50 Productive Things To Do to Organize Your Life

by Ramesh Natarajan on November 9, 2011

Learning and exploring Linux and open source technologies requires lot of free time in hand.

The best way to get free time is to eliminate unnecessary things from your life, and try to organize your life.

Even if you adapt handful of ideas from this list, you’ve taken a huge step towards organizing your life and being productive.

  1. Organize your schedule using Google Calendar. Add only the things that you have to absolutely do at a certain time in the calendar. Calendar is not a place to organize your to-do list.
  2. Organize your tasks using a To-Do List Manager.
  3. Adapt a highly flexible productivity framework like Getting Things Done
  4. For your bigger projects that contains several dependent tasks, use a free project management software.
  5. When you focus on getting things done, turn-off everything else. Put your phone in silent mode, disconnect internet, log-out of IM. While getting things done, your focus should only be on that action, and nothing else. Be present in everything you do. This is true whether you are working on a critical project, or playing with your kids.
  6. Throw away all the junk foods from your refrigerator. Go to grocery store and purchase fresh and healthy food. Learn how to read the Nutrition Facts Label effectively.
  7. Exercise regularly. Don’t exercise because you have to, do it because it is fun to do. If you hate to go to gym, run outside, or pick a sport that you enjoy and play regularly.
  8. Create routines for everything. Try to do the chores exactly at the same day and time every week. For example, laundry routine, house cleaning routine, digital clean-up routine, etc. Add these routines to your calender to commit yourself to do it at that time.
  9. Organize all your digital pictures and videos online. Most of you might be taking 100′s of pictures every month, and might not even go back and view it later. I recommend that you have two sets of pictures and videos. The first is a big set contains all the pictures and videos you take. The second is a small set that contains only the pictures and videos that you like the most. I usually do this every month. So, I have the pictures and videos organized by month in two sets.
  10. Use dual monitors. Once you start using two monitors, you’ll never go back to using single monitor ever again.
  11. Automate all your bill payments. Enroll for online bill pay with your banking. If your credit card company (or anybody who sends you a statement) have a automatic payment option, where they can take money directly from your bank account, enroll for that.
  12. Identify and eliminate conflicts within yourself. To be productive it is important to make peace with yourself. If you decide not to organize certain aspects of your life, it is fine, but should not feel bad when you think about it. It should naturally feel Ok for you not to do certain things. Identifying the inner conflicts is the hard part, as for most part, it is not obvious. A simple and critical example is your work. If your current employer/job doesn’t match what you think as a job that you should be doing, you have a conflict here. Unless you resolve this, it is hard to be productive and organize your life.
  13. To be productive (in both personal life and work life), you should do what you love, and love what you do. This is true on big things like working on a multi-million dollar project, or on small things like cleaning-up your closet.
  14. Define a clear outcome for everything you do. Don’t do anything without having a clear idea on what you expect out of it. You need to know the outcome you expect even before you perform the task.
  15. To be productive in front of the computer, you need to learn the keyboard shortcuts of your most frequently used applications.
  16. Donate things that you don’t use to a charity organization of your choice. You also get tax benefit from this.
  17. Take some time to think about how you can make some of your chores easy to perform. Do you have the most efficient tools to clean your floor, tiles, etc. If not, research on those and buy appropriate tools and accessories that are required to make these jobs easier.
  18. Create a list of the best restaurants in your area that you want to try out. Later when you feel like eating out, don’t go to the same restaurant you go every time. Instead, pick one from the list you created.
  19. Go digital. Scan all your papers and covert them to PDF. Use a high speed bulk double-side scanner. I use Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500 Instant PDF Sheet-Fed Scanner for PC and I love it.
  20. For those documents that still need to be kept as paper (for example, legal documents), use a good filling cabinet to organize them in folders that are labeled by alphabets. I recommend any HON filling cabinets, they are well made and worth the money you spend on it. I have the HON 510 Series Drawer Full-Suspension Letter File and I highly recommended it.
  21. If there are items that you keep purchasing at a certain interval, use the Amazon Subscribe and Save service that will automatically deliver the items that you choose on an on-going basis at regular intervals. As an added bonus, you’ll also get additional savings on these items.
  22. Every item in your home needs to have its own place. Take time to assign a place for every item in your home. If you see things scatter around in your house, don’t just pick it up and stuff it somewhere, instead assign a place for it, and tell everybody in your family that this item needs to go to that specific location. This way everybody in your family knows where to look for that specific item when they are searching for it.
  23. Doing nothing and just relaxing is extremely productive. You need to unwind frequently to be productive. Watching TV doesn’t belong in this category.
  24. Stop watching TV! If that is not possible, at least plan to reduce your TV watching time. List out your favorites shows and record them to DVR, and watch them later, by skipping the commercials.
  25. During the weekends, take time to plan for next week, review your calendar appointments, review your goal list, and create appropriate tasks for next week. This is also a good time to organize the cloths and shoes that you are planning to wear next week, and make sure they are nicely folded or hanged and ready to go when want it fast next week.
  26. Your wallet is not the place to dump everything. Clean-up your wallet and keep only the things you need in it. I have only three items in my slim wallet–driver license, one credit card, and a 20 dollar bill.
  27. Don’t run around in the last minute trying to figure out what gifts to get for your loved ones for their birthday. Take time to think about this now. Once you finalize it, and add it to your calendar with the specific item name that you want to purchase. When the time comes, you just have to order it for their birthday.
