Getting organized was the thing I heard, in some variation, before the start of every school year. Our trips to the store to get school supplies seemed to convey that, the handing out of agendas in class every September seemed to convey that, my Dad telling me that the key to being successful in life was to “be organized and start early,” and yet, somehow, I missed the message.
My desk at school was always a mess, my homework was often late, I was often late, and my parents affectionately called me “Space Cadet” because I was so scatterbrained. I generally felt that I was always running behind my life and trying to catch up with it. Didn’t everybody?
The first time I truly “got” getting organized was in my second year of undergrad, and organization played a big part in my getting my first year of straight As.
One of the most valuable things getting organized taught me was that I can have control over my time.
I’m rediscovering time management lately, and here’s what’s been working for me.
Keeping Track of Different Time Periods
I keep a system that tells me what I have to do in a month, a week/weekend, and a day. This keeps me from forgetting things and helps me to prioritize.
Here’s what I use:
- Month: a 2017 calendar
- Week: a 5 column, 5 row table with a bit of space for writing notes.
- Weekend: a 2 column, 6 row table with a space for writing notes
- Day: an Excel table divided into 15 minute increments and enough columns for each day of the week
Writing Things on Paper
I like paper because there is no crashing, lagging, or distractions. I keep copies of each part of my system and print out copies of what I need.
Here’s how I use them:
I use this mainly for school. I enter all due dates, lab dates, test dates, important dates (e.g. last day of the term), important notes (e.g. if a tutorial is cancelled) and write out what the topic will be on a given lecture day. After that, I calculate how many chapter sections I will need to read by each lecture in order to be on schedule with my reading and write these into the calendar too. This is tedious work, but I only have to do it once. It allows me to know what I have to do at a glance and enables me to do a small amount of work each day instead of freaking out and trying to read a massive amount of chapters before a test. The stress it helps me avoid is worth the trouble.
Week & Weekend:
I print out the Word tables I made and pencil in a “topic” I need to work on for that week/end (e.g. a particular course, taxes) and jot down relevant tasks for a given day a week. This takes me less than 5 minutes. The topics might differ from week to week but I always include an “other” topic for miscellaneous things I need to do. I limit the size of the table and rows so I don’t have the space to overload myself with tasks.
Keeping a Routine
My day-to-day life is so much better when I don’t have to think about every single detail of what to do and when.
This is why I use something as admittedly crazy as a 15 minute excel table.
I largely use my Excel table to fill in the fixed tasks in my schedule, such as sleeping, packing my bag, travel time, meals, prayers, class times, etc. This does two things: (1) allows me to get a realistic and visual idea of how much free time I actually have, (2) have a reference for a routine.
I pull this up on my phone or look at a paper copy when I need to remember what to do. In addition, if I have a large amount of free time or things to do, I pencil in what I’ll do in a set period of time so I can make sure that things get fit in.
To make sure I follow through, I use timers on my phone. Once the time I set aside for the task is up, even if I wasted some (or all) of it, I try to force myself to move on to the next thing.
I’m not a naturally organized person, so sometimes this feels like a struggle, but it does allow me to get good results and achieve way more in a day than I would have otherwise.
How do you manage your time?