Embracing the Work of You: Ten Tips for a More Organized Life

Bucky 2009

Staying on top of your “to do” list. Being on time. Having clean clothes. Being able to find what you need when you need it. Staying on a task until it its complete. ADD/ADHD makes each of these tasks seem impossible at times. I often feel like Sisyphus, rolling that dang bolder up the hill just to watch it roll away again.

The truth is, no one ever has it all together. Everyone struggles to keep up with their lives. For those of us with distraction issues it feels like we carry extra weight on our journey.

I have a great brain for remembering every little bit of information that comes my way, but I still have to put the car keys away in the same place every time, or I can not remember where I put them.  I label the shelves in the refrigerator so I can remember to put food back where it goes, and my toothbrush has colored tape on it because I can’t remember which color toothbrush is mine. Silly? Maybe, but it keeps my from brushing my teeth with other peoples toothbrushes!

 When I get frustrated with myself have to remember that most people do not contend with a brain that will drop everything to watch, and perhaps follow a stray ant that happens along. Most people can filter out the unimportant from the important. Most people would comprehend that starting that wallpaper stripping project at midnight,  just because you notice that part of it is already starting to peel anyway, might not be a good course of action.

After years of being angry and frustrated with myself, I finally decided to make friends with my brain, and to find ways to work with what I have.  If you are struggling with organization, and keeping up with events in your life try these organization tips.

  1. Automate everything possible.  Sign up for E-Bills, schedule up automatic bill payments, schedule routine deliveries of household items (toilet paper, etc.),  subscribe to mail order/ automatic prescriptions refills.  Take advantage of services available. 
  2. Use labels on the outside, and on the inside containers, drawers, and cupboards to help you remember what goes where and where things are.  For young kids pictures work well. The inside label system  works well for chests of drawers and helps to keep clothing organized.
  3. Use a checklist for groceries. There are many free downloads on line. Find one and use it, or create your own. Train everyone to check things off as you use them.
  4. Create a landing zone and have a routine for entering the house. This works for kids and adults. Create a routine, such as: hang keys up, shoes off, coats hung, bags/ backpacks/ purses/ etc hung up, hands washed. Cubbies, hooks, key racks and shoe racks work well to keep things off the floor and where you need them when you leave. 
  5. Create a household task schedule. It can be a simple as knowing that every Wednesday and Sunday you are doing laundry, and cleaning the bathroom every Saturday.
  6. Clean the kitchen after each time you cook. This will 1) save you money as you will not be as tempted to go out to eat, or order a pizza, and 2) provide a sense of accomplishment because at least the kitchen is clean!
  7. Lay out out your clothes for the next day, have your kids do the same. This will save time in the morning, and prevent last minute scurrying around trying to find clothes that fit, and that are clean. 
  8. Have a place to open mail and pay bills. Do not open mail anyplace else. Train everyone to place mail in the same place.  This system will prevent lost misplaced bills, etc. 
  9. Have a main calendar for the family. Place it where everyone can see it. Use different colors for each person’s schedule.  REVIEW the calendar nightly!  If you don’t look at it you might as well not have one.
  10. Maintain a sense of humor. Everyone misses appointments, forgets things, has to find the cleanest dirty shirt to wear, or scrambles at the last minute to get things together.  Give yourself a break and go back to your system.
These are some of the things that I do to keep my life going on a somewhat even keel. I hope they help and if you have suggestions, send them along! 

Irregular schedules and Ten Time Management Tips

OH Yeah I OWN it! (Much to my wife’s dismay.)

Time. The most difficult thing in the world to get a handle on if you have an irregular schedule. Add in distraction issues, and you have a wonderful recipe for always being “a day late and a dollar short” as my mom often says.

 I have had an irregular schedule for most of my adult life. I have worked all three shifts at one time or another, worked 8 hour shifts, 10 hour shifts, 12 hour shifts, and everything in-between. I have gone to work on days when I was not scheduled, and not showed up when I was scheduled.  I have missed events, been early for events, and scrambled to make deadlines.

