Organisation for peak productivity (Home Duties Series)

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As busy women taking care of just about everything and trying to create the lives we want, we often find ourselves overwhelmed and struggling to get it all done. The Home Duties Series will focus in on specific issues relating to taking care of this most important tool; the home. Please subscribe if you haven’t already so you’re updated when I post a new article on this topic.


As a mom of eight who values having a productive and directed lifestyle, I have had to learn how to live and work efficiently. Having many people in my home multiplies disorganisation. This in turn drastically reduces the amount that can be achieved, if my family is not intentional and methodical in taking care of our responsibilities and belongings.

Organisation is not merely rearranging and labelling things, there is a lot more to it than that. When you think of ‘becoming more organised’ you may immediately imagine taking all your belongings, sorting according to type, placing each type in a separate, labelled container and placing it back on the shelf. But rearrangement is not all there is to organising, and physical items in your home are not all there is to organise. The most important thing is to organise your thinking and behaviour, not just your environment.

‘Being very organised’ is, in fact, merely adopting a series of systems that guide how you lead your life. There are many ways in which we use these systems. For example, we may use a system in the form of a routine, which organises your behaviours (what to do when). It could be a procedure, which organises your processes, the steps you take to complete a task. It may be a schedule, which organises your time. It could be a budget, which organises your expenses.

I often hear people responding negatively to the idea of having routines and structures in place to help them be more organised. It can be difficult to come around to the idea if you are someone who highly values spontaneity. I was once the same way, however faced with the potential chaos of a bustling young family I chose what I thought was the lesser of two evils at the time.

In fact, what I have discovered since is that being organised and in routine, for me, actually provides me with a newfound freedom. Within the structure of organisation I have freed up time, space, and energy for things that matter a whole lot more to me than being able to go out for drinks with the girls at the drop of a hat. Living life on the fly does not seem nearly as enticing or important once you are applying self discipline to achieving things that are more important.

There’s a great feeling of satisfaction knowing that you are actually dealing with all of your responsibilities and taking things head-on. But it also requires much self-discipline and for many people, a total transformation in the way they think about and do things. Fortunately for us, we don’t have to dive right in to a systemised lifestyle all at once. You can begin to change the way you do things quite gradually, if this suits you better (and for most of us, this will be true).

Becoming a ‘very organised person’ requires constant refinement and fine-tuning, but don’t worry about that now if you are just getting started. I would recommend three basic beginner steps for you to start organising your complete lifestyle. Once you’ve successfully applied these to your life and seen how they give you power to achieve more, you’ll be more empowered to develop your own systems from there.

1. Put basic routines into place.

This can start out as simply as you need it to. I like the idea of putting a morning routine and an evening routine together. Your basic morning routine could simply be:

  1. brush teeth
  2. take medication and vitamins
  3. get dressed
  4. have breakfast

Your starter evening routine could be:

  1. write a quick to-do list for tomorrow
  2. shower
  3. brush teeth
  4. read for 15 minutes

In this initial phase, take the things that are most important for you to do in the morning and evening and form them into mini routines. As you become more comfortable using these lists every day, you can add new things. My current weekday morning routine looks like this:

  1. get up, make coffee
  2. do morning writing
  3. wake children and instruct to get ready for school
  4. make school lunches
  5. make breakfast
  6. check progress of children in getting ready
  7. get dressed, brush teeth, fix hair, take medication and vitamins
  8. wave children out the door
  9. make bed
  10. wipe down bathrooms
  11. put on a load of laundry
  12. empty, refill, restart dishwasher
  13. tidy up and wipe down kitchen

I realise it may look a bit overwhelming to those who do not have eight children, but it is the reality of life for many large families. Carrying out this routine allows me to pack a powerful punch every morning, achieving a whole lot within a 3-hour span of time. Faithfully following this routine gets myself ready for the busy day ahead, and my children ready for a successful day at school. It ensures that everyone has good food to eat, household chores get a good head-start and my commitment to my writing practice is followed through on.

Again, if you are just starting out, I want you to keep your routines very simple until you get a good handle on living them out each morning and evening. You can always add or take away things to truly make your routines work for your lifestyle and your family commitments and needs.

2. Get rid of things that you do not need, love or use.

This is commonly referred to as decluttering. Decluttering is a very important step in your quest to become more organised, because it ensures that you are not pouring time and other resources into taking care of things that are not serving you.

We are finite people with limits, and our belongings need to be finite and limited or else we begin to stretch ourselves too thin. You may think that the trinkets on your shelf do not cost you anything, but you’d be overlooking the time spent dusting them, the space required to house them, and the mental energy of just knowing they are there and that they’re your responsibility. Things have costs and if they’re not earning their keep it is time for them to go.

There are a few ways to go about decluttering. Some people swear by drastically cutting things out in huge swathes all at once (ala the current trend based on the book ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up’ by Japanese author Marie Kondo). If this works for you, then go for it.

Personally I prefer a slow, steady and gradual paring down of belongings. This can be achieved in a reasonable time frame by simply decluttering one area per day, 15 minutes at a time. For me as a person with many children and many responsibilities, this makes decluttering a manageable and ongoing daily maintenance task rather than a major project that will require all of my time and effort until it is completed.

3. Set up a basic budget

You ought not be a slave to your money and the way to ensure that doesn’t happen is to make your money work for you. By this I am not suggesting you make a bunch of investments and try to make your money earn money, as the quote is often understood. Rather, I’m referring to a mindset in which we understand that having money should not be a goal in and of itself but that our finances are a tool for us to help us achieve our goals and live according to our values. 

If money is a tool, then making sure your finances are in good working order is vital if you’re to use your money successfully. Setting up a basic budget allows you to see and understand where your money is going, what is and isn’t working, and how you can redirect ill-used funds to things that really matter to you. Organising your finances with a basic budget helps you to understand how the various expense areas of your life come into play and how that impacts on your overall goals.

If you’ve never made a budget before, the basic idea is to write a list of all of your income and a separate list of all your expenses. If this seems overwhelming or you’re concerned about missing or forgetting things, there are quite a few budgeting programs, apps and planners available online for free. I personally like the one over at the ASIC website but if that doesn’t work for you, a simple google search should bring something you can use.

Now, the trick with budgeting is to go beyond just writing down your income and expenses. You need to try to balance your budget so that you’re living within your means (your expenses do not exceed your income). Usually this will mean cutting back in certain areas (like getting rid of cable or reducing your bandwidth) and if you’re in debt, you will want to address that too. Getting out of debt may require more stringent cutting back for a while. Keep your goals in mind and be strong about this, it will pay off in the long run.

You can find a lot of budgeting advice out there and some of it is better than other. However the general principles of making a budget, cutting back on expenses and paying down debts are pretty straightforward. Check out Dave Ramsey’s website for budgeting advice – some of his information must be paid for but there’s also a good deal of free stuff on his site. You can get a general idea of his thoughts on budgeting and his advice has helped many people get out of debt and use their money wisely.

So, to summarise, if you want to be able to maximise your resources and increase your productivity, organisation is key. The first three steps in making this happen are:

  1. putting basic routines in place (organise your time)
  2. getting rid of things that you do not need (control your stuff)
  3. understanding your money as a tool and putting your budget in order (put your money in its place)
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