3 steps to stay organizedToday I want to talk about 3 steps to stay organized, becuase I don’t know about you but occasionally I have a week, or even a month (like this past June), where I’m completely overloaded. For example, in June I was teaching a seminary class AND working full-time AND we had a few special events at church that required extra work. My issue in those times of overload is always the same – How do I keep on top of things? How do I not let anything slip through the cracks?

3 Steps to Stay Organized

The first of the 3 steps to stay organized is to have organizational systems, or steps, in place that allow you to keep things going when you have only a few spare minutes. So where do I start? I have a weekly set of priorities, that is governed by my goals for the year. In other words, each week I plan to make some sort of progress (however minimal it may be) toward my yearly goals. My faith, and my family are my non-negotiables. Those blocks of time are not something I will give up, unless extreme circumstances present themselves (you always need a caveat right?). I did something radical. I have almost given up TV. I have watched one movie in a theatre in the past few years. My reason for this is purely time management. Simply put, there were other things I would rather do than sit and look at a screen. I wanted to read, write, build relationships with my kids, and stay close to my wife. Giving up TV shows and a weekend full of sports watching has allowed me to have the time I have needed to do what I feel is most important.

Step 1: Set Attainable Goals

Each week I have a list of goals to accomplish. That list is on paper in a moleskin notebook that is organized by each week, along with ideas that I might jot down. Here’s the twist: I then plug those handwritten notes into Microsoft Onenote (you may use evernote or something else). That way, even if I lost the notebook I still have the text and images from it available. It’s also helpful for searching back through things later.

Next, I break all of those goals into tasks for the week. Personally I do this in Wunderlist on my iPhone. Wunderlist lets me add due dates, notes, etc. to each task. It also lets me delegate a task to someone else, such as an intern (work stuff) or family member (home stuff). I even have special lists for special projects. Lately I organized a list of steps to do to get a backyard patio built. That list stayed outside of my main to-do list for work, but the tasks still appear in my daily view. I should note that I also rely on a few integrations of wunderlist. First, I integrate it into my google calendar so that my tasks are available each day in my calendar. I also use ifttt to allow me to create a task via Siri and then let ifttt put it in my wunderlist task list. I use Siri to create tasks while I’m driving.

Step 2: Pick a Good Task Manager

The second of the 3 steps to stay organized is to pick a good task manager, like Wunderlist. Wunderlist also allows me to sync files to a task, so that I can create a blank file in dropbox and sync it to a task in wunderlist. Then I can work on the file, and when I finish I can check it off in wunderlist. I use this in creating powerpoint presentations for a Hebrew class that I’m teaching this summer. I tie a file and a task together and once the file is completed I check off the task, but the file stays in dropbox. Dropbox allows the file to be available on any of the computers that I use for my various jobs.

While doing these normal jobs, I will occasionally get slammed with something extra. Other times, I need a system to be able to scale up and handle more. For instance, VBS nearly killed me in June. I had to rely on all my previously mentioned systems to carry me through the 15hr days. I had to delegate. I had to rely on volunteers. I have great volunteers, so things went pretty well. But, let’s be clear, they were the ones who carried some of the load. I had a team of people built beforehand to handle all of my tech (AVL) tasks for the week, so that I could troubleshoot and handle a check-in system. That check-in system failed because I was ill-prepared for the scale (number of people) that we had. I was prepared for about 120-150 people, and there were about 300 people. The check-in system couldn’t scale that quickly. I had to add more check-in stations the next day and re-assign volunteer power so that the check-in system went smoothly. Thankfully, the volunteers did an awesome job and the correctly scaled system handled the job!

I mention that example of failure and the idea of scaling a system because something similar will inevitably happen to you. Does your image backup system have the capacity to handle images that are twice as large when you buy a new camera? Problems like this one will inevitably arise, and it is impossible to completely prepare for them. However, you can succeed more often than failing if you leave yourself some room to scale up that you aren’t using. My task management system has more ability than I currently need, but I can foresee a time when I will need that ability.

Step 3: Evaluate

I think the key to handling the busyness of life is to take time to evaluate, or re-evaluate our daily systems each year or so. By taking a day to evaluate systems when your task load is slow, you can increase your productivity ceiling. If I had not utterly failed at productivity early on in life, I would not have realized the need for organization. Keeping my professional, personal, and family life organized allowed me to spend an entire year working full-time, teaching part-time and finishing a dissertation; all while coaching two soccer teams and chairing my local library board. The moral of this story is that God has given you the ability to do a lot of things, even more than you think you can. Hopefully these 3 steps to stay organized will help you do your job well even when you are stressed out.

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