We are all trying to achieve some level of “organization” in our lives whether that is a comprehensive system for our business or feeling structured in our personal lives. Being “organized” (whatever that means to you) comes down to not only achieving physical organization with paperwork, digital files, and emails, but also being mentally organized by having automated systems so you do not have to decide where to put information as it is coming at you.
The feeling of being organized is deeply personal. Type-A personalities need a much more stringent system than those who enjoy working in “organized chaos.” So if you remember nothing else in this article, remember this: Being successfully organized is what makes you feel good. There is no “right” system. Find a system that works for you and stick with it. Tweak it. Make it your own. If it works for you, it works!
Organization is not just about keeping your paperwork in order or achieving inbox zero. The purpose of getting yourself organized is so you can achieve goals which move you closer towards your ultimate vision for success. What are you trying to achieve? And how will getting organized help you achieve those goals? A system that keeps your paperwork organized is good for keeping your paperwork organized, but it’s not necessarily moving your forward. What’s the point of having your notes, emails, bills, and paperwork organized if it is not helping you achieve your vision for success?
Here are a few things to help get you started on your organized success journey:
Goal setting and planning
Mindset is important when getting yourself organized and it should start with taking a look at your goals and planning for those goals. Let’s be honest. If you don’t carve out some designated time to actually plan your year, months, and weeks, you are going to feel like you are on the gerbil wheel of life without the ability to get off of it. I plan a year in advance and think it’s a great idea. If that’s not feasible or it feels overwhelming, taking it month by month can still have impact.
Before you even take a look at your calendar, think about what you want to accomplish during the month. Once you have your goals identified, work through what you are going to need to actually do in order to accomplish those goals in the month.
Set aside time each week to actually plan out your week by looking at your upcoming appointments and deadlines. Assess what action items you will take on your goals that previously identified and schedule those in – just as if they were one of those appointments or deadlines.
Most professionals do daily planning in sort form or fashion, but it usually consists of what emergencies need to be dealt with and what fires need to be put out. While this is necessary, also looking at your weekly plan each day and monitoring the progress you are making on your goals can help keep you on track.
Get control of your “incoming”
Notice this did not say get control of your “inbox.” The word “inbox” is outdated. First, no one has just one inbox anymore. Most professionals have 2-3 email accounts. We are also constantly fielding communications from texts, social media, messaging apps, and phone calls – yes, people still use the phone! It’s impossible to achieve any level of “inbox zero” these days.
Instead get a system in place to deal with the massive amount of incoming messages that we have coming at us 24/7. This is going to be very different for everyone depending on where the majority of your “incomings” are coming from. Here are some tips:
- Turn emails into tasks or appointments when you read them the first time and you know that you will have some type of follow-up.
- Have one central location where you keep track of tasks that come at you throughout the day.
- Develop a system for keeping track of all of those business cards you collect and getting them into your contacts.
Get control of your calendar and your to do list
During your weekly planning session, schedule blocks of time that you need to complete any significant projects that are on deadline so you ensure you have time to meet the deadline. You may also want to note flexible work time for things that don’t have hard deadlines but you know you have to complete during the week. By blocking out time, you are able to see if you are going to get crunched on days that emergencies pop up (which can seem like everyday).
I am a proponent of having a centralized to do list that contains both personal and professional items. Having everything in one place makes it easier to keep updated, especially when you are extremely busy. Keep your to do list in whatever form is easiest for you. There are several apps which offer tasks integrated with email. The Alexa app through Amazon offers a to do list which can be updated audibly. And when all else fails – a Word document or the notes app on your phone can also be effective.
The priority matrix
Organizing your to do list into four quadrants is also an effective way to keep up with days that are chaotic and moving targets. Organizing your tasks into the following categories: (1) urgent and important; (2) not urgent and important; (3) urgent and not important; and (4) not urgent and not important allows you to instantly see what should receive your prioritized attention.
You should be working primarily in the first two categories and delegating as many tasks as possible in the last two categories.
Paper vs electronic planning systems
Paper calendars and planning systems are flourishing right now for good reason – they are a great planning tool. Your electronic calendar is the best place to keep track of all of your scheduled appointments and deadlines. It is easy to update quickly and stored to the cloud which is a built-in back-up system. But a paper planner is where you can do your annual, monthly, and weekly planning. Find the planning system that works for you – there are so many on the market.
Create systems for things that (1) you do all the time and (2) for things you don’t enjoy doing. If you do something all the time it is a no-brainer to have a system for it and ideally be able to delegate that to someone. By building a system one time and sticking with it, you eliminate some of the decisions that you have to make when you have to do it and you just stick with your system. It will become more routine rather than a huge project that you hate doing that you have to tackle each week or month.
Create an idea place
Have a place, whether it is a notebook or an app, where you can write down ideas as they come to you. How many times do we think of an idea and we think that it is so good that we will remember it later? Most likely you will not. If you have a designated place to actually capture your ideas, you are more likely to do it if you don’t have to decide where you are going to keep them.
Remember that organized success is not about keeping your paperwork tidy or filing away all of your emails. Develop your own personalized system that helps you move closer towards your goals – the ultimate success.