Getting organized for the new year

I keep a ridiculous number of lists: movies I want to see, books I want to read, groceries I need to buy, recipes I want to try, things I have to do, letters I should write, gifts I wish to give, music I want to have my son hear, my lofty someday goals. These lists are handwritten — I tried to keep them digitally but kept writing things down on sticky notes and then sticking the notes to my iPhone. A key component of being organized is knowing yourself, and I’m a handwritten list maker.

At the start of every year, I get a new notebook and copy the lists from the old notebook into the new. I grab a big cup of coffee, light a fire in the fireplace, and curl up under a warm blanket with the notebook and a good pen. I recopy the lists for a few reasons:

  1. My notebook gets beaten up during the year and I’m ready for a new notebook every 12 months.
  2. The copying process is a tradition I really enjoy.
  3. When going through the lists, I can change my preferences, reorder my lists, and eliminate things I did/saw/tried that I forgot to cross off over the course of the year.
  4. The old lists become recordings of my life over the past year. Since I don’t keep a diary, this is the closest thing I have.

Obviously, the lists also help to keep me organized.

What traditions do you complete at the end of the year or start of the new year that help to keep you organized? How do you enjoy these traditions? Do you keep lists? Share your new year organizing traditions in the comments.

48 Comments for “Getting organized for the new year”

  1. posted by MostlySunny on

    I LOVE this idea…..I may have to incorperate it into my life. I am constantly forgetting things I want to do, see, make….

    Smiles to you.

  2. posted by Betsy on

    I do this same thing with my notebook at the end of the year! It’s a great ritual for closure and continuation. It lets me review the year.

    Sort of depressing to see some things roll over year after year. But, also heartening to take stock of how much I (however inadvertently) accomplished.

    My notebook doubles as my calendar/datebook for the year — I label every right-hand page with the week’s dates, and use the other side of that leaf for the following weekend.

    Tasks that need to be done get written on that week’s page. If there’s an appointment, it goes in the list as “Mon: Dr Smith 2:00” or “Tues: Dinner with Sally”

    The last half or so of the book gets used for the various lists (clothes I need, movies to see, books to read, gift ideas for people).

    The very last page is an index. As I jot down a new list on a fresh page, I note the page number in the handwritten index. (I mark the page numbers by hand on the pages of the entire notebook — this takes a few minutes, but I typically do it while waiting for a traffic light or while on hold on the telephone.)

  3. posted by pelf on

    I start every new year with a new organizer, into which I write all my appointments, travels, conferences, expenses, ideas, lists, etc. I have been keeping organizers from 2004 and I’m not sure if it’s safe to chuck them away! πŸ˜€

  4. posted by Anita on

    My end-of-year tradition is transferring important dates from my old Moleskine planner to my new one. Things like birthdays, anniversaries, and any other yearly recurring dates, plus any appointments (I have a page in my 2010 planner dedicated to 2011 appointments made in advance — yearly physical, dental appointments etc).

    The organizer I have also has a small notebook that I keep some lists and important info in. Most of it is transitory and doesn’t need to be transferred, but a few bits of reference info will likely need to be transcribed.

    It’s also a chance to review the previous year and take toll of what I accomplished and what still needs to be done.

  5. posted by Dorothy on

    I set aside a large envelope — one I’ve recycled — for my tax documents. As each document arrives in the mail, I stick it in the envelope.

    When Turbo Tax has their web app ready for tax return preparation, I have all my records in the envelope and I can prepare my return immediately.

    Incidentally, I have no affiliation with Turbo Tax but I used their software for several years and I’ve used their web app since it was introduced in 2002. I think it’s easy to use, accurate and reasonably priced.

  6. posted by Heather on

    I have a notebook, for when I’m away from my computer, but I transfer everything on to TeuxDeux. I have it up all day at work, I have it bookmarked at home…if I had a smartphone, I’d never use paper lists again.

    I know there’s an overload of apps out there now, but I’m completely addicted to this one.

