1. The 2-Minute RuleIf you’ve ever asked me for organizational help, I’ve probably told you about the 2-minute rule. This is a principle from David Allen’s book Getting Things Done, which is kind of like the bible of organization/productivity. Allen says that if a task will take you 2 minutes or less, you should do it RIGHT NOW, because the time it takes you to create a reminder for the task and then actually remember to do it is probably more than 2 minutes. I’ve expanded this rule to 5 minutes and it is a life-saver. Have a 5 minute phone call you need to make? Do it now. Need to send an email? Do it now. Don’t bother putting it on your to-do list, JUST DO IT.
2. Inbox-ingThis is another David Allen idea that I have fallen in love with. This trick is based on the idea of an email inbox. “Stuff” comes into your inbox. Some stuff is tasks, some is events, some is random ideas, and some is just junk. Your email collects this “stuff’, and you go through your email and decide what action needs to be taken. Once an email is dealt with, it no longer lives in your inbox. I know not everyone organizes their email this way--even though you should!--but the principle is this: An inbox just collects stuff temporarily, and you go through it regularly and clean it out. I have 2 inboxes. I’ll tell you how I use them and how they help me stay organized.
One is a physical box (it’s actually a basket) on my dresser that says, “Reb’s Inbox.” Think of it as a pile of “Things to Go Through.” Stuff that I don’t immediately know what to do with goes in that basket. I try to go through the basket every week, although sometimes I get lazy and only look at it once a month. David Allen recommends clearing out your inbox every day. Here’s how I do it: I pick up the first thing in the inbox, decide what to do with it, and I don’t put it down until it has a home or I decide to throw it away. Then I move on to the next thing. If it’s a quote from church that I want to save, I put it in my filing cabinet. If it’s a receipt, I usually toss it in the trash. Sometimes I write ideas on blank pieces of paper and toss them in my inbox, because I want to deal with them at some point, but they’re not urgent. Then when I go through my inbox, I look at the piece of paper and decide what to do with that idea. If it’s something I want to do immediately, I put it on my to-do list. If it’s something I want to do in the future but not right now, I put it on a Google Doc. You get the idea. When you don’t have an inbox, your brain is always busy remembering things instead of being free to think creatively or problem solve. You’ll be surprised how much headspace you have when you know that all those miscellaneous tasks/ideas are captured somewhere, AND when you know that they’ll be dealt with in a timely manner. It also helps with clutter at home.
The other inbox I have is in my notebook. Every day, I turn to a new page and title it “Inbox.” This is the list version of the basket I keep at home. Ideas, thoughts, notes, and other random tasks get listed here. Anything that’s on my mind, big or small, gets on this page. I can then transfer necessary things to my daily to-do list, put events on my calendar, and sometimes I even rip out this page and put it in my basket at home, to be dealt with like other physical items. The principle for both inboxes is the same, I just don’t want to bring a big basket around with me all day to put my things in.
3. Don’t Put To-Do’s on Your CalendarFirst things first: You HAVE to have a calendar. You can’t rely on random sticky notes, text messages, or other people to tell you where you need to be and when. Take 100% responsibility for your life and get a calendar. I enjoyed using a paper calendar/planner for many years, but I switched to Google calendar to better manage my schedule with my husband’s schedule, and it has worked really well for me. You can use whatever is easier for you. Once you have a calendar that you like, it’s VITAL that you use it as a hard landscape for your time. You need to know when you’re available and when you’re not. It’s all about trusting the system. If you have To-Dos on your calendar instead of just events, you won’t be able to tell when you’re really free. Listing negotiable items like “do laundry” on your calendar instead of a To-Do list means that sometimes the things on your calendar aren’t really happening and that makes it easy to ignore other appointments. Then the whole system breaks down. You need to know that when you look at your calendar, the time that’s blocked off is really blocked off. This principle has honestly changed my life because I can schedule appointments with total confidence. I never worry that I’m double booking myself or that I’m going to forget something, because I know that all my necessary appointments/meetings/events/etc are captured on my calendar.
I think it’s appropriate to put “Reminders” on your calendar, but I think that only really works if you use something like Google calendar where you can turn off the reminders when you’re looking at your schedule.