Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Getting Organized

By Mary C. Tillotson

Last night I dreamed that the word "Wednesday" in my planner had been changed to "Thursday," and I had no idea which block had my Wednesday appointments and which had my Thursday appointments. It was awful.
story of (part of) my life

Getting organized with my hectic schedule (I'm a reporter, algebra tutor, cook, homemaker, blogger, theology student, and wife) and Type B personality is a challenge, but I'm working on it! I want to share some helpful things I've found or learned.

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First. Know yourself and be yourself.

My husband is a systems person and his desk is always in perfect order - except for now, when he's on his second-in-a-row long day of work and he hasn't had a chance to deal with the crumpled pile of receipts I left for him to put into our budget. (We enter them all.) Not everybody is like this, and that's okay. If your material things are in order enough that (a) you can find what you need when you need it, (b) you're not wasting a bunch of everything, and (c) they don't contribute to anyone's poor mental health and low morale, then you're probably fine. You can be organized without being a neat freak.

For a while I tried to cram myself into that kind of impeccable tidiness, but it never worked. I am a different person, and my brain is wired differently, and that just doesn't work for me. I use color-coded sticky notes all over my desk and in a binder, and I keep a drawer full of all the miscellaneous things I use frequently - my headset and its adapter cords, my algebra-teaching notebook, envelopes of receipts, a legal pad, and paper napkins - because yes, I eat at my desk.

My husband likes organizational tools (and even I will recommend WorkFlowy) and worked out an elaborate to-do-list system on his Google calendar, so he gets automatic emails at scheduled times during the day, week, month. (He's also used Todoist and a #todo on Workflowy.) I work better if I can write things down in my own handwriting and not rely on technology (which doesn't always agree with me). My to-do-list system? I brainstorm onto a legal pad in the morning and cross things off with a flourish till I've accomplished enough that my list is a mess; then I re-copy it neatly, trash the old list, and feel good about myself.

before the aphids ate holes in the roses
Find what works for you. Don't let the poetry of a fountain pen or the innovation of a cool app keep you from using whatever method actually works with your brain, your personality, and your lifestyle. Write it down, type it out, color-code, make a mental note - do what works.

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Second. A little effort goes a long way, but don't count on it.

Try to make a habit of doing "one more little thing." It doesn't take that much effort to put your clothes in the closet instead of on the floor, or to carry your dishes from the table to the sink, or to change the toilet-paper roll when it's empty. But it's so easy not to do it! It takes more effort to clean up the pile of clothes from the whole week, to clear the table before dinner - and you don't want to be in the bathroom without toilet paper. If you find yourself constantly doing the same "big project," see if little steps throughout the week - little steps that don't take that much effort - would mitigate the need for that "big project." Then do it! (C'mon. Is it really that hard?)

That said, don't count on yourself doing this. A gardener I spoke to told me that vegetable gardens placed near the back door are much more likely to get watered than those placed further from the house. Be honest with yourself and organize things in such a way that doesn't require that little bit of extra effort that you're not likely to put out. I used to keep my pajamas in a bin in the closet because I knew I would never fold them, and I still leave too-old food in the fridge if I'm not ready to wash the dish. (I know which food is too old, so don't worry if you come over for dinner!)

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Getting organized can be a big task, but remember why you want to be organized: to spend less energy looking for that phone number, to remember obligations, and to feel on-top-of-things, not frazzled. Find a way that helps you do that.

I was talking to my husband about this last night after I published, and he made the rather astute point that no matter how well-organized you are, no matter how perfect your to-do-list system is, you have to actually do things. There is no perfect to-do-list system that will get things done for you.

Yes - this, too, is important to remember.

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