My life would be so much easier if I were super-organized. I'm not so bad in that department, but I have plenty of those can't-find-my-keys freakouts, a towering pile o' crap on my kitchen counter, and a nagging feeling that very little is under control.
Recently, I attended a GE event for their new French-Door Refrigerator. It's above and by all means, drool. Not only is it all sorts of organized, it's got serious technology including a super-powered filtration system, a hot-water dispenser and TwinChill to maintain different temperatures in the food and freezer sections so nothing gets too cold or soggy.
There were a few guest speakers at the event including Julie Morgenstern, a productivity strategist and New York Times bestselling author of Time Management from the Inside Out and Never Check E-mail In The Morning.
Here's Julie prepping salad while the Hands-free Autofill does its thing.
I'd heard Julie speak years ago when I worked at Glamour magazine and she gave a seminar. I've never forgotten some of her tips, including maximizing morning time for doing work because your brain is at peak productivity level.
Not only did Julie agree to answer questions for me, she validated my beloved paper planner, which I cling to for dear life. Julie's partnered with Levenger to create The Circa Balanced Life Planner, a total time-management system that, as Julie describes it, is based on the way we think and our natural habits. "Studies have shown that people still favor paper planners," she says. Amen!
Here, friends, are some of her best tips, especially for special needs parents:
Her top three time-organizing tips
• Stick with one kind of planner. "If you have things in multiple places—the wall calendar in kitchen, the app on iPhone, your to-do list—it's a recipe for confusion, doubt and inefficiency."
• End every day by planning for tomorrow plus two. "One of the most common time-wasting mistakes is waiting till the morning of to plan for the day. By that point, it's too late—if there's a schedule conflict it's too late to manager your way out of it, if there's something you don't want to do you're stuck. But if you plan for tomorrow plus two, a three-day arc, you have context—you can see what's coming up, prioritize, rearrange smartly and make better choices. Plus you can carve out breathing room! If you're reading this on Tuesday, for example, tonight plan for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday."
• Batch wherever possible. "Group your appointments, errands and obligations to masterfully maximize time. Maybe this morning you could have sat and played with your kid. But you had one appointment, which killed the entire morning. If you batch these things, you can leave yourself large blocks of downtime for fun, family or yourself."
Her favorite paperwork organizing ideas
• Keep paper where you refer to it. "If you tend to make calls and fill out forms in the kitchen, that's where you should store your paperwork. Look to where piles are and create a home information center. It's where you want to work—go with your natural habits."
• Have a simple system. "Designate a file box, file drawer or hefty accordion file for papers, depending on the volume. Then create a color-coding system, which makes filing clear and fun. Color communicates more quickly than words do! For example, use green for financial documents, blue for vital documents, orange for fun activities. You can also separate adult files and kid files—just use a different color family. For example, Max info can be in fluorescent."
Ways to avoid clutter/being featured on Hoarders
• Make a place for everything. "Busy parents often don't have a core system, so putting things away isn't easy. You want to go through each room and make sure there's a place for everything, so maintenance is a breeze. That means things are accessible and well labeled and what's in that room is what you use. No matter how messy the room gets or chaotic the day, cleanup will take no longer than five minutes, tops. It takes a day to a day and a half per room to organize a room, but it's worth the time investment."
• Set up stuff for its next use. "Before you leave a room, set everything back in its spot. So when you come in, there's the Scotch tape!"
• Label, label, label. "Parents think they have to nag or force kids to clean up. But kids love order. In kindergarten, the teacher just announces it's clean up time, and the children go to it. Parents should shift their mindset—don't think of cleanup as punishment. The world's chaotic enough for kids. Make sure things are labeled with pictures if a child doesn't read, and have them participate. It's something any child can do, and makes them feel like they're participating and contributing. It's also grounding; the more chaotic our world gets, the more we gravitate toward rearranging our bookshelves!"
How to get more me-time
• Plan to recharge daily. "Moms like to joke that we need a two-month vacation. But we wouldn't need it if we just gave ourselves daily recharge moments. Have a short list of things that quickly restore you, rejuvenate you and recharge you in the most efficient way possible. Whatever it is—going for a drive, taking a bath, calling a friend. It's like a cell phone that you need to recharge every day. Without it, you're not recharging the battery—and you're not as good, as patient, as smart or as accurate. Think about this: You lose two to three hours a day of inefficiency when you're operating on exhaustion.
• Plan to recharge weekly, too. "This involves a larger amount of time, but recharges you like nobody's business! Make a list of stuff to do, then take that time for yourself.