You’re ready to make *this* the year you finally get organized.
And I’m here to help.
While I’m not the most organized person on the planet, I am at a really good place right now—able to stay on top of my life and keep things relatively organized, even with two toddlers wreaking havoc on my home every day (luckily, they’re super cute).
If you asked me what helped me get more organized in my life, I would share these 11 things with you.
Let’s dive in.
It All Comes Down To This
Getting organized comes down to these 3 essential things:
Lists are important because you need to keep track of a few things. (Don’t worry, I’ll show you the only 2 lists you really need right now.)
Tools (like calendars and planners) are important because they allow you to keep track of things that are important to you—dates, events, and random ideas, for example.
And habits are crucial because until you actually use your lists and tools, they don’t do anything for you.
Now I’ll show you the 2 lists, 5 tools, and 4 habits I recommend in order to create a more organized life.
Write These 2 Lists
The two lists you’ll want to write are:
- Your Goal List
- Your To-Do List
List #1: Your Goal List
I firmly believe that productivity is worth nothing if it’s not helping you reach your goals.
Whether you love mind-mapping, writing lists, or typing into digital tools, you’ll want to write out a list of goals you have for your life. You can even divide them by life area to make sure you have a concrete vision for everything (think “Self,” “Family,” “Money,” “Career,” “Church,” etc.)
This list will guide you in all your decisions, to make sure you’re using your time to move forward toward your goals.
List #2: Your To-Do List
Goals are great, but you’ll never get there without a map.
Your to-do list is where you put all of the steps you’ll take to achieve every goal you have in life, whether that’s something big like writing a novel or something small like making an appointment with the dog groomer.
There’s no need to make this complicated right now. To get started, simply set aside 15 minutes and write down every single thing you can think of that you need to do, want to do, or might do later.
Pro tip: Write your tasks with a verb at the beginning. That way, you’ll always be able to understand what they mean. For example, write “Buy dog food,” instead of just “dog food”.
Next, we’ll dive into the 5 tools you will need to keep track of just about anything you can think of.
Prepare These 5 Tools
I recommend these 5 tools. (Some of them may be new to you, but I’ll explain what they are and how to use them.)
- A Calendar
- A Notebook
- A Filing System
- An Inbox
- An “In-Progress” Box
Tool #1: A Calendar
The calendar is absolutely crucial to an organized life. My mantra is, “If it’s not on the calendar, it doesn’t exist.”
Having a calendar with all of the dates and reminders you need to remember means that you don’t have to keep things in your mind anymore.
That means you won’t forget an appointment again. And your mind will be clear to focus on things again.
It’s also a great place to block out time for things you know you need to do every week, like self-care time, focused time with kids, or meal planning.
To get started, choose a digital or paper calendar (or planner) and write down all the dates you can think of. Pull out birthday lists, your children’s school calendar, and other materials with dates to remember, and just write it all down.
Tool #2: A Notebook
Your notebook is where you go to jot down ideas, notes from meetings, and little to-dos throughout the day.
It’s not always practical to open up your calendar or to-do list and neatly write something in, so the notebook serves as a holding place for things that you’ll want to remember later.
It should be easy and frictionless for you to open up and write in throughout the day, whether you choose a paper notebook or an app (or a combination of both).
Tool #3: A Filing System
No, no, wait, don’t close out this window just yet! 😂 I can feel some people rolling their eyes right now.
Hear me out on this one. And if you don’t like it, you don’t need to do it.
Over time, we accumulate so much stuff. We have so many things that we are keeping around—car repair receipts, marriage certificates, TV warranties, and kids’ artwork.
Do you know where your TV warranty is right now, at this very second?
Most people don’t, or they have a vague idea where it is.
But I could pull out my TV warranty in 5 seconds (or any one of 100+ documents). And that’s because I have an alphabetized filing system in my home.
A filing system is simply a drawer of file folders that are labeled alphabetically and contain all the documents and little items you might need someday.
Each file folder is labeled intuitively so you can find things in a matter of seconds. I have folders called “Taxes 2021,” “Car Repair Receipts,” “Letters & Cards to Save,” and “Spare House Keys,” just to name a few.
Yes, it takes time to build, and you might think this sounds tedious. But this has saved us at least $4,000 that we would have had to pay if we couldn’t find the right paperwork.
Consider creating a filing system for your peace of mind and for your wallet.
Tool #4: An Inbox
The word “inbox” probably conjures up a picture of your Gmail inbox full of random emails.
And that’s really what an inbox is. It’s a catch-all box that you throw things into to organize later.
For this tool, I want you to grab an actual box (wide enough to hold a sheet of paper) and put it somewhere you’ll see it in your home.
Now every time your kids bring home papers from school, you pick up the mail, or you see something that you need to fix or take care of in your home, you’ll put it into the box.
Just like the notebook, this will serve as a holding place until you’re ready to organize the items inside.
But it ensures that nothing falls through the cracks, and you won’t get clutter piling up all over the house.
Tool #5: An “In-Progress” Box
The In-Progress Box is the twin sister of the Inbox.
