How best to be sick: stop worrying about being productive

Over the last few months, I’ve been dealing with the sick leave of one employee after another in my day job. It was, of course, just a matter of time before I fell ill as well.

Fortunately, I’m not bed-bound nor will I have to miss work, but I am moving more slowly, have no energy, and find it hard to concentrate. As a consequence, I’m not able to get nearly as much done as I would like, I have to postpone a bunch of holiday-related projects, and I can’t tackle anything that requires much brain power.

I could be very cranky. I could push myself and end up having to redo the same work later. Or I could take a break and let this cold pass.

Being a naturally lazy person (my main motivation in doing things efficiently), the latter option appeals most to me. However, I can’t be completely unproductive. It’s just not in me. If I can’t tick things off my various lists, I get anxious.

I used to be quite good at completely disconnecting. Over 20 years ago, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia (which actually turned out to be intolerance to certain foods), and spent nine years in constant but variable pain. There were days that I could do nothing but stare at the ceiling and hope the next day would be better. It’s when I learned to be a minimalist, both in possessions and actions. I learned the hard way how not to feel guilty about not getting anything done. I wish, however, I’d had the book Say No to Guilt!: The 21 Day Plan for Accepting Your Chronic Illness and Finding Inner Peace and Happiness by Kristi Patrice Carter.

I’m lucky in that I no longer have the chronic pain, but I do need to remember the skills I built up in that period of my life when things like colds hit me. The main trick is to let it happen.

Instead of fighting with myself and making the week even worse, I let myself be sick. I enjoy the day in bed or sprawled on the sofa with mindless TV programs, instead of whining about every moment that I wasn’t sticking to my schedule.

At work, I also treat myself with care. No projects, no meetings, nothing that requires either deep thought or delicate communication skills. I stick to strictly administrative tasks that can be done even while my head floats about in a medication-induced haze.

In the end, even though I don’t complete a lot of tasks, I still accomplish the minimum, and a pamper myself enough to get back to full strength quickly. It is much better to allow the house to become a disaster for a few days, or for work tasks to pile up, so that I don’t experience any sort of setback. By scheduling in plenty of relaxation time I give myself wiggle room to catch up after feeling better. If you don’t give yourself that sort of space, then when you do fall behind, you just keep moving backwards struggling every moment.

So be kind to yourself and stop struggling – plan your time well and give yourself the best chance to achieve success, creatively.

And if you don’t get it all done, don’t worry!

Taking a binge approach to organizing projects

Today National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) starts, 30 days of concentrated writing with the goal of producing a 50,000 word novel. Nearly 20 years old now, the month is a way for writers to set themselves a goal and a deadline, producing 1,667 words a day.

Why does it exist?

  • To provide motivation to writers who may find life getting in the way of writing regularly.
  • To provide a community of support in what is considered a rather solitary process.
  • To shut down the internal editor, the voice that blocks forward motion.
  • To gamify the writing process, giving writers the chance to score wins against the final word count.

I’ve done it a few times, although I only won it once. While in principle I think it’s a great idea, for me it creates too much anxiety and pressure. The binary win/lose option stresses me out and then I can’t actually focus on the writing. Author Chuck Wendig does a great job of taking a slightly tongue-in-cheek look at the pros and cons of working in this way.

For many people, however, it’s the exact motivation they need to finish something. Many popular authors have used the month to kickstart bestseller novels.

Unclutterer is focused on organizing and productivity not writing novels so why discuss it here? Because maybe for you, a binge approach to an organizing project you’ve been putting off may be just the thing you need to get going — and to reach the end.

Let’s break down NaNoWriMo into its component parts and transfer them to a hypothetical organizing project: unclutter and organize the kitchen cupboards.

