet where you can write all this down. You can use a white board, a single sheet of paper (on a clipboard or bulletin board, perhaps) or, especially if you have kids in different schools, a tabbed notebook.

One last note. This is not the time to create the be-all, end-all stylishly perfect system. If you've done it before and it works, you're all set. If you haven't and are just getting started, it will evolve over time. Either way, all of this information will be in and out in a year or less, so don't spend a lot of time creating a system that should serve you.

Welcome back to school year fun!

Wednesday, August 22, 2018


Mine is gray with black hardware. (bedbathandbeyond)
In our little Cape Cod, one of the bedrooms is downstairs, down the hall from the kitchen. This room has never been a bedroom, per se but, over the two decades we've lived in our home, it has been an office, a dumping ground for all things to be kept away from curious toddlers, and a playroom. As my daughter outgrew the need for a playroom, the space morphed into a man cave before transforming bit by bit into a family room.

Because I work from home, I often work in this room. I have an office, but it is small and, shall we say, overstuffed. Now that my daughter is in college, I’ve gotten into the habit of settling in back here after dinner so I can spend time with my husband, and I have not only made myself comfortable, but also carved out a space of my own.

Digging into my office and unstuffing it has been on my to-do list all summer, but has consistently gotten pushed aside by more time sensitive tasks. Meanwhile, little by little, in the interest of keeping the back room on the right side of tidiness, I’ve been finding (and purchasing) homes for the things I use on a regular basis. Yesterday, for example, I replaced a stool that was standing in for a table with a wicker unit that has a slightly smaller footprint (and more storage) and I bought a unit reminiscent of a mini library card catalog to store office supplies.

This morning, it occurred to me that most of the materials I use on a regular basis have not only taken up residence in the back room, but they fit into a fairly small place -- or several of them. This begs what is (now) a fairly obvious question.

What is all that stuff in the office?

Clearly, I'm overdue for some sorting. And I'm going to start with the maybes.

On a shelf that's tucked away to the far right of my desk, I have two file bins with binders in them. I know that the binders contain course materials so, since I'm on a course prep roll, I'm going to flip through them quickly, getting rid of whatever I don't need. Whatever remains will go into a box that I will close up, date, and store in the basement with a December "expiration date." Anything that's left in the box at the end of the semester goes. No more storing, no more sorting. Out the door.

As with any other project, getting started is the hard part. I'm hoping that a targeted approach that frees up storage space (once those binders are gone, the file bins are fair game) puts me at an advantage because I can sort and straighten almost simultaneously. In addition, I'm starting out by going through things that are relevant to what I'm working on now, so my brain is already primed to tackle the task.

At least that's what I hope.

I love the way the family room is coming together, but I also know that I'm using that space, in part, because it's more welcoming than my overstuffed office. I want to recapture the room I designated as my work space to make it as welcoming as it was before the detritus of teaching, writing and homeless items conspired to make it feel even smaller than it is.

Then, once it's restored to its previously cozy state, I'll have two places to work -- the family room, and my mom cave.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

3 Keys Thursday: 3+ Tools to Replace That Annoying Binder

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
When it comes to organizing papers, there's really only one key to success: finding the right tool. For Type A organizers, this is easy: Break out the binders and the file folders. Secure appropriate labels and file behind closed drawers.

But for those of us who cram and jam, need to see things or know we put that paper somewhere, traditional systems don't always work.

When I was working with elementary school kids whose paper toting needs were somewhat minimal, I discovered that accordion folders were a big help to those who struggled with binders and pocket folders. Everything was pretty close together, yet it could be categorized as well. And accordion folders were just more fun than binders. So were report folders and small binders with clamps or clips instead of rings. The same kids who loved taking apart mechanical pencils loved messing with the clamps, which gave them motivation to actually put things away.

Backpack folders from
Backpack folders, loadable from the top and meant to stand upright in a backpack were also a cool tool, one which gave cram and jammers a fighting chance when it came to keeping their backpacks from becoming a dumping ground.

But what about grown-ups who manage piles of papers? Or even high school and college students who still need hard copies in an increasingly paperless world?

As an adult navigating the on-campus world on a part-time basis, I love my totefolio. Each section is big enough for a stack of handouts or graded papers, and wide enough that a file folder fits inside as well. I've labeled and re-labeled the tabs using the little card stock inserts as well as Post-it notes and sticky-back labels from my label maker. It's big enough to hold what I need, but not so big that it becomes unwieldy, and the handles are a BIG help.

