Thursday, June 13, 2019

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Key Areas of Success

So, yesterday, I wrote about the time I spent whipping my pile of exams to reference into shape. That got me to thinking about the places where I rarely let things go -- those spaces where order reigns on a regular basis. Here are three of them.

I make my bed. This wasn't always the case, but when I read in one of Marcia Ramsland's books about the percentage of the room that was made tidy by this simple task, I made it a daily habit. It's a rare day that my bed isn't made. Many days, the neatness inspired by this simple act nudges me to clear up another space as well.

I keep on top of incoming mail. While there are times that my mail piles up in the short term, I don't let it get far. It took me a really long time to get my mail counter (in my kitchen) organized to my satisfaction, so making sure not to revert to old bad habits is really important to me. Because keeping this clear space clear matters, I'm motivated to keep after it.

I put my bathrobe away. Sounds silly, I know, but I mention this one because it's both an exception to my drop and run organizational style and a pathway to corralling that habit in other areas as well. Because it's as easy to put it away as it is to put it down (strategy #1), I'm no longer tempted to drop it and run. In the spirit of full disclosure, I must confess that this is a habit I cultivated only after reminding myself on multiple occasions, "don't put it down, put it away." (strategy #2)

Every baby step we take is a step in the direction of ongoing organization. What steps will you take today? What successes can you already claim?

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Why We Shouldn't Should Ourselves

Some days, I run headlong into my work-in-progress status.

Yesterday was one of those days.

I needed to prepare an exam for my summer class. Easy peasy. Go to the file, pull out last summer's exam....Okay, it's not exactly filed. It's sort of piled and it's kind of on the floor.

In the spirit of full disclosure, there's no sort of or kind of about it. It was a pile. And it was on the floor. 

Right next to the box where it should have been filed.

The problem was, the box this stack of exams belonged in was full.

And that was where the system began to fall apart.

Add to that a heaping dose of busyness, a full measure of a lack of time and three cups of "I'll get to that later" and what should have been a five-minute task....


As I write this post, the pile has been duly sorted, the old exams culled and shredded and the ones I need placed in a file of their own. There is clear floor space where there should be clear floor space, order where there should be order and I know exactly where to find every exam I have a copy of. I'd feel accomplished if I weren't so busy being embarrassed by the fact that the pile never should have taken shape in the first place.

Uh oh. Did you see what I just did there?

I shoulded myself.

While it's true that exams don't belong in a pile on the floor, once they are, indeed, on the floor, no amount of shoulding changes that. All it does is waste the time and energy I sh- -- oops -- need to spend instead on restoring order.

I could keep shoulding myself. I could go on about how I shouldn't have put any of the papers on the floor and shouldn't have added to the pile once it started. I could focus on the fact that the box is still full and it wouldn't be if I'd tackled the folder at the bottom of the box like I should have if I were going to do the job perfectly.

Oops. There it is. Should's traveling companion. "Perfectly."

lukasbieri via Pixabay
My pile is gone. Culled. Shredded. Filed. Organized. I have what I need right in my hand. These are good things. This is progress. And "should" and "perfectly" only drag me away from what I have accomplished into the morass of what I haven't.

I'm not suggesting that I let myself off the hook for that last folder and throw a party because I put things where they belonged, but I am saying (yet again) that it's a process. Sometimes, knowing when to stop for the day is just as important as knowing where to start.

And it's always a good time to stop shoulding ourselves.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Dialing it Down (Part 2)

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Last week, I shared three ways to use lists in our service, particularly in times of transition. This week, I have a few more ideas on finding the balance between frenzied and relaxed, but first I have something to share.

I was going through my inbox earlier this week (the numbers are declining, but not as quickly -- or easily -- as I'd like) when I stumbled across a piece called "The Hard Work of Being Lazy."

Boy, could I relate.

Here's the portion of the article that was in the newsletter, but you can read the whole piece here.
The Hard Work of Being ‘Lazy’
At times, perhaps without quite knowing why, we slip into a resolutely ‘lazy’ mood. We’re simply not able to do anything. All we have an appetite for, it seems, is to loll on the sofa.

In such states of mind, we’re rapidly liable to be stigmatized as profoundly (and incorrigibly) ‘lazy’ by friends or – more painfully – by our own conscience.

But, to consider the matter from another perspective, it might be that the real threat to our happiness and self-development lies not in our failure to be busy, but in the very opposite scenario: in our inability to be ‘lazy’ enough.

Outwardly idling does not have to mean that we are neglecting to be fruitful. Busy people evade a different order of undertaking. They are practically a hive of activity, yet they don’t get round to working out their real feelings about their work. They are lazy when it comes to understanding particular emotions about a partner or friend.

The next time we feel extremely lazy, we should imagine that perhaps a deep part of us is preparing to give birth to a big thought. As with a pregnancy, there is no point hurrying the process. 
I love that last part -- the idea that what we label laziness is merely preparation for the next big thing -- a preparation that perhaps should not be rushed.

I was all set to be practical in this week's post, and to focus on things like establishing a routine (so we get into the habit of being productive) and selecting and pursuing daily goals (so we can check things off the list), but this piece has made me reconsider (once again) whether or not productivity is always the best end goal.

So, with the idea that "laziness" is perhaps something more -- and something to be valued -- here are three (more) keys for dialing it down.

Alexas_Fotos via Pixabay

Value down time. As it turns out, perhaps there's more going on there than we think. At the very least, we're recharging for what comes next. On those days when everything seems like an uphill journey, maybe hang back and stop pushing so hard.

