Guest Guru: Ralph Raab, Author of The Dewey Deception


As a parent, a school and piano teacher, and an author of children’s puzzle-solving adventure novels, I frequently find myself wishing there was some way I could be cloned so that I could actually be five people instead of just trying to do the job of five people. Since that’s not going to happen (and since there are many people I know who wouldn’t want that to happen), I’ve had to find an alternative to keep from going nuts.

As I travel from house to house giving piano lessons, I often find working moms who feel the way I do: there just aren’t enough hours in the day to do all you have to do—so you make the best of what you’ve got. Tom and Becky Biblio—the characters in my books The Dewey Deception: The First Adventure from the Biblio Files, as well as The Gutenberg Gambit (due out in 2010)—use the following organization skills as they collect clues and pieces of intricate puzzles that they are trying to solve. It’s not just fiction; I abide by these Top Five skills every day—it’s the only thing that keeps me sane.

Here is this Guest Guru’s mantra (repeat after me):

#5: Keep everything in one place. Okay, maybe two places.

Remember when your whole world was stashed away inside the confines of your first grade desk? You probably even had a cubby with a hook for your jacket somewhere across the room where you could store your galoshes and larger show-and-tell stuff. Why should it be any different for adults? I’ve noticed as I’ve traveled from house to house giving piano lessons that it’s usually the parents with more than one child that are more organized than the parents of a single child. Why? Because they have to be to keep from going crazy. Organized parents will keep everything in one room: all the important paperwork, bills, etc. (It’s probably a good thing to have a fireproof safe in that room as well!) The most organized of parents—those with more than one child, usually—will have an office space with important documents, as well as a place to keep the things they need to be effective parents.

I’ve found that this hallowed second place is usually just a drawer in the kitchen … and usually right near an exit door. Within the drawer are important school papers that your child has asked you to sign, as well as the Almighty Agenda. The Agenda is the master scheduler—the one item you’d be doomed without. If you are blessed with multiple children, you need to keep track of who needs to go where, when, and with whom. And God help you if the schedules overlap! But for now, since we’re on the subject of scheduling …

#4: Make a schedule, write it down, then stick to it.

If you’re like me, you probably had about seven periods when you were in first grade. You still do, even if you don’t realize it. Nowadays, though, the “periods” usually overlap, which can drive you nuts if you don’t organize your time and write it all down so you can remember it. This will help you budget your time effectively and get you through your daily tasks in a timely manner, all while still managing to keep a little time available for yourself.

It’s also important to remember not to be afraid to say “no.” You can’t be all things to all people, so don’t even try—if you have a full schedule already and you try to cram something else in, you usually do so at someone else’s expense. So the good you may have done for one person is cancelled out by someone else’s aggravation with you.

#3: File everything alphabetically or in an order that would make sense to everyone.

In first grade, you probably had a homework folder, a folder of work to be done or completed work, as well as a folder of things to go home to your parents. Everything was filed in its proper place (or it was supposed to be) so that everything you need could be located at a moment’s notice. It only takes a few moments more at the end of a task, yet so few of us do it as adults. When bills are paid or important papers received that are to be kept safe for future reference, you need to think like a time traveler.

Be nice to your future self and file the document alphabetically or in a manner that would be logical to your spouse or anyone else that may need to access them. Don’t put that Neiman Marcus bill in the utilities folder (unless you’re trying to hide it!). If everything is filed in its proper place, your future self will thank your past self for being so forward-thinking … and your spouse won’t be annoyed with you.

#2: The Buddy System. Don’t laugh … it still works!

Remember walking with your best friend on field trips, told by the teacher to hold each others’ hand so as not to get lost? Remember how safe and secure that made you feel, having that safety net by your side? You still need it, you know! So if you have a child who is involved in activities—especially if they’re involved in lots of activities—it’d be a smart thing to “buddy up” with other parents who might be just as busy and frazzled as you are. You should especially be buddies with those parents who don’t have a day job, and who you suspect may be hunkered down on the couch all day eating bon bons and watching Oprah. If ever you need help in executing a schedule that is just too tight or overlaps, those people will be there to pick up the slack. Just remember that you’ll probably have to bank a few favors first—volunteer to help them by giving their child a ride, etc.—before you start ringing them up for help!

#1: Make time every day for something fun.

I’m not kidding—it’s as important as anything else. You had a recess period in first grade, didn’t you? Trust me: you still need a recess period now—even if it’s tough to fit in. Working 12+ hours a day before I start writing my books, I sometimes find myself having to ride an exercise bike while I’m reading, at the same time as a football game is on the television, and my wife and I are discussing the day’s events. It’s crazy, yes … but somehow strangely relaxing all the same. Enjoying those brief moments once a day, doing whatever works for you to keep you relaxed, is an essential part of keeping your sanity when trying to keep up with an insane schedule.

Following these tips won’t make everything run smoothly all the time, but it will help you to stay focused, calm and relatively organized.

Now … don’t you feel better already?

Ralph Raab is also the author of The Dewey Deception and this week’s giveaway – come back to Buttoned Up on Wednesday to learn how you can win a copy! To find out more information about the book, go to or read the information below:

This Holiday, Give Your Kids the Gift of DECEPTION!

The Dewey Deception: The First Adventure from the Biblio Files, is motivating children to visit libraries and instilling a love of reading—the perfect gift for a booklover or child of any age, from 9 to 99! This book has been called a booklover’s DaVinci Code: When a mysterious white card falls out of a library copy of Charlotte’s Web, the Biblio Twins—Tom and Becky—find themselves in a complex puzzle-solving adventure that will take them the whole summer to complete. From a code based on the Dewey Decimal System to clues hidden within Web sites, their journey takes them from their local library, where they receive their clues and puzzles, to the Morgan Library in New York City. Able to communicate telepathically but fiercely competitive, the Biblio Twins have to learn to work together to solve each puzzle and ultimately figure out the greater mystery of what treasure awaits them at the end…and who is behind The Dewey Deception. Could it be their Uncle Klepto, or their nemesis Norton? Can you figure it all out before Tom and Becky? Or will you miss the clues in your race to reach the literally heart-stopping conclusion? One thing’s for sure: Keeping all their notes, journals, codes and information readily accessible and organized would have been much easier if the Biblio Twins had some great organizational products from Buttoned Up!

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