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To-do or Not To-do–And how should I track it?

I have always been a list maker.  I find serenity in writing down the tasks I need to accomplish and making a plan for their completion.  Simply getting them out of my head leaves more room for important thoughts for the day and help me focus on what the important things–being in the moment and enjoying life, but also really paying attention to what the people around me are saying or doing whether at home or at work.  Sometimes, it is hard for me to focus when my thoughts are swirling around everything I need to get done today or this week or next month.  I also find immense joy in crossing things off of that list.  It is so rewarding to look back and see all that one has accomplished and helpful to see what still needs done.  But, what is the most effective list making tool?  Do you use old school paper lists?  Do you track your items on an App on your phone?  Do you use your daily calendar to mark what needs done and when?  I don’t think I have the best answer to this question, but I have found some ways lists work best for me.

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My list of scheduled events or activities is kept on a Gmail calendar that I can update online or on my phone.  You can read about it here.  My cleaning routine is pretty well ingrained in my daily life now, so I don’t really track it anymore—keep reading to hear more about this.  So, basically my to-do lists are for two different purposes—work and non-work.  I have tried keeping track of everything in one place on lists in my ARC systems, both the big and small ones on laminated sheets with wet erase markers.  I have tried keeping a small notebook in my purse or work bag to track the same.  Neither of these seemed to work all that well.  I think over time, I realized I cannot keep my work and non-work lists together necessarily, because they are both quite long and looking at them both is overwhelming.  Plus, I need them in two different places.  My work lists generally stays at work, while my non-work list needs to be very mobile and at my fingertips.  I feel like I have come up with a great way to track my non-work tasks, but I am still working on the best solution for my at work tasks.

1)  For my non-work to do list, I have found that I really like using apps on my phone.  They are then mobile and easily accessed.  I have tried a few different phone apps to track to do items.  I really like these because if something pops into my head, I can immediately type it into my phone, assign it a due time, and then promptly forget it and focus on the task at hand.  This is very important for me.  Have you ever been deep into a task and all of the sudden something pops into your head that you know needs done but doesn’t need done now and if you don’t write it down chances are you’ll forget about it until two days later?  Well, that happens to me all the time.  So, being able to quickly jot that piece of info down somewhere it won’t get lost and that is handy is a lifesaver for me.

How I use to-do apps:  The to-do list I keep in the apps really only pertains to the stuff outside of my normal routine.  For example, today I have:  fix sock drawer (it’s bugging me), pull flowers past their season, carve pumpkins, finish updating address book, etc.  These are usually personal tasks that I want to accomplish.

Apps I use:  First of all, I very rarely actually pay money for apps, so the ones I have used are all free.  In the past, I used Remember the Milk–which is really nice to set up recurring events.  Over time, though I found that I wasn’t really using the app much because I had become comfortable with my weekly routine and no longer needed a visual reminder to clean the bathrooms on Tuesdays or vacuum the floors on Thursdays.  Plus, the daily emails I was getting were cluttering up my inbox.  It is a nice app with many merits though and could be useful to others.  The app I am trying out right now is called Anydo.  I really like the simplicity of this app.  I can schedule items for today, tomorrow, upcoming, or someday.  I can schedule the items at specific times and the app send me a reminder on my phone (not email).  I also found that if I turn my phone on its side, I see a calendar view which incorporates the events from my Gmail/phone calendar.  I just thought that was the coolest thing.  The app also sends me a reminder every morning to plan my day–which I could honestly do without but isn’t terribly annoying.  One other feature I really like is that it tracks my “done” tasks.  I can go back and look at all of the things I have accomplished–which you can’t really do with paper lists that are typically thrown away upon completion (or when a new list is made).  You can also decide if the tasks are personal or work related–which I haven’t really done yet.  There are other settings, but these are the ones I find most helpful.  So far, I really like this free little app.  I also found it sends you coupons when you accomplish goals–which was an interesting surprise.

