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How To Stay Organized When Life Throws You a Curveball

How To Stay Organized When Life Throws You a Curveball

“Things went downhill when we had three family crises in a year,” said a new client who was explaining how her lovely home had evolved into a cluttered, chaotic mess.

It is very common for people to lose control of the order in their homes during times of crisis. Crisis situations that go on for an extended period of time consume time, energy and the motivation required to maintain an organized home.

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    It’s not uncommon for people to find that once they’ve gotten past the personal crisis–illness, death in the family, caregiving for aging or sick relatives, recovery from surgery–they have another crisis on their hands, a living space that is such a mess that they have no idea how they will ever get it back to its more orderly state.

    Twice in the past year I’ve been thrown into crisis mode, first when my step-father began deteriorating mentally and had to have brain surgery and then when my disabled brother developed a serious infection in his artificial knee joint requiring surgery, weeks of IV antibiotics and another knee replacement. Both events were incredibly energy consuming for me because I was a key decision-maker, the coordinator of communication between family members, a key source of emotional support, and I had my own fears and other feelings to manage.

    It was all I could do to get through each day dealing with the crisis at hand, much less tend to my small business and maintain order in my home. Those two crises were an opportunity for me to learn how to get through difficult times without losing control of other parts of my life.

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    Here are 6 of the important lessons I learned:

    1. Identify tasks to be done no matter what.

    Then do them! I am the money manager in our house. So, making sure bills got paid and that money was in the right accounts at the right time were two tasks I had to get done so we could avoid consequences like ruining our credit rating. Keeping us afloat financially during those difficult times helped ground me. I liked knowing that no matter what else happened, we were operating on a firm financial foundation.

    2. Defer whatever tasks you can to other people.

    Instead of trying to keep everything in order by myself, I asked my husband to do many tasks that normally I would have done to maintain our home and our lives together.
    Also, people offer help during times of crisis. Let them! Last summer when I had bi-lateral bunion surgery I asked friends to help provide food and walk my dogs. They were happy to have something to do that would help me, and their help provided a type of emotional support I really needed.

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    3. Lighten your load by eliminating obligations.

    It became clear to me pretty quickly that helping my mother and step-father through my step-father’s health crisis and staying healthy myself during that stressful process was more important than writing checks for a professional organization. I actually chose to resign from two volunteer positions because taking care of family and myself were the priority.

    4. Control paper flow even if you can’t regularly process it.

    You may not have time to do much with paper that flows into your house on a daily basis, but you can make sure that it all flows to the same place. That way, when you need to find something in that pile of paper, you have only one place to look. You might stack it in piles in your home office or get an open box and store it there. Just don’t let it float throughout your space!

    If you want to go one step further, pull out bills and magazines/catalogs/newsletters. Put the bills in a highly visible location so you don’t forget about them and so they are easily accessible when you are ready to pay them. Place the magazine, catalogs and other reading materials in a location where you spend time reading. Removing those items from your paper pile will make it shrink and also make it easier to access things to read when you need a source of distraction.

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    5. Resist the urge to do nothing.

    In times of personal crisis it is very normal to shut down because of overwhelm, fatigue, or just not knowing what to do. While it is important to take breaks to rest, recharge, and recover, it is not a good idea to go to ground and let everything go. It takes only a day or two for your space to go from being a peaceful haven to a chaotic nightmare. Then you not only have a crisis going on outside your home, but also inside your home. You have no safe place to retreat. Messy houses scream, “You slob! Why don’t you do something about this mess!” Make yourself do at least the bare minimum to maintain order, like controlling the paper flow, washing the dishes, straightening up daily.

    6. Remember that maintaining a basic order will ground you during difficult times.

    You may resist doing maintenance activities because you are exhausted, but if you override the urge to stop and plop on the sofa and instead do a few tasks to keep your space neat and organized, you will find that doing those things will help ground and calm you. You will then be better able to go out and deal with whatever challenge is going on. If you are physically incapable of maintaining order yourself, because of illness or disability, ask others to help you do that. Many people want to help in some way. Let them know that their help will ground you and facilitate your recovery.

    Image: evelynshire

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    Last Updated on September 18, 2019

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes.

    I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

    One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

    Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

    The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

    And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

    What to Write Down

    Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

    Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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    Dates of Events

    Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

    For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

    Names of People

    Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

    Theories or Frameworks

    Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

    Definitions

    Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

    Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

    Arguments and Debates

    Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

    This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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    Images

    Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

    Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

    Other Stuff

    Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

    Your Own Questions

    Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

    3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

    1. Outlining

    Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

    Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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    For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

    2. Mind-Mapping

    For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

    Here’s the idea:

    In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

    The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

    If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

    You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

    3. The Cornell System

    The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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    About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

    You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

    In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

    You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

    The Bottom Line

    I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

    I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

    More About Note-Taking

    Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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