Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Revisiting Those 18 Things for 2018

Photo credit: TheDigitalArtist via Pixabay

In writing last Wednesday's blog post, I came across a blog I wrote last January focusing on "18 Things to Try in 2018." So naturally, I got to wondering how many I'd actually done.

At the risk of embarrassing myself, I'm going to take a look.
  1. Embrace your styles. Always :-)
  2. Don't put it down, put it away. I actually repeat this to myself so I remember to do it. I don't   do it every time, but I'm making progress.
  3. Find a solution to one problem area. See #11:-)
  4. Clean out one closet. Hmm...not yet.
  5. Get rid of 365 things. Too many? How about 52 -- that's just one a week. I haven't been counting, but I have made a dent in my catalog pile and made one multi-box clothing & household goods donation. I have another pile of things to give away in the basement -- just need to finish packing it up and get it out. I'm pretty sure I've made the one per week goal, but some of those things were pretty small....
  6. Buy a planner you really love and use it. I was just talking to my dad about this last week! Because I've gotten in the habit of buying school year planners, I had to buy a new planner at the end of the summer. I thought for sure I'd find one cheap after all the kids had gone back to school, but I ended up picking out one that was larger than what I thought I'd wanted...and full price. No regrets :-)
  7. Use small chunks of time to clean up small spaces or make progress in larger ones. Story of my life! 
  8. Resolve to spend an hour a week making progress on a large space, like a garage, basement or attic. I still have another two months, right?
  9. Do something fun just for you. I wrote the original post when I was rehearsing a show. Nine months later, I still get together with my castmates at least once a month.
  10. Declare one hour each week "organizing time" and use it to tackle all the nagging little projects you never quite get to. Um...that would be a no.
    Alexas Fotos via Pixabay
  11. Make one area of your house -- a counter, a shelf, a desktop -- both organized and attractive. Yes! I bought basket with a lid and handles to corral all of my projects in the family room so I don't have papers all over the table. It works :-). I also transferred my daughter's paperwork from a plastic bin to a fabric bin that looks nicer and fits into the organizational set-up already in place. Finally got that set-up "just so."
  12. Resolve to keep one surface clutter-free. When I first looked at this one, I didn't give myself much credit, and one quick glance at my desk or my dining room table would tell you why. But after a little more thought, I realized that this is true, although it's true of only some surfaces. There are spots I've cleared off and made to look nice and those places remain clutter-free because I remain dedicated to making it so. Is every surface clutter-free? Not by a long shot. But the resolution is for one surface. Even though I have work to do, I've exceeded this expectation, a testimony to the concept of setting goals that are achievable.
  13. Assign homes to three important items you waste time searching for. Not yet.
  14. Splurge on one container that really fits your styles. See #11.
  15. Find the perfect purse or work bag. Yes! I switched from the work bag that looks nice to backpack that looks not quite as nice, but doesn't make my back hurt.
  16. Make a packing or grocery list template. Does the one I made years ago and stopped using count?
  17. Find permanent homes for ten homeless items. Who's counting?
  18. Be patient with yourself. Organizing is, after all, a process. Now that I can do.
What organizing accomplishments are you proud of?

Thursday, October 25, 2018

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Establishing Consistency

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
In yesterday's post, I came down on the side of flexibility when it comes to list-making. But since organizing requires both flexibility and consistency, how do we establish consistency, if that's our goal?

Here are three keys concepts to establishing consistency when it comes to organizing -- and other things as well.

1. Same time. Whether it's making your daily to-list, creating tomorrow's schedule or doing a quick pick-up to get ahead of clutter, doing it at the same time every day can help to establish a habit and good habits are one of the foundations of organization.

2. Same place. Maybe you put your keys or your purse in the same place every day or maybe you're good at using the systems you've set up so that things go in the same place every time. Or maybe you're working hard to find consistent homes for all of the homeless items that keep turning up. All of these things contribute to automaticity, another key part of organization. When we know where things go, we're more likely to put them away instead of just putting them down.