  28. Learn and educate yourself constantly. Create an Amazon Wish List and add the books that you want to read at some point.
  29. Ask yourself this question: “If I had only one year to live, how would I use the next 365 days?”. If you take time to give this a deep thought, you’ll absolutely be productive and do only the most important thing in your life every minute of your day.
  30. Pick one room (or closet) at a time, and clean it up. The best and productive way to clean-up a mess is: 1) Empty everything from the room/closet to the floor 2) Group the items into three categories–Need it, Don’t need it, May be. 3) Organize the items from “Need it” group back in the room/closet 4) Put the items from “Don’t need it” group in a box and donate it. 5) Put the items from “May be” group in a box and store it in the garage. If you don’t open the “May be” box in the next 6 months, donate it.
  31. Get a big inbox (or a heavy duty wall hanger) and mount it on the inside of your front door (or next to the front door). When you come inside your home, hang your bags, keys, cellphones, etc in this inbox/hanger. Also, if you have to take something when you to go office tomorrow, and don’t want to forget it, hang it immediately in this inbox/hanger next to the front door. This way when you leave, you’ll always check this and don’t forget to take the things you need.
  32. Schedule an appointment for your annual health checkup, dental checkup and vision checkup. Add this to your calendar so that you don’t forget to do this every year.
  33. More organizing tools: Get rid of physical receipts and business cards using shoeboxed, Pageonce – organize online accounts, Zefty – Manage kids allowances (virtual, no money involved), evite - For party planning and invitations.
  34. Play around with these tools and choose only the things that fits your need: Gurulib - organize your home library, Bookbump, Tune-up – organize your music collections.
  35. Take time to think about how you like to manage your finance. Make it a point to save at least 25% of your monthly income into a dedicated retirement savings account.
  36. If you have valuable things that you don’t need it anymore, sell it online on craigslist or ebay.
  37. Project Gutenberg has over 36,000 free ebooks that can be downloaded to your PC, or mobile devices. Browse their top 100 ebooks list.
  38. Browse the diy network and bookmark the projects that you are interested in doing it yourself, and do those later.
  39. Don’t multitask. There is a misunderstanding that doing multiple tasks at once is very productive. This is not true. When you muti-task, there is no focus. For example, when you try to do three things at once, it might take 30 mins to complete all those three tasks. If you do those three tasks one-by-one, it might still take the same 30 mins to complete all of them. But, there is a big difference. The quality of the work when you multi-task is not the same as the quality of the work when you just focus on one task at a time.
  40. Eliminate paper statements. Are you still getting your cell phone statements (and other statements) in postal mail? Pretty much every consumer businesses offers estatements. But you have to sign-up for those. Anytime you get a paper statement in paper mail, go to their website and sign-up for estatement.
  41. Organize all your bookmarks online using delicious.
  42. Schedule an automatic backup of your system. Use windows backup software, or linux backup solutions accordingly.
  43. Backup your critical documents online. Dropbox offers 2GB of free online storage. Once you drop a file in dropbox, you can work on them like a local file from Windows, Linux, Mac, iPad, iPhone, Android and Blackberry.
  44. More online to-do list management software: Play around with these and choose the one that fits your need. VitaList for GTD, Now Do This (I like this, it is very simple), zenbe list
  45. Take baby steps. If you’ve never organized your life before, it will be overwhelming to even start. All you have to do is take one baby step towards organizing and being productive. Pick the one small thing that you want to organize today. It may just be cleaning up and organizing the items on your desk. Even when you start small, have a system in place, so that next time when your desk gets messed-up, you can clean it up in seconds without even thinking about it. This is the fundamental of kaizen philosophy. Read the “One small step can change your life, The Kaizen Way book” to understand how to apply this philosophy in your day to day activities.
  46. Create a dedicated emergency backpack. When there is an emergency you won’t have time to collect all the necessary document and rush to hospital. So, take time now to assign a backpack dedicated for emergency purpose. Create a emergency info sheet that contains your SSN number, name, dob, age, birthdate, medical issue list, etc, for each and every one of your family member. Take a copy of your license, insurance, and related documents that might be required for emergency hospital visit and keep that in the backpack. Put anything else that you think is necessary for emergency in this backpack. I even have a cellphone charger in this backpack which I never take it out for day-to-day use.
  47. There are lot of ways to get free book, or swap your existing books for something you like. Explore services like Bookmooch, Paper Back Swap.
  48. Even if you don’t feel like doing any of the items in this list, don’t just browse random funny videos online. Watch educational and inspiring videos at TED talks. One of these videos might give you the inspiration to do meaningful work that will keep you productive.
  49. If you want to be productive and organize your life, you should focus on identifying the time wasters in your life and eliminate it. This is an ongoing process for me, but I’ve got very good at this. Not watching TV was the biggest improvement I’ve made in my life. It just gave me so much free time that I can productively use on things that makes my life better. Some other typical time wasters that you should reduce or eliminate are: Internet surfing, chatting online with friends, social media websites, email, shopping, useless long water-cooler discussions, etc.
  50. Focus only on the essentials. We have way too many projects at work and home. Some of them are essential and critical that will have a big impact. But most of them are useless and we just do it thinking those are critical. If you want to be productive, you should focus only on the high impact essential projects that will enhance your life (and the life of everybody around you). You should focus on simplifying your life. Once you pair it down to the essentials, you’ll love life and every body around you, and you’ll be extremely productive and happy in both work and personal life.

