Being organized is one of those life lessons I haven’t quite mastered yet, but I keep trying.
I’ve always considered my ability to multi-task a talent, until I started taking too long to finish projects. I often felt like I was spinning my wheels and I knew something had to be done to change that.
Most women are natural multi-taskers. As wives and mothers, we tend to take on several task simultaneously. We do what we have to do to keep the family unit functioning. Sometimes we have no choice.
It was easy for me to stay organized when I was a single mom with 4 kids. I was forced to learn how to become more efficient in everything I did. I expected the unexpected and did what I needed to do to make things work.
It was something I became good at.
For years I worked in a job that was flexible and challenging. Being a server helped me practice a variety of skills, including multi-tasking, public relations, and attention to detail, and how to smile through my tears. I loved being a server because I didn’t really need to be organized. I just winged it.
But now that I’m in business for myself, “winging it” just doesn’t work for me.
A couple years ago, I started forgetting things. They were little things and I wasn’t too worried about it. Then a few months ago, I missed an important appointment, and it made me panic. A friend assured me it was probably because I had too much on my plate. I’m sure it was said in good faith and probably to ease my fears, but it made me aware of how I was struggling to maintain control. If I was spreading myself too thin, maybe I needed to learn to manage it before it got out of hand.
So this is how I, an unorganized person, became organized.
- I decided to use one calendar and make sure I looked at it on a daily basis.
My problem wasn’t so much writing my appointments down, but remembering to look at them. I had at least 3 appointment books that I used, but it was pointless if I didn’t bother to look at them. I relied too much on my memory and thought I didn’t need it.
I decided that since I was on my computer all the time anyway, I would create an online calendar and stick with it. Now I make it a habit to look at it every morning. I made a schedule of the daily activities and stuck it on my bulletin board and left little notes for myself to remind me to look at my calendar.
- I learned how to prioritize and manage my time.
This was difficult for me because everything was important to me. A friend showed me how to use a chart that listed those items that were important and needed to be done on a deadline, and those items that were important but could wait. My lists started showing me what I needed to do and helped keep me on-task.
My time became easier to manage and I’m working on bad habits, such as being late to appointments, an important issue in my line of work. Someone once told me if I’m late all the time, some people may see it as a sign that I don’t value their time. Now I leave the house 10 minutes early, no matter where I go. Besides, you can’t always predict what the traffic will be like. If there is one thing I have learned, it is to expect the unexpected.
- Do I need to keep my workspace clean?
I’m not a neat freak. When I come in my room, I’m usually in a hurry and tend to throw things on my desk. When I have time, I organize the piles, but that’s as far as it gets. I know where everything is, so there isn’t much point in putting everything in folders and stick them away in a place I won’t be able to find them.
Once a month, I sift through the piles, and if the project is complete, only then do I put them away in their respective folders. In other words, I believe everyone has a system that works for them, and it’s probably best not to mess with that. I like to think a cluttered desk is the sign of a creative genius.
- I practiced saying No.
I have a serious problem saying No. There are several reasons for this, but I think the biggest reason is because I like to help people. I am dependable and people know I won’t let them down. I can also do a lot of different things well.
“Hey, do you have time to show me how to make a video?” or “Can you look at my grant proposal and let me know if it sounds okay?” And even the infamous, “Mom, can you do me a favor?”
And I would really love to do it all, except I can’t. If I helped all the people who needed help, I wouldn’t have time to do my own thing.
When I do say No, it’s because I have other obligations. In the split second it takes for someone to ask me if I can help them, my mind becomes a computer, searching through my schedule, setting my priorities, to see if I might have a few extra minutes. It’s a great system, but a “few minutes” can easily turn into a few hours, and I end up over-committing and run into time management issues. It’s a vicious cycle that could have been avoided if I had only told them, “As much as I would like to, I have other obligations.”
It sounds good in theory. I think it’s something I’ll have to practice the rest of my life.
I never thought of myself as a procrastinator until it became apparent that I wasn’t getting things done. I once prided myself on being able to juggle many things in my life. When I didn’t have the time to get things done, I thought I was just being flexible. “It can wait,” I used to tell myself. I can’t do that anymore.
They say that the first step in changing anything is to be aware that it needs to be changed. I wasn’t aware that I had a problem until it became apparent that if I didn’t become more organized, my business wouldn’t be successful.
So instead of winging it, I am using my new organization plan-scheduling, time management, and prioritizing skills-to create new habits.
Like anything else, it’s a work in progress. No one said it would be easy, but it is definitely worth it.