Friday, 29 June 2012

Messy bookmarks

I'm a compulsive book-marker (in the internet sense). If I like something I bookmark it.

I'm also compulsive "I'd love to be organised so lets pretend I am", so I like to think my bookmarks are organised. For a while I keep on top of them, organising them as I bookmark. But then I find I need a new bookmark folder and the whole thing goes to pot. Then I realised that I had to keep scrolling down and down and down to find things in my bookmark list. When I started writing this post I had 800+ uncategorised bookmarks! Eeek! Now I have none!

So if you are like me and you have a truck load of uncategorised bookmarks so that you can't even find the things you want anymore, take 30 minutes to sort it out. OK, if you have a really big problem it might take longer than that!

The challenge:
1. Sort out all bookmarks that are not catalogued. Create new folders/categories as appropriate.
2. Once a week tackle all new bookmarks.
3. Periodically review your bookmarks and delete any that you feel are no longer useful.

Easy right? Well if you are like me, its a bit daunting. Here is how I actually tackled the problem:

  1. Start with your RSS feeds (I have loads of them). Creating categories for these is normally quite simple as feeds for websites tend to have a specific theme. This means you have a good folder structure for the individual bookmarks.
  2. Have a cup of tea. Go on, reward yourself with a biscuit.
  3. Split uncatalogued bookmarks into groups of 50. Tackle 50 at a time, creating new folders when appropriate. Have lots of tea in between (and yes a biscuit or 20 is fine... this is a tough business). If you really struggle you can keep one or two items in the top level with no folder around them, but no more.
  4. Once all the bookmarks are in catagories/folders go through the folders and see if you think the order should be rearranged. Group like-things together such as 'Cakes' and 'Recipes'.
  5. Now that the folders are group think about rationalising them. Should 'Cakes' and 'Recipes' actually be one folder, or should 'Cakes' be a subset of 'Recipes'. 
  6. Have a cup of tea and admire your handywork!
  7. Periodically pick one folder and open all links. Delete any links from the bookmark list which no longer interest you and any broken links.
Not too bad hey? Well, OK its all relative. If you have a really bad situation you could either split the tasks up over a few days, or delete all those bookmarks and start again! Just make sure you keep on top of it once you have started otherwise you'll never finish (well if you are me anyway).

The only challenge left is to keep doing this regularly (I've chosen weekly so that I can do it at the same time I am trying to purge my email inbox), and periodically discard unwanted bookmarks or broken links.

The email challenge - complete!

Three weeks ago I set myself an email challenge. And I am happy to say that I now have an inbox under control!

There are 10 messages in my inbox, all acting as reminders for imminent events or things that really really should be sorted before filing (because otherwise I will never sort them). Unfortunately this includes things from 2011, but thats a different problem! Hopefully seeing them in my inbox daily will prompt me into sorting them out. They aren't particularly serious (well they wouldn't be after a year would they?), but I know if I file them away they will never be seen again!

Another interesting snippet - I have worked out that I get 300 emails on average per day! I knew it was a lot, but really. I guess most people are in that position. It meant that in just one week, despite deleting spam, shopping emails etc. I had 80 new 'important' emails in my inbox at the end of the week. I guess that is why it got so out of control.

So my next challenge will be to start figuring out a way to reduce my email quantity, both by unsubscribing to emails that I really am not interested in (Groupon, why groupon?!) and going through folders and purging things from years ago. But that is for another day.

Happy weekend everyone!

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Car essentials kit

So I have been making slow progress on the car challenge. However, you will be glad to know that I have (ahem Mr PTC) vacuumed the car and it is now on our monthly cleaning schedule. I'm not optimistic enough to think this would get done weekly - besides I'm not sure I care that much! We have a bin (more on that in another post), and I've drawn up a list for items to go in the car.

So here is the fun bit. The list! I love lists. They make me happy! So here is the car list:

It started out as a "what documents should we have in the car" and ended up in a general "things for the car" list. However, it has proved useful. If you plan to do a similar thing take some time over it. Think about how you use the car, where you go and what generally ends up in the car despite you constantly removing it. For example I always need a pen in the car, so I am going to start keeping a pen in the car rather than taking it out each time I clean. I keep ferry tickets in the car as we regularly visit a Scottish island and buy tickets in bulk. They are only ever used in conjunction with the car, so they might as well stay there!

