I’m no different than anyone else. I get tired. I get stressed. Life gets chaotic and my poor office looks like a war zone. By the end of the day, there are so many items on my desk I barely have room for my laptop. And when I get home, all I want to do is plop down on my bed and sleep the night away - which never happens.
When life gets hectic and unmanageable, it’s time to take back control and get back to being productive and happy.
Here are some tips on how to stay organized at work and get back on track.
How to Stay Organized at Work
Multi-Tasking is a Myth
For some reason, whenever I hear the term ‘multi-tasking’, I always think of Oprah or Martha Stewart. The idea that you can achieve so much in such a small period of time seems absurd, yet naively achievable. I spent a part of my life thinking I could do it all and when it I couldn’t, I had an would shame myself for not being more ‘Oprah-like’.
To be fair, Oprah did not coin the term ‘multi-tasking’. Actually, you can thank computers. Yes, computers. All that pressure you’re putting on yourself to get everything done now because of a simple term actually refers to the ability of a computer to process several tasks, or computer jobs, concurrently. IMPOSSIBLE! You’re not a computer. We created computers for a reason - to make our lives easier. So stop making your life so hard.
Start by structuring your day. Build out a calendar (I use my Google Calendar) and be realistic with your time. Consider the following:
- What is reasonably achievable?
- What needs more time?
- What’s a priority?
- How much time is needed to complete each task
Understanding and planning out what needs to be done in a structured, reasonable amount of time will help you lessen your workload - and your stress. It might take time to get comfortable with building out your calendar and sticking with your time, but soon you’ll find you’re in a more manageable routine and in a better mood.
Next, consider how much you’re adding to your workload. There are times when someone will email me or walk into my office and ask for something simple. And me being me, I say, “Sure. I’ll get that right over” without considering how that extra 5 - 10 minutes will impact my day. It doesn’t take much to get off of your schedule. And if you keep saying “yes” to those quick tasks, you’ll soon find yourself behind and stressed out.
The easiest way to combat the add on tasks is learning to say “no" . I’m not saying you need to be combative or obstinate. I’m simply saying, be selective with your time and open with your team about your schedule. Many times, team members ask for assistance without realizing what’s on your plate. It’s not a matter of being insensitive, it’s just simply being unaware. Communicating with them openly and honestly can help keep your time organized and your stress levels down.
Here are some positive ways to respond to random requests;
- “I don’t have time at the moment, but can I work that into my schedule and get it over to you at a later date?”
- “I understand this is a priority. Is it possible to reschedule one of my current tasks to make room for this request?”
- “I’d love to assist. However, I’m currently working on a project and won’t be able to give the task my full attention. Is it possible to find another team member who can assist?
You’ll find opening the dialogue and keeping everyone well informed of your time will help you - and your team.
Tools to Keep You Organized
I like to keep things simple. Chaos drives me crazy. So, when I work, I like to access as few systems as possible to stay organized. Right now, I have 5 systems I use daily. Each of which sync with one another so I can track my information. However, having this didn’t happen overnight. We’ve had a multitude of different systems and processes that caused us to be unorganized and inefficient.
Luckily, we noticed we had a problem and have worked hard to reduce and refine for better productivity. We understand that we won’t always have the process nailed down 100% since times and technology change. But being aware and staying on top of it helps us ensure we’re doing what’s needed to provide our best work.
That being said, we understand that we’re not the only company who’s run into productivity and organization issues. In fact, we find that lack of organization and communication are some of the main issues many of the business we speak with and even work with face. If you’re looking to help streamline your processes and don’t know what tools to use, here are some we’ve used, past and present, that have helped.
Simply mention Evernote in our office and everyone here will agree that our CEO, Jon Tsourakis, definitely crushes on this app. And with good reason. It’s allowed us to take and organize meeting notes, internal and with clients, and offer communication on an array of different projects.
