2011 Organization Challenge

Are you ready for a challenge?  One of my goals for 2011 is to create a more organized life and home.  I’d love some company on this journey!   Join me as I organize my home, one room at a time, one project at a time.   I’ve heard it said:  How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.  The only way to tackle the challenge of being more organized is to make small changes and take one bite at a time.  There is one suggested assignment for each week, allowing enough time to complete the plan and to encourage a new habit.  Of course, you can work at your own pace.  I’ll be using some printable forms from the site:  www.organizedhome.com, more specifically, the printable pages for a household notebook.  Those of you who border on obsessive/compulsive behavior will immediately want to print every form and read every article.  Not a bad idea, but when I’ve tried that approach in the past, I have become discouraged because I can’t do it all.  This year, I’m taking a new approach:  slow and steady wins the race.  If I can make one change each week  I can make a big change, and hopefully a permanent change, by the end of the year. You may want to include your son or daughter in this project.  Help them set up their own organizational system for activities and school work.  It will give them necessary organizational skills to run a home or a business in the future.

During this journey, I would love to hear your stories.  Post a comment to this article and let me know how you’re doing, what suggestions have worked for you, or ideas that you have for other readers.  So, if you’re ready, let’s go!

WEEK #1-Buy or Make Your Own Planner, Set Goals

Ok, so it does seem like two goals in one week but since it’s the beginning of the year, you’re probably more motivated and won’t have any problem finishing both projects.  Let's start by managing information.  I just can’t keep everything in my brain anymore, and gratefully I don’t have to!  Einstein said he never memorized anything he could look up.  I agree, so I write things down—on tiny scraps of paper that seem to disappear from my home.  This year, my goal is to write down phone numbers, addresses and important notes in a planner so they will be accessible when I need them.  If don't already own a planner, then purchase or make one.

What you will need:

Three-ring binder with pockets

Dividers  (Plain dividers are sufficient, but office supply stores carry heavy duty plastic dividers that have pockets.  The number of dividers depends on what you prefer.  You will need at least 8   dividers.  Also, you’ll need 11 more dividers if you would like one divider for each month.

Pack of Notebook Paper

Page Protectors, optional (a small pack should be plenty)

Cover (Design your own or print one from organized home.com)

A pencil (I write everything in pencil because you never know when you might need to make adjustments.  I particularly like the mechanical pencils because they always have a sharp point.)

Divider #1-“Goals”

Set Some Goals

Ask God what His goals are for your year ahead and write them down.  Sure, there are lots of things you could do, but what does God want you to do?  And yes, you have to write them down.  Somehow they’re more official that way and you’ll probably be more committed.  You may want to use the link from the December 2010 Newsletter to access  Remembrances and Revelations tool that can help you evaluate the past year and plan for the year ahead.  Listen to God carefully as you choose your larger goals.  No one knows better than I that if you choose too many goals for the stage of life you are in, you will feel discouraged when you aren’t able to accomplish them.

Establish smaller goals to achieve the larger goal.

Set smaller goals for each month or even each week.  For example, maybe your larger goal is to get into shape.  If you are currently NOT exercising at all, set a goal to exercise 2-3 days a week for a month or so and maybe increase it to four days for another couple months.  Keep adding days until you reach your goal.  For each larger goal you have already established, write numbered smaller steps below that will help you achieve that goal.  This is your game plan for the year.  Put it in a page protector in the goals section of your planner.

Stay focused on your goals.

In my life, there are always more opportunities and activities than I have time for.  When the girls were little, God gave us a system to make decisions about family activities.  Here is a very simplified version of some of the questions we asked: Is this something God wants us to do?  (That answer isn’t always easy.)  How much free time do we have available this week/month?  Do we already have a commitment? (Don’t abandon one commitment if you get a better offer!) Does this activity conflict with God’s word or any principle in it?  Is it good for the family or just one of the members?  Is this activity part of the calling for our family or one of our children?  Will this activity help us reach our goals?  Is this something we want to do?

Don’t give up.

