Resolving to Get Organized

By Rebeldad Brian Reid

Thanks to all who bucked Leslie's anti-personal-resolution stance and offered up their New Year's resolutions yesterday. My last really successful New Year's resolution came on April 19, 2005 (I run chronically late). My desk at the time was set up according to an organization principle I held dearly: the pile. I had two piles flanking my monitor, each over a foot in height and teeming with journal articles and medical claim forms and credit card statements and half-finished thank-you notes and unreadable receipts from who knows when.

"Of course I know where it is," I'd brag whenever my wife asked me about this or that, "it's in the pile -- right at arm's length!" My wife didn't buy it. And, deep down inside, neither did I. So on that April 19 -- with New Year's Day-level clarity -- I resolved to get my act together. I ran to Barnes & Noble and bought a copy of Getting Things Done (GTD) by David Allen, which seemed to be the productivity guide of choice for hip bloggers.

That day (and the book) changed my life. Forty-eight hours later, I'd filled two contractor-grade trash bags with stuff from the pile (and other debris), and could take deep breaths in my office for the first time in years. And though I am a different man now, almost three years later, I'm still not quite what you'd call organized. So this year, I've rededicated myself to getting things done by Getting Things Done.

In practice, this means doing three things well:

  • Writing down absolutely every commitment I have with myself or anyone else, from "take the kids to Casey's birthday party," to "call the car dealership" to "write On Balance post." No more assuming I'm smart enough to remember it all.
  • Deciding immediately what to do with every little bit of information that comes my way. If I decide it's important, GTD gives me three options: do it, defer it, or delegate it. No more telling myself "I'll think about this statement/invitation/e-mail later."
  • Taking time out once a week to review all the commitments I have written down. No more sticking the doctor's bill in the pile and hoping I never see it again.
It's not rocket science, but it will require some discipline on my part. Of course, Getting Things Done isn't the only way to get things done, so I'm curious: Do any of you have a fail-safe philosophy for getting to the bottom of your to-do list?

Brian Reid writes about parenting and work-family balance. You can read his blog at

By Brian Reid |  January 3, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
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The answer to financial organization: online banking!

As far as doctors' bills go, other than strait to the round file, when they want my money, their people will give me a personal call. Then I'll give them a sob story in return for the extra effort they afforded to squeeze me.

Posted by: DandyLion | January 3, 2008 7:55 AM

A good memory helps....

Posted by: chittybangbang | January 3, 2008 8:32 AM

I am basically a type A slob. I want to be in charge of everything, but I don't have to have everything in its place.

I try hard to get organized and then two weeks later, it looks like I never did anything.

Posted by: Irishgirl | January 3, 2008 8:44 AM

Everything gets filed and handled according to two criteria:

1. How much is it going to benefit me if I do this?
2. How much trouble am I in if I DON'T do this?

When something pops up, it gets assessed by those criteria and filed appropriately. Take DW to dinner? Hmm, by both criteria that's an important one. Make the mortgage payment? Fails criterion 1, but criterion 2 makes it a high priority. Attend the next middle school PTA meeting, where we're talking about how to handle the fundraising mulch sale next Spring? Umm, don't really see that one meeting either criterion, so unless there's not much else going on, it's going to fall through the cracks.

I find two things essential to organization, at least at home: a filing cabinet, and a big honkin' calendar. The calendar has 3 inch by 3 inch squares for each day, with a page for each month this year. When you have an appointment or something you need from me, write it down. The calendar's mounted on a cork board in the kitchen, where I can't miss it - I can check several times a day. If it's on the calendar, I'm responsible for it and I'll get it done. If it's not on the calendar, I am NOT responsible for it and if it doesn't get done it's your fault.

The filing cabinet works on a simple principle: a file for each important category. "Bills to be paid" - any bill that comes in gets examined to make sure it's legit, then (because of criterion 2, above) gets stuffed in the file to be paid on payday. "Receipts" - filed according to their significance (tax-related, etc.) "School stuff" - self explanatory.

That's about it. Works for me.

Posted by: ArmyBrat | January 3, 2008 8:59 AM

We still have bank statements from accounts we don't have anymore, so I really need to go through the filing cabinet.

I would love to stick my shredder next to the front door so I can just dispose of mail as it comes in, but don't trust my toddler. Maybe I should put it under the kitchen sink? Hmm...

Posted by: floof | January 3, 2008 9:16 AM

Momentum. A list. At the top of the list should be the low-hanging fruit. It's easy to check off, gives a sense of accomplishment, and gets things rolling.

Posted by: atb2 | January 3, 2008 9:51 AM

Nothing, but nothing has helped me change my life for the better more than

Sure, some of it is corny. But it's free, and it works.

Posted by: dkfalcon | January 3, 2008 10:00 AM

"Everything gets filed and handled according to two criteria:

1. How much is it going to benefit me if I do this?
2. How much trouble am I in if I DON'T do this?"

ArmyBrat, that's excellent -- you just summed up the two driving principles of my life! Rule no. 1 of organizing: avoid even engaging on stuff you don't have to!

We have a mishmash of organizing approaches right now, since I haven't found one overall program that works as well for each individual issue. I am inherently disorganized, so when I find something that works, I stick to it like glue.

I have used the Franklin Planner for a number of years. I keep a planner on my desk, with a monthly calendars for long-range stuff, and daily calendar pages I use to track my work time. But the best part is these little strips of lined paper for to-do lists; you put the strip into a clear plastic cover, which clips right into the rings on my binder. Anything I think of that needs to get done goes onto that list, right when I think of it. Then, before I leave at night, I flip the calendar, move the list, and take 30 seconds to glance at it and jot down onto the calendar the projects that are the priority for that day.

