My name is Zelica. I'm a Virtual Assistant and I organise small businesses for a living. I’ve wanted to blog for a while and this particular blog started off as tips for making a to do list but let’s go all the way and talk about being well organised and how to do lists feature in that.
But I have a confession to make. I am not naturally an organised person. I work really hard at it. I invest a lot time and research in finding ways to stay organised, stop myself from getting distracted easily and being productive. It's not easy but I try really hard. Does that make me a fraud? No! Because I put into action everything I teach my clients. I walk the walk and practise what I preach. Most of the time.........
Staying organised is a job in itself. The last thing you probably want to do is add another task in an already busy life. But I guarantee that introducing structure and routine will make everything else in your life a lot simpler. By adding structure and routine, we can all make better use of our time instead of stressing and worrying about everything we have to do. It doesn’t matter if you have failed miserably in the past at staying organised. It really doesn’t. I hope you will try again because something I say resonates with you. It’s important to allow flexibility into your day as having structure and routine shouldn’t scare you into being organised, but urge you. You want to create something that becomes natural and easy in your quest in being organised every single day.
1. Start from Sunday evening
Trust me, you will sleep easier knowing you have a plan for the week ahead. You should also repeat the following each evening so you face the day afresh.
· Tidy up. Pack bags. Iron clothes for school and/or work. – . I am not a morning person. I do not want the added stress into my morning especially as I don’t think my children or my neighbours could handle the consequences or noise levels. Nothing is more stressful than rushing around first thing in the morning trying to find shoes, books, tights, whatever. Organise it all from the night before so you have time to find whatever usually is hiding behind a cushion, yesterday’s newspaper or a pile of ironing. If you work from home, it is so distracting to see a pile of clothes that need putting in the washing machine, a dirty kitchen floor, toys that need packing away, etc. There is nothing like waking up to a tidy home. You can’t help feeling smug. It’s fine. You’ll have time to pat yourself on the back too
· Write a to-do list for the week. Writing is usually therapeutic and you can see exactly what needs to be done in black and white. Most of us are good at writing the list but fail at actually completing the task and ticking them off. First of all, get it all out of your head. Like a memory dump. It is often suggested by experts that you should have a master list, which you add to and delete it from your mind. Ken Ziegler, a productivity and time management expert says, “Allow your mind to be a strategic thinker, not a memory chip”. I love that! Always keep a pad with you (even by your bed at night. Don’t let that thing you didn’t do today keep you up worrying. Get it out and down on the paper.), so by Sunday night you have a master list for the week ahead.
Be specific and be practical. The whole point to having a to-do list is to make your life easier. For example, don’t just say “Answer emails”. Write whose emails need answering so you allocate the proper amount of time to the task. Always leave time for unplanned occurrences. Things don’t always go to plan so prepare for it.
Is there anything on there that can be delegated or outsourced? We can’t possibly do everything or able to do everything. Is there someone who can help or is simply better than you at doing something? It is not worth overloading your schedule just because you refuse to ask for help. Instead of getting a cleaner, I set weekly chores for my 16-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son to do. I’m not good at trying to do everything. I do what I’m good at and what I am physically capable of doing. No point setting unrealistic aims for myself. Maybe it’s not kids you can delegate (don’t worry, my kids get paid in kind) but a colleague, flat mate, friend or acquaintance. Just don’t try and do it all as no one will see how much of a superman/woman you are, just the ranting, stressed person they have to hide from.
Divide your to-do list up into professional and personal, which them themselves should be divided into needs and wants. Remember to add in special events and appointments. Prioritise what needs to be done but add your wants as well. Remember that you do not have to explain your to-do list to anyone else. What is important to you, may not seem important to another but again it doesn’t matter. It all depends on your work commitments and lifestyle. Please be realistic so you don’t set yourself up to fail. Don’t be so hyped up with being organized that you put 15 tasks on that list each day which overwhelms you so much that by Wednesday morning you want to burn the to do list. Personally, I like to put 3 tasks on both my professional and personal list (2 needs and 1 want, for example). Maybe you could do more or less tasks though try to be realistic but do push yourself.
Please make sure that you put a ‘to be completed’ date next to every task. It is so important that you put when and where you’re going to do something. It is not important if a task gets rolled over to the next day if you didn’t have the time complete it, though it is important that you do something about it. If an item stays on your list for more than three days, then a decision needs to be made. Either do it right away, reallocate it to the beginning of a specific day to be completed first or cut it from the list completely.
