You know those people who always seem to just have it all together? The ones who are usually calmly waiting, scrolling through Facebook, when you burst through the door feeling frazzled and out of breath because you're late meeting them...again!? The folks who have the PTA calendar memorized and always seem to have contact information right at their fingertips to meet every conceivable need, from trusty mechanic or top notch medical specialist to medieval jousting expert? They remember to return your book, even though you forgot you loaned it to them in the first place. They know when and where outdoor movie night is happening and exactly when to score free cones because it's National Ice Cream Day. They always acknowledge your birthday and never forget to send in non-perishables for the school's canned food drive (while you, on the other hand, can be found desperately hunting through your pantry at the last minute for cream of mushroom soup or something else you'll probably never eat).
Yeah, we all know at least one of these people, but starting today, you can become one with much less effort than you think.
New Habit #4: Take and Use Notes. Keep track of everything as it enters your brain...reminders, to-dos, shopping needs, contact info, events, appointments, due dates... in a central, reliable system and--here’s the key--review it daily.
Why? The biggest benefit is the confidence and peace of mind you'll find from having a reliable way to tame your brain clutter. Yes...that's a thing...and too much of it leads to stress, whether you're consciously aware of it or it's just bubbling up right beneath the surface. That old expression "too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the broth" means that having no established leader to give clear direction will lead to chaos and, ultimately, failure. Well, that's what happens when you have competing priorities, demands on your time and random thoughts running wildly through your head without a central unified and reliable system in place for managing it all.
Now, the key word here is "reliable". Lots of people have calendars, address books, fancy apps on their phones, colored-coded giant whiteboards on the refrigerator....you name it, yet still suffer from brain clutter because they aren't in the habit of actually maintaining and using these tools properly. All the fancy pots and top-of-the-line kitchen tools in the world won't make you a master chef unless you know how to use them and do. With proper daily maintenance and a solid habit of reviewing what you’ve noted, you'll avoid overbooking (and overstretching) yourself, missing important appointments or deadlines, or forgetting to do tasks, and you'll be able to plan ahead with confidence. You'll also rest easier knowing you can communicate with your network whenever and wherever needed.
How? This is actually a three-part habit.
First, choose a format that you think will work best for you, be it electronic, paper, cave drawing, whatever, or even a combination of the above elements. This will involve some trial/error and re-evaluation as you go. Expect that...it's okay, and if you have to change formats along the way, it just means you are learning more about yourself and what works for you (or doesn't). There is no right or wrong way...just a right-for-you or wrong-for-you way. Whatever format you choose, it must meet these three criteria:
Next, add anything and everything you need to remember into your system as soon as you become aware of it.
Finally, make a daily appointment with yourself to review the data in your system so that you can bring it to life through an action plan. This is crucial. Without this, your system will not work and you will no longer trust it...reliability is key, remember? Simply sitting down each and every day to review what is coming up so that you can prioritize, plan ahead and share info with others as needed will save you time and stress otherwise spent worrying about what you're forgetting. Having a centralized system for tracking everything not only enables you to address your immediate concerns but also keeps the back-burner items on your radar so they don’t sneak up on you.
Already got this one down? Fabulous! Have you tamed your paper piles? Having a system in place for keeping track of appointments, reminders and contacts is a prerequisite to eliminating paper clutter. If you've already mastered Habit #4, go ahead and begin a daily triage of your incoming papers into these categories: action, file, pay, and read. Create calendar reminders/contacts for action and pay items, file reference papers and contacts regularly, and keep reading material handy and to a minimum (seriously, if you haven't read the fashion article you bookmarked in that 2010 magazine by now, it's probably safe to go ahead and toss it).
Tip of the Week
Speaking of taking notes, one way to improve your odds of adopting any new habit is to take note of what has (and hasn't) worked in the past. Was there a particular person who encouraged you (or sabotaged your efforts)? Is there a specific strategy that kept you motivated? Repeat the behaviors that have led to success and try to identify and eliminate the ones that led you astray.
It’s still not too late to join the official Good Habits Challenge! From this point on, only those who have actually joined the challenge will receive weekly emails introducing the remaining six habits of organized people. Plus, those who join get some free tools to help in adopting any new habit (not just these ten) and are eligible for free accountability check-ins and a chance to win a prize at the end. Joining is FREE, so what have you got to lose?
Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions about the challenge, need more suggestions or encouragement, or just want to share your success story!
You’ve got this!
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Imagine standing in the bottom of a deep pit, looking up and wondering how you will ever get out! Actually, most of us don’t have to imagine that...we experience it every time we look at our long To-Do lists and bulging calendars (assuming you even have those...not having them is more like realizing you’re at the bottom of a deep well but being unable to even see the sky). It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the only way out of a deep, dark pit of any kind is to climb out. You need a ladder, a rope, a staircase, or a lot of well-placed toe- and hand-holds. Then it’s just a matter of climbing one carefully-planned step at a time. Well, today I’m gonna teach you how to build yourself a staircase leading out of that pit of endless tasks, chores, projects and appointments that make up “adulting”.
