Learning how to stay organized at work is a key component of productivity.
You arrive at work and fire up your email inbox. Boom. It’s filled with 500 email threads. You can’t deal with it right now.
So you decide to look at your to-do list.
You notice you have ten important tasks to do today. There are reports to complete and phone calls to make. You wonder how you will have time to complete everything today.
A notification arrives.
You have a meeting in 10 minutes. And as you open your work Calendar, you find out about 3 other meetings you must attend today.
Your head hurts.
And it’s not even 10 AM.
Why You Need an Organizational System
Many people struggle with staying organized at work. And it impacts their ability to be productive.
There are hundreds of important tasks on your to-do list. And so you write things down in post-its and sticky notes to not forget them (only to never find them when you need them). Clutter accumulates. Your email inbox is always full. Your calendar resembles a game of Tetris.
Staying organized at work is a habit you can learn and cultivate over time.
You need to create an organizational system so everything is in the right place all the time. That’s how you are able to do more in the same amount of time.
Here’s how to create your system in 3 easy steps:
- Figure Out Your Goals and Organize Your Tasks and Schedule
- Get Your Workspace in Order
- Take Personal Inventory on a Weekly Basis
Here are some helpful tips on how to stay organized at work and streamline your work life.
Step 1: Figure Out Your Goals and Organize Your Tasks and Schedule
There are two areas to an effective organization in the workplace:
- The physical space organization
- The mental space organization
The latter is the best place to start. Why? Because it will help you stay on top of things day-to-day tasks. And this will ensure you meet your daily, weekly, and monthly goals.
Let’s take a look at some starting points to help you set a solid foundation for your work life.
Set Specific and Realistic Goals
Without goals, you are working for the sake of working itself.
This is an issue for two reasons:
First, goals motivate you in your career and, without them, it can be hard to do your job well. And you may be missing on opportunities to improve your professional life.
The first step in getting organized is to set your career goals.
Here are some examples:
- How much work you want to get done in a typical workday
- The amount of money you want to make
- How you can use your current position to get to the role of your dreams
To help you set solid goals, go through this brief checklist as you are coming up with ideas:
- Are my goals specific?
- Do my goals have a deadline?
- Are my goals realistic and achievable?
- How can I measure my progress over time?
- Am I motivated to meet these goals?
If you can set goals that meet the above requirements, you are well on your way to becoming more organized at work.
Start Keeping a Calendar and To-Do List
People who know how to stay organized at work have a way to produce and keep track of the tasks that they need to do.
Having an overview of your workweek goes a long way in making your professional life easier.
Create a Google Calendar that shows all your appointments and projects for at least a month in advance.
You should also use a project management system to track your progress on projects.
You want to know exactly what is due, how far along it is, and what the anticipated workload is. This will allow you to organize to be more efficient when organizing your tasks.
Once you have a clearer picture of your projects, break those down further into smaller tasks.
If you have to do a 25-page financial report, break the report down into subsections and place those on a to-do list.
Then, tackle your to-do list by priority and avoid multitasking at all costs.
Do you struggle with staying organized and focused on individual tasks and projects? Then this is a major area to focus on.
Everyone’s system may be different, so find what works best for you and stick to that once you have it.
Create an Efficient Schedule
Some people will sit down and start working on projects without a plan.
While work will still get done, this tactic doesn’t ensure that the most important work gets done. And that leaves you open to distractions and potential headaches.
To get organized, create a schedule that will help you break down your workday and get you through it with ease using time blocks.
For example, a great schedule may look like:
- 9:00 to 9:30 AM: Commute to work. Check emails and come up with top 3 priorities to tackle today
- 9:30 to 11:30 AM: Work on priority 1
- 11:30 to 1:30 PM: Work on priority 2
- 1:30 to 2:30 PM: Lunch/take care of small tasks like outreach and collaboration and checking Slack
- 2:30 to 4:30 PM: Work on priority 3
- 4:30 to 5:00 PM: Check emails and plan for next day
This is just an example. But it looks a lot like what you should be doing if you want to stay organized at work.
You need a schedule and a list of priorities to be efficient during your workday.
If it helps, you may also want to track your time to see how well you are using it and where you can improve.
The only way to succeed in the workplace is to plan ahead, organize your tasks, and stay on top of your progress.
That’s how you master time management.
Step 2: Get Your Workspace in Order
Now that we’ve covered some of the tips you need to organize your work, let’s tackle your actual workspace.