2)  My work to-do list.  This is a tough one.  My job has many different aspects to it, as many of ours do.  And, keeping track of each task, email to answer, phone call to return, report to write, has been a struggle.  I am still working on finding the best way to do this.  Up until today, I had been using the old fashioned paper pencil list.  I cross off what I get done during the day and add whatever isn’t done to the list I make at the day’s end for the next day.  While this works ok, I feel like it is #1 a waste of paper and #2 a bit inefficient.  I wanted to find a way to have the list displayed on my desktop screen and have it be portable to see when I am out traveling around the city or in the building away from my desk meeting with colleagues.  I did a little research and stumbled upon Wunderlist.  It is a program that I can update online and also use on my phone!  So, I can have the online version open on my desktop during the work day and still carry the list around on my phone as needed.  I was able to sync from my computer to my phone and the other way around–just what I wanted!! I am currently liking that I can see/update my list in multiple places and I was able to choose my own background.  You can also make separate lists for personal, work, shopping, movies to watch or make your own list—all kept in one place—which could be very handy to some folks. I can set a due date and/or a reminder, add subtasks, and take notes for each task which will be really helpful for my work items.  I hope this is going to work as well in real life as I think it will in my head.

I am very excited to have my Gmail calendar, Anydo personal to-do list, and Wunderlist work to-do list all working together to keep me more together.  Is there anything out there that you absolutely love using to organize your to-do lists?  I am always open to suggestions!

P.S.  Ok.  So I’ve lived with both of these apps for a few weeks now, and I LOVE them!  I really do enjoy having my lists separated, and that both apps provided functions that fit my varying needs.  Wunderlist has been great because it syncs easily from my phone or computer, and I can have a portable list to carry with me or I can display it right there on my computer desktop to see.  Anydo is great because it gives me fun noises and words of encouragement as I complete tasks, which comes in handy when some of them include cleaning the shower, doing laundry, or grocery shopping–yuck!  I also enjoy that both apps track the amount of tasks I have completed, and I can go back and look at my list of completed tasks so that I can bask in the glory of all that has been accomplished!  Woohoo!


Calendar Craziness

True confession time, I am a person who tries really hard to be highly organized, but there are times when that just epicly fails.  In one area of my life, I thought I had things together, but a small incident made me face reality–it only looked like I had things together (which is pretty much how I operate.  Thus, the name of my blog).

What organizational issue was bringing me down?  What made me do a palm to the forehead and think, you are kind of an idiot sometimes?  It had to do with one of the most important organizational areas of my life, which is why it probably bugged me so much.  My calendars.  Yes, that was calendars plural.  Due to the fact that there are too many calendars in my life, I dropped the ball on something.  I scheduled an outing with my daughter’s girl scout troop on the one weekend I am out of town for work.  Seriously, how does one do that!  Well, here’s how.  These were the calendars in my life:

1) iPhone calendar–to keep track of all personal events like GS stuff, doctor appointments, family events, dinners with friends, fun weekend outings, etc.  And some of my out side of work work stuff like committee work, part time job work, etc.

2)  My work calendar.  This keeps track of all my full-time job work obligations and appointments.  My job requires lots of travelling around town and many meetings–all of which need to be kept in the calendar provided by my email client so my higher ups can figure out where I am during the day if needed.

3)  Two paper calendars.  Both of these are through he ARC system from Staples.  One is in a small purse sized ARC notebook that also contains my address list, important business cards, etc.  The other is a larger version that I keep in my work bag and take to any meetings and also includes notes pages.

4)  Dry erase calendar on our fridge.  This is part of our command center and helps keep all of us up to date on important things going on for me, my husband, the kiddo, and as a family.  Above this is a Martha Stewart weekly calendar fridge sticky where I write down the meals we will have each day for the next week or two.  Mainly, I just transfer what’s on my phone calendar to this “public” space.

5)  My list of to-do items that I keep in an app on my phone.  This is mainly for the reminders I need about a task or chore that is out of our normal routine.  For example, call to set up flu shots, clean carpet on main floors, fix daughter’s broken slipper, etc.  While not a traditional one, I still think of this as a calendar because it tells me what I need to do or where I need to go.

So, with five or six calendars, how could a girl possibly lose track of one important piece of information?  I think the question answers itself.  I needed a solution, but I needed to really examine what my requirements were before I got started, or I would just have a whole new mess on my hands down the road.

My needs:

1)  I needed something portable that would fit in my purse–my phone was logical choice because it is now my go to center for info (like many people I am sure)

2)  I also needed it somewhere other than my phone.  The calendar on the iPhone has randomly deleted EVERYTHING on a more than one occasion.  Hence, the paper calendar back-ups.

