Life is hectic for everyone. Being busy and having too much to do seems to be part of everyone’s life. If this is typical for you, you’re likely to feel anxious and overwhelmed. But this can be avoided when you learn how to organize your life.
When we think of organizing our lives, there are two approaches:
- Creating a foundation for an organized life, or;
- Implementing organizational tips.
Both are important and I encourage you to look at both. They are easy to follow, but be warned – it will take consistency for these tips to actually work in your life. You will not be able to follow a tip one time and expect your life to be completely organized.
Table of Contents
Creating the foundation of an organized life
1. Figure out what is important to YOU
There are tons of articles about how to organize your life. Most of them are great, but many fail to touch on the fact that our lives are all different. We have different goals and life paths, so the feeling of being organized will be different for you and me.
The best thing then is to sit down and identify what is important to you, and what makes you feel disorganized. Is it the fact that you never know what to cook for dinner? Is it that you forget appointments all the time? Do you feel overwhelmed because you have too much to do? Perhaps your house is disorganized and you can never find things when you are looking for them. Or perhaps it’s a combination of everything!
Either way, figure out why you clicked on an article titled “how to organize your life.” Once you have clarity on the reason for your disorganization, you can now take the time to find solutions to fix your individual issues.
2. Do a brain dump regularly
A brain dump is a simple technique you can use to clear your mind. It’s a great place to start because if your mind is cluttered, you will not be able to organize your life efficiently.
If brain dumping is new to you, it’s basically just the process of writing things down that are on your mind. There is no right or wrong to it.
Consider that you have thoughts swirling around your head all the time, and because there are so many, you may feel overwhelmed. By simply writing your worries and to-dos, you’re removing them from the abstract and nailing them down. Simply jotting things down will not fix any problems you have, but it will offer you a sense of relief. When you clearly see what you have to deal with, it somehow feels more manageable.
You can do a brain dump weekly, or even daily, but don’t allow too much time to pass because when you have too much on your mind, you’ll start feeling anxious, stressed, and overwhelmed.
As you start your brain dump, write down everything you need to do, plus everything that’s bothering or worrying you. Once it is all out, you can start compartmentalizing things. What can get done in under ten minutes, what can be delegated, and what will require large blocks of time? Now look at the problems, and take time to figure out how you can solve them. This is a great way to organize your life because you can clearly see what needs to be taken care of, and you can start tackling it bit by bit. I find this technique to be very effective, and I do it at least once per week. I keep a brain dump journal on my desk, and one in my bag.
3. Develop good routines
We all have habits and routines. The question is, do they serve us, and do they improve your life?
Here’s a common example: You get home late afternoon, exhausted, then slump on the couch and start watching tv. Around 7 pm, you’re feeling hungry. You have planned nothing for dinner, so you end up getting takeout, as usual. You binge-watch a show, and after 1 am you figure that you really should go to bed. Because you go to bed so late, you don’t get enough sleep, and the cycle repeats itself the next day when you are once again exhausted when you get home. Bad habits such as these rob us of our health, our time, and happiness.
To create a life that serves you, you will want to organize your life around good habits and routines because they set you up for long-term success.
Have a critical look at your life and the habits you have, and see what is working for you, and what is holding you back. There may be habits and routines that need to be replaced with those that help you reach your goals. For example, if your goal is to lose a few pounds, scrolling through Instagram for an hour each day is not helping you reach that goal. In fact, seeing other people’s carefully filtered photos of the best moments in their lives may give your self-esteem a hit. Perhaps your time would be better spent taking a walk around the neighborhood.
Building good habits and routines is difficult. You will get some pushback from yourself. Expect this, but keep going until your new, healthy habits are formed.
Once you have developed good, strong habits, you don’t have to worry so much about fleeting motivation or be tempted by procrastination or distractions.
4. Embrace your natural tendencies
Unless you are living under a rock, you are going to come across good-intentioned people and their opinions of what is best. This can be in books, magazines, tv, friends, family, or acquaintances who advocate for a vegan lifestyle, a no-sugar diet, waking up at 5 am daily, daily exercise, or whatever.
However, what works for one person may not work for another. As an example, consider that waking up at the crack of dawn may be life-altering for an early riser, but it may not make sense for someone whose natural tendency is to be a night owl. Or while a vegan lifestyle can be very advantageous to some, it can become a serious disadvantage for someone whose body works optimally when consuming animal protein in moderation.
It is therefore best to thoughtfully craft your habits and routines around your natural tendencies, instead of what “they” say is best for you.
Lean into your natural inclinations. For example:
- Everyone is always saying how good reading is for us, but if you don’t like reading, or you simply don’t have the time, try audiobooks, podcasts, or watching documentaries about the things that interest you.
- If you don’t like the gym, join a recreational sports team instead.
- If you’re not very artistic, an arty bullet journal may not be for you. Try alternative forms of journaling or keeping your life organized.
- If you don’t like running, walk.
- If you don’t enjoy ironing, buy clothes that don’t need ironing.
By choosing the path of least resistance, you are more likely to commit long-term.
