There is an overwhelming – and growing – body of research that shows a strong link between clutter and decreased mental, emotional and even physical health. In addition, a particularly strong connection has been made between clutter and depression. While many of these studies may be directed at physical clutter, a lack of organization, in general, can have much the same effect. Now that we know that we need to get organized for the health of it, the only question that remains is how to achieve it?

The less organized you are, the more time you spend hunting and searching for things in frustration, which can lead to stress. A lack of organization can also cause you to be constantly late or miss important deadlines, which can also create a great deal of stress and extinguish your motivation. Stress, in turn, also has a profound impact on your mental, emotional and even physical health.

Why Stress Kills Success

One of the main symptoms of stress is an inability to even take the first step in tackling a project or challenge. This means that stress itself can make you paralyzed and unable to be productive. A lack of productivity creates more frustration and stress. It’s an unhealthy cycle that can seem impossible to break free of.

Many people turn to yoga, meditation or therapy as a means of decreasing their stress levels. If your stress is the result of a lack of organization, then these methods aren’t addressing the actual cause of your stress.

You can meditate all you want, but it’s not going to help keep you from missing important deadlines, be on time to meetings or find documents when you need them. That means your stress levels are just going to keep rising no matter how much deep breathing you do.

The best way to break free of the cycle is by learning to use tools that can help keep you organized, increase productivity and decrease your stress levels. Then that yoga and meditation have a chance to work.

Busy moms, dads, employees, and executives are also not the only ones that feel the stress of being disorganized.

College students, in particular, are entering a world where they not only need to manage their coursework but often have to find ways of squeezing in tasks that their parents may have previously handled such as paying bills, grocery shopping, doing laundry or cleaning.

That comes on top of needing to manage a part-time job, personal relationships with friends, family members, and even romantic interests. That’s a lot to try and juggle.

While the freedom that college students experience over high school students may increase exponentially, so do their responsibilities. This can make college a highly stressful experience that good skills and tools for organization can help keep in check.

Organizing for Success

Getting organized can seem like a monumental task, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are some tips to help you get organized and stay on track, whether you are a student, employee or business owner.

1. Set Realistic Goals

There is probably no quicker way to derail your efforts at change than to quickly set impossible or unmanageable goals. While there is certainly a time and place for setting big, hairy, audacious goals, those are generally best reserved for when you have already gained some momentum.

When severe hoarders are ready to start tackling their mess, therapists often encourage them to simply get rid of one thing.

Remember that stress itself can keep you from taking the first step, so the more overwhelmed you feel, the more important it is to make your first goal a small, realistic, manageable one.

The Kaizen approach can be particularly helpful for individuals struggling to take the first step or set manageable goals.

2. Let Technology Help You

From automating several personal tasks to using a digital assistant to set up appointments and reminders, using the right technology will significantly streamline the process of getting and staying organized.

The good news is, most phones, tablets, and laptops already come with the programs you need to get and stay organized. Best of all, they generally come with a digital assistant that can help.

Information can also be taken from one app and quickly put into another. For instance, you can have your digital assistant set up an appointment for you using an address in your contacts and remind you about it a few hours in advance.

At that same time, it can even check traffic conditions and give you an estimate of how long it will take to get there. If you need to get milk at the store, you can even ask your digital assistant to remind you when you are passing near a store.

3. Know Yourself 

Another way to quickly derail your progress is to try and use an organizational approach that doesn’t work for you. Some people feel the most confident when every moment of their day is written down in their planners and scheduled, while others feel suffocated by such rigidity.

For those that love having a detailed plan and full schedule-be careful to leave time for the unexpected. Some of the most successful people plan downtime into their day or leave standing holes in their schedules to deal with the tasks that might come up.

If you are more the type of person that wants to be free to “go with the flow” or only do what you feel like doing, a Kanban-style planner might be better for you. Instead of breaking your tasks down by time, you can break them down by type and do them as the mood strikes. If the mood doesn’t strike, Kanban offers a method of dealing with that as well.

The longer a task goes unfinished, the higher it climbs on the priority list until it becomes a “like it or not” priority.

Getting where you want to go is never going to happen without a plan. A goal is a place you want to get to, a plan is the detailed means of getting there. The bigger your goal, the more detailed your plan needs to be for getting there.

Rome wasn’t built in a day. While there is almost no place you can’t get to if you set your mind to it, the longest journey can take thousands of steps to achieve.

It still begins with a first one.

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