The stuff of life can pile up quickly. Each day I accumulate new to-do’s, countless pieces of paper, unforeseen problems, random interruptions and numerous distractions. Over time, I begin to form piles. Piles on my desk. Piles in my mind. Piles around the goals I’m working to accomplish. In order to be productive, I must do battle with the clutter.
The clutter is a source of stress if it’s not addressed. Sometimes I don’t do anything because I’m so overwhelmed by everything. But ignoring the piles only makes them bigger. And as the piles grow, I have this gnawing feeling that I’ve forgotten something important.
Over the years I’ve accumulated some bits of organizational wisdom that help me wage war against the clutter. I hope you find it helpful in tackling the piles in your life.
Take care of the MUST DO’s before the WANT TO’s.
There are so many things that I want to try and cram in my day. Unfortunately, I only get 24 hours just like everyone else. Part of the battle is creating space to tackle the important and not simply react to the urgent. The act of prioritizing (because if everything is important than nothing is important) what must get done is a big step toward actually doing it.
Organizing the space AROUND me will help me organize the thoughts INSIDE me.
Maybe it’s just me, but when my desk and room are cluttered, my mind is cluttered as well. I’m learning that creativity is a messy process that must begin in a clean space. A tidy work environment feels so much more efficient. In fact, I’ll often leave the clutter of my office and find a clean table in a coffee shop when I need to think and write.
Danger: Paper has a tendency to pile.
I don’t know why I hold on to useless paper, envelopes, or junk mail. I’m learning to toss (I mean recycle) paper. My tendency is to go through a pile of letters, forms, articles, receipts, etc and move them to new piles thinking I’ve organized and cleaned things up. That’s not organization…that’s an illness.
Why PILE when I can FILE!
I love Evernote! As I move toward a paperless environment, I am scanning my documents (with my iPhone!) and storing them in Evernote. It is my virtual file cabinet and the information is available to me through my desktop, laptop, and mobile devices. One of the best resources I’ve found for learning how to use Evernote is Evernote Essentials by Brett Kelly ($29). The best part of filing my documents, ideas, and papers in Evernote is the peace of mind that comes from knowing I can find it if I need it.
My phone is not just a TOY, it’s a TOOL.
If you are the proud owner of a dumbphone, please ignore this one. As the owner of a smartphone, I have come to rely on my phone to do some of the heavy lifting in my organizational battle. There are amazing apps for scheduling, to-do lists, reminders, and keeping track of information. But this amazing tool can often become my greatest distraction because I easily get caught up racing to get 15,000 more coins on Temple Run 2. If you find yourself struggling in this area as well then old fashioned paper and pen might be your best bet.
I got to have a system.
There are hundreds of organizational systems. Google some. I have asked my organized friends what they do. The point is to find a system that works and then work the system. The tricky part for me is sticking with it. I’m often tempted to keep looking for a better system while clutter keeps clobbering me.
The flyleaf of my brain is unreliable.
I’m not even sure that I know what a “flyleaf” is, but I have to find a place to collect my thoughts and ideas. It needs to be something that I use on a continual basis (did I mention I use Evernote?!?). It needs to be something I can access easily. An idea is no good if I can’t remember it.
Track my time for a day…for a week.
Do I really know how much time I spent on Netflix last week? I would if I tracked my time every once in awhile. When I do this exercise, I am amazed at how much time is wasted. On paper, I break my day into half-hour blocks and jot down what I did. You could also try Toggl. It isn’t too difficult to discover where my productivity is taking a hit.
Determine a DATE with each TO-DO.
Every time I write down something I need to do, I put a due date next to it. A to-do without a deadline is like a plane that has nowhere to land…it just flies around until it runs out of gas and then it crashes. Now that I think about it…that’s a sad, sad story.
Clean my drawers.
There’s probably two ways you could interpret this. Both are appropriate and beneficial. In regards to the second way, I fight against having a drawer (or creating spaces) that I just throw stuff into when I don’t know where it should go. It just delays the inevitable. When the drawer is full or the pile is creeping across my floor, I still have to go through it, figuring out what junk I’m going to keep and what junk I’m going to toss. My goal is for my stuff to have a place and a purpose. I’m trying to do better by asking myself, “Do I really need this?”
Focus on the one thing.
In case you haven’t heard, multitasking is a myth. Focus is fuel for our productivity. I tell myself, “I’m going to spend a half-hour on this and get as much done as I can, then I’ll move to the next thing.” A task will usually take as much or as little time as I can give it.
Listen to the voices.
I’m not necessarily talking about the ones in my head. But there are voices out there that can speak wisdom into my schedule and help me stay on track. I’ve found it beneficial to seek out coaching to increase my productivity. I share my priorities with close friends and listen to their feedback. I’m not quite brave enough to invite someone to come in and evaluate my workspace, but I bet it would be helpful. The key here is that I dont have to fight the battle all by myself.
Perfection is a PIPE dream.
Staying organized is a topic that will continue to sell millions of books for years to come. Nobody has it down pat. No one can predict the interruptions, the crisis, or the exhaustion that comes from trying to keep pace (or keep up). I’ve learned to put down the organizational baseball bat that I’m beating myself up with when the piles start showing up and get back at it. Victory is won by one-tossed-out-piece-of-junk-mail at a time.
Enjoy the VIEW of a REVIEW.
The goal is to get better. Excellence requires evaluation. So I take time on occasion to look back at what I have or haven’t done. When I don’t take the time to review my progress or address my clutter, I end up spending too much time on things that aren’t a really a priority.
Do something SIGNIFICANT!
This is my favorite one…which is why I saved it for last. Personal organization is important for greater productivity. But it’s a means to an end. If all I do is work on being better organized, I will end up with a clean desk, a great planner, a cool filing system, and an empty drawer. But I haven’t really done anything…yet. All of my efforts to be better organized are simply a way to do more work that matters.
I want to remove the clutter so I can focus on the work that makes a significant impact in the life of someone else. Making a difference in the life of another person is of much greater satisfaction than constantly maintaining a tidy work environment. Being organized helps me to do my best work. It clears the clutter so I can do more of the stuff that matters and less of the stuff that doesn’t.
Question: What are some of the thoughts you have on being better organized?