How I Thrive//

How to Organize Your Life in 20 Minutes a Week

Organizing expert Erin Condren shares her productivity secrets for home, work, and life.

Erin Condren attributes her success to a failure. She had launched her own clothing line, learning the ins and outs of cost sheets and profit margins. Then, 9/11 happened. Condren had two twin preemies that were born at four pounds each. “I was holding my twins and watching the Twin Towers fall on September 11th — that’s when my priorities shifted,” she tells Thrive. “My company failed. Orders were canceled and retailers weren’t taking a chance on new designers,” she remembers. “I knew that my family had to be a priority, but I had a mortgage. I had to contribute — we needed two incomes.” 

What started as a hobby — making notecards for her friends as birthday gifts and baby announcements — turned into a multimillion dollar business for Condren, the Founder and Chief Creative Officer of her namesake company, that sells planners, journals, and other organizing tools. 

Condren sat down with Thrive to share what motivates her and offer tips for how getting organized can help us tap into our most successful days.

THRIVE GLOBAL: How do you set your day up for success?

Erin Condren: Starting my day really backs up to the night before as I’m literally scripting what is going to happen the following day. I have four kids. I run a company and there’s a lot going on. I set the timer for coffee because that’s the first thing I do in the morning — go out and get that coffee. I typically check my phone to see if there’s any additional invitations or new appointments that I need to add. I open my LifePlanner or my daily routine planner and I script out my day. There’s a lot going on in my life and if I don’t script it out, things get dropped or forgotten. 

I’m a color coder, so I do all of my work meetings in a bright magenta pen. I like to use orange for personal appointments, which are my nails, doctor appointments and other personal things. I have four kids and each one is in their own color. It really keeps me in line to have color coding that I can just look down at a glance and know what’s happening in each day. 

I get to start my day with exercise. Sometimes it builds up in the night when I think of all that I have to accomplish in a day. Exercise helps reduce the anxiety. We’ve created a workout space, and my husband and I do Tabata and cardio and get all of that out. It reduces my stress and anxiety and kickstarts an awesome day.

TG: What’s your relationship with technology?

EC: People talk about paper planning and I think they assume that it’s for somebody that didn’t grasp digital. I’m digital — I love my iMac, iPad, iPod — especially as a designer. But I find that there is something about putting pen to paper that gets me so focused and productive. I’m not getting the dings and the notifications. Sometimes I write things down after I do them, just to feel accomplished. 

There’s so much benefit putting pen to paper. It’s interesting to watch, even millennials and the younger generations are having screen fatigue. They’re just constantly scrolling. The time that they can put their phone down and not get notifications and just get focused is pretty incredible.

TG: How does gratitude play in your day? 

EC: I think gratitude is so key. On a tough day, I have a gratitude journal. It’s near my bed at night. Even if it’s just for a few minutes, I can write down a few things that just make me realize, “Gosh, I’ve got a healthy family, a roof over my head, and I find joy in that.”

TG: What causes you stress?

EC: There’s just so much that we as women juggle. There are some days that are harder than others. With four kids I might make a list the night before of X, Y, and Z and you wake up and it’s a different day — someone’s sick or someone’s depressed or someone wants to talk and your day just has to shift. I feel the key to success and being well-balanced and fighting stress is to make a plan but also be flexible enough to make the adjustments because things don’t always go to plan.

TG: What are some of your favorite organizing habits and tips?

EC: People get intimidated. How do you jump in? How do you get organized? I like to take 20 minutes on a Sunday morning, it’s my own little space and I set everything out. It could be 20 minutes a day or just 20 minutes every Sunday. I have my LifePlanner that I take with me, but I need to organize my family. If I hear one more time, “What do we have going on tonight?” It’s like check the calendar. If it’s not on there, it’s not happening.

TG: How do you practice self-care?

EC: I think self care is critical. I look back at my earlier career and I remember my body literally breaking down from stress, lack of sleep, little babies and not a lot of help. My mom would come on Fridays to help, but it was exhausting. I started to have pain in my joints. I was getting cortisone shots in my shoulder, draining from my knees vials of fluid, I thought it was stress and it turns out I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 2006. I neglected it for too long ‘cause I was busy and put everybody first, and as a result, I lost use in one of my wrists. I luckily am pain-free now. I’ve found the right treatments along the way. 

My message to anybody listening is take care of yourself, listen to your body. Don’t let it go too far. 

TG: How do you organize your work space?

EC: We spend so much time at our desk, if it’s in the office or if it’s at home. Decorating in an inspirational way is so important. Maybe have an inspirational quote. One of my favorites says, “Let’s get it done so we can have some fun.” I say that in the office and at home to my kids. It can’t all be about work. We don’t want to just over-schedule. We want to find time for joy. So if you’re at your desk, think about that with an inspirational quote, maybe a cute little desk plant, a colorful desk pad or desk calendar. And you’ve got to have colorful markers all over to inspire color coding and better organization.

Directed by Matt Kwiecinski

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