3)  I needed to be able to access it at work–meaning something our filter wouldn’t block.

4)  I wanted to be able to add things to my phone calendar and an online calendar and have them talk to each other.

If you look at all of this, and you are at all technologically savvy, your automatic response might be Google Calendar!  It will do all of those things and color code them and send me reminders.  Huzzah!  And, yes, this was a definite option, but up until a few months ago, that was not something I could access while at work and therefore had never considered.  But, now I can!  That means my life just got a whole lot simpler.  Here’s the how and the why…

First of all, I already had a gmail account.  Without one, you cannot use Google calendar.  While in my mail account, I simply click over the the calendar.  Super simple!  From there, I add my events.  ALL of my events–that includes kiddo activities, date nights, bill pay reminders, work meetings and appointments, committee meetings and appointments, family events, etc.  If it is an event in my life, my daughter’s, or my husband’s that will affect my schedule in any way, it goes in the Google calendar.  I did color code things so that when looking at the calendar online I can differentiate between who is doing what.  It is very very easy to submit events online.  The initial set-up was a little time intensive (1 1/2 hours, I kid you not) and involved my having my paper calendars, phone calendar, and work calendars at the ready.  I took everything in each of them and added them to the new Google calendar.  Part of the reason why this took so long was that I was also updating the other calendars at the same time making sure everything was consistent from one to the next.  From here on out, if it goes in one calendar it is immediately written down in the others.

Next, I synced this calendar with my iPhone.  This was more complicated than I imagined it being and required some help from some online forums.  It all comes down to what type of iPhone you have.  I just Googled syncing Google Calendar with iPhone and found some helpful tips.  Half an hour later, my phone calendar was now my Google calendar.  I did have to go back and erase all of the events I had already entered into my phone, but that was not hard, just tedious.  I waited to do this until after I proved to myself the sync would actually worked both ways–events save to my phone show up in the online calendar and vice versa.  Once it worked, I felt safe to remove the now duplicate entries.  My one complaint about syncing the items is that the color coding I put online does not translate to the iPhone calendar.  Everything just shows up gray.  But, I still color code just because I look at the online version quite frequently too.

Then, I did a little celebration dance in my chair.  Finally, everything was connected!  Well, almost everything.  I did attempt to find out how to sync my work and Google calendars so I didn’t have to enter everything twice, but alas, they will not play well together.  So, when I enter events on my work calendar, I have my Google calendar open too and just add them to both places.  Sort of a pain, but not too time consuming.

Now, what to do about the paper calendars.  I LOVE LOVE LOVE the ARC systems, and I had systems that worked really well for me when using them, but things have changed.  Obviously my calendars system is different, but so are how I track my to-do items and my shopping lists.  This will require some more thought on my part.  I still want to be able to use them, but need to do so in a way that makes sense.  Hopefully, there will be more on the paper calendars soon.  Also look for a post on FREE to-do list apps in the next few weeks.  I’m trying a few out and will share my thoughts on each.

For now, I am just blissfully happy that the new Google calendar arrangement seems to be working.  I am one week in and so very very happy it is all going smoothly.  Fingers crossed that it makes life a bit easier and more organized.


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New addition to the kitchen–A rolling kiddo cart!

In our modestly sized home, sometimes we have to come up with creative ways to contain…well, everything we own.  And, it seems like the kitchen has been receiving quite a bit of love these days.  It could have something to do with the fact that we spend most of our time there, and I am constantly running into small irritations that can be easily solved with a little planning and a spare 10-20 minutes.

One of the biggest culprits in the kitchen for clutter and frustration seems to be my daughter’s goodies–which have sort of taken over an area intended for cooking and eating only.  The current problem area that I tackled I had tried a few solutions with already that were only somewhat successful.  This would be the art/school supply/craft making items that live in our kitchen.  There really is nowhere else to keep the piles of coloring books, learning activity workbooks, colors, pencils, markers, play-doh, stickers, rulers, scissors, etc. in our home.  And, it makes sense to keep them in our kitchen/eat in dining area because that is where we use them most.  Without a designated “playroom” area, we make due with what we’ve got.

