Saturday, April 21, 2012

Homesteading: Life organization

All my life, I have struggled with planners, calendars, hand-held organization devices, computers, smartphones... All in the name of Getting Organized. It usually lasts about 3 months.

Part of the struggle of course is that I will start a system and then circumstances will change. When I was scheduled so tightly that I needed to remind myself when to eat and sleep, a planner with multiple lines for every 15 minutes of the day was essential, but sharing it in that kind of detail with others wasn't as critical. When organizing a household of computer-users who had smartphone access, Google Calendar worked wonders.

The hardest thing for me to learn is that no system will ever do everything I want it to. I have to pick what's most important to me. Is it having everyone on the same page instantly? Is it having information synced to multiple locations without me re-writing things? Does it need to be color-coded? How far out do I need to be able to see? How much do I care about scribbling over stuff while making changes? Or is it perhaps more important that it is highly visible, if stationary? Are timed reminders necessary?

For us, right now, the most important things seemed to be: Highly visible, easily accessible to everyone in the household, color coded, and someplace where the schedule and the dinner plan are in the same place. While I need to be able to keep track of my own schedule farther out, the main purpose was communicating between everyone in the household what our week looks like, so we weren't being asked to do big urgent tasks when we're about to talk out the door for something or had a different project in mind. Also it was important to have someplace to record our project list, where Mum and Pops could write things down as they thought of them.

Enter: The white board.


Features include:
* Color coding: Each person has their own color, and Mr. Moon and I have a color that is both of us together since we have so much joint effort going on. The color coding legend can be found at the top of the Schedule section.

* Wet Vs. Dry Erase: All the lines, labels, days of the week are in wet erase marker. Still removable, but they stay in place without having to be super careful about erasing each week. I just wipe over it with a dry cloth, and my template is once again clear for entering this week's data.

* Shopping list: This is mostly for groceries, but some additional items (like eye bolts for the garden or better storage for cooking utensils) have made it on there. This is NOT a wish list! This is a list of things we need within the next week or so.

* Projects: This is our running list of projects that need to be scheduled. So far we have used up all the space in the section with a list, accomplished and erased about 3/4 of the things, filled it up again, and gotten it half cleared again. This is NOT the pace to be looking at a lot of things crossed and checked off to feel accomplished! Only forward-thinking allowed.

* Routine: In trying to get ourselves into a daily cleaning routine, we put a small list in the corner in wet erase marker for longevity, broken down into three times of the day (Morning, At Some Point, Evening). The key here was SMALL. Nothing is a huge project, and all of them together is only about half an hour of the day--including the ten-minute tidy! Yeah, we haven't stuck to it, but it's a good reminder of the goal we're working toward, and it has definitely helped us remember to do each of these things at least every couple days.

* Schedule: This was important for the aforementioned necessity of not getting gang-pressed into doing things when there are other plans (like being asked to make dinner as we are LITERALLY walking out the door for a 3 hour drive). It felt a little passive-aggressive at first, but when I really sat down to think about it I realized that indeed, the only reason these requests were unreasonable was because we had other things to do, and the only reason they were being made was because we had not communicated those other things. They are so used to being able to decide they want to do something and go do it RIGHTNOW that they had to adjust to our system of planning things ahead of time because we don't have the option of just doing anything whenever we want. Rather than getting huffy and "discussing a problem," we simply addressed the underlying issue--lack of communication--and the symptom resolved itself. The 'Rents have a way of letting us know as soon as they think of them what projects they need us to do, and we can negotiate the timing of them from there.

* Dinner plans: Here, in such a small place, we can communicate who is eating what and who is cooking it. We sit down every Sunday evening to discuss the week's plans, go over what is in the fridge that needs to be used, and make a general plan. The important thing for me is that we have what I call "Oh Shit" dinners in the freezer. Oh Shit I forgot to make the crockpot soup and it's already 11pm. Oh Shit I felt like crap today and the intense meal I'd planned is NOT going to happen. Oh Shit the main ingredient of this meal rotted and is now unusable. Mostly this involves storing pieces of meat in reasonable serving sizes, and having frozen veggies around.

* To-Do List: This is a general outline of our plans. I didn't really have a "system" for how to decide what to do, but what I've found us doing is this: We pick one bigger project that we want to accomplish this week. In this picture it's our bedroom, and specifically that meant putting away the giant box of clothes. Anything that needs to get done on a certain day (like mowing the lawn due to weather forecast) gets written there, then the rest of the time gets filled with working on the pet project. Mostly, it's so that if we end up with spare time in a day we can look at this to know what to work on instead of just wasting time surfing the 'Net; and so that we can schedule our week"ends." The best part? It's really difficult to over-schedule the to-do list this way! If I write small enough, I can only fit about 6 things on there. But really it's closer to 4. So, nothing overwhelming.


We've been doing this for about 3 weeks now and it has been fantastic! No more surprise!Urgent tasks, and the grocery budget has dropped a bit because we can make a dinner plan BEFORE we go shopping and not just buy what looks good.

I still have my own paper planner for long-term scheduling, and this system is actually reminding me to check it more often because I have to check it when we make the white board for the week. Somehow, the computer systems just never appealed to me as much as writing things down by hand.

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