Tracking Your Time

Let’s talk about calendars. I find this to be one of the largest organizational challenges for myself.

In my single days it was easy. I used a Franklin Covey planner and used my calendar religiously. I would carry it with me and add appointments as I made them. Every Friday afternoon or Monday morning I would add work meetings. I could take it with me to meetings and add notes and update my to-do list.

Now with a husband and children and a full-time job I find it much more challenging. I have work meetings and home meetings and appointments for the kids and appointments and schedules for my husband. And they are all important. I have an array of options available to me:

  • wall calendar at home
  • calendar in my cell phone
  • calendar in my email at work
  • desk calendar at work
  • wall calendar at work with appropriate holidays and fiscal month information

But with all these calendars available, it is very easy to write down an appointment on one calendar (say Outlook at work) and then forget to transfer it to home. And if I happen to be home on the day the appointment arises, I risk missing that appointment.

My current method works something like this:
1. Maintain my work calendar in Outlook. I put on here any work-specific appointments and any personal appointments that happen during or immediately after the workday. This is a must because our entire office uses the Outlook calendaring feature to schedule meetings.
I don’t worry about workday meetings at home.

1a. Each week I print a copy of my Outlook calendar. I use a 3-ring binder now instead of a FC Planner. I slip the printed calendar in the front cover of my binder and have tabs within for each of my projects. I can keep my to-do list and notes from meetings right in the binder. That goes with me to any meeting.

2. Keep a wall calendar at home as the “master” for all (non-work) appointments and meetings for me, the husband and the kids. If I happen to make an appointment while out of the house I will ask for a reminder card or make a note to myself. I put these notes/cards in the pockets of my pants so I will remember to remove them when I get home – or at the very least when I am getting undressed for the day.
My favorite wall calendar is this one created by Flylady Marla Cilley. It doesn’t have any pictures of cute puppy dogs or your last family reunion. But it does have giant spaces for each day that make it easy to add lots of information.

2b. Each day I write out a daily task list for home. I include the times of any appointments. This list goes in my on-the-go binder. It’s similar to the one I have for work – tabs for different areas of responsibility.

All-in-all I would say that my current system mostly works. I know what I have to do and can easily see on the calendar what my husband is doing. And he knows to check the calendar before making any plans.

What system do you use to keep yourself and your family on the same page?

Introducing… Reader Tuesdays

Tuesdays are now devoted to my readers. Starting next week I’ll spend every Tuesday (or every Tuesday there is a request) helping out one reader in need of a kick-start to get going on an organizing project.

Your project can be large or small but my answer will be a concise get-you-started set of tips. Some areas you might want to submit include:

  • playrooms
  • closets
  • kitchens
  • car
  • time management

Simply email me with a description of the issue and space (if applicable). Sending a picture if at all possible. I will post the story and picture(s) (removing any identifying information or details)here along with a set of tips to help you start on a solution and links to possible organizational tools available.

I look forward to hearing from you and helping.

Quick Tip Thursday

Vacation Reboot

About that summer vacation we just planned and packed for. How many times have you arrived back from vacation just to feel overwhelmed with the amount of work to be done getting life back to normal? How long have you continued to live out of your suitcase for a week after your return?

This summer, when you get home, put away everything the same day. If you happen to arrive home in the middle of the night, do it first thing in the morning. I know it seems overwhelming but I promise your transition back to the daily grind will be so much nicer if you aren’t dealing with remnants of your vacation.

Take one hour to do the following:

1. Set the timer for 15 minutes (20-30 minutes if mom & dad need to unpack the kids stuff) and have everyone set off to their own room to unpack their stuff.

2. Throw in a load of laundry. If you think of it beforehand, designate a dirty laundry bag on your trip. Instead of having everyone repack their own suitcases with their own clothes, designate one bag to be the dirty laundry bag. As soon as you unload the car, take that bag to the laundry room and throw it all in to wash. (better yet, if you are staying with family or friends do laundry the night before your departure & come home with clean clothes.)

