Is it time to rethink your organizational systems?


Having trouble getting it all done?

Give yourself a productivity tune-up. 

Do you have moments when the logistics of getting all your work done seem just too complicated?  Are there days when you’re juggling too many dates, tasks, relationships, goals … stuff? 

Even if you’re a naturally organized person, the systems you use for staying on top of things may occasionally need some maintenance.

When your organizational systems are breaking down, or you’re feeling overwhelmed by your workload, it’s time to tweak the way you do things. 

Pause right now and ask yourself: does my to-do list have me tossing through the night? Do I have nagging fears about things I forgot to even to put on my list?  Am I buried under paper and email?  Am I faced with different or challenging circumstances? Would I feel happier with less stress and a greater sense of control?

Your work process is like your car.  Even if it seems to be running pretty well, a regular tune-up is a good investment.  Stepping back and trying out new ideas may relieve pressure and free up valuable time.  Why not give it a try?  Take these steps to tune up your productivity:

  • Start with your goals.  Sometimes when we’re feeling harried it’s because our frantic activity doesn’t have much relationship to what is most important.  Begin your tune-up with this exercise to clarify your goals:
    • Jump forward and look back.  Imagine it’s December of 2014, and the past year has brought you tremendous success.  Identify the accomplishments that contributed to your success.  What are the best things you’ve done in the last year or so?
    • Frame key goals.  Return to today’s date and write a list of three to seven objectives for the next 12 to 15 months.  State your goals succinctly and post your list where you can frequently glance at it.
  • Write it all down.  Next do a brain dump.  Write a massive list of everything you have to do.  For now, don’t worry about how your list is organized.  Get it all out – your tasks, projects and all the details you need to track.  You’ll feel a little better once you’ve captured everything in a single place.
  • Choose a system for tracking tasks.  Think about how you’ve been managing your to-do list.  Has your system broken down? Do you have a problem getting everything onto the list? Is the list so cumbersome you don’t really use it?  There’s no single best way to maintain your list, and sometimes what works for a while stops being effective.  So give some thought about how you’ll arrange and keep up your list going forward. Ask yourself:
    • Paper or electronic? For some, the act of writing a to-do list on paper is linked to organizing the project in their mind.  But it’s worth exploring options for keeping your list in the cloud, where you can reach it from any device. It’s a little complicated for my taste, but I’ve played with OmniFocus, a popular app that allows me to store, categorize and shuffle to-do items on my Mac, my iPhone and my iPad. And many folks swear by the free to-do templates in Google Docs.
    • One list or many categories?  Some people manage well with a single long list of all pending tasks.  My preference is to break my list into sections.  Sometimes I squeeze my current list, divided into 4 to 8 categories, onto a single page of grid paper. I keep separate lists for long-term projects, moving action items to my current list.
  • Control your schedule.  Whatever method you use for keeping your calendar — whether you still love your wire-bound planner or you’re wedded to Outlook – the key is how you fill out those hours.  It’s easy to keep busy and so tempting to say “yes” to everybody who asks for a meeting or a conference call.  But your goal, as you tune up your game, is to better align the allocation of your time with your own goals.  As you study your calendar:
    • Find the prime time.  Consider the time of day when you’re most likely to be productive.  Are you sharpest in the late morning or do you leap into action at 4 p.m.?  And do you typically use this prime time for your most important projects?  If not, create productivity zones in your workweek dedicated to your highest priorities. 
    • Create space.  Opening windows for what matters most might mean reducing meeting times, setting aside blocks of time for rushing through batches of low priority tasks, and simply saying “no” to some opportunities.
  • Start with the rule of three.  Each morning, look at your calendar and to-do list and identify three action items most likely to move you toward your goals. Find time on your calendar for getting them done.
  • Choose your capture tools.  Your to-do list identifies action steps and your calendar structures your time, but how do you save the gems in each day’s relentless flow of data?  And what do you do with the ideas flitting through your mind? 
    • A classic strategy is to maintain capture notebooks.  Instead of reaching for sticky notes, always have a handy journal on your desk or in your bag for saving each day’s flow of names, numbers and other vital bits of info.
    • Try going further and explore apps that will make it easy to remember interesting items that pop up on your phone, computer or tablet.  My favorite is Evernote, which lets me keep track of web clips, links, documents and images, and access them whether I’m at my desk or on the go.

I  was inspired to write this post because it’s time for my own productivity tune-up.  This time I’m going to explore some new apps, just to try something new.  Do you have any great suggestions for apps that work with Mac?


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Bev, a former lawyer and Fortune 500 executive, is an executive and transitions coach, and a leadership consultant with a broad and varied practice.

Posted in organizational techniques, productivity Tagged with: ,
3 comments on “Is it time to rethink your organizational systems?
  1. Elaine Little says:

    This is great. I especially like the rule of three. Since I am retired, I now use to keep my home in shape with the help of occasional maid service. I use Notes on my Apple products to make lists such as traveling with pups, to do list, grocery lists, ect. One grocery list is all of the items I get at Costco. When I do an inventory of what I need, I put a dot after each item needed, erase it as I put it in the basket and this leaves the entire list intact and I can remember what items I buy where. Before I go traveling on a road trip or cruise, I have a list of items to take. Then I can see if I have included all of the things as I pack the bags to come home. Electronic worrks for me!

  2. Thanks Elaine. And, yes, I’ve heard from other people who find Flylady to be helpful, particularly with household organization

  3. Of course, what a great website and informative posts, I will bookmark your site.Best Regards!

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