Strangely, I seem to have acquired a reputation for being organised. I say strangely because I am really not naturally organised at all. To keep my life running at least semi-smoothly I have a whole raft of strategies and tricks that I’m constantly tweaking and adding to. Here are the ones I use daily or almost daily.
1. My Planner
Simply put, I live out of this thing. I never leave the house without it, and selecting a new one each year is a process that takes weeks or sometimes even months because it has to be perfect. I don’t just write down appointments, lectures, shifts and reminders but also to-do lists, shopping lists, my three MITs (most important tasks) for each day, topics for self-directed study, online courses running during that particular week… The list goes on. At the back there’s a four-page spread with an overview of 2014 and 2015 where I record the shape of the academic year so I can see exactly what I’ll be doing at a given time. I make a note of assignment deadlines so that I don’t overschedule around those times, and also whether I’m on placement, in university or on vacation. Being able to see it all laid out makes it a lot easier to identify weeks when I’ll be more or less stressed and schedule holidays and visits to family accordingly. I designed it myself on the best website I’ve ever seen for this sort of thing!
This keeps my day-to-day life ticking along and ensures that I get to the mundane but essential tasks that stop me from sinking into chaos. The habits column, on the left, lists things I don’t necessarily do every day – either weekly/monthly tasks or things that I sometimes do several times in a day and sometimes don’t do at all. The middle column shows tasks that I really should do daily. I have tried using longer lists of daily tasks, but found that I wasn’t always managing to keep up and some tasks didn’t really need doing anyway, so now it’s pared down to the basics and other things are over in the Habit column.
My to-do list is fairly extensive and some of the items have been sitting there for an embarrassingly long time, but they at least remind me that I need to get to them at some point, and a couple of weeks ago I finally got round to washing the skylight in my flat, which I would not have done had it not been sitting on my list for four months. The game aspect of the site does motivate me, I’ll admit, but the main advantage is that the interface is visually appealing and very simple to use. My character is the one on the left, and the other two are friends with whom I go on quests (we battle monsters by completing our daily tasks, and if one person misses one then we all get damaged. It’s extra motivation!).
Trello has become my favourite way of organising my academic work. It essentially does a job that I was previously doing on paper, which has the disadvantage of being vulnerable to loss or damage. I have lists for each module, with cards for each assignment and within those cards, checklists of the steps I need to take to complete the assignment. I can set due dates for the cards so I can see at a glance what needs to be prioritised, and I can also attach files which means I don’t have to keep downloading the assignment guide or ferreting around for a crucial article that I know I have saved somewhere… I toyed with using another board for housework that needs doing, or as a shopping list, but that was less successful because having to start up my laptop to do housework means I’m at a very high risk of getting distracted, and I don’t have a smartphone so couldn’t see a shopping list anyway.
There are lots of Pomodoro timers available but I like this one because it tucks neatly away into my taskbar, doesn’t have any unnecessary fancy features and has a pleasant, clear but unobtrusive ding to signify the end of a segment. Normally I set it for 25 minutes of work and a 5 minute break, which seems to be about the right length of time to get through a chunk of work. In the breaks I do some housework, which is still productive but gets me moving around away from my computer. It’s pretty amazing how much I can get through in half hour bursts.
There are still a few things that I would like to get to streamline my life a bit more. I’ve just ordered a large wall planner for 2015, which I’ll use in a similar way to the year overview in my regular planner but with a bit more detail. The main area that needs work is meal planning – I have tried several different things but nothing has worked quite how I need it to, with the result being that I often end up falling back on toast or pasta with whatever is in the fridge. There are so many steps involved – deciding what to have, buying the ingredients, preparing the meal, cooking it, eating it, cleaning up afterwards – and no single tool seems to suit all of them, but using more than one means it feels like too much work and I don’t bother. It’s possible I could use Trello for this, I’ll have to play around a bit. If there were an app that would shop for and cook the food too, I’d be all over it!