5. Plan ahead
Things don’t always go according to plan because life is unpredictable. True, but…
It’s a great idea to set aside time regularly to map out your days, weeks, and months.
Here are a few helpful tips to help you start planning:
- Dedicate time each week to planning your week. If you are already very busy, this may feel difficult, but it will be time well spent because once things are planned, you won’t have to worry about things slipping through the cracks.
- Make sure to schedule time for everything, even the small things like house cleaning, laundry, and so forth;
- To avoid anxiety, be sure to overestimate the time it may take to do a task.
- Time block your day because we tend to get more done when we focus on similar activities at a time.
6. Choose consistency over perfection
Have you heard yourself say things like:
- No more alcohol, sugary treats, fast foods,etc;
- I will work out every day;
- No more tv/Netflix;
- I’m cutting out social media, completely;
- I’m going to save 40+% of take-home pay every month;
- I will prepare a healthy meal every night;
- I will read to my child(ren) every night.
These are great goals, but they may not always be realistic. You may like the idea of reading to your child every night before bed, but there are going to be nights when you are utterly exhausted, or you’re sick, or out of town. Things happen that may prevent us from following our own ideas.
The problem is, when we have an “all-or-nothing” attitude about our goals, we:
- Set ourselves up for failure and disappointment;
- Give up completely when we fail to meet our own unrealistic expectations.
We don’t need to get things right all the time, just most of the time. For example, if we eat nutritional foods 80-90% of the time, or we exercise 3-4 days a week, there will be healthy progress. It’s the power of compounding effort.
The first step is to create realistic goals and plans that fit into your lifestyle.
7. Find balance
Hard work is important, but if there is no balance in our lives, we open ourselves up to burnout, stress, fatigue, and more. For example, you stay up all night to finish a presentation, then you end up too tired to present it.
Pushing yourself above your limits can work short term if you have specific goals to meet, but it does not work long term. We are human–we need to recharge. You can do this with planned breaks in your day. After work, make time to unwind with a book, a movie, a leisurely walk, a relaxing dinner with family and friends, etc. But besides making time to rest during the day, also plan for longer breaks like a week-long vacation from work.
By regularly recharging your batteries, you’ll have the energy to show up to meet all your goals and commitments.
It is impossible for us to do everything, and adding more and more things onto your already heavy load causes stress. One way to make the demands of life easier to handle is to say NO to things that don’t serve you.
If you are a people pleaser, this will be hard. Many of us are not wired to be this way, but you’ll need to do some soul searching and decide what are the things that are truly important to you.
Also consider that by saying no to things that don’t help you reach your most important goals, you can give your full attention to the things that matter the most.
Take prioritization a step further and prioritize your days, too. Every day, consider what’s the most important thing that you have to do that day. When that is done, what’s the next most important thing? To me, this question has been life-changing because even after I have prioritized my to-do list, it is quite full. So I imagine – if I unexpectedly get called away, what is the one thing that would cause stress if I was unable to do it?
9. Write things down / Use an organizing planner
You have a lot to think about, so unless you keep track of things, something is going to fall through the cracks. Whether it be a pen and a notebook, or a digital list, find a system that complements your personality and lifestyle.
Track and write down (or digitize) everything that is important to you, like:
- Daily/weekly to-do list;
- Shopping lists;
- Habit tracker;
- Bill payment tracker;
- Holiday gift lists;
- Things I’m grateful for lists;
- Meal planning;
- Birthdays and important dates;
- Holiday gifts;
- Movies/books you want to watch/read;
- Places you want to visit, etc.
By keeping (and maintaining) lists, your brain doesn’t have to do the job of remembering mundane things. Instead, you can use your brain for the heavy work of learning, finding solutions, etc.
10. Use your time wisely
An obvious but often overlooked reason for feeling disorganized is that we feel our lives are not moving in the direction we think they ought to move. The obvious answer is to organize your life in a way that makes you feel like you are progressing in the right direction. To do so, we need to plan our time wisely. At any given moment throughout your day, do you feel that you are using your time wisely?
Regular brain dumps, writing things down, prioritizing, and planning is useful in helping you figure out what to do, but also consider more efficient ways that you can use your time. For example, create routines out of things you do regularly.
If you’re the one who is tasked with cooking dinner every day, you may be scrambling around at 5 pm every day, trying to figure out what to prepare. Instead, relieve yourself of that stress and perhaps come up with a meal plan at the beginning of each week. That way, the thinking is already done and you know exactly what to get from the grocery store. Come dinner time, all you have to do is put on your favorite music, pour a glass of wine, and go about cooking the dinner.
The point is to make things easier for yourself by creating routines out of the things you do daily, weekly, or monthly.
11. Declutter your life
The reason you feel that you need to organize your life is probably because it feels chaotic. You’ve got too much to do, there’s too much stuff around you, and you have too much to think about. Organizing your life is physical, mental, and digital.
Our brains like order. Clutter is a visual distraction that increases cognitive overload, reduces our working memory, and reduces our ability to focus. According to research, clutter and disorganization have a cumulative effect on our brains.
Change the way you look at stuff
- Think before you buy anything. Are you buying something that will bring you joy, or will it clutter your space?
