I love to make lists and write things down to keep my thoughts (and life) organized, and over the years I’ve had many different systems for doing so. I had a brief love affair with the Filofax system, but it just wasn’t flexible enough for me. At one point I just wrote things down on a yellow pad of paper, but the lack of organization and potential for sheets to be ripped out or lost ended up stressing me out, so that was short lived. For a couple years now, my go-to has been a simple lined notebook. I’ve used notebooks made by Clairefontaine and Moleskine and I love both. My favourite size is the Moleskine Large size, 8.25 x 5”.
Then recently I hit upon a new system for organizing things within the notebook itself: bullet journaling! It’s actually a very simple system, but something about the guidelines it sets out has helped me to feel much more organized and in control of all the information I want to keep track of on a daily basis.
First of all, the system uses an index and numbered pages. I haven’t been too consistent about writing down what pages my lists are on and then looking them up, but the times that I remember to do so, I’ve saved lots of time not flipping around from one list to another trying to remember where I wrote what.
It also has a monthly calendar and to-do list at the beginning of each month, followed by pages for daily lists. In the monthly calendar I usually just write down the biggest event that day (I have another agenda that I use for keeping track of appointments), more as a memory aid than anything else. I love the monthly to-do list and use it all the time. The items on the monthly to-do list end up getting transferred to my daily to-do lists and nothing is forgotten. Sometimes, when I’m stressed out, my daily to-do list is short and includes easy items like “shower” (see below) so that I feel better about my productivity. It works!
The daily lists are great, because the bullet journal symbol system makes it easy to incorporate all different kinds of information. The black dot is for ideas & inspiration and might include a book title I heard about that day or a possible birthday gift for a friend. The circle is for events, so this can act as a dayplanner as well. And the square is for to-do list items, perfect for being checked off once they’re accomplished.
And then, of course, are all the random lists. I constantly have a “catch-all” list on the go for writing down all kinds of “black dot” items (ideas & inspiration), some of which end up being turned into to-do list items. Every few days, as the list fills up, I’ll go back and highlight the ones that I haven’t yet taken action on (for example: looked up, researched, figured out, added to my GoodReads, etc) just so they don’t all blur together. Other examples of lists in my most recent bullet journal include: groceries, Korean bucket list, observations, blog post ideas.
And it’s really as simple as that. It’s not necessarily ground-breaking, but for me, even just the idea of having different symbols for different types of information was tremendously helpful. I’m still tweaking the system to work for me and coming up with new symbols to indicate different things, but so far I love this simple method. Check out the bullet journal website & video to learn more. Any organization methods you’d like to share? I’d love to hear them! I’m endlessly fascinated by office supplies and productivity tips.
I’m an avid reader. It’s one of my very favourite activities, and it has enriched my life in many more ways than I can enumerate. Books have given me many gifts, chief among them my vocabulary, my understanding of the world, my conversation topics, and – more likely than not – my love of writing.
It physically pains me when people say that a) they don’t like to read, or b) they don’t have time. If you lean more towards a) – I am sad for you. You don’t know what you’re missing! Maybe you’re not reading the right things. Don’t be afraid to try a different genre (sci-fi, culture studies, romance?) of book, or format (short stories, choose-your-own-adventure?). I’m sure there’s a story out there that will grip you, shake you, and spit you back out utterly changed. (In a good way, if that wasn’t immediately obvious).
As for those who agree with statement b)..Codswallop! There’s time. Believe it, there’s time. (Read more about how to make time for your passions.) Are you watching TV while you eat? Could be reading. Are you listening to music on your commute? Could be reading. Are you paying attention in class? Could be reading. (Totally kidding.) There is, of course, the possibility that you’d rather not be reading, and if so: I redirect you to the paragraph above.
For now, let’s operate on the principle that you’d like to be reading, but you can’t find the motivation to make it a priority. Trust me, for all my love of the written word, I can totally understand this notion. More often than I’d like to admit, my books get tossed aside in favour of my shiny, interactive, exciting laptop. And even though I have these insane goals, like read 100 books in 2011, sometimes I shrug them off, and watch MasterChef instead.
So! How did I, a distractable fool of a girl, manage to read 32 books in 32 weeks this year?
So your days of summer laziness are numbered. In a week or so, your precious freedom will be no more, and you’ll be thrown back into the cruel world of early mornings, late nights, and more assignments than you can count on both hands.
[pause for screams of horror]
Even a very minute amount of planning and a teensy bit of organization can save you bucket loads of stress and end up translating into mountains of free time for you to get on with..stuff that isn’t school.
But maybe when it comes to organization, you’re a disaster. Maybe it bores you, maybe you think you don’t need it, maybe you prefer to be frazzled and stressed all the time because that’s when you ‘do your best work’. Yeah, right. In fact you might even say that you don’t believe in organization, or that it wouldn’t work for you.
If so, I have an answer to your woes:
Easy Organization for Non-Believers!
I promise I’ll make it easy! Just adopt a couple of these little methods and you’ll be golden, baby. Your whole life will be spread out in front of you, you’ll be able to prioritize, you’ll never forget anything, and you’ll be cool as a cucumber. Sounds good to me, so let’s get going!
1. An agenda/hipster PDA/smartphone.
In my opinion, the number one way to get and stay organized is to have your choice of a portable calendar with you at all times. It can serve as a headquarters for your other organizational systems (like to-do lists or budgets, see below) and it really couldn’t be simpler to use. The most important features are:
Daily slots for filling out homework or readings
Monthly calendar pages (you can avoid this by using a wall calendar, see #2)
Space for extra notes
Millions of people swear by this system, because it is as easy as falling off a log. Seriously! You get homework? You write it down. You write in appointments for the future, dates of important events (like exams..ugh) and plans you have with friends. Then, every day it’s easy to see what’s upcoming and what needs your immediate attention.
