Organizing with an ADHD mind

Today we welcome guest post author Ryan McRae, who is the founder of the website TheADHDnerd (a blog dedicated to helping people with ADHD be more productive). If you’re interested in learning more, he has a free book for download, Conquering Your Calendar and Getting More Done.

I’ve had ADHD all of my life and I never had the natural ability to organize; I distinctly remember my third grade teacher dumping my desk out when I couldn’t find something. I remember misplacing my wallet constantly and having clutter surrounding me most of my days.

The amount of time I have wasted letting my ADHD run my organizational life could have earned me a Ph.D.

No more. The following are the strategies I use to get my ADHD to cooperate with my need to have my life in order.

Pick your battles

If you are looking to clean your house, your ADHD mind will quickly attempt to deter you from this enormous project. You have to break it down into manageable pieces and if your ADHD still pressures you to catch up on your Netflix queue, break it down into smaller bits and pieces.

Instead of “cleaning the bathroom” decide to simply tidy up the sink and throw out old, empty containers. Once you do that, you’ll find one more task to do and then do that. Set that strategy on “repeat” and you’ll find you cleaned the entire place without firing up “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.”

Double duty

One task I absolutely detest doing is laundry. The entire spectrum of the task from loading the washer to putting away the folded t-shirts puts me into a fit.

So what I do is put on a movie I’ve seen before or a podcast and listen to it while I do this abhorrent task. If there is ever a Kickstarter project that eliminates this task, I’ll put a lot of money behind it.

If you can couple something you love with something you don’t quite enjoy, you’ll be much better off. As Mary Poppins said, “A little This American Life makes the laundry get put away…”

Develop routines

When I used to get home from work, I’d change out of my work clothes, flop down on the couch, and think about what dinner was going to be. Many times I didn’t get up from the couch. I noticed that the next day I couldn’t remember what I did with my keys and where my shoes were. My mornings didn’t start off great and left me no time for coffee. And who has two thumbs and loves coffee? This guy.

So I had to develop a routine that I would launch into as soon as I went home so I knew where my stuff was as well as leave me room for my beloved nectar, my best friend, coffee.

When I get home now, I simply do the following:

  • Grab the mail and go through it and only take in the house what I need to process. Throw out the rest.
  • Empty my pockets in the container by my front door immediately.
  • Change out of work shirt and evaluate if it can be worn again: hamper or hang it.
  • Wash hands
  • Fix Dinner

I do this every time. This way I know where everything goes and I don’t have to sweat getting my evening going. I’ve built a great morning routine and before-bed routine as well. This minimizes my stress and headaches searching and wondering what I’m doing next.

Maintenance day

I stole this idea from Chris Bailey in The Productivity Project. Having one day, a maintenance day, to do all of your low energy tasks is much wiser than alternating between something that takes a lot of time (cleaning out the garage) and then trying to do something simple (dusting the living room). Batch all of your simple tasks together.

He calls these “low-return” tasks. Instead of doing them throughout the week, depleting some willpower throughout the week, just knock them out all in one day.

For example:

  • Grocery shopping
  • Clean house and office
  • Do laundry
  • Water plants
  • Clear out the inboxes

Since my Thursday is my maintenance day, I will get up early, and attempt to get all these little tasks done before 1:00 p.m. It’s my own personal competition — this way they are cleared out for the week and I can set my mind on other larger projects.

Simplify

ADHD can trick me into being collectors of all kinds of things. My weakness is t-shirts. My t-shirt collection grows due to sales and convention swag every year. I can’t get enough t-shirts.

It becomes a storage issue quite quickly. So I have my own personal Hunger Games when it comes to my t-shirts. Once I can’t fit the folded shirts in the drawer, it’s elimination time.

I use my ADHD to quickly assess which t-shirts will remain and which will be donated to the local thrift store. I simply sort them and if they don’t grab my attention, they must go. If I try it on and it’s a bit of a stretch, it is soon eliminated.

