I often hear people saying, “I need to become more organised”, “I don’t know how so-and-so does it, but she seems to have it all together”, “I don’t have enough hours in the day”, and on it goes. We all have our habits and ways of doing things but are they working or do you feel like you’re stuck on the proverbial hamster wheel?
Let’s first mention the importance of switching your routine around occasionally. Remember, doing the same things the same way, equals the same results. The brain is encouraged to create new neural pathways whenever you force yourself to make a change. Although the brain isn’t a muscle, the more you exercise new brain cell interactions, the stronger they become. This results in the brain cells becoming more hard-coded (baked-in) which means that the brain cells that fire together, wire together. It is also the reason why the more you continue repeating old habits, the more of those same old results you’ll get. This is the basis for “neuroplasticity – also known as brain plasticity, which is the ability of neural networks in the brain to change through growth and reorganisation. These changes range from individual neuron pathways making new connections, to systematic adjustments like cortical remapping”.
Now that you have a brief glimpse of how the brain works – let’s talk about how to become more efficient and organised, changing old routines and creating new, creative habits so that you don’t feel like you’re desperately chasing your tail, day in and day out.
Consider what makes you feel organised. Is it remembering to file all your documents in the correct file daily, picking the kids up from school on time, an up-to-date grocery list, planning for the week ahead, remembering birthdays, making to-do lists? Decide what being organised/disorganised means to you and start from there.
The easiest way to remember what needs to be done is to jot it down. I do so on my phone, you may prefer to write in a diary. It’s useful to carry a small notebook around with you. I prefer adding every meeting, catch-up, appointment to the calendar on my phone. I include a reminder to alert me the day before and an adequate amount of time before the actual event. Do what works for you – being organised is not a one size fits all approach – if you’re more of a visual person, colour code your reminders or draw pictures, if you’re more auditory inclined, record your reminders.
I hear the words “boring” echoing. As tedious as it sounds, lists work. Create a daily to-do list, this is best done at the beginning of each day or the end of the day. I find that my daily to-do list keeps me on track. It prevents me from juggling multiple tasks in my head and stops me from feeling agitated that I’ve forgotten something. I also feel more productive every time I tick an item off. If I don’t manage to finish everything on my list on a particular day, I carry it over to the next day if it’s not as urgent. If it is a must-do for that particular day, I make a plan to get it done – even if it means a few hours less sleep that night. Lists also come in handy for mundane tasks like restocking goods for the house.
Eat the elephant one small piece at a time
A friend shared this piece of advice with me a few years ago when I was in a super-stressful job. At the time, it felt as if tasks were flying at me and if I didn’t catch each one immediately, they would come crashing down on me. I was at my wit’s end as these task missiles flew at me day in and day out. My friend sat me down one day and said, “you cannot eat the elephant in one go every day, you need to cut it into pieces and eat one small chunk at a time”. It helped me immensely. I found that tackling the urgent tasks first, taking a break, moving on to those at the next level of importance, having a cuppa, and so on – until I was only left with the less critical tasks which could be held over to the next day, provided more order and calm to my day.
Keep a few birthday cards and gift wrapping at home. You may have forgotten someone’s birthday, but at least you have the basics at home in case of last-minute panics. I keep a storage box in the garage full of ribbons, gift wrapping, and the like. We sometimes find that we’ve bought the gift, but forgotten about the presentation. No fuss, the garage is close by. Do this with food too. If I know I’ve got a manic week coming up, I cook a large pot of soup and/or stew, buy a few roasted chickens and freeze everything in portion-size containers. That way, I know that I can work for longer hours as the food simply needs to be defrosted and heated up. It’s also helpful to keep your spouse in the loop if a particularly demanding job is to be completed the following week. Then they’re also prepared and can step in by doing more of the household necessities during your stressful week and you can do the same for them when they need more help and you have more time on your hands.
