Organizing the recipes: choosing categories

Thanks to Neven Mrgan, I recently discovered the cookbook Made in India: Recipes From an Indian Family Kitchen and its three ways of organizing recipes.

  • Standard table of contents, with entries such as starters and snacks, vegetables, meat, fish, sides, breads, desserts, etc.
  • Standard index, with entries such as cauliflower and cinnamon, followed by the recipes using those ingredients
  • Alternative contents, with categories such as midweek meals (30 minutes or so), cooking in advance, party food, and low-fat.

This got me thinking about all the many ways you might want to categorize recipes, including:

  • By meal: breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack
  • By meal course or type of dish: appetizer, main course, soup, salad, dessert, etc.
  • By main ingredient: chicken, fish, eggs, etc.
  • By dietary restrictions: gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, nut-free, etc.
  • By holiday: Christmas, Lunar New Year, Passover, Thanksgiving, etc.
  • By preparation time: quick recipes vs. time-consuming ones
  • By status: untested vs. old favorites
  • By cooking method: outdoor grill, slow cooker, etc.
  • By source, such as your grandmother or Bon Appétit magazine
  • By part of the world outside of your own: Indian, Italian, Korean, Thai, etc.

And of course, you might want to subdivide these. Desserts might be subdivided into cakes, pies, etc. Indian recipes might be split by region within India. And you might want to know which recipes use a specific ingredient even if it isn’t the major one.

So how do you ensure you can find the recipes you want when they could be filed so many different ways? This is fairly easy if your recipes are stored on your computer, tablet, or smartphone — perhaps in an app such as Paprika or Evernote. Depending on the software you’re using, you can either add multiple tags or place the recipe into multiple categories. If you’re setting up your own categories or tags, it helps to consciously create a master list so you don’t wind up with unintended duplicates. Also, a master list can help ensure you don’t overlook a categorization you’re going to wish you had later.

Alternatively, your digital solution may just involve using the search function to find the recipes you want, such as the ones that use a specific ingredient that you happen to have on hand or all the gluten-free appetizers. Just be sure that each individual recipe includes the key words you’ll be using when you do your searches.

If you’re organizing in binders or recipe file boxes, though, you’ll need to choose a primary organizational scheme that serves you best, day to day. You can certainly combine two or more — for example, you may have one binder for untested recipes and one for those you know you like, with each binder having the same categories inside.

I concur with the contributor on the Chowhound website who wrote, in reply to a question about organizing recipes:

It really depends on how you think. I arranged my binder according to how I categorized each individual recipe in my head. For instance, my Chinese food section has all sorts of stuff that would otherwise cross several different categories (vegetable, main dish, pork, chicken, et al), but since I think of all those recipes as “Chinese”, then that’s where they go.

And for the secondary categories, you could decide to emulate the Made in India cookbook and create lists of recipes that fit into the secondary categories that are important to you. You could also make copies of a recipe page or card and file it in multiple places, but that can get cumbersome. For example, if you wanted to note something you changed when making a recipe, you’d need to note it in multiple places.

Finally, no matter how you categorize your recipes, you can always re-organize them if the categories you create don’t quite work for you. As with most organizing solutions, we often don’t get it exactly right on the first pass.

Book review: Unf*ck Your Habitat

Note: Some of you may take offense at the title of this book, in which case this is not the book for you. But if you’re fine with the title, you may enjoy the book and find it useful.

When people talk about their messy homes, they’re often talking about two related challenges: organizing and cleaning. Unf*ck Your Habitat by Rachel Hoffman deals with both of these as part of the ongoing process of creating a pleasant home.

Hoffman focuses on creating a “functional and livable home that you aren’t ashamed of or stressed out by, “not one of the “picture-perfect” homes you often see in magazines. And her advice applies to someone living in a dorm room or renting a room in someone else’s home, not just those with their own apartments or houses.

