Many of you may have begun working from home in the past couple of weeks and may be doing so for the foreseeable future. If you've never worked at home before, it can be a big change and a big challenge! I've heard from some of you that you are struggling in various ways — from staying focused on your work to not letting your working hours bleed into your personal time. I have worked from home on and off for years, so I wanted to share with you some tips that may help you be more productive at work, more comfortable when you are working, and give you the ability to separate work and home life.
1. Get ready for work
You may think working from home means you get to roll out of bed and go straight to your laptop in pajamas and bedhead, but I suggest you actually get ready for work similar to how you would if you were going into the office. Depending if you are required to video chat or not may determine how much time you spend on your appearance, but at least do the following:
Get up early enough to get these things done before you're supposed to be logged on and ready to work. Over the past couple of weeks, circumstances were extraordinary and there were days that I got woken up with issues at my day job that continued all day so that I never had the time to do these basic things. I felt out of sorts and out of control all day long! I'm a true believer that how you look impacts how you feel (so much that I wrote an entire post about it!) Set yourself up for success by being awake and ready to face the workday — even if you're just walking to another room in your house!
"Set yourself up for success by being awake and ready to face the workday - even if you're just walking to another room in your house!"
A Hungary-based biologist PhD, currently working in the R&D field. In line with his burning enthusiasm for productivity, Csaba Vadadi-Fulop launched his blog www.productivity95.com where he blogs about productivity and personal development.
1. Limit morning decisions
Either prepare for the morning the night before by completing tasks before bed or by creating a few standard choices for your regular morning tasks. For example you could lay out your clothes before you go to sleep or you could pre-define a few pair of pants and a few tops that match so it's very easy to pick out an outfit in the morning. You could make your lunch at night or you could have several items that you know you like, don't take any preparation, you know fit in your lunch box, and are all located in the came general area in your kitchen that you can mix and match into a lunch bag in the morning. The fewer decisions in the morning, the more energy you'll have during the remainder of your day.
I used to be a serial snoozer. I could hit a traditional alarm clock's snooze button every 9 minutes for a good hour before finally rolling out of bed. I tried using my Fit Bit as an alternative and set multiple alarms that would vibrate until I turned them off. That worked better, but I soon learned, I can turn them off in my sleep! I think I may have found the best solution for me - I have been setting an alarm on my Google Mini and when it goes off it the morning, I have to actually speak to turn it off, "Hey Google, cancel alarm." Even if I don't get out of bed immediately, having to talk out loud seems to wake me up enough so I don't fall back asleep. I like setting backup alarms to make sure I'm out of bed in time. Additional alarms throughout the morning can also keep you on track - try an "it's time for breakfast" alarm, an "it's time to dry my hair alarm", or an "it's time to load the car" alarm. Remember all those little things you do in the morning that could be wasting time - like checking email or social media on your phone or watching the news. If you want to build those into your morning, give yourself a set time so you don't get carried away!
I'm a big proponent of timing everything you do so you know how long things really take. I used to think it took SO long to do my makeup that on most days, I'd just throw my makeup bag in my purse and do my makeup at work. Once I timed myself, I realized it takes me less roughly 5 minutes for my entire regimen and there's usually plenty of time for that in my morning! I also know how much time it takes me to take a shower with and without washing my hair (so I can sleep in a little on days I don't need to wash my hair.)
4. Do things in order (or at the same time!)
Think through everything you have to do in a morning, and figure out the most efficient order of tasks. It doesn't make sense to put moisturizer on first and then put in your contacts just like it doesn't make sense to fix your hair before putting on your pullover shirt. Also consider which things can be done at the same time. Multi-tasking isn't usually a great idea, but for some mindless tasks, it's great! For example, I get my jewelry out while I'm brushing my teeth and use my Turbie Twist towel to absorb the moisture from my wet hair while I'm doing my makeup. This is one of my favorite morning hacks because it significantly reduces the time it takes to blow dry my hair!
I try to only open a drawer or a door twice a morning - once to get out what I need and a second time to put those things away. I open my top bathroom vanity drawer to get out my contacts, my hairbrush, and my makeup bag. Then I close the drawer and don't open it again until I'm done with all of those items. I open the door under my vanity to get out my curling iron and/or hair dryer and hair products, and then I close it. I don't open it again until I'm ready to put those away and while I have it open I spritz myself with body spray before closing the door for the final time.
6. Put things away as you go
I like to wake up to a clear bathroom counter and leave for work with a clear bathroom counter. It allows me to start the day with a little control. When you do your makeup, try taking out all the items you will use out and set on the counter. As you use them, put them back in a makeup bag, so when you're done, everything is back in your bag and it's easy to just put it back in its place. Try a heat proof bag or container for curling irons or straighteners, so you can put them away as soon as you're done instead of leaving cords all over the place! Keep a wastebasket next to where you get ready so you can throw away cotton swabs, tissues, cotton balls, etc. as you go.
7. Empty your head
Whenever you think of something you need to do, either write it down in a place you will see before you walk out the door or set a reminder on your phone that will create a notification so you can feel confident you won't forget. If I need to take food for a carry in or return a library book or drop my car off at the repair shop, I set a reminder for early that morning so that when I look at my phone before I walk out the door, I'll see the notification. This helps me sleep better not trying to remember what I have to do in the morning. I also set reminders at times all throughout the day for things I need to buy, errands I need to run, phone calls I need to make, etc. It's nice to get them out of my head and into a system I trust.
I needed some vertical storage, so I looked for some tall plastic cups. I found 4 for $1! Make sure to measure your shelves first and measure the diameter of the bottom AND top of the cup to make sure you can close the door all the way. I used cups to store an entire bag of cough drops, tubes of toothpaste, small bottles of lotion, and my husband's electric trimmer. To make it easy (dare I say foolproof) for my family, I labelled the cups! I like the idea of cups because if they get gross, they can be popped in the dishwasher!