Be aware of triggers. Can you pinpoint particular activities and/or times of day that trigger sluggishness? For me, it's mid-afternoon. No matter how many years it's been since I worked in an elementary school, my body still seems to be on that schedule. If I sit down in a comfy space between  2 pm and 4 pm, chances are good that a nap will be the next thing on my list. This is fine if I need the nap (and, as a night owl, many days I do), but if I want to avoid the nap, I need to avoid the trigger.

Be flexible. I struggle with this one. When I get into the zone, or have a long list prepared and I'm ready to dig in, I'm very resistant when another idea comes along, even if it's a better idea. When I find myself being too rigid, I need to remind myself what my big picture priorities are. An endless checklist does not usually make the cut.

Angeleses via Pixabay

It's no secret that balance is elusive; that's why one there's no one magical set of guidelines that helps us to achieve it. Only by tuning into ourselves instead of our lists can we take the steps to be both productive and peaceful, finding that sweet, sweet spot between frenzied and relaxed.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Efficiently Procrastinating

Pettycon via Pixabay
I have spent much of today efficiently checking things off my list. I worked on my course syllabus. I wrote a blog. I took my daughter to lunch. I cooked dinner. I did laundry.


Don't be. I've spent a large chunk of the day engaging in structured procrastination.

While it's true that all of these things needed to be done (except the lunch with my daughter. That was just for fun, but it was planned for today), I did them instead of another task I've been putting off.

The due date for the other task?


Why you might ask, have I been procrastinating so feverishly?

Well, I've asked myself exactly the same question, and several answers have come to mind. The two that sum it up are fear of the unfamiliar and not really knowing where to start.

In her book It's About Time, Dr. Linda Sapadin discusses six different procrastination personalities: perfectionists, dreamers, worriers, crisis makers, defiers and overdoers.

I think I've sampled nearly every one of those today.

Though I don't expect my project to be perfect, I am invested in a good outcome. My dreamer side (wouldn't that be a great idea?) feeds my overdoer tendency (I can squeeze one more thing in!) leading me to create a crisis where none would actually need to exist, and to needlessly worry about something that isn't really all that difficult. Though I'm not much of a defiant procrastinator, my choice to select other tasks over the one that's most pressing does carry a mild aroma of defiance.


Labels aside, the most pressing emotion I feel is fear. Fear that I won't do a good job. Fear that I'll look foolish. This fear leads me to be overwhelmed by the task so that instead of digging in, I find other things to do instead. Those things are legitimate, but they're also obstacles I'm placing in my own path.

Geralt via Pixabay
The solution? Dig in. Set aside the fear, sidestep the obstacles and the competing tasks and start somewhere, anywhere. Find a way in, give it a shot, let it develop, fill the blank page because a messy page is easier to edit than a blank one. If the first draft is terrible, I can fix it. If I start in the wrong place, I can change direction. But if I continue to do nothing, the problem remains unsolved, the task remains undone and the fear grows, fed by inertia and reluctance.

So, here I go. I'm taking the clothes out of the dryer and I'm taking baby steps. Perhaps they'll be in the right direction, perhaps I'll need to recalculate, but at least I'll be moving.

What are you avoiding? What baby steps can you take toward getting it done?

Friday, May 31, 2019

This Week in Social Media

If you follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, you've probably already seen my #whyorganize and #itsaprocess posts. (You can also find them all in one place on my Know Thyself board on Pinterest).

But, just in case you haven't, I thought I'd share a couple of them here, just to remind you that you're not alone in this sometimes uphill organizational journey. Have a "why" you'd like to share? Post it in the comments below.

I also wanted to remind you that you can check out the first chapter of Know Thyself by going to the "Know Thyself Bonus Content" tab at the top of this page or by using the Look Inside feature on Amazon.

Have a great weekend!!

Thursday, May 30, 2019

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Dialing it Down (Part 1: Lists)

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
This year, the last month of spring semester was more hectic than usual. Traveling to Ireland over break and getting ready to release a book were both wonderful things but piling them on top of a full schedule made for very little down time. I was on top of things because I had to be but, by the time the semester ended, I was ready for a break.

Now that my break has arrived, the pendulum has swung in the other direction. I'm still getting things accomplished, but not as quickly as I'd like, perhaps because the list is long. Often, at the end of the day, I feel frustrated by all that remains to be done and chastise myself for being lazy, forgetting that the down time I'm taking (by accident or by design) is not only exactly what I need, but is feeding the work I am doing as well.

As we move from one time of year -- or time of life -- to another, we need time to transition. I know this. I've even learned that transitioning in and out of semesters takes more time than I expect, yet I still grow impatient with myself. I have not turned into a complete couch potato and, though the list of things I want to accomplish remains long, I'm making progress.

But I'm still not satisfied.

Today and next Thursday, I'm focusing on ways to establish some balance as I transition out of a time of busyness and into a time that's still busy, but more low-key. As always, your comments and questions are welcome, so please feel free to share suggestions or ask questions.

Meanwhile, here are today's three keys: how to use lists as a tool instead of a bludgeon.

Alexas_Fotos via Pixabay
Recognize that what looks good on paper always takes more time than the words convey. When my energy is high, I feel as though I can take on the world and, when I get excited about projects, my energy soars. This combination fuels endless to-do lists that take up very little space on the page, but require a substantial chunk of time and energy. "Clean the basement," for example, is three little words, but requires a commitment of time and energy far beyond what those three small words convey. Remembering that just because I can fit everything on the page doesn't mean I can fit it into the day is important.

