Getting Back on Track

getting back on track2021 UPDATE: Getting “derailed” is one thing. Here it implies a potential for getting back on track with a little focus, some encouragement, and a few tips from me. However, falling off the trestle bridge into the canyon below, before crashing and burning, is quite another thing! This article is about getting back on track organization- and productivity-wise after common life-changes (home, work, health, events, trips, relationships). It was not meant for a worldwide pandemic with severe health, social, and financial implications, accompanied by political and civic upheaval and global warming! In severe cases “back to basics” may mean focusing on eating, sleeping, and exercising enough to recover or maintain one’s health. And, in other cases, a consultation with a medical professional, financial advisor, realtor, or government agency is called for. Even so….eventually you will find yourself either stuck in the past, languishing in the present, or ready to get back on track to meet your future.

Don't beat yourself up for getting derailed. Just start getting back on track! Click To Tweet

Has your life been derailed?

Any number of things can throw us off track – travel, illness, a change in schedule at work or at home. Before you can get back on track you need to ask yourself the following questions:

Did any emergencies arise in my absence? If so, attend to those first.

Are there any bills that can’t wait for my next regular bill-paying day? If so, don’t wait; pay them now!

Is there anyone I need to call? Do you need to reschedule an appointment, or extend a deadline?

Once you have “stopped the bleeding”, if any, you can start getting back to basics!

Can you get back to basics now? 

We all have systems for getting things done. But now is the time to ask yourself: Were my systems working for me before I got off track? If so, simply start using them again! If not, it’s time to rethink your systems and tweak them so they work better for you. Here are some examples:

Laundry – Put a load in the washer now. Clean clothes will help you get back on track!

Dishes – Do the dishes, and clear the kitchen counter. This one clean area will help motivate you.

Launch Pad (a.k.a. Landing Strip or Staging Area) – Gather everything you need when leaving the house — purse, car keys, shopping list, library books — in one spot. Dump your stuff here when you walk back in the door, too.

Flow of Paper – Sort that pile of mystery paper into your action file (or trash/recycle/shredder). Keep it flowing!

Flow of Things – Find homes for new things you have acquired, and spend 15 minutes a day clearing clutter.

Getting Stuff Done – Add tasks and appointments to your calendar. Refer to your calendar daily. Do the stuff you need to do, like paying bills, making calls, and shopping for groceries.

For each system, ask yourself WHO is affected? WHO will do it? WHAT needs to be done? WHAT tools are needed? WHEN and HOW OFTEN should it be done? WHERE will we do it? WHERE will we store our tools for this task? WHY do we need this system?

The bottom line: If you can get back to basics, do it now!

What if, despite my best intentions, I am still off track? 

If a week (or other self-imposed deadline) has gone by since you decided to get back on track, and you still haven’t managed to do so, ask yourself: Am I still beating myself up for getting off track? If so, this is the worst thing you can possibly do! The sooner you can give yourself a break and get on with it, the better. If you can’t do it on your own, or if your problems outweigh the advice that can be provided by a flow chart, ask for help from a friend, physician, counselor, spiritual advisor, or professional organizer.

OK, now that you are back to basics

…you can resume enjoying yourself and making progress on your projects and goals. This includes work, hobbies, home improvement, relaxation without guilt, and quality time with family and friends. Schedule blocks of time on your calendar for the activities you  enjoy.

Congratulations, you are now back on track! 

Does this help you? I’d love to know! How do YOU get back on track? Please leave a comment!

P.S. This is the companion article to the “Getting Back on Track” flow chart, one of 17 charts included in Go With the Flow! The Clutter Flow Chart Workbook.



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  1. Janet Barclay (@JanetBarclay) on July 9, 2012 at 10:02 am

    One thing I’ve found is that when you have those systems in place, things are much less likely to fall apart when you’re MIA for a few days – or at least, it’ll take longer to reach crisis mode.

  2. Seana G Turner on November 7, 2016 at 8:32 am

    Simply acknowledging that it is okay to start where you are is a bit of a relief. The reason you are off track matters less… like water than has run past you in a stream and is now down behind you. Better to focus on what is upstream, what is coming. I agree that this can be a great time to call in a few resources to help snap things back into place!

    • Hazel Thornton on November 7, 2016 at 10:30 am

      I agree. And I, too, often think about a stream analogy (mine includes a bridge) when it comes to things that come our way…information, opportunities, etc. Hmmm, I think I started a blog post about that once and never finished it…thanks for the reminder!