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{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

1 benjamin November 9, 2011 at 1:04 am

50 is a lot.

2 Raven November 9, 2011 at 2:04 am

You sound like my wife !!

3 vikas November 9, 2011 at 4:28 am

Really nice thanks Ramesh Sir

4 n/a November 9, 2011 at 4:42 am

Evernote – FTW!

5 Fabrice November 9, 2011 at 5:04 am

I agree with most of your tips, it’s a real change of your way to live your life BUT…
Do not use DROPBOX !!!
DROPBOX is easy to use but they alse put all your files on their server for 30days after deleting them so you can take it back… How long did they let them on ?
In the same time, here comme what they said in their policy:
« By submitting your stuff to the Services, you grant us (and those we work with to provide the Services) worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable rights to use, copy, distribute, prepare derivative works (such as translations or format conversions) of, perform, or publicly display that stuff to the extent reasonably necessary for the Service. »

6 raghunath rao November 9, 2011 at 5:24 am

Very good tips

7 Madharasan November 9, 2011 at 6:28 am

Very wonderful suggestions. Thank you Ramesh :)

I am not sure if I can follow all these 50 points.

Let me try at least a dozen from this week.

8 Tom November 9, 2011 at 11:55 am

Thanks for the great ideas.

As for the above Dropbox comment, it is a scare tactic, perhaps posted by one of their competitors. Here’s what their privacy policy really says:

« To be clear, aside from the rare exceptions we identify in our Privacy Policy, no matter how the Services change, we won’t share your content with others, including law enforcement, for any purpose unless you direct us to. »

9 Karthik.P.R November 9, 2011 at 3:19 pm

Thanks for these wondeful piece of information.

Will try to follow those things :)

10 Anand November 9, 2011 at 3:20 pm

Ramesh,

Great suggestion, I was browsing internet for linux command and ended reading your 50 Productive tips for life.

Good one, I will share this post with my friends.

