We all know that looming feeling of chaos–scattered papers, unfinished to-do lists, dozens of unread emails...the list goes on. Sometimes it just feels like you can’t keep track of anything when things get busy at work.
To stop that feeling, we have to learn how to stay organized. It’s not easy, but it’s definitely worth it to prevent that pit from arising in the bottom of your stomach when you lose an important client receipt because you have absolutely no idea where you left it.
Wherever you are on the organization scale, you can surely learn a thing or two from these busy women’s tips on how to stay on top of everything:
1. Nicole Helen Brunner
Nicole Helen Brunner is the owner of MostRecklessly, a ceramic studio based in Brooklyn, New York. She stays incredibly busy hand-making ceramics everyday for restaurants and homes. Since her creations are in such high-demand, she’s had to learn how to keep track of how well she’s meeting her long-term goals.
“Every quarter, I take a few days to have a brainstorming session, gather all my sketches, create lists and goals of what I want to accomplish, and how to do so,” Brunner says. “Once I refine those, I write them on a big piece of paper that gets hung on the wall. Every week or so, I will make notes to indicate how far along I am on completing them.”
2. Lorie Marrero
There is nothing Lorie Marrero hasn’t done. She founded the Clutter Diet, an online organizing program, wrote two books about organization, served as the national spokesperson for Goodwill Industries International, and has written for numerous publications. AKA she’s made an entire career off of being super organized, so it’s safe to say we can learn from her.
So how does she do it? She thinks of her “future self.” She takes care of small tasks in the moment so she can focus on larger tasks in a cleaner environment. “If I walk through a room and see a mess, I will say,‘I bet if I do those dishes now my future self will be so much happier later,’” Marrero says. “That motivates me to do those favors for my future self.”
3. Mary Callahan Erdoes
Mary Callahan Erdoes is the CEO of asset management at JP Morgan Chase & Co. Her organization secret is staying on top of her calendar. She says that you want to own your calendar, and you should never let your calendar own you.
“Calendar management is the single most important thing, especially as you get busy and have more responsibilities,” Erdoes says. “You have to be maniacally focused on owning your calendar, on having the lists of what you need from other people and what other people need from you. What are the short-term issues that need to be dealt with? What are the long-term issues? Unless you can stay on top of that religiously, it will end up owning you, and that’s not a way to go about staying organized and being on top of things.”
4. Tracy Anderson
Tracy Anderson is a fitness entrepreneur and author. She created her own fitness method for staying in shape and has trained several high-profile celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Shakira, and Jennifer Lopez. She equates staying organized with a game of chess.
“I have a lot of little notebooks,” Anderson says. “I do a lot of little notes and ideas, and then I figure out which ones I’m going to keep, which ones I’m going to save for later, and how I’m going to craft the bigger piece out of many of them. I grew up as a chess player, so I think that’s part of it—I need to see all of the pieces or the obstacles and then I’ll figure it out for myself.”
5. Liz Wesel
Liz Wesel is the cofounder and CEO of WayUp, a marketplace designed to help college students and recent graduates to get hired. CNN has named the platform as one of the 30 most innovative companies changing the world. She stays organized by focusing on her email inbox.
“Like many other CEOs, I use my inbox as my to-do list,” Wesel says. “I don’t let myself go to sleep unless all of my to-do’s are done, which means that my inbox is empty. If something isn’t urgent, I use the Boomerang extension for Gmail to make sure that I send non-urgent things to be returned to my inbox the next day or week.”
6. Lori Cheek
Lori Cheek is a former architect who indulged her entrepreneurial side by creating Cheek’d, a mobile dating app. She’s been mentioned in books, podcasts, on TV, and even created a documentary series to show the struggles of founding a startup. She stays organized by minimizing distractions—something I can relate to since I usually throw my phone into another room when I’m working.
“One of my favorite productivity hacks comes with the help of an app called StayFocusd,” Cheek says. “When working from home, Facebook and Twitter can be a major distraction. StayFocusd helps avoid these distractions by restricting the amount of time you can spend on them. The Google Chrome extension lets you set specific time restrictions on certain websites with a 10-minute default option. Once your time has been used up, the sites you have selected to block can’t be accessed for the remainder of the day.”
