I'm excited to share a very special post from my first guest blogger, Csaba Vadadi-Fulop from www.productivity95.com. I met Csaba when we were both part of the 10 Steps to Ultimate Productivity book launch team. He has great content on his blog, and in this post he shares tips on remaining productive while parenting.
Productivity and Parenting
By Csaba Vadadi-Fulop
When your baby is born, a lifelong odyssey begins. You quickly realize that you must harness your down time more than ever before. Maybe you experience a paradigm shift in your life in terms of how you perceive your world: you might be more selective in what's important and what isn't. Both happened to me.
You, however, can't prepare for having a newborn―no matter what people say. But you can make significant adjustments to your life both before and after the birth of your baby and that's the topic I want to discuss in this post.
By the end of this post, hopefully, you'll get valuable insight about how you can channel your life back into order.
Adjusting Your Lifestyle
It goes without saying that you'll likely develop sleep debt, exercise debt, and the like. What's less obvious, though, is that it's much more than time. It's about your space-time continuum. The arrival of a baby and the events downstream will consume your space and time in a non-linear fashion.
It's beyond the scope of this post to discuss nursing, psychology, time management, and the like. Nor am I capable of giving such advice. I just want to share with you how becoming a parent literally changed my life in terms of how I operate on a daily level.
First, it forced me to switch from the PC to a MacBook. I've flirted with the idea for years, but it was the birth of my baby when I realized that the PC simply consumes too much space, cables are in mesh, and I have less flexibility to work. The MacBook was a game-changer. I was able to work practically everywhere at any time with the comfort of a king.
Second, when I purchased my wireless headphones I quickly discovered that I won't miss my loudspeakers anymore. I can listen to inspiring podcasts or my favorite band and take care of my duties, simultaneously. Washing the dishes, taking out the garbage, lifting my dumbbells? No problem, I just put on my magic headphones―with my iPhone laying on the kitchen table (!)―and my favorite podcast is with me all the time, regardless of whether I'm in the bathroom, bedroom, or yard. And my baby would still be sleeping or wondering what the heck dad wears on his shiny head.
Luckily I switched to consuming eBooks a couple of years ago, and I can say it was a good deal. EBooks don't take up any place; they're sitting in the cloud (Kindle cloud, by the way). So I can reserve some shelves for the storybooks dedicated to my little baby.
I've been extraordinarily resistant to changes for years including those related to the above-mentioned (portable device, headphones, eBooks). I always had an excuse―be it finance, reluctance, or fear―preventing me from diving into new things. Having a child is a perfect time to say no to your reluctant self!
Let's discuss the tech side of all those changes a little bit...
Adjusting Your Techniques
I use Nozbe as my task manager that's highly flexible to keep my life in order. I created a Baby project in Nozbe to home tasks that are related to parenting. When my wife was in the hospital with our newborn, I made a grocery-like checklist in Nozbe to ensure that I buy and deliver to the hospital everything my new family needed.
It was a highly demanding period: the born of your baby is psychologically demanding itself; on top of that you're supposed to take care of a lot of things, including the certificates of your baby, among others. Nozbe was a great partner in this period, too.
Later on, I kept important deadlines in Nozbe about vaccination and the like.
I still have my Baby project with a traveling checklist, recurring tasks such as weight recording, and more. This project will never end. Maybe I’ll rename it to, say, "Parenting" for the next twenty years.
It's one thing that you keep your tasks in a trusted system, another thing is finding a system to organize your notes.
Evernote is the note-taking app that I use on a daily basis to record and keep my notes, clip articles, save my journal entries, and the list is almost endless. I keep a lot of parenting related stuff in Evernote: baby first aid guides, nursing guides, weight journal, notes from the pediatrician, consultation hours, screenshots of diapers and medications, and much more.
Keeping a record of the baby's weight is a must. I created automation on my iPhone with the Workflow app: each week when my wife and I are recording the baby's weight, I just push a button on my home screen, enter the weight, and it will automatically appear in my Evernote weight journal with the appropriate date and time.
Sounds good? I still have much to improve...
There's always a place to improve and adjust your productivity system.
Selecting the clothes that I like the most is still ahead. The rest is best to go for a charity that will open up a lot of space in my wardrobe. But, again, it goes beyond space: it will free up mental space for me.
Integrating regular exercise into my weekly routine is another challenge: I want to fight off this challenge with immersing into different new sports and picking the one I like the most. Without feeling anticipation, it's hard to build a long-lasting habit.
It's my sincere hope that you got some ideas and motivation to adjust to dad life (or mom life). Parenting is a lifetime commitment; productivity is a never-ending journey: why not combine the two for multiple outcomes?
I want to be a morning person, I really do...but, I'm not! I'm always looking for ways to make things go more quickly in the morning so I can sleep in just a little bit more. I don't have a magic list of things that create a perfect bedtime routine to prepare for a calm morning, but I do have a list of things I've learned over time to help prevent a mad rush in the morning.
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.
2. Set an alarm you can't ignore (or two)
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!
3. Time yourself
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!
5. Limit the number of times you open doors and drawers
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've said it many times before, I'm not great with time, which is why I try to come up with systems and habits to help me. I'm not going to lie and say I'm never late or I always have a calm morning, but these few tips have helped me greatly reduce the amount of mad rush mornings!
It's easy to let your medicine cabinet get out of control - as long as you can shut the doors, you can ignore whatever is going on in there, right?! You can become blind to your own clutter, or so overwhelmed by it that you don't even use your medicine cabinet anymore. I was tired of the fear that all of the expired medicine would fall on me and annoyed that I felt like I was running out of space in my bathroom. This weekend, I did a major medicine cabinet purge in both of my bathrooms and then made a trip to one of my favorite stores, Dollar General, to stock up on a few items that would fit in the narrow cabinets and provide the organization I was looking for. Here are 5 items that you might not think of using in your medicine cabinet that can help you get organized and only cost a few bucks!
1. Plastic Cups
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!
2. Drawer Organizers
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!
3. Small, plastic food storage containers
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.
4. Command hooks
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!
5. Small decorative candle holder
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.
My medicine cabinets look a little bare right now because I purged so many expired items. I have a short list of the things I want to replace, but now I have plenty of space and a plan for where each item will go. Just as with every area that you organize, it is important to purge first, determine the best location for what you have left, and then purchase or repurpose storage solutions specific to your own needs!
On a whim, back before I'd even had the courage to publish my first blog post, I applied to be part of a book launch team for a new productivity book from the founder of the task management software I use, Nozbe. I was thrilled when I was selected as one of approximately 100 people worldwide who would have the opportunity to review and offer suggestions for this book. At that time, I had no idea that I'd actually be quoted in the book! It's been over a year, but the book has been written, edited, and published! 10 Steps to Ultimate Productivity by Michael Sliwinski is now available for purchase!! I'll give you a summary of some of the great content from this book below. Make sure to read to the end for info on how to get entered for your chance to win a copy!
The first thing you need to know about this book is that its author definitely has the authority to be writing it! I had the honor tointerview Michael Sliwinski last year and learned about why he's a true productivity expert. Click here to read the post for more background on the man who created a productivity platform that nearly half a million people use daily!
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:
I'm so excited for you to read this book that I'm going to give you the chance to get one for FREE! There are two ways to enter (and you can do either or both for an additional entry!) A winner will be drawn on Thursday, January 17, 2019.
I have two weeks off for the first time since before I entered the workforce (of course I'm not counting maternity leave because that is NOT vacation!) To say I'm excited is a severe understatement. Many people have asked me what I'm doing and where I'm going. My answer is nothing and nowhere - and that's by choice and why I'm thrilled! I love the holidays - the decorating, the Christmas sweaters and socks, the cooking and baking, the gift giving and the family gatherings are all fun! But just as much as I love the holidays, I love the fresh start of the new year that follows.
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!
1. Un-decorate - I prefer to leave my Christmas decorations for a few days after December 25, but no later than the weekend after New Years Day. Once your decorations are down, you can see the new start that the new year brings.
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!
3. Organize - The kids don't totally hate the purging process,because they get to rearrange, redecorate and reorganize their room how they like. We focus on function first - where do you like to read, why is it so hard to get your dirty clothes in that type of hamper, would those drawers be easier to get to in a different spot, are you more likely to play with your action figures if they are all in one bin, etc. I also make a list of what is missing (so far the list includes a LED light for my son's closet, a poster frame, and some floating shelves.) We use Christmas money to buy any supplies needed.