Keep extras in storage
Your phone charger suddenly decides to pack up on the day that you’re inundated with business calls. Panic! You need to get to the store to purchase a new cable, but your day is filled with back-to-back meetings and calls. Make sure you have a few storage boxes for miscellaneous cables. I have a Tupperware that contains a variety of cables. Some of them for devices I no longer have, but you’ll be surprised at how even those have come in handy. I was babysitting for a friend one day and the child’s tablet stopped working. A crying fit ensued – I quietly retreated and retrieved my cable Tupperware. Huge relief for both the teary child and me when I extracted the cable compatible with his device.
It’s useful to have a variety of labelled storage boxes to safely house bits and bobs so that when you suddenly need something that’s not a usual requirement, you know exactly where to look. It also prevents your house from becoming messy. Tip: Never call the storage box – “miscellaneous” – we all know how when we’re irritated and in a hurry and looking for a specific item but find a “miscellaneous” box, the outcome is usually not a pleasant one.
Wash the dishes after every meal
I cannot overemphasise the value of washing the dishes. During Covid-19 times, many people worked from home and grievances were aired about all the extra work at the end of the day because of the mess left in the kitchen. I encourage everyone to add this to the household list of MUSTS. My beloved late mother instilled this in us from a young age and I simply cannot and do not want to unlearn this habit. Having a clean kitchen, especially in the evening before going to bed saves so much time the next morning. Tidying away the remnants of your dinner and washing the pots, pans, dishes and packing them away will take a load off your mornings. The relief experienced when walking into a clean kitchen the following morning is priceless. Especially, on a day when you’ve overslept. Dishes are sneaky, they pile up quickly – if you’re in the habit of leaving the dishes, you may find that you’re put off washing them altogether.
Prepare for the next day the night before – ready to launch
Similar to the washing dishes habit, a good routine to develop is preparing everything you need for the next day the night before. Take the clothes out that you intend to wear to work, prepare and pack the lunches, make sure the pet’s food and water bowls are cleaned and filled, laptops packed for work or meetings, ensure the kids have packed their school bags, etc. Tip: keep keys, wallets, bags in the same place every time you return home, that way you never have to run around searching the house or asking everyone if they’ve seen your stuff. Also, find ways to spark your memory if you have something unusual you need to remember to take the next day. Mine is tying a tissue to the front door so that it sparks my memory about what I’m supposed to take with me before leaving the house. Feel free to share memory tricks that work for you.
Function according to your rhythm
I’m a lark and my husband is an owl. In other words, I like to go to bed early and rise early. He prefers the nocturnal life and waking later. It’s not always possible when you share a home to keep your rhythms, especially in households with many family members. But where possible, I try to keep to my rhythm and not disturb my husband’s rhythm too much in the process. For example, I make sure that all I need for an early morning walk or cycle is ready to go in a different part of the house, away from the bedroom – that way I don’t wake him if I have an early start. Similarly, he comes to bed quietly if I’ve retired early. This also ensures a happier home as people can get grouchy when they are not able to align their lives to their preferred rhythms. It also fosters respect.
This isn’t always possible but it helps to ensure that a few days of the week everyone gets a chance to run their engines at their own pace. Since every household is unique, it’s important to be creative and figure out a way that works best for everyone, even if it’s only some of the time.
Have a clutter-free space
We all have a level of mess somewhere in the house. Unless you have a permanent housekeeper, you may not be able to keep your house spotless and tidy all of the time. But try to keep at least one space clutter-free. I work from home, so I make sure that before the end of my day my desk is tidy, all the documents I’m currently working on are piled together in an order I’m familiar with, the books I used are stacked in bookshelves, and all mugs and glasses are taken to the kitchen and cleaned. I know that it will negatively affect my productivity if I walk into a messy office first thing the next morning. I also make sure that the living area is relatively clutter-free so that we can chill in the evening. We also make sure all the laundry is folded up and packed away before bed.
Folders and dividers
I love stationery shops, so treating myself to some colourful files or organisational stationery is a great excuse to keep my office tidy. Box files, a variety of paper clips, crocodile clips, and folders are useful for filing/storing receipts and invoices. It makes life so much easier when you have to submit tax returns. Everything is in one place. Keeping your files, DVDs, books, and the like in alphabetical order is also very helpful in finding what you need quickly. It doesn’t have to be dull either – buy funky colours and categorise things according to colours if that’ll help brighten the mundane tasks.
Now and again, I fall into the habit of keeping too many old items of clothing after having purchased new clothing. Try to get into the habit of giving clothes away that you haven’t worn for a year. It’ll be of more use to someone else and it will clear clutter. Keep your wardrobe streamlined and tidy – similar items of clothing hung or folded together. This is where I falter. Fortunately, I was blessed with a husband who has perfected the art of folding and storing clothes, so now and again I will be greeted with a welcome surprise when I open my cupboards and everything is suddenly where it should be – like a fairy popped in for a visit.
Share your strengths – delegate
Be honest about your strengths and weaknesses with your spouse or those you live with, utilise one another’s strengths, and delegate. I’m better at keeping the kitchen and hotspots of the house clean and preparing meals. My husband is much better at organising clothes and storage boxes, washing and maintaining the bicycles and cars. So, I focus on the areas I excel at and he focuses on those he excels at. He will make the bed after we’ve washed the linen – he has an ingenious way of getting a king-size duvet into its cover. I will make sure he has everything he needs for work the following day. Work as a team. If you live alone, you’ll have to harness a variety of strengths. Also, ask for help where you need it and offer help where you know you can assist. If cooking is not your thing, there are many easy-to-use services online such as UCook who will send you all the ingredients and easy to follow instructional recipes to cater to your dietary needs.
Back-up your phone and computer
Accidents happen – spilling tea on your keyboard, dropping your phone in the ocean. Set aside a few minutes once a month to keep your devices backed up so that you don’t have to lose everything when the phone or laptop is destroyed. Although the devices are replaceable, your photo and video memories are not.
At some point or another, we all receive emails from companies we no longer wish to hear from. It may be time to unsubscribe. I find that if I do it as soon as I receive those unwanted messages, I get hassled less and don’t end up with a massive inbox to clean up.
Use your time wisely
I try to make one trip on a specific day to attend to all the personal chores on my list. If I need to buy groceries, deliver or collect something from Postnet, drop my bicycle off for a service – I’ll try to incorporate everything for a day when I have an appointment away from my office. It saves so much more time than unnecessarily popping in and out a few times a week where with proper planning, everything could’ve been done in one outing. Obviously, for parents with kids at school, their days may involve a few trips, even so, try to incorporate other chores to be done around the same time and arrange lift clubs with families in the area whose kids go to the same school as yours. A little help amongst others travelling in similar directions saves a lot of time.
Learn to say no
This is a challenge for many. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with too much on your plate but keep adding more because you cannot say no, it’s time for a change. One can’t be all things to all people. Just because someone asks, doesn’t mean the answer has to be yes.
Things don’t get done by themselves. The longer you leave something that needs to be done, the more difficult it will be to doing it. To create a less stressful life, organise as soon as you can. Putting in the effort to get down to doing what needs to be done will lift the weight of leaving it for later. Just do it!
Achievements feel good
It may not be enjoyable to start with if you’re someone who battles with being organised, but you’ll find that once you start developing your brain cells and doing things in more productive, new, and different ways, it’ll become your new norm. A deep sense of achievement will start creeping in. The more organised you become, the more organised you’ll want to be.
There are many ways of becoming more organised and all these tips may not be appropriate for you. Go ahead and tweak them to suit the routine you wish to foster. Figure out what “being more organised” means for you. Is it knowing where everything you need is, being prepared, arriving on time, remembering important events? Establish how to organise your life so that you feel like you’re in control of your day and not simply a victim of circumstances or running around like a headless chicken.
We all know that life comes with a good deal of curveballs and no matter how organised we are, we will unlikely feel 100% organised every minute of every day, but you can feel more organised by developing good organisational habits and establishing a solid daily routine that works for you.
AFFILIATE DISCLOSURE: When you purchase something via an advert link in this article, I may receive an affiliate commission; these are my opinions and are not representative of the companies that create these products; my reviews are based on my own personal experience and research; I never recommend poor quality products, or create false reviews to make sales; I intend to explain products so that you can make an informed decision on which ones suit your needs best.
Authored by Delilah Nosworthy