Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Great Divide

Whenever I looked at all of the things I was responsible for, and let it all swim around in my head at once, I felt crazy -- like I was drowning in it.

I would murmur to my husband, over and over, "I'm drowning. I'm drowning." He, dear man, had heard this before and knew he couldn't do anything with me at those moments, so he just nodded and rubbed my back.

How in the world was I supposed to teach high school and middle school, run a ministry, renovate an old house, keep up with the household chores, keep the lawn and flower beds trim, be active in my church, be a lover to my husband, keep up with the laundry, and take care of myself in the midst of it? It was hard not to lose my way, not to be pulled down with the vortex of demands there were, frankly, too much for me.

Notebook dividers were the life jacket that kept my head above the current.

By dividing my life into compartments, I was able to shrink each of my jobs into a manageable size. These compartments let me think of just one part of my life at the time. This made each job achieveable, mentally and physically.

I found that the most practical way to think of dividers is to think of them as jobs or as roles that I play. Teaching school, running a household, running a ministry, being a member of a church, being a member of a community, and so on. In the beginning, I just divided my jobs into three large categories:

  • School
  • Household
  • Community

This was easy. Most women think of their lives in those three compartments. Every paper or idea or reminder relevant to one of these topics could be stored in the appropriate divider in my organizer. Remember the clear storage pockets behind each divider? Those were handy for important receipts, newspaper clippings, and papers from sports organizations and church groups. I slipped them into the pocket at the nearest opportunity and never had to hunt for them again. They were also right there for me, to remind me, when I made my weekly checklist. Ideas for things to do, reminders of tasks that must be done, lists of objectives for school, interesting books I found in the library, an educational video recommended by a friend -- all of these, willy nilly, went into the appropriate categories as they came to me. Because I did this on the run and did not worry about any particular order, it took me almost no extra time. I could punch holes into papers and place them on the metal rings of the binder behind each divider, of course. But if I didn't have time, or it wasn't suitable for the paper, I didn't have to. The clear pockets worked fine.

Two remaining categories were important:

  • The Personal divider contained anything pertaining to my own personal development, hobbies, and joy breaks. I kept all kinds of relevant information there: walking shoes to buy, movies to watch, Bible studies to try, even healthy snack recipes.

  • The To-Do divider held blank copies of the weekly checklist which made it easy for me to do a new one each week. I put in front of these a running master list of everything that floated to the surface of my mind. Putting it down on paper helped me to release it and that helped me sleep better. Keeping it next to the blank forms let me refer to it when I made the weekly checklist. The To-Do divider also kept helpful lists of chores that we needed to do once in a while. I found it really made a difference for me to keep lists of monthly and seasonal chores, and chores to prepare for company. This made it easy for me to share the load with the whole family. I didn't need to remember it all when I was tired and under a deadline. The list told me what should be done.

My suggestion is to start with these five categories. Then add others as you see that there is a need for it, or as a compartment gets too complicated and unmanageable. For example, because I am a gardener, I added a special divider marked "Garden" where I kept ideas for the flower beds, names of products, inspiring pictures, drawings of plans, measurements of the beds, and reminders for gardening tasks. Because I ran a homeschool ministry that met twice a month and other church ministries, I added a special divider marked "Ministry" into which I placed every piece of paper relevant to the routine management of those groups. My boys played so many sports, that I finally decided to add a special divider labled "Sports" where I kept all lists and schedules relevant to that topic. I also eventually added a divider marked "Holidays" where I kept lists for gift shopping, lists for Christmas cards, recipes for cookies, lists for Christmas dinner, and so on.

Because I had five blank dividers in the organizer, it was simple to add these as I realized I needed them. It only took a minute. The extra tabs for new categories were kept in the clear pocket behind the "To-Do" divider, so it was a cinch to grab one, write on it and slip it onto the divider, and pop the divider into the right spot in the organizer.

I think my organizer worked well because I let it grow with me. It was suited exactly to my needs. I have seen some other options of organizing systems with file folders and stacking bins. Those look inviting and easy, too. The one problem I have with them is that they aren't portable. I can't take them with me to church, to the ball field, to the store, to the library. Some people feel that they can be organized with a computer program -- these systems look beautiful, but I can't take them with me, and where would I put all those pieces of paper I needed to keep up with?

This simple, streamlined approach worked. It worked for years.

It might work for you, too.

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