Thursday, March 21, 2019

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Dealing with those Piles

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Yesterday, I wrote about my ubiquitous piles (and not for the first time). Though I'm pretty sure as an I need to see it/drop and run person, I will never lead a pile-free existence, I also know there are strategies I can try to keep the piles at bay or under control. Here are three of them.

Pick up as I go. When I'm tired and/or overwhelmed, I have to work a lot harder to overcome my drop and run organizational style. Knowing this, I also know that I need to make it a point to pick up as I go or finish one thing before beginning another, so piles don't get started in the first place. If my night owl self can't manage this when I drop a pile onto the table before I go to bed, my next recourse should be to pick it up and put it where it belongs as early as possible the next day.

Play to my strengths. If I'm going to start a pile (and, let's face it, as someone with an I need to see it personal style, it's pretty much inevitable that will happen sometimes), I need to keep them as under control as possible. Keeping the piles small (and therefore easy to attack) and/or minimal keeps things looking neater. Even better, choosing a brightly colored and/or labeled folder or container in which to house my pile(s) keeps things looking more organized and still calls out to me to tackle what's inside.

Give it five! When piles emerge, as they inevitably will, chipping away at them a little at at time can help keep things under control. Taking just five minutes to sort and/or consolidate piles can help to ensure that they don't take over all of the flat surfaces in my house.

I wish I could make the acquisition of piles in my house a zero sum game, but that's just not realistic. Knowing this is the case, I need to make sure to do all I can within my styles to be the master of my piles rather than letting them take over.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Who Knew Piles Could Be So Loud?

Now, if my piles looked like this....
(Photo: tookapic via Pixabay)
Last Friday morning, I realized that my house was screaming at me -- or, more specifically, things that needed to be done were calling out to me. The I need to see it piles that had popped up seemingly everywhere hadn't been a problem the week before when winter break left me feeling as though I had time to do something with them. That week, the piles murmured, talking among themselves, occasionally encouraging others to join them when I wasn't looking. Oh, sure, one might periodically call out to me as I passed by, but I could successfully shush it. After all, I had a whole week to get to the piles.

Until I didn't. 

By last Friday morning (the end of my first week back at work), the piles -- most of which were small stacks of things to sort through or attend to -- were loudly protesting my lack of attention, causing me to feel overwhelmed and more than a little bit grouchy. 

Sure, I have lists. But as someone with an I need to see personal style, my piles supplement my lists. Add to this process my drop and run organizational style, a little too much busyness and not quite enough time (don't even get me started on daylight savings time) and voilĂ ! A problem surfaces.

Or takes up residence. Potato, po-tah-to.

By the end of the weekend, I'd sorted through most of my little reminder stacks, doing, filing, paying, tossing. To make this sorting process easier, I set up a tray table in the family room.

Yes. It's still there. 

But it won't be for long. This afternoon, as soon as I post this, I'm tackling those last two piles. It should take me less than 15 minutes to put the papers and reading material on that table where they belong (and put the table away), yet it's fifteen minutes I didn't manage to carve out yesterday or the day before.

Our default styles are double-edged swords. They can point us in the direction of organizational systems that work, but when we get busy or tired or simply overwhelmed, old habits die hard. Dropping and running, cramming and jamming and putting things somewhere safe become the norm again. Lured in by the ease and comfort of old habits, we do what works.

Until it doesn't. 

Once we set up systems that work, we need to use them consistently. When life gets busy and we fall back into old patterns, we need to catch ourselves before things get out of hand. Then, step-by-step, one pile, crumpled piece of paper or stashed away item at a time, we need to set things right. 

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a table to clear.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Now Available for Preorder! (Plus a Bonus)

Organizing and tidying up has become a national obsession. We are on an endless quest for the perfect containers, boxes, totes, bags, bins, shelves, files, folders, and labels to tame our closets, corral our clutter, and eliminate chaos. Books and television shows promise the magical secrets to getting and staying organized. "So," you think, "if I just buy these things and follow these instructions, I will finally be organized and joyful!"
Author Lisa Lawmaster Hess is going to let you in on a secret: that doesn't work.
Why? Because you have been chasing one-size-fits-all solutions. But you are not a one-size-fits-all person. You're unique. (Just ask God, who created you!)
Know Thyself is an effective and fun way to discover your personal and organizational styles, and will help you own your style. You'll take what you might have thought was a flaw and learn how to make it a strength. And that, plus Lisa's help and a sense of humor, will guide you toward an organization method you can really stick with.

Preorder from Barnes & Noble

Preorder from Amazon

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Want more? Use the contact form at right to request FREE PDFs
 on organizational myths, goal-setting, 
and using your personal and organizational styles. 

