Organize: 10 ways to plan and stay productive

sasha kretova's organization tips

Since I've gotten interested in self development, organization and planning, I've been reading lots of books and blogs, watching lots of videos and taking online courses on the subject. Of course all this time I've been talking to my friends and family a lot about it. Lots of people have areas of their life where they need to get more organized and productive, which means there are always things to discuss on those topics and advice to share. Plus we always try to follow up with each other's progress and share what is working and what isn't.

One thing I noticed a lot of people say is that certain advice doesn't work for them. That is definitely true, not all strategies that exist out there work for everyone. That's why there are millions of different strategies for organization, productivity and life improvement. We all have different personalities, different work and life goals, different lifestyles. That's why when you are willing to improve a certain aspect of your life, one of the biggest challenges is to find the strategies that work well for you. One thing I tell people when something doesn't work for them, is that you have to really try it before throwing it away. You can't really know whether something works for you or not unless you tried it for some time in different circumstances. If you tried a strategy for two days and failed, it doesn't necessarily mean it doesn't work for you. It always takes work and lots of self control to change your habits. We might often fail keeping a new habit or a new lifestyle, but the best thing you can do about it is pick yourself up and continue working on your new habit for some time before claiming it's not for you.

For this post I collected 10 basic strategies that work for many people and are a good way to start organizing your days and staying productive. If you are on your way to organize your work and life and learn to get a lot done, I encourage you to implement some of them. And I hope you really give them a try, say, for a month or so. It will be a great learning experience and totally worth it!

1. Keep a weekly or monthly planner

There are many different ways to keep a planner and lots of different types of planners out there. The things that I find the most important in keeping a planner are that it doesn't let me forget things I planned with others and that I can see my weeks at a glance. I don't usually plan my whole days that far ahead, so I use daily to-do lists for that. Usually I keep all the scheduled things in there, such as meetings, appointments, classes. I also add my free time activities: concerts, movies, plans with friends as well as house chores that don't really happen unless I plan them. Planner is a great tool to keep your schedule out of your head and on paper (or in digital form if that's your thing), so you can concentrate on other things.

2. Plan the night before

This is a recent piece of advice I heard from the wonderful Marie Forleo. This strategy is especially good for those who's schedules vary a lot. If you work at different times each day and you have meetings, appointments and projects all over the place, the best thing you can do to stay organized and productive, is plan your day the night before. If you're interested to learn more about this strategy, watch Marie's video. I've tried planning my days this way for a week or so, and it hasn't worked so well for me yet, because most of the time I have no idea how long each of my tasks takes. Probably when I'll have worked at my business for a while longer, I'll know the timing of each task better and I'll be able to implement this way of planning my days like a pro.

3. Have a running to-do list

This is pretty basic and everybody who has taken any steps towards being more productive has tried that. If you haven't kept any type of to-do lists, I encourage you to start. This is what I believe everyone needs to have. There are different types of lists, and different ways to keep them. But you need to keep track of what you're planning to do and what you have already done. It helps concentrate on current tasks and be motivated to continue when you see how much you have already achieved.

4. Daily to-do lists

This is my favorite productivity strategy I've tried so far. I often get overwhelmed by huge running to-do lists, so starting my day with a plan for that day only is much more motivating. I know exactly what my goals for that day are and I don't worry about the crazy amount of things I have to do. I still keep a running to-do list of all the tasks, but I only look at it at the end of the day to track my progress and plan the next day. You can read more about my daily to-do lists in this post and learn how to make tiny notebooks to keep your daily lists in here.

5. A week day for every task

If the type of work you do lets you completely streamline your working process, you could try assigning certain tasks for each day of the week. In my work I do that to a small extent, mostly with tasks related to blogging. I publish a post every Wednesday, so Mondays are usually for writing the post and Tuesdays are for taking photographs and editing. I shared my blog planning tips (and a printable!) in this post. I also try to have my Fridays mostly dedicated to paper work and other tasks that do not require lots of thinking and energy, such as folding paper, reviewing the inventory and so on, because I'd rather spend my energy in the beginning of the week on more creative tasks.

