Monday, September 19, 2011

Organization For the Organizationally-Challenged

If you're like me and have the opposite of whatever OCD is, you'll want to check out Bookavore's five-part series from last week about getting organized; it's helped me
a lot already, and the advice is so simple, people who are naturally organized will wonder why we weren't doing this all along.

I don't know, we just weren't. We don't have answers for such things. Now go alphabetize your spice rack.

It boils down to writing everything down. I've always been someone who writes a to-do list and then loses the list, but I have been better about that this year after getting a cute little notebook specifically for to-do lists. Actually, I got a couple of things at the beginning of the year that helped me get better organized:

Aren't they pretty? I found both of those Moleskines at a Barnes & Noble several months ago, 75% off because it was February already.

The colorful book-looking thing has a planner for each month:

These I've been using to keep track of information I'll need at tax time. In years past I'd start out really well, updating an Excel document each day, but by February I quit doing it, then end up the following April trying to re-create last year's life by going through my entire calendar. Since I don't work in the same place every day and I pimp myself out to contract with about five different places, that gets messy. Now, at the end of each day I jot down where I went, anything I donated, and anything I bought or paid for that's tax-deductible:

The small green book is what I started using for to-do lists; it's meant to be a daily planner so there's a page for each day:

So that worked out okay, but I wasn't writing down everything, and I wasn't specific enough. Some things seemed too small to bother writing down, but then I'd end up holding too many of those little things in my head, and of course I'd forget them. And there's nothing to remind me of the stuff I do write down, so if I'm not looking at the list it's easy to let things slide. It's just too much for the hamsters who run on wheels in my brain to keep up with.

Now, using the program Remember the Milk, I have tabs for different lists, like "Personal," "Work," "Writing," "Blog posts," etc. I fill in the things I need to do under each list. Whereas before I would write a note to myself to "Catch up on Apocalypsies stuff," I now have specific tasks under an "Apocalypsies business" tab:

Much more specific than "catching up on stuff."

For things I need to do every day but tend to forget about, like "take vitamins," I set those up as a recurring task. As soon as I check it off as "Complete" for today, the program adds it as a new task for tomorrow. You probably don't have to write down routine things like "eat lunch," or "put on pants," but do what you need to do. I won't pretend I haven't flaked out and forgotten to go to work once or four times, so no judgement here.

You can set up reminders about tasks that are due. Just this morning I got an email from a nice employer saying, "Hey, do you want to send in your time sheet, so we can pay you?" Yikes, I usually think about that during the week and put a sticky note on the computer screen to remind myself to do that. So now it's set up as a weekly task on Remember the Milk, and I'll get an email every Sunday as a reminder. I can access my lists from my computer or my phone, so I can always add a task when I think of it and check of completed tasks even if I'm away from home.

Unfinished tasks that are overdue are underlined on the list. A new version of the program might include a rabid squirrel that shows up at your house and bites you until you complete all of your tasks. But for now, the stern disapproval of the underlining will have to do.

Even though I do like writing things down, storing things on the computer helps me keep track of everything-- address book on a Google doc, daily schedule on Google calendar, for example, and now the to-do lists. I'm sure there are other good online programs or apps for planning and organization, and you do a lot with a smart phone calendar too. Recovering messy people, what have you found that helps you keep it all together?

Okay, now I can check "Do blog post about organization" off the list. Next task: Find pants.


  1. Oh yeah, I'm definitely a memeber of the OFOC.
    I LOVE your monthly planner thingy! And I love your blog. :)

  2. Remember The Milk is so awesome, for serious, thanks for pointing me to this site!

  3. Great post! ROFL at "Now go alphabetize your spice rack" as I have a friend who is ridiculously and annoying organised. She always buys me notebooks - 'birthday date books' 'to do books' 'receipe holder books'. Now I'm going to email her about Remember the milk. Then I win for once.

  4. I think I need to get an iPhone. Because I try to use technology to stay organized, but I never have the right device with me.

  5. I am the most unorganized person I know. In my law practice I have the best assistant and she was born organized. For writing, however i am on my own and I am always looking for helpful advice. I am a big notebook/pen girl.

    Thanks for sharing your system

  6. Melissa, we should have assistants for our writing jobs!