How does she do it?
August 1, 2014 6:39 PM   Subscribe

What are the most effective ways to stay organized and get things done?

I have struggled a lot with time management and juggling all my commitments especially because I feel like I need so much time to zone out and relax after doing each thing.. What are your tips for staying organized and become productive when you have a million different things to do and not a lot of time or energy to sit down and think things through? (This applies more to life stuff then having a tidy house). Organized mefites, do you have a system that works?
posted by dinosaurprincess to Grab Bag (13 answers total) 57 users marked this as a favorite
The first step is in realizing that finding the time to sit down and think things through is vital and necessary to change. That's the work that allows the organization. You can learn all the tips and tricks you want, and they might help some, temporarily, but you will never pile up enough life hacks to gain the same amount of time and lose the same amount of stress as you will by learning to effectively plan on the front end.

You should read Getting Things Done. It's not for everyone, but it works well for me.
posted by brentajones at 7:02 PM on August 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

For work, I use an iPad mini, and drag it around everywhere. I often wish there was a feminine tool belt just for my iPad, because I'm always leaving it places. I use the note function to keep a running list of everything I need lists for, the email function to keep up on my email whenever I'm on the fly, the web to browse for anything I've got to research, and, importantly, the Remember the Milk productivity app to keep and prioritize my to-dos. I found that since I began using an ipad mini to keep track of my daily work activities, I at least have almost everything I need at my fingertips...most of the time.
posted by zagyzebra at 7:13 PM on August 1, 2014

I am not an organized mefite, although I am on my way to that goal. Here are some things that are helping me get there.

Goals: have a goal and a mental image of your idea of organized. You need to be able to articulate and describe your desired organized state. Make goals in relation to the items involved in becoming organized.

Will Power: is not a limitless resource and it is easy to run out of. If you use up your will power in the morning dealing with a client you dislike, then you'll have none left in the afternoon when you need to focus on your sales report. But, if you recognize this and takes steps to recharge your will power (a little bit of something sweet, a lolly or square of chocolate has been shown to be effective) then you can build up your will power muscle more consistently (and with less self-flagellation).

Prioritize and write things down: clear your head of all the 'must do's and don't forgets' Put them down on paper then cross them out when done. It is very good mental trick for feeling like you are getting organized.

A place for everything and everything in its place: works at home, in the office, in the car, in the purse. This one is central to my own sense of organization.

Two-minute rule: if it takes less than two minutes, do it now. Answer that email, put on a load of washing, wipe down the shelves in the door of the fridge. Never put off anything that can take two minutes or less to dispose of. Otherwise you will spend, overall, much more than two minutes working your brain so as not to forget to do it.

Also recommend Getting things done. Not necessarily the strategies 100%, but the concepts and methods are proven to work for many people in many situations.
posted by Kerasia at 7:18 PM on August 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

I use a combination of time-tracker software to get an idea of what exactly I'm spending my time on, though this is driven more by clocking freelance hours and extending its use to the rest of my life (so I can figure out why I'm not clocking as many freelance hours as I'd like). I also use two Google Calendars from my phone: One with my desired daily schedule, which fluctuates from day to day (but not so much week to week) and includes all the stuff I'd like to be doing instead of dicking around on the internet or whatever (bike ride time, job hunt time, etc.), and another with my actual appointments. I set multiple reminders per appointment, like one four hours in advance, one two hours, one when I need to leave, etc.
posted by rhizome at 7:20 PM on August 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I try to have a place for everything, and put everything in its place. Sounds cliche, but I hate searching for things or digging in my purse. It takes some training to make yourself put things in their place, but life is less stressful in the long run. Don't do your whole life all at once (impossible probably) but focus first on the things that keep getting in your way.
posted by tamitang at 7:32 PM on August 1, 2014

I am very organized but not always with my time. I set a ton of reminders on my phone to remind me of things when I know I'll be able to deal with them and not when I'm in the middle of a bunch of other things. I do pomodoro technique on tasks I don't like. 15 minutes at a time seems to be an okay limit for keeping yourself focused.
posted by jessamyn at 7:59 PM on August 1, 2014

Flylady's principles work for more than just housekeeping.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:10 PM on August 1, 2014

For me the important part of organizing/cleaning/doing is actually jumping in and DOING it. I could spend all day hemming and hawing about what hypothetical system would work best for something because I am an over thinker. When I want to get into serious GET SHIT DONE mode, I get a sheet of paper and just write 3-5 bite sized, doable things down. E.g. If goal is spotlessly clean house and house is messy, the first three items are like, "__ wash 5 dishes, __ put away 3 random items from coffee table, __ empty small trash can in bedroom." The more hairy and overwhelming the task, the more important it is to have a teeny tiny list that will get you started on concrete steps toward your end goal. I intentionally lowball it to make the list seem extremely doable and that I'd be silly NOT to do such easy tasks. After I have done my three things, I put 3 more on them and cross them off as I go. Soon I feel like a champion of doing things. Depending on my mood and the situation, I either start with the easiest or the most egregious task. Don't zone out and relax after each thing, zone out and relax after you've accomplished like 15-20 small things toward one big goal.

This is definitely my winning to do list strategy. When I used to make one BIG list at the outset I'd end up putting too much energy into the actual list making and then I'd get sad and wound up because it seemed like there was this enormous amount of work to do.
posted by mermily at 9:18 PM on August 1, 2014 [6 favorites]

A few folks are going to suggest Flylady. Tis a good start. I really like Personal Kanban on Trello or Kanban flow for maximim effectiveness. Also HabitRPG might be fun.
posted by Brent Parker at 12:14 AM on August 2, 2014

I'd recommend Allen's Ready for Anything over Getting Things Done, for a first-timer, anyway.

