Having gone through university, you most likely already have a knack for juggling multiple things at the same time - assignment submissions, exams, extra curriculars, internships, keeping up with friends, etc. But the professional or corporate world poses additional challenges. There is suddenly an overload of disorganised information, a sea of things to learn that may not necessarily be structured into a curriculum and the added responsibility of getting the job done with or without help.
Being able to demonstrate your strength as a team player, a grasp on every day office tools and your degree may help you land your first job but the ability to effectively organize your work, life and the endless stream of information, at this stage, can be fundamental to your success. It may be the most important thing you can learn to do to achieve your short term and long term goals.
Given how important organisational skills can be, we compiled a list of things you can incorporate into your routine to make sure you are on schedule, all the time.
Declutter Your Mind Pouring more water into a glass already full will result in water spilling over. The same logic applies to our brains. According to research, the human brain can lose focus with multiple thoughts at a time. If your brain is trying to think of new ideas, process new information, keep track of tasks and deadlines, while making sure you continue to make progress on the work assigned, it can be tricky to focus and you may end up missing deadlines, forgetting things and / or making errors. That can't be good. An easy way to free the brain from overwhelm is to do what we call 'brain dump'. You'll have to try it to believe how helpful this can be.
Create a list of everything on your mind, be it work related or personal. It could even include random ideas you want to work on that have nothing to do with your current work or an active hobby. The list cannot be a “mental note”. You will need a pen and paper for this or make use of sticky-notes app on your system. The idea is to relieve the brain from the responsibility of storing and processing too many unrelated thoughts and tasks.
Now, separate the professional thoughts/tasks from the personal ones. Your list of work-related tasks will become your to-do-list for work.
Go ahead and fair the work list. This will give you the opportunity to re-read your tasks, add to it, or subtract from it. Creating a list is the recommended first step to get your mental list-of-things to begin materialising. A list can be a simple go-to tool to guide your monthly, weekly, and everyday responsibilities. Emails, reports, meetings, and presentations can all be listed down. So can meeting with friends, a trip to the salon or preparing lunch. Go ahead. Give it a go.
Categorise the List
A list on its own is not as helpful, as one would expect from it, because it doesn't tell you what you should do first or what should be eliminated from your list altogether. If you're like me, you'd put those highlighters and color-coded sticky notes to use and categorise the tasks with reference to the nature of work.
For example, checking and responding to emails and review related work can be grouped together as they both need online presence. Similarly, tasks that requires physical presence can be coupled together and those which require you to unplug and focus (anything to do with creating something from scratch: compiling information/data, preparing a report/presentation, or creating your monthly schedule) can be categorised as one.
Classify your Priorities
Once you have your work categories in front of you, put those highlighter and color-coded sticky notes to use again and classify tasks on the basis of their urgency and importance. For this, you don’t necessarily need to stick to the categories (even though it is recommended to move from category to category) but can also prioritize across. Here, use your instinct and understanding of what’s more urgent than the other and go by that. Some tasks may be urgent in nature simply because a deadline is approaching or you've made a commitment with someone else or they involve an event that can't be moved. Whatever the reason may be, these tasks may or may not be important but must be addressed urgently. Identifying these will help you know which tasks must be done same the day or week.
Classifying tasks on the basis of importance can sometimes be tough. We tend to feel everything is important. An easy way to figure out which task is important is to identify if it helps you get closer to one of your key goals.
Getting organized doesn’t cease at the list but is more about how the list is approached. The fewer the priorities, the better the results. Out of all the things that need to be done today, what are the things of utmost importance? Prioritize those and get going.
A key component of making a list that is practical, objective, and achievable is to have your tasks scheduled or time boxed. We can often be very wrong about the tasks we think we can do in a day. Time boxing ensures you are thinking logically about how much time each task will take and hence how many tasks you can actually get done in a day. It will keep your focus in-check and will save time which may otherwise be spent in planning on-the-go.
Setting reminders and keeping a task management journal are some useful tools to create and stay on schedule.
Bonus tip: Create a Work Plan
You are aware of your job description and your responsibilities. You also know the expectations from your role and your deliverables. So why not put it into a plan? Work plans is an excellent way to be creative and plan ahead of time. A work plan is primarily a calendar having details of your bigger deliverables with their due dates. It is a roadmap of what must be achieved during the current/next quarter or two. Commonly, work plans are made for the next 3-6 months. Once your work plan is ready and approved, it will not only save time but also help in:
Creating daily and weekly to-do-lists
Classifying important deliverables and their pre-requisites
Scheduling important internal and external meetings
If your place of employment doesn’t use a dedicated software like asana, trello or basecamp, you can use Google Sheets to keep track of deadlines.
Organisational skills may not be explicitly demanded but can really be the difference between an average employee and one that shines. Being organised encompasses the capability to prioritise and manage time, stay on schedule, and to set out goals which are achievable – all strengths which make an employee valuable for the company.
Additionally, knowing what your quarter, month, and day looks like goes a long way. It provides a sense of direction and fulfillment. It will also keep your seniors and supervisors aware of your responsibilities and bring structure in your work and also in your professional interactions at work.
Acquiring and practicing organizational skills also reduce work clutter, helps fight procrastination and stay focused, and overall makes you an employee who knows and does their job right.