This is a post that I’ve wanted to write for awhile — it’s also perhaps my most highly demanded, from peers and readers. Ironically, my thoughts get rather messy on the subject. Being organized and productive is my greatest strength, but I don’t always use consistent methods. Some years are more about blocking out my time; others are more about digitized versions of my schedule for always being on the run. This year, I’ve been a huge fan of anything longhand — I have scraps and notes to myself pinned everywhere on my walls.
By junior year, I have a lot better of a sense of what I prioritize, as well as how I function best. For example, I’m much more productive in the mornings than the afternoon, and cleaning my room always makes me get more done afterwards. A lot of my systems are ones that I’ve carried through most of college, but I’ve just been more forgiving to myself about switching it up if I need to.
They vary from year to year, but here are a few of the ways I stay organized.
The first thing I do when I’m starting to realize I have a ton to do (i.e. when it’s SUNDAY) is make a master list of everything I have to do. Sometimes I just write everything out in a big pile and divide into categories by color (circling itty bitty tasks that I can get done in five minutes — I know that crossing a ton of those off the list will make me feel good and more likely to tackle the big things.)
Most of the time, I like to block my to do list out graphically on the page. I put homework items in one section and blog items on the other. Personal/housekeeping tasks in another square. That way, I can skip between them at my leisure or decide completely that it’s one type of day. It might just be an art day, not an essay day!
This year, I found my favorite way to divide tasks. I make one column of “owed” work and one column of “non-owed” work. If I owe it to somebody — an email, or an assignment with a due date, or a promise to a friend — it becomes my first priority. Then, I go through and divide those categories into “fun” work and “non-fun” work.
To start out my work, I do fun, owed work. These are like commissions, or projects I’m passionate about, or schoolwork that I like. Then I get rid of the weight hanging over my head and I don’t have that terrible feeling of putting something off. Then, if I’m up to it, I do non-fun, owed work. Something tedious and kind of miserable. If I can’t bring myself to do work that I don’t care about, I do fun, non-owed work, like non-commissioned art or blogging. It balances out pretty well because I get a ton done at any given time and don’t feel bad if I’m running behind, but then I’m not forcing myself to be a machine if I need a day.
As a preface, I’m so much better when I write everything out rather than type it. Most of my blog posts are originally on loose-leaf, and my best papers are written that way too. I think better on paper. This year, I’ve really taken that to heart.
My next system has to do with my binders, and my planners, so I’ll tackle one at a time.
This year for school, I’m using an “everything” binder à la fourth grade. I’ve always done that as a way to get organized for exams, because then I know I have all the content of a class in one spot and go through to highlight concepts I need to work on. But I’d never done that for the school year as a whole until now, and I love it so much!
I have all my class notes and a pencil pouch in there, as well as my to-do list for a given week. I carry around that, my planner, and my journal to class. I wasn’t sure if I’d like it because previously I just kept everything in the same notebook, but I got sick of rifling through papers to find my notes because I was bad at keeping it chronological. The binder has done WONDERS for me and my schoolwork.
At home, I keep a WLS binder, which has all my longhand blog posts, keys, deadlines, etc,. I have lists of brands I’m working with on Instagram, books coming out in a given month, notes on site maintenance, etc,. I haven’t delved too much into the binder this fall since I’ve scheduled most of my posts ahead, but I like having a matrix of my style, lists of inspiration I could draw from for post ideas, etc,. Also, I can visually tell if a month is full on the blog or if I need to add some more content.
As an example, I would categorize a blog post for a brand as fun, owed work. I’d categorize making a mood board for a book I didn’t receive from a publishing house as fun, non-owed work. I’d categorize updating softwares as non-fun, non-owed work.
It makes me so giddy when I’m done with the school binder and can dive into the WLS binder. It makes it feel like such a treat.
As for planners, I’m the same way, but it might require a little more explanation.
If I didn’t have a massive paper agenda, I would probably lose my ability to function as a human being. While I’ve hopped between brands over the years, I always need the biggest size possible in an agenda. I need monthly and weekly pages, because I’m a margins scribbler who wants to be able to see everything laid out. I layer with post-its and white out, and sometimes even sheets of printer paper taped over old pages. Give me a glue stick and I’m golden. For the past two years, I’ve saved up for a Kate Spade jumbo planner — on the pricey side, but so worth it. I like the cleanness of their layouts. I’ve looked at Rifle Paper Co. but their lines on their weekly pages are too narrow for me, and I’m picky.
