Getting organized: Start with your brain, sort of

Now that the holidays are over and we're digging back into regular life, New Year's resolutions in tow (or tatters), I figured it's a good time to share the simple ways we all streamline our lives. So much of the time I could spend playing with my kids I waste running to the store for milk or digging through the unfolded laundry for matching socks. Seems to me that better organization is directly proportional to better, or at least less stressful parenting.

So, first things first. Mindset. This chicken-and-egg scenario has paralyzed me in the past — Should I organize my stuff first and trust that my mind will clear? Or should I clear my mind first and an organized environment will more easily fall into place?

Here's Duane's suggestion:

Do something. Anything. That is my #1 advice, the thing that I have to keep reminding myself. The best plans in the world mean nothing if they remain plans. You've gotten nowhere if you don't DO something toward your goal. If you can't think of what to do next, then break the task up into smaller pieces. This is part of the Getting Things Done "next action" methodology. Ask yourself "What's the next thing that I can do, right now?" and then do it.

I agree; the answer is to just get started, in a small way. But only a small way — such as by making a commitment to one simple change. ("I will do one load of laundry a day each weekday." "We'll have 15 minutes of family cleanup time after dinner.") Once you've got that habit in place, you can move on. If you instead, you simply vow to Get Organized, with all the overwhelming work that implies, you can easily fall into the pit of trying to figure out your whole life before making a single move.

What about you? Are you more motivated by baby steps or big changes?

Related: Lots of tips in the Getting Organized archive


  1. Elana says

    Baby steps, it’s the way to go! Plus, if you do big commitments and you forget/skip/blank on doing them, that’s a huge setback, mentally. Smaller ones that are realistic make the most sense, as they will actually get *done*.

    Of course, I”m supposed to be writing thank you notes for Christmas presents instead of checking my RSS feeds…. :-D

  2. Sanya says

    My friends and I swear by her. She practically invented the baby steps idea. Her “shiny sink” method doesn’t work for everyone (short version, if you keep your sink clean, it’s contagious), but it has made a huge difference in my house.

  3. Duane says

    A good way to tell if you’re accomplishing something or just fooling yourself is to imagine that you have a job with a mean boss who demands progress reports. You catch yourself trying to write something down like “Well, I spent some time thinking about a book idea…” and you realize “I can’t write that in my status report, that’s lame.” “Wrote 10 pages out of a planned 50, expect to complete another 20 in the coming week” is the sort of thing that should be on that report.

    I thought of that about 5 minutes ago while filling out my weekly progress report here at work (although my boss is not mean :)).

    Yes, I see the irony in reading my RSS feeds and posting to Parent Hacks 5 minutes after submitting my status report and then commenting about how to get things done! :)

  4. Stu Mark says

    GTD (Getting Things Done) is *amazing*

    Here’s a GTD tip that is always helpful: The Two Minute Rule – If you see a task that needs doing, ask yourself if you can do it in 2 minutes or so. If you can, do it immediately.

  5. Parent Hacks Editor says

    Stu: heh. You effectively wrote a preview of tomorrow’s “Get organized” post!

  6. Jodi says

    Strange coincidence. I just checked Getting Things Done out from the library. II’m hoping that it will help me finally feel like I’m making headway on all the projects that I have been wanting to do.

  7. Adrienne says

    It’s funny you ask about baby steps versus big changes, because our New Year’s Eve dinner conversation ended up on this very topic.

    Over glorious Thai Taste food (eat there when in Indianapolis!) we were talking about resolutions: if we would make any what they might be.

    One person had large, abstract goals while mine were very concrete and finite. My friend noticed this difference and we all ended up talking about it at length.

    While I always have greater goals (organize my life, have more time with friends and family, cook more, get healthy), I often become paralyzed approaching the whole problem at once. Small, defined objectives don’t overwhelm me, but they still contribute to that larger goal. Plus, as with Duane’s “mean boss” example I can sit down at the end of the project and see something completed.

    Abstracts and general concepts so often gain a perpetuity because as you accomplish and learn more, you see more areas for improvement. One professor friend of mine (a fine author, writer, thinker, administrator, parent, and lecturer) finds no tasks more gratifying than vacuuming and mowing the lawn. These hardly rank as his larger life accomplishments, so I was quite curious about these job preferences. He said “When I’m done, I can see what I’ve accomplished.” Wow- what immense power lies in the quotidian when viewed through such eyes (if only I could get similar corrective lenses).

    Around a year ago, I overheard my husband talking talking to newlywed relatives about the sense of order he sees in a made bed. In 12 years of marriage, our bed had rarely been made, as I (the late riser) never saw it as all that helpful. I’ve made the bed almost every day since that evening (the few days that were missed were truly horrible, chaotic days), and it gives me a sense of order and accomplishment (even though it only takes 2 minutes). Plus, it’s a very clear message to my husband that I care about his world even though I initially thought the whole practice to be completely ridiculous.

    Now if only I can get a similar reasoning going for the kitchen table!

  8. Barb says

    Baby steps, baby! Before kids it might have been the other way, but with near constant interruption, it couldn’t be any other way if I actually wanted to get anything done.

  9. Ethel says

    I go for baby steps, too. I pick the one item I’ll work on for the week, and use the Google Home post-it tool to list this week’s goal. Then, to satisfy the urge to organize my life, I keep a “To-do” list with possible future weekly goals that I write down as they come up (I use a “To-Do” list on Google Home for this, too). Each week I change the goal. I am currently doing one “To-do” type goal and one “Simplify” goal each week – my New Year’s resolution was to simplify my life, from the amount of stuff I have to the food I eat. This week? Set up appointments with a financial advisor and a mortgage broker to work towards our dream of owning a house (to-do) and drink a glass of water a day (instead of coffee or soda, for ‘simplify’). I also have “get Thank-yous done” left over from a previous week, though . . . I should put some “Do X chore every day this week” things down as well, that’s a really good idea!

  10. Ethel says

    I should try a variation on Flylady for my house . . . I didn’t even consider it because we never look at our kitchen sink. However, I could see our kitchen’s high counter that seperates the kitchen and living room filling that role. I’ll talk with DH about this – he has more free time for cleaning than I do, so for any cleaning technique we try, I need him on board.