Hacking Your Life: Organization Tips

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{Header image by Brett Jordan, via Flickr, and used under a Creative Commons Attribution license}

Note: this article was also published on Project Quinn (website no longer active).

Everyone is looking for ways to squeeze more time out of their day. Sites such as Lifehacker and 43 Folders have thrived on the idea of getting the most out of your life, and almost every media outlet, from The Huffington Post to Cracked, has written a post or two with tips to staying organized in this ‘always on’ Web 2.0 world we now all live in.

Screenshot of Google Search
Screenshot of Google Search

As school continues to progress along this semester, though, I’ve had several of my friends ask how I’m able to stay on top of my homework as well as accomplish several other non-homework related projects such as reviewing The Fifth Estate and live tweeting the Emmys. How am I able to do this?

Most Important Tip

The most important organization tip I have is simple: I fully believe that everyone is organized, just in different ways. What works for me may not necessarily work for you.

The first tip to becoming more organized in your life, then, is to give yourself an assessment. How best do you work? What encourages you/motivates you to accomplish tasks? What is your current workload and what exactly are you capable of doing?

messy-desk
Photo by Angie Fiedler Sutton

If you’re not the type of person that is motivated by rewards, then setting up a system based on them won’t help you out. If you’re already involved in five different nonprofits, then think twice before adding another one to your list of volunteer duties. If you can’t work with a clean desk, then don’t try to keep your workspace clear. Learn what works for you and use it.

Time Management

The best way I get everything accomplished is through time management. This not only means being aware of my current workload (see the self assessment above), but also using my time wisely. Whenever someone finds me on campus, they will inevitably see me on my computer – working. I’m either checking my e-mail, catching up on my various RSS feeds, or working on my homework.

I know I have a hard time working on homework when I’m at home and easily distracted by family life and the offers of Netflix. So, I made an intentional decision to treat school as if it’s a 40-hour job. I go into school every day at around 8:30 am and stay until round 4 or 5 pm. I only have one class each day, so the rest of my work day is spent on things relating to school, only taking occasional breaks to give my eyes a rest.

Photo from Pixabay, and used under a CC0 Public Domain license
Photo from Pixabay, and used under a CC0 Public Domain license

One of the many tips I had received when I was contemplating attending graduate school was to always say yes. I rely heavily on my calendar, which is readily accessible on my smartphone. Every event that comes my way goes through an internal flowchart in my head where I decide a) if it’s something I’m actually interested in, b) if it’s at a time where I can actually attend, and c) how much I want to attend it. If it’s something I’m only slightly interested in, it gets on the calendar but is easily dismissed if I feel I have too much homework to do. I put in e-mail reminders to things I want to make sure not to miss out on, which helps the time management even more.

But with all time management, you also need to give yourself time to refresh. Most of my weekend is spent doing my homework for the upcoming week, getting as much done as I can. That way, my evenings during the week can be somewhat of a down time. I try to unplug from my computer at least one evening a week, or at least unplug from the items I feel like I have to do, focusing on things I want to do instead. This makes me less resentful when I am working on my other projects.

Lists, Lists, and More Lists

My final trick I use for keeping on track of my tasks is list making. I love lists. I’m one of those people that wants to put on the top of the list “create a list”, just so I can cross something off as soon as I’ve created it.

Remember-the-Milk
Screencap of my Remember the Milk account

I use the website/app Remember the Milk to keep track of everything. Remember the Milk works great for me, because it lets you set up individual lists (so I can have a separate one for all my homework assignments). It also lets you not only sort by due date but by priority (for example, anything related to my thesis is labeled as high priority) and lets me print out the full list if I want a hard copy to keep in my folder.

As I got the syllabus in each class, homework assignments were put on a list, preceded with the class # (so I know at a glance what class it’s for) with due dates listed. That way, I know at a glance what items are due the following week.

Keeping On Top of Things

This is by no means all the organizational tricks I use. I have a precise naming system for all my files and e-mail folders so as to better find things, I try to keep on a regular schedule of morning tasks (even on weekends), and I reward myself regularly with nights off and dinners out when I feel I’ve gotten on top of my various tasks.

If keeping organized was simple, then there wouldn’t be so much written about it. It’s a system you need to constantly be on top of and reevaluating to see if what you’re doing is working. So, what organization tips do you have?