Life

5 ways to instantly become more organized

 

I am addicted to get-organized-quick schemes. When I’m not busy at work, my favorite thing to do is watch webinars on how to best use my iPhone, Outlook, and other tools to be the most productive and organized person in the world that I can be.

After a couple of these webinars, advice from other people, and trying out different things, I found some really helpful tricks that have improved how I do things in my professional and personal life. Now I feel like things don’t fall through the cracks and I can keep up on all my random to-dos – the only thing left is finding the energy to do them….

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1.Turn off email notifications.

This was a huge one for me. I use Outlook at work, and the majority of the time I’m not so busy that I can’t stop for a second to answer an email, or even just scan the subject line of a new email that would pop up at the corner of my screen. I never thought the notifications were a big deal or that they interrupted anything.

Then I was listening to a webinar and they said to shut it off, and cited studies and all sorts of convincing shit that made me do it. I honestly didn’t think it would make that much of a difference, but it has.

Here’s why: even if the email is not in any way important, I will stop whatever (actually important) thing I’m doing to read it. It was so distracting, and I didn’t even realize it until it was gone. Now, when I start working on a project, I can actually get something done. Even if a super important email comes in while I’m working, can’t it wait 30 minutes to an hour? If it is that urgent, the person in need can just pick up the phone and call me. I’m telling you, it is so much nicer to go into my inbox after completely focusing on a project and seeing 5 emails, rather than checking each one as they come in and feeling like my brain is in 5 places at once.

I never turned my email notifications on on my phone, but it sounds like an awful idea, for the record. I have been hanging out with friends, drinking beers, when their phone makes a noise and all of a sudden they’re depressed because they got a stressful or drama-inducing email and now we’re all bummed.

I say, turn it off! You’ll start spending actual focused time on what you are doing right now, and your time will start to feel like your time, not someone else’s to do what they want with.

2. Set up email folders.

I mean, duh. But – I learned a system from a webinar distributed at work that has saved me from stressing out or losing track of important things during days when I felt like I had 324,785 things to do. I wish I could credit the correct person for this system, but it was months ago! If anyone thinks this looks familiar and knows the origin, please let me know – but it is too good not to share.

Here is how I have it set up:

 

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Seems a little complicated, but I promise it’s not! Let’s start at the top.

  • Inbox

This is only for incoming messages. Weird concept, right? I used to just work out of my inbox entirely and only put things in folders that I was saving for the future. But using this system, the inbox only shows you things you haven’t dealt with yet. Then, once you’ve dealt with everything (not finished everything, but allocated everything to its appropriate place in your folders) your inbox will be empty. It’s a marvelous feeling.

  • Today

These are things you need to deal with today. This is great for when you come in in the morning to a shit ton of emails in your inbox and you just need to go through everything to figure out what is urgent, what isn’t, if any fires are burning the place down, etc. If something needs to be done today, you put it in that folder and make sure everything in there is finished by the time you leave. Simple.

  • Tomorrow

Same deal. Except when you come in the next day, or maybe right before you leave, you shift your tomorrow stuff to today. Sounds like something you’ll forget to do, right? But just try if it sounds like something that could help you – it is way more intuitive than I thought it would be.

  • This week

This is great for having a reminder email in there to just keep up with a project, stay in touch with someone, etc – but it doesn’t have to have a specific deadline.

  • Next week

Same deal. When you come in on Monday, or before you leave Friday, you update your folders. See below on how I never forget to do that with my Monday calendar event.

  • Waiting For

THIS IS HUGE. This, my friends, is how I become a magical sorceress who never – I mean, never – lets anything slip through the cracks. Here’s how it works – you reply to someone asking a question, or you email someone needing something in return. After you send it, go to your send folder, and plop that baby in Waiting For. Then, you can regularly check back and follow up with people if they don’t get back to you. When someone gets back to you, you delete it from the folder. (If you are in Outlook, make sure to sort your messages by conversation so everything stays together – that way, it’s easy to see that someone got back to you even when you’re only looking in the Waiting For folder – their reply will be right there with your request.) This is great for covering your ass – you have proof right there that you were waiting on someone else, and you can politely follow up with them in a reasonable time frame so things can get resolved. I am absolutely obsessed with this one – if you do nothing else that I say in this post, but you want to try one thing, do this.

