Never underestimate the benefits of being organized. To be honest, growing up, I was a bit of a slob. But I’ve now discovered that organizing and structuring my environment in a mindful way has helped every aspect of my life. (Plus, it’s nice to know where I can find my shoes before a run.)

You don’t need to go overboard with organization. All that’s required is five to ten minutes per day to create an environment that’s free from clutter. In this section, we cover a variety of small habits that will help you bring more organization into your life without making you feel overwhelmed.

#75. Fix Your Broken Windows

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Type: Support habit

Best time to complete: Anytime

Frequency: Daily

Benefit: To be clear, I’m not talking about the windows in your home. Instead, it’s the broken windows theory mentioned in Part IV that discussed how making small cosmetic changes to your surroundings will create an atmosphere that prevents a feeling of stress or overwhelm.

Examples of “broken windows” include:

•      Unmade beds
•      Piles of unsorted laundry
•      Dishes in the sink
•      Messy kitchen
•      Piles of mail, bills, and random paperwork
•      Children’s toys, clothing, and similar items
•      Full trash and recycling bins

Sure, you might think these small messes aren’t a big deal—but surrounding yourself with piles of clutter will often create a stressed, overwhelmed feeling about your life. If you take a few minutes in the morning and evening to fix your “broken windows,” then you’ll create a positive mindset that will carry over into other areas.

Description: Your choice on when to fix these broken windows depends on your personal preference. If you’d like to start the day feeling organized, then make it part of a morning stack. But if you don’t like to end the day with “open loops,” then complete this habit as part of an end-of-the-day stack.

Once you’ve picked a time, create a small routine where you take care of the messes that cause you the most stress. For example, if you come down in the morning and see a pile of dishes in the sink and paperwork on a table, spend a few minutes cleaning/organizing these items before starting your workday.

#76. Make Your Bed

Type: Keystone habit

Best time to complete: Morning

Frequency: Daily

Benefit: I hate writing about habits that seem obvious, like brushing your teeth, eating your vegetables, or making your bed. But in life, sometimes the smallest of actions can have a powerful impact on your daily success.

In a commencement speech at the University of Texas, US Navy Admiral William H. McCraven said the following to the graduating class:

If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed. If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task, and another, and another. And by the end of the day that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed.

So, yes, making your bed might seem like a “little” thing, but completing this habit daily can provide many positive benefits:

•      Creating a positive mood where every subsequent time you enter the room your mood will lighten as you see this fresh and clean area.
•      Decreasing your levels of stress because you’ve reduced one less “thing” to worry about.
•      Creating a sense of accomplishment. Productivity is simply stringing together accomplishments. By making your bed, you quickly check off the first task on your list and build momentum for the rest of the day.
•      Reducing any type of embarrassment when someone visits your home and the room looks messy.

Yes, making your bed seems like a major habit, but just remember the advice from Admiral McCraven: “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.”

Description: I won’t tell you “how to make your bed” because I’m sure this is a skill that we’ve all learned at some point in our lives. But if you get stuck, I recommend watching this video, courtesy of Howcast.

#77. Clean One Refrigerator Shelf

Type: Elephant habit

Best time to complete: Anytime

Frequency: Weekly

Benefit: If you have a large family (or simply live with others), then your refrigerator is chock full of leftovers, perished food, and old condiments. And if it hasn’t been cleaned recently, there are probably a variety of dips and spills that are caked on to a diamond-like hardness.

Put simply, refrigerators can become a disgusting mess if they aren’t cleaned on a regular basis.

That’s why I recommend a revolving “one shelf a week” cleaning habit for your fridge. This frequency means you will basically clean your entire fridge once a month, but you’ll do it piecemeal, where you’re constantly sorting items and getting rid of items that nobody is interested in eating or drinking.

Description: Once a week, identify a section of your refrigerator to organize. Get started by emptying that section. Look at the expiration dates and condition of these items, then throw out anything that’s questionable. If you feel an item is about to expire, then make a mental note to eat or prepare it for an upcoming meal.

