Sunday, February 27, 2005

Using Lists and Checklists (Part 2)

Tip of the Week, February 20, 2005

Last week's tip covered some useful To Do lists and travel planning checklists; this week, we'll take a look at lists and checklists intended to help make home management, event planning, and cleaning and organizing projects easier and, well, more organized!

Home management
Home management encompasses the day-to-day tasks we all face: cooking, cleaning, and keeping on top of household schedules. With so much to do, a few lists and reminders can definitely help.

To keep your kitchen running smoothly and to avoid discovering either that you've run out of a supply you need or that you can't see the back of your fridge, try printing out a few of the free checklists and planners from There's a freezer inventory list, a pantry inventory list, and a shopping list, as well as a few menu planners and recipe lists.

Cleaning and laundry may never actually be fun, but they can be somewhat less painful if you approach them methodically and can track your progress along the way. To keep tabs on your household's cleaning tasks, try creating your own checklist template (either by hand or with a word processing program) that outlines what tasks need to be done when, and who's responsible for them. Post the list in a visible place each week and let each household member check off the tasks he or she has completed.

Streamline your laundry chores by creating a list of any special handling instructions (for example, which items of clothing need to go in the gentle cycle and which need to be air dried); to make things even easier, you may want to include a miniature Polaroid or a digital picture of each item on the list so you know at a glance what you're referring to. Post the list in your laundry area for easy reference.

Finally, make household scheduling easier by keeping one central calendar for the whole family and posting it in a convenient spot. For a printable month-by-month calendar, visit You may also want to consider a laminated calendar (sold in any office supply store) that can be customized to your family; give each member his or her own colored eraseable marker so it's easy to track who's doing what on each day.

Event planning checklists
Though major events like weddings and milestone anniversary celebrations require more than a few checklists and guides, many other happenings--from birthday parties to holiday celebrations--can come together much more easily with the help of lists.

To get an overview of what's involved in planning a child's birthday party, and to keep tabs on the tasks you've completed, try using one of's birthday party planners. The site also offers forms for grown-up parties, including a budgeting sheet, a guest list, and a planner.

When it comes to holiday celebrations, the folks at Martha Stewart Living have some great (and, yes, some crazy and impossible) ideas. In the past year, the staff has developed free, printable holiday planning guides, available on the Web site, for everything from Valentine's Day to Christmas. Simply choose your holiday from the MSL site, download and print the related guide (in PDF form), and start planning.

Cleaning and organizing lists
When the party's over and it's time for a good spring (or fall) cleaning or a round of clutter clearing, a comprehensive checklist can help. Here again, takes the cake with a series of customizable spring cleaning checklists--one for each area of the home--that let you list tasks, delegate them, and track what's been done. The Martha Stewart Living folks also offer a list of spring cleaning chores to help you plan your attack.

To plan and track your organizing projects, try starting with a basic cleaning checklist template and customizing it. If, for example, you're working on clearing the clutter from your garage, make a list of all the tasks involved, however small or mundane (e.g., remove and recycle empty boxes, sort tools and supplies, give away unused sports equipment); as you work through each one, check it off on your list. This will help you work methodically and make sure you don't miss a task.

Whatever project or task you take on, using lists and checklists to plan your attack and track your progress can help you go about it in an organized fashion, stay on target, and enjoy your achievements both along the way and once you're done.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Using Lists and Checklists (Part 1)

Tip of the Week, February 13, 2005

Many tasks that can be considered organizing in one way or another--from clearing out the attic to planning for travel to keeping your everyday life on track--can seem difficult if you don't know where to start, don't have a way to track your progress, and can't always remember what's left to do. That's why lists and checklists are invaluable: they provide an overview of what you need to do, let you see what you've already done, and give you a sense of what comes next.

Here are some of my favorite list ideas, resources, and products; find one that's right for you and give it a try.

To Do lists
Most of us probably keep some kind of To Do list, but if it's on various scraps of paper that tend to get lost or buried in piles, it's probably not doing its job. So skip the backs of envelopes, random sticky notes, and scattered scratch pads and try one of these ideas instead.

If you're technologically inclined and are more likely to turn to your computer or PDA to keep tabs on your tasks, use the Tasks, To Do, or Calendar function on your gadget to track the things you need to do. Ideally, the tool you use will provide some way of not only making lists but also getting reminders, checking off tasks when they're done, and moving To Do's around as needed (from one day to another, for example).