Scan, store, or shred

Paperwork can grow like this overwhelming kudzu, filling the desk and creeping into every bare surface in the house. When it comes to paperwork, there are only three choices.

Paperwork I know that I need in a moment’s notice, I’ll scan using my smartphone. I save everything on Evernote and make sure it’s secure. Examples of what I scan are: travel itineraries, passport information, and my car insurance card.

When I need to store something larger, I have a file folder system — this is for manuals, workbooks, etc.

Otherwise, I shred it and don’t look back.

Avoiding the clutter of free stuff

When you stay at a hotel, you’ll usually be provided with toiletries that are free for you to take along: shampoo, shower gel, hand lotion, etc. However, some people seem to feel compelled to take these at every hotel they visit, and they wind up with huge unused stashes at home.

It makes sense to take the toiletries under specific circumstances:

  • You didn’t open them, and there’s a charity you support that needs such things. And you’ll be able to drop off donations in the near future.
  • You used them, and you really like them. You want to use the remainder and maybe order more — or just enjoy an extra bit of luxury. I rarely take hotel toiletries, but this happened to me on my last stay.
  • You used them, and they were just okay, but there’s enough left that you hate to see the partially used bottles go to waste. You’ll take them home and use them yourself or you’ll give them away using Freecycle or some other organization that accepts open bottles.

That last one can be problematic — will you really use those toiletries or pass them along? Or will they just sit in a cupboard for years? If you already have a collection of such bottles, it’s a good sign that perhaps you should just leave these new ones behind.

Other things you might take if you will use them (or donate them) include sewing kits, note pads, and pens. But this advice from Mikey Rox on Money Crashers seemed odd to me:

While I don’t personally need to shine my shoes, I can still use that small shoeshine kit as a stocking stuffer or to add to a grown-up Easter basket.

I don’t know anyone who would want to get a hotel’s shoeshine kit in a Christmas stocking — but if you do, and you have a place in your home to accumulate stocking stuffers, then taking the kit might make sense. It certainly fits within the list of consumables that hotels expect you to use or take.

If you happen to take long-haul flights or fly in business or first class, you may get an amenity kit with toothpaste, a toothbrush, eyeshades, etc. If you get this on an outbound flight and don’t want to haul unwanted amenities around for the rest of your trip, you might decline to take the kit so things don’t go to waste. But if you want just some of the amenities, there’s often no great option — you either toss the things you don’t want or you let them clutter up your bags until you get home to donate the items you won’t use.

If you do decide you want the hotel toiletries, remember to take time to ensure they won’t leak during the rest of your trip and cause a huge mess. It would be a shame to have a freebie ruin something like your luggage, your clothes, or your electronics.

How to clean a smartphone or tablet

Spring is finally here (well, at least for those of us in the northern hemisphere) and it’s time to do some spring cleaning. Previously, we’ve discussed how to prepare, start, and focus your spring cleaning efforts on specific areas of your home, like the yard. Today, I’m looking at your smartphones and tablets because your electronic devices need to be cleaned, too.

This topic deserves more attention than you might think. Given that tablets and smartphones are sensitive electronic devices — not to mention expensive — there is a right way and a wrong way to clean them. Additionally, keeping your devices looking great no only makes them more pleasant to use, but it usually enhances its resale value.

First things first

The simplest bit of advice for keeping your smartphone and/or tablet clean: Keep your device in a case. You can buy a protective case for the most extreme conditions (think protection from water, dirt and falls), but if you’re simply interested in avoiding dirt, lint, and other day-to-day messes, a simple case will do. I use a plain leather case from Apple most days and it does its job well.

Screen protectors are another option. These adhesive bits of transparent plastic are custom cut to fit perfectly over your phone’s screen, offering a layer of protection without sacrificing touchscreen features or sensitivity. Most peel off without leaving any residue as well.

