Lately I've been struggling with my planning and organizational skills. I'm a naturally organized person, but I'm not a particularly planful person. I like to to live a pretty flexible, go with the flow kind of life but even the most "wing it" kind of girl finds that she has to be on a schedule and plan for things in order to be successful and reach her goals. So, I have always loved a good planner. I never would have made it through college without my good ole "At-a-glance" monthly planner. Planners have come a long way sense my college days and I have been eyeing the Life Planner for the past year. I've posted about it several times.
I finally went for it and ordered by very own Erin Condren Life Planner. You can see them here.
Here are a list of my tips and strategies to stay organized at work. I openly acknowledge that I am still a work in progress with all of these....
1. Set annual goals. How do you even know what you need to plan, organize or accomplish if you don't set goals for yourself. Write them down and hold yourself accountable to them. If you don't decide where your time and energy is going to go, someone else will decide for you. You will end up working on other people's priorities rather than your own. Goal-setting allows you to look a year into the future and decide where you want to be. Your work needs to support your strategic efforts to get to that place when the year is over.
2. Make a weekly "to do" list. These tasks can include routine operational kinds of activities, as well as more complex tasks that support your work goals. Write down the tasks and check them off when completed. Set deadlines for completion. It helps you prioritize your work and manage your time. It think when you actually write something down you will feel more committed to accomplishing it.
3. Create a filing system. Design the system that works for you. Don't follow your boss's system or the person who had the job before you because their way of thinking may not be your natural way to organize. This includes paper and electronic files. I file all my papers by major project and/or program area and then other items are filed by alpha list. I use Microsoft Outlook for my email and I have folders and sub-folders where I move items out of my inbox once I have read them or completed any action or follow-up that is required. This also makes it easy to delete a whole folder of emails that you won't need any more.
4. Use a planner or calendar. I use an electronic calendar, Outlook, for my work calendar. Much of my day is spent in appointments with students advising and coaching them on their career planning and job search. Many people need to have access to my calendar everyday to schedule appointments and meetings for me. Through Outlook I can access to my "work" calendar through my phone or iPad. I can also drag emails into my calendar to use to provide meeting details or references for meeting topics. I color code my office calendar by topic so I can quickly see what my day looks like. Your brain can not possibly remember all of your commitments, you need to calendar to organize yourself. I use a paper agenda, now the Life Planner, to organize my personal life.
5. Stop multi-tasking and start managing your time. I've learned this lesson the hard way too many times. The definition of the word is to "work at several different tasks simultaneously". Honestly, I don't think anyone multi-tasks well, not even millenials. Don't nickel and dime your day away, organize each day so you can get the biggest bang for your buck. I feel much more satisfied at the end of the day when I can reflect back on one or more big accomplishments rather than barely chipping away at several tasks. Use your calendar system to schedule in everyday tasks like reading email, returning phone calls, filing reports or approving work hours. These are everyday tasks that take up more time than you think so you have to account for them in your day. Another helpful tip is to try to read and respond to email only once a day. When you start responding to emails rather than working on your "to do" list you start putting other people's priorities over your own. That will never help you reach your goals.
6. Clean up your work space. A clean and organized work space will help you be more productive and appear to be more professional. Clutter creates chaos in my life. If I am not surrounded by papers and clutter than I can fill my work space with things that inspire me like quotes, pictures and colorful pens (have I mentioned I'm obsessed with colorful Sharpie pens?).
7. Use a "To be filed" tray. My final tip is probably more of a reflection of my personality type than any researched organization strategy but I have a "to be filed" tray. This is where I put papers and reports that I think I need to hang on to but I don't have the time to file them away. This is the "put it off Paula" part of my personality. Every summer I pull out that "to be filed" tray and start sorting through it. I usually end up recycling 75% of it and only filing 25%. Once I've had some distance from it I usually realize that I don't really need it. That saves time and space!
What tips do you have for staying organized at work or home?