How Soldiers Stay Organized: 8 Insider Secrets You Can Use Now

It's no secret that soldiers are organized. 

In the military soldiers who aren't organized are described as an 'admin nightmare' or an 'admin vortex' or the less affectionate 'cluster-f**k'. (Sorry, about the bad word, but soldiers are swear-y.)

Being unorganized is seen as a very-bad-no-good thing in the military.

Spending nearly a decade in uniform, I noticed that the military treats organizing like any other skill. Something that anyone can learn. It doesn't matter if you weren't born with a label maker in your hands, you can learn to be organized. 

So today I'm spilling the camo-covered beans about getting organized soldier-style that you can use today. You won't even have to shave your head, do push-ups or shine any shoes, I promise.

Looking to get more organized? Here are 9 soldier-approved organizing secrets to get you started.

Prepare to succeed

Everyone who has done military service in the UK knows about the 7 Ps.

Prior Preparation and Planning Prevent P**s Poor Performance

You might know this as ‘failing to prepare is preparing to fail’. 

ACTION Step

I highly encourage you to think about these 2 questions:

1 | What 1 thing can you do now to make yourself better prepared for tomorrow?
This might mean preparing packed lunches the night before or laying out clothes before you go to bed. 

2 | What preventable problems are you struggling with on a daily or weekly basis? 
You might be sick of asking yourself 'what's for dinner tonight?' So perhaps you decide to make a meal plan.

You might be sick of asking yourself 'what do I do with my toddler all day?' So perhaps you decide to spend an hour on Pinterest picking out some easy to plan activities for you to do with your toddler over the coming month. 

It's time to stop the cycle. Make a plan. You don't have to stick to it rigidly but it's there to help you get the best out of your day. 


Roll with the punches

Sitting on a patch of grass, my comrades and I are guzzling metallic tasting water from our standard issue canteens. We’re taking a break from a nuclear holocaust training scenario. 

The instructor with the crazy eyes – we assume he was once a boxer but not a very good one – is giving us a lesson in how to survive life in the military.

“Guys, it’s not enough to be flexible. You gotta be fluid”.

Having a plan doesn’t mean you can’t change direction or have your direction changed for you.

In the military it might go something like this: just leaving work to enjoy the weekend with my family. STOP! We need someone to drive across the country and do something involving a tent. It won’t be fun. Bring snacks.

On the home front it might go something like this: just heading out to do some grocery shopping. STOP! Your little one decides to jam a crayon up his left nostril and it’s a family trip to hospital. It definitely won’t be fun. Bring snacks.

ACTION STEP

Both soldiers and moms have unpredictable lives. Sometimes you just gotta roll with the punches and remember it won’t always be like this. Practice saying 'plot twist' when your best laid plans are foiled. 


Be on time

The military is the only place where you can get in trouble for arriving on time.

Got a dentist appointment at 11am? You better be freshly flossed and sat in the waiting room flicking through a 6-month old magazine at 10:55am.

Aiming to arrive five minutes before the required time is the military way of never being late for something.

ACTION STEP

As a SAHM, I’ve adapted this to aiming to arrive somewhere about 30 minutes before the required time. Not surprisingly I’ve often needed this extra 30 minutes.

There are a couple of tricks you could use to help you with this:

  •  Put all the clocks you use forward by 5 minutes (or more);
  • Write all appointments in your diary to start earlier by 5 minutes (or more);
  • Include travel and preparation times for appointments in your diary. 

Wear a uniform

Getting dressed in the military is so easy. Today, I think I’ll wear green.

I’ve heard lots of people say that they don’t like the idea of wearing a uniform because they feel it’s limiting and stifles creativity. Truth is that we all have uniforms. Just some are easier to spot than others. You know that old chestnut: we only wear 20% of our wardrobe 80% of the time. Newsflash: that’s your uniform.

ACTION STEP

Try laying out your clothes the night before or even planning your outfits at the start of the week. You'll save time in the morning and are less likely to choose the sweatpants and top knot. If that's what you want. 


Prepare for the worst

Before going anywhere soldiers have to take care of those icky details:

  • Life insurance
  • Last Will and Testament
  • Perhaps a Living Will
  • Last letters to families to be opened in the event of their death.

We don’t like to think about it, but the worst does happen.

