Here’s a question I got asked at most recent my job interview.
“Are you an organised person?”
My immediate reaction to this question is hell no. I procrastinate until the panic sets in, I leave my tidying until I can’t walk on the floor, and you don’t even want to know what my desk looks like most of the time. I mean come on, this post took me two weeks to get round to publishing!
When I think of an ‘organised person’, I can bring to mind a few friends and peers who live immaculately: they hand in their coursework early, which they completed in their Instagram-worthy study areas; they settle down each night after their preordained bedtime routine for a restful sleep before an effortless early rise. They have a pre-planned schedule, and life doesn’t get in the way.
However, on reflection, I can easily answer yes to this question.
Why? I’ll let you in on a secret:
Nobody is an ‘organised person’ per se. Nobody I’ve met anyway.
The people who you think are super organised are actually just tapping into an arsenal of tools they’ve acquired over the years which make them feel more at ease in day-to-day life. Because life does get in the way, for everybody, at least once in a while.
And guess what? Anyone can put these tools to use and quickly feel way more on top of their work and personal life. And trust me, once you start using these tools – and sticking with them – you will notice a visible and emotional difference at home, in school, at work, and wherever else you implement them. You might not feel like an organised person right now, but you can use these suggestions to fake it ’til you make it.
Got your own tips that I haven’t mentioned? Let me know, I’d love to hear them!
Note: it’s totally okay to prioritise your organise. If the most important thing right now is keeping up with work or uni deadlines, deal with that first. If it’s reigning in your spending, focus on budgeting. Once you feel the benefits in one area, you’ll be more keen to act in others, so don’t worry about planning your entire life in one weekend.
Planning your time I: the diary
If you’ve got a lot going on, the first tool I recommend is a diary. It’s entirely up to you whether you go for a paper diary or some kind of app on your phone (I prefer paper because I can see everything on the page without having to click open different parts, plus I’m terrible for my phone dying halfway through the day). For online diaries and planners, Google and Outlook are great free options, and they’re easy to use too.
If you go for paper, I’d recommend 2 weeks to a page for most people. This gives you a good chunk of space for each day, but not so much that you end up with a hefty diary to carry around. It’s also up to you whether you go for a normal year diary (January-December) or an academic year (August-July). I’ve got an academic year diary at the moment because I’ve got deadlines next semester to remember, so it makes more sense mentally for me.1q
Planning your time II: the wall schedule
I’ve got to give a shout out to St Andrews for this one – in the first semester of first year, I was given a wall planner for September to December, with enough room per date to write one line of information. The idea was to write important deadlines, events and exams, and you could cross the dates off as you went along.
I’ve taken this idea with me, making my own wall schedule every semester since – albeit with some customisation.
Firstly, I feel I need more space than one line per date, so I make boxes for each date instead (usually in the region of 3cm by 5cm). Second, I don’t always have time to make a wall schedule in the first weeks of term – as you’ll see, my schedule for this semester actually starts 5 weeks into my Masters. This is generally when deadlines start to heat up, so it doesn’t matter too much as long as you feel you can use it. Finally, my first wall schedule only had dates and not the days of the week – I’ve added these as I find it helps me think about things much easier (and I can write any regular meetings or classes in this way too).
Saving money: Google Sheets
My income has been cut majorly going from an undergrad loan to a Master’s one, so I’ve had to start thinking a lot more carefully about where my money is going.
Google Sheet templates are a very recent discovery for me, but I’m in love already.
You know Excel, right? Google has its own version of this called Google Sheets (it’s like how Google Docs is to Microsoft Word). With this free, online software, they also provide templates for a number of common spreadsheet uses. One of these is a Monthly Budget template.
For each month, you can input your starting bank balance and all of your predicted ingoings and outgoings – whether that’s your wages, student loan, your travel costs, your monthly subscriptions – which you can then put into categories (e.g. utilities, transportation, food etc). The second sheet (click on the tabs at the bottom) is where you type in your actual spending for the month. This can be quite tedious, but if you remember to update it every couple of days it won’t take you any time at all.
Here’s the cool part – the summary sheet will automatically update based on your real transactions, and you’ll be able to tell where you’re spending too much and where you have money to spare.
This is so useful if your finances are a mess – you can spend a spare half an hour inputting your spending for the last month from your bank statement, and the sheet will tell you which categories are costing you the most straight away. Once you’ve got an idea of your spending habits, you can set yourself budgets in the first sheet and keep track of your money in real-time.
Even if you don’t type everything into a spreadsheet, I seriously recommend going through your bank statement every once in a while and looking for unexpected charges. We’ve all forgotten to cancel a free trial before, and you don’t want to be losing money on stuff you’re not even using.
Cleaning efficiently: my cleaning schedule
Another new tool for the new year – and this is a bespoke Chirsty special.
I hate cleaning. I dread it when it needs done, and I put it off so much that it ends up a much worse task than it would have been if I’d just done it regularly. I looked up an ideal cleaning schedule for a flat and found a lovely summary which puts all cleaning tasks into daily, bi- or tri-weekly, weekly, fortnightly and monthly categories. I thought this was great, but there was no way I was going to remember to do all these things.
So, I made a customised schedule. I used my fave Google Sheets, grabbed a monthly calendar template and wrote out all the cleaning tasks on the days I should be doing them. I haven’t used it yet because Tom and I have only just got our flat organised, but I’m going to officially start following it this week, so I’ll let you know how it goes!
Cooking your meals: the meal planner
The last couple of weeks have been hell for my wallet, mostly because I’ve been eating too many takeaways and buying meal deals and coffees at lunch. I find it way easier to stick to a food budget and cook for myself if I plan my meals in advance.
I used to just write meals down on a piece of paper and stick it to the fridge, but I splashed out in Paperchase this month and got an actual planner with a tear-off shopping list and a fridge magnet on the back. Yeah, fancy.
A big tip for meal planning: don’t try to change your entire diet in a week! I know it’s tempting when you’re writing it in advance to decide you’ll have a salad five dinners in a row, but believe me, when it comes to Thursday night, and you’ve had a busy day, and it’s your first time cooking quinoa, you’re way more likely to say ‘screw it’ and order a pizza. If you want to start eating better, try one new meal a week and make sure you pick something that isn’t too far out of your comfort zone.
Looking for inspiration? Check out my post on some cheap, easy and healthy recipes that you can add in to your weekly plan!