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.
5. Plan - create some new goals for yourself - make sure to make some small ones and some lofty ones! After you've chosen your planner (tips on how to do that were in last week's post), start filling in the calendar with all the dates that are set in stone. If you created monthly goals, noting them in your planner is a great way to keep them top of mind.
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!
This weekend, I was at my last vendor with Clever Container, and as unsuspecting shoppers walked by, I would ask, “would you like to get more organized?” Several people replied, “If I got organized, I would never find anything!” The first couple of times, I chuckled assuming they just said the first thing that came to mind to shut me up so they could pass by my booth without feeling guilty for not stopping to browse. But when I heard the same statement for the third, fourth, and fifth time, I started thinking that maybe there is a widespread misunderstanding about what organization really is or what it should be.
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"
So the idea that getting organized would actually make life harder or less efficient is really a foreign concept to me. I wonder if those who made that comment are thinking of getting organized as a cookie cutter solution that someone else told them was the “right way.” To those of you who have avoided changing how you do things, where you put things, or how you think about your things, I want you to have hope that there are ways to change that will actually improve your life - in the way that you want to live it. We all need a personalized approach to organizing, and here’s how to get started:
How You Do Things
Ask yourself these questions:
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:
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:
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.
Around the holidays, I always get the urge to purge! Life gets so busy between Thanksgiving and Christmas around my house with school programs, parties, shopping, decorating, family gatherings, etc. It seems extra difficult for me to stay on top of the regular tasks like laundry, dishes and clutter, so this is the time that having less stuff is really appealing. Whenever this feeling strikes me, I take advantage and get out some trash bags and cardboard boxes!
I like to do pre-holiday purging in the areas that I'm most likely to acquire new stuff. The prime location to begin, kids' rooms! It's ideal to involve your kids in this process, explaining that if they want to enjoy new toys or gifts, they have to make some room. I like to give the kids 5 options on every item in their room:
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.
In addition to purging, I love to use this time to get organized as well. The key is to be realistic about how you use your spaces and to store items near where they are typically used. Using the correct storage solutions is important. For example, you don't want to stack bins on top of one another that you want to access often. Instead, consider a shelf with bins, hanging closet shelves, a set of drawers, or stacking bins with front access. Make a list of what storage problems you have and then do a little organization browsing online or in person. Select one area to focus on first and either purchase or re-purpose some organizing supplies for that area to be complete. This will give you so much more satisfaction than getting one thing for each room. You can slowly add to your collection of organizing supplies as time goes on.
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!
“I have so much to do, that sometimes I don’t even know where to start!” How many times of you heard yourself say those words? I know that’s how I’ve been feeling the past week. When we have unexpected things happen, our responsibilities don’t just stop. Things keep piling up and eventually there is this big bunch of things to do and you almost feel paralyzed because you feel like no one thing is going to make a big enough dent to actually be considered a priority. In order to know where to start, you have to know ALL that there is to do. That’s why it’s important to have everything that you need to do in one place, and then you can more easily decide what needs to be done first.
I like digital tools, but before technology can help, I have to know what I’m going to put in that tool and how I am going to structure it. I was feeling really out of control last week, so I did what always calms me down – got out a pencil and paper and start dumping my brain onto the page. If you try this, don’t worry about it being pretty or cohesive or anyone else understanding what in the world you’re writing. It’s so freeing to get what’s in your head onto paper, and then you can actually SEE all the things you need to do. Unless you are super-human, it’s nearly impossible to figure out what to do and when if everything you have to do is floating around in your head all at once.
If you’ve read the book The One Thing by Gary Keller, you know that he says there is always one thing that’s more important than everything else at that very moment in time. Sometimes it’s so hard to figure out what that one thing is and it’s so much easier to just do busywork and make yourself feel like you’re being productive when in fact you’re doing nothing! A good example of this is spending the entire day working out of your email inbox just responding to messages and taking care of brief little tasks, and then putting other, bigger projects aside for “later”. If you do that type of triage all the time, “later” never comes, and those big tasks begin to create an overwhelming pile.
I’m trying to unbury myself and am doing this in my personal life using Trello. It’s a free app that I use on my laptop and on my iPhone where you can create different teams (which I’m using as areas of my life) and within those teams, you can create as many project boards as you want. These are kind of like digital bulletin boards where you can create lists and tasks. Trello gives you a visual representation of all of your to-dos and lets you drag and drop them where they go. I took my handwritten notes and figured out there were several areas of my life: Me, Family/Friends, Household, Volunteer, Side Hustles, and Work. I use a different task management system at work called Nozbe. Some people like to use the same system at home and at work, but I prefer to keep them separate, so I decided for these purposes to nix the work category in my Trello app.
"Don't worry about your system being perfect - an imperfect system is better than no system at all."
I started getting so excited about my new system that I spent a lot of time designing it, thinking, “should I have a separate areas for my blog, piano lessons and Clever Container sales or should they all be in one area called Side Hustles?” I realized I was going down a dangerous path spending more time designing a system than using it! I’m giving myself permission to start where I’m at and improve as I go. That’s one of the things I like about Trello – it’s really easy to drag and drop tasks to different lists, put things in different order, and move boards to different teams.
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!
Last winter, my kids had a magical three days when my husband’s and my flu-like symptoms overlapped. It’s not that they wished us poor health, but they did enjoy our lack of enforcement of the no TV during the school week rule. We were too tired to care, so we all got too much screen time for those few days.
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.
"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."
When you are under the weather, give yourself permission to take a few shortcuts to keep your house from becoming a disaster zone.
Staying productive is hard. If we only had to worry about our own priorities, it would be a little easier, but in real life, we have requests and expectations coming at us from all directions. The biggest avenue for those outer expectations is our inboxes. Most of us have at least two inboxes – a physical paper inbox and an email inbox. I wrote about how to wrangle your paper in a previous post, and today, I want to start a series on how to manage your email inbox.
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.
I use Microsoft Outlook at my day job and Gmail for personal and My Life In Order email. These platforms are very different, but both common, so I will be using them as examples in this series. Regardless of what email platform you use, the overarching principles of email organization are the same. Email used to be a great, time-saving tool to replace handwritten or typed memos that had to be circulated through the office, but it’s turned into an invasive nuisance that the Washington Post reports takes the average white-collar worker a little over 4 hours each day to deal with. This equates to 20.5 hours each week and more than 1,000 hours each year! Even with the quantity of email we get, it doesn’t need to take up half of our work day, and by implementing some of these ideas, you should be able to dramatically improve your email efficiency!
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 email@example.com to help me create a good tutorial for you!
“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.
Soccer season is upon us, and that means cleats, soccer socks, shin guards and soccer balls EVERYWHERE! I have two kids who play plus my husband coaches, so he has a huge bag of practice gear to add to the collection of soccer equipment. In past seasons, we've tried to contain all of these supplies in our mudroom, but it seemed like we were constantly tripping over equipment but yet the kids could never find a clean pair of socks or a matching set of shin guards!
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:
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.
Now that you know what you need to fix and the best way to fix it, start finding the right space. I had been looking in the same room trying to reconfigure the space I was having problems with, and it wasn't until I realized that I need to think outside that room, did I find the best space for my sports zone. I knew that I wanted drawers and shelves and bins. I didn't have space for those things in the room I'd been using, so I went to the garage and starting looking around. I found a small space that had been used for smashing and storing aluminum cans before turning them in for a few bucks. Since we got our Soda Stream machine, we barely drink canned soda anymore, so this area was basically useless. We moved a trashcan, a small recycle bin and removed the can smasher from the wall and had a blank canvas for sports storage.
Measure and Install the "Bones"
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!
Weekends are usually jam packed with family events, regular housework, yard work, sporting events, going out with friends, and maybe even a date night, but every once in a while you get that unicorn of a weekend with no plans - what do you do then? How about a Weekend Warrior Organization project? Here are 2 projects in areas of the home that, in my opinion, are the best areas to start with when getting organized. These can each be realistically completed in one weekend (of course, only 1 per weekend - let's not get crazy!)
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!
After a good night's rest, roll your sleeves up and get started!
