Thanks to Avery for sponsoring this post!
Work-life balance is the buzz phrase when it comes to organizing tips. With my design and blogging work, I guess I still technically have “work” to balance, with life, but as we all know, even a mom who has no other job title, has PLENTY of work to do.
Sadly though, the reality is that work-life balance is impossible. What you should be seeking, and what you’re really craving, is how to organize your life. If you can organize and get things done, you will finally feel like you have everything under control!
Mindfulness is another word that you might be hearing a lot about lately. It’s origins come from Buddhism, and it involves focusing all your attention on the task at hand. If you’re making eggs, just make eggs. If you’re playing with your kiddos, just play with your kiddos. This focusing of the mind makes you more effective at any given task, but also it makes life more pleasant. In other words, you will be happier.
For as long as I can remember (which I’ll admit isn’t as long as it used to be) my life has a been an organization disaster. I’m not going to sugar coat it guys — I am a mess! Procrastination is my only form of time management, which is a recipe for so much stress it could literally kill me.
The way our bodies are designed, when we feel stressed, the “fight or flight” response kicks in. Our brain is programmed to react by sending blood to the arms and legs — the parts of the body that are needed to help you run away, and less blood is going to the “irrelevant” body parts, such as the lobes of your brain responsible for rational and long-term thought. Yet I bet you find those body parts far more relevant to your daily life — too bad they’re starving from stress!
The fact is the stress response is only meant to work in the short term, but in the modern world we don’t often have life threatening situations that require us to fight or flight. Instead stress comes in a toxic trickle and our stress response never seems to turn off. Prolonged stress is responsible for increased cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, suppressed immune system, and can even cause heart disease and strokes. YIKES!
I was recently introduced to David Allen’s organization book called Getting Things Done. The GTD philosophy centers on the idea that your mind is for having ideas NOT holding them. He advocates having a process in place to reliably capture ideas as they come to your mind, so your brain can let them go and move onto something else.
The scatter-brained feeling that we fight, is the rational thought processes being interrupted by ideas and reminders that you don’t want to forget. If we can get those things out of our mind and into some other retrieval storage, we can enjoy a mind that is free from clutter. Doesn’t that sound nice?!
Allen’s idea has been honed to help working professionals organize and get things done, but I’ve modified it for a mom’s life. With the beginning of the new school year, I’m resolving to organize and declutter my life! Who’s with me?
Here’s how to organize your life:
I partnered with Avery to create my own “Life Organized” binder, and because I care about saving your mind as well, I’m sharing my free printable Life Organized planner template so you can also organize and get things done!
I’m using the Avery Ultralast Binder, which is pretty much the coolest binder ever. The rings have one-tab opening; the pockets are this durable plastic (not the clear kind that will stick to the toner on your pages); and the cover has a frame where you can insert the cover page for a totally polished look! Seriously this baby is the Cadillac of binders! It comes in a few colors, but I am using blue because matches my kitchen… I know, I’m a nerd.
STEP 1: Capture
We’re going to capture all those random thoughts. To begin, sit down with an empty sheet of paper and begin listing out any to-do, reminder or idea that comes to mind. Doesn’t matter what it is, just get it down. In our digital age, we often forget about the power of paper. I love my smart phone dearly, and would never voluntarily live without it, but for this exercise use paper. When you write something down, it frees up space in your brain so it doesn’t have to remind you again.
STEP 2: Triage
Now let’s sort through all the thoughts you’ve captured. First apply the 2-Minute Rule: if it is something you can accomplish in literally two minutes or less, then just do it right now. Everything else will get categorized into either your Project Page or Action List.
You’ll find that many of the items on your to-do list are really projects, meaning they have more than one step. For example, planning my Halloween Dinner Party, is not one action. It encompasses a whole list of actions that need to be taken, so it’s really a project. Sort through your list and transfer any items, that involve multiple steps, to a Project Page. Go ahead and list the next few actions if they come to mind, below the project heading. Otherwise it’s okay to leave it blank for now.
Look back to your list of thoughts, and you should see a bunch of actions or single-step tasks. Organize these onto your Action List, sorted by type of action. Sort them by where or how you’ll accomplish the task. For example, any tasks involving making a phone call will be grouped together. When I get a quiet moment, I can go through and make all the calls. Working in batches like this will make you more efficient. I’ve provided blank Action Pages as well as one pre-filled with the categories I use for actions. I think most of the categories are self explanatory, but the “Waiting For” category is where I track things that have been delegated to someone else or that I’m waiting on someone else before I can move ahead. I don’t want to lose track of them, but I also don’t want them floating around in my mind, so I keep them here.
