I’d wake up with a million things on my to-do list: Pay the car insurance and write the rent check. Remind my child to put his homework folder in his backpack. Sign up for a parent-teacher conference time slot. Carve out time to find recipes and write a shopping list. Buy gifts. Paper towels. Oh, and I was low on salt. No wonder parents struggle with how to stay organized.
Everything can feel like a game of catching up and I’ve got too many things going on. And I have big picture tasks like saving for an emergency fund and potty training the twins.
Except sometimes I don’t seem to have enough time to get everything done, or done well.
The other day, I brought the wrong lunch and packed my son’s pizza instead. I forgot my phone, and I couldn’t find my shoes. We all have those days when we feel frazzled and disorganized.
How to stay organized
Here’s what I learned we shouldn’t do:
- Think you’re just not the organized type. Don’t cast yourself as not cut out. Or that you’re stuck this way, because you’re not.
- Rely on your memory. Our heads can only take so much. Put your tasks into a “collecting” system, which we’ll get into more later.
- Think you’ll get it together once XYZ is finished. Don’t wait until something happens before you get your act together.
Instead, start now. Get organized, starting with manageable and practical tips like these:
Create a collecting system:
Do you try to remember all the things you need to buy at the grocery store? Do you rely on memory to track your calendar? Every time you need to do or remember something, tuck it away in a few reliable collecting systems. This can be your phone’s to-do list, a calendar, or paper and pen. Maybe it’s your inbox or a notebook to collect your ideas.
Set automatic bank transfers:
One of the easiest ways to remove tasks and bills from your to-do list is to set them on automatic. Don’t try to remember to pay your car insurance or transfer money for preschool tuition. Automate your finances so they happen without you needing to do anything.
Set calendar reminders:
Another trick is to use your phone’s calendar to set reminders. For instance, I need to swap my contact lenses every two weeks. Even if I write it down on the calendar, I forget to check my calendar, and many times I’ve lost track of when I need to swap.
Now, my calendar notifies me so I don’t even have to check the calendar. Setting calendar reminders is also useful for regular school tasks. Stuff like packing your child’s library book every Tuesday. Bringing diapers to day care every Monday. Packing their show and tell items on Fridays.
Print out your child’s school calendars:
For Thanksgiving, I assumed correctly that my kids would be out of school Thursday and Friday. What I didn’t know was that my eldest would be out on Wednesday, too.
Talk about scrambling for time off. Now my husband and I know better. We printed both schools’ calendars and tacked it to our wall, marking any days we need to pay attention to.
Choose one day to gather your week’s recipes:
Decide how many meals you want to cook for the week (I choose six). Then pick one day of the week to find those recipes and write a shopping list. I use Saturdays to gather the six recipes I plan to cook for the week. I also write my shopping list that time.
Come Sunday mornings, I’m ready to shop for groceries.
Establish an ‘in-box’ in your home:
Our apartment was built in the 1960s and has the obligatory wet bar that’s never used.
In our creativity (or laziness), it’s become our “in-box.” Mail, important bills, book fair forms, papers to sign… these make their way to the bar. My husband and I know that anything on the bar needs attention. We clear the bar once we pay the bill or sign the homework.
Create a space in your home for your in-box. Yours may be more sophisticated than our wet bar, maybe something like an actual in-box. Or maybe it’s your desk, or the entry way table. Designate a place for important items to go, and clear the area once you’ve taken care of it.
Write a chore list with due dates:
Not only do chore lists make sure your house stays clean, it also keeps things fair. No one person is doing everything. Make a list of chores that fall between daily upkeep and deep cleaning. I don’t write ‘wash dishes’ on the chore list because that’s a daily maintenance. But we make sure to clean the tub, mop the floor and dust the surfaces.
Clean as you go:
Does a massive chore list or cleaning day make you shudder? Consider cleaning as you go. Talk yourself into doing something right away instead of putting it off. For example: Hang your coat once you get home instead of throwing it across the bed until much later. Wipe the dining table after each meal to avoid build up gunk and strange textures. (You know what I’m talking about.)
Take an inventory of your household items:
If you’re like me, you’ve had to make an emergency run when you realized you’re down to your last diaper. I’ve learned better.
Now I do a simple inventory of our supplies. Write a list, or just glance into your storage room or cabinet. See which items you’re low on, and which you have enough until the next shopping trip. And if you see you are low on something, write it down on your collecting system so you don’t forget to buy it next time.
Maybe you could use reminders and to-do lists. I made one you can print as a reminder of everything you need to pack for the next day. You can also list your to-dos, from simple tasks to grander plans. It’s yours free when you sign up for the newsletter (which subscribers say they love!):
All this advice might seem overwhelming. I know if I saw a list of these things, I wouldn’t know where to start.
Here’s a handy trick I learned about habits: Start small. Seriously. Like, so small it would seem like a no-brainer. (Check out this article I wrote about habits.)
Keep doing that for four to eight weeks until you’ve developed a habit you don’t even have to think about. It’s become as habitual as brushing your teeth or adjusting your rear view mirror when you get in the car. Once you’ve mastered that habit, move on to the next one.
The beauty of starting in small increments is that one habit builds off of the next one. You’re transforming your lifestyle instead of checking things off. Otherwise, too many goals get overwhelming and, unfortunately, forgotten.
Think about your goals and your biggest pain points and start chipping away at them using these tips.
Get more tips on staying organized:
- The “How Do You Do It” Working Moms Guide
- 6 Not-So-Obvious Reasons You Can’t Keep Up with Cleaning Your Home
- You’re Not Alone: 7 Supermom Things I Don’t Do Either
- Finally… Meal Planning for Beginners
- How to Change Bad Habits Effectively
Tell me in the comments: How do you stay organized? What are you most disorganized about?
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