How to start getting organized with 5 simple tricks

Mar 1, 2016 9:30:00 AM

Stacks of books

“According to a study conducted by a Boston marketing firm, the average American burns 55 minutes a day—roughly 12 weeks a year—looking for things they know they own but can't find.” -Newsweek

That is a staggering number to me. 55 minutes per day?! That’s seems like an awful lot of time to spend on looking for things. And this report seems to be based around physical objects we own. I can only imagine what that number would increase to if the report included things we look for in our inboxes, shared drives at work, folders on our computers, etc.

So what are the steps we can take to go from being disorganized to organized? What are the major components of getting and staying organized? I chatted with Norm Schwartz, an Educational Mentor with Thinking Organized. He works with elementary to high school students on material organization and time management, among other core components of Thinking Organized’s strategies.

Here is a quick guide on how to start getting organized.

  1. Use a planner. Whether this by physical or digital, Norm says it’s essential to have some sort of calendar so you know where you need to be and when, and what you should be doing at that time. There are a ton of digital tools out there—Wunderlist, Asana, Trello—many of which integrate calendar and to-do list functions. Take 20 minutes to research a few, then pick one and start using it. Get your activities for the next few weeks on the calendar, as well as major projects and deadlines. It’s good to do this for both work and life, and you can keep a separate agenda or keep them as one, depending on what type of work-life integration you have.

Check out a comparison of Trello vs. Asana here.

  1. Plan your day. Now that you have a planner of some sort, plan tomorrow the night before.

“Make a list of the things you plan to do the next day,” Norm said. “Highlight the major tasks and appointments, then put those in your calendar.”

Another trick I discovered is to plan your day in 15 minute increments, instead in hours, like professional football player Kirk Cousins does. This is a great way to get a lot of things done in a short amount of time and decreasing distractions. It also serves as a plan of action—a to do list is great, but if you have no execution plan, what’s the point?

  1. Write it down. Don’t pretend like you can remember everything. You can’t. We’re talking things you need to do today, tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year. And not only what, but when. Not sure where to keep this information? Refer to #1.
  1. Project manage yourself. Think about a time you were in charge of a project for a small team. You were the project manager—the person responsible for leading the project from inception to execution. You’re in charge of planning, executing, and managing the people, resources, and scope of the project. Be this person for yourself.

“List all the tasks you have to complete. Brainstorm all the specific tasks, then organize it in chronological order and set reasonable deadlines,” Norm said.

  1. Develop systems. Make it habitual. Have a designated place for important things.

“I have a table near my front door where I always place my wallet and keys,” Norm said. Take back that 55 minutes per day by never looking for these items again.

Create a filing system, both for your physical papers and for you digital ones. Norm even suggests to go a step further and have a master list of what’s in the folders—a table of contents. It’s great to have everything filed away instead of laying on your desk or just sitting on your desktop, but are you going to remember where everything actually lives?

Also make sure everyone who uses the filing system, knows the system. Everyone should title things the same way and know exactly where it should live. You can even use a system to organize your inbox.

If you’re not yet excited about getting organized, just think of the benefits. You’ll be more efficient, have a greater sense of satisfaction, and perform at a higher level.

“I’ve seen this with students,” Norm said. “There’s anxiety. It immobilizes you and breeds frustration.” Ultimately, you’re going to be more productive and more successful. So get out there and start getting organized.

What are your suggestions to get organized? Share below!

Erin Gifford

Written by Erin Gifford

Erin started with cove in January 2014 and has been enjoying the adventure ever since. Outside of her role as marketing director with cove, she loves the performing arts, memoirs, and UNC.