You should wake up to a few piles of paper in categories. Now is time for the fun part!
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!
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!)
I’m so ready for back-to-school! Not because I’m tired of my kids being home for the summer, but because I’m ready to get back into a routine. 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! I was thinking today about why the beginning of school still excited me as an adult. Yes, I get to buy supplies for my kids, but there’s more to it than that. There’s something about a fresh start that appeals to me, and I think we can all learn some lessons from school to help us live our best life this school year.
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!"
Keep a regular sleep schedule
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!
Eat healthy breakfasts and pack a lunch
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.
Embrace a fresh start and the opportunity to learn new things
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?
Be active and enjoy recess
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?
Create systems to manage time
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!
Cut back on screen time
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.
Catch up with friends
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?
Today marks the 50th post of My Life In Order! Even though there have been ups and downs, triumphs and defeats along the way, this blog has been a constant in my life this year. I'm proud to have posted faithfully every week and to have done so in a transparent and authentic way. As I sit here with the beautiful morning sun pouring in, listening to the quiet of my family still asleep, I'm so grateful to be right where I'm at. That's kind of profound. Do I wish there were some aspects of my life that were different or better? - sure, but I'm learning that being content with now while expecting growth is the only way that positive and lasting change will happen.
"....being content with now while expecting growth is the only way that positive and lasting change will happen."
I just did a quick scan of my house from the vantage point of my couch, and what I see is certainly not perfection! I look down to my pink and white striped shirt and leopard print pajama pants - I don't match, but I'm comfortable. I see clean, folded laundry on the stairs waiting for my kids to take it to their rooms - it's not out of sight, but it's clean and my family has plenty. I gaze upon my kitchen counter filled with shopping bags from a back-to-school shopping trip my mother-in-law took with my son and grocery bags with food I'm taking to a family reunion - it's cluttered, but it speaks of the abundance of family in my life. I see dust on my furniture, and I'm reminded of the glorious day I spent relaxing and recharging yesterday instead of doing housework. Some would look at me and my house right now and think I'm unorganized or not put together, but I feel very much in order. Items in my life have a place and a purpose, and I have the ability to enjoy my home, my things, my family, and myself. In honor of my 50th post, I want to share highlights from my blog, so please enjoy 50 Tips for a Life in Order:
1. Do things in order, and don't get ahead of yourself. Take the time to do it right the first time.
Read Order Part 1: A Lego Lesson
2. Set boundaries and honor them.
Read Order Part 2: Honoring Boundaries
3. Remember you are in charge of you.
Read Order Part 3: Who's in Charge?
4. Ask for and accept help.
Read Order Part 4: Help Me!
5. Embrace your creativity (even if you're not an artist!)
Read Can Creativity Be Orderly?
6. Make a plan to process the paper in your life and manage it regularly.
Read The First Big Win: Wrangling the Paper and The Binder System
7. Don't be afraid to throw things away.
Read The Paper Purge
8. Laugh at yourself!
Listen to My Life in Laughter: Cozy Shirt, My Life in Laughter: Gold Saturn, My Life in Laughter: Drive Through Judgement
9. Use a timer to learn how long it takes you to do tasks, and use an alarm to help you manage time.
Read Getting Better at Time
10. Look on the bright side, find positive aspects of even the most frustrating circumstances - reframe to stay sane!
Read 10 Reasons I Love My Unfinished Bathroom
11. Cut yourself some slack! Don't expect more of yourself than you do of others.
Read Lower Your Expectations
12. Remember parties and vacations are supposed to be fun - plan ahead so you can enjoy them!
Read 10 Steps to an Organized Party and Organized Travel Made Fun
13. Get your family involved in housework and accept that how they complete a task may not be how you would do it.
Read Fun Things and Jobs
14. Be patient and prepared for opportunities. Don't rush because you feel bad that others are waiting on you.
Read Left Turns in Life
15. Take time alone at least once a year to think about what you want to focus on in the future.
Read Plan Your Focus for the New Year
16. Set goals that are realistic and align with your focus.
Read Be S.M.A.R.T. About Goal Setting
17. Don't wish away time.
Read Freezing Time
18. Take action!
Read Actually Means Action
19. Use technology to help you save time, not waste it!
Read How Use Your Phone For Good
20. Use the Pomodoro Technique to break up your work into sections and give yourself breaks so you don't get burnt out.
Read Cheating at Productivity
21. Use a task management software (NOT your email inbox) to keep track of your to do list
Read Productivity the Nozbe Way with Expert, Michael Sliwinski
22. Organize your kitchen - you spend a lot of time there!
Read Organizing the Heart of Your Home - The Kitchen
23. Use what you envy about others to help you change yourself.
Read Turn Envy Upside Down
24. Seek wise counsel - talk to a coach, join a mastermind group, get a mentor!
Read It Was Time to Do Something About It
25. Be kind and helpful to others - they will likely return the favor.
Read Why Can't Things Be Easier?
26. Make a list of your most important tasks the night before so you can sleep better and hit the ground running the next morning.
Read Confessions of a List Maker
27. Make a list of what you want to be known for and use it to guide your decisions.
Read What Do You Want to Be Known For?
28. Check in with yourself regularly. Make sure your actions are in line with your focus, moving you toward your goals, and true to what you want to be known for.
Read It's Time To Check In With Yourself
29. Create new traditions.
Read The Power of Tradition
30. Keep your computer and phone 'clean'. These are tools you use many times each day - if they are cluttered, your overall productivity will suffer.
Read 9 Tips for Digital Spring Cleaning
31. Identify tasks that drive you crazy and experiment with ways to make them work better.
Read A Laundry Experiment: Part 1
32. Be aware that words have power, use them carefully.
Read If You Can Say Something Nice, Do!
33. Store out of season clothes or clothes that don't fit somewhere other than in your closet. This forces you to go through your wardrobe periodically.
Read The Seasonal Switch
34. Acknowledge that how you look impacts how you feel. If you want to feel put together, try to look put together. This is why getting up and taking a shower and putting on "real" clothes tends to make us more productive than if we stay in our PJs all day.
Read How We Look Impacts How We Feel
35. Analyze your best day ever and do what you can to recreate it!
Read Make the Rest Like Your Best
36. Get creative about storing items - have fun making your home function FOR you!
Read Lego Storage Under the Stairs
37. Expect the best until proven wrong.
Read Changing My Pet Peeve
38. It's ok to play catch up.
Read 6 Steps to Get Caught up With Paperwork
39. Learn from those around you - everyone has at least one idea you can borrow.
Read Top 10 Organizing Tips from My Dad
40. Make a list of travel dos and don'ts and add to it after each trip no matter how big or small. Review the list before you travel.
Read Organized Travel Made Fun
41. Don't try to do it all - find the right person for the job.
Read Find The Right Person for the Job
42. Plan for solitude.
Read 8 Ways to Stay Focused at Work
43. Brand new experiences make great memories.
Read Making Time Matter
44. Cultivate good habits.
Read Don't Let the Weeds Take Over
45. Color code! Assign each member of your family a color, or create a color system for various areas of your life and use with a folder or binder system.
Read The First Big Win: Wrangling the Paper
46. Use a physical journal to jot down ideas, make lists, doodle, etc. Writing helps us process our thoughts and ideas.
Read Confessions of a List Maker
47. Put down your phone and be present.
Read Can Creativity Be Orderly?
48. Take the time - if you can do something now, do it now. It's so much easier to do the little things as we go rather than let them build up and require a large block of time to accomplish all of the "undone" things in our lives.
Read Getting Better at Time
49. Spend time on what you love and with who you love - somehow things we are passionate about seem to stretch time and make it richer.
Read Making Time Matter
50. Be consistent in something, you'll likely become consistent in other things, too!
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.
Vacations are supposed to be fun...right? As a bit of perfectionist, I used to find it hard to relax and enjoy time with my family on vacation because I was so focused on everything being just right. I'd plan a jam-packed schedule, stage the perfect pictures, and get mad if everyone wasn't having a good time. In the summer of 2016, we took a vacation to Atlanta, Georgia and had a fantastic time! When I got home, I made a list of dos and don'ts from our trip, so the next vacation could be just as fun. The next time I got ready to plan a vacation, I re-read that list to help make that trip just as good as the last. Now every time we get home from vacation, I add to the list. I now have two years of tips from big and little trips. Not only is it helpful to plan future low-stress trips, it's also a lot of fun to reread the list and reminisce about past vacations.
