I’ve lived most of my life on the edge. Not by diving headfirst out of a plane or going toe to toe with a bear, but by being so insanely disorganized that it was a miracle I made it through each day unscathed.
Forgetting appointments, missing deadlines, and losing anything of importance were the cute quirks that characterized my early 20s—and threatened my sanity as I inched closer to 30.
Once I started running my own business, I could no longer afford to be a careless chaos junkie. But as any spectacularly messy person will tell you, learning how to get organized isn’t easy. It requires a total overhaul of how you think about your possessions, your time, and yourself.
I’m happy to report that after years of trial and error (and a lot of wasted money on pretty planners), I found something that works. It’s not a perfect system or an unrealistic lifehack. It’s just five simple rules that I try to live by to reduce the daily chaos and keep myself organized.
Rule No. 1: Automate as much as humanely possible.
The first rule of getting organized is to take as many tasks off your plate as possible. Suppose there’s something you can outsource or automate, do it. Setting it and forgetting it will free up more mental space than you’ll know what to do with.
Here are a few examples:
- Put your bills on auto-pay.
- Use a “smart” calendar to automatically schedule your day (I use Motion.)
- Schedule weekly services for chores and errands like grocery shopping and laundry.
And don’t forget about the power of elimination. There are so many things we think we have to do that we don’t really have to do at all. Do a brain dump of everything you think you’re responsible for and ask yourself how much of it is truly necessary.
Rule No. 2: Batch all the things you’re likely to forget.
I’m terrible at remembering birthdays and other important dates. So rather than relying on my faulty brain to pick up a card for Aunt Marge’s big day, I batch all my gift shopping into one mega trip every couple of months. This way, I’m not at the mercy of shipping dates, and I don’t have to do a last-minute run to the store every time there’s a milestone to celebrate.
You can pick a weekly, monthly, quarterly, or even yearly date to do things like:
- Run errands
- Meal plan
- Schedule appointments
- Fix things around the house
Rule No. 3: Make the most of 15 minutes.
No matter how organized you get, there will always be times of chaos. And when that happens, I find the best course of action is to see what I can accomplish in 15 minutes, whether picking up clothes, doing the dishes, or answering my email. Taking action (even when it’s small) helps me feel less overwhelmed.
Rule No. 4: Give everything a home.
This is likely a rule you’ve heard before regarding how to get an organized physical space. While I do abide by giving all my knick knacks and do-dads a place to live, I take it a step further by giving all of my abstract thoughts, ideas, and other mental burdens a place to live too.
You don’t need fancy software or expensive apps to keep things organized. I use Apple’s Reminders app on my phone to collect everything, from shows I want to watch to ideas for my business. I also utilize Apple’s iCal to put in all important events, deadlines, and other time-sensitive items.
The key is to make it as easy as possible to store your thoughts in a safe place when the light bulb goes off, or a plan is made. So keep your favorite apps on your home screen.
Rule No. 5: Avoid seeking perfection.
Learning how to get organized is a real hearty lesson in the dangers of chasing perfection. I’ve “failed” at various organizing attempts in the past because I was constantly trying to be someone I’m not.
Once I realized that no one was handing out awards for the most put-together person, I was able to focus on building a system that took into account my behaviors, my tendencies, and my lifestyle. For example, I am not an early bird. So I don’t schedule meetings or heavy tasks until about 10:30 a.m.
Being honest about how you operate is the only way to set yourself up for success. Give yourself the space to be the imperfect (and still totally worthy) human you are.