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Need help staying organized? Print out a hard copy (of something).

by Sarah Powers on April 14, 2014

We’ve started dedicating Monday mornings to a single tip or simple idea to get your week off to a better start. This week it’s my turn! -Sarah

plan a better week
Are you a pen-and-paper planner or a digital listmaker? As I’ve shared here before, I am a bit of both. I love the convenience of “the cloud” when it comes to managing work, home and family life in a streamlined way, but I also cling fiercely to a good old fashioned list.

(There’s nothing that helps sort out a jumbled brain full of tasks and to-do’s like the physical act of writing them down, right?)

But the reality of life in 2014 is, of course, that much of what crosses my desk never actually, um, crosses any desk at all. It pings in with a little notification sound by text or email. It lives online in a shared Google Doc. It hides behind the green Evernote app icon. It unfolds in a Facebook conversation thread. It streams through the speakers in my minivan, which connect via bluetooth to my phone. We live in crazy times, don’t we?

It’s all well and good until the going gets tough. I have my own little systems for staying organized by turning an email into a reminder, or capturing a thought digitally while I’m driving my car. I live by the search function in my email, which allows me to quickly look up that thing Meagan and I were discussing last week that I might have forgotten about. And while it does help to write out a to-do list to get focused for the day or the week, I find that in times where I’ve got a LOT on my plate, there’s only one way to get my brain out of the cloud(s) and onto firm ground where I can begin to make sense of it all.

I start printing stuff out.

Print
Printing a hard copy of something that I usually interact with on a screen has a calming effect. If I can hold it in my hands, mark it up with a pen, and leave it out in plain view on the counter or pin it up on a bulletin board, it seems somehow tackle-able. So during overwhelming times, I print. I print project lists for work, emails from the kids’ schools, and hard copies of my digital calendar. It’s all stuff I can access easily online from multiple devices, but when I feel my digital brain starting to overheat, the hard copies help it seem more manageable.

If your home and work life happen largely online or on-screen and you’re feeling stressed, why not give this a try this week? Here are a handful of ideas of things to print:

  • Your calendarI talk about my digital/paper hybrid calendar system in this post, and the cornerstone of it is a print-out of my Google calendar each week. I also sometimes find it helpful to print a blank calendar for the coming two or three months – just to visualize what’s ahead. (Want to print April, May and June 2014 right now? Click here.
  • School, church, or activity schedules – If you find yourself looking up the website of your gym over and over again because you can never remember what time Family Swim starts, print out the schedule.
  • Phone lists – I know, most of our contacts are stored in our phones these days. But if you have a land line or haven’t put all the numbers you need into your phone, having a hard copy of the school or daycare or pediatrician’s phone list handy can save extra looking-up.
  • Electronic invitations – We get invited to parties and get-togethers electronically quite a bit these days, and printing out the invite helps keep the party on my radar so I don’t forget to arrange a sitter or buy a gift.
  • Amazon wish list – If you shop online and keep wish lists stored on Amazon or other sites, try printing them out and marking up a hard copy to make budgeting, gift planning, and online shopping easier once you get back online.
  • Reading list – I love the site GoodReads for keeping tracks of books I want to read, but often I save a book “to read” and then forget to go back and check the list! A hard copy to keep in my car or on my nightstand would help with those “what to read next?” moments when I’m drawing a blank.
  • A piece of writing – If you’re a blogger or a writer and you’re feeling stuck, walking away from the screen with a paper copy of what you’re working on can give you a fresh take on the piece you’re working on.

I realize that many moms struggle with feeling overwhelmed by too much paper, and that this little tip does create more piles and papers to deal with. But when the online world starts to blur together and you’ve reached that point where you know there’s an email somewhere with that one thing in it (what was it again?) that you were supposed to take care of by…when?, a few extra sheets of paper might just save your sanity. I know it does for me.

Do you print things out so you have a hard copy to hold on to? What kinds of things do you print?

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Meagan Francis April 14, 2014 at 3:02 pm

I love this, Sarah! I also rely on printouts sometimes to keep my brain organized. Sometimes I never look at them again after the first time, but the act of printing them out and holding in my *hand just the one time* helps cement the information I need in my brain, somehow.

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Christina April 15, 2014 at 8:29 pm

My husband travels all week and I have three kids 6 and under. I started printing out a spreadsheet matrix for the week. It includes all my meal plans for B,L,D, morning and afternoon activities, chores for the day (those nagging things like clean the ceiling fan), naptime (what I will do while baby naps). My favorite? My space for “night time”, for when the kids are in bed and I finally have my time to look forward to. Knowing I have one night this week for a bath or trashy tv keeps me going! :)

It looks a little OCD but it’s a work in progress. It is a bit redundant to our family calendar but this one I write on it, cross stuff on/off, move stuff. It’s my gigantic brain dump for the upcoming week. It totally helps me!

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Christian Toto April 16, 2014 at 8:57 am

I have a ‘hard copy’ to-do list that helps me organize my life. I think the trickiest part is assembling all the papers/keeping them in front of you on a daily or weekly basis.

The main point is that no matter how digital we become, the hard copy retains its power over us. I’m kinda glad about that. Now, where’s my abacus?

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