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Organizing, Prioritizing, and Planning (Oh my)

These three words can send chills down any woman’s spine if you’re not particularly a pro at any of them. There are many woman that turn these into an art, and they should be praised and honored for their tenacity. But what are devastatingly unorganized, dysfunctional, yet ambitious and passionate women to do when they feel they’re falling short? Are you doomed at this point in adult hood to ever being the organized person you feel you should be?

Ask yourself what is the appeal in begin organized, able to prioritize, and able to plan efficiently? For some the answer is simple. Keeping everything organized, prioritized, and planned out makes life easier in general and leaves extra time for us to do the things we want to do. No fumbling through makeup to find the lipstick you wanted to use if you have it all compartmentalized, no throwing laundry still in the basket across the bed because you didn’t fold it or hang it up and now you’re looking for your work outfit on a Monday morning. No fiascos, just smooth transitions from one task to the next. You come home with enough energy left to make dinner (or order it) and do what you want to do. What’s your reason for wanting to be organized, a better planner, or better at being efficient? Is there a voice telling you that you have to be these things? Or would it actually make your life drastically better?

These three skills are associated with a much larger brain system function known as executive functioning skills, which is fancy talk for doing what you set out to do and being able to do so as efficiently as possible. So, normal executive functioning skills means everyone to some degree knows how to plan and execute their day. You know you need to get ready for work before you actually get there, and intuitively you know that you need to wake up at a certain time in order to get to take the time to get ready before you get to work. You can guess this may take from 30 minutes to an hour (or more for some) and you can guess how long it might take to travel to work. You can plan this out in your mind pretty quickly for a new job, and if you’ve been going to the same job for a while, this is second nature. As simple as it sounds, this is executive functioning, and the important part of this executive functioning is that it becomes second nature. What makes implementing a whole system of new habits and routine important is that it becomes second nature—and this is what makes “adulting” as we know it difficult if you’re trying to implement these new habits and routines all at once.

Looking around at your surroundings and life, if you’re not satisfied with how your executing your daily life, don’t be too down on yourself. If you weren’t raised with organizing skills practiced daily, then there’s no reason to think that these skills would have come to fruition prior to adult hood or by magic. Start today on making small changes and harness what you know about how the mind works in order to get there. You know that small changes are easier than big ones. When small changes become second nature, you can begin adding new ones. Eventually the you that you want to be will become second nature with persistence and patience.

Let’s look briefly at what each of these executive functioning skills is really about:

Organizing – the ability to compartmentalize pieces/information in a streamlined manner (in other words, you don’t have your laundry carelessly thrown in the drawer, you have drawer organizers to help keep things in place—without drawer organizers things get mixed up really fast, which elongates the process of finding the clothes you need)

If you’re not an organizing pro, the good news is it’s a learnable skill. Just start with a small space in your home and set out to organize it. Organizing requires visual/spatial skills that if you’re not already visually inclined, can be difficult. Starting with a small space and allowing yourself to take the time to plan how you’ll organize it, plan for the organizing supplies you’ll need (bins, baskets, labels, hampers) and being flexible enough to make changes along the way will help you develop the skillset of organizing. For some, organizing a small cabinet area might only take 10 minutes. For others, this might be a daunting task that could take upwards of 45 minutes. Whatever the case is, give yourself some grace and know that with each small space you set out to organize, your skill in this area will only become sharper.

Prioritizing – the ability to know how tasks should be sequenced based on their combination of urgency and importance. This may be one of the more difficult of these three skills because it requires so much more intuitive analysis. If you come across at ask that’s urgent but not important against a task that’s rather important but not urgent, how do you decide which comes first? The problem is most people choose the urgent tasks first, and once all the urgent tasks are completed the important ones become neglected beyond reasonable repair. For example, It’s urgent to get the kids to school or practice, urgent to go grocery shopping, urgent to get certain chores done, but it was important to begin planning for the birthday party next month, or it was important to be looking for new work or to be building your client base for your career. When only urgent tasks take over, you actually miss out on some pretty important pieces that if you don’t address you may be creating more urgent issues in the long run.

Build this skill by brain dumping all the things you need to be doing. Categorize what needs to be done in the day, then a separate section for the week, then a separate column for the month. Can you automatically pick out which ones are urgent? Important? Could you rate them based on urgency and importance? One influence in this judgment could be anxiety. If you’re feeling particularly anxious about a task or have a voice in your head telling you it’s more important than other tasks when it’s not, you may be struggling with being inflexible. Improving this skill would mean not only being able to identify and rate different tasks based on their importance and urgency, but also identifying areas where you could improve flexibility in your judgment. Increased flexibility can be practiced through mindfulness techniques or getting an objective perspective from a friend or confidant.

Planning – the ability to blueprint a combination of tasks, having already prioritized them, and determining the point of execution. Planning, also an intuitive skill at times, includes prioritizing as well as organizing with the added element of knowing the when and where. The problem with planning is that if you’ve done enough of it you know that half the time plans don’t work out. You also know that if you don’t plan, things end up much worse. The art of planning comes from being able to set out the blueprint but also making the pieces interchangeable and flexible based on unpredictable issues that come up. Practicing this skill could include utilizing a calendar app in which you include all tasks for the day and/or week, and allowing yourself to move those tasks to different portions of the week or day depending on unpredictable events that come up. Being able to see the visual “holes” in your day or week can help you work on moving these pieces to efficient spots. Planning also includes streamlining your tasks. If you’re going to the store, but also need to pick up dog food at a specialty store that’s next to the store you shop at, then don’t plan to pick up dog food on a different day that you go shopping—put those tasks together.

These tasks only really come together by regular practice. Even if you’re not good at them at all, you only get good at them by doing them every day. The good news for each of these is that even if you weren’t raised with an organizing guru by your side, you can still build these skills from scratch no matter how much of a mess you are. The key is consistency, and starting small.

Think you want to start getting some skillsets under your belt? Take some time to check out our digital tools for productivity help!

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