I’m one of those people who love to organize! Nothing makes me happier than a perfectly neat closet, bathroom vanity, or kitchen – everything in its place. I stay away from The Container Store just because I could spend my entire paycheck there if I’m not careful. And, I get this overly excited feeling that I can’t explain when I look at DIY organization ideas on Pinterest. Yes, I’m an organization geek.
Here’s the thing I’ve come to realize about organization though – the busier you are, the less time you have to organize, and the less time you have to organize the more hectic your life becomes. It’s a huge catch-22.
Even this self-proclaimed organization fanatic has had lapses in organization. And, where do they tend to happen most? Work, of course! I get busy on a project, and my desk becomes a mess but I don’t have time to neaten it up. I think of things I need to do but don’t write them down because I’m in the middle of something else, and pretty soon it’s out of control. I’m pretty sure this has happened to everyone at some point – maybe you’re even there now. I’m here to tell you, don’t let yourself get overly panicky; there is a relatively easy way out!
But before I tell you what the way out is, I’m going to tell you a little story. When I was about 11 my family had different guests staying with us from out of town every other week for the entire summer. Of course the inevitable happened and my Mom asked me to clean my room before the first guest arrived. It was a mess. There were clothes and other items packed under the bed and stacked up to the top of the closet. I actually couldn’t open the closet without a wall of clothes crashing down on top of me. I tidied up my room for the guest and promptly went back to my old ways after the guest went home. A week later it was time to neaten my room again and I began to see an entire summer spent cleaning. I had an epiphany at that moment. I thought to myself, “If I spend a little bit of time at the end of every day putting my clothes away I’ll never have to clean my bedroom again.” And for 20 years I haven’t had to clean my room once since then!
I know that story sounds silly but it’s true, and more importantly has a deeper message than just getting your kids to keep their room clean. Organization is all about strategy. You just need a little bit of it to help you get organized and pretty much stay that way. So without any further ado, here’s how to get organized at work:
I know it’s hard, but the first thing you have to do to start down your path to work organization is make a little time in your day to, well, actually be organized. It’s just like brushing your teeth. If you don’t do it every day you’ll get buildup. Maybe take 5-10 minutes every day when you are drinking your morning coffee. Note you’ll use this time you carved aside for all five of the remaining tips.
Different people are disorganized in different ways so you’ll need to figure out the areas you struggle with at work when you are extremely busy. Make a list of all of the things you think you could be better at. That will save you time and stress in the long run if you improve on them. Then prioritize your list and pick the top two items. These two items are the ones you are going to tackle first.
Now that you have your top two items you want to improve on, think of some tools or rituals that will help you work towards your goal of organization for each of them. For instance, as I mentioned, I’ve always struggled with having a thought of something I need to do while I’m in the middle of something else and not recording it to reference in the future. I’ve tried lots of different methods, but for me making a simple “to-do” list with boxes to check off works the best. Since I like to keep desk clutter to a minimum I keep my “to-do” list in Evernote, which has the added benefit of syncing to all my electronic devices.
Now that you have your plan, all you have to do is act on it. Take the 5-10 minutes you’ve set aside each day and do whatever housekeeping you need to stay organized. Back to my “to-do” list example, I usually find it easiest to write notes to myself as I’m working. So, I use my daily ten minutes to type my notes from the day before into Evernote. Then, when I get the chance to complete an item on my “to-do” list I go back to Evernote and check the box next to the item. Nothing feels more satisfying than ticking off things on a long list!
Remember that teeth metaphor? After all this work, the last thing you want is dis-organizational buildup. The more consistently your work on your organization, the more likely it will become a good habit.
Once you feel like you’ve improved on your first two items and you’re controlling them like clockwork, take a look back at your initial list and see if there is anything else that could be improved on. Then, all you have to do is tips 3-5 again for your new items.
I think I can say, being organized at work isn’t brain surgery, even if you don’t enjoy it. It just takes some time, strategy, and dedication. Just think how nice it would be to never have to clean your messy “room” again! For more tips on how to stay organized and improve your performance at work, contact Systemation. Systemation is a performance improvement company that provides corporate management training programs, project management training courses, non-technical project training courses, and business analysis classes.