You won’t find any radically new organizing advice here, although the advice provided is good. Some examples:

  • We’re disorganized primarily because we have more stuff than storage. There are two solutions: less stuff or more storage. Less stuff is almost always the better option.
  • Your everyday items should live someplace where it’s just as easy to put them away as it is to leave them out.
  • When you’re getting rid of stuff, don’t make it someone else’s problem. … If something is broken, outdated, or no longer useful, you’re just passing the buck on ending its life cycle when you know good and well that it was time for it to get tossed or recycled.

Hoffman advocates doing your organizing and cleaning in a series of 20/10s, one or more per day, where a 20/10 is twenty minutes of work followed by a 10-minute mandatory break. But here’s something I really liked: She says that if 20/10 doesn’t seem right for you, go ahead and make it 45/15 or whatever works better. If you have energy limitations, she suggests that 5/15 may work better. And if your physical limitations mean that 5/rest-of-the-day is all you can handle, that’s okay, too.

Hoffman is a compassionate realist. She admits that cleaning is not fun and that “there’s no magic solution to the problem of disorganization.” She expects you might backslide into messy ways, because forming the new habits needed to keep your home in decent shape is hard. She writes, “The only way to really succeed is to not give up at the first setback (or the second or fifth or tenth), and to keep trying until it sticks.”

There’s a useful chapter on dealing with roommates, spouses, and significant others who don’t share your cleaning and organizing goals. And the chapter entitled “Emergency Unf*cking” gives a practical plan on how to respond when you need to make your place presentable, fast.

Unf*ck Your Habitat is a quick and easy read. It won’t give you lots of detailed advice regarding how to organize your clothes, your files, etc. But it just might inspire you get going, even when your home feels like a total disaster.

Book Review: Downsizing the Family Home

A few weeks ago, Alex wrote about dealing with the clutter of previous generations. It took me back to my childhood when my extended family pulled together to sell my great-grandfather’s farm. That was back in the day where you hired an auctioneer, put ads in local newspapers, and all the neighbours in the county showed up to bid on items the family had dragged out onto the lawn.

Times have certainly changed. Family members live all over the country, neighbours don’t necessarily know one another, and online auctions are the norm. Marni Jameson’s book Downsizing the Family Home is very helpful to those of us in the modern world dealing with liquidating a family estate.

I expected this book to be rather dry; a “how-to” book full of instructions and checklists. Instead, this book was a warm and compassionate recounting of the author’s own experience as she cleared out and sold her childhood home, and helped her parents transition to a retirement centre. She writes like she’s talking to her friends. I chuckled to myself when Jameson recounted how she found “bundles of Christmas cards saved by year going back to William the Conqueror” as well as, “…enough baskets to re-create the miracle of the loaves and fishes.” Many families have similar collections that have to be sorted and disposed of.

However, this isn’t a novel. Jameson shares the information she learned from the experts she consulted and provides many hints and tips throughout the book. It is full of useful information on how to dispose of items — whether to sell, recycle, donate, or just take to the dump. There are several chapters dedicated to helping readers find resources to determine the value of antiques, artwork, and other family heirlooms.

One useful thing I learned was that in most families the stories surrounding family heirlooms are often wrong. For example, though generations have been told the story of great-grandma’s Tiffany® lamp, it may actually be just a replica. Some items may not be as valuable as expected but if it is a piece you love and has significant sentimental value, it doesn’t matter what its re-sale value would be.

The book also provides advice and suggestions on preparing and selling a home and tips on dealing with real estate agents and the challenges that occur when the adult children live across the country. One of those challenges being the emotional anguish of letting go of your childhood home.

Downsizing the Family Home was an enjoyable book to read. If there is a downsizing process looming in your future, you’ll find this book extremely helpful.

An exercise in uncluttering: books and magazines

Some people expect that since I’m a professional organizer my home will be somewhat like that of minimalist Joshua Fields Millburn, and it’s not at all. I get a lot of pleasure from having carefully selected art work on my walls and selected horizontal surfaces. My cats like having a lot of good places to curl up, so my house has lots of baskets, blankets, and plush mats strategically placed for them.