Personally, I’ve used this app for just about everything. From taking notes in parent-teacher conferences to project management meetings and even blogging. An added bonus is I can use it on the go. If I’m out and get inspired, I can snap a photo, take a note and place it in an Evernote file. The next day, I can access it at work and share with the team.
Prices range from Free to $50 per year for individual users. If you want your team involved, pricing is $12 a month per user. Something to definitely consider if you’re struggling to stay on the same page at work.
Similar to Evernote, Quip allows you and your team to create documents and collaborate. What’s nice about this app is they also offer spreadsheets and chat. You can easily create tasks and checklist and communicate with your team in one area. It’s also accessible via mobile so you can chat with your team on the go or get in a to-do list when at a client meeting.
Pricing for Quip starts with a Free Basic Plan, but can go up to $25 per user, per month dependent upon the package you select.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for quite sometime, you’ve heard about - and probably even used - Google Drive. If you have a Gmail account, you have free access to create documents, spreadsheets, slides and share all of your files in Drive. However, just because you’ve heard of or dabbled in Google Drive doesn’t mean you’re using it right.
I’m a Mac user at work, which makes using Word and Excel a bit frustrating. Luckily, I can create Google Docs and Google Spreadsheets and save and send as Word docs or Excel spreadsheets. This causes less headaches for many of our clients since most are PC users. We use Google Drive as our file system. A central location where our team can save and access files we use for projects - and it’s been a lifesaver. Any document I need to create, I simply create in Drive and attach to our project management system or email.
As stated before, you can start with your free account, but if you’re serious about getting your team organized, pricing starts off at around $10 per user, per month. You’ll have to contact their sales team for more information.
We’ve used every project management system in the book. From Podio to Box. Right now, our drug of choice is TeamworkPM and it’s been that way for a few years now. This system syncs well with Google Drive, which allows us to file share with ease and have a centralized communication platform. Everything is organized and recorded in this system so we can easily track and manage correspondence and projects.
You can create task lists, milestones and even add your clients, if needed, in order to have clear communication and become more efficient. And if you’re looking for a time tracking system, it offers that too.
Pricing ranges from $12 per month to $249 per month depending on your plan. However, you do start with a free 30-day trial. Your best bet is to contact Teamwork directly to ensure you get the package that best suites your needs.
These are just some examples of great tools accessible to you, and your team, to help get you organized. Obviously, there are hundreds of tools out there. Do your research and find what works best for you. Just make sure that if you’re working with your team, you’re all on the same page.
Take Notes and Follow-Through
Everyone takes notes differently and everyone processes notes differently as well. Personally, I like pen and paper. If I jot it down, I can remember and process the information better than if I type it up. However, many of my co-workers prefer to type up their notes and then share with the team. You have to discover the method that’s most effective for you.
The key to note taking is making sure you can understand them, they can be easily communicated and you communicate them with your team. All too often people take notes and then let them sit for a day or two, maybe even more, before the information is broken down and communicated to the team. When we procrastinate, we lose important insight along the way. Here’s what I’ve found useful when taking notes during client and internal meetings.
- Make sure your notes are relevant.Do they tie into a goal?
- Do your notes make sense to you? If they don’t, how is your team going to understand what needs to be done? Make it simple and clear
- Organize your notes. Have separate tasks and requests tied to a specific goal rather than creating a long list.
- Live in the moment. As soon as you’ve finished with your meeting, prepare your notes and communicate them to the team. You’ll be fresh out of a meeting and will have a better attention to detail
Proper communication is an art. It’s not mentioning something in passing or sending a one sentence email (unless it’s very direct and to the point). It’s having an attention to detail and providing enough information that the person you’re speaking with leaves the conversation confident and informed.
We work in a fast-paced environment. We have to be quick on our feet and understand what’s going on. That’s why making sure we properly communicate to each other is so important. I’m sure you’ve received a request, whether written or verbal, that was so vague you had no idea where to start and how to end. But you attempt it anyways, thinking you have the answer, only to find out you went in the wrong direction and now have to start over.
