I've always been drawn to planning and organization. When there are many things to keep track of, do by certain times, and remember for the future—it's hard to live without chaos and panic. Having a specific organization system has helped me tremendously.

Depending on the stage of life, requirements can change. Because of that, I've been focusing on my organization process instead of specific tools so that I can change when required. And it's much easier to switch and try new things when the system is digital.

In this post, I'll take you through what I used in the past, my current requirements, my current digital organization system, and the habits I use to maintain it. Looking at others' systems really helps me so I hope this helps you as well!

my past organizational systems

For a long time, I was against using digital organization tools. As a software developer and blogger, I was already spending much time looking at screens. I didn't want to look at screens for planning as well. I was also prone to distractions so using my phone or laptop was a no-go.

I found bullet journalling a couple of months after I graduated high school and immediately incorporated it into my life. Wish I had found it during school as it would have helped a ton but better late than never. Its flexibility and creativity drew me in.

I used the bullet journal system for over four years. My entire college life was organized by my bullet journals. All of my events/important dates, assignments, daily to-dos, and even content creation things were in one physical notebook. I drafted entire blog posts by hand in it! I also journaled or recorded memories at times.

The only problem with using a bullet journal is that we can't carry it all the time and whip it out any time to jot down a note. WhatsApp and Evernote filled the gaps for me.

WhatsApp can be a handy tool aside from being a messaging platform. I created a group with only myself in it and used it as a dumping ground. Any quick notes, links, to-dos, or short blog post ideas would go here. Even though I don't use the app often, it was convenient because it's simple and fast.

I still needed a better place to draft blog posts on the go because large blocks of text and formatting don't look good in WhatsApp. I tried Evernote since it was the most popular note-taking app but the app just didn't work for me so I stopped using it soon.

My aversion to digital organization was broken by Notion. I needed a better place to organize my blogging because there was too much going on. My bullet journal couldn't handle it. Since Notion was trending, I tried it and it stuck. I used Notion as the primary tool for my creative endeavours for about three years.

In the meantime, as Notion worked well for blogging things, my bullet journal use was reduced. It didn't fit my needs anymore. For a couple of years, I didn't have an organization system for life. I kept trying to use the bullet journal method but it didn't work out. Notion didn't work for my life as well. Finally, I accepted that I needed a whole new system.

illustration of a workspace at home showing a desk with a monitor, keyboard, mouse on a mousepad, and a glass and spectacles. the wall behind the monitor has two paintings.

my current requirements

The system and tools always depend on the requirements. My requirements will be different than yours, that's why my system won't be perfect for you and vice versa. Considering how we have innumerable organizational tools now, it is essential to know what you need before committing to anything.

I need a system to remember everything for me and help me be productive.

I forget a lot. I'm usually daydreaming or thinking things other than what's in front of me. I often forget birthdays, events that I've committed to, facts, and ideas. I need to be able to capture pretty much everything so that my brain is free to wander without worrying about what I'm forgetting.

Here are the categories that I largely need to organize:

  • Birthdays: Even when I know the dates, I'm horrible at actually wishing on those dates.
  • Events: Plans with friends, carnivals, appointments, etc.
  • Habits: Moisturising, doing chores on time, stretching during work, etc.
  • Life admin: Bill due dates, expenses, vehicle service dates, document/ID updates, health info, house cleaning etc.
  • Ideas: All the ideas related to content creation for the blog, newsletter, YouTube, or something else.
  • Notes: On books, articles, career upskilling, and anything else.

The point is to have a second brain to remember and keep track of all the mundane things so that my actual brain is free to play and be creative. I need a system that helps me be creative.

However, I don't want a complicated organizational setup that requires a lot of maintenance. I don't have time for that and I'm sure I wouldn't be motivated to keep it up over time. So, I went with the simplest tools and it works just fine.

It’s not about having the perfect tools, it’s about having a reliable set of tools that you can depend on.

Tiago Forte, Building a Second Brain

notes

I use Apple Notes as my primary notetaking app.

