"Emotional hygiene, personal hygiene, moral hygiene, organizational hygiene--useful terms for the act of deliberately making hard decisions, early and often, to prevent a 2 x 4 to the face later." - Seth Godin

Early on you are taught which habits to commit to in order to have good dental hygiene. But are you taught which ones to commit to in order to develop healthy emotional, moral or organizational hygiene?

Dental hygiene is a set of habits that prevent disease. Organizational hygiene is a set of habits that prevents chaos and overflow. Committing to a organizational system can create more freedom in your life than not committing to one.

Here is a breakdown of the five main rules to create or improve your organizational hygiene.

1. Commit daily

Organizational hygiene requires a daily commitment.

You cannot choose to pile up paper, dishes, or emails to deal with at a later time. Once you've agreed to commit daily then you're ready for the next rule.

2. Assign a home to everything

Keeping things and material items organized means assigning a home to every single item in your life and when you see the item is not in its home, you put it in its home now (not later).

This rule can single handedly keep your home organized. Most people I know have more trouble with non-material items, which brings us to the next rule.

3. Automate

You cannot possibly expect yourself to remember everything you need to take care of every day. It is an unrealistic expectation.

Your organizational system should assist you in staying organized. You should not be needing to create a new system every day, but rather creating one system where it reminds you and helps you every day. For example:

  • Bills. Put all your monthly bills on auto-pay. If you need to transfer money into accounts, schedule repeat transfers on a certain day of the month to fund the account that the auto-pay withdrawals from.
  • Emails. Take care of every email whenever you check your email. Answer it, flag it to answer at another time, delete it or archive it. If you have newsletters and junk mail you do not open, unsubscribe. Your email inbox can certainly be as clean as your home if you assign a home to each type of email.  (Tip: Use a service like Boomerang to schedule emails.) 
  • Other tasks. If you see a dirty dish, wash it; it takes much less time to wash one or two dishes now than it does to wash 20 later. If you have a small load of laundry, put it in the laundry now. Again it takes less time to throw in a small amount of clothes into the laundry on your way out the door than it does to go through 5 loads of laundry on a weekend day.
  • Stretching, meditating, writing, exercising - anything where you are using your body or your creativity is best done at a specific time. Put an alarm on your phone and stop what you're doing and do what your alarm tells you you need to be doing. Make sure the alarm is at a time of the day when you can actually execute on the task. 

4. Use Reminders

Use an app like Due to schedule daily reminders, weekly, monthly etc. You can use this app to remind you of anything in the world - from watering your plant to drinking water, or anything that you want to be sure you stay engaged in throughout the week.

Use your calendar to remind you of tasks you need to check in with, and set an alert on the calendar item. Calendars are not just for work or social outings. You can use your calendar to remind you to have your annual physical, to check in with your accountant months ahead about your taxes, to call your family - to do anything you don't want to have to remember to do, or give your energy to, until it is time to do so.

Assigning reminders to life's mundane responsibilities allows you the freedom to be present and creative throughout your day knowing that your technology will keep you responsible when it's time to be.

5. Make lists

Write everything down. If you're out and you remember something you need to do, write it down. Use an app like Evernote to make lists - lists for work, home, personal life, short and long term goals and any other category in your life. 

Remember you are only as free as you create space in your life to be. The better your organizational hygiene, the more space you will free up for you.

Published on: Jun 30, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.