How I Organize Everything
A few weeks ago a really good friend of mine asked me to be her momager.
I was honored. It was like all my dreams had come true in one WhatsApp message, a few emojis, and a meeting at Starbucks (isn’t Starbucks where all dreams come true?).
Now, I am not 20 years older than my friend, and so one might wander at the use of the word momager. Let me explain.
Apparently, I have a thing for organization, staying on track, and being disciplined. Oh, and forcing others to do the same, hence the mom. It nay also be because I can be something of a mother hen to my friends and most certainly have never been the wild one (but thats another blog post). I digress.
All of the the above was news to me. As an absolute perfectionist, I was pretty certain I was terrible at anything that had anything to do with calendars, staying on top of things, and sticking to a plan. Note use of the word: perfectionist. At the Starbucks meeting that forever changed my life (doesn’t every trip to Starbucks forever change your life?), I learnt that actually no, organization is my thing, I am just too darned particular to believe it.
So. With a new job title in hand and a bunch more reminders on my Reminders app, I ventured forth into this new world where I am kind of pretty decent at organizing my life.
And maybe someone else’s?
In the couple of months that have passed, I’ve tried to really examine and streamline the tricks and quirks that come together to keep me in the my own loop and on top of everything from my cleaning schedule, to working on a new project, to making sure that I workout every morning and don’t eat solely peanut butter on toast (although I can’t believe that’s entirely bad, because after all peanuts are a good source of protein aren’t they?).
I’ll let you in on a little secret. I even have organized playlists of YouTube videos, podcasts and various other ‘leisure’ content to get through, in order of importance and relevance to my life in general, just so I don’t miss out on anything vitally enriching.
Yes, it might be a bit of a problem. I probably don’t know how to do a ‘relaxed beach holiday’. But I would rather know that I will never miss that essential September Favorites video thank you very much.
So what do I do and would any of it be remotely useful for you to dabble in? Let’s dive in shall we?
Lists: The Good, Bad and the Essential
Lists are a love of many, many people. And they are hardly breaking news so if you’re starting to wander if this is another post about the obvious, please bear with me. Lists are obvious, obvious, obvious… but they’re also easy to get wrong, use wrong, and not benefit from.
Nothing feels better than doing a great big brain dump and being left with a shiny new, colored co-ordinated, master list of ‘Things To Do’, and the sense that this time around, you are going to do all of them before making dinner tomorrow night. Easy.
How could you not?
But in reality, the list is rather useless isn’t it? It’s nice to see the tumbling thoughts in your mind lined up neatly and succinctly, but in all honesty, you’ve taken all of zero steps forward towards to reducing that list in any way whatsoever, simply by writing it all down! In fact you’ve lost another five to ten minutes and gained an due sense of accomplishment.
I know I certainly fall into the trap of thinking, if It’s on the list it is closer to being somewhat done, now I shall promptly forget about it till I stumble on this Note in a week, and continue to read my Lindsey Kelk book.
That is not how we write lists.
A good list is written certainly, because visual aids have no end of benefits to recommend them, but a good list is written somewhere you simply cannot miss it. This will look different for everyone, but for me, these days, it exists in literally, three places. The same list. Just incase I happen to not look at one of them for a day, or two days. I duplicate exactly the same list of tasks in a Google Doc, on my Notes app, and on a really pretty white and gold To Do list pad from Kikki K. (highly recommend, Kikki K will turn the most slovenly procrastinator into a self organization goddess for about 50 to 70 pounds).
The reason I do this is simple, I am not important enough to get emails that need seeing to every day, so I can’t guarantee I’ll open my Google docs, I am not diligent enough to remember to check my Notes every single day, and I am don’t have a set workspace so I won’t be sure I see my Kikki K pad of wonders. Now, more often than not, I will actually see and run through all three of these things, but I can’t rely on that. So three lists it is.
Another note on lists: a long list featuring every thing from cleaning the fridge to replying to a message on WhatsApp you’ve forgotten about for three weeks, to what to post to Twitter, is not a list that is going to inspire you to work through it. It’s simply far too overwhelming to having every thing in one place.