What just happened? You didn’t receive the information you needed to get the job done right the first time. Too many hours are wasted on trying to put together a puzzle rather than just compiling the requests, needs and goals.
If you’re responsible to communicating to a team, be sure you properly gather your information. Here are some of the questions we ask when our clients make requests:
- What has been requested
- Who has made the request
- Is this a fire alarm
- Does this fall within their scope of work
- Is this a rush project
- What is the ETA
- Are there any extra costs associated with the project
You’ll need to anticipate the questions before they arrive and understand the needs of your team. To get in the habit of making sure you gather all the proper information, make a standard list of questions you are typically asked and add as they come. I call these my ‘Who? What? When? Where? and Why’s?’. When new requests come over, you’ll be more prepared over time and will limit the amount of time wasted on solving problems.
Eat. Break. Sleep
No, this isn’t Julia Roberts’ newest ‘feel good’ movie of the year. It’s a wake up call. As we all know, it’s very easy to become so enthralled in our work that we often times forget to take care of ourselves. We skip lunches. Don’t take the time for a 15 minute break and let our brain relax. We go home and get about 4 hours of sleep because we just can’t shut it off. It might seem okay at first because you’re getting so much done, but it takes it’s toll over time.
When you don’t eat, your body and brain start to slow down. Add a lack of sleep and rest to that and you’re setting yourself to become burnt out and sick. I could preach about the need for proper exercise and diet, but there are plenty of health blogs, television shows and ads telling you to do that. What I’m telling you is you need to eat. You need to sleep. And you need to turn it off if you want to get anything done, and if you want to stay sane and happy.
Snack if you need to. If you’re not taking breaks, start small with a 5 minute break. If you’re not sleeping, try turning off your phone. It’s little things that can have a huge impact on your life.
Stop Looking Like a Hot Mess
When I’m having an off day, or week, it doesn’t help when I walk into my office and it’s just destroyed. I have notepads and paper all over my desk. Post it notes with messages I don’t even understand - ramblings of a stressed, mad woman. I have cups all over the place and the general vibe just isn’t good. That’s when I know that if I want to get out of whatever funk I’m in, I need to clean and rearrange.
If your office is anything like mine and you’re stressed out and burnt out, try doing a deep clean. Throw unnecessary items away. Move some furniture to help switch it up a bit. Tidy up and organize to help you feel like you’ve got it together - at least a little bit. If you want to go even further, add something that will help brighten your day. Maybe a photo or a plant. Something that, when you look at it, will bring about a positive response to counteract your want to throw your computer out of a window.
Follow the Process
We all like to take shortcuts. Maybe some more than others. But taking the easy route doesn’t mean you’re being productive or efficient. The truth is, shortcuts can cause more work. If you don’t get it right the first time, you’ll need to go back and do it again - unless half-assed is your thing. Whether we like it or not, process can help organize chaos and get us into a habit and routine that allows individuals and teams to communicate and work effectively to get a job done. When we skip steps and stray from a process, it can have a larger effect than we think.
It could be as simple as not including someone in on an email because you wanted to quickly get something done or taking on a task you wouldn’t typically be responsible for because you don’t want to wait. When this happens, we run the risk of alienating our team and providing work that’s not up-to-par - causing internal and external hardships. Understanding and sticking to processes are the best way to make sure you’re working as a team and providing your best work to your clients.
However, there are times when processes don’t make sense. Especially if a company is evolving - much like we are. What may have worked a year ago may not work now. That’s when it’s time to realize the breakdown and work on adjusting it so it makes sense and works for your team. And if any changes are made, make sure you communicate the changes (remember, we talked about that). The less confusing the process is for everyone, the better.
Full disclaimer, I’m not telling you what to do. These are merely suggestions to spark a conversation or thought. To try and help you through whatever struggle may be facing. What works for some may not work for others. It’s doing your work and discovering what changes you can make to be happier and more productive. And it’s going to change. Life is always changing - whether we like it or not. We have to respond and react. My advice, stay positive and steadfast. Slow and steady wins the race.