In an overwhelmingly busy world it can often be hard to stay organized. We have every technology available, essentially at our fingertips, and yet it seems that just means we’re expected to get that much more done in a standard business day. But, wait, what is a standard business day? Does anyone in business really adhere to a standard 8-10 hour day anymore? Between overly demanding jobs, families, personal commitments, and constant bombarding from every technical device strapped to our hands, how are we supposed to get everything done?
It’s not always easy but one way to help make it easier is to get organized. Here are a few tips to help you generate a little more streamlining in your world.
Start Every Day With a Plan
I’m sure we’ve all heard this a million times. But how many of us really do it? I mean REALLY do it. And I mean FOLLOW it. This doesn’t mean glancing at your email and calendar and then going about the day however it comes. I’m talking about putting aside half an hour every morning to plan out the day and confirm projects, meetings, goals, and personal time. Factor in personal commitments as well – dinner with family, kids’ recitals, doctor’s appointments, etc. Confirm your meetings with other attendees and make sure you stick to these scheduled times. If you need to make changes, give the other attendees a heads up as soon as you know. Their time is just as valuable as theirs. Part of your daily plan should include time to read through your email and determine which items take priority. Give yourself time first thing in the morning, again in the middle of the day, and finally at the end of the day. If you can allow more time, by all means, take advantage of that. The more time you have to review pending issues, the better you can plan your courses of action.
Use a Calendar
Whether it’s your calendar in Outlook or a good old-fashioned daytimer, you NEED a calendar. And put EVERYTHING on it – meetings, personal appointments, reminders, project due dates, or whatever else you’ve got going on. We’re busy and pulled in numerous directions every day. Ensure that things don’t fall through the cracks by putting everything on your calendar. When you’re scheduling events, give yourself enough time for each task – if it’s going to be an hour meeting, don’t schedule another meeting at the start of the next hour, chances are you’ll be late. Many of us have had those jobs where you feel like you spend your whole day in meetings with no time for your actual job duties. If this is how your days look, block off time on your calendar for private work time. This way you guarantee yourself enough (or at least some!) time in the day to get your own work done. I’m also a big fan of color coding. Outlook allows you to add colored categories to your calendar items. Assign individual colors to different categories: staff meetings, holidays, training, client meetings, birthdays, reminders, projects, etc. This way even a quick glance at your calendar gives you a visual understanding of the priorities lined up each day.
Organize Your Email
Continuing with the color-coding I discussed above, assign color categories to email contacts. Outlook allows you to assign a color to groups or individuals. I suggest putting your immediate team members in one color, I like red so it stands out the most. Consider other groups – internal departments (HR, accounting, IT), clients, etc. – that email you regularly and assign them individual colors. This way, when you scroll through your email every day, you can get a quick visual cue as to which emails will take priority for you.
Your email should be thought of as a to-do list. Your inbox should be reduced so that the only items in the actual inbox are pending action items – ie. your to-do list. Yes, it may be a long one. Once you’ve completed an email request, file the email appropriately. It takes time to get your folders organized properly but I promise you that this is one of the best ever organization tools. Make folders and sub folders and sub-sub folders in whatever abundance you need to stay organized. Once an email has been deemed complete, drag it to the appropriate folder to reduce the clutter in your inbox. And, when it comes time to find an old email, chances are you’re going to find it in a matter of seconds by opening the appropriate folder, rather than the frustration of sorting through your cluttered inbox. If this is a new trick for you, don’t expect to do this in a day. Give yourself half an hour every day to organize your email, until you have it finished. The little extra time now will pay dividends in the long run!
Make a Priority List
I have an on-going to-do list – actually I usually have 3 or 4. I have one on my phone for blog ideas, I have one at work for ongoing projects to be completed, I have my email organized as a to-do list, and I have one on my phone for personal responsibilities. I like lists. You may not. But you should consider getting in the habit of writing them. It’s so easy today to get overwhelmed with everything going on, and a simple list reminds us of what needs to get done. I write down everything to the smallest task. This way I can actually see things getting checked off and feel some sense of accomplishment. The first thing I do every day when I get to the office, is check my list. This allows me to prioritize what is remaining for the day, week, month, etc. Here’s the important thing though – do not spend so much time writing lists that you don’t actually get your work done. If you’re not good with lists, start one. As you get comfortable with that process, you’ll realize that you could split off some things to a different, second list. And the process will evolve from there.
I understand that this list is not the solution to all our daily complexities. But I firmly believe that organization is the integral starting point. If we can make small time commitments to organizing our days and weeks, the rest starts to flow with so much ease, that you almost feel like you can conquer it all.
If you have any other key organizational tips, please feel free to share them below!