When your work life is organized, you're able to be more productive. Getting organized at work takes time and energy: Papers pile up; meetings and deadlines eat up large chunks of your day; and phone calls, co-workers, and email messages all compete for your time. Here are some tips on managing your time and getting and staying organized at work.
It's important to keep in mind that not all time-management approaches work for everybody. The one that works best for you will depend on a number of factors, including your work style and the demands of your job and of your personal life.
- List your top three goals in your current position, in the longer term, and in your personal life. Writing these down will help you identify where to invest your time and allow you to create daily, weekly, and monthly goals.
- Create an activity log. Write down everything that you do during a typical workweek. This will help you identify time-wasters so you can take steps to eliminate them. It will also enable you to refocus your work to help bring you closer to your identified goals.
- Determine when you're most productive. Do you do your best work in the morning? In the late afternoon? Knowing when you are most productive will help you organize your time so that you do your most important work when you have the most energy and save less important tasks for other times.
Organizing your paperwork
- Keep your desk clear of all but current projects and the items you use every day. For some people, a desk clear of all but a few essentials helps them feel in control of their space and makes it easier for them to focus on the task-at-hand. If you work best with a neat desk, use nearby shelf or cabinet space to display plants, knickknacks, and photographs.
- Get help setting up an organizational system. Consider talking with someone at work who seems to have created a simple, effective organizational system. Or, read a reference book such as David Allen's bestseller, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. If you really feel stuck, you can hire a professional organizer, who will evaluate your needs and then work with you to develop an effective system.
- Create a monthly and daily reminder system. Whether it's in the form of an app or electronic calendar with reminders, it will serve as an automatic reminder of upcoming tasks. It also provides a place to file schedules, correspondence, and other items to act on at a later date.
Managing email and other communications
Checking and responding to emails and voice mails throughout the day can eat up valuable time, including the time spent refocusing on what you were doing before the interruption. Here are ways to manage the flow of messages at work.
- Check email periodically, not continually. Checking email too frequently interrupts your workflow and eats into your productivity. Try checking email on a regular schedule or a specified number of times per day. If it's practical, keep your email program or interface closed when you can.
- Prioritize email. Respond to urgent messages right away, but create folders on your computer or in your email program for all others. Categorize these messages according to the name of the project or person who sent the mail, the follow-up required, and the timeframe for your reply.
- Keep devices synched. If you use multiple devices for work (e.g., computer, smartphone, tablet), make sure your email and calendars are properly synched. You don't want to miss a meeting because you put it on your computer calendar but not on your smartphone calendar.
- During busy or rushed times, let your voice mail pick up messages if possible. Check your voice mail two or three times each day, and return calls.
- Don't use email as a substitute for conversation, especially when a decision has to be made. A brief phone call may accomplish what might take several rounds of emails.
- Limit interruptions from co-workers during busy times. If you have an office door and are in a work crunch, close the door to let others know that you are busy. If you don't have a door, post a sign outside your workspace indicating when you will be free, if this is acceptable in your work culture. Or, with a smile and a friendly tone, tell your co-worker, "Bill, I'm looking forward to catching up later, but right now I'm working flat-out on a report that is due."
Organizing your time
- Set priorities and deadlines. Determine which tasks are most important and do those first. Be sure to give yourself enough time to get the work done, but not so much time that you stop feeling a sense of urgency about it. Be prepared to reprioritize tasks as circumstances change.
- Arrive at work early or leave late. If possible, arrange to get work done when others aren't around.
- Avoid multitasking. It may seem as though you're accomplishing more if you do two or three things at once, but you will be more productive and produce higher quality work if you give your undivided attention to one task at a time, especially if your tasks require thought or real problem-solving. Studies have indicated that many people overestimate their ability to multitask and that, in fact, multitasking tends to make us less, not more, efficient.
- Do your part to keep meetings productive. Be on time. Come to the meeting prepared.
- Confirm appointments the day before. This will help to avoid problems caused by miscommunication or scheduling conflicts.
- Schedule extra time into each day. Give yourself extra time travelling to and from work so that you don't feel rushed. Try to find a few extra minutes in your schedule each day to organize your thoughts and your things.
- Set a time limit on tasks you dislike. The task will seem less overwhelming if you know you will stop at a certain time. If it's not possible to set a time limit, break up the task into short chunks of time and do work you find more interesting in between.
- Repeat instructions verbally. Make sure you understand what someone is asking you to do before you actually start the work. Make sure others understand you when you are giving them instructions.
- Do quick tasks immediately. If you notice, for example, that something needs to be picked up or returned to its place, do it right away.
- Return items to their place when you're through using them.
- Keep your workspace supplied with the things you need to do your job.
- Use your free time wisely. When on hold on the telephone, sort the papers on your desk. When waiting for an appointment, catch up on your reading or write your next day's to-do list. Or, use these free moments to take a mental break. Then you can get back to work feeling more refreshed and energetic.
- Do a quick straightening-up of your desk each evening before you leave the office. You'll feel better when you return to work the next day and more ready for work.
When you organize your workspace and adopt efficient work habits, you'll find that over time the steps you take to maintain order will become second nature.