08/13/2013 12:09 am ET Updated Oct 12, 2013

Andrea Gargotta: 7 Steps for Effortless Organization

By Andrea Gargotta

As a busy mom of two elementary-school children and a professional chef and party planner, I am always on the go. Between the kids' schedules and my own endless list of errands, there is very little down time. My friends and business colleagues describe me as "effortless," but the truth is, my mind is always going a million miles a minute with lists of what needs to be organized, what needs to be accomplished in a given day or week, and what needs to be prioritized. It wasn't until I reached my 40s, and people started asking me "How do you do it?" that I started realizing that I had a "method" of organization that works for keeping my life on track. This is what keeps me organized and stress free:

Learn to stop (and breathe).
Before I begin, I stop. I've learned to take a deep breath and begin with my 20-minute "pause technique," which is based on Vedic meditation. Twice a day (usually in the mornings and in the late afternoon, when my energy is low), I sit still and breathe. I visualize my to-do list and, in my mind, put the items aside on a shelf. Then I take off the shelf only those things that absolutely need to be done that day.

Write your ideas down.
I have a blank note pad that I carry around and call "My Notes." I write down any free-flowing ideas, large or small, and sometimes these things become part of my to-do list; other times, they do not. I keep my notebook next to my bed. When I first awake in the morning I just free flow my racing thoughts. Whatever it is: market lists, kids' school, what I want to make for dinner, the hotel I want to look at on line but keep forgetting about, calling my best friend in New York to catch up--all of it. I keep going until I am purged of all of it. Sometimes this is a sentence, other times pages, and sometimes my thoughts take the shape of poetry, song lyrics, or doodles. When you write things down, thoughts get out of your head and become reality on a page. You also free up your mind to think more creatively.

Keep lists.
I keep a monthly to-do list of monthly goals that are not "urgent." This includes things like organizing my linen closet (I'm a big fan of labeling see-through bags and color coding them), stocking up the pantry with baking items, and beginning to organize for a trip to Europe next summer (I plan six months in advance for international trips).

I also keep a weekly list, which contains more urgent needs, such as making doctor appointments, purchasing supplies needed for a weekend dinner party, and putting together personalized thank-you notes.

Finally, I make a daily list. Since I live in Los Angeles I spend the majority of my time in the car driving from place to place. I make my list in order of car stops, in a circular route, and I start and end at my house. I look at my weekly list and then based on my route I may do Friday's list on Monday--or at least part of it. I also make sure to have my mediation time scheduled in.

Make your lists in pencil.
I make all my lists in pencil and I check them off when complete. Writing in pencil allows me to erase, add, and delete with out messy pen. By checking things off, instead of scribbling words out, I can review my list and see what I actually accomplished and what is still left to do. For me, it's a satisfying way of viewing my progress. And I recently treated myself to an organizer that has customizable dividers, a compartment for sticky notes and pencils, and various calendars (daily, weekly, monthly) to help keep my lists visible and in context of a particular month or season.

Tell yourself it's okay to revise your plans (and life).
I also allow myself to be in pencil. What does that mean? Well I used to live in Black Sharpie. If I made a plan I stuck to it minute to minute. I was so stressed out because of all the pressure I put on myself to live the plan. Once I started my "pencil life" I was relieved of being perfect and was able to start being more present for myself and my children.

Schedule in some "me time."
For me, I do my meditation and give myself one gift each day. One day it might be a Pilates class, another it might be volunteering for a field trip, another day it might be taking an hour to bake cookies instead of buying them. The point is, I allow myself the time I need to feel good and recharge my batteries.

Have fun doing your life.
This might be evident, but if you find yourself on edge all the time and completely frazzled, you're either not staying organized, not taking time for yourself, or holding yourself to too high of a standard. Did I mention that it's okay to not do everything on your list? To learn to substitute items or let others go? And to have fun doing it? Smile, laugh, fit in time for coffee with a friend or that overdue check-in call to a client.

These simple tips help keep my life visible and organized. I also cross off one day per week (it's usually Sunday) with a big "X," which is code for "unscheduled." That's my day to be spontaneous and allow myself to put my lists down. If I am feeling especially adventurous, I also "de-plug" my electronics and don't return any phone calls until the next morning.

Professional chef and party planner Andrea Beth Gargotta has built a career on effortlessly dishing up a variety of healthy, exotic dishes. She is known for her art of detail in every aspect of the culinary experience--from menu development to shopping to clean up. She opened and ran her highly acclaimed craft-services company, Andrea's Craft Service, with the goal of creating a healthier food experience on the film set, gaining admirers such as Tim Allen, Mary J. Blidge, Michael Bay, Joe Pytka, Adam Sandler, Jane Seymour, and countless other A-listers. She is at work on a book about her culinary experiences.