How to Organize Your Life: These are the Apps and Systems that Keep Me Sane

If getting your life organized is on your current to-do list or you feel like too many things are slipping through the cracks, then this post is for you. I have for sure been there and these organization apps and systems are what keep me sane most days…

There’s no shortage of apps these days that promise to streamline communication, make workflow more efficient and ultimately lead you to being your best self. If we’re being honest, though, the systems and organization apps I use are really simple. First, they’re all free and they’re widely accessible and shareable. The list below is the product of about 5 years of trial and error. Every time something would slip through a crack or I felt like I dropped the ball, I would tweak the system. Balls still get dropped, but a lot less frequently now. I also feel less stressed because these organization apps and systems give me a much clearer picture of what I need to be doing, how and when. Keep reading for the full list and please leave your thoughts or systems of your own in the comments! I would love to hear from you on this one!

How I Use the Google Calendar App:

I use the Google Calendar app for so many things. The first and most obvious is that I use it to keep track of events. You can have different color coded calendars within your calendar so I have one calendar that’s personal and includes things like the girls’ school schedules and activities, Aaron’s travel dates, and any meeting or appointment I have.

I also have our blog editorial calendar. When I’m looking at that calendar, I de-select the other calendars so that I just see that calendar and can easily move posts around as I need to. I can also add Britt to this calendar so that she can see the posts we need to work on and their deadlines. I also have a shoot calendar in bright green! We usually shoot 2-4 times a month so if I look at a day and see that color code I immediately know not to schedule anything else. Of all the organization apps I use, this is the one I can’t live without. Period.

The second way that I use the Google Calendar app is as a time capsule of sorts, setting long term reminders for myself.

For example, last December I noticed that we didn’t have a lot of New Year’s Eve content on the site, so I wrote a note in my calendar for October of 2019 (10 months later) that said “You don’t have a lot of NYE content. Consider shooting / writing NYE concepts.” Last year I noticed that of the 14 days that span SXSW here in Austin in March, the first three day weekend is when almost every event fell. I made a note of this in my calendar for this year so that I can plan accordingly.

How I Use Gmail for My To Do List:

Yes, I have tried Evernote, Trella and Wonderlist. Yes, they each have wonderful functionalities, but the task list that works best for me is surprisingly analogue. For whatever reason, a simple Gmail draft does the trick. I like it because it’s all searchable. I can search meal plan in drafts and there before me is every meal plan I have ever made if I’m looking for new dinner ideas. I also like it because if I’m working I typically already have my gmail open. There’s no switching between devices and pages. I can simply just pull up the draft.

Here’s how I separate my to-do list draft in Gmail:

  • quick: Tasks that take 15 minutes or less. This would include sending an email, making a phone call, making an online payment, scheduling social media posts or catching up on emails. I love this section because if I finish a major project and have exactly 8 minutes before I need to leave the house to go get Ever, I can go straight to this section and knock out an item or two rather than wasting those precious minutes. 
  • more time: These are projects that I know I’m going to need a block of time for. This would include writing a blog post, creating a shot list for an upcoming shoot, storyboarding a brand video or working on a new project for a future shoot. When I have a block of uninterrupted time, I come to this section of my list and make the most of it.
  • ongoing: This section came to be because I was feeling frustrated that my to-do list was never getting fully crossed off. That’s when I realized that some tasks are just ongoing and there’s always going to be more you can do. This would include something like finding someone to build an e-commerce site. I’ll ask for recommendations, send emails, start dialoguing but it’s really going to be ongoing for awhile before getting crossed off the list. Other things on this list would be updating links from old posts or growing our Instagram community. This is something that would either take many days to complete or is just by nature something to be continually coming back to. When I have the time I can come to this section, work on some ongoing things and know that the particular item is still going to stay on my list and that’s okay. 
  • errands: Anything that involves be getting in the car and going somewhere goes in this section. That means when I have the kids in the afternoon and we have a couple hours to kill, once a week I drag them around with me and knock out some things on this list. I like keeping these items together because it means that I can see everything in one place and visualize the best route. Otherwise I could totally miss a nearby stop that would have been so easy to make had it not been hiding at the bottom of my to do list. 

