Episode 34: 5 Simple Ways to Stay Organized When You Work From Home

Are you new to working from home?

Alternatively, are you navigating new disruptions in your regular work routine?

Are you ready for some strategies to help you get organized?

Then you are in the right place, my friend.

Because in this episode we are talking about my favorite strategies that you can implement today to create organization in your work-from-home schedule.

So whether this is a completely new experience for you, you’re working through a sudden change in your normal routine, or you’re simply looking to get more organized, I’ve got you covered. 

Check out the latest podcast below and start creating order in the chaos now!

Prefer to read? No problem, keep scrolling to find the full podcast transcript.

LISTEN TO THE PODCAST HERE!

IN THIS EPISODE, YOU WILL DISCOVER…

  • The importance of organization when working from home
  • My top strategies to increase your organization
  • Powerful actions you can take today to get organized when working from home

LINKS FROM THE PODCAST

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QUESTION:

What are your favorite strategies to stay organized? How do you create structure when you work from home? Share your strategies below!

(Transcript) 5 Simple Ways to Stay Organized When You Work From Home

Hey, friends. Welcome to Episode 34 of the podcast. Thanks for joining me today. How are things going in your neck of the woods?

I started teaching my classes online this past Friday for my students, we will be online for the rest of the semester, and it has been an interesting experience. It went well – luckily I’m teaching over Zoom, which is the same platform I use to coach my clients, so I’m familiar with it. Bruno – my dog – decided to make an appearance during both classes when both the mailman and the UPS guy came by, so he’s pretty much famous now. 

Anyway, from the sounds of it, several of you also have some changes in your scheduling right now – whether you’re working from home for the first time, or you normally work from home but now your kids are joining you all day.

Whatever the situation, many of us are working with a change in routine right now, so I thought I would take some time today to share with you some of my favorite strategies to stay organized when you’re working from home. 

Now, if your schedule has not changed, keep listening anyway, because these are powerful organizational tools no matter what’s going on. But they’re especially effective for those of us with more unpredictable or flexible schedules.

What Do You Think About Working From Home?

Now, before we explore these tools, I first want you to take a minute and consider your thoughts about your current schedule. What are your thoughts when you think about working from home? What comes up for you? Or what comes to mind when you know your kids will be home for the next month?

What is your brain offering you?

Remember, as we talked about over the past two episodes – 32 and 33 – these thoughts matter a lot. Because they are the root cause of your feelings, which drives how you choose to show up, and ultimately impacts your entire experience as it unfolds.

So if you pause and realize that you’re thinking something like, “there is no way I can be effective working from home, there are too many distractions,” I can guarantee you that your brain is going to prove that thought true. It is going to seek out those distractions and get lost down the rabbit hole of unfolded laundry, a dishwasher full of clean dishes, and anything else it can find. 

But what if that thought isn’t true? In fact, what if it’s possible that you can be productive working from home? Even just that slight shift in thinking can create an entirely different emotion for you. 

Just think about it – the thought “there is no way I can be effective working from home, there are too many distractions” is incredibly discouraging, right? But when you shift that thought to “it’s possible I can be productive working from home” you enter into curiosity and your brain starts looking for evidence of how that could be true.

So before you even dive into these five organization strategies I’m about to share, check-in with yourself. Are your thoughts serving you? If not, you might want to clean them up a bit. 

Resources

And if you have no idea what I’m talking about, you can skip back to the last two episodes – 32 and 33 – where I talk more closely about exploring your thoughts. You can also jump waaaaay back to episode 8 where I walk you step by step through these different concepts of your thoughts creating your current results.

And of course – as always – you can sign up for a free session with me at https://imbusybeingawesome.com/freesession. We will take it to the next level.

Alright, so you’ve cleaned up your thoughts and you’re ready to get organized. Where should you start?

Establish a Daily Routine 

The first strategy that I highly recommend to help you get organized working from home, is to establish a daily routine that works for you. And when I say routine, I mean both a routine for your daily life and also a routine within your work schedule.

Now, what does this mean? 

It can mean different things to different people. In fact, a routine can be as strict or flexible as you want it to be. For example, it can be quite rigid; maybe you know you will wake up at 5:00. You exercise from 5:15-6:15, you get ready from 6:15-7:00, you eat breakfast from 7:00-7:30 etc. 