Getting there and back
If you're flying:
If you're driving
Once you've arrived
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.
In honor of Father's Day, I wanted to share some tips I've learned from my dad over the years. He's the guy who passed on a love of labeling things to me, and he has so many great ideas for keeping things organized!
On a serious note, I'm so blessed to be my father's daughter. He and my mom have been married for 42 years and my dad has been the best example of hard work, good morals, and generosity that I could have asked for. He was an involved parent attending countless piano recitals and school activities, driving our family on summer road trips, moving me in and out of my college dorm room, walking me down the aisle at my wedding, providing advice on car purchases, and helping with lots of repair projects! He's now a devoted Grandpa and setting the same examples for his grandchildren.
Top 10 organizing tips from my dad:
1. Label your board games
You know when you're playing a game that has questions on cards and someone starts suddenly knowing all of the answers and you realize someone put the cards back on the wrong end of the box last time you played. Well, my dad has a simple fix for that! Simply put a piece of masking tape on whichever end you designate the front. To make it even clearer, write "FRONT" on it.
2. Keep track of dates of purchase and maintenance on your owner's manuals
For large purchases, most of us keep the owner's manuals. My dad has always written the date of purchase and noted and maintenance and the date on the cover. You could also staple the receipt to the manual. Not only is it interesting to see how long things last (he had the manual from his record player from the 1970-something), but it's helpful when dealing with warranties, or knowing the timing of preventative maintenance.
3. Hang a tennis ball on a rope from your garage ceiling
My dad has a nice garage and he maximizes the space in front of where the cars park with built in cabinets and hooks on the walls. To keep my mom from pulling the vehicles in too far (and likely also to make sure the vehicles were in far enough not to get caught in the closing garage door), he long ago installed a hanging tennis ball. You pull the car up until the tennis ball just taps your windshield, so you know you are parked in the perfect spot.
4. Customize your belongings to fit your space
The bathroom I used growing up has an area that juts out just past the tub (which my dad did on purpose when he built the house, of course, for plumbing access.) The problem is the only rugs that would fit in the space were too small to really do any good. No problem, Dad to the rescue! He cut a notch in the rug so it fits perfectly against the wall and a side benefit is that it can't slip around either. This applies to so many things in my parents' house beside rugs. My dad coined the phase that my brother and I still jokingly use, "You know what a guy could do..." Whenever he said this, you knew he had a great idea!
"You know what a guy could do..."
5. Don't let sentiment cause clutter
My dad is somewhat of a minimalist. He doesn't care for a coffee table in the middle of the room or many knick knacks sitting around. My dad had a decent sized record collection, some of which he'd had since he was a teenager. They were stored in a wooden cabinet with sliding doors. Several years ago, he wanted to use the record cabinet for another storage purpose (in the garage on that wall in front of the vehicles - thank you hanging tennis ball for keeping it safe!) In order to use it for garage storage, he got rid of the records. I remember feeling sentimental about him getting rid of them and they weren't even mine. He didn't let sentiment cause any unnecessary clutter. I'm grateful that my husband and brother got several of the records for their own collections!
6. Research and analyze which is cheaper and better - fixing/refurbishing or buying new
This one may only apply if you have the ability to fix things yourself. If you know my dad, you know he can fix just about anything! There are times that most people would have just gotten a new (insert whatever is broken in your house) but my dad did the research to fix it. For instance, he put a brand new bottom in the bathtubs instead of replacing them. It was cheaper and less work in the long run than tearing out the old one and installing a new one. There are times though, were you've fixed as much as you can fix, and it's just time to buy new.
7. Label generously
My dad has been making labels as long as I can remember! His go to is masking tape and a sharpie. Putting labels on things helps to identify them (the reason spices of similar colors are labelled in my mom's spice cabinet) and helps us remember where things go (this is why I label my clear bins in my refrigerator - I certainly don't want my raw meat to ever go in the bin where my yogurt is supposed to go!) I have to admit, I did think my dad took it a little far when I saw that he had labelled the tape dispenser, "TAPE."
8. Take notes and keep things you want to reference later in a central location
My dad takes notes and records things he wants to remember later. Even if you have a good memory, you can't remember everything! Dad has his own system for reference in an Excel spreadsheet with many, many tabs, where I use Evernote to keep track of things I want to refer to later. Your system doesn't have to work for everyone - just for yourself!
9. Do things the right way the first time.
I say this to my kids often, "Do it right the first time." Often there's a shortcut or an easy way out, and if that can qualify as "the right way," by all means, take that path of least resistance. But too often, the easy way is not the right way, and then you end up having to redo the task or fix a mistake later on. Sometimes tasks take my dad longer than I would expect, but it's done right and it lasts! Several years ago, I had some issues with the caulk around my bathroom tub and my dad fixed it for us (yep, I'm lucky, I know!) It took a lot longer than I anticipated, but because he used the right materials, fixed his mistakes while the caulk was still wet, smoothed it with the correct tool, and waited the appropriate amount of time for it to dry - it looked great, served its correct purpose, and has lasted a long time.
10. Use your talents to help others
As I said earlier, my dad can fix just about anything and everybody knows it! This was demonstrated yesterday when my almost-4-year-old nephew picked up a toy that wouldn't work and bypassed everyone to go straight to my dad and say, "Grandpa this is broken, will you fix it?" Being good at something does usually mean you get asked to help people do that thing, and sometimes that can feel like a burden. Though I can't read his mind, it doesn't seem like he minds when he's asked to help with someone else's project. I think he looks at it as an opportunity to solve a puzzle while helping someone out. He's certainly helped me out more than I could ever thank or repay him for. I think because I saw my dad using what he was good at to help his family and others since I was a little girl, it seems natural to me to share my talents, too. I also think that we improve our skills, become faster and more productive at things when we do them more often - practice makes perfect, right? If we can improve our skills and become more efficient at them while helping someone out, it's a win-win!
My dad has taught me much more than these 10 things (some of them I've written about before) but these are some that I thought you might like to try out. I'm so fortunate to have a dad who has been present my entire life, and it was really fun to think of some of the things he's taught me. I challenge you to make a list of some specific things someone important in your life has taught you - and share it with them! Happy Father's Day, Dad - I love you!
When life gets busy, paperwork is one of the last things I worry about! As a working mom with active kids and couple of side hustles, I have systems to help keep me on track, but when Spring arrives and my weekends fill up, it’s easy to get a little behind. I’ve written before about how to get started with wrangling your paper, purging old paperwork, and even creating a binder system to file it all. The key, though, is regular processing of your paper! I like Sunday evenings because I’m usually home, and it’s a good way to get the week off to a smooth start.
Back in mid-May, I gave myself the day off for Mother’s Day, and I liked that so much that I just kept putting all my papers in the file box and not actually processing them. They were tucked neatly away, but because I didn’t do my weekly review, I started missing things - there was a panicky trip to the bill drop instead of my normal online payment weeks in advance, my kids missed dress up days at school because I hadn’t reviewed the paper that was in my file box, and CVS Extra Care bucks expired before I remembered to use them! I began digging through my file box when I knew a bill needed paid or a form was due rather than processing the whole stack weekly. As time went on, I became overwhelmed by the volume of things I needed to review and file, so I just kept putting it off.
I had a great excuse - I was busy, very busy. But as I heard myself telling my kids just yesterday morning, "if you pick up your room every day, it will never get really dirty and it won’t take very long to clean,” I knew that principle applies to me as well! I need to make getting through the paperwork of life on a weekly basis a priority. If I do it regularly, it won't take that long - probably not as long as the amount of time I waste scrolling through social media on a Sunday evening...It's ok to give myself a day off once in a while, but I have to remember that it's easier on myself in the long run to keep up with my family's paperwork. If I literally don't have enough time to pay bills, fill out a few forms, and file my records, I might need to consider paring down my commitments.
If you have a mound of paper that's been piling up over the course of several weeks and don't know where to start, use these 6 steps to “catch up” so you can STAY caught up!
Empty all your file boxes and baskets, and move your piles to a clear area (floor is the best!)
Separate into piles
Put the relocate items and mementos in their proper places.