I bought a set of modular drawer organizers and was able to use the small and medium sizes in my cabinets (I used the large ones in my vanity drawers so they didn't go to waste!) I put things like nail clippers, first aid ointments, and bottles of medicines in these organizers and added a label as well!
I found a 3 pack of food storage containers for a great deal. I didn't need the lids, but the oblong size was perfect. I like clear storage so you can see what you're getting. This is especially helpful for top shelves. Consider taking items out of their original packaging to store in a more accessible way. I emptied all the adhesive bandages out of their cardboard boxes and separated into large and small sizes (and of course, labelled the containers!) I also emptied out flossers into one of these containers. Since there is a wide mouth opening, it is more likely that my kids will grab one and actually floss their teeth than if they had to get them from the original package.
I got a set of Command hooks for the inside of one of the doors and used them to hang a razor. My door has an inset area that was perfect to tuck the razor in! You could even hang toothbrushes or tubes of toothpaste with a binder clip attached to the end of the tube. Take note of where your shelves are situated to make sure there is room for the items you want to hang from inside the door. I also like to tape a little inspiration on the inside of my doors - a sweet note from my kids and a picture of me at my ideal weight!
I found adorable little lantern shaped glass tea light candle holders that were just shallow enough to fit in my cabinets for a dollar each! I used them for our thermometers. Because the container is glass, it won't tip over. I used the second one for a few of my random items I use on a daily basis.
Each chapter of the book is one of the 10 steps to ultimate productivity. For each step, you will be taught why it is important, learn from some real life examples, receive tips about how to put the step into practice in your own life. There are also bonus materials that you can access online to help with your own personal productivity system.
The ten steps are:
- Clear Your Mind
- From Tasks to Projects
- Focus on What's Most Important
- Be Productive Anytime and Anywhere
- Delegate Tasks to Achieve More - Work in a Team
- Group Your Tasks and Shift Gears
- Take Control Over Your Documents
- Check Your System Regularly
- Master Your Emails
- What Else Can You Improve?
I have a busy life just like most of you. A wife, mother, daughter, granddaughter, sister, aunt, cousin, friend, volunteer, employee, boss, entrepreneur, piano teacher - there are so many roles I play. I enjoy having all these varied experiences, but there is one area that I tend to neglect - ME!
This week between Christmas and New Years is one of the best times to recharge your battery. During my time off, I plan to reflect on the past year, plan for the new one, rest, relax, enjoy things I want to do, make memories with my family, declutter and purge, and reorganize. Try this quick list of tasks to help you transition from the holidays to the new year!
2. Purge - after receiving Chirstmas gifts, you are more likely to be willing to part with old items around the house. I start with my kids' rooms where most of the new "stuff" from the holidays tends to end up. We do a system of 20 minutes at a time of hard core work, going through every item and nook and cranny. I have two kids so while one kid is decluttering with me in their room, the other gets some screen time. We alternate until we are done. I can't wait to complete the purging process in my own space as well - look out small appliances, your days may be numbered!
4. Reflect - try the exercise I did last year of asking yourself questions about the past year to help set your focus for the new year. Look back through your calendar as a family and reminisce about all the things you did over the past year. This is a great time to review your photos and make a family photo album. Review the goals you set for yourself last year and note your progress.
6. Relax - choose some things that you love to do, and make the time to do them. For me this includes taking bubble baths, reading, getting a massage or a pedicure, writing, watching TV, going to the movies, organizing (I know, I'm a geek!), playing board games, playing the piano, getting together with friends, and hanging out with my kids and husband.
By next week's post I should have finished steps 1-5 and will still be enjoying step 6! I will share with you some of my reflection and planning process next time. Happy Holidays!
The Clever Container slogan (and a big reason I began selling their products) is “Make Room for Life.” This is the spirit of what being organized is to me. On my website’s homepage it says,
"Getting a life in order is so much more than store-bought organizing containers, a white board calendar, and cute office supplies -- it's about a realistic system that honors your priorities"
Ask yourself these questions:
- What activities do you do or want to do in your space?
- What items do you need for those activities and where are they?
- What is in your space that you don’t need for those activities?
A real life example:
My oldest son's bedroom is...well, let’s call it an organizational challenge. A few months ago, it got especially bad, so I sat in his room with him and told him he was my organizing client, so I asked him the three questions above. He loves to read, so we decided a reading nook made sense for him. Obviously he needed books, and he also wanted a lamp, some pillows and blankets. The answer to what was in his space that he DIDN’T need was the key to him really buying into getting it organized. He had a large bookshelf, but it was full of board games. It bothered him that others came into his room all the time to get a game, so we were able to do some shelf shuffling and relocate all the board games to a more central location and fill his bookshelf with books. We were able to bring in most of the other items he needed for his reading nook - a bin that fit in the bottom of the bookshelf and some pillows and blankets - from other areas in the house. We bought an inexpensive clip-on lamp to complete his nook! Now this is his favorite area in his room, and though it’s not perfectly clean all the time, it has vastly improved since we defined the space, got rid of what didn’t belong, and put everything he needed in a central location.
Where You Put Things
Ask yourself these questions:
- Are items in your space located in a logical area?
- Are items in your space accessible?
- Are items in your space pleasing to the eye?
A real life example:
In my video series, 7 Days to an Orderly Kitchen, I talked about organizing in zones. I have a baking zone with one cabinet that houses baking ingredients and measuring cups and spoons. In the cabinet directly beneath, I have a plastic bin with a lid containing all my cake and cookie decorating supplies - sprinkles, cookie cutters, piping bags, etc. The counter top between those two cabinets has an outlet where I can plug in a mixer and has space for mixing bowls. I created this zone in a logical area near the oven. I made it accessible by making sure I could reach everything easily. Using a bin that I could just put up on the counter instead of having to get on my hands and knees to look through a shelf in a lower cabinet was a great improvement! Finally I made it pleasing to the eye with matching, labeled canisters for my flours and sugars.
How You Think About Things
Ask yourself these questions:
- Are you overwhelmed or do you feel anxious in your space? Why?
