In a busy, and sometimes chaotic, world, it pays to be organized.
Not only does it cut down on unnecessary stress, but it can also maximize your downtime, increase productivity and even improve your health and well-being.
Sounds good, right?
The tricky part is that for many of us, it is easier said than done.
This article aims to make getting organized a whole lot simpler.
Let’s look at 10 habits of highly organized people that you can adopt right now…
1) Lean on routine
I hate routine.
Rather than enjoy the security and certainty of it all, I struggle with how restrictive it can feel.
But despite my natural disdain for routine, I still always lean on it in times of chaos.
For one very good reason — it works.
There’s little doubt that routines help build habits that facilitate better organization.
Research has found a whole host of benefits including better sleep, increased family functioning, and improved health.
Science shows that routines help our brain conserve energy. Basically, thinking is pretty time-consuming. So the less we have to think, the easier life is.
The more you can automate certain parts of your day, the easier it is to stay organized.
That might involve creating a planned structure for your day or week. Decide on what tasks need completing and carve them out into your daily routine.
Staying organized is a lot easier when you are doing the same things on repeat.
2) Minimize decision fatigue
Decision fatigue is the idea that the more decisions we have to make, the worse we get at it.
Although research is pretty sketchy on it, there are studies that have suggested it really is a thing.
We make 1001 tiny decisions on a daily basis. So the less you need to think about what you should wear or what you should eat for breakfast — the better.
Former US president Barack Obama told Vanity Fair “You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.”
Meanwhile, Amazon chief exec Jeff Bezos says, “I do my high-IQ meetings before lunch. Like, anything that’s going to be really mentally challenging, that’s a 10 o’clock meeting. And by 5 p.m., I’m like, ‘I can’t think about that today. Let’s try this again tomorrow at 10 a.m.’”
3) If it takes under 5 minutes do it now, not later
We’ve all heard the saying:
‘Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.’
This is a life motto for highly organized people. Because when you have a lot of things to juggle, it’s so easy to fall behind.
Often it’s the little jobs and tasks that mount up in life and can leave us quickly feeling swamped.
To stay on top of these, it’s usually better to do them straight away rather than delay.
For example, keeping the house clean, especially if you’ve got a big family, can feel like an endless chore.
If you notice a job that will only take you a few minutes, make a pact with yourself to do it immediately.
Don’t take up brain space trying to remind yourself to change that light bulb later on. Go and do it now.
Procrastination is a waste of our energy, especially for the most inconsequential of tasks.
If you have the means to do it at that moment (and it will only take you a few minutes) then it’s not worth adding it to your “to-do” list.
4) Make time for prep
My home is a tale of two types of people:
There’s me, who takes the lazy approach, and any plans tend to be last minute.
But my boyfriend who is used to juggling a busier and more tightly packed schedule is really good at preparation.
He consciously makes time specifically for the prep before even starting a task.
Let me give you the example of our meal times.
We both want to eat healthy and fresh food, but that happens largely thanks to him and his organization.
Whilst I would roll to the fridge and see what’s in there, he is a planner.
He knows what he wants to make that week, and buys the groceries we need. But he also dedicates time on a Sunday to pre-prepare as much as he can.
For example, he’ll chop up all the vegetables and store them in Tupperware for the week ahead.
Anyway, the point is:
Highly organized people invest in preparation as well as the actual task at hand, to make sure things run more smoothly and efficiently.
Carve out specific times in your schedule just for preparation.
5) Do the most important things first
At first, this sounds like a bit of a no-brainer.
But the reality is that a lot of us can spend most of our time on relatively inconsequential things, and put off the most important things.
That’s because ticking off the small wins feels good. It’s just so much easier than getting stuck into those bigger tasks.
When you have a to-do list, identify what is most important. Aka, what will move the needle forward most in your life?
Sure, doing your laundry is important. But is it really as important as sending off those job applications?
It can be tempting to hide from the most important tasks because they feel overwhelming. So we procrastinate in those little to-do’s which feel much safer.
Hopefully, the next couple of habits will help you to change that.
6) Break down big tasks into manageable chunks
A lot of tasks and goals remain undone because getting started feels insurmountable.
We can quickly get ahead of ourselves and get really stressed out trying to foresee the future.
We fuel procrastination by imagining what might need to be done 10 steps from now.
But resist the urge to plan too far ahead when you organize.
Instead, just plot out your next small steps.
What do you need to do in this moment?
How can you turn a large task into bite-sized manageable chunks?
Remember you don’t have to organize everything now, just organize the next couple of steps along the way.
7) Kick procrastination into touch with this simple hack
I love a good list.
It gives me an instant sense of calm.
It’s ok that I’ve done nothing, because, hey, I’ve got it on a list.
But this is one of the problems that can easily arise from endless note-taking.
They are great as a memory tool (which I’ll talk more about next). But they can quickly give you a false sense of organization.
Because let’s face it, the doing part is the far more important aspect than making a note about it.
For so many of us, procrastination gets in the way of our organizational skills.
But here’s the funny thing, the thought of doing it is what is really keeping you stuck.
So here’s what I do:
When I’m resisting doing a task, I commit to a small amount of time. I say to myself, ok, let’s do it for 15 minutes.
If you still don’t want to continue after that amount of time, you can stop. Just 15 minutes isn’t so bad, right?
But 9 times out of 10, once you get started, it feels fine, and you keep on going.
It was the thought rather than the doing that created the most resistance.
Setting really small time commitment goals can help you overcome this.
8) If your memory sucks, use systems and tech to remind you
Always forget your mom’s birthday? Then you need to invest in a calendar.
Constantly late for appointments? Then you probably should be setting more alarms and reminders on your phone.
For busy lives, there is an increasing amount of tech and systems out there specifically designed to help you stay on top of things.
I’m old school, so I personally prefer physical objects like calendars on the wall and notepads with my “to-do’s” for the day.
But the more tech-savvy can use their phones, laptops, and a wide range of organizational apps promising to simplify your life.
You don’t have to remember everything, tech can remember for you these days.
It can also help us automate certain things, to give us less to do. Things like setting up direct bank payments for your bills or ordering your groceries online.
Consider the areas where you struggle the most to stay organized. Then go hunt for a specific system or tech aid to help you.
9) Don’t take on too much and ask for help
Despite painting myself in a pretty lazy light throughout this article, the truth is that in many areas of my life, I’m actually really organized.
Without meaning to gloat, I feel pretty on top of most things.
But I am fully aware that a big part of that is that I don’t take on too much in the first place. I am realistic about what I commit to (based on my naturally lazy disposition).
I prioritize what’s most important and let other things drop without guilt-tripping myself about it.
It means I’ve also had to try to confront perfectionist tendencies.
I have learned to better understand how I tick, and what works best for me. And I say “no” to what doesn’t.
I also know my own strengths and weaknesses. I am happy to ask for help and gratefully receive that support.
10) You can’t always plan life, so build resilience
You can be super organized, but you can never control life.
Routines, habits, and organization can help you to feel more on top of things. But you know what they say:
Even the best-laid plans can go awry.
And when they do, resilience and adaptability are your new best friends.
Things that can help us to build these skills include: