How do you stay organised? This question in various forms is frequently asked of me. In this post Personal Motivation In Motherhood a few years ago, I answered the question from a reader who wanted to know where I got my motivation to actually do what I write about.
In last year’s survey, in the section where I asked what would be the one question you would ask me, there were many variations on this theme like:
- How do you find the motivation to do what you really want to do?
- You can read all the plans in the world but how do you implement the ones that work and stay with them?
- How do you stay organised? I start and then fall into a heap.
I think it is really important to note two things:
- I don’t always feel like doing what I do. Sometimes I would rather be doing a 100 other things than writing a meal plan or cooking the evening meal in the morning so dinner will be organised for that evening.
- Occasionally I get overwhelmed or slacken off and everything seems disorganised.
But I stick at it or get back on track because the pay off is so big for me. Planning and organisation, as I have noted before is my security blanket. The thought of running blindly through a school week without some structure scares me. “How will I fit my runs in? Who needs what when? What will I cook for dinner and do I have the ingredients?” I have done it before and I survived, but for me, it doesn’t allow for calm or allow me to fit in all the things I want to do.
So how do I stay organised? Realising that willpower and motivation alone would not do it was an important first step. Both will power and motivation fade and you still need to keep doing long after it has left.
Staying organised with habits
Staying organised for me is about creating the right habits. I am very much a creature of habit and this fits well with me. I know others who struggle with this. I reviewed the excellent book The Power of Habit – Why we do what we do and how to change by Charles Duhigg and if you struggle with habits, I can highly recommend reading it.
Habits work because they take the thinking out of the minutia of the everyday activities you have to do. Scientists generally believe habits emerge because the brain is always looking for ways to save effort. Left to its own devices, the brain will try to make almost any routine into a habit, because habits allow our minds to ramp down more often.
How the brain does this is through what Duhigg describes as The Habit Loop:
This process within our brains is a three-step loop. First there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical, mental or emotional. Finally, there is the reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future.
Duhigg also explains that for habits to truly stick there needs to be a craving. And of course the problem is that your brain cannot tell the difference between a craving which will lead to a good habit like going for jog or a bad habit like smoking. It might them seem dangerous for the brain to operate in this way, but without these type of habit loops imagine how overwhelming everyday life would be.
If you have tried getting organised before but it hasn’t worked, try again using the habit loop. Start with one area at a time and focus on that until you have it sorted. If mornings are your issue and you crave for them to be better try something like this:
- Cue: Start getting up 30 minutes earlier. Set the alarm and place it somewhere where you will have to get up to turn it off.
- Routine: Then have a routine of how you work through the next 30 minutes, eg breakfast, make the lunches, shower. Stick to the same routine and tasks day after day.
- Reward: Acknowledge how much better it feels to leave the house feeling calmer and well organised. Think about this each night before you go to bed and remind yourself of the value of getting up earlier each morning.
It will take time for the habit to develop, but persistence will pay off.
Staying organised does take work and it does mean making the right choices. For me it sometimes means forgoing attending a school luncheon, saying no to extra work or not watching television or spending time on social media.
If you start to enter the phrase “How to stay organised” into Google, I found it quite funny to see that amongst other search phrases that came up through its predictive search was “how to stay off facebook”.
When trying to stay organised we do need to be really honest with ourselves and work out where our time sinks are. What are we spending time on that is really adding little value in terms of family harmony, staying organised or happiness? What do we say we are going to do for just five minutes and we find ourselves still doing it 30 minutes later?
For me it was things like checking email and social media too frequently. Changing these habits alone has seen me find much more time for other things around the house, most importantly spending time with the kids.
Staying organised is a choice and to ensure I stay that way, I have to make sure I make many right choices across the day. Making choices is tiring so by creating as many good habits as I can, I limit the number of choices I have to make on how I spend my time. This is pretty much what my weekly schedule does for me.
What would you add to help out these readers? How do you stay organised?