And then there are the books. After writing about minimalism yesterday, I decided it was time to take a look at the bookcase in my home office, because I wasn’t at all sure the books on those shelves still enhanced my life in any way. Sure enough, I found myself freecycling 24 of them right away, with more to come. And one went into my recycling bin when I decided the extensive technology-related information was too dated to be useful to anyone.

None of these books were bad purchases — they served me well when I first bought them. But I no longer need a huge collection of books about organizing, even if I think the books are excellent. I have a few favorites that I do pull out at times, and there are some with specialized information that come in particularly handy. But most of them just sit there, year after year. I had a lot of marketing-related books that never got looked at, too. No more!

It’s easy to get accustomed to having things in your space and to stop really noticing them. In The Organizing Sourcebook, Kathy Waddill wrote about going through your home with the eyes of a stranger, looking at everything as if you’ve never seen any of it before. An exercise like that can get you to question things like those books I had in my office.

As I went through the organizing books, I looked at what I had highlighted in each one. If a sentence or two particularly resonated with me, I typed the sentences into a text file for future reference. One of those books I was passing along is Order From Chaos by Liz Davenport, and I noted this line: “If you have more than a three-inch pile of things to read, what you have is a stack of guilt.”

Reading that made me think about the pile of magazines in my bedroom — which was only 2.5 inches tall, but still felt like a stack of guilt. The pile consisted of multiple issues of a single magazine, and that same magazine had recently sent me numerous renewal notices that had piled up in my in box. I decided it was past time to make some decisions here, so I looked through the entire pile and realized that as much as I had enjoyed the magazine in the past, there was nothing in the current issues that I wanted to read. So they went into recycling (being a bit too specialized to be donated to doctors’ offices or such) and the renewal notices will get discarded.

So now I have less guilt and a bunch of spare space on my previously stuffed-to-the-limit bookcase — not bad for a few hours of work! This exercise was a nice example of how even a small uncluttering project can make a noticeable difference.

Organizing your reading effectively with Goodreads

Goodreads is the internet’s largest site for book discovery. Countless book lovers use it every day to find titles to read, talk with each other, post reviews, and interact with some of the authors they admire. That’s fun, but there’s so much more you can do with an Goodreads account. The following are suggestions for how to get the most of Goodreads.

Stats on books you’ve read

To visit your stats page, log in to your Goodreads account, then click My Books at the top of the page, and then Stats on the right. Here you’ll see all of the books that you’ve told Goodreads that you’ve read, sorted by year.

Click Pages to see the total number of pages you read in a given year, and hit Publication Year to see how often you read books published within a given year. Additionally, click Details next to each collection to see the specific titles you read as well as their ratings. Lastly, I like to click View Books From [year] for a list of those titles, and sort the result by rating, author and more to try and spot trends. Did I enjoy a certain author’s work? Was there a genre I went to more often than others? It’s a fun and very organized way to take a good look at your reading habits.

Barcode scan books you want to read

The practice of “showrooming” — visiting a brick-and-mortar store to do research before making an online purchase — is real. The Goodreads mobile apps for Android and iOS includes a barcode scanner that’s much more versatile.

Instead of making a purchase, you can use the app to quickly find reviews of a book you might buy right then and there. I’ve done that several times. If you do buy the book, you can add it to your “shelf” to share what you’re reading.

Join a reading challenge

Each year, Goodreads challenges users to read a certain number of books. It can be fun, and the 2016 challenge is underway. Once you’ve joined, your followers and friends can note your progress and cheer you on. Of course, this isn’t for people who don’t want to make reading a competition, but others can enjoy it.

Customize shelves

Goodreads lets you sort books into categories, or “shelves.” By default, you start with three: Want to Read, Currently Reading, and Read. You can create as many custom shelves as you want for additional organization.