3. Same tool(s) - When we find ourselves using the same tool every time (consistently), that's proof that it works. Once we've established which tools work for us, we can use them everywhere in one form or another. Identifying the attributes of containers that work allows us to quickly find the tools we need to tidy up problem spots.

When it comes to time, flexibility is often the way to go. But, when it comes to stuff, consistency is key. What consistent habits and tools keep you organized?

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Consistency or Flexibility, Part 2: Lists

Alexas Fotos via Pixabay
About a decade ago, I sat beside a colleague prior to a meeting and watched her do what so many of us do frequently: make a list. She was making hers on a legal pad and, as I watched her flip the page and continue the list, I began to feel tired at the very thought of her list. I determined then and there that I'd never make a list that long.

Not very realistic, right?

Over the years, I've used lists in a variety of ways. Although my lists rarely approach the length of my colleague's, most are longer than I'd like.

Yesterday's was one of them.

Today, I once again found myself thinking about consistency and flexibility, mostly because my lists are consistently inconsistent. Some days, I create a master list and work directly from it. Other days, I move tasks from the master list to a calendar or schedule, assigning the tasks to specific days or times. Sometimes, I write down my Big 3 and leave it at that. The only thing that's completely consistent when it comes to my lists is that I always make one.

Over time, one of the things I've learned about lists is that different days call for different kinds of lists. Some days, I can't face the master list, so I go with the Big 3. Other days, when I feel as though I haven't accomplished much of anything, I use a backwards to-do list to set myself straight. Then there are grocery lists, holiday shopping lists, guest lists...the, ahem, list is endless.

Clearly, when it comes to lists, I come down on the side of flexibility because, in the end, making lists and using them is more important than what they look like, what I write them on or how long they are. And, since my memory definitely isn't getting better, I'm pretty sure the road to my future is papered with lists.

What are your to-do list habits?

Thursday, October 18, 2018

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Key Organizational Challenges

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could reach a point where we could say, "Done! Organized!" -- and it would be true? But, in the real world, there are always new things to add, old things to sort and life changes that necessitate re-thinking our strategies. In addition, there are day-to-day obstacles that make organizing a challenge. Here are three of them.

The problem: An overbooked schedule. Try as we might, we often say yes to one -- or ten-- too many things. When our schedules get busy, we get tired and, perhaps a bit lazy as well. Even the best systems get ignored in favor of the easiest option.
The solution: Do what you can. Work within your established systems to keep clutter to a minimum and, when things pile up, as they will, don't despair. Give it Five! as often as you can until you have time to set things right. And, when that time arrives, step back and see what you're dealing with before you default to your default. Have you uncovered chinks in your organizational armor? If so, making some adjustments now -- new containers, new location -- might make a difference the next time your schedule spirals out of control.

The problem: Tiny spaces. I love our little house -- most days -- but, oh, what I wouldn't give for a walk-in closet! And our Cape Cod is a luxury home compared to the tiny apartments college students and city dwellers routinely call home.
The solution: The right storage. Look for containers and furnishings that are tall or stackable (maximize vertical space), fit underneath furniture and/or do double duty. Check out places that offer unusual items (import stores, flea markets, consignment shops and secondhand stores) that can fit into small spaces or function as whimsical touches and practical storage. While some kids' furnishings are obviously designed for children, others are often just the right size for smaller adult spaces. In addition, many dorm furnishings can be a lifesaver in small, non-dorm residences.

The problem: Transition times. Holidays and transition times -- back to school, moving, life changes -- bring such promise. Unfortunately, they also bring new tasks to pile on top of our day-to-day responsibilities.
The solution: Lists and schedules. Write it all down, even if it's just one big, long and somewhat intimidating list. Then, little by little, assign the most important of those tasks to time time slots. When we move things from a generic list to a specific time, we're more likely to actually do them.

When challenges and obstacles arise, remember to be patient with yourself. Every baby step forward is a step in the right direction.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Are Piles a System?

