Summertime is a welcome respite from the flood of permission slips, artwork, tests, homework and other education related paper your kids bring home, but it all starts up again before the pool even closes for the season. The good news is back to school time is a great opportunity to teach your kids to manage their own paper, which is a skill they'll need and use the rest of their lives.
You can use an example of organizing train cars to help teach them organizing concepts and look at organizing in different ways. "If we had a train yard and we had a whole bunch of different train cards in it, how would we organize them?" Kids are pretty sharp, so let them come up with some of the ideas once you get them started. You might group the cars according to the cargo they carry, so all cars carrying textiles go to this area, all cars carrying fruit go to this area and cars carrying gravel go to this area. The contents of the car creates a point of reference when you want to find a specific car.
Your kids might also be inclined to group the train cars by the color of the car, which is valid too. This teaches the concept of grouping like items together. You can use these same ideas to teach your kids paper management.
Just as the train cars are merely vehicles for their contents, paper is merely the vehicle that information travels on. Setting up a system for kids to manage their own school papers is simple and is important to your child’s success at school and later in life.
Step One: Place organizing tools in an area where kids come into the house or where you process your other household papers. Your system should include spots for action items, items to be filed and for artwork to live. Anything that will corral a group of papers will do -- baskets, boxes, clipboards, trays or wall bins are all perfectly fine, as long as your child can reach them and they’re clearly labeled.
Assign your child the responsibility of filing the “to be filed” items on a weekly or bi-monthly basis. Create filing criteria and write it down at the beginning of the school year. When your child knows in advance the criteria which information to save, processing paper and decision-making become easy. For example, your to-be-filed list might automatically include: Test papers Report cards Grades Homework Artwork
Your child can also be in charge (with your guidance of course) of deciding which papers need to be kept for future reference and what can be recycled.
Step Two: Create a regular routine to process school (and household) papers. Don’t let your child dump his backpack on the floor and run off to play right away. Empty the pack together if you can, reviewing the papers in his notebooks, and any papers that require your signature. Ask him to help identify the information, figure out what its next action is and have him place the paper in the proper spot. This paper triage process is very valuable because it makes kids accountable for their own information, it teaches them to methodically process information one piece at a time, and it creates the habit of relying on systems to stay organized.
Step Three: Maintaining your system is the final step. The good news is maintenance just means emptying the system periodically so action items get acted upon and to-be-file items get filed. Maintenance should be a job you and your child do together on a weekly or bi-monthly basis. Remember that “filing” is merely saving the information somehow for future reference. To save space in filing cabinets and to save time doing filing, consider turning all your valuable keepers into digital images.
In most cases, it’s not the paper itself that’s important – it’s the information on the paper. So why save paper if you don’t have to? Scanning important papers and storing them digitally makes them portable thanks to jump drives. If your scanner saves and converts documents using OCR (Optical Character Recognition), each document is searchable, making it fast and easy to find what you need using keywords.
For kids, managing paper and information is an important life skill. When your kids learn to handle this aspect of their lives at a young age they’ll have a leg up when they go off to college and out into the business world after graduation too.
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Chocolate or vanilla? Paper or plastic? Ginger or Mary Ann? Paper planner or digital? These are the questions of the universe. A few years ago I switched from using a paper-based organizing and planning system to electronic. Between my Macbook Pro, my Android phone and the cloud, I’m a synchronistic calendaring machine.
One of the best things about organizing your life is that YOU are the boss of you! You get to say when and how you tackle the process, and if you try something that doesn’t work you can try something else.
Organizing your home, de-cluttering your life and taking control of your finances sometimes takes a little trial and error. You may need to tweak your systems before you settle on what finally works best for you and that’s just fine.
Organizing your time is no different from organizing anything else in your life. You choose a system, try it out and see how you like it. If it works, great! Keep using it. If not, try something else. In the quest to find the perfect planning tool, you may wonder which is better between paper or digital.
As an organizing expert and a consumer, my professional advice is this: Neither one is better. Each has its own merits and drawbacks and you should choose the one with the benefits you want and the drawbacks you can live with. Here are some pros and cons to both digital and paper planning and calendaring systems:
It’s low-tech. No batteries or electricity needed.
You don’t need a special skill or to master a learning curve to use it.
You can get the big picture, viewing a month at a time.
You can write free form, erase and jot in margins.
Paper makes note-taking fast and easy.
It doesn’t depend on an Internet connection to work.
If you drop it, it won’t break.
No risk of data loss from a crash.
Paper Cons You have to manually record recurring events.