To create a shelf, click My Books at the top of the page and then Add Shelf on the left. The rest is up to you: “vacation favorites,” “guilty pleasures,” “business and work,” “borrowed from friends” and so on. With a click you can see only the books that are on any shelf.

Get useful recommendations

Goodreads also will recommend books you might like based on your habits. You can improve its accuracy by liking and rating lots of books. Also, note the books you don’t like and lastly, keep sorting books into your custom shelves. You’ll notice your recommendations improve over time.

With a little time and organization, you can turn Goodreads into a very valuable organizing service. Spend an hour or so with these tricks and you’ll have a much more satisfying experience.

Book review: Your Digital Afterlife

Some of our most precious possessions are now in digital form. In many cases, email has replaced hand-written or typed letters. Digital photos have largely replaced those taken with film. And then there are the components of our on-line presence: websites, Facebook pages, etc.

Your Digital Afterlife, by Evan Carroll and John Romano, explains how you can help ensure that these items get handled according to your wishes after your death. The book is copyright 2011, which might make you think it’s dated. But while specifics regarding websites may change, most of the book deals with issues and strategies, not the tools you might choose to use. And the legal status of digital executors and digital estate plans, largely undefined at the time the book was written, is still largely undefined — although some states have passed legislation about this.

The first part of the book explains why planning for your digital afterlife is so important and why that can be challenging. For example, the authors wrote, “One of the many issues with preserving your digital content is that much of it does not reside on a computer over which you have direct control.” The service providers you rely on may go out of business or may have terms of service that restrict how others can access your account after your death.

There are also issue related the sheer volume of our digital stuff. The authors wisely suggested:

Do your heirs a favor and think ahead during your life and tend to your date. Curate and weed your collections. Consider tagging your favorites, deleting the duplicates, editing them, and tagging them. … You could certainly keep all of your photos, but be sure that your favorites are kept separately.

The second half of the book deals with creating an inventory of your digital assets and a plan for sharing that inventory so your wishes can be honored.

The inventory is critical because no one can do anything with assets they don’t know exists or that they can’t access. For example, would anyone know I have a subscription to the Associated Press Online Stylebook, that auto-renews, if I didn’t have it in an inventory?

The inventory would include user names and passwords, along with your wishes for how each item should be handled. For example, do you want a social media or photo sharing account to be deleted? Do you want some photos within those accounts to be shared with others?

While the authors show the inventory as a spreadsheet, I realized my item listing in 1Password can serve as my inventory. I would just need to add comments indicating what I’d like done with each item.

Once you have the inventory, you need to determine how the right person gets access to that inventory after your death. If you totally trust the other person, as I trust my brother, you might send that person a copy of the inventory file — or make sure the person knows how to access your computer where the inventory is stored. Otherwise, there are digital estate services that can provide information to the appropriate person once they receive the necessary documentation, including a death certificate.

Your Digital Afterlife is a quick read. Some of the early chapters seemed to be stating the obvious, so I skimmed through them. The inventory forms seemed a bit too simple in some cases — for example, they had no place to enter the answers to the questions that some sites (such as my bank) ask before granting access to your account. But the general concepts are logical and well explained. It’s a good book for getting you started thinking about a complex and sensitive topic.

Book Reviews: Five new releases on simple living and productivity

Five really terrific books have been published in the past few weeks that might be of interest to our readers:

Born for This: How to Find the Work You Were Meant to Do
by Chris Guillebeau

Living an uncluttered life isn’t always about stuff. It’s also about clearing clutter from aspects of your life that keep you from doing what you would rather be doing. Chris’ book is perfect for anyone looking to unclutter a bad job or career from your life to do exactly what you should be doing. This isn’t a “dream big” book that leaves you inspired but without steps and tools to achieve what you want. This book is full of every tool you will need to make your job and/or career change happen. If you’re a regular reader of this site, you know that I’m a bit of a fangirl when it comes to Chris. One of those reasons is because his advice is based on years of research and includes examples from actual people who have taken his advice and found success with it. If you’re unhappy or disgruntled with your work, his book is exactly what you’ll want to read to move productively in a new direction.