Separate the "do" pile into categories to make it more digestible. Examples could be:
Then DO them! As you do each item, the associated paperwork should be put into one of the remaining piles: file, shred, or recycle.
Take the file pile, and get to it! In a previous post, I explained my binder system that may help you. Regardless of your filing system, be certain that each paper that you put in your files is necessary to keep. If it's available electronically or can be scanned, consider shredding it instead of filing. You may not need to clog up your files with every bill, receipt, or statement you receive, but instead you may be able to simply log the information. For example, you could keep a log of your vehicle maintenance instead of keeping every oil change invoice. Read the post about the paper purge for more ideas and some free printables. Sometimes you may keep only the most recent version of a document, so as you file the current one, be sure to add outdated items to either the recycle or shred pile.
Recycle and shred. This should always be your last step. It's easy to want to do this first because it gets rid of two piles at once, but since you add to these piles through the process, it's best to do this last so you don't have to do this job twice. Shredding is a great job for kids - at least in my house, using the shredder is a real treat!
You're going to feel SO great, when you get through all your paperwork. Just do yourself a favor and don't get in this situation again (but if you do, just re-read this post!)
Let me set the scene...half-built Lego creations on the basement floor with all of the remaining pieces strewn about. The remnants of well-intended organization cluttering the dedicated Lego space, while rogue pieces invade nearly every square inch of the thoroughfare of the basement. Unopened Lego sets stacked in the corner, never getting played with because the unfinished basement is such an undesirable destination.
It was time - it was time to create a Lego storage system in an area of the house that the kids actually wanted to use! But how? and where? Here is the process I used to get creative about how to use a small space to meet a storage and organization need.
1. Determine the location
I surveyed the options for Lego storage in my house - they were limited! Since both of my kids like Legos and often share pieces, it made sense to store them in a shared location rather than in one of kids' bedrooms. We don't have a spare bedroom or a rec room, so I was having trouble wrapping my mind around where I could possibly store these Legos! I had to stop looking at my house as it was and start thinking what it could be. I landed on two possibilities: the breezeway between our garage and kitchen (which was used as a mud room and craft room) and the nook under the stairs (which was used for toy storage.) After considering the size and shape of each spot as well as how I wanted to have the mess contained and hidden, I settled on the space under the stairway.
2. Clear the new space of old stuff
We first had to empty the area of what was currently stored there. In this case, we had a toy shelf with bins, a small table with multiple containers of toys and games on and under it, and a bin of puzzles (and maybe a few dust bunnies!) Because my kids understood the end goal was to make a cool place for them to play with and store their Legos, they were on board with doing some purging and relocating. We went through every bin and separated into keep, trash, and donate piles. We also had to repeat this process in each kids' bedroom to make room for the items we kept from the nook under the stairs. We were able to get rid of enough that we could rearrange one bedroom to reuse the toy shelf. We also used this as an opportunity to purge some Lego accessories - mainly instructional booklets that were no longer needed. We recycled a huge pile, and the remainder fit nicely into a hanging file organizer that I mounted to the wall underneath the table allowing to use some otherwise wasted space!
3. Plan to maximize the space
It was fun to plan out how this very small space could be filled with functional solutions. Drawing pictures is the most helpful way to map out your plan, and using grid paper makes it easier to draw to scale. Sometimes things you visualize in your head just won't work when you get out the measuring tape! Use resources like Pinterest to get inspiration and ideas. I created a whole board for Lego storage! Browse online for product ideas, but also go to a physical store so you can see and touch the materials you are considering. And don't forget to check your own house for items you can reuse or repurpose. If you are creating a space for someone else, be sure to include them in this process. They are the ones that will use it, so they may have ideas that may never have occurred to you. Don't forget to make use of vertical space and the space under tables and counters. The final product in our Lego cupboard under the stairs (a little Harry Potter humor!) was very close to my original sketches, but I had to be flexible in a few things like getting a smaller pegboard than planned because the large one wouldn’t fit in our vehicle!
3. Buy, build and reuse
Shop around for the best deals, and don't shy away from building custom pieces. When you are at a physical store, don't get caught up in wanting to take home the supplies right then. Make sure to comparison shop online, and purchase what is both best for your space and is the best value. I took my kids to the hardware store to actually see and touch pegboard bins, and then we ordered cheaper ones online in the size and colors the kids preferred. Make sure to measure, measure, measure! Don’t assume your space is square or level (especially if you live in an old house like mine!) Our project included a fairly simple table and shelf that my husband built and a pegboard we painted and cut to size (materials list at the end of the post.) We got creative with covering up our imperfections with some adhesive Lego tape. In addition to those supplies, the kids helped me pick out folding stools that fit nicely and could easily be stored under the table. We also purchased some new rolling drawers, a hanging file holder for instructions, a floor mat for easy Lego clean up, adhesive battery operated LED lights. Everything else was reused or repurposed! Because the space was awkwardly shaped, there weren't studs in all the right places, so for some things, I used anchors and for others I used industrial strength velcro with an adhesive back.
4. Relocate, decorate, and enjoy!
This is the fun part - moving into the new space! We slowly brought up Legos from the basement giving the kids time to sort and choose the best location in their new Lego room. I overheard them talking about how they were going to sort their Lego swords into some of the pegboard bins separating them into gold, silver, and other colored swords. This MAY be an indication we have too many Legos, but what had taken up a huge area before now fit nicely in the little nook! We have space for displaying finished masterpieces on the shelves, a spot for unopened sets, lots of storage for the Legos themselves, an area for instruction books, and even have a plan for when the Lego playing gets so serious it needs to move to the floor! The mat I purchased cinches up into a bag so the mess can quickly and easily be picked up! We added some finishing touches that we reused from it previous Lego space - some wooden letters I painted in Lego blue, red, yellow and green that I adhered to the side of the shelf with Command strips and a poster frame filled with Lego wrapping paper. We also mounted a Lego mini figure display box that had been a Christmas gift on the wall above the pegboard. Now the kids are enjoying their new Lego retreat. It looks great, but yet it's hidden from view!
If you want to use any of our ideas, here's a supply list and some instructions:
I'm so happy with how this area turned out! I love Legos and even wrote about how the process relates to getting your life in order in one of my first blog posts. After this project, I am inspired to plan out more functional areas in other small spaces in my home and garage. Next on the list - a sports equipment storage area in the garage!
It FINALLY feels like Spring in Indiana, which means it's time for me to embark on the monumental task of the "seasonal switch." This is when I put away the wintery clothes and get out the spring/summer clothes that are stored in totes in the basement. It doesn't sound hard in that single sentence, but it is SUCH a process! This year I decided to do things a little differently to try to make it more efficient and enjoyable.
I have two boys, so I save everything that's in decent shape from the older one for the younger boy. Since they are 4 years apart, that means I have tote after tote labelled by size. Currently I have totes for size 6, size 7, and two totes for size 8 (as the clothes get bigger it takes more room to store the same amount), an 8/10, a 10/12, a 12/14, a 16/18, one for my oldest boy's out of season clothes that still fit, one for my out of season items that fit, my too small tote, and my husband's out of season - oh and then there's one for boots (or sandals depending on the season), one for hats/ gloves, one for coats/jackets, and one for kids' shoes that my youngest hasn't grown into yet! That's a lot of totes! And it never fails that the one I want is on the bottom of the stack, so I have to do an intricate redesign of the towers of totes to get to it.
Yesterday was the day I decided to tackle this season's switch, and even though I think I've come up with a pretty good new system, there's no denying, it's still a lot of work! Here's the new way I'm doing things and how I am organizing the totes of clothes so that when, in a couple weeks I find some T-shirt or pair of sweats that somehow escaped the switch , it'll be a cinch to store it because I'll be able to identify which bin it should go in AND access it easily.
Step 1 - Sort the new season's clothes
Don't start with what's currently in your closet or drawers - if you do that you may end up sleeping in a tent for two weeks. That's what happened to my then-6-year-old last year when I switched his summer clothes to fall/winter clothes. I started by sorting through the clothes in his drawers, deciding what would be too small next year and what I could save. Then I didn't have anywhere to store the clothes for the next summer because the storage bins were full of the fall/winter clothes that I hadn't gotten out yet. So, I dumped the fall/winter clothes on the bed, filled the emptied bins with the summer clothes, and took them to the basement. When it was bedtime, I was OVER clothes sorting, and since his bed was a mound of long pants, sweaters and long johns, I tried to make it fun and let him sleep in a tent on his floor that night. Well, one night turned many nights, and I actually lost track of how long he'd been sleeping in a tent until one night he said, "Mom, when can I sleep in my bed again? I've been sleeping in this tent since the night we watched the nun movie!" He was talking about Sister Act, which we'd watched a full two weeks earlier!
