Hi there! With school back in session and extra-curricular activities starting to rev up and get back to normal, I’m hearing a lot of talk about overwhelm lately. After a year or more of not being able to do anything, it’s exciting to get back to all the things. However busy schedules, as you know, can get overwhelming and chaotic especially if you are juggling activities of multiple kids. But don’t you worry, these simple organizing strategies will help you combat the dreaded overwhelm and calm that annoying chaos that comes with it.
I was feeling overwhelmed myself at the beginning of September. I was hardly home the months of July and August and didn’t keep up with my system. Then we jumped right back in to school stuff and sports and all of a sudden I didn’t know if I was coming or going. My official role as head chauffeur has officially resumed and to be honest I love every minute of it. However overwhelm can quickly rule the day when our brains try desperately to remember all the data we feed it. When all the little details that parents have to worry about swirl in our brains as we scramble to remember everything, well it can be exhausting and stressful.
Thankfully once I got back into following my system it finally felt like I could take a deep breath again. This system not only helps me manage life on a regular basis, but it’s especially helpful when going through challenging life seasons like a new school year, a new baby, a big move or managing an illness. Because let’s face it, while typical advice might be to just put down some of the balls we are frantically trying to keep in the air, that just isn’t always possible. Life happens and seasons don’t last forever. So instead, the purpose of today’s blog post is more about managing the chaos instead of the chaos managing us. Yes, let’s do this!
Organizing Strategies to Combat Overwhelm and Calm the Chaos
*I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.*
Many people think I’m organized because I’m just a naturally organized person but that’s not true. I’m organized because I manipulate my environment so that it lends itself to living an organized life. If it weren’t for that, I’d be a wreck and nothing would get done. Honestly. That’s why I follow these organizing rules and I implement routines and rewards as well on a regular basis. The next few organizing strategies are a must though!
Master List Notebook
Now this isn’t revolutionary but lists are the lifeline to my overwhelm. But not just any list or post it note reminder stuck to every nook and cranny. Nope it’s what I like to call my Master List Notebook that keeps all my to-do’s in one place. Otherwise known as my brain dump basket. You all know how I love to contain things! I’m an old fashion pen and paper kind of girl so this is what I keep going back to time and time again. It’s simple and easy to use.
My Master List Notebook is my container for my sanity and not only would I be lost without it but I definitely wouldn’t be sleeping at night either. My lined spiral bound notebook of choice is 7 x 5 inches big and I get them from the dollar store. I prefer this size because it’s big enough that I can get 20 tasks per page yet small enough to be left out right beside my computer or to fit into my purse if I want to take it places with me (and right now that’s not such a bad idea!). Spiral bound is also important to me so that it folds over on itself so I only have to see one side at a time. But listen any notebook will do, let’s not get hung up on logistics here!
I always start by writing the date at the top of the page. Then I write down every single task that is taking up more space than it needs to in my head. Basically it’s a daily consistent brain dump of all sorts of miscellaneous randomness from my brain onto paper. I believe we get overwhelmed when our brains are trying to process and remember so much information. By getting it out of our heads and written down, it eases the burden and allows the brain to slow down and focus on one thing at a time.
The trick to this brain dump is to list your tasks in detail and this comes in handy for batching tasks which I’ll talk about in a minute. So for example if you want to make end of the year teacher gifts, your list should include (as separate line items) all the various steps required to make that happen: buy craft supplies, have kids make cards, make craft, buy packaging, etc.. The more detailed I am, the less stress I feel. Mental clutter is bad news. It’s why we start forgetting appointments and locking our keys in the van…ahem…been there.
Having a running master list like this makes it very easy now to batch tasks saving you all sorts of time, energy and money. When I need to run downtown to do an errand I can quickly scan my list to see anywhere I noted that I needed to purchase or pick up something saving myself multiple trips. Nothing is more annoying to me than making a trip to Walmart, only to remember when I get home that I forgot something. Making another trip is such a waste of valuable time. In addition to shopping trips, I also try to batch telephone calls I need to make etc.
Highlight Completed Tasks:
As I complete my tasks I will highlight the line item so I know it is done. It provides visual interest to the page and makes it perfectly clear which items are still outstanding. It also means I can still read the completed task. So many times I have gone back in my notebook to double check a date or task and this makes it easy to do so. But listen if you just want to be wild and crazy and cross those tasks off instead then you go right ahead and do what makes your heart happy. You’ve got to do what works best for you!
Starting a New Page:
Every week or two I’ll start a new page in my notebook with a new date at the top. I carry forward any outstanding tasks to this new date. Now all the outstanding tasks are clustered together at the top. The reason I don’t start a new page every day is because I would be constantly carrying items forward which is not a practical use of my time. However if you notice that you are consistently not getting the same tasks done week after week, it’s time to get honest with yourself about it. Either find a way to make it happen or just forget about it.
Another key organizing component to decreasing overwhelm is utilizing a planner of some kind. Whether it’s a digital one or paper, it’s essential to organizing your time. Once you’ve had a successful brain dump, now is the time to take that master list and schedule those tasks into your planner. Each morning I go through my list notebook and source out THREE tasks that are my must do’s for the day. I may still fit in others as time allows, but first I select three items that are my top priority. I then jot those down in my planner along with any relevant sub-tasks required to make those three tasks happen.
If we aren’t intentional about this step it is much too easy to procrastinate the tasks believing that we have more time than we really do. Or put things off simply because we are too overwhelmed with the volume of items that need to get done. This last one is more my tendency. Be realistic about your time available to you. I think when we get over ambitious we set ourselves up for failure.
I use a combination of the Simply Yours Day Planner and the calendar app on my phone that I share/sync with my husband and teenage son so we can all be on the same page. There are many calendar apps out there and I’ve tried many of them. However I find that so many of them are just too complicated and “busy”. I keep coming back to the simplicity of my iPhone calendar app. Simplicity is the name of my game for me always. Read more about my favorite planners HERE. I would love to hear what you use.
If you’ve got younger children may I strongly suggest a large fridge calendar to keep everyone connected. It’s so important! More details about why and my favorite fridge calendar HERE.
In addition to the organizing strategies listed above, I also utilize the free Reminders app on my phone. This tool helps alleviate the brain clutter that takes up valuable head space. I’ve set it up with all sorts of lists I want to keep track of. My memory isn’t so great these days so the Reminders app is a lifesaver! Do you use this app? It’s super easy to set up and simple to use. And yes I keep track of the Hallmark Christmas movies I watch because I would never remember otherwise, ha!
When You Run out of RESOURCES
If, after implementing these organizing strategies, you are still having trouble keeping up then it might be time to consider one or more of the following steps.
- Ask friends for help (not always easy to do)
- Hire tasks out (is it worth my time to pay someone else to do it?)
- Simplify (eg: I will buy teacher gifts rather than make them myself)
- Re-prioritize and delete (what can I cut from the list altogether)
Too many decisions in such a short amount of time is stressful. Having a system in place will help alleviate some of the tension that results when overwhelm hits. Remember, whichever organizing strategies you implement, if they aren’t simple enough to use you are just adding to the chaos. So always keep it simple and say no to brain clutter. You’ll feel so much better when you do!
Anyone else feeling overwhelmed right now and in need of utilizing a Master List Notebook? Of these organizing strategies, which one is your favorite?