People often lament that despite their best efforts, they just cannot seem to get, and stay, organized. Even though they’ve been working at it diligently and have tried many strategies, nothing seems to stick. So how do organized people stay organized? Over the years, I’ve noticed they have six habits in common. Here they are:
Elaborate organizational systems are hard to maintain and not worth the effort most of the time. It’s not necessary to color-code file folders by subject or activities on a calendar by relative. The effort far outweighs the benefits. Trying to keep your child’s toy reptiles separated from his toy mammals is also not worth your time. A bin for plastic toys will do. If the way you’ve organized something is too complicated and requires too many steps, it will be frustrating to maintain, which is the opposite of what you want.
Develop a morning or evening routine for tasks that happen daily or weekly. Maybe you open the mail every night after dinner or update your calendar and to-do list each morning before breakfast. If your mornings are hectic, make sure your workbag is packed before you go to bed. Recycle yesterday’s newspaper each morning when you get a new one. Pay your bills every Saturday morning. Regular maintenance and short spurts of organizing will save you a lot of time later. Do your best to stick with your routine. But if you skip a day or two, that’s fine. Just try to resume as soon as you can.
This sounds easy and obvious, but it is actually neither. Establish a spot for a specific category of stuff, because it’s impossible to put things away if you don’t know where they belong. Make sure the spot is convenient, practical and has enough space to accommodate the items you want to put there. If your dresser drawers are overflowing or there is no room to hang clothes in your closet, then your clothes don’t have a “place.” Likewise, if your filing cabinet is crammed and you can’t fit new papers inside, you’ll be less likely to file. Also, don’t set something down temporarily. Take a few extra seconds to put it where it belongs. Every time.
Even though it may seem as if organized people manage their lives with little effort, it takes a fair amount of planning. One of the secrets is keeping detailed to-do lists for daily tasks and longer-term projects. If you prefer to write things down, a small notebook works best because it keeps everything together and allows you to reference old tasks. Avoid using loose sheets of paper that can be lost, and carry the notebook with you. If you use the tasks or notes features on your phone or computer, keep your lists current and consolidate them with your paper lists regularly. Give yourself deadlines if that helps you to complete items.
There is a common misperception that all organized people are perfectionists. Although this may ring true for some, many organized people realize they can’t possibly do everything perfectly and get everything done. They prioritize tasks and learn where and how to take shortcuts and how to complete tasks quickly. They don’t get mired in projects that will be impossible to finish on time. In other words, they don’t let perfection get in the way of progress.
Organized people don’t wait for a free weekend or an upcoming move to get their homes in order. They are constantly throwing things away, reevaluating their possessions and tidying their houses. They may take five minutes each night to clear papers off the kitchen counter or 10 minutes while dinner is cooking to clean out the refrigerator. When they return home with groceries, they quickly scan items in their pantry to toss any expired or nearly empty containers and clean off their desks at night’s end. Organizing is not a separate event. It is a part of their day.
As you dig out of the chaos of the holidays and begin to think about how to be more organized and efficient in 2017, try to make one or two of these strategies your standard practice. If you can do that, you’ll be on your way to an organized year.