Saturday, February 28, 2015

Saturday Special: Carson Tate's Productivity Styles

Today's Saturday Special isn't about physical organization. Instead, it's about productivity. Why the switch? Because I read this cool article about productivity styles, which led me to this other article about productivity styles (because it had a chart, which always appeals to we I need to see it people), which led me to take the quiz. What was I supposed to be doing while I was article-hopping, you ask? Coming up with topics for my Saturday Special. So, yes, I was on-task.

There is a connection between all this productivity information and my recent Wednesday posts. For one thing, understanding more about how your personal productivity works leads to better time management (theoretically, anyway), which is, after all, the organization of your time.

But what really drew me into all of this was the concept of styles. If I believe there are organizational styles (which I obviously do), then why wouldn't I believe there are productivity styles? The psych instructor in me needs to do a bit more research, but the counselor in me just had to explore this.
Which style am I? Well, within ten minutes of completing the quiz, I got two emails. One says I'm an arranger (like Chopin, Gandhi and Mother Teresa -- pretty impressive company) and the other says I'm a visualizer (like Picasso, Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein -- no slouches there either). Apparently, Carson Tate and I agree that it's possible to be a mix of styles.

I think my true style has elements of both. I'm definitely a visualizer, but I suspect that when it comes to the actual arranging, I sometimes drop the ball if left to my own devices. Fortunately, my desire to work in teams (who keep me honest) minimizes that risk.

Interesting stuff. I'm not sure it will be life-changing for me, but like identifying a personal or organizational style, it may free me to be myself, and worry less about whether or not my productivity looks like anyone else's.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Friday Freebie: What I'm Reading in Ten Minutes or Less: If it's Cold, Global Warming Must be a Mistake
Last Friday, it was so cold that most of the school districts in our area posted two hour delays. You know it's bad when the local news stations are counting down to daylight savings time -- the one where we "spring ahead" and lose an hour of sleep.

Does that mean global warming isn't real? With apologies to those who already read this on my Facebook page last week, here's an article that explains it better than I can. It begins with the difference between climate and weather, and, without going too deeply into meteorology and scientific lingo, clears up what seems like a contradiction.

This week, it's still cold, but not as cold as last week. 22 days till spring.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


When I write about organizing with STYLE, I'm talking about personal and organizational styles (lower case), along with the plan that underlies them: STYLE in all caps. 

Last week, I talked more about successes (the first letter in the acronym), and small steps (the second letter). Before going any further, I wanted to share the rest of the STYLE acronym:

Start with successes
Take small steps   
Yes, it has a home!
Let it go
Easy upkeep

Before we're through, we'll tackle all of these steps -- mostly in order -- but since organization is a process, sometimes we move forward and sometimes, we revisit the early parts of the process because they really are the foundation for everything else. Small steps and successes of any size build confidence and help us to remember that by selecting tools and processes that match our "default settings," we can build a system that works. Each small step is one step closer to that eventual goal of a sustainable organizational plan.

This week, I want to connect one of our strategies from last week (Don't put it down, put it away!) to a key organizational concept -- the one embodied by the letter Y in STYLE -- Yes, it has a home.

Open, rolling containers that can be stashed
out of sight are an easy access choice for
many of the styles and can be used for
this activity or for storage.
(This one is from The Container Store).
When it comes to getting organized, home is simply where an item belongs. Books have homes on bookshelves. Shoes may have a home on the floor of the closet. Pots and pans find homes in kitchen drawers, or hanging from racks over a kitchen island.

Very often, clutter develops because items lack homes. Consequently, things are left lying out (I need to see it or drop and run) or improperly stashed away (I know I put it somewhere, cram and jam), because we don't know where to put them. Sometimes, an overload of stuff (I love stuff) or a dearth of time (I love to be busy) compounds the problem.

Let's look a little more closely at our strategies from last week. Give it Five! is a clutter-clearing strategy. Don’t put it down, put it away! is a clutter prevention strategy. They can be used separately or together, as in this week's task, which focuses on building the skill of Don’t put it down, put it away!