Thursday, March 14, 2019

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Ways to Add Organization to Your Spring Cleaning

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
My mom was one of those people who actually enjoyed cleaning. My massage therapist, also named Joy, revels in cleaning as well.

I am not one of those people. I find joy in many things, but cleaning is rarely one of them.

I love to organize, however, and, I must admit, these two activities make a pretty good team. Whether you add a little organizing to your cleaning, like my mom, or add a little cleaning to your organizing, like me, here are a few ways to use one to boost the benefits of the other.

  • Clean and toss. There's nothing like being in cleaning mode to make it easy to toss things that are worn, outdated, broken or unnecessary. Not only does it make organizing easier (fewer items, fewer things to store) but it eliminates things that need to be cleaned (or moved so you can clean around them) as well.
  • Buntysmum via Pixabay
  • Clean and contain. As you clean, you're sure to come across items you want to keep that are either homeless or simply in the wrong place. Pile-ups are a clue that an organizational system is not working or is missing entirely. Once you put things where they belong, what items remain? How can you contain them so you can do away with the piles permanently?
  • Clean and brainstorm. There's nothing like having to move stuff before we can clean to make us rethink how we're storing our stuff in the first place. Besides getting rid of things, what else would make cleaning easier? Is the bin that's storing your stuff full of nooks and crannies you have to dust? If you put those piles of papers into something -- a file cabinet, a stacking file, a drawer -- could you clear up space and save yourself the step of moving things before you can dust anything?  
Whether you clean every day, every week, every spring or only when the dust bunnies threaten to overtake your desk, pairing cleaning with organizing can give you twice the benefit for the same expenditure of time. 

And, whether you love to clean and/or organize or equally dislike both, you're probably a fan of anything that makes life just a little bit easier.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Routine and Regulation

GDJ via Pixabay
Yesterday, my daughter and I had a conversation about routines. She's studying abroad this semester and distractions loom larger than ever in a place where she has not yet established a routine. At school, she knows where to go if her dorm gets too noisy, whom to hang around and whom to avoid if she seriously wants to get work done, and how to budget her time. In a different country, with different roommates and even a different philosophy about a student's role in the educational process, she's having to re-establish all of the habits she's come to take for granted. The push to create a sustainable routine is at odds with the pull of exploring and taking advantage of all a semester abroad has to offer.

Though my daughter has always been a routine-oriented kind of kid, I thought I was pretty flexible and that, for me, routines were more of a choice than a necessity. Then, this afternoon, I sat down to work on my blog posts and spent half an hour trying to get a working Internet connection. Because I am an adult, I did not throw a toddler-style temper tantrum, but if you can picture a hungry two-year-old who has missed her nap, you have a pretty good idea of how I felt on the inside.

Several restarts and a phone hotspot later, I got back on track. But by then, instead of being motivated and energized, I was grumpy and feeling pressed for time. Both my routine and my flow had been interrupted and I could practically see time ticking away.

Sometimes, routines are the things we get stuck in. We've-always-done-it-this-way thinking squelches both novelty and creativity and the same old same old can become mundane. Monotonous.


Other times, routines are the things that save us from ourselves and the distractions that threaten to be our undoing. Not doing what we 're supposed to be doing feels awkward and just plain wrong, so we stay on the path, follow the yellow brick road.

Get stuff done.
K-images via Pixabay

As much as I like to think I'm laid back and flexible, it's become clear, to me at least, that I need some semblance of a routine. One element of proof is how much more on track I feel now that my classes start at the same time every day. Though I've always loved having at least a little variety in each day, starting at the same time creates a rhythm I find helpful and, some days, even soothing.

The need for routine is a key part of temperament. Some people thrive on routine, while others are more go-with-the-flow. Circumstances can tweak this but, as is currently the case with my daughter, they rarely reverse our natural tendency.

As for me, I like a little bit of both. Without some sort of predictable flow to my day, I fear I won't accomplish what I set out tot do, but I also feel trapped when a day is so regimented as to not leave itself open to pleasant surprises. I try to adopt an "I am where I'm supposed to be attitude" and to employ patience.

At least until the cable goes out.

How about you? Are you more routine-oriented or go-with-the-flow?

Thursday, March 7, 2019

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Getting Organized and Staying that Way

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Even though we might never be perfectly organized, most of us are satisfied to be just organized enough. Just organized enough to find what we need when we need it. Just organized enough not to panic when last-minute company is headed our way. Just organized enough for things to run smoothly.

Most days, anyway.

Luckily, this isn't an impossible dream. Here are three key ingredients to getting organized and staying that way.

Styles. Identify them. Embrace them. Use them. Once we identify our styles, we automatically pay more attention to them, which leads us to experimenting with strategies that work for us. Embracing our styles allows us to let go of the guilt and shame that often accompany organizing in non-traditional ways. Once we do this, we can channel that wasted energy into actually getting organized instead of lamenting our organizational struggles.

