Posted in Blog

Down to Brass Tacks on Managing Work To Dos

There are tons of articles and books out there talking about managing your time, setting priorities, and delegating your work. I often finish reading and think that it’s great to hear in theory, but how does the author actually stay organized. What apps, tools, and tricks are they using that I could leverage? This post is a bit of a reaction to that. Here’s my down-in-the-weeds look at what I’m doing on a weekly and daily basis to stay organized at work.

My job can be hectic. I have multiple projects with various clients and project teams that all have different requirements, standards, and deadlines. My day can range from facilitating working group meetings and pitching work to clients to writing storyboards for an online instruction and editing a curriculum plan. There is always a lot to do. I’m never bored at work. 

I’ve tackled my work to do-list a variety of ways over the years. I’ve used my email inbox as a list of tasks, emailing myself things to do. I’ve used apps like Todoist, which I liked, to track every task I need to do. I have teams that use Trello, a good project management tool. But, for my individual to dos, I’ve found nothing more satisfying than paper and pen.

Currently, every Friday afternoon, I make a list of every project I’m on and note the tasks for each project that need to be on my radar. I list key deadlines and, if I think the list is too overwhelming, I estimate how much time each task will take to complete. If my estimate of hours is greater than my available working hours, then I know I have a problem. Then, I either need to delegate or shift priorities. 

It’s at this time that I calendar block too. For example, if I know I’m going to need to write or edit, I dedicate a chuck of time on my calendar to this focused work. With this strategy, my project teams will see my calendar is full and not schedule a meeting then.

Simultaneously, while I’m looking at my calendar, I check for conflicts or meetings coming up that I need to prep for. Here I may find that I need to add some tasks to my to-do list or block prep time on my calendar.

Once I have my master to-do list Friday afternoon, I set my goals for Monday. This way, I can start immediately Monday morning with a plan.

The key here is to keep the list of goals short. I definitely don’t allow more than 3 items. I’ll likely get more than my goals done in a day, but my I feel accomplished if my goals are met. I’ll probably have a future post just on setting daily goals.

Another piece of notebook paper is used to capture daily goals.

I also realize, especially now as a senior manager, that a big part of my job is supporting my teams. This role often means I’m responding to “fires” as they occur, which can’t be planned. The only element of fires I can plan for is the fact that I know they will happen….regularly. So, I try to leave room in my calendar for them to work themselves in.  As my week progresses, new to dos are added to the master list and accomplished ones are crossed off. I always have a current running list of project tasks. 

Every day ends with a review of what I accomplished and how much time each task took me and then the creation of a plan for the next day. 

I recognize that my system isn’t the only system out there, but it works well for me in my current position. What apps, tools, or tricks do you use to stay focused and organized at work?

Posted in Blog

Our Morning Checklist

This momma loves a good list. To help our mornings run a bit more smoothly and reduce the number of times I have to tell the kids to brush their teeth or put on their shoes, we created a morning checklist that I added to our family command center.

After a few weeks into the school year, the kids pick up the routine and know to look at it for reminders on what to do.

Our deal is that if the kids can get through their list before we have to leave, they can have some time to play or watch TV. That’s a big motivator to get them moving! Many days they have no time left or just a few minutes. It’s a rare occasion to have enough time to get through a whole cartoon.

What I love about the list is that the kids helped create it, so they had to think about what all needs to happen to get ready for school. I used Microsoft Word to create the list within a table. I added clipart to help Mr. 4-year-old “read” the list and color matched the art and text.

Now that we have the list, the kids have a bit more freedom to manage their time. Certainly, with the kids only being 4 and 6 years old, my husband and I are not hands off. But, we’re are not reminding them WHAT they need to do. Instead we’re asking them what is next on the list or reminding them that they only have 20 minutes left. We’re trying to teach them to be aware of their own time and responsibilities and build some independence. We try to say things like, “You’re normally done brushing your teeth by now, but today you haven’t even started.” And then avoid things like, “Hurry up! We’re late!” (Though I do say that too when I get exasperated!)

Overall, the morning checklist has worked out really well for us. We haven’t missed the bus or been late to school yet, so I’ll take that as a win!

