Want a More Organized Life in 2022? Here’s a Pro’s Best Advice
I used to be a total hot mess.
From the outside, it seemed like I was spending tons of quality time with my kids and that I was giving my marriage the attention it deserved, all while operating a very successful business.
I was completely disorganized. Every day was like a game of whack-a-mole. I was constantly putting out fires and running from one thing to the next. There were dirty dishes stacked all over my counter and in my sink, piles of dirty laundry, and a whole lot of tasks that simply fell through the cracks.
One day, after a particularly crippling series of “mom fails,” I made a decision. Something had to change in the way I was managing everything.
In bite-sized chunks, and after a lot of trial and improvement, I went from overwhelmed to organized. I figured out how to create habits that help me focus on what matters most in life and in my business, that help me be more of who I want to be, and that help me do more of what I want to do.
Here’s my best advice for getting off the Hot Mess Express and experiencing a more organized life in 2022.
1. Purge the mental clutter
When your mind is cluttered with every single thing you need to do for every part of your multifaceted life, it’s easy to feel crippled by overwhelm. That’s why doing a regular mental dump is step number one in getting organized.
A mental dump is just what it sounds like: an active and intentional dump of everything that is in your head out onto paper. There is only one rule! A mental dump must be done in one place (read: do not do your mental dump on sticky notes!). Trust me, there’s no point in doing a mental dump if parts of it are all over the place.
Now, when I say dump out “everything” that’s in your head, I mean everything. Books you want to read. Courses you want to take. Drawers you want to organize. It doesn’t matter what area of your life it pertains to, or how big or small. It doesn’t matter if you think you’ll never have time to do it. If it’s on your mind, dump it onto the paper.
Despite being simple, this habit is incredibly powerful. It serves two purposes: first, it allows you to capture all of the little things that are swimming around in your head, making you feel overwhelmed, spread thin, and like you’re one missed reminder away from dropping a ball (or five). Second, it promotes presence and tranquility. Getting organized is a heck of a lot easier when your mind isn’t being pulled in thirty thousand directions.
2. See it to believe it
Once you’ve purged all that clutter from your mind, you’ll have the capacity to visualize yourself getting organized. What do you want your life to look like? Give yourself permission to dive deep here. See every single detail.
Then, take it a step further and write those details in your journal or a Google doc or even send yourself an email. Personally, I’m a huge fan of vision boards. I don’t do anything fancy, I just find images of what I’m envisioning on the internet, print them out, and paste those babies on a piece of poster board. Easy, and so effective.
When life gets hairy, as it often does, come back to this visualization and remember why organizing your life matters to you.
3. Decide what you want to achieve this year
Seeing yourself living your best and most organized life is one thing. But how do you actually make that happen?
First, you have to decide exactly where you want to be at the end of the year, both personally and professionally. And you’re gonna dream big. Like, really big. I’m in the “set-crazy-unrealistic-ginormous” goals camp. Trust me, despite what conventional goal-setting wisdom might tell you, setting huge goals is the way to go.
And don’t waste one second worrying you might fall short. I promise, you will be far more fulfilled at the end of a year having missed a huge goal than you would be if you achieved a “realistic” goal. When it comes to goal setting, “realistic” is usually code for “minuscule.” And you’re not making all this effort to get organized just so you can do something small, are you? Didn’t think so.
What in your wildest dreams would you love to accomplish over the next year? Lose 100 pounds? Hit tennis balls like a pro? Publish a book? Open a cake store?
We’re throwing fear out the window as you decide on your top personal and professional goals for 2022. Your only limit here is your own willingness to be big. Allow it. Big is awesome.
4. Take itty, bitty, tiny baby steps
Once you have your top big, hairy, and audacious goals (BHAGs) crystallized in your mind, your next step is to determine what you need to do each day to make them happen.
Start with what you’re going to have to accomplish on a monthly basis. What action step can you take each month that, if done consistently for 12 months, would result in you achieving each BHAG? Notice I said step, singular. You’re simply deciding on one monthly milestone. So, for example, if your annual goal was to lose 100 pounds, your monthly milestone might be to lose 8 pounds.