Habits. Identifying our styles and putting them to work helps us to build new habits -- habits that take what we already do and use it to our advantage. Knowing that I'm a drop and run organizer helps me to catch myself in the act. Choosing tools that embrace this tendency (bins without lids, for example) leads me to dropping things where they belong. VoilĂ ! A new organizational habit. Best of all, each successful habit can form the foundation for others just like it.

Confidence. For those of us who've long struggled with organization, this can be the toughest of the three. Luckily, the first two ingredients are the catalyst for this one. Once we embrace our styles, viewing them not as stumbling blocks but as something we can use to our advantage, we become more confident in the way we do things. The more our strategies work, the less we care about what doesn't work, no matter how many other people swear by those strategies. Confidence in yourself is the fuel you need to succeed, in organization and in everything else.

And, if I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times.

It's a process.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Does it Have to be Perfect?

The other day on my Facebook page, I raised a question. If you were going to interview me about my new book, what would you want to know? 

I got some really good questions, but one of my favorites boiled down to this: do you practice what you preach?

Yes, I do. In fact, it's become so ingrained that I can't imagine how I did things any other way. After more than a decade of leading with my styles, I've become a lot more organized, and a lot more sure of what works and what doesn't -- at least for me.

But I'm not perfect and I don't believe that long-term perfection is achievable. The nature of life is such that we must manage a constant flow of "stuff." No matter how good I get at this, there are still days when I look around and wonder if this pile or that stack will ever find a permanent home.

Luckily, being organized isn't about being perfect. No matter your styles, here are a few things to keep in mind.

It's a process. Organizing takes time, and complete and total organization is not a realistic goal. There will always be some spot somewhere that's not quite right, and you may always be questing for the just right container that will take you one step closer to that elusive perfect solution. But imperfect is still workable and perfectly capable of instilling some order.

Celebrate successes. There's a reason is the first letter of the STYLE acronym. Our successes -- the tools we use, the routines we develop -- are the foundations of our organizational systems, and the first step on the road to Easy upkeep. When we find the things that work for us, we can stick with them and see where else we can duplicate the same solution. That's how good habits are born.

You can't make someone else love your style -- or adopt it. Organizing by STYLE is based on the idea that we each organize best when we work with what comes naturally. While I'd love to make my husband a little less I know I put it somewhere and he'd love to make me a lot less I need to see it, that's not the way it works. The best we can hope for is a better understanding of and a healthy respect for one another's default styles.

And when you think about it, that might be even better than perfect organization. 

Friday, March 1, 2019

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Managing a Gift of Time

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
I have skidded into winter break on a wing and a prayer with mere fumes powering my engine. I'm writing my 3 Keys Thursday post on Friday after finally posting my Friday Porch Swing Chronicles post a little after 4 p.m. (a.k.a. late -- at least by my standards). I'm feeling a little like Alexander -- he of the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day and about the only thing that would spark joy for me right now is a nap.

Not the way someone who writes about organization and time management should be arriving.

But it happens.

The last couple of weeks have been littered with snow days and delays. While this is usually a good thing, the unpredictability of it all has left me feeling off-kilter and as though there aren't enough hours in the day. While this feeling of too much to do, too little time is a typical one for me, the whole start-stop rhythm of the past couple of weeks has left me a little dizzy.

But now, I've arrived. It's winter break. I've been making a to-do list all week and it consists primarily of the kind of work that isn't really work -- things I've been longing to get to.

My stuff.

Here are the three keys I'm using to manage my gift of time.

Don't overbook. The only appointments on my list next week are a hair cut and a lunch with my dad.  I have learned from experience that having too many places I have to be at a certain time is not how I want to spend my time off. That's what my regular weeks look like. What I'm looking for is a balance between structure and flexibility. Lots of blank space on my calendar pages lets me adjust that balance day by day.

Do the thing you've been longing to do. For me, that's writing in uninterrupted chunks of time, working on the promotion surrounding Know Thyself and chipping away at the little projects that have been piling up around my house. Oh, and reading. For fun. Those are my three (okay, four) big things; everything else (task-wise) needs to fit in around those.

Don't forget to relax. My daughter is away at school, my husband will be at work and the house will be quiet. I've avoided making too many outside appointments, which frees me up to schedule time with myself. That may sound silly, but it's really easy for a week off to disappear in a flurry of tasks and necessities. Taking some down time will help me to recharge so that when I return to my usual responsibilities, I'll be ready to jump in with both feet.

At least until the next snow storm.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Why Do We Have a Bench if We Can't Sit on It?

Currently, the bench in our mudroom -- purchased to
provide additional storage -- is about as useful
as this one. (Photo: jill111 via Pixabay)
Sometimes, the things in my home that are out of place are all I can see. They call to me from the flat surfaces where they congregate and seem to invite guests so that the pile of things I eventually put away seems larger than the pile I put there in the first place.

