If you’re determined to be more organized this year, don’t make the all-too-common mistake of expecting it to happen all at once.
“People decide they are going to overhaul their lives in January and they are going to do it all at one time,” says Regina Leeds, who has written nine books on organization, including One Year to An Organized Life. “That is setting yourself up for failure.”
Instead, use the New Year as an opportunity to plan out and put in place a few key steps that will help you get organized over the course of the year, rather than getting there all at once. “The first thing to realize is that the whole of anything is overwhelming,” says Leeds. “You have to break any goal or new thing you want to learn into smaller increments.”
If you want to be more organized about your home and work life, you’ll need to take care of your most fundamental tools first–your mind and body. “Acknowledge that your body is a machine and it runs on fuel,” says Leeds. “You have to give it water and good food over the course of the day if you want to think clearly.”
This may seem incredibly obvious, but it’s easy to forget to stay well rested, fed, hydrated, and active. And a lack of any one of these takes its toll. Just think back to your last bad night of sleep or junk-food binge and how sluggish and unfocused it made you feel. Make small changes on this front and you will begin to see effects. Incorporating more fresh veggies into your diet, adding 10 minutes of walking to your day, taking the stairs instead of the elevator–all of these are a few small changes that can have an impact.
Don’t expect to make good decisions about organizing your life when your mind and body are in disarray. “If you are sleep deprived, hungry, and dehydrated and you say you are going to organize for the next five hours, you might as well go to the movies and have some popcorn because you are not going to be able to make good decisions,” says Leeds.
Add simplicity to your life. If you can set up an automatic payment on your credit card or other bills, take the time to do that at the start of the year. Not having to worry about paying your bills on time or missing payments eliminates unnecessary stress in your life. Automate what you can and focus your energy on the things requiring attention.
When you set specific goals, write the steps you need to take to accomplish them into your calendar. Leeds recommends creating a month-at-a-glance calendar that allows you to roughly plan your priorities four weeks in advance so that you can be more strategic about accepting or turning down opportunities that come up last-minute.
“A calendar shows you if you are reaching your goals and how are you using your time,” she says. “If you don’t understand the steps that make those goals possible and plan them in a calendar, it’s going to be a thousand times more difficult.”
Chances are you’ll need more than one or two days to organize all of your belongings. Organizing is a huge energy suck so don’t plan to do it all in one weekend, warns Leeds. Instead, she suggests doing what she calls “speed eliminations.” Set a timer for 10 to 20 minutes and go through your space, rapidly getting rid of all the things you don’t need. This isn’t about sorting slowly through piles of old greetings cards and photos. “You want to move like your hair is on fire,” says Leeds. “What you are looking for are things you can eliminate with ease.”
Prioritize organizing your bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen, as these are the rooms you often start and end your day in each day. Having those spaces feel less cluttered can help set the tone for your day. Your environment can be a reflection of what going on inside your head. If your space is cluttered, there’s a good change your thoughts are all over the place too, says Leeds. “This speed elimination will make you feel empowered,” she says. “When you are looking at a big organizing change in your life, this will get the ball rolling.”
Being more organized is often a matter of working a few small habits into your day. Put your keys in the same place every time you get home so you aren’t rummaging around for them. Wash a dish right after using it. Check the trash daily. “The pileup of stuff is a debilitating, demoralizing visual,” says Leeds. “These habits make you feel really good about yourself. They change the environment and energy in your home.”
Leeds recommends breaking whatever organizing task you’re tackling into three distinct steps. “Whether you’re in a home or an office, a bathroom or a boardroom, it’s all the same,” she says. Those three steps are:
- Eliminate what you don’t need quickly: If you don’t want it, have more than one of the same item, or it doesn’t serve a purpose, get rid of it.
- As you sort, create categories: Don’t heap all the things you want to keep in a big pile, sort them into categories as you go.
- Organize your categories. Once you’ve settled on what you’re keeping, think about the most efficient way to store those things. A giant pile on your desk is probably not the answer.
Whatever you do, start thinking in terms of completing what you’ve started. The last thing you want is unfinished projects in every room and corner of your home. “We are masters of not finishing things,” says Leeds. Break tasks into manageable projects that can be completed.
And remember: Progress takes time. “A house is made one brick at a time,” says Leeds. “There is no little task you can’t master that isn’t important in the world of organizing.”