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Being More Organized

Being More Organized

Most of us struggle with getting and staying organized, as the task of planning, prioritizing, and organizing/re-organizing our day is unrelenting and can be stressful as well. Missing just a few hours a week or taking vacation can set us back days or even weeks, which is why so many people simply live with a cluttered desk, overflowing email, a poor filing system or unfiled paperwork, and the long-standing return phone calls we never seem to get to.

In reality, most individuals can become much better organized and productive both at work and in their home life. Most of what it takes to be organized is not about different task-based approaches or using new, fancy planning systems; instead, it is more about developing a completely different mental attitude. Let’s look at this change in mental approach or attitude-shift needed in a little more detail:

Attitude shift 1—Tasks should be written down and worked on, crossed off or brought forward.

The wrong attitude: Just respond to work tasks that come your way without writing down what you need to do proactively and/or working on tasks randomly, without prioritizing or crossing off completed tasks as these are accomplished.

The right attitude: Once you have a set of tasks to achieve, write them down—make a list. This can be in hand-written form or on a computer or hand-held device. Either way, be sure to prioritize each item in terms of importance and urgency, and then attack tasks in that order. Each task should be dealt with in one of two ways—either it is completed and crossed-off or it is brought forward on the list for the next day, week or even month so that it is not forgotten or missed but dealt with thoughtfully in light of all that you need to get done.

Attitude shift 2—All paper, emails, and other documents should be dealt with immediately (i.e. discarded, deleted, replied to, or filed).

The wrong attitude: Paper, documents, emails and other communications arrive in high volume and often without priority and are easier to deal with in the order that they arrive (or piled up for attention at some later point).

The right attitude: Once you receive information to be acted upon (written or not), you may be like many other people and hold on to files (paper-based or electronic) for too long. This could take the form of an inbox (electronic or not) with hundreds of unanswered or unattended emails, messages, reports or documents, often with the mindset of, “just in case I might need it.” Research suggests, however, that a well-organized person throws away or permanently deletes at least 50% of their inbound information immediately after reading and another 25% within 48 hours. This means that we should all deal briefly with each file we receive and once it has been read, delete or discard it, send it on to someone else or, if absolutely necessary, file it permanently in an appropriate folder, electronic or paper-based, where it can be found later, if needed.

Attitude shift 3—There is just too much information to be organized.

The wrong attitude: With so much mobile technology in particular nowadays, we can’t do much to stem the flow of data or information that we receive, so we are forced to deal with what seems to be most urgent (but perhaps not most critical), even if it is not the most efficient way to tackle things.

The right attitude: Largely because we are almost constantly able to stay in touch via technology in the modern world, it is easy to feel overwhelmed with data and information we receive—invited and uninvited. This means that in addition to messages by phone and post, we now have multiple email messages, text messages, social media alerts and news and even PDF or video attachments every day that are capable of coming to our mobile phone, tablet or computer (or sometimes all three!). However, none of this information arrives by accident or at the whim of another person—it arrives because we let it get to us. We therefore need to entirely take charge of the information we receive. The best first step here is often to conduct an audit of our overall “inbox” on all of our devices and in terms of any physical correspondence we receive. Once we have reviewed it to determine what we really need, is nice to have (if we have time) and what we want to get rid of, we can start to make some changes. This might include emailing some people to take you off their circulation or copy list for some communications, opting out of newsletters or social media alerts or, more proactively, stop responding to emails or text messages, to start to reduce the possibility of yet more traffic.

Attitude shift 4—Unplanned interruptions are inevitable and we need to take time to deal with them.

The wrong attitude: Interruptions are a welcome break from the routine and are often important to deal with so that they do not turn into even bigger problems later.

The right attitude: Although interruptions are sometimes inevitable, taking time to deal with them is not.  When we allow people to interrupt us, whether it is in person or by telephone, you are actually sending a strong signal that it is OK to interrupt you. We sometimes need to set boundaries. This may be that you can be interrupted with important issues but you may choose to tackle them now or at some point in the future if other tasks are more important on your list. If items are not important, then you can ask people to wait until a particular time to see you or wait until the end of the day, perhaps. It is important to be firm about these boundaries; over time others will come to realize that you are serious about guarding your time carefully and see that you’re more helpful to them when you’re organized and able to give them your undivided attention.

Attitude shift 5—Getting and staying organized takes too much time.

The wrong attitude: Putting regular time aside to plan our day and task accomplishment is a waste of time as things change so quickly that it makes the effort redundant.  

The right attitude: Many people believe that investing time in personal organization is a time-waster, or non-productive. Even though changing circumstances sometimes may make this the case, in the majority of situations, even a small amount of time, such as ten to fifteen minutes either at the beginning or the end of each day, can make a huge difference—especially in terms of getting to priority tasks.

Many research studies confirm time and time again that the more that individuals plan ahead, set up filing systems, clear paper from their work area, delete and file emails and text messages and generally take time to sort their tasks into low, medium and high priority, the easier their workload becomes. Even better, what might take several hours to set up as good organizational and time management habits at the outset becomes maintainable with just a few minutes each day, saving days and even weeks of wasted or duplicative effort every year.

Attitude shift 6—I am personally too undisciplined to be organized.

The wrong attitude: Only certain types of people, with lots of focus and personal disciple tend to be well-organized. My personality is different and I only have very few of these characteristics.

The right attitude: Many people think that discipline is what you apply to unruly children—it is a synonym for punishment (and therefore to be avoided as being not for me). However, the root of the word is “disciple” and actually means making a trained disciple of yourself or becoming someone who can follow systems and rules as a habit so as to free up time for later. A good home example here is brushing your teeth. This is a task that people are best served to do every day on a disciplined basis. The reward is stronger teeth with which to enjoy your food and usually less trips to visit the dentist for attention. The same principle applies to many work tasks and particularly to being organized. A “to do” list, time to think and plan, and a filing/folder system, for example, are all unglamorous but done assiduously turn an apparently undisciplined person into a disciplined and therefore organized one.

Summary

Effective organization is within the reach of every single individual. Although it is a skill to be learned like any other, it is greatly helped by challenging any poor or negative attitudes that you may hold and ensuring that your perspective is as positive as possible. If this shift in attitude can take place, a major transformation can be made by anyone very quickly.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at OptimalJon@gmail.com

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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