Here’s how they work together.
Once your inbox starts to fill up, you’ll pull it down and go through the items one by one.
If the item triggers a time-based reminder or an event you need to remember, you’ll put it in the calendar. If there’s a to-do associated with it, you’ll put it into the to-do list. If you need to file something away for long-term reference, you’ll create a file in your filing system.
If you need to keep the item temporarily, until the event or until you finish a certain project, for example, you’ll put it in the In-Progress Box.
That way, you’ll be able to find those items quickly when you need them later.
I like to have 2 separate boxes for this—one for papers and one for bulkier items.
Build These 4 Habits
The 4 basic habits of an organized life are:
- Constant Capturing
- Clearing The Deck
- Weekly Planning
- Daily Planning
Before I explain this, I want to encourage you. Building habits isn’t an instant thing and it’s not easy. It will take time for you to build them, and that’s okay.
Habit #1: Constant Capturing
As soon as you think of something you need to do, an idea, a thought, or something that you might want to use later for any reason, you write it down.
Either write it into your notebook or chuck it into your inbox. Then you can come back to it later.
My advice is: Don’t let ideas and tasks bounce around in your brain. Write them down and clear your mind so you can focus on other things.
Habit #2: Clearing The Deck
Did you know that organized people are not actually organized?
The truth is, they stop and organize things little by little throughout the day so nothing gets out of hand.
We all have chaos hurtling towards us at the speed of light. But you can survive the chaos if you commit to organizing things little by little each day.
Clearing the deck means that when things start to pile up in your inbox, your notebook, or your home, you stop, clear it out, and put it back into its original state. This means that you’re ready for the next thing that life throws at you.
A full inbox? Go through the items and organize them into events, to-dos, and files so you’re ready to take action on them when you need to.
A notebook full of notes? Go through each page and translate them into events, to-dos, and files.
A full sink of dishes? Take a moment to wash them so you’re ready to cook when you need to.
A dirty mirror? Take a moment to wipe it so you’re ready if company suddenly shows up.
When you start to develop this habit, you’ll see decks to be cleared everywhere. And while you don’t need to clear them all the time, you’ll come to learn what’s important to you and how you can stay proactive to keep the chaos away.
Habit #3: Weekly Planning
Remember the goal list you created at the beginning?
It’s time to make use of it.
I recommend planning your life a week at a time so you know you’re making steps toward your goals.
Here’s how I do it:
- I review my goal list to see where I’m going in each area of my life.
- I also review the calendar to see what’s coming up that week, how much time I’ll have to do things, and what I need to prepare for.
- Then I write down a few things I want to do during the week as self-care (reading, pampering, etc.). Self-care is first priority for me, so I can be there for the people who need me.
- Next, I set 4-6 goals for the week that actively move me toward my life goals (or are important to me right now).
- Then I write out all the steps I’ll take that week to reach that goal by Friday, and put them into my to-do list.
This takes me about an hour. And then I know exactly what I need to do during the week, and I know I’m actively moving toward my goals. It’s the best feeling to go into Monday with a plan in hand.
I do mine on Sunday nights, but you can choose a day and time that works for you.
Habit #4: Daily Planning
Now you’ve planned out your week and you know what you need to finish by Friday.
The final piece of the puzzle is to plan out each day so you can actually get things done.
Here’s how I do it as part of my morning routine.
- I look at my calendar for the whole week to remind myself what’s coming up.
- I look at the day’s schedule, especially the things that are scheduled for certain times that I need to work around.
- I look at my to-do list and see what I need to do today, plus what I could do if I have extra time.
- Then I put my actual tasks for the day into the calendar so I know roughly when I’ll be working on it. (Remember: If it’s not in the calendar, it’s not going to happen.)
- I also like to put what I’m making for lunch and dinner in the calendar.
This way I have a good idea of what the day’s going to look like. I don’t schedule everything, just the stuff that I need to do. I like to leave open space for fun and spontaneity, otherwise life just gets boring.
And as you know, no day ever goes to plan. This is simply a proactive habit so that you have a plan. I’m always ready to throw the plan out of the window or adjust as needed. (And with toddlers, this is a daily occurrence.)
Get Started Today
You can start taking steps toward a more organized life. Here’s the step-by-step:
- Write a goal list
- Brain dump all your tasks into a list
- Set up a calendar
- Choose your notebook
- Buy some file folders and labels and start putting together your filing system (take your time with this)
- Plop down your inbox in a visible space
- Get your in-progress box ready
- Keep your notebook with you and get used to writing everything down immediately
- Set a time per day or per week to clear out your inbox and notebook and organize the information
- Have your first weekly planning session
- Set a time for your daily planning session
- Commit to building these habits over time
Adding these simple lists, tools, and habits to your life can help you get organized for good, making for a more peaceful, rewarding, and productive life.
Which step can you take action on right away?
P.S. – Wondering where these ideas come from? They’re loosely based on Getting Things Done by David Allen and First Things First by Steven Covey (affiliate links). If you want to dive deeper into these methods, check out these books.