Put yourself and your priorities on the list. During tax season, accountants don't have down time, but during the off-season, they need time to recharge. Why am I talking about accountants? Because I'm really good at seeing other people's need for down time, yet I'm impatient with myself when I need the same thing. Just as I don't expect my daughter to roll right out of her semester and into a summer job, I need to cut myself some slack, too. Time to read a book or even play mindless games on my iPad resets the pendulum. Making sure I don't become so productivity-driven that I can't step away from the computer for some human contact -- unscheduled, even! -- is important, too. Important enough to make it onto the list, just in case I get into the zone and forget that checking things off isn't the only thing that matters.
janjf93 via Pixabay

Make a backwards to-do list. When I get to the end of the day and chastise myself for being "lazy," I need to reflect back on what I did accomplish instead of focusing on what I've left undone. My favorite tool for doing this is a backwards to-do list -- writing down what I did all day after I did it. Usually, the list is evidence of a much higher level of productivity than I gave myself credit for. In addition, it reveals obstacles (how long did I spend playing games on my iPad??) and unexpected bonuses that might not have been on the agenda, but were worth our time (like lunch with my daughter).

Drop by next Thursday for Part 2. Meanwhile, let me know if there's something you want me to address. I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in this dilemma.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Tapping into the Tools we Have

ptra via Pixabay
My dad loves sharing his magazines with me. If I asked him to, I'm sure he'd just recycle them instead of handing them off to me to add to my already burgeoning collection but, text-junkie that I am, I can't resist a pile of free reading material.

Some of the magazines make the cut, some don't, and some surprise me. The May issue of Money magazine, for example, had several articles that captured my attention. One of them, in the front section of the magazine, featured Sonia Lewis, a.k.a. the Student Loan Doctor. Sonia is not a doctor. In fact, according to the article by Kaitlin Mulhere, "Lewis is not a student loan or financial aid professional and she has no formal training in financial planning."

I can identify quite a bit with Sonia Lewis. Like Lewis who, according to Mulhere's article in Money, went from self-proclaimed "Overdraft Queen" to Student Loan Doctor, my expertise in organizing comes from personal experience and immersing myself in books, articles and information about organization that fits me. I'm not a professional organizer (though I did take an online professional organization course one summer), a decorator or even a visual artist.

What I am, however, matters more. I'm a wife and working, empty-nesting mom who juggles responsibilities on multiple fronts. I'm a former school counselor and psychology instructor who believes in human potential. I'm a five-foot-tall stubborn Jersey girl (redundant, perhaps) who eschews one-size-fits-all anything. (C'mon. I'm 60" tall. Am I really supposed to believe the same anything will fit both me and Michelle Obama?)

Some days, imposter syndrome hits me hard. Although I write about organization, I'm still an organizational work-in-progress. My home is not perfect. Some days, my I need to see it/drop and run styles win the battle and I collapse on the sofa, determined that tomorrow I will tackle the piles.

But all of this has taught me that the most important organizational principles have nothing to do with  organizational strategies. Instead, they have to do with accepting ourselves, embracing our styles and rejecting perfection as anything but an ephemeral state. Once we have the confidence to reject one-size-fits-all approaches, we're free to explore our options and tap into our latent creativity so we can not only overcome our organizational obstacles, but also press them into service. Or, to quote the infamous Ms. Frizzle, "Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!"
As an adjunct professor, I'm a big fan of degrees and courses of study. But, as an instructor of psychology, I'm also profoundly aware of concepts like grit and resilience and a big believer in the power of confidence and a sense of humor. And, so far, I haven't found the instructions for either of those inside a book or magazine, hand-me-down or otherwise.

So, maybe I'm not a professional organizer. Maybe what I am is proof that if I can find organizational solutions, so can you, even if we walk different paths with different detours and different styles.

All it takes is a little faith, a little perseverance and a little style.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Day Made!!

3 Keys Thursday: 3 (or more) Keys to Systems that Work

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
After a semester in Ireland, my daughter has returned home. We're very happy to have her back.

Her and all of her stuff.

She's been on an organizing spree, which is both good and bad. She has several piles of things to give away but, quite often, the piles of things she doesn't know what to do with end up in my possession.  

It's times like this that put our systems to the test. Can they absorb the influx? Are they up for the challenge?

When your system is working:

The side effects of your default styles are minimized -- or better yet, gone. Pile-ups, mystery locations, crushed, torn or broken items and that disconcerting feeling of being completely overwhelmed by stuff are mere memories when a system is working. For someone like me with an I need to see it personal style, a working system also means I'm not afraid to put things away. When  storage systems are designed to take our styles into consideration, it's as easy to put things away as it is to put them down.

You use it on a regular basis. Good systems are easy to use and maintain. If you're bypassing the system, a key component of one of your styles is probably going unaddressed. Set aside the "shoulds" and plan realistically. Maybe that file cabinet that keeps everything hidden is a great tool for your spouse, but if you pile things on top of it instead of opening the drawers, maybe a file holder with an open top is a better fit for you.

You can find what you're looking for.  To me, the true test of being organized is that I can find what I'm looking for in five minutes or less. Smoothly running systems earn their keep in saved time and reduced stress. If you have to go on a scavenger hunt for something every time you need it, it may be time to re-think the location you've chosen.

Given where we are in our organizing process at the moment, I'd add one more thing: a working system has room to grow -- not so much room that it can become a dumping ground, but enough wiggle room that it can absorb the addition of new items that inevitably become a part of the picture. -- as they do when my daughter comes home for the summer.

Perhaps the best payoff of all is this. When my daughter hands me something and says, "Where should I put this?" I immediately know the answer to that question. We're not quite there yet.

But we're getting close.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Seeking Sustainability

It's been a busy and exciting week, and it's only Wednesday! Over the weekend, I put together some visuals (like the one at left) to post on social media. I also wrote Monday's post about my planned countdown to release. And then, on Monday, I got a surprise.

