Consistently Managing the Paper

Managing paper is an ongoing challenge for many of us.  A few years back, after reading “Getting Things Done” by David Allen, I finally came up with a system that has been working for me-consistently.

Consistent.  That word driving me to make changes.  That word driving me to self-discipline.  I don’t want to be organized or get organized for a moment.  I want to live an organized life consistently.  I want systems that work, can be used daily and keep me from feeling compelled to engage in the “30 Days” to an organized home challenges.

My system is simple.  I’m a simple girl, so it takes simple systems!  If you follow my blog you know I LOVE a paper planner system.  However, my managing paper system can work for digital planners or paper planners.

If you work outside the home and are on the go a great deal utilizing a binder system will work best.  (I use this as a part of my planner.)  Purchase a set of monthly tab dividers. Not calendar pages, just monthly tabs.  That’s it!  Simple.  As paper comes in you have choices.  Read it and trash it.  Read it and determine it requires action at a later date or has information included you will need the day of the event.  (ie. birthday invitations, meeting announcement, agendas…)  Hole punch the paper and place it behind the appropriate month in the slim binder.  Note the event date on your calendar.  Each Friday during my Friday Planning I look behind that month’s tab to determine if there are any actions for the next week.  If the paper is for information purposes only (agenda, minutes …) I know I  will have it with me when I arrive to the appointed event.

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If you work from home or spend most of your day at a desk the file box version of this system may work best for you.  Purchase a  monthly dated, expandable folder.  They are ugly (brown), but you can fit them inside a file drawer or place them inside a more attractive file box.  Utilize the same concept.  Any paper worth keeping, necessary for performing a task or having relevant information at an appointment, drop into the file pocket for the corresponding month.  Pull papers out during your Friday Planning.

So often we keep papers in piles.  We fear if we file them, store them we will forget where they are.  However, we spend wasted hours repeatedly going through piles touching the same papers over and over.  Using a tickler system like the one above affords you a simple way to track papers.  You keep only what is really necessary and can quickly put your hands on the item when needed.

Consistency.  Having used this system I have been able to consistently keep up with items I need.  My file system has been simplified.  I keep fewer documents.  I can enter a meeting or appointment on the run and know I will have the necessary paperwork at my finger tips.

 

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Follow Up to Editing

In follow up to my post today about editing as a means of moving towards more consistency in certain areas of my life, I wanted to share the post from Arabah.  I love her writings and this post, in particular, spoke to my heart as I move towards consistency, wrap up a study in James and obedience and edit!  May it encourage you as much as it encouraged me.

http://arabahjoy.com/promises/

Edit-The Path to Consistency

2016 is about consistency.  Purposing to be “unchanging in achievement or effect over a period of time.”  It is a struggle.  I so often know the things to do, yet do not do them. Sometimes though I am not sure how to be more consistent-the path seems foreign. Sometimes I just feel stuck.  I keep doing the same things, and on some level they are working, yet the outcomes seem stagnant.  I want 2016 to be about more than just trying to be consistent, I want to uncover the ways to consistency.

This week as I have given thought to this, prayed fervently for direction, and delved into some reading.  At the same time, I found myself struggling to make some decisions I knew I needed to make.  They weren’t life changing decisions.  They weren’t moral decisions.  They were just those kind of decisions that come as the result of some gentle whispers, nudging.  As I thought about each of the decisions I was avoiding, I realized each had to do with editing.

edit:  to correct, revise and get ready for

I talk a lot about editing when I work with organizing clients.  Editing is an important part of organization.  Being organized is about being able to manage what you have AND enjoy it.  To be consistent in what I do, who I am, is about editing.  The less I have to manage, in terms of things, the more time I have to focus on developing good habits and developing character.  To have the time to make improvements in areas often means I need to focus more of my time on that area.  This again, requires editing.  I have to look intently at where I spend my time.

I want to be more consistent in my prayer life, in homeschooling, in caring for my health and using time to be creative. This week I spent time really looking at what I could edit.  I made the decision to edit several things.

