I’ve got to admit that I hesitated to even write this post. The last thing I wanted was to sound like someone who’s always got it all together, because there are definitely days when I feel as frazzled and pulled in a million directions as every other gal living in these busy times of ours. But after months of prodding from friends and readers, I decided it might be fun (and helpful) to share the organizational tricks I lean on to help me stay sane and prioritize all the different parts of my life that are important to me.
Because when we’re talking about a schedule that includes some combination of work, kids, relationships, working out, creative endeavors, hobbies, and possibly all of the above — organization is the name of the game.
I haven’t always been super organized, but over the years I’ve cultivated certain habits, keeping the ones that work for me and throwing out the ones that don’t. And what better time for all of us to get a little better at gracefully juggling it all than the start of a new year? Click through for the top 8 strategies I use, and I’d love to hear in the comments: what’s your number one tip for staying organized at life?
image by kristen kilpatrick
image by the every girl
Live by your calendar.
This is without a doubt the organizational technique that’s changed my life the most. It may sound rigid, but strictly following my calendar actually gives me a sense of freedom. Instead of constantly worrying about whether I might be forgetting something important I’m supposed to do, I can relax in the knowledge that I’m right where I’m supposed to be.
My calendar system is pretty detailed to cover a schedule that includes work, social engagements, and childcare, and lots of people have asked me to share exactly how I maintain it. On the next slide, I go into more detail on how I setup my calendar to be most efficient for my life.
How I setup my calendar.
I’ve created several different calendars in Gmail so they can be accessed anywhere, then sync them with my iCal so I can easily view them on my desktop and iPhone. My calendars are divided by personal commitments, childcare, birthdays, and for work I have calendars for our editorial schedule, social schedule, and production / photoshoot schedule. Each calendar has its own color, and I can turn them on and off in iCal so that I can view just one, or all of them at once.
One of the most useful ways that I use my calendar is for recurring appointments. For example, I’ve setup recurring appointments for myself on Wednesdays to water house plants, on Fridays to pay bills, and on Sundays to deep clean the espresso machine. I also give myself advance reminders to do certain things that I know I might forget. For example, if I put a friend’s baby shower on the calendar, I’ll also create a calendar appointment 2 weeks earlier that reminds me to order their gift. All these reminders might sound obsessive, but it gives me a huge amount of peace of mind to know I’m not going to forget something important during a busy week.
Granted, my system might feel too OCD for some of you and that’s totally okay, so if you only take away one thing let it be this:
When you put something on your calendar, stick to it!
Half the battle is to treat everything on your calendar like it’s truly important, and when you do, I guarantee that you’ll start achieving your goals faster and getting more done in a day than you ever thought possible.
Prioritize your to-do list.
If you’re one of those people who can store every date, birthday, and deadline in your brilliant brain, I salute you. For the rest of us, our to-do lists are our greatest allies. I’m a big fan of keeping a digital list because I’m always tweaking and reorganizing mine, and things would get pretty messy if I were using pen and paper. There are tons of to-do lists apps out there, but for me, simply storing my list within my calendar (see slide 1) works best because I can access it when I’m on-the-go, and because when I’m making calendar appointments, I can easily add something related to my to-do list.
Here’s how I do it. In iCal, every Sunday I create a calendar appointment called “TO DO” that is basically my to-do list for the entire week. I order things in order of importance so I always know what gets priority, and then I place an asterisk next to anything that has to get done today. Then, I always know to check that week’s TO DO appointment and look at what’s starred since I know it has to be accomplished asap. When I finish a task, it gets removed from the list. At the beginning of a new week, anything that’s left undone from last week’s list gets moved to the next Sunday’s to do’s.
image by career girl daily
Use the weekend to organize for the week ahead.
You’ll be amazed how much stress can be avoided if you take a few minutes on the weekend to get yourself organized for the week ahead. My Sunday afternoon check-in with my calendar is crucial — I make note of upcoming birthdays and work deadlines, and confirm any social commitments I have coming up. I also use this time to schedule my workouts for the week, add them to the calendar as appointments, then treat them with the same commitment I would any other meeting. Once I started this weekly practice, it’s amazing how much more consistently I started meeting my fitness goals (and this technique can be adapted for whatever particular goals you’re working to achieve.) Finally, I plan our family dinners for the entire week, add them to the calendar, and create my grocery list accordingly.
image by naina singla
Have a place for everything.
Cleaning the house is usually the last thing I have time to do during the week (and I’m guessing it’s the same for most of you), but my state of mind is so much calmer when my surroundings are clean and uncluttered. So, I’ve worked really hard to cultivate the habit of finding a place where everything in my house belongs, and putting things away right when I’m done using them. It saves so much time when I don’t have to search for the things I need.
Here’s how I approach it: Let’s say you’re organizing a closet. First, ruthlessly get rid of anything you don’t use (see more about this on step 7), then group like things together. Everything from scarves to shoes to sports bras should have a designated spot of its own. Place anything you use frequently in a very easy to access spot, and things that are less frequently used can be put in a box, bin, or drawer (with a label if you really want to go for it.) And never ever allow yourself to have a drawer that’s identified as “miscellaneous.” (Mom, I’m talking to you.)
Don’t forget that this decluttering process has to happen continuously as you acquire new things and go about your daily life. I try to choose one little area of my house to reorganize each weekend, and as a result, no one area of my house ever gets too out-of-control.
If something can be done in less than 1 minute, do it now.
This is one that I picked up from Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, and it’s really helped keep me to-do list from getting out of control. If there’s an email that I can answer in just a sentence or two, I do it now instead of flagging it to answer later. I put my clothes away right when I get undressed at night and sort the mail right when I bring it inside. It’s a practice that takes (literally) less than a minute, and goes a long way in making life feel less chaotic.
Basically — don’t procrastinate!
Write down all your random thoughts.
I have a terrible memory, and the only way I can hold onto ideas and inspiration is by writing everything down. I use the basic “notes” app that comes installed on the iPhone and syncs up to my desktop and iPad, and I keep dedicated notes for pretty much everything. When I hear a great song on the radio, I add it to my “music” note so I remember to download later. I also have notes for:
- recipes I want to try
- shopping list
- cool beauty products to check out
- books I want to read
- gift ideas for friends & family
- packing lists for upcoming trips
- blog post ideas
If you don’t use it, give it away (or throw it out.)
I’m a firm believer that cluttered surroundings make for a cluttered mind, so I do my best to continually sort through different areas of my life (my closet, the garage, my purse, the refrigerator) and get rid of anything I don’t love or need anymore. With the exception of emotionally significant keepsakes, I stick to the rule of “If I haven’t used it in a year, I can live without it.” If you’re someone who tends to hold onto things that you don’t need, I bet you’ll be amazed at how freeing it can feel to clear your space of everything but the items you truly use and love. Donate it, put it on Craigslist, trash it — then revel in the peaceful feeling that an uncluttered life brings.
image by rose gold & marble
Make technology do the work for you.
For those times when it feels like there just aren’t enough hours in the day, it may be time to look at which of your daily tasks you can either (a) automate or (b) get help with. There are so many apps out there that are geared toward saving us time, and it’s worth checking out the ones that service your area. When I’m making my grocery list for the week and I know things are going to be crazy busy, I’ll order everything on Instacart and it shows up at my doorstep a few hours later. You can deposit checks, order any food you’re craving, pay friends electronically, and do a million other things right on your mobile phone, so think about what tasks are sucking way too much of your time and investigate if there might be ways to let technology lend you a hand.