Globe-Weis tote folio from
For keeping papers in line at home, I like file bins with open tops, but if those files need to be transported as well, you might prefer a file tote. Its open top keeps things visible and makes it easy to put things away. They come in a variety of price points, too. The least expensive ones are glorified accordion folders with lids that flip over and close with a latch of some sort. Others come in decorator prints or even leather so that they look more like a handbag or briefcase.

If you haven't found your perfect paper organizer yet, don't despair. Many of the tools I use today didn't exist when I first started writing about organization. Make periodic trips to office supply stores, chain stores, dollar stores, home decoration stores and fabric stores and see what's new. Get creative -- just because it wasn't originally meant for the purpose you have in mind doesn't mean you can't make it work.

Check out the handbag section as well as the home section if a store has both, and investigate the areas of the store devoted to dorm life during the back-to-school months. Stores like Tuesday Morning, T J Maxx, Ross, Marshall's and Home Goods often stock unusual organizers that work for a variety of purposes.

Just remember to keep your purposes in mind when you're making your selection, and don't be afraid to step out of the (file) box.

Vaultz Metal Personal File Tote from

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Back-to-School Shopping for Kids Who Organize Differently

toodlingstudio via Pixabay
Have you ever watched a left-handed person try to take notes in a traditional spiral notebook? It's almost painful. The angle is wrong, the spiral's in the wrong place, and even the neatest handwriting approaches illegibility as fatigue and frustration take over.

That's how it feels to be a non-traditional organizer using traditional school supplies. While everyone around you slides papers neatly onto binder rings or into the pockets of folders, you just never manage to make things work as neatly and effortlessly.

So...why buy those supplies?

If you've got a kiddo (or two) at your house whose notebooks and folders look like they've been through a natural disaster somewhere between school and home, help them adapt their supplies to their styles. 

Ways to adapt a binder:
  • Buy a portable three-hole punch to put in the front of the notebook.
  • Load the binder with page protectors so unpunched papers make it into the notebook. Or, if that's not gonna happen with your cram and jammer or drop and run organizer, try folder pockets (hole-punched inserts that look like a pocket folder opened up and folded back) or a three-ring acetate envelope with a snap or Velcro fastener.
    When I taught Organizing by STYLE
    to an elementary school audience,
    I found that clamp binders were a
    huge hit with fifth grade boys.
  • Add a clip to the front of the binder so the day's papers get clipped inside the cover and can be added to the right section of the notebook at home.
  • Ditch the three-ring binder for one with a spring-loaded clamp. Kids who don't take the time to put stuff into the rings sometimes enjoy putting papers away when they have an excuse to play with the clamp.
  • Replace the binder with an accordion folder. Choose one that's divided into sections, or one with just one wide, yawning opening, depending on your child's style.
What to use instead of a standard-issue, paper pocket folder:
  • A file folder. Like pocket folders, these come in a variety of colors, and can be color-coded by subject. If the papers aren't going to go in the pockets anyway, why create an unnecessary battle?
  • Transparent folders that allow kids to personalize them (photos show through the opening) or see what's inside. These also come in a variety of colors, with and without pockets.
  • A folder that has top and side access and a tab closure at the top. Multi-colored (again). Never underestimate the value of being able to play with an organizational tool. The more fun it is to put something away, the more likely it is it'll get there.
  • Clear acetate envelopes with string-tie and button closures. Sold at office supply stores, these often come in multi-packs that make them less expensive per item.
Admittedly, these choices are often more expensive and harder to come by, but in many cases, the time and heartache saved makes it worth the extra cash and detective work -- and sometimes, you actually luck out and find cool tools at the dollar store or the clearance racks. When I taught lessons in elementary school classrooms, I brought a variety of supplies in for kids to play with and had them trouble-shoot potential issues. They were amazingly astute when it came to figuring out what they would and would not use, and they often loved things that cost a dollar or less (colorful report folders with hinged closures were a big hit) as much as the more expensive office supply items. 

As you discuss back-to-school shopping with your child, use this summary sheet to talk about options and highlight his or her choices. Having him (or her) talk through the choices is an important part of getting your child to understand his or her styles, and eventually, to advocate for them. When we teach our kids to respectfully advocate for themselves, we're teaching a skill that goes far beyond organization.