To get started, find a medium-sized container that can be used as a clutter catcher. Set it on the floor of a closet or out of the way in a room where clutter prevails. 

Then for the next several days (or until the container is full, whichever you prefer), every time you're finished with something, follow this routine: 
  1. Look at the item in your hand.
  2. Ask yourself, “Does this item have a home?”
  3. If it has a home, put it there.
  4. If it does not have a home, drop it in the designated container.
At the end of the trial period, go through the contents of the container and sort them into three categories:
  • Truly homeless items
  • Items you could not put away (space was too full, out of reach, etc.)
  • Items you could have put away but didn't
Decide which category to tackle first. (If you're using the Give it Five! strategy to do this task, you may not get through a single category in one sitting). Each category has a solution, but some are simpler than others. 

Multi-purpose storage items with lids
that lift off like this one, or are hinged
like the one at the bottom of this post
allow many of the styles to put things
away easily but still look neat.
(This ottoman is from

Truly homeless items need homes. This sounds easy enough, but in an overstuffed room or one with an organizational system that isn't working, it can be challenging to put things "away." If you can immediately locate logical homes for the homeless items, put them there. If you can't find a logical home for the item and you want to keep it, put it back into the container. (If you don't want to keep it, get rid of it right away if at all possible). If you can, corral all similar homeless items (perhaps into containers of their own, one for each category of homeless item) so that you don't have to re-sort later.

For items that could not be put away, see if you can figure out why this is the case. Do these items have homes that are out of reach, overstuffed or simply inconvenient? Can out of reach or inconveniently placed storage be relocated, or does it need to be replaced by something more useful? If the problem is an overstuffed home, consider making that space your next Give it Five! task.

Once again, we're looking for patterns -- this time with respect to the kinds of organizational tools that go unused. Are there perfectly serviceable drawers or shelves sitting empty, or, conversely, overstuffed? Do you need to dig under the bed or get out the stepladder to access the home for the items in the container? If so, consider replacing them with containers and systems you'll actually use. I'll talk more about container choices in next week's post. For now, return any of the items you want to keep to the collection container -- unless you're ready right now to create space for them "where they belong."

For items that could have been put away but weren't, resist the urge to chastise yourself, and explore the possibility that this was a decision based on style rather than laziness. Once again, you're looking for the "why." 

  • I love stuff organizers often resist putting things away because they enjoy looking at them while I need to see it organizers are afraid that out of sight will also mean out of mind. 
  • I like to be busy and drop and run people often lack time to put things away properly. For these folks and their I know I put it somewhere counterparts, dropping the item into the container was actually a victory in itself, and perhaps evidence that the right container can help build better habits. 
  • Cram and jammers? They're walking a very fine line between "could have but didn't" and "couldn't have stuffed one more thing into the available space." Again, take a moment to savor a small victory. An item that landed in the designated container instead of an overstuffed space is an item that has been spared wrinkles, tears and crumpling. This time.

When it comes to sorting this bin and creating new homes, make sure to find and honor natural stopping points. If you want to make progress without getting overwhelmed, consider setting a timer for a length of time you think you can stick to or plan to tackle one of the above categories and then take stock before moving on. And be prepared to stop after one category. Better to end on a feeling of success than a feeling of frustration. The former leaves you anxious to pick up where you left off, while the latter leaves you dreading tackling what remains.

As always, focus on successes. What things have been put where they belong? Do these items have anything in common? Are they important enough to you that you're motivated to put them where they belong? Or, is there a similarity among the containers or systems you're using to store these things? In both of these cases, you've found a style clue. Leave what's working alone and focus on changing the things that aren't working, perhaps by replicating the systems and containers that you actually use.

Share your successes -- of any size -- by leaving me a comment below.

