6 Simple Steps To Get Organised
The Ultimate Guide For The Ultimate Procrastinator.
We’ve all been there. You start what feels like a productive day, only to realise at 4pm that you haven't got quite as much done as you needed to. Or perhaps you haven't done anything at all!
Being organised and having good time management techniques is probably hands down the most widely applied skill you can have. So many of the world’s most successful people have good organisational skills - at least until they’re successful enough to pay someone else to take care of that. And while it might seem boring to most, time management skills are the foundations on which other achievements are built.
Get on top of this and other things will fall into place.
Feeling overwhelmed yet?
Don’t worry, let’s start at the beginning.
Step 1: Stop And Think
Take some time to sit with your thoughts and memories. This is an important first step because it helps you understand yourself and your needs and what you want. Go over any productivity strategies you used in the past and assess them, isolating what worked for you, what didn't, and what needed tweaking.
It’s important to be honest with yourself. If you regularly struggle with focusing on tasks, targeting that kind of strategy is not going to work. Everyone is different and it’s critical you find something that works for you. So, take a step back and really look at yourself, your strengths and, most importantly, your weaknesses.
If you’re finding this difficult, focus on mentally answering these questions.
Are there moments when you were able to focus on something for an extended period and achieve the outcome you wanted?
How often do you finish things you start?
How “prepared” are you to tackle each day?
Do you find it difficult to switch back and forth between tasks? Or is your mind constantly wandering away from your current task?
Finally, take a few moments to think on these two basic questions.
What is going well?
What could be better?
Those familiar with corporate lingo might recognise aspects of a retrospective and there is a reason for that. While retrospectives are typically done after work is complete, it is useful in this context. If you are reading this, you’ve tried to improve your productivity on your own. Let’s capture what you’ve already learnt about yourself and your habits before we introduce anything new.
Step 2: Write Lists
You would’ve heard this one before. Lists are useful for tracking tasks and remembering things. But they’re also useful for organising your thoughts.
Right now, write down every single thing that's been begging for your attention all day.
Now - and this is the hard part - let go of all that mental energy you’re carrying. You wrote the list. The list will remember for you. You can let go. You can forget.
This might take some practise, but after a while, you’ll get better at emptying your mind of all the things you list down. Eventually those pathways in your brain will become dull from disuse, instead you’ll be checking that list instead of remembering, and it will save you a lot of mental effort. Our modern world is so full and our ancient monkey brains aren’t built to keep track of that many things. Don’t burden your brain with unnecessary work, you’ll have more room and energy free for the things you actually want to focus on.
Once you’ve made your first list of critical tasks, you can go ahead and start listing things you might like to try. Places you want to visit. Things you want to see.
Then come back to the most difficult list of all. A list of your goals.
Step 3: Creating And Defining Goals
For me, Step 3 is the most difficult part. When somebody asks me, “what do you want?”, my answer is, “I don’t know”. But that’s not right. It’s not that I don’t know. I know. I just can’t put it into words.
“What do you want?” is a big question, with a lot of conditions, variables and ifs, buts, and thens.
If you already know these big answers, write your list and move on to the next step, you perfectly capable adult, you. But for the rest of us, read on for some tips on goal setting.
Let’s break it down.
Goal setting is a process that constructs measurable, systemic achievements into a timeframe that is both realistic and attainable. Essentially, well defined goals should serve as a guide and framework to achieve them.
Think about what you want to achieve and then think about what steps need to be taken to make that happen. Say you want to be a world class athlete. Step 1 isn’t going to be: get picked for the Olympic team. There might be a hundred steps between now and then, but thinking about all of that will make you overwhelmed. So stick to the basics. There are lots of articles out there on goal setting so a quick google search will give you more information but so much of that is white noise.
My advice would be to break it down into 5s. This is how I structure my goals.
I might have an ultimate goal: Become a world class athlete.
Then I work backwards.
Become a world class athlete
Get picked for the Olympic team
Get picked for the national championships
Join my local club
Number 5 is the most important. Number 5 must be something you can do TODAY to help achieve this goal. For this list, number 5 is:
5. Go for a run this afternoon
Suddenly it doesn’t seem so unachievable. Because it’s not. You can do this one thing. And then tomorrow, you can do one more thing. Your goals might be lofty, but the pressure you put on yourself doesn't have to be.