How to clean a smartphone or tablet

First, get a microfiber cloth. Unlike paper-based tissues, a microfiber cloth does not pose a risk of scratching your device’s casing or screen. They attract oils and dust for complete removal, versus your cotton t-shirt which just spreads stuff around. Microfiber cloths are readily available, and you might even get one for free if you ask your local optometrist nicely.

Next, turn your device off or put the display to sleep. This is done to make it easier to see the grime. Wipe to clean one section and then move on to the next. Soon the whole device will look shiny and new.

It’s important to keep the cloth clean as well, as repeated use will cause a built-up of the oils and dust that you remove. Just briefly soak it in warm, soapy water, rinse well and let it air dry. Don’t ever throw it in the dryer with a sheet of fabric softener.

If you don’t have access to a microfiber cloth, just grab some scotch tape. It does wonders for lifting fingerprints and dust from a glass screen. Just press it on and then lift it off. Repeat until you’ve cleaned the whole screen. It’s a bit more wasteful than a cloth, but will work in a pinch.

What not to do

First and foremost, never spray cleaner or water directly on your device. Ever. Also, never use alcohol-based cleaners. These can damage or remove the protective coating that exists on the screens of many smartphones and tablets.

Next, don’t spend too much money on those commercial cleaners. If you have a stubborn bit that the cloth can’t remove on its own, you may turn your device off and then dab a small portion of your cloth into water and then gently scrub at that bit on the screen or casing. Most times that will work just as well as the cleaners. Just don’t get the water near any openings (speaker, jack, etc.) and don’t dilute alcohol and water together. It’s been demonstrated that even a diluted alcohol solution can damage a device.

Finally, paper towels, facial tissues, napkins and the like have a very high likelihood of scratching a screen. Avoid them entirely when it comes to cleaning your tablet or phone.

There’s how to safely extend spring cleaning to your devices. With a little TLC they’ll work for a nice long time, until you’re ready to sell for a good price.

Simple, powerful organizing advice

Last week, I came across a helpful article from 2007 on Zen Habits about 27 simple organizing habits. Twenty-seven is a lot of habits, but one of them (a three-parter) really struck me as being essential for an uncluttered life. If you’re looking for straightforward and easy advice to follow, consider adding Leo’s #21 as basic habits to your every day routines:

  1. Write things down
  2. Execute
  3. Tidy up along the way

Write things down

The act of writing things down helps you remember details. Think of the notes you took in college or the shopping list you can “see” in you head. Today more and more people are producing digital notes, but research suggests that’s not the best method as far as recall is concerned.

In 2014, the Association for Psychological Science conducted a study on note-taking and recall. A group of students were told to take notes on a lecture. Half of the subjects used a laptop while the others used pen and paper. While both groups memorized the same number of facts, the pen-and-paper group outperformed their counterparts in tests on the material. Why? It could be because writing is slower.

A recent study by Scientific American suggests that, in a note-taking scenario, we can’t possibly write everything down verbatim. Instead, we must listen closely and record key words or concepts that represent what’s being said in a meaningful way. Conversely, speedy typing lets us “drone out” and record everything, as if simply taking dictation.

Execute

Procrastination is a vile, seductive monster. While beneficial procrastination is possible, it’s the exception rather than the rule. Stop procrastinating and take time to do what must be done and simply do it. I start each day with my three MITs, or Most Important Tasks. When they’re complete, everything else I tackle that day is a bonus.

Tidy up along the way

I recently revealed here on Unclutterer that the tidy life doesn’t come easy for me. As such, I really dislike the idea of an entire Saturday spent cleaning. That’s why I’ve adopted the habit of tidying up along the way. It requires almost no additional effort and is immensely helpful.

Walking upstairs? Grab that book that goes on the upstairs bookshelf. Going outside? Put the recycling on the curb. All of these tiny tasks add almost no time to what you’re already doing, are super simple, and have a huge impact on the state of things in your home and office.