NaNoWriMo goal: 50,000 words in 30 days
Organizing goal: 18 cupboards and drawers

NaNoWriMo daily goal: 1,667 words
Organizing daily goal: a little more than 1 cupboard or drawer every two days

NaNoWriMo support network: any number of online or local writing support groups and forums (or of course books and workbooks)
Organizing support network: the Unclutterer Forums, friends or family

NaNoWriMo gamification moment: daily concrete opportunity to “win”
Organizing gamification moment: daily concrete opportunity to “win”

NaNoWriMo internal editor silencer moment: with the daily goal and pressure of winning, there’s no time to allow doubt to creep in — it’s a “just do it” moment
Organizing doubt silencer: with a set two-day goal, there’s no opportunity to doubt decision — they simply have to be made

NaNoWriMo positive peer pressure moment: if a daily word count is missed, it can be spread through the rest of the month, or binge-written one day to catch up
Organizing positive peer pressure moment: if a day goes by without organizing a drawer or cupboard, a day with a double “win” can boost your confidence

NaNoWriMo end result: the first draft of a novel, a beginning-to-end piece of fiction
Organizing end result: a streamlined and organized kitchen

This type of organizing, however, is not for everyone. Just as I no longer do NaNoWriMo because it produces too much pressure-related anxiety, the stress of “having to” organize a drawer or cupboard every two days might produce panic or paralysis instead of motivation. It depends entirely on your personality.

If you think you’ll enjoy this challenge, check out Erin Rooney Doland’s book Unclutter Your Life in One Week. It has great tips and provides a guide for uncluttering any room in your home.

How do you deal with slips in your projects?

One of the main goals of Unclutterer, apart from helping readers lead a more organized and streamlined life, is to help you create long-lasting change in your routines, habits, and life. Many of our articles revisit similar themes so that you can keep moving forward with your goals, revising what you are doing well, and identify when you need a course correction.

In my case, I am trying to merge my work and home life personalities. At work, I am decisive, productive, proactive, and passionate. At home, I never make decisions, ignore projects, react before thinking, and live with neither ups nor downs.

As regular readers know, I’ve been using the Bullet Journal system to transfer my work personality to my home one. And while the system has helped me keep my head above water during a stressful period at work, I’ve let my passivity to life stay in control and have pretty much converted my Bullet Journal into a solely work-related tracking system.

So, something needs to be done, and I think I’ve found the trick: the Moleskine app for my iPad Pro. One of the reasons I’ve let the personal life slide is because the work list was taking up a full page, leaving me with no room to add personal stuff and I refused to have a single day in two different pages in my Moleskine notebook. Sure it’s an excuse, but it was enough to derail me.

However, with the Moleskine app (available for iOS) I can have multiple notebooks and yet have only one item to carry. The app is free if you want the basic notebooks of Weekly Planner, Plain Paper, Lined Paper, and Grid Paper. You can buy other notebooks for Photos, Recipe Tracker, Travel Journal, and Wine Journal, but for now I have no interest in those ones. If you are an avid cook, travel writer, or wine lover, these journals might come in handy for organizing your thoughts.

By using the app, I’ve created five different journals:

  • Weekly Planner: to schedule my days and know what’s coming up. This planner looks into the future and includes both work and home.
  • Work Journal: to organize all my work-related tasks. I love the color and pen thickness options in the app and can keep track of all my tasks and priorities in a vibrant, colorful way.
  • Home Journal: to keep my personal-related actions, desires, and ideas front and center. This journal is copied from my work one and will hopefully, over time, instill my home personality with the more active traits from my work personality.
  • Connection Journal: to remind myself to connect with my social circles. As an introvert, I could easily go through a week only talking with work mates, but friends and family need to be taken care of or they won’t be there when my introverted self decides it wants company.
  • Time Tracker: to make sure I take time for myself each day. I can easily be busy, busy, busy, from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to sleep without taking even 15 minutes to read, write some fiction, or just stare at the ceiling. This journal looks at what has actually happened each day and serves as a good reminder that without personal time, I will burn out completely and start cutting myself off from the rest of the world, which is the exact opposite of my goal.

Wait a second… Five different journals? Isn’t that a lot of work?

Yes, it is, but the changes I want to make in my life are big and doing any less has proved too easy for my (nearly) 50 years of habits to take control and derail my plans.

I love my iPad Pro and the Apple Pencil — it’s the closest I’ve ever seen to a digital notebook, and now that I can use my favorite notebooks in digital format, I couldn’t be happier. Productivity and perseverance thanks to technology.