- Do you have too much and feel wasteful or overwhelmed because you can’t use it all?
- Do you have too little and feel frustrated by not having what you need?
- Do you often become worried or angry because you lose things?
A real life example:
My youngest son is fortunate to be near the bottom of a great hand-me-down chain, so he has a LOT of clothes. It is overwhelming sometimes with how many little shirts and pairs of pants I’m trying to stuff into his dresser drawers. When there is too much, he finds it difficult to put things away and we end up with half open drawers overflowing with unfolded clothes. I get mad because of the mess, but feel guilty if I don’t use all the clothes we have been given. Then we both get frustrated when we can’t find that one shirt that he actually does like because it’s smashed among all of the other shirts that he finds just so-so. I had to learn that less is definitely more in this situation! Now we go through every piece of clothing to decide if it fits AND if he likes it. If the answer is no to either of those questions, the item gets donated or trashed. As you can read in a previous post, The Seasonal Switch, we only store one season of clothes in all of our rooms (partly due to the lack of closet space in our 100+ year old house). When you store things out of sight for months at a time, when you get them out, they feel novel and fresh again! I also do this with stuffed animals and rotate occasionally. There are a few instances were we don’t have ENOUGH of something, and I finally realized that it was worth the extra few bucks to buy another package of underwear to stop the frantic morning rush to find a clean pair!
I hope this personalized approach will prevent you from scoffing at the idea of getting organized. Or maybe you now realize that you are pretty organized, it's just not what you thought of as the "regular" way of being organized. If you can find things, don't feel overwhelmed by your stuff, aren't frustrated or angry because you lose things or forget to complete tasks - you're already in really good shape! If you've still got a ways to go, that's ok, take this approach to get organized space by space.
- Keep for everyday use
- Keep as a keepsake
- Give away to someone we know
For me and my sons, it works best if I'm in the room with them, holding up each item, but if you have older kids, they may be able to do this process on their own. Since there are 5 options, we use 5 containers - a combination of trash bags, boxes and storage bins. To be very thorough, have your smallest child crawl under the bed or to the back of the closet to make sure you get everything! I have found that option 2, keep as a keepsake, has helped reduce the time it takes to make a decision. Kids are sure about the things they want to keep and get rid of, but there are some items in between. Rather than force them to decide one way or the other, we keep a box of keepsakes in the basement. Occasionally (but not as often as we should) we go through those keepsakes and purge further. I also throw in the option of giving away to someone we know because it's easier to get rid of a beloved toy if they know it's going to their younger cousin who will like it (and they may get to play with it at their house, too!)
Just like I make my kids go through this process, I like to do it myself on my clothes, coats, jewelry, and shoes. It works out well since this time of year usually aligns with when I do my clothing seasonal switch. I also like to go through things like CDs, movies, craft supplies, and kitchen gadgets. If you want to do some in-depth work on your kitchen, check out my video series, 7 Days to an Orderly Kitchen!
I have a hard time getting rid of things that prove my kids are growing up - like kids' movies and music, games for younger kids, coloring books, and even little spoons and cups. This is where giving to someone I know comes in handy for me. I can much more easily part with a Sonic the Hedgehog activity book, a plastic Spiderman plate and silverware set, or Veggie Tales DVDs when I know my nephews (and now niece!) or a friend's child will enjoy them.
On my last day of Thanksgiving vacation, I'm planning a fun filled day of purging! So family and friends (you know who you are,) prepare yourself for being offered a bunch of stuff we no longer need! I remember receiving lots of hand-me-down clothes and toys from others who had older kids, and even if I didn't keep everything, I always appreciated free stuff and knowing that someone else thought enough of us to pass down things they used to love. Happy pre-holiday purging to all!
"Don't worry about your system being perfect - an imperfect system is better than no system at all."
Once you get going and have all your responsibilities out of your head and in your chosen system, give yourself time to review all tasks and decide what is the “one thing” is that will move you forward, and what the next one is, and the next, etc. Consider assigning due dates and reminders. If you have projects that you repeat, create a template so you can copy and repeat what works best for you. Don’t worry about your system being perfect – an imperfect system is better than no system at all!
When are bodies are worn down, our regular routine usually goes out the window. It’s so easy to get behind while we are sick – dishes pile up all over the house, hampers overflow, tissues cover end tables and the floor next to trashcans, and stacks of mail begin to topple.
The best way to keep it together when we don’t feel good is to create systems to follow while we are healthy so that we can afford to take a few days off when we're sick without things falling apart. If you do these seven simple things on a regular basis, your house will be manageable, and when you get sick, you’ll have a little latitude to slack off.
- Hang up jackets and put bags in a designated area when you come inside.
- Have an inbox for all of your paper, and process it regularly.
- Immediately put away your clothes, shoes, and jewelry when you take them off.
- Create a laundry system that your family sticks to.
- Put dishes straight in the dishwasher. Run and empty the dishwasher regularly.
- Clear surfaces when you leave an area.
- Throw away or give away things you don’t use or need.
"The best way to keep it together when we don't feel good is to create systems to follow while we are healthy so that we can afford to take a few days off when we're sick without things falling apart."
- Keep a few cans of soup in your cabinet so that when you get sick, you can cook an easy meal. It’s also a good idea to keep a couple of bottles of Gatorade or lemon-lime soda on hand in case of upset stomach. As soon as you use any of these items add them to your shopping list. You don’t want to be home sick with nothing easy to fix.
- Use paper plates, flatware, bowls, and napkins so you don’t have to worry about doing dishes. If you do use regular dishes or cookware, put them straight in the dishwasher. If you use a reusable cup, consider using a plastic straw that you replace periodically or use disposable water bottles.
- Put all incoming paper into a designated inbox (ideally the same system you normally use) and give yourself the ok to skip a week of processing it. (Check out this previous post about wrangling your paper!)