More recently, I have switched to an electronic calendar for dates/appointments; since it's both on my work computer and on my blackberry, it's always with me. I track everything there, and just code work and personal stuff in different colors.

Mail, we still struggle with. I sort directly over the trash can, but the things we keep -- magazines, cards to respond to, statements to file, charity solicitations, etc. -- tend to build up until one of us (me) gets fed up with it. The bills were especially getting to be a problem; we've both just flat-out forgotten to pay a mid-month bill a couple of times. But my husband automated as much as we can, and for the rest, I programmed a monthly reminder into my electronic calendar.

Now if I could only track down that dang filing fairy. . . .

Posted by: laura33 | January 3, 2008 10:03 AM

I have to make myself focus and stick to only one thing on the list at a time. This may sound simple, but it is not for me. I tend to want to flit around from one thing to another, completing none. Or obsess about everything on the list. If I tell myself, okay we are just doing this one thing and not worrying about anything else until it is done, it helps.

Posted by: cjbriggs | January 3, 2008 12:21 PM

Irishgirl -- a type A slob -- I love it! I think that's me as well.

The single best thing to happen to me organization/clutterwise was mixed paper recycling in 2000, followed by a separate blue bin for it several years later. Most days junk mail doesn't even come in the house -- I also take bills out of envelopes, toss the filler and bring the bill inside.

I have heard good things about and it's on my resolution list but you need to have the catalogs in front of you to do the opt-out. I believe you need your customer number.

Posted by: tntkate | January 3, 2008 12:22 PM

Irishgirl -- a type A slob -- I love it! I think that's me as well

Hahah, if only my husband loved it too.

He is a neat freak.

Posted by: Irishgirl | January 3, 2008 12:41 PM

dkfalcon is right: FlyLady is the way to go. 15 minutes at a time, little babysteps and eventually getting & STAYING organized becomes routine.

Posted by: jenniferbeall | January 3, 2008 12:57 PM

Ps -- Thanks for the topic, Brian. It's a slow day today, so I've used it to file away last year's stuff and set up my calendar for this year.

Posted by: laura33 | January 3, 2008 2:09 PM

You can't want something (frivolous) you haven't seen. I find putting catalogues straight into the recycling bin very useful.

Posted by: maryland_mother | January 3, 2008 2:12 PM

dkfalcon is right: FlyLady is the way to go. 15 minutes at a time, little babysteps and eventually getting & STAYING organized becomes routine.

Posted by: jenniferbeall | January 3, 2008 12:57 PM

yeah - assuming your goal in life is to organize your house and stay right there on top of that cleaning, LOL.

The dust I shall always have with me. It'll still be there when the kids are grown. Then -- maybe -- I'll start worrying about organizing our household cleaning.

Posted by: mn.188 | January 3, 2008 3:02 PM

"The dust I shall always have with me."

Dust mite prevention:

Avoiding exposure to dust mites can minimize your risk of allergic reactions. While you can't completely eliminate dust mites from your home, you can significantly reduce their number. Use these suggestions...

*Remove dust. Use a damp mop or rag instead of a dry cloth.

* Vacuum regularly. Use a vacuum cleaner with a double-layered microfilter bag or a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter. Vacuum both carpet and fabric-covered furniture. If your allergies are severe, leave the area being vacuumed while someone else does the dirty work. Stay out of the vacuumed room for 20 minutes after vacuuming.

* Cut clutter. If it collects dust, it also collects dust mites. So remove knickknacks, tabletop ornaments, books, magazines and newspapers from your bedroom.

* Rethink flooring. If your dust mite allergy is severe, replace your wall-to-wall bedroom carpet with tile, wood or linoleum flooring. Also consider replacing upholstered furniture and removing fabric curtains.

Though you may be tempted to purchase an air purifier to lessen the symptoms of your dust mite allergy, you should know that air purifiers alone aren't effective for reducing dust mites. This is because dust mites aren't airborne for long periods. When they are sent into the air, they don't stay long; they're too heavy. Vigorous cleaning practices, along with the other tips above, are better bets for minimizing dust mites in your home. For some people, adding an air purifier to the steps described above can reduce the amount of airborne dust.

Posted by: mehitabel | January 3, 2008 3:46 PM

I use a touch of GTD now, too. I never got the book, but want to. For now, I just follow the rule of putting everything into my PDA or notebook once I think of it, and then getting it into my Outlook tasks list with a due date or doing it when I go through the list each day. Then I forget about it until its duedate.

It has really helped organize my life. It hasn't really simplified it, since now that I am getting things done, I want to do even MORE. LOL. Type A, present.

We tried Flylady, but it's just not how we work. Waaayyyy too structured for us. And the inspirational mails are way too pithy. And like mn.188 said, house cleaning isn't our priority.

I should get the book. The small amount of structure I have now really helps, but I would love ideas for tweaks to make it better without adding too much overhead.

Posted by: ethele | January 3, 2008 4:53 PM

My own new year's resolutions include moving my neighbor's planter from the sidewalk in front of my house:

Posted by: TheDameDomain | January 4, 2008 2:19 PM

I also encourage people to get two other books, both by Julie Morgenstern: Time Management from the Inside Out, and Organizing from the Inside Out. I use them, as well as GTD. Simple, effective, and easy! You'll never regret them.

Posted by: babsy1 | January 4, 2008 9:22 PM

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