Posts Tagged ‘getting organized’

A Better Use Of Down Time

Most people's days are so filled to overflowing with responsibilities, that there's is almost no way to get it all done in the hours available. Some things (like work and school) eat up big chunks of your day, and you have no control over when or how they happen. Others can be squeezed in whenever you've got a few free minutes here or there. And where do you tend to have a lot of available time? While you're waiting! You could be sitting in a medical office, stuck in traffic, caught in a long line at the post office or bank, hoping to have your flight start boarding soon, trapped on a train during an hour-long commute, or early for a scheduled meeting. Instead of bitching about wasted time, use those precious minutes to get something done!

  • clean out your purse, briefcase, or backpack
  • listen to a book on tape or a recording of a seminar you've been wanting to hear
  • make a wish list of books to read, movies to see, restaurants to try, etc.
  • make a to-do list of things you want and need to get done in the next week
  • plan your menu and grocery shopping lists for the week
  • read that magazine article or book you haven't had time for
  • review and update your calendar
  • schedule an appointment you've been putting off
  • sort through your incoming mail, separating to-do's from trash
  • write a letter to a friend
  • make a phone call that you've been procrastinating on
  • pay your bills, either online or writing a check to go in the mail
  • balance your checkbook
  • work on your Christmas gift list
  • write and address holiday greeting cards
  • work on any sort of report / homework / project with an upcoming deadline
  • write in your journal or diary
  • meditate
  • file your nails (although I probably would discourage a pedicure in public!)
  • just relax and enjoy a moment of silence in the middle of a hectic day

See how easy that was? Wink

Learning To Work Together

When Matt and I first got married,  I was highly anal-retentive about my living environment (big surprise!) I wanted no visible clutter anywhere. My hubby on the other hand, while far from a slob, had a much more relaxed attitude about putting certain things away — like the clothes he would change out of at the end of the day. He left a trail of wardrobe items around our house that used to drive me up the wall. I tried everything to get him to hang up his clothes as soon as he took them off (pleading, cajoling, threatening, bribery), but nothing worked — because that simply wasn't important to him.

Now if I had kept pushing and he had kept resisting, this could have very well ended our marriage (I've seen breakups happen over less!) But we decided that it was silly for us to get so worked up over something so relatively insignificant. However, we also realized that it would be unbalanced for one of us to simply “give in” (God knows that when a spouse surrenders a single battle, it feels as if you've lost the war!) We talked about what we each valued. I wanted a tidy-looking home without piles of clothes everywhere — but at the same time, I didn't want to be constantly picking up after him in order to achieve that. He on the other hand, wanted to come home from work and immediately relax, without having to worry about spending his precious down-time putting things away (this was back in the day before self-employment!) — but he promised he would get it all where it belonged once or twice a week.

Fortunately, we each had a divided closet — so we agreed that when Matt shed his skin at the end of the day, he would pile his clothes in the floor of his side (rather than the floor of the bedroom or living room or bathroom) and shut the door. That way, I didn't have to see it or deal with it. And when the pile got to big for him to stand, he'd hang everything up (or do laundry) and start over again fresh. It was the perfect solution, because both our needs were met at the same time. And that arrangement has followed us into the Airstream and around the country — of course, it's a smaller closet, but we still each have our own section, and Matt's got a series of “cubbies” where he can easily stow his clothes as he takes them off. A good system (one built on give-and-take) is adaptable enough to last you forever!

I always say that compromise is the soul of family harmony — and it's doubly true when you're talking about getting organized. The best way to fail at your organizing efforts is for one family member to lay down hard-and-fast rules, expecting everyone else to just fall in line — ain't gonna happen! Instead of each person insisting that it be done “their” way, recognize that there is no one “right” way to organize. Talk it over, discuss each person's needs and expectations, and find someplace in the middle where you can all be happy. It works with kids, it works with life partners, it even works with mothers-in-law!

Making It A Priority

If you haven't already created an “emergency reference file” for your family, move this to the top of your to-do list (right up there with creating a household inventory and ensuring that your will is updated!) This is one of those “worry about it now so you won't have to worry later” type projects — you probably won't access this file often, but you'll be glad to have it when you need it.

So what do you put in an “emergency file?” Your emergency file should contain all of the most important information about your life — your finances, legal obligations, insurance coverage, health history, and personal data. Anything and everything you might need to access during a crisis.  But you only want to include only the essentials — like a distilled-down version of your filing cabinet, without the clutter! The organizational system you use is up to you (a binder with divider tabs for each section, an accordion file, or a file box with a lid and a handle) — just as long as it's portable. And be sure to keep your emergency file stored within easy reach — you need to be able to “grab and go” if something unexpected happens.