Instead, I prefer to get creative with the range of lists I make. I have a separate list for household chores (I don’t know about you, but staying on top of keeping my house ‘together’ has to proceed everything else, or nothing else will get done), a separate list for blog work, a separate list for personal to do’s (get that blow dry, clear out my closet), and a separate list for miscellaneous items. If I’m going on holiday back to Dubai I usually also throw in a shopping list, because, I mean, I’m going to Dubai. You know how it goes.
I also feel like a list with color variation, and possibly some bold versus italic items and what not, go wild, helps to visually break the list up, and one, make you less likely to miss items, and two, make it less intimidating.
I am not one for bullet journals and drawings massive pages of snowflakes and palm trees to theme my months, but a little basic low level effort color and coding in your digital lists can help you go a long way. Pick your favorite colors and play around!
Calendars and How To Make Them Work for You
Now, I’ll be honest.
I am nowhere near important enough to need to use calendar, and I honestly doubt I ever will be. I’ve shied away from using calendars for the longest time for just this reason. Can you sympathize? There’s no shame in it if you just don’t feel busy or harried and needed enough, for a daily calendar, but the truth is you don’t need to be running a company or attending a million glamorous events to benefit from, or in fact deserve, using a calendar on the daily.
A calendar is simply a way to organize and divide your time in a useful manner, not a sign of the fact that you’re so torn for time that you can’t remember what you’re doing this Friday.
So let’s rethink how we view calendars and what place they have in our ordinary lives.
To really get into the habit of using a calendar I started a shared calendar with a really good friend. That’s the best way to stay on track right, under the threat of anyone discovering you’re not sticking to a plan? Not surprisingly, it really works! I’m now in love with using my calendar just generally, but what really propelled me to stick to a digital calendar was the fact that someone else was going to see if I hadn’t filled it out.
And you know what, unless you really are that important and you really need to to be somewhere at a certain time, you’re likely not always going to stick to your calendar religiously, but thats alright, thats not necessarily what its for.
To me, my calendar is how I would do things in an ideal world. And we definitely don’t live ideal lives in an ideal world. So I use my calendar as a vague structure for the day, and on a good day, yes I do stick to its parameters, but on a bad day, I still do get most of what I’ve scheduled in somewhat done but not necessarily in that order.
But the fact that its there on the calendar, and slotted in beforehand, all lined up, gives me confidence that I can finish all of that on the same day.
Giving myself three hours to write two blog posts makes me write those three blog posts in two hours. Otherwise lets be real, writing a blog post can take a week can’t it, if you really let it?
Calendars, the digital ones, are also quite fun to play around with. There’s colors! And reminders! And sharing it with your friends! So jump on that bandwagon and become one of those people who says, let me just check in my calendar. You’ll feel really good about it, I swear.
Plan further ahead than is reasonable
I am definitely a plan ahead-er.
I know, I know, its’ the not the life for everyone. And it really does stress some people out, and I totally can see why. But still. I almost feel like it’s more stressful not to plan. It’s more stressful not to have at least some vague idea of what you’ll be doing, and when.
Spontaneous is not my middle name!
It’s reasonable enough to plan the week ahead, and maybe even the next two weeks. But I like to whole hog here and plan like… my blog content for the next four months. I think you can see where this is going.
Whist I know its really daunting to jump in and predict where you want to be four months from now, I really advice you to at least give it a go and see if it makes you feel any more sorted and less like you’re trying to hold and spin and toss and juggle and not break, all the plates at the same time. Less sleepless nights, I promise.
Organizing my space
In our new apartment, I don’t have a desk or home office, but if you’re lucky enough to have one, good, good, good for you. In Dubai, my workspace of choice is like literally always a Starbucks (can you be more basic than Siri on a workday with her pink MacBook and a Starbucks cup in hand? No you cannot, don’t even try), but whilst I’m in our apartment in Iraq, with nary a Starbies to seen for miles, I prefer to use my dressing table as my designated workspace.
That might seem a bit odd, buy my dressing table is ‘mine’. Its the one corner of the apartment where my husband never ventures (you’ve never met a man more wary or mascara than mine), and its a space that’s constant.
I keep it clutter free with the majority of my makeup in the drawer (save the artful display of my favorite Charlotte Tilbury lippies of of course), and I know I’m not going to sit down to work at 9.30 am and find an errant house bill or left over bag of chips, like I am likely to do at our shared dining table!
