Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Case for Photographs

About the time that many of us wonder if we ought to merely stop taking photographs, digital or otherwise, in order to avoid the need to organize them, someone reminds us of why they are so precious. In this instance, it happened to be my sister. At the risk of being accused of nepotism, I encourage you to link in and enjoy her posting. We can get back to organizing the photos tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Locker Lists

Teenagers are perhaps some of the most preoccupied members of our society. While their minds are tackling social spider webs and academic balancing acts, their cell phones, books, papers, saxophone mouthpieces and gym wear often get left behind. With luck, they end up aging in the locker. Less fortunate are those teens who leave articles on buses, chairs, in the library or who knows where and end up spending their part-time job savings to replace them.

Try a Locker List. Develop a list of items that routinely go to and from school. Organize your list by day of the week. Build it to fit on the inside of the locker door. Have it laminated and have your teenager post it on the inside of his/her locker. I recommend getting your teen to build the list and decorate it before you laminate it. It has to be catchy enough to attract their eye so they will look at the list before shutting the locker door. Here’s a sample to get you started:


To School: lunch, gym clothes, runng shoes, cell phone
Home: weekly math test for signature, instrument/mouthpiece/ music binder, cell phone,
lunch bag

To School: weekly math test for signature, instrument/mouthpiece/music binder
Home: cell phone gym clothes lunch bag

To School: rugby mouth guard, lunch, cell phone
Home: lunch bag

Monday, November 12, 2007

Pots and Water Vessels

We live in a “mature” residential in Toronto. Translation: the water pipes are old and the community has had four water pipes break in as many months. Today was our street’s turn and by 7 am neighbours were out trying to unplug the leaves from the sewer covers as the street flooded with water. By 4:30 pm a knock on our door heralded the arrival of the works truck with the news that there were 34 broken mains in the city today and the water would be off from 5 pm for 4 to 5 hours. Perfect timing; right through arsenic hour for those with kids.

Like everyone else on the block I filled the tub and all the pots I could manage and was left wishing I had more, and bigger, pots to fill. No, I reminded myself, then I would have more pots to look after, manager, store, sort etc. It occurred to me that too many cooking pots is not an indulgence I often come across with my clients. Other kitchen indulgences like pot holders, towels, spices, knives and the like are often a challenge in calming and decluttering a kitchen but pots have not yet surfaced as a collectable. Perhaps some of you have a difference experience. I’d love to hear from anyone who struggles to manage their pot collection and what their issues might be.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Lighten up the Inbox

Like me, many of you are probably inundated with email. After my four days away, I found over 200 of them in my inbox on the family manager email. That’s a pile of time and effort to clear out. Also like me, and almost everyone else I talk to, you are probably challenged to keep your inbox streamlined. As storage issues become less and less of an issue, and digital data gets easier and easier to store, some people choose to never clear out their inbox. That is certainly one management method, but not one I recommend to my clients. The more stuff you have, be it digital or otherwise, the more energy and effort to manage it. Here are some suggestions that I offer my clients on how to lighten up the inbox.

  1. Dump the Junk – if you haven’t already, use your rules and alerts function to get rid of as much spam as possible. Set up a rule to delete anything with words you find offensive or prefer not to read. You know the ones I mean. We all get them!
  2. Program the Project – if you are managing a project, event or particular subject (I just finished coordinating almost 100 runners on my son’s cross country running team at school) use your rules and alerts to manage the incoming mail. I set up a rule to send all message with X Country in the title or body into a separate inbox. I set up the inbox specifically: X Country Inbox. Everytime I sent a message to the team, I included X Country in the title. And obligingly, every parent used the reply button to respond; with X Country in the title. You could use the same technique for managing email for your children especially if you have several children in different schools.
  3. Sort out of Context – this is a strategy that works for almost everything. Sorting items away from their usual context, whether clothes, dishes, paper or email, helps you to see it and sort it in a with a fresh viewpoint. If you usually keep your email, like 99% of us, by date, click on the From header at the top of your inbox and sort it by sender. You’ve finished with all George’s email, don’t need to keep your mom’s, file away the teacher’s etc. etc.
  4. File and Filter Faithfully – Many of us keep a filing cabinet of digital folders on our email desktop. These can be very useful if you struggle with the delete key and are positive that that email will surface as useful next year. (Remember, it rarely ever gets read again). Take a few moments a couple of times a year to clear these folders out too. Use the same technique; change the context or set up a new rule to help you out. If your daughter is finished with hockey, run a rule to identify into a separate folder anything with ABC Hockey League. Scan the items for relevance than delete the folder.

