The organized teacher: three teachers offer advice

As we approach the new school year, organizing gets imperative, not just for families (books, clothes, schedules, and extracurricular activities) but also for teachers. When I was a child, I never once thought about all the work that goes into being ready for September and the start of school. Teachers had two months off, just like I did and they came back to class the same day I did.

But we all know that’s not at all true. As with any project, being well organized before starting can mean the difference between success and disaster and it’s the same for teachers starting a new school year.

How do teachers organize themselves? Is it any different from any other job?

I interviewed three different head teachers, one from Canada, one from the U.K. and one from the U.S.A. And no, being an organized teacher is no different than working in any other service industry.

From what these three teachers told me, there are three areas of organization that teachers need to consider:

  • Use of space – the classroom, paper storage, seating plans, and so on.
  • Personal preparedness – finding the right balance of planning but not over-planning, of learning new things but not obsessing, of using planners versus “winging it”.
  • The needs of students – who they are, what mix of personalities, genders, ages, and abilities they have, how the students did the previous year, and what needs to be reviewed or re-taught.

Use of space

Before starting the school year, our U.K. teacher suggests that together the teachers at a school should:

check and clear the school of any accrued mess to ensure the school feels tidy and organised before we open the door – if the school is tidy, the children are likely to keep it tidy.

The Canadian teacher reminds teachers to:

Throw things out! Teachers cling to paper and stuff! Purge! Keep a file on the computer and get rid of everything else.

Finally, the U.K. teacher also reminds us that daily maintenance keeps papers from overwhelming us:

Tidy each day! Tidy the classroom so it’s prepped for the next day. File away paper and keep your mind tidy and on the job at hand.

Personal preparedness

For all three teachers, planning is imperative, but they all also insist that over-planning is paralyzing and counter-productive.

Our U.S. teacher has this new school year routine:

I like to take a glimpse at the curriculum for the year and see the material that will be covered. Based on the level, I like to prepare a short review at the beginning of the school year, based on the previous material covered to help them ease into the new school year.

The Canadian does something similar:

Depending on what I’m teaching I generally plan out the course, first the big stuff, then break that down. If its a course I’ve taught before, I think about what worked well, what worked OK, and what didn’t work at all. I also like to to change things up (so I don’t get bored) If I have read/learned something new, I think of ways to incorporate it.

An the U.K. teacher suggests getting others involved:

My advice is to prioritise what needs to be done and park desirables until you have a clear plan. Use the human resources around you. People generally want to be involved and including them in the thinking and the journey will help in organisation. They might even come up with a better idea. Talking is the key!

When it comes to over-planning, the Canadian teacher believe that teachers should be careful not to waste too much time. “Sometimes things go off course so be prepared for that. Also lots of teachers waste time with detailed busy work, creating forms, binders, labels, etc. that make more work for no reason.”

The U.K. teachers reminds us as well that all too often “teachers spend too much time prepping, planning before they really know the class. It’s great to be prepared but there’s no point teaching children what they already know. Plan the first few lessons and then asses what’s needed.”

The Canadian teacher offers a good list of basic planning activities:

  • Familiarize yourself with the course outlines, expectations, and assessments.
  • Use a calendar for unit plans and due dates.
  • Colour code courses (it helps to visualize).
  • Make a note of important due dates like when report card marks are due (you would be surprised how many people are caught off guard).
  • Don’t take on too many things too fast. It’s really easy to get overwhelmed.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

The needs of students

Our U.S. teacher really focused on this area, as did the U.K. teacher. They both insist on getting to know the students and working with the rest of the school’s staff to set individual learning targets where possible before diving into too much organizing. The U.S. teacher will even “go over class lists and see what my classes look like: student numbers, total class size, and gender. This helps me for organizing the class and seating charts.”

She also talks about the need to establish rules the first day of class.

Do not assume they just know how to act. All teachers are different and have different levels of what they will tolerate so communication between teacher and students is important.

Finally, she makes what I believe is the most important point that teachers need to remember:

What is important is to establish is an atmosphere of mutual respect where students feel comfortable in expressing themselves in class amongst their peers and with the educator. Teachers need to remember we are not there to make friends; we are there to educate and help in the students’ growth in the content and be good citizens as well.

For those readers who are teachers, does this advice sound familiar? Is there anything you would add? And for those who aren’t teachers, how might the ideas offered by these teachers apply in your job?