What changes are you trying to make in your life? Are you aware of any slips? What are you doing to correct them and maintain momentum?

 

Overcoming task paralysis

Recently I’ve been feeling rather overwhelmed at work. With the introduction of a new database and several people off on sick leave my to-do list never gets shorter. Fortunately, I am an organized person and manage to move forward even if it’s just a few priority items. But what if being organized is a challenge for you? That feeling of being overwhelmed becomes so all consuming that paralysis sets in.

Let’s imagine a situation that many people face. Let’s call our test subject Gloria. She’s a single mother with two children and has recently decided that she will pursue her dream of working in television full-time, as a freelance writer and producer. When looking one year into the future she clearly pictures having implemented some of her program ideas, having produced the show she wrote, and being able to support her children financially.

The problem is that she’s so overwhelmed by the normal anxieties of life that she can’t see clearly. There seems to be so much stuff that she’s paralyzed by it all. She’s moved her office in-house so that she could work on things 24/7 but that hasn’t worked (which isn’t surprising). Bringing the office into the home often creates more anxieties not fewer. Without a clear separation of work life and home life, the stress and guilt of working or not working 24/7 multiples exponentially. Every moment at work outside of regular hours takes away from family time and every moment with the family is one less moment striving for the work-related dream.

In our go-go-go world this sense of paralysis is common and it’s something many people suffer from. It happens when you allow your to-do list to get longer and longer which results in panic and paralysis.

Gloria especially feels anxious when she looks at all the day-to-day tasks. That often happens when people keep it all in their heads — it builds and each item seems unrelated to anything else. As well, as I said working on things 24/7, is not the best way to get things done. Time off is important, not just to recharge the batteries, but also to allow ideas and projects to simmer in the back of the brain.

So what should Gloria do?

She needs a plan. She needs to know what she’s working on when. However, she can’t create that plan until she knows exactly what she wants to work on. Yes, in her one-year-in-the-future vision she hints at what she might work on now, but the ideas are still very abstract. They are results, not actions.

When looking into the future, it’s important to focus on actions. Outcomes are great, but they don’t motivate well because they leave a gap between the current state and the future outcome. That gap can only get filled by action. And what actions does Gloria need to focus on? What actions do you need to focus on if you want to achieve your dreams? How can you choose any one thing when the to-do list is longer than a line-up to buy U2 concert tickets?

She might just pick one random item and work on that. Or she might pick the top three things that have reached crisis mode. Or she might take a bit of time to plan out her actions, which first requires some research.

In this case, research doesn’t mean going out and looking up information or talking to others. For this type of research she is going to interview herself. Using a blank piece of paper, Gloria is going to write down the numbers 1 to 100. Next, she will fill in all 100 slots with everything she does during the day, as well as everything she feels she should do and everything that she wants to do, but hasn’t got around to yet.

What will Gloria get out of overwhelming herself even more? How will this exercise help?

Right now Gloria feels overwhelmed by all of her to-dos. These to-dos however are only in her head, which she needs to liberate to allow more focused thought take over. Getting it out on paper does just that. Plus by giving herself a goal of 100 items she’ll likely have a hard time filling in every number, and she’ll realize that she doesn’t actually have as many things to do as she thought, taking off some of the pressure.

So now she has a list of items that she does (or wants to do). How does she take this list of actions and turn them into a plan that works for her, gives her time to relax, and moves her towards her dream? By prioritizing, delegating, and deleting items from the list. And no, it’s not easy. In fact this sort of challenge paralyzes many people.

Gloria will most likely need help. She’ll need the outside objectively of someone who isn’t so intimately connected to the actions, someone who can help her decide priorities and what doesn’t really need to get done after all. That help could come in the form of a friend, a family member, or a professional (like an organizer or a coach).

So, just how short should her list become? That depends on each person. In my case, I can have a very long to-do list without panicking, but others might need short lists, with tasks and projects spread out over stages based on priority.

