Last week I emailed my newsletter list to learn more about the kinds of things people want to learn about in 2021. And one of the most popular topics that kept coming up is organisation.
With so many tools available to us know, if you’re not careful, keeping track of what you’re doing and all your ‘stuff’ can be challenging.
In the future I’m sure I’ll be doing a deep dive into this topic and specific tools. For now, I wanted to start by outlining some principles that you can apply to different areas of your life. So if you need to be more organised at work, home, digitally or using an analog system, these principles will work.
Don't want to read this post? Listen to the podcast instead:
1. Everything needs a place
Before you can begin to organise your life, you need to get clear on where things should live. Whether it’s digital files, notes and contacts on your computer. Or physical receipts, household items, even your kids toys, everything needs a place.
In my digital system I have very clear places for different things:
- Files and documents live in iCloud Drive (e.g. receipts, spreadsheets, proposals, client files etc.).
- Notes and project tasks live in my project manager, Asana.
- Appointments go on my calendar.
- My contacts live in Pipedrive and sync to my phone.
The key to making this work is to use the right app for the job and not overlap your tools. I often hear from people who have notes split between Evernote, Asana and physical notebooks. The more potential places things can live, the harder these things are to retrieve later. There’s a lot to be said about cutting down your tools and minimising inputs. I don’t use any physical notebooks or stickies (but that’s just me). Simplicity is key.
This applies to your physical stuff as well. Downstairs we have a few baskets of toys that our son Jay can play with. When it’s time for bed everything goes back into the boxes and away for the evening. We’ve made this part of the process and Jay enjoys going around the room and putting the right toys into the right boxes.
2. Learn to let go
The less you have to organise, the better.
We tend to accumulate more stuff with time. Whether it’s physical items like homeware, clothes and paperwork. To digital clutter like old files and photos. When you let go of the non-essentials and de-clutter you life a huge weight off your shoulders.
Last week we watched the new ‘Less is Now’ documentary on Netflix and it inspired us to de-clutter the house. We’re pretty minimal already but over time, it’s easy to accumulate more stuff (especially when you have kids, people often just give you stuff). We went through each room of the house and cleared out the draws and cupboards of anything we didn’t need. We put this all out on our driveway along with a post on our community Facebook page telling people to help themselves to anything they like (most of it was gone within a few short hours).
It’s weird but you literally feel calmer and less stressed when you get rid of the physical junk in your life.
Again, with our sons toys, without really thinking we applied the 80/20 principle after noticing that he played with the same few toys most of the time. So rather than having loads of draws full of toys or an entire room for him to play in, the few baskets in our living area are all he needs to have fun. He has other toys in his room which we rotate downstairs over time and this helps to keep the living area tidier.
The same is true of digital clutter as well. In fact, digital clutter is even easier to accumulate. Going through your folders and apps to delete old stuff is very rewarding. If you don’t want to delete files ‘just in case’, consider archiving them onto an external drive or keep a backup before removing from your main machine.
3. Streamline and automate
Once you’ve reduced clutter and now that everything has its place, it’s time to streamline and automate. This is where the fun begins!
The goal is to ideally automate the process of organisation so you don’t even need to think.
For example, I have recurring calendar events set up for things like going to the gym, weekly appointments, repetitive tasks and doing email. This reduces the time it takes to plan my days/week. I don’t even need to think. I just look at my week and see where times have already been allocated to these recurring events.
I created a system using Zapier and Dropbox to automatically download, rename and file receipts for my business.
I get automated tasks in Asana and Pipedrive when things happen in my business (e.g. client bookings, customer renewal reminders, failed credit card payments).
I like thinking about how I can apply automation to my home life as well. For example, the website where we buy our cat food auto-ships a new bag of food every 3 weeks so we’re never left short.
When it comes to personal finance, I’ve set up automatic payments to invest into Bitcoin each week. I’ve set up all our utility bills to be paid automatically via a credit card so I never have to worry about making payments for our power, water or internet. And better yet, I’ve set up an automatic payment between my bank accounts so that the credit card bill gets paid in full each month from our checking account.
The less I have to think and remember to do stuff, the better.
4. Maintain as you go (not once a week)
De-cluttering and organisation should be a regular practice. Just like sweeping the floor; sweeping the floor once isn’t enough. After a few days it’s dirty and needs sweeping again. It’s the same with being organised.
Having a big clear out and organising your computer is great. But after doing a big clean you need to maintain the system.
At the end of your work day you should:
- Delete any files from your desktop or downloads that you don’t need to keep. Or file them away into a folder system.
- Scan any paperwork so you can store it digitally and throw away the paper. I really like SwitftScan on iOS.
- Review your task list and calendar. Check off anything you’ve completed and add new reminders as needed.
- Review your email inbox. Archive messages that have been responded to or dealt with rather than leaving them in your inbox.
A lot of people I talk to only clean up and go through these sorts of organisation steps once a week (or even less often than that). The issue here is that clutter builds up very quickly and it makes the task of cleaning up later a lot bigger than it needs to be. I like to organise things ‘in real-time’. So rather than downloading a file and working out what to do with it later, I’ll file it away and store it where I need it immediately.
5. Don’t overcommit
Before taking on more commitments and more stuff, make sure you are happy and optimising everything you already have in your life. When we rush from one thing to the next, it leaves us feeling disorganised and like we’re always catching up.
Like I said above, the less you have to organise, the better.
Just like accumulating lots of stuff makes it harder to organise everything, over-committing is the mental equivalent. The more commitments you have, the less time you have to yourself or for friends and family.
I often hear from people who are working crazy hours juggling multiple projects or businesses alongside their studies or full-time job. Then they tell me that they’re struggling to keep up and ask me how to be more organised. My answer… do less.
Doing it all at once sounds nice (and if you need to run a business alongside your full-time job in order to pay the bills, I get it and that’s a different story). But over-committing only increases the stress and clutter in our lives. It’s far more rewarding to focus your energy and attention on one or two things and do those things really well before taking on any more. And you don’t have to do one thing for the rest of your life. You could spend the next 5-10 years working on a business and then pivot and move onto something else when you’re ready for a new challenge.
Those were my core principles for staying organised. I’m sure I’ve missed some good ideas so if you have any feedback, please let me know in the comments below.