As difficult as it is to manage time for yourself, when you add one, more little people, the challenges of getting everyone where they are supposed to be with: appropriate clothes, homework, lunches, wallet, purse, backpack, book bags, show and tell items, etc.  multiply like rabbits in spring.

In my quest to find a system of time management, I wasted a lot of time trying to follow different popular organizational systems (Getting Things Done, 7 Habits, etc.) before I realized that most well promoted organizational systems are written by men who assumed that: 1) everyone works Monday -Friday, 9-5;  and 2) that there is a wife and/or staff somewhere taking care of the house, food shopping, cooking, bills, and the kids.
No time management system developed by a man has any reference about how to manage and integrate childcare, kids activity schedules, house maintenance, grocery shopping, cooking, laundry, caring for older family members, or suggestions about what to do if your kid gets sick, you need to go get them from school and you have 3 meetings scheduled. Knowing a fair number of men that are active participants in the care and maintenance of homes and children, these systems would not work for them either.

 The following tips are gleaned from my personal experiences, and various time management resources. My favorites are the classic by Julia Morgenstern’s Time Management from the Inside Out (buy the book here and  ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life by Judith Kolbery and Kathleen Nadeau (buy the book here).   Both books embrace the fact that people (read most often women) work AND have other responsibilities.

These are my top ten tips to save time. Some of them might save you money too.

  1. I lay out my clothes, and get the kids’ to pick out their clothes for the next day the night before. This saves fuss and bother in the morning about what to wear. In my house we can settle who’s turn it is to wear the purple owl socks the night before and avoid tears before school.
  2. Pack all lunches, book bags, your bag, etc. the night before. If you have leftovers, pack them into lunch size containers when you clean up from dinner. This saves time and money, not buying lunch and using up leftovers. 
  3. Have a family calendar posted where everyone can see it. For parents of teens, if you  work shifts, you may want to withhold your work schedule. Keeps the kids on their toes!
  4. Make a meal plan, use it! NO,  really it does help, the last thing I want to think about at dinner time is what to make.  Make sure you schedule really easy meals on nights that are busy, or you get home late. 
  5. Use the alarms and reminders on your phone. This has saved me from being late picking the kids up more than once. I can also really focus on what I am doing instead of looking at the clock every five minutes.
  6. Keep a running grocery list. Use it. Train your kids and spouse to use it. This saves you time by not having to run to the grocery store every five minutes because you are out of something.
  7. Limit your Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Google Plus time.  Hide the icons on your phone, heck, hide your phone if you need to! We all know how much time can be frittered away on social media. Pick your time, set a timer, and make yourself put your phone down.
  8. Stop hitting the snooze button. Really. Get up, and get going. You will not get the time back, and that extra snooze time is not worth the stress. 
  9. Let go of perfection. Good enough is often good enough. Stop wasting time trying to copy those Perfect Pinterest pictures and get on with your life.
  10. Use a planner. Plan creative time to pursue your projects. Plan time to be with your spouse/partner. Plan Family time. Remember the housework will always be there. Enjoy the people in your life.
Do these tips work all the time? Am I perfectly organized, never late and always prepared? No. Recently, as I was driving the kids to school, I looked in the rear view mirror and I realized that no had combed their hair, including me! I do the best I can. And carry a comb.

Life is a journey of constant corrections to stay on course. Sail On.

I would like to say that every morning before school is like this, but that would be a lie.

Taming the Monkey

Hanuman / Sun Wukong

What thoughts pull at your mind like crazed Capuchin monkeys interrupting your focus?  Are they to dos? Should dos? Want to dos? Have to dos? 

Finding a way to keep you life together is challenging for those of us that deal with attention issues, flights of ideas and the intense urge to be busy doing something.  Even if you don’t have organic distraction issues, information overload, and multiple demands can distract and overwhelm the most even-keeled person.  

 In order to calm my mind, so that I can focus and write, without the thought-monkeys pulling at my sleeve, I use a three part system. It may work for your thought-monkeys too.

