If an organized life feels like an alien concept to you, find comfort in the fact that you’re not alone. Even the most ‘put together’ people have something in their lives that they wish was more streamlined. Organization starts with the conscious decision to cultivate a new habit – no matter how naturally organized you are.
If you’re ready to start living with more control, clarity, or cleanliness, read on for our list of organized habits you can start today.
Commit and keep track
Building a new habit is hard. It can take anywhere from 21 to 66 days for a new habit to stick, or an old habit to die hard. You might wonder whether going to the effort will be worth it. If you want to be organized, developing organized habits is the way
A habit is a regular tendency, action, or practice that happens without thinking. An organized habit is something that you do automatically, that will make your life easier. Less mess, less stress, and eventually minimal effort. So yes, it will be worth it.
Regardless of what you want to organize in your life, the very first habit you should pick up is keeping track of your new commitment. Find a calendar and note down the date you started, and milestones that you want to reach with your new habit. A good milestone to start with is a week of doing your new habit every day, or if the practice is less frequent (such as clearing your inbox weekly), it could be ‘X’ amount of times you put your new habits into practice. Whatever your milestones, keep track so that you can hold yourself accountable.
Control your calendar
Parties, plans, appointments, bills – a modern life is a busy one. Trying to keep track in your head will inevitably lead to a missed appointment, so it’s in your best interest to let a calendar keep track for you.
If you want to be organized, developing organized habits is the way
Keeping only one calendar is your best option, as it means that everything is in one place. But if you like to keep your professional and personal life separate, a calendar for the office and a calendar at home is fine.
If your appointments are closely tied to a partner or your family, take the time to sync your schedules. A digital calendar is easiest because of the automation and notification features. If you each have your own calendars, get into the habit of ‘inviting’ each other to appointments, even if it’s only an event for you. This way, you can be aware of each other’s availabilities, which will make scheduling a breeze.
If you’re more of a pen-and-paper person, an analog calendar can work. You just have to update it regularly. If you’re using a paper, blackboard, or whiteboard calendar for a family, put it in a place where everyone will see it regularly. Make it easy to use – so keep a pen and eraser close by.
Pro tip: to keep your calendar under control – learn when you need to say no. Remember, your calendar is there to help you stay organized, it’s not there to be filled.
Write a to-do list every day
The humble to-do list is an oldie but a goodie. Actually, it’s the bestie. It stops you from being scattered with your tasks, allows you to prioritize, keeps you on track, and doubles as a list of your achievements when you get it all done.
To keep your calendar under control – learn when you need to say no.
Writing a to-do list at the start of each day is a great way for you to understand exactly what needs to be done and prioritize accordingly. Use the same notepad or notebook to write your to-do lists. This way, you can look back at anything that wasn’t completed from the day before and add them to your tasks.
It’s a tried, tested, and easy way to start each day with a clear plan.
Do one thing at a time
Multitasking is great if you absolutely must juggle tasks, but generally its more inefficient and means you do things sub-par. If you can, do one thing at a time, from start to finish, especially at home.
If you’re making a meal, prep, cook, and clean before you move on to the next task. If you’re de-cluttering, don’t move onto the next area until the one you’re working on is completely organized and the junk has been disposed of.
Of course, some tasks require wait time or downtime. Resist the urge to start another big project. If you need to keep busy, do something quick and small (like check on your calendar or to-do list), or you know, relax for a minute.
If you can, do one thing at a time, from start to finish, especially at home.
Doing tasks one-by-one completely will mean that they’re done thoroughly. By the end of the day, you’ll be sure that all the loose ends are tied up, and it will be easier for you to rest easy in the knowledge that nothing was half-done.
Put things in their place
If you want to be the master of an organized home, put things in their place! Get out of the habit of throwing things on the table or bed for you to put away later – do it straight away. It usually doesn’t take much more effort to do this and will leave you with a tidy, uncluttered space. It also means there will be less to tidy up or put away at the end of the day.