I always make sure I’ve taken a clean wipe and wiped down the table before starting, and made sure that I have my laptop plugged in, and given a little dusting, as well. A clean fresh slate, both metaphorically and in the psychical space, really helps me feel energized to start the day.
I’ve got a clean smudge proof laptop? Please, I can do anything now!
Having a personal vision
Creating a personal vision is something that I got into after watching the lovely Lavendaire’s numerous videos explaining the concept (in fact what are you doing reading my tips, drop this and go watch her channel, she will whip your life into perfectly organized space without ruffling a single feather, she is that calm and serene).
A personal vision isn’t a five year plan or a vision board, but it’s not far off. It can be as simple as sheet of paper with a letter to yourself on it or a description of where you see yourself three to five years from now. If that’s too far out, make it a year from now.
A lot of personal vision exercises really go all out and describe the perfect apartments and perfect relationships you’re planning to have, and I think thats lovely as an exercise in positivity. I don’t know how concrete it is for day to day life. No amount of envisioning is going to pay your mortgage.
But a personal vision can be super helpful in structuring your day. If in a year from now you see yourself as someone who works out regularly and starts work at 8a.m. that’s something you can actually work towards every single day. That’s a vision that doesn’t seem so ridiculously unattainable that you toss the sheet to the back of your drawer and hope no one finds it and cringes as the fact that you’re writing about yourself.
Kind of like this blog, am I right?
My personal vision that I wrote a few months ago was perhaps a little basic and boring but it covered the things that today, give me a real sense of accomplishment on a day to day basis. Doing a TUI workout every morning (can I just jump in an say: life changing. Download the app now!), starting work at 9.30a.m at the latest, after working out and tidying my room. None of this is life changing stuff.
But there was a point where it was just an if only in my mind, and now its a part of my vision statement and my everyday reality. Win win.
Getting inspired by others
Alright now that we’ve got the boring stuff out of the way, time for some fun.
Am I alone in being super obsessed with learning how other people organize themselves? No? No, definitely not? Didn’t think so!
There’s no better way for me to get out of an organization rut than filling up on inspiration from others on how they keep their lives in running order. Sometimes I get quite technical about this and read those books with intimidating men on the cover (sometimes, very rarely) but more often than not this means pursuing my favorite blogs and reading up on how other bloggers keep their lives in check, and how they make it enjoyable in the process.
Inspiration, in small doses in great. What’s not so great, is getting inspired and doing nothing about it. So if you find something that resonates with you, roll with it! Find a way to make it work for you like right now, not sometime in the future.
Doing a one day of getting every thing together
It’s simply impossible to keep on top of all of the things all of the time. And expecting yourself to turn into some organization master overnight and be able to be one step ahead of yourself, one step ahead of yourself, is pretty much just setting yourself up for disaster. You may as well throw in the towel right now, both metaphorically and physically.
It’s not gonna happen.
Instead, I’ve found I’ve really benefited from doing the organizational brain dump one day a week (some weeks I’ll pick this up and review it again mid week), using that day of relative calm to plan the rest of the week’s tasks, set them in place, and make sure I go into the new week already knowing what I’m meant to be doing it.
Because then that only leaves the stress of doing what needs to be done.
Obviously, that’s easy to say and the doing is the hard bit, I’m well aware of that. But what’s even harder is showing up to your desk, or dressing table if you’re me, in the morning and not only having to do but having to figure out what to do.
Not a pretty picture.
Not a good start to the morning does it make.
Instead when I’ve used my one brain dump day (for me, living it the Middle East that’s a Saturday, seeing as the official work week starts on a Sunday), I start the new week with a very clear idea of what I’ll be doing and by when. I don’t blunder up to the dressing table on Sunday at 9.30 and think right, now what was it I was thinking I needed to get done last week?
It makes jumping straight into your first tasks (in today’s case, this blog post) and cracking on with them whilst you’ve still got a lot of mental energy to spare, that much easier. I find that Sunday to Tuesday is generally when I perform my best at getting through tasks that would otherwise be daunting, and that’s because you have finite energy, finite focus, and finite willpower. So please, please don’t waste that start of the week juice on building a list of things to do or figuring out what you’ve already done.
That’s what end of the weekend chilled juice is for, so use it wisely.
