Five Tips on Staying Organized

DianneFRebecca Heflin

People who know me and love me call me OCD, er, QOO (the Queen of Organization). My day-job colleagues remark on my perpetually neat desk. I’ve had friends over to my home who have coveted my well-stocked, tidy pantry. They ooh and ahh over the neatly folded and stacked sweaters in my closet. Some say they wish they were as organized. They say they wish they had time to either get organized or to stay that way. I say being organized saves time and leads to greater efficiency. As a full-time practicing attorney, the co-founder of a non-profit foundation, and a writer, staying organized is my salvation.

Here are a few tips for staying organized and saving time.

A place for everything and everything in its place – On my day-job desk, I have organizers for all kinds of things. I have my to-do stack, my “waiting on” stack, my out box, and my in box. I’ve categorized my email folders for better time efficiencies (see Time Management below). Same goes for my computer files. I can look at my desk at any given time and see what’s waiting for my attention, and what’s waiting for follow up from someone else.

My home office is the same way. As is my kitchen, my closet, etc. Whenever I use something, I put it back in the same place, that way, when I need it again I know right where it is. My hubby – not so much. He’s always asking me where something is – like I would know where he put the screwdriver after he used it. Problem there is he never puts it in the same place twice. If you have a place for everything, and everything is in its place, you never have to waste time trying to find it.

To-Do Lists or Daily Goals – Just like Millie, my heroine in Dreams of Her Own, due out in October, I’m a list-maker. If I have a string of things that I need to get done, I put it all down on a list. The beauty of lists is once you’ve written it down, you don’t have to think about it anymore. It’s right there on your handy-dandy list. So you can focus on what’s at hand. I have an app for my iPhone where I can create different lists like errands, home tasks, office tasks, and writing tasks. If I put in a day and time, it will remind me to do it. Love it!

Prioritize – Having lists is great, but sometimes you have so many things on your list, you don’t know what to do first. And some days you know you won’t get everything done. So, you have to prioritize. What do you absolutely have to get done that day? What can you put off until the next day?

Time Management – This works hand-in-hand with the above. I took a workshop about 12 years ago called “Getting Things Done.” David Allen is a great speaker — funny, thoughtful — and a guru of time management. This workshop is the reason I categorize my emails, computer files, etc., and manage my day the way I do.

I took some of his ideas and tweaked them to suit my own needs. A key to time management is dividing your to-dos into categories like phone calls, projects, next actions, read and review, waiting for. Before you get sucked into your day, review the previous day’s to-do-list for anything that didn’t get done the day before and needs to be done that day, then add any other to-do’s in the proper categories. Some things may be ongoing projects and will be carried over to the list until it’s completed (i.e. your manuscript).

Once you’ve done that, determine what can go where, and move the time-consuming tasks to their appropriate folder (i.e. projects). Then take all the quick, easy tasks and knock them out. Social media posts, short email replies, etc. Allen’s threshold for quick is 2 minutes or less. You can adjust as you see fit. Cross those quick tasks off your list. Next, if there are other tasks that take longer, but aren’t “projects,” (like a blog post) complete them and tick them off your list.

Ah yes, that to-do list is getting shorter. Plus completing these tasks give you a sense of accomplishment.

Now you can focus all your energy on those big projects, like hitting the day’s word count goal, editing and revising your manuscript, writing the dreaded synopsis, or if you’re a plotter, plotting your next book.

Return phone calls when you can’t be doing something else on your list. Have a doctor’s appointment? If you have hands-free (remember to drive safely), return your phone calls on the way to your appointment.

But even the best laid plans can go awry. If you have a day where all you do is put out fires, that’s okay. Go back to your list the next day and repeat the process.

Regroup – Even the best of intentions can get sidetracked. If you’ve had a crazy week, or month, or, heaven forbid, year, it helps to take a day (or two) and regroup. Maybe your OCD filing system has gone to pot, and things are lying all over your desk in a big messy pile. Or your emails have been neglected for so long they’re on the verge of turning back into DOS. The time it takes to put everything back in its place or to review and prioritize your mile-long to-do list will be worth it. Because when you return to your well-organized work area the next day you’ll accomplish ten-fold what you would have accomplished if you’d left things a mess.

There are lots of ideas for staying organized and efficient. These are just a few of my favorites. What about you? What tips do you have for staying organized?

Rebecca Heflin is an award-winning author who has dreamed of writing romantic fiction since she was fifteen and her older sister snuck a copy of Kathleen Woodiwiss’ Shanna to her and told her to read it. Rebecca writes women’s fiction and contemporary romance. When not passionately pursuing her dream, Rebecca is busy with her day-job as a practicing attorney. 

Rebecca is a member of Romance Writers of America (RWA), Florida Romance Writers, RWA Contemporary Romance, and Florida Writers Association. She and her mountain-climbing husband live at sea level in sunny Florida.

8 thoughts on “Five Tips on Staying Organized”

  1. Thanks for the post, Rebecca. I recently cleaned my desk and hope that taking time to make it neater will lead to more productivity.

    Thanks for the tips. Prioritizing the lists does help tremendously.

  2. Allison Collins

    Great post, Rebecca! I, too, love organization, but when life gets a bit crazy, it seems to go to pot no matter how hard I try. Your blog post has gotten me excited to get organized once again. Now to find the time to tear my home office apart and redo it!

    1. Hi Allison, I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. I’m such an organization nerd, I get jazzed when I’m thinking about reorganizing. My hubby will be away for two weeks soon. The perfect time for me to organize a few things around the house. Heh, heh.

  3. Hi Linda, it does take time to get and stay organized, but I totally agree that in the long run, it saves time. I do something similar with my WIPs, but I use Scrivener. Love it for staying organized.

  4. Impressive! I like organization, too, but it doesn’t usually happen until my organized piles merge. To help with my writing and rereads, I do keep a notebook for each manuscript sectioned off with dividers. The first section is dedicated to my character that includes photos and written profiles. The second section is devoted to the writing process. Each page is a graphic organizer to summarize the events in each chapter, including page numbers and word count. The next section is devoted to side notes and research. The last section is a list of questions I answer about my character from the book, The 90 Day Novel. It helps a great deal to be organized and eliminates some of the frustration when life happens.

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