The important things are obvious - emergency contacts (do you really think you will remember those all important numbers if you have just had an accident? And do you trust that you will have a mobile phone signal or that the phone has a battery?), insurance details etc. However, it is worth noting that the DVLA do not recommend keeping your license counterpart or V50 forms in the car. If the police ask for them they will give you 7 days to produce them to any UK police station. However, if you car is stolen these documents can be used to transfer ownership illegally and fake documents. Advice is different for different companies so check what your local government advises before storing sensitive information in the car.

I also have decided to keep maps in the car. I regularly print out addresses and google-map directions, so from now any printouts will have a space in the car for future reference. I will have a sheet to jot down addresses for the sat nav as well (yes I have Sat Nav and maps - I just don't trust that machine and she lies!!! Yes it is a she - Mr PTC calls me Mrs Nav, so clearly I'm better at directions that the Sat Nav anyway. Ahem). I have created two nice little documents for emergency contacts and addresses. I might add other documents if I find we regularly need some information that isn't otherwise stored on these sheets.

So I've collected all these documents/items together and I now need a nice (cheap preferably free) storage solution. Watch this space!

You can find the PDFs (if you prefer to write by hand) and the original word document for personalisation in the links below.

Download PDF of "important contacts" here.

Download PDF of "useful addresses" here.

Download docx format containing both documents here.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Email and desk challenge update

So I've been a little remiss and haven't really proceeded anywhere with the car. Unless planning to clean the car this weekend counts? I think not!

But the desk challenge and the email challenge are proceeding a-pace!

Before leaving work this evening I once again tidied the desk (only took 2 minutes!), cleared the paperwork, put together a to-do list for Monday and emptied my recycling tray on my way out of the building! Perfect!

The emails are now down to 92 in the inbox. Oh yes! Doing well here!! It may be slowing though. Good news is that I have dealt with a lot of things that needed dealing with quite urgently because of the desk cleaning and the weekly email purge. Proof that organisation can be beneficial.

Tables tables tables

Version two
I've uploaded three new versions of the kitchen conversion chart in slightly different colour schemes. They also have more clearly defined lines to help you find the right quantity when you are running around the kitchen bag-of-flour-in-hand. 

To download a version click on the caption of the relevant image. The original version (as seen in my last blog entry) can still be downloaded here.


Version three
Version four

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Making sense of recipes - conversion charts

I love to try new recipes and the internet has some fabulous sources of new and varied things to try. But I am forever having to convert between units... its incredible how many different types there are out there.
To get the chart as a PDF please click the download here.

Until the world decides to settle on one thing (well that would be a boring day), I have created a conversion chart for all the common units I come across. I use grams and ml most of the time, and top that off with my measuring spoons (teaspoons and their various fractions, and tablespoons). Recipes of 'sticks of butter' and cups always confuse me. I have 'cups' but I believe they are metric cups! I didn't even know this. 

So I've created a chart which will sit on the inside of one of kitchen cabinets so that I can quickly convert without the calculator! 

If you would like a copy feel free to click the download below. I might make charts of different colours so requests are welcome!

Monday, 18 June 2012

The car challenge

I got a new car recently (I should say we as Mr PTC and I are a single car household). Its shiny, blue and nearly new! I couldn't be happier. However, it has got me thinking that I want to change a few things from the previous car.

Firstly, the old car was never cleaned enough. We loved the old car - it only got ditched in favour of a new one because it broke down and given where we live and our work we cannot afford to have unexpected car-free days! However, I digress. We loved the old car, but we didn't clean it anywhere near enough. Well no more - from now on it will be part of a regular cleaning schedule. I'm no clean freak, so I don't think I have the stomach to do it weekly, but maybe fortnightly or monthly. Watch this space.

Car organisation Martha style? Yes please!
Secondly; mess. Yes our car got messier and messier. We don't even have children to blame it on! We would just leave rubbish and paperwork lying around until one of us got annoyed enough to remove it from the car. This isn't going to happen anymore.

