It came as quite the surprise when one of my work colleagues described me as organised.
Because, you see, I’m not a naturally organised person. Or at least I wasn’t. I’ve had to train myself to become organised on a very basic, foolproof level, to prevent, for example, starving, my teeth falling out, and possibly a short stint in jail.
I always aspired to be organised at school. You know those girls that took great pride in colour coding their notes, with cavernous pencil cases that contained at least a dozen different varieties of pen, a Tippex mouse, and a spare tenner, just in case.
That wasn’t me. On a good day, I’d have a pen in my possession. Occasionally a Bic biro, but more usually one of those free pens they send you in the post with company details on it, that can only write a hundred words before dying.
Or, if I remembered, one of those free pens they give away in Barclays (top tip for non-account holders: go in when there’s a queue. Join for a minute, grab a pen, then look at your watch, huff loudly, and leave. Done).
Organisation doesn’t come naturally to me. My whole life would be a mess if I didn’t take certain precautions. By a mess, I mean I’d never see a dentist, eat a vegetable, take an exercise, write a word, and all my Christmas gift would be bought on Christmas Eve from my local Coop.
I need systems in place. But you can replicate those systems, and become fake-organised like me.
1. Make the appointment NOW
This applies to regular appointments that the nice admin people encourage you to make when you pay.
You may think that your hairdresser is just trying to ensure she has your custom (and you’re right), but who cares? If you know you’re going to need your hair done again in a couple of months (or before an event) BOOK IT NOW.
I use this rule exclusively for the dentist, but it works. I now go every six months, because going is less hassle than ringing up and cancelling. It’s an improvement on leaving it four years as I did in uni, and losing sleep worrying about all my teeth dropping out.
If you’re an impossibly busy person that doesn’t know when they’ll have free time to go to the dentist/salon/accountant, make the appointment anyway. You can always change it — you might have to move it a day or so, but at least you’re going.
2. Get your systems in place
I’ve tried to devise a catch-all organisational system for YEARS, but I’m yet to find one.
I think I want a digital planner (because it’s easier to store things like links, and it’s multiplatform, so I can access it on my phone, tablet, and laptop), but I prefer doing certain tasks like blog planning on paper.
Currently, I have a good system going. I have a paper planner (I use personalplanner.com) and I use Google Keep.
I use my paper planner to plan my writing, to record appointments, and to budget. I keep it open on my desk and look at it (however briefly) every morning.
I use Google Keep to store links I need, shopping lists, and random thoughts I have when I’m out and about and only have my phone on me.
If you’ve not used Google Keep, give it a go. It’s similar to Evernote (but free) and syncs with your Google calendar. You can set up reminders, lists with checkboxes, and colour code to your heart’s content.
For to-do lists, I use both, probably not very efficiently, but as I said, I’m not a naturally organised person — I just need to do something to make sure I achieve my goals.
A note about reminders:
Use them for boring things, like renewing car tax, booking smears, stuff you don’t want to do and are therefore likely to forget.
Depending on what it is, remind yourself an appropriate amount of time in advance, and then the day before, and on the day. This is useful for things such as car insurance, because it gives you time to shop around, and routine doctor’s appointments because you’ll need the reminder to make the appointment and then actually go.
3. Set fake deadlines
The reason for my colleague calling me organised was due to my infamous Christmas shopping prep.
I like to start in September, and I’m usually all done by now (including wrapping), but the presents are beside me now, naked as the day they were dumped in the shed by the postman, and it’s bothering me. Maybe next weekend I’ll get that done.
This isn’t because I want to be organised (though that’s a benefit), but because it takes the financial sting out of Christmas and allows me to enjoy myself and get into the Christmas spirit without having to worry about money or shopping or panic buying on Christmas Eve.
Set yourself a deadline for being Christmas ready (gift-wise, anyway) by December 1st. You don’t have be 100% DONE, but you’ve made good headway.
If you’re hosting Christmas, the same applies. Either get everything you need now, or have a list and schedule when you’re going to do everything, from cleaning the guest room to picking up the food.
Everything you can do in advance, do it now.
You know those people that have already got the good supermarket home delivery slots? That’s you next year. Start checking in September — get that slot locked as asap.
It’s a ballache at the time, but gosh, it feels good.
By the way, expect backlash for this one — people get extremely jealous when you’re bought and wrapped early as hell and are MEAN about it.
Setting fake deadlines also works for work-related things too — set your own deadlines a couple of days before the real one to give yourself extra breathing room for checking your work. It also lets your brain relax a bit, and can allow it to come up with some good ideas that you were too stressed to consider before.
4. Schedule housekeeping tasks
As with a lot of naturally disorganised people, I’m really messy.
But since I do a lot of work at home, I can’t live in a mess. Well, I can live, but i can’t work.
So I schedule cleaning into my weekly planner. I like to set aside three hours, and then try to get it done in two so I can squeeze in a nap.
Waking up after a guilt-free nap in a clean and tidy house is one of life’s greatest pleasures.
