Tips for Staying Organized

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An alternate title idea for this blog post was, “I’m Trying!” Though that captured the essence of my feelings on the whole “staying organized” discussion, it’s not really specific enough to tell people what the blog entry is about. The struggle is real 😉. Full disclosure, people, no one I know feels like they have a complete grasp on organizing their life, least of all me. We’re all trying our best, so take heart. If you feel like you’re barely holding it together, know you’re not alone. Right, there’s the warm and fuzzy section. Let’s get down to business!

You know you’re singing the song from Mulan right now. Admit it 😁.

So i’m gonna try to build these tips from small to big… or maybe that’s just specific concepts to broad. Anyway, I’m trying to keep this… you guessed it. Organized! Okay, let’s go.

Have a System ~ Don’t misunderstand me. A system can be a bunch of different pieces that work in conjunction with each other. That’s what I have. I use Trello, Apple Notes and Reminders, Voice Assist, Google Sheets, and Gmail’s Snooze feature, plus more, all in a Frankensteinian patchwork. Just so long as you have something. Don’t just rely on winging it day after day and keeping it all in your brain. That’s not a system. Sorry, it’s just not.

Again, don’t misunderstand me. I’m in no way saying you have to figure out everything in one go. Not at all. Rome wasn’t built in a day, after all. Start small. Your grocery list, for instance. In my house, we use our Echo Dot to add stuff to our grocery list. It lives in the kitchen and that’s where I am most of the time when I realize we’re out of something. Then everything is already loaded on my phone through the Alexa app when I go to the store. For recurring tasks, even stupid little stuff like changing the blade in my razor, I plug them into my Apple Reminders. Does this mean if the apocalypse hits, I’m screwed? Yes, but if that happens, I’mma have bigger issues than a smooth leg shave.

Write It Down ~ My reason for the last tip is because the human brain is garbage at remembering stuff. Just ask science. Like with my grocery list example, how often do you go to the store and forget to buy that one thing you need—milk, paper towels, loo roll, dog food, whatever. So don’t try to remember all the things. Fun fact: I have what my bestie affectionately refers to as an @$$hole brain. The sort of brain that likes to go, “Hey, how about we dwell on all the things that can go wrong.” 😱Specifically, one of the ways this manifests in me is I get what I call logistics anxiety. When I travel for work, I get really nervous (read: freak-out) that I’ll forget something vitally important. Like, something that will ruin the entire event. I have dreams about forgetting these things. So I create checklists. I love my checklists! I lean on them real hard. Then, when I’m packing for a show, I just rely on my checklists to do all the remembering for me. Likewise, even if a task is small, like texting someone, if it’s at all important, it goes in my planner. Use the tools available to you. And again, what you write stuff down into isn’t really that important so long as it works.

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SMART Goals ~ I think one of the easiest and yet biggest mistakes people (me included) make when they plan is writing down a goal in a too big or too abstract way. For instance, I’ll often write down something like, “Edit Book.” Um, yeah, okay, Dana, but you’re not going to get that done in a day or even a week. Really what I should be doing is breaking down the task by when I want it done. For instance, let’s say I want to get the book edited in thirty days and it’s 300 pages long. That means I need to edit at least ten pages per day. So I should have in my to-do’s for each day, “Edit Ten Pages.” That’s a SMART goal. SMART stands for…
Specific: the goal should be an action item. Not, “sell better”. Rather, “increase sales by 30% by end of year.”
Measurable: the goal’s progress should be able to be measured in some way.
Attainable: the goal should be realistic. Don’t set yourself up for failure.
Relevant: is the goal relevant to your overall aims? This one is actually my least favorite piece of SMART because I use my planner for my entire life, but if you’re using yours specifically for business, this is right on the money.
And Timely: the goal needs a deadline.

Time It ~ This is another place I fall down a lot, and, to be fair, it’s tricky. If I have on my list to edit ten pages of a book, how long is that going to take? Well, that’s going to depend on the pages, isn’t it? Some sections will need more work than others. So do a time study that will give you an average. Time how long it takes you to edit ten pages for five days, or even ten days, then average them together. Now you’ve got a general idea of how long that task will take you and you can plan from a more informed position.

Prioritize ~ Now that your goals are smartie-pants and you know about how long each task will take you, you have to start putting them in order. Something’s gonna have to get done first, so define what that is. How you do this will likely change day to day. A 9am dentist appointment will likely fall pretty high on the list since it’s so early and that’s not really the sort of thing that can get moved easily. Other days, you’ll likely have more flexibility, but again, defining priorities will help you get more done.

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Invest Time to Save Time ~ This is probably one of the hardest things for me. Because my personality is very much, “And onto the next thing!” it’s hard to make myself sit down and plan my week. But gosh am I in better shape when I do! I don’t know your situation. I don’t know your struggles. But I do know a small time investment on the front end can mean a much more organized day/week/month/year on the back end. So be protective of your planning time. This will also require getting to know what time of day works best for you. I know a lot of people who prefer to do their planning in the morning over coffee. I am not one of those people. I prefer to do my planning at night because morning is so not my best time.

Make It Fun ~ You know about the Bullet Journal cult, don’t you? 😜 Bullet Journaling started as a quick and easy system to keep your to-do’s and life events organized. Since its original inception, it’s exploded. A lot of people turn their bullet journals, or BuJos, into works of art. Just look at these beautiful pages from a quick Pinterest search:

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I honestly think one of the reasons bullet journaling has become so popular is because a lot of people really enjoy the art/design aspect of it… unless you’re like me and total rubbish with that sort of thing and just get frustrated with it. Anyhoodles! Being organized can’t feel like a total chore because then you won’t stick with it, so the more fun you can get out of it, the better. My good friend, Sarina Langer, loves her BuJo, but she just uses washi tape for her decoration. And you know what? That works for her. You can see her BuJo on her IG feed every week. I personally love my Trello. I choose a different background for myself every week (this week’s theme is coffee because I have a busy week planned!) and have my tasks in rainbow order because that makes me happy. So figure out a way to make planning fun!

R to L: Bev, me, and Sarina.

R to L: Bev, me, and Sarina.

Also, Make Time for Fun ~ Weird secret to being organized: you sometimes have to take a break. Burnout is legit, folks. So be sure to plot in time for recuperation. I had the amazing opportunity to hang out IRL with the aforementioned amaze-balls human being, Sarina Langer, last week, as well as our brilliant friend, Beverley Lee. Occasionally throughout the day, Sarina’s watch would go off because she has it programmed with alarms. An alarm for her lunch break, lunch break over, and done for the day. The last one blew me away because you know who doesn’t have that? Me. She is so good at setting herself boundaries! And it’s something we all need to do.

Now, as we move into some of the more abstract concepts of this blog entry, I want to take a moment to stress something. No two people are going to have the same organizational system. Every person’s brain is different, so every system is going to be different. Heck, in some cases, the same brain can’t even stick with the same system for too long. Which leads me to…

Be Flexible ~ Perfection does not exist. It’s a good thing to aim for, but it’s not something you’re ever going to achieve. Just accept this now. As Kevin from Productivity Alchemy likes to say, “Perfect is the enemy of done.” Nothing will ever be perfect, so be flexible*.

*If you struggle with something that makes flexibility difficult, I hope you don’t feel like I’m marginalizing you. As previously mentioned, I have my own version of @$$hole brain, so I understand. That being said, I highly recommend building in coping systems for the way your brain works so you can find ways to be flexible.

Keep What Works, Trash the Rest ~ Maybe something you’re currently doing isn’t really working, so try something different. I’ve been through about three or four different planner types—a plain ol’ notebook, Wunderlist, Habitica, an e-BuJo in Evernote, and now Trello. Some of those things have even been mentioned in blog entries on this blog, to my chagrin. There’s a reason I’m more skittish about posting my organization systems now. Anyway, there were things that worked for me with each of those and things that didn’t. The best example is Evernote. It didn’t really end up working for me as a planner because of how it transferred to mobile. Basically, the way I had it set up was crap on mobile. But the recipe book I also built into it works great, which is a huge timesaver when I’m meal planning. I’ve also started using Google Sheets because I can share them with people really easily. Again, this goes back to flexibility. Don’t be afraid to try new things.

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Take Inspiration from Elsewhere ~ I mentioned in my last blog entry the wonderful podcast, Productivity Alchemy. Seriously, it is so encouraging and full of incredible organizational ideas. Sometimes all it takes is hearing someone else’s process to give you ideas for your own. One of the tips I’ve heard on there goes like this…

“Try to get two hours of your most important work done in the first three hours of your day.”

That advice frickin’ haunts me. It’s something I’ve tried to integrate into my own life. But maybe something else works better for you. Keep your ears and eyes open for ideas.

Do you have tricks for staying organized? Share them below 👇. And thanks for reading!


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