7. Lisa Chu
Lisa Chu is a designer turned business owner and CEO of Black N Bianco, a children’s apparel brand. Being a business owner, she knows a huge key to staying organized is de-stressing and taking care of mental and physical health.
“Staying focused throughout my work day can sometimes be difficult due to stress,” Chu says. “What I find to be very effective is taking a 10-minute break every two to three hours. It helps avoid my brain from burning out and doing some light exercise really helps prevent me from feeling tired.”
8. Rachel Blumenthal
Rachel Blumenthal is the CEO and founder of two companies—Rockets of Awesome, a children’s clothing brand, and Cricket’s Circle, a resource for everything related to kids. Her two brainchildren are killin’ the game, all while she takes care of her own two real children in New York. She takes the tried and true organization route—Post-It notes and writing on her hand.
She writes the “three to eight things that [she] absolutely has to complete” on just one sticky note. “A Post-It is great because it can only fit so many to-dos,” Blumenthal says. But she doesn’t stop there. She uses her own hand as a note sometimes, jotting down ideas “in between [her] thumb and pointer finger [so she can] look at it all day long and can’t miss it.”
9. Prerna Gupta
Prerna Gupta describes herself as a serial entrepreneur. She was the cofounder and CEO of Khush, a music app developer, is the CEO of Hooked, a chat stories app, and has written for tons of publications. She also stays organized by managing her email inbox and using it as a to-do list.
She flags important emails that warrant a response as “unread” and uses calendar reminders to prioritize urgent tasks. “If tasks suddenly pile up, I’ll open an untitled text file and keep a running to-do list there,” Gupta says. “But I generally try to leave the text file untitled and [don’t] save it, which helps me ensure I power through everything in a timely fashion!”
10. Riana Lynn
Riana Lynn is a leader in food technology and a STEM mentor. She was the CEO of FoodTrace, the former startup that collected data on thousands of businesses and explored the global supply chain. She’s learned that organization sometimes doesn’t come easily to leaders, and that you have to prioritize self-care in order to succeed and stay productive.
“Managing a day-to-day workflow and to-do lists takes months and years to become good at as a business leader,” Lynn says. “Sleep and good food is the first key to all of this.”
11. Kathryn Minshew
Kathryn Minshew is the CEO and co-founder of The Muse, the career development platform, and author of Wall Street Journal national best-seller The New Rules of Work: The Modern Playbook for Navigating Your Career. She even worked on HPV vaccine introduction in Rwanda with the Clinton Health Access Initiative before her career at The Muse.
She manages her time wisely by taking advantage of the hours when she has the highest energy levels. By optimizing her day, she can concentrate on the most important tasks during peak hours and save meetings for other times of the day. “I find it's been immensely helpful for me to pay attention to when in the day I'm most productive (what hours, under what conditions) and aggressively guard that time for focused work.”
12. Sheryl Sandberg
It’s no secret that Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg stays pretty busy. In addition to her work at Facebook, she’s also the founder of LeanIn.org. Although she works for a digital company, she prefers traditional paper and pen when it comes to being organized.
Miguel Helft describes her ways for Fortune: “Her days are a flurry of meetings that she runs with the help of a decidedly non-digital spiral-bound notebook. On it, she keeps lists of discussion points and action items. She crosses them off one by one, and once every item on a page is checked, she rips the page off and moves to the next. If every item is done 10 minutes into an hour-long meeting, the meeting is over.
13. Steph Taylor
Steph Taylor is the founder of The Sugarfree Box, a food subscription box, and Wildbloom, a wellness marketing consultancy. She also hosts digital marketing workshops for students and is a podcast producer. Juggling all of these projects, she acquires lots and lots of paper—and it’s her goal to reduce the amount.
“With paperwork, I have started scanning in useful documents,” Taylor says. “Receipts have been a huge one—they form a lot of desk clutter, so I've started using the Xero app to photograph each receipt and enter it into my accounting system. Then, I throw it in the trash straight away.”