Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Are Piles a System?

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

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

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

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

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

And it wouldn't be pretty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which is most of the time.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

3 Keys Thursday: Outfitting Yourself and Your Closet Between Seasons

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

The (Im)perfectionist's Guide, Indeed

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

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

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

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

In the wrong pile.

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

And midsemester grades are due this week.

There's definitely a theme here.

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

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

But I continue to put it on my list.

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

And that's not going to happen.

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

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

Thursday, October 4, 2018

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Consistency or Flexibility?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 27, 2018

3 Keys Thursday: 3 of My Favorite School Tools

Photo: Dodgerton Skillhause via Morguefile
I had every intention of writing a new post today, but I got sucked into the Kavanaugh hearings, so I've chosen to repost an entry from two years ago that fits with this time of year. In next week's 3 Keys, I'll look at how these tools have evolved to meet my changing demands. 

Beginning a new semester is always a messy proposition -- at least for me. As new ideas proliferate and mix with old papers, I end up with piles which, if not put in some kind of order, threaten to bury all those great ideas before I even get started. Since my styles haven't changed, I know just which tools I need to get me through the transition from summer to semester. Here are a few of my favorites.
  • Flat surfaces. I hinted yesterday that my sofa is one of my organizational tools, but the truth is, any flat surface will do when it comes to packing my bag for school (or packing anything for anywhere, for that matter.) To make sure I don't forget anything, I lay everything out, separated into piles by course (a general psych pile, an early child development pile and a freshman seminar pile). Then, each pile goes into a hanging file folder that goes into my bag, and off I go!
  • Steno book. This is a new addition to my arsenal. The two column layout allows me to put two classes on the front of each page and my third class and my writing projects on the back. This keeps all my to-do lists in one place, held together by the spiral at the top of the book. In the past, I've used single sheets divided into sections, but they quickly become crumpled in my bag and the lists invariably intermingle. I'm very optimistic about this new approach, especially since my writing, which gets short shrift during the semester, has its own column among all of the teaching stuff.
  • Planners--this year's and last year's. When it comes to my classes, I use my planner as a combination calendar/journal. I write all my due dates (color coded by class) on the month-view pages and use the daily pages to keep track of my progress. Then, when it comes time to set due dates for the coming semester, I simply go back to my notes to create my course calendar. As a global person, I'm much less stressed out by the details of due dates when I have a reference point, and, once I've updated this year's planner, I can set aside last year's version, grateful for its assistance. I'm not quite ready to get rid of it yet, so I'll store it with my reference materials.
Having the right tools is key to getting off to a good start. What are your favorites?


Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Is There Any Such Thing as a Permanent Solution?

One of the things I like best about organizing by STYLE is its flexibility. Don't like binders? Try an accordion folder. Not a fan of the file cabinet? Use individual standing files. Have a tendency to cram and jam or put things in a "safe place"? Choose storage that supports what you do naturally -- flexible and/or see-through containers -- instead of "shoulding" yourself into using a traditional tool that frustrates you.

Another benefit of the flexibility of this method is that it automatically lends itself to change. No matter how perfect the system, it needs to be dynamic in order to meet changing demands, uses and time constraints.

Case in point: my school stuff. Each semester, I have things to sort, store and carry back and forth. Old faithful tools -- my planner, which doubles as a lesson plan book, my pencil case loaded with writing implements and office supplies, my pocket folder that houses reference materials for each class -- form the foundation. From there, I add tweaks and tools to fill any gaps that arise.

A few semesters ago, I added a clipboard to my arsenal of supplies. It came in handy during the first few weeks of class, providing a place to house rosters and seating charts as I learned my students' names, and then I set it aside. This semester, the clipboard has earned its keep, playing a role in my attendance-taking, thanks to a new online system. In addition, I added a single sheet of paper to my clipboard, one that summarizes my schedule and appointments for the week. It's amazing what a big difference that small change has made in bridging the gap between my school schedule and my home schedule. One piece of paper has combined my to-do lists, and appointments for two parts of my life, uniting two separate pieces of the same puzzle.

Finding a tool that works is wonderful. Finding one that will grow with the demands and changes of daily life is even better. While it's tempting to wish for a permanent solution to our organizational needs, finding ways to adapt and adjust not only refines our systems, but our overall organizational skills as well. And, since a stagnant life would be a boring life, we might just have to adjust to the one true rule of organization.

It's a process.