Finally, check over your Project List and identify any next actions that you’d like to try to accomplish this week, and add those actions individually to your Action List.
Now you have your Action List for the week! I think that Allen’s GTD approach encourages people to use an Action List as their daily to-do list. However, I feel like as a mom, I’m lucky if I get three or four things accomplished in a day. For me an Action List is more of a weekly planner template. Each day I highlight a handful of things I want to get done that day, and I add them to my daily planner template.
STEP 3: Tackle Email
Which is piled higher, your laundry to be folded or your email inbox? LOL! Seriously, get ready to hit the delete button. First, get rid of all the crap. Honestly you need to install on your phone the “Inbox” app by Google (it’s free!). It’s so much more efficient for managing the email mess, than Apple’s default Mail app. It automatically groups emails by type and allows you to ditch all those promo emails with ONE CLICK! That feature alone makes it worth having, but I also like that I can attach photos and documents from my Dropbox right from within an email. There’s a bunch more cool features that I don’t have time to go into, but just trust me and get the app. If only there was an app to do the laundry!
Now onto organizing… remember that whole “TRIAGE” step above? Follow that same process for thinning out email. Apply the 2-Minute Rule to take care of those quick, easy replies. Then create three folders within your email: Actions, Waiting For, and Read. Hopefully by now you understand what an “Action” is, and I think I’ve also explained that “Waiting For” is something where the ball is not in your court, and “Read” is for those longish emails — like those from your friend that may or may not actually be funny or a newsletter that will take longer than 2-minutes to read.
Clean the entire inbox out, deleting or putting it in one of those folders. You may feel that you need some other kind of folder, and that’s fine too. The point is that your Inbox should be EMPTY when you’re done, and you should be able to do this fairly quickly. Remember if it will take longer than 2-minutes to reply, put it in the Actions folder.
STEP 4: Organize Daily
Your brain is smart. If you really want to free up that space in your mind, you need to trust your organizational process. Otherwise, if you don’t trust it’s taken care of, your brain is going to keep on reminding you. So it’s critical to stay on top of your organization. It just takes 10-minutes per day. I suggest you organize at night! After the kids go to bed and before you cuddle up with Netflix, grab something to drink and sit down with your planner.
It will go something like this… pull out your Week’s Action List, cross of what you got done that day, and pat yourself on the back.
Notice the “Capture” area on these daily sheets — this is where you will jot down any thoughts, reminders or ideas that come to you throughout the day. I keep my day page on my countertop in the kitchen so it’s handy. However if I’m away from my day planner page, I’ll use my phone to email myself the thoughts, which will get sorted into the “Actions” folder the next time I check my email. I also keep a dry erase marker in my shower because I get SO MANY ideas in the shower. Seriously… something about that hot water gets my brain cells working, and with a dry erase marker, I can just list those sparks of genius out on my glass shower door. That’s capturing at it’s finest, right? David Allen would be so proud!
Transfer those ideas you captured throughout the day to the Project Page or Action List, as needed. Next go through your email folders and add any additional tasks to their proper place in your organization system. Remember, you’re not trying to actually DO anything right now, you’re just putting things in their proper place. Don’t get distracted, don’t stress… right now you’re organizing, so just organize! (Look who’s mindful now!)
Periodically you’ll want to review your Project Page to add next actions under the project headings, and to transfer tasks to your Action List. I review my Project Page at least once a week, and I create a fresh Project Page about once a month.
Finally, highlight those tasks on your Action List that you’re going to accomplish tomorrow, and fill in your next day’s page. My mom day planner page also includes a place for you to think ahead about meals, and to list out appointments from your calendar and other details for your day. Leave that baby on the counter so it will be handy in the morning, and BAM! your life, organized!
Inside my binder, I use these fab Avery Big Tab Plastic Dividers with Pockets so I can store extra Action Lists and Project Pages. I keep the current one in a clear sheet protector in front of the pocket, and my current week’s Action List is the first page in my binder so it’s easy to refer back to.
Each pack of pocket dividers comes with a perforated sheet to help you make labels for the tabs. I just learned that you can go to Avery.com/templates and create custom tab labels that you can print out without downloading anything. It seriously took me 2 minutes, and now my tabs look so neat!
I want to see your Life Organized binders! Share pics of your planner binder or Action & Daily pages on Instagram with me @PagingSupermom and tag #SupermomMoment.