It just takes a few minutes to delete as many as hundreds of email. If you review and decide on 10% of your backlog daily, you will go a long way to getting out of the muck.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Calendar Cares

It’s one week into November. Is your family calendar up to date? Is it posted where everyone can see it? After four days away at the Professional Organizers in Canada national conference last week, I have only just got ours up to date today. For our family, it’s a four month white board posted in the kitchen. Each family member is a different colour white board marker with black for family events. We can all see it and any one of us can refer to it while trying to book an event.

What does your families’ look like? Does it work?

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

From the Mouths of Babes...

Off to the swimming pool yesterday evening for lesson with young son. “Did you remember my goggles mommy?” Check. “Hurray for mommy. Did you remember my pyjamas?” Check. (Shortens the bedtime routine). “Good job mommy!” (He’s a quick study on reinforcing good behaviour). “Uh oh, looks like I forgot the shampoo. Just a quick rinse will have to do tonight hon. Funny how I always seem to forget something – but it’s always something different.” Sound familiar?

“Mommy, I’ve got the most brilliant idea. This way you’ll never forget anything.”
“Great, let’s hear it – any and all help is appreciated”.
“Let’s make up a list of all the things we need for swimming and leave it in the bag all the time. You’ll never forget my goggles again – or the shampoo. We can even maktak it so it doesn’t get wet!”

Straight to the end of the story; I have offered my son a job as assistant organizer with the company. His scheduled start date is January 2017. He is 6 years old. I am humbled.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Childrens' Activity Information

How many times has your child(ren) been late for a birthday party because you couldn't find the invitation with the location and directions? How about the scramble for soccer team telephone numbers to find out whose turn it is to drive.
Sound familiar?
I've just returned from four days at our national conference held this year in Vancouver. Professional organizers identified that a consistent challenge for family manager's, (family manager definition: the parent primarily responsible for managing the activity and schedule of the household) is keeping track of all the paper that results from childrens' activities. A significant component of this challenge is the difference in time sensitivity of some papers. You are likely receiving everything from the letter today reminding you of tomorrow's parent/teacher interview, to the six month long competitive dance schedule or, that very Canadian of items - the hockey schedule.

1. Purge
Always start by getting rid of anything that you will not need in the future. Do your sorting with the recycling bin next to you so that paper/letters/schedules from last year, that were duplicated or for the select team your daughter didn't make can go right to "file 13" by recycling.

2. Sort by Frenquency of Access
Sort the remaining items into 2 piles. The most frequently accessed items are those relating to events and contacts:
  • a) regular and frequent access like the weekly schedules - birthday party invitations, team phone numbers, cross country meet dates and times.
  • b) occassional access - reference material, team policies/athlete expectations, brochure for the team, association or company.
3. Set up a Hot File
Take all the items in the pile of "frequently accessed" and sort by family member. Now sort each family member's material by date so that the next closest event is on top. Use binder dividers with names on the tabs to identify each family member's set of hot file papers. Clip them together with an alligator clip. Hang a peel and stick hook (3M removable are ideal, available at most hardware stores) on the inside of a kitchen cupboard or wherever your family information centre is, if you already have one. Hang the alligator clip on this hook. Next time Brittany receives a birthday party invitation, pick up the phone and RSVP, record the date, time and location on the family calendar (I'm sure you already remembered to do this) and put the invite in her section of the hot file. You can grab the invitation on the way out the door and discard it after you have picked her up.

4. Set up a Resource File. This is for the remaining items that are used less frequently. This time you may wish to sort by activity (hockey, gymnastics, swimming) by organization (hockey league, parks and recreation organization, school, church) or again, by family member, depending on how busy and how big your family is. Don't forget to save a space for the orthodontist, doctor or tutor. Use an accordian file or binder. If using a binder, dividers can mark each of the sections. This material gets purged twice a year at the beginning and end of the school year when children and families typically change activities. At the end of school, discard all the classroom specific material and keep only the back to school items. At the beginning of school, throw out the old soccer, hockey or dance schedule and start adding back in the new classroom and teacher material.
Voila! Party invitations at your fingertips, when you need them!