Notes from a Floating Life Thoughts about productivity, digital living, and leading a simpler life

The Importance of Structure in Getting and Staying Organized

A desk with a mobile phone, notebook, and laptop on it

It was only a few years ago that I was struggling. Really struggling. I had a lot to do: running a small business with my then business partner, writing posts for three blogs, doing consulting work, along with freelance writing. All the while, juggling family and home renovations and trying to do some courses.

To put it bluntly, I was lost and overwhelmed. I didn’t know how to effectively organize myself or schedule my time or manage my tasks.

These days, when I talk to some people, they tell similar stories. Like me, in my struggling days, there’s usually something lacking in their routines. That something?

Structure.

It’s easy to cram a bunch of tasks into a task list. It’s easy to slap a bunch of deadlines into a calendar. It’s easy to create a schedule. But doing that can be haphazard and does nothing to quell those feelings of being overwhelmed.

Instead, you need to be systematic in your approach to doing work and being organized. A key part of that is adding structure to your routine.

Why Is Structure Important?

You wouldn’t go hiking on an unfamiliar trail without a map and, perhaps, a compass. Your routine, at least the way it should be, is that trail. Structure acts as your map. It acts as a set of guideposts.

When you have a structure, it removes some of the stress you’re feeling. You have a better idea of what you need to do now, and what you’ll need to do in the coming days.

Even more important that that, structure helps you get and stay organized. Structure doesn’t just let you collect everything you need to do, it helps you shape it into a form that fits your style of working.

How to Add Structure to Your Routine

Here’s quick guide. It’s what works for me. It may or may not work for you.

Start off by looking at your task. Find the ones that are the most urgent — the ones with deadlines coming up or which are important to you. Add those ones to your task list first.

Next, estimate the time it will take you to complete those tasks. Don’t worry if you’re estimates are a bit off. You’re rarely going to estimate, down to the minute, how long something will take to complete. Remember that estimates aren’t supposed to be exact. They’re best guesses. Your guesses will get better the more estimating that you do.

Then create your daily schedule. You can that with a calendar like Google Calendar, in a notebook, or however you prefer to do it. Regardless of how you do it, slot your tasks into the schedule based on the estimates you made for completing those tasks.

Block off time in your schedule for:

  • Work
  • Breaks
  • Personal time

At the beginning and end of each day, set aside time to do small tasks. I usually set aside about 30 minutes at the beginning and end of each do o do grunt work like sending and replying to emails, paying bills, cleaning up my files, and other small, fast wins. Once those are out of the way, I can get down to the work I need to do.

But Isn’t Structure A Straitjacket?

I can seem that way. Having to follow a set path can seem boring. It can seem to stifle your creativity.

Get those kinds of thoughts out of your head.

Without structure, you’ll continue flailing. You’ll sink deeper under the waves of everything you need to do. Working within a structure takes a bit of getting used to. But once you do get used to it, you’ll be more organized. You’ll be able to take back some (or more than some) control.

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