Staying organized can be tough for anyone, especially if you struggle with executive functioning. However, when life gets busy, trying to stay on top of everything can be overwhelming. In this guide for organization for busy people, we’ll look at some simple strategies to help keep you on track so you can feel more in control of your schedule.
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The first step in staying organized when you’re busy is being able to prioritize your tasks. You need to focus on things that are both urgent and important because they will have the greatest impact on your day.
When you have a lot on your plate, you’ll get overwhelmed if you try to do everything at once. We think we can multitask, but it’s actually pretty ineffective. You feel spread thin and you’re not able to accomplish as much as you think. Sure, you’ll have a bunch of tasks started, but very few will be complete. Prioritizing your tasks will help you focus on the things that matter most so that you can be more efficient.
How do you prioritize?
Some of you can probably guess what I’m going to say—start with a planner. You need to be able to track and see everything that has to get done in order to prioritize effectively. If you don’t know what should be on your to-do list, something will fall through the cracks.
Eisenhower Matrix/Covey Quadrants:
Evaluate tasks based on importance and urgency. Things in quadrant I are both urgent and important (your baby crying). Quadrant II has things that are important but not urgent—things that have to get done, but it doesn’t have to be RIGHT NOW. Quadrant III is urgent but not important, like email and text notifications. Quadrant IV is for the things that are not important nor urgent—these are time wasters (but tend to be a lot of fun).
The 1-3-5 Rule:
Look at the tasks you need to complete and choose 1 big task, 3 medium tasks, and 5 small tasks to complete each day. Using this method is beneficial for people who have attention problems or chronic health issues. Do your 1 big task when you have the energy to do so. The medium and small tasks usually require less bandwidth to complete, and can be spread throughout the day (like after a nap).
Put each task into an appropriate category— A: things that have to be done; B: things that should be done; C: things that would be nice to get done.
Organize tasks into groups—must do, should do, could do, won’t do (or wish to do). Like with all methods, focus on the must-do, or most important tasks first.
Regardless of which method you choose to help you prioritize, you want to focus on the items that will have the biggest impact on your life. So then, when it comes to organization, you have to ask yourself, “What will change how I feel in this space?” or “How can I reduce the chaos in my life?”
Breaking Down Large Tasks
When you are trying to organize your space and your life while working and raising a family, it’s paramount to take those big jobs and break them down into manageable steps. If you just put “Clean out garage” on your to-do list, it might never get done. You know it’s going to take many hours to clear out and sort through everything in the garage. And who the hell has twelve extra uninterrupted hours to do this?
However, if you break this job down into smaller tasks, maybe jobs that can be done in 30 minutes or so, you can start to make headway on the big job. It might take you longer to complete the job, but you will be making progress. Which is more than what happens when you simply move that job from one week to the next on your to-do list.
Breaking tasks down makes them feel more manageable. As you see progress being made, you feel motivated to continue. The task is no longer overwhelming.
Tools for breaking down tasks:
Apps: Todoist, Trello, and Asana are all apps/programs you can use to list out all of the subtasks or steps needed to complete a larger task.
Mind mapping software: If you’re a visual person, a mind map might help you make sense of those big jobs. MindNode and Xmind are both mind-mapping programs you can try.
Workflow diagrams: Lucidchart is a workflow program that can give you a visual of the steps you need to take in the process of completing large tasks. You can also use Lucidchart to create a Gantt Chart.
Checklist: If you’re old school like me, you can just create a checklist of the steps you need to complete and mark them off as you do them.
Need some more time to figure out how to prioritize? Check out my Prioritization Workbook
Time Management Techniques
In order to be able to organize everything in your life, you need to be able to manage your time. If you can manage your time effectively, you will be more productive and have time to do the things that really matter to you.
To use this technique, you split your work time into 25-minute intervals followed by a 5-minute break. After every 4th Pomodoro interval, you take a longer break. For my clients who can’t focus for 25 minutes on a task, I suggest altering those intervals to make them work for you. So your Pomodoros might only be 15 minutes. You really need to use a timer for this.
Time blocking is most useful when you know what your peak times of day are for being productive. You break your day into chunks of time, dedicating a specific amount of time for each task. When you schedule your day, you block out your most productive times for your most important tasks.
Eat the Frog/Worst First:
This technique is useful if you tend to procrastinate doing the things you don’t want/don’t like to do. If you get the worst things done first, then it’s not hanging over your head and you will immediately feel a sense of accomplishment.
This technique is about giving your attention to the 20% of tasks on your list that will give you an 80% return. You want to put your focus where you’ll get the most bang for your buck. It’s important to note that the 20% might depend on what else you have going on and what areas of your life you’re struggling with most.
I LOVE batching. This technique involves completing a set of similar tasks all at once. For me, I will sit down and draft a month’s worth of blog posts and let time sit in draft mode. Then, I go back in and just add all the pictures I need. Batching works because you don’t have to switch contexts. It’s really useful for people who tend to hyper fixate.
We live in a world where there are constant distractions. If you have executive dysfunction, you are probably more prone to be distracted. Learning to minimize distractions is vital if you want to be more organized and more productive.
Turn off notifications:
Seriously. Do you really need things to pop up on your phone and computer screen? Sometimes with the accompanying ping? For some of you, the answer is yes. You need that notification so you remember to take your meds or pick up your kids from school on time. But I’m talking about the incessant social media and text notifications. You don’t need them. They tempt you to waste time.
Again, not everyone can do this. If you have small children, completely drowning them out probably isn’t a good idea (although it might be tempting).
This might seem counterintuitive, but running nonstop is not healthy and will lead to burnout. Taking regular breaks is important to keep yourself on track. If you start to burn out, you will not only be less focused you will be less productive.
Use website blockers:
If you are easily distracted by social media and other engaging sites when you should be working, consider using a blocker that will prevent you from visiting those sites while you’re working. The Freedom app is one you can take a look at.
For a lot of years, everyone was all about multitasking. They would talk about how you could get so much done. In reality, though, multitasking tends to be much less productive. You will have a bunch of things started but nothing finished. Multitasking is fine when the tasks don’t require a lot of brain power (laundry, dishes, etc). But when you need to focus on work, you don’t want to divide your focus.
Review and Reflect
Whenever you are working to improve your organization and productivity, it’s important to review and reflect on your progress. Self-monitoring is another executive function skill that helps here. Since self-monitoring might not be a strength of yours, here are some questions to help you reflect on how well your progress is going:
- What did I accomplish this week/month, and how does it compare to my goals?
- What tasks or projects took up the most time, and were they worth it?
- Did I use my time effectively, or were there moments where I wasted time on unimportant tasks?
- Did I experience any challenges or obstacles that hindered my progress? How did I overcome them?
- Did I take breaks and practice self-care when needed, or did I push myself too hard?
- Did I prioritize my most important tasks, or did I get sidetracked by less important tasks?
- Did I use any time management or organization techniques that worked particularly well? If not, what could I try next time?
- Did I collaborate effectively with others, or were there any communication breakdowns that slowed me down?
- How did my mood and mindset affect my productivity and organization? What can I do to maintain a positive mindset?
- How can I apply what I've learned from my reflection to improve my productivity and organization in the future?
Staying organized is extra challenging when you’re busy. However, staying organized is key to achieving your goals and minimizing stress in your life. Give some of the techniques and tips here a try to help improve your ability to stay organized no matter how hectic life gets.