  7. posted by Jen on

    i really like this idea, kind of like cleaning out your life at the start of the year. you can also rethink the items on your lists and decide whether they should stay or go, and it’s a good time to add new things that you’ve been meaning to do but haven’t gotten around to writing down (although if you’re good about keeping the list that may not be necessary). but i think the biggest benefit, aside from the joy you get from the activity, is the re-prioritization of the items on each list, particularly in books to read and goals, not so much groceries πŸ™‚

  8. posted by Alix on

    Re: Betsy’s comment: could we all resolve not to be writing in notebooks while we’re driving, even at a stoplight? Seriously…

  9. posted by Dr. Frank Buck on

    My tradition relates to goal setting. For over 20 years, my wife and I have sent a Christmas letter with our cards, recounted the highlights of the year. My tradition for the new year is to write the letter for the *coming* December now and simply look at it once a month. The letter acts as a compass to keep me focused on how I want the year to shape up. I wrote about it at this link:

  10. posted by Cat on

    At the end of each year, I always take some hours alone and slowly go through the previous 12 months and try to remember the trips I did, my accomplishments at work, the good films I watched, etc. Usually I get a bit down at this time of the year cause I feel that time goes by too fast (What?! Is it 2011 already!?). But after this little exercise, time gains another depth and I end up feeling that it has been a long year after all. I also write down goals that I know I want to dedicate my energy too in the coming year. It’s great to go back to those a year later and find out that, most of the time, I did accomplish them!

  11. posted by Jude2004 on

    Since I regard New Year’s eve as another sort of fake division of time, I can’t imagine doing something like this. My “lists” are on index cards which I reorder each night as priorities change and tasks are completed. In the last month, I completed some major projects, so I currently only have about 40 cards of things to do each day instead of 45–which is major progress. In case the cards disappear, I have a backup of tasks in a spreadsheet. But whatever makes you happy.

  12. posted by HistoryBuff on

    I grab a refill of my Franklin Covey organizer, then first, I put in all of the birthdays I want to remember. Then I write down other key dates for the year. I empty out my old stuff, and am ready to tackle the new year.

    Erin, my husband just bought me a brand new notebook. I had the same plan that you discussed: write all of my lists down. I am like you: I make handwritten lists for everything. But lately, I have come to rely on Teux Deux for weekly “to dos” at work.

  13. posted by lisa on

    I take the year’s bills, receipts, etc. out of the filing cabinet and put it in the correct categories for income tax time. We have a tenant, so some of the household bills, mortgage interest, etc. are deductible, as well as home office expenses, and business use of the car.Of the ones not needed for tax time, I keep the last month, and shred the rest.

  14. posted by Barb on

    In spring of ’09, I bought an iPhone and chucked my paper planners for good. My calendar, birthdate reminders, etc. are in my phone, which syncs wirelessly with my computer via the Mobile Me software.

    I use the Notes app on the phone for almost all of my to-do lists, including a generic To Do, Christmas/Birthday Wish Lists, Handyman Tasks, Items To Buy, Restaurant Suggestions, Saturday & Sunday to-dos, Decluttering & Spring Cleaning check lists, Shopping List for the House, and Diet (before weight and measurements).

    I track the renovation/repair projects for our house on a four-page Excel spreadsheet (yes, the joys of an old house). Two pages are for DIY projects, two are for contractor-required projects. I update it by putting a line through items done, with a check off mark in the first column, and update columns titled “Next Step” and “Status.”

    I tear out pages from the Book-of-the-Month Club bulletins and stick them in a folder of books I want to read. Then I order books online from the library. They email me when the books are ready to be picked up and when the due dates are approaching.

    Finances all get recorded in Quicken. At tax time it’s easy to print out reports, check totals against W-2s and 1099s and enter into Turbo Tax. I keep paper receipts and bills for three years (except for household furnishings, improvements, anything I want added to our home inventory which is a component of Quicken) and in January shred the oldest year.

    That’s it — part paper but mostly digital.

  15. posted by Christine Bainbridge on

    I’ve always been a big fan of lists on cork boards I like to see everything in front of me. I have them at work and idea boards at home. Now I have the app, corkulous on my iPad. The interface is exactly like a real cork board. I can move stickies and “to do” items all around the board like in real life. I can put up pictures, too. This year, I have to move from building to building for my job, and I can bring all my boards with me on the iPad.

  16. posted by Sky on

    I still do my lists in a notebook too. I have a calendar in the front and write down appointments, trips, and everything else, even when I color my hair so I can keep up. It keeps me organized and I can see what I need to do and what I’ve done in a glance. I go over my list every night, mark off anything that’s finished and review what I’ll do tomorrow.
    I enjoy it.

  17. posted by Nicole W. on

    I can’t fully explain why, but you stating “copying process is a tradition I really enjoy” makes me feel happy. I somewhere got the misconception that doing things over – or not getting them done “on time” – was wrong. Thanks!

  18. posted by jasileet on

    lol @alix. exactly my thought.

    i still list digitally. i have a little netbook that i absolutely adore. i don’t even have to be online, i just enjoy typing over writing. 3 blogs all personal/private for lists, goals and dreams (lit).

    my ny tradition happens the week between xmas and nye. i clean and purge. make lists, set goals, etc. i like rolling into a new year fresh. doesn’t everyone?

