I’m a disorganized person at heart; my room and car are always a mess, and I misplace my phone, wallet, car keys, etc. multiple times a day. That being said, I’ve always taken extra care when it comes to school/work to stay organized so that I can actually get my work done on time and not mentally combust in the process. There are a couple of tips and tricks that help me stay on my A-game and if I can get organized, trust me, anyone can. The changes are small but they can make a huge positive impact on your workflow and even your work ethic. Check them out below!
Organization is Key
Make a list:
Not only does writing down a list make it easy to visually see what you need to get done, but nothing feels better than crossing off a task when you’ve finally completed it. No, mental lists don’t count. Grab a Post-It note (and if you’re a digital fiend like the majority of modern day society, turn on your stickies--although many studies show that pen and paper increase the benefits of list-making) and physically jot down everything that you need to do. The positives of list-making include increased memory, easier capability of processing information, and lower stress levels.
Use a planner:
There are so many planners out there now that they have become more than just a place for you to organize your appointments. My personal favorite is the Passion Planner, it has basic planner attributes including monthly, weekly, and daily scheduling slots, but it also encourages you to reach your personal, social, and career goals with features like the Passion Roadmap and monthly reflections. I’ll admit, there are SO many features in this planner that it’s a bit daunting, so I am still trying to get in the habit of actually using it every day. But I have multiple friends who are 100% committed and they swear by it. Both the Passion Planner site and Instagram also have tons of inspiration for making planning creative and fun.
This is probably the most underrated tip on the list. Do not underestimate the power of color coding. Aside from saving yourself from sheer boredom--I swear, making rainbow notes always helped me to stay awake during long lectures--organizing information by color helps activate the creative side of your brain, which helps you to better recall information and organize it into themes regarding what is most important. This doesn’t only apply to note-taking and chart-making, I also try to find other ways to incorporate color coding, like by using the multicolored starring option for emails and organizing different colored stickies into categories. However, don’t get too crazy and overdo it--as tempting as that may be. Too much color can lead to confusion and repeatedly returning to information that you don’t necessarily need to revisit.
The Apps Are Out There… Use Them!
This app is a lifesaver if you’re someone whose inbox gets flooded with emails every day. You can set up your email to send reminders to follow up with people and even schedule an email to be sent at the perfect time. We all know the frustration of losing our train of thought or momentum because we feel the need to respond to a sudden email “before we forget.” Boomerang is the perfect remedy for that problem. A new feature has also recently been added where you can pause your inbox so that you don’t get email notifications for a set amount of time. It’s great if you suffer from “Unread” anxiety or are sick of feeling your phone buzz all hours of the day.
The digital world is amazing in that we can communicate with all members of our social and professional teams anytime, anywhere, and there are a ton of apps for it. The downside? Notifications EVERYWHERE. Whether it’s little red numbers all over your computer screen leaving you unsure of which to click first, or notification bells that you recognize the sound of but can’t exactly pinpoint to the right app, it can be easy to miss important messages or forget to respond. Fortunately, Franz is the perfect app for your apps. It organizes all of your messaging applications into one neat place so that you can easily attend to any messages you haven’t seen. The best part is that it supports most popular messaging apps including Slack, Facebook Messenger, Skype, and more.
Going back to the importance of list making, Todoist is an app that helps you take your to-do lists to the next level. Not only can you assign yourself a list of “tasks” to complete, but you can also assign tasks to others and work on them collaboratively. It’s great for if you’re working on group projects and allows you to schedule as far in advance as you need. You can also set notifications to remind you to get to any tasks that you haven’t completed yet--fellow procrastinators, this one’s for you.
Don’t Forget About Wellness
Wellness is simultaneously the most and least obvious component of productivity. Apps and lists may help you to get ultra focused on the work at hand, but if it’s 5 p.m. and you haven’t eaten since breakfast, that’s a problem. It's evident that lack of eating can be detrimental to your daily functioning, but what you eat is just as important. Foods that are high in healthy fats and protein are great for memory, and glucose-rich fruits/veggies will help with focus. As an avid junk food eater, I can confidently say that when I make the effort to eat healthily I really do see an increase in my speed and focus when working. So, as tempting--and convenient--as it is to run to a drive thru and get fries on your lunch break, your brain will thank you if you stop by the local Whole Foods and go for a healthier option. Also, rather than waiting until you’re starving to grab a bite, be sure to snack throughout the day.
Sleep is incredibly important, but that’s not news. I’m sure most of you have heard that it’s best to get 7-8 hours sleep, turn off your electronics before bed, etc., etc. However, naps can be just as important for your health as a full night of sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends taking a 20-30 minute nap during the day to restore alertness, enhance performance, and reduce mistakes. But be careful, naps longer than that can mess with your sleep schedule and make you even drowsier long-term. The Foundation also notes that although there are negative stigmas associated with napping--laziness, lack of ambition, low standards, etc.--it’s completely natural as humans to feel the need for one at some point in the day. So don’t worry, there’s no shame in using your lunch break or downtime in between class periods to catch up on some rest.
Music can be a great way to not only improve your productivity but improve your overall mood so that you can enjoy what you’re working on. However, this one is another double-edged sword. While many studies have found that listening to music increases workplace performance, others have shown that listening to music can be distracting and make intellectual tasks take more time. As someone who maladaptively daydreams to their favorite songs on the reg, I definitely relate to the latter and listening to my favorite tracks while working isn’t always the best option. But playing songs without words or music that you don’t always listen to can help you reap the positive benefits of listening to music while working. I love the Mellow Beats Spotify playlist and there are multiple classical bands (check out Vitamin String Quartet) that play beautiful instrumentals of popular songs if you're looking for familiarity without too much distraction.
Photo by: Christina Choi