Other times, similar piles (on different surfaces) blend right into the background.

Last week, for example, I went to sit on a bench in our mudroom to pull on a pair of boots. Only I couldn't.

Rolled up newspapers held an incongruous place of honor between a reusable grocery bag full of books to be donated to the library -- which has been there for months, I might add -- and a basket full of miscellany which has been there even longer.

Why do we have a bench if we can't sit on it? And why did it take me so long to ask this question?
Because the thing is, I don't remember the last time we could sit on this bench. The accumulation of "temporary" homeless items has been so gradual that's it's almost as if this bench really is their home.

Only it isn't. Again, I reiterate. Why do we have a bench if we can't sit on it?

Coats hang on hooks behind the bench, further complicating matters. When we first decorated the mudroom, this seemed logical. After all, we'd seen many hook-and-bench units as we went in search of the one that worked for us, so it seemed only logical to put the bench we eventually purchased under the hooks we'd already hung.

Why again? If there are coats hanging on the hooks, that makes it even more challenging to sit on the bench.

I don't expect you to answer any of these questions, let alone solve the mystery of what goes where in our mudroom but, clearly, I need to.

In December and January, a large bookshelf took up temporary residence to the right of the bench and the hooks so that we could make space for our Christmas tree. Now that the room has been restored to its usual configuration, it's clearly time to take a closer look at where things are and where they should be -- a task I will add to my list of things to do while I'm on break next week.

It's so easy to grow so accustomed to the landscape of our homes that we don't see what needs to be done, leaving homeless items collecting dust in plain sight. The bench situation is one I am overjoyed to be remedying -- and soon -- because, once I do, I'll have the best of all possible organizational rewards.

Clear space.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Factors to Consider Before Adopting Someone Else's Strategy

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Yesterday, I wrote about finding the sweet spot between my planner and my to-do lists. It's a plan that took a long time to evolve, and one that works extremely well for me.

Does that mean it will be a good fit for you?

Maybe. Maybe not. If we share styles, perhaps it will. If we have different planning needs, it most likely won't.

One trap I fell into frequently before learning to organize by STYLE was trying to replicate things that worked for other people. Almost invariably, I ended up frustrated and no better organized than I was before I started. Even worse, I sometimes blamed myself instead of considering the (usually correct) possibility that the tool was not a good fit for one (or both) of my styles.

That's not to say that other people don't have good ideas -- they often do. But, before you try to adopt someone else's plan as your own, ask yourself these questions.

Does it fit my styles? As someone who loves planners, I've seen, picked up, flipped through and nearly purchased many of them. But, as someone with an I need to see it personal style, I've put almost as many right back where I found them. Plenty of lovely planners lack the layout and planning space that I've learned that I need in order to function effectively. And binder planners? Fuhgeddabout it! Binders and I do not get along. Those planners may be a perfect fit for someone else, but they don't work for me.

Will the novelty wear off? Novelty can be just what we need, especially if our brand new tool fits our styles and moves us in the direction of a change we're committed to making. But, novelty will only carry us so far. If the learning curve is too steep, we may go back to the old way out of sheer frustration. Fit new tools into existing styles and throw in just enough novelty to spark the excitement of a new approach.

Is it worth the expense of time and money? Good organizers don't have to be expensive. Our kitchen calendar gets limited use and is mostly a visual reminder of doctors' appointments, so it's as basic (and cheap) as I can make it. The blank sheet of paper I put on my clipboard under my day-by-day sheet is usually the flip side of something I've printed but no longer need or a piece of notebook paper torn out of one of my daughter's old school notebooks. And the clipboard itself is reusable. The only thing I really splurge on is my planner and even then, splurge is a relative term. It's more important to me that it fits in my purse than that it's a thing of beauty (although pretty planners are nice). I'm a big fan of organizers from the dollar store and clearance racks and I re-purpose what I already own as much as possible -- as long as it fits my styles.

The next time you just love something someone else is using, ask yourself if it fits your styles. If it does, ask yourself if you can imagine using it every day and how much time and money adopting this new tool will cost. If you can check all the boxes, go for it.

We never know until we try.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Keeping it All Straight

Kaboompics via Pixabay

You'd think that after all these years of writing about planners that I'd have a go-to planner -- one I choose every single time so that planner shopping is a no-brainer.

But I don't.

I used to have one of those planners when I was working full-time. It was expensive, but it had all the elements I needed. And, since I didn't carry a lot around, I didn't mind that it was bulky and not exactly lightweight because everything I needed was in there.

