By Lorraine Murphy
Let’s get started on this journey to organisational bliss with a bit of a chat about what it actually means to be organised.
Take a moment to conjure up a vision of the type of human you think of when I say ‘an organised person’. I would venture to guess that it may not be the most positive of images – am I right?
I know I used to believe that an organised person was someone whose Filofax was permanently tucked under their arm, and whose their life was governed by said Filofax. Flash forward a few years, and you could sub in Google Calendar for the leather-bound organiser.
Or maybe it’s someone whose entire day is scheduled down to the last minute, and they move robotically from one appointment to the next, with little joy involved in the whole exercise.
When we think of organised people, we don’t necessarily think of dynamic, fun individuals. It’s as if we have deeply ingrained archetypes of what it means to be organised, and if we ourselves don’t match one of those archetypes, then all hope is lost and we’ll never be able to wrangle a sense of order into our lives. I would even venture to say that until very recently, being organised was not cool!
There has been something of a zeitgeist when it comes to organisation in recent years, which again underlines how challenging daily life has become for the vast majority of us. For the reasons I mentioned in the previous chapter, we desperately want to feel more in control of our lives.
Books like The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Getting Things Done have become global bestsellers, and there has been a dramatic increase in the popularity of get-your-life-sorted products such as those you find on the shelves of kikki.K. It’s becoming rather trendy to be organised, and – as a self-confessed organisational nerd – I couldn’t be happier about that!
Being organised does not equate to being obsessed. And nor should it.
If you are feeling organised, you will probably feel like:
• You have a strong working knowledge of what’s coming up today, this week and this month.
• You’re approaching your days and tasks with a sense of purpose.
• Your ‘monkey mind’ is kept in check as you have a handle on your to-do list.
• You can enjoy periods of downtime as you know you have factored in when you’re going to achieve your key priorities.
• You’re generally using your time and energy towards productive means.
• You’re in control and periods of being overwhelmed are not the norm for you.
• Generally speaking, your default setting is one of calm.
This isn’t you right now?
Please don’t worry. That’s why we’re spending this time together and no doubt the reason you picked up this book.
In the following chapters, we’re going to delve into various areas of organisation – from routines and to-do lists to priority management. If you’ve read my first book, Remarkability, you’ll know that I pride myself on being organised – and in fact I credit that approach with much of my success and enjoyment with my business and other areas of my life.
I have spent a lot of time studying, practising and thinking about how to be more organised – and in all of that, I have realised that there is one uniting principle that underpins the concept of being an organised person. It’s a common thread that I’ve seen not just in the individual tactics of being organised, but also in real-life examples of the successful people I interviewed for this book.
All the daily planners, diarising, routines and to-do lists in the world won’t help us if we don’t grasp this one principle. Until we ‘get’ it, our approach to organisation will at best be disjointed and at worst result in failure – which again reinforces our belief that we can never be one of those ‘organised types’.
In fact, I believe that if you can grasp this one principle and practise it every single day of your life, you will dramatically reduce the need for any of the other tips and tricks we’ll go through together in the pages to come.
So, let me introduce …
It’s become a popular joke to say, ‘That will be Future Me’s problem’ when we have created an especially tricky problem that we will ultimately need to deal with.
For example, I order that extra bottle of wine knowing that I have an important meeting the next morning. That’s Future Lorraine’s problem. Then when the next morning rolls around and I’m hating my life hard, I really wish that Past Lorraine had given me some consideration approximately ten hours beforehand.
Or I might procrastinate on starting work on the PowerPoint presentation for a new business offer, knowing that I made a commitment to send it to the client the following week. I’ll potter about in my email inbox, check social media and tidy my desk – and generally work on trivial, non-time-sensitive tasks – all the while telling myself that Future Lorraine can deal with the presentation next week. And, yep, you guessed it – next week Future Lorraine is not the world’s biggest fan of Past Lorraine!
If we flip this joke on its head and use it to our advantage, the results can be staggering.
Rather than deferring tasks to our Future Selves, if we can instead take care of our Future Selves by making their lives that little bit easier, life overall starts to flow more smoothly.
I had an ‘aha’ moment a few months ago that all the ‘stuff’ I do to stay organised – the meal planning, the structured to-do lists, the task batching, the habit layering – all if it, without exception, is geared at helping my Future Self.
Conversely, in the times I’m feeling stressed, overwhelmed, behind schedule or under pressure, it’s because in some way I didn’t watch out for my Future Self.
I’ll give you two quite different examples from just the last two months as I wrote this chapter.
Myself and the team had commissioned a major piece of research, and were about to share it with key clients and media at two breakfast events – first in Sydney and then in Melbourne.
On the morning of the Sydney event, I had my hair and make-up done at the dining table while I did some last-minute swotting on my notes. I was very nervous about this first event as we had 120 paying guests and my keynote presentation was mostly made up of complex charts and statistics, which is not my usual speaking style. It was also my first time presenting the data.
We had a lot of content to get through, so we made it very clear in communication in the run-up to the day itself that the presentation would be starting at 7.30 a.m. – and so guests needed to be smack-bang on time.
