Most of us are disorganized. Some of us are disorganized chronically, others occasionally, some in our houses, and others in our jobs. Disorganization comes in a variety of forms and scales, but there’s one quality that persists no matter where or how it manifests: it always interferes with your life by adding stress and sabotaging your productivity.
As most of us realize this, it’s common to make a commitment to better organize your life—but it’s rare to see a follow through. This is because getting organized, while not altogether difficult, is intimidating and requires strong commitment to complete. Regardless of what it is you’re trying to organize, these seven rules are essential to get the job done:
- Set goals. Your first job is to set goals. Set them for everything, and hold yourself accountable to them. If a goal is too big to focus on, break it down into smaller procedural goals. If a goal is too intimidating, make it more reasonable. Setting goals helps you zero in on what’s most important to you, and gives context to the rest of your life. For example, you could set a goal of making $10,000 in sales next month. From that point on, every task, obstacle, or decision you encounter can be put in context with that frame of reference—will this decision help you reach that goal? Will this task help move you toward that goal or take you away from it?
- Learn to prioritize everything. Nobody can do everything. There are some tasks, at home or in the office, that are too hard, too distracting, or too irrelevant to handle. The problem is, most of us get easily distracted by these tasks. We work on small items unrelated to our main projects, choose to watch a favorite TV show instead of exercising, or take an unimportant phone call instead of sitting down to write. Prioritization helps you clarify the importance of things and set aside what doesn’t really matter. To start off, separate things into “A,” “B,” and “C” categories—A priorities need to be done today, B priorities should be done today or tomorrow, and C priorities only need done when you get around to them.
- Focus on one thing at a time. It’s easy to become disorganized when you try to do everything at once. Whether you’re juggling multiple projects and meetings or buzzing around the house half-finishing chores and errands, most of us suffer from this chronic susceptibility to multitasking. The problem is, multitasking doesn’t work—ever. If you want to be more organized and get more done, you have to focus on one thing at a time (and if you have your tasks prioritized, it should be easier to do). In some cases, it may be advised to outsource mundane tasks.
- Write things down. There are a number of benefits to writing things down; it helps improve your memory of whatever you’re writing, it serves as a tangible reminder of what you wrote, and it gives you a sense of accountability to whatever you wrote down. When you write things down, they become more real, so use this to your advantage. Write down your goals instead of merely committing them to memory. Write down your plans and priorities. Write down your schedule. Write down lists of items, chores to do, and money you earn and spend.
- Stop procrastinating. Most of us become disorganized simply because we keep delaying the process of organization. We tell ourselves “my desk can stay cluttered for one more day,” or imagine the difficulty of getting organized to be greater than it actually is. Procrastination isn’t easy to overcome, but it isn’t impossible, either—commit yourself to complete things (more than half-completing or delaying them), and you’ll be well on your way to a more organized life.
- Be consistent. Habits depend on consistency. The more consistent you are with a given approach, or task, or behavior, the more likely it will develop into a natural habit, and you won’t have to consciously remember to do it. For example, if you always take note of the money you spend, eventually, keeping track of your budget will come second nature to you. If you always create a task list for the next day at the end of every evening, you’ll naturally find yourself doing it, making your mornings more organized.
- Declutter on a regular basis. Last but not least, commit yourself to “decluttering” on a regular basis. No matter how organized and consistent you stay along this path, eventually, your life will become cluttered—your desk will get messy, your routines will shift, and your task list will grow over-encumbered. To fight back, take the time to declutter along the way—clear off unnecessary items at the end of each week, reevaluate your routines and nip bad habits in the bud, and delegate your tasks before they start weighing on you.
By following these essential organization rules, it becomes possible to organize anything in your life. Your goals will become clearer, your schedule will become more manageable, and all the stresses of the chaos in your life will start to ebb away. Of course, greater organization isn’t the solution to any problem, but it can improve your success in a variety of different contexts, from getting more done at work to feeling more relaxed at home. Make these rules your own, and start living a more organized life.