Building a Second Brain convinced me to make a habit of making notes of everything and I need a simple and good app for it. I looked at different options and properly considered my requirements before choosing Apple Notes and even documented my decision process. I committed to using the app for at least 30 days and I haven't left it since.

I find this meme really funny. It's so true! You'd assume that the people with a comprehensive organization system or who are very into productivity are the most content and happy but they're often the ones struggling in chaos.

The people who are on the hyped tools are always looking for better ways to organize but the focus should be on life instead. It's so easy to procrastinate by organizing but if it never leads to action, it's useless.

So much of what we call “organizing” is essentially procrastination in disguise. we tell ourselves we’re “getting ready” or “doing research”, pretending like that means progress.

Tiago Forte, The PARA Method

Apple Notes works well for me because:

  • It's free and doesn't require any setup. Of course, it comes only with Apple devices but since I have them, it's nice. I like that I don't need to set anything up at the start like what Notion requires.
  • It syncs across all my devices smoothly. I use my phone when I'm out of the house but at home, I'm mostly on the laptop or iPad. I'm doing life admin stuff, working, or creating on these devices but taking notes on my phone. So, it's handy that they sync fast and smoothly.
  • The data is available offline. This was my biggest pet peeve with Notion. You have to be connected to the internet to access everything. When I'm working without the internet to reduce distractions or when I don't have a signal outside, I don't want to worry.
  • Its dark mode is nice. I can't tell you how important this is for me. I don't want to deal with colours!
  • There's not much customization. This may be a bad thing for some people but I like that there aren't customization options. I don't want to think about keeping a nice theme or making it aesthetic. It saves me time and effort.
  • Taking quick notes is easy. There are shortcuts on all devices which makes taking notes on the go super easy. I like that I can make notes without having to categorize them immediately. That extra bit of effort to categorize in other apps was often the reason I didn't take notes before. Here, I can organize the notes into categories later when I'm free.
  • Simple categorization. Notes can be put into folders and sub-folders. Tags can be used to categorize notes in a different way but I don't use it.
  • The search function is convenient. It searches text in notes including attached photos. The search function is fast and accurate. I can search using spotlight as well, without having to open the app first.

In short, Apple Notes works for me because it's low maintenance and doesn't ask me to think much or make many decisions. The app is not perfect—there are a few things that I wish existed—but I don't have any major problem with it.

Save your best thinking so you don’t have to do it again.

Tiago Forte, Building a Second Brain

My note-taking habit is the main thing that keeps me organized. Whenever I think of something that will be useful later, I'll save it in a note. This includes regular things like ideas, to-dos, or shopping lists. But I also make notes on conversations, references, and fleeting thoughts.

I don't take notes on everything, my habit is not good enough to recognize the usefulness and importance of everything yet. But whenever I realize that something is valuable, I save it.

This is what my notes app currently looks like:

screenshot of my apple notes app showing various folders and a notes section currently opened

The currently highlighted "notes" section is the uncategorized section in the app. Whenever I take a note, it goes here. I don't categorize notes immediately. Later, when I have time, I will move notes to the appropriate sections. I don't have a set routine to do it like every week, I simply do it whenever I'm free and have the app open.

My notes are organized based on the PARA Method system. Basically, there's a high-level folder for Projects, Areas, Resources, and Archive. Every note goes into one of these sections and it is possible for notes to move around depending on their relevance over time.

My notes in the project folder change quickly as my “projects” change quickly. Hence, I usually don’t make folders for projects and use singular notes. At work, since I have projects that run for a long time, I make folders.

Other than the 4 categories in PARA, I keep another folder called "References" for notes that don't fit as neatly into any of the other categories. These are references like my allergen list, trip packing list (that I reuse for every trip), and any other life things.

You might have noticed that the number of notes in my "blog/newsletter" subfolder is much higher than others. This is because I started taking notes on creative ideas on Notion long back and eventually moved them all here. I started taking notes on other things only recently so they're lesser.

When a note (or a folder) is not useful anymore, I move it to Archive. I move things to Archive liberally because they're still easily available via search and I don't fear losing them.

