By Emily Bennington, Monster Contributing Writer
It’s not as fun to read about as new social media trends, isn’t as cutting-edge as new workplace technologies and won’t make you rich overnight. However, if applied consistently, knowing how to get organized is the ultimate incremental edge in your career.
The good news? Getting organized is a learned skill. The bad news, however, is that it relies on another, far more difficult skill, i.e. discipline. Here’s a simple test to see if you need an “organizational intervention”:
- Do you have files and piles in your office you haven’t touched in months?
- Do you feel like you spend more time reacting to tasks and email than being proactive about your schedule?
- Do you feel so caught up in details that you rarely have time to focus on what matters most?
- Do you struggle with time management and a to-do list that never seems to get done?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, your organizational skills could be holding you back from achieving real success at work. For advice on how to kick start your spring cleaning on the job, here’s what the experts had to say:
Step One: Lose the Time-Sucks “I did a time audit early in my entrepreneurial career,” said J.T. O’Donnell, syndicated columnist and President of CAREEREALISM. “I was trying to see where I was wasting time and how I could consistently focus on high-payoff activities.” To get started, O’Donnell kept a log of everything she did, from the moment she woke up until bedtime, for three weeks. Afterwards, she analyzed what percentage of her activities were “business critical” and quickly noticed many time-wasting rituals that could easily be skipped. Armed with this information, O’Donnell built a customized weekly schedule. “This helped me not only cut down the hours I worked each week, but also made me feel a lot more successful because I started getting everything done on my list.”
Step Two: Begin Each Day with a 5×5 Does this sound familiar? You come to work, turn on your computer and begin the daily cycle of reacting to the incoming. Emails…calls…visitors…meetings… if you consistently find yourself at the mercy of everyone else’s tasks at the expense of your own, take a tip from Good Morning America Workforce Contributor Tory Johnson and keep a 5×5 list. “Contact five people by 5pm every day, including new connections or follow-up conversations, who can help you achieve your goals,” she says. “When you’re deliberate about reaching out, you’re more likely to ensure that time doesn’t just ‘slip by’ without making any progress on the things that are most important to you.”
Step Three: Get an App for That If you’re looking for a one-stop-shop that can hold all of your photos, voice memos, web articles, office docs, etc… enter Evernote. An app that touts itself as your ‘external brain,’ Evernote is an online storage facility that allows you to group everything you save together by subject. This lets you keep all of your files in one place and, as long as you have a smart phone or access to the Internet, you can upload or download whatever you need on demand. “It’s like meshing together old-school note-taking habits with new digital tools,” says U.S. News & World Report editor Alexis Grant. “I’m always multi-tasking, and Evernote helps me keep track of all the ideas floating around in my head, even when I’m not in front of my computer.” Evernote is free for a basic service and $5 per month for the premium (read: more storage space) package.
Step Four: Get a Buddy Just as a workout buddy can help you hit the gym, an office buddy can hold you accountable on the job. “If you have trouble keeping organized at work, consider asking a colleague who is organized to help,” says Jodie Watson, President of Supreme Organization. “Agree ahead of time on which tasks they will keep you accountable for and have them check in with you on a regular basis.”
Step Five: Time Management and Your Inner Clock All of us struggle with time management and overlook our own “inner” clock, says IT staffing consultant Dan Fisher, founder of the Menemsha Group. “Figure out what time of day you produce your best work product,” says Fisher. “Then schedule your most challenging tasks during this time.”
So — while organization may not be the most thrilling or glamorous tool in the box of achievement — take some time to get disciplined about it this spring. Because when it comes to making progress at work, this is one of those “little” things that is actually pretty BIG.
Emily Bennington is coauthor of Effective Immediately: How to Fit In, Stand Out, and Move Up at Your First Real Job (Ten Speed Press, 2010). She is a frequent speaker to students and organizations on the topic of career success and Founder of Professional Studio 365, which provides onboarding programs for new grads and their employers. Emily is also a regular contributor to the college section of The Huffington Post. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @EmilyBennington.