Friday, June 29, 2012

Genius ways to have a more organized, calm, happy life. Oh, yeah.

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. 


  1. Love this post!!!!!

    in my head i am the most organized human being in the world!!!!

    i just need to to actually get it out of my head and into reality!

    I totally agree with the paper planner! It's my life line! If's it's not written in the planner it does not exist!

    And I'm an advocate of recharge time!!! Even if you can quietly slip away to your room or the garden for just a few minutes, it helps!! Just to regroup, before you go back to the front lines!

  2. I have ADD & I am constantly trying to be organized - I get all these great ideas for how to keep things labeled & grouped in boxes or binders or folders - and it never, ever lasts even a week, no matter what system I try from various advice articles. I need intense behavior modification therapy & then a maid. Maybe then I'll be able to keep organized & sane.

  3. I throw stuff out a lot, that helps. I give stuff to the Salvation Army and try to keep things uncluttered! That refrigerator is amazing...I have a feeling, though, that it cost more than my house!

  4. I used to love my paper planner but found a brilliant calendar app that is compatible with my iphone and gmail. I cant put an appoinment on my iphone and it will be synced as soon as I've typed it... and it syncs seamlessly to my husbands calendar too and vice versa... I'm dyslexic and sometimes have trouble with sequencing and I can see my week unfolding and it's been great. it's called Calengoo I think...

    I love being organised, as it frees up your day and your time and when you have a special kiddy to look after you need to make the most of your time so you can make time for yourself.

    My favourite time saving tip is a "cook up", I cook up batches of complete meals and then components of meals.... like I'd cook say 20 bell peppers say once a month and then decant them in tiny portion sized pots and do the same for mushrooms, onions etc... then when we plan dinner I just pull out the pots of the compoents that I want as there are always common ones, and voila! you can have a super dinner thrown together in like 5 minutes plus how long your dinner takes to cook/bake. Or thaw them overnight if you are superduper organised, and then you can throw the dinner in the slow cooker:) It was my sanity tip when my eldest was a 32 weeker, and fed every 30-45 minutes for months!

  5. I meant i CAN put an appointment on my iphone/ipad and it's immediately synced... not CAN'T ROL (Roar of laughter!)

  6. Ellen- just downloaded the proqulo2go app on my nieces ipod touch for her.She is 12 and has CP.She is in a wheelchair.She has been communicating w/ PECS in a binder for years and scince she came to live with me i thought this app could take her to the next level. She loves it.Anyway saw a video of max on assitive he is soo cute.

  7. When I started suspecting that I have ADD (still no official diagnosis - my doctor hasn't followed up) I did a bunch of reading up on Julie's strategies because she was one of the organizers that a lot of people recommended. I couldn't get myself organized enough to fully maximize the planner of hers that I bought, but her strategies helped me put some good foundational habits in place that I'm constantly refining. I'll definitely be coming back to this post, as there are some in here I hadn't come across yet...thank you!

  8. Stephanie, in my head I am SO much more organized than in my reality, too!

    Felicia, I have gotten better about throwing and giving stuff away, but things often pile up and up and up before I can get around to sorting through it.

    Oatie's mom, I aspire to cook like that! I aspire to cook more PERIOD!

    Sara, that is awesome to hear, I think it will open her world.

    And Sarah, Julie is really genius at this stuff, I agree!


Thanks for sharing!