17 Tips for Being Organized, Staying Sane, and Getting Things Done

being organized

In the past being organized has not been a strength of mine. I was that person in university who would hand an essay in that I had had months to work on with only minutes to spare (and this was only after several frantic coffee-filled days of last minute research and writing). Anyway I have changed a lot since then, so as promised last week I will let you into my life and show you how I have prepared myself for this new commitment. I hope, of course, that you may pick up a couple of tips and tricks that may be of benefit.

1. Priorities

When John first raised the PTB job with me, it immediately made me think of my priorities. As much as I love blogging, my family and my health (both physical and mental) take priority. So I needed to ensure I had a plan in place that would protect these priorities.

2. Support from Loved Ones

After being made a firm offer for the job, I immediately sat down with Kathryn to discuss it. While my plan for PTB is to ultimately work smarter, it is inevitable I will be spending more time blogging. This is no big deal for me, but it would be pointless taking on this extra commitment if Kathryn didn’t support me. Thankfully she does, as evidenced by my next point.

3. Outsourcing (but not to India!)

To be honest, I can’t really ever imagine having some man (or woman!) in India (or wherever else!) handling my affairs ala The 4 Hour Work Week. My solution is to outsource closer to home. Kathryn has agreed to help take care of some of the more mundane tasks of running this blog, leaving me more time to work on the important things. I
t may only work out to be 15 minutes each day, but it helps me a lot.

4. Big Rocks

For those unfamiliar with the term “big rocks”, basically it refers to the major things you want to achieve during the week. As per Stephen R. Covey’s advice, I try to plan my week ahead of time (usually Sunday evening) by placing these “big rocks” first. For example, I mentioned earlier my health is a priority for me, so yesterday I looked at the week ahead and placed the “big rocks” relating to exercise into my schedule.

5. Planning Ahead and Blogging

A few weeks back I created an excel spreadsheet for my posts on thechangeblog.com (and this weekend just gone I did the same for PTB). This simple idea has dramatically helped me to plan ahead and be organized. For example, when planning for this month two ideas for articles that will practically write themselves came to mind. February 10 is my son’s 1st birthday, so I am preparing an article about parenting. I also have an article in mind for Valentine’s Day which is just a few days after.

6. Writing Ahead

Writing ahead for a blog is a great habit to get into. In the past when I have had an extra article up my sleeves (ie 4-5 articles instead of the normal 3 I post Mon – Fri), I have given into the temptation of posting it that same week. I now know, however, that it’s a much better idea to save that extra article for the following week. And if I am really cranking out the articles, I find it is a good time to start submitting guest posts to other blogs.

7. Rules

As I mentioned previously when discussing priorities, my family comes before blogging. One way I plan to protect this is to ensure that from Monday to Friday I don’t jump onto the computer till at least my son Xavier is in bed. I have also found lately that I have been going to bed later than I should, so I have set myself a certain time to have the computer turned off by, and then another 15-30 mins to properly wind down before going to sleep.

8. Discipline

It is one thing to make rules, but they are worthless if you lack the discipline to stick to them. In fact, this is probably worse as then you just feel guilty about not sticking to them. One of my favorite quotes (which I have quoted in numerous articles on this site) says that “the price of discipline is always less than the pain of regret”. This is a great quote to memorize and repeat to yourself whenever you feel yourself giving into temptation.

9. Capturing Ideas

Ever since reading David Allen’s Getting Things Done, I have made a point to carry a pen and notepad with me wherever I go. Ideas for blog articles come to me anywhere and everywhere, and I have found the key is to capture them right away.

10. Writing With Purpose

Before I start writing articles, I ensure I have a good idea of what I want to say. Usually I have captured the idea some time ago, and have since spent some time thinking about it and developing the idea. This means I can sit down and write with purpose, rather than sitting there and hoping that “something” will pop into my head.

11. Time Box

This is a project management technique that was brought to my attention awhile ago by fellow blogger Scott H Young. Basically it involves me setting short deadlines, say 30-90 minutes, to work on a particular task. After the time is up I finish. I find this simple trick forces me to stop procrastinating and just get on with the task.

12. Email Ninja

While I am no email ninja yet, I have in recent times started implementing some effective strategies for better managing my email. Checking it less, batching work, and writing short but powerful replies are just a few of the things I now do that have helped a lot. For anyone interested in knowing more about this, I recommend this guest post by Leo Babauta on The Blog of Tim Ferriss: 10 Steps to Become An Email Ninja.

13. Handling Quick and Easy Tasks

Another great habit that David Allen’s GTD installed into me was to immediately take care of any tasks (eg replying to certain emails) that take less than 2 minutes to do. If you don’t, these small tasks just create mental clutter that can get in the way of more important tasks.

14. The Power of No

Eckhart Tolle advocates The Power of Now. I’m here to tell you that The Power of No is just as important. I am a fairly sensitive person, so I hate telling people “no”. But in recent times I have had to develop this skill to ensure that I am not overwhelmed by various commitments. And in most cases I find that so long as I am polite about it, people respect my answer.

