Organization is such a personal thing, I hesitated quite a bit before writing this. If you knew me in person, you’d probably think: she doesn’t have it together at all, what’s she doing giving organizing advice?
Let’s get the confessions out of the way. Much as it’s a shame to admit, I’m still undoing years of wrong thinking, misguided stewardship and general materialism and laziness. But hey, we’re all a work in progress right? At the same time, I’ve had several decades of experience — trying and failing — so I’ve pretty much figured out what has and has not worked for me. That’s what I share here.
Before we get into materials or techniques or systems, I’d like to tell you how I developed my own philosophy of organization and life management. The principles I apply in my life today are largely lessons I learned from these sources:
- 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey (and his “sequels” 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families and First Things First)
If you haven’t read Stephen Covey’s books, here’s a quick summary infographic:
- Getting Things Done by David Allen (here’s an infographic I created for my then-10-year-old)
Main takeaway: Review goals regularly (ideally once a week). Do a brain dump to clear your head.
Main takeaway: My calling as woman.
Main takeaway: Holy detachment, and not just to things.
Main takeaway: God is a God of ORDER.
Yes, not all of these books are about organizing per se. But life (and the planning of it) isn’t just about calendaring events or containerizing things. There has to be an end goal of who or where we want to BE, and WHY we want to get there. That goal (or goals) will determine what we do this year, this month, this week, this day, this moment… hence the need to form and inform ourselves, to calibrate our compass and recalibrate regularly, so that we don’t take too many detours or get lost altogether.
It will also determine what kind of planner will work for us and how we use it, because just like the Bible, the best one is the one that we actually use.
But first, a basic principle. What organization and planning for a Catholic wife and mother really boils down to are
- Putting family first.
- Focusing on health: spiritual, mental, emotional, physical health. Health of the individual, health of the family. If I’m not healthy, I can’t serve. If my family isn’t healthy, bad things happen.
Of course, there are many other important concerns besides these two, but because my marriage and motherhood constitute my primary vocation, in most instances they come first before everything else.
In order to do the above, I need to organize, manage, or at the very least (for older kids) keep an eye on three key areas:
- Spiritual growth.
- Stuff/material things.
- Time/the calendar.
Taking care of the first (spiritual growth) determines what happens with the other two (stuff and time). This means that my planning and organization need to be directed towards TRAINING MY HEART.
Training our heart means aligning our desires with what God wants. The only way to do this is to incorporate the spiritual and let it infuse every single thing that we do. (I know, easier said than done.) (This is why, in my case, I’ve found that my planner/journal/commonplace book needs to be highly personalized. Planners that have prompts, reflections, readings are wonderful (and pretty!) but they tend to overwhelm me because they often don’t satisfy a particular need at a particular moment.)
In my life especially the last several years, what grounds me every single day is the Liturgy of the Hours. It is the first item of every morning planning session. Since we are encouraged to pray with the Church, this is my staple. In addition to the LOTH, which gives me something to meditate on every single day, I also usually have a book or two, could be fiction or nonfiction fiction, spiritual or not, that provide me with additional material to think upon and ponder. You pick the material that works for you, but pick something. (Here’s a list of 100 books to get you started.) Whatever you pick, it needs to be something that speaks to you and directs you in the training of your heart.
Training my heart means finding peace in God’s Will, His Providence, and His Mercy. It means trusting in His timing. It’s being content with what’s in the here and now, with living in the present moment, being happy with making small steps, not beating myself up for “merely” inching towards a goal. It means not expecting too much of myself or my spouse or kids. It means not stressing about those things over which I have no control. It means looking at what we’ve accomplished, at the end of the day, and calling it good. Tomorrow’s always another day.
How all of that gets woven into our daily activities is the dilemma that a planner proposes to solve. And so we’ll end here, and call this discussion good. In the next post: the nitty gritty of DIY’ing a personal planner/organizer.