90 Lessons for Living Large in 90 Square Feet (…or more)
by Felice Cohen

A few years ago, we wrote about Felice because she lived such a full life in such an itty-bitty NYC studio apartment. Since that time, she has sat down and written an entire book exploring her strategies for occupying such a tiny place. You don’t have to live in an extremely small space to benefit from the advice in her book, though. I found her text easy to read — it’s mostly lists that are direct and simple to follow. There are 90 “lessons” in the book to go with the 90 square feet theme. If you know any graduates heading to college or a big city with a tiny space, this book would be perfect for him or her.

Parent Hacks: 134 Genius Shortcuts for Life with Kids
by Asha Dornfest

Asha has been writing the ParentHacks website for more than 10 years, and her latest book is a cultivation of all the best advice she’s seen during this time. The book is illustrated and in full color and every page is packed with useful tips to make parenting easier. My favorite thing about this book is how often it transforms objects that on the surface seem to be unitaskers but shows you how they’re really multi-taskers. (16 uses for a baby wipe tub, 13 uses for non-slip shelf liner, 8 uses for a baby bath tub, etc.) If you’re a parent, you will want this book. If you have a friend or family member who is becoming a parent, they will want this book. This book is my new go-to gift for anyone who announces she’s pregnant or becoming a parent in another awesome way. There are so many real-world tips in this book that almost every page contains a piece of advice you can use to make life with kids easier.

The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own
by Joshua Becker

Today is the release of Joshua’s book and it’s perfect for anyone who is coming to uncluttering with the hope of having a more fulfilling life. His book explores the topic of simple living in a much more philosophical manner than what we usually delve into here on Unclutterer. And this minimalist philosophy speaks to a lot of people, so if that sounds like you, pick up this extremely resourceful and guiding text. The advice is solid and practical. It’s not an organizing book — it’s a live with less stuff book. It’s a must-read for anyone looking for a step-by-step guide to minimalism.

The Inefficiency Assassin: Time Management Tactics for Working Smarter, Not Longer
by Helene Segura

I had the pleasure of reading an advanced copy of Helene’s book and have been eagerly awaiting its release so I could recommend it to you. If you struggle with productivity and time management, THIS is the book for you. The review I emailed to Helene immediately after finishing reading it sums up my opinions about the helpful text: “The Inefficiency Assassin is a concise, straightforward, and comprehensive plan that provides realistically attainable tactics to solve every major productivity problem. It details precisely how to eliminate these issues so you can have the professional and personal life you desire. With Helene Segura’s help, you can say farewell to guilt and exhaustion and to being overworked and overwhelmed.”

I Murdered My Library: A Kindle Short review

Author Linda Grant needed to downsize her personal library when she moved from a place with all sort of nooks and crannies for books — plus some specially installed bookshelves — to a flat with much less space. (Also, her real estate agent saw her huge number of books and told her something had to be done in order for the house to sell.) She wrote a Kindle Short entitled I Murdered My Library about the experience, which perfectly captured the mixed feelings so many people have when they consider downsizing their book collections.

On the one hand, there was a lot of sadness about giving up a library she’d been building since she was a little girl. Since the author is British, American readers may not recognize some of the specific authors and titles she collected back then, but the passion for books is definitely recognizable.

However, there were certainly some issues with that book collection. Some were books she had no need for, such as multiple copies of her own novels, sent to her by her publisher. She had those books in various translations, too. She also mentions the “books I did not particularly care for, but kept anyway” and the “non-fiction which I kept in the era before the internet” in case she ever needed specific nuggets of information.

And then there was the problem with the too-small type:

No-one told me. No-one said, “In the future, you will squint and screw up your face and try to decipher those words you once read so easily. Not because you are going blind, but because in the middle of you life your eyes have betrayed you. They are no longer fit for the purpose of reading.”

