Last week I got home from five days away and promptly had a total freakout over the disorganized state of my house, To Do's, pantry, email, closet, life. Every single one of these items had been festering for long before I took the trip, but coming home to it (and gaining a few hours each day now that school has started) gave me a fresh perspective on all that I had let slip. Which was a lot. A lot had slipped. Our life is a regular slip-n-slide.
Now let me be clear about a few things. First of all, I am not a perfectionist. My house never looks perfect and my email is never clear and my makeup is usually smudged. I am fine with all of these things to a point. I think watching a family movie is more important than doing the dishes. I go on regular email returning frenzies where every note starts with "sorry for my delayed response." Secondly, I have help with my kids and cleaning, and an exceptionally hands-on husband. So I do not expect our life to be pristine, nor do I have to face the task of running it all by myself.
Still, if our family was a ship to be steered, I am at the helm. And I've been, shall we say, coasting for awhile. I've been winging it, hoping for the best, juggling balls that too often crash. So when I quit turning a blind eye to the piles of stuff that have (literally) been stacked in corners of the house for months, and when I finally found an old To Do list with tasks still not accomplished, and when I have emails in my inbox from 2011 and pieces of paper in my To File folder from two years ago, well, I panicked. I felt overwhelmed. My ostrich head came out of the ground and squawked.
I spent a whole day researching organizing tools (when I could have simply started organizing) and I even purchased a few things and signed up for a few apps to make this gigantic task of pulling in our life reins easier. Then I caught a fierce cold and was forced in my bed for two days.
After my mini-meltdown, I decided, quite radically, NOT to implement all the things I'd researched in my frenzy. Instead I needed to get back to the basics of what has always worked for me in the past. Because it really doesn't matter what system you use, as long as you actually use it. The best way to do things is the way that you'll actually do them.
But, lest my research go to waste, here are a few things that you might want to know about if you're in a similar situation:
I've used the same moleskine weekly planner since 2005. I like it because it's the perfect size to throw in my purse, it has a ribbon marker so I'm never flipping around, and each spread has the weekdays on one page and a full page on the right of simple lines. This works best for me because I usually just have one large To Do list for the whole week.
Other planners that come highly recommended:
Erin Condren planners. Several of my friends use and swear by the Erin Condren planners. I like how all-inclusive they are, but I really don't actually need all those bells and whistles. I do love how you can make them super detailed or super basic, and the custom covers and inserts are nice, too.
Whitney English Day Designer. I've met Whitney English in person several times now (she's a fellow Okie! and one of my favorite Instagrammers) and I love what she's doing with her designer. I especially love the gratitude section.
The Art of Simple's daily docket system looks amazing. I wish it was a whole planner! In fact, I loved the layout so much, I briefly considered printing out a ton of them and just making my own book. Alas, I decided that wasn't the real solution to my problem. I did download the daily docket, however, and think that this is a really fantastic tool to use when you're particularly overwhelmed. Until I'm out of the trenches, I might just use this for a few days to pull focus.
(The 3 Most Important things at the top, plus the daily inspiration, space for meal planning, and check list for water consumption...I cannot say enough about how much I appreciate these pages.)
You can find all of the Art of Simple's downloads (with simplified pages and other freebies) here.
APPROACHES to LIST MAKING
I read David Allen's Getting Things Done over a year ago. I'm more excited to read about getting things done than I am about actually getting things done. It's like watching workout videos while horizontal on the couch.
I'll be honest that the book was a little tiny bit confusing for me (I got lost in a bit of the process), but there were several life changing take aways from the GTD that I have started using. "If it takes less than 2 minutes, do that task right now instead of writing it on a list" has been a good one. Also collecting all of your To Do's into ONE central place and writing them all down, holding nothing in your head. But most importantly, creating file folders for everything. Well, not everything. But lots of things. I can't even begin to explain that system here in this paragraph, but I will say that this way of filing things has reduced clutter and emptied my brain.
Another thing that kept popping up on various websites was this idea of bullet journaling. I had no idea this was a thing. Here's a great intro video (shared by a reader on the HH facebook page), and while it initially had me intrigued, I realized that my brain didn't work this way. But it did inspire me to start making little checkboxes or bullets in my planner, to deliniate tasks from notes, and even that tiny little thing has made a difference in how I look at the page.
Evernote is still what I use for all my various lists. I have tons of lists and corralling them into any sort of a system was a disaster until I started using Evernote religiously. The key is to have lots of notebooks (which function like folders). Don't be scared of creating lots of them. I have lots of notebooks and then put them into stacks based on their category. So I have a food stack, but even within that I have notebooks for recipes I want to try, good restaurants, recipes I've tried that were hits, etc.
Keeping everything in Evernote (stuff for the house, blog, kids, cooking, projects, etc.) that syncs from every device has cut down on all the stuff I used to need. I used to use binders and pads of paper and all kinds of things, but between my moleskine weekly planner and my phone, I'm good.
I'm the rare bird who uses both the physical planner and the online calendar. That seems like overkill, but they work differently for me. My digital calendar (I stick with iCal, even though I know people are very loyal to Google Calendar) is only really used for the month-at-a-glance version, and also as my blog editorial calendar. I can look quickly and see when we're traveling, for instance, or how often I've posted on a certain subject. Daily tasks and To Dos live in the physical calendar.
Several people mentioned the Cozi app to me, and I can definitely see the appeal, especially if you were syncing with several family members. It's simple and pretty, has lots of options, and multiple people can all be contributing to one calendar. My family doesn't work that way (I'm the sole keeper of all things schedule), so flying solo I'm fine with iCal for now.
The Plan to Eat app was another one that really tempted me. It lets you meal plan with your actual recipes and creates a shopping list for you, etc. This is so WOW. But I'm only just now getting into meal planning (and so far I love that it eliminates the 5pm stress on what is for dinner), so I didn't want to wade into Plan to Eat just yet. I may definitely give it another shot in a few months.
So, to recap, here is how I'm moving forward with all the systems I already had in place (but now I'm actually doing them):
Now is the time to quit talking about it and actually organize the freakin' house. Isn't this the year of Do the Work? I'm doing it. Finally. Spent several hours on it yesterday with many more hours on it in the future. This is just to get to manageable. Then we'll see where we are. Because the #1 secret is not to organize, but to stay organized.
Wish me luck, I'm going in.
*photo by electrictuesday via flickr
*photo by Nina via flickr