It’s a loaded question and a lot of us never answer this honestly.
Are you an avid to-do list maker? Or are you a natural multi-tasker constantly ticking off small jobs?
Most importantly, is being disorganised affecting your work life balance? Spending too much time in the office or being constantly stressed because there’s a mountain of tasks left unfinished often leads to unhappiness.
Productivity and organisation go hand in hand. They are also two of the biggest buzzwords in business today.
So here’s a guide to make sure you are organised and productive at work so that you can have a good work-life balance.
Not an expert!
I am by no means an organisation expert and I certainly don’t know how to Marie Kondo your life.
I’m naturally very disorganised. My brain is constantly flitting between jobs, tasks, ideas and thoughts so this leads to me being disorganised, meaning if left unchecked I will be stressed out and pulling 12-16 hour days in the office to get everything done.
Organisation became something I needed to adopt and quickly, for the sake of sanity and work-life balance.
I googled, I read articles, I read books, I tried nearly everything out there.
What I realised is there is no one size fits all way of being organised.
You have to experiment and find out what works for you.
However, here are the best and most proven methods of staying organised and on top of your work to make your life easier and a lot less stressful.
Understand Your Time
Knowledge is power. So the first step to getting organised in any capacity is to understand your time.
There are only 24 hours in a day and most of us will work 8-9 hours of them. So understand how you are going to break those hours down and handle each portion of time.
You can be as detailed as you like with it, as Elon Musk reportedly schedules his entire day in 5 minute chunks (add link). You don’t have to be as detailed as that but you should really understand how much you can do with the time available.
By breaking things down in this manner you can slowly and more accurately assess how long each task is going to take and therefore more accurately plan out your day so you reduce all the times you stay late at the office.
Another big point here to make is to take the time! You need to take the time to keep yourself organised. Dedicate a set time to update your to do list, tidy your inbox and organise your files.
This is a habit you are trying to build and improve upon so start small and regularly perform this action until the habit sticks. This is a process you need to keep tweaking and refining, so take and understand your time.
Make A To-Do List That’s Right For You
I know what a lot of you are thinking; “Make a to-do list? That’s a bit obvious.” You would normally be right, however, there’s a caveat with it. You need to find a To-Do list that works for you.
A normal to-do list just doesn’t work for me. At all.
To do list apps, not a chance. I end up on Facebook more often than not with those apps.
Filo-fax and pre done to do templates? Not for me.
However, the system I use is the Bullet Journal. It’s a system that works for me, but it took me years of trial and error for me to find what works.
You should do the same. Find what works for you. Then take the time to write out what you need to do. You can do this at the beginning of the day, at the end of the day or as you go along when thoughts pop into your head or tasks crop up.
Try to put items in order of importance. You’ll always stay on top of your workload if you can reference a list – and you’ll get a great sense of satisfaction ever time you cross something off.
So by understanding what works for you, you can start making moves towards being a much more organised person.
If you find that using an app keeps you productive and on task, then use it.
If you find writing things down on pen and paper best, then do that.
If colour coded post its and a labelling system works for you, then that’s amazing.
By finding the tools and to-do lists that work for you will propel and massively improve your organisation on its own.
Eating The Frog
This is now (in)famous, depending on who ask but the idea is that you should tackle the most unpleasant task first thing and then the rest of the day won’t be so bad. If there are two unpleasant things for you to tackle, do the larger one first.
The point of this little analogy is to emphasise the importance of prioritising your workload.
Once you know where you’re going, you can prioritise. Put more time into the things that will give you the most benefit. According to Pareto’s Principle, only 20% of your daily tasks really matter; that 20% will produce 80% of your results. So identify these tasks and focus most of your time and energy on achieving them.
There are lots of variations on this theme so don’t get too caught up in the history of it all, just know that prioritising your workload will contribute massively to your organisation.
Breaking it Down
Now that you know what your frog may be, it’s time to break down the big tasks into smaller chunks. With so much of our day to day work we are working on projects that can’t be done in a day, it’s imperative to break down these big boulders into bitesize pieces that can be done.
Be realistic about what you can do and the time it will take to do it. This leads people to the 1-3-5 Rule.
On any given day, assume that you can only accomplish one big thing, three medium things, and five small things, and narrow down your to-do list to those nine items.
This rule is amazing because it really forces you to think and better prioritise your work, meaning you are more organised and that you are still achieving all the results you need to make.
Some things are more urgent than others
“It needs to be done ASAP”. This is a phrase that most of us have heard in our working lives and always sparks urgency. It instantly puts a fear and a panic into people. However, ask yourself; is this actually urgent?
So find out how urgent something is by asking its urgency to its importance. This is called the Eisenhower Matrix.
This grid lets you quickly see what is important and needs to be prioritised higher up than what may be urgent but not important.
This is not only a great way of assessing and organising your tasks on the fly but also how to plan your day, week, month or project in terms of what deadlines you have and what needs to be done.