Or, it might provide a looser “daily routine” structure. For example: I wake up at 6. I get ready for the day and exercise and have breakfast before 9, etc.

The reason I recommend creating some sort of regular routine is that it provides a consistent structure to your day. And having structure is so beneficial when it comes to both staying organized and increasing your productivity overall.

Reduce Decision Fatigue

One of the things that I find most helpful about creating a daily routine is it reduces decision fatigue. You don’t have to worry about what time you’re going to begin your workday. You don’t have to think about whether you have time to finish that project. And you know exactly whether you will workout on Monday or not.

In other words, when you have that consistent routine, you know exactly what to do next. This creates consistency and organization in your life and it allows you to save your decision-making for higher-level tasks.

Forward Progress

Similarly, having a daily routine keeps you moving forward. When you finish a task, you don’t sit around thinking, what should I do next? Where should I work? What would be most beneficial? Because you already know. You’re already on track.

And because you planned out this routine with your ideal schedule in mind, it also helps to ensure that you’re taking care of the most important things throughout the day. It ensures that you are making time for work, you’re making time for healthy meals, you’re making time for family and friends, for self-care, etc. When you have a consistent routine, it helps ensure that the important things don’t slip through the cracks.

Habits

One more reason why I stress the importance of establishing a daily routine is it helps with habits. It helps you both curb bad habits and strengthen the ones you want to improve. For example, if you are in the habit of hitting the snooze button because you don’t have a plan of what you want to do before your workday starts, then creating that clear routine will give you direction and the drive to get moving in the morning. 

Let’s say you are in the habit of scrolling social media. Having that clear reminder of your routine gives you the nudge to stay focused on what you want to do. 

And of course, I’m not saying you can’t have things like social media as part of your routine. But I do encourage you to be intentional about when you are doing those things. If you want to include scrolling social media in your routine, put it in there. Absolutely. But do it with intention so that you know you’re spending your time in the way you want to; you’re not at the effect of your phone.

Create Systems

The next strategy that I want to share with you is a little bit more specific than the bigger picture of the daily routine. And this is to establish different systems in your life. 

Now, this can be systems for both your work life and your home life – and of course, when you’re working from home, these two might feel like they overlap a little bit. 

For now, I am going to talk about it in terms of work, but definitely feel free to apply the same strategies to your home life organization, too.

So what do I even mean when I talk about systems? Again, it’s basically taking the idea of a daily routine and getting a bit more specific. It’s creating a process that you always follow to ensure that you’re creating the results that you want consistently. 

Laundry System

Let me give you a really simple system that I recently adopted in my home life, just to put things into perspective.

So I am terrible at putting away laundry. Frankly, I hate it. I don’t mind doing the wash. But when it comes to actually folding and hanging and putting away laundry, I dread it. And for a long time, I would just wash my clothes, put them in the dryer, and then leave them in the dryer… and not surprisingly they would get super wrinkly. So then I would just create more work for myself because I’d have to iron the clothes as well, which is, frankly, one of the banes of my existence.

So I decided to create a system that every time the dryer finishes, I go downstairs and I fold and hang my laundry immediately from the dryer. That is my simple system. 

Yes, it does feel like a little bit more work in the moment because it’s easier just to let it sit in the dryer. But, I also know that it will save me time in the long run. It’s a lot less work overall. 

Admittedly, I’m still working on establishing a system where I actually bring my clothes back upstairs and put them away – we’re all a work in progress, right?

Anyway, so how can we use this concept of systems for work?

Create Systems for Work

Well, one of the first areas I like to start is by creating a specific space for all of your things. 

So, I used to be a person who’d just stack things in neat piles. Papers, books, folders, you name it. Unfortunately, none of those things actually had a clear home. They didn’t actually “belong” anywhere. So I would have all of these stacks of neat piles, but nothing was really in its space.

And while this might seem better than having my stuff lying everywhere in disarray, it still wasn’t organized. I didn’t have that visual breathing room where everything truly did have a home. 

But once I finally took a few minutes and added some order to the chaos, it made such a huge difference. My items finally had specific locations and I could finally put things away.

A Location For Everything

So as you set up your systems and your workspace, I encourage you to identify the specific spaces where you want everything to go. Where do your files go? What do you want to do with the paperwork? What about your books or projects? 

Create a location for everything, and start reinforcing the habit of putting things away every single time that you’re finished with it. 