Then I have just helpful folders below – that RANDY/KAREN folder is titled “RANDY/KAREN NO ACTION” (I put it in all caps so it stands out from the other system/default folders). Randy and Karen are colleagues I work with, and they cc me on a lot of stuff that I sometimes need to do nothing about. So I put them in here, so I have them on hand when they bring it up, but it isn’t clogging up my inbox or to-do folders.

The other ones are just helpful folders to save emails that describe processes I need to follow, or a place to put emails relating to the systems we use, etc. The only other one I want to touch on is the Yay Me folder. This is great for work emails – you throw in any email where someone is like, “Hey, you organized-as-hell sorceress, you are amazing at your job and I really appreciate that hard thing you did for me today via email” into this folder. Then when you’re having a bad day, or you are trying to get the nerve up to ask for a raise, or whatever, you look at this stuff and you’re like “How did I forget for one SECOND how amazing I am”. I love it.

3. Set up calendar appointments to start your week off right.

To be honest, I need to do this with my personal life – sit down every Sunday with Anthony and look at the week ahead – decide when we will go grocery shopping, when he has rehearsals, etc. The only headway I’ve made here is getting a joint Google calendar on our phones so we don’t double-book ourselves and nothing sneaks up on us (Anthony’s idea). But the last thing I want to do on a Sunday is sit down and talk about the upcoming week, so this is a work in progress.

But the system that I have grown to love and use consistently is the calendar appointment I make for myself on Monday mornings for work. I’ve actually stuck with this one, and it helps me feel more prepared for the week ahead, and less like I’m being shot out of a cannon.

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It gets those email folders taken care of and updated, plus if I have any early meetings that week I can make sure to pay attention and re-set my alarm so I don’t sleep through it.

4. Get Evernote (or something like it)

This just keeps everything in my brain in one place. Little notes, phone numbers, email responses I can copy/paste that I send a lot, blog post ideas, instructions, you name it. I use it on my phone and it syncs to my desktop. It’s simple but can hold a ton of information that doesn’t end up getting lost or forgotten – and everything is searchable. Thank god.

5. Get Wunderlist (or something like it)

I was using Todoist for a while, and then tried Wunderlist after hearing everyone highly recommending it. I just like it. I think I switched because Todoist didn’t have the capability to share lists, which was essential because I want Anthony and I to be able to both add things and check them off. Now I share a grocery list and chores list with Anthony, plus all my other lists are in the same place. There is a desktop and mobile version, and you can set up ongoing reminders for tasks, which I couldn’t figure out how to do in Todoist – that’s huge for me since I need weekly and daily reminders (mostly to not kill my plants).

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Alright ya’ll – you now have my secret weapons. Go forth into a more organized life – one with more time for beer and friends. :)

 

What are your secret weapons for staying organized?

 

 

Don’t talk it down

 

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I was talking to Emily the other day, and she was saying how much she is enjoying her job lately – she works at a little art gallery in Capitola Village, right by the beach near our hometown. The funny thing is, it took her a while to fully embrace it.

She said when she first started there, she kept thinking, “This is only temporary, it’s just a little job while I figure out what my Grown Up Job will be, or what I want to do with my life.” Then, when anyone asked what she did, she would tell them through that lens – “It’s not a forever thing, I’m working there while I look into other career paths and figure out what I want to do.”

Then, one day, she’s working in the gallery, and she just has a moment of happiness and fulfillment. She loves it there. She loves her job. She loves being by the beach and close to her home. Then she thought: Why do I keep acting like this amazing job is only temporary? The more she thought about it, the more she realized how it was perfect for her – she has an art degree and an eye for design and new trends – she’s great at sales and has sales experience – she has a flexible schedule in a beautiful town where it can be hard to find a job… There is nothing wrong with this picture.

Even if she had another job that didn’t line up with her background the way this one does, the bottom line is – if it makes her happy, that’s all that matters. Period.

Now, since she had this shift in how she viewed it, when she tells people about her job they react totally differently.