It took me a long time to find that perfect, albeit expensive, fit, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised that it's taken me as long as it has to find my next perfect fit. The precise interior of my primary planner (yes, I have more than one) changes somewhat from year to year, mostly because I can't seem to find an exact match, but this year's planner marks a definite departure from my norm. I decided that I wanted more room for notes, so I opted for a planner that's more of a journal, with only monthly view (not the daily I usually go for) and lots of room for notes.

That's Planner #1. And I love it. The more I use it, the more I don't know how I did without this much space for notes.

Planner #2 is my work calendar, and it doubles as a lesson plan book of sorts. This is the planner with the weekly and monthly view, but it contains only my class and work information. More utilitarian than pretty, it needs to have just weekly and monthly views and maybe a little space somewhere for notes; everything else is immaterial.

Planner #3 is one I try to replicate every year -- a cheap (I try to pay only $1), thin book with a two page spread for each month and maybe a couple of extra pages for notes or contacts at the back. This is my goal-setting and writing plan book, where I keep track of my monthly goals and my writing assignments.
My planner.

But every single one of these books closes. This is, of course, to be expected as that's an integral part of how a planner is set up. As someone with an I need to see it personal style, I need a place to corral all of this information into a format I can see at a glance.

Enter my Knock Knock notepads. I'd seen these in a number of gift shops and bookstores (and on Amazon), but then discovered I could go to the website and explore the whole gamut of options, not just the ones the store buyer liked. I settled on the "This Week" version, which I've been using since sometime last summer. Then, after Christmas, I found several others (which appear to be discontinued) at Marshall's, and I added a different version of the weekly planner and a weekend planner to my collection.

Each Sunday (okay, sometimes it's Monday), I check my planner and transfer any appointments to my "This Week" sheet, which, by the way, also has a "Next Week" block so I can give myself a heads up if I need to do something to prepare for an upcoming appointment hidden in my neatly closed planner.

But I digress.

I then put a clean sheet of copy paper or notebook paper on a clipboard with my 6 x 9" "This Week" sheet on top. The difference in size between the two pages allows me to use the margins of the larger page to make a master list from which I transfer tasks to the appropriate day of my "This Week" sheet.

If this sounds like a lot of work to you, try keeping track of all of this in your head.

All kidding aside, this system might be way too complicated (or time-consuming) for you. You might prefer simply one planner and one master list, and if that works for you, that's wonderful. Before landing on this plan, I tried all sorts of ways of keeping my lists separate yet merged, and something always fell through the cracks. For me, this set-up provides the perfect blend of visibility for immediate planning (and urgent tasks) and long-term planning. Writing the tasks out each week keeps them in the forefront of my mind and, when I find myself overrunning the space provided, it makes me stop and think about whether I might be overloading the day -- something a big, blank sheet of paper just doesn't take into account.

As a serious stationery lover, I get very excited bout finding my "just right" fit and I'm a sucker for pre-printed pads that are a match for my personal style. These are the kinds of things I like to splurge on, but you might prefer to go more basic and/or make your own.

Have you found your perfect set-up? If not, what is your current set-up missing?

Thursday, February 14, 2019

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Key Elements of "The Plan"

Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Yesterday, I wrote about remembering to use the strategies we've selected, and the title of the post ("Note to Self: Use the Plan") got me thinking.

What's the plan?

When we organize by STYLE, each of us will create a plan that's somewhat unique. Sure, we're all operating out of the same six styles, but since personalities, tastes and individual preferences vary, every I need to see it/drop and run person will put her (or his) own twist on the tools and strategies that comprise their organizational blueprint.

Here are three key concepts -- perhaps even the top three -- I need to keep in mind if I have any hope of staying organized.

Write it down. Whether it's a task, an appointment or an idea, writing it down not only helps me remember it, but also frees my mind to brainstorm it further and/or concentrate on other tasks. My planner/list/clipboard system screams I need to see it and, best of all, keeps it all in one place.

Take small steps. I run into trouble, organizationally speaking, when I run out of time. When things get hectic, I don't always choose/remember to use my systems (see yesterday's post). Aligning my systems with my styles is the first step, but putting habits like Don't Put it Down, Put it Away! and Give it Five! to use help me to stay on top of things (or at least avoid the piling that's the default setting of someone with an I need to see it personal style) when time is limited. Then, when things slow down, I have less to tackle. 

Focus on the visual. My all-time favorite tool is an open-top file bin -- it allows me to put things away, but still see them. In addition, I color-code -- a lot! -- sometimes down to the color of the paper clip I use to keep papers for my classes together. This allows me to see at a glance where something belongs.

Bonus strategy: Value clear space. As someone with an I need to see it personal style, I have a lot of piles. When I finally clear off a space that was laden with visual reminders, I feel not just a sense of accomplishment but a sense of peace as well. Keeping those hot spots clear is an important investment in organization, but perhaps more important, it's an investment in
my well-being as well.

