I am an office drone. I drag my sorry butt a whole two miles from my bed to the Area of General Discontent, sit there for 8 hours sipping awful coffee only to leave again. I’m sure I’m expected to do things during this 8 hours, but life (and Instagram) gets in the way.
I’m only joking. In reality, I’m an accountant for an SME within the O&G services sector, and on a day-to-day basis I have many balls in the air all at once, and at times have strict deadlines to meet. To me, organization isn’t just making sure you manage what’s thrown at you, but a way to make life as easy as possible. Spending five minutes organising your inbox a day as opposed to working through hundreds of emails at the end of the week to me makes so much more sense. But it goes beyond that. It gives me breathing space, it helps me organise my thoughts, and it truly alleviates stress. So without further ado, my totally unofficial guide to keeping yourself organised at work.
Organise your inbox
*gasp* I know, shock shock horror horror that this is the first item! But when you think about it, email is a massive time-suck. About 80% of my communications at work are via email and it’d be even higher if the office wasn’t so small that I can very easily waddle through to the other rooms to ask questions. My ibox is pennies compared to those who work for an example in customer-faced roles, but it’s not insignificant. I get about 50 emails a day, most of which require action on my part. And here’s how I do it:
- Set up a rule in Outlook to forward anything that comes to distribution lists to separate folders
I don’t necessarily need to respond to an email that came to the generic distribution list, so I can ignore them most of the time. If I keep them separate from those emails that actually need action from me, this cuts down the cleanup time massively.
- Set up categories in Outlook (and use them!)
At the moment, I have four major categories which define my actions:
-FYI – this is for emails with information only. No action is required, but they are items that I should look out for/know for later date etc
-To Do – Can Wait – this is just that; these are items that need to be done, but not urgently
-To Do – Urgent – again pretty self-explanatory; these are priority items
-Waiting for/Chase up – this is where the onus is on someone else to take action. Just because the onus is on someone else, doesn’t mean I don’t need to keep track of these.
I have two screens, one of which has my emails constantly open, and the other one is mainly Excel. Whenever I see an email coming through, I quickly glance at it and drag it to a category as per above.
In the morning and just after lunch, I go through my ‘to do’ boxes and prioritise work for the day. I check my ‘waiting for/chase up’ category on Friday at 2pm and tick off what has been done, or chase up people that have outstanding actions. Doing this early-ish in the afternoon gives people time to do any super urgent stuff that day, or helps them put it on their to-do list for the next week.
Have an empty desk policy
By this I don’t mean that you should have NOTHING on your desk. Because then I’d be up a certain creek with my Hello Kitty pen topper and slowly dying cactus in tow. By this I mean that any paperwork that has accumulated on my desk at the end of the day has to be organised/dealt with by the end of the day. This doesn’t mean that I’ll frantically work silly hours to get every bit of paper completed, but that when I come in the next day, I can start with a (literally) blank desk. This is more of a mental thing than anything else. I feel less stressed when I come in and don’t see huge piles of stuff to do. I can take time in the morning to sort out the categorised paperwork from the previous day, and decide what’s important for that day. Keeping my desk clear also allows me to easily see when someone has tried to sneak in some more work for me!
Do filing.Bleh. Can I just say it now? I bloody hate filing. Absolutely despise it. It’s one of the reasons I’m all for a paperless office. Less filing. I say it’s about not killing trees, but honestly? Punching holes, alphabetising? Bothered. So, this really is something I need to get better at. Some people do their filing as they go along, and this is a FANTASTIC way to do it! I just don’t want to spread the pain over the whole day. What I do in order to (yet again) start the week on a clean slate, is after I’ve chased my emails etc up at 2pm, I do all my filing for the week. It gives Friday a nice finish where I don’t have to start a new project, don’t have to spend too much time thinking (my brain checks out Wednesday afternoon), and I don’t have to spend all weekend fretting about how much stuff I have to do on Monday.
Having paperwork handy
There are several schools in this. Some people like a completely paperless life, some people prefer everything on paper. As much as I think most things should be paperless these days, I like to contradict myself and there are certain things I like to have as a tactile thing. In accountancy, most things are very repetitive. You have a month-long cycle, at the end of which you do certain transactions which are the same as last month. If you have accountancy software that supports repeating journals, GREAT! If you don’t, it might be difficult to remember what to do, so for this purpose, I have a stack of papers with tasks on them that I pull out at the end of each month, tick off that particular month when done and put away for next month. This way, I never forget an entry.
To Do lists
I like a list or two. I do a lot of planning, and I think maybe, just MAYBE I like making lists more than I like actually doing things. But at times, lists serve a purpose. Like at work! I have this little notebook with a to-do list at the side. As I think of something that needs to be done for month end, I write it down. Once the task is done, I tick it off. Seeing all those ticks in a row is one of the most satisfying feelings!
