Organizing your life, from your home to your office to your computer, doesn’t demand perfection. It’s okay if your life is more “organized chaos” than Pinterest-worthy. What you do need is an understanding of what gets in the way when it remains disorganized. The goal is for all of it to run smoothly.
Here’s what happens if you don’t organize your life:
- You leave your wallet at home because you assumed it was in your messenger bag. It’s sitting on your kitchen counter, serving no purpose.
- You’re marked as “not attending” your cousin’s wedding. The RSVP is under the bills you also haven’t opened.
- Work deadlines are forgotten because your digital calendar is too out of hand to read.
Here’s how to keep the important things in order so you can live the rest of your life like a normal, imperfect human.
1. Relegate work to your workspace.
Freelancers need a space that’s work-centric, removed from distractions and home responsibilities. If you’re lucky enough to have a spare room with a door that shuts, set up a home office. Or, section off part of a room and classify it as work-only. Even tiny apartments have nooks or closets that can hold a small desk and chair.
People with a traditional office job still find themselves working on projects at home. Create a similar setup, a designated space for work. Maintaining clear lines between home life and work life will help keep your house and mental space organized.
Here are three more tips for organizing your home workspace:
- Keep everything you need to perform your work in this space. If you have to leave your home office to find a pen or envelopes in another room, it’s easy to get distracted.
- When you’re finished for the day, close the workspace down just as you would a traditional office. Clean off your desk, pull the blinds down, turn off your computer, and shut the lights and door on your way out.
- As much as possible, avoid heading back to your office during non-work time. Pretend that it’s a commute away.
Being strict about where you work helps you get into and out of work mode. Being able to work from home makes it tempting to always be working, but you deserve a break.
2. Give everything a home.
Everything in your home should have a…home. A “miscellaneous” drawer, closet or room doesn’t count. The more efficient a room needs to be (like the kitchen or office), the more organized the space should be.
- Keep the items you reach for often closest to you. Items you only need once in a blue moon can get stashed away.
- If you have storage boxes that all look the same, label them.
- Use this strategy digitally. Organize computer files and email folders to always know where to store an item and look for what you need. Take advantage of the favorites bar on your browser and add link shortcuts to your phone’s home screen.
3. Create a drop zone.
Pick a drop zone for your to-dos, including your paperwork and items you have to put away. Then create a process for going through them and moving them to the “home” you created in step two.
For example, you can leave your mail in a basket by your entryway every afternoon. If your checks and bills are electronic, you can sort through that mail just once or twice a week. Pick a day, put “check mail” on your calendar, set it to recurring and forget about it.
Do the same for your digital life. Instead of organizing your desktop or Google Drive every day, put it on a monthly admin schedule. You won’t have to worry about it on a day-to-day basis, but you’ll know it’ll never go more than 30 days without a good cleanup.
4. Make routines or schedules.
For many professionals, life routines are inextricably linked with work routines. One will prepare you for the other. Without them working in harmony, you can get to the end of your day and feel like you accomplished nothing.
There’s almost no way to create the “right” routine or schedule. Plus, the more flexibility you have with your time, the harder it is to find a routine you’ll even follow. Give these tips a try:
- Morning and evening routines are the most important but don’t complicate them. It’s not about what 100 other professionals do to start their day; it’s about what you need to get motivated. If that’s as simple as coffee, reading and making your bed, that’s fine. If you want to add a five-mile run and half an hour of journaling, that’s also fine.
- If you’re setting a schedule, factor in extra time. You’ll need it when what you’re working on takes longer or when you need a break between tasks.
- Whatever a project’s true deadline is, set your private deadline for at least one day ahead. If it slips your mind or it takes twice as long as you expected, you have a whole other day to deal with it.
- You may need a routine to keep you on top of your routine. Remember that “check mail” task we added to the calendar in step three? What if you never check your calendar? Choose one place where everything lives – a centralized information center. For me, that’s Evernote. My Evernote checklist tells me everything else I have to do, “check calendar” included.
Match your routines to your energy cycle.
An energy cycle is the flow of when you feel your most-to-least energetic. Tackle your pile of work notes and paperwork in the morning when you have the brainpower to deal with it. Leave laundry and dishwashing for 15-minute work breaks or the end of the day when your brain can only handle mindless activities.
Two Tips I Hate (and Not-Terrible Alternatives)
If you read 50 “how to stay organized” lists, you’ll find these two tips almost every time. Not here. I can’t stand them.
Get rid of everything and then add it all back.
Don’t fall for this. You’ll wind up with half of your closet or office scattered throughout your living room. And you’ll never remove everything and redo a room in one day. Instead, do this partway. Clear out one drawer or desk or filing cabinet and reorganize it, then move on to the next “hot spot.”
Donate, sell or throw out something before you buy something new.
This is the kind of tip that sounds good on paper but is terrible in application. You’ll end up getting rid of something you want, need or love. Don’t bother with this. Instead, do a good, thorough purge one-time or seasonally. Then, give your future purchases a little extra thought. If you’re unsure, leave it – if you’re still thinking about it in two weeks, go back and buy it.
Be careful with digital items, too, especially those tempting freebies. If you’re not ever going to read that ebook, it’s not worth the trouble of downloading and organizing it.
At first, setting up organization at home, work or both can eat up a lot of time. The goal is to make your life less hectic, though. Staying on track takes a lot of planning in the beginning. Once you’ve gotten used to your new methods, though, you’ll have the time and mental space to focus on more important aspects of your life.