Life is messy! Treading that border between chaos and order, having enough structure without stifling yourself is key. But most theories about how to organize your life focus on only one part of it. Things have changed! Our lives are as much online as offline, and if we want to organize our lives, we need to consider that.
This short guide is a new way to organize your life, all of it, without leaving any part behind.
The Three Areas of your life
To create balance, clarity, and peace in our lives, we need to be able to focus on each piece of life one by one. These pieces are:
- Your Physical Life
- Your Mental Life
- Your Digital Life
Let me explain.
Your Physical Life
Your physical life is the world you see around you. This is the first thing we think of when talking about getting organized—the stack of papers on your desk or the nest of wires behind the screen. Most organization-self-help books are aimed at the physical word. How to store your clothes, reduce clutter in your drawers, or make things easy to find.
Thirty minutes or less of organization every single day is all it takes to reduce that feeling of uncertainty and make sure everything is taken care of. Your physical life is a great place to start! I find I can’t get work done if I’m in a cluttered space, so organizing your physical environment is a great place to start, but there’s more to your life than your physical world.
Your Mental Life
If you’re anything like me, your physical world is nowhere near as complex as what happens inside your mind. For example, the state of your living room may change in minor ways over a day, such as a book left on your coffee table or a new lamp in the corner. But think of the changes your mind goes through in a day; you may be thinking about trips to London, finding a Spanish teacher, and changing jobs – all before breakfast!
Neurologists tell us that the average person thinks 4000 thoughts every day. So regardless of how tidy your desk is, if you don’t get a system to deal with at least some of your ‘mental data,’ the chaos will spread across the rest of your life.
Your Digital Life
Most organizational systems fail to recognize or deal with this section of your life. It’s understandable; most were created in a time that didn’t require much thought about our digital worlds because they didn’t exist yet. For example, David Allen made Getting Things Done in the 80s and 90s and published the book of the same name in 2001, three years before thefacebook.com was launched.
Even if we forget about the Goliath that is now social media, how much of our lives are lived through online games, forums like Reddit, online content from blogs to YouTube, and even streaming services like Netflix? If we want to get a grip on our lives, we must consider it all.
Why Life Slips Towards Chaos
Your life feels chaotic not because you have too much stuff going on but because you have too much stuff undecided in your life. An old phone case on your desk is undecided; what will you do with it? Trash it? Put it on a shelf? Give it to someone? A thought like “It would be cool to buy an apple watch” is something else undecided. Are you going to buy it? Whether or not you do is not essential, but if you don’t decide, it’s another small piece of chaos hanging over your head.
There are thousands of small undecided choices like this weighing down on us at all times. Reducing them is the key to organizing your life.
Of course, you don’t need to decide every part of your life; you couldn’t even if you tried, and a certain amount of chaos is not only necessary but fun too. But when you’re feeling out of control, like you’re spinning in the center of your existence, you can get some control by following these three steps.
The process of getting organized is simple, and you make the rules! There’s no predetermined standard of being organized that you need to achieve. You only need to organize as much as what works for you. Getting organized should help you. Pull back if you’re spending so much time organizing your life that it’s starting to become a burden.
A certain amount of organization will improve your life; too much will constrain it; you need to find the perfect balance for you.
So here is the process you need to go through, whether it’s to organize your room, your desk, your mind, or your phone. Three simple steps you can do anytime you feel you’re slipping into chaos.
Step 1: Focus
The first step is to focus on things individually. Don’t try to organize a room. Instead, look at what’s on the table and organize them one by one.
Trying to “clean up my phone” or “sort my head out” is a task too big to do in one sitting; you’ll get overwhelmed fast. But “delete photos” or “decide what to do this weekend” is something you could make progress on.
What should you focus on? You need a checklist, one for each part of your life. It’s too much for you to think of what to focus on then actually do it for everything in your life. A checklist will make organizing your life so much easier.
Step 2: Decide
For every item you focus on, you need to make a decision. There are only three options:
- Do nothing
- Trash it
- Do Something
Let me show you how this works. Say you want to organize your kitchen, you’re going through your checklist, and you come to a big iron pan; you focus on it, and you could decide to:
Do nothing – it’s fine where it is
Trash it – it’s old, and I don’t need it now
Do something – I need to replace this pan / I need to reseason this pan
Let’s also go through this step with something from your mental life: an idea to go on a road trip that has occurred to you.
Do nothing – It would be cool, but not any time soon.
Trash it – Can’t afford it; not going to happen.
Do something – Maybe I could do this next week but only if Paul wants to go, let me call him.
An example from your online life: Someone on discord asks you for some advice
Do nothing – If I don’t respond, they’ll get the message
Trash it – You tell them you don’t have time or the expertise to offer any advice
Do Something – You schedule a call with them
Step 3: Do
The last step is to do whatever you decided in step two. If it’s throwing a pan in the trash, you can do it right there and then, but if you decide to schedule a zoom call or go on a road trip next week, you will need a system to keep track of those tasks.
Create a todo list ahead of time, so whenever a task comes up that you can’t do immediately, you have somewhere to put it.
Tips for Organizing Your Life
Give Everything a Home
The most efficient way to organize your work or home environment is to give everything a home. If you find that your bag or some other belonging always ends up tossed on the sofa, tabletop, or worse yet, on the floor, the reason may be that you haven’t yet set home for it.
I bet your shoes never end up on the sofa because they have a home right by the door! Keep your house clutter-free by designating a hook for your bag, a drawer for your keys, and a pile or filing system for all those pieces of paper that come into our lives.
Next, you must build the habit of leaving things where they live.
Make Better Use of Time Management Tools
Todo lists are just the beginning. You might have a calendar to manage your appointments or a planner that you occasionally pull out. But if you’re serious about staying organized, you may need to upgrade your time management tools.
I believe you can manage your whole life on just two simple lists, but there are lots of task management, project management, note taking, and time tracking apps to help you organize your life. So why not take advantage of them?
Build Good Habits
We all come down to our habits. For example, if we habitually eat junk food, we’re going to put on weight, but if we create a habit of staying organized, we’ll be organized!
- Capturing ideas when they occur
- Staying engaged with our time management systems or todo lists
- Taking time out to organize the three parts of our lives
This simple three-step process is really as easy as it seems, and it will save you from the clutches of the dragon of chaos anytime you use it.