How to Be More Organized
Declutter, Take Control, and Achieve More at Work
Are you in control of everything you need for your job? Is the right information always at your fingertips? Do you have a clear plan of action every day?
Or maybe your desk looks like it's been hit by a bomb and you're drowning in emails. You're in danger of missing a deadline, your important files are never where you thought they were, and it's a lottery whether you'll even have clean clothes to wear for work in the morning!
Your ability to organize yourself has a major impact on your success, and it can have a knock-on effect on your team members and co-workers, too.
In this article, and the accompanying video, we'll explore strategies for reaping the rewards of a calm, controlled, decluttered approach – in your professional life, and in everything else you do. Order and calm create a platform for productivity and provide a defense against stress.
Click here to view a transcript of this video.
The Benefits of Being More Organized
You can lose a great deal of time to disorganization. A minute here to find your keys, another there to track down an email… Those minutes quickly mount up to hours of lost productivity. And even if you do manage to get everything done, you likely won't have produced your best work.
The core benefits of being organized and operating in a generally clutter-free environment are increased productivity and improved performance. And with those comes a greater sense of control, which is a vital part of stress management, resilience, and overall well-being.
Good organization can also lead to better thinking. Decision making and problem solving rely on a clear head, plus ready access to the right information and tools. An uncluttered approach improves concentration and your ability to learn, and it puts you on the right track toward the state of deep focus known as "flow."
Success at work also has a lot to do with how you're seen by others. If you're regularly late for meetings, careless with your responsibilities, and seem out of control in your role, your reputation – and your chances of career progression – are at risk.
However, if you show yourself to be someone who manages their workload well, and can be relied on to help to make your organization or team run more smoothly, your competence and value will be clear for everyone to see.
Organize Your Workspace
To become more organized, a good place to start is at your desk – or wherever you do the majority of your work.
Be honest: does your workspace currently help you to be organized, or is it the source of many of your problems? You may work best with a little clutter – in which case, keep it there. But, if the state of your desk is spoiling your performance, it's time to make some changes.
What do you actually need to keep close by? If you spot anything that's no longer useful, or is just getting in the way, either store it carefully someplace else, or get rid of it.
Try having an "action area" on your desk, where you keep the things you need for your current project or activity. This will help you to get started quickly, to avoid distractions, and to stay focused on the task at hand. When one project's done, clear everything away to make room for the next.
And, when your workspace is in good shape, keep it that way! At the end of every day, decide what needs to stay where it is, and make everything else disappear.
Organize Your Time
An uncluttered approach to your work won't just save you time, it will also help you to use your time more effectively. Good organizational habits are crucial for successful time management.
With easy access to everything you need, you'll be confident about the amount of time each task should take. You'll also have a clear idea of when to do it – to fit in with the rest of your work, and to suit other people.
Most importantly, with a calm and controlled approach to each day, you'll be able to make good use of all the time-management tools on offer.
Start every day as you mean to go on. Give yourself the first 15 minutes to get organized. If you have an Action Program, go straight to your "Next Actions" list.
Alternatively, make a To-Do List, with the day's priorities at the top. This will help you to see the best way to shape your day. You'll know which tasks need to be done first, and which can be left until the afternoon. You'll also be able to match your most significant – or most challenging – work to the times of day when you're at your best. Find out more about this by reading our article, Is This a Morning Task?
Stay flexible. Even the best-laid plans can come to nothing if the unexpected occurs, and it's important to respond to whatever happens during the day. Make sure that your schedule gives you a little room for maneuver if you have to produce a last-minute report or there's a crisis at home.
However, the more organized you are, the easier it will be to see how to tackle new situations. You'll know which tasks can be shifted to make way. You'll also likely be calmer and more controlled as you plan your response.
There are plenty of tools at your disposal to help you to get organized. Use the ideas below to consider how a combination of traditional tools and technology might work for you.
For some people, a paper notebook is still the best way to stay in control of information, ideas, lists, and plans. You can personalize it, carry it everywhere you go, and it never needs recharging!
It's a good idea to start a new, dated page each day, so that you can easily go back and find the information you need.
You can use your notebook to record the key points from conversations and meetings. If an idea occurs to you while you're busy with a task, jot it down for later, so that you don't lose your flow. Write To-Do Lists and reminders that will help you to stay in control of your working day. You can also add notes about your activities away from work, to make your whole day run more smoothly.
Other traditional tools can help, too:
- Wall or desk calendars are great for keeping your schedule in front of you, and they're easy to update.
