Posts Tagged ‘getting organized’

Evernote for Busy Homeschooling Parents

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Before I get off the subject of organization for a while, I just wanted to share with you one more techie trick for keeping your sanity.


Heard of it? It’s an application that you can download for free to practically any computer or mobile device. And it helps you remember stuff. You know how difficult it is to keep track of all the various unrelated bits of information that come to you each day, wouldn’t it be nice to have an extra brain to store all of it?

Here’s a lovely video from Digitwirl that explains the benefits:

All you need to do is visit the Evernote website to download. While you’re there, watch some of their videos to show you how to use it and get more ideas. Even though I use Google documents/sites to view my goals, to-do lists, calendar, and other documents, Evernote is a great way to store miscellaneous bits of information, particularly when you are away from your computer.

I was lucky enough to get an iPhone for Christmas, so I’m just now getting a chance to play around with Evernote, but I can already see the potential. My goal is to move away from paper planning as much as possible. Anything repetitive should be digital. But it’s still nice to use notebooks and sketchbooks for journaling, brainstorming, drawing, and other free forms of writing. And, as I mentioned in my last post, I would still use a 3-ring binder for planning my homeschool days if my kids were little. The 3-ring binder with pre-printed forms is meant to be doodled in and journaled in, scribbling notes in whenever you get a chance. It becomes a nice memento all by itself.

But if you just need an extra filing cabinet for your brain, try Evernote.

Techie Trick for Getting Your Act Together

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In my ideal world, I would have a cozy little office all to myself with inspiring pictures on the wall, roomy bookshelves, and a private corkboard for posting goals and reminders. It might look something like this:


Image from

But, I don’t have space for my own office yet, so I need to borrow a corner of the living room, next to the drum set and our bulging family bookshelves. It’s hard to feel like it’s really my own space, so in the past, I confined all my thoughts and inspiration to various notebooks and planners. The problem was . . . I felt scattered. It seemed like all the bits I needed were spread out, and easily forgotten. I’ve also been trying to get away from a big heavy planner because it usually doesn’t meet my needs and I end up wasting paper.

So, a few months ago, I had an inspiration, and have been very pleased with my solution: Google. Again. I know I must sound like a paid spokesman for Google, but I’m just really excited about what I’ve learned. Now that I know what is possible with a few free applications, I can’t stop thinking of new ways to use them.

So here’s what I did. I made my own personal Google web site that is only visible to me. For info on how to do this, check out the following video:

On the home page, I posted my daily routines for different days of the week. I had figured these out earlier as a way to accomplish all the things I needed to do during the week, but kept forgetting where I had written them. I also posted my affirmations and a short list of the habits I’m trying to develop. I also added a few Google gadgets to automatically rotate inspirational quotes and display a photo slideshow from one of my Picasa albums.

On another page, I posted my goals broken down into: 10 years, 5 years, 1 year, and 90 days. It really is helpful to look at this every day and remember where I’m going.

I also use Google Calendar for all my scheduling now. I have a calendar for home, one for work, one for planned blog posts, and one for tasks. It’s easy to turn these calendars on or off as necessary to see what is coming. I can also share specific calendars with other people if I want to.

I use the task list to jot down random to-do items that pop into my head but I don’t know yet when I will do them. For bigger tasks, with deadlines, I schedule them in my “Task” calendar.

So every morning, I take five minutes to review my affirmations, habits, goals and the daily routine in my private Google site. Then I check my calendars to see what must be done for the day. All the lists I used to keep in my planner such as books to read, stuff to research, household info, etc. are now in Google docs inside a folder called “Organizing Me.” So whenever I come across a book that begs to be read, I jot it down quickly on the appropriate list. The nice thing about Google is that I can reach it anywhere I have an Internet connection and don’t have to worry about synching my laptop with my desktop with my iPhone, etc. It’s kind of like unlimited planner space without having to pack around a big heavy book.

Having said that, I still believe in notebooks and journals for creative thinking. When I am brainstorming, mind-mapping, or journaling, I still like to use an old fashioned spiral and journal notebook. It’s much easier to scribble, draw, and be expressive with just a pen and paper than a keyboard. But for things I want to refer to again and again, I like having it consolidated in one place.