Finally, Gloria needs to get started. Lists are great tools, but they need to be used. She might decide to use a system like Getting Things Done, or Bullet Journal (as I’ve been doing). But whatever the system, she needs to commit to it and let the lists guide her through the minefield of task-related anxieties.

Going the distance: maintaining motivation in long projects

At the beginning of September, my husband and I started a new way of thinking about our food with the goal of getting down to a healthier weight. We got professional help and we made the decision that we wanted to succeed.

Now six weeks into the goal, we are on track, having lost an encouraging and healthy amount of weight, despite having birthday parties and Canadian Thanksgiving to tempt us into giving up. My husband continues to be motivated, but I have to recognize that I care much less. I’m now down to my average weight from the past six years and I’m more or less comfortable. My husband, however, has a bit to go before getting down to his usual size.

It’s common part way into a project to lose motivation and make less effort. In fact, I mentioned how in my Bullet Journal experiment, I’ve given up tracking my weekends and how I have to be extra vigilant so as not to let the experiment slide.

When this point in a project arrives, it’s important to re-examine motivations and maybe find new ones.

For example, my husband is still motivated because every day he can get back into a piece of clothing that he hasn’t been able to wear in at least a year. All my clothes fit me, however, so I’m not motivated by the same benchmark. If I want to continue dropping pounds, I’m going to have to find myself a new way to get myself excited about the goal.

In your home or office organizing projects, different family members will have different motivations and over time those motivations will change. And sometimes what seems like a logical motivation won’t carry enough emotional power to influence behaviour.

I’m at this point. I have food issues, being borderline celiac. If I eat gluten, my rosecea flares up, my moods soar all over the place and I get quite distracted and forgetful. It doesn’t work for me as a motivation ignore though because it’s a negative motivator. Yes, I feel better when I stay away from gluten, but it’s hard work, especially when eating outside the home.

I still want to continue to lose weight, ideally getting down to my wedding weight back in 2011. I’m already almost halfway there, but I need to find some sort of motivation that grabs me and drags me along towards success without a fight.

Forbes has a good article about motivation and I’ve always been a fan of Gretchen Rubin, but none of what Forbes suggests excites me, and I really don’t feel like re-reading any of Rubin’s books.

So, I’ve decided to crowdsource my motivation. What tricks and tips do you have for maintaining motivation when the excitement of a new project wears off?

 

Staying on top of tasks: a Bullet Journal update

A couple of months ago, I committed to experimenting with the Bullet Journal process for organizing my time and tasks. I wanted to know several things before deciding if it was a success or not.

Does the system work?

As I’ve said in previous articles about the system, I’m really quite impressed by it. It works because it’s simple. With the amount of work stress I’ve been under the past six weeks, anything that gave me more work would have failed on the second day. I can honestly say that far from creating more work, it has saved me a lot of last minute crisis solving because I got things done before they reached crisis point.

Is it flexible enough to adapt to different situations?

Any system that cannot adapt will never be viable. The Bullet Journal system manages to adapt not only to people’s individual ways of working, but also to the changing needs of the same person.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that in future notebooks, I would get rid of the Future Planning section, put the month-by-month planning first and then add a weekly calendar before my day-to-day lists. The first two items will actually happen, but the weekly calendar is something I need only when I have a lot of appointments. Most of my tasks aren’t tied to specific dates, so I don’t need to plan out my week normally, but when I do, starting with a blank page rather than a pre-designed calendar, I can create a weekly plan only when I need to.

Can it carry me through very stressful times?

September is always a crazy time of year work-wise. This year, it was even more so because we are installing a new client database. Being a bit on the distracted/obsessive side, when faced with huge and/or stressful projects, I tend to focus on them and let the rest slide.

In previous years, my staff (who are the front-line workers in our industry) haven’t received the support or materials they need to do their jobs well because I’ve been to busy focused on the administrative side, forgetting that if we don’t deliver the service well, we won’t get clients.

By writing down all my tasks (and rewriting postponed ones the next day), very few things have slipped through the cracks this year, and staff have been more prepared than ever.

Can I use it to maintain a work/life balance?