What are three key elements of your plan?

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Note to Self: Use the Plan

Today is one of those days when multiple projects are colliding, so I'm opting for a "Way Back Wednesday" post. This one, from November 2016, is a good reminder that our strategies only work if we use them. Pretty obvious, I know, but if you've ever been too busy to take that extra step, you know just what I mean. 

This week, I caught myself engaging in a very bad habit. As numerous due dates and assignments to be graded collided, I found myself in an almost constant state of to-do high alert. I'm sure you know the feeling.

But that was only part of the problem. It seemed that the more I had to do, the less I wrote things down. I had a system all set up, and it worked well when I used it. Yet this week, whether motivated by fear, some bizarre sense of saving the two seconds it took to write things down, or magical thinking (if I don't write it down, it will go away), I stopped writing things down just when I needed to most.

Bad plan. Very bad plan.

Once I identified the problem -- or at least the bad habit that was compounding the too-much-to-do problem -- I also realized how easily I could fix it. All I had to do was overcome the urge to curl up in a fetal position under the blankets -- organizationally and metaphorically speaking, that is -- pick up a pencil and write things down.

The relief was almost immediate. Although I still had to do everything on the list, I no longer had to carry each item around in my head. I hadn't realized just how much that was contributing to the stress and exhaustion that was dogging me.

In the end, the only way we can make our to-dos go away is to cross them off our lists, either because we did
them, or because we made the decision not to do them after all. In order to accomplish this wonderful feeling of accomplishment, however, there's one thing we need to do at the outset.

Write. Them. On. The. List.

Yeah, yeah. Okay. I'm going.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Friday Feature: Personalizing Productivity

I enjoy reading posts and articles about productivity and, as a result, I've read a lot of articles on how productive people start their days.

None of them sound remotely like how I start my day -- or how I want to.

Luckily, I'm not a proponent of one-size-fits-all thinking.

It would be easy to assume that since the people I'm reading about run huge conglomerates and make lots of money that I might want to adopt their habits. But, while I may envy their productivity, I don't want to do what they're doing. I want to do what I'm doing, only better.

A couple days ago, I bookmarked another of these articles to read and honestly, I was expecting more of the same.

Luckily, the writer doesn't seem to be a proponent of one-size-fits-all thinking either.

In his article, "I’ve Interviewed 300 High Achievers About Their Morning Routines. Here’s What I’ve Learned," Benjamin Spall shares the ingredients of productive routines. Rather than telling me how long Entrepreneur X meditates in his gazillion dollar mansion with a perfectly outfitted mindfulness space or how far Businesswoman Y, who's training for a marathon while running a multi-billion dollar corporation runs, Spall focuses on personalizing the generalities, boiling it down to the essential questions.

What works for you? And what should you do when life intervenes?

I was excited to see that Spall is also the author of My Morning Routine: How Successful People Start Every Day Inspired. 

After all, the more productive I become, the more time I create to read books like his.

How do you start your day off on the right foot?

Thursday, February 7, 2019

3 Keys Thursday: 3 Keys to Creating Routines

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Yesterday,  I wrote about invisible routines that help me keep things running smoothly as well as improving my efficiency. When used well, routines add a consistency to our days that helps us feel calmer and more efficient.

Thinking of coming up with a few routines of your own? Here are three things to consider.

Keep them simple. Routines should work in our service, making things easier, not more complicated. A good routine improves flow and efficiency, but establishing a routine just for the sake of doing so often wastes time instead of saving it.

Honor your styles. One of the reasons I love my school day routines so much is that they fit right in with my I need to see it personal style. I'm sure professors who take attendance at the beginning of class and don't feel the need for paper copies would see my way of doing things as cumbersome, but I developed my routine after trying those ideas and finding they didn't work well for me. My routine not only fits my personal style, but it also puts my mind at ease.

Don't overdo it. Routines are helpful in moderation, but too many routines can box us in. We're not robots, so we need to strike a balance between routine and flexibility. If things are already going smoothly, save the energy required to create a routine. In other words, if it's not broken, there's no need to fix it.

Routines should free us up to enjoy the things in life that are more fun than efficient, as well as providing us with peace of mind. Are your routines living up to those standards and working in your service, or do they need an overhaul?

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Invisible Routines

rayedigitaldesigns via Pixabay
Changes in life require changes in organization. There are the obvious examples, like moving and home renovations, but there are also subtler changes that require us to come up with methods of keeping the non-tangibles organized and creating peace of mind as a result.

This semester, I'm once again teaching three classes, but this time, they're essentially the same. All three classes are child development classes and there's a substantial overlap in content. I teach two of the classes back-to-back in the same room, making it impossible to anchor what I've said to a specific location.

