Some of us are organized. Some of us…not so much. By being organized, I mean meeting or beating deadlines, getting things done and being on time. Being organized doesn’t necessarily mean having a clean desk or filing away all the papers that tend to pile up day-to-day. It means moving forward purposefully. It means accomplishing your goals. Being organized and having purpose also means doing the things that you want to do and not following a course plotted out by someone else. Here’s what I do to get organized. Maybe it will work for you, too.

Start with your goals

Take some time to think about what you want to accomplish over the next year or two. What’s going to help you move forward? What have you been thinking about doing but just haven’t gotten around to? Do you want to start a new business? Go to trapeze school? Launch a web site? Learn how to fly? Change careers? Renovate your kitchen? Go on a world tour? The sky’s the limit! It’s your life. What do you want to do with it?

Break the goals down into tiny bites

The number one reason why I would ever procrastinate tackling a personal project is because it either seems too overwhelming, too time-consuming or so far away in the future why start working on it now when I have so many other things to do? Nonsense! These projects may seem overwhelming because they haven’t been broken down into small enough bites yet. Or they’re no longer a priority. But if you’re still thinking about it, then my bet is on the former.

If your goal is to renovate your kitchen, your tiny bites might look like this:

1. Decide on a budget
2. Make a list of kitchen improvements
3. Find pictures in magazines and online that have the look and feel you want
4. Interview three licensed contractors
5. Check references
6. Negotiate contract
7. Start renovation
8. Oversee the job
9. Check work against contracted to do items
10. Make any final fixes
11. Finish renovation

Don’t worry…you can make changes later

Sometimes you’ll have to break the items down further into even tinier bites. You can always do this as you’re working on the project. Especially if you start to feel stuck on a particular item. That’s often a sign that the item is too big to tackle. My threshold for breaking items down is to make sure the task can be accomplished in less than six hours. One is better. Break it down!

Get it out of your head and into a document

This is key! The simple act of documenting your goals and the steps needed to meet them frees your mind from having to remember all the little details. I document my big picture goals, all the to dos for those goals, and everything else going on in my life including when to send out birthday cards and get my teeth cleaned. This may seem like a lot but, believe me, it’s very liberating to not have to think about these things. And I’ve led teams successfully through some very complicated projects using a method very similar to this one.

Some storage options

• A special notebook: You can write down your goals and to dos in a favorite notebook. Moleskine makes some really nice ones as does Muji. I keep one on me always so I can write down ideas whenever they strike. Another favorite is Levenger’s Circa system. It’s modular and simple to rearrange pages. Of course a regular lined pad from your neighborhood Staples will do just fine, too.

Sir Crow's New Estate. By SPDP.

• A spreadsheet: I use Excel because I’ve been using the software for years and it works for me. I particularly like the sort feature since my list and priorities change constantly. In one column I list all my to dos. In a separate column, I rank each item based on importance at the moment. And in another column, I use specific due dates if the item really is time-sensitive, like someone’s birthday. I don’t want any of these details to bog me down. And I don’t want anything to get forgotten. So onto the spreadsheet it goes.

• Index cards: Levenger makes fabulous index cards. I just love them! Of course you can use any old index cards. But I love theirs because the paper stock is heavy and luxurious making a sometimes daunting task as positively pleasant as can be. I use these cards when I want to get away from my big spreadsheet and just have that day’s items in front of me. I also carry a few around with me in case I want to share ideas with friends.

I use a combination of all three of these options. Maybe you have another method in mind. Use whatever you’re comfortable with. You’ll feel liberated! And it’s also satisfying to look back at your goals months down the road and see all you’ve accomplished. I really love that part.

There’s always more

There’s lots more to share about getting organized, documenting goals and breaking them down into tasks. It’s a helpful and liberating thing to do with your personal goals and absolutely imperative when tackling client projects…though a client project often requires a more disciplined approach. Particularly when it comes to those massive integrated multimedia cross-platform kind of client projects. But that’s a post for another day.

xo Mary Maru