Clothes from last night lay strewn across my bedroom floor. A yoga mat is half folded in the corner of the room and shoes are piled in mismatched formations all along one side. The purple embroidered throw pillows I bought to imitate the spread in Good Housekeeping are far from their rightful places at the top of the bed. Instead, they’ve found homes on the floor or smashed against the crumpled sheets.
Did I have some wild night? Is this the aftermath of a drunken stupor?
Nope. This is the everyday state of my room.
I am a disorganized, chaotic mess. I can’t help it. It’s the way I’ve always been. But, as a recent graduate who was looking for and is now working at a job, I knew I had to make some changes.
Getting due dates mixed up in school is like getting a slap on the wrist. When you get deadlines mixed up at work (or the date of an interview wrong), the consequences are way worse.
Even if you’re naturally messy and disorganized, there are ways to put order in your life. When it comes to important events or projects, you need to be able to keep track of everything. So, here are three organization techniques that work (even for those who are naturally unorganized):
- Take Notes
Always have something with you to take notes in. The company culture here at AfterCollege is laid back and the meetings that I have with my manager are pretty informal. We talk about how we’ve been doing the past two weeks and then brainstorm together about what’s been working or what’s something new we can try out.
My natural inclination is to go to these meetings with just myself in tow. My brain is totally stimulated by the brainstorm sessions and we have these talks frequently enough that I should be able to remember everything, right?
Sure, I’ll remember the big stuff like an exciting new blog post idea we’ve had, but if I don’t jot down notes as we speak, I always manage to forget little things that are just as important in the long run. Forgetting that I was supposed to respond to a certain tweet or change a tag in WordPress is really embarrassing when it’s brought up in our next talk.
I’ve learned my lesson and now whenever I have a meeting of any sort, I’m there with my computer, logging our discussion in the “weekly check-in” folder of my Google Drive. Then, when I’m back at my desk I can look at my notes and move on to the next step.
- Break Everything Down
If you’re anything like me, you get so excited about the “big picture” that you often gloss over smaller details and steps. Sure, this shortcutting gets me to the finish line faster, but I often find that I’m left with an end-product of a much lesser quality. We all remember what happens to Little Red Riding Hood, right? Taking that shortcut leads her straight to the Big Bad Wolf.
So, what I’ve started doing is breaking down every project or event and creating a list of things to do. This ensures that I slow down, really think about all of the details that need to go into a project, and complete them in their entirety.
For example when you’re job searching, you may not realize all the steps that go into applying. Like reading the job description thoroughly, writing out your skills, researching the company, practicing interviewing, drafting a cover letter and résumé, having someone look over your drafts, editing them, doing informational interviews, picking out an outfit for the interview, and writing thank you notes (to name just a few).
The same thing goes for when you’re hired and are actually working at your job. Those projects that your manager gives you? Start each of them by mapping out all of the steps. Then, work your way through your list, marking off each item as you go.
Taking a breath, breaking it down, and writing a list of everything you need to do will not only leave you super prepared, but let me tell you, crossing those items off your list will leave you feeling totally accomplished and proud.
- Schedule everything.
Whether you work better virtually or on paper, make sure that you put everything into your calendar. And I don’t just mean events or deadlines. I mean everything.
Look at the lists you’ve made. Each of those steps should be transferred into your calendar. Don’t just think to yourself, yes, I’ll write a thank you note. Actually make it into an assignment. Look at your calendar and create an event for it within 24 hours of finishing the interview.
This goes for “fun” activities, too. Going out with friends? Pencil. It. In. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve flaked on plans with friends because “I thought it was on Wednesday not Monday!” Needless to say, they were not impressed.
I mean, I’m a writer and I have to schedule in times for me to actually write. That may seem silly for me to say, but if I didn’t, I honestly wouldn’t ever do it. Yes, I spend most of my day writing for the AfterCollege Blog, but the thing is, I enjoy other types of writing too. I majored in Creative Writing with an emphasis in Fiction, and yet I hardly ever write fiction anymore.
I LOVE writing short stories, but in order for me to actually write creatively in my free time, I have to pretend that I have no other choice. It’s just the way my brain works.
This scheduling is what keeps me sane. Having a time specified for every step of a project means I can’t make excuses and skip the ones I don’t find interesting. Everything is in one place and that gives me a realistic view of my free time so that I can make plans that I’ll follow through with while still completing all my projects.
Now, I’m not going to lie, for an innately unorganized person (like myself) doing these things can seem like a huge hassle. But I promise, they will make things so much easier for you in the long run. It’s all about turning these three things into habits that you do without thinking. Make them part of your daily life.
Homework time! Give it a try. Are you a recent graduate looking for a job? Has someone offered to give you some advice about finding one or have you read a really useful blog post about it? Take notes! Then, turn those notes into a checklist. Look over that list and start scheduling times to do each task. Or start with something smaller. A small, fun project you want to do in your free time. When it’s completed, give yourself a small reward.