Do you spend way too much time looking for your checkbook or car keys? Do you live among piles of papers, books, CDs and clothing? Do you have a hard time remembering appointments?
If your answer is yes, getting organized may seem like an impossible task. But having an organized life simply means you know how to function most efficiently according to your own style, which isn't as difficult as it may sound.
"Organizing is a skill, and anyone can learn it," says professional organizer Allison Yeager. "The problem is finding your specific organizational style. What works for me may take someone else two hours to understand."
Before getting started, remember that changing your behavior takes time.
"Don't overwhelm yourself by trying to tackle an entire house in one weekend," Yeager said. "Take time to plan and think about what the problem is. Visualize what you want it to look like."
How to Organize Your Home
1. Find a place for everything. Start small, maybe with one junk drawer, but find a place for everything you have. "Have a specific place that you put your keys or the mail or your child's backpack," says Judy Barnette, a professional organizer in Franklin, Tenn. "People waste so much time looking for lost or misplaced items."
2. Eliminate clutter. Open the mail over the garbage and throw out junk mail right then. Evaluate whether to keep receiving magazines you never have time to read, or consider rotating subscriptions. Gather frequently used papers such as phone lists and take-out menus in a three-ring binder.
3. Simplify the morning rush. Each evening, decide what you'll wear the next day, and press it if needed. Also gather anything you'll need to take with you in the morning, and put it in a spot near the door.
4. Do wardrobe maintenance. Go through your closet at least twice each year, and take out anything you haven't worn in the past year or no longer need. Donate your surplus to a local shelter or to your church's clothing closet.
5. Institute a paper routine. "If you do have to stack up the mail, have a set time each week when you will sit down and go through it," Barnette says. Designate a specific spot for bills, and pay them consistently by tracking the due dates on your calendar.
6. Use technology. Consider scanning papers you want to keep—including everything from household records to old college papers—and keep them on a disk. Then you can shred and toss out the papers.
How to Organize Your Workspace
7. Tame your desk. Keep only supplies you need daily on your desktop. Gain more desk space by mounting your keyboard underneath and raising your computer monitor with a monitor arm.
8. Control your messages. Think before giving your email address or cell phone number to everyone; incoming information may be easier to manage if it all goes through one form of communication.
9. Supercharge your communication. Jot down an agenda before making a phone call, so you don't forget important points. And be clear about the response you need when sending a message to a colleague—they can then provide a full response, even if they don't reach you directly.
10. Maintain responsibility for your projects. Keep a written record of what you've delegated, and follow up so nothing falls through the cracks.
11. Conquer your filing. Create a filing system for your electronic documents that mirrors the one you have for paper. Sort, file and purge electronic information regularly. Also, keep a file index and always check the index before creating a new file, so you avoid making duplicates.
How to Organize Your Meals
12. Plan ahead for meals. Plan dinner menus each weekend for the following week, and use a slow cooker or other time-saving cooking techniques as often as possible.
13. Maintain a shopping list. Keep your grocery list on the refrigerator or another visible spot so that you'll write down needed items as you remember them. Consider using one of many smartphone apps available to create and maintain lists. Then shop every other week to avoid running to the store every time you need an item.
14. Organize your kitchen. Use clear containers for pasta, cereal, and similar items, so you can quickly see the quantity you have. Group items together according to how you use them, says Kathy Firkins, a professional organizer in Midland, Texas. For instance, keep all baking ingredients together.
15. Keep a stocked pantry. Even if you don't have an actual pantry in your home, adhere to the pantry concept of stocking up on necessities. "A beginner's pantry focuses on convenience and contains backup products for each storable item used in the home," says Cynthia Townley Ewer, editor of OrganizedHome.com. "A good first goal is a three-day supply of food and hygiene supplies adequate to support your household plus one additional person."
16. Clean as you go. Rather than keeping a sink full of dirty dishes, make a habit of washing each dish (or putting each dish in the dishwasher) when done with it.
How to Organize Your Time
17. Overestimate. Allocate twice as much time for a task as you think it will take. This accommodates for interruptions and stopping to get more information.
18. Make projects manageable. Break large projects into small, sequential steps. Schedule these steps into your day with your planner.
19. Keep lists. "Most people have a hard time remembering things," Burnette says. "Keep a pad of paper by your bed, in your car, in your desk—and when you think of something, write it down."
20. Keep small projects with you. "Keep things in your car that you need to read," Burnette says. "Read them at the doctor's office; read them in line at the post office. If you view this as a time to catch up, you won't mind when you have to wait."
21. Use a planner. Whether it's a paper notebook, a computer software program, or a handheld electronic device, use a planner to track appointments and tasks, and keep track of your time.
How to Organize Your Relationships
22. Keep track of important dates. From friends' birthdays to dinner dates, keep social appointments in your planner, online calendar or smartphone, and train yourself to rely on it.
23. Wear a watch (or keep your phone close by). Keep track of time, and allow yourself enough time to arrive early for every appointment, whether it's a movie with a friend or lunch with your mother. Being late shows a lack of respect for the other person.
24. Schedule friend appointments. If it seems like you're too busy to spend quality time with friends, ask them to plan ahead of time for lunch, a hiking trip or another get-together. Track these appointments just as you would an important business appointment, and make a point to keep them.
25. Make use of technology. If finding time to stay in touch with friends seems difficult, try catching up on the phone while you're grocery shopping or waiting in line at the post office. Make time to Skype or video chat with friends and family who live away.
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