- Paper diaries give you a clear picture of your day, week, or even a whole year, and help you to coordinate your work with everything else that's going on in your life.
- Sticky notes allow you to leave yourself quick reminders – in useful places – as well as to mark key sections in books, separate out piles of documents, or help others to understand your systems.
Being organized is a personal responsibility, but it also benefits your team members and co-workers.
Following a file-naming convention, for example, saves you time and stress, and it also makes the system effective for everyone else. Getting to appointments on time boosts your reputation, and makes meetings more productive.
Even getting simple "housekeeping" responsibilities right, like keeping the printer paper topped up, for example, can have a major impact on the mood – and the performance – of your whole team. For more on the positive impact of an organized and conscientious workplace approach, see our articles on Good Manners in the Office, and Health and Hygiene at Work.
Whatever system you use to communicate online, it will likely have many organizational features.
For example, explore the different options for labeling or filing emails. See if it helps to color-code your online calendar (maybe red for urgent, green for extended deadlines, and blue for low-priority tasks). Check that you know how to set yourself electronic reminders.
On your laptop or office computer, spreadsheets can be useful for keeping track of your progress. You can design them to give you the clearest possible view of all your responsibilities and deadlines. With a little know-how, you can even use conditional formatting to alert you when key dates are approaching. (However, there are also plenty of spreadsheet-style scheduling programs which will do all of that for you, and more – such as Monday.com and Wrike.)
Your cell phone also has plenty of useful tools built in. As well as making the most of the clock, alarm, calendar, and reminder functions, you can use the voice recorder to capture your ideas. At other times, a simple photograph may be the best way to gather the information you need.
There are some great task management apps, like Asana and Trello, which work for individuals as well as whole teams or companies. These update everyone connnected with a task or project on its progress in real time, and issue deadline reminders to improve efficiency.
And there are many apps geared to boosting your personal organization skills. RescueTime, for example, monitors all your digital activity, and provides detailed reports about how you're spending your time. Things lets you organize large projects into smaller, prioritized lists. And 30/30 helps you to break your day into manageable, 30-minute chunks.
Five Habits of Organized People
The more you can live and work in an organized way – even if it doesn't come naturally at first – the sooner you'll change your habits for the better. Here are five everyday strategies worth trying:
1. Celebrate small wins. For example, if you complete three things on your To-Do List, treat yourself to a cup of coffee, or allow yourself 10 minutes of free time to check some of your favorite websites.
2. Use one calendar. If you record some things on your desk planner, and others on your email calendar, it's going to be hard to coordinate everything. Instead, start putting it all in one place. If you do it digitally, you'll find that the technology can pull everything together for you.
3. Schedule small tasks. If a task or project requires action beforehand (like picking up bagels and coffee for the staff meeting), make sure that you schedule those into your day, too. Missing small jobs can have big knock-on effects on everything else.
4. Get organized at home. Don't just restrict your organized approach to work – because a chaotic home life will bring its own problems. Declutter where you live to make mornings easier. Plan your whole day carefully. And talk to the people you live with, so that they know how they can help.
5. Put a high value on your time. Whether you're prioritizing your professional tasks for the week, or mapping out your family commitments, think about how to make every second count. In the words of the American inventor Thomas Edison, time is "… really the only capital any human being has, and the one thing he can't afford to waste."
If you're finding it hard to break a particular habit, could you be sabotaging yourself? Perhaps you keep losing your car keys when it's time for work. It could be a coincidence, but maybe there's something deeper involved. And if there is – possibly a part of you that's trying to get out of going into the office – you'll need to address that before any new organizational approach will work.
Tidying and decluttering are very much "on trend" right now. For some, they promise answers to many of life's problems. However, it's possible to take organizing behaviors to an unhealthy extreme. So, guard against perfectionism, and don't try to control everything.
If it turns out that you're actually increasing your stress, annoying others, and putting more into the process than you're getting out, think again.
Aim for a balanced approach, where your organizational strategies are useful and manageable, for yourself and others.
Becoming more organized brings many benefits, including greater productivity, better performance, and improved ability to handle stress.
Your reputation relies on how organized you're seen to be. And your punctuality, reliability and conscientiousness can all affect the people you work with, for good or bad.
Take steps to organize your working environment, so that you can start quickly, find everything you need, and focus effectively to complete all your tasks.
An uncluttered approach to work helps you to manage your time, in turn making you more efficient and effective.
Find the tools – traditional, or more high-tech – that will help you to feel organized and in control, both at work and in your life beyond.
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