Thirdly; important documents. The manual and service history were kept in the car, but that was it! Service details and receipts were either shoved in the glove compartment or my handbag (at which point they eventually ended up lying around in the study). Again this is not good. When we sold the car I had to go through so much stuff trying to find all the important documents. So with the new car we will have a policy of keeping relevant documents in the car and others in a file in the filing cabinet at home.

Martha Stewart has a lovely idea of using an accordian file to keep all sorts of useful information in (though she isn't specific about what might go in there aside from maps, directions, insurance information etc.). So I need to come up with my own list. Also my glove compartment isn't exactly the perfect shape so I might have to dream up a better storage solution to fit the space.

So watch this space. I'm going to sort the car:

1. No more mess - put car cleaning into the cleaning schedule). 
2. No more waste - get a bin for the car, preferably without spending any money (did I mention I'm super frugal?).
3. No more paperwork lying around - get it sorted into the glove compartment.

I'm not going to put this into a 'challenge' yet until I iron-out the details. But watch this space!

The challenge:
1. Clean the car, inside and out, at least once a month (more as required).
2. Get a bin for the car.
3. Create a document holder for the car.

What I haven't told you about the new car is how exciting it is. We stuck with the trusty Volvo's because my husband and I just love them so much. However, it feels a little bad to be encouraging staff at work to be more environmentally conscious at work only to drive a big huge saloon gas guzzler (not to mention our pockets hurt with petrol prices going through the roof). So we bought a Volvo V50 DRIVe - the eco-Volvo car. We are currently getting about 60 mpg (double the old saloon), and we can actually use the boot space! Plus being smaller and having parking sensors I can actually park it.

I'll shut up now - just thought you all might like to know! Oh and its shiny too!

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Inbox update

So the first Friday challenge has been and gone... the desk is tidy(ish) and the inbox has been tackled. Yes. Tackled. Successfully!!

I can reveal that I am down to 211 emails in the inbox. That's 134 less than when I posted the challenge on Thursday! Whooop. And a great whopping 84 emails sorted (mainly trashed to be honest) than I had set out to do. Admittedly this week was easy because I was a little selective and just deleted easily identifiable targets rather than categorising and sorting through the mounds of emails. But still it is a start.

Lets just recap that.
134 emails sorted in week 1!!!

 If you are wanting more tips on how to sort those emails, and figuring out what sort of email-inbox person you are check out these tips:

Friday, 15 June 2012

The desk challenge

So most of the time my desk at work looks like this:

(Actually normally it is a lot lot worse!)

Last time I 'tidied' my desk (i.e. searched around frantically for a piece of paper I'd lost) I found all sorts of things that should have been 'handled' or 'dealt with' weeks ago. Oops! I also have a habit of letting my 'treecycler' (yes my employer provides lovely desktop facilities for paper recycling) get so full it spills over onto the rest of the desk. (Despite being environmentally conscious our employer has yet to convince the cleaner to empty the treecyclers as well as the bin. We are supposed to empty the treecyclers ourselves - not too arduous as there is a large bin just 3 steps from my office door!)

So the next challenge is to tidy the desk and keep it tidy.

The challenge:
1. At the end of every working week tidy the desk.
2. Empty the paper recycling into the large bin.
3. Update to-do list with any paperwork not dealt with earlier in the week.

Easy right? 

This is how we fare this Friday afternoon:

And I even managed to empty the paper:

Now I just need to add cleaning mugs to the list and I will start to enjoy Monday mornings a little more!

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Emails emails emails

One of the many items on my 'to-do' list is to sort out my emails.
Too many emails!!

I used to have a strict rule to keep only really important emails, or 'pending' items in my email inbox, but for the last year the rule has slipped. I occasionally make an effort to purge a few, or categorise (I've enough folders/labels so there really is no excuse). But here we are I have 339 emails in my inbox (actually at the time of writing that has gone up to 345!

