Last updated: Apr 21, 2008
It is possible to organize your life. Try these tricks from life coach M.J. Ryan.


Yesterday I got an e-mail from a woman named Karen, who asked, “Where do you find time to raise a child, work with clients, write, and keep house?” This question isnt just about being overly busy. Its about feeling like you are drowning. From CEOs to entrepreneurs, recording artists to stay-at-home moms, so many people ask me the same question: How do I keep my head above water in the flood of to-dos in the 21st century?

Over the years, Ive hit on three cardinal rules that can help even the most overwhelmed person take control of her life.

1. Set your agenda (or else others will do it for you). Living an organized life these days means focusing on what matters and letting go of the rest. You cant possibly help every colleague brainstorm for a new project or respond to all your e-mail. Start saying no, and watch how quickly you get things done.

2. Shorten your list. A client of mine who used to work at Microsoft told me that Steve Ballmer, when he took over as CEO, called a companywide meeting to reveal his secret to success. Every day, he would make a to-do list topped by the four things he really wanted to get done. Then hed throw away the rest of the list. If Microsofts CEO can accomplish only four things in a day, what makes you any different?

3. Keep your to-dos together. If youve got to give a speech and pick up your dry cleaning, why make separate lists? Its confusing, and it wastes time. You dont lead two lives, right? Try sticking to one list, organizing it by tasks that have dates and times attached.

And, please, dont get carried away with five-color systems and fancy software. Use an everyday planner or e-mail calendar thats easy for you. The simpler the system, the more likely you are to stick to—and benefit from—it.