- Create a “sick bin” to corral all of your supplies in like tissues, chap stick, medicine, cough drops, a bottle of water, and your phone. It’s easy to misplace things when you’re not feeling well, so keeping them all in the same bin that you can carry with you from the couch to the bedside table will help. A bin with a handle is a nice touch! You can also use a small gift bag as a portable tissue trashcan.
- If you still have to go to work when you’re sick, bathe and wash your hair at night so you can sleep in as long as possible the next morning. Tame the crazy hair the next morning with a spritz bottle and quick blast with the hair dryer.
Even though email is dying a little because of other messaging apps, it is still prevalent especially in professional settings. Most of us have at least two email addresses – a personal and a work address and receive many messages each day. At my day job, I easily get over 100 emails every day, and at home, I may get 30 or so. These add up very fast, and if you don’t know how to efficiently triage your messages, you can quickly get buried and miss the important messages because they nearly disappear amongst all the junk.
Process your email, don’t read and re-read it
You should do 1 of 4 things with new emails - delete, file, do, or move to a task management system (we will talk about the details of this in a later post.) Don’t just read the your messages and leave them in your inbox to come back to later because you will end up either losing it, forgetting about it or you will re-read it over and over, which is just wasting your time! If a message is obvious junk or something you are sure you will never need again, just delete it! If it’s reference information that you may need later, file it. If it’s actionable use the 2 minute rule that David Allen talks about in his book, Getting Things Done. If the action can be completed in 2 minutes or less, just do it. If it will take longer than 2 minutes or can’t be done until you have additional information, add the action to a task management system and then either file or delete the message.
Over time, we all sign up for various newsletters either on purpose or inadvertently. Instead of continuing to delete them each time they are delivered, take an extra few seconds and unsubscribe from the ones you are no longer interested in. Every email marketing platform (that’s legit) has a little button somewhere at the bottom of the message that you can click on to get off of their email list. There are also some services that will help you get unenrolled from unwanted lists. Of course those of us who have an email newsletter don’t want you to unsubscribe (it hurts our feelings) but I care more about your productivity than my email list, so do what you’ve got to do! If you’re too scared to make that drastic of a decision to never receive a particular newsletter again, you can use the next tip instead.
Also be sure to report spam so it can be blocked for the future. Most email platforms have a mechanism to report spam. If you get rid of most of the junk, you'll spend less time sifting through all the things that don't matter for the few messages that do.
Rules, Rules, Rules
If you aren’t using rules in your email, pay attention! You can set up a variety of rules in whichever email platform you use. This allows you to never touch a message and direct it to go right to a particular folder, to be marked as read, or even go straight to the trash. For those newsletters you were too scared to unsubscribe from, you could set up a rule to move them to a special folder. Set a reminder on your calendar for a couple of months in the future to look at that folder. If you haven't missed anything important, you may feel comfortable completely unsubscribing.
You can also create rules for message you send. I have a rule so that if I put myself in the BCC line, it moves that message to a folder I have named “Waiting.” This allows me to remember to follow up if I don’t receive an answer to my message. You can also set up conditional formatting so messages from your boss are displayed in a different color. In the next installment of this series, I’ll show you some examples!
It’s ok to be a little lazy with your email! There are many ways that you can cut corners. In Outlook, my favorite is to set up quick steps to use just one click to complete an action like moving a message to a folder, creating an appointment with the contents of the message in the body, forward a message to a particular address, or create a new message to a particular address. Learn how to drag and drop messages either to a folder or to your calendar. Explore the menu that is displayed when you right click on a message. Add commonly used folders to a favorites area to save a few seconds each time you want to access it. Next time, I will provide some demos of how to set some of these shortcuts up.
Simplify your folders
I used to have an elaborate foldering system with folders for each project with sub folders and sub-sub folders, but what I realized a few years ago was I was spending so much time deciding where to folder things and nearly that same amount of time selecting the folder to look in when I wanted to find the message later that it just didn’t make sense. Now, I have only one folder per year with a sub-folder for every month. Anything I don’t delete goes in the folder for the month it was received. All email platforms have search functions, and the two I use – Gmail and Outlook – have excellent search tools, so you can find any message without having to know what folder you put it in. Some people like to keep EVERYTHING in their inbox and just search for what they need. Now, that makes me a little anxious, so I prefer to folder when I’m done. I look at my email inbox like my home mailbox. It’s just for new stuff that comes in, and just like I take in my physical mail every day or so, I like to keep my email inbox emptied.
In the second part of this series, I will have some demos to show you how to implement some of these tricks, but I need your help. I could use several of you to email my demo email address with various subject lines. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to help me create a good tutorial for you!
Photo by Krsto Jevtic on Unsplash
“Analysis | How Many Hours of Your Life Have You Wasted on Work Email? Try Our Depressing Calculator.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 3 Oct. 2016, www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2016/10/03/how-many-hours-of-your-life-have-you-wasted-on-work-email-try-our-depressing-calculator/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.bd59896565f2.
Ansaldo, Michael. “3 Tools That Easily Unsubscribe You from Emails.” PCWorld, PCWorld, 22 Mar. 2017, www.pcworld.com/article/3181014/software/3-tools-for-easily-unsubscribing-to-emails.html.
Over the past few years, I've tried to figure out how to keep sports equipment organized and accessible while not overwhelming my entire mudroom., but it just wasn't working. I had shoes in one spot, socks and shin guards in another and soccer balls in yet another. Because I had created 'homes' for items all over the place, no one ever put them away. I realized last season that I needed a system not individual solutions for my sports equipment problems! I think I finally got it figured out with the sports zone that I created just outside the door to my attached garage. Here's how I created it:
Identify the Problem(s)
I needed to determine everything I wanted to accomplish so I could create ONE solution to solve all the problems at once. The problems were:
- Equipment taking up too much space in my mudroom.
- Kids had trouble finding equipment when they needed it.
- Equipment couldn't all fit in same area in the room I was trying to store it.
- Items weren't getting put away!
Visualize the Ideal Scenario and Find the Right Space
Think about what the ideal solution to the problems you identified would be. Look at magazines, browse Pinterest and look at how friends and family have organized similar items. Don't be afraid to "steal" ideas from others.