Big thanks to Leo at Zen Habits for inspiring this post. Three simple ideas — write it down, execute, and tidy up — can have a massive improvement on your surroundings and your day. If you make them a part of your routine, you’ll enjoy the results.

When neat and sloppy live together

A big part of why I write for Unclutterer is because an uncluttered life doesn’t come easily to me. I have to work at avoiding stacks of books, piles of clothes, and misplaced lists. Sharing victories and insights with you helps me discover and reinforce my own best practices.

While my default mode is “deal with it later,” my better half likes things neat, tidy, and sensible. I would’t say we’re Oscar and Felix, but my mess threshold is certainly higher than hers and over the years it has caused some friction in our relationship.

Differences in levels of tidiness can be problematic in a relationship, especially if the neat-adverse member is vilified by the tidy one or when the tidy party performs a disproportionate amount of the housework. Tina Tessina, a marriage and family therapist, told the Today Show that one in three couples she sees struggles with this issue, and that it’s most prevalent in young couples.

So what is a couple to do? If you’re one of those young couples and not yet living together, consider the advice from clinical psychologist and marital therapist Sam R. Hamburg: “The earlier you face up to differences like this and talk frankly about them, the better off you are.” In other words, talk about your expectations regarding tidiness before living together.

If you’re already living with someone and you have different levels of tidiness:

Compromise

I know there’s a saying that, “a good compromise leaves nobody happy,” but in this case it’s not necessarily true. One one hand, a drinking glass or two left on the coffee table isn’t the end of the world. Meanwhile, a mountainous pile of laundry on the floor isn’t acceptable. Both parties can learn to give a little. Instead of it being your-way-or-the-highway, discuss what is okay to leave as a little mess and what is absolutely not okay.

Designate messy and clean zones

I’m not suggesting you let one room devolve into the town recycling center, but not every room in your home needs to have the same level of tidiness expectations. The front room and kitchen might be your “always clean” zones and your garage workshop, sewing room, or game room can receive a little leeway and be a “messy” zone.

Motivate

My family has instituted the “hour of clean,” a time dedicated to giving the house a good once-over. Everyone knows when it’s scheduled and can prepare accordingly. Plus, it’s kind of fun with everyone involved and working together. Remember, too, that nagging has never motivated anyone, so leave that off your list of motivating strategies.

Have clear-cut responsibilities

I’m best when working from a specific list. When my wife hands me a list of chores or tasks, that’s great, as I have a clear definition of what needs to be done. For kids, you might take a photo of what an acceptable definition of “clean room” looks like and outline exactly what steps you want the child to take to get the desired result.

If a list would make other people in your home’s heads explode, use a less formal method of divvying up tasks. “I’ll do the laundry and mow the yard today.” “I’ll run the dishwasher and take out the trash.”

Have solutions that work for everyone

What works for one person in your home might not work for all. A three-step process for putting something away might be just fine for an adult, but a one-step process might be more appropriate for a toddler. When discussing your expectations, consider organizing and mess-busting solutions that everyone in your home can follow. You might be able to take off your shoes at the door and immediately walk them down to your clothes closet to be stored in labeled boxes, but your spouse might have trouble doing much more than taking off his or her shoes and not tracking mud through the house. A shoe storage solution by the main entrance of the house might be perfect for him or her, even though you have no use for it, and will help to keep the entrance clean to your specifications.

Updating your legal documents

In prior Unclutterer posts we’ve written about the importance of being organized about estate planning. My attorney says that if you’re over 18 and own stuff, you’ll want a will. Some people will also benefit from having a trust.

And then there are living wills and other medical advance directives. These can indicate what medical interventions you want (and don’t want) and who you want to make medical decisions for you if you can’t make them yourself. Other documents may allow doctors and care facilities to share information about your medical condition with the people you specify. Similarly, financial powers of attorney can allow others to handle your finances if you’re unable to do so.