I’m very happy with how this is all working for my personal organization. I don’t have much need to organize homeschool plans these days, but in my next posts I’ll show you some of the ways I kept that organized over my many years of homeschooling.

Homeschool College Applications

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Tis the season for college applications – is anyone else overwhelmed with the number of documents and forms required? It’s especially tough for homeschooling families because we first have to write our own transcripts, with course descriptions, and figure out GPA, credit hours, etc.  It’s not too bad if you have been keeping good records all along, but even then it takes some time to assemble everything in a professional looking format.  I used the book Homeschooling High School: Planning Ahead for College Admission by Jeanne Gowen Dennis for help with these details.

Once your transcript is complete, you still need to be the Academic Advisor and help your student keep track of all the different requirements for each of the schools her or she is applying to. Having gone through this twice so far, here are a few organizational tips:

  1. Start a folder for each school you are applying to, and insert the application checklist along with hard copies of your essays and other materials specific to that school. There is no need to make copies of materials submitted online in the common application. This is where you store any correspondence and financial aid information for that school as well.
  2. Prepare another reference folder with a copy of your prepared transcript, course descriptions, and homeschool description (if necessary). Your student will probably need to enter this information in a variety of online forms so it helps to have everything in one place.
  3. Prepare a simple spreadsheet with a list of your colleges on top, and a list of requirements along the left side. See my example below:

Example of College Application Spreadsheet


Note that I didn’t fill in all the data for this spreadsheet yet – it’s just an example. But you can see how useful it would be to keep track of what has been submitted and what is still missing. Your student might have other requirements too like an audition or portfolio submission. You can customize this however you want. I did this in Microsoft Excel, but Google Documents has a spreadsheet feature that works very well, for free.

My kids filled out all of the necessary forms online, but I checked everything for accuracy and to fill out the information for household income and parents’ education/employment. They wrote drafts of their essays and personal statements on Google Documents so that my husband and I could read them and offer suggestions as needed. Once the drafts were as good as they could be, they just copy/pasted them into the online applications.

The nice thing about online applications is that you can work a little bit at a time, saving as you go, and then when everything is perfect, hit “submit” and hand over your credit card number.

This year, my son and I will be keeping track of scholarship applications the same way, but first things first. We gotta get these things done! I’ll let you know how it goes.

Using Mind Maps to Get Your Head Straight

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Do you ever feel completely overwhelmed with all the stuff you have to do? Do you homeschool your kids? Work from home? Volunteer? Take care of the house? Grow your own food? Run bazillions of errands? Workout? Have a social life?

Me too. My husband knows better than to come home and say, “So what did you do all day?” It’s an innocent enough question, but the part that gets me is that little word “all” in front of “day.” It implies a long empty span of glorious time, when in fact my day seems to last all of 90 minutes before it’s time to go to sleep again. The better question is, “So what did you do today?” Most of the time, I barely know what to say because I’ve done so many little things that keep everything rolling forward. It’s like pushing 14 marbles up a hill all at the same time. I’ve read the time management books and the getting organized books and I’ve tweaked my routine hundreds of times over the years, but it all comes down to priorities. I would have more time if I dropped some things, but I’m holding out for some reason. And I’m doing OK. Do you want to know what helps?

When my marbles are scattered all over the place, I like to gather them up by journaling and/or a mindmap. A mindmap is a nifty way to jostle your brain by linking words or ideas together into more or less a web of connections. Here’s one I made recently to pull together all the marbles I’m pushing up the hill right now:

The idea is to start in the middle with one central idea and then start making branches. I’ve used this for goal-setting, brainstorming, outlining, and recording things that I want to remember. For related items, a simple list works fine, but when you’re dealing with lots of unrelated items, creating a mindmap is oddly liberating. For more ideas, just search for images of mindmaps on the Internet. You’ll see that some people like to draw pictures, shapes, and fancy arrows from one thing to the next. Every mindmap seems to be as unique as the person who made it, like a signature or a self-portrait.

Give it a try. You may not add any more minutes to your day, but it will help your head feel better.