With kids remote learning, people working from home, and the cat wondering when everyone will leave, it is a crazy time for all of us. You probably have 165 items on your to-do list, and yet you feel like you can’t get anything done. You are not alone. That’s why I asked Autumn Nyby, co-host of the A to B Podcast and professional organizer, to help us. Follow these steps to organize your to-do list and infuse some sanity into your life.
Organize your to-do list into categories
Not all items on your to-do list are of equal importance. In order to organize your to-do list, it helps to break the list into categories. Autumn Nyby says, “The first thing you need to do is divide the tasks into categories like errands, computer work, calls to make, and bigger projects. Just breaking it up into categories, especially with such a large number of tasks, helps to see what is really on that list.”
Set a time limit for items on your to-do list
Once you have your to-do list broken down into categories, the next step is to put a time limit on each task. Nyby says, “This is the most important thing you can do.”
You may look at your to-do list and feel overwhelmed by the amount of time you think it will take. That’s why Nyby advises us to sit down and do a quick estimate of how long each task should take or how much time you want to spend on each item.
Next to “Respond to Jennifer’s email”, write down: “10 minutes”. Nyby says, “You are watching the clock. It makes you go a little faster even though you may not be exactly within the time limit. It gives you that pressure of ‘I’m going to spend this much time on it, and then I can say I’m done with this.’”
Kids at home? Organize your to-do list into light work and deep work
Gone are the days when I could complete a task uninterrupted at home on a Tuesday morning. That’s okay. There are perks to the constant buzz of family activity. However, I would still like to get some tasks accomplished. Luckily, Nyby shares her tips on how to stay organized during these unusual times.
In order to accomplish more, Nyby recommends breaking down your to-do list into “light work” and “deep work.” Light work is ideal for multi-tasking, tasks you can do in the background such as folding the laundry or making a quick call to a friend. Your deep work are items when you really need some quiet time, a place to hide from the kids, and an area to focus. Think about when you can get your deep work done during the day. Decide what you can do now and what you don’t have time for until later.
Declutter your paper pile by changing your way of thinking
When the mail arrives or your child gives you papers from school, you need to find a system so the paper stack does not live on your kitchen counter. “People get stuck with papers,” says Nyby. “One of the big habits is that we look at a piece of paper, think about it, and then put it down.” That’s not what we should be doing, though. As Nyby explains, “You didn’t finish thinking about it. The thought is, ‘What am I going to do with this paper? Where does this paper live? Do I need to take an action on it?’ You need to finish the full thought process with the paper before you just put it down.”
Consider where each paper should live
To help you keep the paper pile to a minimum, get into the habit of thinking about the paper. For example, let’s say a paper comes home from school. Nyby says, “You look at it and put it down. But, wait. Was there any information in it? Do you need to record something in your calendar? Was it just knowledge so you read it and you feel good? If it was just knowledge, trash it right then, so you are not picking up this useless paper multiple times. For important paper, put it in a place where you can find it when you need it.” Nyby recommends using a file folder box for the important paperwork.
Create a productive workspace at home
According to Nyby, the first thing you should do to create a productive work space at home is to keep important items accessible. You do not want to waste time hunting around for these items. Then, make a space where your items can be put away, so everything isn’t out on your desk. Finally, leave extra time at the end of the day to clean up your space. Nyby says, “The cleaning up part is why we sometimes feel our workspace isn’t productive. We wake up in the morning and you feel like you are starting off on the wrong foot.” If we straighten up our space at the end of the day, then the next morning we are ready to get to work. This is true for both adults and kids.
Pay attention to your energy levels, and limit what drains you
We can’t do it all. Especially now. Nyby offers great advice, “Yes, you can try your best, but think about what your priorities are during this time. Realize that some things on your to-do list need to go because it is impossible to do it all.” Focus on what you need right now. Nyby says, “Pay attention to your own energy levels, and think about when you are getting outside to get fresh air or what gives you more energy. Can you put on some music? What are the things that give you energy that can help you?” Consider the opposite, too. “What are the things that drain you? Is staying on the phone all day draining you? Limit that,” says Nyby. “We all need to be aware of our energy. You taking care of yourself, your attitude, the kids feed off of that.”