A few weeks ago I was talking with a client, who is also a close friend of many years. He’s fully ingrained into the gig economy and does simultaneous and multiple project work for various clients, including companies and nonprofit organizations. He’s also a Corp America “exit-er” and loves the flexibility in his schedule. The only downside is, according to him, “I just can’t get organized.”
This is something I hear often, from clients, friends, parents who work in and outside the home, students juggling classes and full-time jobs. Today’s times demand that we take this ’80s idea of multitasking and layer it with the consistent and persistent demands of our complex and layered lives. Technology, I’ve found, doesn’t always help — this idea that we MUST respond to every text, instant message, phone call, email and social media post within 10 minutes or less or otherwise we’re now conditioned to feel anxiety on either end of this communication has taken a massive toll.
We’re consistently being interrupted and that means it’ll take our brains additional time to get back into the focus of whatever it was we were trying to get done. There’s a plethora of apps that are supposed to get us all on track. All we have do is enter this, program that, create and remember yet another password, etc. Time is the sacred currency we lack most and in my experience what the market is trying to shove down our throats is making things even harder – it’s nearly impossible to keep up with all that noise.
As a single parent who is running a consulting business, teaching biz students, writing in multiple platforms and raising a two-year-old, I know I feel the burn as well. As result, I’ve taken some steps to help with the clarity of thinking, breathing and planning. Here’s four tools that help me manage life:
Wall Calendar – A year after I started my business, I began to invest in a big laminated 12-month wall calendar. This, and some nice color-coordinated markers, has helped me see the entire year at a glance, and then filling it with the big events: marking off the weeks of CSU’s academic semesters, the CIFF, family birthdays, travel, holidays and so forth. It gives me great calm to be able to plan things knowing what’s ahead.
White Board – The same year I bought my first wall calendar, I also bought myself a white board. These two tools always hang right next to each other. While what goes on the board has evolved over the years, it’s been a great visual scale. I now have 3 running columns: Proposals/Leads, Invoices, Paying Clients. The idea is to keep all three columns full and fluid. If any column starts to lighten, then I know exactly what I need to target next.
Work Journal – While bullet journals are all the rage these days, many of us have been utilizing this pen to paper method for a very long time. For over a decade, I’ve kept my work journal. This started while I was still at my last company, where quite a few men and women, from assistants to executives, preferred their paper notebooks over their plugged in ones. The habit continued when I went off on my own. I write down notes from client calls, business ideas and other professional problem- solving notes. I can always flip back to a page, or even an older journal, to cross-reference anything relevant that I need. Writing it down also helps my brain formulate new thoughts in real time. I also run multiple work journals at the same time, with some being project/next-book specific. I can always come back to them when I have the time.
Yearly Planner – From 2001, when I got my first Palm Pilot, to 2016, I primarily used the digital calendar (Outlook, iCal) to write down meetings, appointments, events, etc. Then this year, I went back to a paper planner. And I absolutely love it. I can look the events for the day, week or month, have special pages for additional notes and a good planner will also have some great little charts and graphs like time zones, holiday dates and so on. I like writing things down in it and every single Sunday I sit down for 10 – 15 minutes and plan out my week, by category: My company clients, marketing my business, CSU/students, writing projects, then anything pertaining to my son, as well as household matters that must be taken care of. On Monday mornings I feel ready for the week and as the days go by, the joy of physically crossing things off feels amazing.
Combined, these tools not only help me think clearer, but also when I’m using them, technology is not required — it’s simply an option. Which means not only do I help myself stay organized and give my eyes and brain relief from screen-staring, but, most importantly, I’m not getting interrupted. (Unless, of course, it’s by my toddler.) And not only do my eyes thank me, but so does my brain. There’s a lot of articles and research out there that proves that when we read off of paper and when we write things down on paper, that our mind remembers more.
And perhaps that’s the key of feeling organized: help ourselves see the big picture, filter out the digital interruptions and then plan ahead in a manner that helps our minds recall more of the important stuff. To make a plan and to have the right tools to execute on it.