Five Ways to Stay Organized

It’s Monday, and organizational skills might be running thin.  If you are at work, you may envy the CEO or agency head for their organizational skills. (And the help they have.) Even without administrative assistants, you can use the ideas and organize your day. Maybe even your week. Here are some tips.

1. Write everything down on one to-do list. Not one for personal items and one for work, but just one list. And while you are at it, write down all your fears and worries as well. The more you separate work, worries, events, appointments, the more your brain has to scramble to sort and repeat it. It’s called a rehearsal loop. (Daniel J. Levitin describes the neuroscience in his book.) That repetition makes the worries and work seem like its more and worse.  You don’t need the stress.

This mess is great for a dropcloth, but not so much for your head.

This mess is great for a dropcloth, but not so much for your head.

2. Once it’s on a list, divide it into four categories. I got this great idea from Getting Things Done by David Allen:

  • Do it
  • Delegate it
  • Defer it
  • Drop it

Now take those items and sort them using the Eisenhower method. Yep, that long-ago President. He  is supposed to have said, “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”  How do you divide urgent and important? Here’s the chart Eisenhower used:

Eisenhower-urgent-important3. Don’t read emails first. I know, that is not at all what you have been trained to do. When you read emails, you begin to answer them. It’s like opening your front door and having random people come in and ask for help. You wouldn’t dream of doing that. So don’t start the day with other people’s work. For the first hour at work, pay attention to your own work.

Using the chart above, and do two items from the “urgent and important” box and some action to move one “important but urgent” item one step ahead.

Bonus tip: Break down the whole chunk of work into smaller segments you can do in 20 minutes. That’s what goes down on your to-do list. If you see, “Write presentation for convention,” you will not know where to start. If you see, “brainstorm three ideas for presentation,” you will tackle it.

4. Send some emails. Your inbox is filled with what other people consider urgent but not important. Don’t fall for it. Fill up someone else’s inbox with what you consider urgent but not important. This doesn’t have to mean a direct report. Someone who is better at that task that you will do nicely. And say “please” early on.

If your boss has trained you to be available and ready to jump at the slightest notice, just open the boss’s emails and put them in one of those four categories.

Do not allow your boss to plan your day for you. You won’t have a decently planned day, and you won’t do enough for the boss anyway. Otherwise, your life will turn into this quote. (One of my favorites.)

d02bd27c2f315917f42326435dd12f805. Use your phone as a timer and reminder. Set your timer so you won’t be late for meetings and appointments. Use the same timer to divide your time so you can move several projects ahead. Think of it as a circuit workout at the gym–two minutes on 10 different machines builds better muscles and burns more fat. And fat-burning mode is great for Monday morning work.

Trying to work on one thing for a whole day will just turn you into someone who cleans their desk, makes four pots of coffee and stirs the office gossip pot. One of the best way to avoid getting caught up in office politics is to be busy getting your own work done. And you’ll feel virtuous.

There. Now you’ve done something worthwhile on Monday morning. And I have to get to work.

—Quinn McDonald makes her to-do list every night before she goes to bed. That keeps her worries written down so she can sleep well at night.







12 thoughts on “Five Ways to Stay Organized

  1. Love these tips. Like you i try to make my lists the night before so I’m not thinking about what i need to do all night long. Am going to try and not answer email first thing. It is soooo distracting. Thanks!

  2. A tidy pile is my preferred way of filing (just keep the gremlins out of it). A straight pile is a tidy pile . . . all under control thank you.

    I cannot work well in a mess . . . physical, mental or emotional. straightening and writing will sort out most of my messes.

    Any form of the Johari window is brilliant.

    My lists are short and I tend to use different labels than before I became gainfully unemployed. My labels involve necessity and pleasure and sometimes the weather.

    The dropcloth has some very interesting sections that could benefit form further examination and attention. I’m interested in that blue and green section with the two orange spots up there in the ‘important but not urgent’ quadrant . . . how apt!

    • I can’t work well in a complete mess, but oddly enough, I can’t work on a completely blank desk. There has to be a familiar feeling of comfortable, organized mess around.
      The dropcloth is a real one–I used it for two Monsoon Paper classes. It’s much more vibrant in real life. And there is something about it that just shouts, “art!”

  3. Very interesting; I am a list-maker, but have not tried putting everything on one list! I am going to try that. I also like your approach, which is to make the list prior to bedtime so you can empty your head! I have multiple lists with multiple purposes and I really want to see how streamlining will help. As far as the suggestion to deal with the items on the list, using the 4 D’s, I will further simplify by dropping three of them (as there is only me) and aim for just “Do it”.

  4. Lots of good advice. The trick is doing it. Ha Ha. I read David Allen’s book too and thought there was lots of great ideas in it, but I was quite overwhelmed by it. I have used some of it, but have not been able to deal with ‘every single piece of paper’ in my home and office.

    • My desk (and the side table) is piled high with stacks. I am a piler, not a filer, and I have raised it to a time management tool. I pile stuff up until the pile threatens to topple. Then I sort through it, throwing out a shocking amount of paper that is old, no longer needed, or has been decided. I’d have ten file cabinets filled up if I didn’t do that. My sense of discernment is on a “delay” mode.

  5. Good advice Quinn! I’m a big list maker, but never put fears and worries on a list. I’ll give it a try. That is a great quote!

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