But if you’re going to stay focused (and off the Hot Mess Express), we’ve gotta trim it down even more. Next, decide what’s the one activity you can do this week to ensure you achieve your monthly milestone?
Often as you’re answering this question, your first several responses will be milestones as well. Keep asking yourself the question until you get down to an activity. Using the weight-loss example, the activity might be to walk five miles. Side note: Remember you’re coming up with something you can do. There’s no point in choosing something that sounds good but you know you won’t actually do.
Finally, whittle it down to the granular by asking yourself, “What’s the one task I can do each day to ensure I complete my weekly activity?” Go as small as you can until you get down to a single task. In keeping with the weight-loss example, perhaps the task might be something as simple as, “Be in bed with face washed and teeth brushed by 9:30 PM” because that will ensure you wake up on time to go for your walk.
See where we’re going with this? We’re turning big, hairy, and audacious goals into bite-sized little nibbles.
A word to all you perfectionists out there. It’s ok if the activities and tasks you choose miss the mark at first. If you end up being wrong about what your one thing is for each section, the beauty is that you’ll figure it out quickly — and then you can adjust.
Sometimes knowing that you’re doing the wrong thing can be more valuable than getting it right the first time. Just start and see what happens.
5. Prioritize and block it out
After you’ve whittled your BHAGs down to bite-sized daily tasks, you’ll block those items off on your calendar. Alternatively, if it’s not something you would necessarily calendar, but lends itself well to an alarm or reminder, set those up in your phone.
My pro tip on setting reminders and calendar entries is speak to yourself the way you would speak to someone you love.
Use language that will make those entries hard to ignore when you’re tempted later to simply hit “Snooze” or “Dismiss” when they go off. My go-to is, “Choose yourself right now and [do what you promised you’d do].” Another effective one is, “Hi beautiful! Take some time right now to [fulfill the promise you made to yourself].” I’m also a fan of, “Remember why this matters and [do X].” Use words that will be powerful for you.
Once you’ve blocked off time for your most important goals, you’re already winning, because you’re focusing on what matters most.
But… what about all that other stuff on your mental dump list?
This is where prioritizing comes in. To keep your life organized, you must accept that not all things on that list matter equally. The loud, urgent tasks are not always the most important, and the quick, easy ones are not necessarily what you should do first.
With that backdrop, read through your list, one item at a time. Next to each item, write an A, B, or C. “A” items are the ones you must do. “B” items are the ones you should do. “C” items are the ones you’d merely like to do. If you’re more of a visual person, prioritize using three highlighters, where each color represents the “must do,” “should do” and “would like to do” items.
When deciding on how to label the items on my list, I follow this rule: If it supports a BHAG in some way or counts as self-care it’s an “A” item, always. For everything else, go with your gut.
Next, get the A items on your calendar in the time slots that are left after you blocked your BHAG activities, then repeat the process for the Bs and Cs. As you’re blocking off your time you may realize that some of your items are actually mislabeled (perhaps a couple of your As should really be Bs or vice versa). That’s ok! You’re in charge here. You get to revise the labels as needed.
Spoiler alert: not everything you wrote down during your mental dump is going to fit into one week.
But guess what? That’s actually a good thing. The big benefit of having prioritized your to-dos is that only your most important items will make it onto the calendar. In other words? No more whack-a-mole!
You now have a place where your biggest goals are accounted for (your calendar) and a place where everything else is recorded (your mental dump sheet) so you can refer back if time slots open up.
Bye-bye, Hot Mess Express! Get ready to crush it in 2022.
Nikki Oden is the founder of Your Ideal Mom Life, host of the Love Your Mom Life podcast, and creator of Mom with Confidence, a time management system that teaches working moms how to own their day and crush their goals. —without the mom guilt. She is also a lawyer, a happy wife, and mom of two. Download her Super Mom Starter Guide for free to learn the three things all moms who are rocking it know!