Getting organised

Tuesday, 25 January, 2011

Elsie asked me about how I keep myself organised recently and so I thought it was worth blogging about—if only as a useful complement to my previous post on tech/GTD stuff. Again, I don't mean to come across as saying “Everyone should do things my way”; instead, I hope you'll find it interesting reading about what one individual does, and perhaps you'll glean some things that might help you.

How I keep myself organised has change a fair bit; I used to keep two paper To Do lists—one for home and one for work. (I was far more on top of the one for work, of course!) Now that I'm settling into life with baby, it's become just one To Do list and I keep it electronic.

Electronic is only possible because of the iPhone; otherwise I'd stick to paper. But the iPhone goes with me wherever I go. I use Evernote (wonderful piece of software that syncs with both your laptop and your phone!), and I have a note in there called “To Do list”. It has no formatting in it because it has to be editable on both devices, so I tend to make use of uppercase and stuff to break it up.

Every Sunday, I plan for the week ahead under the headings “MON, TUE, WED, THU”, etc. I put in the events for each day (e.g. mother's group, church, etc.) and the tasks that must be accomplished (e.g. bath Astrid, laundry, wash nappies, stuff nappies, etc.). Then Ben and I work out where to slot in Ben time (which is usually spending a night out with friends), Karen time (which is sometimes writing time and sometimes going out somewhere—like to the movies) and marriage time (the nature of which varies from week to week). The housework happens earlier in the week; the leisure stuff happens later in the week when I'm lacking in stamina.

Essential tasks get listed first; back burner tasks get listed last. Things are grouped according to chronology but also according to context (e.g. if I'm going somewhere, I list all the stuff I need to do while I'm there). Information that's useful to the task (e.g. phone numbers, URLs, sub-lists) get included (e.g. “Go to the shops [buy milk, bread and cherry tomatoes], visit post office, withdraw money from the ATM”).

I list everything for the day—even things that aren't “tasks” as such (e.g. church)—because it gives me an idea of how the week is going to go and how much time I might have to do some of those back burner tasks.

This week's To Do list currently looks something like this:

  • MON
    • Cleaning lady 9:30 am
    • Laundry
    • Wash nappies
    • Make doctor's appointment [phone number]
    • Call the Sydney Opera House box office [phone number]

    • Blog post on organization?
    • Draft submission letters?
    • Upload Astrid photos and videos to Flickr
  • TUE
    • Fruit and veg delivery between 12 and 7 pm
    • Mother's group 12-2 pm
    • Bath Astrid
    • Stuff nappies
    • Craft night at V's 6 pm
  • WED
    • R's birthday breakfast 9-11:30 am
    • M's BBQ (lunch)
    • Fold and put away laundry
  • THU
    • Doctor's appointment?
    • Karen writing time (afternoon)
    • Bath Astrid
  • FRI
    • Lunch with E 1 pm
    • Sufjan Stevens concert 8 pm
  • SAT
    • Chinese New Year lunch 12:30 pm (bring gifts)
    • Bath Astrid
    • Wrap present and write card
    • Wedding anniversary dinner
    • SMS A about church
  • SUN
    • Church + BBQ

Anything that doesn't get done on one day gets rolled over to the next day. Often the list gets revised or added to daily as I think of things or move certain tasks to other days.

Crossing them off the list gives me a sense of accomplishment (with the added bonus of feeling like I'm on top of things). Furthermore, it reminds me what I need to do—which is especially valuable as life with baby means interruptions, fatigue, lack of focus, memory lapses and so on; I can always refer to my list when I think, “What am I supposed to be doing again?”

There's more, however. Further down in the note I've got other lists under headings like “Ongoing and urgent” (for things that I need to keep in mind but can't necessarily do anything about immediately), “Back burner” (for things that are, to use Stephen Covey's terminology, important but not urgent) and “R&R ideas” (because those are always worth having around for the day when you feel so down/flat/exhausted, you just can't think what you might enjoy doing). The idea is that eventually those items will move into the top of the note where I schedule what happens from week to week. (Wishful thinking, perhaps.)

So that's what I do to keep myself organised at the moment. What about you?


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Evernote is a brilliant program.  Have you tried using the voice function and then emailing it to your email or your Evernote email?  It could be handy if you have your hands full.  It’s spoken but change to text.


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