Changing habits painlessly: a Bullet Journal experiment

A couple of weeks ago I stated my intention of using a Bullet Journal to improve not just my work productivity but to keep me on track with all the events I have throughout the year in my personal life.

Thank you to all of you who took the time to comment and to encourage me. The two most common suggestions were to customize and to take care not to get sucked into all the extras, and that advice has been duly noted and absorbed.

Fortunately I am a lazy person and my artistic interests lie in textiles not scrapbooking, so I won’t get drawn into forums or into making my journal pretty. My goal for using the Bullet Journal is to make sure that I use my time productively at work (so as to avoid chaos) and to not get into trouble at home by forgetting to plan special moments in our lives (something that happens quite often given my head-in-the-clouds personality). If at any point I find using a Bullet Journal takes more time than any of my other productivity systems in the past, out the window it will go.

As for customizing the system, I’ve already done that. According to the website, I was “supposed to” set up a Future Planning section where events and tasks for more than the current month and then a Monthly Calendar/To Do List at the beginning of each month.

This didn’t work for me. Given the nature of my job, and the way I tend to leave personal tasks to the last minute, I need to have the Monthly Calendars/To Do Lists laid out from the start. The Future Planning section will likely get ignored or will be used to put general topics only. And maybe next year it will disappear altogether. Time and use will tell.

I can see the benefit of using a Bullet Journal already, and I haven’t even started using the day-to-day lists (I’m waiting until after my vacation to get started on those). As I’ve repeatedly said, I’m horrible at remembering to plan for anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, and so on. It’s like they suddenly jump out at me out of nowhere, like October 8th (our wedding anniversary) happens at some random point in the year and I never know exactly when it will show up.

By just setting up the Monthly Calendars and giving myself a full page beside each calendar for the To Do Lists, I’ve already started to think about special events that are going to happen between now and next August and have even started planning them.

For example, in 2018 the Eurovision Song Contest will be happening in Lisbon (and will likely never be so close or so affordable in many years again). This is a very popular event and will not just sell out quickly, but Lisbon itself will fill up and soon there will be no place to stay. Taking past habits into account, my normal mode of acting on this desire to go would be to wait until April 2018 to start organizing everything, or to wait until my husband brought up the topic. However, by marking the date in the Monthly Calendar and in the Future Planning section of the journal, I’ve made myself doubly aware of the need to plan. May 2018 is not really that far away. I added a note in the November section of the Future Planning to say that we need to start organizing the trip by then or it’s not going to happen.

That’s one habit changed, without any fuss or struggle. Yay me!

I can’t wait to see how else using the Bullet Journal will bring about changes in habits and productivity.

For those of you who do use Bullet Journals, how has the system changed things for you?

How to be a good host: planning for house guests

We love to have people stay with us. In my case, it’s in my blood. My parents ran a B&B for years, not because they needed the money, but because they loved meeting new people and taking care of them (I was going to say “showing them a good time” but it wasn’t that sort of B&B).

However, being a great host requires a lot of planning, thought, and preparation if you and your guests are going to have a good time and not end up stressed out by the end of the visit.

There’s a great article over on The Kitchn about how to be a good host and we do quite a few of the things listed there, but I thought I’d put down exactly what we do to make our friends and family feel that staying with us is like going to a 5-star resort, and yet without exhausting ourselves.

We plan meals in advance

If people have full and satisfied tummies, they are much happier and more relaxed. We always discuss options and give our expected guests a few (but not too many) choices. Eat in or dine out? Any food allergies or preferences? We also know most of our guests well, so can plan around their favourite foods (for example, one friend always has sushi and strawberry mojitos waiting for her when she comes over).

We cook as much as we can before guests arrive

Our menus often center around food that can be prepared days (or at least hours) beforehand, giving us the freedom to be spend time with our guests. And if the food is last-minute only, we take turns playing host while the other busies himself in the kitchen.

A special breakfast is essential

There’s a reason B&Bs and breakfast buffets at hotels are so popular — nothing says vacation like taking time to sit and chat while eating a variety of sweet and savoury dishes and sipping at a cappuccino. As I said above, happy tummies equal happy guests. Unless your day starts with a tight schedule, don’t rush through breakfast. And if you do have to get going without that relaxing café con leche, how about take some previously prepared muffins along for the ride?