Now I know for some of you this seems like total common sense. But for those of you who find themselves stacking things in piles like me, or you have a hard time seeing your desk, give this a try.

I know it might seem like a pain in the moment. But as Gretchen Rubin often says, outer order creates in her calm. And from my own experience, I absolutely agree. So as you’re developing your systems, spend a bit of time identifying the “home” for all of your belongings.

Create a General Schedule

The next area where you can develop these systems focuses on creating a general schedule for yourself that you follow week-to-week. Now, just like everything else that we are going to talk about today, you can cater this strategy to your own situation, and you can get as specific or as broad as you want. And what I mean by creating a general schedule is essentially establishing an overview of how you want to conduct each day of your work week.

Schedule Example

For example, I was working with a client who normally works from home, but for the next four weeks – at least – her children are going to be home as well. So we took some time to figure out how she wants to conduct these weeks going forward. We created that broad overview picture of what her schedule will look like.

She decided that Monday mornings would be dedicated to client work. She would take a two-hour time block for lunch and playing with the kids in the middle of the day. And then on Monday afternoons, she would create content. On Tuesdays, she decided she wanted to start her workday a little bit later so she could have breakfast and morning activities with her kids, and then from 10 until noon she would work on creating content. She would break for an hour for lunch with her kids. And then during the afternoon, she would focus on client work. 

So we divided up her week with this broader overview. And as we will talk about in just a moment, she can fill in those bigger chunks of time with specific tasks. But by having this overarching system of how she wants to approach each day and knowing what her areas of focus are for each of those days, she has an easier time staying organized. This macro view helps ensure that she is tending to her top priorities for the next four weeks, which she identified as caring for her kids, completing her client work, and staying on top of her new content creation.

So as you think about creating your own system, ask yourself — what are the areas that I want to make time for? What are the non-negotiables that I want to happen no matter what? Again, you don’t have to get super specific yet. Instead, focus on the 3-4 broader areas that absolutely need your attention.

Time Blocking

Once you have created your general schedule, then it’s time to get a bit more specific on what you want to do each day. And for that, I highly recommend using the strategy of time blocking. 

Now, I know I’ve mentioned this approach a couple of different times on the podcast before, so I won’t go into it in depth here. But if you want to learn more about time blocking, – if you have never used it before or it’s a new concept to you – be sure to check out both episode 3 and episode 11. In both shows, I look at different aspects of the time blocking strategy, how you can use it in your daily life, and extra tips that you can use if you’ve tried time blocking before, and it didn’t seem to work for you.

But the basic idea as a quick refresher is that you take your schedule for the day and you divide it into different blocks of time — and again in episodes 3 and 11 I talk about using longer blocks of time vs shorter blocks of time depending on what you’re working on, your work style, etc.

But you break up your day into blocks of time, and then you schedule the tasks from your to-do list into those blocks of time. And by using this strategy, you know exactly when you are going to complete each task on that to-do list. So again, it’s one more way of adding structure and clarity to your day.

Inbox System

Another important system to develop focuses on your inbox.

So, for many of us, when we are out of our normal routines or we are feeling overwhelmed, our brains return to things that are familiar, and things that are easy, that feel productive. And one of the sneakiest areas where this pops up is the inbox.

Because let’s be honest, it is easy to spend so much unintentional time in our inboxes – and for many of us, it’s not just one inbox, it’s multiple! In fact, I have four.

And if we’re not careful, it is so easy to get lost in our inbox as we read, answer, and sort through countless emails. 

Frankly, this is often not the best use of our time.

And this is why I think it’s so important to develop some sort of system that helps you stay organized and on top of your inbox or inboxes

Inbox System Examples

So for example, maybe you designate a certain hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon that you read and respond to emails. And if you don’t get that many emails, maybe it’s only once per day. 

Perhaps you create a rule for yourself that you can only read an email once. So when you open it, you must respond to it at that time during your email block. In fact, this is something I am working on because I am often the queen of “mark as unread.” 

But the reality is that you’re just doubling your time in your inbox when you read it, “mark it as unread,” and then have to read it again before you respond. So if you find yourself falling into this habit as I have, join me! We can challenge ourselves to adopt this new system of simply reading and responding to emails ONCE during our designated email time.

Email Templates

If you do a lot of emailing for your business, you could also create some email templates for common messages you often send to clients.

