Organization: it’s catching

There is a movement afoot in our household. Now that Sophia is putting systems in place to get organized, everyone else wants to get in on the action. We got our copy of David Allen’s Getting Things Done in the mail, and both the adults in the household are reading it.

Also, I installed Wunderlist on my iPad and am using it for getting myself organized in all sorts of ways. I figure that having her parents model good organization in their own lives is probably the number one way to help Sophia get organized. And living in a home that is not in organizational chaos at all times will probably help too.

Other members of the household are beginning to reap the benefits too.

Cloud and Black Licorice are two small chickens who live in our backyard.  When we run out of chicken feed, which happens every three months or so, our chickens are often left in the lurch for a day or two or three until someone finds time to run to the feed store to get them some more laying pellets.  In the meantime, they must survive on kitchen scraps, wild bird seed and bugs.

But look what popped up in my email inbox on Friday afternoon at 3pm.


“Oh, right, nearly forgot that” thought I, when I received said email. I jumped in the car, ran to the feed store, and voilà, no interruption in service levels for our beloved pets.

So, organize one teen and you will solve, if not world hunger, at least backyard hunger.


Mama’s first ROI

My day job is running a software consulting agency. Every time I make a choice there, I have to consider the potential ROI (return on investment) of that choice, and often need to justify choices to my business partners using ROI calculations. That way of thinking often seeps over into my other job, managing my home and family, and sometimes it makes sense (not always, though).

So I’ve been watching our Wunderlist experiment (or investment, you might say) and hoping to see some evidence of ROI. The investment here is the time and energy it takes for Sophia to use the app, and the time and energy it takes for me to keep checking on her usage of it, remind her of the types of things she should be inputting into it, and (biggest investment of all) making sure she takes it to school every day. There is no cash investment since the app is free. Many thanks to 6wunderkinder for that!

Well, I got my ROI on day four of Sophia using the app.

It was 8:15 am.  This is arguably the most hectic and strained moment of our family’s day, when the whole family is rushing about trying to finish breakfast, organize school bags, find change for the bus, etc.  Usually one or more of Sophia’s buddies is waiting for her outside and she is looking for socks or her bike helmet.  Despite the rush, and the strained mood, I insisted, in my most patient and non-mad-mom tone of voice, that she check her to-do lists for her teachers before she got on her bike and left for the day.

Resistance from the teenager.  “I’ll do it when I get there!”

“Pointless. The whole idea is to do it now, in case you’ve forgotten something.”

“Fine, I’ll do it now. But I’m already late.”

Seconds later, she was running back into the house and grabbing her completed math homework which she had forgotten to pack.

I was so excited. “You see? It works! It’s really helping!”

She was already half a block away but I was still gloating into my coffee cup, so thrilled that our experiment was making a positive change in her life. Not only would she not lose marks by not handing in the work, but more importantly, she wouldn’t experience that moment of panic that you have when you realize you are about to lose marks for no good reason, and she wouldn’t feel the discouragement that comes from not having a handle over your life’s affairs.  ROI indeed.


This is a great article that, among other things, outlines the excuses that creative types give for why they don’t use GTD.  Substitute “teenager” for “creative” and it works just as well.

I expect I’ll be employing Mr. Pepper’s counterarguments when I come up against resistance from my teenager and even from myself.  I’ll try not to develop a split personality in the process.  

Quitting Cello

A friend of mine suggested that if our kids need sophisticated organization systems or apps it’s probably an indicator that they’re doing too much. He believes, and I agree, that kids need to have a quantity of unstructured time in their week, and feels that encouraging kids to do something like GTD only makes it possible to cram in more.

I don’t agree on that last point. I think the kid who is organized and knows exactly how much stuff she has going on can take a realistic look at everything she does and make better choices about whether to add more activities or whether it’s time to take something away. Because deciding to quit stuff is hard.