3. Sit down at the table for a quick break and an easy snack (microwave popcorn, a few pieces of fruit or cheese & crackers are good choices). Sitting at the table is key for this. If you let yourselves get comfortable on the couch in front of the tv you’ll be unlikely to get back up.

4. Set the timer for another 15-30 minutes (depending on whether your kids can help and how much stuff you packed) and get to work putting everything else away.

I’ll be surprised if your travel gear isn’t entirely unpacked and put away after this hour (aside from what’s churning away in the washing machine). If this one hour vacation reboot doesn’t leave you with everything put away you’ll be darn close. And you’ll be able to get back to your life with a sense of peace.

Traveling With Kids

Planning a summer vacation? If you are traveling with kids, there is an overwhelming amount of things to bring with you – Bottles, sippy cups, diapers, toys, snacks, portable cribs, etc, etc. Here are a few tips to help make planning and packing a little easier.

1. Document your day. At least a week before your trip, write down everything you use over the course of two days. This will be the basis of your packing list.

2. Prepare an “overnight kit” for yourself and for your children. You can do this today – even if you aren’t vacationing for several weeks or months. Just be sure to check expiration dates. Include duplicates or travel sizes of your toiletries – shampoo, conditioner, lotion, toothbrush, toothpaste, haircare products, shower products, disposable razor, shaving cream, over-the-counter medications (especially things like Children’s Tylenol/Motrin). If your travel usually involves flying, make sure the liquid products comply with FAA standards for carry-on luggage (3 oz containers in one quart sized bag per person). Keep this kit packed and ready to go. If you travel for work frequently, your probably already have this.

3. Borrow or buy it there. If you will be staying with friends or family, consider which items you can skip bringing (like a hair dryer). Or if you visit the same people frequently (like your parents or children), make a list of things you usually use on your visits and plan to make a run to the store upon your arrival to pick up those items. Buy a small clear tub to store your items in an out of the way place at your host’s house. Things you might want to keep there include – toiletries, dental care items, blowdryer, brush, baby bottle dishwasher rack, sippy cups, baby bottles, diapers, wipes, booster seat, toilet seat topper (for potty-training toddlers) and over the counter medicines.

4. Pack a family overnight bag. If you will have an overnight stop-over before reaching your final destination pack a separate bag with a change of clothes and toiletries for the whole family. This will keep you from having to dig out all the suitcases just for a one night stop.

5. Plan for the journey, not just the destination. Don’t forget to pack a car/plane-ride bag for the trip there – things like snacks, toys, CDs or MP3 players, DVDs, books, a change of underwear (just in case of an unexpected layover when flying), bottles & sippys.

6. Don’t reinvent the wheel. After you make your packing list and have all your items packed DON’T THROW AWAY THE LIST. Keep it in a safe place. When you get back from your trip review the list and see if there were things you really could have done without or things you forgot. Add or subtract those from the list. Then keep the list to use as a first draft for your next trip.

Here’s a sample packing list for a driving trip to visit grandma (3 states away) with a baby, toddler and grade-schooler in tow.

CAR QUICK-GRAB BOX (I like to use a small box – like the kind that holds CD jewel cases). This box will sit up front with the driver & passenger.
– favorite CDs or your MP3 player
– book
– small snacks (I love the Snack-Traps for things like cheerios, grapes, and goldfish crackers for the toddler)
– water bottle and No-Spill Bottle Caps (great for the toddler)
– baby bottle
– extra pacifier (if your baby takes one)
– 1 diaper in each size necessary
– small pack of wipes (can also be used to clean of messy hands)
– wet dishtowel stored in a zip-top storage bag (for inevitable spills)
– 1-3 empty zip-top bags – these are great for all manner of things – wet clothes, dirty smelly diapers, trash, an unavoidable car sickness incident, etc.
– handheld manual pump for breastfeeding moms

These are the extras you need for pit stops but not necessarily at the ready while driving
– extra diapers & wipes
– extra sippy cup
– small can of formula or a few bags of breastmilk (of course you’ll need the BM to go in a cooler)
– extra water bottles
– small bag with a few ponytail holders and hair clips (for mom or girls)
– sunscreen (for that “quick stop” to see the world’s largest ball of twine)
– camera