We come up with a list of possible excursions

There’s nothing worse than getting a bunch of people together and then saying “so what do you want to do?” No one knows, ever. No one wants to be the pushy one. No one wants to be the one to decide.

When we have guests, we either tell them the plan (so many people on holiday love not having to think), or we give them a list of (limited) options to choose from. By thinking of possible outings before guests arrive, no one ends up sitting on the sofa staring at the ceiling wondering why they came to visit you anyway.

A shower-sergeant is imperative

Early July there were six of us in our one-bathroom apartment in La Rioja. We had a winery visit at noon and we finished our slow-breakfast at 10:30. Six people needed to shower, do their hair and get ready to leave for 11:45. If we hadn’t chivvied them along, we would never have left. It’s quite amusing to see even the most sensitive and anger-prone people jump up and dash into the bathroom without complaint when they hear “Next!” shouted out in our best “parent-voice.”

It’s all about the details

This is something I’ve learned from my husband. Turn your guests’ stay into something luxurious and extraordinary by:

  • Giving each guest a little kit of amenities from those that you’ve collected from your own hotel stays.
  • Having a guestbook where you paste a Polaroid onto the page and get them to write something about their visit.
  • Showing them something special about your town/city that someone unfamiliar with the place would never see.
  • Playing a silly party game like musical chairs or pin the tail on the donkey. Even the most serious adult will unwind and end up fighting for that last chair, believe me.

Let people help

In the past, whenever guests offered a hand, I always used to say no. They were guests and shouldn’t have to raise a finger. And yet, when I’m a guest in a friend’s house, if I don’t help out I feel selfish and uncomfortable. So, I’ve started saying “Yes, of course you can help, thanks!” Whether it’s cutting up some vegetables, helping me make the beds, or handing me clothespins while I hang up the beach towels, it deepens the bond between us and gives our hands something to do while we chat and catch up on each other’s lives.

Give people time to do nothing

This last point is the hardest one for us to have learned. We tend to believe that if our guests are sitting on the sofa playing with their mobiles, more or less in their own little worlds, it’s because we aren’t doing our jobs as hosts. But that’s not true, at all. Everyone needs to disconnect from interacting with each other. It’s exhausting being “on” all the time. And we’ve learned that this time is key for us as well. When we see that people are tuning out, we retire to the bedroom and take a well-needed nap, or slip into the kitchen to prepare a snack or some part of the next meal.

How about you? What do you do to make your guests’ stay memorable? Or what have you liked that someone else has done?

Post-vacation planning

Returning from holidays is always stressful, isn’t it?

Catching up with what you’ve missed, dealing with the dozens (or hundreds!) of emails, getting back into the rhythm of a routine, expectations from bosses and coworkers, the need to deal with employees who’ve gotten used to you not being around.

Sound familiar?

It almost makes you not want to go away on vacation.

It doesn’t have to be like that, however.

There’s a trick to getting ready for vacation that most of us miss. In planning our absence, we look at that last day before holidays as our objective: get everything organized so that people can cope without when we are gone. When we reach that day, we let out a big sigh and switch into relaxation mode blocking out the horrid reality of that eventual return to the office.

What if we change our focus a bit? Instead of focusing on the last day before our holidays, we should look at the first week we get back.

Take the last few days before you go away to get everything organized for your return. Consider how you are going to handle each of the following items:

  • How much time will you need to set aside each day to catch up on email and other communications? Block out that time now.
  • Who will you need to meet with to find out what has moved forward (or not)? Schedule those meetings before you leave.
  • What routines do you need to get back into? Slide into them slowly, adding one routine a day (gym, preparing lunches, etc…). If you have the chance, how about reintroducing them a few days before you start up at work again?

This year, I didn’t quite get everything planned before my last day (last Monday), so I took a few hours (rather randomly) in my first couple of days free to tie up a few loose ends and to better plan my return. Yes, it ate into my holiday a bit, but I’d much rather lose a few hours at the beginning of my time off so that I can thoroughly enjoy the rest of it and not return to work to chaos and stress.

Vacations are to relax and recharge. By planning your return, you can preserve all the tranquility you’ve created for yourself (in fact I think vacation planners should come with a post-vacation planning section). As an added bonus, by thinking beyond your last day and focusing on your first week back, you don’t need to worry about anything while you are gone. You can truly go on holiday, disconnecting from everything at work, even forgetting altogether that it exists.

