A new financial year beckons, and it's the perfect time to take stock of how well we've been managing this year.
In this #alwaysconnected, #alwaysbusy world, I find it often feels less like *organised chaos* and more like chaotic attempts at organisation.
Self-Organisation has become an intermittent obsession of mine – during my quest to finish my PhD research. I've wanted to write about this possibly bland topic for the last year or so; Not speaking as an expert, but more of an active participant in my own experiments.
I've spent weeks trying to develop habits to save myself time. Some things along the way have been game changing. I hope this blog is useful for you, in work and in leisure -- as we all desire less time spent on admin and more on the work that counts.
Distractions at work and at home are frequent, and multitasking is overrated. So it pays to get organised – not just in saved time, but also in mental energy.
So here are my Top 10 most valued strategies and tools, which make my life feel more organised:
10. Clearing out your inboxes
A clear mind is an organised mind. The same goes for your office, desk, mailbox, and intray, as well as your digital inbox, desktop, folders. When things got tough during my PhD, I learnt the hard way that it's much better to stay on top of everything, rather than letting them all pile up. So I recommend:
aiming to delete, delegate, action, and/or file anything the moment it comes to you
developing simple but effective filing systems to sort stuff out fast
creating folders to clear your inbox, and file stuff accurately for easy later access
This includes for your email, text and phone messages, letters, bills, and tasks.
9. Automation and scheduling
Ever find yourself doing the same process over and over? Emailing, sorting, filing, sharing, sending, resending... Here's some great automation and scheduling tools you can use, some with your existing productivity software:
QuickSteps in Outlook: I've made multi-step actions for different kinds of emails, so I can "mark as read", file, and forward to colleagues in one click. This way I can clear twenty emails in a minute or two.
Styles in Microsoft Word: it changed my life when I learnt you can customise and apply the Heading Styles in MS Word. Now I can ensure I apply my adjust font size and style for different headings ONCE.
Scheduling software like If This Then That (IFTT):
I use a hashtag on the tweets I want to cross post to my Facebook and LinkedIn profiles. Using IFTT you can set up any multi-step actions to happen with one click. Triggers for your actions can be tweets, emails, text messages and more. A 10 min cross-posting job can can be reduced to a second.
8. Categorising the big things.
If you don't know where things belong, how can you keep the parts of your life separate? Working 3 jobs, running a business, studying, and remaining a social being has been a challenge. If I didn't have clear categories I wouldn't know whether I was Arthur or Martha half the time! So I recommend:
keeping separate emails for separate facets of your life (job1, job2, social, admin)
making consistent names and colours for things.
⬅️ ️For me it's like this
So, In my calendar, email, and journal I can glance at how my day, week, or month looks and if I'm coming towards a conflict between commitments or priorities.
7. Meaningful lists and databases.
We need to remember what's relevant and important at a particular moment. Making lists or bigger collections of information (databases) we can help reduce the amount of stuff we are trying to remember at once. So I'd recommend:
using lists for anything you want to remember. Make sure they sync across your devices (see 6.)
using a spreadsheet to sort your information according to what's salient at the time of your search (e.g. name, age, link, year, price, who recommended it).
6. Use the Cloud, Luke!
So we're all in the cloud, but are we using it's maximal potential? Probably not! I know I still find myself double handling things (see number 2).
So let's use the cloud properly by:
Working directly in the cloud when possible - it's an automatic backup!
I use a combination of Onedrive and Dropbox
This saves creating multiple versions.
Also, organising your life in an integrated platform like Onenote, which syncs infinite collections of ideas, notes, links, lists, emails or documents across all your devices
Onenote supports handwriting, highlighting, annotating and searching all your notebooks. This makes it a very clever way to find key words in both written and handwritten text, and even images!
Despite all the above, I can attest that nothing replaces a paper journal, So I recommend:
complementing your digital systems with a very simple paper one. Bullet Journaling is a very simple and elegant solution to the feeling of "what did I even do this week?"
using your journaling to bring together the salient events, tasks, and ideas from each day and tick them off as you achieve them.
The #BulletJournal is one of my essential tools, along with my iPhone and Surface Pro Laptop. That's because keeping track of each month/week/day, with a few key reminders and ideas can help cut through the waste, and create headspace.
4. Take note of your habits.
Another benefit of journaling is the ability to reflect on how I am spending my time. If I create a list of tasks for the day, but find I have achieved none of them, it becomes very clear that I've wasted time elsewhere.
I've found it helpful to:
take note of when you're being unproductive to identify patterns in your behaviour
create goals for new daily/weekly habits to encourage good behaviour, and take note when you are adopting them, or when you pick up bad ones.
3. Mindfulness in all your activities.
Regardless of your gender, it looks like multitasking doesn't work, and is an overrated lie.
Preliminary research shows that when we attempt to do more than one thing at a time, we are simply shifting our attention back and forth between tasks. Each time we shift attention a small, but important, amount of our working memory is used up.
This brings on loss of concentration and fatigue faster. Mindfulness has helped me to stay on task, and block out the distractions. So I recommend:
using the Pomodoro Method -
Concentrate on an activity for 25 mins with no distractions,
then have a 5 minute break, then repeat
Pomodoro has helped me get through even the most procrastination-worthy tasks
making pomodoros more fun with apps like Forest -
In this app you can plant a tree to represent the time spent on a task,
If you stay focused for the whole time, you'll be rewarded with a fully grown tree.
If you use your phone in that time your tree will die...
Demarcate your life. Make rules about how you spend your time like
No emails after 8pm
No phones at dinner time
No work on Sundays, and
#LowTechThursdays - a challenge my wife and I are about to try where we avoid all technology outside of our work hours.
I wonder how we'll cope!?
If you can achieve two self-organisational goals at once then do it! Why not:
take notes by tweeting your ideas when you attend talks (✔️memory✔️social media)
scan your handwritten notes and convert them to text (can do on Onenote) to avoid retyping (✔️free writing ✔️digital storage)
turn your brainstorms into writing practice, by writing a blog perhaps!? (✔️reflection ✔️communication)
Lewes argues that success in work and life depends on how efficiently we can organise our experiences. We have to find simple strategies to handle to handle the plethora of stuff that finds us.
1. KISS your chaos goodbye.
The best systems are simple. If you find it hard to decide what to do with documents, links, or messages, then cut out some steps in your organisational practices. *Keeping It Simple, Stupid* means finding the fastest and least complex way of managing everything.
That way you can spend less time organising
- and more time living - your life.