Organize Your Way to Productivity
How I have a 3.9 GPA, can fit my life into a car, and make time to be creative.
I’m an artist and creative writer—I’m also a student supporting myself financially. I knew getting through school without a job wasn’t an option for me. Getting through six exams in a week is stressful enough without worrying about the finances. An outlet for all that exam stress is being creative by painting or writing but it can be hard to make the time. All that stress can really inhibit my creative flow.
Here is how I organized my way to a productive and creative flow:
5. Self Care
I always joke with my family that if my current job doesn’t work out I should become a professional organizer. If you looked into my bedroom at any given time you’d find everything has a place. The least organized spot being my laundry basket.
When I moved from Alberta to Ontario a couple of years ago all I took was what would fit in my chevy malibu. I plan to use this same tactic as I relocate for summer jobs and my university transfer.
Whatever doesn’t fit, stays behind.
I apply this to my wardrobe, the dreaded junk drawer, the paperwork stack, and my artwork. Right now, I have a box in my closet waiting to go to the donation center. Any clothing that doesn’t fit or is too uncomfortable goes into the box. Anything that is too worn out to feasibly wear gets repurposed for rags or art projects. Anything I haven’t used in over a year gets donated or recycled such as old electronics, books I never plan to read, and school supplies I never found useful. The paperwork I might need to keep gets transformed into a digital copy then is recycled or turned into compost. Of course, not everything is easy to dispose of, we all have those sentimental objects. I have a few sweaters, items I’ve collected like seashells and stones, plus all my books. Most of them are small enough they don’t take up much space. All of my old artwork is stored in my mom’s basement back in Alberta (Thanks mom!). The artwork I do have here in Ontario is all on paper making it easy to either ship back home or slip into a cardboard sleeve.
That’s how I get decluttered, and it feels good. Good enough that it boosts my mood and inspires me to get creative. If you aren’t a wannabe professional organizer like me, you might find the clutter hard to sort. If you aren’t moving any time soon then don’t stress about it. Tackle it bit by bit, divide your living space into portions. Maybe you do one cupboard at a time or one drawer at a time.
Now that I’ve gotten rid of the bits and pieces I don’t need in my life, I want to spruce up my space. Rather than stashing those paintings away for nobody to look at them again, I’ve hung them on my wall—no frames, just sticky tack. When I move it will be easy to take them all off the wall and store them for the next space.
When I was little, I had a collection of stuffed animals all piled on my headboard. Being that they were stuffed animals and I liked to play with them, or just curl up in bed with them they were always getting disorganized. I liked taking the time to reorganize them. Now instead of a pile of stuffed animals, I only have one (my writing assistant is a stuffed owl). Instead of sorting bears by size, I curate my collectibles. This includes my rock collection, some seashells, and a few other odds and ends I sentimentally can’t get rid of. I like having space in my room for these items, helping me remember good times or just people I haven’t seen much since moving across the country.
All of this also helps my creative flow—whether it is reminding me to finish that painting hanging in front of my face or motivating me to keep practicing my craft.
This one is critical. I honestly don’t know where I would be without my day planner. I purchased my favourite planner from Staples for about $20. It has a table with the days of the week across the top and times along the left side. At the beginning of the semester, once I have my classes figured out, I find a colour to represent each class. Week by week I box off my classes with the correct colour. Then I repeat the process with any other commitments that can’t be moved around such as work or volunteer events. I add in all of my assignment deadlines (and Vocal challenge deadlines). Deadlines get highlighted by priority—red for urgent, orange for due this week, yellow for due in two weeks. Everything gets labeled according to what class it is, what percentage the assignment is worth, and any details that will ensure I remember what the task is.
This is for when the schedule is getting too chaotic, and I need to narrow my focus. I’m a slave to lists—grocery lists, to do lists, assignment deadline lists. Since it is reading week, I wrote down everything I was hoping to get done for the week and sorted it in order of priority. Every morning I highlight what needs to be done that day.
I don’t always stick with it, but I find lists encourage me to be more productive. I cross one thing off and realize, “Oh, that should only be another half hour of work. I can get that done today too.”
My current system is a few sticky notes stuck to my desk but there are a lot of phone apps out there that are just as user-friendly and require less paper. In the past, I used Do! Which is an app I can use to categorize and colour code simple to do lists. For groceries, I use the Food Basics app which allows me to add things from the flyer to my list with a couple of clicks, plus I can add anything that isn’t on the flyer. When I watched a lot of TV I used TV Club to let me know when shows were going to be released. Sometimes I just use the Notes app on my phone if I need to quickly jot down a list to get my plan for the day sorted.
I’ve gone as far as scheduling when to shower and do my dishes. Since COVID times it is probably a good idea seeing as all the days tend to blend together.
5. Self Care
My final tip for getting organized and becoming more productive is scheduling time to take care of yourself. This is something I greatly struggle with. I have dealt with depression, anxiety, and unhealthy stress levels throughout my life. I was diagnosed with gastritis in December of 2019 which lead to a physical inability to be my productive self for over six months.
Your physical and mental health is an important part of maintaining productivity and creativity. Schedule it into your day planner or add it to your to do list (I do both). Ask yourself what you need to improve on.
Are you drinking enough water?
Spending too much time staring at a screen? (Zoom fatigue is real!)
Sitting down too much?
Maybe you keep forgetting to eat?
Sleeping too much or not enough?
Try setting reminders for yourself. Set an alarm that goes off every half hour to remind you to get up and stretch, get rehydrated. Make sure you are getting fresh air at least once a day. Schedule a time to go for a walk. Take some time to watch the birds out the window and do other things that make you happy. Don’t be afraid to seek out professional help from a counselor when life is getting overwhelming.
Exams, finances, and deadlines can be stressful. Be proactive and get organized to make it manageable. That's how I organized my way to productivity.
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Everything is connected. Written by Kelsey Reich on March 11/2021 in Ontario, Canada.