Organization

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Time is on my mind lately; the semester is winding down and my students are all busy submitting final papers and finish exams. I have about 5 days of work time when I can really get things done: no meetings, no classes to teach, just me and my desk and all my plans for next semester.

I have, in the past, sort of squandered such opportunities. I don’t know why such lethargy comes over me, but when I don’t have the instant worry of getting something done on time, I tend to do it much more slowly. I don’t love this quality in myself; in fact, I feel like one of the main resolutions I’d love to stick to in 2018 is the idea of working ahead when I have a chunk of time, so I don’t get quite so stressed when I don’t have a chunk of time to spare.

That being said, I am going to give myself some guidelines, here on the blog, for how I will spend this time. It’s not “free” time, after all, because I am expected to add value to my school and to make next semester less stressful for myself. So here are my goals – hopefully specific and manageable – for the next week.

  • I want to develop the materials for my most work-intensive class next semester; this means syllabus, course management site, assignment sheets, and lecture powerpoints. I also want to develop a plan for my other 3 classes, but those don’t need to be as nailed-down from the beginning since I’ve taught them before.
  • I want to clear my desk and file my paperwork from this semester, since I’ve gotten massively behind on my David Allen-style filing system.
  • I want to make a rough calendar of the different things that must be done when I return from the holidays, so that rather than being discombobulated by the long absence, I am prepared for starting quickly and decisively.

What about you? You may have crazy busy stuff to do right up until any celebrating you’ll be doing at the end of this year, but if not, what will you do with whatever time you have?

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I have found a gamechanger, everyone. You know that I mentioned that I’ve enjoyed Getting Things Done by David Allen, but one thing has made it possible to start streamlining my to-do lists more than anything else. That thing… is Evernote.

Evernote is a program I’ve known about for a while now; I once got a boss a very cool notebook that allowed you to write on it, take a picture with your phone of your notes, and automatically convert that writing into typed notes inside Evernote. However, when I installed Evernote on my computer (mind you, years ago!), every note I wrote was erased when I closed the program. Not great for utility.

I started using it again this year, and now that I have a smartphone, I discovered one of the best things Evernote does: it syncs my notes between my computer and my phone. I can only use two devices without paying for the premium edition, but I can live with just work computer and phone having access. Just that is amazing.

The other nice thing is that my phone doesn’t come pre-loaded with an audio recorder, and Evernote lets you record audio notes. I do a few interviews a month for articles I write, and it is so nice to not only be able to record the interviews but also be able to transcribe them in one place that is then accessible from phone or computer. Incredibly helpful!

Finally, I like that one of my new soothing activities is going through and consolidating notes. I’ll find old notes, make sure I’ve handled everything I wrote in them, and close them out. I sometimes find old tasks that never got done and I’ll actually add them to the current day’s to-do list. It’s nice to know that I have a record keeping system rather than just a never-ending list (sorry to those of you who really appreciate Allen’s method; I am not so scrupulous as to have only one list!)

If you don’t use Evernote, do you have another favorite list-making application? Feel free to share about it in the comments!

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I came to David Allen’s Getting Stuff Done because it came recommended by the editor of the The Billfold, an online site for personal finance. The editor there is incredibly productive (she is a freelance writer full-time, and writes about that life on her site) and I knew that if someone like her thought this system was interesting, it might help me.

Allen’s system is logical and intuitive, but he clearly brings a wealth of experience not just on how people get organized and productive, but also in the many, many ways that people sneakily get “un”productive even in the midst of an attempt to organize their lives. He says that when he consults, it often takes two full work days to get everything in order and ready to use his system.

In many ways, the organization of Allen’s to-do lists and filing systems reminds me of Marie Kondo’s Lifechanging Magic of Tidying Up book; the principle is that if you can just get your space to an optimum state, all you have to do is maintain.

Rather than focusing on how to keep your office clean, though, Allen notes that everything needs to be framed in terms of the next task to do, and needs to be re-shuffle-able in order to accommodate new tasks. He also emphasizes that most people need a clear way to find old papers but don’t need to have to see them all the time, like I do when I just leave everything pressing covering different parts of my desk (and raising my blood pressure in the process).

What I took most from the book was that I could save all the important papers that come across my desk without letting them pile up infinitely, and that I needed a more central to do list rather than a million tiny ones that I add to all the time. I actually am “allowed” to write things down anywhere, per this system, but I need to always add tasks to the central to do list or they may, in the end, not get done or get done at a non-optimal time.