Next, clean this area of the refrigerator with an all-purpose spray and dry the shelf.

Finally, place the items you decide to keep back on the shelf in an organized order.

#78. Leave Shoes at the Door

Type: Support habit

Best time to complete: Anytime

Frequency: Daily

Benefit: Taking off your shoes before entering a home is a custom in countries like Japan, which shows respect for the home and its owners. But it’s also a great habit to build because it stops the spread of germs that your shoes pick up, and it prevents you from tracking in elements like rain, snow, dirt, or mud.

Description: When you come home, take off your shoes and put them in a designated spot, such as a corner or on a mat. Encourage guests and others in your household to do the same. There is a chance that you’ll be asked why this is necessary. You can respond with some easily understandable reasons, such as:

•      Our shoes make immediate contact with the ground, and germs are sure to exist there. By walking through our house or someone else’s with shoes on, we’re exposing ourselves to far more germs and bacteria than we might realize.
•      Shoes are bound to get dirty. Even if you’re just walking up to your front door, you can catch some dirt. By taking off your shoes as soon as you enter, you can help prevent further uncleanliness from spreading in your house.
•      By having a designated area for shoes in your front entrance, you can reduce stress in tracking them down. This is especially beneficial for those with young children who are prone to misplacing things.

This simple habit can do wonders for your efforts to keep your home clean and organized. And the best part? It takes only a few seconds to do whenever you walk through your door.

#79. Identify a “Home Base” for Every Possession

Type: Elephant habit

Best time to complete: Anytime

Frequency: Daily to weekly

Benefit: “A place for everything and everything in its place.” This quote best describes the goal of any organization system—to have a specific location for every item in your home. This is important because knowing where all items belong removes the guesswork when cleaning and organizing items in your home.

Description: Here is a small list of ideas for where to place the common items in your home:

•      Car and house keys on a hook next to your front door
•      Purses, backpacks, and briefcases in a section near the front of your home
•      Shoes in your garage, “mud room,” or a location where it doesn’t matter that you track in water, dirt, or grass
•      Personal items (e.g., wallets, watches, and wearable devices) on a nightstand
•      Cell phones and tablets “docked” in charging stations
•      Children’s toys in bins, shelves, and buckets
•      Detergents, fabric softeners, and other dangerous chemicals in an elevated spot away from children
•      Mops, brooms, and other cleaning items on designated hooks
•      Tools (e.g., hammers, wrenches, screwdrivers, drills, and tape measure) in a toolbox or shed
•      Out-of-season items in your attic or basement

Sure, I’ll admit some of these locations might seem like common sense, but a surprising number of people store their items in a haphazard manner and then wonder why they can’t find anything. By designating a “home base” for each item, you’ll make it much easier to clean and organize your home.

#80. Put Away Three Items

Type: Elephant habit

Best time to complete: Anytime

Frequency: Daily (one to four times)

Benefit: Clutter doesn’t happen all at once. It’s built slowly over time because people don’t take an extra minute to put away their possessions. But when you commit to putting away three or more items every few hours, you’ll minimize the level of mess in your life.

Description: First, make sure that every item in your home has a designated spot (as described in the previous habit). In other words, don’t do what most people do by throwing items into a “junk drawer.” That’s not cleaning. That’s taking random items and putting them somewhere else.

The next step is to create a habit based on if-then statements. Your goal here is to think of new set of rules where you carry items with you whenever entering a new room.

For instance, my wife and I have a rule in our house: whenever one of us needs to carry an item up or down the stairs, we leave it by the landing. Then, when one of us walks up the stairs, we grab this item and put it away in its “home base.” Our logic is that since we’re already making the trip, we might as well bring something with us.

Finally, you should practice this habit throughout the day. If you commit to putting items away as you move through your home, you’ll never fall into the trap of being surrounded by piles of mess and assorted clutter.