Today, I left a mess in my wake. Clothing on the bed. Lists on the sofa in the family room and papers on the floor in my office.

Yesterday, I zoomed in on writing tasks, fully enjoying my midsemester break while it lasted and paying little attention to my impending return to class this morning. While I was in vacation mode, I even checked a few household items off the list. Then, when I could put it off no longer, I graded the papers that then took up residence on my office floor -- a loud and clear reminder that I needed to enter those grades into my grade book.

Today, I'm trying to get back into the swing of things and I'm rediscovering all the breadcrumbs I left for myself -- some before break, some during.

Unfortunately breadcrumbs are messy. But, for those of us with an I need to see it personal style, they work.

The first thing on my to-do list today was to clear up the papers on the floor in my office. But the clipboard I use for my day-to-day reminders beckoned, reminding me that if I didn't double check my weekly schedule, the dominoes would fall.

And it wouldn't be pretty.

By the time I'd finished returning morning emails and cross-checking them with the notes from my clipboard and the schedule I'd crafted, it was time to get ready for work.

And the papers were still on the floor. Enter the clothes on the bed, which, in my defense, were not out-of-season rejects, but rather clean clothes I brought up from the laundry room.

Closing the door behind me on the way to class, I sighed. Not exactly an auspicious start to my work week, shortened though it may be.

The good news? When I got home, I knew exactly where I needed to start. Pick up the papers in the office and put them in order. Put away the clothes. Check and update the to-do list on the sofa.

The bad news? Today's accidental method, while workable and a good fit for my I need to see it personal style in the short term, is clearly not sustainable. Piles and physical reminders work for only as long as we have time to keep after them. When time is tight, however, they quickly spiral out of control if we don't have an overall system in place. 

Building systems and methods around our styles gives us the best of both worlds. Strategies like color-coding, labeling and clear storage yield all of the reminders with none of the piles, while others like Give it Five! help us to manage the little style-based reminders that pop up when time is short. Once we've identified our styles, we can begin the process of moving from habits to systems. 

This afternoon, I was able to do away with the offending piles and cross a few things off my to-do list in fairly short order, leaving things better than I'd found them this morning. I still have things to do -- papers to grade, blog posts to write -- but at least my house isn't announcing them to the world. Each time I use my systems, I refine them a bit, making it less likely that the dark side of my styles will overwhelm their virtues, even when I'm short on time.

Which is most of the time.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

3 Keys Thursday: Outfitting Yourself and Your Closet Between Seasons

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
This time of year, as the warm weather goes on and on (where I live, anyway), many of us find ourselves plucking a few things off clearance racks, trying desperately to add a little life to a wardrobe gone stale. Consequently, the clothes and shoes that are most easily accessible in my closet are a mishmash of summer and fall, making getting dressed in the morning frustrating and challenging. 

It's a great time for taking stock and putting the one in/one out rule to work. 

  • To keep or not to keep? Whether it's those new clearance rack acquisitions or last year's fall pieces you're putting away, take a moment with each piece. Is it unique, or one of many just like it (a.k.a. how many white tee shirts does one person need?) Does it match anything you own, or, more important, is it still a fit for not just your body but also the style you want to pull off this fall? Keep the best, lose the rest. If you have trouble parting with piles of clothes, try one in/one out -- for every item you add to your closet, something has to go. 
  • Store it so you can find it. Let your personal and organizational styles define both your systems and your containers. At its core, a closet is just a big rectangular space that can be outfitted so it suits you and your outfits. If you have lots to hang, go with the standard hanging rod. If you prefer to fold (or just like to see things), ditch the rod in favor of shelves. Labeled bins clue you into contents at a glance, while clear bins allow you take a peek before you dig. As is the case with most clothes, one size doesn't fit all when it comes to closet organizers and systems.
  • Keep those transition pieces handy. Tired of trying on everything in your closet to put together an outfit that works for summer temperatures and a fall vibe? Take five minutes one evening or weekend afternoon to go through your closet and pull out transition clothes -- clothing that's lightweight enough to keep you cool but has enough heft or color to hint at fall. Then, give those pieces a place of honor in your closet, at least until the temperatures level off. Have ten minutes? Put away white slacks, strappy sandals and anything else that screams summer so that you're not even tempted to use them as go-to pieces.
Fall is my favorite season, so I'm holding out hope that it will arrive with a vengeance very soon. Meanwhile, I'm going to take my own advice and put these three keys to work so that this week maybe, just maybe, I can get dressed "right" on the first try. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