Posted in Blog

How Our Family Uses Cozi

This post is not sponsored. I’m not getting any compensation from Cozi for my thoughts in this post.

Cozi is an app that has saved my marriage. Okay, it’s not that revolutionary, but it’s close.

Cozi is a tool we use daily in our home that’s available on mobile devices and computers. It’s pitched as a family organizer, and it’s true to its word. It’s free version includes a shared and color-coded calendar, lists, family journal, and meal planner with a recipe box. With a paid annual Cozi Gold subscription, you can remove ads and get even more features like a birthday tracker, monthly calendar view on mobile devices, and reminder notifications for upcoming events. My husband and I splurged on the Cozi Gold subscription, though we could have made due with the free version. I think we paid $30 for the year.

Let me walk you through the major features of Cozi and how we use it.

Shared Calendar

I was getting frustrated by our old system of saving personal appointments on our work calendars. This system was making me the default keeper of the family calendar because no one else had everything tracked in one place. I didn’t think my husband needed to have info like the dog’s dental cleaning or an appointment for my next pap smear visible to his coworkers on his work calendar.

This app saved me! I’m not the calendar keeper anymore; Cozi is! We have one family calendar now where everyone’s activities are tracked and color coded. (The colors match everyone’s assigned colors are our command center calendar too.)

Like in Outlook, you can set up reoccurring events, invite others, plus add locations and notes. You can even add schedules, like after-school activities or sports programs. But, unlike Outlook, you can add events using plain language. Just type in that Stephanie has dinner with friends 6pm on Wednesday, and Cozi puts the event in the calendar for you.

My favorite feature is that you can opt to send family members daily or weekly agendas. Now that my husband and I both get daily agendas, we both know what the day ahead entails. I’ve added calendar reminders for when library books are due or when school is having a pajama day. It’s all there and sent right to our inboxes each morning.

One caveat though. I personally still need appointments that happen during the work day on my work calendar so my teams know if I’m available or not. You have some options in this situation.

  1. You can enter the appointment in Cozi and your work calendar. (Not my first choice since it doubles my work.)
  2. You can have your work calendar appear in Cozi. (Though then my husband is seeing lots of irrelevant information about my meetings for the day. I didn’t opt for this.)
  3. You can send appointments created in your work calendar to Cozi. (This is the option I chose.) The only way I found to do this was to create a shared Google calendar that is linked to our Cozi calendar. So, when I make an Outlook meeting invite for a personal appointment that occurs during the work day, I add the family calendar as an invitee. The meeting is then automatically accepted by our Google calendar and it appears in Cozi. I wish I could just invite the Cozi calendar, but that isn’t currently an option in the app.

Lists

I have loved using Cozi’s lists feature. There are shopping lists and to-do lists. We mainly use the shopping lists, which integrate with our Alexa. I just ask Alexa to add bananas to the grocery list or eggs to the Costco list, and it appears! (Though, my kids have figured this out too. Last weekend, Mr. 4-year-old asked for apples while my husband was at the grocery store. My husband saw they were added and picked them up. At least my 4-year-old made a healthy choice!)

Cozi also has several pre-made lists you can easily add to your account. For instance, Cozi offered a Thanksgiving meal preparation list, which we used as a guide.

We’ve also made our own lists that we can reuse, like a list of everything we want to pack for a family camping trip. As we pack, we check items off the list, and both of our phones update with the progress we’ve made.

Meals

There are a few things you can do with meals. You can add recipes to your recipe box, either your own recipes, recipes Cozi sponsors, or ones you find online. It’s a great way to keep your recipes organized. Though, I found I haven’t fully leveraged this feature yet.

More often, I’m using the meals section of Cozi to meal plan. When you visit Cozi’s meal planner, you can type in what you’re planning to eat or pick a recipe from your recipe box for each day’s breakfast, lunch, dinner, and/or snack. We don’t plan meals with that level of specificity. But, when I can get my act together enough on the weekends, I like to plan out dinner meals at least. My favorite part of the meal planner is that whatever you select for dinner shows up in your calendar and daily agenda. Everything integrates.