My first attempt was to buy some cute plastic bins to keep her items in on a shelf in our pantry.  While stylish, they were kind of a pain to get in and out, because they fit very snugly on the shelf.  I would have to remove one to get to the other, and there was no way my kiddo could do it on her own.

What our pantry looked like earlier this year...

What our pantry looked like earlier this year…

Then I tried one bin and a drawer in the plastic contraption below our pantry shelves.  This worked ok, but there were still things piled up the length of an entire shelf and now in a drawer.  My pantry is SMALL–and all of these items were taking up prime real estate.  Plus, there were certain things we used every day and needed easier access in order to be put to use.

So, solution #3 is in the works.  I have read quite a few blogs talking about homework centers and closets or nooks turned into study centers.  We are not quite ready for that, but we do need a place to keep all of our stuff that we use at the table frequently.  First of all, we don’t have the space and she doesn’t really have much homework yet.

To solve my problem, I decided I needed something that could be kept near the table, didn’t take up much space, and was somewhat easy on the eyes.  After much thought, I bought an inexpensive 3 drawer plastic cart with wheels.  I debated on the wheels, but kiddo said it would be good to move it around depending on where we were sitting at the table.  So, it is on the casters that came with the unit.  It fits very nicely in a corner by a half-wall in our eat-in dining area.  Unless you are standing in our kitchen by our stove, you can’t even see it.  And, we call all three still sit at our chairs at the table without it getting in the way.  Plus, it’s on wheels!  So it is easily moved if needed.

All the drawers happily organized and each with a purpose.

All the drawers happily organized and each with a purpose.

I organized the contents of the pantry into three categories to better organize the cart–supplies, learning stuff, and coloring books.  In the bottom drawer live all of the coloring books.  I am always AMAZED by how many coloring books we actually have–every time I look at them.  And, we never really use them because they have been hiding at the bottom of a box in the pantry.  I also think we need to downsize soon–and a donation to our children’s hospital may just be the answer.  The middle drawer houses all of our learning items–like workbooks, flashcards, story cubes, etc.


The top drawer is home to our supplies.  Two small green buckets (that once were home to flower bulb plants we sent to my mom) hold crayons, small colored pencils, scissors, pencil sharpeners, etc.  These can easily be transported to the table when needed.  This drawer also holds our marker collection, glue, rulers, stickers, etc.  The flat top holds a long rectangular basket for pens and pencils that we use for daily homework.  The homework papers are kept next to the basket so as not to clutter up the table (at least I hope we can get this to be where we put them!).

New cart added to our kitchen area.  This hides behind a half wall and is next to our eat in kitchen table.

New cart added to our kitchen area. This hides behind a half wall and is next to our eat in kitchen table.

The drawers are a bit tinted, so the objects inside are obscured a little, but they still looked really messy to me from the outside.  I had also read about people making their carts like mine pretty with some sort of paper stuck to the inside.  I decided to be frugal and reuse some scrap paper left over from a project last year that looks like scrabble tiles.  The paper actually looks pretty nice from the outside and doesn’t stand out too much in our kitchen.  I simply cut it to size and scotch taped it at the top and bottom.  We can easily switch this out if we ever decide to do so.

I also designed some new labels for the drawers.  All of my daughter’s other drawers use the same label–both in her bedroom and in the pantry.  But, the pink flower didn’t really fit the scrapbook paper I picked or the decor of our kitchen.  So, I decided to design and laminate a little more sophisticated label for these drawers that still had a bit of whimsy.  They are simply a black and white version of the labels I used on the baskets in my pantry.  I really wanted to use some sort of scrabble tile font, but couldn’t find one to easily download.  I am still working on that.  If anyone knows a good one, let me know!

I have high hopes for the third times a charm rule on this one.  Hopefully this solution works out.  It has already made me happier already, because I freed up 1/2 of a shelf in my pantry and our lunch bags, cups we use for morning smoothies, and some extra pantry items now have a home!  Plus, my daughter is able to access her supplies much easier all on her own.  Total win so far.

Yeah for a more useful pantry!  Still hold some art and craft supplies, but our every day use items are easily to access now.

Yeah for a more useful pantry! Still holds some art and craft supplies, but our every day use items are easily to access now.