Making a game of it
Even with the best laid plans and the best intentions and literally the most pragmatic personality for miles (not pointing any fingers here), you can still have days where things just aren’t working out. Things just aren’t… working, shall we say? Those things being me, namely.
There’s only so much you can eek out of yourself at the end of the day. The inspiration well runs dry, the energy dissipates, you’re really distracted by a Twitter thread ranting about Instagram, you know how it goes.
I’ve always heard that things are easier to do when you make a game of them. And anytime I’ve tried it in my own life, I’ve been tickled to discover, it actually works.
I wanted to get my butt in gear and start working out at home every morning (living in Iraq without a car and the ability to drive can shift your workout focus a bit), but I was really struggling to get off the ground with it. I’m a Zumba and Step kind of girl, straight out of a bad workout video from the 80’s, I don’t do apps and home workouts.
But now I do.
And the only reason was, I made it into a competitive game. I have a good friend back home in Dubai whose always been a gym bunny and someone who actually wants to hang out by going to barre together (the best kind of friends are those that want to see you puce in the face and sweating right?), and so I decided to strike up a deal that would benefit us both.
Thus began our great fitness challenge of 2018 (more on that when its over and I have hopefully won!), where we’ve been sharing workout updates, sharing meal plans, and just generally trying to one up each other, as good friends do.
Three days after the challenge began I was there, 8.45 in the morning jumping up and down in my grip socks to a TIU workout (FYI, amazing, download the app), and I have barely missed a day since. The change ‘gaming’ it up made was unreal for me.
So now I’m trying to translate that over to other areas of my life.
Got a blog post to write? Call up a blogging friend, set a start time, and compete to see who can get a proper old post you can be proud of done, before the other. Got photos to take? Give yourself a 10 minute deadline to get five amazing photos shot.
Got dinner to cook and is the thought of it making you cry? Challenge yourself to make it good looking enough to prompt you to send photos around to five friends and get their reactions.
A game doesn’t have to be crazy elaborate, it just needs a pinch of fun and an end goal that gets you up and going like, now, like, five minutes ago.
And yes, maybe that blog post you wrote under the stress of trying out do your favorite blogging buddy, may not be your best ever, but… a blog post written is better than one not written right?
And who knows, the flush of energy from a good game and a good win may just motivate you to get back to the desk, sans game, inspiration flowing.
Having morning rituals
I like me a good morning ritual. That sounds a lot more deep and spiritual than it is in my case, because what I really mean is, I like to make my cup of coffee whilst listening to the same podcast, at the same time every morning, before sitting down to my dressing table.
But it works for me!
I find that rituals, or if you’re less included to the woo woo, routines, really help to put you into the frame of mind you need to get to that next stage in your day. I know that every morning at 8.45 am sharp I start my 25 minute HIIT workout. That means around 9.15am. I am in the kitchen making my first coffee (first being the key word), cooling down to chatter from some of my favorite podcasters.
The caffeine and the conversation, along with I hear, the endorphins from the exercise, all mesh together to help wake me up, both in body and mind, and mean that when I sit down at my dressing table (how many times can I say that before the image is just comical?!), I’m in the right head space to word vomit on to the blog or at least try and be amusing on Twitter.
And thats what this job is about and why I love it right?
Without those routine/ritual morning cues, I’m not sure I could get a single thing done in the morning, and I’m saying this from actual solid experience.
Prior to setting up my little morning ritual, I really found myself at a loose end once I was dressed and ready (I am also strongly in the camp that advocates for getting your face on, wearing something cute, and doing your hair before starting a work day). I would get out my notebooks and planners and open up like all the docs, and then just sit and stare at the screen listlessly. And then I would watch This Morning. Not a productive day did it make.
Now with my simple morning rituals, I find that I sit down, get straight into it, and by the time noon rolls around I am actually really proud of what I’ve managed to accomplish that morning. And I can still play This Morning in the background without losing a minutes work. What can I say? No amount of burpees will make me give up Phil and Holly.
And that’s all for now!
I am by no means someone who has got it all together or sorted out, and I am a long, long way from being where I want to be when it comes to life organisation. But I’m also a long, long way from where I used to be. So something’s got to be working!
Let me know what you love to do to make your week flow smoother, and if you’re thinking of trying out any of the rambles above! Good luck!