The Kindle edition of Know Thyself is available!

Now, that's the kind of surprise I like -- especially on the heels of all the preparation I've been doing. In addition to sharing my visuals on social media, I have some real-world events planned, along with a webcast tomorrow. (You can read about all of that here).

As with my blogs, though, I don't want my posts to be merely advertisements, so I've been focusing on two important aspects of organization: why we organize and the idea that it's a process.

Getting organized is about defining the sweet spot between what comes into our homes and what goes out. Some things stay only briefly; others stay for a season or they come to live with us long-term and require homes of their own (storage space) within our homes. Which precise items make the cut is up to us, and we retain the freedom to change our minds day by day and moment by moment. In the end, the things that stay say as much about us as about our systems and our styles.

This is why sustainable organization isn't a one-size-fits all or a one-and-done proposition, and why it can sometimes be so frustrating. Getting organized short-term isn't really all that difficult; the hard part is staying organized -- creating a system that works with us and keeps pace with the people and things that are relevant in our lives as we -- and they -- change and grow.

It's in learning to embrace the process that we come to view organization as not just a weekend chore, but a way of life. The flip side to this coin is that our work is never completely done -- there is always something more to sort, to contain, to find a home for. While that can seem daunting, it can also keep things interesting. Imagine never changing your wardrobe or your decor or if the view outside your window never changed with the seasons. While there can be comfort in sameness, a lack of variety can also be stifling.

So, we accept the process, balancing the new and the old, acquisition and release, perfection and imperfection. And, along the way, we establish some order, some clear space and, if we keep our priorities in order, a little bit of the peace that comes with clear space as well.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Why Organize?

My book launches in a little over a month, so I've begun my countdown! I surveyed my launch team, asked some friends and family and did some brainstorming of my own to create a series of #whyorganize and #itsaprocess posts on Twitter and Instagram. The first one (today's) is the photo at left.

Have your own answer to the question, "Why organize?" Share it in the comments below and I just might make it into my next Twitter or Instagram post.

To stay up-to-date on all my visual creations, follow me on Twitter (@orgbystyle), Instagram (Lisa Lawmaster Hess), Pinterest (Lisa Lawmaster Hess) or Facebook (Lisa Lawmaster Hess, Writer). Or, you can just keep hanging out here for updates, as usual.

See you Wednesday, with another bit of book news. If you're observant, you might just find it before then and scoop me!

Thursday, May 16, 2019

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Tackling my Infinite Inbox

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
It's here! It's here! The end of the semester is here!

It's all over but the grading, and most of that is nearly complete as well.

I took a chunk of time this afternoon just to be lazy, and it was wonderful. But, with only three weeks until summer classes start, there are some things I need to dig into. Book promotion, neglected household tasks and yesterday's topic, my infinite inbox, top the list.

As I was settling in to write this post, I remembered that I wrote about my email conundrum three years ago (I even used the same graphic!), so I went back to those posts for some ideas. Although I've adopted some good habits (delete the junk daily, if possible), I have been unable to stem the tide.

So it's time to go back in.

I've decided that my approach has to be similar to what I'd do if my inbox were an actual pile of mail instead of a virtual one. So, here are my three keys for slimming down my inbox.

Get rid of the junk mail. When I bring the mail in from the mailbox in front of our house each day, the first thing I do is sort it so that the junk doesn't linger. That way, even if I don't get to the rest of the mail right away, the pile I have to tackle is smaller and more relevant. With email, I can even go one step further and unsubscribe from the worst offenders.

Turn the pile over. When the mail (or any other pile of papers) accumulates, it's often easiest to sort from the bottom because that's where the outdated items are, which makes culling the pile simpler. With email, I need to scroll to the bottom and start there. In addition, I can search by source and set a cut-off date for all those newsletters that contain information that is no longer news.

Find a home for the stuff I need/want to keep. I have built filing systems for bills and real-world mail that work with my I need to see it personal style but figuring out what to do with the oldies-but-no-longer-goodies that survive the inbox purge is substantially more challenging. Because email is somewhat invisible, especially to someone with an I need to see it personal style, making it even less visible can be a bit anxiety-producing. I don't have a ready response for this except to clean up the folders I have and baby step my way into a few more so that I can find easy-to-use homes that work for me instead of stressing me out. And then I need to use them.

I've already taken the first steps by improving my daily email habits. Most days, I successfully delete my junk mail from my inbox (though keeping up with it is sometimes a challenge). I've removed the email program from my iPad, eliminating one place where I used to check mail (multiple checkpoints further complicated the problem) and, when I got my new laptop, I installed only my main account. For better or for worse, this means there's a lot less junk in the inbox.

joakant via Pixabay
Thursday night is one of my favorite television nights so tonight, I will take my first baby steps. I'll delete junk, start at the bottom and set target numbers, deciding how many emails I want to delete in this first pass. Doing this during the commercials will enable me to work at this overwhelming task in small chunks of time.

So, I'm going in. Wish me luck. And, if you have any helpful hints, I'd be most grateful if you shared them in the comments below.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Infinite Inbox

ijmaki via Pixabay
Last Thursday, I posted something in class for my students' reference and, at the same time, unwittingly shared another piece of information that didn't make me look so good.

"Professor Hess!" one of my young ladies cried. "Do you really have 4,175 unread emails?"

I reassured her that most of them were newsletters that I'd go in and delete once the semester was over.

She was no less horrified.