Bullet Journals: an experiment in productivity

As I head into my vacations, I’m getting myself organized for the new year and for me, that starts in September. I would like to find ways to avoid both the organized disorganization and crisis-inspired chaos that always kills my best intentions to stay on top of my daily tasks and move my various pet projects forward.

Recently, a reader asked about bullet journals, so I investigated the Bullet Journal website created by the digital product designer Ryder Carroll. After poking around, I decided that I’m going to give this system a try. It’s going to be a challenge for me because there seems to be lots of parts to it and various stages. However, I’m going to go in with a good attitude.

First off, I will set myself up on the system before I go away on holiday so that I know exactly what I need to do the day I get back in order to hit the ground running.

My first task is to choose myself a notebook. At work, we have spiral-bound notebooks that have been branded with the company’s image, but I don’t think I will use one of those. The Bullet Journal website also sells their own book, but it’s a bit too expensive for me. Instead, I think I will go for my favorite writing notebook, the Moleskine Journal. It’s a good size, opens flat on the desktop well, and is about the same size as my iPad so can go into the iPad’s slipcover for easy transport.

While it might take me a while to get used to the various ways bullet points are expressed through rapid logging (there seem to be so many!), I rather like the idea of putting an ever-growing index at the beginning of the journal. Always in the past, I’ve made to-do lists and then once I’ve crossed off or migrated the task, I’ve forgotten about it, making it a challenge to remember the repetitive tasks that I do every year, every month, or even every week. By having an index that I can refer to at a glance, I’ll be able to remind myself of what sorts of things I need to be thinking about.

(On a side note, it has suddenly occurred to me that I should probably include personal topics in this journal as I’m notorious for forgetting things and thus leave organizing family events to the last minute, or not at all.)

I also like the next section of a monthly calendar with events to record (before and after) as well as a page for tasks in the month. This section will be extremely useful next July when I am organizing the 2018-2019 year. It does, however, take up a lot of space in the notebook, making me wonder if perhaps I’ve chosen a book with not enough pages.

Then again, when reading about the daily task lists, I won’t be using a full page each day. So as to not waste paper, each day’s list is created the night before, meaning I won’t need over three hundred pages to cover the whole year.

The notebook is now set up and ready to use. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I fear that it’s going to take some dedication to stick to the system, but in having organized the notebook, I can already see how it is going to help me. And most surprisingly, I believe it’s going to be more helpful in my personal life than at work.

I’ll let you all know how it goes. Have any of you had a good or bad experience using the Bullet Journal system?

Birthdays and gift-giving

My birthday is coming up and as always I’m getting asked what I want and as always, I don’t really know what to say. I have everything I need and most things that I want. Well, I never have a enough books, but since I read books via my Kindle, they aren’t an easy gift to give me.

I used to tell people that I wanted experiences. Those gift boxes for hotels or dinners or days at the spa, but then I almost always ended up using them at the last minute and only because they were about to expire.

A recent article in MoneySense magazine talks about the new middle class and how the younger generation wants gift cards so that they can buy themselves exactly what they want, when they want it. Personally, I’m against gift cards because they are impersonal and from my point of view, it means that the gift-card giver has to make very little effort to find a gift that fits with the person receiving the gift.

In fact, between receiving a gift card and not receiving a gift at all, I’d choose the latter. And don’t get me started on buying an acre of rain forest, adopting a wild animal or naming a star. If you want to make a donation to something, make the donation; don’t jazz it up saying that it’s a gift.

My mother had a good rule for birthday gifts: something the person would like but would never buy for themselves.

For example, for me that would be something like a virtual keyboard (I’m a bit of a tech geek) or a session in a tranquility tank (the movie Altered States and the show Fringe had a big impact on me). And, I’ll never say no to shoes or to fun kitchen tools (these days I’m dying for a decent marble rolling pin).

Speaking of the last category, one year a then-boyfriend bought me a rice cooker and I was thrilled! Friends were horrified and one even said that a rice cooker as a birthday present would be grounds for divorce in her house. But that’s what’s so amazing about really considering the person receiving the gift. What you might consider a relationship ender, for another person, might be the best, most awesome thing in the whole wide world!

