How to Organize Your Day


Make sure you're in the right place at the right time with these organization tips.
Make sure you're in the right place at the right time with these organization tips.
Jeffrey Coolidge/Photodisc/Getty Images

Do you find yourself wondering where the day went when you go to bed each night? If so, it may be time to get organized. Perhaps 24 hours seems like a long time, but when you factor in work, sleep, commuting and family, your day probably starts to look a lot shorter. The few free hours left over can easily get filled up with unplanned activities, such as running an extra errand or surfing cable.

Consider keeping notes over several days about how you spend your time. Pay attention to any patterns. For example, do you surf the Internet for half an hour when you get home each day? Did you intend to spend this time winding down, or were you distracted from what you really wanted to do?

Once you've figured out how your time is spent, you can figure out how to maximize it. You'll have to set aside time for important tasks and devote your attention to them completely in order to finish them.

When you make the effort to organize each day before it begins, it can become easier to knock out your to-do list. Knowing where your time goes and what your priorities are will be the key, both in the short term and long term. If you have something you know needs to be completed next month, planning ahead and being prepared will leave you with a sense of accomplishment and, ideally, a little free time to spend as you wish.

After you've begun to organize your day, you'll realize that many of the techniques that apply to organizing your work day also apply to home life, too. You may be scheduling meetings during the daytime hours and children's athletics on the weekends, but the methods remain the same. In this article, we'll look at what to do when you have scheduling conflicts and examine some tools to help you stay on track. Up first, discover ways you can prioritize your to-do list.

Prioritizing Your Agenda

You may feel as though you don't have a lot of time to get tasks done, let alone free time to concentrate on planning them out. But a little planning can go a long way and save you time in the long run.

Before you get into the details of what you hope to accomplish each day, think first about the week ahead. Identify the priority tasks you need to tackle first, and block out time to concentrate on those. Your deadline might not be until Friday, but if you've got obligations on Wednesday and Thursday, you might want to set aside time to get the task done on Monday or Tuesday. Don't let distractions, such as phone calls and e-mail, distract you during your "work time." Plan to deal with distractions only after you've made headway on the big project. Consider returning phone calls when you might otherwise be doing nothing, such as when you're standing at the bus stop or sitting in the car waiting to shuttle your children around.

After you've figured out what you want to get done in the coming week, think of how it relates to your goals for the month and the year. Break down larger goals into small pieces, and plan out when you're going to work on them.

Each night, cross what you've completed off your to-do list. You'll be able to see all that you've accomplished. Set reasonable goals for the next day and see whether any two things on your list can be done simultaneously.

No matter how much you plan, you can't control everything, and scheduling conflicts are bound to arise. For information on dealing with these bumps in the road, read on.

Dealing with Scheduling Conflicts

Perhaps there have been times when you wish you could be two people at once, especially when scheduling conflicts arise. If you attend one event, you may be thinking about the one you're missing.

The best way to deal with conflicts is to try to avoid them altogether. You can't control other people's schedules, but with good communication, the members of a group can work to accommodate one another. This applies to both the office and home environments. Maybe you need to schedule a meeting between several departments or make sure you don't have to take two children to different activities at the same time. At work, consider software that keeps track of all employees' calendars. That way you can see ahead of time when everyone is available. Calendar-tracking software may not be practical at home, but you can keep a calendar on the fridge or in another prominent place and have every family member track his or her activities using the master calendar, helping to ensure that everyone gets to where they need to go.

When you just can't avoid a scheduling conflict, you might need to evaluate your priorities. Consider both the urgency and importance of meetings and events. If one of your appointments is easy to reschedule, do so. If not, choose the option that will put you closest to your goals, whether personal or professional [source: Kabir].

When you have tools to help you, conflicts are easier to avoid. Read on for more information on tools to help organize your day.

Tools for Organizing Your Day

Your physical schedule is of utmost importance when it comes to organizing your day. Maybe you write everything out by hand on a giant desk calendar. Perhaps you keep a digital schedule in a smart phone. Or you might just write notes to yourself in a notebook. No matter what format you use, keeping track of your appointments and the tasks you need to complete is paramount to organizing your day.

Even if your memory is excellent, it usually helps to maintain a to-do list. Committing your agenda to paper or computer not only makes it easier to remember, but it also gives you a record to refer to when necessary. Consider using an agenda to plan your goals as well as your schedule. Looking at tasks and events side by side will help you prioritize, too. And don't stop at a mere to-do list. Every time you write something down, include a notation as to when you think it can be done [source: Bird].

If you find yourself getting distracted by a constant bombardment of e-mail or phone calls, schedule time to respond to those too, instead of responding immediately. In most cases, it should be acceptable to follow up on e-mail every few hours rather than being tethered to the Internet without a break [source: Chapman].

To avoid the physical clutter of notes and paper calendars, you may want to go digital. For information on schedule organizing software, keep reading.

Scheduling Software

Just about anything can be done electronically, and that includes making lists, keeping databases and setting schedules. Also, going digital not only keeps you organized, it can save space on your desk and is a greener option. Most organizing software has features that allow you to keep a calendar, which you can usually view by day, week or month. This allows you to visualize the errands you need to run between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. tomorrow, for example, and it also lets you to take a broader look at how often certain commitments occur each month.

You can integrate most scheduling software with your e-mail too, which is great for maintaining contact lists. Instead of a giant address book or card collection, you can keep track of all of your contacts, e-mail addresses, phone numbers and, in some cases, even photos all at the click of a mouse.

Scheduling software can help your organize your own calendar and also compare your calendar with those of others. In a professional setting, you may be able to link everyone's calendars together in order to view each other's schedules and communicate seamlessly.

Because these programs are electronic, you face the possibility that you could lose all the data if your computer crashes or has some other technological problem. You might want to consider keeping a hard copy of your contact information or backing up the data on another storage source, such as an external hard drive.

With so many tools at your fingertips, you should be able to arrange your day more easily and make better use of your time. Once you're ready to get organized, follow the links on the next page for more tips and tricks.

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Sources

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  • Morris, John. "Great Payoffs from Workflow Software." Woodridge Business Process Management Articles. April 12, 2007. (Accessed 1/12/2010).http://business-process-mgt.bestmanagementarticles.com/a-3093-great-payoffs-from-workflow-software.aspx