Whenever a new year begins (hey 2018), it always feels like the right time to get your shit together. New year, new you! Make those resolutions, plan to drink those 8 cups of water, promise to get to meetings on time, pledge to be a more put-together human, etc.
But then, slowly but surely, you remember that just because it’s a new year, that doesn’t mean anything about your personality has fundamentally changed. And perhaps you begin to wonder how all those people out there actually get everything done.
Advertisement – Continue Reading Below
So, ELLE.com got 11 super busy women to share their secrets for staying organized and on track. Read on, and take notes (in one of their recommended Moleskins, of course).
Learn to delegate.
“I use Google Calendar like I work for them. Everyone should have a Google Calendar. I give people (my girlfriend, my manager, my sister) access to it just so they know where I am and when. It helps for scheduling everything from writing sessions with other YouTubers to haircuts. I also use the Notes app on my phone to keep a to-do list of smaller tasks. I’ve been working on a heavily researched, non-fiction book about money for the last year and that’s required a lot of scheduling interviews, traveling for research, and keeping Google Docs with organized information. I hired an assistant to help me with the book, and she’s been amazing at organizing all the information. I can’t stress enough how important it is to delegate if you can. Taking it all on yourself isn’t noble. If you can get help, either from people you’re paying or from very nice friends, you should do it!” – Gaby Dunn, co-author of I Hate Everyone But You, co-creator of Just Between Us
Get a functional (but beautiful) planner.
“[I’m] the CEO and Creative Director for all of our brands — Blogilates, POPFLEX, and POP Pilates… in terms of day to day, it can involve anything from creating workouts, filming, writing, editing, designing, strategizing, having meetings, hopping on phone calls with brands, and of course everything involving social media.
When it comes to staying organized, I love writing everything out! I’m super visual, so I LOVE planners that are not only functional but also aesthetically engaging. The planner I can’t live without? The 2018 Fit Planner. I get to plan out my food, my water intake, my sleep hours, my workout, as well as all of my to-dos for the day.
Since the planner is sold out now, our team created a free fitness planner printable pack. This is to help make getting healthy and getting organized easier for everyone. There’s a workout calendar, a grocery list, a weekly meal planner, a 30-day water challenge and a habit tracker.” – Cassey Ho, CEO of Blogilates, POPFLEX and POP Pilates
Find the apps and tools you like — then make them work for you.
“Staying organized is an important component to my #1 productivity and life mantra: ‘Make good use of time.’ I consult, run meetups, including NYC Ruby Women (where women and non-binary coders can meet and get help with their projects), mentor and am mentored, and do my best to live a well-rounded life.
I prefer to write email with a keyboard. I get a lot of it, so I create Apple Mail custom filters and notifications. I also use add-ons to help deal with things like spam (SpamSieve) and email scheduling (MailButler, which has a few bugs, but the support team has been great). On my Android phone, I use TypeApp and created a bunch of keyboard shortcuts for longer phrases that I use often. Keyboard shortcuts are the best thing ever: Save time, typo less.
I would be lost without Apple’s Calendar. I have separate calendars for various aspects of my life and pull in calendar feeds from sites like Google Calendar, Meetup and TripIt (great for organizing travel) so I have a single view of what’s going on with my time.
I have a default alert set up for every important event that gives me a 1-hour heads up. If something is happening first thing in the morning, I add a 12-hour alert to the event so I’m aware the night before and make sure to get enough sleep. Writing things down helps me remember, resolve and release, so I use a planner (currently the Hobonichi Techo), a Moleskine Shanghai Tang journal (I really hope they bring another out for 2018), and a pocket-sized notebook (currently, Field Notes — they have a “Resolution” set that’s pretty fun). For online notes, I’ve been loyal to Simplenote, since it’s available on all my devices and all the notes sync.
I used to be a ‘sleep is for the weak’ person but I’ve come to accept that sleep is good for me. I use the SleepyTime sleep calculator which has helped me wake up not groggy — even at those times when I can’t sleep much because I need to catch an early flight. If you don’t want to install anything, check out the web app, Sleepyti.me.” – Chrys Wu, consultant
Make business hours, and stick to them.
