On Managing To-Do Lists

The last few months have been scheduled to the brim. Although our issues are very much “first world problems,” managing our overflowing schedule has been a struggle. After purchasing our cottage a few months ago, we have found ourselves juggling endless things to do and to buy, each with its own set of complicated steps. Since the cottage is on Keats Island, we often have extra things to consider when taking items over. Since our car only fits us and the stuff for one trip (bin & cooler & other small items), we often have to make a special trip with anything larger. This means finding a spot in the week where we can both pick up and take the larger item to the boat, without the kids (since the car seats need to be removed to fit the bulky item), or arranging for it to be shipped on the water taxi (like we did with the mattress and golf cart). We only have one car, and some set evenings that the car is in use for activities, so scheduling is key.

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Buying a boat (though super exciting) was more complicated and time-consuming than we expected. It took us about 4 months and 3 brokers to accomplish. Once that was done, it came with its own set of lists: things to fix, equipment to buy, mooring to secure. And of course, learning how to drive it. Each step has its own set of steps yet again, it seems. To get the mooring, we had to deal with local politics, make a trip out to choose & measure the depth of the spot, order the custom buoy and chain / rope, have those delivered, work with someone to order the mooring anchor and then finally we’ll drop the anchor once it’s all assembled. This has taken weeks and endless phone calls as well as quite a large learning curve on our part. 

Yes, we’re accomplishing a lot of stuff in a very short period of time, but it’s not been easy. Since we’ve been juggling so many projects at once, I’ve found the key to our sanity has been careful planning on both our calendar and in our list app. I wanted to share some of our tips for staying on top of so many projects.

If you find your To-Do lists growing exponentially, or your calendar filling up, I suggest the following:

  • Divide and conquer – share your to do list with your partner, if you can. When one of us feels overwhelmed with too many items on our list, we split up the tasks. Additionally, there have been many nights or days where one parent has to take over solo parenting so the other can run around getting ‘stuff’ done
  • Set aside time to make calls – I find that it’s more efficient to set aside a block of time to make many calls at once than to field or make many calls throughout the day
  • Use your calendar for everything – My husband and I have shared calendar streams, as well as personal streams. This way, we don’t book things on days when the other is not free. Most of our days overflow, but that’s ok. It’s nice to know exactly when everything needs to happen and to be able to spot days or times when you can book in meetings or shopping trips.
  • Manage your lists in an app – we use the app ShopShop, which is by no means glamorous, to manage all our shopping lists and to do lists. The app is shared in the cloud, so if one of us updates the list, it’s reflected in all versions. We have granular lists, from a regular grocery list to lists for the cottage (one food, one ‘stuff’), the boat, and specialty stores like Costco. For projects, I’ll often create a to-do list as well. 
  • Work backwards & keep it granular – if we know the final step in a project, I find it best to set a date for that (if possible), then work backwards, scheduling in all the tasks that run up to the completion of the project. Marking out individual steps to anything makes them easier to tick off (this is also how I work on decluttering our home). 
  • Co-ordinate projects – if we know we’re taking a trip to Keats, I try to think of which project could be completed prior to that date. For example, which large things could be arranged to take onto the boat, or which specific items could be taken to finish certain renovations on the island. Space is limited, so items get checked off based on both space and priority. 
  • Meal plan once a week – who has time to think of meals and grocery shop? We try to take most of the thought out of dinners (which for us happen at 5pm, so we need to be organized) by meal-planning and doing our grocery shopping once a week. Our shopping is a combination of delivery with Spud and local grocery stores (Save-On-Foods, Loblaws) with occasional trips to Whole Foods or Costco for specialty items. If we’re eating seafood or a meat other than ground beef, I’ll often make a day-of visit to a butcher or seafood store, since we prefer both fresh and organic whenever possible.
  • Schedule in downtime – make sure you have days that don’t involve endless errands. Get out and enjoy some relaxation too. 

2015: The Year to Get Organized

I am not one for resolutions, but this year it turns out I have one: Get Organized. Last year, I started a list of “projects” I wanted to accomplish around the home – mostly things that needed to be organized or purged, but some small fix-it projects too. After finishing 80% of that list, I rolled into a new list for 2015. 

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Of course, I managed to more than double the list once I created it, but I was really feeling encouraged. During the Winter break, I managed to complete a number of items on my 2014 list and even some on my 2015 list and I was finally seeing the results. Things were noticeably less cluttered, easier to clean, and my stress level was subsequently much better. I love it when everything is easy to put away and easy to find again. 

