One of the most effective ways to make our lives easier is to get organized, but even simplifying your life can feel like a colossal task. But it doesn’t have to – especially if you sort out one thing at a time. Here are a few ways to help whip your day into shape:

Get a Notebook

This will contain your life in black and white. It should include:

  • Your daily action plan (must-do list)
  • Daily lists
  • Important contact information
  • Personal information.

Think of it as your traveling resource. Be sure to choose a notebook that’s portable enough to keep on you at all times. Small spiral notebooks are great because you can slide a pen in the spiral so it’s always ready to go.

Make a Daily Action Plan

Write a list of all the things you need to do every day — the basics that don’t really change from day to day. This is your main list. From there you can write a special daily list for other errands and activities. Digital PDAs and some cell phones include calendar features that can synchronize with your home computer, which makes for a very handy backup.

Make Your Space “User-Friendly”

Think about how you use a space and then think about the things you need to have around you to make it happen. Those are your priority items and they should all be within arm’s reach. Everything else is superfluous and can be cleared out, making for more space and less physical clutter. Take the kitchen, for instance. Consider installing a pegboard for all the cooking utensils you use most often.

Minimize Your Stuff

If you find that you’re surrounded by a lot of things you simply don’t use, get rid of them. Chances are you’ll never miss them. Items can be given away, donated, or simply recycled. Magazines are a good example of how things can pile up. One great idea for losing the clutter while keeping the good stuff is to go through one magazine a day and tear out any articles you want to keep. You can store those in a folder and throw out the rest. One rule of thumb: If a magazine is more than 4 months old, throw it out. It’s old news anyway.

File it Away

A filing cabinet is a great way to keep all of your paperwork (bills, receipts, bank statements, etc) in one spot, so you can easily access them whenever you need to. Create folders for relevant categories like “Auto Repairs,” “Checking & Savings,” or “Utilities.” Once you decide what the categories are, alphabetize them to make filing and retrieving that much easier. In many cases, a two-drawer model will suffice. Any more than that and it becomes an archive, and it’s just more stuff to sort through. Keep files for the past two years in the filing cabinet. The rest can be stored in boxes in a less critical space, like the attic or garage — just as long as they’re still accessible should you ever need them. A helpful rule of thumb: 80% of what is put in filing systems is never looked at again, so be critical about what you decide to keep since statistics show you’ll probably never use that information.

Automate Your Bill Paying

A great way to save time and relieve stress with personal finances is to institute automatic deductions from your checking account. Most monthly bills like utilities, mortgage payments and newspaper subscriptions can be handled this way. Most companies offer ways to set this up online or over the phone. Once you’ve signed up you’re notified each month of the amount of the deduction so you can subtract that figure from your checking account. In other words, no more stamps and overdue notices!

Make a Mail Date

Set a time each day to open the mail, or make a weekly appointment with yourself (and don’t break it!) to open all your mail. If there’s a bill, and if you can, pay it immediately. That way you won’t have to remember what’s been paid and what hasn’t. When you pick up your mail, give it a quick sort through and throw out any junk mail immediately. It’ll leave you with a smaller pile to work with, and it won’t distract you from attending to the things that matter most.