If disorganization is congesting your life and you’re feeling scattered and frustrated as a result, then it’s time to get organized. But before you can be organized, you need to make a monumental effort to rearrange your stuff, your priorities, and most importantly, your habits.
Organize your space. Whether it’s your home, kitchen, office, computer, closet, desk, or locker, you need to see what’s in there, throw away what you don’t often use (or put it efficiently in storage) and give everything else a convenient and clearly designated space.
Clean out your belongings before you think about organizing (organizational tools, furniture, etc.). Don’t do it the other way around. You can only really accurately know what space you have when you’ve cleaned up. If you don’t really take a hard look at what you’re stuffing in your spaces, you’ll waste time and money organizing stuff you don’t need anyway.
Observe how you use your things and work out how to use your space efficiently. If it’s inconvenient to get to things (or to put them away), your organization system is more likely to fail. Make it easy to get to and put away the things you need most often.
Do you have items in your house that just take up space? Be sure to de-clutter regularly. Good questions to ask yourself in deciding: Do I need this? Will I need this in a year? Do I really love it? Is there someone else who could use this more? Do I have more than I could reasonably use in foreseeable future? Will I miss this if I don’t have it?
Know what ‘organized’ looks and feels like. Organized spaces are simple to use. They have enough room for the items there. It makes sense. Every item in your home has a location. Organized spaces also feel calm, open, and welcoming.
Use timers. Set a timer for how long you think a cleaning organizing task should take then work like crazy to get it done in the allotted time.
Have a spot for all bills. Open all mail immediately and dispose of the outer envelope with the junk mail. Keep only the bill in a prominent location.
Put it back. Right now. Once you establish where everything belongs, you need to get in the habit of putting it back there as soon as you’re finished using it. Don’t put it on the kitchen table or on the couch and move onto something else, thinking to yourself that you’ll put it away later. That’s a big no-no.
Always put your keys in the same place. Always put your cell phone in the same place. Have a cell phone charging station set up.
Use a calendar. Get a calendar and put it in a place where you see it every day, preferably in the morning. For most people, that’s on the refrigerator, on their desk, or even on their desktop. Wherever you put it, make it part of your routine to refer to it every day. For example, you can put it on the inside of the bathroom cabinet where you get your toothpaste. Every morning, while you’re brushing your teeth with one hand, touch today’s date on the calendar with the other, and look to see what’s marked for today and for the upcoming week.
Use a planner. A planner is especially useful if you have a lot of appointments and your days are so varied that you have trouble keeping track of your schedule. For example, if you travel a lot or attend classes at various times of day, it’s much easier to carry a planner with you to consult frequently–you can’t do that with a calendar. You can also usually fit more information in a planner.
Combine similar activities. Make all your phone calls at one time. Do all your errands at the same time. Pay all your bills at the same time. Do all shopping in one trip
Write it down! Anything and everything you need to remember should be written down. Even if your memory is great, nobody’s perfect and it doesn’t hurt to put it on paper, just in case. Record phone numbers, appointments, birthdays, shopping lists, and things to do.
Make to-do lists. Make a to-do list for your day. Your list should never be more than 5 items long, or else you’re taking on too much and setting yourself up for failure. Mark one or two of those items as things you absolutely must get done that day, and pursue those tasks relentlessly until you get them done.
Make a to-do list for the week. Appropriate items here would be: Grocery shopping, fix air conditioner, etc. Draw from this list to make your daily to-do list. A white board or board with erasable markers can help to remember all one has to do every day, or long term goals.
Make a to-do list for the month. This list would have more general tasks like: Birthday gift to Jill, get car serviced, dentist appointment. Draw from this list to make your weekly to-do list.
Make a to-do list for your life. Drastic, yes, but why not use this time to rethink your life and where it’s going? Getting organized is all about priorities, and it never hurts to get your ducks in a row.
Delegate responsibilities. Make sure the person you appoint to do the task has all the tools necessary to do the task. It’s hard to be organized if you insist on doing everything yourself.
Multi-task. Organize a drawer while talking on the phone. Fold towels while watching television. Listen to books on tape while driving, etc.
Follow through. There’s no point in making a to-do list if you don’t discipline yourself to complete the tasks you’ve assigned yourself. There are many ways to stick to your to-do list. Stop procrastinating, remove or ignore distractions, and hop to it!
Tips It’s a good idea to carry a notepad and pen with you at all times so you can write things down as they come to you (which is usually at the most inconvenient times–that’s why it’s so promptly forgotten).
If you’re worried about fitting a notepad in your pants pocket, don’t be. Check bookstores like Barnes and Noble to find a notepad slim enough for any pocket. Of course, if your planner is compact enough, it can serve this purpose as well.
Another idea would be to have a PDA, Blackberry or palm Pilot. Some cell phones have notification or note-taking menus. If you are using one of those, they may be practical too. As a last resort, call your own phone number and leave yourself a voice mail.
When running errands, map out the best path so you get the most done and keep chit chat to a minimum. Don’t get side tracked. Target what you need to do. If something else comes to your mind, write it in your notebook to do at a later date.
Post-it notes are your friend. Put them in nifty spots as reminders. For example, if you know you need to wash your car, then put a post-it note on your steering wheel so that next time you get in your car, you remember to get it done. Other good spots for post-it notes are doorknobs, mirrors, and PC monitors (the borders, not the actual screen).
Start your phone conversations with ‘I only have —- minutes to talk.’ Then stick with it. When calling for appointments, make sure you have all information you will need and write down any questions in advance.
If you know that you’re not naturally inclined to be organized, you can change that by starting with one small area of your living space and focusing on keeping that small area organized. Keeping a small area organized over time is easier to do, and it will help you build a new habit.
After about 2-3 months of keeping one corner organized, you will naturally tend to expand your new-found organizing instincts to other areas.
Don’t expect to get organized overnight.
Don’t expect your family and friends to instantly jump on the organization bandwagon. Expect some resistance. But stick with it. In the long run, you will be glad you did.
Don’t worry if you’re not ‘perfectly’ organized, as long as your area is safe, sanitary, and reasonably efficient. One person might want her sock drawer sorted by color, while another could care less.