Getting – and Staying – Organized at the Office

By: Cheri Jarzynski, Director, Human Resources, Valassis
Published Monday, Jan 15, 2018

Getting – and Staying – Organized at the Office

Now that the holidays are over, it’s time to think about the year ahead. It’s time to de-clutter, both at home and at the office. When your work life is organized, you're able to be more productive and bring less stress home. But for many of us, getting organized at work is a commitment and one usually put by the wayside because of long to-do lists and even longer meetings.

Here are some tips on managing your time and getting and staying organized at work:

Get your to-do list in order
Find the approach that works best for you: paper and pencil, notes on your phone or computer calendar, or free apps, and just do it! I can’t personally endorse any apps as I’m from more of the paper and pencil generation, but either way, making and prioritizing a list of tasks is relatively simple to do and will jump start your organizational habits.
  • At the start of each day (or better yet, at the end of the day prior), decide how you’re going to spend your time and what you’re going to get done. Prioritize the most important tasks and do those first.
  • Determine when you're most productive and schedule your highest priority work for that time.
  • Be sure to carry over uncompleted tasks to the next day’s to-do list, so they don’t get lost or forgotten.

Organize your workspace
For some people, a desk clear of all but a few essentials helps them feel in control of their space, less distracted and makes it easier to focus on the task at hand. Even if you’re comfortable with clutter, an organized work space sends the message to others that you have it together.
  • Keep your desk organized with current projects and the items you use every day.
  • Clearly file and label folders (electronic and paper) for easy reference.
  • Create a “tickler” folder for items that aren’t actionable today, yet may become a project in the future.
  • Pay attention to those around you and the methods they use. Follow the good examples set by others and role model their behavior.

Manage email and other communications
We are all accountable for managing and responding to the myriad of communication methods currently in use – email, instant message, text, etc. Yet checking and responding to messages immediately upon receipt can eat up valuable time and distract us from more urgent matters. Here are some suggestions for managing the flow of messages at work:
  • Check email periodically, not continually. Checking email too frequently interrupts your work flow and compromises productivity. Try checking email on a regular schedule or a specified number of times per day.
  • Prioritize email. Respond to urgent messages right away, but create folders for all others. Categorize these messages according to the name of the project or person who sent the message, the follow-up required, and the time frame for reply. When applicable, add any follow up required to your to-do list.
  • Keep devices synched. If you use multiple devices for work (e.g.: computer, smartphone, tablet), make sure your email and calendars are properly aligned. You don't want to miss a meeting because you put it on your computer calendar but it didn't make it onto your smartphone calendar.
  • During heavy crunch times, let phone calls go to voicemail. Check your voicemail multiple times each day and return calls promptly.
  • Don't use email as a substitute for conversation. A brief phone call may save you time and accomplish what might take several rounds of email.

Organize your time
These days, it is very common to have a full schedule of meetings in addition to other commitments to juggle. Using your time wisely will increase productivity and reduce stress.
  • Arrive at work early or leave late to allow time to get organized when others aren't around. Give yourself extra time to travel to and from work so you don't feel rushed.
  • If possible, avoid multitasking during meetings. Studies have actually indicated that many people overestimate their ability to multitask and, in fact, multitasking tends to make us less, not more efficient.
  • Do your part to keep meetings productive. Be on time, come prepared for the topics at hand and have an agenda ahead of time.
  • Schedule extra time into each day such as "passing periods" between meetings so a spontaneous hallway conversation doesn’t throw you off schedule.

And finally – stay organized!
This is probably one of the biggest challenges for most of us. Each day take small steps to keep your time management and organizational processes intact and running smoothly. Here are some helpful hints:
  • Do quick and easy tasks immediately. If you notice, for example, that something needs to be picked up or returned to its place, do it right away.
  • Use any free time wisely. For example, when on hold, categorize your emails; when waiting for an appointment, catch up on your reading or write your next day's to-do list; or use free moments to take a mental break so you can get back to work feeling more energetic.
  • Organize your desk and arrange tomorrow’s work before you leave the office.

In the end, when you organize your workspace and adopt efficient work habits, over time you'll find that maintaining order becomes second nature. You'll have extra time while being more productive and less rushed – all are improvements in the often hectic world of business.