Thursday, September 22, 2022

Pretty, Functional and Virtual

 Some organizing tools really do stand the test of time. This app, which I've now been using for more than three years, is one of them. 

As someone with an I need to see it personal style, I struggle with my desktops -- both actual and virtual. I've made some progress with my actual desk, seeking out containers that match my style and pressing them into service.

But my computer desktop? That's another story.

Last night, I spent a lot of time whipping my computer desktop into shape. Putting things into folders is hard for me -- not actually difficult as it takes about two seconds -- but hard because my fear that out of sight is out of mind is very real. One of the reasons I love my MacBook is the drag-and-drop feature that allows me to pull things easily on and off the desktop. But, in order to do this, the things I want to drag and drop need to be on the desktop.

You see my conundrum.

But last night, I decided I was tired of a desktop that looked like a dumping ground and so I started dragging things into folders. When I was finished, the desktop looked amazing. Several columns of little blue folders all labeled and lined up. There was only one problem.

All the folders looked the same -- except for their labels, of course.

Which was why I'd avoided doing this in the first place.

Although I loved my newly created clear space (my favorite reward for an organizational job well-done), I felt the need to jazz up the desktop a little. I thought for the hundredth time how great it would be if I could color-code my virtual file folders the way I color-code my actual folders. There had to be a way, right? And if anyone would know, Google would.

So I Googled it. And you know what? There's an app for that! And it's FREE!

Check out ColorFolder Master on the App Store!
I could not have been happier.

Ten minutes later, I had color-coded file folders on my newly de-cluttered desk top. I haven't quite worked out which types of folders should be which colors -- although I could give every single folder its own color if I wanted to -- and I hit a little snag when I changed my mind about the color I wanted for one folder, but I found a work-around. And, since I now have the app on my laptop, I can change the folder colors any time I want.

It really is the little things.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Making My Own Map and Obeying the Speed Limit

 On Monday, I tried something I haven't done in a long time. It's something I vaguely remember from my youth, back when responsibilities were lighter and technology was not yet a daily interloper.

I think it's called "monotasking."

A number of factors motivated this, not the least of which was two consecutive weekends away. They had been lovely and relaxing while they were happening, but they had left the rest of my life in disarray. Everywhere I looked (including inside my own head), something was clamoring for my attention. 

When it comes to organizing, I often give the advice to start anywhere and so, on Monday, I did just that. Not only did I start "anywhere," I ditched all prioritizing and started where I wanted to start. I forced myself to slow down (I even asked Alexa to play some Mozart to help me put the brakes on my racing brain) and focus on each task as I did it. When I finished a task, I paused, asking myself not what I should do next, but what I wanted to do next. 

After a bit, I got into a rhythm. When a new idea popped into my head ("Oh! Check the dryer!"), I sat with it for a moment, deciding if it was important enough to interrupt the rhythm of whatever I was doing at the moment. If not, I filed it (so to speak) under one of two options: that's something I could do or I'll do that when I finish this.

As I was putting away the makeup I'd left in utter disarray on the bathroom counter in my hurry to get out of the house that morning, I noticed something. I was moving more slowly, more deliberately. Instead of racing through a task and dashing to the next one (or trying to do two things at once), I was giving my attention to each task in a less frenzied fashion than usual. 

It was nice.

So often, we feel frazzled by all that we have to do. But, how often do we recognize that we're part of the problem? Or that we hold the key to the solution simply by making a different choice?

One of the reasons I undertook this little experiment was that I was scared. I felt as though I'd lost my focus in places where it mattered, and I needed to get it back. Torn in what felt like a thousand different directions, I was operating on autopilot, outside of myself. I told myself that I was simply overextended, but the truth is, I was afraid it was more serious than that. I needed to quiet not only that voice, but also the others clamoring inside my head, pushing me toward this task or that one.

Our lives are busy. Our obligations are numerous. Sometimes, we need to quiet ourselves in order to determine what really matters. We can do this in prayer or meditation, certainly, but we can also do this by moving mindfully through our days, resisting the urge to race and indulging the desire to linger, at least some of the time.

I got quite a bit done on Monday afternoon. It didn't necessarily align with my to-do list but, if I'm to be honest, there was no way I was getting all the way through that list in one afternoon anyway.

Some days, our journey is a straight line. Other days, it follows the curve of our hearts.

Friday, September 9, 2022

Organizing FAQs: How Can I Make Progress When I Don’t Have Time?


Organizing is a process and processes take time. So, how can we make progress in this process when time is limited?

First, let me say, I feel your pain. The switch from two classes (on campus three days a week) last spring to online instruction to summer vacation to three classes (on campus five days a week) this fall has left me feeling discombobulated and overwhelmed. I’m not complaining, exactly, but I am struggling. Three weeks into the semester, I'm still trying to find my footing. 