My slightly obsessive nature often causes me to forget about my home life when work gets busy. This year, however, despite doing ten or twelve hour days in the office, I’ve managed to avoid the unfortunately all-too-true cries of abandonment at home. We like to stay busy, organizing weekends with friends at home or away.

Normally at this time of year, I leave all of that organizing up to my husband and basically take for granted that he will do what needs doing so that I can relax and have fun on the weekend.

Not so this year, for once!

We have really come together as a team, participating and communicating so much more, so much that two weeks ago when I told my husband that yet again the following week I would be doing morning and afternoon shifts, he answered with a simple “okay” rather than any expression of disappointment.

And can I maintain it?

This is the one thing I’m not sure about. I’ve already pretty much abandoned the system on weekends. But I’m all right with that. Weekends are when I can disconnect and I believe that if I kept up the Bullet Journal on weekends as well, it would turn into a chore and I’d be quicker to abandon it during the work week just out of resentment. Fortunately, however, none of my system breakdown fears has come true.

In my next Bullet Journal experiment update (once my work life has settled into its normal routines) I’ll let you know how well I’ve managed to maintain the system.

Are you ready to succeed?

Last week, I spoke about turning to experts when you want to achieve something, and to develop a plan. Now that you have the plan (in my case, lose weight and eat more healthily), you need to make sure you stay motivated along the way. And you do that by taking a look at your goals and ask, “How much do I really want this?”

Think about your life – what are you doing because you feel you should want it? Or I should say, what are you not doing even though you feel you should want it?

Weight-loss is a common goal, and yet report after report all over the western world show that obesity is on the rise. If say you want something, but aren’t doing anything about it, stop a moment and ask yourself some more questions.

When do you claim to want something but then let fear stop you?

Fear of failure and fear of success are the two biggest stumbling blocks. The former is easy to understand. If diets and changes in lifestyle haven’t worked in the past, why will they work this time around? I have food intolerances. When I eat outside of my healthy choices, I put on weight (apart from feeling generally out of sorts). The temptation to eat the not-good-for-me food is always high, and I always end up falling off the wagon. It would be easy for me to never start because I never manage to not fall off the food-intolerance wagon.

When it comes to fear of success, I also often fall victim to a twisted piece of illogic. You see, if I succeed in my goal of changing how I think about food and keep off the weight once I lose it, I will have to recognize that I am a capable, confident person. At times, it’s easier to believe that I am neither of those things, so I sabotage my progress with whatever goal just to prove to myself that I can’t follow through on anything. That, however, isn’t true. I am capable. I can be confident. I just need to act on my desires.

Which, unfortunately means work. Lots of work. And that leads to another question to ask yourself:

What are you not tackling because it’s too much work?

I believe that human beings are rather lazy by nature. Successful change requires work and that all too often is enough of a demotivator to never get started. Better to stay safe and sound with the current situation. At least we know it well.

In her one of her hugely successful writing courses, 30 year writing veteran Holly Lisle says “SAFE never starts.”

SAFE can keep you locked up in your house, never daring to step foot outside the door. It can keep you locked in a job you hate that has no future, just because you’re afraid if you walk away you will never work again. SAFE can kill your hopes and dreams by telling you they were never worth pursuing, that you were never good enough to make them real, that you were only kidding yourself.

Basically it all comes down to excuses and because you’re getting something out of your inaction. As long as you don’t move forward, as long as you don’t follow through on your dreams you still have hope that the dreams will come true. The thing is, no matter how much hope you have, if you don’t act you’ve already failed.

Are you actively engaged or on autopilot?

One of my favorite phrases here on the blog is “life is choice” – from the decision to get up each morning through to going to bed at night (well for me the last one isn’t that much of a choice – my body just shuts down at some point and I get no say in the matter). It’s easier to go with the flow than to make active choices that might inconvenience other parts of her life. Getting out and getting exercise means not working quite so much. Taking time from work means the renovations on the house take longer and vacations can’t be as exotic as she would like. And so on and so on.

If you grew up in the 1980s, you might remember a series of books called Choose Your Own Adventure. Life’s like that – full of choices with consequences. Are you going to decide what action you take or will you let some invisible author make those choices for you?