If low-tech solutions are more your speed, consider using a dedicated To Do pad that stays parked in one place (on your desk, on the kitchen counter, etc.). I love the pre-printed To Do pad from Knock Knock; it's a great size, features different categories of things to do (tasks, errands, correspondence), and includes space for notes.

You can also print your own To Do sheets using online templates; the Daily To Do List and Master To Do List from are two options. Of course, you might also want to put your creativity to work by designing your own template with a word processing program or by hand; print out several days' worth at a time so you can easily keep tabs on what you've done throughout the week.

Travel planning checklists
If you've ever inadvertantly packed two of the same item, arrived at the airport for an international trip without your passport, or left the house for a two-week vacation without turning off the hot water, you can imagine how useful travel checklists can be.

There are three kinds of travel checklists to consider: trip planning lists, packing lists, and pre-departure lists. Many travel guides feature some kind of trip planning checklist, and most travel agents and vacation agencies offer lists as well. For a more free-form approach, consider buying a book like Abroad: A Travel Organizer and Journal, which has space for plenty of lists and ideas.

To create a packing checklist, try starting with this one from David Allen (a time management expert); as he recommends, copy his list into a word processing program and then add and delete items based on what you generally need to pack or what you'll need for a particular trip. For other sample packing checklists, check out the printable version on and the very comprehensive version from Campers Village.

Finally, consider using a pre-departure checklist to be sure you leave your house safe and secure when you go away and to ensure that last minute tasks don't get forgotten. Here's a sample pre-departure checklist; you can also use a word processing program to create your own, based on the particulars of your home and family.

One great idea (compliments of my brother) is to laminate your pre-departure checklist and post it near your front door; as you complete each task, check it off with an eraseable marker, and then take a final look at the list before you leave. After you return from your trip, work in reverse: for example, uncheck the box labeled "Turn off hot water heater" once you've turned it back on, and uncheck "Stop mail" after you've retrieved your held mail from the post office. When all the boxes are unchecked again, stow the list in a file folder until your next trip.

Coming up
Next week's Tip will feature lists and checklists for home management, event planning, and cleaning and organizing projects. Is there a list resource you'd like to see? Drop me a line and let me know.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Your Favorite Tips, Tricks, and Resources

Tip of the Week, February 6, 2005

Last week, I asked you to send me your favorite organizing tips, ideas, books, and products, and I got some great responses. (Thank you to those who wrote in!) Here's what your fellow Tip of the Week readers recommend to get and stay organized.

Everyday organizing
"Before: Every night I'd lay out some clothes for [my son] Ben to wear the next day. Sometimes [my husband] Mike would help him get dressed and not realize that I had an outfit laid out and ready. By the end of the week, we'd end up with clothes laying all over his room, some clean some not.

After: I went to an organized living type store and bought a 'Days of the Week organizer for kids.' It is really cute, it has an individual pocket/shelf for Monday through Friday and at the bottom it has a place for shoes. Now every Sunday, Ben and I pick out his outfits for the week and then he puts them in a designated day. Then each morning, no matter who helps him dress, they use the clothes for that day. Now we don't have outfits laying all over the room and Ben's clothes are ready for the whole week."--Elissa Darnell

"When I have a lot of things going on at once, I often start the day feeling very focused and by afternoon I am so scattered that I can't seem to accomplish anything. So I do two things-- first, when I come in, I make a list of all the things I am planning on doing that day on my desk calendar, and then at 2 when I am frazzled I can look at them.

Second, I make piles of the things I will need for each project on my desk, so when I look around I know I am working to clear my desk, and I need to do a certain set of things to each pile and then I can put it away again."--Monique O'Connell

Organized travel
"I have gotten in the habit of rolling each piece of my clothing into a tight roll when packing. If you do it carefully, it prevents wrinkles and it's easy to take things out afterwards without disturbing the surrounding stuff if you're not hanging it all up in a closet right away. You end up having a suitcase full of little burrito-like rolls. It saves space, too."--Ellen Rosenthal

"My favorite organizing tip so far has been packing the travel-toiletries case and leaving it packed and ready to go. Putting that stuff together was always a very stressful, last-minute part of packing for me, and now I never worry about it. Everything is packed and ready to go, and if I get low on anything in my case over the course of my trip, I just refill as soon as I get home."--Dana Goldberg

Helpful products
"I swear by Rhodia pads. They come in various sizes, and you can usually find them at an art supply store. They are indispensable for my work and I usually buy a smaller size. I love two things about them. First, they have a grid printed on them making it easy to divide up a page, so they work well for both lists and more complex planning projects.