Sometimes it seems like two steps forward and one step back.  But that’s still more steps forward!  Using that same goal of getting into shape, exercise today, even if you haven’t exercised in a few days or even a few weeks.  Don’t wait until Monday to start or to change your eating habits.  Start today.  Maybe you’re working hard and meeting your smaller goals but things are happening as fast as you’d like.  Don’t give up.  Ask and expert or experienced friend for advice and look for ways to make adjustments.  Above all, ask for help from God.  He hears and answers the cries of His children.

Week #2:  Make a daily schedule.

Divider #2 “Schedule”

A daily schedule is budget for time, a guide to help make the most of each minute of the day.  However, unexpected situations arise and require flexibility.  Use the schedule as a guide to help you, not as something to control your day.  You may want to put this page in a page protector or post it on the refrigerator.

While a yearly calendar includes special activities or events, a daily schedule should include activities that happen every day:  Wake time, devotions or quiet time, exercise, bath/shower time, school time divided by specific classes, daily chores weekly activities such as church activities, sports, music lessons and dance lessons--including travel time, nap time, family worship, bed time.  Don’t forget to include time to accomplish your 2011 goals.

There are several ways to make a schedule:

Weekly schedule by the hour or half-hour:  This schedule is best for families who have many activities scheduled on different days.

Daily schedule by the hour or half-hour:  For those who have days that look exactly the same, this schedule is for you.  For the past 10 years or so, I’ve used this type of schedule for our family.  Each girl had her own column reflecting her schedule fr that day.  I usually posted the schedule on the frig.  As the girls grew, I copied their schedule so each could post the schedule in their room.  The template has remained the same, but the schedule has been created and recreated, adjusted and readjusted based on our growing family and their changing needs.

Daily Schedule by blocks:  This schedule works best for those who prefer a little more flexibility.  Divide your day into one, two or three hour blocks such as early morning, late morning, lunch, early afternoon, late afternoon, dinner, etc.  Then fill the blocks with activities such as school, nap time, family time, lunch, chores, etc.  I don’t have a form for this one, but you could print the above form and use a highlighter or marker to draw around the boxes of time you want to make into a block.  If you make a template using a dark colored marker, you could photo copy your template for future use.

A schedule should not be set in stone; it is most effective when adjusted based on changing needs.  Don’t be afraid to add or take away activities or to adjust the time allotted to an activity.

Week #3:  Make a Monthly/Yearly Schedule

Divider #3-“Calendar” or dividers for each month

One of the most important tools to stay organized is a yearly calendar.  A calendar allows us to intentionally choose how to spend our time.  With a month-at-a-glance calendar I’m able to see what activities are already planned so that I don’t double-book.  I can also monitor how many nights of the week we ’re together as a family before I commit to dinner at a friend’s home.  Without a calendar, I’m sure I would be running from one thing to another without any time to think or reflect.

Buy or print a calendar.

The size of the calendar doesn’t matter, but the more events you have on a given day, the larger the block you’ll need.  I have kept a DayPlanner system for years, so I buy calendar refills each year.  If you don't have one, you can print a calendar for free.

Record all birthdays or anniversaries of family members and close friends.

There is a separate form for birthdays, but I find myself forgetful and I don’t look at the separate calendar.  I choose to transfer the birthdays each year.  I record the person’s name in all caps at the top of the date square just beside the number.

Here’s how to record the following items:

A morning event goes at the top of the square, an evening event at the bottom.  Be sure to include the time and address or other necessary notes.  For an event with lots of notes, write the notes in the side margin or back of the calendar.  Keep the invitation in the inside pocket of your notebook/planner.

Record any doctor, dentist, or orthodontist appointments.

I always schedule mine on Tuesdays around lunch time.  I know that the day is free since we have no other activities planned on that day

Record any family events, vacation, birthday parties, or other events.

At our house, nothing goes on the schedule until I confirm it with my husband.

Record any church events.

Again, nothing goes on the schedule until I confirm it with my husband.

