As part of our interview questions on organization we asked people what tip they would share with someone looking for a single way to better their organization skills. Then Productivity501 readers were asked to vote for their favorite answers. The results below are organized based on the results of the voting. (You can still vote on answers to other questions.)
What is the single most important piece of advice you would give to someone looking to better organize his or her life?
Start by reducing clutter and getting clear about your priorities. It’s a lot easier said than done, but it’s true. Disorganization starts with indecision caused by your own conflicting needs, values, thoughts, emotions, and beliefs – then it shows up all over your home or office!
Ariane answer received the most votes for this question. She makes an interesting point here. The process of getting rid of clutter is really about clarifying your values and determining what is important to you.
Declutter. If you don’t love it or use it, get rid of it. Let’s face it – grandmother’s lace tablecloths may be important, but if you have been storing them in paper bags in the garage for the last five years, they are not important enough for you to take care of. Things like that need to go.
Once you have decluttered, you can set about getting organized.
LJ’s answer can in with the second most votes. I think everyone can identify to something like “grandmother’s lace tablecloths” that are being stored somewhere. It is easy to forget that every thing we acquire requires some type of maintenance. It is a good idea to look at stuff in terms of how much of an investment they are going to require over time.
One thing that helped me reduce clutter is to keep one box of mementos from the past. If the box is full I have to get rid of something before I can add something new.
Act now. Don’t put off anything. Don’t say, “Oh, I’ll get to that tomorrow.” Because something else will happen tomorrow that will cause you to put it off again.
Oh, and set goals. They are important.
Making at least a little progress every day is valuable. Michael’s suggestion to set goals is particularly useful if you set things in small enough chunks that you can get something done each day–even if it seems small the cumulative benefit and momentum is very valuable.
Eliminate, eliminate, eliminate.
Reduce your possessions, commitments, and obligations to the true essentials. It’s much easier to organize when you have already eliminated the bulk of your extra stuff– both physical and mental.
It is a great feeling to use that thing you’ve been saving for five years, but you have to be honest with yourself and get rid of anything that there isn’t a very high probability that you will use.
Choose one gadget (digital or analog) for keeping track of your responsibilties, and make sure that everything ends up there. I use a Moleskine pocket datebook, one page a day, with extra pages and a manila envelope in the back for sundry items.
I recommend the Franklin Covey training–at least the way it was done in the mid 90s. Their system of keeping track of everything was very valuable to me.
One sentence: Everything in its place.
This is what I like about the toolkit my brother gave me a few years ago. Each item has a specific place. It is much easier to keep it organized than my old toolbox where everything is just thrown in randomly. It is also easier to put tools up because they go in a specific spot.
My most important peice of advice for someone wanting to organize is to take a few minutes in the morning to visualize your day. Visualize the positive feelings when you do things, especially at important crossroad events throught the day. Such as wanting to check your calendar in the morning as if you might discover a treasure, making that grocery list with a smile because its perfect, remembering to get the groceries before you pass the exit and feeling awesome because you did, and enjoying organizing your desk like its a high performance machine.
Taking pleasure in your organization tasks is good advice. I think it is easier once you get to a certain level of organization to be happy about maintaining it.
Set long and short term written goals. Once that is done start using a daily planning sheet. Keep it where you work (desk etc) and write things down. You can download a free printable version on my blog.
I have recently started taking a single piece of blank paper and using it to write my important tasks for the day. John has some interesting forms on his site that will help you with planning if need a place to start.
Rest is the basis for activity. If you are rested mentally and physically, you will think more clearly and, as a result, behave in a more organized and intelligent manner.
Going to bed before 10 PM has a miraculously good effect on the next day’s productivity. More things will get done with less effort thereby leaving more time to enjoy and, of course, more time to rest.
When you try it, you will be amazed at how much your luck seems to improve. Being well rested mentally and physically is a major key to being successful.
And if you want to take your rest to an even deeper level, I would heartily recommend the practice of Transcendental Meditation (www.tm.org). I’ve been doing it for 40 years and have loved every minute of it.
Fred Gratzon from The Lazy Way to Success
Most people are sleep deprived. The Promise of Sleep really changed how a view the need to get rest. The biggest change in my sleep patterns has come from having a 1 year old who gets up at 5:30 each morning. This has forced me to go to bed earlier and I’ve been happy with the results.
De-clutter. I’ve been a huge pack rat my entire life, and it’s only in the last 2 or 3 years that I’ve been able to tell myself, “No, you really never will use that ever again.” Throw out anything you don’t need and scan important paper documents to PDF. In both my personal and professional lives, I’ve found that eliminating excess material makes it so much easier to focus on tasks at hand, and I’ve been much more productive and efficient for it.
Even if you occasionally throw out something you need and have to repurchase it in the future, you will usually be better off simply by having less stuff.
By simplifying your life – work on putting order into your working and home environment. Each area in your home should serve a specific function, cutting down on unnecessary clutter means you have less to organise. By assigning items a specific place you make sure that you know where things are when you need them, cutting down on wasted time and making life easier, leaving you time to focus on achieving your goals.
Grace Smith from Postscript5 | Freelance Web Design
It takes a great deal of effort to keep things simple and most people aren’t willing to invest the time and money into simplifying.
It is important to breakdown the task of organizing down to small pieces. Start with one aspect, work on it a little bit a time. Otherwise it will seem like an unsurmountable task and you may not pursue it.
I think it can also be valuable to divide your tasks into initial organizing and maintenance organizing. I may only need to reorganize my office once a year if I do some basic tasks each day to keep things in an organized state.
Write it down!
I would say write it down and be willing to purge items. Just because you wrote something down doesn’t mean it is really worth doing. But getting stuff out of your head and onto paper is very valuable.
I am a disciple of David Allen’s Getting Things Done. It really does works! If you are waking up during the night, stress all day long, juggling all your tasks in your head, then GTD is for you. It will help you get your life back and increase your productivity.
My personal feeling is that GTD can encourage you to do less important tasks because you don’t automatically forget the less important items. I would rather have 3 important things to do each day than 100 trivial items. Overall, I like the methodology as long as it is approached in a way that gives you the flexibility to change things to meet your needs.
Find your life purpose. Your life purpose is the central point of organizing your life. It’s useless to do things the right way if you do the wrong things.
This gets back to the idea that you can’t really organize until you’ve defined your values.
If you’re not that organized, ask for help. I’m not an organized person, but I’m constantly asking others how they do it. Not all of their advice will work for you, but it’s certainly better than going it alone.
At the same time, it is important to make sure you look for things that work for you that no one else would ever suggest. Look for advice, but don’t let the way other people do things keep you from discovering what works best for you.
Get an axe, and start chopping up your life. If you aren’t organized, you won’t be organized until you let go of all the crap and clutter and extra responsibilites that aren’t getting you anywhere.
Don’t bother trying to organize your life until you have removed every last bit of clutter from your life. If it moves, remove it.
If, in a month’s time, you’re disorganized again, it could be one of two things:
- You skipped that step, or you didn’t declutter enough; you might be holding onto things too tightly that could be easily axed.
- You need to work on your self-disclipine abilities. No point trying to organize if you have no self-discipline first.
Getting rid of things (physical items as well as activities) can be extremely painful, but very vital if you want to move to a state where you can keep things organized.
Eliminate all activities that don’t help you achieve your life goals one way or another.
Once again this comes down to clarifying your values before you can really know what to keep and what to jettison.
Read Unclutterer.com, of course!
This answer is kind of cheating, but I agree. :) Erin’s site has a bunch of great tips on getting organized.