My email inbox is my organizational Achilles' heel. Like the piles of to-be-read books that are on bookshelves throughout my house, they belie both a sense of optimism and a lack of time. I keep thinking I'm going to have time to dig in and see what goodies lie beneath the snappy subject lines and tantalizing titles.

Only I never do.

So, now that the semester is (almost) over, it's (almost) time to dig in. The first step is to set parameters (what to get rid of and what to keep), but that also raises some questions. If "newsletter" implies "news," for example, how old does an email have to be to no longer qualify as "news"? If I keep tax records for seven years, how long do I keep emails from former students? And, perhaps most important, how do I create and access the archives on my school account?

These questions are just the tip of the iceberg and I'm sure that once I dig in, new ones will emerge as well. While I'd love to set lofty goals like inbox zero, I'm too realistic -- and too I need to see it -- to even dream of such a possibility.

So for now, I'll just settle for reducing the number to something less embarrassing.

And maybe unsubscribing from a few of those newsletters.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

3 Keys to Bringing Your Dorm Dweller Home

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
It's that time of year! Time to pack 'em up and bring 'em home! Since my daughter spent her spring semester abroad, we aren't making the trek to her school to bring her and her car load of belongings home. This year, our main job is figuring out (once again) where we're going to put everything when she arrives. I'm hoping that will be an easier task since airline restrictions mean she's not bringing an entire apartment home this time.

Getting ready to pick up your dorm dweller? Here are three keys to making the whole process go more smoothly.

Preparation. Since they've been entrenched in finals and spring fever (not necessarily in that order), your kids may or may not have actually planned ahead and started packing and/or sending things home ahead of time. Whether you start the packing or they do, encourage them to separate the things they'll need for the summer from the things that are going back to school in the fall and then label everything! And, if you live far away, consider renting a storage unit for the summer. Your child's roommates or friends might be interested in sharing the space -- and the cost -- and everyone in the car will appreciate the extra space.

Tools. Even if your kids say they're almost finished, it never hurts to have a few boxes, bins and one-step packing containers with you, just in case. Bins and boxes work well for things that can be stashed away for the whole summer while fabric totes are handy for last minute items and things that need to remain accessible on the way home. In addition, they're lightweight and crushable, so, if they remain unused, they won't take up valuable elbow room on the way home. Don't forget labels and/or a permanent marker for keeping track of which container is which.

Patience. You may be ready to empty the room and hit the road, but keep in mind that these departures can be emotional for your child, who is saying goodbye to all of the people he or she has spent the better part of the last year with. Sure, technology makes it easier than ever to stay in touch, but, as you already know from your year apart from your teen, it's not the same. If time is of the essence, warn your child ahead of time, but be prepared for things to be more free flow than efficient.

Already have this pack-up-and-go stuff down to a science? Share your tips in the comments below where newbie empty nesters like me will be sure to appreciate them!

Great ideas for storing all that stuff once they hit home turf? Clue us in!

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Realistic Organization

I used to be embarrassed by the state of my house often. It wasn't terrible -- just cluttered and very, very lived-in. My I need to see it/drop and run styles were in evidence in many places and on many flat surfaces. Having visitors required either hours dedicated to finding homes for things and putting them in those places or a frantic dash through the house to grab and stash.

These days, I'm embarrassed a lot less often.
If you were expecting me to say I'm never embarrassed, I hope you're not shocked or disappointed. The fact is that knowing about organizing -- and even writing about organizing -- is different from doing it.

When it comes to organizing (and keeping things uncluttered) the "doing" is often hampered by real life obstacles. Things like time, space and conflicting priorities lead us to take shortcuts that feel comfortable in the moment (like dropping and running, cramming and jamming or putting things somewhere), but that lead to piles and clutter we end up having to tackle later on.

Organizing is not a one-and-done process. (Wouldn't it be wonderful if it were?) Balancing what comes in with what goes out in a timely fashion requires consistent time and attention. As long as  both time and attention are plentiful, things go relatively smoothly. But, when we get busy or overwhelmed or other priorities emerge, it's easy for things to pile up. Quickly.

Tomorrow is my last day of classes for the semester. This week, I've emerged from the grading cave long enough to tackle a pile or two and create some clear space. Because I have workable systems in place, it's a fairly easy process, but it still requires time and attention. Fortunately, each clear space motivates me and reminds me that I know how to do this. I just need to have all of the tools -- including the intangible ones -- at my disposal.

When it comes to organization, no matter how much I learn and how much I write about it, I remain a work in progress. Some days, it's hard not to see this through the lens of failure -- as though simply understanding what I need to do will get the job done.

But it won't. Although knowledge alone is insufficient to keep my surfaces clear, there is one piece of information that helps me keep things in perspective -- one that I remind myself almost daily.

It's a process.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Mentally Managing Too Much to Do

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
College semesters, like so many other things, have an ebb and flow to them. In the past two weeks, the flow of papers, exams and concerned students has been steady enough for the work waters to rise to flood level.

This is not a surprise. It happens every semester.

So often, when we find ourselves in rising waters, figuratively speaking, we concentrate only on keeping our heads above water. While this is essential, how we manage our mental state amid the deluge is essential as well.

Clearly, my stacks of papers and stuffed inbox are not life-threatening, but my attitude about managing them can make a big difference in the quality of my life and the lives of those around me. Here are three keys I try to keep in mind.

Some time lines are flexible. There are many deadlines at this point in the semester, so the last thing I need to do is impose more deadlines on myself, especially if those deadlines are unrealistic. Makes sense, right? But every semester, I need to remind myself of this and fight the urge to think I can read 30 papers in one sitting and still remain a semi-functioning human. Giving myself the time I need to not just do required tasks but do them well benefits both me and my students.