Grant is no technophobe, and she embraced her Kindle as a way around the print-size problem. And she reveled in how much easier it was to carry the Kindle than a 900-page book, and how nice it was to have “a library in my pocket.” But while new releases are available in digital format, a lot of backlist books (and much of her collection) are not available yet. And then there was the problem when her Kindle died at the start of a four-hour flight, leaving her with only the airline magazine to read.

Grant also realized that keeping all her many books didn’t make sense, if she was being logical about it all. As she noted:

I’m not going to re-read these books before I die. I am just bequeathing my nephew and his wife the heavy task of removing them at a later date.

What did she do with the books she decided wouldn’t make it to her new home? She gave the multiple copies of her own books to reading groups, charging just for the price of postage. She gave the translated books to libraries. As she noted, “Polish speakers in the London Borough of Haringey now have a choice of books: by me, or by me.” And the rest got donated to an Oxfam shop, where the sale benefits the charity.

But still, the empty shelves bothered her.

In my fear of not having enough room in my new flat for my books, I had got rid of far too many. The truth was, I now had empty shelves. Fewer books than space for them. …

There are not enough books here. The sight of the bare shelves shames me. What have I done?

At just 28 pages, this is a quick read and one that many people struggling with overflowing bookshelves will appreciate.

Book Review: Minimalist Parenting

As someone without children, I’m always in awe of the many parents I see raising remarkable children — and dealing with the added stresses that parenting can bring to already busy lives. Minimalist Parenting by Christine Koh and Asha Dornfest is a book filled with advice intended to help alleviate some of that stress.

While “minimalist” often brings up images of Spartan surroundings, that’s not what the authors are advocating. Rather, they focus on “editing out the unnecessary” — whatever that is for you and your family — in “physical items, activities, expectations and maybe even a few people” so you can focus on the things that are most meaningful.

The book is comprehensive, covering daily routines, meal planning, uncluttering the toys, managing the holidays, and much more. It’s showered with examples from the authors’ lives and from the lives of other parents who’ve commented on their websites. (Both authors have sites that deal with parenting: Boston Mamas from Koh and Parent Hacks from Dornfest.) It has a friendly voice and was easy to read.

While much of the advice in this book is similar to that you’ll find in other books and on websites such as Unclutterer, I still found much to admire. I was delighted to see the emphasis on finding solutions that fit with each family’s values and the personalities of the individual family members. There were some “everyone needs to do this” parts — for example, everyone needs a shared, portable family calendar and a to-do list — but these were kept to a minimum. The authors also emphasized the need to follow your gut feelings, which they referred to as your “inner bus driver.”

I also noted and appreciated the continual emphasis on working toward making children self-sufficient through assigning age-appropriate chores, having kids use an alarm clock, letting them do homework independently, etc. This doesn’t mean children are left to flounder — with homework, for example, you would be available to consult and guide your children, but “the plan is to gradually remove yourself from the process.”

Sometimes there were ideas that I hadn’t heard before, such as the secondhand baby shower. One of the authors found herself pregnant with her second child after giving away all her baby things, and when friends wanted to throw a shower she asked that everything be secondhand. This allowed her friends, who almost all had young children themselves, to unload things they no longer needed and wanted to pass along, anyway. Those who didn’t have little kids and hand-me-downs were welcome to just come and hang out or to bring diapers or gift cards.

The authors continually emphasized that “course correction beats perfection.” Looking for perfect solutions is a waste of time, they say, since perfect solutions simply don’t exist. (The author who spent ages researching cribs found they all had something that made them less than perfect. She could have saved time by just finding three cribs that were highly recommended from reliable sources and then picking one of those.) They recommend you go with something good and adjust as necessary — tweaking new routines, for example, or adjusting a family spending plan. This sounds like solid advice to me.

The one disappointing aspect of this book is that while it’s called Minimalist Parenting, the book is definitely geared toward mothers. Much of the advice applies to any parent, but many of examples are mother-focused. I especially noticed this in the section on self-care. Adding some voices from fathers would have made a good book much stronger.