You may also need to intervene on your child's behalf with his or her teacher, and that may or may not go over well. Together with your child, decide if it's better to work within the requirements (buy the required binder, but adapt its insides so your child can use it successfully) or seek the teacher's stamp of approval for an alternative system. If your child's teacher understands that the required tool is actually a stumbling block, he or she may be amenable to a trial period with something else. Most teachers are happy to see their students attempt organization, no matter what the tools, and in the best case scenario, your child may find an ally who helps to tweak and perfect the plan at school. 

So before you and your credit card hit the stores and start checking off items on that school supply list, take a moment to make sure you're supplying your child with the tools he or she needs to have a great year.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

3 Keys Thursday: 3 of My Favorite Things: The Stationery Edition

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
A week or so ago, a Staples post card arrived in the mail, promising me $10 off school supplies -- $5 now, $5 later in the month. I found it a home almost immediately, in the front seat of my car.

I mean, you never know when a school supply emergency will arise.

Ever since I was a little kid, I've loved stationery products. What tops the most-wanted list varies from one season to another, but right now, three things that will capture my attention are:

The perfect notebook. Not every notebook is up to every task. I was reminded of this when I needed a Beach Pages journal and again when I went to grab a run-of-the-mill spiral bound notebook to take along on another trip. In the process, I stumbled across a project planner I'd forgotten I had. It was the perfect notebook for the task at hand, allowing me to not simply jot things down, but do so in an organized manner.

Patterned file folders. As an I need to see it person, I quickly run through all the standard colors of file folders as I color code multiple projects. Adding patterns to the mix helps me to keep things straight and it keeps things fun. Bright hues and patterns add a pop of color to my desk, as well as standing out against a sea of papers when my desk gets cluttered. I rarely buy these file folders at office supply stores; instead I look for packs of three in the dollar bins at Target or at the dollar store because really, who needs a whole box of them when the whole idea is for them to be unique? But, with a coupon in hand, a splurge may be in my future.

Almost kind of Post-it Note. I'm not sure how I organized anything before these came along. The temptation is especially great if I find a pack that's a different color combo than the ones I already have at home, for much the same reason I like patterned file folders -- more options for differentiating different projects in a very visible manner.

As we head into back-to-school season, my posts will be doing the same. I have a few topics in mind but, if you have a burning question or a topic you'd like me to address, leave me a note in the comments, and I'll try to tackle your topic. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Rainbow-Colored Desktops

I have a love-hate relationship with the multiple desktop options available on my MacBook. Mostly, I love them, because they allow me to lay out all of my works-in-progress, allocating each its own work space.

It's an I need to see it person's dream.

But...the desktops also allow me to lay out all of my works-in-progress, allocating each its own workspace. Yes, I know I said that already, counting it as a plus, but it's also a drawback and the other end of the double-edged sword that is my love-hate relationship with multiple desktops. The alternative, you see, would be actually closing the files. Y'know. Giving them names and putting them away.

But we all know what happens when someone with an I need to see it personal style puts away things that aren't yet complete, right?

They don't get done. Away = forgotten.

The trouble with using all of these desktops is that it drains my Mac's battery. All those open documents and tabs make my laptop work much harder than it should have to.

Lately, I've been wondering if this plan has the same effect on my battery, so to speak. When every desktop contains things to do...(Don't ask me how many desktops I have open. I'm an honest person and would prefer not to be tempted to put that to the test).

Well, you get the idea.

But, is it really better to put them all away and hope I remember what to do? Yes, I know there are alternatives -- lists, for example -- and they're worth considering. Or at least they were until...

One day a week or so ago, it occurred to me that I could change the colors of my desktops to match the file folders in which I store the hard copies for each of these projects. Purple for my organization book. Green for my school-related stuff. Beach wallpaper for the story I was brainstorming on the beach. I've played with desktop wallpaper before but, for some reason, it never occurred to me to take my color-coding quite this far.

Foto-Os via Pixabay
Suddenly, my system made even more sense. Those open files had logical homes that were immediately clear to me because I'd individualized each one. Looking for the draft of my course syllabus? Try the green desktop.

I may never put a computer file away again. And, while I think that's a bad thing as far as my Macbook's battery is concerned, for an I need to see it person with many irons in the fire, it's a very, very satisfying thing indeed.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Items for My Bullet Journal...Should I Start One

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Yesterday, I talked a little bit about bullet journals, a topic on which I'm a bit out of my league. Still, connecting them to Beach Pages, even peripherally, made me curious and so I went in search of more information.