Second, the pages tear out from a little perforation at the top, better than the messy tears from a spiral bound book. For me this is essential as I always have multiple projects and to do lists at any given time. I can tear them out (stack them up if necessary) and post them on a cork board with a section for each project. It makes keeping track of various projects' to dos much easier and I can zero in on those specific tasks without having to wade through items that, while important, aren't relevant to that project. Plus, as I cross things off a page, tasks for other projects aren't lost in a messy page; they're on their own little sheet a few inches over on my cork board."--Jenn Cole [Look for Rhodia pads in your local art or stationery supply store, or check them out online at Kate's Paperie.]

And one great book
"My job involves a lot of paperwork and scholarly articles. I used to have a very elaborate system that divided these articles by theme, or by chronology, or by geographical area. However, when it came time to find the article I wanted, I could never locate it because I could never remember how I'd categorized it.

I used an idea I read in [Judith Kolberg's] Conquering Chronic Disorganization: by thinking about what came to mind first, I reorganized and can now find things much more easily because the system is less complicated.

The book also advocated replacing the Miscellaneous file with 'muttered' categories, and that has worked well for me too."--M. O'Connell

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Overcoming Organizing Obstacles (Part 2)

Tip of the Week, January 30, 2005

In last week's tip we looked at ways of dealing with unrealistic expectations (both our own and others') that can get in the way of getting organized. This week, we'll cover two more ways of overcoming the obstacles that are likely to come up at some point during an organizing project.

Remember that some is better than none
I think of organizing like eating well and exercising: some of us love it, some of us hate it, but we all know that it can have positive effects on our lives. As with other healthy habits, we may feel that we need to do a lot of it to benefit at all, which means that if we can only do a little, we shouldn't bother.

But I beg to differ. The medical experts who say that an hour of exercise every day is ideal also say that even 20 or 30 minutes a few times a week can have an impact; and even if you can't imagine eating 7 servings of veggies each day, it's worthwhile to try for 2 or 3. The same is true of organizing: if the thought of decluttering the whole house at once is a bit overwhelming, don't give up altogether. Just start smaller: focus on one room at a time and do what you realistically can without burning out.

If your day seems so full that you have time to do nothing more than make the bed or empty the dishwasher, simply make the bed or empty the dishwasher. Doing some small task, no matter how insubstantial it may seem, is better than doing nothing at all, as it helps reinforce the positive habits you're working on. You may find that after you've finished the one small task you set out to do, you have time for another one--but even if you don't, you've still accomplished something.

Look forward, look back
We each have our own reasons for wanting to get organized, whether long-term (the clutter is driving you nuts, and you want it gone for good!) or short-term (you've agreed to host a party for your brother's birthday next month and want your house to be welcoming to your guests). Regardless of what's inspired you, it's helpful to keep it in mind as you work on getting organized; doing so can help you get beyond the snags and snares you encounter on the way.

Here, too, the comparison to healthy lifestyle habits makes sense: one weekend of eating junk food and camping out on the couch for hours doesn't mean your long-term goals of healthy eating and exercise are destined to fail. The same goes for organizing: if you find that you've gone for a few days (or longer) without dealing with piles or working to keep things in order, take a minute to remind yourself of your ultimate goal and then get back into the groove of things.

Remember not only to look forward to your goal but also to look back at the progress you've made. When you've finished part of your project, however small, take a moment to look closely at it and enjoy it. You may even want to take a picture for future inspiration. Just be sure to take pleasure in the rewards--visual, mental, emotional, functional--of the work you've done.

It's your turn!
For next week's tip, I want to hear from you: what are your favorite organizing tips? What tricks, ideas, and inspiration sources have worked for you? What organizing advice would you pass along to others? Are there organizing books or resources you swear by? E-mail me at and let me know; I'll post the replies in the February 6 Tip of the Week.