Sophia plays four instruments and sings in a choir. We didn’t plan for her to be doing so much musically but she just kept starting new things and at the end of grade seven, here is where we are. She’s been playing piano since she was very small, and studying it seriously for three years.  She’s been playing cello for three years and clarinet for two.  She recently started playing electric bass and has sung in her school’s choir for the past year.

I’ve been pretty well convinced by Penelope Trunk’s writings on the benefits of specialization and think that Sophia is spreading her musical interest over too wide a range to really be gaining valuable expertise and truly enjoying her experiences as a musician.  She agrees, and so, with some regret, she is quitting cello.

I’m sad. I want her to pick something else. My top two picks for things to keep are piano and cello. The rest can go. But almost-thirteen-year-olds have their own opinions and so the cello gets the boot.

Who said the path to an organized, ordered and well-focussed life was a simple one?


My new avatar, courtesy of my in-house artist

One of the lists in Sophia’s Wunderlist app is called “MyOrginizedTeen” (her English spelling is suffering a bit since she started French immersion) and in it, she has put some requests from me to draw some pictures for this blog.

Well, “Rebeca avatar” can now be checked off that list because she gave me the first one yesterday and it is great.

Rebeca, the mom

Rebeca, the mom (drawing by Sophia)

Having more time to work on her art is a big motivator for Sophia to get organized.  One of her big goals is to complete an entire graphic novel.  I think the skill of to-do listing is going to be key in helping her meet this goal.

(PS That is really what I look like, although my feet are not quite so pointy.)

(PPS For those who are interested, the inking for this picture was done using Copic markers.)

Reader Question 1: What’s more important for teens, being organized during their school year, or being organized during their vacation?

This was asked by a colleague of mine who is a few years away from having a teenager of his very own.

My answer is an annoyingly chirpy, “Both!”  Helpful, I know.

But it’s really hard to say which is more important.  If your teen isn’t  organized during the school year, and they are as busy as active as the teens I know, they’re going to be overwhelmed, feel out of control and experience panic on a regular basis.  If your teen isn’t organized during the summer they’re going to be bored, uninspired and experience regret at the end.

So being organized for the school year and being organized for the summer both seem like extremely worthwhile goals.

If I think about the long-term, however, and think about what life skills I want my teen to have when she’s an adult, I actually think the summer vacation organization is more important.  This is because I think it’s easier for people to do goal setting and planning for their paid work than it is for their own personal goals, unassociated with whatever it is they do to make a living.

This is definitely true for me.  It comes much more naturally to me to be organized and goal-oriented at work, where someone is paying me money to be this way and my reputation and livelihood are on the line than it is for me to be that way in my personal life, where no one else is really going to keep tabs on me.  I really admire adults and kids who are able to do both.

So I change my answer!  Now it’s summer.  It’s more important for teens to learn how to manage their time in the summer, because later in life this piece is more frequently the one that people have a hard time  with.  And it may be the piece that contributes more heavily to having a good life overall.

Plan for making my August “beachy”

I mentioned in my first post about how I have a problem with vague goals when it comes to my precious Augusts (I take a break from my job for a month each year).

Using (again) Mike Williams’ method, I decided to ask myself “What do I want to be true at the end of August?”  And one of the answers is “I want to have gone to the beach a lot.”

But, as I said, this is too vague and I always fail.

So I decided to make it more specific.  My new answer is “I want to have taken my kids to the beach four times, for four hours each time, and packed snacks and drinks along with us to make it more fun.

I’m going to book each Friday in August, from 9am – 1pm as beach time.  I’m going to put these appointments in my calendar (I use a Moleskine black softcover 12-month extra-large weekly planner) and I’m going to treat them as seriously as I would dentist appointments.  I’m going to ask the kids to commit to coming with me ahead of time (this won’t be hard since they love the beach) and allow them to bring friends if they wish.

If I do all these things, I feel like it won’t be possible to feel at the end of August as if it hasn’t been beachy enough.  I’m a little concerned that I’ll have a different problem at that point, namely, that I’ll feel like my time off was too structured, but we’ll see if that’s the case.

Below, my youngest at the beach last August: