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Getting Organised – Part 1 The Basics

Getting Organised

This week I’ve been talking with a number of people who are struggling to keep everything organised.  I’ve been sharing with them some of the methods I use to keep on top of everything.   So I thought I would share with you some of the things I’ve learned along my organisation journey and some of the tools I’ve found to be helpful.


First a couple of disclaimers – I am a highly organised and a highly disorganised person all at once.  I love systems and organisation, I’m great at creating new systems and terrible at sticking to them.  I love a tidy office and tidy desk but invariably within 3-4 days of tidying up, my desk will once again be strewn with documents, pens and miscellaneous stuff.  I’ve also tried quite a lot of different systems and tools over the years, I’ve read books on organisation and systems and to be honest most of what I’ve read and tried has gone by the wayside.  But there are a few lessons and tools that have stood the test of time.  It’s still a work in progress but hopefully some of my learnings will help you too.

Five things I’ve learned about getting organised and staying organised

Keep it simple

I love systems, I love coming up with awesome amazing systems that will meet every one of my needs and more.  The systems I create are often elegant, sophisticated, use the latest and greatest IT tools …  and generally way too complicated which means I never end up using them for long.  The things that I use every day and that really work to keep me organised are simple, they don’t necessarily have all the bells and whistles but they do the job.  Which brings me onto learning 2:

Be clear about what you need and what you don’t

Know what you want to achieve:

  • What is the problem you want to solve? – no point in having systems for systems sake
    • I write notes but can never find them when I need them later
    • I have all pieces of paper everywhere and no way of organising them
    • I’m always stressed because I’m scared I’m going to miss a deadline or forget an appointment
  • How will my life be better if I solve this problem?

Know the constraints/requirements of the system:

  • Is this just a system/tool that I will use or do others have to use it too?
  • Do I need to be able to access this at work? at home? on the train? …
  • Do I have money to spend on this or does it need to be free?
  • Do I want to try something new or make better use of the tools and resources I already have?

Know yourself

The truth is that there is no single way of getting organised will work for everyone.  We are all different.

Knowing how you naturally learn and function is important.  If you create a system or use a tool that works with your natural tendencies then you are much more likely to adopt it, use it well and continue to use it.  For example if you love gadgets and IT you are more likely to use an app on your phone than if you hate all that techie stuff.  If you are verbal or auditory then dictating notes and listening to them back might work well for you.  If you are kinesthetic then typing or handwriting might be better.

There are a number of learning style questionnaires around, a quick google will bring up a range of options.  For a quick and easy questionnaire check out the VARK questionnaire.  Another questionnaire that divides learning styles into  7 different groups is the Learning Styles Inventory just ignore all the ads and the big green buttons (they will take you somewhere else entirely)

For me I love gadgets and IT and, most importantly, I love being able to access all my information anywhere, at any time.  However, I’m also quite strongly kinesthetic.  There are still times where I work better with paper and pens and with sticky notes all over my walls.

One of the best ways to identify your natural tendencies is to notice what you do when you are stressed.  When we are under pressure we tend to revert to our preferred ways of doing things.

Review the tools that you already have at your disposal

Perhaps you are the kind of person who is always looking for the flash new whizz bang that is going to solve all your problems (confession time – that is definitely me!!).  It’s amazing how much time I’ve spent (and sometimes money) trying new apps and tools only to discover the tools that I had at my disposal work really well, I just needed to change the way I used them.  Take Microsoft Outlook for example.  I’d tried using Outlook to manage my tasks and hated it, so I read books on task management and tried a number of task management apps.  But one of my major frustrations with them all was that they didn’t link seamlessly with my emails.   Then one day I took another look at Outlook, and a few tweaks later it now works brilliantly for me.

Perhaps on the other hand you are the kind of person who hates change and who will continue to do the same things you’ve always done because that’s what you know.  If we’re honest most of us have a bit of this tendency ingrained in us somewhere.  I’m sure you’ve heard the quote “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got” or the one that says “the definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over and expecting different results” (sources unknown).  If what you are currently doing works for you then awesome, well done, please share your wisdom with us so we can learn from you too.  But if it’s not working for you then perhaps it’s time for a change.

Be kind to yourself

If you are planning to learn a new way of behaving, be realistic about how much energy you have to learn a new system right now.  Remember that it can take 10 -12 weeks to create a new habit depending on how often you are doing that particular tasks.  The more often you do something the faster it will become a habit.  A habit is formed when our brain creates a new neural pathway and neuroscience tells us that this happens through regular repetition.

You are not a robot and neither am I.   Systems are made to serve us not the other way around.  So if it’s not working – change it.  Or at least allow yourself to have days where you throw it all out the window.  None of us live in a bubble.  We can be perfectly organised and then someone else’s world crashes into ours.  That’s the reality of life in the real world.  Learn to roll with it, shrug it off, learn from it and move on.

Hopefully these are some helpful thoughts if you are reviewing your current ways of organising. Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting about some of the tools I use to keep me organised.  I would love to hear from you about what works for you and what your current challenges are.  Let me know in the comments below.

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