For example, I have a note on an upcoming trip in my "Projects" section. I've saved details like the dates, draft itinerary, links to social media posts that suggest places to visit, PDFs of tickets, details on the stay, and any advance amount paid. Anything and everything goes here because I will forget and will need to refer to it often. It could be split into multiple notes but I keep it all in one. It is in "Projects" because it is currently relevant, I am working on it in some way, and will refer to it often. Once the trip is done, I'll move it to Archive.

I don't fully follow the PARA method or the intensive note-taking habit that is encouraged in Building a Second Brain, I use parts of it that are useful to me and don't do more than necessary. While I like organization and having a productive system, I don't let it overtake my brain. It's not the main focus of my life.

If your organizational system is as complex as your life, then the demands of maintaining it will end up robbing you of the time and energy you need to live that life.

Tiago Forte, The PARA Method

blog organization & drafting

As I mentioned earlier, I used Notion as my primary organization tool for the blog. While my use of it has reduced, it has not completely ceasfed. I still actively use Notion for a couple of blog things. It looks quite different from my initial Notion setup because of changing priorities and an increase in information.

screenshot of my blog dashboard in notion showing multiple sections of info like tasks, ideas, and brand colours

The dashboard is still set up like I actively use all of it. Once I stopped using it as much, I simply didn't bother changing or cleaning it up. Only the "ideas" section is moved to Apple Notes but I simply don't use most of the others anymore as my priorities have changed. If I ever want to, I can use them without setting it up again.

The "monthly reports" page in the "references" section is the only thing that I use consistently. I still make reports at the end of every month here. Read this post to understand more about my monthly reports. The rest in this section are outdated.

I also use Notion to draft blog posts infrequently. While my ideas and initial jotting down of notes are done in Apple Notes, I don't like to draft blog posts there. I have a convenient drafting template on Notion and I like that I can draft with more formatting on it.

tasks/to-dos

In my bullet journal days, my life ran on to-do lists. I don't make them anymore but I still need a way to remember my tasks and do them on time. I tried the Todoist app but it didn't work for me because of the different lists and options to customize. If you give me the leeway to customize things, I will lose myself in them instead of doing what I actually need to do.

I now use only reminders to track all of my tasks. I use the default reminders app on my phone (which syncs across my devices) and it's so useful. Recently, it got an update with some customization options and a Kanban view but I don't use them. I've realized that I need only the simplest things.

All my tasks in my reminders app are dated and timed. If I have any tasks that don't have a specific deadline, I put them in my notes app. But, tasks only get done if you set a deadline and make time to do them. So whenever I think of things to do, I try to add them in my reminders app with a time.

If I'm unable to do it when the time comes, I push it to another time. But the simple fact of having tasks to do at certain times pushes me to actually do them.

Here are some examples of my reminders:

screenshot of my reminders app showing reminders like "cut nails", "call dad", etc.

If you think that I make reminders for the smallest things, you're right. I try not to leave anything to my brain. In fact, for about a month, I had daily reminders at 8 pm to remind me to eat dinner. If I take snacks to the office for the evening, I keep a reminder otherwise I'll forget to have them.

Other than the one-time reminders like the snacks one, making plans with a friend, etc., I've set recurring reminders for bill payments, moisturising (I try to moisturise my arms twice a day), and regular calls with people.

When I had an Android phone, I used Google Assistant to create tasks through voice commands and now I use Siri. It's much easier to say "remind me to..." than opening the app and doing it myself. The wonders of technology, haha.

I'm not fond of sound alerts, I find them jarring because I'm usually immersed in doing something. I keep my phone/iPad on vibrate mode and even my laptop on silent. The notification shows when I'm on any device and if I'm not on them, I do the task when I see it later.

A few months back, I got an Apple Watch and my usage of reminders has increased since then. Whenever I think of a task, it's easy to dictate it to Siri even if I don't have my phone in my hand (which is often). I really like that alerts are through soft haptics/vibrations instead of sounds.

So, basically, the reminders app runs my life haha.

events/important dates

Initially, I used the reminders app for this but it got too cluttered. I wanted to track my trip dates that span multiple days and also add details like location.

