managing self

#blogjune Day six – keeping organised

Thanks to Rachel for providing an idea for today’s #blogjune post. This is my response to keeping organised. You may also like to check out a recent post about keeping brilliant ideas in sight and creating a visual way to see all ‘the balls’ in the air (projects and commitments).

There are few things I need to say first up about keeping organised and what planner to use.

  1. There is  no all-encompassing, one magic tool for keeping organised. A pen-to-paper planner or app. Keeping organised is about having a system.
  2. Any system that is created needs to be maintained. A few minutes each day will suffice.
  3. A system for keeping organised need not be complicated. A system shouldn’t make you think too much, otherwise its whole purpose collapses.

I’ve adapted two approaches – Getting Things Done and the Bullet Journal. I’ve used apps like Asana and Trello, but they just didn’t work with me very well over time. My own system for keeping organised has three components:

  • my Google calendar
  • ‘Things’ app on the Mac and phone
  • my Moleskine ruled journal

The inbox

What any system needs is an inbox. Somewhere you can place every task you think of, run into, come across or had planned for. The purpose of this inbox is to capture everything. All those post-its need to be placed somewhere you can see them all and organise them in a basic way. This inbox also needs to be accessible from anywhere. Because if you’re like me, with random tasks popping into your head at any time of day, you want to ’empty’ that task from your brain and somewhere you won’t forget or lose it later.

My approach

I use ‘Things’ on the Mac and phone. I also have my journal with me almost everywhere. When I think of something, I either make a note in my journal or input the task into the ‘Inbox’ in Things. Also, when an action comes out of an email, straight into the inbox. Or I flag it in my email inbox for ‘collection’ at my weekly review.

Potential (low tech) adaptations
  • A journal where you might set aside a portion to list tasks.
  • Create a notebook for tasks in Evernote.
  • A physical in tray (though this doesn’t really help you see the bigger picture at a glance).


Depending on how much you have going on, you may need to implement some categories for organising tasks. Categories have two purposes:

  1. identifying priority tasks
  2. assist with weekly planning
My approach

Again, in ‘Things’ I use the Getting Things Done approach where I use life areas and projects as my basic organisation. You may like to use functions and activities as your categories, such as ‘errands’ or ‘cooking’.

Potential adaptations
  • Create a note for each category within the Evernote notebook to which you can add tasks.
  • Have some physical files on a file rack where you can place task notes into their categories.
  • Create tabs in a notebook or planner to allocate sections to categories.

The weekly review

And then there’s the weekly review. I haven’t mentioned my Google calendar yet, have I? 🙂 Well, this is where the calendar comes into the system. The weekly review is about looking at the week ahead, at your appointments and commitments. Basically, you’re looking at ‘whats on’ and then planning what you can reasonably accomplish. There are three steps to the weekly review (or my adapted version from Getting Things Done):

  1. sort your inbox/s
  2. look at whats on
  3. plan tasks across the week
My approach

Collect any flagged items in my email and enter them to Things.

Sort them into their categories.

Set up my weekly plan in my journal. This is simply a page divided into Monday to Friday and Weekend.

Look at my calendar. What do I have going on each day? I block out regular time for mainly work, writing, exercising and NGAC tasks. I have writing and research work time blocked out today. So I identify tasks from those areas (see Categories). I also have tasks which need to be done on a particular day, like ‘pay gas bill’.

Look at Things and plan my absolutely-need-to-get-done tasks across the week. These might be tasks that fall due, or tasks to keep personal projects ticking over.

Things to consider in the weekly review

If you’re planning on going somewhere and you know there are tasks you can do while you’re out, plan those tasks for that day. It’s more efficient. That’s why I look at my calendar and think ‘oh I’m in the city on Friday. What else can I get done too?’

What can realistically be achieved? Prioritise. Chip away. I only note three to four tasks for each day. This is to keep focus. If I can do those three or four tasks, I’m happy. If I have some time, I’ll go have a look in Things to see what else I can do. Daily tasks might be ‘knock over’ tasks or ongoing ones. The small list keeps me from feeling overwhelmed, which is why I tend to use Things as more of an inbox these days, rather than something I refer to often. There are big lists in there!

A system doesn’t have to be complicated, nor does the process for maintaining it be overwhelming. You only need a central place to gather and loosely organise tasks and then spend 10 minutes or so to plan each week. I hope my notes and suggestions help in creating your own system for keeping organised.

Oh, and keeping organised doesn’t always feel like what’s in the photo, but it certainly helps. 🙂


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  1. Thanks for sharing this great advice – it’s all about looking at the big picture to sort priorities.

  2. Alisa, you have read my mind again !! : )
    The part about just being able to “empty that task from your brain” particularly struck a chord. I am always looking for ways that address exactly what you have written about, and likewise Trello, etc have just not done the trick for me.
    After a friend looked at my outline for the day one day and said, that’s not a To Do list, that’s Goal Planing !!, I realised she had put her finger on it : )
    Thanks for causing me to take a moment to read and think about these things (yet again : )), and also for some good tips and tools to follow up (I have long been interested in how on earth those interactive Moleskin journals work !!).
    PS. You had me at “Day 6” as I know to listen to anyone who has been organised enough to make it to a blog nearly every day for six days, but you clinched it with “keeping organised” : )

    1. Thanks for reading, Cherie. The difference between goal planning (and projects) and a ‘to do’ list was made obvious to me when I read the book, ‘Getting Things Done’ (GTD). Goals and projects need to be broken down. For example, ‘write a literature review’ looks so daunting on a ‘to do’ list! Instead, the GTD method prompts ‘what’s the very next step?’ Suddenly things start to look achievable.

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