A cluttered workspace results in distractions and headaches. A clutter-free space allows you to focus on your work.
Here are some simple tips on how to declutter and organize your work area.
Tackle Your Paper Files First
The majority of work today is online.
But you may still find yourself dealing with odd paperwork here and there. You may also use stationery to take notes or craft lists if it is more efficient for you.
The paperwork itself isn’t a problem. What many people struggle with is finding somewhere else to put it other than all over their desks.
Whether it is a file cabinet, a bin, or a desk drawer, organize your files by type and find a secure place to store them.
A clear workspace will improve your focus and productivity.
Organize Your Online Files
People who are looking for how to stay organized at work focus heavily on physical materials.
Papers and files can clutter up your desk but digital clutter can make it harder for you to get your work done.
Here’s a cleaning strategy that you should follow every week:
- Delete files you don’t need
- Store files in their own folders or on external drives
- Look for new ways to access the files you need more efficiently
Look for online apps that make it easier to organize digital files, such as Evernote or Dropbox.
And since everything is now organized and a few clicks away, your tasks will take less time to complete.
The better your systems, the better your performance.
Use Tools That Make Your Job Easier
Organizing your tasks and organizing your files may not always be two separate tasks. To improve your productivity and get organized, you may want to combine the two.
How do you keep track of individual tasks in larger projects?
You can also place files that you need within these projects. Use integrations for time tracking or messaging tools to get more out of your experience.
When you use tools that work seamlessly together and improve your efficiency, you become more productive.
Look for tools that help you stay organized and do your job better.
Keep Your Inbox Clear
Emails are a big concern for people because they can pile up rapidly. If you miss a day or two, you can be looking at hundreds of emails, many of which may be important to your role.
Responding to emails or checking your email should never get in the way of your work. But it is important that you stay on top of things so that they don’t become a problem.
Schedule at least two blocks in your day where you will check your email and take the necessary course of action (here’s how to be more productive on email).
This way, you will always have your inbox organized and clear without letting it become its own project.
If you want a great system for Inbox Zero, here’s how to turn Gmail into a GTD Gmail.
Step 3: Take Personal Inventory on a Weekly Basis
If you want to learn how to stay organized at work effectively, you need to learn self-discipline and self-management.
No matter how many systems you set up, nothing will be effective for you unless you maintain it. Schedule a regular appointment with yourself to return to your systems and assess their efficiency (I do it during my weekly review).
If something is not working for you, figure out how to fix it, scrap it, or replace it with something better.
If it is working, make sure to regularly update systems or processes so that they remain helpful to you.
Some great questions to ask yourself are:
- Did I meet my goals this week? What will I need to do to reach my goals next week?
- Where did I spend most of my time? Was I productive? How can I become more productive next week?
- Did I keep track of all my tasks and hit my targets? Did I take care of all my priorities?
- Does my office look clean and organized? Does my desktop look clean and organized as well?
- How did my systems work for me this week? Where can I improve?
- Are all my main tools and folders organized and ready for the next workweek?
These questions will help you as you go through the assessment process and discover what you can do better next time. Make adjustments where it makes sense.
As long as you stay on top of your organization and always follow the guidelines you set for yourself, you will not have a problem with staying organized at work.
How to Be Organized at Work: Field Notes
How to stay organized at work in 3 simples steps:
- Start With Goals, Tasks, and Time. Know out your goals and priorities. Then, organize your tasks based on these goals. Finally, organize your schedule so that you can be more efficient while doing these tasks.
- Move Onto Organizing Your Physical and Digital Files. The physical and digital clutter is preventing you from being effective at your job. Keep paper products in a neat place on your desk or find a place to store them away. For files, create a folder for quick access and delete anything that isn’t necessary. Look for tools that improve your organization skills and make your job easier to do. Don’t forget to look at your emails and keep your inbox clear while you are at it.
- Make Sure to Follow Up With Yourself Regularly and Improve the Process. Make an effort to keep your workspace organized. Set a time each week to check in with yourself and assess your progress. If something is working, figure out how to maintain or improve it. If something isn’t working, figure out how to replace it or get rid of it.
Figuring out how to stay organized at work is not difficult. But it is only effective if you are willing to get started and maintain your progress over time.
Are you tired of being distracted or unproductive at work?
Use this simple system to create more efficient processes and conquer your workweek.