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Get organized for school year

As we start a new school year, I realize I need to kick my organizational skills into high gear.

This is the time when working parents like me try to adjust to new routines without going completely nuts. I'm already beginning to worry about keeping up with my kids' activities, homework, school holidays and work deadlines, but then I think about Michelle Hurst.

About a year ago, Hurst wrote me for time management/organizational advice. She's a South Broward mother of four, a full-time college student, the co-owner of a retail business and wife of an elementary school teacher.

Hurst finds herself overwhelmed by the papers that come home in her kids' backpacks. She struggles with getting her sons -- ages 6, 7 and 9 -- to the right football fields at the right time for practices and keeping up with the activities of her 21-year-old daughter. Tag-team parenting with her husband often results in miscommunication.

This busy mom also needs to turn in her own course assignments on time and keep her business afloat. Hurst tells us her lack of organization recently led to a mix-up at work. She and her partner both showed up to open their bookstore one day, The Truth Shop in Davie, each thinking it was her turn.

Diane Hatcher to the rescue! Hatcher, owner of Time-Savers Professional Organizing Services, is a professional organizer. I've gleamed some great advice from Hatcher and now Hurst and I are eager for back-to-school tips.

Hatcher starts by looking at the organization systems Hurst already has in place -- hooks to hang backpacks, a bin for all paperwork, piles for school artwork, lunch menus and sports schedules taped on kitchen cabinets.

The hooks work. The piles don't. Hurst admits to only looking through the piles occasionally. I struggle with this, too. As papers come out of the backpacks, they need to be sorted on the spot -- a tough behavior to learn.

''Everything doesn't need to be saved,'' Hatcher says, referring to those gems in our kids work folders. ''What's special about it? Is it the first house they drew, the first ``A'' on a test?''

The keepers go in a storage bin. Then there are the forms and permission slips that need to get signed. 'Try to make a decision on the paperwork at the time it comes in. I call piles `delayed decision making.' '' Hatcher says. She wants Hurst to have a to-do space, probably in her kitchen -- a place to put papers that need action within a day or two.

Now we move on to the calendar. Hatcher says working parents need a personal calendar where they maintain their work schedule and kids activities. ''You need to be aware of what is going on in your personal life while at work and your work life while at home,'' Hatcher insists. In Hurst's case, she also can put her school assignments on her personal calendar. She is earning a bachelor's degree in psychology degree Trinity International University in Davie.

Hatcher explains most of us need to change our calendar habits: ''Before you leave work, look at your calendar to see what's going on tomorrow. Initially, you may even need to set an alarm to remind you to check.'' But Hatcher also wants the Hursts to have a prominently placed family calendar that she and her husband, John, should look at every morning.

Hurst's work and course schedule varies: Some days, she supervises homework, dinner and activities; other days, John takes over. The shifting has led to missed practices and birthday parties. ``We need to communicate about everything, but I think the family calendar will help a lot.''

Hatcher advises Hurst to color-code each child's football schedule on the calendar. She wants Hurst to take down the activities schedules taped all over the kitchen cabinets and buy a binder with plastic sleeves to put them in for future reference. When an invitation or class event notice arrives, she wants Hurst to immediately put it on the calendar, and then, save the notice in a folder labeled ''Upcoming Events.'' She can also write her college-age daughter's class schedule on it, making it easier to plan family outings.

Our next concern is every working parent's nightmare: the overlooked supplies or snacks needed for an event that has you roaming Target aisles in a last-minute panic. ''Don't just write the due date but write in your calendar what you need to buy a few days in advance,'' Hatcher says.

For back to school, Hatcher recommends Hurst buy one supply for herself: a label maker. She can use it to improve her filing system or put labels on lunchboxes or bins for kids memorabilia.

''I think I had some good systems in place,'' Hurst says. ``But now I have some encouragement to follow through.''