Baby steps. Some days, I think this will be engraved on my tombstone (right beside "it's a process"). Breaking a task down into smaller chunks not only makes it more manageable, but it enables me to build in breaks -- a wonderful, restorative feature necessary when the finish line seems far off. Powering through seems as though it will get us to our destination faster, but it can be overrated, and it might even backfire, causing us to hit a wall, unable to go any further.

Some things are not expendable. Sleep. Sustenance. Time with family. Okay, so I rescheduled a hair cut, and a massage (both of which I should have had the foresight not to schedule this week in the first place) and I begged off choir practice so I could recapture that time to check tasks off my list. These were trade-offs so I could make time to do things like talk with my daughter on the phone, have dinner with my husband and sneak in a nap when my eyes couldn't focus on one more paper. Knowing our limits isn't weakness. It's wisdom.

Two weeks from now, all of the papers I've collected will be graded and I will have listened to my last presentation of the semester. Meanwhile, I will never have this particular combination of students again and I owe it to them -- and to me -- to give them my best self. Without the right mindset, she's nowhere to be found.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Lister or Flitter?

Today is one of those power-through-the-list days, so I'm sharing a vintage post that asserts there's more than one way to get things done. 

Happy Wednesday!

Some days, I start with a list. Other days, I flit.

Sometimes, I'm a linear thinker. I create a to-do list and work my way through it, step by step, item by item. Methodically. Efficiently. When I'm drowning in projects, as I am right now, this happens a lot.

Other days, I'm more scattered, or the piles are too massive, or...something. On those days, I flit. I do this mostly in the morning, with more speed and energy if I'm also drinking my favorite Starbucks beverage (iced chai, preferably a venti, with an extra pump of chai syrup). Caffeine seems to increase my efficiency.

I start at the top of a pile (did I mention that there are typically multiple piles?) and simply move from one thing to another, tackling whatever's in front of me, in no particular order, except the order in which I uncover/come across it. I develop a rhythm, and though I may leap from item to item and project to project, I get a lot accomplished. One paper leads to another, which leads to a file, which leads to a magazine I must thumb through before tossing. The piles diminish, my stress level drops and the desktop - or at least a small portion of it - becomes visible once more.

Other times I start at the bottom of the pile -- an organizing trick I learned years ago, probably on HGTV's Mission: Organization. The items at the bottom of the pile, by virtue of having been there longer, are often outdated and/or easier to part with.

I'm a professional organizer's nightmare, moved by mood, not method. I'm a visual organizer, an I need to see it person, someone who has to see things in order to remember to do them. And, as a writer, I'm a creative person, dropping bits of ideas like so many bread crumbs, but lacking the time to sweep them all into a neat pile. When it comes time to make sense of the mayhem, I like being able to choose my plan of attack. 

My Type A friends shake their heads and smile that smile that says they think I'm hopeless.

I prefer to think of myself as flexible.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Temporarily Switching Things Up

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
When it comes to getting organized, consistency is key.

Except when it's not.

Yesterday, I wrote about ditching my tried-and-true system for a simpler plan -- temporarily. For the past couple of days, it's been exactly what I needed but, when I found myself longing for a daily plan, I knew it was time to switch back.

While we should always be open to new solutions when the strategies we're using aren't working, I think there are also times when we should abandon the thing that works for something else. Here are three that I can think of.

  • When it's what we need in the moment. Coming back from nearly a week away, my brain was spinning with things I needed to do. My usual system involves a combination of lists and time slots, but my immediate need was to just dump everything onto a list where I could take stock. The time slots would come later -- but not until after I'd checked a few things off the master list which, for sanity's sake, had only two categories.
  • When you're in transition. This definitely piggybacks on what I wrote above, but it can also happen on its own. There are times that require schedules and there are times that require a free flow, moving from one thing to another as time and mood permit. When we're making the transition from one into the other, we may need to adjust our systems as well.
  • When the amount of stuff temporarily overwhelms the system. If I had attempted to take the rather substantial number of items on my two-column list and slide them into time slots, I'd have run out of space on the page I use for my day-by-day schedule. Then, instead of becoming a tool, this day-by-day list would have become a source of stress. Tools should always work in our service, not the other way around. When we discover that the tools are running the show, it's time to step back and ask ourselves if we need something different.
This morning, I sat down with one of my week-at-a-glance sheets and pulled everything together, assigning times to what I could and listing what I couldn't yet assign a time to. By Sunday evening, I'll be ready to return to my usual system but, for the past few days, my temporary system has been just what I needed to help me return slowly and (somewhat) smoothly to the real world. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

New List, New Look

Holgi via Pixabay
Last week, my husband and I went to visit my daughter, who is finishing up a semester in Ireland. I applied all of my organizational strategies to packing in a logical fashion, only to have to unload and reload as we went through security, who had no respect for my styles whatsoever. And, not knowing what to expect when it came to the weather, I seriously overpacked.

But none of that stood in the way of my fun.

Now I'm back, the fun is behind me and everything I left at home -- papers to grade, book tasks to manage, writing assignments to complete -- is tugging at me. Typically, I spend some time on Sunday night or Monday morning making lists and assigning tasks to times, using my "This Week" pad to create a lovely little I need to see it reference list. But this week, we were in Ireland on Sunday and spent most of Monday on a plane or en route to one. At one point during the journey home, my husband looked me at and asked me what I was thinking. I told him I was thinking I needed to make a list of everything I needed to do.

And I did. I could even see it in my head. Two neat columns, bearing no resemblance to the day-by-day format I cherished on a weekly basis.

When I got home, I grabbed a steno pad and set to work. Column 1: Work. Column 2: Not Work (a.k.a. everything else).