I also realized that I tend to write to-do lists with lazy phrasing. For instance, yesterday I made a list of kinds of vegetables I want to grow next summer by just listing the names of the veggies, when really, to make it task-oriented, I needed to write “buy pink bumblebee tomato seeds from High Mowing Seeds,” and “Find zucchini and cucumber seeds in the seed box,” and “ask Husband’s brother for some sweet potato slips in the spring.” Even those tasks could be more time-marked, but just rephrasing little reminder words into actual tasks is one of the big take-aways from this book for me.

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There will be no photo today, because I am embarrassed of the state of the kitchen lately. I feel like late in the week I stop being able to catch up on dishes – there are too many things to do, and I know the weekend is coming. This week, in addition to all the normal dishes, I ended up making pumpkin bread. As anyone who spends time baking knows, baking makes zillions of dishes, and often need to be cleaned immediately just to avoid glue-like goop fossilizing on them.

Can you tell I don’t like doing dishes?

I’m been trying to build some time into each food-creation time just to quickly load back everything into the dishwasher before I even notice that there is a giant overwhelming mess. However, that doesn’t always happen; the other strategy I’ve been accepting more and more is that sometimes, I’m going to have a gross kitchen. Maybe for a day, even two days, at a time. It’s happened a bunch recently and I have learned: no one dies.

I don’t ever want to end up with bugs or mice or anything based on having been unclean, but a little gross kitchen has taught me that sometimes, relaxing and watching the news with Husband or playing a board game for half an hour or just getting to sleep on time are better than having this particular set of dishes done.

It is hard for me to accept that I cannot get everything done in one day, 24 hours. But once I do accept it, in any given day, the pile of messy dishes reminds me that I’m actually prioritizing things I care about. I still wish they were done though!

Do you have a particular chore that just escapes you and you worry about? If not, I’m so glad and I want your secret, even if it is just that you are an ordinary level of conscientious.

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There are a lot of stereotypes about coupon users, most of which have to do with them being obsessed with saving money, to the point where they sometimes buy things that they don’t even need. I’m sure actual coupon users aren’t like the stereotypes, but for those of us who have a tendency to obsess anyway, I can see how it might be easy to get caught up in the goal. I do love saving money, and I’m sure I sometimes take offers for free or cheap things that I otherwise wouldn’t accept, but I don’t want to be an obsessive when it comes to coupons.

I have some simple rules for how I use coupons; one way is saying that I’ll take a finite quantity of “waiting” time and turn it into coupon-seeking time, but I generally won’t seek out good deals. This means that if Husband is still getting ready in the morning, I’ll flip through the latest flyers to be thrown on our doorstep and clip anything we already use to stick in my wallet. If I know we will probably go out to eat on the weekend, I’ll clip a coupon for our favorite Mexican food place.

If I know I need to grocery shop soon, I’ll open the grocery store app and go to the “pre-load coupons” part of the application. This is unusually wonderful because I have a tendency to forget the coupons I do cut, so keeping them pre-stored on my store card is a great idea. I will pre-load more than I might actually use, but in general my shopping strategy is to forget what I loaded and buy what I need. That way, I can truly count the 50 cents or 3 dollars as savings, not as having prompted me to buy more.

What are your strategies with coupons? I wouldn’t mind using them better or more, but I also really like the small amount of time I spend on them now. Any pointers in the comments are more than welcome.

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You know that I am the Messy Mapmaker when you realize that for my first wedding anniversary last year, Husband’s interpretation of “paper” as an anniversary gift guide was to get me a beautiful, fairly fancy agenda. He purchased me the “Get to Work Book,” which I’d gotten as a gift for a friend but had been reluctant to purchase for myself. It was the perfect mix of practical and extravagant, and I absolutely died when I got it. His family, who were around when I opened the present, thought I was just bonkers.

If you love a planner and have a lot of different goals and projects going on at any given time, you’ll adore this book. As I flip through this year’s pages, there are notes from interviews I did with local leaders, plans I made for work, monthly household budgeting and grocery lists, a training schedule for my recent half marathon, an elimination diet called the Whole30 that we tried and my own schedule for reintroducing foods, and a list of things we hoped to accomplish in 2017 (we’ve done a lot of them!).

The planner gives simple, clear sections but also has endless flexibility, with tabbed month pages that make it easy to turn right to the spot you want to get to. I love the grids on many of the pages that allow you to write or make graphs or draw something… anything you need. So many of my freelance projects have been planned in the margins and accidentally blank columns of the book.

My last favorite feature is a little column on each weekly page that says “action items this week” – it forces you to choose only 3 things that are the big-picture things you want to get done. While the daily columns allow you to focus on the details, these show which pressure points, dreaded tasks, and big finishes do I have coming up this week.

I don’t know if I will try a different planner or get another of these for next year, but I unequivocally recommend it for anyone who wants to feel inspired and ready to literally “get to work” when they see their planner.

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