The (Im)perfectionist's Guide, Indeed

Alexas Fotos via Pixabay
A few months ago, I told the editor who helped me whip my book proposal into shape that she was not allowed to come to my house until after Know Thyself  was published. Otherwise, I feared she might deem me unfit to write about organization and take away my contract.

She wouldn't, of course (would she?) After all, I've been very forthcoming that I am a work-in-progress. And, the subtitle of the book is The (Im)perfectionist's Guide to Sorting Your Stuff.

So I'm guessing it's okay that I'm an imperfectionist.

You can tell this is true because there are pockets of perfection, and spots that need sorting. The towels in my linen closet are perfectly folded, but there are stacks of paper on my dining room table that have grown roots. I thought I knew what was in each of the piles until I went looking for something last week and found it...

In the wrong pile.

There's a place for everything and everything has a place in my school backpack, but there's a small side table in the family room that I set up for beginning-of-the-semester overflow in August and have been trying to get rid of ever since.

And midsemester grades are due this week.

There's definitely a theme here.

Why, if I know what to do, isn't my house like something out of a magazine?

geralt via Pixabay
Because life interferes. My best-laid plans get derailed by the unexpected and the unplanned, not all of which are bad. But I have no deadline (except one that's self-imposed) for the sorting and, since it's not as much fun as an impromptu night out with friends or as big a priority as the things I get an actual paycheck for, or as necessary as sleep, it always falls to the bottom of the list.

But I continue to put it on my list.

Why? Because we're more likely to do the things we actually set to paper. And because to fail to include it on the list would mean that I'm giving up and letting the stuff win.

And that's not going to happen.

In a few days, my midsemester break will begin. I wisely made sure that all of my assignments were due this week and last so that I wouldn't have to spend the break grading papers. That means writing and organizing will take top priority. That may sound deadly to you but, to me, those are the ingredients for a perfect break.

And maybe, just maybe, the pockets of perfection will overtake the stuff that needs sorting.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

3 Keys Thursday: 3 of My Favorite School Tools -- Part 2

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Over the past week, I've been writing about the tools I use to organize the materials I take back and forth to campus. As an adjunct professor, I'm an itinerant. I'm lucky enough to have a shared workspace designated as mine during certain time periods, but carrying my supplies around is part of the nature of the job. Finding a way to do so that works with my styles is, like any other organizational endeavor, a process, one that includes both sticking with what works (consistency) and adapting to change (flexibility)

While the three tools I shared yesterday (flat surfaces, steno book, and planners) reflect both consistency and flexibility, today's tools -- three of my current favorites -- are all adaptations. 
  • I love my clipboard. Both low profile and adaptable, it serves a variety of purposes, from holding my seating chart for the first few weeks while I learn names to holding my running to-do list and schedule for the week. Because it's more adaptable than the steno pad I used to use for my to-do lists, I have more reason to look at it and so it keeps my to-do list front and center, so to speak. Moving items from the to-do list to the weekly schedule sheet (also on the clipboard) employs an important principle of time management -- assigning times to tasks -- which leads to my getting through my to-do list more efficiently. Most weeks.
  • Last summer, I switched from a tote bag to a backpack. It's a little counterintuitive for my I need to see it personal style, and I'm probably a little long in the tooth to carry the same tool my students use, but I got tired of the neck aches and backaches that my tote bags (which I usually carried over one shoulder) were giving me. In order to make it work effectively, I've assigned locations to everything that goes inside. Using them consistently helps to compensate for the fact that it's not a clear cut choice for my personal style. The padded straps, padding for my laptop and equal distribution of weight are important trade-offs.
  • Color-coding is my friend and, tool-wise, the most obvious example of this in my school supply arsenal is the bound set of pocket folders I found at Staples right before the semester started. It holds reference materials for each of my classes, along with some basic reference materials applicable to all of my classes. I assign each class a color and materials either go into a folder of that color or are tabbed with that color. I often used a pen in the assigned color for grading and use paper clips in the assigned color to hold stacks of homework together, but going that overboard is not a requirement.
How about you? How have your styles led you to adapt your systems?