As with building any sturdy, reliable staircase, the first step is always to set aside planning and building time. Constructing it in a slap-dash-as-you-go fashion will leave you with nothing but a rickety pile of lumber that could give way at any time, sending you back down to the bottom of the pit with potential injuries. So, if you don’t already have a calendar, get one. It can be an app you use on your phone/tablet or a good old-fashioned paper day planner...whatever works for you. Add to it a weekly appointment with yourself, preferably at a consistent time and in a quiet location with limited interruptions so that you can focus. Do not blow off this appointment...EVER! I know, I know...you’re busy...things come up...the kids never give you any peace and quiet. Just remember: you are stuck in a pit! Nothing can be accomplished--for anyone--until you manage to pull yourself out of it. So finding a way out should be your #1 priority!
During your first appointment, create a blueprint for your staircase by considering your hierarchy of life priorities. What’s at the top? Health and fitness? Time with family? Your career? Knowing exactly which side of the pit you want to emerge on will determine how you build your staircase, so it’s worth recording your hierarchy and referring back to it whenever you’re not sure how to prioritize. For more guidance on how to determine this, go back and read the Achieving Simplicity post from August 3, 2020.
Next, you'll need to gather all your building materials. This involves brainstorming about everything you think you might need to do this week. Include errands, chores, phone calls/emails, research, work and home improvement projects, appointments, volunteer work, meals, and all other commitments and responsibilities. This step will become easier in time as you gain a sense of which materials (to-do items) you really don’t need for your staircase and build up a stockpile of the ones you use each and every week. Keep a running task list that you continually add to as you think of new things.
Once you have a comprehensive list, identify the components you really don’t need and get them out of your way. In other words, delegate as many tasks as you reasonably can and eliminate or defer the optional things that don't align with your top priorities. (Here’s where that blueprint really comes in handy!) Where might you be able to relax your standards or expectations to make this climb a bit easier? What optional tasks can wait? By the way, relaxation time is not optional. While you may need to tweak how much of it you get from one week to the next, trying to make do without it is like building a staircase without any hardware. Eventually it will collapse under the pressure.
Now you just need to order your steps. Fill out your calendar and daily tasks lists while answering these questions:
Once you’ve completed your staircase, you’re ready to start climbing. But first, don’t forget a daily safety check. Each morning, consult your plan, just as you would double-check the reliability of each step before placing all your weight on it. If you discover a weak or missing tread up ahead, don’t panic...just replace it. It’s a whole lot easier to tweak your staircase as you go through your week, than it is to try to climb out of that pit without one.
Download our FREE Week-Ahead Planner to help you get started.
The best news is that the more staircases you build, the better and quicker your construction becomes. With a well-drawn blueprint and the right tools, building a staircase to any solution can be easy peasy.
Running an efficient household requires some organization and lots of communication, especially in today's hectic world. In some ways, this has become easier with the advent of shared calendars, electronic reminders, to-do and shopping lists, and menu planning apps. But there's something to be said for leveling the playing field with an old-fashioned, low-tech solution that everyone in your household can access the same way. One has only to glance at Pinterest to see that household "command centers" are more popular than ever for keeping families connected and informed.
No two command centers are the same. Aside from being an effective means of communication and organization, yours should also reflect the personality of your family and blend in with the rest of your home, something that takes a little planning.
Here are a few tips for setting up an effective command center in your home:
To get you started with a few ideas, here's what I've incorporated in my family's "Command Central". We were very tight on space, so I had to be selective in what I included:
Dinner Menu: I've included a spot for posting the weekly menu. To save space, I display only today's dinner (to warn the kids) and tomorrow's (to remind me what I need to thaw out or prep). The cards area easy to swap out and can be saved to give me meal ideas for future weeks.
My husband and I share a Google calendar, but I post just the key events and reminders for the coming week for the kids' benefit. I purposely chose to make this a "white board" (just a glass picture frame that can be written on with a dry erase marker) rather than a traditional-style calendar to give me more room to write in. I find that merely transferring the weekly highlights from my online calendar to the board helps me better focus on the week ahead.
Mail holder: I collect the mail and sort it immediately into a file system I have that works great, but occasionally my husband gets mail he needs to deal with himself. Rather than leave it lying around on a table for him to ignore, I put it in the top slot of the mail sorter. After several weeks in here, I feel I can safely throw it away, and it least it isn't getting in my way in the meantime. ;-)
I use the other slots for important/emergency phone numbers so that we don't have to look them up and for my kids who are at the age where I am just beginning to leave them home alone for short periods of time.
The full-year calendar (with paydates circled) attached to the front comes in handy for quick reference without consuming lots of extra space.
Valerie Sheridan is a professional organizer, wife, mother of two, and Founder/Owner of EasyPeasy Living.