15. The Simple Life

With a baby who turns 1 in less then a week, and another due in July, we really are happy at the moment living a simple life with simple pleasures. This does mean, though, that when we do go out we enjoy it all the more.

16. Fun and Relaxation

In between blogging and my day job, I spend a lot of time on the computer. I realize, though, that it is incredibly important to have plenty of time “unplugged”. Just yesterday we went for a nice long walk in Stanley Park in Vancouver, and it left me feeling incredibly clear-headed and at peace. Later in the evening when I did jump on the computer, I got done in 1 hour what would often take 2+ hours. I’m sure the fresh air and being in nature had a lot to do with this.

17. Help!

It’s not just the Beatles who get by with a little help from their friends. I owe a big thanks to all my online friends who help me out. I’m a big believer that if I want something, I should just ask for it. For this reason I was not shy is asking for a hand, but at the same time I like to think I help my friends out just as much as they do me.

Photo by Andreas Øverland

21 thoughts on “17 Tips for Being Organized, Staying Sane, and Getting Things Done”

  1. Thanks Peter, I think “15. The Simple Life” if fundamental. When I start enjoying the simple pleasures of life all worries just fade away…

  2. Thanks for this article Peter– i am euphoria over the Giants, and this grounded me a little…I have fallen behind on articles for my blog…and know I got to get myself re-organized! Thanks man,

  3. Thanks for the comments everyone! Oh man… I just re-read this article and picked up a bunch of silly grammatical mistakes….. kind of ironic given my new job as editor… oh well you just have to laugh :)

  4. Hey Peter, congrats! I wish you all the best in your new job! I can’t agree with you how important #14 is. Much as you like to say yes everytime, sometimes, to safeguard your limited resources, a No is inevitable!

    I wish you all the best in your new job! Which I’m sure you’ll do very well in…


  5. Since you are one of my favorite new bloggers and you are wise enough to ask for feedback, here are a few suggestions:

    1) Be more original. I noticed that this blog, Zen Habits, and Pick The Brain, all had some a list of “17 ways” to do something either today or yesterday.

    2) Try not to use lists for everything. It’s a well-known tool to attract more readers but are we serving their best interests. Here is my “10 Reasons to Avoid Lists.” It could be helpful to you and your readers: http://financialphilosopher.typepad.com/thefinancialphilosopher/2007/11/10-reasons-to-a.html

    3) Be yourself. What I admire most about your blog is that you seem to be a person on a quest to learn more about yourself and the world around you. If you stay on that “path,” you can never go wrong. Of course, you may make some mistakes, but mistakes are a “philosopher’s” greates tool for growth!

    Keep up the great work!


  6. Peter,
    You have a good list there of stuff that can help. However, I agree with the Financial Philosopher’s comments. Lists seem to be to common. Maybe it is an easy way to provide a quick post in short prose like format.

    As a beginning blogger I am learning to find my voice and I don’t want to do what others do just becasue it is what people do. An original voice is far better to read. Your posts seem to have this so keep up the good work.
    Probabilites: what’s the probability of a similar post coming up at the same time?
    A lot I feel due to the pure mathematics of it all.

    Take care and thanks.

  7. Peter, I really would like to thank you for the great tips. I too have found it difficult to balance life as it has become more and more busy. My wife and I had our first child about 18 months ago and life has never been so crazy. He is the most precious thing in the World, but time is a scarce commodity with a small child. Thanks again for the great tips!


  8. A very timely post for me. I have been struggling with the juggling of late, and it has impacted my efforts.

    Like you, my number one priority is my family. So in an effort to spend time with them, and get work done, I tend to let the health side of it slip – staying up too late, not getting sufficient sleep, etc.

    While many of these tips are common sense, some of us need a polite whack on the noggin with sturdy lumber to be reminded of them. Thanks for the great post!

  9. Peter – after blogging myself for the past year it’s perfect timing to step back and realize it’s a journey not a marathon :-) I have 2 boys we homeschool however they haven’t gotten as much of me as they should – I look forward to implementing many of your suggestions – thanks for sharing.

  10. Just found this post through another blog. Great points. I have recently read “Getting Things Done,” and am in the process of applying the GTD methods in my daily life/work too. Loved these tips…

  11. sometimes it’s hard to separate work from personal life but I commend you for outlining it for us who are having a hard time managing our lives. there are times you just need to slow down and smell the flowers just to make sure you’re still alive.

  12. Thanks Peter. Excellent tips. Aaah, yes, those “big rocks”! Have a few of those sitting around, myself! :)

    “In the economizing of time, too, there will be many things which a man will have to eliminate from his life; some of things and pursuits which he loves, and desires to retain, will have to be sacrifice to the main purpose of his life. The studied elimination of non-essentials from one’s daily life is a vital factor in all great achievement.” [From http://eightpillarsofprosperity.com by James Allen]

    Cheers, Thea

  13. Some excellent tips and reminders of good practices here, Peter. I especially liked the “writing with purpose” one.

    I am curious how the simple act of using a spreadsheet to list out your upcoming blog post “dramatically” helped you get organized.

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