If you’re familiar with personal finance and repaying debts, you’re probably aware of the snowballing method. Basically, in debt repayment terms, it’s where you make standard payments on all your debts as a rule, but any available funds you have, you start paying off your debts by allocating these to the debt with the smallest balance at first. Once you’ve paid this off, your available funds is slightly bigger, and you move onto the next biggest one, and so on and so on until all your available funds go into the biggest debt you have. This is a great method of tackling tasks at work.
I start my day from the smallest, easiest tasks that are quick to finish. Once complete, I move on to a more time-consuming or complex tax, leaving the biggest jobs last. For me, this works as a great mental trick. The small feeling of accomplishment after the little tasks gives me more confidence and boost to move onto the dreaded bigger tasks. If I did start from the biggest task, I’d feel drained by the time it was done and possibly couldn’t finish the little tasks to a high enough standard.
There are two schools to this thought. My boss for an example, starts with the biggest task first, gets that over and done with and then “lightens up” his day with the little tasks. Key thing here is to have a strategy to work with and follow it through; find what works for you!
I find so much in life is all about multitasking! You’re deemed to be a bad employee, a bad student, a bad person if you can’t do more than one thing at a time. Well, I’m giving you permission to not multitask! (not that you needed my permission in the first place..) In this I don’t mean that you shouldn’t be working on one thing on one screen and glancing at your emails on the other. Or that when you have a cup of coffee, that should be all you do. What I mean is that you should really be concentrating on just one task at a time. When we had intern-type staff, I noticed that this was often an issue. They’d been told so many times that multitasking is the key, and it’s so important, and you just HAVE to do it that they’d continue that on to their working lives. In reality what happened was they’d start one job, pick up another one then concentrate on that for a bit, go back to the first job and then start a third one. Each time they had to go back to the first job, they’d need to re-familiarise themselves with that particular task, actually wasting time in the process. Sometimes concentration lapses, and the first job never gets finished as a second and a third job came along at the same time! My advice to you is; FINISH THE TASK AT HAND! Once you’re in that flow, keep it up. Don’t break a good concentration just because you feel that you should be doing other things at the same time. You will lose out. Seriously. You’ve got the mojo, you’ve figured out what you need to do and you feel invincible. So, be invincible. Complete what you’re doing and when you’re done, THEN jump onto the next thing!
Exceptions make rules, don’t they? As much as the previous point emphasises that you need to follow one task to finish, sometimes it’s just not worth it. If you’ve been stuck on one step of a process for 5-odd minutes, are you going to achieve anything by staring at the issue a bit longer? No. You really are not. Brains are funny things, and I find that sometimes mine just needs a “reset”. If I’ve been doing something for too long, even the littlest things seem overly complicated and I just can’t get anything done. So I give it a minute or two. For me, a cigarette break is perfect for working out complex issues. I’ll stand outside like a madwoman, talking to myself, drawing fictional figures in the air. Taking a step back from the immediate issue clears my head and everything just clicks into place. Or if a cigarette break isn’t enough, I just move that one task aside, work on something else for a while and then get back to it. Just like writers’ block, just sitting there staring at the screen isn’t going to do anything good!
This one is actually less about being organised, more about keeping yourself healthy. We all hear about how we need to “hustle” and “work hard” for results. But the fitness world is a great example as to why you need rest. Growing muscles is actually creating little tears in the muscles that then need to regenerate. Because these tears need to regenerate, it’s super important to rest them. If you don’t rest, you overexert yourself and your progress will stall and at worst you make yourself ill. Work isn’t any different. It’s great if you want to work hard, and yes you should hustle, but you should do it within the confines of work time. If you work for an employer, this time is generally set in your contract, but if you’re self-employed things might be a little different. You’ll need to actually schedule some time for yourself. We are not machines, and we can’t work non-stop for years without something giving. And often it is our mental health.
Burnout was a big deal in the 90’s, but as it became more common, we kind of stopped talking about it as much. It still happens; and it’s essentially a constant state of stress where you just can’t take it any more. A little stress is good for you and can motivate you to doing more, but if you find yourself crying because your pen doesn’t write as smoothly as it should, exactly what kind of outcome are you truly going to produce? I went through a really stressful time in the summer. I knew I was stressed, but I thought I was still doing great. As we’re getting ready to close out the year, I’ve been looking back at past entries, and it’s clearly noticeable that my output wasn’t up to my usual level at that time. I made mistakes I normally wouldn’t, and forgot things. If this can happen in someone who does take regular breaks, what about those who never do?
In the end, most of us are replaceable. Let’s not think the world of ourselves; if you’re an employee, you’re just a number. You can be replaced. So, if you go on holiday, will the world topple over if you don’t read your emails? Will the company fall if you don’t do this thing on a Saturday/Sunday? Most likely not. This is your time, and you’ve deserved it. Have a break and come back to work relaxed and ready to conquer the world.
Also, don’t go to work sick. You might feel like you can still work, but in reality you’re just bringing in germs to spread around the office. I will forever hate you for making me ill. Stay at home.
I feel that a list isn’t complete unless it has 10 points in it. So this is here. I don’t really have any more tips for you, but maybe you have some tips for me?