Organization is hard. I say this as a person who now keeps a detailed planner, cleans house daily, and has no greater satisfaction in life than checking something off a to-do list. I haven’t always been this way; in fact, I still struggle sometimes with thinking about all the work staring me in the face. I freeze up, particularly when that work is an invitation to rejection.
But I have to eat. To eat, I have to work. To work, I have to organize my time and not let myself be paralyzed with fear. Organization is a work in progress for me. I’m getting better at it, and the system I have now seems to be working for me. Even so, I’m always looking for more ways to streamline my work process.
I can’t promise that my organizational methods will work for everybody, but because freezing up is not actually a sustainable method of dealing with your problems, work, or social life, I thought I might as well share them with the world. Think of it as a series of potential tools, not a cure-all tonic; what works for me and my quirks might just be annoyances to you.
I mean this literally. A planner has done wonders for me, starting from when I was juggling school, editing a literary magazine, and working part-time. I use Moleskine planners because they make me feel fancy (currently an adorable Le Petit Prince themed one), and Staedtler pens to keep things colorful and organized. I color-code my tasks (hot pink is one job, pale pink is another, blog stuff is turquoise, podcast is blue, and so on) because it helps me mentally prioritize them–pink stuff needs to be done during my eight-hour workday, others can be shifted to after if necessary. I also like planners because you can add kitschy motivational quotes and little doodles, an important part of any organizational program.
As you might have gathered from the comics posts and the games writing and the fact that I do a podcast called Fake Geek Girls, I’m kind of a huge nerd. I like the little reward feeling I get when I level up in Dragon Age, but real life doesn’t give me sparkles and skill points to spend when I get enough experience. Instead, I use Habitica, a nifty little web/mobile app that basically turns your entire life into a video game leveling system. You can add tasks and habits and check them off as you accomplish them, and if you fail to do a daily task or indulge in a harmful habit, you take damage. Even better is partying up with friends and taking on bosses, because missing a daily task will actually hurt your teammates as well–a huge motivator for people like me, who can’t stand hurting other people. Even better is Habitica’s reward system, which is a total godsend for workaholics like me–I feel guilty when I’m not working, but I can create custom rewards to be purchased with gold I earn from completing tasks and rightfully declare that I’ve earned an hour of Bastion or whatever I’m playing at the moment.
3. Take Breaks. I Mean It. Take Breaks.
I’m not kidding about being a workaholic. I take great pride in my independence, but, as a fledgling freelance writer, I’m not exactly rolling in cash. My husband is gracious enough to support my flights of fancy, but that doesn’t assuage the feeling that I’m taking advantage of his good nature and that, at any moment, I ought to be working. Sleeping? Nah. Eating? Nah. Writing this blog post? Nah. Work.
The issue is that working all the time is going to lead to burnout. When you’re burned out and tired and frustrated, you’re not doing your best work. Sometimes that’s necessary if you get more things lumped onto you than you’re ready to handle–goodness knows that’s been my week in a nutshell–but remind yourself that it’s okay to do one of those ten minute guided meditations on Spotify because your heart won’t stop racing (did you know they have guided meditations on Spotify? Well, they do). Really. Take ten minutes to let a soothing British dude remind you to breathe; the work will still be there when you’re done.
4. Break Tasks Up
Because I work from home, keeping my house clean is really important to me. I can’t work in a huge mess (well, I can, but I won’t be happy about it), but I also don’t have a ton of time to clean every conceivable surface every day. Instead, I’ve broken this task into smaller tasks–I pick up each room every day, and dedicate around ten minutes to one particular room as well. I have those rooms, as well as certain larger tasks like cleaning all the upstairs windows, steam cleaning the carpets, et cetera, on a recurring cycle so that I know they will get done, even though I may not do them that particular day. Since starting this, my house is noticeably cleaner–rather than rushing through mopping all the floors because I have guests coming over in an hour (who am I kidding, I still do this), I can pick up what weird items have ended up on the couch (currently a bunch of business cards), wipe down the kitchen counters, and call it good enough. Tackling one huge project at once might work for some people, but it’ll just make me freeze up–giving myself one small task to get done is much more attainable. If you like foul-mouthed motivation and specific tasks to accomplish (including some that might surprise you if you’re new to having your own place), try Unfuck Your Habitat, an app and blog that help you manage and break down cleaning tasks by necessity. Particularly good for those who are intimidated by large cleaning projects or who have trouble stopping once they start.
5. Seek Motivation
While I’m fiercely independent, I, like everybody else, sometimes need a kick in the pants. Sometimes I need a gentle hand telling me that trying is what’s really important. Sometimes I just need to know that other people struggle too. I can ask my friends for that, but sometimes friends are busy, and you need somewhere else to turn. My favorite is #BGSD (Bitches Get Shit Done), a text message service by Kelly Sue DeConnick that sends out motivational text messages that say things like:
“You get to extraordinary one small step at a time. The dirty little secret: there’s no seat limit at that table. What’s today’s small step?”
“Bravery isn’t defined by fearlessness; it’s defined by what we do in the face of our fears. Be afraid; do the hard thing anyway. #bgsdlist”
I’ll admit it–I’ve teared up more than once getting these messages because a) I’m a weepy S.O.B. and b) it’s so incredibly validating to read exactly what you needed to read in that moment. Because life is scary a lot of the time, and because it’s hard not to compare yourself to other people and their success, and because sometimes you just need to know that someone has your back, even if that person is Kelly Sue DeConnick, who you met once after waiting in line at a comic convention but do not actually know. You can sign up for #BGSD texts using these instructions, and I highly recommend that you do.
Full disclosure: I still freeze up. I still struggle with fear and getting my work done and managing work and leisure time. I don’t imagine that I’ll ever get rid of that, but crossing one thing off my to-do list feels a whole lot better than struggling to remember what it was I was supposed to be doing in the first place.
And again, none of these things are cure-alls for everybody. I wish it were that simple. All you can do is try them and toss them out if they aren’t working for you–everybody’s different, and there’s no reason to force yourself into a system that doesn’t work for you.
If you have a Hot Organizational Tip, feel free to share it with me! I frequently seek out planners online to ogle just to see how much better mine could be organized if I took the time to do it.