For example, my husband runs a wedding band and he often gets similar inquiries from clients about their different service options. And to increase his organization, save on time, and ensure that he covers all of the important information clearly, he created templates. And he can easily copy and paste the template into his emails, alter it slightly to address the individual customer questions and send it off quickly. I’m telling you, it does take a little bit of work on the front end, but it saves so much time overall.

Unroll.me

And one more incredible tool that I love to use to both save me time and organize my inbox is called unroll me. And the address is literally unroll.me, and it is free. Now the magic of this program is that they compile any of the subscription emails in your inbox, and they deliver them all together in one round-up email. And you can designate whether they deliver that in the morning, afternoon, or evening. 

And they don’t do all the emails in your inbox. You get to choose which subscription emails are included in your roll-up. So if you have a handful of newsletters that you’re subscribed to, and you want to make sure that you read them every week, you could put them all into this roll-up. And then you get that roll up delivered to you in your inbox at the time that you choose, and then you can set aside a specific time when you read those specific emails. I think this is really helpful for several reasons.

Unroll Me Benefits

First of all, it helps to declutter your inbox. You don’t have 5 or 10 newsletters coming in and flooding your inbox. Instead, you have it all wrapped up in one email.

You also don’t have the temptation to click on the newsletters when they are not your top priority at that moment. You don’t have them there distracting you. Instead, they are all waiting for you whenever you have set aside the time to read them. 

And I’m not a sponsor or anything for this program. It’s totally free. I just love it and use it every day. And I think it’s an incredible tool to organize your inbox and manage your time while also ensuring that you still have access to those newsletters you want to read.

Calendaring Consistency

And then my last tip within this category of creating systems is to choose one calendaring system – or possibly two if you want to have the work calendar and a home calendar – but choose your calendaring system and stick to it. 

I know it is tempting to have one notebook for random to-dos and one calendar for appointments and one calendar for your kids’ activities and one for your work tasks. But I am telling you, you are going to really simplify and streamline your work if you combine everything into one clear coherent system.

I personally use Google Calendar. I schedule my entire day using time blocking in Google Calendar, and it is incredibly efficient and simple and easy to use. Plus, it is with me wherever I am — whether I have access on my phone or my computer or a tablet, it’s there. 

Now Google Calendar isn’t the only option, of course. There are hundreds of apps, websites, and paper planners available. And whatever you like best is great. The big picture idea is to choose one system and stick with it.

Stick to Your Schedule

And that actually leads me into my next focus for staying organized when you work from home,  and that is to create and stick to both a weekly and daily schedule regularly.

So after you choose your calendaring system, then it’s time to start putting it to use. And I highly recommend making it a habit of creating both a weekly and daily schedule going forward. I talked about this more in-depth way back in episode 2, which does a deep dive into organizing your to-do list, so I highly recommend going back and checking out that episode if you need a refresher on this idea. But again, I’ll give you the broad overview here.

As you begin your week, spend some time brainstorming everything that you want to accomplish in the coming week. This can include work tasks, home tasks, activities with the kids, self-care items, whatever it is. Get everything down on paper. 

Use Your Overview to Help You Plan

Once you’ve done that, then it’s time to schedule those tasks into the following days of that week. Now, remember, you have already created for yourself that broad overview of what your week will look like. That was one of the first tips I shared with you. So maybe Mondays are client work, Tuesdays are content creation, Wednesdays are your day off to do activities with the kids, whatever it is.

Since you have that general outline, it will be easy for you to input the individual tasks into those broader categories. So if you had projects that you needed to finish that we’re about content creation, you would put them into your Tuesday schedule. If you had specific activities that you wanted to do with the kids, you would work into the Wednesday schedule.

Unpredictability

And because I know a lot of you are working with more unpredictable schedules at this time, I recommend identifying the top two or three things that you must do each day. You can certainly have other tasks on your calendar. You can absolutely have the intention of completing other things as well. But when you are juggling work life and home life and your kids and all of these other appointments that you don’t normally have on your schedule, it’s important to be flexible and compassionate with yourself. 

So what are the top one or two most important things you need to finish each day? These are the things that you will get done no matter what, whether that means staying up after the kids go to bed, asking your partner to take care of the kids while you work for a little while, etc. 

By identifying your top priorities, you help ensure that you continue moving forward on your main priorities without getting lost in the overwhelmed. It helps you stay organized and focused on what’s most important.

