Streamline Your Life: Use Systems to Reduce Stress, Overcome Overwhelm, & Live Fully

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(This is Step 5 of theNeatNiche’s 5-Step ASK ME Process to Organize Anything. If you’re just tuning in, check out Step 1Step 2Step 3, & Step 4!)  

Sick and tired of cleaning up the same old messes over and over again? Do you wonder how others seem to stay organized while you’re constantly playing catch up? If you feel like there’s got to be a better way to keep things straight, there is. 

Systems are your answer, and they’re also the operative word for every organizing project.  

Simply defined, a system is a set of streamlined, repeatable steps that produce a consistent, reliable outcome. That’s exactly what you want if organization is your goal. A system is what allows you to stay organized, not just spend time getting thereEven a simple system can take you from stress to success (and in fact, with systems, simpler is always better). 

The good news is creating systems doesn’t have to be hard. You can create your own systems and start streamlining your life today. That’s exactly what we’re talking about in this post.  

In case you’re just tuning in to this series, creating systems is the fifth and final step in theNeatNiche’s proven, five-step system to organize anything. In other words, the ASK ME™ process is a system to help you get organized AND create systems that work for you. 

This repeatable organizing process is represented by the acronym ASK ME™. ASK ME™ stands for: 

A – Assess 

S – Sort 

K – Keep or let go 

M – Make a home 

E – Establish a system 

In this five-part series, we first talked about the importance of assessing your current situation to figure out what’s really going on, identifying your goals, and figuring out exactly what needs to change. Next, we talked about sorting, an often-missed but vital preparatory step of the organizing process that makes decision-making much easier. We then dug into the decision-making process with the “keep or let go” stage. Last time, we explored the process of making homes for your treasures, those things that have made the cut and have earned the right to stay in your space.  

Now that all your treasures have homes, you may be tempted to call your organizing project complete. Everything has been put away, so it’s over, right? Wrong. If you stop now, it’s likely you’ll fall back into the “Clutter Cycle” and find yourself stuck repeating the same old clean-up routine over and over again. 

Let’s dig into the crucial last step of the ASK ME™ process: how to ensure your spaces actually stay organized by creating simple systems for maintenance. This step is all about identifying the set of repeatable steps you will follow to keep your spaces and mind clear and organized – for good.  

Six Questions to Ask Yourself When Building Organizing Systems 

People who are organized follow systems. People who are disorganized do not have systems in place. Though there are many reasons why some people have systems and others do not, this simple truth remains. So, if you want to live a more organized life, you want to incorporate intentional systems into your daily routine. 

Effective systems answer the questions What, Who, When, Where, Why, and How. 

To determine what needs to happen to maintain your organized space, ask yourself the following questions. 

  1. What kinds of things come into this space regularly? 

If you’ve been following along with the ASK ME™ process, you now have homes for the things that should live in your space(s). However, it’s inevitable that new things will come in, too.  

Because they weren’t there when you made homes for things, as new things come in, they will either need to be purged, put away with other like items inside your recently-built set of “homes”, or, if appropriate homes don’t exist, the new items can be given their own new, specific homes (revisit the post on making homes if you need help).  

  1. Who is responsible for dealing with these things? 

When you share your space, the responsibility of maintaining it should be shared, too. The only way to ensure you and your family members or roommate(s) are on the same page about what that means is to talk about who’s doing what. Clear duties and responsibilities make it easy to see what’s working and where someone may need a little extra support. 

  1. When should this person take action? 

Often, the kinds of things that tend to pile up in our spaces require the same kind of action repeatedly. Think about opening the mail, paying bills, putting away groceries, taking care of laundry, swapping out seasonal wardrobes, etc.  

In addition to watching out for piles that may be accumulating (a sure sign you need a system), think about how often it would be helpful to take action on these items. Is mail collected daily? Weekly? Opened as soon as it comes in, or all at once when it’s time to pay bills every month?  

Once you determine how often you ideally will take action in a specific way to prevent things from building up, add reminders on your phone, set up recurring events on your electronic calendar, write your system on a family wall calendar or chore chart, and share your plan with anyone else in the home who will be impacted or whose help you’ll be requesting (a little accountability goes a long way!) 

  1. Where should these things go?  

Clearly knowing where incoming things are supposed to go can make the difference between organized spaces and disorganized piles – especially if you’re not the only one in your space.  