So to avoid tent sleeping due to a clothes infested bed, start with the new season's clothes. I store our out of season duds in the basement, so I started with one family member (my youngest because I felt bad about the tent incident.) I brought up several bins that contained sizes he may fit in this summer (if only there was truly a universal sizing system so I didn't have to have him try on sizes 6 through 8!) I pulled everything out of each bin and put aside anything that was visibly too small or out of season (if I were better at planning I would have had my kids so they'd be the same sizes during the same seasons...) and made a giant pile of what I needed for him to try on. I did this only one bin at a time because, if you have boys you know that trying on clothes is something they can only endure for a very short amount of time. We tried everything on and decided if it fit and if he liked it enough not to whine about wearing it. We made three piles: it fits, it's too small or he won't wear it, and it's too big. When we were done with each bin, we put all the items that fit into the laundry room clothes sorter, the too small items into a bag for my nephew (so my sister-in-law can store those at HER house!), and the too big pile back into the tote it came from. We repeated with all of his bins (after some breaks in between each one.)
You can repeat this process for each member of the family:
Step 2 - Sort the previous season's clothes
While the new season's clothes are in the laundry, go through the clothes that are currently in your closet and drawers. Use the same general strategy as you did with the upcoming season's clothes with a couple of tweaks.
Step 3 - Store out of season clothes
This is the biggest thing I'm excited about! I am going to bite the bullet and do something I've been thinking about for several years...I'm buying shelves for my totes! (I know big step, right?) When totes are on shelves that means you don't have to play that game like the one you played as a kid where a square was filled with tiles and there's one blank space and you have to move tiles around to get them in a certain order. I've ordered the shelves and can hardly wait til they arrive (don't worry, I'll let you know on Facebook when they do!) Mine will go in my basement for the out of season clothes, but these could easily work in a garage or pole barn for anything you store in totes.
Step 4 - Put away new season's clothes
After you've washed all the new season's clothes, put them away in your closet or drawers. Use this as an opportunity to purchase new (or re-purpose other items as) closet and drawer accessories to keep you organized. Some of my favorites for the closet are the hangers that allow you to hang multiple items and then collapse to save closet rod space, belt hangers or a purse hanger which takes advantage of vertical space, a scarf hanger which take advantage of the depth of your closet without hogging closet rod space, a cami hanger which can handle multiple sleeveless tops in the space it takes to hang one hanger, fabric totes where you can store items like t-shirts, hats, athletic clothes, stacking bins for closet shelves, hanging shoe holders, or shoes shelves. In your drawers, use clear plastic shoe boxes or wire inboxes intended for a desk to divide large drawers, or criss-cross organizers for socks and underwear.
I hope these 4 steps will help your "seasonal switch" go much smoother this year. If you are lucky enough to have huge closets, you may not even need to go through this difficult process (I'm jealous!) but for most of us, we have to store at least part of our clothing in a different location when they are out of season. If you have multiple kids and are saving their clothes for a younger sibling - kudos to you for saving all that money! Take it from a mom who's done it the hard way for way too many years and try some of these tips.
During a recent "discussion" about what my son should wear to school, he told me that I didn't do laundry often enough. Before I realized that I felt like a failure as a mother, I kind of lost it! That day, I washed ALL the dirty clothes and had a giant pile of clean laundry waiting for him in the middle of the living room floor when he got home. I had him separate out what was his to demonstrate that he produced a LOT of dirty laundry! I explained that if you don't spill something on them, fall and get mud on your knees, or pee your pants, jeans really don't need washed all that often! I also suggested that a shirt can be reworn if it passes the armpit sniff test! I promised if we had less dirty laundry, I could keep up with it better.
For the next couple of weeks, it was working! Then I began to notice the same exact clothes being worn day after day. One morning at breakfast, I required both boys to change into something they hadn't worn the previous day, and I heard, "But you said to wear clothes more than once!!" I explained that didn't mean they could wear the same things multiple times IN A ROW. My oldest responded, "This is so confusing!!" I get it - laundry is confusing. We needed a new plan. My son and I brainstormed together to come up with some new ideas and he said, "Hey mom, you could write about this on your blog!" So here we are!
My little analytical mind started thinking through how we could start a laundry revolution, and of course, I turned to a spreadsheet and chart.... It takes about 30 minutes to wash and 60 minutes to dry in my machine, plus there's folding and putting away time, which I'll estimate at 15 minutes/load. If I did 6 loads sequentially, the least amount of time it would take me is just under 7 hours. In real life, I'm not usually standing there waiting for the washer or dryer to finish, so I need a better plan, so I don't have laundry couch all week and am not stuck at home all weekend.
We have hampers everywhere - one in each bathroom, each kid's bedroom, and one in the laundry room. On laundry day I have three other pop-up sorters. I'm not a crazy sorter, I just do lights, darks, and stuff that needs hot water (sheets, towels and stinky stuff). Mine and my son's idea was rather than keep dirty clothes in the hampers and dump it into a giant pile to sort once a week that instead we leave the laundry sorters out in the laundry room all week and sort as we go.
Lastly, I have made a pact with myself to continue doing what I started this weekend. I will not take clean laundry out of the laundry room unless it's folded or on hangers. My ultimate goal is as soon as I take laundry out of the dryer, to fold it or hang up on my over-the-door hook immediately. But even if it's not immediate, I vow not to empty another load from the dryer until the previous one has been put away. No more laundry couch for me!
I'm going to give this experiment about a month and then will give you an honest report of how it went. Laundry has been my nemesis for years, and I'm determined to beat it! Some of you may suggest having kids do their own laundry, but I've been hesitant to do this because I don't want to waste water with small loads of individuals' clothes that could be combined. I do get my kids involved by switching from washer to dryer and starting new loads in the washer. I'd love to hear any other ideas you have for keeping laundry under control so please leave a comment below.
1. "Clean" Your Digital Photos
Start by deleting unwanted photos from your digital camera and/or smartphone. On iPhones, once you delete a photo, it will go to a 'deleted' folder and will remain there for 30 days before it's completely deleted. If you need extra space on your phone, you could permanently delete items from your 'deleted' folder sooner.
Next, back up your photos! I recommend having your precious memories backed up in two different ways - one in the cloud and one on physical media. There are many cloud options like DropBox, iCloud or my personal favorite, Google Photos. To make this even easier, you can set up an automatic sync to the cloud services so you don't even have to think about it! In addition, I also hook my phone to my computer about once a quarter and move photos to an external hard drive. I make the folder structure very simple - top level folders are years and subfolders are month and year. Check out the video to show you how! After all your photos are backed up, then you can remove old photos you don't want to have immediate access to from your device (and rest assured that you can access them via the cloud storage option anytime you want them!)
Don't forget to DO something with your photos. It could be as easy as making a shared album in Google Photos or designing a Shutterfly album.
2. "Clean" Your Podcasts
I am constantly hearing about a new podcast I might like. I usually just immediately subscribe so I don't forget. Pretty soon, I've got a ton of podcasts that I don't have time to listen to. First step to get your podcasts "cleaned" out is to unsubscribe from ones you never listen to or don't care for. For ones that you do listen to or know you like, check the download and episode order settings to make sure they are set up like you want them. I made a video a while back to show you how to do this.
3. "Clean" Your Contacts
Your phone may have contacts that are synced from various sources, and some are unclear or incomplete. Start by deleting unwanted contacts all together. Then, on the remaining contacts, delete old phone numbers, add new ones, and assign the appropriate label to each number. (I know I've had some numbers listed as 'radio'!) On an iPhone, confirm the Siri suggestions if they are correct. Add physical and email addresses you know to existing contacts. Create new contacts from previous calls or texts for people you may want to contact in the future. Edit names and add descriptions to make existing contacts more clear and easy to find. Finally, link duplicate contacts. Here's a quick tutorial video to help you with this process.