  19. posted by *pol on

    Lists! Oh they bring me JOY and COMFORT! I do love writing them, compiling them and re-discovering lost ones later. For me they must be hand-written or they are never ever looked at. (I laughed at your sticky note on the iphone, that is something I would do for sure)…
    The only drawback to the lists and notes is that I have so many notebooks that they do get misplaced from time to time. One for house ideas, one for reference notes from good books, one for “no-limits” dreams, one for recipes, one for working goals and the most often used one is for my freelance business (things to do, revisions to make, etc). Household duldrums like the daily “to-do’s and grocery lists go on a notepad to be tossed everyday. I tried putting it ALL in one book chronologically, but it really didn’t work well having it all mashed together. Each book is like it’s own drawer in the kitchen — each task (or frame of mind) has it’s own space.

  20. posted by Amy on

    I could cry with relief. There is somebody else in this world who has a tendency to stick Post-It reminders to her iPhone. I get so much flack for that…

  21. posted by ecuadoriana on

    I do something similar, but I tend to do it in the spring time- a less hectic time, goes along with spring cleaning, the world is waking up with new possibilities, etc. Oh, and I can do this out on the back porch, in the morning sunrise light, with a cup of coffee- something that I can’t do in the dead of winter! I don’t have a fireplace.

    I like those spiral notebooks with the subject dividers that have pockets. I put in articles/brochures of places I want to visit or things I want to do. I write my goals for my life and for the upcoming year- NOT chores or things that HAVE to be done! (that’s saved for a different list altogether!) Like a pre-diary.

    Then I like to look back on last year’s notebook and congratulate myself for all that I accomplished. If there are things I didn’t do I reevaluate- why didn’t I do them: lack of funds, lack of time, lack of interest, did something even better come up instead? Then I try to decide if I should make it a goal for the next year or not bother.

    I don’t like using computer programs for organizing things like this, because it’s good to just shut the damn thing off once in a while. Besides, what would happen if the computers crashed! LOL! I don’t have or want an electronic device like blackberrys to keep track of my life. I see too many people I know far too distracted staring into the microscopic screen of those things. They are missing out on what goes on around them! Besides, they almost always lose the thing (or drop it & break it!) then spend far too much time frantically trying to replace it all! If I lose a notebook it only costs a couple of dollars to replace!

    Notebook, pen, sunrise, coffee, curled up on back porch sofa, birds tweeting, and fresh breeze beats artificial lights, crashing computers, electronic beeping & whirring sounds, and stiff office chairs any day!

    I should make a goal to get a fireplace! I envy those who have them but never use them! Arrggghhh!

  22. posted by Adela on

    I keep two journals in cupboard near my bed. In one, will make notes about my hopes and dreams, set goals, break them down into steps, think about milestones, budgets, make notes about my daily routines. I do meal plans, I do wardrobe plans, I plan dates with my husband, activities for my family and my kids, outline trips and social engagements. I plan my exercise routine. I write notes about work and professional goals. I check in and see what I have accomplished and how I have gotten sidetracked. I never have the time or money to get everyhing done, but I am beginning to understand what goals are reasonable and feasible. I do make some forward progress, in spite of everything! I think about what was really worth it and what was not so much. I generally start a new journal every year. The other journal is more of a pure diary – I write letters to my kids that they will be able to read when they are grown up. I do this a few times I year, and I still have the same one I started with my oldest was born. I find this activity to be relaxing and fun.

    For day-to-day to do lists, I love my iphone.

  23. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Amy — I want to know how people DON’T do that?!! πŸ™‚

  24. posted by Emily Kelly on

    I am just like the author of this article. (And I didn’t think there was anyone else as neurotic as me when it comes to list making and transferring and keeping all sorts of “life ideas”/things I want to do/see, etc.).
    My sister is the ultimate organizer and she taught me this … it has been a LIFESAVER. There are these “plastic bound folders” you can buy at Walmart that come with like 6 plastic folders with pockets in them. It’s bound and has a cord to tie it together. Each folder/pocket has it’s contents (to do, to buy, home repairs (with paint samples, Home Depot coupons, etc), grocery lists, etc.) You decide what categories with your labelmaker, but having these things in a plastic folder set up that’s all together has saved me SO MUCH SPACE and NO MORE PILES! Good luck and happy new year! πŸ™‚

  25. posted by [email protected] on

    My husband is an iphone (well, iEverything) addict. He had me using Google Calendar for a while so that we could literally be on the same page. But I’m old fashioned, I guess, and recently switched back to an on-the-fridge calendar. Much better. Same for lists. He uses the gadget; I prefer pen and paper. I like the image of being curled up in front of the fireplace with notebook in hand!