On my monthly pages, I write out any events or due dates and then color code them.
Purple is employment. Commissions, my work-study, freelance editing.
Orange is social. Any cocktails, lunches, date nights. Fun.
Green is exercise. The mile counts in my planner are from my training for my half marathon, in pencil, so I didn’t highlight them. Sometimes it counts for wellness too if I have a busy week and I’m not dedicating enough time to myself.
Yellow is extracurricular. Clubs, student government, miscellaneous meetings.
Pink is WLS! Blog posts going up, writing events, etc,.
Blue is important. Registration, classes, career-related. Anything that’s HUGE.
I also do this within my weekly pages, which helps me when I have a ton of scribbles in a given week and can’t keep straight what I’m supposed to focus on. Writing and rewriting it out constantly.
It’s tough to find a clean page because throughout the week, I definitively destroy anything I’ve already done in my planner. The most satisfying feeling! I list everything on a given day, sometimes with little notes to myself (example: NyQuil?) Sometimes, I’ll list my priorities in the margins for a given week. Like, this week is about working ahead on big final projects, and making art to sell at a stand this weekend.
Meanwhile, my WLS planner is much more chill, if you can even call anything I do that. There’s only one color (yellow) and it stands for posts I’ve already scheduled. Although everything except for blog posts makes it into my “real” planner, this is where my fun work lives. I like being able to visually see how many posts I have in a given week or month, and whether or not I’m hitting certain days. I have book releases written out so I know when to coordinate publicity, and notes about when to reach out to certain houses about titles coming up. I also have lists of content I’d like to write, goals, etc,. And plenty of arrows when I rearrange what goes up when. It’s not as chaotic as the other one, but it’s not as put together either. And as with the binder, I get a certain thrill when I pull it out and get to do blog work!
Aim for a full day.
In previous years, I was much more ruthless with myself about getting work done no matter what. I threw myself into activities, didn’t give a damn about how much sleep I got, and holed myself up away from other people to work. This summer, I thought a lot about when I was happiest. I thought about how much I thrive at camp, and why. I started keeping track of which days were the best, and usually they were when I felt like I had a full day, with a lot of different categories involved in them. At my core, I see myself as being a self-propelled person. Most of what I do is entirely independent of any other organization or structure. But this has helped in keeping myself on track.
Do something non-fun and owed right away, so that I get the ball rolling and don’t allow stress to chip away at me. But don’t kill myself doing that; get outside. Spend some time with friends. Make sure that when I go to bed, I’m actually committed to sleeping. By making these all feel like necessities instead of luxuries, I’ve been way happier and feeling like a way more productive human being.
For one, I used to always do everything in huge chunks. I still have categorized days — blog days, or essay days — but I’ve gotten a lot better about spending thirty minutes here and thirty minutes there, because I know I want a day full of other things.
It also gets rid of that guilty feeling I have whenever I relax. I’ve gotten way more peaceful about seeing “nothing” days or “non-productive” days as necessary to the ones that are. I’ve been listening to my body more, and taking better care of myself.
Also, I’ve gotten better about not forcing it. If I’m really DREADING the thought of doing this essay, I won’t. I have plenty of other things I could be doing to be productive, some of which will sound fun to me. So I’ll do them when I’m in the mood to do them, and trust that I will have a day when I’m in the mood to write. This week, I have an essay due, prints to make, etc,. But I feel like writing a blog post, so I’m going to.
MY USUAL SCHEDULE
wake up sometime between 7:30 and 8:30 (depends on the day of the week)
check and respond to emails and Instagram questions
get dressed and ready for the day (blast music, put on a dress — it helps)
fry an egg, make some coffee if I need it, take my inhalers/medicines
walk to class or a meeting!
get lunch, relax
get some immediate to-do items done
do reading and homework while it’s quiet
take pictures or write when I need a break
go for a run during the golden hour
finish up any homework I haven’t done
spend time with people I love
I need to get better about making work time more focused in the afternoons so that I have more time to get outside and to work on WLS stuff. But I’m usually pretty worthless in the early afternoon because I’m tired and so my work pace drops drastically. By evening, or after a run, I’m recharged and ready to go.
I’ve also been trying to be in bed by 10:30 most nights, but towards the end of the semester, as it naturally gets more chaotic, it’s looked more like midnight.
Aside from that, I’m a huge fan of Google Drive to store schedules and spreadsheets and papers, as well as my phone notes for lots of errant thoughts. I need to be better about compiling those at the end of the week, but normally I just jot those down in my planner when I see them later.