How to Actually Get Organized and Stick With It

A scatterbrain's journey to schedule serenity.

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One of my new year's resolutions was to find an organizational system that would mesh with my work style. After a lot of thought and research, I arrived on a mix that works for me: a pastel pink legal pad to jot down things in the moment when I'm at my home desk (pink, simply, because it's cheerful to look at); the Stickies app on my MacBook for short term to-do lists when I'm not at my beloved legal pad; iCal—which syncs between my phone and computer, as well as my Google calendar—for meetings, events, and things like bill reminders; and a list app called TeuxDeux for an easy weekly overview.

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Anyone can get their life in order—and keep it that way—if they're smart about setting up a system that works with their brain instead of against it. Here are the three most helpful questions to ask yourself when you're trying to get organized.

Tip No. 1: Where Are You?

Take a moment to assess when and where you are when you need to remember what you almost forgot. Are you at your desk at home, school, or work? Are you on the go? Are you in the car, on the light rail, or wifi-less on an underground subway? Nailing this down will help you figure out what would be the easiest way to pull up information: Do you have the space and time to flip through a notebook, or would a tidy app like Wunderlist be easier?

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It's also worth taking time to think about where you are not only when you need to pull out that super-important info, but also the places where you tend to get ideas. Maybe it's Sunday evening before the work week begins, or directly after class, or while walking the dog. Think about where you'll be when you jot down ideas, notes, and events, as well as where you'll be when you need to recall them.

No. 2: What's on You?

What do you carry with you on a day-to-day basis? If you're all about pockets or tiny purses, don't lie to yourself about toting around a Moleskine. Find a way to work with your phone: maybe it's an app like ToDoist or Evernote, or maybe you simply send emails to yourself to streamline when you're stationary.

If you carry a nice big backpack with pens tucked in every zipper compartment, you can go for a full-sized paper planner—we love the open date versions Poketo makes, while the Midori Traveler's Notebook offers tons of customizable inserts for a multi-purpose planner. Be realistic about what's going to be with you on a moment's notice and maximize those tools.

No. 3: What Can You Put on Autopilot?

The absolute best thing you can do to keep yourself on track is to invest some time in automating your reminders and tasks. Recurring daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly reminders are a great way to set up check-ins with yourself about taking your vitamins, touching base with your boss or advisor, paying bills, and making birthday phone calls (on the right day).

You can set those up on the digital calendar of your choice, something as simple as Google Calendar or iCal will do the job just fine. For bigger, one-off projects, try breaking down the elements and assigning times to yourself to work on each, like meetings you can't miss—that way you'll never be left wondering what you should be remembering to do.

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