Organization and Priorities

I wanted to share how I, personally, stay organized. This will apply to any lifestyle and isn’t exclusive to being pregnant. I’ve started helping my mom get onto the same system and she really likes it. My mom used to live a very impulsive lifestyle (she raised three kids while going through nursing school and holding down a full time career, who can blame her?) but since she was diagnosed with MS living impulsively has been less and less practical.

Whether you’re starting from scratch and re-organizing your life or you’re already organized and just looking for some quick tips, this post is for you. If you have any additional organizational pointers, feel free to leave some comments. ^.^

I work part time, help take care of my parents, freelance custom clothing, make costumes for my husband’s films, and try to keep a neat, welcoming household. It’s not easy and if I don’t keep my stuff straight it all goes south real quick. I sometimes stray from the following system, and it’s then that I find myself most stressed. When I stick to it, even if I’m extremely busy, I find my head is clear and I feel accomplished when I hit the sack, rather than fret about what I’m doing tomorrow and how I’ll get it done. I’ve found a few applications which help me streamline where I make plans and keep information:

Google Calendar  

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I use google calendar to schedule everything. Most calendar applications on android devices should be able to link into your google account and sync your schedule, so if the device you have has a google calendar app you don’t like, you should be able to find one you do.

On Google Calendar you can block out time for your own personal events, create multiple calendars (as seen in the image above) so that you know what the scheduled event is related to, and if you manage to get friends, family, and co-workers to use it as well, you’ll find it simplifies scheduling and saves a lot of time spent making extra phone calls, worrying about scheduling conflicts, or showing up for an event at the wrong time and/or in the wrong place.

When you use GC you can “Quick Add” an event by clicking on the date and typing your event (i.e. “mom’s birthday” or “7 pm dinner with client x”). From there you can edit the event to add location, description, reminders, and even send email invites. If you have a phone that’s new enough (my phone runs android jellybean), once you’ve entered an address for an event the phone will alert you to leave for the event in order to arrive on time based on your GPS location and traffic. It’s not always terribly accurate, especially when traffic is really bad or when you’re in a sparse service area, but I find that it comes in handy.

Some people are very uncomfortable with the amount of tracking this requires (GPS location transmitting, your phone keeping tabs on you, etc.) but when I share my phone’s location with Google it is private. Even if the company is tracking the data points to try to advertise to me more effectively, my GPS location is not public knowledge. This is a company I have trusted with my location information. On the flip side, I do not allow Facebook to track any location information. I don’t even have the application on my phone. I do not trust the Facebook company and thus I don’t allow them access to what could be considered sensitive information.

Any.Do

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I struggled for a long time to find a to-do list app that I really liked. I found that most of them made me want to avoid the application because of how difficult they were to use, how they looked, or how annoying the automated reminders were.

There are a few things that make this app heads above the rest. First, it looks clean. There are two options for viewing (light or dark) and bath are clean and simple. There are no gaudy graphics or distractions, and when you complete a task you just draw a line through it with your finger. Super simple. I love simple. I’m a minimalist at heart, I swear.

Categories and date separation make this app super helpful too. I personally have “home” and “work” sections on my setup. The different categories you create are called folders. You can also create tasks for today, tomorrow, upcoming, or someday. You can choose to display items by folder or by date.

Once you have decided which display options work best for you, you can create tasks to accomplish and move them around with an easy drag and drop system to change categories or dates.

One of the things I love most is that you can choose to have this application notify you daily to “plan your day” at a time you set for yourself. When you enter the plan your day screen it will go through your tasks currently listed, ask their status, give you the option to set a reminder time for each task, and encourage you to get things done. I have mine set for 9 am when I know I’ll be awake enough to plan my day.

In addition to my daily tasks I also list my blog notes on this application. I include the notes in my to-do list because they will eventually turn into future posts, ergo items to do. If you have things that aren’t quite tasks, but don’t really fit into a calender or grocery list, then you might try putting them on a to-do list and moving them around as needed.

Out of Milk

out of milk

Out of milk is a handy little grocery-list type app that helps you organize your consumable needs. It has four parts: shopping list, local grocery deals, pantry list, and a to-do list. I personally do not use the local deals or the to-do list. Under the shopping list function there is already a generic list of items you can easily add to your list using a + symbol or which you can edit using an arrow symbol. If you type in an item (bounty cherry blossom print paper towels) that item will be saved on your list so you can quick add it later. You can also list a quantity of an item (see the bolts under home depot). When you have purchased or finished with an item on your list, you simply press and hold in order to delete the item. You can also move the items around with “easy grip” icons on the right hand side (visible in the app version, not this particular screen shot). Once you place an item under a certain category it will auto-assign itself to that category the next time you add it to your list.