How do you buy gifts? Are they obligations that you grab whatever comes to mind? Do you try to match the gift to the personality, maybe hoping to surprise the person? Or do you pick up something from a very specific list the person has provided you with?

Public clutter: whose responsibility is it?

Two weeks ago my husband and I went out for dinner and a movie with friends, young friends, so we ended up going to Burger King. The place was full of teenagers and apart from the incredible amount of noise they produced, they also produced a horrifying amount of garbage. Half-eaten food on the floor stepped on and smeared across the tiles, drinks spilt across the table, and bags and wrappers strewn everywhere.

When they finished, they got up and walked away.

Then last week we went to Pamplona for its famous festival, and although it’s more known for running with the bulls, the festival itself is really an opportunity to drink obscene amounts of alcohol in public and let loose. The broken plastic cups, plastic bags and bottles of all sorts made walking a challenge and each morning the city’s garbage crews spent hours and hours sweeping up the plastics disaster.

Often, when people are asked why they care so little about public clutter like this, they answer “that’s why the city hires street sweepers” as if they have no responsibility in maintaining the streets litter-free.

I was reminded of a photo I saw once posted online by Canada’s environmental fighter David Suzuki. The photo showed the sea of plastic that was left in a public park after a fundraising concert for the environment. The anti-consumerist website Make Wealth History talks about this problem providing details about the garbage collected one year after the supposedly environmental-friendly Glastonbury Festival:

Glastonbury picked up 6,500 sleeping bags, 5,500 tents, 3,500 airbeds, 2,200 chairs, 950 rolled mats and 400 gazebos.

Fortunately, most of that material could be donated to refugee sites, but what about the rest of the garbage? If attendees left all this behind, how much plastic did they not bother taking away with them?

All of this got me thinking. Whose responsibility is public clutter? Those of you who are parents, what do you do to ensure that your children clutter the world as little as possible?

Who are you?

That’s the question the Caterpillar asks Alice and she is unsure what to say. In a very short time from the moment she falls down the rabbit hole Alice has been many things: tall, small, assertive, passive, one of many animals, an outsider in an unfamiliar world.

On the Internet, you can find any number of personality quizzes, and if you dig a little bit, you can find a whole bunch of quizzes related to organization and clutter. Are you a collector? Are you a minimalist? A visual person? A logical person?

Forget the quizzes. The answer to the Caterpillar’s question is:

You are you.

You can be organized, disorganized, visual, logical, kinetic, frenetic, calm, and overwhelmed.

When I worked one-on-one with my organizing clients, I never tried to pigeon-hole them. I took them at face-value with the situation they were dealing with at the moment. People are never the same at any point. Over a bridge in Toronto, there’s a paraphrased quote by the Greek philosopher Heraclitus: “This river I step in is not the river I stand in.” Who we are changes constantly because our circumstances change constantly. If we are tired or stressed we aren’t going to be able to organize ourselves well (unless of course, you are one of those who deals with stress by organizing).

Recently, Unclutterer re-posted an article by Erin Doland from back in 2007 in which she asked What causes clutter in your life? In the list of circumstances she includes, nothing is fixed — each point can change, and depending on how much of one or the other is affecting you, your ability to get and stay organized will change.

Instead of boxing yourself into a corner with the question “Who am I?” ask yourself “Who am I at this moment?”

If the Caterpillar had asked Alice that question, she wouldn’t have had such a tough time answering him.

When chaos is king

Last week, I wrote about organized chaos and how to work around it. Recently, however, my boss and I were discussing how we always seem to be putting out fires and going from one challenge to another. No matter what we do, we always feel disorganized. We just never have the time to move projects forward or plan events in advance or do anything that an organized successful business should do.

And yet we are an organized successful business.

Every year we grow. We have a reputation of being one of the city’s best companies in the sector to work in. And the ratio of happy to complaining clients is overwhelmingly positive. So, we are doing something right, but despite all the processes and automated solutions we have implemented, we just never seem to have time to do more.

It’s not that we are disorganized. In fact, we are much more organized than most other businesses in our sector. There are just so many last minute issues to resolve that it feels we move forward only by chance.

In looking for a solution to this problem, I found a great article about the impact of being disorganized at work. Unfortunately, we do every single one of these best practices and we still operate in last-minute chaos. Here are some of the good suggestions the article includes:

Time block and leave space for last minute issues: We do that but when a “challenge” absorbs half the day, the rest of the day gets eaten up by daily tasks.

