Friday, October 31, 2008

Time Management for Students

I recently spoke at a local elementary school PTA meeting on the topic of time management for children and students. While there's no silver bullet or magic answer, and while creating good habits takes a lifetime of effort, there are some tips and ideas you can try to work with your kids. Here's a summary of takeaways from the talk:

1. Watch for patterns in your child’s dawdling/procrastination. It may signal hunger, fatigue, a need for downtime, or a feeling of being overwhelmed about a particular issue or task.
2. Establish routines (as best you can) and consistent times for homework, bedtime, chores, etc.
3. Help your child learn how to estimate time required for tasks. Set timers and work with him/her to set achievable goals.
4. If your child is a perfectionist and needs approval/fears criticism, find out what teacher expectations are and help him/her work within realistic guidelines. Let your child know that perfection isn’t expected – only that the best effort is put forward.
5. If your child feels overwhelmed and doesn’t know where to start, break down large projects into manageable tasks and work side-by-side to offer structure and praise along the way.
6. A fear of failure or success can best be battled with open communication. Start conversations with “I bet kids who are really smart worry what their friends will think,” or “What’s the worst thing that could happen?”
7. If dawdling or procrastination is a result of anger, find out what the real issue is behind the behavior and focus on that first.
8. If your child is using procrastination to establish control, let them make some choices about how/when tasks get done. But set consequences and guidelines, and stick to them.
9. Keep track of your child’s homework and tasks yourself so that you can monitor progress and avoid surprises. But let them take ownership and responsibility as appropriate.
10. Set consequences and follow-through. Offer rewards, too. Reinforce positive behavior rather than negative behavior.
11. Use gentle reminders to keep them on task. Give them a heads-up 15 minutes before bedtime. Try using other descriptions of time, like “after this level on your game…” Put up job/chore lists and homework lists as visual reminders.
12. Resist the urge to “rescue” them. Don’t do tasks for them because it’s easier than chasing them. Ultimately, this only prolongs the procrastination problem.
13. Organize your physical space. A cluttered environment can lead to a cluttered mind.
14. Minimize morning mayhem by doing as much as you can the night before. Pick out outfits, pack lunches and backpacks, etc.
15. Establish good family communications to coordinate schedules and activities. A weekly family meeting is a great start. Also post a family calendar where everyone can see it.
16. Have patience. Establishing good habits takes lots of time and effort and won’t happen overnight.
17. Teach by example. If you exhibit issues with time management and procrastination, your child will pick up on those habits, too.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Refrigerator Makeover

For a quick, meaningful organizing project to make you feel accomplished, why not do a de-cluttering and cleanout of your fridge? Pre-holiday is a great time to clean out and make some room, and also to take stock of the staples that you have in your supply.

Start by pulling everything out and cleaning all of the shelves and drawers.

Store the least perishable items in the door; this space is most exposed to heat and isn't ideal for eggs, butter, etc. It's best for condiments and jellies. Review what you have and toss what's expired. Make a list of needed items, and also of items that you have that can inspire some recipes, so that you can use up food and avoid waste. Coordinate items on different shelves - sauces together, salad dressings, etc.

Next, toss out any mysterious/unrecognizable leftovers. Invest in clear containers for storing leftovers, and make use of masking tape and a sharpie to label (and date) items when they go into the fridge. Designate a shelf for these items. Square containers in various sizes will stack nicely.

The most perishable items - meats, seafoods, etc. - should be stored in the meat drawer, typically located low in the refrigerator where the temperature is the coldest.

Vegetables should be stored in the appropriate crisper with higher humidity.

Use the top shelf for items that shouldn't be stored in the door - eggs, dairy, butter, etc.