Starting this week I am going to start purging emails on a Friday. I realise I am not committed enough to do it all 'in-a-oner' - no that would be far far too serious! I am also not going to resort to my usual means or getting rid of a problem by wrapping it up in a new problem (yes I considered creating a label called 'pending' and just moving everything to that!). Instead, I will aim to sort 50 emails every Friday. This is to be added to my new 'end of the working week' organisation list which I am currently creating and I plan to implement from this week onwards!

I would recommend 'sorting' emails regularly, in the same way snail-mail should be sorted each day in the ideal world. I get all my emails (personal and work) forwarded to the same gmail account so I can keep just one client open. This creates a few problems in that I don't want to access work emails when I am on holiday but I do want to read mail from friends and family. But having to keep multiple clients open is just too much hassle for my liking! However, because of this I need to have a lot of folders or 'labels' as they are referred to by gmail.

I have categorised my labels by type as well, so I have Family, which include Mr PTC, my sisters and parents and Mr PTC's relatives. I then have work, which includes labels for the various projects I work on, and a general announcements label for emails that I want to keep but don't really fit into a specific work category. I have Blog labels, computing labels (I spend so much time working with computers that it gets a whole category to itself), household, shopping... the list goes on. I haven't had to create a new label for a while, but I probably will during my purge. However, I should probably go through all the labels and pick out any that aren't useful anymore. I've still got a category called 'Wedding' containing the various emails preparing the celebrations for Mr PTC and I over 18 months ago!

The challenge:
1. Every Friday deal with all emails that have landed in my inbox since the previous Friday.
2. Tackle a further 25 (no come on that will take forever) 50 old emails that are stranded in the inbox.
3. Continue this until my inbox contains only really really really important mail.

I reckon this will take me about two months, so watch this space... I'll then start tackling the long long list of labels/folders that should probably be sorted and purged.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Organising my life one post at a time

To start a blog, or not to start a blog. That is a question I have been asking myself for quite a few months now…

My life has been somewhat hectic for the last 6 12 18 months. 2011 was a crazy year. I finished off a PhD, I started a job (yes I pay taxes now!), got married, moved house and started to make a real home with my husband (Mr PTC) rather than the student flats I have lived in for the last eight years. 2012 was supposed to be calmer… but Mr PTC is now finishing his PhD (as well as working full-time for the last 4 months), so I happily grumpily agreed to take on more and more of the housework and running of the home to take the strain off him. Knowing how tough the last months of a PhD are I knew the kindest thing I could do was to remove as many pressures on his life as possible to reduce the strain on him and let him focus. What I didn't realise is that running a house by yourself, gardening for the first time since I was a child, decorating and holding down a full-time job is harder than I thought! 

Oh to have a house as organised as Martha's!
When Mr PTC and I first moved in together three years ago we naturally fell into a rhythm of sharing all the house work, the shopping, paperwork and generally organising life. We pick the chores that we are best suited to (so he vacuums, I bleach, he does the dishes, I cook…). I didn't realise how much I appreciated this until recently. Doing everything yourself is crazy! Then on top of that we moved to a house in the country with a garden that is double the size of the little flat we lived in before and requires me to garden and clean the car regularly because we drive 30 miles every day.

For the last few months, sorry the last year, chaos has descended on the PTC house. By the end of the week the house looks like a bomb has hit it, then I frantically run around all weekend tidying up and doing all the chores so that by Monday morning we turn up to work exhausted only to find that Mr PTC has odd socks, I've not ironed my shirt and I've lost my office key.

Enough is enough. Life has to be put in order. So I am starting a blog, where little by little I will organise, decorate and sort out my life, with the blog hopefully holding me to account. There are so many things I want to find the time for, so hopefully I will not only organise my life but organise my time to fit in the stuff I want to do rather just the stuff I have to do. This is not the first time I have tried to straighten my life out… but this is the worst it has got. Yes, life has been incredibly busy for the last 18 months, but I am not entirely sure we won't have busy periods again in the future, and I certainly want to be able to deal with them better should such a situation arise again!  Hopefully I'll end up with a house like Martha's. OK, maybe not. But we can all dream!

So here I am about to share my small little world with the big wide world of the internet. I just hope that this isn't a mistake!