The specific documents required vary from state to state, so it’s wise to get legal advice as to what your state requires — or your country and locale, if you live outside the United States.

For the moment, let’s assume you’ve been more organized about your estate planning than the majority of people are, and you have all these documents created and signed. (If you don’t sign them, they are useless. Signatures may need to be witnessed or notarized.) Now, when did you last look at them and make revisions, if necessary?

I needed to deal with this recently as I prepared for surgery. The person I had designated as my primary agent in my advance health care directive is less available to serve in that role than when I first had the directive created, so I wanted to switch my primary and secondary agents. So I called my lawyer to have the document updated.

But when I reviewed the entire document with him, I saw more changes I wanted to make. In the years since he and I first drafted my directive, I’ve revised my opinions on some aspects of my possible medical care, and those needed to be reflected. They weren’t major changes, but I still feel better knowing my advance care directive now says exactly what I want it to, given how I feel today.

It might be obvious that you would want to review and update your estate documents and advance directives when you go through a major life change such as a marriage or divorce or when you move to a new state.

But you might also want to update your will if your relationship with anyone who is a named as a beneficiary, guardian, or agent has changed. Do you still feel close to all the people named as beneficiaries? Are the people named as your agents still able to serve? Elizabeth O’Brien wrote in MarketWatch about a man who named his wife as his agent, but she had developed dementia by the time he needed her services — which resulted in messy legal situation.

Also, your wishes regarding medical care may change over time, as mine did. Some of that is just due to the passing of time, since what you want when you’re young may not be the same as what we want when you’re older. Sometimes medical technology may change in such a way that new treatment options are available, which may affect your decisions. Sometimes changing religious beliefs may affect the medical care decisions you want to make.

Take some time every few years to review those legal documents, and make sure they still reflect your wishes.

Video game soundtracks for productivity

I’ve found a unlikely source of music to listen to while I’m at work: video games.

The relationship between music and productivity has been demonstrated in several studies. For example, one study has suggested that music increases productivity when workers are engaged in repetitive tasks, while another demonstrated that music has a positive effect on a person’s emotional state and can help with self-motivation.

Tempo and style can affect your productivity, too. If I’m cleaning a room or doing yard work, I want something with a fast tempo, typically rock. It’s easier to feel energized with invigorating music. It’s different when I’m working quietly at my desk, however, and that’s when I listen to video game soundtracks.

When doing quiet work at my desk, I must listen to instrumental music. Lyrics are too distracting because I end up singing along and not getting any work done. Modern video games (not old-school ones like Pac-Man) have lengthy soundtracks and are exactly what I’m looking to listen to. Yes, classical music is also a great choice, but not the only choice. There following are the game soundtracks I love to listen to while doing thoughtful work:

Lost Cities is a card game designed by Reiner Knizia. A version for iPhone and iPad was released a few years ago and it has a fantastic soundtrack (available here from iTunes). It’s like music from a fantasy movie.

Monument Valley is an award-wining game for iPhone and Android. It’s very pretty and so is its soundtrack. I’d describe it as atmospheric and certainly more abstract than that of Lost Cities. This is the album I listen to first thing in the morning with headphones. It really gets me in the mood to work.

Sword and Sworcery is a pixelated beauty of a puzzle game that I quite enjoy. Its soundtrack is just as quirky as the game itself. If bass, drums, and filtered synthesizers are your thing, this is the soundtrack for you. Just like the others, it’s all instrumental to get in the zone and work.

How to organize business cards

Do you have a stash of business cards hanging around somewhere? Jon Carroll (a former columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle) has one, and he wrote:

I have a top drawer in my desk. It’s where I put important things. Alas, a lot of things have seemed important over the last 30 years. So the drawer is jammed full — you have to pat it down just to close it. …

I recently made an [sic] pathetic attempt to, uh, curate the drawer. I got no further than the large pile of business cards I had thrown in there over the years. A lot of them were entirely mysterious, people I had no memory of ever meeting. (I bet you have a similar stash of business cards somewhere; it might be amusing to try to cull them sometime).