  1. Purge photographs.  I long to have photo albums up to date and perfect Project Life albums created for my girls.  Yet each time I consider setting aside time to work on photographs I procrastinate, dreading trying to figure out where to start, where to find the right pictures.  This week I approached instead by focusing on editing-getting rid of pictures that were duplicates, didn’t really tell a story in and of themselves, or just flat didn’t speak to me.  As I did this I also made piles by date. Wouldn’t you know it in no time flat I had discarded 1/3 of the pictures, sent duplicate family pictures to my sister-in-law, and had three envelopes of pictures by date.
  2. Partnered with my girls to clean out the media room, packing up all the children’s books they wanted to keep for storage in the attic, getting rid of DVD we really won’t ever watch again, and editing the gift wrap station.
  3. Announced a reprieve from Facebook.  I too often get “sucked” into the abyss of mindlessly scrolling through news feeds, getting emotionally worked up over religious or political statements or self promotion, and/or “wishing” my life was more like…  I felt strongly convicted that for me, this moment in time, I needed to step back from Facebook and focus on creativity, face to face time with family and friends and studies.
  4. Revised my work schedule to protect more time for homeschooling and studies.

Editing is going to be key to becoming more consistent.  What might you need to edit so that you can move forward with a goal, or project, or decision?

Schedules, Daily Habits & White Space

Does the above set of pictures make you cringe?  Do feel the tension in your body building?  For so many of us, the idea of living by a schedule, sitting down to determine when we will do what, feels confining, makes us uncomfortable.  As much as I like to live an orderly life, to be as productive as I can, I honestly resist the idea of living by a schedule.  I sense rigidity, lack of creativity in schedules.  I want to leave the door open for those “God appointments”.  I want to be able to meet the unexpected needs of friends of family.

Consistency.  My word for 2016.  Here in lies the truth-the hard truth.  I can not be more consistent, I can not consistently move towards meeting my goals, completing my tasks without some measure of schedule.  More importantly, tracking my time, setting specific times in which to do specific tasks keeps me mindful.

I just finished reading “I Know How She Does It”, by Laura Vanderkam.  It is an inspiring book and exactly the motivation I needed to get back to scheduling.  Most interesting in her research was the reality that most Americans work fewer hours than they say, with very few people working more than 50-60 hour weeks, and most people overestimate their work hours by 10 hours!  On average, highly successful, full-time working mothers cap at an average of 44 hours per week.  As I continued to read, I realized the core of the problem, the explanation for this over-estimation of time, sense of being overwhelmed, living out of fatigue feeling there is never enough time is a result of really having no idea how we spend our time and thus making very few intentional decisions about our time.

Laura Vanderkam is also a firm believe in the 168 hours principle, challenging us to plan weekly instead of daily.  I was convinced of this principle after reading her first book, “168 Hours”.

When you treat all 168 hours as your canvas, and don’t hold to rigid assumptions of what must be work time, and what must be nonwork time, you can create some fascinating mosaics (schedules).

While I resist the idea of living confined to a schedule, unwilling to move away from it for the unexpected, I know from experience and am reminded that schedules, daily habits and white space are the key to consistency, the key to my taking care of what matters most and moving towards completion of my goals.  So, this week, I focus again on doing what I know I should do (that seems to be a recurring theme!).  I challenge you to do the same.  Step back from your life for a moment.  Look at your week, your 168 hours and decide how you want to spend your time.  Here are some of my tips for successfully planning out 168 hours/creating a schedule or road map by which to live those hours out.

  1.   Daily morning quiet time to center my thoughts, read scripture, pray over my day.
  2.   One load of laundry every morning first thing.
  3.   Plan each week on Friday (I have let this habit slip and I pay for it.  Planning on Friday allows me so much freedom from nagging thoughts on the weekend and kick starts my Mondays.)
  4.   Use a weekly planner with hourly increments, blocking off appointments, tasks to work on, exercise, hobbies, free time etc…  This gives me a great visual, helps me to see the whole of my week.
  5.   Plan for the unexpected by building in PLENTY of white space.  I always leave 30 minutes between appointments.  This allows for transition time, gives me some buffer should the task take a little longer etc…  I also leave gaps of time (an hour to two) in my schedule at least every other day.  I typically use these gaps to take care of household chores, but often end up using them to have lunch with a friend, cook a meal for a sick friend, care for a sick child, …

Schedules, daily habits and white space keep me grounded, focused and moving in the right direction.  When I look at my time weekly in lieu of daily, I am reminded I have plenty of time.  While I still resist “being scheduled”, I always find there is actually a great deal of freedom in scheduling.  Life is always better when I am aware of where and how I spend my time.  A schedule allows me to be intentional about my time and I find that I get more enjoyment from my “free time/play time” when I have lived my week by my schedule.