When are you choosing safe over happy?

Sometimes safe is important – for example in the basic needs of life, but beyond that, safe does nothing but block our desires. Don’t risk, don’t stand out, don’t be different from anyone else. As long as you choose safe over happy, you’ll always feel unfulfilled and happiness will always remain out of reach. Happiness requires risk. What are you willing to risk to gain happiness?

It’s time to wake up, take control of your life and make the changes you want to make.

By doing nothing you already have your no, so why not try for yes instead?

Celebrating success: a Bullet Journal experiment update

It’s not the prettiest Journal, but it works.

The first two weeks of September are always the busiest in my day job and usually I get to launch day exhausted, facing a hundred little crises, and with a knot in my stomach because I have not had time to complete some really important tasks.

This year, however, everything has gone as smooth as silk and I have to attribute the success to my use of my Bullet Journal. Of course, every year, I make to-do lists, but always in a haphazard manner on a variety of different pieces of paper and/or computer files and emails.

I also managed to be productive in my personal life as well. Remember how I made the decision to be purposeful about my choices in life? Well, that has extended into this crazy period of the year, and despite ten and twelve hour days at work, I’ve been in better and more meaningful touch with my husband and friends than I’ve been in years.

I can’t pinpoint exactly why the Bullet Journal has produced different results, but I do have a few ideas.

  • Part of it is because I knew I was using it as an experiment here on Unclutterer, so I never let a day pass without updating the Journal.
  • By giving work and personal life tasks and thoughts equal priority, one never took over the other. And success in one area motivated me and encouraged success in the other.
  • I hate rigid rules and the rebellious teenager in me always wants to break them, so having been told right from the start that “rules” for Bullet Journaling are meant to be broken, my inner-teen never needed to rebel.

The system isn’t perfect, of course. Now that I write everything down, if it’s not in the Journal, it doesn’t happen. For example, in preparing to go down to our apartment in La Rioja last Friday, I reminded myself to take the house keys off their hook and leave them out where I could see them, but I didn’t write it down. Did I forget my set of keys? You bet I did!

The index is useless for me. I know I am never going to go back to review things. My lists and thoughts are “in the moment” things. Once completed, I move on. In my next Journal, the index will disappear.

The Future Planning portion makes no sense to me. I prefer to have a section with the whole year divided into months so that the planning can go there (one side of the page with the days of the month and the other with notes).

I also have added a section. This Monday, I created a weekly calendar that went before this week’s lists. It helped me organize my time in such a way that I didn’t forget a single appointment and I managed to squeeze in free-time and relaxation before the week’s craziness took over.

Planning for system breakdowns: a Bullet Journal experiment

This week when I return to work I will officially start my Bullet Journal experiment. While it looks like a good system and has already helped me in some ways, I question whether I will be able to maintain it. Here are some issues that may cause a breakdown in the system, along with some possible solutions to them.

Boredom

Although I love creating systems and routines, I find maintenance of them rather dull. I need constant proof that a system makes my life easier or I abandon it for something new after a few months at the most.

For this Bullet Journal experiment to work, I am going to have to be aware of any imminent boredom and find ways to tweak the system without tossing it aside completely.

Distractions

Good habits aren’t easy to form, but so simple to break. Think about a gym-commitment. How many times do you start some exercise program only to stop because for two days in a row, you are too busy to go to the gym? This happens to me all the time at work. My best intentions get trashed because I arrive and have to solve any number of mini (or not so mini) crises.

A top priority for this experiment, therefore, will be at least five minutes a day updating my journal no matter what else is happening.

Success

How can success cause a system breakdown? Simple, if things are going well, I relax. Who needs to be diligent if everything is going well? The phrase “sitting on one’s laurels” comes to mind in this instance. I pat myself on the back, tell myself how awesome I am, and forget that continued success requires more effort.

To combat this possible error in the system, I will need to be aware of any feelings of overconfidence and remember that success comes from constant work; it doesn’t fall out of the sky randomly.

How about you? What issues have caused blips or breakdowns in your own Bullet Journalling projects?

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?

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.