Measure, measure, measure - the most important aspect of your sports zone is making sure the items you need to store fit! Purchase or re-purpose items that are specific to what you want to store. It was important to me to have drawers because I'd be storing clothing (uniforms and socks) in the garage, and I wanted them free from dirt or dust. I reused some plastic drawers I already had, and we purchased three shelf boards and six brackets from the hardware store. Consider the height and the space between shelves so that the items you store there are easily accessible. The shelves we installed are sometimes accessed from the garage, but other times from the steps, which means that we were able to put shelves up higher and maximize that vertical space.
Edit, Edit, Edit!
My space is a sports station, but I focus on the current sports season and don't try to keep all equipment for all sports in this area all the time. Right now I have one tote in the basement for off-season sports stuff - all sizes of baseball pants are in a vacuum bag to save space, and cleats that are too big (we get our cleats at garage sales and save them for little brother!) are in a trash bag. I put socks and hats each in gallon size zippered bags. I don't separate by size or kid because they grow so much from season to season, everything has to be tried on anyway! We keep bats, mits, balls in the garage year round because there's a chance those will get played with in the backyard during the off-season.
Load and Label
Now you have a blank slate, fill it up! Be sure to add labels so that it's easy for your family to put things back where they belong! I have a set of three drawers and labelled the top two with each kid's name where we keep their socks, favorite shin guards, and uniforms. The bottom drawer is for things like a blanket that we may use to sit on at a soccer game. I keep two plastic shoe boxes (no lids) on top of the drawers labelled with a kid's name for their cleats. I have LOVED this because no more clumps of dirt from cleats all over my floor - they go in from the garage, deposit their cleats in the shoe box before they come inside. There is a bin for soccer balls, and a shelf for my husband's coach gear. I have a shelf helper hanging underneath the bottom shelf where I have a plastic shoe box filled with extra shin guards (just in case we lose the favorites!) Because there's actually EXTRA space now, I have a shelf where I'm keeping my Cargo Carry All bag that I can throw everything I need for a day at the field! Because it has a lid, I'm storing a small soft-sided cooler inside that I may take to save on concessions! A bin of baseballs and mits fit nicely on that shelf as well. The very top shelf houses baseball bags filled with bats and helmets. We even have room on the floor for the chairs we take to sit on as we cheer on our kiddos.
To make this work and and assure that your kids aren't running around in a panic before their games looking for their uniform and cleats, you have to train them to maintain this system. When they get home from practice or a game, send them straight to the sports zone to unload. When laundry is done, have your kids take their sports accessories straight to their labelled bin or drawer.
I hope that creating a sports zone will help you feel a little more 'in order' during the busy sports seasons ahead! I'd love to see pictures of how you organize your kids (or your own) sports equipment!
I've written about paper organization before, and though it is an intense one, it's one that will leave you feeling the best when it's complete. You could easily spend weeks on paper organizing if you spent only small chunks of time on it, but if you really commit your weekend to paper organizing, you'll see some amazing results!
- Designate command central for your weekend project. This could be a part of your living room floor, a guest bed, your kitchen island or table, or a folding table. Make sure to pick somewhere that you can leave a giant mess, so if you need your kitchen island or table for food prep or eating, don't pick that. If your living room floor is the walkway to everywhere in your house, don't pick that. I like the folding table idea because you could easily move it if needed (in front of the TV, to the bedroom in case of a surprise visitor, etc.)
- Gather ALL your paper from your entire house, basement, attic, garage, car, etc. and put it in "command central." If you have some items already fairly organized, you can leave them in their files or boxes, but still bring them to the work area.
- Determine your paper categories. Once you see all the paper you have, it will be easier to decide how you want to categorize. Most people have things like: finances, health, property, personal/mementos, current projects. Will those categories work for you, or do you have others? Maybe you love to cook and collect recipes - if you want to keep those in paper form, you may have a recipe category. Maybe you are an artist, so you need a category for drawings. Maybe you are a writer so you need a category for journals and manuscripts. The system should work for you!
- Start thinking about what you could throw away. Are there things you don't need anymore or things that are already available digitally or that you could scan and store digitally? Don't make any decisions yet, just start pondering. Your mind will do some of the processing for you as you sleep.
After a good night's rest, roll your sleeves up and get started!
- On a blank piece of paper, write each of the categories you decided on the night before in large letters with a sharpie marker. Spread these out in your work area.
- Grab three boxes and mark them "Recycle," "Shred," and "Scan"
- Touch every piece of paper - I know this seems like overkill, but if you're going to do it - do it right! Consider with each one - do I need to keep this for any reason? If yes, put in one of the categories. If no, put in one of your boxes - scan, recycle or shred (depending if there is confidential information included.) I'm not gonna lie, this is going to take you most of the day! Break it up with snacks, TV, some movement. If you really start getting bored, use the Pomodoro technique - set the timer for 25 minutes and put your nose to the grindstone, and then set the timer for 5 minutes and do something physical to get your blood pumping. Then get back to it!
- Read my previous post, The Paper Purge, for suggestions on how to decide what to keep.
- In the evening, put in a movie and get out your shredder and shred away! This is so satisfying and mindless. If you don't have a shredder, just box those items up and put them in your vehicle. You can take them to an office supply store or sometimes to your financial institution for shredding. You may want to consider investing in a small shredder to keep the paper under control in the future.
- When you're done shredding, start scanning and saving! If you don't have a scanner, you can simply take pictures with your phone. You can then shred the physical copies.
You should wake up to a few piles of paper in categories. Now is time for the fun part!
- Decide on a color for each category - I personally like green for finance, yellow for property, red for health, blue for personal, and I have a purple category for fun.
- Scope out your space. Where will you store paper? Think about how often you will need to access the items. There may be some items in your finance category that you don't need to access very often at all (ex. tax returns) while other items in that category you will need much more often. You may want to designate long term storage in the basement and short term storage in a desk or filing box. Consider creating an inbox for all paper to live in until you have time to process it.