Gather What You Need

Now, the fourth strategy that I recommend adopting to help you stay organized when you’re working from home is to begin your day by gathering everything that you need. 

I’ve personally noticed that I can waste a lot of time after I start my work day by gathering this resource or that book or getting something to drink. 

By beginning my day gathering all of the different materials I need first, and setting myself up with a cup of coffee and a water bottle, I help minimize that transition time. I minimize that valuable time that so easily slips through the cracks when we look for one thing or the other. 

And if you don’t want to gather everything that you need for the whole day, or that’s simply not realistic, then you could try gathering what you need for your current project. In other words, set yourself up so you’re ready to complete whatever it is you’re sitting down to work on.

It seems like such a little tip, but I’m telling you, it makes a big difference because it allows you to stay in the flow and continue working once you’ve started.

Ground Rules

And then finally, my last tip to help you really stay organized and move forward when you’re working from home is to establish some ground rules for both yourself and your family. And what I mean by this, is deciding what justifies and interruption in your workday? 

Again, you get to decide this. You get to decide the ground rules for both the children in your house and the other adults in your house.

Now again, this is going to be unique to each person. You know your family. Everybody has different aged children, everybody has different needs and demands coming at them, so take some time and ask yourself, what are my ground rules? What warrants an interruption for me? Once you decide on this, it’s your responsibility to follow through on these rules. You need to decide whether you engage in those interruptions or not.

For example, I have one friend who has doors on her office, and when her teenage boys come to ask her questions, she asks – is there blood involved? If not, I can’t help you. And of course, this is done with a bit of humor and she absolutely does help her kids when they need her — not just when there’s blood involved. But I think that it’s a really good example of setting and following those ground rules for yourself.

Follow Through on the Ground Rules

And there’s a couple of different things you can do to help you follow through on these rules.

First, you can prep ahead for your more independent children to help them plan out their day when they’re at home. Maybe you can prepare snacks ahead of time. Perhaps you can pull out projects or their homework assignments for them. You could lay out their clothes for them. And by preparing these different things ahead of time, your children will have what they need so that you can stay focused on your work.

Similarly, you could schedule regular breaks. Maybe every hour or two you come out of your office so you can check how they’re doing for 15 minutes. Because when your kids know that you will be popping in to say hi for a little while, they may show a bit more patience. They may wait for you to come out of the office to tell you their latest joke or latest story.  Of course, this isn’t always true. But hey, it’s worth a shot, right?

Sitter or Spouse

And if you are working from home and you also have a sitter or a spouse taking care of the kids, trust that they can handle it. And I know that this is sometimes easier said than done. But know that they will come and get you if they need anything. And until that happens, they’ve got it covered. So you can do your job, and they can do theirs.

And finally, make sure that you’ve established these ground rules for yourself, too. When are your work hours? And how will you ensure that you stick to them? 

You see, it is so easy to let work hours bleed into your home hours and blur those boundaries. So create those rules early on and stick to them. Hold yourself accountable. When it’s time for rest. When it’s time for meals. And when it’s time for family or self-care. Then honor those commitments that you made to yourself just as much as you honor your work commitments. I’m telling you, that’s one of the key components to make working from home successful.

Recap

So whether you’re working from home for the first time. Whether your kids are joining you as you work from home. Or you’re simply looking for more strategies to increase your organization. I encourage you to give these different tools a try.

Before you do anything, check-in with yourself. Figure out your thoughts concerning working from home. Are you choosing ones that serve you?

Secondly, establish some sort of regular routine that you can practice each day. This will help you get into the mindset of productivity. It helps you eliminate decision fatigue. And it keeps you moving forward from one thing to the next. 

Next, establish systems in your life to keep things running smoothly.

Then, make your priorities clear by establishing both weekly and daily tasks and list them on one specific calendaring system. As you identify those tasks, also hone in on the top one to two most important things that you must get done each day no matter what.

Fourth, gather everything that you need for the day before you begin work. By gathering everything you need before diving in, you reduce transition time and stay focused.

And finally, create some ground rules for yourself and those in your household. What warrants an interruption? How can you prepare ahead of time so that your children feel less need to interrupt you? And what are your own boundaries for work hours and how will you hold yourself to them?

And for my final bonus tip. Each day, I invite you to begin by asking yourself, “how can I make this day fun?” Answer the question, and make sure you follow through on that plan. I promise you, it makes a significant difference.


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