I Love It When A Plan Comes Together!
I’ve been accused by some of being the person who has a plan for how to have a plan – guilty as charged! In fact, I organized my thoughts into a short bulleted list before I started to write this article. Before I put the first word into this article, I generally knew what it was going to contain.
Being organized and planning well are not magical powers, they are a set of skills and disciplines that anyone can learn. If you’re feeling a bit disjointed and as if you could use a little more structure in your life, here are some things that work for me.
- Don’t Rely on Memory
I don’t. In fact, I can’t – my memory is terrible. On my way out of a meeting, I may interact with a number of coworkers and have discussions about a half a dozen topics. By the time I get back to my desk, I probably won’t remember most of what was discussed in the meeting and half of my action items. For that reason, I record just about everything before I leave the meeting. By “everything” I don’t mean every word but rather the key points that need to be recalled later or action items for which I’m responsible.
- Use Your Tools
Whether you use a yellow pad to record your notes and action items, or technology tools, write it down or record it in some fashion. For me, technology is the go-to for recording notes. I find a yellow pad that sits on my desk with weeks of notes is not an effective tool – besides, I can’t read my own handwriting. I use Microsoft OneNote and Outlook all day every day. Every meeting or project that I’m involved with is recorded in these tools. I will never remember the details of every meeting or project, but I will always remember where to look if I need to recall them. There are many technology-based organizational tools available, find one and give it a try.
- Set Meetings with Yourself
Do you find you’re struggling with getting started and completing project tasks? Maybe there’s a task you need to do and you keep meaning to get to it, but just can’t find the time. Before you know it, you’re running up against a deadline and scrambling to complete your tasks. I find that setting a meeting with myself to work on project tasks keeps me focused. For example, if I need an hour to set up some software or write a report, I’ll put an appointment on my Outlook calendar for an hour. This blocks out my time so no one else can steal it from me. I treat that appointment like any other in that I begin on time, end on time (hopefully early), dedicate the time to that task only, and record notes relevant to its completion. Bonus tip: I use Outlook’s category feature to color code events on my calendar. Project time, phone calls, meetings, travel, etc. are all coded with their own color so I can quickly glance at my calendar and see how my time is allocated.
- Start On Time/Finish On Time
This is a discipline that once mastered will take a lot of stress out of your life. If you find you’re always late to arrive (despite the mad dash to wherever you’re headed) and running long at the end, work on this discipline. Whether arriving for a meeting with others or working on a project appointment with yourself, stick to the schedule. Be ready to get started when the allotted time slot begins and wrap up when the allotted time slot ends. Ending on time is very important, especially if you are the one who called a meeting. One way to give others the perception that you are not organized is to steal their time. When you book a meeting and you run late wrapping up, you are stealing that person’s time and disrupting their plan. Additionally, when you run late, you’re stealing your own time. Whatever you had planned to do next is now pushed back.
- Remove Clutter
Is your desk piled with papers you’ve been meaning to get to? Do you need to plow a path from your door to your desk just to reach your chair? If so, stop – clean it up. And by that, I mean resolve it – not just move it somewhere else. If you’re shuffling piles you’re not being productive. If you’re not being productive, you’re not going to be organized. Try to adopt the first in/first out approach. If something passes your desk, deal with it now – don’t toss it on the pile for later. Touch it once when possible and don’t keep it if it’s not important.
- Plan for Tomorrow
I don’t know about you, but I’m not the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed type early in the morning. My brain barely functions before the first quart of coffee. But I try not to wake up without some sort of plan for the day. As you wrap up today, you should know what you need to work on tomorrow. Whether it be on the job or in your personal life, have a plan how to get started tomorrow. On the job, I review my Outlook tasks and appointments at the end of every day. I may stage documents or materials I’ll need for the next day so when I arrive I’m ready to hit the ground running. At home, I create a “To-Do” list. There’s nothing more satisfying than crossing off that last item on your “To-Do” list for the day.
As I said at the beginning, getting organized and putting a plan in place are skills that can be learned. The difference between people who are organized and people who are not, is the organized people are doing something about it. Maybe not all of these tips are a fit for you, but if you’re feeling discombobulated, try some of them. You may begin to feel a bit more in control of your life and as a result, lower your stress levels and feel more accomplished.
Share your own ideas on organization in the comments below.