  3. Linda Samuels on November 7, 2016 at 5:23 pm

    Life DOES get us off track because stuff happens. It’s interesting that when you first mentioned getting back to basics, I was thinking about “other” basics like getting enough sleep, drinking enough liquid, and eating healthfully. But the basics you mentioned are just as important. And it’s interesting too that when you begin to handle some of the daily “doings” of life, it helps to calm us and reset our routines. I like to call that “clearing the decks.” From there it’s much easier to move ahead.

    The other important piece that you mentioned is attitude. As in…no beating yourself up for the things you didn’t do. Each day brings a chance to reset and start again.

    • Hazel Thornton on May 20, 2019 at 11:47 am

      I’m sure different starting-again points are called for, depending on just exactly how far off track we’ve gotten!

  4. Elana Kleinman on November 8, 2016 at 8:25 am

    Starting in the now is key – focusing on what’s gone wrong will only keep us from getting back on track. Great advice.

  5. Janet Barclay on May 10, 2021 at 1:37 pm

    I really like what you said about viewing the interruption as an opportunity to start fresh in areas where your systems haven’t been working. We often think that way after a vacation or holiday, so why not after an unexpected break?

    • Hazel Thornton on May 12, 2021 at 8:31 am

      Thanks, Janet!

  6. Phaedra Studt on May 10, 2021 at 6:15 pm

    When I feel really off track (and it does tend to be more of a feeling rather than reality in most cases) my tendency is to ostrich, or stick my head in the sand.

    But when I get out of my head, I make an effort to take on just the basics, so I can feel more in control again!

    • Hazel Thornton on May 12, 2021 at 8:30 am

      Good point about it sometimes being more of a feeling than the reality of the situation. And sometimes it takes very little to get back on track!

  7. Carol Jones on May 11, 2021 at 5:08 am

    Getting back on track is even more significant now! With people getting vaccinated and the world starting to return to normal, it’s a great opportunity to rethink all of our ways of doing things.

    • Hazel Thornton on May 12, 2021 at 8:29 am

      I agree with you Carol. Re-thinking all our ways of doing things includes not only organizing systems, but relationships, work, and life goals. Each time we get invited or asked to do something is a chance to think: “Hmmm…I used to do that. Do I still want to?” Or, conversely, “Hmmm…I never wanted to do that before, but maybe I do now?”

  8. Margarita Ibbott on May 12, 2021 at 8:18 pm

    There is no question after this whole year, we all need a reset. I love the idea of keeping it simple and just get back to the basics. Do the laundry, do the dishes, clear the clutter. Sometimes those small steps are just what you need to do.

  9. Julie Bestry on May 12, 2021 at 10:05 pm

    What a great, classic post. Too often, we expect ourselves to always be 10s when a good life is often a series of 7s with a few intermittent 3s. I’m going to keep this short and go throw in a load of laundry!

  10. Kim Tremblay on September 15, 2021 at 11:56 am

    I love the ideas for just getting back to basics. Just doing some of those tasks can really help us to feel in control once again and ready to take on the day. I think we all have to re-set every once in awhile. Great post!

  11. Jane Severance on March 28, 2022 at 4:11 pm

    I went out of town for one night and it threw me for a loop. I have ADHD and my schedule, accompanied by lists and charts that are somewhat set in stone, got off kilter. I ate food that was bad for me because, after all, I was on vacation! When I got home I ordered food that was bad for me because I had unthawed my credit card in case there was an emergency on the trip. I fell completely apart. Then Hazel recommended this article and, in spite of the fact that I am still not back on track, I now feel hopeful about getting back on track. One thing that really helped was that I had the major structures in place. My dishes were done if my kitchen was not actually clean. I didn’t have a backlog of bills or a stack of paperwork. Past Jane had made food when she was feeling better and there was a stack of containers in the freezer. Plus, I had my basic chart and my basic to do list. All in my staging basket. It was just two days. I wasn’t a bad person. I will be back tomorrow. Thanks, Hazel. PS – the first thing on my list, even before putting in a load of wash, is refreezing the credit card. And next is sitting down to work on a jigsaw puzzle that is already out. Because doing anything is better than doing nothing and being excited about doing a puzzle always leads me to going back to the rest of my goals.

    • Hazel Thornton on March 29, 2022 at 12:56 pm

      I’m glad the post made you feel hopeful, Jane. It’s hard to get back on track if things seem hopeless!

  12. Sheri R Voelkel on April 14, 2022 at 1:23 am

    Thank you Hazel! After a move and halfway living out of storage…I needed this.
    And by the way..your book? I’m so motivated by it I have retrieved 2 boxes from storage and am back on track getting my pictures labeled and ready to leave an actual legacy instead of a mess! Thank you so much for all of your inspiration!


    • Hazel Thornton on May 2, 2022 at 11:59 am

      Thanks for your welcome feedback, Sheri! Good luck with your legacy project.

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