Consistent

This year my word is consistent.  In the past my word for the year has been more about a quality I want to have or a skill I want to improve.  However, this year, after a roller coaster of a ride these past three years, I felt prayerfully led to be consistent.  Like Paul, I so often know what to do, and yet I fail to do it.  I desire to serve God with my whole being-body, spirit and mind.   Yet so often these past three years I have let fear or doubt sink into the depths of my mind, keeping me from God’s best.

It is scary approaching 50.  Not only that, but as I approach 50 my twin girls turn 18 and leave the next for college.  I find myself longing to have something to take the place of 18 years at home, giving full-time to manage our home and raise our daughters.  In the midst of thinking toward the future I can fall into the trap of second guessing, wondering if I have been enough, and doubting there is a place for me.  I am learning though, learning that Satan knows just how to sidetrack me.  I am learning how to overcome the doubt, stop the negative talk before it settles deep into my mind.  I am growing.

I am grateful for the lessons of these past few years.  I can’t say I have any clearer sense of what lies ahead, but this I know.  The more consistent I am to fill my mind with God’s word, to establish habits that bring me greater health and physical strength, the more able I am to see the appointments God has placed before me right now.  I am also reminded as I stop along the path each day to sit in His presence, He desires nothing more from than I finish this stay-at-home mom thing strong!  I am so thankful for friends who speak truth into my life.  I am so thankful for the habit or morning quiet time with God that sets my heart, mind and spirit straight for the day.  This year, the task at hand is to keep my heart, mind and spirit straight-to be consistent:  unchanging in achievement or effect over a period of time; compatible or in agreement with something (God!)

Next Steps Instead of New Goals

It’s that time of year.  Goals, resolutions, one word challenges.  I have done it all.  I have set goals.  I have run from goals.  I have made broad resolutions and I have championed a word for myself.  And like you, I have found myself disappointed, frustrated, and on occasion have experienced a sense of accomplishment.

This year is different.  This year has been about stepping back, so I could move forward.  This year has been about letting go so I could experience more joy, more freedom.  This year has been about settling into the here and now, trusting God with the future.  As I have settled into this new way of thinking, living, being, I have come to realize that I don’t need new goals each year.  What I need are next steps.  Rome was not built in a day. I will not become the best version of myself in a years’ time.   Goals take years to achieve.  And often, even when we think we have arrived, we realize there is farther to go.

footprints

This year there are no new goals, just some new next steps.  I have some steps I need to take again, but by in large, there are new next steps.  I don’t want to rush life.  I don’t want to strive and grab at life.  I want to relish the lessons along the way, taking it one step at a time.  I want to move past doing and continue to learn to be.  I want to be content with progress, not seeking success in vain.  I want to move forward more than I move backward.  I want to keep perspective, remembering life is so much bigger than me.  I want to live simply, to take one step at a time.  Next steps will guide me this year.  Next steps will bring me closer to my goals. Next steps hold promise.

What are your next steps?  Give yourself permission to grow, stretch.  Give yourself permission to keep the same goals.  Acknowledge the accomplishments, determine what you can do more of or do better. Commit to next steps.

 

Do You Need to Go Off the Grid?

Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, Blogs, Snapchat, Internet scrolling etc…  The digital age is indeed a blessing.  We have information readily available.  We have immediate access to current events and up to date information of family and friends afar.  Creative inspiration is at our fingertips.  However, with every blessing can come pitfalls.  Those very digital sites holding information and hope, can capture our attentions for far too long.  We can move in a matter of seconds from seeking creative inspiration to spiraling into a depression feeling inadequate, less fortunate etc…   As easily as we can access others and their information, we too can be accessed, often leading to increased obligations, some not really meant to be, yet in that digital nano second we say “yes”.

The week before Thanksgiving found me in a state of mess.  Fortunately I live by my own mantra – keep lots of white space.  As a result emergencies or unexpected events don’t cause as much havoc in my life as they used to – when I lived full throttle, filling every moment of every day.  The white space in my life and on my calendar affords me room to deal with the unexpected.  However, sometimes life throws us more curve balls than we could ever imagine.  Not only that, but sometimes the things we are involved with present to us all sorts of appealing opportunities.  I was in the midst of both – the unexpected and the allure of many good things.