Calling In The Red Cross

When a disaster strikes, the first people on the scene are usually the Red Cross — bringing in supplies, providing aid, and helping people to put their lives back in order. Think of your emergency file as your own personal Red Cross volunteer, there to help you regain control during chaotic and difficult times. However, for this volunteer to be of any use to you, you must provide him or her with the right tools and information up front. So let's get down to brass tacks — a discussion of the actual documents that should be kept in your emergency file. Think about the paperwork you would want on hand during a serious emergency or when trying to recover after a disaster. What kind of information would the police and hospital, insurance agents and mortgage company, banks and financial institutions ask you for? Your goal is to bring these items together into one organizational system:

1)  Vital Records

  • copies of birth certificates and adoption records for each family member
  • copies of marriage licenses, drivers licenses, and passports for each
  • copies of all property and auto records — deeds, leases, titles, etc.
  • copies of all property and umbrella insurance policies
  • document locator (tells where originals and off-site paperwork are stored)

2)  Financial Information

  • list of all bank account numbers
  • copies of the front and back of each credit card
  • list of all investment account numbers
  • list of all retirement and pension account numbers
  • detailed information about any current income and benefits
  • detailed information about any outstanding mortgages/loans

3)  Medical Information

  • copies of health/life/disability insurance cards and policies
  • medical history for each family member
  • list of medications and prescriptions, including dose and pharmacy
  • details about any ongoing medical conditions and treatments

4)  Contacts

  • friends and family to reach in case of emergency
  • neighbors who have access to your house
  • financial institutions, insurance companies, and legal advisers
  • physicians, specialists, hospitals, and other healthcare providers
  • employers and benefits administrators

Remember that most of these documents will be copies — original deeds, birth certificates, insurance policies, etc. should be stored in a fire safe or safe deposit box, as a back up.  And be sure to let the important people in your life like family, close friends, and professional advisers (those who might need to access the information in your file if something happened to you) know where it is stored and what it contains. Just a little bit of preparation can make a huge difference in case of emergency.

Create The Right Kind Of Storage

The game hide-and-seek is a perfect metaphor for the way that people like to store their belongings. “Hiders” can't stand to see anything sitting out — the desk or countertop must be clear of all clutter before they can concentrate. If you fall into this category, look for opaque and enclosed storage solutions — solid-sided storage tubs, drawer systems, cabinets with doors (just be sure to label containers so you know what's inside without having to open them!) Subdividing your storage spaces and files into smaller sections will also help keep your hiding places organized.

“Seekers,” on the other hand, tend to panic when things aren't right at their fingertips. They are afraid that if they can't see it, they will forget about it (and if it's a to-do, fail to take care of it in time). You can get rid of the piles by using open storage tools — clear plastic containers and stacking cubbies, file crates instead of drawers, shelves instead of closed cabinets. Just be careful about having too much stuff out all the time or you might get overwhelmed — see if you're comfortable putting things that you rarely use in closed storage, out of the way.

Understand Your Work Style

“Chunkers” like to commit a lengthy period of time to one project — they really know how to focus, and may not look up from their work all day long. My husband is one of these, and he gets very cranky when you break his concentration. The challenge for chunkers is to avoid outside interruptions — it's okay to let your calls go to voice mail, shut your office door, and let your colleagues know that you will be unavailable for a few hours. Just be sure to maintain a little balance in your day — schedule stretch breaks, make time to return calls, and don't forget to eat lunch!

“Bursters” are the exact opposite — they get bored working on the same task for hours on end, and prefer to spend a little time on this project and a little time on that one, hopping back and forth as the mood strikes. A lot of people think that multi-tasking is a one-way ticket to hell, but bursters can be unbelievably productive — if they set some boundaries around their time. Try to limit the number of tasks you're working on so you can actually finish all of them on schedule — and make sure you spend your day on high-priority, high-payoff items rather than time-wasters.

Tackle Your To-Do's

Do you prefer to start your work day with something simple or a challenge? “Breezers” find that knocking off a few quick tasks in the morning gives them the forward momentum and sense of accomplishment they need to last the whole day. If you find yourself procrastinating on bigger to-do's, break that difficult job down into several smaller, easier steps.

“Stumpers” prefer to cross the hardest item off their list first, so the rest of the day is a snap. But you may find yourself surrounded by “crises” because a lot of small fires started while you were focused on the big picture. Be sure to build in regular admin time for keeping those mundane items under control, so they don't turn into a problem.