#81. Eliminate One Item

Type: Elephant habit

Best time to complete: Anytime

Frequency: Daily

Benefit: We just talked about putting away items throughout the day. But perhaps instead of putting away an item, you should just get rid of it.

There are a few benefits of eliminating “stuff” from your life:

•      You can make money by selling items in Facebook groups (see habit #29), on Craigslist, or at a garage sale that you run every year.
•      You can receive a tax deduction that you’ll report at the end of the year.
•      You are helping another person get a free or heavily discounted item that they need.
•      You get to clear up space in your home by removing clutter that is no longer needed.
•      You will become more selective about the items you choose to purchase in the future.

Bottom line: if you regularly get rid of your clutter, you can reduce stress and receive a few financial benefits along the way.

Description: First, you should create a three-box system for items that you’d like to eliminate. Label them as Sell, Donate, and Toss.

Next, while cleaning and organizing your home, look for items that you no longer need, like old clothes that don’t fit, or the bread maker gift that you never used, or toys that your children have outgrown.

You can make quick decisions here by asking yourself two questions: “When was the last I used this item?” and “Why am I still keeping it?”

If it’s been over a year since you’ve used this item and you can’t come up with a valid reason for why you’re holding on to it, then get rid of it.

#82. Clean Your Office Desk

Type: Elephant habit

Best time to complete: Afternoon

Frequency: Daily

Benefit: Many people spend a significant amount of time at their desks, so it makes sense to create an organized system to allow you to quickly find any item. Unfortunately, this can be hard to do if you’re constantly pulling out files, taking notes, and leaving items all over your desk.

That’s why I recommend a simple habit: at the end of each day, take five minutes to organize your desk. This way, when you arrive in the morning, you’re not surrounded by piles of junk and assorted clutter.

Description: This is a straightforward seven-step process:

1.      Remove at least one nonessential item from your desk (repeat daily until you’ve completely decluttered your workspace).
2.      Put away supplies in your desk drawer.
3.      Keep cords organized using twist ties or even bread tags.
4.      Throw away any trash. (Make sure that a trash can is within reach.)
5.      Go through your physical inbox, scan what can be scanned, and store them digitally.
6.      Set aside five minutes and clean your desk before you officially end work. (Keep cleaning materials within reach.)
7.      Finish by wiping down your desk.

This is perfect for anyone who struggles with distraction or overwhelm while working. If you do it regularly, you will start each day with a clean space that allows you to focus on the day’s most important tasks.

#83. File Away Loose Paperwork

Type: Elephant habit

Best time to complete: Anytime

Frequency: Daily or weekly

Benefit: It’s easy to find yourself surrounded by piles of disorganized paperwork, like bills, magazines, junk mail, and important documents. This creates a problem because when you need to find something, you’ll waste time sorting through this mess. If you want to improve your organizational habits, then you need to commit to the practice of filing paperwork daily or during a single block of time at the end of the week.

Description: First, you should create a basic filing system that you use to organize your paperwork. (Here’s a link to 18 items that I recommend for your home office.)

Next, you should create the following folders that are broken down into a few key categories:

Legal records

•      Birth certificate
•      Social Security cards
•      Passports
•      Property deeds
•      Car titles
•      Wills

Financial records

•      Loan records
•      Lease records
•      Banking records
•      Credit card statements
•      Investment records
•      Tax returns
•      Income and expense records

Insurance records

•      Medical records
•      Auto, life, and home insurance policies

Miscellaneous records

•      Major purchase/repair documents
•      Warranties
•      Owner’s manuals
•      Education records
•      Employment records

The golden rule for paperwork (or at least when it comes to the government) is to hold on to your paperwork for seven years. Whether you follow this advice or not, you should at least put files from a previous year into a box that’s put into storage for at least a few years.

