Friday, September 30, 2022

Then and Now: Space to Plan Means Space to Think

This post from 2011 is old enough to predate this blog. I wrote it as a post for The Porch Swing Chronicles before my organizing posts got a home of their own here. 


The world of education is filed with planners, and not just the paper or electronic kind. Most teachers are natural planners, wonderful at structuring their worlds. They make plans in advance, stick to routines, schedule what comes next.

I am a wall calendar in a planner world. I need big blocks of space that make me feel as though anything is possible. I can adjust to the smaller blocks in a desk-size planner, can do short stints in a pocket planner, but lined pages make me feel too confined, and graph paper might just put me over the edge. And don't even get me started on Blackberries and Smart Phones. I prefer that my phone be less intelligent than its owner, thank you very much.

During the school year, I adapt. A lot. In the summer, I aim for as many of those big, beautiful blocks of white space as I can find because those white spaces are filled with promise. The promise of projects that don't fit into pocket-sized blocks, days spent reading, writing or just plain dawdling for as big a block of time as I can imagine. Days that I can meet friends and linger over lunch. Or pull out board games and have a marathon without worrying about where I need to be next.

Sometimes, I envy the planner people. Their lives seem so smooth, so organized, while mine can seem like a disorganized free-for-all. But when I think about being boxed in, I decide that trading places might not be the deal I'm looking for. It looks good on the outside, but makes me all knotted up on the inside.

So, I'll stick to admiring them, and waving at them from across the white expanse of my big blocks of unscheduled time.


This post may be old enough to predate this blog, but it's not so old that it's no longer true. Clear spaces are my favorite organizing payoff, and blank space on calendar pages are every bit as enthralling. What can I say? I love possibility. 

But I also love planners that let me fill the white space in a way that makes sense to me.

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!