My workload right now is lighter than normal, so I’m trying to use the extra time to get organized around the house. Most people that know me probably think I’m very organized. In a way, I am. Our house is clean; the bed is always made; the laundry is under control. I keep track of appointments and commitments pretty well.

But I’m not as organized as I could be. My files are disorganized and in more than one location, my digital (and real) pictures are a disaster and we have hundreds of CDs that are obsolete. None of these things are that big of a deal. However, they do loom over my head and make me feel uneasy whenever I think about them.

One of my favorite authors, Gretchen Rubin, has written about Happiness and Habits. Her podcast, Happier, is a weekly treat for me. She has a saying that rings true to me, “Outer order contributes to inner calm.” This summer, I’m experimenting with different ways to improve my outer order. I want to get more organized, but in a fun way. I’d like to tinker with different organizational approaches and be surprised that some long-standing tasks have been taken care of in the meantime.

Here are some ways I try and get things done, especially tasks I don’t enjoy. I realize that everyone is different and some or none of these ideas may work for you. But here’s what works for me.

  1. Set a timer. Often, if there’s a task I need to do, but don’t want to do, work-related or not, I will set a timer on my phone for 30 or 60 minutes. For that span of time, I won’t do anything other than the task at hand: create a budget, draft a document or whatever. I’m not allowed to do anything else during this time – no email, Facebook, cleaning out the fridge or drafting blog posts. I’ve been surprised at how often I can complete the dreaded task in an hour. Sometimes, my alarm goes off and while I’m not done, I’ve gotten into the task. The end is in sight and so I continue on until I’m done. I’m always relieved when it’s done.
  2. Do the worst first. This is one of my favorite approaches. In the morning (when I have the most energy), I’ll look at my to-do list. I will identify what the “worst” task on it is, the task I want to do the least. I do that task first.

Recently, a meeting was cancelled at the last minute and I had an unexpected hour of time. I decided to set a timer and do the worst thing first. On that day, the thing I least wanted to do was to transfer an IRA from one financial institution to another. I hate doing that sort of thing and because there is no deadline, it could easily not get done for a long time. I looked online about how to do it and eight minutes later, I had initiated the transfer. Eight minutes! If I hadn’t tackled the task, this could have bothered me in the back of my mind for months or even years. Instead, it took me eight minutes to get it done. One week later, the funds were at the new financial institution.

  1. Keep an ongoing bag of Goodwill in your closet. I keep a bag for the Goodwill in the back of my closet. As I encounter clothes, books or others things I want to donate, I put it in the bag. When the bag is full, I put it in my car, so it can be dropped off when convenient.
  2. Combine errands. On the way to a meeting or yoga, I try to swing by the Goodwill or run an errand that needs to be done. There’s something satisfying about dropping off unwanted stuff at the Goodwill at 8:30 a.m. on a weekday morning. It’s like I’m getting away with something or getting it done before it starts to feel like work.
  3. Combine annoying tasks and do them simultaneously. I hate getting my car washed. I also don’t like getting a pedicure. I dislike all of the waiting that they both entail. (I know: patience? Where are you?) But if I do them at the same time, it somehow becomes fun.

Recently, I took my car to the car wash and while it was being washed, I walked across the street and got a pedicure. When I was done with my nails, I walked and picked up my clean car. I wondered why I hadn’t thought of that before! There was something funny about it too – two separate, unlikable tasks when combined become kind of fun.

I don’t have this figured out yet. Despite all of these good approaches, I still have my list of projects around the house that are not done and bother me. Somehow, they’ve managed to evade all of the above approaches for years.

So! I have a couple of new strategies I’m going to try, thanks to Gretchen Rubin.

  1. Suffer for 15 minutes/day. Gretchen uses this technique to get at tasks that aren’t time sensitive, but do need to get done. She advises to set aside 15 minutes a day, and not a minute more, to work on one of these tasks. If one works on such a task daily, it eventually gets done and hopefully in a fairly painless way. I’m going to use this approach with photos, both the digital and the boxes of photos that I have from my mom’s house. I can do even the most loathed tasks for 15 minutes a day.
  1. Create a boot camp. Sometimes instead of doing a task gradually, it’s better to dig in and completely devote yourself to it. For example, this weekend, I’m going to have a boot camp for organizing my files. For a few hours Saturday and Sunday, I’m only going to work on my files. I’ll put on a good podcast or turn on some good music and get to work. At the end of the boot camp, I think my files should be in great working order. And I’ll be able to joke about my upcoming “filing boot camp” both before and after the weekend.

It’s almost like a game. I’m trying trick myself into getting organized. Because, as Gretchen Rubin often says, “Outer order contributes to inner calm.” I’ll let you know how the new approaches work.

How about you? Do you have some organizational techniques that work well? And what are your organizational stumbling blocks? I’d love to hear from you.