The other day I received this private message on Facebook from a friend:
“Hey Susy. I was just wondering, how do you stay organised and focused? I mean, with meals and exercise and all that – do you use diaries? Lists? Enough of those and they can get disorganised themselves. Is there an initial stress when transforming into being organised and focused, and then once routine hits, the stress dissipates?”
This is a great questions and I immediately asked if I could transform my response into a blog-post, as I hope that more people will find the answer useful or insightful in some way. If you ever want to ask me something, go for it. It might take time, but I always get around to responding. If it’s something that I believe requires a longer response and/or may interest others, like this one, I may respond in a blog-post. If it goes into massive detail then you may find yourself being offered an online program though. Please don’t take that personally – you wouldn’t ask your friend who’s an accountant to do your tax for free. Also, please just hit me with the questions straight up if I don’t know you personally – I tend to ignore “hi” on messenger, as generally there is just no time to chat, sorry. So back on track…
I think the advantage that I have is that I’ve needed to be an organised person for a very long time. I grew up with multiple back-to-back extra-curricular activities, rehearsals and tournaments to participate in from music to public speaking, dance and even chess (don’t diss it until you’ve tried it – chess is cool). However, while I think this makes me a bit more comfortable with the rigour required for a life dominated by very time and several effort-consuming goals, I don’t believe that makes it any less likely for anybody else to achieve this level of organisation in their lives if they so desire.
Habits take time to form, and those which are implemented towards goal achievement generally require effort to create and to maintain, even when you have been carrying out the behaviours for a really long time. Organisation is absolutely vital; you must organise your thoughts and priorities, as well as the list of things that must subsequently be executed. Once everything is in place, it’s also important to understand that’s only the beginning; life continues around these behaviours, and you will need to be able to reassess and adapt to external changes in order to make long-term change.
Lists are great, but not all of them need to be looked at every day. I think that there are some that, if made, will really help invigorate you towards change, but also help unclutter your mind so that you may focus. You need to have a solid understanding of the big picture, but then also need to be able to concentrate on the fine detail day in day out to really achieve any change. Here are some lists that I think are great to write up, and pop away to look at only when you think you might need to bring yourself back to focus in your journey:
- Write a list of everything that you do regularly, even if it only takes up a small amount of your time. Everything from visiting your family to work and watching TV. These are your habits. Then group your habits into the following three categories: Habits which are non-optional and must stay exactly as they are (for example, you must still go to work, unless a career change is what you’re trying to achieve). Habits which are negotiable – you don’t necessarily want to give these up, but can spend less time or effort on these. Finally, habits that simply have to go. This might not mean you never do it, but they can no longer be regular in any way. A personal example is dance – I used to dance 25+ hours a week. I gave it up and I could never commit to regular training or even regular social dancing as I simply have too much to do and it is a distraction. I would however go out once every couple of months to do it. Yes you will need to make sacrifices – effort and change requires time; time that you will not have available if you are not willing to give up anything.
- Write down what you are trying to achieve through making this change – your goal. Just in a few words. Put this up somewhere you can see it if you feel that will motivate you. Tell others if you feel that sharing will make you feel invigorated to change. The key here is to make the goal something real that physically exists out in the real world rather than just in your head. This makes you accountable towards achieving this goal, which is a very powerful motivator on the hard days.
- Write up realistic timelines of how long you estimate the goal will take, along with timelines for the different stages or tasks towards its achievement. This will likely require some revising (life happens), but will really make you hustle whenever you look back at it.
You have now squared away a lot of the big things that can often predate on people’s mind when trying to make big changes. You don’t need to visit these every day, but rather refer to them if you’re even unsure whether you are on track. They are your maps for when you think you are falling off the path. Now that clears your mind so that you can just concentrate to the nitty-gritty day-to-day tasks that ultimately pave the path towards success.
The rest then is simple – figure out the main things that need to be done and have a way of ticking them off to ensure they are done. Do this every day. I personally have a diet plan which is laminated and lives in my kitchen. I refer to it every day as I prepare my food. I keep a training journal that always goes with me to the gym and I write down all of the details of my session so that I may look back on similar workouts in the past weeks to track change and points of stagnation. My programs are written at the back of the journal. I figured out a time that I need to wake up by to get everything done and I set multiple alarms to make sure I wake up, and I have committed to not sleeping in because my goals are important to me. I have one list up on my wall of all of the administrative tasks that must be executed for my business to be in full operation, and I just set up this blog to send me email reminders to make sure that I am writing regularly.
These may not be the things that work for you, but as you can see, the tools I use from day-to-day are not that complicated and importantly, they don’t clutter my mind. I only look at my diet plan when I’m preparing my food at the start of the day, I only look at my training journal when I’m actually training, and I try to set up calendars and reminders and notifications to remind me at the relevant time for many tasks. Automating stuff is great because it means that I’m not always working between a whole heap of lists, and separating tasks like this can be great for avoiding clutter both physically and mentally. Out of the gym my training journal is put away, and everything is on paper – every last detail that might be relevant about a workout, because then it does not need to live in my mind.
Experiment until you find tools that work for you and for the specific goals that you have. It may take a while to find something that works – it did for me, but once something works, stick with it. That is everything you need to be organised from day-to-day. Finally, don’t forget to check in on those ‘big picture’ lists regularly to make sure that you are actually on track going in the right direction and actually making progress.
Good luck, and please share your stories if this helps you!