I use the built-in Calendar app to track all the dates. I don't actually like it but it works alright and I don't have the patience to go searching for another app which syncs across properly. I started using it as it was available on my laptop and didn't move on.

It does have a few good aspects, though:

  • It auto-fills the location field while I type. I mark all of my planned hangouts with friends along with locations in it so it is helpful.
  • I like that it has a "travel time" part as well.
  • It automatically adds events from my email into the app.

I mainly use the app to track:

  • Birthdays: All my friends & family members' birthdays are in this. It sends a reminder at 9 am on the day after which I wish whoever. I recently realized that if I wish someone happy birthday on iMessage and their birthday is not on the Calendar, it automatically adds it. That's wild.
  • Hangouts/meetups. I have a good number of friends and try to make advance plans with them. Whenever a plan gets decided, I add it to the Calendar: Even if I don't need it to remember, I add it just in case.
  • Other events: My trip dates, book club Zoom/Discord calls, Discord events, in-person events, etc.

Honestly, this app isn't used as much as the notes and reminders app but it's still something that keeps me organized and reminds me to get to places. Whenever I make new plans, I make sure to look at my Calendar first and it truly helps. I used to double-book myself so much before, it's not even funny. I needed to track my plans, haha.

illustration of a person looking at a note on their phone titled "my digital organization system"

expenses

If there's one aspect of organization that I'm perfect at, it's tracking my expenses. I may forget to make notes, add reminders, or track events at times, but I don't forget to track my expenses.

I started tracking expenses when I started bullet journalling. I had a simple table on a page for every month and I would note the date, the amount, and the cause for the expense. When I needed to, I tracked income as well, but I didn't have much of it to track.

The habit comes to me from my dad. He has been tracking his expenses in planners for decades and used to make me fill his notebook as he dictated the details at times. I learned to be meticulous with my money from my dad.

When my bullet journal habit died, I still kept up with tracking my expenses. However, it was hard to track because I would forget by the end of the day and it's annoying to use a notebook only for this. Last year, I started tracking my expenses on my phone and it's much more convenient now.

I use the Money Manager Expense & Budget app to track my income and expenses. I've been using it for over a year now and it genuinely makes my life easier.

Some things that I love about the app:

  • It is quick and easy to record expenses and income. This is an important aspect for every app but many add too many steps to do one thing. In this app, there's a minimal number of taps to record things.
  • The categorization of income/expenses. You can create categories and while recording anything, you can label it in a specific category. It doesn't allow multiple categories for one record but I don't have a need for that. The categories for income and expense can be different which is nice.
  • The categorization of payment modes. It allows tagging each record with a mode of payment. I really like this because I want to track my expenditures in different modes (like UPI, card, cash, etc.)
  • It shows different levels of summaries. There's a small daily summary with the amount earned and the amount spent and a monthly summary with the same details on the main screen. In another tab, there's a pie chart summary for cumulative data over different periods of time. So we can see the patterns weekly, monthly, annually, or even over a custom period. I like to see this once in a while, it gives me a lot of insight.
  • The search function is really good. This is the main reason why I'm sticking to this app. It is easy and quick to search for old expenses. If you use the same title for multiple expenses and search the name, the app also shows the summary of all those expenses. So I can see at once how much I spend on evening tea over time without making a category for it.

There are more features in the app but the above are what I mostly use. Despite having a lot of options, it is easy to use. It only takes a few days to get used to. The free app has ads but they're not too annoying so it's fine.

I've set a daily alert at 9:45 pm on the app to remind me to track my expenses. Initially, I only tracked at the end of the day. Lately, I've developed a habit of recording most expenses immediately after they occur or in any free time during the day. This way, I don't have to remember it. If I somehow forget to, I have the end-of-day reminder anyway.

Because I meticulously track my expenses, I am quite aware of my expenditures and am careful about spending. Sometimes, I'm too hesitant to spend even for things that I want so it's not a great thing. But at least I don't go broke unintentionally.

files

I don't have a lot of personal files to deal with because a lot of them are on my email. Most of the files that I do have to save and organize are the ones related to my hobbies.