Jon also found cards that were meaningful or delightful in one way or another, beyond those from people he does know. For example, there was the card from “Le Bar a Huitres, a restaurant in Paris I have no memory of entering. But I love the maps on the back, with appropriate landmarks and useful data, including Metro stops.”

If you have a collection like Jon’s, what do you do with it? If you just enjoy pulling them out and looking at them — as memorabilia, a source of cool design ideas, etc. — then saving them in a drawer or a box, in no particular order, may be just fine.

But if you actually want to make use of the information on the cards, you’ll want a more systematic approach to dealing with them. The first step would be uncluttering. Get rid of cards from people you don’t recognize, and vow that in the future you’ll make a note on such cards when you get them, to jog your memory. You can also discard cards from businesses that have closed or that you no longer choose to patronize, and cards from stores and restaurants in cities you’ll never visit again. If any of these qualify as memorabilia, you might want to hold onto them but keep them separate from those that have useful information.

Now, what do you do with the cards you’re keeping? If you’re someone who deals best with physical cards rather than digital information, you might keep them in a business card book or file. I’m pleased with the business card file sold by The Container Store.

Another tip: If you have phone numbers just jotted down on pieces of paper, you can tape those papers onto blank business cards (or rewrite the information on the blanks) and file them with the other cards.

The other option is to store the information electronically, and there are many ways to do that. I don’t deal with many cards at a time, so I just enter the information manually into my computer contact list, which syncs with my smartphone. Once I’ve done that, I recycle the physical card.

If you’d prefer to scan the cards, there are many ways to do that. You could use a scanner such as one in the Fujitsu ScanSnap family. Or you could use a business card scanning app on your smartphone; there are many to choose from. Evernote has its own free Scannable app, which may be ideal for Evernote fans. Currently, it’s only available for iPhones and iPads.

One nice thing about digital storage is that you can search and retrieve information in many ways. For example, when I enter cards for doctors, I’ll note their specialties and the names of the people who recommended them, so it’s always easy to search and find the doctors if I forget their names. I also create groups of contacts, which is another way to make them easier to find. If you’re using a paper filing system, consider whether filing by name or by category would make it easiest to find the right card when you want it.

Last-minute tax day tasks

April 15 is almost here. Are those of you in the U.S. ready to file your income taxes? If not, break out that shoebox full of receipts, because Uncle Sam is waiting. The following are suggestions for ways you can get organized for tax time, relatively painlessly.

Gather up obvious tax documents

I half-jokingly mentioned the shoebox previously because having all of your documents in one place is extremely convenient. Before you sit down to work out your taxes, gather all your relevant tax documents into a folder or bin labeled for “Income taxes.” In addition to your employer-issued forms, don’t forget to print or otherwise assemble any deduction documents you’re going to need. (Go ahead and start a folder now for next year, as your future-self will thank you.) It’s so much easier than fishing around for that one piece of paper you need but just can’t find or, worse yet, having to request a duplicate copy from your employer or contract work site.

Note contributions

They’re easy to forget, so take extra effort to find your end-of-year statements regarding contributions you made to a 401(k), Traditional IRA, Roth IRA, and/or SEP. Have these numbers quickly accessible, too.

Recall the previous year’s experience

Take the time to write down answers to the questions you’ll likely be asked by an accountant or on a tax form, like did you make any charitable donations or perform energy-saving improvements to your home? Is there a home office you can take into consideration? Did you pay for any child care? Again, the 10 minutes you take to do this now will be a big time-saver later.

Schedule a couple hours between now and Friday to DO IT

You’ve procrastinated long enough. Give yourself two or three hours to sit down and take care of this responsibility. The IRS help lines are swarmed this time of year, but if you really get stuck give them a call or set up an appointment with a major tax preparer (if you can somehow get an appointment). Friday is the big day, so do what you need to do right away.