Use task lists: I actually have blocked out all the major and most of the minor tasks that have to happen each year, and yet I miss deadlines all the time and have to scramble to catch up.

Reschedule tasks when you don’t get them done in the assigned block: We also do this, but at some point the task needs to be completed and can’t be rescheduled anymore, which means delaying and rescheduling other tasks.

Plan the whole week on Monday: However, on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, three different crises arise and the nothing gets accomplished.

Hold yourself accountable: We are all accountable to each other at the office but are all in the same challenge-to-challenge mode.

Develop processes for the things that need to be done regularly: I am the king of processes and without them nothing would happen ever. We continue to be successful despite the chaos because of the many processes that have been implemented

The article has more points, but as you can see, the daily challenges seem impossible to conquer. This year we even added a new position to deal with a lot of the crises and yet they still occupy too much time in our calendars.

I don’t yet have a solution and to be honest, I think if I did, I’d become a millionaire because this is a problem that most businesses, especially small service-based ones, face. Small companies can’t throw staff at problems the way large ones can.

There are steps we can and will take to minimize the problem, but sometimes you just have to accept that chaos and disorganization are part of your reality and you have to learn to work around both of them.

What do you do when it seems that due to circumstances beyond your control chaos and disorganization do their best to keep you from achieving your goals?

Is it possible to plan for disorganization?

At work we are busy organizing the new year, which for us starts in September. Years ago, we waited until after holidays in August to start planning and organizing, but that left us with only three weeks before we had to launch.

Then slowly, we’ve been convincing clients to make their reservations earlier, first in July, then June and now we start in May. And it’s been incredibly successful! Before, clients saw as something they would fit into their schedule once everything else was organized. Now, we are a priority and if they haven’t booked by June, they reply with apologies. By extending the amount of time dedicated to the task of bookings, we removed the chaos and created calm and orderliness.

There are some things, however, that are impossible to organize early. For example, exact staff schedules. Each year until about a week before the launch mid-September, I cannot confirm anything for staff. They know how many hours they are going to have and we know when they cannot work. As much as I have tried over the past few years to pin staff schedules down in July, I always get back from holidays at the end of August and I have to make at least three changes per staff member. These changes invariably cause a lot of friction, whereas staff are quite willing to accept not knowing until the last minute, so I put up with the uncertainty.

Another thing we cannot organize too far in advance is product ordering. We don’t like to have extra stock because in the end it’s throwing money away on our part, but until we know exactly how many clients we have for the annual launch, we cannot place the orders. This causes chaos and some clients don’t have the materials they need right at the start, but knowing that this chaos will happen, we are able to plan with it in mind and have backup plans ready. Plus, we have discovered that if everything else under our control is well organized and executed, these inevitable chaotic moments don’t have a domino effect.

The Huffington Post has a great article explaining the concept of organized chaos and it’s well worth the read. The hotel reservation site Booking.com has turned organized chaos into a positive force that actually propels the business forward. Not surprisingly, one of the business experts of the millennium, Jim Collins, has a whole book, Great by Choice, devoted to thriving despite (or because of?) chaos.

Can you think of examples of organized chaos in your life? How do you keep it from devolving into chaos pure and simple? Or how do you turn it to your advantage?

How good are you at letting others help you?

I’m not. Not at all, in fact. Whenever someone offers to help me with anything, my immediate reaction is, “No, I can do it!” As if I were a five year old in front of an adult who questions my ability to do something.

It’s a terrible affliction this need to be so independent. And to be quite honest, it’s rather selfish on my part, too.

In an article in Psychology Today, the author talks about how letting others help you is a gift you give them. Most of us feel the desire to help whenever loved ones need it and helping them makes us feel better.

Just last night a friend was saying how her vacation plans fell through because of a mix-up with the online vacation reseller. We automatically offered our place in La Rioja – at least they would be able to get away from home for a week and they both love wine and sun. While it’s not the 5-star hotel they had hoped for, at least it’s a change of pace and scenery.

She said she couldn’t possibly and I countered with, “If the roles were reversed, would you offer us your place?” When she said, “Of course!” half-offended that I would imply otherwise, she realized how incongruent she was being and added, “Fine, I’ll think about it.”

