Getting organized is one of the most popular promises people make to themselves as they enter the New Year. But how can you keep your resolution instead of being part of the 92% of people who make them and fail?
Keep in mind that “a little better is a little better,” says Fay Wolf, author of New Order: A Decluttering Handbook for Creative Folks (And Everyone Else). “Small steps are more likely to stick than trying to do over everything,” she says.
Here are five things you can do to get organized and be more productive in 2016:
1. Start in the place that feels natural to you.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to the “right” way to get organized, and Wolf says neither is right nor wrong. “Sometimes it helps to start projects with what feels the easiest,” she says. “On the other hand, you can dig into the one that’s bothering you the most to feel that relief. No matter which you choose, start to dig through.”
Take a step but don’t worry about the step after that. Granular is better than grand.
Any space that’s not being used for its intended purpose is a hot spot to tackle. “I suggest going there before starting on storage places like a garage or attic,” says Wolf. “It’s about sorting the places you see and use every day.”
2. Keep everything important in your “triangle of productivity.”
Anything that requires your attention should be found in your email inbox, your calendar, or your to-do list, says Wolf.
“This triangle becomes your trusted, look-no-further place for every current responsibility in your life,” she says. “While it can include things you’d like to get done, it absolutely must include all the things you have to get done.”
Your inbox is for things that need a reply, your calendar is for scheduled events, and your to-do list is for tasks. If an email contains information about an event, for example, transfer it to your calendar and delete the email.
“The goal of the triangle is to treat your inbox, calendar, and to-do list as equal partners,” says Wolf. “This doesn’t mean you have to actually do everything. You can decide whether or not to delete, reschedule, or ignore them later.”
3. Use the “rule of three” to run your day.
Instead of having a laundry list of things to do, start each day with three things you want to accomplish, says Chris Bailey, author of The Productivity Project.
Mentally fast-forward to the end of the day and ask yourself, “when the day is over, what three things will I want to have accomplished?”
“At the beginning of every day, mentally fast-forward to the end of the day and ask yourself, ‘When the day is over, what three things will I want to have accomplished?’” he says. “Write those three things down.”
While three tasks is a doable amount of activities for a single day, Bailey adds that it can take some trial and error to strike the right balance of the time, attention, and energy you need to get stuff done.
4. Schedule a maintenance day.
To maximize your productivity, gather all low-return tasks and do them on one day set aside for that, suggests Bailey. You’ll procrastinate less and have more energy to work on important things, he says.
“I felt like I was no longer treading water by working on tasks throughout the week that didn’t move my life forward,” he says. “I had more time and attention for tasks that were important and more meaningful.”
5. Recognize when clutter represents something else.
You might be using stuff to cover your fears, says Wolf. If your desk is covered with papers, for example, it may be your excuse for not moving forward on a new project.
While it can feel safe to keep things covered, Wolf suggests asking yourself if emotions are tied to stuff, especially when you feel stuck: “Allow yourself to be imperfect,” she says. “Take a step but don’t worry about the step after that. Granular is better than grand.”