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Being organized during the holidays and beyond

Getting organized image

Get those details out of your head and into your productivity system. Photo credit: Flickr/Bandita

This post is #2 of a four-part series sponsored by Dell. See my other posts, and posts from other Babble Voices authors, at the Dell Family Tech page.

With the holidays upon us, the need for organization attains a new level of urgency, so I thought it might help to dig into the how-to of being organized. Not that I’m exactly qualified to orate on the topic; I’ve only recently begun regarding myself as an organized person. But I’m hoping that my discoveries will help you realize that being organized — during the holidays and beyond — is within your reach.

Before, I would get organized, but it felt temporary. I could bring order to chaos, but the assumption was that chaos would return. My productivity system was perfectly good — a three-way among Google Calendar, Things, and my iPhone — but I couldn’t seem to make a lasting change.

What made the difference? My willingness to embrace the system. My tools couldn’t help until I changed my thinking and my habits. I had to think of being organized as a lifestyle, not a fleeting moment of calm between storms.

“Make it a habit” is nothing new in productivity literature, but it’s easier said than done.

My first hurdle was the fear of being hemmed in by a two-headed taskmaster: my calendar and to-do list. I found myself talking back to my iPhone like a petulant four year-old. “I can do what I want! You’re not the boss of me!”

Habit #1: Recast my productivity system as a supportive friend, not a finger-wagging schoolmarm. To embrace the help instead of rebelling against the structure.

This habit came gradually, in a “fake it till you make it,” action-first-feelings-later sort of way. Which is why it’s tied directly to the next habit:

Habit #2: For the next 30 days, enter everything, and I mean everything, into your calendar and to-do list.

It took a full month of consistently using my calendar and to-do list before I was able (willing?) to let go of my urge to rebel. When I say consistent, I mean an obsessive focus on entering everything I needed to remember into my productivity system. Things like “floss,” and “ask Mimi about her science fair project,” and “crochet for 20 minutes.” Stuff that felt like a waste of the time it took to enter the data in the first place. Stuff I would probably remember on my own.

Probably. See, that’s the key. When everything’s in the system, you begin to trust the system. When you trust it, you begin to see it as your friend — someone who helps you through your day, someone who helps you become a better version of yourself.

It takes time to get there (at least it did for me), but that realization felt like being released from a pair of handcuffs. Ironic, because I used to regard the productivity tools themselves as the handcuffs! In actuality: disorganization = handcuffs; productivity system = key that unlocks them.

Entering everything into the system is only half the picture, which brings me to the next habit:

Habit #3: For the next 30 days, check your calendar and to-do list at least three times a day.

Here’s where you begin to reap the reward for all that data entry. Check your calendar/to-do list throughout the day (i.e., keep it with you at all times). Cross items off your to-do list. Rearrange the list. Move things around. Reschedule things. This is a dynamic tool, not a stone tablet. Pretty soon you’ll discover you’re not beholden to your list or your schedule; you control it.

A word about your choice of productivity tools: it doesn’t matter which tools you use as long as they work for you. One of the reasons I love using my iPhone is that I always have it with me. I used to be a paper-only gal, but too many times I ran out the door without my planner. I also found that the constant crossing-off/rearranging got messy on paper. Technology-based productivity tools (mobile-, Web- or computer-based) have come a long way since the PDAs of yore.

After 30 days, my hope is that your productivity system will be a seamless part of your daily life. Entering stuff and regular checking will be effortless. Bonus: you may find that the constant reinforcement of interacting with your productivity system actually improves your memory, which turbocharges the whole operation. Stronger memory + working productivity system = superhero.

The nirvana moment happens when you discover that being organized isn’t about flawlessly executing your schedule or checking every item off a list. Family life is too unpredictable for that, and even superheroes have their off days. Being organized is about creating conscious space for your priorities, and living the kind of life you truly want.

Parent Hacks has an entire category of tips for getting organized. I’ve also written more about habit change here at The Accidental Expert. See Habit Change: Baby steps or major leaps?

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