  26. posted by Sue on

    Getting organized is on my prayer list daily.Maybe one day soon.I,too love writing things down.I may give it a try.

  27. posted by Bethany on

    I too am a list lover. It’s calming. But last year I did decide to go digital on my book lists and movie lists. I use and I love having these two lists in an easy to find place and it’s easy to delete or update. Plus I can easily pull up the lists if I’m in a bookshop. For all other lists, pen and paper planner is my first choice.

  28. posted by Mickey on

    I’ve been battling with the handwritten vs digital lists this year as I finally got my iPhone. However, I think I found my solution. Moleskine does an iphone case that comes with a notebook. Best of both worlds! Now if the hubby would actually get it for me for christmas, I’d be all set.

  29. posted by Another Deb on

    @ Betsy, I love your notebook system, especially your index!

    I use the Christmas break to organize all of the paperwork I used in the first semester. Usually the handouts have been removed from the huge binders for use in smaller units and end up piled everywhere. This year I plan to subdivide they the giant unit (chemistry) into logical chapter notebooks so I can keep everything together and not have to work around the 4 inch binder stuffed full of sheet protectors.

    I am also going to scan the handouts and post them on our school server so I will have them if I forget something at home.

  30. posted by Karen on

    I laughed about the sticky notes on the iPhone. I’m guilty, too. I do that with my iPod.

    I have slowly gone digital. For lists, I’m using the CarbonFin Outliner app and website. I do keep a moleskine reporter notebook to take notes in, but anything worth remembering at the end of the day has to get filed away digitally. I can’t find anything in the paper notebooks.

  31. posted by Maria Barker on

    I like to write down what I want to have accomplished in different areas of my life in the following year. For instance, I wanted to have paid off our credit card debt in 2010. (we did) I wanted to have a certain horse trained to drive by the end of 2010. (we did not). I want to have a substantial income from my textile work by the end of 2011. I want an organized house by the end of 2011. That sort of thing. Don’t know if it helps, but I enjoy doing it.

  32. posted by EraserGirl on

    i do this too, in my Moleskin planner. i could replace it with a smart phone app, but the notebook allows me to shove in all the notes, cards and coupons that go with the lists!

  33. posted by Amy on

    I use a calendar to keep track of things like birthdays and anniversaries and doctor appointments. I have a hook on the inside of my pantry cupboard door that I hang the calendar on. I use a one-hole punch to make the holes bigger on the calendar and then use a round reinforcement sticker to reinforce the hole, the kind you use on notebook paper. The calendar I usually get for free from somebody who passes them out for advertising. My new one for 2011 came from the pharmacy and has Norman Rockwell illustrations for each month. Cheesy but nostalgic. This has been my system for many many years.
    I write lists all the time when I have something coming up. If it’s for something this week, I set it by my medicine organizer thingy. Otherwise,it goes on the fridge. I guess I should go buy something fancier, but it would be way too much trouble to keep up with. Nice thing about little notes is how easy they are to dispose of once the task is completed.

  34. posted by Michele Connolly, Get Organized Wizard on

    Hi Erin,

    I understand the post-its on the iPhone! But have you tried Awesome Note? I use it for all my books-to-read, movies-to-watch, blog-posts-to-write, etc, lists.

    I think you might be converted!

    Michele πŸ™‚

  35. posted by Mercedes on

    This is a GREAT idea! I’m a sticky noter myself, and after some time i eventually throw them away. It’d be nice to have a place to put down all my “to-do’s” and honestly I had never thought to do this!

  36. posted by Betsy on

    Alix — Find someone else to scold! Thanks!

  37. posted by Living the Balanced Life on

    I like Betsy’s system as well! I have tried to go digital on my blackberry and I use google calendar, but there is just something about pen and paper…

  38. posted by mydivabydesign - The Diva's Home on

    I make lists too only I keep losing them! I found an app for Blackberry that lets you make a grocery shopping list. i like it because I tend to have a purse full of scrap paper with lists on them. I think I will have to copy you and get a specific notebook for the rest of my lists!

  39. posted by Jean on

    I am so relieved to hear I am not the last dinasour using paper and pen–I too LOVE lists, and use them to organize every area of my life. My ultimate notebook is a small 6 ring binder that was manufactured by Stuart Hall and I have put in dividers actually menat for a Dayrunner. I have carried this notebook around for years, adding and removing pages and have about finally worn it out and seem unable to locate a replacement. Please post if anyone knows a source–I hate to have to reinvent my system !! Which nevers requires a monthly contract or recharging!