4. "Clean" Your Apps
Start by finding out how much time you use on your apps. On an iPhone go to Settings>Battery and under the Battery Usage section, click on the clock icon and you can actually see how many minutes (or hours) you spent in each app either in the last 24 hours or last 7 days. Here's a quick tutorial. If there are apps you haven't used in the past 7 days, consider if you may want to delete them. Make sure remaining apps are in folders with similar apps and reorganize your folders so they are the most accessible. Here's a previous video about organizing apps on your phone.
5. "Clean" Your Digital Calendar
First, delete unnecessary appointments (especially recurring ones) or entries that really are not time sensitive. If it's not something that has to be done at a certain date and time, consider moving it to a task management app. For remaining entries, change any that will happen on a regular schedule to recurring appointments. Next add details to all your entries like the address where you'll be going, the phone number of who you need to call, links to websites, etc. Set the default calendar on your phone to the one you use most often so you don't have to edit appointments as often. For example if you have a work calendar and a personal calendar, determine which one you set the most appointments on your phone and change the default. Watch this short video tutorial to help you.
6. "Clean" Your Digital Lists
I have several digital lists - Netflix and Hulu watch lists, Amazon wish lists, digital task lists to name a few. Spring cleaning time is a great reminder to clean these up. For streaming video services, consider creating separate profiles for each family member so that you can keep your watch lists separate. Then go through them periodically and remove things you've already watched or are no longer interested in. Amazon lists are a great way to capture gift ideas or items you are considering for yourself. Use this review to create separate lists for each person or event, add or remove items, and share lists with family or friends.
Finally, make sure your digital to-do list is comprehensive and up to date. There are many options for task management apps, and the one I use is Nozbe. (If you missed my interview with the founder and CEO, check it out here!) Make sure your head is emptied into your system and everything in the system still needs to be completed. Categorize and set deadlines as necessary. Reviewing this system is something you should really do on regular basis, but use Spring Cleaning as your motivation to get your system in order!
7. "Clean" Your Computer's Desktop
Have you ever looked at someone's computer desktop and gotten the heebie jeebies because of all the clutter? Keep your own desktop clear by deleting unnecessary files (or moving them to the correct location). You can also pin commonly used programs to the task bar and then delete the shortcut from the desktop. Rearrange icons so they are pleasing to the eye and even change up your background every once in a while to keep things interesting! Here's a brief tutorial video about decluttering your desktop.
8. "Clean" Your Files and Folders
Review all your files and folders, edit names, and reorganize. Delete unwanted files including temporary files and ones in your downloads folder. As you save files, make sure to name files descriptively and create folders that are easy to understand so you can actually find the files you want later. Start with very few top level folders and then get more specific with subfolders. You can save different file types in the same folder (ex. you don't need separate folders for Excel and Word files.) Top level folders should be broad and based on projects or subjects rather than time frames (ex Finances rather than 2018). If you create subfolders for date, make sure to use two digits for months so they sort correctly (ex. 01 for January instead of 1). You should also backup files to either an external hard drive or to a cloud storage provider.
I hope these 9 tips will help you get your digital house clean this Spring. If you have other tips, please share them with us in the comments! Happy Spring (digital) Cleaning!
Hi, my name is Claire, and I'm a list maker. Here's a list of some of my confessions about being a list maker:
Are there more list makers out there? Considering the massive amount of options available for both digital and analog list making tools, I don't think I'm alone! Several months ago I did a poll on Facebook about digital vs. paper tools, and I was surprised by how many people preferred paper! There are many advantages to paper: it's accessible and affordable, and there's research that writing things down actually helps us process and remember written material better than digital. In a study done by researchers at Princeton University and UCLA Los Angeles, it was discovered that students who took handwritten notes remembered facts and comprehended subject matter better than students who typed their notes. Now, making a to-do list isn't the same as listening to a lecture, but when you write something down, you do process it differently. On the flip side, there are many advantages to digital tools including the ability to edit and reorder tasks without having to start from scratch. Many digital tools also allow you to categorize tasks, assign due dates, set reminders, and even share or delegate tasks. So, what's the best answer? I think it's a little bit of both! I like to start and finish with paper with a digital solution sandwiched in between. Here's my current process:
A brain dump is a great way to keep your mind clear and your thoughts organized. Just write everything in your head down on a piece of paper without thinking about order or dependencies or prerequisites - you can connect and organize your thoughts later. One option for a brain dump that I tried just this week is putting each idea on a sticky note. When your brain is emptied, you can then organize your sticky notes on your wall into categories or chronological order. This idea is explained by blogger, podcaster, and entrepreneur, Pat Flynn, as it relates to writing a book, but it can easily be used for list making or project planning. Don't do a brain dump once and think you're done - this needs to be done regularly. I like to do it every Sunday so I can start the week with a clear mind.
Digitize (or at least categorize)
Now that I have everything I know I need to do or remember either written down or stuck to the wall, I add it to my digital system. If it's an actual to-do item, I add it to the task management program I use, Nozbe. (If you missed it, check out the recent post where I interviewed the founder and CEO of Nozbe!) The key is to categorize the tasks in a way that make sense to you. It could be by project, by due date, by the tool you need to do the task, etc. Though I think it's easier to do this in a digital system, you could do it on paper if you don't mind rewriting your list often. Tasks that have defined time frames, like an appointment, should go on a calendar. Again, my preference is digital so I can access it on the go, but you could go old school and use a paper calendar if you prefer. If it's something that I just need for reference later, I either file it in physical files or add it to a digital system like Evernote. A great example of this is when I wrote down in a brain dump that I needed new makeup but I couldn't remember the brand or shade I liked. I added "buy makeup" to my digital to-do list, but I also added a picture of the front and back of each type of makeup I use to a note in Evernote, so when I am at the store, I can pull up my app and be sure to get exactly what I know I like! Regardless if you go digital or stay analog, it is necessary to maintain your system with regular reviews so you can trust your process includes everything you need to remember and nothing you don't!
Daily Written List
Finally, we come full circle to pen and paper! Each day, I physically make a list of the items from my digital tools that I need to do that day. You might think, "why not skip the whole digital middle section?" If I don't go through that process, I end up with one giant list that includes tasks from all sorts of different projects and with various due dates. My digital system makes it easy for me to filter through my tasks so I can choose appropriate ones for the day.
There are three keys to making a daily written list:
Making your list the night before gets things out of your head so you can sleep better, which will help you be more productive the next day. Making your list time-bound helps you to stay on track throughout the day. There are certain markers in your day that HAVE to happen at a certain time or before or after another task. Put those in, and then you know how much time you have to work on your other to-do list items. Making it realistic is probably the most important part! Overestimate how long it takes to do things so you can actually accomplish your daily goals. Limit the number of big tasks to around three. Nobody ever got mad at themselves for getting everything on their list done!
I try to make my daily list right before I go to bed - sometimes in bed with my nightlight. I look at my digital calendar first and then my digital task manager. I fill in everything I'm going to need to do the next day from the time I wake up to the time I go to bed. I only put times next to the things that are on the calendar or relate to a goal I have about how long I'll spend on a certain task, and I also specify what time I'll get up or go to bed. Throughout the day, I reference my list to keep myself on track. If I can't get something completed, I just highlight it; if something gets cancelled, I draw a wavy line through it. When I make my list for the next day, I look back at my highlighted items to make sure they don't get forgotten. I also make sure to continue to add and mark off items in my digital tools on a daily basis.
For all you fellow list makers out there, I'd love to hear your comments about your system and any tips or tricks you have for keeping everything straight! Happy list making!
Eck, Allison. “For More Effective Studying, Take Notes With Pen and Paper.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, 3 June 2014, www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/next/body/taking-notes-by-hand-could-improve-memory-wt/.
SmartPassiveIncome. “How to Write a Book - The Secret to a Super Fast First Draft.”YouTube, YouTube, 6 Feb. 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=nWoYHAwzcpY.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how my journey to get my life in order began. There were two key things I learned initially that I've been trying to implement ever since:
Today, I want to elaborate on the first point. I had an AHA! moment when I talked to my coach about all I was dealing with. She repeated everything I had listed on my responsibility list and asked me if I would expect someone else to handle all of those things in the manner I had explained that I wanted them done. I immediately said, "No." When she said if that was true, then I couldn't expect that of myself, I felt kind of stupid. I mean, that made a lot of intellectual sense, and even though I wanted to insert a "but" and follow it some logical reasoning - I couldn't. She was right, just plain right.