Even though the hair and make-up artist was on my doorstep at 6 a.m., I hadn’t factored in enough time for her to work her magic, eat some breakfast, get changed and walk the ten minutes to the venue. I had planned to arrive at the hotel just before 7 a.m., but I was now running twenty minutes behind schedule. I knew there was a venue filling up with people – and I wasn’t there to help the team with the final stages of setting up.
At 7.10 a.m. I raced downstairs and as I did so I smashed my brand new (and expensive) make-up compact. I was so wound up as I left the house that I forgot my phone – so I had to turn back when I was halfway to the hotel to get it. I arrived at 7.25 a.m. and found that the hotel staff hadn’t got the room set up yet, so had to switch into full-on ‘we need shit done RIGHT NOW!’ mode.
We finally started at 7.45 a.m., and I felt frazzled and distracted as I took to the stage – not to mention feeling rather embarrassed that after the guests had turned up on time, it was the event organisers who were running late.
Thankfully, I settled down once we got underway; however, I was angry with myself for not being kinder to Future Lorraine by allowing more time and getting up half an hour earlier. This in turn would have meant I was kinder to my team and the venue staff, and everyone’s morning would have been dramatically more pleasant.
A non-business related – and totally superficial – example happened just last week. I was due to fly to Melbourne for three intense days of meetings and my hair needed a solid wash. As my meetings on the first day were quite informal, I decided not to bother going to the effort of washing my hair on the morning I flew out of Sydney and instead scraped it up into a bun.
Washing my hair would be Future Lorraine’s problem and I’d do it the following morning while I was in Melbourne. This meant I had to pack the various products and accoutrements required for the hair-washing exercise, which made my suitcase heavier.
The next morning rolled around and (of course) Melbourne offered one of its signature chilly mornings. I hauled myself out of bed and braved the cold bathroom, then found that the apartment I was staying in had probably the worst water pressure I’d experienced in recent memory. It took three times as long to wash my hair, and I was cursing myself for not just doing it the day before in the comfort of my balmy Sydney bathroom and powerful shower.
When it came to drying my hair, I found that the hairdryer provided in the apartment didn’t do heat – so I dried my hair with cold air. This again took triple the amount of time it usually does and blasting my wet hair with chilly air on a cold day wasn’t exactly a pleasant experience!
The result of me deferring a pretty unremarkable task to Future Lorraine was that I lost thirty minutes on that morning. This meant I had to grab a quick breakfast in the lobby of the corporate company with which I was meeting, while making some last tweaks to my presentation as I ate, rather than enjoying my usual go-to breakfast spot in Melbourne and adding some more creative flourishes to my slides. The hair- washing experience at home would have been infinitely more pleasant than the one I had in Melbourne, and I also had to lug a couple of kilos of hair products around with me in my suitcase.
These two situations proved to me yet again that when I act in the present moment and just do something then and there – no matter how small it might be – it saves my Future Self hassle. And in just that simple action, I immediately feel more on top of things.
I have built this concept into every area of my life:
• I pull out all the clothes I need for the following day before I go to bed every night – including exercise gear if that’s on the day’s agenda.
• I have that difficult business conversation today, so that Future Lorraine doesn’t arrive in the office tomorrow or next week with her shoulders sagging knowing that she needs to do it.
• I wash up the items I’ve used to prepare dinner as I use them, so that after dinner Future Lorraine can just kick back and relax.
• I make a start on a presentation that’s due days before I need to – even if it’s just creating the PowerPoint document, titling the slides and saving it.
• I book regular appointments a year in advance so that Future Lorraine doesn’t have to go to the dentist at a stupidly disruptive time like 2 p.m. on a Tuesday because that’s the only time the dentist now has available.
All of these things ladder up to a general sense of calm – and the more I embed the principle of the Future Self into my life, the calmer life gets. And it’s not just me who has embraced it. Some of the most successful people I know do the very same thing – even if they don’t quite realise that what they’re actually doing is looking after their Future Selves.
My dear friend Lisa Messenger pre-arranges for one of her team to put a green smoothie on her desk when she arrives in the office in the morning. She describes it as ‘her only Anna Wintour thing’. Knowing that she’ll have that hit of goodness sets her up for the day, and means that Future Lisa doesn’t need to be as concerned about the food on offer at the various functions she attends most days.
Tony Robbins states that one of his biggest learnings has been to never leave the scene of setting a goal without doing one thing to get him closer to that goal. It might be putting a meeting in his diary or calling a potential mentor to make first contact with them – anything to start some flow. He knows that by taking the very first – and the most difficult – step towards that goal, Future Tony will find it easier to keep the momentum going and see that goal through to reality.
As we embark on this adventure towards organisation together, we’ll work through a wide range of tools that you can apply to your life straight away to help you get back in the driving seat. You’ll see that the Future Self Principle will be woven throughout many of these tools.
The GRO list:
Marketing Executive and Head of the Realm at Hachette Australia Books. Mutant power: Aggressive humour. Lifelong Trekkie (I don’t find that offensive) comic book reader and former proud bookseller. Likes: Literary, contemporary and speculative fiction. Dislikes: Haters. Ideal date: My birthday.