- Give everything a home. If you don’t have a home for something, you’re likely to shove it somewhere so that it’s out of the way, causing even more clutter.
- Keep only what you need. More things mean more clutter. People who are well-organized only keep things they need or really want. When you have fewer things, you can feel good about using everything you own instead of letting half of it gather dust. Get rid of some things instead of renting a storage unit or buying a bigger house.
Here’s a list of 122 things you can get rid of in your home today, without even noticing they’re gone!
12. Optimize your processes
You’re not going to get everything right the first time. That’s okay. You must be open to tweaking things until you get it right.
For example, if you start keeping lists and writing things down, the process may work for you immediately. If you’re like most of us, you may need to adjust things a little. For example, when I started taking notes and making lists, I had too many notebooks and I couldn’t remember where I wrote things. I then discovered bullet journaling, but I’m not very artistic and my bullet journal never looked as good as the ones you see on Pinterest. I tried a digital journal, but that didn’t work for me either because it felt like a hassle to open up the iPad, find the right app, and then start writing. What finally worked for me is the original form of bullet journaling, where you simply write down the things that are important to you. Thanks to an index and page numbers, things are easy to find.
Another example is that I’d plan our meals for the entire week, but didn’t take leftovers into account. We’d end up having to throw food out. Now we plan for 6 days, and one day for leftovers.
13. Develop your own organizational systems
Absolutely consider the advice you get from good-intentioned sources, but be prepared to tweak it to create an organizational system that works for you.
We are all unique, what works for one person may not work for another. Here is an example of what works for me (after years of trial and error). Use it as an idea of how you can develop your own organizational system.
- I use a simple bullet journal to keep me on track with paying bills and getting my to-do’s done;
- I use Alexa to add groceries to our shopping list;
- I use iPhone notes for things I want to remember, like questions I need to ask the pediatrician, movies I want to watch, our family travel bucket list, etc.
- I use the Reminders app on iPhone to remind me of non-scheduled things like when to water the plants, give the dog medicine, etc;
- I use the iPhone calendar for appointments.
- A large weekly schedule (with post-it notes) to keep track of all the children’s activities. That way, everyone has easy access to what happens on any given day. It’s easy to maintain and can last an entire season. If things change at the start of a new season, we simply update the post-it notes.
- Individual chore charts for each child. As their chores get done, they move magnets from the “to-do” column to the “done” column.
You’ll need to start somewhere but as you get going, you’ll start to notice what works for you, and what is annoying to you. Also, don’t be frustrated if something works, then stops working. Our lives change and thus our organizational systems will need to change, too. For example, a wall calendar may have been enough for you when you were single, but it may not be as effective now that you have a family.
14. Keep things simple
Simplicity is essential. If it’s difficult for you to maintain, you will not maintain it, no matter how many people rave about a specific system. Organizing is personal, and any organizational system should, therefore, be altered to fit your personality.
When I was first married, I remember getting containers to organize our bathroom cabinets. Everything looked very pretty, but to get a new toothbrush, I’d have to lift three containers before I could get to the desired container. That system did not work for me, regardless of how aesthetically pleasing it was. So consider your personality and your lifestyle as you try to organize your life.
Easy to implement organizational tips
Creating the foundation for an organized life is essential and certainly the first step, but here are 55 ideas you can easily implement to create an organized life.
- Don’t put things down, put them away;
- Spray your bath/shower with scale remover after you’re done;
- Have a system for paperwork;
- Wash your makeup brushes weekly;
- Use a planner;
- Clean up regularly;
- Write things down;
- Donate things you don’t need;
- Wash dishes after eating;
- Use containers to sort things in drawers;
- Set a time for laundry daily or weekly;
- Shop mindfully;
- Track your to-do’s in one central place;
- Sort your photos into folders;
- Automate repeated processes and tasks;
- Backup your devices;
- Use separate laundry bags for colors and whites;
- Use your wait time wisely;
- Plan your future goals;
- Get rid of clothes that are too small, damaged, or faded;
- Take 10 minutes to straighten your home daily;
- Unsubscribe from emails you don’t need;
- Create and follow a color-coded to-do list;
- Leave your keys and phone the same spot when you come into the house;
- Finish one task before moving to the next;
- Use marked storage boxes in your garage and basement;
- Maintain a coordinated calendar with a partner;
- Carry a small notebook, or keep notes on your phone;
- Create checklists and templates;
- Make your bed as soon as you get up;
- Have less stuff;
- Regularly check your bank balance online;
- Time block your days;
- Adhere to your schedule;
- Declutter your wallet;
- Have a concealed trash can in every room;
- Prioritize your most important work;
- Set aside time for emails;
- Take out the trash as soon as it’s full;
- Stock up on things you use regularly;
- Meal plan for every week;
- Organize your closet;
- Develop your own morning routine;
- Create a place for everything in your home;
- Avoid multitasking;
- Trash spam emails immediately;
- Regularly declutter;
- Establish routines for the things you do often;
- Declutter your virtual space;
- Don’t bring junk mail into your home;
- Close unused accounts;
- Follow the “one in, one out” rule;
- Track your income and spending;
- Develop your own evening routine.