  40. posted by Carolyn on

    For many years, I relied on a small notebook with lists and a planner. About 10 years ago, I went digital. I used PDAs for about a decade and finally had an epiphany: I preferred my old system. Why? No replacing outdated hardware, no re-learning software for every update or trying to make the updates work as billed, no charging, batteries or syncing needed, no fear of digital identity theft, far less expensive, more environmentally friendly … and on and on. Like Erin, I enjoy getting a new planner and using a really nice pen to enter dates, lists, goals and so on. I “archive” each year’s planner with the taxes and other paperwork for 7 years, then toss.

  41. posted by Fi on

    I love my lists. I have five sections in a single notebook that are hand written as well. I go over my lists in the morning and I get a sense of satisfaction whenever I cross out something I have dealt with. I also feel a great sense of security knowing that what I need to do is written down for me. I do feel anxious if I don’t write it down. I may not get to the item for a while so it is always reassuring to know I have it jotted down. So glad you love lists too!

  42. posted by Julia Krey on

    This year, I and my husband are going to sit down and write our goals for 2011.
    Then we “roll back” to come up with ideas how to reach them. I feel that this way, when we have specific goals it would be much easier to get there.

    I’m also a handwritten list’ person, so I like the idea having a notebook with me for the “on-going” lists.


  43. posted by Tabitha K on

    I’m big on hand-written notes and lists…I have plenty of spiral notebooks filled with my short hand notes on different topics, but lately I’ve been storing a lot of info on my google calendar. Maybe I’m getting forgetful, but when I can’t remember something I did, a deadline, or an upcoming event…I check my google calendar. I can use if from my phone or computer which helps a lot.
    I also set goals for myself, then mark future calendar dates for when I would like to have each goal accomplished – the calendar feature on my phone reminds me with the “alarm” — and I don’t forget. I’m just afraid I will get too dependent on my computer/phone reminders and fear that they’ll crash one day… or something like that. eeek.

  44. posted by Plain Good Sense on

    I tend to keep certain lists in my phone – like books I want to read, or music I want to check out. I even recently started a list of food items we do/don’t like at various restaurants we visit (my husband and I can never remember – did we like the salmon at this place, or didn’t we?).

    But for my day-to-day lists, I do keep them in a single notebook at our home’s “hub” (aka the kitchen island). I have one small spiral notebook with a pen attached, and this is where all my shopping lists are kept. One page is for groceries, one page is for items to buy at a big box store (Wal-mart or Target), one page is for items to pick up the next time I’m at Sam’s Club, and one page is for items I’m constantly on the lookout for (these tend to be wardrobe pieces that I would like to add to my collection – like a basic black cardigan, a trench coat, black flats, etc.).

    I find that this system is a great way to always have all my lists in one place so they can be added to by any member of the family (if my husband is out of socks, for instance, he can just write it down on the list and the next time I’m at the store I’ll be able to easily pick them up). I’ve outlawed anyone saying to me, “Honey, we’re out of….” I don’t want to hear it – just put it on the list!

  45. posted by Mike Handy on

    I call people like you listy… my wife is listy as well.

  46. posted by Aslaug on

    I’ve decided to incorporate your plan for the next year. I keep buying these typical datebooks (even got an expensive molskine a couple of years ago) that I only use for a few weeks. I’m sort of a “write it on a piece of paper” type person, especially since a lot of things I need to do are not date specific. Got myself a cute pink notebook and have already dated the pages, one week per 2 pages. There are still about 40 pages left for general lists and such.
    Thanks for the inspiration.

  47. posted by Faith on

    Ahhh – lists! I’m a paper and pen person, too, and am surprised that no one else here has posted about one of my favorite notebooks – the Levenger Circa or Rollabind or Atoma notebooks. You can add or remove or move around the pages, and if you get a punch to make your own pages for the notebooks, you can use whatever paper you like.

  48. posted by Maura on


    I’ve been mulling over your “system” since I read about it a few days ago — and I think I am ready to “run” with it for the new year.

    * I would use a traditional “marble” notebook.
    * I think the “calendar” portion (for me) would have the full-week on the right side, so the left side could be used for other “To-Dos” pertaining to that-week-only. (Unless I am misunderstanding your concept?)
    * Might be more inclined to go with an “index” at the front (Table of Contents?)

    Am wondering if you can elaborate more: what types of lists you keep? What kind of notebook you use, etc? (Maybe a youtube demo, πŸ™‚ ??? JK)


    I do not have an iphone (or i-anything) but I enjoyed reading about all of these very cool apps (and looking them up on youtube). VERY INTRIGUED!

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