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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

All Systems Go

To me, the most important skill to hone first in the art of organizing is the development of effective systems. 

A system is a consistent modus operandi for tackling recurring tasks in your day. 
The way the system fits into the daily routine is a critical factor contributing to whether the system will work.

For example, we want to take lunches from home to work and school to cut down on eating out expenses.  It is also easier for my husband to bring his lunch, since he often works through his lunch period as a super-busy automotive repair service writer.  But without an effective system, there was no consistency in having lunches ready to go by the time we are rushing out the door in the morning. 

For many reasons, I have tried to implement an earlier start to my day to ensure I would have time for this and other things I’d like to do, which is the subject of another post.  Long story short, this doesn’t work for me consistently, and with the birth of my 3-month old daughter, it went straight out the window when I needed to be asleep whenever I could get away with it.   It also doesn’t work for me to make the lunches the night before because we just don’t have room in our fridge for all the lunch boxes.

I have found a solution that now works consistently, and thus is my lunch-prep system.  I prepare in baggies or reusable containers the elements of each lunch the night before when I’m already in the kitchen either making dinner or cleaning up afterwards.  Sandwiches, celery sticks and other keep-cold items go in the fridge and chips, granola bars and other room-temperature items go in the lunch pails on the kitchen counter.  Then in the morning, anyone can grab the items from the fridge, along with the ice packs from the freezer, and have a ready-to-go lunch without me having to be the one to put it together. 

Any part of your day that you dread or that makes your stress level sky-rocket is an opportunity for a system. 

I love my husband, but the concept of “everything in its place” does not come naturally to him.  Not being able to find his keys in the morning when he’s running late stresses the whole family.  And not being able to reach him during the day because his cell phone is dead stresses me, so I have developed a system on his behalf.  Before I go to bed, I locate and gather up all of his necessities: his keys, phone, bluetooth headset and wallet.  I plug in his phone and bluetooth headset, so they are charged by morning.  I put his wallet and keys in a consistent place in our bedroom to de-clutter the kitchen counter.  That way if something was left in the car by accident, we find it when we aren’t in a rush.  Someday maybe it will even be his system, but for now this works for us.

I tend to refine systems by trying new things until something works consistently enough to be deemed the winner.  Well-tuned systems have been a saving grace to my sanity over the past few years as a working parent. 

Summary and Targeted Approach

  • Identify recurring tasks that cause increased stress in your life: these are systems waiting to be developed.
  • Determine how you can accomplish the task so it will work for you: make it consistent, break it up into smaller, more manageable tasks, and/or delegate where possible.
  • Take time out of the equation:  If possible, fit the system into your daily routine sometime when you won’t be rushed to complete it.
  • Give it some time and re-evaluate: if the system and its incorporation into your routine are effective, the system will stick.  If you find you are still fighting with it, it needs some refinement.

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