“How do I stay organized? The answer is simple! I have a crippling fear of failure. The thought of missing a deadline is so terrifying I’ve made sure I’ve never missed one. I’m also a big proponent of ‘business hours.’ I’m self-employed/freelance so I can technically work whenever/whenever. But that kind of loosey-goosey schedule is the easiest way to not get anything done while also stressing out the entire time. I force myself to write roughly 10 AM-4 PM depending on workload and keep track of all my meetings and shoots in a paper planner (like it’s 1995). Right now I’m juggling the most projects I’ve ever had (scripted podcast, feature, short film, TV pilots, YouTube channel and one very long project I’m not allowed to talk about yet.) In order to stay sane, I try not to think about all the work I have to do in the next few months. Instead, I just do the work. Wake up. Exercise. Do the work. Eat dinner. Watch TV. Go to bed. Repeat. It’s not glamorous and it’s not fun, but at least it ensures no one will yell at me. Also, remember to eat. That’s crucial.” – Allison Raskin, co-author of I Hate Everyone But You, co-creator of Just Between Us
Set alerts for yourself.
“My day-to-to day is always different given that I’m in currently in production for my show Divided States of Women, but that’s what makes being organized that much more essential. Our production team being all-female means it’s probably the most organized production calendar I’ve ever had the privilege of working with! When we’re not shooting I have deliverables to write or sign off on scripts that are right in my calendar. The Google Calendar app is our mecca. It’s where we can plan for a successful timeline and see each other’s calendars and know where everyone is at all times. We’re sorta dependent like that! I also use Google Cal to secretly shame myself into tasks. I’m working on a book so most weekends I’ll set the time in my calendar so that I get an alert if I’m slacking off or procrastinating doing something else. I think as women we often fall into feeling bad for saying no to others but if that time is planned (even if it’s with ourselves) it means it’s not stresscheduling, it’s just scheduling!” – Liz Plank, host of Vox’s Divided States of Women
Color-code your calendar from hot to cold.
“In my role as Chief Curiosity Correspondent for the Field Museum in Chicago, I am responsible for the creative program direction and executive production of our educational YouTube channel, The Brain Scoop. I create and manage the production schedule; handle all of the pre-production, research and writing for each episode; identify and confirm locations and partnerships for filming; and conduct the distribution of our content across social platforms.
My primary organizational app is definitely my Google Calendar because it’s easy to use and integrates across my devices. There, I manage my regular day-to-day work schedule; the Brain Scoop production calendar (with our new podcast, ExploreAStory wrapped in there!); and my personal side-projects and task lists. I color-code everything hot-to-cold in relation to its level of prioritization: blue and green tasks can wait a week, while yellow, orange and red (!) to-dos need to be dealt with more immediately. My two editors use Todoist to keep me posted on their project outlines, task lists and deliverables so we all remain on the same page.
Another thing I’ve found infinitely useful to remaining organized is how I outline my time during the workday. When I first started my job I felt as though I was spending too much time in regularly scheduled meetings, where I could have been using the hours for productive independent writing and program building. The solution I came up with is this: No email between colleagues should exceed 2-4 sentences.* If the email is longer than 2-4 sentences, it should, instead, be a 5-15 minute phone call. If it can’t fit into a 5-15 minute phone conversation — it should be a scheduled meeting. *Of course, exceptions apply: emails containing itineraries, or those which exist to service as outlines for agreed-upon workflows will, understandably, be more detailed.
Following these simple rules helps me work more efficiently and spend my time wisely and allows me to block off large portions of a day to dedicate myself to in-depth research and writing. I went from having 3-5 standing meetings a week to having about four a month.” – Emily Graslie, Chief Curiosity Correspondent for the Field Museum
If you can’t put it in your calendar, don’t say yes.
“I feel like most of my tips for staying organized are strategies and less actual tools. I used to be obsessed with to-do lists, and so I used to have all of these apps with to-dos. But what I found was that when I could put something on a to-do list, I ended up with far more that I committed to than I could actually accomplish. Now when something comes over the fence, either a commitment, ‘come be on this committee’ or ‘let’s go have lunch’ or ‘let’s go have dinner’ or whatever it might be, I go directly to my calendar. And I look at Google Calendar and I try to find a spot… Sometimes I have to ask people clarifying questions. A lot of times I write people back and say, ‘You want me to be on this committee. How many times is it going to meet? How many times a year? Do you already have the meetings scheduled?’ And if they don’t have all of the details, then I often will decline because I don’t have a mechanism for being able to actually put it in my calendar. That’s what keeps me realistic because so often when I go to my calendar it’s so obvious that I cannot say yes to whatever it is.
I do use an app called Things to manage long-term projects if there’s something that I’m responsible for doing and I want to keep track of like, go pick up mustard for the party or make sure that you draft these podcasts. If I’m on the train or I’m walking down the street, I’ll immediately open my Things app and I’ll put it in there quickly so that I don’t forget.” Dufu also swears by TaskRabbit and says she uses it at least three times a week for anything that doesn’t require her to physically be there. – Tiffany Dufu, author of Drop the Ball
Don’t be afraid to bribe yourself.