How I Use Google Docs for Goal Setting, Charting the Course of My Business and So Much More:

When I was first starting out as a stylist assistant, I remember one day coming out of a fitting that could have gone better. At one point during the fitting we found ourselves needing a shoe horn, but after a few frantic minutes of digging through the kit realized we didn’t have one. Afterwards, I remember the client’s executive assistant asking us if we had a checklist for our kit. So simple, right? Why not have it written down? But the answer was no. I was always just trusting that I would remember everything off the top of my head.

I will never forget that conversation because from that day forward I had checklists for everything. There was a travel checklist, a kit checklist, checklists for what went to the dry cleaners so I could check it all back in when it came back. It’s the easiest, most analog solution and I still use it today, only a little differently. Now I keep everything in different google docs saved to my Chrome Bookmarks Bar so that the most important things are always in plain sight. Here are the ones that are the most impactful for me:

1. Revenue and Traffic Analysis: Try not to judge me when I tell you this, but up until January 2019 I didn’t keep very good track of the revenue of my business or the data around revenue. I’ve always kept an eye on traffic because I need to know those numbers for brands, but I would glance at the financial report from my management company each month and that was the extent of it.

Last January, though, I created an excel sheet to track revenue streams, platforms that drove revenue and traffic growth from the previous years. (I’ve added a few more data points to it this year.) Just by creating goals, keeping track of how much revenue we brought in each month (I tracked it based on contracts signed, not when the payment came through), and where those jobs were coming from we grew the business last year to our best year yet, even in an industry that’s a bit in flux right now.

At the end of the year, it was super easy to go through and see what percentage of our business came from which revenue streams, which platforms were the most important to the business and how our community had grown along the way. Now we have a benchmark going forward for this year.

2. 2020 Road Map: This is something I created last year as well. The second week of December I devoted an entire day to looking back at the previous year, processing the data, doing a gut check about what was the most fulfilling to me and then creating a plan for this year. The 2020 Road Map is very actionable, detailed bullet points about the brand, the plan for each platform, and what key performance indicators we are using to judge success.

As a solopreneur with just a small team of freelancers, it’s so easy to feel one way one day and another the next. This roadmap is something I come back to every Monday morning when I open my computer. I give it a quick read before beginning the week and it keeps my broad focus on track.

3. Dailies: This is actually similar to the one above except where the road map is macro, this document is micro. What are the things I should be doing every single day? Even on the rainy days when I’m working from home in my sweatpants and I’m not feeling it? It’s a checklist to make sure that my business isn’t at the mercy of my daily mood. The micro list serves the macro list. What are the daily activities that help accomplish the goals for the year?

How I Use Planoly to Manage Instagram:

I know so many people who have been able to outsource social media to employees or outside agencies, but I can’t imagine doing that. Instagram in particular feels so personal. On the other hand, it does take a significant amount of time to feel like I’m sharing and getting to know everyone in our community there as well as engaging with friends and other creators that I love and admire.

If you’re not familiar with Planoly, it’s a visual app that allows you to create calendars to plan out your Instagram content, schedule posts, analyze engagements, and keep lists of different applicable hashtags. I have never had much success in fully planning out Instagram the way I do with the blog, but it’s been super helpful never the less. This one wouldn’t fall into a typical organization apps category, but it has made managing social media so much more manageable.

If something is on my mind or I learn something interesting that I know I’ll want to share, I create an Instagram post for it in Planoly. It also allows me to move around content, see how it looks in my feed and share things in a certain cadence– ie, I don’t inundate my audience with three parenting posts in a row. I feel like it allows me to share genuine thoughts, insights, and questions even if they may not be happening in real time.

I also keep track of different hashtags here. I have groups for home, kids, style, etc. People have different feelings on hashtags, but I do think it’s a way to share relevant content with new people who may be looking for exactly what you are sharing.

There you have it. Those are the organization apps and systems that are working for me now. They are all free! They are all super easy to use! They have all made my life and my business much easier to manage! What apps and systems do you use to stay organized?

  1. I’m all about the time blocking and color-coded calendar.

  2. I just started keeping track of finances as well. I got a bit behind so I need to get on that since tax season is coming up.

    Jennifer
    Effortlessly Sophisticated

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