There’s no super quick way to search for past notes or events.
If you lose it, there’s no backup.
It’s not secure or password protected so information could be vulnerable.
Paper calendars / planners can be bulky and cumbersome to carry.
It won’t automatically sync with anyone else’s calendar.
You need to repurchase a new planner each year.
Digital / Electronic Pros If you keep your calendar on a smartphone, it’s super portable.
Your calendar can be backed up in multiple spots in case you lose your phone.
Everything is searchable. You can set recurring events and appointments.
You can opt to receive reminders of appointments.
You can sync calendars with other people.
Virtually unlimited storage space.
Digital / Eletronic Cons Requires an external power source such as electricity or battery.
Typically requires an Internet connection to sync and backup data.
If you drop it, it may break, which means purchasing a new one.
Subject to data loss or hard drive crash.
All choices have pros and cons, so when choosing a planning system, don’t let the decision-making process itself stop you in your tracks. Simply review the pros and cons of each system, decide which benefits are most important and choose the system that most closely aligns with your preferences.
Remember, change can be a challenge, so there may be a learning curve. Just stick with your new system consistently for thirty days so you can give it a fair evaluation. After thirty days you’ll know whether it’s really working for you. If not, tweak it slightly or switch it up completely. The choice is yours.
I admit, math has never been my biggest strength. Yes I struggled with fractions (I’m still not sure how to multiply them) and it’s truly a miracle that my 8th grade Algebra teacher, Mr. Simonton, didn’t retire from teaching after having me in his class. I’m not even kidding. Poor sweet man did NOT deserve that.
Fast forward to adulthood and I began to realize and appreciate the value of math in everyday life and in my work. As a passionate cook and baker, I constantly use math to reduce and expand recipes.
As a Certified Professional Organizer®, every time I make a scale drawing floor plan of a home office, I use math. Every time I measure a closet to create a fabulous new design, I use math. Every basement or garage shelving and storage system I design requires math. Heck, space planning requires the ability to think in three dimensions so now we’re talking CUBIC feet and inches. So yes, I suppose I’ve made friends with math after all this time. Have you?
Have you ever heard the expression, “Tryin’ to put ten pounds of stuff into a five-pound bag”? The meaning is clear and its essence is really just about math. You simply can’t FIT ten pounds of stuff into a bag that only holds five pounds of stuff. It’s not your fault, it’s just the reality of the situation.
The spaces where you live and work are nothing more than huge containers. Just like that five-pound capacity bag, your home and work containers hold a certain volume and no more. If you’re like many people, your math isn’t working, because you have more stuff than you have space for and the bad news is that you can’t outsmart math.
Here are some of the most common excuses people give for their math problems:
1. My house / office is too small. 2. My wife / husband / kids / dog bring in too much stuff. 3. I might need those dishes / clothes / tools / papers someday. 4. I don’t have time to get organized. 5. But I love all my stuff.
Here are the answers to those five excuses:
1. You think your house is too small? Your house will never be big enough if you don’t change your mindset and your habits. Clutter expands to fill the space available. The more space you have available, the more clutter you’ll have. I promise you, having more space is not the answer.
2. You think someone else in your life brings in too much stuff? Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. Regardless, be an example. Teach them another way. Simple systems such as putting incoming mail into a basket every day, or hanging action items under a refrigerator magnet are quick and easy to teach and provide big value.
3. You think you might need it someday. Sure, you might. But you also might not. And if you haven’t used that thing in a long time, or you forgot you had it, the odds are good you won’t need it someday. So why not err on the side that gives you less clutter, more space, freedom and room to move?
4. You think you don’t have time to get organized? Right now, you have all the time you’ll ever have. There is no secret stash of time lurking in your life just waiting to be pulled out at the right moment. Today is all you have. You can make time to do anything that’s important to you. But will you?
5. You love all your stuff? News flash! Math is cold-blooded. Math doesn’t care how much you “love” your stuff. Your stuff doesn’t care how much you love your stuff, and furthermore you can be sure your stuff doesn’t love you back. If you’re out of room, you’re out of room!
Before you catch yourself muttering one of the excuses I just rattled off, stop and set a clock or a timer and work for ONLY fifteen minutes on an organizing or de-cluttering project. Once your timer rings, walk away. If you feel compelled to keep working, reset the timer to fifteen minutes and do a second round.
Keep working in small increments and give yourself permission to stop whenever you want. It’s a process not an event. Before you know it, your home and work spaces will be back in balance, there won’t be “stuff overflow” and most importantly you’ll feel strong and powerful in your life again.
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