Here I’ve actually created a screenshot from my personal Out of Milk list to show you how I use it. This is the desktop version and it looks slightly different than the app I regularly use, but the important thing remains the same.

I use the shopping list to organize errands I need to run in advance. I make a full list for every store as my week goes on. I check the weekly weather to plan when to go shopping, choosing either the coolest day or waiting until the weekend when I can go with my husband in his air conditioned vehicle (and have him help carry groceries too ^.^). Once I have a list for each store I decide the order in which I will visit the stores by ease, route, or other needs. For example, I would rather buy some items in bulk at Costco than individually at Wegmans, but Costco does not always carry them. I color code the stores and list them alphabetically. The order in which I visit the stores changes weekly. I don’t usually go to Target or Home Depot, but recently I’ve needed odds and ends for the condo. I’ve also listed errands to run (see “price adjustment” under Hobby Lobby) and prices I’d like to compare (under Costco) to include in my trip.

The other thing I really like about Out of Milk is the pantry section. This allows you to scan in items already existing at your home so you don’t buy things you already have (you need the app on your camera phone). The scanner should also give you up to date prices on said items and if it doesn’t you can always add them in later.

This list is so handy I’ve started using it as my go-to list maker. You can create multiple lists under the “shopping lists” section, and I currently have lists open for groceries, prepping for movie shoots for my husband, and what baby clothes I still need. There are endless ways to utilize the app. Some people prefer to list categories within a store rather than individual stores. I do hope that I’ve given you some great ideas on how to use it, and that you’ll give it a go.

General Tips

The absolute most important thing about getting organized is to take small, manageable steps. Don’t overwhelm yourself with a completely new system overnight. It’s easy to get frustrated and slip back into old habits. I had a difficult time finding a to-do list app that I liked so I would scribble a few tasks on a piece of paper instead, lose it by lunch, and go to sleep feeling completely unproductive and frustrated (or stay up until odd hours of the morning folding laundry). Living a purely impulsive lifestyle is taxing and tiring, but throwing yourself into a whirlwind of change isn’t stable either. Take it slow to ensure that the steps you take really stick. Remember:

Very quickly turns into:

This next one sounds silly, but micro-manage your task planning (to a certain extent). When you make a to-do list for the day, don’t throw on “laundry, vacuum, dust, dinner.” Think about what it entails and mark individual tasks: “launder whites, vacuum office and bedroom, swap laundry/add darks, vacuum stairs and hall, swap and fold laundry/add delicates, vacuum guest room and living room, swap and fold laundry/add towels, vacuum dining room and kitchen.” That’s a full day’s work. Expecting to dust and prepare a spiffy dinner is likely unrealistic. This kind of micro-managing is especially important when you have a physical inability to perform a long list of tasks per day, such as being pregnant. Micro-managing tasks makes you aware of how much work a simplified task can actually take and lets you plan your day realistically.

My last tip is not for everyone. There has been a lot of cyber-security scares recently and people are concerned about how much companies and government watch their online activities. But I believe that automation on computer systems can really help. Look at all the great innovations we have had in maths and sciences since the development of the calculator!

That being said, my last tip is this: if the computer is smart enough to think and remember for you, then let it. I have very poor short term memory right now and it is such a relief that my phone tells me “hey, you’ve got this appointment in 40 minutes and it’s 30 minutes away, you should probably get going.” Because my phone is set to alert me to these kinds of things, it’s even reminded me of appointments I never put in my calendar. I once had a meeting I’d agreed to via email and lo and behold my phone buzzed to remind me with ample time to get to said appointment. I’m very lucky it did because I’d completely forgotten about it.

My phone is linked into all my Google goodies (Google is my primary organization tool) and it’s linked to Chrome (my web browser). That means that when I search for something on my phone, decide instead to look for it on my desktop, wait for my computer to boot, and forget what it was I was looking for, I can simply pull up recent searches from my phone on my desktop browser. Neat-o stuff. You can learn to do those kinds of things and more through Google’s numerous help pages, I won’t bore you with it now.

It is very important that you maintain wise discretion when using these applications. My calendar is by no means public. Those who have access to it are hand chosen and most have limited access. If I wanted I could even block individuals from seeing specific events (like if I had a sensitive doctor appointment). While I love how much these applications can help me, I would urge you to be smart about the kinds of information you pump out. For example: my phone’s GPS is always on, but it does not update my location on public interfaces without my consent. It’s only for my convenience. I don’t like being publicly tracked.

The bottom line is that technology can really help you become organized quickly and maintain a streamlined lifestyle. Don’t sell your organization short by falling for the fear mongers. At the same time be smart. Don’t plan your secret agent hoopla online.

*Any.Do and Out of Milk are Android applications for phones and tablets. They are frequently updated and subject to change appearance and functionality.

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