I have a reputation for being pretty organised. I’m not naturally an organised person; seriously, you should have seen my bedroom as a teenager! I have learned to be organised by being very intentional and finding tools and systems that work for me. Without them, I am a literal mess!
Life is complicated
I work full-time in a job that is challenging and has a lot of variety; no two weeks are the same. I have deadlines to meet and teams that rely on me for what they need. Between work, my blog, my family and my home, there are always a million balls to juggle, and when I try and keep it in my head, either the balls start to drop, or I have to stay awake all night to keep them in order. Or both.
When I have a good plan, I can manage a surprising amount. My productivity goes up, and my stress levels come down. Even in the busiest seasons I can remain calm and under control (well, relatively). But only when I have a good plan.
Every season is different
When I had young children, I had a very different looking process. As things slowly changed, I have tried different things to help me keep on top of things, usually after an epic failure or burnout experience. Over time, I have developed a process that works for me, in this season.
I hope that some of what works for me will give you some helpful ideas to try.
** This post contains affiliate links which means I receive a small commission if you make a purchase at no extra cost to you. I only promote products I love.
There are three things that I do before I start. Putting some thought into these sets me up for successful planning
1. A list of goals and action steps to achieve them
Goals don’t get achieved by accident, not for me anyway. When I take the time to list out the things that I really want to work toward, and the specific steps that are going to help me get there, I give myself half a chance. This applies to the big things, like the high-level five-year plan, but they also apply to simple things, like hosting a New Year’s Eve party.
2. Lists of regular/routine tasks
I list out in detail all of my regular and routine tasks, and then group them together. For example, I have a list of weekly household tasks like washing towels and watering plants. I have a list of monthly admin tasks for work. I have a list of people I like to stay in touch with regularly etc.
3. Design my ideal week
If everything was normal and there were no complicating factors, what would my week look like? I begin with placing the non-negotiables such as regular meetings, work tasks, date nights etc. I think about when I work most creatively and time-block content creation. I think about when I’m least productive and schedule in time blocks for meetings and coffee catch-ups. I also schedule in time for fun, rest, reading, and family and friends.
Tools I use
1. Brain dump printable
I use a printable for my brain-dump each week. It has a place to list random things, and I use it to think through how long each task will take, when it has to be done by, and then mark it off when I transfer it onto my daily to-do list. On the back it has a place where I can list action steps for a couple of projects. I punch holes in the page and keep it in a ring binder for easy access. I also keep the plan of my ideal week and list of long-term goals in the same folder.
2. Simplified Planner
I have been using Emily Ley’s Simplified Planner for a few years now. I use the daily edition, so there is space for a to-do list and schedule for each day. Some days are full, and some days are almost empty (by design), but I always have the space I need to plan out my complicated life in detail.
This planner is a bit of an investment, especially because I need to get it shipped to Australia each year, but I literally use it every single day of the year, so I justify the cost. I’ve looked around at a lot of different options, but I keep coming back to the Simplified Planner.
3. Digital Calendar
In my workplace they use Microsoft Exchange Calendar to book meetings and rooms, so I use it as my digital calendar for my personal things as well. I have it synced on my phone and other devices. There are plenty of different digital calendar options available with their own pros and cons. Use whatever suits you.
1. Brain dump
This has been a game changer for me. I learned it from David Allen’s book, How to Get Things Done.
I start each week with a brain dump. I begin by looking at the previous week and re-write anything that hasn’t been dealt with. Then I list everything I can think of – work, personal, family – everything.
The idea is to get everything out of my head. When my brain is busy trying to remember things, even little trivial things like needing to remember to buy milk on the way home, it takes up valuable brain capacity. I need all the brain capacity I can get!
When I am confident that everything I am trying to remember is written down in black and white, I can relax and use my brain to work, not just hold on to information.
When a project is on the list, I write it in a special section and list out all the action steps I can think of in detail. Usually my brain dump is a full page.
2. Group quick tasks together
I mark any tasks on the list that will take five minutes or less to complete. In my task list these become a group with one name, ‘Quick Wins’. Some weeks I can get half the list done in a couple of hours.
3. Transfer to daily to-do list
I go to my digital calendar where my shared meetings are scheduled and transfer them to the schedule in my planner for each day. Then I can see what time I have to work with for the other tasks on the list. Keeping my ideal week in mind, I then go ahead and populate the to do-lists for each day from the brain dump list.
4. Time block each day
I block out time each morning and afternoon for checking and answering emails, time for making phone calls, and then I block time for writing and other tasks on the list. I group my routine tasks together using the master lists from my preparation.
5. Plan in buffer time for unscheduled interruptions
Every day needs an hour of buffer time because things always happen that are not on the plan. When a friend calls, I never want to have to say, “Call me next Wednesday at two”. I want to have enough flexibility in the plan that I can be available.
6. Check it objectively
When the plan is written in black and white, I can take a step back and look at it objectively. I ask questions such as:
Am I making progress toward my goals?
Do I have enough margin to keep up a sustainable pace?
Do I have recovery time planned after busy periods?
What can I delegate? What can I stop doing? Am I doing the most important things?
When I take the time to plan, and I follow my plan, I get more done and cope better. When my week is planned well, and I have something that throws me off track, I don’t have to panic or completely lose momentum. When I’m stressed or overwhelmed, I can just read the list and follow each step. A good plan helps me stay on track, even in the most difficult weeks.
Want to give it a go? You can download my Brain Dump Worksheet here and get started with your totally organised life!