How I Stay Organized

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I've always juggled a lot of things in my life. Between coursework, volunteering, writing, and having a social life, the last several years have been a bit of a blur. It's meant that I was quite busy and had the potential to become overwhelming (spoiler: it did). These days, it looks like working from home on a few freelance projects, running this blog and the Real Talk Tuesday newsletter, and spending time with friends and family. It's a different kind of schedule, but still one that requires solid a solid organization and time management plan in order to do it well.

There have been several tools that I swear by to keep me sane and sorted out no matter what's going on in my life. When you're as much of a Type-A personality and love stationery as much as I do, that means there is a lot of paper involved at all times. I've been known to pack around stacks of letter paper, planners, envelopes, notebooks, and an unreasonable number of pens.

In theory, bullet journaling appeals to me for about a million reasons. It's customizable to whatever you are looking for in a planner, and people get really creative with beautiful layouts. When I'm bored sometimes, I'll flip through the Instagram hashtags and gawk at how great some people's bullet journals look. But I know that my time is valuable and in reality I'm not going to take the time each week to set up the pages the way I would need to, and I would feel far too much self-inflicted pressure to make it look Instagram-worthy. So I need other tools to keep me on track. Enter the Passion Planner.

I love my Passion Planner for keeping track of all the things I've got going on. The Passion Planner comes in a couple of sizes, which are both great and just depend on whether you want a larger desk planner or one that will fit well into a purse or backpack. It has space to record both work and personal weekly to do lists, in order of priority, and has each day broken down hour-by-hour. I find that having my schedule blocked out visually helps me to plan for the week. But one of the things I love most is that the Passion Planner system includes goal-setting resources and monthly reflection pages that encourage you to consider what you're working towards and how you feel about the ways you are using your time.

I've used the Passion Planner for several years, since it was fresh off the first Kickstarter campaign. It got me through university, being on the leadership team of a campus ministry, volunteering at church, working full-time, and still gave me the space to track things beyond just appointments. I've carried my planner absolutely everywhere with me and have sung its praises to anyone who asked me about it. I'm not even getting paid to say this; I just love it THAT MUCH. (although I would definitely be open to partnering with Passion Planner, in case anyone reading this can make that happen…)

Along with that, I use Google Calendar to keep digital records of any important appointments I have. My final year of university I kept a full copy of my schedule in this, but these days it ends up being a more select number of appointments and events that I need to keep track of. I resisted doing it for a long time because I felt a bit ridiculous keeping my schedule updated digitally as well as on paper, but adopting it was great and I wish I'd done it sooner. Not only am I more likely to remember an appointment if I've physically written it town, but having an additional online copy is handy for the times I forget my planner at home or want to set a reminder about an event. There are other features available to share your calendar with others, but I have not really used them.

This season of life has been a crash course in time management for me, and while I still have (many) areas to improve, it's getting better. Getting up earlier in the mornings to get work done has been the single most effective tool in boosting my productivity. In general, there are far fewer excuses not to get work done when I'm up early than if I sleep later and plan to work in the evening. Sometimes that looks like going for a walk, sometimes it means volunteering to run word sprints for a writing challenge at 6am three days a week. Am I crazy? It's possible. But it wakes me up and removes the option of rolling over and going back to sleep when I know that someone else is holding me accountable, expecting me to show up.

Because I concentrate my work earlier in the day, I try to keep my evenings as free as possible. Obviously, this is not always an option, but this is my general goal. Doing my work earlier in the day means that I am free to visit friends or family. And at the end of the day, sometimes you just want to curl up in a blanket and watch a movie. I need to give myself that space, because knowing that I don't have a long list of things to do in the evening makes me feel infinitely less stressed. Then if I do end up doing work that spills over into the evening, it's a choice and not a necessity.

My other scheduling goal is to take one full day off each week. It seems like a counterintuitive idea, to increase productivity and organization by working less, but it's one of the best things you can do for yourself (plus, taking a sabbath is a total gift from God - but more on that another time). By guarding one day a week - I usually take Sundays off - it means that I am able to take some extended time to rest and get ready for the start of a new week. I'll sometimes make to do lists or do a bit of reading on Sundays, but I try to stay away from work whenever I can.

My biggest piece of advice for the over-scheduled is to realize that you are only one person, and remember that taking on more means that you will have to step back from other things. It's about priorities, and if something is actually important, you will find the time to get it done. But practice the art of saying no sometimes, because you can't be all things to all people. You have a limited amount of energy and you need to guard it wisely. Give yourself permission to make mistakes and learn from them, rather than beating yourself up over feeling inadequate. Find what works for you. It's possible to have several things on the go and to do them all well, but know that it takes hard work and potentially some sacrifices in other areas.

But no matter what you're doing, remember to take care of yourself. You can organize every aspect of your life and have a streamlined master plan for each minute of the day, but if you don't take time to maintain your physical and mental health you are not going to be able to do it for very long. Self-care looks different for each of us, but make sure that you're doing things that keep you healthy. Don't neglect yourself in the pursuit of other things. Go visit your friends, have a laugh, carry on. I believe in you.