Organization Advice for Home, School and Office

This is how my drive to organize began. I decided to grab my Palm Pilot on the way out the door this morning but couldn’t find it! It lay wasting away under the latest pile of magazines and junk mail. Then and there I decided that if Palms or some other gadget were the great salvation of the organizationally challenged, I had better get a plan together fast! What I discovered along the way is that tools alone are not enough. Neither are lists, folders, shelves, computers, or folders. All these tools need to be part of a holistic approach to organizing that suits the individual at school, at home, and at the office. Each of my really great tools and tips gleaned from others were great ideas alone but without linking them to a plan I was as lost organizationally as before. Well, bereft of a need to thrash my papers about any longer, this morning I’ve decided it’s time to discover how to integrate my tools into my approach to paper management inside and outside the home. And of course the sooner I start, the easier it will be to make continuing my plan second nature.

Getting Your Tools Together

Tools are essential elements of any organization effort. Anything that helps to put things in places where they are easy to find and access, is a useful tool. More important than tools though is to start thinking what organizing will accomplish. For me, eliminating duplication of my efforts and knowing where things will be are the most important goals I can reach. A favorite pen to write letters, special stationery, a specific area for filing, envelopes, markers, sticky notes, or notepads for personal lists are all useful and beneficial. How these tools can help me reach my goals are even more important, and it’s the approach that works best for the individual. For instance, I have a Palm that was obviously being underutilized. Normally I carry a notepad for jotting ideas or creating to- do lists, an older organizer with a calculator, address book, calendar, and a favorite pen and pencil. Duplication of efforts is not what I’m after and streamlining is. Other great additions to this milieu of tools are pencils, a stapler, a hole-puncher, a CD burner, rewrite-able disks, or any other tools that will help get the job done with the least amount of financial involvement or burden. I can take that Palm and have one tool serve numerous purposes, but easily it could be a notepad or organizer that holds any relevant paperwork.

Starting At Home

First, it’s time to stock an arsenal of tools, or put the current tools to use. At a minimum, the paper tiger can be tamed with a good shredder that will make confetti out of a paper jam. Make it a rule that any paper entering the home gets acted upon. I’d say this is the hardest for me, so I moved a chic wastebasket close to the door. It’s small enough so that it would irritate me if there were too many papers in it but nice enough that I don’t mind it being the first item I see.

Sales flyers and other assorted mailings go straight in the trash after making sure it’s not something like a credit offer. Credit offers or other items that could potentially put me at risk if they fell into the wrong hands go straight into a cross-cut shredder. For other items though,I prefer to let the stuff stack up before acting on it. This can be counterproductive to cleaning up miscellaneous papers, so I’ve at least advanced to finishing the organizing to Fridays after work, or Sunday afternoons.

After following the advice of Sue Becker, owner of From Piles to Smiles, an organizing service, I decided to create a holding folder with relevant dating so that every slip of paper can be acted upon. It prevents my inbox from becoming a mish-mash of all papers and neatly organizes them into categories. Best of all, this clear file folder sits open in the inbox and contains papers to be acted upon in the following categories.

Folder Label – Description

Mail – Contains items stamped and ready to go out the door
Call – Contains items that I need to do callbacks about or resolve over the phone
Computer – Contains items that I need to put on the PC
Do – Contains items that I need to go outside to do or will take time to finish
DVDs/CDs – Contains any slips for purchase of CDs or DVDs and will go into the Do box later
Pay 15th – Contains bills due, up to and including the 15th
Pay 30th – Contains bills due between the 16th and end of the month
Write – Contains letters or E-mails I need to write
Restaurants – Contains coupons for any local dinner specials

I use clear envelopes available from any retailer to separate items that I’ll act on later. As Sue Becker puts it, “what is comfortable and will actually be used is most important because if it’s not then the whole organizational effort becomes self defeating.” It at least makes me feel better to have the stuff out of the way and clearly see what it is, “’cause I ain’t a quitter!”