Most of all for you, I recommend Stephanie Culp's Streamlining Your Life -- a very fast read.

And, I love my Planner Pad.

Minimize your stuff, have the right stuff for what you need to do (pens that write well, clothes that fit, knives that fit your hand, whatever) have it where you need it to be, and have it in good repair and ready to use. Do a huge brain dump list and approach it with David Allen's principles, an Excel sheet, and a Planner Pad.

That's what I do, anyway.
posted by jgirl at 7:40 AM on August 2, 2014

I work and am a student, and I use different tools for both of these areas.

For schoolwork and large writing assignments, I use the pomodoro method (I like the Orkanizer site) and the SelfControl app. The former helps me stay on track by making me divvy up my work into manageable chunks, while giving me regular breaks. The latter keeps me from tooling around on the internet- I use it to block all my favorite "fun" sites (MeFi, Reddit, etc.) for either an hour or two or the entire day, depending on my workload. I manage assignment deadlines in two ways: I load them into the Reminders app on my iPhone, and write them on the chalkboard in my apartment.

For work work, I use the task function in Outlook to track to-dos and set reminders. I also have a (beautiful) color coding system: all emails and calendar items are colored by project, and I have corresponding colored file folders to keep hard copy stuff sorted. I pin urgent stuff to a bulletin board and have trained myself to hate the angry red color of overdue Outlook tasks.

I'm actually on my phone on a pomodoro break right now, which is why I haven't linked to Orkanizer and SelfControl. But they are easily Googled.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 7:53 AM on August 2, 2014

It sounds to me like you find transitioning from one thing to another doesn't come automatically.

One thing you could do is sit down and try to make your chore list in an order so that one thing runs naturally into the next.

For example if your first task is to clean up the living room, the last stage of that job could be to pick up the discarded clothes down behind the couch and on the bannisters. Your next task could be to start a batch of laundry because, well, you have an armload of grubby clothes. While in the laundry room, you clear out the dryer vent, of course, and this means that you finish the laundry chore with a wastebasket full of dryer lint in one hand. Your third task will be to collect all the garbage from around the house. You finish that task by taking it outside and your fourth task becomes sweeping the porch while are out there.

Planning this way you can arrange to have one task segue naturally into the next one. Finishing each job requires you to start the next one.

If you work to music you might find that the right temp music could help you stay in working mode.

Failing that you might wish to work on strategies that help you restart chore mode more smoothly. Okay, you have entered all your expenses into your expense worksheet and printed it. Your most natural work rhythm wants you to stop dead because the chore is done.

You could ask yourself: Is there anything else I can do on this job to get it done further? Maybe you could also e-mail your expense report to the bookkeeper. The problem with this is that you could wind up always cleaning the bathroom to a sparkling polish so that it looks like a commercial for bathroom spray cleaner, while your kitchen moulders away under a heap of crusty dishes. So there does come a stopping place and you have to be watching for it.

It is probably better to work with your natural rhythms. It maybe that the sitting down after finishing a chore is the best way for your executive brain to work. In that case, beware of distractions. You don't want to complete a task and then take a break and end up playing twenty-seven games of free cell. You want to complete the task, sit down and focus your executive brain on figuring out what your next priority is.

I find a "chores I have done" list to be a better productivity tool than a to-do list. Once I do the chore I sit down and enter it, and this helps my brain get into executive planning mode to decide what productive thing I want to do next. My to-do list is generally very short - "receipts, phone calls, report" but my "chores I have done" list gets all the details. "Created receipts, entered receipts in spreadsheet, stamped cheques, entered deposit, balanced deposit" which are all chores that came under the category of "receipts"

It may help to tie your transitions to things that take only short time. So you do one chore. Now you want to stop, so you do. Your break is only long enough to make tea. As soon as the tea is made you are ready to sit down with your mug close at hand and figure out your next priority. Other short transition activities could be to check your e-mail, to put away your previous work, to do a quick check in with your co-worker, check your phone messages, harvest your ten minute growing time Farmville crops, or anything that only takes two or three minutes, long enough for you to feel you have taken a break but not long enough to entrap you into stopping work for more than the shortest necessary time to transition.

You may find that alternating sedentary with active chores helps. First chore is to go down the office delivering mail. Second chore is to sit down at your desk and reply to an e-mail. Third task is to retrieve your work from the printer. Fourth task is to review the code your wrote earlier in the day. Fifth task is a bathroom break. Sixth task is to continue writing code. By getting up repeatedly you keep your metabolism running at a higher rev; by sitting down repeatedly you allow yourself to rest frequently.

Finally, you may be running on low blood sugar. Executive functioning actually requires your brain to be well supplied with oxygen and blood sugar. You might find that you would be more productive if you eat a protein breakfast and then keep snacking periodically during the day and then skip dinner. Your tendency to want to zone out may be caused by having your blood sugar at a lower than optimal level. I am not suggesting that you eat candy and junk food all day, of course. The snacking can easily be healthy things like nuts and dried fruit and cubes of cheese and baby carrots and milk.
posted by Jane the Brown at 11:53 AM on August 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Pomodoro and Workflowy.

I used the Strict Workflow app for Chrome to block websites like MeFi for 25 minutes at a time, then give myself a 5-minute break twice an hour.

I use Workflowy (there's also an app) to keep track of ALLLLL my lists (including to-dos, grocery lists, work stuff) in a drill-down organizational scheme. I find that Workflowy helps me really break down anything that needs to be done into tiny bite-sized manageable pieces, and it's really easy to capture new to dos/ideas on the app while I'm out and about.
posted by Brittanie at 6:24 PM on August 3, 2014

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