KIDS BOX (you’ll probably want one for each kid. In this example, the baby & toddler could share)
– 2-4 small books
– 1-2 small favorite toys
– 2-4 small new toys. These don’t need to be expensive, just something fun that they haven’t seen before. Preferably things that don’t make a mess. Etch-a-sketch type pads are great, as are water coloring books, puzzle books (for the older child), a Rubik’s cube).
– 1-3 self contained snacks. Include as many as you would allow the child to eat for the duration of the trip (one way). This works well for older kids as they can decide when to eat and what they prefer without you having to dig through everything. It also sets a clear limit on how much snacking they can do. When the snacks are gone, they are gone. Pre-packaged snacks work well but don’t forget about fruit (bananas, grapes in a storage baggie, apples, etc) and veggies (carrot sticks, edemame) too.

OVERNIGHT BAG – this is just a single bag for the whole family.
– One change of clothes for each family member
– A few extra diapers
– Toiletry kits
– swimsuits & flip flops (in case the hotel has a pool)
– a few $1 bills for the vending machines (you know that grade-schooler is going to beg for a snack on the way back from the pool!)
– favorite stuffed animals or blankies that are a must for bedtime
– extra pacifier – no one wants to dig through the backseat for a lost one when you arrive at the hotel at 9pm.
– jar(s) of baby food & spoon
– prescription medications
– mom’s makeup bag

This is your usual stuff
– clothes
– shoes
– haircare stuff (brushes, blowdryer)
– extra undies
– extra socks
– a few more diapers (can you tell I think you should have a diaper handy in any bag you open.)

This can go in suitcases if you have room or you can make it a separate bag.
– bottles and/or bottle liners
– a few sippy cups
– toddler utensils (if your kid needs them)
– dishwasher rack for bottles & sippy parts
– toilet seat topper (for potty training toddlers)
– stroller
– baby-wearing device (if you use one)

I know this seems like a lot. It is. Traveling with kids is not easy but it is so worth it to see your little ones meet their cousins for the first time or taste Grandma’s apple pie or experience the Grand Canyon. If you follow the tips at the beginning of this entry you may be able to cut down on the gear you need to bring.

May this summer be full of fun and laughter for you and your family. Happy Travels!

Quick Tip Thursday

Do you consistently forget to return your library books on time and end up with late fees?
Treat return dates like any other appointment!

As soon as you get home with those books, put a reminder on your calendar on the due date with a quick list of the titles due that day. Then when you check your calendar each night for your list of appointments tomorrow (you are checking your calendar every night, right?) you’ll be reminded to gather them up with everything else you need for the day.

Pantry Reorganization Photos

This was a low budget pantry reorganization. For about $30 I was able to purchase all the supplies I needed – some storage containers, a bin for potatoes, an over-the-door hook and a few pant hangers-turned-tablecloth hangers.

Dry Goods Storage – a few well labeled containers are easier to stack than boxes and a lot less messy than bags of sugar.

Spaghetti – pasta in bags always seems to get kind of lost in a panty. An old over-sized baby formula can is just the trick for keeping the spaghetti from breaking.

Beans – beans tend to come in bags. Bags, even with clips, tend to come open spilling little beans all over the pantry and floor. And they are just the right size for my baby to choke on. An old jelly jar is just the right size for holding these.

Party Box – this holds paper plates, plastic cups, plastic utensils and napkins – all the essentials for a quick party setup. A label makes sure I remember what is inside.
Potatoes – Bags of potatoes get shoved on the floor and by the time you remember you bought them there are so many eyes sprouting you feel like someone is watching you. This handy slide-out bin is an easy way to store them and see them. I have my extra rice on the top but this would be a great spot for a different potato variety or onions.

Bags & Brooms – I can’t take all the credit on this one. My mom made me the handy plastic bag holder. But you can buy these in almost any home store in the country.

