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We’re always looking for the magic solution that will get us organized but as anyone who’s ever spent a small fortune at knows, finding the perfect planner isn’t going to alter our personality or our proclivity for procrastination. That’s why Clare Kumar, a productivity coach and professional organizer who takes an inclusive approach to her work, advises her clients to “tune in before you lean in.”
Kumar says the best way to work varies wildly from person to person: While some thrive amid organized chaos and having everything at their fingertips (see Sofia Coppola’s home office), others require very low visual stimulation, which means putting it all away. If you fall into the latter category, even some simple organization methods can be hard to follow since they may actually work against you.
Kumar suggests starting with an audit of the kinds of things that definitely don’t work. Perhaps it’s a dresser drawer that sticks, meaning your T-shirts never find their way home. She says these small annoyances — the little snags we don’t make time for — are the biggest clues to what needs to change in our environment and routine. “It's paying attention to Oh, I would put that away, but…,” says Kumar. “The ‘but’ is your clue to the problem to solve.”
Jessica Zhang is a student at Cornell University who recently finished her junior year in applied economics and management. In March 2020, she uploaded a college decision reaction video that garnered over 19.7 million views on TikTok. Now, she has over 500,000 followers and often uses her account to share tips for studying and how to excel at an Ivy League
“I don't know if I'm a naturally organized person but I do think that I need organization to function,” says Zhang of her approach. She’s found a handful of strategies that work for her, like using Notion for long-term planning. As a freshman, she put in all the classes she was planning to take for the next four years, which she says is one of the reasons she’ll be able to graduate a semester early. Now, at the start of each term, she enters every test and assignment into the app, along with its due date and weight. She also sets reminders. All this planning alone, she says, can take up to three days.
“It’s definitely a time-consuming process,” says Zhang, “but once I'm into the semester, it's so worth it.” She admits that when she first got to college, she was “missing assignments left and right” because she was always forgetting. So she focused on getting organized, a process that takes time and intention. For Zhang, organization is also inextricably linked to self-care. One of her biggest breakthroughs about productivity came to her in college: learning how to balance all the school with life. Today, she uses Google Calendar to schedule quality time with friends and make sure she’s leaving enough hours for sleep. “Organization, to me, means that I'm very intentional about how I spend my day-to-day,” says Zhang.
Kumar thinks of organization this way: “You’re being a designer and you’re designing for your wellbeing.” She wants us to liberate ourselves from anything that doesn’t serve us, which might mean discarding items you bought for organization systems you can’t seem to implement. At the end of the day, those may be the very things sabotaging your ability to get stuff done. “Don’t dismiss your preferences,” she says. “The more you understand yourself, the more you organize in a way that allows you to flow through your day. You want to eliminate all the speed bumps that are in your way.”
Ahead, more tips from Kumar and Zhang, and their top suggestions of items to help you on your organization and productivity journey.
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