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Consistency or Flexibility?

My desk never looks this good, especially when I'm working.
But, this is exactly what I do with my stuff when I'm
packing up to go to work.
(Photo: rawpixel via Pixabay)
When I can, I try to make connections from post to post, especially from Wednesday's narrative to Thursday's "3 Keys" post. I often do this on purpose, but sometimes, it happens entirely by accident. Other times (like today) I see the connection only in retrospect.

Last Wednesday, I wrote about the importance of flexibility and then, on Thursday, I shared a post from two years ago, citing a few of my favorite school supplies -- the ones that keep me organized in my I need to see it/drop and run fashion -- and I promised to revisit the tools this week. 

Well, whaddaya know? A built-in discussion on flexibility and consistency. Yeah. I meant to do that. 

These kinds of accidental discoveries happen in organizing as well. The temporary fix that revealed all the attributes necessary for a permanent solution. The container you saved "just because" that turned out to be the perfect size/color/shape for something you needed to store. The "find" in the dollar bin or on the clearance rack that you didn't even know existed. 

In last Thursday's post, I said, "since my styles haven't changed, I know just which tools I need to get me through the transition from summer to semester." This is true. But it's also true that, while my styles haven't changed, other things do change and so finding the balance between consistency and flexibility is key. 

As long as a system or container is still working, there's no need to reinvent the wheel. But sometimes materials degrade over time (especially when it comes to office supplies), needs change or we find that the system we we thought was such a great idea two months ago just isn't cutting it. Knowing when to hang on and when to let go is an important key to creating sustainable organizational systems.  

Today I want to take a look at those favorites from two years ago through today's lens. Tomorrow, I'll share three more tools that made the cut this semester.
  • Flat surfaces. Two years ago: "To make sure I don't forget anything, I lay everything out, separated into piles by course (a general psych pile, an early child development pile and a freshman seminar pile). Then, each pile goes into a hanging file folder that goes into my bag, and off I go!" 
         Today: Whether I'm heading to class or packing for vacation, I still lay out whatever I need to
         put into my bag. As someone with an I need to see it personal style, I have to have this visual 
         in order to feel secure in the knowledge that I'm not forgetting anything. The hanging file
         folders are gone, though, replaced by file folders (no sharp edges) color coded by class. Since
         the combination of courses I'm teaching has changed, flexibility in my systems is important. 
  • Steno book. Two years ago: "The two column layout allows me to put two classes on the front of each page and my third class and my writing projects on the back. This keeps all my to-do lists in one place, held together by the spiral at the top of the book."    
          Today: My trusty steno book is on hold, replaced by a slightly more visual one-two punch of a
          clipboard and my "THIS WEEK" sheets. Note that the steno book is on hold, not replaced...yet. 
          I missed it yesterday and I'm not certain it won't return to the rotation. I really like how that top 
          spiral keeps everything corralled. 
  • Planners--this year's and last year'sTwo years ago: "When it comes to my classes, I use my planner as a combination calendar/journal. I write all my due dates (color coded by class) on the month-view pages and use the daily pages to keep track of my progress."
          Today: Nothing has changed. Using my planners in this way helps with future planning as well 
          as helping me to make sure I'm on track. Once again, color coding is my friend.

freeGraphicToday via Pixabay
Tomorrow, I'll share three tools that have made the cut this semester, supplementing the systems I already have in place, along with why I made the changes.