Thursday, December 12, 2013

My Pinterest Boards and Organization Optimization

I used to be super organized. Super. I was a little psycho about it, actually. Then something happened a few years ago, I’m not sure what, and I started losing my edge. Part of it was that my kids had gotten older and no longer needed me to ride herd on them quite so diligently. Maybe I had gotten a little older, too (perish the thought), and had mellowed a tad.
Whatever the reason, I stopped making my famous lists, and things began to pile up around the house. Things, those unnamed, amorphous things, even started slipping through the cracks. Bills went out on the verge of being late. Appointments were almost missed. Grocery shopping only happened when the cupboards were literally bare. Correspondence stopped altogether if it required pen-and-paper and a trip to the mailbox rather than a quick text or email. And, for the first time in my entire life, my Christmas cards went out AFTER Christmas.
That was my wake-up call.

Since then, I’ve been on a mission to discover ways to get back on
A favorite from my own closet
track. It’s been a long-term process, but I've finally turned a corner and am feeling back in control. Not in a psycho-crazy way, but in a good, this-is-easy-and-workable sort of way. What made the difference? Well, I owe most of it to my favorite little time-suck, Pinterest.
Yes, Pinterest is a time-suck, and not such a little one, either. I can spend hours at a time on the site, pinning happily away, and most of those pins aren’t necessarily useful. They’re fun, though. Check out my Harry Potter board or the boards of shoes (yes, plural shoe boards! This link is for the sexy heels), or the tiara board, or… Well, you get the idea. Fun abounds! I have something like 150 boards right now, and that number goes up regularly.
But in the midst of all those just-for-fun and day-dreaming boards (I’m particularly fond of my Wanderlust boards--try this one for my Ireland board) are a few that are genuinely useful, and one of the best is my DIY ~ Organization board. If, like me, you feel a need for greater organization and accomplishment in your life, check it out. You just might find the inspiration you need.
The thing about organizational tools is they’re so individual. What works for one person will not for another, and for a third it will create a headache of monstrous proportions. A lot of it’s trial-and-error, which can be time-consuming. But if you have an idea of how you work best, that can help steer you in the right direction. For example, I have friends who are very techie. They know all the latest apps and gadgets for optimizing their time and organizing every facet of their lives, and they get a LOT done. Over the past several years, I have come to the firm conclusion that I am an old-school kind of girl. I like pen and paper. Is it as fast or efficient or “green” as the techie stuff? Nope. On the other hand, I’ve never yet lost a paper list to a system upgrade, and I make a point of going green in other areas.
Thanks to pins on the Organization board, over the past year I have cleaned, de-cluttered, streamlined, and organized every room, cupboard, drawer, and pantry in my house. We’re going to have a massive yard sale next spring! I’ve also simplified the ways I do a lot of things around here. The amount of mental noise all that physical streamlining has removed has been awesome. I’m someone who can’t think straight with a lot of clutter around or too much information swirling in my brain at once (squirrel!), so finding ways to deal with it all has been an enormous help and has boosted not only my productivity in my regular life, but is paying dividends in my creative life, as well.
My amazing-awesome notebook
There are plenty of pins to check out on that Organization board, but I’ll link directly to my two current faves right now, the menu planning board and the sticky-note notebook from Jen Hewett. The menu board is transforming the way meal planning and grocery shopping happen in my house. I’ve seen probably hundreds of other systems, but none of them worked for me. This one is flexible and simple and once it’s fully set up (I’m not done with it yet—the set-up phase is the most labor-intense part of the whole deal), it will be fantabulous. But the one I want to talk about today is the sticky-note notebook.
If you are a hard-core techie person, I’m going to stop you right here. This method is not likely to be a good fit for you and may in fact make you want to run from the room screaming and tearing your hair out. Grab your favorite tablet or laptop and find an app that does this for you. You’ll be much happier. Old-school peeps, read on.
As I mentioned above, I’ve always been a list person. My lists kept me on track through elementary, middle, and high school, through college, through being a mom with young kids, through working, through everything. Until… for whatever reason, I stopped paying attention to them. But I never stopped making them, even when I stopped looking at them. The result was that I ended up with lists on top of lists, lists that were typed or handwritten, many that were multiple pages long, front and back, with sideways writing going up and down the margins, lists that had the same thing repeated several times, or items were written on several lists, little bits of paper or sticky-notes stuck all over the place, sheets of paper crammed randomly inside file folders never to be seen again, you name it. I was living under an avalanche of paper and not getting a thing done.
Then a few weeks ago, something miraculous happened. I discovered Jen’s sticky-note notebook pin, and the heavens opened and the angels sang. I only wish I had found the pin earlier. I set my notebook up in a few easy steps:
1. I picked up a sparkly silver college-ruled notebook that fit in my purse, because you know I'm all about the sparkle. I carry a fairly large bag, so I knew I could get a decent-sized book, an important item as I predicted I would have literally hundreds of sticky-notes to fit inside. (I was right.) Jen used a spiral-bound notebook for hers, which she recommended because they lay flat, but I got one with a regular, but flexible, spine, and it works fine for me. Find one you like and go from there. My notebook is 7.5 x 9.5 inches, if you’re curious.
2. I already had some sticky-notes at home, but I bought extra, because… well, hundreds of sticky-notes to fit inside. I also bought the traditional-sized stickies because I tend to write with a large, sloppy hand, especially when I’m making notes of things to do.
3.  I decided on my facing-page categories and wrote them on sticky-tabs (I’ll get to those in more detail
Close-up of my category tabs
in a minute), then put them on the facing pages. You need two facing pages per category in this system, as you can see from the photos on Jen’s blog, linked above. If you’re like me, a bit psycho, you’ll need more than just a few pages, but that will not negate the value or streamlined use of the system.