To make this habit easier to pick up, consider how you organize your things. Make items that are used often easier to access (therefore put away), and put things that are seldom used in harder to reach places. Make sure everything has a logical home by grouping like items: electronics in one place, linens in one place, and stationery in another. Think about it once so that finding items and putting them away is logical and automatic.
Clear away clutter
You know those seldom-used items that you put in harder to reach places? How often do you use them? If the answer is never, or once or twice a year – you probably don’t need it in your home. Minimalists are onto something when it comes to striving for less stuff. Not because it makes you a better person (maybe it does), but it will definitely make organizing easier.
More stuff means more to do. More to tidy. More to organize. So if something isn’t serving you, just let it go. The change of seasons is a good time to do your own personal stocktake. It doesn’t need to be a huge task. Just take a peek into the dark depths of your cupboards and drawers and check to see if you’ve accumulated anything that should be culled.
Another good rule to live by is the ‘one in, one out’ principle. Basically, if you’re bringing something new into your home, for example, a new item of clothing, take one piece out. Better yet, don’t get anything new until something old or broken needs to be replaced.
What starts as useful storage can quickly turn into dead space if it isn’t organized properly. Every home has that ‘catch-all’ drawer or cupboard. The one that accumulates random items that don’t have a proper home. This is the perfect example. If you need to do too much digging to find something, then your storage isn’t doing you any favors.
Even if your storage is behind closed doors or drawers, take the time to make sure everything is still visible and neat inside. Use clear Tupperware in the kitchen, boxes, and baskets in cabinets, and label them! This will help you keep track of what you have, and prevent you from losing things or re-buying things you already own.
Storage may help keep your home tidy on the surface, but if you’re stressed by mess every time you open something, then your storage isn’t being used properly. Set time aside each weekend to tackle one drawer or cabinet until you’re sure of where everything is, or at the very least can read labels on a box to help you find something.
Sort mail by the bin
And do it straight away! You already have a mailbox, you don’t need a permanent file pile too. When you check your mail, get into the habit of bringing it inside and sorting it by the bin immediately. Junk goes in the bin, bills go in your to-do pile, and long-read items should go on your desk. Don’t create piles of paper for sorting. It won’t take long for you to do a quick triage of your mail each time you check the mailbox.
Edit your emails
Emails are probably one of the toughest things to organize. Everyone uses their inboxes differently, and can sometimes have multiple email inboxes to manage. Inbox organization will definitely be a trial and error for each person, but in general, the following tips can help you get a handle on your email.
Firstly, you should try to limit the number of times you check your email. It’s distracting, can set you off your course, and make you feel like you need to do more than you’re already doing. Check it once in the morning, once at midday, and once at the end of the day. It will be difficult, but just think, how much can actually go wrong in the time in between. It also helps to let people know that this is how you work. If they really need something done urgently, they can call you.
Use your emails to inform your to-do list. You can add and prioritize email action items at your morning check; re-assess or add tasks in the middle of the day depending on how you are tracking, and add things to your calendar or the next day’s list at the end of the day.
Firstly, you should try to limit the number of times you check your email.
‘Inbox zero’ is also a good goal – but how attainable that is will depend on how much traffic your inbox gets. Get into the practice of reading an email, and doing something with it straight away – whether that’s putting it on your to-do list, deleting it, or filing it away for reference later. Use your inbox as a to-do list and only keep emails that are actively being worked on. Setting up email folders by project or subject (e.g. ‘purchases’, ‘travel’, or ‘family’) will help you clear out your inbox without feeling like you won’t know where the information lives.
Making use of nifty features such as automated filing, archives, and promotional inboxes can also help you master your emails. Ultimately, this will take time and experimentation until you figure out the best practice for you.
Start by setting time aside once a week to go through your email inbox. Once you get to a point where the weekly inbox clean-up is fast or there isn’t much to do, you’ll know that your system is working.
Oh - and don’t forget the cathartic and cleansing power of unsubscribing.
Keep it consistent
Don’t try to overhaul everything at once. Pick the pain points in your life that cause you the most strife – whether it’s clutter in the kitchen, family appointments, or unrelenting emails – choose only a few to get started with. This will make it easier for you to keep track of your consistency and see your new habit through until it becomes second nature.