Realizing, and then internalizing that lower self-expectation didn't mean I wasn't good at my job, good at being a mom or a wife or a friend or a homemaker or any of the other roles I was in - it was FREEING! I could be a "regular person" and didn't have to keep up the superwoman facade. I deserved the same respect and grace that I gave to others, and I was really the only one who could give that to myself. As easy as it is to complain about how others treat us or what they expect of us - as I've often told my kids, "you're in charge of you." I needed to realize that applied to me as well!
"Done is better than perfect."
So since then, I've been all about lower expectations. My new mantra has been, "Done is better than perfect." I've become aware of how many things that I used to think were important were things that no one else would notice if I did or didn't do. I've always loved productivity and organization, but now I had a new found passion for it because I wanted to accomplish the most I could without torturing myself! Here are a few ways I lowered expectations and added in a little extra productivity:
Keeping expectations for myself at bay is a constant struggle, but it's a struggle worth having. Feeling accomplished and satisfied with my less-than-perfect life is so worth it! Do you agree that lowering self-expectation is a good idea, a way to survive and thrive in this fast paced world we live in? Or do you disagree and feel that we should expect more of ourselves? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
The kitchen is where your whole family gathers multiple times each day - for meals and snacks, but also for homework help or family game night. From pouring a bowl of cereal to cooking a gourmet meal to popping microwave popcorn - the kitchen is a key part of our entire day. Most kitchens are in the an area of the home that, even if you don't cook often, you still walk through to get to other parts of your house. This means we often use our kitchens as catch-alls for mail, shopping bags, keys, kids' school papers, medicine bottles, magazines, etc., etc.
Because we spend so much time there, the kitchen is the obvious place to make our best effort in organizing. It's a great spot to get some quick wins and gain momentum. There are several distinct areas in the kitchen, so we can break it down into small, bite-sized steps to avoid becoming overwhelmed with the task.
If you'd like to get your kitchen in order, check out the free course, 7 Days to an Orderly Kitchen! Get a short video and a checklist for 7 days to help guide you in each area of organization.
Have you ever been starstruck? Maybe you’ve run into a celebrity and taken a selfie with them or went backstage at a your favorite artist’s concert? Well, that’s how I feel today - but instead of an actor or musician, I'm starstruck by one of the top productivity experts in the world, Michael Sliwinski! He is the founder and CEO of Nozbe, a productivity software company. In the past 10 years Nozbe (pronounced nose + bee) has served nearly half a million people and is available in 10 languages! It is designed to encourage users to DO more and MANAGE less. Not only does Michael develop software and run a productivity company, he also has written books, is the editor of Productive! Magazine and hosts a podcasts (The Podcast) and is getting ready to release a brand new book, 10 Steps to Ultimate Productivity!
I have been fortunate to help with the launch of Michael’s upcoming book, and recently had the opportunity to interview him. I had a million questions about how he got to what seems to be the pinnacle of productivity, and his answers gave me hope that my quest for order in my life is achievable! What struck me most about Michael was his dedication to family and self-care. In a world where we often feel judged by how busy we are and how many things we accomplish, Michael explains how he stays grounded, “My family is more important to me than anything else in the world, and that is my source of infinite love, acceptance and happiness.” He credits his loving parents with inspiring his entrepreneurial spirit. He proves his dedication to his wife and three young daughters by spending time with them daily. Michael also finds taking care of himself essential to staying productive. This includes at least 7 hours of sleep each night, physical activity for fun and exercise, keeping a gratitude journal, and reading the Bible every morning. Here’s a guy who speaks 4 languages fluently (and can communicate in 3 others), with two degrees, several books, popular podcasts, a couple of blogs, a productivity video course AND a successful company-- and he is making himself and his family a priority everyday! Putting family and self first may actually be what leads to his continued success.
"My family is more important to me than anything else in the world, and that is my source of infinite love, acceptance and happiness."
Obviously, to accomplish all of this, Michael has to be productive, but not just in a check-things-off-of-a-to-do-list kind of way. In his words, being more productive means to “automate things, work smarter instead of working harder and save time for what’s truly important.” The passion for productivity seemed to follow Michael until it was at the core of who he was. After college and a couple of failed online startups, Michael worked as a freelance e-commerce and marketing consultant, but struggled to keep up with the amount of work he had coming in from clients. He discovered the GTD methodology (Getting Things Done by David Allen) which suited him, but he needed a tool to apply it. Taking after his father, Michael had an interest in computers, so he dedicated one weekend to building a very simple web-based program and just never stopped improving it. Nozbe got a great initial reaction from the U.S. productivity community, who liked the ease of use, but Michael worked on his passion project only after a full day’s work at his consulting business for a whole year before his “side hustle” became his full-time focus.
Over the past decade, Michael has continued to improve his productivity as his company and client base has grown. He “reads” about 30 books per year - he discovered audio books and now listens to non-fiction, business and productivity-related books (and the occasional Grisham novel) while on the move - even while skiing! Michael is also an avid tech and productivity podcast listener and enjoys shows like ATP, The Tim Ferriss Show, Beyond the ToDo List, The Model Health Show. He welcomes lessons from other experts to help him achieve the universal dream of having “...tasks under control, stress level low and being able to spend as much time as possible on the stuff they like and with the people they care about.” Michael said, “...after reading Greg McKeown’s Essentialism, I decided to trim my project list and concentrate on what is really meaningful to me. It helps! And I promise - the removed items come back in nightmares pretty rarely.”
Michael didn’t only develop the Nozbe software, he and his team all USE it. Michael is from Poland but because he promotes a “no office” work style, his Nozbe team spans the globe. He’s long believed that a commute to work not only wastes time, but also hinders many other aspects of life. It’s important to him that his employees are able to work remotely to save time, be able to focus, and not have to move from their local community to earn a good wage. The Nozbe motto is, “Work is not a place to go, It’s a thing that you do.” The entire company uses and communicates through tasks in Nozbe. Does that sound like something you’d like to try at work? He suggests that companies start small as they dip their toes into the world of telecommuting and stresses that remote workers need tools to help them “get stuff done.” His team relies on cloud services like Nozbe and Dropbox so everyone can access shared resources wherever they are.
Nozbe’s sounding pretty interesting, isn’t it? The basics of the software are this: You create projects with as many individual tasks as necessary. Each project can be shared with team members (even those who don’t have a current Nozbe account) and everyone can comment on a task in various formats including text, Evernote notes, and Dropbox files. Even if you don’t have a team to collaborate with, it’s a fantastic tool to keep all your tasks organized. Color coding projects and creating labels and categories help to easily filter your tasks so you can even keep work and personal items in the same system. You can forward emails to a special address, and tasks will automatically be created. If you prefer a calendar view, you can assign due dates to individual tasks. Nozbe is available across all platforms (Mac, Windows, Linux, Android, iPad and iPhone) and syncs between devices. All data is encrypted and stored securely. Michael is proud of a feature that Nozbe DOESN’T have - that’s the ability to create sub-project after sub-project. “We’re strongly against too much hierarchy, so we try to keep our project and task structure as flat and as lean as possible….[users] appreciate how easy it is to get stuff done when you’re focused on doing tasks rather than re-arranging them all the time.” If you’re looking for a way to get more organized and be more productive in 2018, check out a free 30 day trial of Nozbe here. I've been using it for years and love how easy it is to use!
To wrap up, I asked Michael for his best productivity “hack," and he said, “planning your day in advance, defining most important tasks for the next day and trying not to get distracted before getting them done.” If you’ve been studying productivity for a while or if you’re brand new to trying to get the right things done in less time, this suggestion is such a good one because it provides focus for what really matters instead of allowing the little things to bog us down! Michael gathered up this and more of his best advice in his new book 10 Steps to Ultimate Productivity. It’s a guide for total beginners with productivity theory, a ready-to-use toolbox, and serves as a step-by-step manual using 10 simple action steps. The book will be available early this year on Amazon. Don’t worry, I’ll let you know as soon as it’s available! If you have any questions about Nozbe, feel free to include them in the comments or submit through the contact page. I'm a longtime user and would be happy to share my experience with you.
A woman with many roles in life who knows the necessity of keeping things in order!