How to Get Your Shit Together

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After spending a few years in my twenties, I came to the realisation that adulting life is hard. The privilege and novelty of being able to stay up as late as I want to and drive a car with a certified driver’s license which seven year-old me was dying to do has long died off.

Some days adult life feels near impossible and all I want to do is curl up in bed in a foetus position and call my mum to cry it all out. In fact, I think learning how to adult is a separate skill on its own.

That’s not to say that it’s impossible to learn.

We’ve all heard about these adults that seem to have it all together in their lives—Jimmy who manages to pay his rent and bills on time every month, Louisa who secured a 401K plan at the age of 24, and Nancy who is both a successful defense attorney and a dedicated mum who participates in all her children’s charity bake sales and PTA meetings. Oh, Nancy.

But today, I’m not going to teach you how to become Jimmy, Louisa, or Nancy. Today, we’re going to start small and I’ll share with you some of the tips and tricks that I’ve learnt over my years of adulting that has really helped me to manage my life with more ease. Without further ado, here’s my simple guide on how to get your s*t together.

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“So much to do, so little time.”

Solution: Break it down to small, manageable chunks.

You have as little and as much time as you would allow yourself. Everyone has the same amount of time in a day, but not everyone maximises that given time.

The trick here is to break all your time down into bite-sized chunks so that so you don’t get distracted from the task at hand, or feel overwhelmed by it. Furthermore, when it’s broken down into a much simpler task, it’s very hard for you to find excuses to get out of completing it.

The How

The Pomodoro Method

If you haven’t heard of the Pomodoro method before, it’s basically a time-management strategy implemented with the aim of completing a larger task by breaking it down into smaller chunks. This was invented by the Italian author, Francesco Cirillo. As for the name, it’s derived from the tomato-shaped kitchen timer, or pomodoro in Italian.

I am a huge fan of this strategy and I have implemented it in my study sessions with much success. Although the pomodoro method suggests 25 minutes of work for each session, I sometimes tweak it to longer work sessions, such as 45 or 50 minutes.

For visual creatures like me, here’s a visual guide that illustrates the pomodoro technique:

How to Get Your Life Together / Pomodoro technique
Source: @pomodorotechnique.com

Lists: The Rule of 3

I’m a huge fan of lists—I can’t go through my day without them. Although, I must say it took me awhile to figure out the perfect way of creating lists that suit my personality and lifestyle habits. I currently employ the rule of 3.

Basically, what it means is whenever I sit down to plan my week or day, I craft my lists by choosing the top 3 priorities I have to take care of that day. After deciding on the top 3 on the list, I put down a few more tasks that are easier and take less time to complete. I used to fill my list with 15 or 20 tasks just to have more boxes to check off but in the end, I just get frustrated with my life for not completing all of the tasks on the list.

If you follow this method, not finishing every single task on the list would not hinder you from reaching your goals since the main priorities have been taken care of before.

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“I know what to do but I don’t know where to start or how to start.”

Solution: Organisation, Organise, Organise!

Yep. In order for you to get your life together, you need to learn how to organise, or get better at it.

The How

See the bigger picture

I’m the type of person who pays attention to minute details in life rather than the bigger picture, and at times that can cause a lot of unnecessary stress. Since then, I’ve learnt to focus on the bigger picture at times rather than obsessing over every little detail of my life.

The way I do this is by sitting down and taking some time to figure out what my long-term goals are. I categorise these goals into what I wish to achieve in a year, 6 months, and by the end of each individual month. From these long-term goals, I derive an idea of how I can go about planning my short-term goals, based on how they help me to get closer to my long-term goals.

Allow me to illustrate:

  1. One of my goals for 2019 was to learn Italian and achieve intermediate level.
  2. That means by the end of the first six months, I should achieve an advanced-beginner’s level and be able to have a basic conversation in Italian. Thus, at the end of 2019 I should attain the ability to hold a casual conversation with little to no difficulty.
  3. Based on this long-term goal then, I created a study plan that is comprised of Italian language resources, exercises, audio books, list of films, and small tests.
  4. These are all distributed across a whole year, with each month containing one or two main short-term goals to unlock in order to achieve the big-picture goal which is attaining intermediate level in Italian.
  5. *deep breath*

Divide & Conquer

Now that you have your long-term goals pinned down, you’re ready to divide and conquer. This method is what I use to manage my weekly and daily goals.

Every Sunday, I would sit myself down and draft what I call “My Week At A Glance.” Based on the monthly goals I have set myself in the previous step, I distribute it amongst the four or five weeks of the month. By being crystal clear about what my goals are for the week, I can easily decide what my priorities for each day are. That would make the rule of 3 easy to plan, and it helps me to stay on top of my priorities.

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Here are my top picks for planners to keep on top of my goals!

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“I always find myself wasting time.”