- Make a list. What items do you need to purchase to store the paper? Some of the usual suspects: Hanging files, file folders, an inbox, binders, file box, a hole punch, page protectors, dividers, label maker.
- Go shopping! You can do this in person or online. If you do it in person, you can actually complete your project in the weekend, but if online is preferable, check out Clever Container's office organization supplies.
- Store your paper. Create your files (remember the color coding system you created this morning.) Choose what works best for you - files, bins, binders - or some combination. Read about my Binder System here.
- Commit to a system so your paper doesn't get out of control again! Check out my system in my post, The First Big Win, Wrangling the Paper!
Back in February of this year, I wrote a post about organizing the heart of your home - the Kitchen! This included a week-long plan to get your kitchen in order. You could easily condense this 7 day plan down into a weekend if you were focused and didn't have other plans! I highly suggest signing up for the free video series, 7 Days to an Orderly Kitchen, at least a week ahead of time, so you can watch the videos and print the checklists to be ready for your kitchen organizing sprint!
- Clean your kitchen. Wash, dry, and put away all your dishes, clear your counters, and sweep your floors.
- Get rid of expired or unwanted food. Throw out past-their-prime leftovers and expired items from your pantry/cabinets and refrigerator and freezer. Don't do any organizing, just throw out the old and unwanted stuff.
- Set up your command central somewhere in your kitchen - table or island is best.
- Get a couple of boxes and label "Donate" and "Relocate" and have a trash can handy.
- Go through each of these areas one at a time and separate items into either keep, donate, trash, or relocate (you're keeping it, but it doesn't need to live in your kitchen.) Watch out for duplicates - how many ice cream scoops do you really need? Keep a running list of the type of organizers you need to purchase.
- Silverware, cooking and serving utensils, and kitchen gadgets
- Dishes, containers, glasses, and plastic cups
- Cookware and serving trays
- Food storage (cabinets/pantry and refrigerator)
- Non food related items (junk drawer, pet supplies, paper)
Today should be spent arranging your kitchen by zones. Consider how you actually use your kitchen and group things for specific tasks together. Example, create a baking area, a lunch making area, etc. (If you signed up for the free video tutorial, this is the last video. Make sure to sign up a week in advance, because you get one video emailed to you each day!)
- Decide on your zones and their locations
- Add to your shopping list any additional organizers you need.
- Go shopping. If you go in person, make good use of the dollar stores! If you shop online, check out Clever Container's kitchen section!
- Put your kitchen back together. You should have much more space now that you've done a purge. By grouping like things together, you will be so much more efficient in the kitchen!
Refresh your wardrobe and get a haircut
Kids usually get a few new outfits and shoes because they’ve grown out of the clothes from the previous school year. We go through their entire wardrobe and get rid of things that are too small or they won’t wear to avoid any fashion arguments! This time of year is also a great time to refresh your own wardrobe. Go through your closet and donate items you haven’t worn in the past several months, items that don’t fit, or ones you just don’t like. Make a list of what items you need to “fill in the blanks” of your wardrobe. Watch for sales and treat yourself! We get our kids a haircut prior to the first day so they look fresh and clean. Make an appointment for yourself, too. This could be the one time per year that you spend a little extra or try a new style.
"I always loved the beginning of the school year as a kid - new clothes and shoes, freshly sharpened pencils, blank notebooks, locker organizers - kind of my dream come true!"
Just today, our family discussed what fair bedtimes are for the kids when school starts and what time they need to get up to have plenty of time in the mornings before school. This will be a big change from our summer routine where the kids’ bedtimes go out the window – and so does mine. I find myself staying up way too late on a regular basis, but still having to get up at the same time to go to work. By the end of the summer I’m exhausted and sleeping in late on the weekends to try to catch up. When school starts, the kids will each have a set bedtime and wakeup time. I plan to create my own, reasonable bedtime as well as a wakeup time that doesn’t involve the snooze button!
When school is in session, I make more of an effort to feed my kids a healthy breakfast to give them a good start to their day. It’s so easy for us as busy adults to skip breakfast or scarf down something on the go. When school starts, it’s a great opportunity to plan your morning to include a healthy breakfast at the table with your family. Many days my kids pack their lunches, and we have various options that are easy to pack and are fairly healthy. Packing a lunch for myself alongside the kids will help me not only to save money on eating out, but help to control my portion size and the nutritional value of what I eat for lunch.
Kids literally start the school year with a blank slate, and they have the opportunity to take new classes from new teachers. It’s a great time of year for us to forgive ourselves for failed attempts in the past and make new resolutions and plans for new habits. Is it time for us to take a class, read a book, attend a webinar about something new?
My kids have gym class at least once a week, and recess every day. They also participate in sports during the school year. I need to follow suit and be more active. I can use the time they spend at sports practices to be active myself, and why not enjoy a “recess” during the day and take a quick walk?
With all the commitments kids have these days, they have to learn to manage their time, plan ahead and just plain remember what all they need to do! We are in the process of finalizing what the daily routine will be and then will create a checklist to keep track of it all. I will print out a grid with the items that need completed down the left-hand side with the days of the week across the top. The paper will go in a page protector and be displayed on the fridge with a magnetic clip. The kids will use a dry erase marker to mark off their daily accomplishments. This makes it reusable, but also easy to change if we add or take away a responsibility. It’s great to pair one of your own responsibilities to your kids’ – for example, when they practice piano, you wash dishes or when they do homework, you read. Consider planning your day the night before with specific timebound tasks. Always overestimate how long it will take you to do things so that you don’t get frustrated!
During the school year, our kids don’t have any screen time from Monday to Thursday (unless homework requires it.) We started this a couple of years ago, and it’s amazing – attitudes are much improved and since there is no expectation of screen time, we don’t hear whining or complaining. This means my husband and I don’t turn on the TV until after the kids are in bed, and sometimes we don’t even turn it on at all. It’s my goal to use the time I normally would watch TV to do other things – read, play board games, talk to my husband, take bubble baths, take a walk, etc.