“Now that my daughter’s older, my calendar is more and more filled with her appointments (play dates, birthday parties, soccer practice, etc.) so staying organized is more important than ever. To stay on top of everything, I use a Google Calendar, which I share with my husband and our company to be fully transparent about my availability —communication is key. We also use the online service, Asana, to assign and prioritize work-related tasks. As for my own to-do list, the first thing I do when I arrive at the office each morning is hand-write a list of things I need to get through. This allows me to visualize my entire day, and feels even more rewarding when I get to physically cross out a task. Of course, bribing myself with rewards (like candy) works wonders for productivity!” – Emily Schuman, founder of Cupcakes and Cashmere
Create a “completed” folder.
“As a mom of two and a business owner, I am trying to make it through my busy days just like everyone else. Whether it’s designing products, scheduling meetings, working with my team on photo shoots or social media, taking my kids to and from school, figuring out what we’re having for dinner, and fitting in time to hang with my husband and see friends, it can all be so much. Staying organized and writing things down is essential for my keeping me on task and up to date on my day ahead. Google Calendar is my main sidekick for scheduling. Since I can see it on my computer and my phone, I must look at it 284 times a day! I have things categorized by color for: personal, my husband’s work calendar, my office’s main calendar, as well as my own daily work deadlines and tasks. I’ve also created a ‘completed’ category so that once I finish something, I can change it to a different category/color and it stays there but I know it’s been done. If you look at it, it’s basically a rainbow of to-do’s and I love it!” – Joy Cho, founder and creative director of Oh Joy!
Dedicate certain days to certain tasks.
“I typically arrive at work by 8 AM since I’ve found it crucial to have some time in the office before the day begins that’s unscheduled to catch up on emails, review my calendar and make sure I am clear on the day’s top priorities. Each meeting – from large department meetings to individual catch ups –require that agendas be sent in advance so I often take this time to review agendas and any corresponding materials so that I understand the goal of each meeting. This guarantees that I go into the rest of the day feeling ahead.
As the business continues to grow, so do the demands on my time. To manage and maximize my time amongst the business’ many different departments, I’ve tried to dedicate different days of the week to a specific focus. For example, Mondays revolve around Operations and New Product Development, Tuesday I meet with my Design team, Wednesday is Visual Merchandising, Retail and Marketing, and Friday is Design again as we have a huge volume of new products in the works at all times. Thursdays, I am always in London for external meetings with retail partners, our graphic designers, architects or at our monthly board meeting. Of course, this doesn’t mean my schedule is inflexible – if something urgent should pop up for Marketing on a Monday, that doesn’t mean it can’t be discussed until Wednesday – but this structure helps prevent my schedule from descending into chaos. The combination of standing meetings and agenda-setting ensure that everyone arrives to each regroup extremely prepared and focused so that our time is as productive as it can possibly be.
I also prioritize my time out of the office – there is always work to be done but I think it’s just as important to maintain a personal routine to stay sane and encourage balance. For example, while I’m up every weekday at 6 AM, we always have breakfast in bed (a little luxury at that time of day!) and my husband and I take turns to make it. I’m out of the door by 7:10 to bring my daughter to school — this is precious time with her as she is always in a playful mood and loves singing along to the radio. During the week, I’ll leave the office at 5:15 PM as often as I can to be home when she is back for tea and to spend quality time with her and my husband. And while I usually get to the office by 8 AM, I have one exception, which is a standing hour and a half long Pilates session on Tuesday mornings.” – Monica Vinader, founder and CEO of Monica Vinader jewelry
Get multiple calendars.
“My job requires me to be prepared for any occasion at any time. Whether I’m running around the office (and yes, I mean literally running—no stilettos for this girl!), working on set of Project Runway, or heading to a gala with Nina, I need to have the ability to take notes, make a call, send an email, and whip out lipstick at any given moment. Thankfully, most of those tasks can be accomplished with my iPhone. My most used apps are Notes, Reminders and Mail — very basic, I know, but they’re the most straightforward for taking notes during every conversation throughout the day. From those notes, I edit into a ‘to-do’ list, with priority levels and deadlines.
Nina’s schedule is the most important aspect of my job: I have three calendars that I keep updated. A hard copy weekly planner, a Google drive document, and my Outlook calendar. My favorite tool for organization is Outlook. I’ve tried all methods of managing my inbox, from folders to categories, but the best tool is flagging. It keeps me aware of all items I need to follow up and which items have been handled.
I’m also a bit ‘old school’ in the sense that I carry a notepad with me everywhere. I find writing by hand commits things to memory more effectively and there’s nothing more satisfactory than crossing an item off my to-do list with a pen!” – Allie Clement, assistant to Nina Garcia, Editor-in-Chief of ELLE Magazine