1.  I use Todoist (http://todoist.com) This is a free to do list app that will sync across your devices. I use this to keep track of all the little tasks that can distract me knowing that they have to be done.  I enter my daily, weekly, and monthly, semi-annual, and annual tasks.  I set the application for sounds and visual reminders.   

2.  I use a vertical weekly paper planner. I know it sounds archaic to those of you who are in love with your electronic calendars. After trying to use several different electronic planners, I understand that my brain can not visualize and process electronic calendars.  I also use my planner as a work log and diary of my time.  When I feel as if I have not accomplished anything flipping back through my planner reminds me of what I have accomplished and what is possible.  For those of you that have a business, planners can be used to as supportive documentation if you ever face a tax audit.

3.  I keep up with entries! Yes, I stop when I get when a reminder notice, email invitation, or think of something that I want, or need to do, and make an entry in the system. That postcard reminding me that the dog needs a check up?  I set a date to make the appointment. If the office is open,  I call right then and make the appointment. 

 Do I fall off the keeping up with things wagon. Yes, more often than I would like to admit. So what do I do?  A brain dump.  I grab my spiral notebook and make a list of everything that needs to be done, scheduled, etc. I don’t try and assign the items any kind of priority, I just get them out of my head. When I can’t think of anything else, I go back through the list with my planner and Todist open I enter dates in my calendar and set reminders in Todoist.  

Is this redundant? Is it really that hard to keep track of my life? Yes. Distraction issues, impulsiveness, and hyperactivity are a wicked combination.   Using this system helps me focus. I don’t worry that I am going to forget to pick up the kids, or the milk or put out the trash.   When I sit down to write I am not worried that I should/need to be doing anything else but writing. What system do you use? Do you have a system?

My desk monkey reminds me that I the only thing I should be doing is writing.

Help- My Brain is Full!

Koi Pond National Arboretum 2011

My brain is full. I don’t think that I am only one with a full brain. I think that most of us live like this now, whether we have organic distraction issues or not. My brain feels like the fish in the video, snapping up everything, and anything.

The world is full of shiny objects, any and all of them can trigger a desire to write a story. The young girl at the library focused on her cell phone, ignoring the eight-month old at her feet?  That is a story. The note I found in the park “I spank you car please to call may (sic)” with a phone number?  The two old dudes arguing loudly over a woman in the library?  Yep- all stories waiting to be told.

I pick up objects, print out news stories, take pictures, and collect dialogue like a pack-rat on cocaine. As a kid it drove my mom crazy. What the heck do I do with all these bits and pieces of inspiration and observations?

 I talked before about my first love- spiral notebooks. But spiral notebooks can be awkward to carry around, so when I leave the house my spiral notebook stays home.  When I am out and about I use Evernote (http://evernote.com).
Evernote is an amazing application that lets you save everything, an endless spiral notebook for your phone.  If you are not using it, you should be, and they don’t pay me to say that. Using Evernote I can take pictures, record sounds, type, or dictate a note about what I have seen or heard.

So how do I sort these images, clips,  random thoughts, observations, scraps, and whims?  First, I use letter size flat box files. Like this:

Letter size flat file boxes are not expensive, they can be labeled pretty easily, and stack on shelves. They are available in different colors so if you wanted to organize by color you could. They are portable. Each novel gets a separate box. Short Stories and Ideas for Future Works each have a box.

When I have things that are too big to photograph like maps, old postcards, prints, programs, or more tactile souvenirs from research trips, I stash them in the project box. When I am working on a project, I can pull it down and go through what I have tucked away. I print out photos from research trips and print them on contact sheets.
Sorting through the box lets me immerse myself in the details of my story, reminds me why I wanted to write it, and grounds me when I feel like the words are just there, fluttering out of reach.

Will I ever live long enough to tell all these stories?
I really hope I do. But if for some reason I don’t live to 120, when they go through my things, and find all the random stuff I have picked up and taken pictures of, at least now they will know why.

 Be a kid again. Pick things up. Write a story.