I'm not complaining. In fact, I'm finding that the reduction in planning time is a nice bonus. In addition, I opted for these teaching times, which are convenient to my schedule.

The problem is not in timing, but rather in remembering. Because the first several units are essentially the same, keeping track of where I left off in each class can be challenging.

Another challenge I face is with the online attendance option. I really like it, but needed to find a way  to do it without it being disruptive to the flow of the class. For this reason, along with my own I need to see it personal styleI really need a paper copy of the attendance for my own use.

These kinds of organizational issues are invisible to others, but make a big difference in the flow of my day and my sense of confidence as an instructor. When I'm unsure of where to begin or distracted by details, I'm off my game. My teaching suffers and classes don't go as well as they might otherwise. I'm less enthusiastic, which pulls down the energy of the whole room. At some points in the semester, this can be disastrous.

To maximize flow, confidence and efficiency, I needed to find solutions to these invisible problems.

Solution A: A planner for keeping track. This is so simple. My planner has both weekly and monthly layouts. In the monthly layout, I keep track of due dates for long-term assignments (color-coded by class). In the weekly layout, I keep track of where each class left off or, more accurately, where to begin the next class. When I set up before class, I pull out the planner, open it to the current date and leave it on the podium. At the end of class, it takes less than 30 seconds to write where to begin the next time we meet. Laying it out at the start of class allows me to reference my notes from the last class so I know where to begin as well as saving time when I'm wrapping things up at the end of class. This way, even when all three classes have mysteriously ended up in different places, I don't have to ask my students where we left off.

MoteOo via Pixabay
Solution B: Class list on a clipboard. Last summer, I discovered a printable grade book on the Super Teacher Worksheets site. I use one of these sheets for each class roster and, at the beginning of class, pull it out, put it on my clipboard and take attendance the old-fashioned way, which allows me to have what I call my "orientation slide" up for my students when they come into class. I keep the roster on my clipboard until I enter the attendance into the online site, then put it back into my folder. This visual reminder keeps me accountable. If the roster's still on the clipboard, I still need to enter the attendance into the online portal.

These kinds of routines may seem silly, but they're the kind of small steps that assure that things get done. Putting my I need to see it personal style to work helps keep things running smoothly.

What invisible routines do you use?

Thursday, January 31, 2019

3 Keys Thursday: 3 (Almost) Invisible Habits Worth Keeping

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
Last January, I posted 18 Things to Try in 2018. It wasn't a contest, nor was it a race to try to accomplish everything on the list. Instead, it was a starting point -- ideas to use to get started on the road to organization.

I thought about reposting the list, or even coming up with 19 things for 2019, but increasing the pressure seemed to defeat the purpose of the original list. And, since organizing is a process, some of the things we try work and stick, while others don't; part of the trick of getting to Easy Upkeep is determining which things to keep and which to abandon.

Which led me to the solution for my list.

Here are three (almost) invisible things I'm keeping in 2019. Each gives me a payoff that goes beyond a single project; because they continue to have benefits even after the project is finished, they're ideas worth hanging on to.

Drawer makeovers. Sometimes, these seem unimportant. Not only does my beautiful work remain hidden, I'm often the only one who uses the drawer in question. But, for someone with an I need to see it personal style, being able to open the re-sorted drawer and see everything inside is a wonderful thing. In addition, it makes it much easier to put things where they belong and find them when I'm looking for them.

Decluttering storage spaces. After 25 years in our home, both our basement and our crawlspace house a lot of stuff. As I was (finally) putting away Christmas decorations a few weeks ago, I spent some time moving beyond the space where the Christmas decorations were stored, pulling things out of the crawlspace and sorting through them. Wow. I didn't even remember I had some of that stuff, which made getting rid of it that much easier. Like drawers, storage spaces aren't as visible as living spaces, and so they get neglected. Taking the time to sort through their contents, even if only a little at a time can yield a big payoff in the form of clear space to store new stuff in, or to simply appreciate.

Just say no. I declared 2018 the Year of No. I didn't intend to say no to everything and, in fact, I said yes to a few opportunities that were time consuming, some of which I'll do again, and some of which I won't. The important thing was that they were, in my eyes, opportunities. Being intentional about what we take on is an important part of time management. I'm still working at finding the sweet spot every time, but giving myself permission to say no instead of automatically saying yes is a good start.

What (almost) invisible habits will you keep this year?

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Coffee (Maker) Conundrum
For Christmas, my husband wanted a Starbucks coffee maker (the Verismo). He loves one of their holiday blend coffees and last year, it wasn't available in K cups, so the only way he could get it at home was with a dedicated coffee maker. Starbucks addict that I am (though I don't drink coffee), I was on it.