Family Journal

The last Cozi feature we really use regularly is the family journal. It’s sort of like a family-only social media feed where you can write text or share images that are listed chronologically. Everyone in the family can add to it, so if my husband takes the kids to the trampoline park, he can add a cute photo. Or, when my son makes a funny joke, I can document it.

What makes the family journal fun is that you can have its content either posted to a public webpage or emailed in a monthly newsletter. We opted for the monthly newsletter because we could specify who would receive the emails and keep the information more private.

I took the family journal a step further though. We have the monthly newsletters going out to more than just grandparents. I set up email accounts for our sons and have the monthly newsletters going to their inboxes as well, so they will have a copy of these family memories to enjoy when they get older.

That’s the rundown on how we use Cozi. We’ve been using it for about six months now, and I don’t see us dropping it any time soon. I’m thrilled we’ve found a tool that works so well to meet our needs while keeping it simple.

Posted in Blog

Walkthrough of Our Family Command Center

Once I had preschool-aged kids, I became interested in having a family command center. For details on how I designed the command center, check out this post

In this post, I’ll walkthrough our family command center and how we use it. It is a staple in our home that’s used daily.

Our current rendition of the command center

I knew I wanted our command center in the kitchen near the door we use to enter and exit the home, but space was limited. My only option was a narrow but tall space on the side of our kitchen cabinets.

The focal point of the wall is the monthly calendar where each family member’s activities are tracked. Every family member, including our pup, gets a personalized color on the calendar. I like filling it out once a month because it is a mechanism for me to plan ahead. I can see what evenings will be jam packed, so I’ll prep an easy dinner. Or, I’ll see that we have a weekend free to invite friends over or tackle a home project. 

The upper portion of our command center

Below the calendar is a place for files and folders. I currently keep four folders here, but I have flexibility to change it up. Our receipts are dumped into one folder. I clean them out about once a month, after the credit card bill is paid. Another folder is our collection of coupons and gift cards. I’ve been known to grab the whole folder and bring it with us before we head out shopping or out to eat. I always have good stashes of coupons in there. The third folder is for documents that need to be filed. These documents are typically our opened mail that needs to be filed away in our home office. The final folder is a collection of ideas for gifts to purchase for family and friends. For instance, if I read an article in a magazine recommending the best books for preteens, I may rip the page out and plop it in my Ideas for Gifts folder.

Our command center also includes an 8.5″ by 11″ picture frame. I’m currently using it to show our family’s winter fun list — a bunch of activities we want to do as a family during the holiday and cold season. We check them off as we do them. With a glass frame, we can just wipe off the whiteboard marker whenever we want.

What I love about the frame, though, is that it gives me versatility because I can display whatever I want in it. A few years ago, after we’d just put the command center up, I put our meal plan up there. Nowadays, I don’t need to post our meal plan. Instead, we use the Cozi app to meal plan (and plan other things). My love for the free Cozi app is worthy of an entirely new post.

Below the folders and winter fun list are our three “bins.” My husband and I each get a small bin to store our wallets, sunglasses, keys, etc. that we want before we run out the door. The middle bin is miscellaneous stuff, like outgoing mail and the kids’ sunglasses.

The bottom half of the command center

Below our bins are two clipboards, one for each kid. School and daycare papers (like contracts, curriculum information, etc.) are readily available. On top, I display something applicable to the kids. When they were little, it was sticker charts for going to the bathroom or trying new foods. Now that they’re in school, they have checklists detailing what they need to do to get ready for school and what to do when they get home. 

So that’s the meat of our command center and what we use to function daily. However, I had some more space at the top and bottom of the wall to add some extras. Down below is a blank whiteboard that the kids draw on or play with magnets. Right now, their personal goals for 2020 are there. My first grader is making goals in school, and the preschooler didn’t want to be left out.

Up above is our decorative S for our family name and framed list of our family mantras. Here again, for the family mantras, I just created a PowerPoint slide that I printed and placed in a 8.5″ by 11″ frame. It was a fun exercise to think about what we want to focus on teaching our boys.

Spinapolice family mantras

Well, that’s it. We make a lot happen in a small space, and I love it. It looks nice, it’s functional, and it was relatively easy….and that’s exactly how I roll.