Organizing now to save time in the future

I recently heard a podcast where a former high school teacher was talking about how he prepared his lessons. He spent a lot of time preparing PowerPoint slides (with speaker notes) and practicing his delivery so he knew it worked well and fit the time he had. He said other teachers thought he was a bit odd for doing this much work, but his reply was that he’d much rather spend the time up front to save the time later. Once the lesson materials were created, he could pick up the same materials the next day or the next year and be ready to go.

As I listened to this, I thought about how so much organizing involves just this: doing some up-front work so things work smoothly in the future.

  • You create filing systems so you can find the papers (or computer files) you want when you need them.
  • You organize your books on bookshelves so you can find the book you want without too much trouble.
  • You organize your first aid supplies and create disaster preparation plans so you know you’re set for any future emergency.
  • You create to-do lists and checklists so you won’t forget critical things at some future time. For example, a packing list created once saves time on all future trips. It also prevents the trouble you’d have if you forgot your passport, some critical medications, the charger for your cell phone, etc.

Thinking about investing time now to save time in the future helps when trying to decide just how organized is “organized enough.” It makes sense for a teacher to invest extra time in lesson preparation when he knows he’ll be teaching the same lesson many times in the future.

Similarly, sometimes it’s worth spending more time on a filing system than other times. Some papers get accessed frequently, and others (such as insurance policies) are not needed that often — but when you do need them, the situation is critical. With those items it makes sense to spend time creating a well thought out filing system that lets you put your hands on the right papers almost immediately.

But other papers might be much less critical. For example, you may need to keep certain papers for legal reasons, but you don’t expect to ever have to access them — and if you do, the need won’t be all that time-sensitive. In that situation, you may want a much less detailed filing system, because it’s not worth the time to do anything elaborate. For example, a big collection of related papers (such as receipts for a given year) could just go into a Bankers Box. As long as the box was properly labeled, you could always find any papers you might need, in the off chance you do have to find any of them.

And consider your books — how organized do they need to be? My books are arranged by category (history, art, mysteries, science fiction, etc.). I’ll usually keep books by the same author together in a category, but I don’t do any further organizing within a category because I can find a book pretty quickly with just the system I have. If it gives you great pleasure to organize your books quite precisely, that’s fine — organize to your heart’s delight! But the rest of us can choose to be less structured.

As you’re creating each of your organizing systems, stop and think: Are you making a good trade-off between the time you’ll save in the future and the time you’re spending up front?

Getting over the guilt of unfinished tasks

As I sit down to write this, I can see the nightstand next to my bed. There are no less than four books piled upon it. Inside each book is a bookmark, noting the page I last read. Next to the stack is a Kindle, itself brimming with books waiting for my attention. I even belong to an informal book club that meets in just a few weeks and I’m not yet finished with this month’s selection.

However, I’m done with “Unfinished Guilt Syndrome.”

Despite the made-up name, Unfinished Guild Syndrome has plagued me for years, especially regarding books. In the past, when I have started reading a book, I’ve felt compelled to finish it, even if I wasn’t enjoying it. More than anything, the guilt associated with putting a book down knowing that I wouldn’t pick it back up was the real deterrent. I’ve never liked giving up on a book.

And it’s not just me. The website Goodreads recently published a list of the most “initiated but unfinished books,” as reported by its users. The top ten were:

  1. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  2. The Lord of the Rings (The Lord of the Rings, #1-3) by J.R.R. Tolkien
  3. Ulysses by James Joyce
  4. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
  5. Holy Bible: King James Version
  6. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
  7. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
  8. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  9. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez
  10. The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien

These are all classics and I’m sure individuals are more than willing to argue that the books are worth finishing, but still they are only partially read by the masses. So, is pushing through a book you dislike or have lost interest in really the best course? And, obviously, it’s not just books — is any hobby worth pursuing to the end if you dislike it? The time you waste feeling guilty and begrudgingly finishing the project could be spent doing something than you actually enjoy (reading a book you like better, knitting a scarf you really want, refinishing a chair you will use and enjoy).

Understanding what I have to sacrifice to do something I don’t have to do and don’t enjoy, I’ve finally given up Unfinished Guilt Syndrome. It’s OK to stop reading a book that I’m simply not enjoying. It’ll result in a greater number of books read overall, and prompt me to try again in a year or so, when perhaps the time will be right or to give away the book to someone who might enjoy it more than me.

Are you ready to let go of Unfinished Guilt Syndrome?

Getting Things Done: The 2015 revised edition

David Allen’s Getting Things Done was first published in 2001, and Allen released an updated version in March. So, what has changed?

Long-time fans on GTD will be glad to learn that the fundamentals are the same as they’ve ever been. If you have the original edition, there’s no need to rush to get the new one. However, if you’re buying the book for the first time, you’ll want this new version.

There are a number of small changes, all good:

  • Outdated references to phone slips, faxes, answering machines, Rolodexes, and VCRs are gone. Certainly some people still use these things, but they aren’t as central to most people’s lives as they once were. Now there are references to text messages, mobile devices, and scanners.
  • References to specific computer programs (Lotus Notes, etc.) which were used as examples have been removed.
  • U.S.-specific references have been replaced with more international wording. For example, a reference to U.S. K-1 tax forms has been replaced with the more generic “tax documents.” This K-1 change also illustrates the move away from examples that apply mostly to business executives — not everyone, even in the U.S., will know what a K-1 is. (It’s a form showing income from a partnership.)

But there are more substantial changes, too. There’s a new chapter about GTD and cognitive science, talking about studies that support the GTD methodology. However, I found this chapter to be a slog to read, and the connection to GTD seemed tenuous in some cases (although quite obvious in others).

There’s another new chapter entitled “The Path to GTD Mastery,” where Allen acknowledges that it can take some time for people to get proficient at the GTD basics, much less moving beyond that to his other two levels of proficiency. But here’s the part that caught my eye:

Even if a person has gleaned only a few concepts from this material, or has not implemented the system regularly, it can bring marked improvement. If you “get” nothing more than the two-minute rule, it will be worth its weight in gold.

The two-minute rule, by the way, says that if a task is going to take two minutes or less, you should just do it now rather than adding it to a list. And it was nice to see Allen say something I’ve long believed: You don’t need to do everything the GTD way to get some benefit from the methodology he proposes.

There is also a new glossary and much more discussion about how the GTD processes work in a world where information is increasingly found in digital forms, and where people may work from a coffee shop, not just an office.

But some of my favorite changes were random comments added throughout the book. For example, here’s the new quotation, from Mark Van Doren, which opens the book:

There is one thing we can do, and the happiest people are those who can do it to the limit of their ability. We can be completely present. We can be all here. We can give … our attention to the opportunity before us.

Of course, I noticed what Allen wrote about being organized:

Being organized means nothing more or less than where something is matches what it means to you. If you decide you want to keep something as reference and you put it where your reference material needs to be, that’s organized. If you think you need a reminder about a call you need to make, as long as you put that reminder where you want reminders of phone calls to make, you’re organized.

And here’s his advice on uncluttering (or not):

People often mistake my advice as an advocacy for radical minimalism. On the contrary, if throwing something away is uncomfortable for you, you should keep it. Otherwise you would have attention on the fact that you now don’t have something you might want or need. …

You like having and keeping your twelve boxes of old journals and notes from college? You like keeping all kinds of nutty toys and artwork and gadgets around your office to spur creative thinking? No problem, as long as they are where you want them to be, in the form they’re in, and you have anything you want or need to do about that captured and processed in your system.

Note: There’s a footnote explaining this advice is not intended for those with a hoarding disorder.

While Getting Things Done is still a ponderous read in some places, I think there are enough good ideas that it remains my favorite book on time management.