I have found the longer I practice Sabbath living, a more simplified lifestyle, the more my spirit and body react to the “mess”.  The tension mounts in my neck.   My eating habits change and my stomach doesn’t act the same.  I lose focus.  What can be my best traits begin to compound and become my worse traits.

Have you been there?  Are you there now?  Do you feel yourself slipping into the abyss?  Don’t let it go any farther.  I have found the best solution, really the only solution is for me to unplug, go off the grid.  I don’t quit taking care of business, but I give myself permission to quit answering email, stay off social network sites, limit phone calls.  I change my voice message on my phone, I set up a vacation notice on my email…  That is what I did the week of Thanksgiving.  It was fabulous.  Not only that, but the world did not come to an end.  No one called me angry.  No one called claiming an emergency.  It was o.k.

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The week afforded me the opportunity to breathe, to let go, to focus.  I still had a lot to do, but I was able to get back to that which mattered most, my “best yes” tasks (as Lysa Terkeurst would say).  I was able to pull back from a difficult situation and in prayer and reflection see it for what it was.  A set-back, not a disaster.  A matter out of my control and not my responsibility.  I was able to fill some of the white space with the tasks that bring me energy, fill my spirit:  coffee with my girls, brunch with my best friend, a good book by the fire, decorating and setting the Thanksgiving table, and baking.  When I engage in those things that bring me joy, nurture my spirit I find I can more easily recognize my “best yes” tasks.  I can more readily see the good in life.  I hear the still small voice of my Savior telling me, “this is the way.”

Sometimes the plan is there.  The plan isn’t wrong, we have just lost site of the plan.  Stepping back, going off the grid creates the quiet in which we can think, be reminded, enjoy.

 

Friday Success

Friday really is key to any success I experience week to week.  I used to plan on Sunday evenings.  However, I often found myself forgetting things over the weekend, my family resisted “meeting” on a Sunday evening, I would be tired etc…  Then I read an article suggesting using Friday afternoons for planning.  When I worked full-time outside the home, Friday afternoon was perfect.  However, now that I am self-employed and work from my home, I find Friday mornings to be far more effective.

Why Friday planning?  Planning the following week on Friday helps me release all the little “reminders” running through my brain.  I get them written down on my master to do list or on the weekly page.  Second, anything critical I have failed to take care of can be handled Friday mid-morning or afternoon.

Am I always able to Friday plan?  No.  There are occasions when I am forced to schedule a client, have a meeting or a family event arises.  When that happens I try to leave some time on Saturday morning to do what I would normally do on a Friday morning.  Truth be told though, more often than not I can keep 8:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m. or so open for planning.

What Does Friday planning entail?

  1. Go through email making certain I have written down tasks, printed or saved any attachments/documents I need, filed correspondence I need to keep in an email folder, place critical communications requiring action the following week in my @ToDo email folder, and delete everything else possible.
  2. Process any papers that have stacked up in the Miscellaneous file box.  Yes, even an organizer stacks papers.  Processing these papers is very similar to the process for email.  Anything requiring action the following week is hole punched and placed in my PlannerPad organizer.
  3. Sit down with iphone calendar and PlannerPad monthly calendar to “sync”.  I do not typically carry my planner with me everywhere (although it is usually in the car).  I use my iphone calendar for scheduling monthly events/appointments.  However, since I am a paper person, a visual person, and driven by lists, I transfer information to my paper planner.
  4. Review the monthly calendar and transfer meeting/appointment times to the appropriate weekly pages and add to the weekly lists specific tasks that are necessary to complete for that meeting/appointment.  For example:  If I have a board meeting coming up I note the board meeting on the appropriate week.  I then back track to the previous week or week and half and note tasks like: send out meeting reminder, draft agenda, make copies of documents…
  5. Every other week I also go over my master to do list marking off any items completed and making certain I have not let go forgotten.

While this may all sound a bit overwhelming to you, I challenge you to try.  I promise about three weeks into it you will find yourself staying on top of tasks, minimizing the amount of paper stacked, etc…

Friday planning sets me up for success Monday morning.  Sunday  I can relax, rest, practice Sabbath.  Sunday evening I can glance at my weekly pages and know that my plan of action is in place.  Come Monday morning I can jump straight into work.

 

 

What Does It Mean to Be Organized? I Say It Means Nothing

Organization.  Purging.  Margin.  White Space.  Time Management.  Minimalism.  Simplifying.  Downsizing.