One of the best parts of the first day of school for me was always seeing my friends that I hadn’t seen much over the summer. We would catch up and tell each other what we did over the vacation. We looked forward to eating lunch together and playing at recess together. As adults, why don’t we designate the start of the school year as a time to plan some lunch dates and fun activities with old friends?
"....being content with now while expecting growth is the only way that positive and lasting change will happen."
Read Order Part 1: A Lego Lesson
Read Order Part 2: Honoring Boundaries
Read Order Part 3: Who's in Charge?
Read Order Part 4: Help Me!
Read Can Creativity Be Orderly?
Read The First Big Win: Wrangling the Paper and The Binder System
Read The Paper Purge
Listen to My Life in Laughter: Cozy Shirt, My Life in Laughter: Gold Saturn, My Life in Laughter: Drive Through Judgement
Read Getting Better at Time
Read 10 Reasons I Love My Unfinished Bathroom
Read Lower Your Expectations
Read 10 Steps to an Organized Party and Organized Travel Made Fun
Read Fun Things and Jobs
Read Left Turns in Life
Read Plan Your Focus for the New Year
Read Be S.M.A.R.T. About Goal Setting
Read Freezing Time
Read Actually Means Action
Read How Use Your Phone For Good
Read Cheating at Productivity
Read Productivity the Nozbe Way with Expert, Michael Sliwinski
Read Organizing the Heart of Your Home - The Kitchen
Read Turn Envy Upside Down
Read It Was Time to Do Something About It
Read Why Can't Things Be Easier?
Read Confessions of a List Maker
Read What Do You Want to Be Known For?
Read It's Time To Check In With Yourself
Read The Power of Tradition
Read 9 Tips for Digital Spring Cleaning
Read A Laundry Experiment: Part 1
Read If You Can Say Something Nice, Do!
Read The Seasonal Switch
Read How We Look Impacts How We Feel
Read Make the Rest Like Your Best
Read Lego Storage Under the Stairs
Read Changing My Pet Peeve
Read 6 Steps to Get Caught up With Paperwork
Read Top 10 Organizing Tips from My Dad
Read Organized Travel Made Fun
Read Find The Right Person for the Job
Read 8 Ways to Stay Focused at Work
Read Making Time Matter
Read Don't Let the Weeds Take Over
Read The First Big Win: Wrangling the Paper
Read Confessions of a List Maker
Read Can Creativity Be Orderly?
Read Getting Better at Time
Read Making Time Matter
I'm proud that this is my 50th blog post, and I haven't missed a week since I started. This shows me that I have it in me to be consistent and helps me have confidence that there's much more that I can accomplish!
Thanks for reading and for your support in my journey to get (and keep) My Life In Order.
- Talk as a family while planning your trip to decide on top things you want to see. Make sure everyone has at least one thing they are really excited about. Anticipating the trip is a big part of the fun! Don’t worry about not doing or seeing EVERYTHING.
- Look into options for discounts as you're planning. For example, we purchased a Costco membership and used their vacation services to get a deep discount. Make a list of restaurants where kids eat free. Be aware that some attractions offer discounts in the late afternoon. Consider a city pass or bundle deal for multiple attractions. Look for Groupons in the city you're visiting, and research free attractions. If you want to fly one way and drive the other, there's no additional charge to drop off rental car at different location as long as it is airport to airport. (Verify this with your rental car company.)
- If you're going to a major theme park, skip the line passes are SOO worth it!
- Even though most things can be accessed via an app on your phone, I always take screenshots of any electronic boarding passes or tickets so that if I have poor cell reception and no WiFi, I can still access them. I like to have contingency plans, so I usually also take paper backups and store them in plastic page protectors (read about the binder system for more info on this!) I usually have several: airline (or other type of travel), hotel, rental car, attractions, ID documents for kids, empty one for receipts and postcards. Keep all of the page protectors in a folder and carry in a backpack when you visit attractions.
- Maximize time at your vacation spot by arriving early the first day and leaving late the last day. Ask about early check-in/late check-out at the hotel - you can usually get extra time in the room for no extra cost. If that's not an option, ask the hotel if they have baggage storage for pre-check-in or post-check-out.
- Don't assume your hotel has the amenities you want - pool, microwave, refrigerator, guest laundry, continental breakfast, etc. Even if you book on a travel site, you can still call the hotel directly after you've booked to request bed size, a cot, etc. or verify amenities. You can also ask for an upgrade when you arrive at the hotel. It's often cheaper to upgrade onsite than it would be to book that way.
- Give yourself at least one day before and one day after vacation off from work to pack and unpack and recuperate!
- Tidy up your house before leaving so it’s that way when you get home. If you can afford it, have a house cleaner come while you are gone – great to come home to clean house!
- Have someone water the plants, feed the animals, and get mail while you're gone and maybe even pick you up some bread and milk for when you return. If you're gone longer than a week, hire someone to mow the yard. Less stress when you get home!
- Plan to get carry out the day before vacation. Don’t have delusions you’re going to cook the night before you leave!
- Pack clothes that can be reworn. Consider using packing cubes or vacuum bags to save space. Take one nice outfit for a nice dinner out. Pack hangers for all the clothes that you normally hang up at home.
- Get a travel size bottle of Febreze - spray things that are moderately stinky and hang over shower curtain rod overnight.
- Take very little jewelry and leave expensive stuff at home. I buy a cheap wedding ring set with a giant cubic zirconia before a trip - something flashier than I'd ever wear in "real life" but I don't worry about losing.