Solution: Develop a routine

Sometimes I would decide to take a Netflix break for 20 minutes, only to binge watch a K-drama for a few hours. Then I find myself getting out of the Netflix coma when the sun has set and I’ve accomplished 10% of what I was supposed to complete that day. Sounds familiar?

The way I avoid wasting time is by implementing a routine in my daily life. If you take the time to develop a habit or daily routine, you would find that your time would be much more manageable since your daily schedule is pretty much set.

The How

Section your time according to your priorities

And know at what time of the day you work best.

For example, I am a morning bird. My focus and clarity of mind are the strongest in the early morning and they start to decline after lunch. Therefore, I always aim to complete my top three priorities of the day before lunch and that gives me ample time throughout the day to work on my other smaller tasks at a more relaxed pace.

In addition, now that I’ve figured out the best time slot(s) for my main priorities, I am able to schedule the rest of my day. Just to give you an idea, here is a rough overview of what my current weekday schedule looks like:

How to Get Your Life Together / My Current Schedule

Maybe this schedule is too rigid for you and you want to plan yours to be more flexible. Maybe you’re a night owl instead and you focus better at night. Or maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who are able to hyper-focus throughout the day without feeling drained and good for you! The key is to find the best time during the day for you to work, and also for you to play (equally important).

Sleep at a fixed time

By now you’ve probably guessed that consistency is an important key to getting your life together. The same goes for your sleeping habits.

Your body has its own natural clock, or to use a more scientific term, circadian rhythm. This natural process extends to all living beings and it’s basically a natural sleep-wake cycle of approximately 24 hours. Your circadian rhythm is impacted by melatonin, the hormones responsible for regulating your sleep-wake cycle, and melatonin is affected by the presence (or lack) of light.

In the morning, when the sun shines brightly, your body senses light and it sends signals to your brain that it’s time to rise and shine. Around dusk, sunlight starts to diminish and your body releases melatonin which induces sleep. This would explain why we generally feel more awake in summer when the sun shines bright throughout the day, and feel more sleepy during the cold, dark winter months.

When you train yourself to follow a regular sleeping schedule, you are actually training your internal body clock to fall asleep and wake up at a fixed time. In fact, there are numerous studies that show the negative effects of not having a consistent sleep-wake cycle. Some of these include restless sleep, irritability, decline in cognitive skills, inability to focus, headaches, and mood swings. Here’s an example of said study.

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“Cluttered space, cluttered mind.”

Solution: Keep your space neat and organised

Some people are messy, some people are plain chaotic. Then there are others with a 6-month old apple in their desk drawers that they occasionally like to take out and look at. Whichever category you fit in, you need to start cleaning and organising your space.

By space, I mean wherever that you usually spend time at. I work from home and I spend most of my time at home, so my home is my space. For you, it could be your work desk and your bedroom. Wherever your space is, you need to create a clean and organised environment whereby it’s conducive and productive to work in.

The How

Develop an organisation system

And I’m not talking about books and files on the floor, food wrappers and electronic devices on the desk.

The key here is to develop an organisation system that works for you. After years of trial and error, I’ve developed my own filing and labelling system. All my documents and papers are filed according to specific categories and within each file, each sub-category is labelled with a specific coloured label.

Example: ‘Certificates and Accolades’ / Purple file / Sub-categories: Preschool (red tags), Primary school (blue tags), etc, etc.

You may not work well with a system that is this rigid, but it works amazingly for me. You might prefer a simple papers in files, arranged neatly on the shelf and that’s perfectly fine. Develop your own signature organisation system and stick to it. That way you will always be able to locate a specific document since everything is always at the same exact spot and this strategy will save you time and energy spent on hunting a piece of paper through a sea of mess.

Less mess, less stress.

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Some of my favourite organisation tools in my arsenal

Deep clean once a week

If cleaning every day is not for you, then this is perfect. Deep cleaning basically involves your basic cleaning, but with heavy emphasis on details and maintenance.

For example, if you usually wash your dishes after each meal and dry them on the dish rack, then you should wash, clean and disinfect the dish rack once a week. If you vacuum the floor every couple of days, then deep clean your floor with strong cleaning mixtures and a mop with nylon scrub bristles. Once a week, disinfect your work desk, laptop, tablet, and everything else. You get the idea.

The thing is, if you deep clean once a week and everything is done thoroughly and well, you need only perform basic cleaning and maintenance every couple of days or so. This would make your life much simpler and free up ample time during the week to focus on other important tasks.

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Conclusion

I understand that for some of you, I might have unloaded a lot unto your shoulders. For others, all of these tips come as no surprise to you.

Whichever category you might fit into, I think we can all agree that adulting is hard and it’s difficult to always have your life together. In fact, I would argue that it’s impossible to always have your life together. That’s why it’s important that we take control of the aspects of our lives that we can control, and we start by taking each day and each habit at a time.

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  1. Ben

    Awesome article, my eyes and mind are opened with the facts and solutions that really answered my productivity issues for some time. Thank you so much Miriam, I would like to implement them soon.

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