“What do you do?’

“I work in an art gallery in Capitola Village – I get to use my art degree and see the most amazing local pieces, and it’s just down the road from my house and across the street from the beach – I love it.”

People are all of a sudden walking away thinking, wow Emily has such a cool life! Rather than, well, Emily is still in a transition period right now, I hope she finds what she wants to do. Not that it matters what people think, but it makes Emily feel better to not talk her situation down, and people have a real picture of what’s actually going on. She liked her job this whole time, but realized she had this weird perspective on it for some reason. Once she allowed herself to love it because she loves it, not because of what it might mean on paper or compared to some Pinterest article, everything changed. Why can’t this job be a forever thing? Why act like you haven’t “made it”, when in reality, you have?

 

I had the same experience. When I moved to Santa Barbara, I figured I would work as a receptionist in a dentist’s office or something – I just wanted to live here. I had no idea there was a tech community, or that I would ever enjoy working in that world. Now I’ve been working in the industry for about 3 years, and I really like my job. However, since I got a master’s in sociology, it feels like a failure somehow to be working outside of what I went to school for, especially since I’m passionate about that subject. But I’m also passionate about living in Santa Barbara and having my own apartment and visiting family and friends. That’s what my job allows me to do, while challenging me and showing me new skills I didn’t know I had.

It took a long time for me to allow myself to be happy where I am in my career. I still have moments where I think, what the hell am I doing here? But most of the time I feel really lucky and accomplished.

Talking to Emily was a great reminder – what we say about ourselves affects how we feel about ourselves – it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s important to focus on where we are now and if it is making us happy, and to not judge our life by some standard that isn’t even important to us. What is more important to me – having a fancy title and making a certain amount per year, or having a flexible schedule, an amazing boss, and great benefits? It’s hard to remember to compare things with my own priorities, not someone else’s. Once I look at what I have accomplished and how it is making me feel, things start feeling better and better. I just need to allow myself to appreciate it, and not get sucked into a narrative (“work shouldn’t feel like work”; “if you’re not doing what you love, quit now”).

I recently went home to visit my family, and went with a couple of childhood friends to a local dive bar in town to catch up. I (of course) ran into a bunch of people from our graduating class that I haven’t seen in almost a decade – it was crazy.

I was chatting with one guy and he asked what I did. I said “I live in Santa Barbara and work at a tech company. I don’t know why I work in the tech industry, but I do! Haha!” (I may have had a beer or two.)

I have a hard time with being self-deprecating, so my knee-jerk reaction was to be like, “My job is so random, right?” instead of remembering how great it is.

His reaction was like, “Oh, bummer” basically. I was like, wait. Stop it. My job is awesome.

Then I remembered my conversation with Emily while I talked with someone else. They asked what I did. “I work in Santa Barbara at a software company. It’s pretty awesome – I get to travel sometimes and I really like it.” Totally different conversation – same job.

Isn’t it weird how we can sabotage ourselves? I need constant reminders.

So here is my challenge to both of us – don’t talk your shit down. Don’t be an asshole either, and brag all night about your life, but be truthful! If it makes you happy, it makes you happy! If it doesn’t, say that too – but don’t rob yourself of a good moment for no reason. Let’s start measuring our success on our own terms, and by what makes us happy – not what we think we should be doing.

 

Does this happen to you too? Maybe with another category of life? I would love to hear from other self-deprecators!

 

 

Who were you in high school?

 

I bought my tickets to my 10 year high school reunion you guys. What.

And I am surprisingly (and maybe unrealistically?) super pumped about it. I don’t know what my deal is, but I never thought I would be the person who would look forward to their high school reunion. Maybe in high school I wanted to relate to all the teen movie underdogs as the awkward quiet girl, so I saw myself that way – and that’s kind of how I still remember myself. I was chatting with my sister about it the other day and had this realization – the person I thought I was in high school wasn’t really who I was at that time, in reality.

That might sound confusing, but bear with me on this little rant…

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Do you have an image of who you were in high school? I feel like everyone is always shoving the stereotypes down our throats, and I at least still use the one I identified with at the time as a lens for all my high school memories. In my mind, I was quiet and shy, maybe a little awkward, and terrified of being embarrassed and being in the spotlight. I had a couple close friends at a time, and I was’t outgoing by any means. The whole time I was miserable and counting down the days until it was over.