4.  I gathered up every single list, including all the ones I’d made on the computer and others that were filed in filing cabinets, filing boxes, or stuck randomly all around the house and my workspace. Then, one by one, I took every single task, note, memo, and reminder, and wrote each one on its own sticky-note. This was the hardest and most time-consuming part of the whole exercise! Then I stuck each one on its correct page in the notebook and tossed all the lists. Voilà! Absolutely everything I need is on a sticky, it's easily accessible, and once handled, the sticky gets tossed and it need never be rewritten again. Hallelujah!
Whenever something new comes up, whether it’s a personal or business task that needs to be accomplished, something I need to pick up at the grocery store, a new TV show I want to watch, an errand that needs to be run, whatever, I write it on a sticky and slap it onto the correct page in my notebook. If it’s an urgent item, it goes on the left-facing page. If it can wait, it goes on the right.
5.  I deviated from Jen’s system a touch in that while I put my urgent items on the left-facing page, I still make up a single-sheet list of To-Dos per day. I go through every left-side page in the notebook each evening, take the three most urgent items on their individual stickies, and write them on my to-do list for the next day. Then I toss the stickies and NOTHING else gets added to that list, nothing else happens, until every single thing on it is completed and I can toss the whole list. Then I make a new one with all the next-most-urgent items in the notebook and so on. The goal is to complete that list every single day, or more than one, but not to load up each list so much that it becomes undoable, which all my past lists were. Some lists I had for months. With this system, my notebook is getting steadily thinner as I eliminate stickies, and all I have to focus on is my one short daily list at a time.
I've got cute animals on Pinterest, too!
Initially, I did find myself carrying over too many items. My list was once again a front-and-back sheet and I was once again overwhelmed. As soon as I realized what I had done, I took the non-urgent items off, put them back on stickies, and slapped them back in the book. I won't make that mistake again!
The items on the right-facing page are longer-term projects or less urgent matters to handle. And I will probably add a few more categories as time goes by. I already know I need to add a category for when I have a new book launch. There are certain steps that need to happen every time I release a book, as well as items specific to each book, and I want a way to easily locate and deal with each of those items.
6.  I carry an extra pad of stickies with me, or you can stick them to the inside back cover of your notebook so you always have them handy and can add any items that come up throughout the day, no matter where you are. My notebook stays in my purse except when I’m making up my daily list, so it’s always exactly where I need it.
As Jen said in her blog post, “There is absolutely nothing fancy about this. I don’t even color code the post-its. One of my beefs with most organizational systems is that they force you to do something that feels like extra work, a chore.  I prefer a system that requires almost no maintenance and no special equipment.” I LOVE that! It’s one of the most important reasons why this system works so perfectly for me.
7. Now for the categories. These are each of my facing pages:
a. To Do Home—everything that needs to happen around here, from cleaning out my son’s room to finishing the menu board I talked about above, to learning to use the voice-recognition GPS function on my phone or the mineral powder makeup I bought four years ago and have yet to try.
b. To Do Business—this is by far my biggest section, other than the blog post ideas. This includes doing my author newsletter, talking to my web designer about updates, re-doing the descriptions of my books, contest entries, creating a spreadsheet for my buy links, etc. Everything that has to do with the business of writing, not the creative side.
c. To Do Writing/Notes—this is for the creative side and is where I list all my manuscripts-in-progress, future story ideas, research notes, etc.
d. To Do Out—errands, appointments, kids’ activities, anything I have to actually leave the house to accomplish.
e. Free Time—reminders for things I want to do when I have some downtime, like catching up on Downton Abbey, re-reading Harry Potter, or practicing my flute.
f. Blog Post Ideas—every single idea for a blog post I could find. These used to be on lists in a file in a
Harry Potter is always a
good blog topic!
random box, and I never remembered to look for them. Now they’re all right in my notebook, on one sticky each, and when it’s my day to write my blog posts I can grab whichever one tickles my fancy, write it up, get it scheduled, and toss the sticky. Easy-peasy. I did four today, including this one. I'm pretty psyched about that, given I haven't posted on my blog since, I think, last July. Now I'm striving for one post a week, which is more reasonable for me than the five or more I was hoping for before, which means I already have the month of December handled. Yay, me!

g. Notes/Random—this is the spot for all those little notes I used to jot all over the place and never find again, like the fact that Gene Juarez does hand massages, and I want to try coconut oil as a conditioner for my hair.
h. Shopping—things we need around the house, items to send in care packages to my college-daughter, makeup I want to try, whatever catches my eye and where to find it.
i. 100’s List—the 100’s List is something my friend and fellow writer, Lydia M. Sheridan, started me on a few years ago, based on a tradition she’s been following for years. Every New Year’s Eve, we make up a list of 100 things we’d like to do over the coming year. They can be work related, personal improvement items (losing that weight, ugh), things to do for fun, new items to try, whatever. In the past, I would make my list, file it somewhere, and basically forget about it until the following New Year’s Eve. Now it lives, each item on its own little sticky, in my notebook. I may not make a lot more progress on it than I have in the past (those parasailing lessons continue to be out of reach), but the odds are certainly better.
This notebook has transformed my life. I cannot overstate how grateful I am to Jen Hewett for posting it on her blog, and to all the people who pinned it on Pinterest for me to find. Let me know if you try it and how it works for you, and let’s all have a more productive new year.

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