All in all, this isn’t the most organized pantry ever. But items are sorted by function and are easy to see and get to. And it’s a living, working pantry. Items go out and new items replace them. It doesn’t need to be picture perfect. It never will be. It just needs to function in a way that makes sense for you and your family.

Pantry Organization

My pantry has always been basically organized. Canned goods in one area, bottles in another, pasta in another, boxed stuff somewhere else and Ziplocks and other random stuff strewn on the extra spaces. But this weekend I took the time to really organize my pantry. What a great experience. Here’s how I went about it:

1. Make a list of everything I could see in the pantry – boxed stuff, cans, drinks, cereal, brooms, storage bags, seasoning packets, snack food, baby bibs, baby food jars, extra cans of formula, etc. etc.

2. Organize the list into a few categories. Here’s what I came up with, you may have these same ones or others:

  • Breakfast – cereal, Bisquick, syrup (you may also have things like oatmeal, granola bars, etc)
  • Baking – flour, sugar, brown sugar, powdered sugar, shortening, vegetable oil, cake mixes, frosting cans, oatmeal
  • Desert – jello, pudding, ice cream cones, chocolate syrup (extra)
  • Cooking – pasta, pasta sauce, taco shells, canned goods, soup cans, soup packages, packets of seasoning, red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, olive oil (extra jar – I keep a handy pour bottle right by the stove), kosher salt, corn starch, bread crumbs, flax seed, rice, potatoes
  • Snacks – popcorn, chips, canned fruit (the kids love this for snacks), crackers
  • Drinks – 12 packs of soda, juice, juice boxes, drink packets (like crystal light or Kool-aid), bottled water, pitchers
  • Baby Stuff – bibs, formula cans (extra), baby food, baby snacks (puffs, teether biscuits)
  • Storage – Ziplock bags, foil & plastic wrap (extra – I keep these handy to the fridge/oven for everyday use)
  • Cleaning – broom, mop, steam mop, paper towels
  • Linens – table clothes, napkins, runners
  • Party stuff – paper plates, plastic silverware, plastic cups

3. Make a note of any kind of storage container I need but don’t already have – sealable plastic bins for powdered and brown sugar (I already have them for sugar & flour), shelf racks to add extra space for storing cans, an over-the-door hanger for linens.

4. Take everything out one shelf at a time and clean the shelf and replace it with what is going on that shelf. Add labels where appropriate. In the end my shelves ended up as:

  • Top Left – Breakfast
  • Top Right – Baking (big stuff – sugars, flour)
  • 2nd Left – Baking (small stuff – cake mixes, cans of frosting) & Dessert
  • 2nd Right – Cooking – boxes & pastas
  • 3rd Left – Snacks
  • 3rd Right – Cooking – cans & bottles
  • 4th Left – Drinks
  • 4th Right – Storage & Potatoes (in a metal bin)
  • Bottom (floor) – Paper Towels & Party (all fit very nicely into an old diaper box that I can pull out when needed)
  • Hanging – Linens, Brooms/Mops

5. Add special containers for easily lost things. An old kids shoe box was the perfect size for holding all those seasoning packets and another for hot cocoa packets. Old snack boxes are just right for holding all those open bags of crackers.

6. Head to the store (with coupon) to buy all the storage things I didn’t have at home

I’ll post a picture for you tomorrow.

What does it mean to be delightfully prepared?

What does it mean to be delightfully organized?

Delight: a high degree of gratification; extreme satisfaction
Organize: to arrange elements into a whole of interdependent parts

The Lord has called us to be prepared. As the woman of Proverbs 31 so aptly illustrates, being a woman of noble character involves being ready and able to attend to all that needs attending. Being prepared means having what you need available when you need it. How can we be sure that we will have what we need at the right time? By keeping only what we need or love in good working condition in a readily accessible place. In other words… through organization.

As an organizer I want you to take up these tasks with great joy. Rather than detracting from our joyfulness, a well run home and schedule should only enhance our delight. Knowing that things are running smoothly behind the scenes will allow you the freedom to pursue life’s more fun activities.

Join me as I walk you through my journey to be delightfully organized for life.