The trick to using these kinds of containers
well is designating what belongs inside.
Otherwise, they run the risk of becoming
fancy clutter catchers, which is a good
temporary solution, but not a good
long-term plan.
(This storage bench is from

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Whole is Greater than the Sum of its Parts

About a month ago, my mom took a serious tumble. She shattered her shoulder, necessitating shoulder replacement surgery and the long convalescence that comes with it. I could write about this from so many perspectives -- how spotless she keeps her home (she fell while cleaning), how self-sufficient she's always been, how much I (selfishly) wish she and my dad lived close by so I didn't feel so helpless on those rare occasions where my stubbornly independent parents need my help.

But what I want to write about is the love story.

As I said, my mom is very self-sufficient. Growing up, I don't think I noticed this so much. While it didn't escape my attention that my she was equally capable of both nurturing us and ridding our old house of bats, I just figured that's what moms did. (Now that I'm a mom, I feel quite differently about that latter responsibility). My mom could -- and did -- handle everything that came her way, whether it was making dinner or wallpapering the bathroom.
My dad was hands-on, too, but not so much when it came to things like cooking and cleaning. I still tease him about the time he made breakfast for us at the beach and, unused to an electric range (we had a gas stove at home), ended up with pancakes that weren't exactly what we'd find at Perkins.

Married in 1960, my parents fell (mostly) into traditional gender roles, yet they have always been the yin to one another's yang. They know when to push and when to compromise, and they've spent more than fifty years together refining this dance.

When my dad had heart surgery, my mom's superwoman capabilities rose to new levels. And now that my mom has hit this road block, my dad has donned the cape. He does laundry. He cooks. He insisted (with a success my sister and I have failed to achieve) on hiring a cleaning lady so that the house would meet Mom's high standards, and she wouldn't sap the energy she needed to recuperate fretting about the state of the floors.

None of this stops Mom from trying to do things one-handed, of course. And as much as I shake my head, I'm relieved. My mom has never been a quitter, and I'd be worried if she were content to simply spend the day recuperating in her chair, even if that is exactly what she's supposed to be doing.

When I called one day last week, she and my dad were making dinner together in their small condo kitchen. Yin and yang, each complementing the other in a way few couples manage to do for five years, let alone 55, with equal parts humor and determination.

Just last week, I (finally!) received Superwoman's okay to come see her in her mere mortal state.

Silly Mom. Doesn't she know she'll always be Superwoman to me?

Along with the yin to my dad's yang.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Kindle Sale

Just wanted to share that Casting the First Stone is (as of this writing) 99¢ for the Kindle version. Here in PA, it is snowing, and a great day to curl up with a good (if I do say so myself) book :-)

Saturday Special: Another Inspiration: FlyLady
In one of my earlier posts, I shared that I did a lot of reading before coming up with my own notions of what makes a good, realistic organizational system. One of the sites I enjoyed was FlyLady, who encourages baby steps:
"Our FlyLady system is all about establishing little habits that string together into simple routines to help your day run on automatic pilot."
The site has lots of great ideas, and although I'd choose different starting points, we agree on some things. February's focus, for example, is de-cluttering in fifteen minute increments (an extended Give it Five!)

FlyLady's motto is "Make it fun, it will get done!" While getting organized is not always "fun" for those who've struggled with it for a long time, I agree with FlyLady on the importance of a positive attitude. We can't allow ourselves to give up or to believe that we're somehow inferior because binders and file cabinets don't solve our problems and leave our surfaces clutter-free. Organizing is a process. Taking one step at a time, using our styles as a map, we'll arrive at our destination: organizational systems that allow us to get organized and stay that way.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Friday Freebie: What I'm Reading in Ten Minutes or Less: Why do my Feet Hurt?
When I was in college, I worked in the bookstore. I can remember "book rush" -- those first few days before the semester started when everyone came in to get their textbooks. Those were long, busy days and they went fast, but boy did my feet hurt! Back then, that was unusual.

These days, not so much. I miss cute shoes, but even giving them up isn't always enough. Heels are, for the most part, a thing of the past, but flats are sometimes worse. Dr. Scholl and I have become fast friends.

How about you? Do your feet hurt? As it turns out, even sneakers can contribute to foot pain, along with a few other things I found surprising. Check out 7 Habits that Wreck Your Feet.

Maybe even kick back and put your feet up.