To keep postponed decisions from piling up, make sure everyone involved knows what part or steps of the system they are responsible for, how they are supposed to take action, and where they are supposed to put specific kinds of items. (If you haven’t already, add labels to your storage system to make it clear where everything belongs.)  

Also discuss who will be responsible for making homes for new items if things come in that don’t fit within your existing storage system. Once you start using your just-organized spaces, you’ll be infinitely glad you took the time to make a plan and share it. 

  1. Why is it important to act now 

For many of us, it’s hard to get motivated if we can’t see the benefit of taking action. But when we invest a little upfront effort, we can save ourselves countless hours in the long run. We need to be able to emotionally connect to the end goal, so, to get your head and heart in the game, ask yourself, “What’s in it for me? How will I benefit?”  

Think about all the ways that taking action and creating a consistently organized space will improve and add value to your life. What happens if you take consistent, proactive action? What happens if you delay or postpone the decision to act?  

Clearly knowing what you’ll gain and what you stand to lose can help you muster the energy to do the thing you might not love doing – you know you’ll love the result. 

  1. How will you know it’s time to tweak or refine the system?  

Now that you’ve built it, it’s time to practice using your new system! The only way to know if it works is to try. As you test-drive the steps you’ve identified, ask yourself how it’s going. There are almost always opportunities to streamline or improve the flow of your system or steps.  

There’s no reason to wait until your existing system is completely broken down before trying to fix it. Instead of allowing things to pile up, be on the lookout for the first sign that you need a tweak, adjustment, or even a new system or sub-system to ensure you’re aligned with your goal.  

Good indications it’s time for a system tweak or update: 

  • growing piles 
  • seeing certain kinds of items lingering on a surface  
  • noticing something doesn’t have a home 
  • experiencing a change of activities within a space 
  • identifying a new use for a specific space or storage area 

When you notice these things happening, remember your desired result: clear, organized spaces that allow you to live the life you want. Then look for ways to refine and improve your system to help you get there sooner and more smoothly. 

Asking yourself these six questions will clarify where a system is needed, what kind of action is required, who will do what, and when they will do it. It will also help you understand when it’s time to tweak or improve an existing system.  

Systemizing Mental Clutter 

If the “space” you’re organizing is your mental space, you may be wondering how to create a system to deal with the unrelenting swirl of thoughts.  

Though you can’t touch your thoughts like you can touch your stuff, the process for systemizing is still the same. First, consider the “homes” you’ve created for capturing your thoughts. Once you’ve stored them, what happens next? What further action do you need to take to move you towards your goals?  

If you aren’t in the habit of making time to evaluate your thoughts the same way you would review and purge a pile of physical stuff, simply creating time every day or at the beginning or end of every week to review what you’ve captured is an excellent first step. Put time in your schedule to review the list of captured thoughts in your phone at the end of each day, conduct a weekly review of a physical notebook you carry with you, or put a dedicated time in your electronic calendar to review your lists and brain dumps. 

Use this “thought organizing” time to purge old ideas off your list, prioritize, and figure out what needs to happen next to move you towards your goals. Sometimes, you may know exactly what you need to do to complete your to-do list, finish the project, or accomplish your goal. If that’s the case, great! Write down your plan. If you aren’t sure how to achieve your goal, just look for the next action step. What is one thing you can do to move you towards the goal?  

Once you have at least one action identified, go back to your calendar. It’s time to figure out when you will take action and how you will remind yourself to take it. Maybe that means electronic calendar reminders, phone alarms, sticky notes on your computer/wall/chair, or getting an accountability buddy involved. If you’re starting up a new system, there’s really no such thing as too many reminders (though you’ll want to pay attention to the ones that actually work for you and get rid of the rest as you streamline and refine). 

Customized Systems for Success 

As you start building systems for yourself, don’t underestimate the importance of ensuring your system is comfortable, intuitive, and easy for you to follow. Again, simpler is better (too many steps or too cumbersome, and you may give up before you have a chance to actually get in the habit of using your system!) 

Whether you’re organizing your stuff or your mental space, following tNN’s ASK ME™ methodology – Assessing, Sorting, Keeping or letting go, Making homes, & Establishing systems – you can create straightforward, simple, long-lasting organizing solutions for work, home, and life. 

The power to systemize is now in your hands. What will you create? 

Have you been following along in this five-post series? Got a burning organizing question about how to create your own systems for success? Ask us in the comments! 

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