They were unorganized for a long time. Only about a month back did I sit down to organize them and now they're properly structured. I followed the PARA method for my laptop files. However, I don't need all 4 folders on my laptop so I only keep what I need.

screenshot of documents folder in laptop

This is what my Documents folder looks like. It only has the Resources and Archive folders as I don't need the rest. Resources folder has the stuff that I may need at any point which is usually for the blog.

While I'm working on something like my taxes or a new blog post, those files go into my Downloads folder. Usually, I'm working on only one thing at once so there's no need for creating folders. Once I'm done with whatever, I move the files to Archive directly.

There are a few files that I need to refer to at random times like my IDs or my covid vaccine certificate. I keep those things in iCloud so that it's available on all my devices. I usually need to pull them up on my phone while travelling.

endnotes on my digital organization system

Lately, it's the widespread idea amongst productivity enthusiasts that there should be one app to manage everything. That's the main idea behind Notion—it's flexible enough to handle any kind of information and embeds. But we seem to forget that different things have different requirements. Notion can handle everything but that doesn't mean that it will do all of it smoothly.

I tried that but it simply doesn't work for me. My current system of using multiple apps—all of them simple—is going well. There isn't much decision-making or maintenance required. There's no option to make it aesthetic so I don't waste my time on that. I use them for the function they provide and move on.

One thing you might have noticed is that the above system doesn't include my work. It's because I keep my work and personal life as separate as possible. I have a whole different system for my work. There are similarities—I use the PARA method there as well—but it's not the same. My work has different requirements and my digital organization system at work is tailored to them.

Overall, it feels like my things are spread across many different platforms. They are, but it's because I don't make one app fit all of my requirements. I see what is easy and quick and works for my requirements instead of looking for tools that do everything under the sun. I will admit that my system is not perfect but I don't want to spend my time looking for the perfect system. I want to spend my time doing other things.

What is the point of knowledge if it doesn’t help anyone or produce anything?

Tiago Forte, Building a Second Brain

chat with me!

What does your organizational system look like—digital or otherwise? Do you use one tool for everything or use multiple tools in combination? Is there any tool or process that you would recommend? Share with me in the comments!

photo of Sumedha

Sumedha spends her days reading books, bingeing Kdramas, drawing illustrations, and blogging while listening to Lo-Fi music. Read more ➔

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19 comments

  • abookowlscorner says:

    Reading this, I got the impression that you'd be absolutely horrified if you ever had to deal with my organizational system! 😂 I literally write almost nothing down - I have birthdays in my physical calender and will save dentist's appointments on my phone, but that's literally all I ever write down. My to-do lists exist purely in my head, I just pay bills immediately when I get them so I won't forget, and all of my blog posts are drafted immediately in WordPress. I think it'd just drive me crazy if I had even more platforms I had to look at, and so far, I've always done a pretty good job remembering everything I have to do (although maybe this is just me forgetting about the stuff I didn't remember 😁). So yeah, I'm basically always in awe of people who have an actual organizational system down!

    Reply ➔
    • sumedha @ the wordy habitat says:

      actually i’m impressed! because if i lived like that, i’d never do anything on time 😂 i also have the reputation of forgetting birthdays and having a 1GB memory, i don’t need to be missing everything so i need the organization 😂

      Reply ➔
  • GWT says:

    I like that quote 'Save your best thinking so you don't have to do it again'.
    An insightful post! Digital organization is a necessity in these fast-paced lives we lead. Incredibly helpful in streamlining our digital space and fosters a mindset for sustainable organization.

    Reply ➔
  • Allie Mackin says:

    I am a bigger believer in being organized. I do not have a great memory so being organized is key. Notion sounds pretty good I will have to check it out. And thanks for all the advice and tips.

    Allie of
    http://www.allienyc.com

    Reply ➔
  • Chloe Lauren says:

    You know what? I have never really thought about using WhatsApp as a means of just sending a reminder to myself. I mean, I use the app daily, so it does make sense to do so. very interesting thought!!!