Make sure you have realistic expectations of what is urgent and important. Because if everything is filled into the top left box, then you are not prioritising the tasks correctly or understanding what needs to be done first.
Multitasking: The Myth
In today’s modern world we are expected to be able to multitask and juggle every project and task and work life balance. However, the benefits of multitasking are a myth.
People work best when they focus on a single task at a time. There have even been studies to prove this little fact. So when it comes to being organised, make sure you focus on one task until completion. Then move on.
However, if you have a lot on your plate, then you should delegate some of the less vital tasks. Good delegation saves you time and will motivate and develop others.
You don’t have to be a manager or supervisor to delegate. You can always ask you colleagues for a helping hand. Delegating tasks to those who can handle them quickly and efficiently (and may have more relevant skills than you) is a good way of keeping yourself organised. Just make sure you return the favour when they need a hand.
It can also show your colleagues and team how much you trust them, helping improve your relationships with them.
Make use of psychology
What’s the opposite of productivity? Procrastination. Even the most organised person is likely to procrastinate or be interrupted by small tasks that need to be done quickly or new information changing things.
With so much on our plates it can be hard to find the time to make a start on something we know is going to be a bit of a stretch to complete, and thus it gets pushed further and further down the list.
So to make sure you are actually achieving results of your organisation, you need to be productive and tackle tasks efficiently. But if that to-do list keeps growing use the Zeigarnik effect to avoid procrastinating.
The Zeigarnik Effect is when a task is left unfinished then you are going to keep it at the forefront of your mind. The only way to get rid of this is the completion of the task.
So when you make a start on something – no matter how big or small – it keeps ticking away at the back of your mind until you reach the end.
The best example of this are cliffhangers on TV shows. Because the plot hasn’t entirely resolved people want that sense of closure so will return to the next episode.
How does this apply to work?
If it’s a small task that you can complete in 5 minutes or less, then do it there and then and complete it.
However, if it’s a big thing that you really should start working on and not forget it then make use of the Zeigarnik effect.
Start the job for 2-5 minutes. Give it your attention, and then when that time ends move on.
You will keep it in your mind and therefore you will want to keep coming back to it until its completed. That way or organisational efforts won’t be in vain as you are ticking off those important tasks without delay.
Drain the shallows
This tip is something taken from Cal Newport’s Deep Work (which I highly recommend). What I mean by the shallows is all the tasks that don’t do anything to contribute to your main work. For many people these are telephone calls and emails. It can also be checking your phone or mindlessly browsing social media.
Office workers of the 21st century are designed to respond to any telephone and email ping instantly. We have been brainwashed to think we need to respond immediately to everything. However, for many people this just interrupts the main core work that needs to be done. Social media is the biggest time thief of all as that “just 2 minutes” often turns into 10 minutes plus.
So what Cal recommends is draining the shallows by organising your time and dedicating scheduled periods where you will check your emails, scroll through social media, check your voicemails and respond accordingly. Usually this means you can get through all of them within 30-45 minutes of dedicated task time.
You can also get into the habit of keeping your emails organised. If it is life and death urgent then by all means deal with it there and then, however, if not you can mark it as important with either a colour coded flag (most email inboxes have this feature) or putting them into a dedicated folder.
For the mountain of spam you get, then delete it or mark it as junk to send it straight to that folder and give you a lot more time during the work day.
When it comes to phone calls a great tip is to treat them like meetings. Schedule them, do them and keep on task throughout. This means you can concentrate on what the other person is saying and act accordingly. This kind of focus will actually really help your communication skills as the biggest asset to you is being a good listener.
What Time Works For You?
Like so much of this blog we do have to give slightly vague answers because everyone is different and therefore operates differently.
Personally I am a night owl. All of my creative ideas come to me at night and I find I can sit at my computer and write for longer than during the day. When I wake in the morning I am far too tired and sleepy to do anything cognitively difficult so I use that time to drain the shallows and tackle the distractions before diving into the core tasks of my day.
That is what works for me though. You may be exactly like me, you might be the exact opposite. Whatever works for you is what you should do. So if you feel that you are much more of a morning person, a bit more alert and awake then Eat The Frog first and early.
Really ask yourself when you feel most switched on, most alert, the best times you are able to concentrate. Then tailor your organisational strategy to fit those times.
Remember, productivity is about doing the most important tasks well and efficiently. By being organised you can focus on them and improve not only the quality of work but also the amount of work you can produce.
Organisation is a habit
After all of that, and if you have reached the end of this blog, you should understand all the tools and steps you can take to be your most organised and productive self. However, like so much in life organisation is a habit that takes a lot of practice.
You need to keep flexing your organisational muscles to ensure you get better at managing your time so that you can get more done throughout the work day and that you can switch off and be with your family and friends in your downtime.
Being more organised at work should lead you to the ultimate goal of you being happy and helping you achieve a great work-life balance.
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