And there are tons of different options for every type of personality:
Hipster PDA (if you have dated pages, otherwise it’s just more of a to do list!)
DIY! Some people are unhappy with all the styles of planner, so they buy a regular notebook and draw in the calendars/dates/spaces for writing. Time consuming, but at least you get it exactly like you want!
Okay, are you sold yet? I promise if you actually start using a portable calendar (it takes 21 days to form a habit!! Give it a shot!) your life will become simplified. It’ll take some of the stress out of school. All your readings and assignments will be in one centralized location, not scattered on scraps of paper. There’s no need to turn on your computer, the information is always right there!
Plus, there’s customization. Buy pretty pens in a rainbow of colours, decorate the outside with magazine collages or bumper stickers, draw and scribble over all of the blank pages! Dress it up! Make it look like you. :)
I have always used, and always will use an agenda. What would I do without it!? This is my #1 pick for organization!
2. A great big wall calendar.
If the idea of carrying around your life in a day planner sounds too ‘Type A/anal” for you (it’s not! ..is it??), my next best suggestion is a wall calendar, hung front and center in your room.
It’s the same idea as an agenda, but requires a bit more organization up front. It would entail: at the end of the day, collecting all the little scraps of paper/vague memories of your professor saying what your homework is and writing the important dates up onto the calendar. This system would be excellent for people who like to see the big picture, right in front of them. Since the boxes on most wall calendars aren’t very big, this wouldn’t work too well for small, day-to-day things you have to remember, but this combined with a notebook of to-do lists could work quite well!
Actually, I think a great system is to have both an agenda and a wall calendar. That way you get the best of both worlds: you make it easy for yourself to remember things that cross your mind, and you can see clearly and unambiguously when things are due.
An alternative to having a physical wall calendar would be having an electronic calendar. Again, it would serve better as a big-picture kind of thing, but would be a nice alternative to the wall calendar. Two great online services are Google Calendar and 30Boxes, but you could always use the one that comes with your computer. And with the magic of technology these days, you can even sync it with your phone and have an electronic two-in-one system!
3. Some kind of simple filing system.
I know, I know. You’re like..”Filing? Who do you think I am?”
Look, I’m not exactly the filing type either. In fact, I’m exactly the opposite of the filing type, making me prone to losing important stuff like reference letters, Visa bills and my copy of the lease. Which forces me to become the filing type. Vicious circle. Anyways, if you adopt what I like to call “pretty much the easiest thing ever” (aka filing) then life is simple! Except when you can’t find the aforementioned documents from before you started filing. Damn!
Steps to becoming a Filing God:
Acquire an accordian/drawer/filing cabinet/box and some file folders.
Label said folders with headings like: Bills, Important Documents, Reference Letters, Old Essays (heehee), Letters, etc.
Sort what little documents you can find, and then vow to always use the filing system from now on!
Again, why not make it pretty? Choose a bright pink accordian or a stack of boxes in bright red and yellow, with purple folders and yellow labels. Have fun with it!
4. An assortment of to do lists!
Okay, okay. I know my crazy is coming out. What would you say if I told you I used all these methods? Oops. I’m crazy. But I promise they do help me to control my chaos. To do lists are probably my all-time favourite method of keeping my sanity. They are the greatest invention, period.
You already know what they are. So here are some new ways to do them:
Make a grid list: the headings being your classes or other commitments, and listing your tasks underneath
Prioritize the tasks with your own system of numbers, letters, coloured highlighters or stickers
Include other important things like exercise, calling your friends, and things you find fun. That way, you won’t get burnt out by all the work you have to do, and you’ll make time for those things
Get a pretty notebook and divide it into sections (school, apartment, friends, fun, etc) for ongoing to do lists; or write a new to do list for every day
Other Helpful Tips:
Set alarms or reminders on your phone for super-important events
Use Google Docs for long-term organization of things like doctor’s appointments, your budget and your life list.
Write notes to yourself for daily reminders, like ‘eat your veggies!’, ‘call your mom’, and ‘sit up straight!’. Always have post-it notes around for this very purpose!
Try and have a place for everything you use on a daily basis, and always put things back into the places they ‘belong’. Try keep those spaces uncluttered! That way, you won’t misplace anything important.
Keep an ideas book if you’re so inclined: mine is a big fat basic Hilroy that I carry everywhere to write down inspiration, things to look up online, ideas for blog posts, quotes I like and facts from articles. It keeps my head clear, and gets everything important down on paper. Instant memory!
Go forth with organization inspiration!!
There you have it folks. Tons of ways to make organization fit into whoever you are. Because it really doesn’t matter what type of person you are, not many of us have an elephant’s memory! So if you’re an artist-type, design and paint your own wall calendar, big and bright on the wall. If you’re a prepster, you shouldn’t have any problem adopting a sleek Filofax (maybe like that one from 27 Dresses?). If you’re indie/hipster, get yourself a stack of index cards and get to work making your perfect system! Any way you slice it, people need a place to permanently remember their thoughts on paper.
So I urge you: go forth with organization inspiration! Blow yourself away with your newly found memory and creative outlet (in decorating your planner, using it as a sketchpad, drawing with pretty pens, etc!) and time will open up for all sorts of other adventures.
And let me know: how do you stay organized? What’s your special system, trick or habit? Write it in the comments section or drop me a line, and I’ll add it to this post!