For Class

Class organization is essential when engaged in an online program. Attending a university without the normal cues or campus activities of a land based campus makes it easy to overlook papers, dates, and schedules, combined with the responsibilities of work and home. There is no one to say what is next on the agenda or keep track of our work. The idea I have is easy enough to implement in this area, though. The first tip I have is to devise a 3-ring binder or notebook organization method. Invest in a TrapperKeeperâÂ?¢. These are readily available in a variety of shapes and sizes during the back-to-school season but can be obtained all year round. There are all sorts of approaches out there, so if my suggestions don’t work, there are always other ways to do it. What worked in high school and the freshman year of college can still work for organizing online homework, files, materials, and textbooks.

Organization is simple because these folders by Mead and other companies contain everything necessary to maintain, store, and organize paper, books, pens, and even diskettes. Just divide the folders by subject when taking more than one course at a time or divide each folder into class-weeks. Reminders and notes can be contained in the relevant area for reference and an important appointment need never be missed. These folder suites usually contain a scheduling section so if you aren’t too time-taxed beyond work or family responsibilities, it’s easy to keep track of how many hours should be allocated towards an educational activity even on busy weekends.

Another useful application for a notebook is the “hole punch” method. A friend of mine uses the “hole punch” method to collect her online documents offline for reading on her train commute. She downloads and prints her information then places it in the week designated for paper drafts. In addition, she usually uses the syllabus to decide how to attack the web research. When it comes to the week to begin, her resources are already neatly arranged.

Theresa Riley, a UOP student, suggests using a tabbed system in a three ring binder. Using tabs, tab 1 is for the module, tab 2 for the teacher’s syllabus, tab 3 for bios, and each week gets put into its own tab (i.e., Week 1, Week 2, etc.). A calendar can be added to the front once class is under way. This will allow for assignments or milestones to be easily tracked throughout the course. Best of all, three ring binders are low cost, come in smaller sizes, and take up very little space on the bookshelf.

The same binder methods stated above can be used virtually on student desktops or within a mail reader like Outlook Express. Students can create a folder, then work on creating subfolders with labels common in the online class environment: Classroom, Assignments, Research, and Group Submissions might be some common labels. Then just place documents in the right area or keep track of the drafts that are posted. Personal organizers that utilize Palm type software also have the same capability and those with modems allow students to access the latest information, jot notes, or read files anywhere in the world. Let your personal preference be your guide.

For the Home

Speaking of personalized taste, this is the area where we can go all out. Here, your whim and family, not corporate or school rules control the paper management system that works best. Nothing beats organizing the home since it makes our carefree time much more relaxing. I personally like to know where things are, and even when the most cluttered, seem to know where everything is; but I prefer to think that if I awakened with amnesia, I could find that darn Palm organizer and my favorite pen. For singles, finding a method and sticking with it isn’t too hard when it’s customized to what is most comfortable. If others will utilize the same organization system, it takes some preplanning to get it all working right. First, create a checklist to help decide which method to use. This is just an example but decide on whether or not you would rather store items online or offline.

Phone numbers – Online
Notes – Online
Receipts – Online
Clippings – Online
Documents – Offline
Insurance or other documents – Online
Lists – Offline
Coupons – Offline

Once I’ve decided how to store things, it makes where to store them an easier decision. For example, my virtual items will be stored on my PC. The PC will let me download them to my Palm if necessary, or if I’m on the phone I can read the item clearly, E-mail it in a more compact form such as a Zip file, or fax from the computer. Storage becomes a snap as I can scan documents that are secured elsewhere, like a safe deposit box or in a fire-proof safe. Conversely, if I need to print some items, I could use one of the folder methods mentioned above. If I no longer need the copy, then I can just shred, recycle, or throw it out. Nothing could be simpler! The best part of the virtual system is that I can eventually scan the items I like, committing them to a CD-RW or DVD format for future reference.

Well, back to the formerly lost Palm. I not only know where it is, but with a little hard work, great suggestions, a solid plan, and practical application, I’ve got everything else organized and right at my fingertips as well.

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