This is as much about forming good habits as it is about organisation. Wash out your coffee machine when you’ve finished your morning coffee. Fill the washing up bowl before you start cooking, so it only takes a few minutes to wipe down the sides when you’ve finished your meal. Spray the shower down with, er, shower spray, when you’ve finished.
Schedule time to:
- Water your plants (do this before cleaning, because those buggers can be messy).
- Meal prep or plan. If you want. Even just chopping up a couple of onions and some salad veg will make cooking a bit easier.
- Exercise. Again, if you want to. This time of year my motivation goes right out the window.
- Hobbies you fancy taking up. Calligraphy, playing the piano.
- Schedule. Set aside an hour a week (Sunday nights are traditional)to plan your week. Plan when you’re working, shopping, cleaning, writing (and what you’re going to write about), reading, going to bed, everything.
Write your grocery shopping list and put it in Google Keep, along with any other mundane things you need to get. Allocate yourself spending money. It sounds tedious and boring but it stops little things that can derail your life from doing so.
Do a fortnight in one go, and then use next week’s scheduled scheduling hour to do fuck all.
You might discover that you have more time than you thought. You might discover you have no free time, in which case it’s time to consider outsourcing some of these tasks.
Would hiring a cleaner for a couple of hours a week drastically improve your life?
It would mine, but I only work four days a week at my day job and have no kids, so I have no excuse. When I’m rich maybe.
5. Don’t view getting organised as a hassle or out of reach
I used to almost pride myself on being a disorganised wreck. It was a badge of honour, earned because I was so so busy and important, writing blog posts and working my day job and volunteering and running and yada yada yada.
But the fact is that you’re only cheating yourself out of a slightly easier life, where you don’t have to pay a tenner for the pleasure of forgetting to go to the salon.
Your planner can be as simple as writing a list of tasks you want to accomplish in a day. Assign each task a time and a priority level and approximately how long it’ll take you. Tick ’em off as you go along, and feel accomplished when you’re done.
You don’t need a fancy pants planner with a billion stickers — just a notebook will do.
Bullet journals are great for many people, but there’s too much room for error for me. I like to have the basic structure done for me, and then I just fill it in. I run the risk of putting an extra day in April and fucking up the rest of the year.
You can use a cheap page-per-day diary — I only get a personalised planner because I need space for notes on all the different things I’m writing for.
I know there are a tonne of beautiful planners out there, but I have no need for daily goals or quotes or meal planning. It’s not that they’re not useful, it’s just that I don’t use them and I feel guilty for wasting paper and not wanting to write down what I’m grateful for. Weird but true.
This is a little side note on gifts — I have both a planner page and a Google Keep note where I write down gift ideas for people. Usually, I end up with loads for my mum and one idea for dad, but at least I reduce the risk of thinking up a great idea for a Christmas gift for him in March and then forget all about it in September.
It also means that when the time comes to buy the gifts, I can potentially get it all done in a day.
One of these years I’m going to buy all my birthday and Christmas gifts in January.
6. Bulk buy
I’m not talking extreme couponing or doomsday prepping, but bulk buying certain things can be quietly life-changing. It’s not just the financial implications, which can be wide-reaching, but it’s the convenience. Imagine never running out of toothpaste again.
There are tools to help you with this and save you money, such as Amazon’s subscribe and save option, which I use to buy birdseed (need to keep those pigeons chubby).
Where a lot of people go wrong with bulk buying is going too big. Our houses are of a finite size, and we don’t want to end up looking like hoarders.
That will not spark joy.
Let me suggest a few things you might want to buy in bulk:
- Toilet roll. Buy as much as you can store. You’ll never not need it.
- Toiletries — mouthwash, toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo, tampons, shower gel, hand soap.
- Milk. I’m vegan, so I buy long-life soy or oat milk when it’s on offer.
- Tinned tomatoes/beans/frozen fruit/pasta/rice.
- Greetings cards. Buy pretty, gender-neutral blank cards. Local scenery ones are good.
Whilst buying these things, there are also some other things you could stock up on, though not necessarily in bulk. Just things you don’t need until, you know, you do, like:
- Batteries — AA and AAA
- First-aid supplies — plasters, paracetamol, ibuprofen, Lemsip.
- Drain cleaner
Maybe use money from Christmas or a bonus. If you’re cool like me, you can set up a sinking fund to pay for this — put away a tenner a month next year, and then spend £100 on bog roll.
I can teach you to be organised, but my coolness is innate.
You have from now until January to get set up next year.
Plug your phone full of reminders (don’t overdo it though — if you know you’ll remember your mum’s birthday, just put in your planner, with a note of the gift you’re going to get her).
Set up subscribe and save on a 45-pack of toilet roll, call the dentist, etc etc etc.You can always adjust later.
You could even sort out your 2020 content calendar.
You’re not etching this in stone. You’re not actually committing to anything. Write it in pencil if it makes you feel better.
Make 2020 the least stressful year ever!