Making sense of my work

So, a little secret.  One of my very favorite things to do is organize a closet.  Seriously, closet work makes me so happy.  Letting me help you organize your closet is a gift.  My birthday’s coming, holler at a girl.

In general, I am a systems person.  I love to create little organizational systems for other things, too.  I just think in systems.  Give me some big thing and I can break it down into the different systems needed for the big thing to happen.  It is how my brain works, surprisingly, since I am definitely more of a creative person than a math/ science person.  I can’t solve a calculus problem, but I can give you a system and partner it with some words.  If only that could have counted as my college math credit.

So, recently, a friend asked me to teach an organization workshop.  And since I have no organization education, just the little systems I’ve hacked out for myself, I have no business teaching a formal workshop.  But I did think that I could write a blog post on what works for me in case it translates for anyone else.  Hence, today’s post is how I organize my time and work in general.  If you are interested in more organizing posts (how I organized my notes for books, how I organize my closet, how I organize a major project contained in and off itself- like Circle de Luz, etc), just let me know any preferences and if I have the ability to write about it, I am happy to do it.

And a caveat before we get started here:  I am showing you my crazy with this post.  I get that.  And you are totally allowed to make fun of me.  It won’t hurt my feelings.  Promise.

Alright, let’s get to the time and work organizing process.

My priority in these processes is giving myself the confidence to know that I won’t forget a future to do while doing present work and that everything is maintained in an easy to find location.  I also don’t want to lose ideas as they percolate into something more.  What I most need is a place to deposit stuff that doesn’t need attention now for whatever reason so I can feel confident that I won’t forget it later and can concentrate fully on the now stuff.

A reality for me is that I am a paper person.  Many of the details imprint in my mind when I hand-write them which is incredibly important for my being able to hold onto details without looking at my lists.  Hence, visually, paper items, systems just make so much more sense to me than technological ones (you’ve heard of a technology early adopter?  I am a late, reluctant adopter).

So, there are five items I use to keep myself organized and everything running smoothly.  They are:

a little notebook that fits in my purse/ book bag

a spiral notebook with colored subsections (I got mine at Target)

a legal pad

 a calendar with each day’s rundown divided by 15 minute segments 

a planning notebook that has 2 days on each page 

Alright, now how do I use each one to keep myself organized, operating smoothly?

I carry that little notebook with me most everywhere.  If a blog post idea pops into my mind, I jot it down.  Book suggestion?  Song for a play list?  Sentence I want to hold onto for a future essay?  Birthday list idea?  Birthday gift idea?  Someone’s address or phone number?  It all gets written down in that notebook and stays there until I can move it into the place where it permanently lives.  The little notebook is a temporary holding site.  It captures what I am scared will evaporate if I have to rely on my mind.  To be honest, the little notebook has become most essential since becoming a parent or hitting my late 30s (I am not sure which one it is).  It used to be that I could hold onto all sorts of superfluous details in my head (seriously, I could remember that your Great Aunt Sue used to make your homemade peanut brittle for Halloween, even if you just told me that once).  Now, I can barely hold onto my name.  The other day, I couldn’t remember the name of one of my favorite movies. I could describe it, but no name.  Thankfully, Jeopardy had that movie as an answer that night.  What are the odds?  Alex Trebek is my solution to memory loss.  Back to the notebook, it captures that which I am afraid will evaporate.  But it’s not a final destination.

So where do those things go?  To one of two places:  either the spiral notebook or the legal pad.

Let’s talk spiral notebook.  The colored-section spiral notebook has a topic/ responsibility assigned to each color.  For example, teaching, books, other work, Circle de Luz, personal, etc.  That notebook is where I keep various lists, information, or is the final location for ideas that need noodling (so if there’s a class project idea that comes to me while I am out to lunch, I write it down in the the small notebook.  Then, once a week (usually on Friday when I plan my next week which I talk about below), I go through the small notebook and deposit anything in there to its actual home.  Book suggestions get written on the master to read list in the personal section of the spiral notebook.  A class project idea goes in the teaching section of the spiral notebook.   When I am working on my projects, I just go peruse my spiral notebook for relevant notes.

Now, some of the things in the little notebook might be to-do items.  Like the other day I randomly remembered that I needed to get Happy’s social security card updated with his legal post-adoption formalized name.  I jotted it in the little notebook.  Then, later, when I was going through the little notebook, I saw that note.  I turned to my Master To Do List which I keep on a legal pad.  The legal pad is where I keep everything I need to actually do sometime soon.  Every Friday, I sit down and review my master to do list and calendar and figure out my next work week.  All of that planning gets deposited onto my daily to do lists.  There are things that are on my Master to do list for days, weeks, or even months before they make it over to my daily to do lists.  And that is totally fine– the Master to do list serves as a security blanket to insure that I don’t forget what’s out there.  Without it, I’d forget details and things I commit to doing.  I take the master to do list to meetings and then directly jot down any responsibilities that come up for me during the meeting.  With that measure, I insure that I don’t forget to do something essential later.   The master to do list really frees up a lot of mental space and energy for me.

Which brings us to the planning notebook with 2 days on each page.  This notebook is one of my favorite finds ever.  The planning notebooks covers every day of the year- 2 pages on every day with 17 lines per day (I double up those lines so I can actually- if needed- get 34 to do items on one day.).  When I plan for the next week, I create a daily to do list fully cognizant of any deadlines or meetings– so when stuff has to be done and how much time I have to get things done that day– and what on my master to do list needs to be done next.  If I know that I just have 1 hour at my desk that day, I dial back how much I put on that day’s to do list.  The to do list includes professional and personal items (professional on the left, personal on the right) and includes self-care items like working out.  Making that plan on Fridays for the next week allows me to go into the weekend less distracted because I know that I’ve thoughtfully planned out the next week.

The last aspect of this system is my  calendar.  I keep my calendar in pencil and block off desk-time, workouts, and anything else I want to firmly hold to as much as possible. Blocking off desk time is a new trick for me.  A few weeks ago, I realized that I do best when I have at least one morning a week to sit at my desk and just do, write, plan, market, etc.  To remind me to make that commitment, I blocked off a morning each week.  It’s been revolutionary.  I’m so much more productive with that one morning protected from away from the house meetings, appointments (I do phone meetings if necessary during this time) etc.

So, that’s my system.  What’s yours?  How do you keep up with your commitments, to dos, ideas, and time?  Because I love a good system.  I REALLY want to know what you do.

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5 responses to “Making sense of my work”

  1. Jennifer Kramer

    Okay I have a couple of closets that could use help! 🙂

  2. Christina

    Thank you so much for this! I love a good system, too, particularly a system that uses paper instead of high-tech tools. I need to write things down in order to remember them, plus I’m a teacher for whom the lure of new school supplies is always seductive. Your methods fit into my madness perfectly… muhahahahaha!

  3. Jamie

    Ok, I’d love to see more organizing and time management posts 🙂 I am challenged in these areas…and I could really use some help!!! Thanks for posting this!!!!

  4. Ega

    This was fascinating– I love hearing about other people’s organizational systems. For some reason, I find it to be completely engrossing. I’m in a weird space where my 9-5 work calendar is managed online, but I try to manage my personal calendar on paper and my blog calendar on a combination of paper and google calendar. It’s a hot mess! I need to streamline. I just can’t figure out what is the best way to go!

  5. Tony

    Appreciating the time and effort you put into your website and detailed
    information you provide. It’s great to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t
    the same out of date rehashed material.

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