Good luck, and don’t spend that refund all in one place.

When procrastination can be a real problem

Almost all of us procrastinate at times. In many cases that might result in some stress and minor inconvenience, but not any major problems. But here’s one situation where I’d suggest you try to avoid procrastinating: getting medical care when needed.

This was brought home to me when a dear friend (who tends to put off seeing her doctors) had some problems that put her in the hospital. If she had waited one more day to seek care, she might well have died. Fortunately, she’s fine now.

And I made my own mistake in this regard, too. When I had some leg pain last year, my doctor said it might be tight muscles (treated with physical therapy) or it might be a hip problem (diagnosed with an X-ray). But I delayed getting the X-ray — and sure enough, it was a hip problem. I’m now scheduled for hip replacement surgery, but I could have avoided months of pain by getting the X-ray sooner, especially when physical therapy didn’t seem to help.

Preventive care, including diagnostic tests, are also important. Janine Adams recently wrote about how she put off having her first colonoscopy for 2 1/2 years. She wrote about why she procrastinated and how good it felt to finally have the test done:

Why was I dragging my feet? Partly because of the horrible things you hear about the prep. … But, in truth, there was also a certain amount of fear that there would be bad news. Irrational, but true. Because of course, if I did have colon cancer, it was better to know than not know. …

Well, it turned out that the prep wasn’t all that bad. Not fun, but not tortuous. And the procedure itself was nothing, because I slept through the whole thing. When it was over the news was good — and immediate. Everything normal. Come back in ten years.

I can’t tell you how good it feels to have that behind me. I didn’t realize the psychic energy I was expending avoiding it.

I’ve known people who procrastinate about going to the dentist, too. That might be because they aren’t aware of any problem, but gum disease can be pretty symptom-free until it’s progressed enough to be serious. People might also fear the pain, but my own experience tells me if I have regular cleanings it’s much less of an issue than if I wait too long. Even procedures like root canals sound worse than they feel, at least for me, since they are done with anesthesia. And I’m a wimp about pain.

I know that sometimes there are financial concerns regarding medical care, and I certainly respect any choices you need to make in such a situation. But if there are no financial constraints (and you can find care providers with evening or weekend hours, if need be), please don’t procrastinate on getting the care you need.

The many ways to categorize your stuff

How do you choose to group things when you’re putting them on shelves, in cabinets, in closets, etc.?

I recently watched a video from the Field Museum’s Brain Scoop series with Emily Graslie where she dives into taxonomy: “a totally complicated, really interesting field of science responsible for the naming and classification of things.”

To do this, she had four taxonomists, who usually deal with things like beetles, discussing the taxonomy of candy.

And the taxonomists had fun with it. Olivier Rieppel said, “Organisms you classify according to their evolutionary relationships. With candy or office furniture or whatever you classify according to similarities.” So they wound up suggesting classification based on contents (chocolate covered or not, for example), by shape, by size, and by color.

Margaret Thayer didn’t think much of using color, though. She said, “That would be like taking a whole bunch of different red birds and putting them all together because they’re red, but one of them is a cardinal and one is some kind of duck.”

But Larry Heaney, who suggested grouping by color, said, “That’s the thing about candy. You can put it together, you can group them any way you want.”

Besides making me crave some candy, the Brain Scoop video made me think about the many ways you might choose to group things in your home of office. Just as with candy, you can use any groupings you want, as long as they work for you.

For example, books can be classified using the Dewey Decimal System or the Library of Congress classification system, or by any other method you like, including:

  • Genre (science fiction, historical fiction, history, art, etc.)
  • Alphabetical order by author
  • Size
  • Color
  • Chronological order, especially for series or any books by a single author
  • Status: read vs. not yet read
  • Owned vs. borrowed: library books, books borrowed from friends, and books you own
  • Language, if you have books in multiple languages
  • Owner, in a multi-person household

These classifications can be nested (by author within a genre, for example) and combined. Sometimes you might need to compromise from your ideal grouping to accommodate the storage space you have, especially when it comes to oversized books.