Finally, after setting up this folder system, you should follow this five-step process whenever sorting paperwork:

1.      Put bills (and other items that require a response) into a pile that you’ll process each week.
2.      File all important items into their designated folders.
3.      Create a pile of advertisements or coupons that interest you. Put them in a folder that you review once or twice a month.
4.      Shred or rip up any advertisements, credit card offers, and other pieces of junk mail, or keep them in a pile that will remind you to remove yourself from their mailing list (see habit #17).
5.      Read cards and personal letters. Put in a place where you can respond and hold on to them.

It’s not hard to prevent those piles of paperwork. The trick is to organize them on a daily or weekly basis. Simply follow the five-step process that I just outlined to forever eliminate this one challenge.

#84. Scan your Paperwork

Type: Elephant habit

Best time to complete: Anytime

Frequency: Daily or weekly

Benefit: There is nothing “wrong” with storing paperwork in a filing cabinet like I just described. However, if you only keep hard copies, then you risk losing them forever if you ever have a fire or flood in your home. If you’re someone who deals with a lot of important documents, then you should consider scanning and storing them in a digital Cloud-based service.

Description: First, I recommend picking one of the three high-speed scanners that I recommend here. I like these options because they simplify the scanning process by processing multiple sheets of paper instead of the one-page-at-a-time system like you get with cheaper scanners. Plus, each document is fully searchable, which means you can use keywords or tags to quickly find a specific item.

Next, after digitizing these documents, you should store them in a Cloud-based service like Dropbox, Box, or Google Drive. This gives you full access to all your important paperwork, regardless of where you are in the world.

Third, if you have a huge amount of paper clutter, or you are creating a digital filing system from scratch, then this will be a long project that could take an entire day. But you can also create an elephant habit where you commit to scanning paperwork for five to ten minutes a day. That way the task won’t seem dull and monotonous if you’re breaking it down into small chunks.

Here’s the process that I recommend for scanning these documents:

•      Be sure to always keep physical copies of important documents like tax returns, marriage certificates, birth certificates, social security information, investment files, and wills.
•      Use your speed scanners to create a digital copy of your paperwork. Depending on the type of scanner you use and number of documents you’re working with, this process can take anywhere from a few days to a month. Just keep at it until all of your paperwork has been digitized.
•      Use a standard naming convention so you can easily find these files. You could add a description of the item with the date it was received. Example: Costco_Receipt_2_7_17.

You don’t have to be surrounded by file cabinets full of paperwork. Instead, you can digitize and store the documents that you receive daily. Not only will this declutter your life, but it also creates an organizational system where you can quickly locate any important document.

#85. Use a Standard File Naming Convention

Type: Support habit

Best time to complete: Anytime

Frequency: Daily

Benefit: One of my pet peeves is receiving a file from someone without a clearly defined name, like an image titled IMG07663. I store many files on my computer, so I often use the search function to find an item (if I can’t immediately find it in the folder where it should be located).

The reason I get peevish about a bad file name is when I save it to my computer, I know it might get lost in my folders—unless I take that extra step to use a good naming convention. That’s why I recommend building the habit of creating a standardized process for naming your files.

Description: Here is a simple three-step process to follow whenever you’re adding a file to your computer:

1.      Identify the specific project this file is attached to (e.g., work, hobbies, or taxes).
2.      Describe the purpose of this document (e.g., mortgage statement, blog post, book chapter, or marathon training plan).
3.      Include the version number if you’re working on something that has many drafts (e.g., (rough, second, or final draft).

To give you an idea of how this looks, as I type these words, the version of this section is titled Habit_Stacking_Part_9_First_Draft.

As you can imagine, the folder where I store these files is full of lots of items, but with a few seconds of searching, I can immediately locate this item. (Plus, if I ever accidentally save it to the wrong folder, I can quickly locate it by running a search on my computer.)

You don’t need to use my naming convention, but I do recommend having a consistent format for your files that will simplify the process for locating and identifying all of your important digital documents.

#86. Declutter Your Smart Phone

Type: Elephant habit

Best time to complete: Anytime

Frequency: Weekly or monthly

Benefit: Even though phone storage capacity is constantly increasing, many people often run out of space. If you want to keep your smartphone responsive and avoid the dreaded “Storage Almost Full” error message, then you should consider getting rid of the electronic clutter that you’ve built up over the years.