Posted in Blog

How to Design Your Family Command Center

This post isn’t about my command center. I walkthrough a reveal of ours in another post.

In this post, I’ll rundown the steps for crafting your own command center.

1. Make a list of what you want to organize and have on hand.

I found myself on Pinterest looking at others’ designs for inspiration. A Pinterest board isn’t enough though. Document what you want. You can pare it down to essentials later, based on space or other constraints. Right now, you’re brainstorming. Here are some uses to consider:

  • Inbox for mail 
  • Outbox for mail/paperwork
  • School paperwork
  • Calendars (yearly, monthly, weekly, or daily)
  • Grocery list
  • Meal plan
  • Kids’ backpacks and jackets
  • Keys
  • Wallets/sunglasses/etc.
  • Coupons
  • To do lists
  • Reward charts
  • Chore trackers
  • Important items (e.g., invitations, save the dates)
  • Clock
  • Supplies (e.g., markers, scissors)
  • Charging station
  • Decor

2. Assess your space for a viable location for your command center.

You’ll want to put your command center in a high-traffic location so you see it and use it. You’re not likely going to use your inbox for mail if you have to walk by your kitchen table or a counter to get to the command center. Like pasta sauce on a toddler’s clothes, your mail will be drawn to these flat surfaces instead of where it’s supposed to go. You don’t need a large blank wall for a command center though. Narrow or tall spaces can work too. 

3. You may find that you need to prioritize what to include in your command center.

I pretty much wanted everything in my brainstormed list in Step 1 for my command center, but I couldn’t make it all work. I wanted to include a charging station at my command center, but I didn’t have the depth available for a shelf or table. C’est la vie! My charging station moved closer to the family room instead (where we need it more anyhow). One space doesn’t have to do EVERYTHING.

I prioritized three uses. It was important to me that my command center include a monthly calendar, reward charts for the kids, and a spot for keys. I wanted more, but I wouldn’t compromise on these items.

Consider what’s most important to you and start there. Make sure you can meet those needs first.

4. Identify products to meet your needs.

My Virtual Plan

There’s a lot to this step, so here are some considerations. This step took a lot more time than I thought it would, which was probably exasperated by my small space.

Using your prioritized uses from Step 3, estimate how much space you want products to take up. I knew I wanted a large calendar to track everyone’s activities (using a designated color for each family member, of course), so I was willing to dedicate a lot of space to the calendar.

Measure, measure, measure! This is particularly important if your space is limited. I knew I was working with a narrow (but tall) space, so I had little room for error in my measurements. I went so far as to cut out paper templates of the products I was eyeing and taped them to the wall to make sure they’d all fit. I highly recommend doing the same.

Feel free to be creative when identifying products. There are tons of fancy command center products at Target, Walmart, Hobby Lobby, Amazon, and alike, but you aren’t limited to these choices. I used clipboards to store the kids’ paperwork (e.g., daycare contracts, school policies, etc.) and put a reward chart or chore list on top for the kids to reference. I’ve used poster frames to create “whiteboards” and framed printables like checklists or blank meal plan templates.

Pick a theme, color, or some other unifying characteristic. Okay, well, a theme is certainly optional. But, I knew I was putting my command center in my kitchen, so I didn’t want it to be an eyesore. I’ve seen command centers that are farmhouse themed, color coordinated, color coded by kid, you name it. Pick something that works for you. I searched online stores for products that would organize my three priority needs: a calendar, reward charts, and storage for keys. Once I found three products that provided the functionality I needed, were the right size, and looked like they went together, I declared black with sharp lines my theme.

5. Once you have the products you need, hang them up.

Here again, the paper templates were very helpful in making sure everything was hung in the right place. I also recommend considering using Command Strips to hang your products, particularly if you live in a rental. My command center is on the side of my kitchen cabinets, which I didn’t want to put holes in them. Instead, I overdid it using tons of high-strength command strips. It’s worked out well!

6. Enjoy the fruit of your labor!

Our current command center
Our current command center

We use our command center every day, asking the kids to check their list of what they need to do before school, grabbing our wallets as we head out the door, and reviewing the our family mantras (Spinapolices solve problems with words is a big one at the moment!).

What do you think of this list? Share your thoughts below.