While some may question your choices — as with the candy, some people mock those who group books by color — whatever helps you find the right book when you want it is the right system for you.

Similarly, clothes might be classified by:

  • Type: pants, T-shirts, coats, etc.
  • Use: work vs. non-work, for example
  • Color (which can make a lot of sense in this situation)
  • Season (winter vs. summer clothes)
  • Fabric (because some fabrics may require different storage solutions)
  • Size (for those whose size tends to fluctuate, or for children’s clothing when you have clothes for both the current size and the next ones, or if you’re storing clothes for a second child)
  • Length (to accommodate items needing a long-hang area)
  • Freshly washed vs. worn but still clean

If the groupings you’re currently using for your books, clothes or other items aren’t working for you, think about what might work better and give it a try.

Making the most of commute time

According to the U.S. Census Bureau (PDF), the average travel time to work (one way) in 2011 was 25.5 minutes. Of those who worked outside the home, 8.1 percent had commutes that were 60 minutes or longer. That means the average person spent 4.25 hours commuting each week, and a significant minority spent 10 hours or more.

If you’re one of those people with a sizable commute, how do you make good use of that time? The answer will vary depending on whether you drive, bike, or take public transit, but the following are some suggestions.

If you’re driving: Don’t use your phone

I’ve already written about how dangerous it is to talk on the phone when driving, even if you’re doing it hands-free. And obviously texting is dangerous, too. If you need to check your messages or reply to a call, please find a safe place to pull over before responding.

Use the time for learning

If you’re driving, you can listen to informative radio shows or put interesting podcasts and audio books on your smartphone or other mobile device. Also, a number of universities provide free audio lectures on a wide range of subjects.

You can also save articles from the web to the Pocket app and then use the “listen” function to have them read to you.

You might also use apps or CDs to help you learn a foreign language. I learned some rudimentary but useful French by listening to a few tapes over and over in the car, until the vocabulary stuck. (Yes, tapes — it was a while ago.)

If you’re using public transit, you can obviously expand your possibilities to include magazines, newspapers, physical books, e-books, etc.

Use the time for relaxation

Podcasts, audio books and such don’t have to be educational — they can be just pure fun. Sometimes it’s nice to just get lost in a good novel. Or you might choose to listen to music, either on the radio or on your mobile device. The right music might put you in a good mood to begin the day or might help take the edge off a not-so-wonderful workday on the way home.

If you’re using public transit and have an Internet connection, you could use the time for reading and updating social media, such as Facebook or Twitter.

Another idea would be to use the commute to practice mindfulness, as Maria Gonzalez explained in the Harvard Business Review:

The idea is that you are continuously aware of three things: your body, what you see, and what you hear. This is what it is to be mindfully present as you drive.

Use the time for work

If it isn’t feasible to leave work behind, and you’re using public transit, you could use your commute time to handle some of your email. You might also update your to-do lists or take some time for planning and strategizing.

Strike up a conversation

If you’re driving, it can sometimes be nice to have a commute partner. Some years ago, I drove to a yoga class that was a half hour from home with someone else from my area, and we both enjoyed getting to know each other better. It even led to a job for me.

And here’s something that might interest those taking public transit. Kathleen Elkins reported in Business Insider on a study done by two behavioral scientists, Nicholas Epley and Juliana Schroeder, and published in October 2014:

Epley and Schroeder took their experiment to the subway. They randomly assigned three groups of commuters: One was instructed to connect with a stranger, one was asked to remain disconnected, and the control group commuted as they normally would.

While participants predicted their ride would be more enjoyable sitting in solitude, the research team found the exact opposite — those asked to engage in conversation reported a more positive, and no less productive, experience.

How do you use your commute time? Let us know in the comments.