How I Manage My Chaotic Life
Updated: Sep 9, 2022
Last week on LinkedIn I posted about how chaotic my life is. And the only way I manage is with Google Calendar. Which isn't entirely true. I use more than Google Calendar to organize my hectic life. But first, why is my life chaotic? Because I like having a variety of activities.
If you want to skip the background and see how I organize my life click [here].
I've always liked being busy and having different hobbies and extracurriculars. It's been like this since I was a kid. I always enjoyed doing as much as I could. Back then it was easy to keep track of everything, because my parents did it for me. Once I hit high school I kept my own schedule. I meticulously used my planner. To keep track of everything from school work like assignments and projects to my various extracurriculars like volunteering and track. I loved my planner. It was color-coated for the different subjects. I had a whole system. I was super organized. It was probably the only reason I graduated high school.
In college I changed my organization method. In college you may take four to five classes, if you are full-time. Some days you may have certain classes and other days you may have others. This was also around the time smartphones were becoming more common and better. I wanted to keep up with my analog planner but I kept forgetting it. Instead I decided to make everything digital. That way I could always have it with me and not have to worry about a huge physical planner.
So I switched to all digital tools. This was around the time I discovered the GTD system. I was a big fan of Thomas Frank and read his book 10 Steps to Earning Awesome Grades. I decided to combine and modify what I learned form them to suite my needs.
I've been using this system for the past 8 years and it's worked for me. I'm able to change it to suite my needs. It's not static and is everchanging. Because of this I'm able to do the following: work full-time as a paralegal, write weekly blog posts, post on LinkedIn, take care of my dog, workout 4 times a week, and work part-time as a tutor. This isn't to brag about "how busy I am". We are all busy. But as a background on what I've been able to accomplish because of this system.
Now, onto the system.
These are the core components of my system. I do have other apps/tools and workflow for things like: saving articles for later; databases for content creation; and optimizing my time. But right now I'll only be going into my basic productivity system.
The the core tools are:
Todo list - Todoist
Calendar - Google Calendar
Note taking system - Evernote
File manager - Google Drive
As a note these apps are "cross platform". Meaning you don't need to use a specific OS system like Mac or Apple. It can be used on all major devices (i.e. smartphones, tablets, and computers). These also are on the cloud and syncs anywhere whether I'm out and about on my phone or at home on my laptop.
Below are definitions the different types of apps/tools.
A task manager is a todo list app where you write down your to dos. It can either be digital or analog (physical, handwritten).
A calendar app is an application which lets you view the dates, create appointments, set reminders, and more.
A note taking system is a collective place (digital or analog) where you collect all your notes, whether personal or professional. Some examples of notes could be: meeting notes, grocery list, or a journal entry. It is anything you created with your own words
A file manager is either a physical (file cabinet) or digital (computer, flash drive) location where you store your documents and files.
The way I organize every tool is the same, I organize by "life buckets" (similar to the idea of hot spots). Or the different areas of my life. An example is: work, personal, my dog, hobbies, Etc. Along with a few others I haven't included.
Below are the types of organization (think of these as "folders") for each application:
Todo List - Projects
Calendar - Calendars
Note-taking - Folders
File Manager - Folders
To use an example, I'll be talking about the "work" bucket.
I have a work project in my to do app, a separate work calendar in my calendar app, a work folder in my note taking app, and lastly a work folder in my filing system. To keep organization simple I assign one color to each individual bucket/folder. That color is the same no matter what application I am using. For work it's a teal color. My calendar for work is teal, my project in my to do list is teal, and the folder in my filing system is teal. My note taking app does not support color coding sadly.
Now that I've explained how I organize everything. I'll go into what I use each application for. This goes over the basics. Each app has more features that I won't be explaining in detail.
Todo List - Todoist
For this I write down every single thing I have to do. It may seem excessive but unless I write it down I will instantly forget it. This is a common symptom of my ADHD (which I have). I will write everything down from big tasks like sending my resume for a job application to simple tasks like taking out the trash. Anything I can think of that's a task (a single thing to complete) it goes into my todo list. Each todo item is separated into those core buckets I discussed earlier.
Everyday I check my todo list using the Today View. This gives me a glance at everything I need to do that day. I can also view by date, project, and priority as well. I'm able to check my todo list on the go as well using the app. I don't forget anything important as long as it's in this app.
Calendar - Google Calendar
Anytime I have something that's time and date based like an appointment. I write it down in my calendar app. When looking at my calendar at a glance I can see what I have coming up and what areas of my life it revolves around.
For each event I typically like to include the location so when I'm driving I can quickly map out where I need to go. I also include other details in the description like reference number or who I'm meeting with. I can remember appointments, calls or when I'm hanging out with my friends. I even have a calendar dedicated to my dog for when she needs her vaccinations or scheduling vet appointments.
Note taking - Evernote
This includes anything that's not a PDF or word document. When I mean everything else I mean it. It's any content that's written by me. As I've stated before this is organized into my "life buckets". But another powerful feature of this app is the ability to search. If I need to search for anything it's easy.
In each note you can include images, voice recordings, sketches along with general text. You can do basic formatting: bold, italics, underline, colors, bullet points, lists and numbered lists.
Here are the types of things I keep here:
Draft content (blog posts, newsletter, and LinkedIn posts)
Book suggestions for my book club
And anything else I need to possible reference later.
I've been an Evernote user for years and it holds anything I need to reference. I rarely delete anything. If I want to "archive" a note, it goes into a single Archive notebook. It's my second brain. It holds information I don't have to memorize myself.
This includes any documents and spreadsheets. I include google docs, sheets and PDF documents. There's nothing fancy here. On the top level of organizing I organize by my "life buckets". And under each one I include sub folders (folders within folders) for project type. For instance in my "Luna" folder I have folders called "Vet Records", "Dog License" and "Misc".
Anytime I get a physical document I may need to reference later. Like car registration, medical paperwork, or receipts. I scan the paper and then upload it to Google Drive. For security I change my password frequently and have other techniques I use. Then I usually shred the original paper unless it's something important like tax documents. I'm able to access anything scanned anytime using my phone. I can also search for anything using Google's powerful search system.
This is my productivity system at least the core components. I know for other systems people organize it differently. But this is what I found to work for me and has worked for years. I like color coding. It makes it easy to look at everything at a glance to see how much work I have to do in each bucket of my life.
This is the only reason I'm able to manage everything I do in life and not forget anything. If you feel like your life is chaotic I would suggest having these core tools. Whether it be the use of apps/websites or analog. Whatever works better for you. But if that seems too much for you I would suggest at least having a calendar to keep track of appointments.
It takes time to know what works for you. Experiment with different tools and systems until you find one that works for you. And once you do stick with it.
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