The format of your to-do list is completely up to you. I love my Apple products. I have an iMac, iPhone, iPad, etc., etc. which all sync up and update at the touch of a button. But I write my to-do list and schedule in my Filofax. I have to manually write things down. I get a certain satisfaction from physically ticking items off tasks when completed. I use my electronic items to remind myself of appointments only. I need reminding to leave at a certain time otherwise I’m still sitting there doing something ‘Important’. If you are into technology, smart phones usually come with apps such as Reminders on iOS. Do!, Wunderlist, Any.do are few other apps which can be downloaded but check out others too to see which suit you. Or you can use pen and paper or a Excel Spreadsheet.
2. Create a Schedule
Use your to-do list to create a schedule for the week. Literally write the time you will be completing each task around work and childcare commitments, appointments and events. You have already noted the time it should take you do each event so it should be pretty straightforward. Try and stick to it but do not beat yourself up about it if you haven’t ticked everything off. Research says that it takes 21 days for a routine to become a habit. Don’t be hard on yourself if you aren’t quite doing it all on Day 23. Just keep persevering. Don’t give up. As long as you are doing something every day, you are making progress. It does help if you try not to get distracted. Don’t start something else without having finished the task you were doing. Multi tasking is so overrated. I would rather finish 3 tasks then have started 10 and not finished any. It is so easy to be distracted by emails, social media, phone calls so give yourself regular breaks or rewards. There is nothing wrong with checking your Facebook if you have finished half of your tasks by noon. It would be an issue if it’s 3pm and you haven’t ticked anything off of your list but have checked your Instagram/Pinterest/Facebook/Twitter, ASOS’s website and added items to your Net-a Porter’s Wish List basket. Maybe you don’t even realize how much time you spend on your phone. If you have a smartphone, download the Moments app. It is an app that will tell how long you have spent on your phone and how many times you have picked it up from midnight to midnight each day. I was so embarrassed to realize that in one day, I spent 6 hours on my personal social media accounts but wondered why I wasn’t getting all my tasks done. I now have set a limit within the app for a really annoying alarm to ring when I have spent over 90 minutes on my phone. When that alarm goes off and I know that I have been doing something productive in that time, I tend just to turn the alarm off and carry on. If I know that I have been checking out what my mates have been up to, I usually slip the phone down ashamedly. But reward yourself with Social Media Time (if that is your thing) after you have completed a certain amount of tasks to keep yourself motivated. Make sure you allow time for breaks. I get bored easily so I don’t try and do anything for longer than an hour unless I’m really on a flow. Break tasks up into manageable tasks so that it is easier to focus.
3. Eat well, exercise and get enough sleep
Nothing new and not always the easiest thing to stick to I know but developing a good sleep pattern, diet and regular exercise is the only way to tackle each day with the energy and enthusiasm needed. Research shows that all mammals need sleep, and that sleep regulates mood and is related to learning and memory functions. Not only will getting enough sleep help you perform on a test, learn a new skill or help you stay on task, but it may also be a critical factor in your health, weight and energy level.. It is easy to feel sensitive, a bit lazy or overwhelmed when you haven’t had enough sleep to begin to think straight. Before you know it, you have been staring at the paperwork/computer for hours and have not really achieved anything. Record that programme that you don’t want to miss and keep late nights to a minimum. The 8 hours sleep per night theory hasn’t been plucked out of the air. There has been a lot of research into this subject and 8 hours really is the ideal amount of hours of sleep needed in order for your body and brain to feel refreshed.
I’m not suggesting that you become a gym bunny but get yourself moving about. Research has consistently shown that sleep quality improves among those who exercise. There isn’t much point in going to bed early if you’re not going to get any quality sleep. Walk more at the very least.
A better diet will also aid a better quality of sleep. Try to consume less caffeine, alcohol and sugar, at least during the week, and up your intake of fruits, veg and lean meats. People who sleep only four hours a night are more likely to choose high-carb, sugary, and starchy foods over healthier picks, a University of Chicago study found. The reverse is also true: Eating certain healthy foods calm your nervous system and triggers a sleep-inducing hormonal response, scientists say, helping you rest better at night.
The point to remember is that you aren’t going to be able to achieve these 3 points all of the time. If you can, great but it’s not the point. The point is to try. You want to create a life that is manageable, less stressful and feels more productive. Life isn’t perfect so why should you be striving for perfection? Just try and do your best, whatever that be. If you don’t achieve everything during the first week, just try again. It's more important to do something if you're struggling with how things are currently than doing nothing at all. But remember that you could always contact someone like me if you really struggle. After all, if everyone was good at organising their time and tasks, I would be out of a job!
If you feel you would benefit from 1:1 Coaching, please feel free to contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org.