Full disclosure: I have not always been an organized person. Once, in college, a rotisserie chicken disappeared into my cluttered dorm room, and re-emerged from under the bed weeks later. In fact, it is because I am the messiest person I know that I have so painstakingly prioritized living an organized life. It’s been a decade since the chicken debacle, and still I feel as if I stand on slippery sliding ground, relying on the systems I’ve developed to keep me from falling back into the pit of disorder.
How do those of us mired in chaos make the transition to organized living? While you shouldn’t expect to make a total 180 shift to sparkling cleanliness overnight, with a little introspection, knowledge, and motivation, it’s easy to begin the small maintenance steps towards an ordered home, office, and life.
One of the most important first steps is getting to know yourself. There is no one single perfect organizing system, there’s only what works for you, on an individual level. To create something specifically designed to compliment your weaknesses, strengths, and learning style, you first have to figure out what these are!
KNOW YOUR WEAKNESS
It’s important to know your weaknesses, so you can counteract them. I, for example, am a very forgetful person. I wouldn’t remember my right arm if it wasn’t attached! While I use a weekly to-do list to manage large tasks and multi-step projects, sometimes little things still fall through the cracks. To catch these small action items, I rely extensively on post-it notes.
It’s tempting to create a visual bulletin board of tasks at my workstation, but I’m susceptible to letting things blend into my “visual landscape”. Often, important reminders, if not dealt with right away, become a permanent part of my environment, losing their efficacy.
I have two places for small, but necessary, tasks. Things that need to be taken care of before leaving the house get put on the door at eye level. Things that need to be done before bed get put above the bathroom sink, so I see them while brushing my teeth. No reminder is allowed to linger for more than a day!
What are your problem areas? It’s helpful to spend some time observing where clutter builds up, how things get lost, and what productivity tangles you may run into during the day. Perhaps objects around you remain relatively clean, but you struggle more with time management and procrastination. Try writing a to-do list with time estimates and motivation/energy requirements for each task. Things that require a great deal of time and energy should come first, while you’re fresh. Then, at the end of the day, when you’ve already expended yourself somewhat, you can tackle more quick and easy items.
KNOW YOUR STRENGTHS
Playing to what you’re good at is crucial to continued success. If you are someone who loves tech, always knows the hottest new apps/electronics, and loves the efficient command center your smartphone can become, by all means, create an organizing system that focuses on the digital. Try an of-the-moment task managing app that syncs with your preferred calendar. You may even wish to invest in a scanner and create a digital archive for incoming paper clutter.
I, on the other hand, am an avowed paper person, especially for jotting down quick notes to self. I have tried Evernote, Google Keep, Any.Do, the works, and nothing sticks for me. I use two tools to keep all my notes/tasks/calendar items together; a small spiral bound notebook and my trusty compact planner (orange, so it’s easy to spot). Something about the physical act of writing things down helps them stick. But how to sort and categorize all these notes, written down higgledy-piggledy?
Recently I came across an Unclutterer article with a great idea from Rachel Gillet: use a themed index to easily sort pages into searchable categories. On the back page of the notebook, create a list of “themes” that consistently crop up in your notes. Write these out in a list, leaving some space between them. Then, simply make a mark corresponding to the theme of your note on the side of the page, such that you can see it while the notebook is closed. Viola! Now you can easily flip through and find what you are looking for.
Notice where you’ve applied a creative solution in your life. This is probably where your strengths lie! Making that an important part of your organizing process can make necessary maintenance easy and fun to accomplish.
KNOW YOUR LEARNING STYLE
Learning style is another important factor to consider when creating organizing systems. After all, getting organized is just building habits and learning new skills! Choosing methods and tools which suit your personal learning style can help to ensure follow through and long term success. We all pick things up differently, although most of us can be sorted into three basic categories.
Are diagrams, pictures, and videos your thing? Do you like to see things demonstrated, and often learn best by watching? If so, you are probably a visual learner. You’ll work well with to-do lists and flow charts, and enjoy organizing tools that are clear/open, or utilize colors, symbols, and imagery.
What if you prefer to have concepts explained or narrated? Do you need a discussion to take place before you can wrap your head around something? If the answer is yes, you’re probably an audio learner. Try setting alarms as reminders, or utilizing timers to maintain productivity, as in the Pomodoro method. Playing music can help set the focus for organizing projects. Or, if you feel stuck, it may help to call a supportive friend, so you can talk through your current strategies.
Perhaps you fall into neither of these categories. Do you need to be totally engaged in learning? Do things come easier to you when you are working hands on, through touching and manipulating? Does movement increase your ability to take in information? You may be a kinesthetic learner, if that’s the case. These people learn by doing and practicing. It’s participating in the action itself that cements the idea. Using a rolling chair can help you focus, or you may choose to work at a standing desk, so you can pace while your work.
My favorite method for figuring out learning types is something I like to call “The Ikea Test.” What do you do when building Ikea furniture? Visual learners are the people who look at the diagrams before beginning. Audio learners often read the instructions out loud to themselves. Kinesthetic learners are the folks who dive right in, handling the pieces and seeing how they fit together to construct the finished product.
Once you figure out your strengths, weaknesses, and learning style, it becomes much easier to create an organizing system that works. Perhaps you are a visual person who struggles with surface clutter. You may wish to invest in some colorful bins you love to look at, making it fun and easy to put items away after use. There are an infinite number of ways to create order out of chaos! Get inspired by searching through #organizing on Instagram or Pinterest, and you’ll soon find yourself itching to establish your own efficient systems.