Google any one of those words and thousands upon thousands of articles, blog links, advertisements pop up.  We live in a high tech, fast paced, immediate gratification world and yet it seems all are seeking a simpler life, or ways to better manage the craziness of their life.

As a young mom, I sought to learn everything I could about managing my home, managing my time.  Some came naturally to me.  I like order.  I don’t like a lot of stuff, so shopping and collecting are not big issues for me (well unless we are talking dishes or shoes).  I am also an introvert, so staying home in lieu of a jam packed schedule didn’t feel awkward.  I ran my house with my 6 month old twins like a well oiled machine and took great pride when asked ” How do you do it all?”  From the outside my life looked great.  It was a good life.  I had healthy baby girls, a beautiful home, a wonderful husband, circle of friends through my almost daily tennis and weekly church involvement…  The truth however was that I was burning the candle at both ends.  I was quick to snap at my girls, get frustrated when they didn’t sleep as the schedule dictated.  The smallest interruption always felt like a huge disruption.  I was hard on myself and hard on my husband.

One day as my frustration had mounted, frustration with myself, I was struck by the fact that I was spinning my wheels trying to be organized-be efficient.  I was juggling all the balls and squeezing it all in, but at what price.  Being efficient was not creating the life I longed for.  God took me back to Proverbs 31, that woman we love to hate and long to be like.  As I read the passages again, God invited me to really get to know the lady, to look beyond the scripture as a litany or to do list and look at the impact of one woman’s life.    In those moments my whole view of organization changed.  I no longer wanted to be the most efficient.  Efficiency was replaced with a desire to be effective.  I wanted to live an orderly life so God could use me to impact my girls, their friends, my friends, our neighbors.  I didn’t want to be known for what I could get done in a day, I wanted to be known for having time to invest in others.  I wanted to see interruptions as opportunities to be the hands and feet of Christ.  I wanted our excess to bless others, whether it was purging to pass on, or shopping for others instead of ourselves.

Organization and efficiency are the world’s ways.  There is no such thing as being organized.  There is however a way to live a disciplined life that brings order and affords you the time and space in which to serve others.  Striving to be organized leads to fatigue and frustration.  Striving to be organized means being captive to our things, our schedules, our work.  That is not God’s design.  His design is that we live free, free to serve Him, free from the confines of stuff and schedules.

I still fall prey to the world’s call to be organized.  I even make a living helping others get their stuff organized.  However, I seek to approach every day asking myself if the purging, the sorting, the stacking, the time blocking is my attempt to control an unruly life, one I no longer really manage, or is it to afford me the opportunity to bless another person, invest in another person.  I am not interested in the pursuit of efficiency unless it helps me be effective.

Step Back- To Find the Way to Move Forward

It is hard to believe the holiday season is here.  Time marches on.  School started and I welcomed it with open arms.  While I relish the lazier days of summer, opportunity to step away from the schedules, I am always ready for back to school. Ready for the new schedules.  Ready for structure.  The structure and the schedules can fill up, and if not careful, the schedules crowd out everything else.

I found myself there a few weeks back.  Not just there, but feeling overwhelmed.  Then a small health issue and time was not enough.  The instinct for most of us it to push through.  I tell myself to give a little more, wake up a little earlier, go to bed a little later, skip lunch, say no to the home parties/social events.  No one wins in that.  Fatigue, frustration, loss of focus-that is all to be gained.

The only way to move forward is to take a step back.  It’s the counter-intuitive thing to do.  I step back.  I block off some time each day for a few weeks.  I have to stop.  It is not until I stop I can see what has consumed the time, the days.  It is not until I stop I can assess the time and the activities, knowing if the pieces fit or are indeed too much.  Those moments are for figuring out what is real, what is clutter.  Those moments are for taking time to go back to my true loves-making the time for that reminds me who I am, the life I have, and how to move forward becomes clear.

I talk about “white space” a lot when I talk about managing time.  White space gives me opportunity to breathe, to take in life, but they also give me opportunity for the unexpected.  When life becomes overwhelming, the plates can’t all be juggled and kept spinning the white spaces become the moments of clarity.  The white spaces are on my calendar and in the schedule I keep.  But spiritually, the white space is when I am still-the moments I quit telling God and instead I release it all and wait for Him.

BeStill

Step back in a moment of nothingness to be still, to find the way to move forward.