With Thanks,

Anand Manuel

11 balmar November 9, 2011 at 3:41 pm

As for organizing tools, I have been using Emacs org mode for a few months. In fact, I’m only using it with a Vim plugin and thus have limited features. Still, I’m absolutely amazed. The idea is to keep your calendar, todo list, and much more in a single text file (can be edited by any editor in case of emergency). The format of the text file is absolutely human readable, but the Emacs/Vim plugin or smartphone apps convert it into a full-featured organizer, with folding rules very much following how human mind works. Plus plenty of extras in terms of todos, dates, links to other files, or even tables or document processing under Emacs. Then, that single text file governing your whole life can be synchronized among your boxes / smartphones using Dropbox / rsync, etc. :-) Making notes of complex projects is also very effective with org mode.

12 Júlio Hoffimann Mendes November 9, 2011 at 4:43 pm

Hi Ramesh,

Very good tips, thank you for share them.

Regards,
Júlio.

13 Hubert November 10, 2011 at 5:39 am

I had hope that you stay close to open source movement. But you pointed many comercial solutions. It’s not a problem, but…
Have you read the terms of use of shoeboxed? They can change anything in that terms without informing you. Shoeboxed is very interesting, but I can’t agree to such conditions.
Is there any good alternative?
Great article, btw ;)

14 Anonymous November 10, 2011 at 6:21 am

Good post… Pleasant surprise from the usual stuff (which are also very good!).
Thanks.

15 Arun Saha November 10, 2011 at 2:57 pm

The list is good, but I think it has scope to be reduced in size. There are couple of repetitions. Once condensed, it would be very useful.

16 Ashish Sood November 10, 2011 at 3:35 pm

Thanks for this , But very hard to adopt these thing in daily life , After spending 12 hour on job . i dont think you have spare time left to do these thing. but still i have to say Very nice and different article .

Thanks
Ashish Sood

17 SFSecurity November 10, 2011 at 11:20 pm

Couple of minor quibbles. Item number 45 Take baby steps should be the very first item in the list. Next, your point about picking at least one thing to do as you say in item 48 should be second on the list. I’d suggest that people do one from the list and then when they have that under control and do it automatically, add one more.

Next, your suggestion about Dropbox, while based on the good idea of making your data available everywhere, is a potential disaster in the making as Dropbox is not secure. See the criticism section of: https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Dropbox_%28service%29.

Beware of any cloud service that offers deduplication if you have PHI or PII data as that service requires their system to be able to read your files, a clear violation of HIPAA and many US state laws.

Except for these points, a most excellent list to pick and chose from.

18 Pankaj Kumar November 11, 2011 at 2:44 am

very nice…. included almost everything…
thanks ramesh

19 debasis November 13, 2011 at 4:04 am

Thanks a lot
For the valuables

Debasis

20 SURESH KUMAR November 17, 2011 at 12:38 am

Ramesh Nice Work.

21 Zachary Mance November 23, 2011 at 1:28 pm

Very good article Ramesh. I’m surprised that nothing was mentioned about getting off FaceBook. I believe it can be worse or even more addicting than T.V.

Also, Google Reader is a great tool when it comes to searching for specific things on Craigslist. Just a thought :)

I look forward to your future articles.

22 usama April 27, 2012 at 3:28 am

nice work

23 Gordon May 31, 2012 at 7:51 am

Great tips Ramesh, one one most practical and relevant lists on organisation/ productivity I have seen, keep up the good work!

24 Bass July 2, 2012 at 1:23 am

Thanks! This’s a really great article :)

25 Anonymous August 9, 2012 at 11:47 am

Thanks for the article very insightful for someone like me who’s semi organized.

26 Layla November 4, 2012 at 9:02 pm

All of these tips sound wonderful. But not for a perfectionist. Because you’re going to burn out. You need to relax and turn your brain off; watch TV sometimes even. I think I burn out once a week at least.

27 Mr ANON December 10, 2012 at 5:05 pm

I don’t really agree with eliminating time wasters or cutting back on things such as chatting with friends or water cooler discussions.

Social time is important, a career is worthless without real friends. Time wasters should be cut back on, but don’t have to be removed if you enjoy them imo

28 Noman December 28, 2013 at 12:46 am

Very wonderful Post. Thank you Ramesh

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