How to Be More Organized
Declutter, Take Control, and Achieve More at Work
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 tomorrow! Sound familiar?
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.
Your ability to organize yourself and keep on top of tasks has a major impact on your success, and it can have a knock-on effect on your team members and co-workers, too. Order and calm create a platform for productivity and provide a defense against stress.
In this article and 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.
Use these strategies to replace the mayhem and chaos in your life with a sense of calm. See the transcript here.
The Importance of Being Organized at Work
Being organized is a personal responsibility. You can't expect your manager or co-workers to organize your work for you! If you do, you risk damaging work relationships.
Good organization is one of the top skills employers seek in new recruits, and most workplaces now expect all of their people to be proactive, professional, and to show initiative. When you keep on top of things, you show that you own your work and do not need to be micromanaged. And it's good manners, too.
Staying in control of your responsibilities also benefits your team members. Following a file-naming convention, for example, saves you time and stress, and it also makes the system effective for everyone else. And getting to meetings on time makes them more productive.
Even getting simple "housekeeping" responsibilities right, like keeping communal areas clear of clutter, can have a major impact on the mood – and the performance – of everyone in the office. For more on the positive impact of an organized and conscientious workplace approach, see our articles, Good Manners in the Office, and Health and Hygiene at Work.
The Benefits of Being More Organized
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 wellbeing.
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.
Being organized is a skill, and some of us are naturally more organized than others. But the good news is that organizational skills can be learned and developed. The more you practice good organization, the easier it will become as you start to establish new habits. In turn, this will help you to maintain a safe and productive working environment, to protect your time, and to communicate more effectively.
Focus on these three key areas to develop your overall organization skills:
- Your workspace.
1. 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 is 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.
2. Organize Your Time
Good organizational habits are crucial for successful time management – and vice versa. An uncluttered approach to your work won't just save you time, it will also help you to use your time more effectively. Similarly, planning and scheduling effectively are only possible when you're able to find the right tools and information.
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 with our article, Is This a Morning Task?
3. Organize Your Communication
Organizational skills enable clear communication, too.
If you have all of your notes and ideas organized neatly in one place, you'll be able to recall and share information more easily. This will make your communication more informative, timely and even influential. You'll also likely feel more confident and calm.
This is particularly useful in times of crisis when you need to act or respond quickly. The more organized you are, the easier it will be to see how best to respond to the situation. And, you'll be more controlled and persuasive in your response.
See the Organizational Tools section, below, for tips on how to organize your communication.
Can You Be Too Organized?
Tidying and decluttering are good habits to have. 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 you find yourself actually increasing your stress, annoying others, or spending more time organizing your work than you are on the work itself, stop. Take a step back and think again. Aim for a balanced approach, where your organizational strategies are useful and manageable, for yourself and others.
And 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.
A Checklist for 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.
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 sending out an agenda before a 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. Try to eliminate low-value tasks where you can to make time for what's really important. Read our article, How to Find the Right Work-Life Balance, for more on this.
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.
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 and chats. 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, as well as to pin and to schedule messages.
Spreadsheets or spreadsheet-style scheduling programs are 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.
Your cell phone has plenty of useful tools built in, too. 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 connected with a task or project on its progress in real time, and issue deadline reminders to improve efficiency.
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.
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.
Becoming more organized brings many benefits, including:
- Greater productivity.
- Better performance.
- Improved ability to handle stress.
- More effective communication.
An uncluttered approach to work helps you to manage your time, in turn making you more efficient and effective.
Take steps to organize your working environment, time and communication so that you can start quickly, find everything you need to complete all your tasks, and communicate effectively with your team.
Find the tools – traditional, or more high-tech – that will help you to feel organized and in control, both at work and home.
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