When I actually thought about it, I realized that I am not only nothing like that now, but I also probably wasn’t really that way at the time either. I was probably pretty much who I am today, just way more insecure, and quite unhappy. (Which makes sense since, in my opinion, high school sucks. I was immediately happier in college, because, duh – living on my own and sex and beer and a whole new world.)

When I changed my perspective, I started to remember a lot of things that didn’t match my “quiet girl” persona. For example, I always remember staring out my algebra classroom window, wishing and fantasizing that I had a boyfriend to distract me from everything (did I mention I didn’t have my first kiss until spring of senior year? Like I said, unhappy). What I remembered recently though was that we always had an intense card game after that class with a big group of people and had a blast while pretty much distracting everyone else from doing their homework. Not exactly the quiet and shy and miserable existence I usually remember – I was the same social person I am today.

I also forget that I wasn’t completely terrified of being in the spotlight – we used to perform at rallies and I was the host of a lot of them in student government. Sure, I reluctantly participated, but I remember feeling confident enough and not completely losing my shit when I had to wing it or make fun of myself in front of the entire school. I usually had a good sized group of friends, and cute guys would come hang out at my house, and I was invited to parties… things were definitely not as bleak as I remember them when I dug a little deeper into the high school memory vault.

It’s hilarious, because I always tell my friend that she was one of the prettiest, most popular girls in school, and she always says I’m crazy. She probably has a similar story in her head about being under the radar or unnoticed, because I’m sure that’s how we all felt at that age, at least sometimes. But from my perspective she was this force of nature as a 16 year old, and I always wanted to be more carefree and influential like she seemed to be.

Looking back, I was doing just fine and being myself, considering my circumstances. I wish I could go back and tell my teenage self to:

  1. Chill the fuck out.
  2. Stop being so terrified of guys. They’re like spiders – more afraid of you then you are of them, right?
  3. You are adorable and you are going to love your freckles all of a sudden once you hit college, so just start rocking them now.
  4. Wear whatever you want.
  5. Yes, for the last time, he was flirting with you FOR CHRISTS SAKE.
  6. Have more fun, even if that means going out of your comfort zone.

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Do you have an image of who you were in high school, and do you think it was accurate? What would you tell your high school self if you could?

 

 

Broken gas light

 

When I was younger, I was surrounded by a lot of drama, conflict, and uncertainty. Unstable home lives, parents dealing with their own demons and relationship issues, substance abuse – these were things my friends and I were witnessing and dealing with on top of growing up and deciding how we wanted to abuse substances, or who we wanted to have sex with, or how we wanted to deal with conflict.

I don’t mean to oversimplify my adolescence – it was also like a heartwarming indie movie. Me, walking or driving under huge gorgeous redwoods, thinking about what my little self wanted – and afterwards coming home to a warm house wallpapered with art, intelligence, values of creativity, nature – with a warm balanced meal waiting.

No matter what kind of environment you grow up in, we all have to decide how we will manage our lives after we leave that environment. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like a choice – sometimes I feel like a complete product of how I grew up and the coping mechanisms that seemed to just appear inevitably, without my permission.

But I think there was a decision, maybe when I was 8, maybe younger? – to handle conflict and relationships in a certain way. My plan was to completely avoid it. And it seemed like as good of a strategy as any for a long time. Facing it head on just never looked like it worked out great, from what I could see.

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This plan had a lot of  unexpected ripple effects. In elementary and early high school, I thought being a good friend (and friendships then, of course, are practice runs for all future relationships outside your family) was to make that person the center of attention. If they are dealing with something hard, I should drop everything and be there for them.

But what if the Hard Thing they are dealing with lasts for… the entirety of our friendship? I realized that I was bottling up feelings and problems I was having to make more room for their Hard Things – because they seemed bigger. I could wait. Then I couldn’t wait anymore – the resentment would spill over, and I was so angry at them for not magically realizing on their own that I had been giving them this gift, the gift of not asking anything of them for so long so I could support them. How could they just not ask how I was doing? Didn’t they realize that we talked about them 99% of the time?