Once you have the very basics worked out, you can start adding specifics, timeframes, even parallel goals that will further your progress. Others will tell you a goal isn't a good goal unless it fits certain criteria. But that stuff is arbitrary. All that matters is that you can see where you want to go and what you can do TODAY to further that progress.
Step 4: Prioritise
Once you have your goals all worked out, you can start thinking about what’s more important to you. Best thing you can do is number them from most important to least. But if you’re having trouble figuring out that order, don’t worry, there are some techniques you can use to make that easier.
Come back to it tomorrow.
If everything you’ve done so far has drained you, you don’t have to keep working on this. There’s no shame in taking a little break and coming back later, or even sleeping on it and looking over your goals with fresh eyes.
Ask a trusted friend, peer or mentor to look over your goals and share their wisdom. Go into this with an open mind. Even if they shit all over your goals (which is not likely), their opinion is never going to trump yours. At the end of the day, YOU make the final decision on what you do with your life.
Do an impact assessment
Before you throw this suggestion out the window, hear me out. An impact assessment, while it has a scary name, is one of the easiest, fastest and most accurate ways to prioritise. It’s not as hard as you think, trust me.
Firstly, you’ll need a piece of paper and a pen. Draw a grid of 4 squares on the paper - this is our graph. Then draw a line on the left side with an arrow going up and label it as “Impact”. Draw another arrow along the bottom and label it “Effort”. Now, label your squares from “High Effort / High Impact” to “Low Effort / Low Impact” as per the graphic.
Now, add your goals (write them in, or use post-it notes) based on where you think they sit. You can take some licence with this - it doesn't have to be exact. This exercise will give you an idea of what might be the best choice to work on first. Ideally, you’ll want to prioritise the items in “Low Effort / “High Impact”, because these will give you the most bang for your buck. The items in “High Effort / Low Impact” should sit more towards the bottom of your list unless there is some exceptional reason as to why they should be prioritised. But it’s your choice. YOU choose what is important to YOU.
Once you have a reasonably prioritised list, you will need to sort for conflicting goals. Best practise for goal setting tells us you should focus on one thing at a time. But technically, there is no reason you can’t work on everything at once. That is, unless one of your goals inhibits progress on another. For example: You want to become a world class athlete, but another of your goals is to repair your fragile relationship with your mother - who is desperate for you to follow in her footsteps and become a lawyer. These goals create friction with each other. You will spend time flip-flopping between them and impact your progress on both. You need to either, drop a goal (my mother’s preferences are not as important as my dream), or you need to uncouple those goals so they do not cause friction (I will use cooking and charm to reconnect with my mother so she doesn’t focus on my career).
Once that’s done, you’ll have a list of clear, specific, prioritised goals. So what now?
Step 5: Plan Your Days
The hard part is over. Congratulations on getting this far, but it’s not over yet.
The next part is about planning your days so all those little “step 5 goals” - the ones that are all about what you can do TODAY - start getting crossed off the list. In our example above, we listed one of our goals as: go for a run this afternoon. Now we can start adding in these tasks to our week.
Plan a couple of weeks in advance and see how that tracks. It’s important that these small tasks are sustainable week over week, month over month. If you make a plan and find you’re unable to stick to it, come back to this step and reduce the load, remove lower prioritised items, or add extra time to complete your tasks. Which brings me to the last step.
Step 6: Don’t Over Do It
Nothing is more important than taking care of yourself first. It’s well documented that if your basic needs aren't being met, anything you try to stack on top of that will be impacted. Ensure you’re eating well, getting at least light exercise and having good quality sleep first before you try to add your goals on top.
Your schedule should have breaks to relax, do housework and spend time with family. A good support network will assist with your resilience when things do get difficult. If you have trouble juggling all that as well, I will be writing more advice pieces with tips in the future. Please follow me on social media or subscribe to my blog.
Now you have the knowledge to start making some fantastic goals. Get out there and smash them.
Leave a comment below if this helped you. Tell me what you achieved TODAY!