A few years ago, everything about my life was a mess. Then, I learned a few habits that got me completely organized.
Am I perfect?
Of course not and I don’t aim to be. However, I know where everything is and I know what I need to do today. Most of the time, I don’t forget things and my house is uncluttered and relatively clean. Well, as clean as you can get when you have toddlers and big kids running around.
So, what’s the secret?
In truth, there aren’t any secrets. There are simple habits that you can develop over time that will get you to where you want to be. These are habits that you can apply to your work, home, kids, hobbies, and your life.
Instead of giving you specifics for how to organize something specific, like your desk or your closet, I provide principles that you can use over and over in every situation.
Are these obvious principles? Sure, if you stop to think about them.
You’ve read them in various other places, but you might not be applying them to your daily life. That’s where the problem lies.
I’m just providing you with a step-by-step guide to what actually works, based on my experience and that of others.
If your life is a mess, like mine was, I don’t recommend trying to get organized all in one shot. It’s overwhelming.
Instead, start with the first habit and work your way down. Do it one step at a time. Work on a habit for a month or so and then, you can move on to the next one. You can adopt two or three if you think you can handle it, but don’t do them all at once.
I also recommend you set aside some time each day (30 or 60 minutes) for organizing. Then, you might need 10 minutes a day, just to keep things running smoothly. Every now and then, you might need to have a purge session (every 6 months or so) to get rid of accumulated buildup.
So, here are the 7 habits:
Reduce before organizing
The mistake most people make when trying to organize is that they have a lot of things to organize and that’s too complicated.
If you have a closet crammed full of stuff, you can buy a bunch of closet organizers. However, in the end, you’ll still have a closet crammed full of stuff. Same thing with time management. You can organize a packed schedule, but it’ll still be crammed full of tasks.
Reduce, eliminate, and simplify.
If you take your closet full of 100 things and throw out all but the 10 things you love and use, now you don’t need a fancy closet organizer. Same thing with time management. If you have 20 things to do today and reduce it to just the three most important tasks, you don’t need a schedule anymore.
Take everything out of your closet of your schedule. Clean it out and only put back those items you truly love and really use on a regular basis.
This will leave you with a pile of other stuff. You can get rid of it by tossing, donating, selling or giving it to somebody who will love it. If you can’t bear to part with some of the stuff, put it in a “maybe” box and store it in your attic or basement.
Label it with a description and date. Six months later, when you haven’t needed any of it, toss it.
Write down notes
Our minds are wonderful things, but they leak like a sieve. We don’t remember things when we need to remember them and they continually come up when we don’t need them.
Instead of using your mind as storage for things you need to remember, write them down. I carry a small pocket notebook wherever I go and write things down immediately. Then, I process the ideas and tasks later into my calendar or to-do list so I don’t forget.
Have one inbox and process
Well, actually you need two inboxes – one for home and one for work.
Many people have many more than that. Despite that, paper comes to their desk and lands in a number of places. Phone messages get placed everywhere. Notes to self are posted all over the place.
Instead, have one inbox and put all incoming stuff in there. Then, once a day or once a week, process the inbox to empty it. Take an item out of your inbox and decide what to do with it right away.
You can toss it, delegate it, file it, put it on your to-do list or do it now. Do the same thing to the next item until your inbox is empty. Don’t defer these decisions for later.
A place for everything
Related to the above tip is to have a place for each item in your life.
Where do your car keys go?
You should have one place for them so that you’ll never lose them again.
Where do your pens go? How about your magazines?
I teach my kids to find a “home” for every toy or other item in their rooms. That’s a concept that works for us grown-ups, too. Each item should have a home and if it doesn’t, we need to designate one.
Labels can help you remember where those homes are. Now, if you find something on your table or on your bed, you’d know that it doesn’t belong there. Find its home and don’t just toss something anywhere.
The same concept applies to information.
Do you have one place where you put all your information? If not, try a personal wiki. It’s accessible from work and home. You can create pages for each type of information in your life, such as your schedule, goals, to-dos, movies to watch, books to read, notes on projects, etc.
Put it away now
Most people have a habit of putting something on a table or counter top with the intention of “putting it away later”. Well, this is how things get messy and disorganized.
Instead, put it away now in its home. It only takes a few seconds and this one habit will save you a lot of cleaning, sorting, and organizing later.
When you find yourself putting something down, catch yourself, and force yourself to put it away now. After a little while, it will become second nature.
Clean as you go
This habit is effective because it’s much easier to clean things as you move through your day than to let them pile up.
If you’re cooking, try to wash your dishes as you use them. Wipe the counter instead of leaving a huge mess.
Same principle applies to everything we do. If it’s easier to do it in smaller increments, we are more likely to do it. If there is a huge mess to clean, we are more likely to be intimidated or overwhelmed by it and leave it for later.
Develop routines and systems
If you’ve gotten everything uncluttered and organized, you might sit back and enjoy the pleasantness of it. Being organized and having a simplified working environment or home is tremendously satisfying.
But the problem is that after a little while, things tend to start to get disorganized and cluttered again. Things tend to gravitate towards chaos.
You need to develop systems to keep your organization in place. For example, the inbox processing mentioned above should be a system. You should have specific procedures for processing all incoming papers and have a routine for doing it.
All systems follow the same guidelines. Specific procedures and a routine that is done at a set interval (three times a day, once a day, once a week, once a month, etc.). It’s important that you identify the systems you have in your life and write them out so that you can make them efficient, simple, and organized.
Develop systems for dealing with paperwork and mail, the kids’ schedules, errands, chores, exercise, and everything else. Once those systems are in place, you need to be vigilant about keeping them going and then, things will stay organized.