It was a tough lesson to learn: that I couldn’t expect other people to make sure my needs were being met. I had to set the stage for how I wanted to be treated. It was up to me, and it was unfair to be mad at these people after creating that environment in the first place – they didn’t ask me to do it, they were just following my lead. I never said it was a problem, until it was a complete disaster.

The problem is, this totally conflicted with my plan of avoiding conflict. I would rather secretly resent everyone in my room than risk raised voices – or even dancing dangerously close to the idea of conflict. To this day it makes my stomach feel like a lava lamp – the idea of purposefully starting a conversation that would be uncomfortable.

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This pattern (ugh, I even hate acknowledging that it’s a pattern – how… unevolved…) has been popping up in allll of my relationships. Friendships, family, boyfriends. And so many times, I felt like I cracked the code. “Look! I stood up for myself. I broke up with them after all that bullshit. I said how I felt, created boundaries, and cut them off when they didn’t respect them.” Okay. Except maybe next time those boundaries and outward declarations of how you felt could exist earlier in the relationship, and not just come crashing down on everyone, all of a sudden, when your resentment tank is full?

I don’t even realize I’m doing it. In the moment, I feel strong, and totally content. “He is way more busy than I am!” “I don’t have much going on right now, so it makes more sense for me to visit them more than they visit me.” “She just has more to talk about, my life right now is so mellow…”

The thing is, my life will always be mellow, without a lot going on. Because I do that on purpose. I love stability, zero drama (or the fantasy of it), a wide-open schedule – lots and lots of extra time for sleeping in, binging on a show, drawn-out conversations over beers, or road trips on long weekends. I make room for these things in my life on purpose, which is something I like about myself and the life I decided to have.

But even when things aren’t mellow – when my boyfriend is having heart surgery, when work is so busy that I can’t find any energy to blog or do anything other than stare at the TV when I get home – I will tell people, “Oh, there’s nothing much going on with me – I mean, things are a little crazy, but it’s just the same ol boring stuff – what’s up with you? You had that crazy thing happen the other day! We have to talk about that!”

In the moment, I don’t feel like I need that attention – I really DO want to talk about that crazy thing that happened, rather than my stuff. But after a while it builds up and I’m like “Why does no one care about my shit?” It’s like I check my gas tank and I’m 75% full, and I’m like, cool – I can totally drive for so long before I have to think about filling up. But it’s like I have a broken gas light or something – before I even think about checking on it, I’m broken down on the side of the road at 2am in the middle of a total emotional breakdown, before I realize that maybe I should think about how my gas tank is doing.

The frustrating thing is that I know all of this so well. But I forget every time, and I’m back in that tired old pattern, and when I’m on the side of the road again I’m just like yelling to the heavens, “GOD DAMMIT STEPHANIE!!!! Learn the lesson and MOVE. ON.”

It’s like the most dysfunctional relationship I’ve ever had is with myself. (…Wow. That was way more cheesy than it sounded at first. But I’ll leave it there, because whatever – cheesy is helpful sometimes. That could be the tag line for my heartwarming indie movie.)

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Image by Two Happy Lambs Photography

It’s really annoying now, realizing that I can’t chat with my friend in the car and listen to a whole album before checking in on my tank – I have to look at that fucking thing every 5 minutes. That’s my life now, if I want to keep things the way I want them – I have to make sure I’m being honest, making sure my needs are met, making space for myself, and not expecting anyone else to do that for me.

I have to make a conscious decision about how I want to live my life and how I want my relationships to be – when we were younger, we only had the examples around us for guidance. Now we have to decide, and work – really hard – to get to the life we want for ourselves. And we can’t put it on autopilot to get there. Unfortunately.

Being an adult in adult relationships is really hard, guys. That’s why I need so much sleep and Netflix time – to recover from this bullshit.

 

File this under “Steph’s Issues” – see also, “On Being Self-Depricating“.

 

Any arm wrestling matches that you’re having with yourself lately? I don’t know about you, but this shit is exhausting.

 

 

 

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