It's now Wednesday and I've supplemented that list with a Wednesday schedule. Have I dropped the ball? Abandoned my strategies? Gone over to the organizational dark side?

Pexels via Pixabay
Nope. I've merely responded to what I need at this moment. The end of the semester is less than a month away, the number of classes that remain to be planned and taught now in the single digits. As I try to shift gears out of vacation mode and into nose-to-the-grindstone mode, I need to see the big picture, which means I need to use a list strategy that gives me plenty of room to see all the stuff. Right now, that's my two-column format.

Next week, I'll return to my usual strategy. By then, I'll have crossed nuisance items off my list and the remaining items will earn their slots on the day-to-day schedule. But for now, as I transition back to the real world, I need something a little less structured.

How do you know when it's time to change up your strategy, whether temporarily or permanently? I'll take a look at some of those ways tomorrow. Meanwhile, I'd love to hear from you in the comments.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Containers to Get Rid of Today

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
I'm taking some time off to be with family this week, so I'm re-running a favorite post from May 2017.

We've all done it. We've succumbed. Maybe it was a planner that promised to do everything but organize our time for us. Maybe it was a purse that claimed you'd never again have to dump it just to find the one thing you were looking for. Maybe it was those bins that you just knew would remove clutter from your life.

Except that they didn't.

When is an organizing tool actually an obstacle?

When it doesn't match your styles. For me, one of the best things about identifying my styles was that it helped me to stop buying every miracle organizer that came down the pike. If it doesn't match my styles, it doesn't make it into my shopping cart.

When it's too small for the task at hand. The best containers are, like Baby Bear's bed and porridge, "just right." They fit the space we've allocated and they have a little bit of room left over so that other, similar items can be added as necessary. Too-big containers are unwieldy, but too-small containers are perhaps even more frustrating. By the time we get in the habit of using them, we've outgrown them. While it's reasonable to expect to sort and review the contents of our containers from time to time, too-small organizers require this process much too often.

When it's too complicated. Let's face it. Most of us want to make it as easy to put things away as it is to drop them on the nearest counter. The more complicated the container is, the less likely it is that we'll use it on a regular basis.

Take inventory at your house. Do you have any of these containers in your possession? If so, it's time to consider a container upgrade. Ditch the miracle organizers and their empty promises for storage that actually makes your life easier.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Just One

TheDigitalArtist via Pixabay

Last week, I was feeling overwhelmed. My dining room table was covered with papers to grade and things to attend to once the papers were graded. Everywhere I looked there was something to do and every time I walked through the dining room, I wanted to just close my eyes and wish everything on the table away.

When life gets busy, it's often hard to stay on top of things. Luckily, sometimes the answer to making progress is "just one."

Just one minute. While a minute won't be enough time to clean out the garage (or get through all those piles on my table), it's long enough to put away a pile of clothes, sort mail or make a list of steps to take to complete the project when you can give it more time.

Just one pile. A pile of clean laundry is usually pretty easy to manage in just a minute (or so) because everything in the pile (most likely) has a home. Accumulated piles of papers and homeless items can be a bit challenging. If you don't have time to take care of the whole pile, set a timer, flip the pile over to start sorting from the bottom and get as far as you can in the time you have.

Just one drawer or shelf. Sure, it'd be great to clean out the whole dresser, closet or pantry, but often, that's just not possible. Tackling one finite section of the space in question can give you a feeling of satisfaction, which can motivate you to tackle the next drawer or shelf when you have time.

Just one hot spot. Every home has them -- the spots that seem to invite people to drop things and run. Creating clear space -- even if only in one small area -- provides both satisfaction and visual evidence of organizational progress. And if you can delegate the putting away of the items to the owners, that's even better.

Next time you're feeling overwhelmed, consider the concept of "just one." It may not get things completely organized, but it's a start and, sometimes, getting started is half the battle.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Ditching Those Questionable Clothes

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Yesterday, I was forced to face my closet. Warm spring temperatures had me digging for clothing I hadn't worn in a while, not just because of the season, but because of the outfit I chose to kick off the season in.

Today, I went to work in a shirt I promised myself I was wearing for the last time. It was...okay, but I have better options and, as long as this one is in there, I'm going to end up wearing it again and feeling just as dissatisfied. 

Do you have difficulty weeding out your closet? Not sure if a questionable item should go or stay? Here are three key items to say goodbye to.

  • Clothes that are falling apart. No matter how much you love it, if it’s frayed, torn or beyond repair, it’s time to say goodbye. 
  • Clothes that no longer flatter. My shirt today was a notable example. It was...okay and since it was under a jacket, I could get away with it. But when we wear clothes that are less than flattering we don't feel as good as we do when we wear things we love. Tonight, the shirt is in the hamper. After it's laundered, it's going into the donation box. 
  • Clothes that have seen better days. Black tank tops turned navy/gray. White tee shirts turned gray/yellow. Wardrobe basics -- the things we reach for on a regular basis -- are often the things we hang on to the longest -- even when they're past their prime. When the wardrobe staples start showing their age, it's time to add them to the shopping list. And, when we get home with the new stuff, the old stuff needs to go.

Sounds simple, right? It is. But that doesn't mean there aren't obstacles.

Steve A. Johnson via Pixabay
As for me, I don’t like a feeling of scarcity. I like to feel like I have options. These choices may sound obvious, but if we have an emotional attachment to an article of clothing or to that sense of having a wide variety of choices (some of us just don’t like wearing the same thing over and over again) it can be hard to do even with seems obvious.