When it comes to clutter, disorganization, or a lack to time deal with all of your responsibilities, can you ask for help, or are you like my friend who is horrified at imposing on others?

If you are like my friend (and to be honest, like me) and don’t like asking for help, these five tips from the “Savvy Psychologist” Ellen Hendrikson, PhD, may just help you:

  1. I don’t want to be a burden. As I’ve said already, people love to help. To get over this feeling, try asking for something small and very specific. Ask your best friend over and say, “Can you help me go through my closet? I want to get rid of some clothes, and I need an objective eye.” (Offering wine while you do it might help soothe your feelings of imposing.)
  2. I can’t admit that I need help. There’s nothing wrong with needing help. Being a human being means being part of a community, and in communities, people help each other. Try depersonalizing the problem. Instead of saying, “I can’t get the bathroom cabinets under control.” say, “The bathroom cabinets are about to explode (and it has nothing to do with me as a person; it’s external to who I am).”
  3. I don’t want to feel indebted. Helping isn’t a barter system. People don’t help in order to be able to call in the favour later (at least people with a healthy understanding of relationships don’t). Try feeling gratitude. Say, “Thank you, I really appreciate this.” No need to offer reciprocal help in that moment. No one is going to present you with a bill (unless you’ve hired yourself a Professional Organizer, of course).
  4. I can’t show my weakness. This is my issue. I’m independent. I can do it! I don’t need anyone! Whenever I find myself acting like this I give myself a good shake and say, “Oh, please, you’re not a toddler and you’re not some macho alpha who always has to be strong. No one is always strong.” Or, you can take this as an opportunity to learn something new, especially if you consult with an expert (again, perhaps a Professional Organizer).
  5. I might get rejected. People have their own situations to deal with and this might not be the right moment for them to help you. Don’t take it as rejection of you or your problems. Thank them anyway and find someone else to ask. Not everyone is going to be too busy to help. And if they are, as I’ve repeated several times now, you can always turn to professionals.

If you have trouble asking for help, which one (or ones) of these five reactions do you feel when considering asking for help? Do you think the tips are good ones for getting over each reaction? Have others worked for you?

And if you want a book to help you ask for help, why not check out Kickstarter-star Amanda Palmer’s book, The Art of Asking?

When is it all right to be disorganized?

Earlier this week I woke up sick. My stomach was doing acrobatics while simultaneously in a knot. I had no appetite and even the idea of sipping tea made me gag. Luckily, I never did end up in the bathroom, but I did sleep for two days straight.

Fortunately, I have a husband who wasn’t working and so he took care of me. But what if you’re sick at home alone (either because you live alone or because everyone else is out of the house for whatever reason)?

I know what you should do: accept that you’re sick and you aren’t going to be able to maintain any level of organization at home. Use the energy you have to take care of yourself and let the tissues, the dishes, and the clothes collect. It’s okay to let it go for a short while.

An Apartment Therapy post back in 2012 puts it well:

No, I’m just sick, this is highly temporary, and it will all go back to normal in a couple of days. There’s no need to hold yourself to your normal housekeeping standards — be gentle on yourself.

That, for me, is the trick to getting better quickly. Forget all the responsibilities you can, delegate whenever possible to coworkers, family members and if possible friends, then turn inward and focus 100% on yourself.

Learn to let go: if you spend all your energy fighting how sick you are, you won’t have any energy left to get better. Accept it and relax. Learn to stare at the ceiling without any guilt.

See it as a chance to catch up on sleep: I don’t know about you, but with all the things I have to do and the thoughts running around in my head every day all day, I never seem to get enough sleep. In being sick, I found the silver lining and have caught up on all my missed sleep. And if you can’t sleep during the day because of light coming into the room, try a sleep mask, but get one that can be heated or cooled to refresh or relax you at the same time.

Don’t go back to your regular routine too soon: Unfortunately not everyone can take time off work when sick, but if you have a job that allows for decent recovery time, take it. How many times have you gone back to work too soon and ended up prolonging your illness? (Or gifting it to unappreciative coworkers?)

Being organized and living an organized life is not a 24/7 activity. We don’t have to be organized all the time. It’s okay to let it slide every once in a while.

Apart from being sick (or taking care of sick family members), when else do you think it’s okay to let the household organization slip?