The Keepers

The first step toward cleaning out the clutter is recognizing that not everything is a keeper! Even those things that used to be keepers can slide into the “Get Rid Of” category without you realizing it. “Keep” is only meant for items that you have defined as CURRENTLY beautiful, useful, or loved. Deciding which items are “Keep's” should be fairly obvious — if you use it all the time or consider it a cherished memento, that's a “Keep.” You may even want to have several boxes of “Keep's” — each box labeled for a different area in your house. That way, you can take all of your “Kitchen Keeps” and “Bedroom Keeps” and “Basement Keeps” to their respective homes without making 30 different trips.

You may locate a few stray objectsthat are missing a part or in need of an accessory. Of course, youwould be perfectly happy to use these items — if you only had thoseessential lost components. Put these fabulous finds into a box labeled”need to buy,” and make a list of all the parts and pieces you arelooking for. Then you can take the list with you on your next shoppingtrip. You can do the same with any object that requires modification or repairbefore it can be used. But set a time limit — if you don't get an item in functional workingorder by your deadline, it gets moved to the “Get Rid Of” pile.

You can also create a space for unfinished projects that you still intend to tackle. However, this box is not meant to be a graveyard for past guilt. Askyourself if each task is still as meaningful as when you first beganworking on it. Macramé potholders may have sounded like a good idea 10years ago, but now? It's okay to admit that you will never write thegreat American novel. You're not going to hell if you decide that tennis just isn't for you anymore. I hereby grant you permission to let go ofoutdated interests, and to focus on activities that bring you joytoday. And if it sits in the project box for more than a couple ofmonths, it's out of here!

Get Rid Of

This box is for those objects that you are certain you don't want any more. Oh no — you have to make a decision?  Whatever will you do! I know the concept is frightening, but what I'm asking really should not be that hard — you ought to be able to look at a broken lamp or an old book you haven't read in 20 years or a pair of pants that will never fit you again and know that it serves no purpose in your life (if not, we've got much bigger issues to tackle than disorganization!) Remember, we're only looking for those items that you can immediately identify as clutter — ones that don't require a lot of thought or deliberation. Of course, you may want to break “Get Rid Of” into some smaller categories — such as “Throw Away” for the trash, “Give Away” for those things you would like to donate, and a even a “Sell” box for anything you think might be worth money.

You're also going to find some “Get Rid Of's” that aren't even your responsibility. If you are like every other person on this planet, you probably havecustody of at least one item does not belong to you. These orphanedsouls create a sense of guilt, of incompleteness, and of loose ends tobe tied up. How freeing would it be to rid yourself of other people'sclutter? Let's put these in a box labeled “To Return,” and then schedule time to get them back to their respective homes. I promise that — once youhave freed yourself of everything that doesn't belong to you, serve a purpose in your life, or mean anything to you –you will find it much easier to organize the rest. And you will havetaken a tremendous weight off of your shoulders — the weight ofunnecessary clutter. Just be sure to go through this process at leastonce a year to keep the piles trimmed back!

Not Sure

While I would love (in a perfect world) for you to be quick and decisive about each item, I realize that you are going to run across a few things that stump you. I give you permission to label these as “Not Sure.” That having been said, it's best if you can try to keep the “Not Sure's” to a minimum. This box is supposed to be for belongings that you can't rationally justify keeping — but some gut feeling won't let you part with them yet. Remember, your “Not Sure Box” isn't a dumping ground for things that you just don't want to take the time to think about. The last thing we want to do is ask the same questions about the same objects over and over again. Try your very best to make a solid “yes or no” decision about your belongings the first time that you pick them up.

If you honestly can't decide what to do with an item, put it in “Not Sure.” When your box is full, tape it shut and label it. Make sure you list the contents (kitchenware, books, clothing), the date you packed it away, and any special storage instructions on the outside. Then, I want you to stash this box in the garage, attic, or basement — some place out of the way. Trust me on this one. I actively want you to forget about this stuff for a while. Just make sure that you put your box where its contents won't get ruined (that means, don't place something that will melt in an attic without air conditioning!)

Make a note in your calendar (you are using a calendar, right?) to check back in 6 to 12 months. If, during that time, you haven't needed anything out of your box, it will be a lot easier to let go of those “Not Sure's.” If you still can't part with an item, that might be a hint that it is more beloved than you first thought. Either way, this will help you make a final decision about what to keep!