I found lots of pretty pictures on Pinterest, but when I set out to appropriately credit them, I found the sites less helpful than the pictures that had brought me to them. This link, however, had great ideas and photos as well as being non-threatening for those of us who are more creative with words than art -- so much so, in fact, that I ended up scrolling through to find three things I might actually use a bullet journal for.

Though I liked the pages on goals and lists, I already have systems in place to keep track of those things. Anything that required art skills or too much time to set up was also out, but I liked...

Just Bright Ideas
  • Films to watch. I tend to jot these titles down on random scraps of paper or in whatever notebook I have available. The design on this page is attractive, but simple enough that I think I could replicate it, and I like the idea of keeping all these movie ideas together. 
  • Books to read. I like this page for the same reasons I like the films page -- easy to replicate, captures all the titles in one place. I also love the idea of coloring in the books as I finish them.
  • Savings goals. I'm not sure if a pretty bullet journal page is enough to help me meet my savings goals, but, hey, it's worth a shot.

For more great photos and bullet journal ideas, check out my Pinterest page where I've created a new board called Bullet Journal ideas, which I expect to have fun adding pins to. You can also find a partial collection of Organizing by STYLE blog posts on my Pinterest page, along with boards on organization and my novels.

What's in your bullet journal?

Happiness is Homemade

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Beach Pages and Bullet Journals
Though I am fascinated by them, I have never used a bullet journal. All of the ones I see on Pinterest are beautiful and artistic, and both of these elements pose a problem for me. I lack the talent to create a work of art out of my to-do list, and I fear that I lack the self-discipline to return to the mundanity of the list itself once I start playing with my pages and making them pretty.

Still, after my foray into Beach Pages when I was on vacation, I kinda get it. Although I went in a completely different direction aesthetically (my Beach Pages are messy and lack organization by design), I appreciate the value of having all of my thoughts and ideas in one place -- so much so that I went in search of a notebook I could dedicate to this proposition.

If the pages inside aren't pretty, why does the notebook need to be? For many styles, this wouldn't matter but for me and my I need to see it personal style, having a pretty, dedicated notebook makes it easier for me to pick it out of a pile of random notebooks (of which I have a collection).

But that's not all there is to it. Having a dedicated notebook makes the pages more permanent. I started out writing on a legal pad, but the pages got whipped by the wind and, once I was finished, had only an impermanent home where curling and ripping was almost inevitable. Although the pages might not fit into any of my works-in-progress -- or any project, for that matter -- I don't want to consider these entries throwaways because I'm a firm believer that no writing is ever wasted. Some of these pages might merely clear my head, while others might inspire new ideas, become a blog post or even fuel a future project. Putting my Beach Pages in a notebook helps to validate them and keeping them bound allows me to organize them with greater ease, tabbing pages so I can find them again.

Having a dedicated notebook also makes the pages more meaningful. Just because this task isn't goal-directed doesn't make the words any less important. If the task is worth my time, I should take it seriously. A dedicated notebook conveys a seriousness of purpose that's missing in random words on random pages.

Something else I hoped to cultivate with this project was patience. It takes longer to write in longhand, therefore I have to intentionally slow down to write, especially if I'm using a book that's bound instead of just random pages. Cross outs, X marks, arrows -- all signs of a mind at work and the process of writing -- dot the pages. These things are messy, but gratifying, and a reminder of the fact that this is a process -- time-consuming and laden with detours and mistakes -- even if they stand in stark contrast to the loveliness of the bound book.

For now, I've set my Beach Pages journal aside, but I know where to find it if I need it, and I just might revisit it under non-beach circumstances as well. The combination of bound pages and the freedom inspired by freewriting renewed my creativity and reminded me that sometimes, a little freedom to play is just what we need to re-energize ourselves, whether we're writing or organizing.

Though I'm not planning on creating a bullet journal any time soon, I think I now understand what people see in them. The doodles and designs add a playfulness to the lists and must-dos that populate the pages and, perhaps re-energize bullet journal users the way my Beach Pages re-energized me.

When we organize by STYLE, we can't lose sight of what makes us who we are, originals in our own right. What thoughts of yours belong in a place all their own? And how do you put your own creative mark on those pages?

Sometimes, exploring is exactly what we need to set us on the right path.