Meanwhile, less time at home has left me with plenty of things to trip over, both literally and figuratively. The spaces I worked so long and hard to clear off and keep clear have been betrayed by my treasonous drop and run organizational style. Around me, piles are springing up, their eviction the latest addition to  my already burgeoning to-do list. Add to that my brilliant idea to say yes to out-of-town travel for two weekends in a row and I’m waiting to see which will explode first: my head or those precarious piles.

Melodramatic? Just a tad. But a relatively accurate assessment of how I’m feeling.

Several things are called for here — patience and a routine being two of them — but while those attributes  will serve to put things in perspective and help me create a road map, neither will clear the clutter. 

But taking small steps will. 

Today, I took the first small step by adding those clutter collecting spaces to my to-do list. Walking past them and groaning just makes me feel bad. Adding to them to my list means that when time allows, I’ll pencil them into a time slot and actually tackle them. 

Unfortunately, I don’t see a big block of time anywhere in my immediate future. So, between now and the appointed hour, I need to do two things. I need to be slow and steady, settling for small victories.

And I need to practice saying no.

No to extra activities scheduled during prime time — that time of day when energy and motivation are plentiful. No to caving in and allowing my drop and run organizational style to add anything else to those piles. If I’m dropping and running (and trust me, I will), I need to drop whatever I’m holding where it belongs, not where it has to be dealt with later. Turning a one-step process into a multi-step process by putting things down instead of away is a step in the wrong direction.

And when it comes to stepping confidently in the right direction, small steps are my friend. Picking up one thing from the pile and putting it away every time I walk past. Setting a timer for five minutes and making as  much progress as I can. Tackling the pile while I’m waiting for water to boil or for the dryer to finish its cycle.

Baby steps.

It’s not what I want — what I want is a magic wand that makes the piles disappear — but it’s what I have. And this all-too-familiar, one-step-at-a-time process works. I know this, because I’ve been here before. Sometimes the process is  quick, but often it’s painstakingly slow because it takes place alongside an already full life.

And this is a good thing. As much as the clutter annoys me, I know it exists because i am busy with things that matter more than piles. So, if I’m smart, I won’t let the clutter — a temporary part of the landscape — obscure the big picture.

Easier said than done. It is, after all, a process.

Thursday, September 1, 2022

3 Keys Thursday: The Value of an Empty Head

 I'm finishing up the second week of a new semester and the to-do's are piling up faster than I can check them off my list. It's the norm, and I'll adjust, but it always takes more time than I think it will.

I keep a to-do list, but ideas pop into my head as the day goes on, often in places or at times where it’s hard to write them down. 

Carrying them around in my head is exhausting. Fortunately, having a few key strategies for wrangling these ever-emerging ideas can bring me the blissful relief of writing it all down and letting it go.

If it's quick, just do it. Unless you are on the way out the door, if it takes less time to do it than  it does to write it down, just get it over with already.

Keep a master list in one place. For me, it's my planner, which has a layout that has space to jot down three priorities for each day, with lots of lines beneath those top three for the tasks I hope to get to...soon. While it's frustrating to see a bunch of unchecked items at the end of the day, it's less frustrating than corralling a bunch of notes dropped here and there.

Record it. Within reach of your phone but nowhere near that master list? Record an email and send it to yourself, or designate a file on your phone (for me, it's the notes app) to collect all those ideas you get on the run.

Do I still have notepads within reach in several rooms of the house? Why, yes, I do. But, now I make it a habit to gather loose notes up each night and transfer their contents to my master list. Even when the list gets long, the sense of peace it gives me to have all of my to-dos in one place (instead of lurking on counters and desktops and popping up at every turn) makes up for it.

During this busy season -- or any season, for that matter -- there are things I can control and things I can't. I may not always be able to control how many items I get through in a day, but I can at least make it easier to figure out what comes next and which task to tackle if a spare minute should arise. 

And, when it comes to lists, the only thing that's better than emptying my head onto the page is checking things off after I complete them.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

The Intangibles

 So much of organization revolves around stuff, but establishing an organizational system that works is as much about the intangibles as it is about any physical tool we use. Our attitudes, values and outlook underlie every decision we make and the way we organize is no exception.

Here, in no particular order, are three key tools that are essentially invisible yet play an important role in getting organized and staying that way.

Patience. Whether it’s patience with ourselves as we work through strategies and brainstorm ideas or patience with others whose styles differ from ours, this attribute can make a difference in the ease with which we organize. Organization is neither an overnight success nor a one-and-done proposition; it’s a fact of life that spaces we clear will fill again and things we organize won’t stay that way on their own. It takes patience to set up the systems and keep them running smoothly, and to keep ourselves from imposing our will and our solutions on others who organize differently than we do and adding it to our toolkit makes the whole process easier.