Week #4:  Make a Weekly or Daily To-Do List, Add Blank Pages

Divider #4 “To Do”

There are several form options for your to-do list.  You may want a “master to-do list” and prioritize the entries with numbers or by the date they need to be accomplished.  You could even write immediate needs on the top and tasks to be completed later at the bottom.

You could also use the "Daily Planner" page.  The page is divided into four sections:  to do, to go, to call, to buy.  This is my favorite because I generally organize what I have to do by those categories.  I can make several calls at once or I might run errands on one afternoon.  Personally, I would use it as a weekly to-do list, since I try not to put more than 5 things on my list—outside of the normal requirements of cooking, cleaning, and homeschooling.

Lastly, you could try “Weekly Planner” pages that have various lines for each day.  There are two options:  a one-page spread with all seven days and no lines, and a two-page spread that divides half the week on each page with lines in each box.

If you haven’t used any of these systems, you may want to experiment to see which one works best for you.  Chances are, you’ll have to adjust one of them to make it perfectly meet your needs.

Divider #5-Notes

Add some notebook paper in this section.  Whenever you need to make a note of something from a phone conversation or plan a birthday celebration or remember directions somewhere, write the date in the left margin and write your notes beside it.  This is not a to-do list, but a place to keep information you will need to recall at a later date.  It will save hours of searching for the ripped corner of the bulletin that holds priceless information.

You’re well on your way to putting systems in place to order your world.  Next month we’ll tackle recipes, menu planning, grocery lists and the kitchen.

Merry Organized Christmas

Long before there were organizing experts or special stores devoted solely to organizing, my mom had set up my dresser drawers with separate shoe boxes for socks and “unmentionables.” She color-coded the photo albums, school folders, and even bath towels. Christmas was no exception for her organizational skill.  Mom made lists in September and had her shopping done before Thanksgiving.  Nearly 80 Christmas cards were hand-addressed, signed in her perfect penmanship, and sent on the Friday after Christmas.  The every box of Christmas decorations was clearly labeled and the wrapping was finished long before Christmas Eve.

I am grateful that some of that organization has filtered down to her daughter, but I sometimes wish that my Christmas (and my closets!) were a little more organized.  I believe the key to organization is prior planning and lots of lists (so the information doesn’t have to stay in my head!).  If you’re looking for some tips to better organize your Christmas celebrations, check out organizedchristmas.com. You’ll find a Christmas countdown with a daily assignment, holiday tips, recipes, and printable forms for a budget, gifts, Christmas cards, menus, and lots more. (There are enough forms to keep you busy until next Christmas!)  Certainly it isn’t necessary to fill out each form, but I find it helpful to choose forms that apply to the most unorganized areas of my Christmas celebration.  When I make notes, it helps me better use my time and resources to accomplish my goals.  This year I plan to use the Ornament Journal to record the history of special ornaments that hang on our tree and the Holiday Menu Planner.

Most of all, don’t let the enemy of our soul use disorganization to steal your joy and paralyze you.  Choose not to compare yourself to anyone else and remember you are a precious daughter of the King of Kings.  His love for you isn’t based on your organizational skills.  Ask God to give you direction and help you make a plan.  Do the best you can with the time and money you have, but don’t forget to choose to be fully present in the moment.  Find joy in the chaos of decorating; find joy in the long (and sometimes loud!) trip to visit relatives; find joy in being with friends; find joy in remembering Jesus who was born to give us life, and life more abundantly. (John 10:10)


Be Intentional

Some may call me crazy, but I thrive on organization and planning.  I used some sort of “day planner” since I was a young girl.  In middle school my homework planner had Snoopy on the front, in high school it was a notebook of sorts, and in college a calendar held the due dates of my assignments.  After I graduated from college, I needed only a calendar and a wedding planner since most of my free time was spent with my husband-to-be.  I worked as a teacher after our marriage and found that my lesson plan book suited my need for organization.  But when the children came… Victoria arrived the day after the last the day of school.  No transition time between teacher and mother.  I was blessed to be able to stay home with her, but our days were like the wind—wherever, whenever, and if.  I found myself turning on the TV for news in the morning and leaving it on for hours in my day while I went about my business.  I dreaded meal time because I generally had no idea what we would be eating.  I was sporadic about cleaning, using the “if there’s a ring in the toilet, then it must need to be cleaned” philosophy.  I did laundry when someone was about to run out of something.  There was no order in my home.