I got a great deal on the coffee maker, which I found very exciting (I love getting good deals), especially since I didn't even have to leave the house to shop for it. Even better, both the coffee maker and the coffee arrived at my house one day while I was home but my husband was at work, maintaining the surprise. My daughter and I had a good laugh over how we were going to keep this gift a) hidden and b) a surprise since its size and shape made it pretty un-mysterious. 

In other words, I had plenty of time to think about what I was doing.

I don't know why it didn't occur to me that we'd need to find a place to house this new appliance, or that its most likely home was on the same kitchen counter I'd spent months – and I'm not exaggerating – getting just right. I'd transformed it from the dumping ground nearest the door to a (mostly) clear space that was organized in a sustainable way. Not only was it functional, but it looked nice, too.

And now this one new item threatened to disrupt my hard won status quo.

At first, I was just pleased that my husband was enjoying his gift, but as we began to restore the house to its pre-Christmas state, I spent about a week walking by the counter and frowning. I even devised a plan for a new home for the new coffeemaker, only to realize that the steam that's an inevitable part of brewing coffee rendered my new home a bad idea.

There was only one thing to do.

I had to reconfigure my counter. 

christoph via Pixabay
It didn't take as long as I was afraid it would and the end result is...okay. The flow isn't quite right yet, but that might just be a matter of time; new set-ups always come with an adjustment period. Some things that were previously on the counter need new homes, which are yet to be determined, and at least one thing that's on the counter might not stay. There's plenty of clear space, though, and that's a good thing.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, this time with a heavy sigh and a touch of self-pity.

It's a process. 

Thursday, January 24, 2019

To Tech or Not to Tech?

rawpixel via Pixabay
The grocery store offers paper or plastic -- or, perhaps, reusable. When it comes to planners, the choice is paper or electronic -- or, perhaps, both.

Yesterday, I shared my hybrid planner plan.  If you started out the year embracing technology, but now find yourself eyeing old-school half-price planners, maybe you're a hybrid planner person, too. Here are three questions to ask yourself.

Do I need to write things down in order to remember them? Often, the very act of writing something down helps us commit it to memory. If you worry (or if experience has shown) that once you type it into your phone, it's forgotten, you might be better off with a paper calendar.

Store sign at 'Round the Clock Diner
York, PA
Do I need 24-7 access? This one is purely a matter of  personal preference. Although most of us take our phones everywhere we go out of sheer habit, it's just as easy to develop the habit of carrying a paper planner. The key here is making sure that your planner of choice has a consistent home as you travel from place to place. Whether you consistently stash that planner in a purse or a back pocket, "consistently" is the key. If you're just as likely to leave it on the kitchen counter as you are to take it with you, maybe stick with the phone. Or a master calendar in your kitchen or office. Just make sure that dates you note when you're out and about make it onto/into which ever option you choose.

Do I need reminders and other bells and whistles? No matter how much you love that beautiful paper calendar you so lovingly chose, it's not going to send you notifications. If you need reminders for all of the dates in your planner, you might want to go electronic. Personally, I find these notifications annoying and intrusive...which is why I lean more toward paper and pencil.

One final consideration: no planner is foolproof. Phones and electronic devices need charging and both electronic planners and paper planners can get lost in the shuffle. In addition, every planner is subject to human error. If we enter an appointment incorrectly (or not at all), having a planner is little help.

So, what'll it be? Full tech? Old school? Or maybe a little of both?

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Totally Tech?

Today is the first day of a new semester, bringing me face-to-face with my planning and organizing preferences. So much of what I need is online -- class lists, attendance, e-mail -- which made things all that much more frustrating when I couldn't log into my account this morning. 

Luckily, I'm still, at heart, a paper and pencil girl, and I already had paper copies of what I needed. That and the Gmail app on my phone.

And so, I find myself with one foot in each camp. I'm at home with most technology, but paper and pencil remains my security blanket; I'm such an I need to see it girl that I can't survive without schedules and lists staring me in the face. Okay, maybe survive is too strong a word, but I definitely need a visual reminder.

Sometimes, I end up doing double duty. When it comes to taking attendance, for example, I check names off on my paper roster and later record the attendance electronically. I tried not doing it that way last semester, and found it very inconvenient not to have a hard copy, so back to Plan A. When it comes to calendars, I transfer my weekly appointments from my planner (where they've been written in pencil) to a single page that lets me see the week at a glance and add in lists and anything else that pops up. The older I get, the more I see multiple copies as an advantage; writing things down, even more than once, makes it more likely that I'll remember them

I'm not suggesting that everybody needs to be a paper-and-pencil person. The point of Organizing by STYLE is to choose what works for you and base your systems on your preferences. Plenty of people successfully use the calendars on their phones but, given my I need to see it personal style, that just doesn't work for me. I prefer to just write everything down with a nice, sharp pencil that has a good eraser.

How about you? Are you a tech person, a paper-and-pencil person or a hybrid?