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And yes, I’m a little bit crazy. Having 2 boys will do that to you. ;)

Outdoor Toy Storage: My Solution

My friends and family know that I can’t handle clutter in certain areas of my life, particularly with toys. Our living room uses a combination of existing cabinet space in our tv unit as well as two cube shelving units with removable bins. Our original configuration had just one unit, but we’ve since turned the unit upright and purchased a second one. Toys have a way of multiplying as kids get older! ;)

As our collection of outdoor toys grew, they became more unsightly and unruly. We had a big tupperware bin to store them in, but it was always impossible to find the “right” kind of ball for the sport Aiden wanted to play. I spent several months measuring our outdoor space and trying to find a storage unit that would accommodate the bin-based organizing that works for our family while also standing up to the elements. Harder than you’d think!

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Although there are a couple of cube-based storage solutions in wood available online, they only came in very restricted sizes and we worried that they wouldn’t stand up to the rain in Vancouver, even if they were partially covered. Most garden sheds, we found, are quite large and difficult to customize with shelves (in fact, most don’t come with shelves at all).

We opted for the Rubbermaid Vertical Garden Shed that, while quite narrow in depth, still offered a large volume of storage space. The shed came with two wire shelves (must be a new addition, since it’s not on the manufacturer’s website) and a template to cut up to 2 more shelves. With 4 shelves installed, I went to a few different dollar stores to find bins that were the right size and really lucked out with tall bins in co-ordinating colours. I was able to split the toys into 7 of these bins, while keeping the taller toys stacked to the front of the shelves. I have a larger bin of balls at low level for easy access, along with some s-hooks to store things like our sprinkler. I just had to make labels as well.

Our back patio looks so much better with these toys tucked away. I’d like to say that’s all the toys, but we also have the bigger dump trucks, ride-ons and bikes stacked against the wall. Still, at least it’s neatly lined up now!

We Love Books

Aiden loves reading. He can (and has) spent hours in a row reading. Most other parents call us “lucky” for having a child who loves to read. Indeed, in many ways we are. But, until they’ve spent several hours every day reading books… well, we set limits. ;)

We have a set of shelves in our living room that organizes most of Aiden’s toys and has one shelf that can hold about 15 books. I rotate books into this shelf every few months, as these serve as Aiden’s primary reading when he’s downstairs. He would prefer to read (or watch tv) to playing with toys, so we often negotiate that he play before he reads, or he reads X number of books then has some playtime.

Aside from this unscheduled reading time, Aiden reads 1-2 books before his nap, spends about 30 mins reading after his nap (most days) and reads 4 books before bed. All of this reading is in his room where most of his books are.

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As much for our own sanity as for Aiden’s benefit, we have a large collection of books. Most of our books have come from swap meets or library book sales, though many have been purchased or given new as well. We tend to be overwhelmed when we get new books, as Aiden wants to read them constantly, so I actually visit the library very infrequently. We’ll see if that changes in the future.

Aiden’s new bookshelf arrived just today – I’m SO happy with it. It definitely beats having some books up too high on his hutch, stuffed into his side table, or simply piled up on the floor. I’ve taken away a few dozen baby books, moving them to baby #2’s room, and now have a fairly organized system for his books. He has a dozen or so anthologies, which I’ve organized into his side table shelf, and the rest have a new home on the above shelving unit. Off-season books, or books he’s not ready for, are up on his hutch.

I <3 organization.

Organizing Kid Clutter in the Car

If your car looks anything like ours, it’s strewn with Cherrios and other snacks, toys, blankets and stuffed animals, plus packages of snacks, wipes and other kid-necessities. It drives me crazy and makes for taking on extra passengers embarrassing.

In my first attempt to organize the clutter, I bought a backseat organizer like this one but soon found that the angle of our seat meant the toys fell out of the pouches and the big stuff still ended up on the seat. Last week, I bought a new organizer bag that fits in the centre seat of our car and it’s been perfect!!

Although the bag can double as a cooler, with a strap to remove from the car, for us it’s an organizational dream. I can stash away toys, books, water bottles, snacks and all sorts of other goodies. I put Aiden’s two “car loveys” at the top of the bin, so he can easily reach them when he wants them. Having to reach around to give or take things away was driving me crazy.

Aiden seems pretty content with being able to reach what he wants from the box and knows to put it back there now, instead of throwing it on the floor. Success!