Proverbs 29:18  Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.

At a trip to the local Christian bookstore, I discovered a Christian woman’s planner—not for the business minded, but for homemakers.  (I am sad to say that this particular planner is out of print, but you can make your own planner with printable pages at www.organizedhome.com.)  The book literally saved my life.  It helped me to make a reasonable list each day (when the block was filled, I couldn’t add another thing!) and to plan my meals and a coordinating grocery list.  The best part was a section on the side with a list of priorities and space to record how I would bless my family that week.  As I began to use this tool, I found more time than I knew I had!  (I still maintain that I get more done with four children than I ever did with only one!)  I found I could focus on what needed to be done today, knowing that I could wait until tomorrow or next week to do other things.  Meal time was a joy since I wasn’t frantically trying to come up with a recipe to suit my meager stash of ingredients.  I discovered I actually liked to cook!  Our home became much more peaceful and I personally was more at peace, as well.

Proverbs 14:15 A simple man believes anything, but a prudent man gives thought to his steps.

Years later, I still have a planner on my kitchen counter.  It has my list of to-do’s, my meals for the coming week, a list of books I’ve loaned out, and a running list of Christmas gifts I think of throughout the year.  I find that having this system of organization helps me have a plan.  I become intentional.  Since I know what we’re eating, I know what groceries to buy.  Therefore, I’m not wandering in the store searching for what looks good.  I save time and money.  I also group my errands together on the same day and by location, saving time and gas money.  I set goals and accomplish them—well, most of them.  Making a plan gives me a sense of purpose, keeps me focused and helps me accomplish the things I value.

Proverbs 16:9 In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.

My intent is not to sell you on the usefulness of using a daily planner, but I find that this same principle of intentionality works with raising children.  As parents, it is our responsibility to seek God for His plans for our young children and later to partner with our young adult children to discover God’s will.  (Isn’t that taking control of your life?  No, God is always in control and may override our plans and readjust our goals at any time He chooses.)  If my husband and I have no goals for our daughters and they have no goals for themselves, it is easy to aimlessly wander and fill up time with activities of little value.  But if we set clear goals for our daughters’ spiritual lives and for their character, we can make wise decisions about how to use our time, money, and energies (and which homeschool curriculum to use!) to meet those goals.

Action Steps I’m probably preaching to the choir, but it is my heart’s desire that parents seek God and hear His goals and His heart for their family and for each of their children.  Here are some suggestions for a process of establishing goals.  If you are married, whether your spouse is a believer or not, please work together in this process.  You each bring a different perspective and it will help you understand each other better. (Since marriage is the foundation of family relationships, you may want to use this process for your marriage first.)  Pray for God’s wisdom as you set goals for your family.

  • Ask God for His vision for your family (Ex.  This is what God wants our family to look like.)  Write your family’s vision statement.
  • Record what needs to happen in order to meet those goals.
  • Make a list of the personal character traits that you desire your children to have.  (The list may be the different for each child or the same for all of them.)
  • Of the listed character traits, choose one or two to focus on each month.  It doesn’t have to be formal (with a curriculum), just intentional (reminders, scriptures, prayer, and heart-to-heart talks).
  • For each child, write down future goals for them based on their gifts and calling.
  • Evaluate all of your family activities in light of the goals for your family and children.  Are your extra activities helping you achieve those goals?  If not, you may need to make some changes.  Which activities need to go?  What activities can you add to support your goals?
  • With children’s goals in mind, what activities would encourage their gifts and callings?

This is certainly not a comprehensive list of steps in your planning process, but I hope it will inspire you as you begin or refine the process of being intentional as you raise sons and daughters who will know Him and make Him known.