ACTIOn Step

Schedule a time to have a discussion with your partner about these important issues. When you're ready, make it official and get it all in writing. 


Bodge it*

*TRANSLATORS' NOTE:  ‘Bodge it’ – British Military Slang meaning to repair something messily or clumsily but rather effectively. 

We’ve all done that, haven’t we?

We’ve put off organizing our pantry/closet/home office because we haven’t found that one perfect storage system.

But the truth is, searching for the perfect storage system is like searching for that elusive miracle anti-ageing cream. You’ll spend a lot of your money and time. You might even find one you like. But chances are it won’t change your life. And you’ll go on searching.

Soldiers are great at making do.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen equipment held together by something called ‘Black Nasty’: A thick, black, ugly-as-sin, sticky-as-hell tape.

You see, military minds are inventive. These are the people who brought you superglue, microwaves and the internet. Just don’t ask why they needed superglue. Seriously, you don’t need to know.

On the home front, this means re-purposing things you already have around your home. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to be pretty. It just has to do the job.

You can always invest in a prettier version of your DIY solution later on. But only if that system is tried and tested.

ACTION Step

What one spot in your home have you been putting off organizing because you’re searching for a perfect solution?

How could you re-purpose something you already have at home to organize that spot?

Get creative. Get on Pinterest.  Get it organised.

When you’re done, salute your make-do spirit and spend the money you saved on some family fun.

That’s an order. 


Stop losing things

Ever feel that you could lose something in an empty room? A mind-bending statistic claims that Americans spend the equivalent of 12 days a year just looking for things. Whaaat?

The military has two lessons to make sure soldiers never lose things:

  • Don’t put it down, put it away;
  • A place for everything and everything in its place.

ACTION Step

Is there an item you’re sick of losing? Keys? Wallet? Pens?

It’s easy to over-complicate matters but it’s a simple  process:

1.      Pick up an item you never want to lose again and hold it in your hand;

2.      Identify where best to keep this item;

3.      Move everything else out of this spot;

4.      Create a label and stick label in the spot;

5.      Put item in the spot;

6.      When you use item, always place it back in its spot when you’re done with it;

7.      Never ever place anything else in that spot. Ever.

8.      If you aren’t able to put it away immediately, try using the basket technique. Put a small basket in each room and put items in there that you need to put away in some other room of your home. When you get a spare moment you can empty the baskets and put everything away in its own spot.

The military has a wide array of punishments for soldiers who lose kit but you needn’t be so harsh on yourself.

Losing something is not a reflection of your self-worth. Just find required item, stick it back in its spot and move on. Unless you fancy vacuuming the garden every time you lose your keys? 


Take care of yourself

In military basic training, meals are obligatory. No matter how tired or how busy you must line up with everyone else and go to the mess. You might only get a few minutes to eat it but you got to eat it. 
Throughout the day you must have a full water bottle with you at all times. You must apply sun cream on hot days. And you must report any injury without fail. And there are a lot of other self-care rules and regulations. 

Bet you didn’t know the military cared so much, did you?

But why?

You look after yourself so you can do your job and look after your team. Self-care is therefore a duty.

And here’s where I think it also applies to moms. Trying to be a hero won’t win you any medals. Eventually you’ll break and you’ll probably break when you are most needed.

ACTION STEP

Look after yourself by making some things non-negotiable. Basic things like an appropriate amount of sleep at least a couple of times a week, nutritious meals regularly, and lots of water are non-negotiable.

You must also meet your higher order needs. This means that time to practice your faith, time with supportive friends, and space for your interests are also non-negotiable. 

What’s non-negotiable for you? How can you make time for these in your schedule?


I'm sure you noticed that all these things are relatively easy to implement. 

Organizing in the military is as straightforward as working out a simple, allergic-to-complexity, system and then sticking to the system.

Of course, in the military if you don't stick to the system there's usually some kind of creative punishment (vacuum cleaning the car park, for example). You needn't be so harsh on yourself. Organizing is a skill that comes with time and patience. 

Your mission, should you choose to accept it: pick one of these action steps and do it now. Yes, now!


This post is dedicated to my brothers and sisters still in uniform and their families who keep the home fires burning. Thank you for your service. 


What do you think? Which action step will you implement today? Let me know in the comments below. I can't wait to hear from you.