- Take plenty of snacks. If it's a road trip, pack a cooler for drinks and perishable foods, and pack a bag or tote for other food. If you're travelling by air, pack a few snacks in carry-ons and other snacks in a hard plastic container in a suitcase (so nothing gets smashed.) Open bags of snacks, remove extra air, and fasten with a chip clip before you leave. This will allow you fit more in your container and keep your snacks fresh. Take at least 2 plastic cups per traveler and a sharpie marker. Label cups so each person has one for drinks and one for snacks. Use the sharpie to label water bottles throughout the trip. Include some hand sanitizer and baby wipes for cleaning hands before and after snack time. Take plenty of plastic shopping bags for trash. Pack a small insulated bag that folds flat that you can take into attractions for cold snacks/lunches. Take some microwave popcorn for a movie night at the hotel.
- Take trash bag(s) for laundry (I've figured out a formula that works for our family - 1 for every 2 people for every 4 days.)
- Make sure to pack a backpack and/or fanny pack for taking to attractions.
- Take more sunscreen than you think you’ll need – it goes fast! A sunscreen stick for the face is nice and easy.
- Don't forget: books and/or magazines, sunglasses, a journal, small blanket for car or plane, neck pillow,
- Pack all medicine together (pack small amounts of vitamins, antacids, cough drops, etc. in small ziplocks. Take a small bottle of pain reliever that can be carried in a backpack. If you have kids that take liquid medicine, don't forget medicine cups)
- If you have kids who need tear free shampoo, take one more travel size bottle than you think you’ll need. Kids tend to take lots of baths on vacation.
- If you're picky about soap, take your favorite bar and plan to leave it at the hotel. If you prefer body wash, you can get a travel size body poof for about $0.50 - just leave the used poof at the hotel when you leave.
- Take a swimsuit cover-up – hotel towels don’t cover up enough for a walk through the hotel!
- Bring only makeup and hair necessities, take a medium sized curling iron (can be used to straighten or curl) and use the hairdryer at hotel. Use a heat resistant bag to pack your hot curling iron without damaging your luggage.
- Pack a collapsible bag that you can fill with souvenirs if you buy more than you can fit in your suitcase. Just a note from experience: apple butter is considered a liquid and WILL be confiscated if you try to pack it in a carry on!
- Don't take a regular camera if your phone's camera is adequate.
Getting there and back
If you're flying:
- Download airline app and enable push notifications or sign up for text notifications.
- Get to airport nice and early. It's better to eat a meal there and use the airport's WiFi to watch a movie than worry about missing your flight.
- Plan at least 2 hour layovers if changing planes. If you do happen to miss a connecting flight due to a weather delay, the airline doesn’t normally pay for hotel, but if you look pitiful enough and are polite, they will. (This happened to us after an epic run through the airport and JUST missing our connecting flight.)
- Chewing gum will help with ear pressure on flights.
- If you have a young child, don't forget about a car seat. Some airlines allow you to check a car seat for free. If you don't take your own, some taxi and rental car companies have car seats for rent.
If you're driving
- Plan a couple of stops on the way to your destination that include an attraction or a special restaurant to break up the trip.
- Store your snacks and drinks in an easy to access area (not the trunk!)
- Don't forget music - CDs or a playlist on your iPod.
- Let the kids pack their own activity bags, and include more than just electronics - coloring book, dot to dots, puzzle books, drawing paper, books, toys, etc. If you do plan to watch movies during travel. make sure you have them downloaded so they can be watched without WiFi.
- If you have boys, pack an empty laundry detergent container for bathroom emergencies.
- Show kids pressure points on their wrists for motion sickness before leaving, and remind them to look out the window if they feel yucky.
Once you've arrived
- Text/email family when you arrive (and return) so they know you’re safe.
- Unpack completely at the hotel if you're staying longer than 2 nights, and pick up each morning. Hang up clothes on the hangers you packed, and consider using wrinkle release spray or the hotel's iron if needed.
- Take a small bin to corral toiletries on the bathroom vanity.
- Public transportation is fun – use taxis, buses, trains, trolleys, etc. Look into day or weekend passes, but if you pay cash, you may need exact change. Look for free trips (example sometimes hotels and attractions have deals for free taxi or shuttle rides.) Car rental is nice, but if you're in big city, you may not need it the whole time. Plan your itinerary so all attractions that you need a vehicle for are scheduled close together.
- Eat at local restaurants as much as possible. Try new or local foods (we discovered our love of chicken and waffles while in Atlanta!) Plan at least one breakfast away from free hotel breakfast! Consider sharing meals when possible.
- Be sure to check booth/tables each time you leave a restaurant for bags/souvenirs and check seats on public transportation to make sure you don't leave a jacket or purse.
- Take a picture of where you park and of the license plate and car if it's a rental.
- Carry a backpack to attractions. Take in food and water if allowed, include hand sanitizer, sunscreen, power pack for your phone, tickets, a few plastic shopping bags for wet clothes or trash, and ponchos or a small umbrella if you're going to be outdoors and the weather is questionable.
- Take extra outfits, shoes/flip flops, and plastic shopping bags for kids anywhere they may get wet. You never know when there's going to be a splash pad!
- Look through pictures each night and delete the ones that are no good or are duplicates, and upload to Google Photos (or your preferred cloud photo storage.) Send the link to family so they can see what you are doing each day.
- Plan a low-key day mid-vacation, build in time to swim at hotel and rest a few times during the vacation. Rent a movie on the hotel room TV and have pizza delivered for a really relaxing night!
- A 15 minute walk is very doable to get places! The more you walk, the more you can eat and not feel guilty! If you walk a lot, to avoid chafing, use deodorant or vaseline on any area that may rub.
- Book a hotel with guest laundry facilities. Take travel-sized laundry detergent and cash for change, and do all of the laundry the night before leaving. Fold laundry before putting in the suitcase keeping each family member's clothing together. It's very nice not to have a ton of laundry to do when you get home! If doing laundry at the hotel isn't an option, pack all dirty laundry in one suitcase on the way home.
I hope some of these tips will help your next family vacation be a little more organized! Consider making your own list of travel dos and don'ts. My list has helped me not to forget things, plan for the unexpected, and have a better plan so I can relax and have fun! If you have more tips, please share in the comments.
A woman with many roles in life who knows the necessity of keeping things in order!