So, start where you can, and practice one in/one out (getting rid of something old when you buy something new) as often as possible. Then, even the change of seasons can't throw you for a loop.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Clothing Conundrum

sardenacarlo via Pixabay
Yesterday, the temperature leapt into the upper 70s. It was a lovely, sunshiney spring day.

And I had nothing to wear.

Okay, that's not exactly true. I had a new skirt all picked out. This was a big deal, as I rarely wear dresses and skirts in any time but the summer. Consequently, I had mentally prepared most of my outfit.

Most apparently being the operative word.

By the time I finished putting together an outfit I was happy with, I had to race to class, leaving my bed strewn with belts and other discarded items of clothing.

But mostly belts.

I wear a belt even more rarely than I wear a skirt and there were plenty of belts on that overloaded hanger that were past their prime -- a state of affairs I probably should have anticipated before I got dressed.

Okay. Well, I kind of did. I'd mentally picked out a belt the night before, except that when I went to put it on yesterday it guessed it.

Past its prime.

As someone with an I need to see it personal style, leaving the belts strewn on the bed was probably the best, if not the most organized, way for me to leave the room. It guaranteed that, when I got changed, I'd sort through those belts -- or at least some of them -- thinning the herd and increasing the likelihood that the ones that remained were at least serviceable.

Although I was a little frustrated by this whole process, it benefited me as well. Trying to objectively sort through possessions, deciding which to keep and which to abandon can be a challenging task. For me, with clothing in particular, it's easiest to get rid of something when I've tried it on and discarded it, leaving it abandoned on the bed.

I'm still hanging on to way too many belts "just in case," partly because I'm mourning the loss of the one I had to discard, as it was the most interesting one of the bunch. But, I now know that this is something I need to upgrade in my wardrobe, along with the tops that didn't make the cut for yesterday's outfit. I've learned that having something that's a better fit all around (fit-wise and style-wise) makes it much easier to toss the things that no longer work, include the "almost right" staples that I allow to take up space for far longer than they should. Informed by what didn't work, it's now easier to make a shopping list made up of what I know will work and to eliminate many unsuitable choices at a glance.

How's your spring wardrobe shaping up? Is it time for an intervention?

Thursday, April 4, 2019

3 Keys to Setting REAL Goals

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
As it turns out, teaching three classes and getting a book ready for publication is enough to fill -- and, some days, overload -- a schedule. This embarrassment of riches has led me to go in search of blogs worth re-posting on days like today when fresh content is simply too elusive.

So, if spring has motivated you to set some goals, but big, fat, hairy goals seem too overwhelming for a season where the days are longer and things feel lighter, I invite you to consider the possibility of REAL goals.

There's more than one way to set a goal. While I teach my students to set SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound) and I try to do the same, I've discovered that sometimes a less structured goal can work just as well.

Is this just an excuse for laziness? It could be. But I think that, in specific circumstances, a "mushy" goal can work just as well. When the thing we're aiming to do is meaningful (especially if just doing it is rewarding) and we're striving to fit it into our lives in an unstructured kind of way (e.g. to merely do more of something), a REAL goal (yes, I just made that up)* is less likely to backfire.

What's a REAL goal?
Reasonable (we can imagine incorporating this into our lives)
Enticing      (we are motivated to incorporate this into our lives)
Attainable   (we can reasonably carve out a small space of time to make this happen)
Limited       (we can enrich our lives even by doing this only a little at a time)
Here are 3 keys to setting and achieving a REAL goal:
  • Make it meaningful. REAL goal should be something you want to do because it matters to you. It should not be something someone else wants you to do or something you think you should do. REAL goals are just for you.
  • Make it accessible. When I made a Lenten resolution to read more, I put my Kindle in my purse so that wherever my purse went, books did, too. At home, I made sure to leave my print books and magazines where I could see them (not all of them at once, of course). In addition to making it easy to grab reading material, even when I had only a few minutes, visibility served as a reminder to make time for my REAL goal.
  • Accept the ebb and flow. If you want a structured goal that makes you accountable on a regular basis, set a SMART goal. If you want to gradually integrate something of importance into your life, set a REAL goal. Because REAL goals are not time-bound, it's fine if we spend five minutes on them one day, fifteen minutes the next and, some days, we neglect them entirely. The fact that REAL goals are motivating in and of themselves works in their favor, nudging us to go back to them if we spend too much time away.
REAL goals weave richness into our lives by giving us the opportunity to step back and think about the things that matter to us. When our days seem like endless to-do lists, it's hard to imagine that will ever change, and it can be a daily challenge to find time to do the things that make us uniquely who we are. REAL goals encourage us to do just that.

*I did a quick search to see if REAL goals were already a thing, just not a thing I'd heard of. A couple of people have written about the concept of real goals, but I found nothing that matches my description.

Click here to request a free PDF on THREE KEYS TO SUCCESSFUL GOAL SETTING.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Book Swag and Free PDFs

Last week at this time, as I was trying to motivate myself to dig into exams that needed grading, I got a wonderful distraction that did nothing to increase my motivation for grading.

My book swag arrived.

I now have post cards, book marks, stickers and a lovely poster for book signings. And I'm happy to share almost all of them. (Everything except the poster).

If you'd like a post card, a book mark or a sticker, use the contact form at right to send me your mailing address and I'll drop them in the mail.

Working hard to keep get piles in control at your house? Not really in need of any swag? I might still have something for you. Use the contact form at right to request FREE PDFs on organizational myths, goal-setting, and using your personal and organizational styles. For those, all I need is an email address.

And if you want to preorder the book, just click on any of the links below.
Preorder from Barnes & Noble

Preorder from Amazon

Preorder from OSV