Confidence. Organizing by STYLE is about turning obstacles into successes and thinking outside the box, both literally and figuratively. As such, it has an element of going against the grain built right in. It takes confidence to stand by our styles when they differ from someone else’s, especially when that someone else is someone we respect, admire and/or live with.

A sense of humor. As a Jersey girl, I think a sense of humor is an asset in pretty much every situation. When it comes to organizing, not taking the task -- or ourselves -- too seriously makes the process more pleasant and can even make things go faster. Keeping things light when family members struggle with organization can keep the peace and, with kids, can also send the message that organizing isn't an insurmountable challenge.

While we still need the right tangible tools -- containers, planners, drawers, shelves and the like -- having the intangibles in place can also be an asset when it come to putting our styles to use.

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Back-to-School: It's Not Just for Kids

 I'm currently up to my ears in fall semester planning and frustrated that organizing is something I can only talk/write about until things settle into a routine. Luckily, I had a chance to do just that on Tuesday, when Tracy Stewart, the woman behind OSV's Up Close webinar series, was kind enough to host me on the webcast once again. 

Fittingly enough, we talked about back-to-school organizing, but we got to move beyond just little kids and talk a bit about college students and adults as well. I think that's the first time I've had that sort of back-to-school discussion, and it was a lot of fun.

In addition, OSV (the publisher of Know Thyself) offered the book at 20% off in conjunction with the webinar. Sale price is good at the OSV Bookstore through August 22 with the code KNOW20.

You can listen to the webcast here

If back to school is a thing at your house, I wish you all the best! 

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Then and Now: Styles and Transitions

 As I (along with many of you) transition into the school year (or prepare to do so), this post from August 2019 seemed like a good reminder of how our styles can be the light at the end of a very cluttered tunnel.


Right now, I'm transitioning into the school year. It's the first week of school so, by some standards, I've already transitioned. But, as any teacher knows, it takes the first few weeks to get back into the swing of things.

This is one of the times when I most appreciate my tried-and-true, style-based systems. Engrossed as I am in planning and printing, I've allowed piles to form on heretofore clear surfaces (which is definitely not part of the plan). I know, though, that the missing ingredient here is not organization, but time.

When time is short, our styles elbow their way to the forefront, reminding our fledgling habits who's calling the shots. But, if we have style-based systems in place, we can placate our styles and redirect them by using the plans we've set up with them in mind.

If you're thinking this sounds a little like pacifying small children or, worse yet, herding cats, you're not far off. For many of us, our styles have been running the show for so long with few expectations or limitations that it's very, very easy to fall into old habits. This is especially true when time is short or we're transitioning from one season to another. Now, as I transition from summer to fall, even a casual observer would easily label me I need to see it/drop and run just from the state of my desk, dining room table and family room table. All the new ideas that are blooming and bursting are great; the fact that they litter multiple flat surfaces is not.

But I've been here before. I've learned that as long as I don't lose sight of the big picture, I can take my styles in hand and gently restore order. This week is less chaotic than last week and so, each day, I'm eliminating one hot spot and slowly but surely restoring clear space. Every small victory (today it was the bench in the mudroom) motivates me to keep going until the flat surfaces in my home no longer bear testimony to my tangled web of past, present and future course activities.

GraphicMama-team via Pixabay
And, these days, because I have systems in place that hold my clamoring styles in high regard, reclaiming the spaces is faster and easier than it used to be. These days, the items in the piles have homes and are therefore easily put away in a way that makes sense to me and is, therefore, easy to maintain.

Our styles are, indeed, double-edged swords. They can convince us that we are organizationally hopeless, doomed to living out of piles and retrieving smushed papers from small spaces. Or, they can form the foundation of a system that works.

Because, after all, all our styles really want is a little respect.


And the payoff for respecting our styles and planning accordingly can be pretty amazing! Two years later, I'm not looking at multiple cluttered surfaces. I've gathered all the things I need for planning and transitioning and given them a home in a specific, portable container. When I'm using its contents, the container (open on the top to match my I need to see it personal style) is beside me, usually in the sunroom. When I'm finished, it goes back to its (newly cleared) spot on a shelf in my office.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I have to say that having more space (adding the new sunroom) and less paper (after lots of experience with online teaching) has played a role in this, but the process of creating syllabi and refining assignments still creates a lot of clutter,  even when most of the final product ends up online. This is especially true for someone with an I need to see it personal style and a drop and run organizational style. Finding the tools that work for my styles has made an enormous difference in how much school-related clutter takes over my house in the days leading up to the new semester. Less clutter means less stress in a time of transition.

Score one for styles.