Description: Depending on the frequency with which you add items to your phone, I recommend doing the following either every week or month. Here is a simple five-step process to keep your smartphone up-to-date and free from clutter.

1.      Close down open apps. Some people don’t realize that when you open a new app, the old app stays open in the background. This increases the amount of energy your device uses, which is one reason why your battery might be constantly drained. I suggest you make it a daily or weekly habit to close all your open apps.
2.      Delete the apps you don’t use. If you can’t remember why (or when) you downloaded an app, then get rid of it. Odds are you won’t miss it.
3.      Get rid of your content, including photos, videos, and documents. You can store these items in Cloud-based services like Dropbox. Only keep the items that you refer to constantly (like your favorite videos or pictures of your children).
4.      Delete old podcast episodes or audiobooks. If you’re like me, then you listen to a lot of audio content. Unfortunately, these files take up a large amount of space and aren’t automatically deleted when you’ve finished them. You occasionally need to go into your preferred podcast and audiobook apps to get rid of old files.
5.      Organize your music files. Music files can be another big space killer on a phone. Rather than downloading music files to your phone, you should consider taking advantage of streaming services like Pandora, Spotify, and Apple Music.

Nowadays, almost everyone uses a cell phone. Unfortunately, since it’s a digital device and there is no visible sign of clutter, it’s easy to store too many apps, photos, and files. This slows down the processing speed and maxes out your storage.

The problem here is that when you don’t have enough space on your phone, you’ll feel the “need” to upgrade to the next model. So you end up paying for another gadget that increases your debt. But you can fight this problem by completing the five-step habit that I just detailed every week or month to delete unused items from your phone.

#87. Maintain a Cloud-Based To-Do List

Type: Support habit

Best time to complete: Anytime

Frequency: Daily

Benefit: One of the biggest ways to become disorganized is to keep your to-do lists on random scraps of paper or Post-it notes. A simple fix for this is to keep a list in a Cloud-based service, which allows you to easily add items, review your daily tasks, and check off errands that you’ve completed.

Not only will this help your personal productivity, but it also allows you to access this list if you’re on different devices (like your phone, tablet, or computer), which is a great way to keep your life organized.

Description: This is a simple task. Simply download one of these apps and use it for all of your daily tasks and chores:

•      Todoist (this is my favorite)
•      Omni Focus
•      Nozbe
•      Remember the Milk
•      Wunderlist

Once you’ve installed one of these apps, add all your tasks and projects to it. (In the free companion website, I provide a quick tutorial on how I use the Todoist app for all my tasks.)

#88. Store Your Great Ideas

Type: Keystone habit

Best time to complete: Anytime

Frequency: Daily

Benefit: We all have brilliant ideas from time to time. Unfortunately, we’ll often jot them down on the nearest item, like a scrap of paper. This is a dangerous practice for two reasons: 1. It’s easy to lose single pieces of paper. 2. You don’t have a regular system to review these ideas.

My suggestion is to choose a single device where you capture all of your thoughts, musings, and ideas. That way, whenever inspiration strikes, you can write it down in a device that you know will be reviewed later.

Description: This is a habit of process. In other words, you should train yourself (by using if-then statements) that whenever an idea occurs to immediately jot it down in your idea-capture device.

Now, there is a challenge here: we live in a modern world that’s full of amazing options for taking notes and storing ideas. I would argue that these multiple options are a drawback because when you need to find a specific note, you’ll need to go through all the programs that you regularly use. That’s why I recommend a simple tool like Evernote that allows you to store all your content in one place that can be accessed anywhere in the world.

Besides that, there are a few other options like:

•      Moleskine Journal
•      Microsoft One Note
•      Google Docs
•      Nozbe

We’ve all had the occasional “million-dollar idea.” Unfortunately, it’s easy to fail to take action because you don’t have a system for storing and processing these thoughts. If you create a habit where you put all your ideas into a central location, then you’ll have an ongoing archive of all your great thoughts.