    Reply ➔
  • Mehek says:

    OMFG! I love this post so damn much! Thank you so much for sharing this especially that expense tracker app recommendation! I suck at tracking my expenses and I have tried a myriad of different on paper and digital journalling trackers but none seem to help and I am really excited to give this one a shot!

    I haven't had a good planning and organising system for my personal life for a years now! Ever since I started working the BuJo system did not fit into my life my more and I have been trying to get into digital journalling but that habit has also not stuck with me the way I would like it to tbh and Notion seems very overwhelming to me, I am still intrigued by it and may give it a shot but I am very overwhelmed and also am kinda a noob when it comes to creating templates so I have never ventured into it!

    For blogging, at least the scheduling and idea brainstorming part, I tend to use Google Sheets, the inbuilt annual calendar template has been very handy for figuring out my posting schedule and a normal sheet for idea dumping and for IG planning I use my digital journal.

    Reminders and Calendar Apps are such a helpful creation! I would be lost without reminders especially at work and to remind me of upcoming blog tours dates (I am very bad at remembering those). Personally for birthdays I tend to just save them in the person's contact or directly in the calendar app (Facebook is also a very big boon for remembering birthdays and the only reason I am still on there lol 😂)

    I am still looking for a planning and organisation system that will work for me and though I have not tried anything new in a while (I really should) I am always looking for something that will fit me just like BuJo did all those years ago! Though I am very interested in trying PARA method now and will definitely be looking more into it when I do figure out something that will work for me.

    I also wanted to thank you for putting Apple Notes on my radar, I never really looked at it as an organisational tool but I am definitely intrigued by it and will be looking more into it!

    And I completely agree with the point that this constant push of the idea of a one app/system fits can get kinda overwhelming and the constant reinforcement of that in the productivity community is causing more harm than good!

    Thank you again for sharing this amazing post and hope you have a great day ahead 🤍

    Reply ➔
    • sumedha @ the wordy habitat says:

      i’m so glad you liked the post! i loved getting your essay comment haha, and waited until i had time to reply properly.

      expense tracking is quite annoying because there are so many different things to track and i found that this app allows you to track the nuances. hope it works well for you as well!

      if you’re considering notion, i highly recommend taking templates from others online to start with instead of setting things up yourself. that will save you a lot of time and will let you focus on actually using the app.

      a lot of us benefited from BuJo years back but i feel like there’s a reason it stopped being as helpful and we all want something that fit so well. the way of the world has changed and as we grow, we have much more to manage! i think BuJo is not built for the amount of info and quick decision making we have to do. it’s best if we move on and see what fits our current requirements.

      you’ll be introduced to PARA and everything else in Building a Second Brain! if i remember right, you got the book. do read it!

      Reply ➔
  • Sofia Leguiza says:

    The amount of work put into this post in incredible!!!! 😍 😍

    Reply ➔
  • Ramprasad says:

    very nice to know your thought process and methods. keep writing. On work digital organisation too (if you get time). I benefit immensely from your blogs both old and new. You inspire me!
    Just read your monthly wrap blog as well. Happy to know you liked Sapiens. Cheers! Have a good day, Sumedha 🙂

    Reply ➔
    • sumedha @ the wordy habitat says:

      thank you! oh yeah i completely forgot to tell you, i finished the book and just focused on writing the review here 😅 hope you had a great day today!

      Reply ➔
  • jan says:

    i attempted to use notion but gave up (the customizing part looked too time consuming and i have a bad track record with digital organizers. for a while i started google keep but then gave that up as well) i've always envied bullet journallers because their work is always so neat and pretty LIKE HOW. i just keep a notebook where i write down tasks and then cross them off after i've done them, and i have a calender of sorts in the same notebook where i mark out important days, and i take the notebook EVERYWHERE. I used to have another notebook to write down blog post ideas when they come, but i have misplaced it so now i just open a post in the drafts and write a title, hopefully remembering to get back to it. lol.
    great post!!

    Reply ➔
    • sumedha @ the wordy habitat says:

      i kept my bullet journal pretty for quite a long time and now even i don't believe it haha. so much effort!
      no but opening the post and hoping it comes to you? just talented things.
      thank you, jan!

      Reply ➔