Introduction: Our Story
It was 8:00 A.M. on a clear February morning in 2004 when the seed of an idea that would transform our lives took root. We were meeting in the big corporate cafeteria of the building where Alicia worked, lamenting the fact that it had taken us a ridiculous amount of time—three long months of schedule juggling and rain checks—to finally schedule breakfast together. We were both drowning in endless lists of should-do’s
that left little room for the things that really matter, like catching up with an old friend.
As we joked about putting "get a life" on our to-do lists and counseled each other on our respective situations, we couldn’t help but notice the similarities in our problems. Despite our different organizational styles (Alicia is detail oriented and list driven, while Sarah is more of a focus-on-the-big-picture and let’s-just-keep-moving-in-the-right-direction type of gal) both of us felt out of control, disorganized, and overwhelmed. Sarah wondered how Alicia could feel stressed when it appeared that she had every single thing she would ever need to do on one of her many lists. Alicia marveled at the fact that Sarah was actually anxious when she seemed to instinctively handle most of her life’s to-do’s in her head.
As we compared notes, we realized we had both purchased many of the same organizing products, read the same magazine articles, and listened to the same experts about how to "do it all." Yet here we were, both miserable! We realized that whatever we were doing to get organized was not working and was actually making us more
Alicia hated that the filing, calendar, and closet-organizing systems she’d tried were too compartmentalized and too specialized to be integrated into one workable system and took so much time to learn that they became another full-time job. In order to get one organizational task completed, she needed to cobble together three or four separate systems. In the end it was often easier to raise the white flag and surrender. She wanted to feel as though her life’s many details, like genes on a string of DNA, all added up to something unified and meaningful. She yearned for a manageable road map to guide her in keeping her busy life together.
Sarah, meanwhile, was tired of having her hopes dashed each time a "perfect" organizational solution failed to live up to its promise (or rather, each time she failed to make it work). She fantasized about living the life of one of those superwomen who managed to both excel at work and be a model mom, wife, friend, sister, and daughter. She tried any product and followed any expert advertising "the answer." In the meantime, she kept falling off the organizational wagon and into chaos when a perfectly reasonable bump in the road of her packed life, like a sick child, would throw her "just-in-time" schedule off. Sarah, a management consultant by day—and budding entrepreneur at night, during nap windows on weekends, and every free moment in between—had a hectic travel schedule and an agenda that was dictated by her clients. Her organizational weakness was tracking details, like did she pay the utilities bill or remember a friend’s birthday with a card and a phone call? After years of frustrating dead ends, she simply longed for a practical solution that she could actually work into her packed life to manage the details more effectively without losing sight of the big picture.
So there we were: two intelligent, professional women, trapped in what we now like to call "organizer hell." There had to be a better way.
A few months and a zillion iced teas and lattes later, we founded Buttoned Up, Inc. (enlisting the help of Alicia’s two sisters, Nancy and Susan). Our mission is to help stretched and stressed women like us get the fundamentals organized so they have more time and energy to enjoy life. We make organizational products and create content designed to help women stop chasing the illusion of organizational perfection and get happily, practically Buttoned Up. Along the way, we’ve spoken to hundreds of women from all over the country, of all ages and lifestyles about their organizational challenges, and the majority agree: chasing organizational perfection is exhausting and disheartening. Until now organizational perfection has been held up as the sole option for women who want to banish household clutter, have a neat but functional playroom, and keep an easy and practical family calendar. It’s an all-or-nothing world.
This book offers a revolutionary approach to getting and staying organized. The idea: you get more done by organizing less. That’s right, when it comes to organizing, we will show you how less is more. We’ve even given our philosophy a revolutionary name: Imperfect Organization.
Quiz: What’s Your Organizational Style?
1. My to-do list holds…
a. Everything from "brush my teeth" to "lock the doors."
b. The things I must get done to stay on track.
c. What list?
2. I treat my to-do’s…
a. With equality; everything gets done regardless of its importance or urgency.
b. With equity; I attend to my to-do’s based on importance, urgency, people counting on me, etc.
c. With immediate attention; I address each to-do as it presents itself.
3. I’m most frustrated when…
a. I don’t get to cross off my entire list before I go to bed.
b. I waste time power-washing the deck when I really need to finish a presentation for my boss.
c. I realize there is something to get done right before I am heading to bed.
4. To feel organized, I must…
a. Cross off "feed the dog," "go to the bank," and "run the garbage disposal" every day.
b. Stay focused on making progress toward my goals.
c. Put out each fire that comes my way.
Quiz: What’s Your Organizational Style?
5. My current organizational system is…
a. Too structured and unforgiving; I’m never available for a spontaneous cup of coffee with a friend.
b. On track but it takes effort to stay that way.
If you answered mostly A: You’re the do-it-all person, so much so that you become a slave to your list. You tend to move top to bottom without any rhyme or reason to the list order. Your ability to get things done and keep track of your to-do’s is a strength. But your overly structured plans and inability to take things off your list can make fitting to-do’s around your everyday life a challenge. Keep reading for tips on how to prioritize your list, saving you time for the things you really want to do!
If you answered mostly B: You are the prioritizer. You make sure to take care of the urgent and important things on your list each day, but forget the rest and opt to spend that time with friends, family, or yourself. This book will show you that delegation is the key to getting these priorities (and some less crucial items) accomplished!
If you answered mostly C: You are the firefighter. You tend to deal with your to-do’s as they present themselves, putting out one fire at a time. You often feel behind the ball and wish you could get organized enough to decrease the urgency of everything that comes across your plate. Read on for help determining which to-do’s are crucial and which can be ignored or postponed.
In this book, we deliver organizational tips and tricks that are effective because they fit into busy, "sandwiched" lives. We are all women of the "sandwiched generation." We are busy and stressed-out so we often feel sandwiched between personal and professional lives and the needs of children, spouses, and even older parents. We intuitively know that becoming organized will give us more of what we want: lowered stress levels and more peace of mind. These are tips that have worked for us and hundreds of other women. We won’t overload you with complicated formulas for calculating priorities or preset formats that force you to organize according to our rules or impossible standards. Instead, we will present our proven ideas about getting "unstuck" and moving forward toward getting organized.
Our secrets for getting organized are different, because we don’t obsess about what you need to do—we simply tell you what you don’t
need to do.
We’re a bit contrary and aren’t like other get-organized plans because we feel that letting go will help you get Buttoned Up, and being Buttoned Up means you have confidently and easily organized the most important tasks on your list, giving yourself permission to forget the rest.
Three Secrets to Getting Buttoned Up
Secret #1: You don’t need to be perfect.
Secret #2: You don’t need to do everything on your lists.
Secret #3: You don’t need to do everything yourself.
On the surface, it may sound simple, but simple ideas are sometimes the hardest to enact. Because learning new ways of thinking and behaving takes practice, we’ll walk you through each step with real-life examples and plenty of practice for each new skill.
Add our three secrets together and integrate the Buttoned Up skills into your life, and we know you’ll be more organized. You will feel more firmly in the driver’s seat, clearer about where you’re going in your life, and more prepared for the journey. Or, as we say, you’ll become more Buttoned Up.
We are both challenged to stay organized every day. Alicia struggles to let go of low-priority items on her to-do list, while Sarah struggles to stay organized in a healthy, balanced way. We know it’s not easy. But we love the challenge of becoming better organized, because it gives us more time to taste the sweetness in life … a movie date with our husbands, snuggling our kids, or chatting with girlfriends over ...