#89. Plan a Morning “Getting out the Door” Routine

Type: Support habit

Best time to complete: Evening

Frequency: Daily

Benefit: There are few things worse (from a psychological standpoint) than starting the day feeling rushed and disorganized. If you’re running around in the morning like a headless chicken, then these feelings will create unnecessary stress that can negatively impact your workday.

Fortunately, there’s a simple solution. In the evening, compile all the items you’ll need for the next day and put them into a central location. Then, when you wake up in the morning, every item you need will be in this predesignated spot waiting for you to leave.

Description: This is another habit that’s simple to build. In the hour before going to bed, think of the items that you’ll need for the next day and then spend five minutes putting them together.

These can include:

•      Paperwork
•      Briefcase or backpack
•      Schoolbooks
•      Laptop or tablet
•      Personal items like your wallet, keys, purse, or cell phone
•      Lunch, snacks, water bottle, and travel mug
•      Gym clothes
•      Items for your children (toys, clothes, formula or stored breast milk)

Start by reviewing your calendar for the next day, then think about what you’ll need for each activity and appointment, and finally put these items in the same location where you put other items, like your wallet, purse, and car keys.

If you can commit to building this evening habit, then you’ll eliminate the stress that many feel in the morning as they get ready for work.

#90. Say “No”

Type: Elephant habit

Best time to complete: Anytime

Frequency: Daily

Benefit: Saying “no” is something many people—me included—struggle with. Sometimes it’s hard to turn down someone because you want to be a nice, helpful person. On the other hand, if you’re committed to many important goals, then sometimes it’s necessary to decline any offer that doesn’t align with your desired outcomes. These are the times when you need to say no.

Derek Sivers puts it perfectly: “If you’re not saying ‘HELL YEAH!’ about something, say ‘no.’”

Description: This is another “as needed” type of habit where you’ll do it only when faced with a pitch or offer that doesn’t match what you’d like to do in life. I recommend a four-step process for declining offers in a tactful manner.

First off, you must embrace the idea that it’s okay to say no to people. I have found most folks are sympathetic when it comes to being turned down. And, in my opinion, anyone who gets mad at you for not being interested in an offer is someone you don’t want in your life to begin with.

Second, you need to examine the opportunity cost of every offer. I’ve learned the hard way that saying yes to one thing means you say no to something else. That means if you agree to an additional task or project, then this will eat into the time you can dedicate to your family, goals, health, and work projects. Plus, it can cause additional stress and anxiety.

Third, you should create a list of criteria of what types of opportunities you’ll accept (or won’t accept). For instance, in the past few months, I’ve created a rule that I’ll only be interested in projects that will help me write and promote my books. Anything that doesn’t fit this requirement gets an automatic no.

Finally, saying no to somebody doesn’t mean you have to be rude about it. I recommend a few simple rules for managing your correspondence with people:

•      Create a buffer. If you’re someone who receives a lot of pitches and offers, then you should consider creating a “contact you” page that clearly lists what types of offers you’ll accept and what you’re not interested in seeing. (Here’s an example of the one that I use.)
•      Give a reason why. You are not making excuses here—you’re providing a value reason why you’re unable to respond to an offer. Usually a statement like this works well: “I am working on the __ project right now and simply don’t have time to work with you on ___.”
•      Make your decision quickly. Don’t waste time analyzing each opportunity. Like the quote from before, if something isn’t an automatic “hell yeah,” then your default decision is to say no.
•      Encourage a follow up (optional). If you feel a project isn’t right for you now, but you might be interesting in the future, then encourage the person to follow up down the road. What I like to do is give a specific date range of when I might be interested. Then I’ll leave it up to the other person to contact me again.

Saying no is a crucial habit to develop. When you do this enough, you can open the door wider for those projects and opportunities that can truly add value to your life and the important people in it.