6. Black and white goals

I've heard this tip for the first time from April from Blacksburg Belle (check her out if you're looking for some good creative business advice!) Black and white goals are basically the tasks you give yourself that have to happen no matter what. Making your tasks black and white helps with fighting laziness and procrastination. This is easier for some people than it is for others. I know some people will do whatever they have planned and it comes naturally to them. Others tend to plan things out really well, but then other things come up, you get sucked into other tasks and at the end of the week you look at your initial plan with disappointment and move your tasks to the next week all over again. Sounds familiar? Then you absolutely need to make your most important tasks black and white, and train yourself to do them no matter what. Just do them and don't give yourself other options.

7. Break your day into chunks

I've got this advice from Lisa Congdon in her amazing Creative Live course. She is an artist who works on loads of different projects all at once. To make sure she moves forward with each of them every day, she breaks her day in 45 minute chunks and assigns a certain project to each chunk. Depending on the project, some tasks take two or three 45 minute chunks, and for others one per day is enough. This strategy is great to make sure you really concentrate on a task for a certain amount of time, but also take a small break every 45 minutes. Of course, it doesn't have to be 45 minutes, you can choose your own amount of time that it takes for you to really concentrate on one task before you need a break and get to move to the next one. To be honest, I haven't tried this strategy yet, but I find it really interesting and this way of working feels really organized.

8. Start your mornings with a routine that works for you

Morning routines are key to a productive day ahead. Again, they will be different for everyone, but I'm convinced that every person needs a morning routine. This way you can make sure you do not waste any energy deciding what to eat for breakfast or convincing yourself that you aren't too sleepy for a morning workout. Of course everyone will have their own routine and you need to try several things before you know what's your ideal way to start your day. I was convinced I wanted to do 30 minutes of yoga every morning. I love yoga, but somehow I couldn't make myself do it in the morning. My body felt stiff and sleepy and I was bored and impatient during the workout. A few weeks ago I started running outside every morning right after I wake up and I've been loving it! It is the best morning workout ever and it gives me so much energy. All it takes is a few sleepy minutes to put on my running clothes, but once I get outside and take a breath of fresh air, my mood lifts up right away. After just 30 minutes of running I come back a little tired but at the same time full of energy and motivation to do the things I need to and I do them much faster.

9. Make a schedule

This is basically a mix of points 1 and 2. If you like or need to plan far ahead, a clear weekly or even monthly schedule is the key. If a weekly schedule is what works for you, you will need a very good planner, that is large enough to fit all your tasks. First, you'll need to fill in all your appointments and tasks that have to happen at a certain time. Then you add all the tasks you need to do during that week in order of priority, or depending on how long they take, to the slots left in your calendar. If you are planning your weeks that way, I'd suggest leaving some time in the end of each week (or even each day) empty for tasks that might have taken you longer than you expected or got pushed back because of other urgent things. That way you'll be sure you are not planning more than you can handle.

10. Accountability

Are you lacking motivation to complete your tasks or to simply get yourself up in the morning? Many people find it helpful to keep themselves accountable to someone else. This could be simply a fellow creative business owner with similar struggles, who you meet once a week to share your goals and check that you've both achieved them next time. This could also be someone who needs your help with something that you need to improve on. If you are just learning a new skill, start making something for your friends that they really need. It would make building your portfolio so much easier than if you made up projects just for the sake of showing what you can do. The main thing here is that if you do it for someone else you're much more motivated. I use this technique for waking up. I wake my sister up every morning with a skype call and it makes it so much easier to wake myself up too. When I wake up all by myself the sleepy me finds all the things I need to do much less important than the motivated me did the night before, and I end up sleeping much longer.

These are just some of the basic strategies you could try implementing if you're willing to get more organized and productive with you life, work or business. The main point I really wanted to emphasize here is that there is no one strategy that works for everyone in every case. You really need to spend some time finding what works best for you in different situations. And I promise you will learn a lot about yourself on the way and you'll become much better at what you do, so finding your best strategy will not be a waste of time, no matter how long it takes.

The ten tips I listed above is just a starting point. If you've tried them all and still haven't found your ideal workflow, I encourage you to keep researching and trying things out. If you put enough work into it, you will definitely find your unique and perfect way to organize your days and achieve all of your goals.

If you found this useful, check my other posts on organization and productivity:

How I Organized My Mornings
My Secret to Blogging Regularly
How I Organize My Notes and Sketches
5 Tips on Dealing with Procrastination and Laziness

No comments:

Post a Comment