How to Stay Organized When You’re Depressed

There are many things that are difficult about being depressed. The sadness. The fatigue. The insomnia. One of them that may not get talked about as often is the disorganization. When someone is depressed, it can be hard to stay motivated. I have personally experienced this symptom, so I wanted to share some tips for how to stay organized when you’re depressed.

It definitely isn’t easy. The last thing you want to do when you’re feeling sad and overwhelmed is get off the couch and get things done. But I promise it is possible if you stick to these tips.

How to stay organized

Choose your method

There are many different ways to get started staying organized. You can go old school and grab a pen and paper. Buy a notebook that makes you feel inspired. Maybe the cover is your favorite color, or maybe it has a motivational quote on it. I recommend printing out some motivational quotes in beautiful lettering and taping them on the inside cover of the notebook.

If you choose to forgo the pen and paper, you can choose to use your smart phone instead. Most smart phone come equipped with some sort of note taking app. iPhones have the Notes and Reminders apps built in. You can also download additional apps to guide you through this process. I like the app called TickTick. I have the upgraded version for $2.99 a month and it is so worth it. Seriously, I use it to organize everything!

Find an accountability partner

Before you get started making your to-do list, it is always helpful to find someone who can help you stay committed and motivated. When you are in a period of depression, it might seem impossible to get started on something like this. That is why I definitely recommend picking a friend or family member that you can rely on to help you.

You can use an app on your phone to set reminders to check in with them either daily, weekly, or monthly. I recommend checking in often when you are first starting out. You can always taper off your check-ins as you grow more confident.

Set realistic goals

I have written about this before, but I highly recommend setting SMART goals. What is a SMART goal? It is a goal that meets 5 criteria. It is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound.

Here is an example of this. Let’s say your goal is to de-clutter your child’s playroom. A goal like “I want the playroom to be less cluttered,” is not as likely to be accomplished. Why? It is not specific enough. It is not measurable. While it is achievable and realistic, it is also not time-bound. Therefore it only meets 2 out of 5 necessary criteria of a SMART goal.

What can you do instead? Try saying, “I will narrow down the amount of toys in the playroom to 3 bins of toys and 2 bins of books by September 15th.” First of all, you are using positive language. Instead of saying, “I want to,” which leaves room for doubt, you are saying, “I will.”

Second of all, it meets all 5 criteria for a SMART goal. It is specific. You are saying exactly what you want to accomplish. It is measurable. It is something you can track progress on. Also, it is achievable. It is realistic. Finally, it is time-bound. You are telling yourself when you want to have it accomplished by.

Make a prioritized to-do list

Once you have your overall goal set, it is time to make a to-do list, using whatever method you selected in the first section. It is very important to find a way to prioritize this list that works for you. Rather than doing what works for others, you need to find a method that your depressed brain can handle.

There are two different methods that I recommend. One method is ordering the list from most important to least important. This could potentially mean doing harder things first, but it guarantees that the most important steps get accomplished. I tend to prefer this method for my own personal organization projects.

The other method you can try is ordering your list from easiest to hardest. The upside of this is it is kind of a slower transition for someone who is depressed. The downside is that is might take longer to get to your goal, as it might leave more important things for last.

Take it slow

One of the most important pieces of advice I can give you, is to take it slow. That might be a hard pill to swallow, especially when you are desperate to get something done. But I think it will benefit you in the long run. If you progress more slowly through your reserve of energy, you are less likely to get burned out.


The important thing to remember is that just because you are depressed does not mean you cannot be organized. You are just as capable of another person. Yes, you likely need different accommodations than an emotionally normal person. It will likely take you longer than someone else to finish your project. You might feel burned out faster. But at the end of the day, you can totally do it.

Be kind to yourself. Be gentle. Your mind is a firestorm of emotion that can make it difficult to function. That is not your fault. You cannot control it. And, most importantly, it does not mean you cannot be organized.

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58 thoughts on “How to Stay Organized When You’re Depressed”

  1. Fantastic tips, this is something that I majorly struggle with. When I’m having a bad day depression wise I find it so difficult to get myself motivated and this triggers off the worrying and constant thoughts. A rough process.

    Your tips sound amazing, will definitely be giving these a go. Thank you for sharing them.

  2. I love the point about being specific with your goals. I Can’t tell you how many times I would say I wanted to clean up my bedroom and would pick up a few things, get unmotivated and stop. When I changed the goal to I need to find at least 2 bags of clothes to donate because I don’t wear them anymore – I didn’t stop until I had 4 bags.

    1. Hey Diane, that is so great! It really really helps to be as specific as possible. I’m slowly trying to declutter before baby comes in about 5 months, and it is definitely a process. Thanks for reading!

  3. I love how direct and achievable your advice is.

    I use both my paper list and my smartphone. I just started using a date planner too to show long term important dates (5 different school start dates for example between 4 kids and myself), as well as a place to note specific accomplishments for long-term goals-these can be easy to miss.

    1. Hey Rachel, it sounds like you have a great system in place! Good luck with the start of school. My kindergartener starts e-learning today. 🙂 Thanks for reading!

  4. I love that you are empowering people who suffer from depression. It is important that they see that they are able to have control over some aspects of their life.

  5. This is wonderful! I always feel alone when I am depressed and cannot seem to get organized. These are some really helpful pointers, I cannot wait to try them out. Thank you for sharing!

  6. You’ve got some great tips here! I love the app Evernote. It works as a to do list with checkable lists as well as a note taking app, plus I have it installed on my computer and my phone and it syncs smoothly between the two. The best part, for 2 devices like that, it’s free!

  7. I love the idea of an prioritized to-do list! When I’m struggling to be organized because of depression, I’ll often make to-do lists but not complete everything on them, so then I just get discouraged. Great post – thanks for writing!

  8. This is great. I’ve tried staying organised by smartphone, but it hasn’t worked too well for me, so I go with pen and paper all the way!

  9. This is a set of very helpful tips. It is good to have a strategy in place so that you are never caught off guard. We are of course our own worst enemies and our emotions get the best of us sometimes! Staying on top of it is wise!

  10. Thank you for sharing- these are great tips. I have struggled with depression, on and off, for years. It really is important to have a plan and set goals.

  11. This is a great post. I love that you incorporated SMART GOALS, something I rarely hear about outside of school. I was actually thinking of touching on it in my next post about Borderline Personality Disorder.

    Writing down SMART GOALS helps to keep me on track for school and life. Despite my changing ideals and perceptions. Oh, and the constant emotional cascade that flows through me.

    CierraHartmann of http://www.survivinglifewithcierra.com.

  12. Thank you for sharing this. It is very difficult for me to stay organized when I’m depressed. When I do make a “To Do List,” I try to focus on what I did accomplished and not beat myself up for what I couldn’t get to.

  13. Patricia Chamberlain

    These are great tips! I think they all also apply to staying organized with any other kind of chronic condition.

  14. Having a To Do list really helps me. I’m going to work on finding an accountability partner, that sounds really helpful.

  15. These are great tips to staying cool under pressure when you have alot of things going on. SMART goals and taking it slow are probably my favorite tips as they allow you to give yourself the time that you need and make sure that they are attainable!

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