5 Tips for Getting and Staying Organized

Ideas to consider for effective note-taking, journaling, and more.

Cameron Flint
4 min readJun 9, 2023
Photo by Tony Hand on Unsplash

Here is a small but potent collection of ideas that I’ve found to be particularly useful in organizing my work and personal life. They are relevant whether I’m organizing notes, files, or tasks, and they don’t depend on any particular tool.

Rule #1: Strictly separate personal data from work data.

Strictly separate your personal data so that you stay out of legal gray areas around ownership and never lose access to your data.

It’s reasonable to use separate devices for work and for personal tasks. Your company may claim ownership over the content stored on its devices, and/or you may lose access to that data when you leave the company. At the very least, protect yourself by using separate login accounts.

Rule #2: Keep a weekly journal.

Keep a weekly journal so that you have a convenient place to plan and log everyday activities. Context will naturally carry over between days, while each new week will present a chance to start fresh.

The weekly journal is powerful because it doesn’t require special tools or features. You can use anything from a physical journal, to a note-taking app, to a scratch piece of 8x11 paper, to a blank text file on your computer.

Rule #3: Have a small number of running lists.

Have a small handful of running lists that you frequently add to, sort, and pull from. You’ll have a trusted place to quickly capture new things, and revisit it often enough that tasks and ideas won’t get buried or forgotten.

Options abound for making lists, but complex task managers are usually not necessary. That said, apps that support sectioning a single list into groups, columns, or headings and that support reordering of items can be very helpful.

If you’re looking for a concrete way to get started, a weekly task list plus a sectioned backlog for everything else is a simple yet powerful pair.

Rule #4: Segregate your main activities into workspaces.

One way to stay organized is to make sure that the content pertaining to disparate work and life activities doesn’t get too jumbled together. The key is to separate these activities into just the right number of discrete areas — not too many, and not too few.

Feel free to start with just a single workspace or two, one each for life and work. As you notice yourself accumulating information across unrelated contexts, gradually split out new workspaces as needed. Make sure to promptly archive workspaces that are no longer active.

Here is one example of a personal/professional workspace breakdown:

  • (Personal) Coding, Writing, Traveling, and Health.
  • (Professional) Development, Training, Growth/Performance, Interviewing, Operations/On-Call, and Ad-Hoc.

Individual projects and areas usually make for good dividing lines provided they are course-grained enough. By contrast, “Meetings” would not be a good workspace because meetings are a common activity across an infinite number of contexts.

Rule #5: Keep important items visible at all times.

Keep important items visible at all times because as the old adage goes, out of sight is truly out of mind — especially in the digital realm.

For example:

  • If it’s an app you use every day, make sure its icon is pinned to your taskbar or placed on your desktop, the first page of your phone, etc.
  • If it’s a note you reference frequently, make sure it’s pinned to favorites where it’s visible in the sidebar at all times.
  • If it’s a reminder you can’t afford to miss, make sure it’s written on a sticky note that’s stuck to your monitor, bathroom mirror, front door, etc.
  • If it’s a website you open daily, make sure it’s bookmarked and that the bookmark bar is visible in your web browser.
  • If it’s a shortcut or snippet that you’re trying to learn, make sure you write it out and keep it within view until it becomes muscle-memory.
  • If it’s a list of truly-important todos or events for the day, make sure that list is visible every time you glance at your phone or your computer monitor.

Wrap-up

These have been five of my favorite rules of thumb when it comes to keeping my life and work organized. How about you, what techniques or principles do you swear by?

I enjoy learning about others’ approaches. If you’d like to leave them in the comments or share ideas via email at cameron_sea {at} fastmail {dot} com, I’d love to hear from you. Until next time!

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Cameron Flint

Diving deep on topics related to note-taking, personal information management, and software engineering, with occasional diversions to less nerdy things.