Some space-saving items in your refrigerator can help maximize your storage space. My favorite items from The Container Store include:

Egg Stay Fresh Container - $8.99
Beverage Can Dispenser - $4.99
Fridge Refresh: $8.99
Slimline Fridge Jugs: $7.99 - $9.99
DaysAgo Digital Counters: $7.99 - $9.99

Last but not least, don't forget to clear off the front of the fridge. Pictures, magnets, and artwork - while fun and personal - can create a cluttered look in the kitchen if they take up too much space. Leaving the doors of the refrigerator clean will make your kitchen feel cleaner.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Oprah wants you...

From Oprah's website:

BOSTON: Need to Declutter a Room?

Residents of BOSTON ONLY!!!

Organizational Expert, Peter Walsh is headed to Boston!

Oprah and He are looking for the messiest house, apartment, room, storage unit, office, desk, store, laundry room, anything! Turn someone in -- or tell us about yourself! What space in your life needs a MAJOR decluttering makeover? We'll be making our decision ASAP, so the sooner we hear from you, the better your chances!

If you're ready to come clean on National Television and finally get organized here's what you need to do:

1) Submit your story below. (Tell us why and how long your house has been cluttered, a little about your family, do you own or rent?, etc.)

2) Email photos of your clutter, exterior of your home, and recent photos of your family to

And please hurry! We're coming to Boston soon!

Here's the link:

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Reluctant Family Member?

All too often I get calls from people who want help organizing someone else's space or things. Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet, and any professional organizer will tell you that organizing someone's stuff without their involvement is a recipe for disaster.

So what to do, then, when a spouse or family member is reluctant to get organized?
  • Lead by example. Without a doubt, there are spaces that you can tidy up without "touching" the other person's stuff. By working on your own in your own space (or a space shared with others), you can create a more peaceful, functional environment and provide a great example of what is possible with some effort behind getting organized. Maybe you can tackle a linen closet or junk drawer and make it easier for everyone to find everyday items. Or set up a family message center or mail processing area that everyone can use.
  • Start with small, manageable projects. Getting some momentum going by tackling a smaller task or problem area can get everyone into the mood to organize and can make it feel less overwhelming.
  • Let them know how being disorganized is affecting you/making you feel. The important strategy here is to personalize the message and make it about you, versus putting blame on the other person. Instead of "your space is a mess and it's no wonder you always lose your keys," try "I feel out of control and stressed out because our office isn't set up well for us."
  • Recognize that organizational systems aren't one-size-fits all. Everyone has a unique learning style and works in their own ways. Some are visual and like to see everything in front of them; others like to put everything behind closed doors. Understand that what works for you organizationally may not make sense for your partner or family member.
  • Be non-judgmental. As difficult as it may be, try not to assign blame or make someone feel bad about their lack of organization. Positive reinforcement and support is what is required to get on the right track.
  • Be patient. Organization doesn't come naturally for many people, and it will take some trial and error, and constant effort to turn old habits around. Offer support, but realize that many people want to work at their own pace and not have others handle their things. Recognize the best times to work on organizing and know that just because you're in the mood doesn't mean your partner is. Learn to work at their peak energy times.

A special thanks to The BB for posing for the obstinate family member image. Editors note: The BB is anything but reluctant and has made great strides. :)

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Packing Lists

My sister is getting married next weekend on the Cape, and I've started pulling stuff together for the long weekend. It occurred to me that as obvious as it seems, it might be a good reminder for people who might be planning a weekend away or a trip with the family. Creating a packing list and a staging area are great ways to reduce the stress of getting out the door on time, and making sure that you don't forget anything.

You can create packing lists by person, or by activity - whatever makes sense for you. And, if they are trips that you'll take again, you can save them on your computer to jump start the process next time.

I recommend starting this at least a week before your trip; that will give you some time to add to your list as you remember things each day.

You can either check off list items once they are in the staging area, or use your list as a final check as you pack your bags or the car.

In addition to packing lists, a list of errands that need to be completed (like get the BB's suit dry cleaned, and pick up prescriptions at CVS) can also be handy. Group tasks together that you can knock out in a short trip - and save time in the long run.

There are many "standard" packing lists online if you want to build off of one that exists.

Happy travels!