Organising Skills

See Also: Strategic Thinking

How often have you said to yourself ‘I really need to get organised?’ and then failed to do so? It’s a common problem.

Poor organisation usually means less productivity and missed opportunities and can lead to increased procrastination and stress.

Fortunately, there are a few simple things that you can do that will help you to ensure that you get organised, and stay that way. And what’s even better is that these skills can be used at home or at work, and are equally useful in both.

Organising skills are really a combination of Time Management and Self-Motivation. But if that sounds a bit daunting, it’s probably best to consider organisation in terms of a series of steps that you can take.

Effective Organising Skills: Eight Steps

1. Be clear about what you need to do.

If you’re one of those people, like most of us, who struggles to remember just what you’ve agreed to do or what you wanted to do if you had enough time, then keep a list.

If one list is not enough, then keep several. Some people find that they work best with one single list, but others have a long-term ‘To Do’ list, supplemented by a daily ‘Tasks’ list. Others also have a list of jobs for the week as well. It’s a matter of preference whether you use paper or electronic lists.

2. Decide when you’re going to do it.

Research shows that our brains are hard-wired to worry about things that we haven’t done.

This is why you wake up in the night panicking about that piece of work you forgot. Interestingly, however, putting a job on a ‘To Do’ list and, crucially, deciding when you’re going to do it seems to be enough to switch off the bit of your brain that worries, at least until you’ve missed the slot you had identified.

3. Give yourself time and space.

Getting organised doesn’t happen by chance. You need to give yourself time to do it.

Take a bit of time each day to think about what you’ve got to do that day, and plan when you’re going to do it. It’s best to do this either at the beginning of the day, or at the end of the day for the next one. If you commute by train, you might find your journey is the ideal time to do this, but if not, just take 10 minutes when you first get into work, preferably away from your desk to avoid distractions.

If you struggle to find that time, schedule it into your diary. If your electronic calendar is public, make sure you either hide the slot as busy, or describe it in a way that your colleagues won’t immediately identify as ‘time that can be used to come and talk to you’. For example, use initials, so that it looks like you’ve got a meeting, such as ‘DSW’, for ‘Do some work’, and ‘PMD’ for ‘Plan my day’. You know what it means, but nobody else will. And LEAVE YOUR DESK. Go and sit in the canteen, or a quiet corner of a meeting room, to avoid anyone talking to you, or the temptation to ‘just check your emails’.

See our page: Avoiding Distractions for tips and more information.

4. Decide what is important and what is urgent.

It is a delicate distinction, but everything can be separated into either urgent or not, and important or not.

Some things are both important and urgent. Others are neither. Have a look at the Prioritisation section of our Time Management page for more ideas about how to manage this.

5. Break down and delegate tasks.

Break tasks down into their component parts and consider whether you can delegate any of them.

Do you really need to do the whole task straight away? And do you really need to do parts of them? It can sometimes take as much time to delegate as to do the task, especially if it’s relatively quick to do, but could take a while to explain.  But if it’s relatively straightforward to explain, and simple but long-winded to do, it’s an ideal task for delegation.

Take a look at our Delegation Skills page to learn how to delegate without losing control. And, without procrastinating unnecessarily, consider whether you really need to do it today, or if there is something else that is more important or urgent that would be a better use of your time.

6. Don’t get frustrated by extra tasks.

We all know how it feels...

You’ve just spent 10 minutes organising yourself, and you get back to your desk to find an email from your boss telling you to drop everything and just finish a report that has suddenly become the most important and urgent issue in the world.

Don’t get cross or frustrated. At least you now know whether you have anything else on your list which can’t wait, and can negotiate extended deadlines for other work from an informed point of view!

7. Stay on top of things.

Especially when you’re very busy, it’s easy to let your daily organising session slip.

You just want to go home, or you really need to get on with something else. But it’s important to keep on top of your scheduling and organising, as otherwise everything gets in a real mess, and then it takes hours to untangle.

You know it makes sense!

When you think about general tidying, the principle of ‘staying on top of things’ really makes sense. For example, if you insist that your children put away each set of toys before getting out the next one: railway away before Lego comes out, dolls’ tea set away before a jigsaw can be opened and so on, then the tidying up at the end of the day takes much less time.

However, if you leave all the tidying until the end of the day, it could take a very long time, and in the meantime, there may be toys or bits of toys that have been stood on and broken, kicked under furniture, lost or swept up in another game.

The same rules apply to general organisation: keep on top of it, and it is a simple matter to adjust. Let it get on top of you, and it will take a long time to sort out.

8. Use technology to automate your scheduling but remain in control

One of the difficulties with an electronic calendar is to remain in control, especially if you let other people schedule your meetings or see your diary.

Checking every invite is time-consuming but necessary to ensure that you need to attend each meeting. However, several scheduling apps are now available that allow you to automate this process without losing control of your diary.

Some of these apps will allow you to identify ‘appointment slots’ of a particular length. You can also set certain people who can book those without you having to confirm the booking. You might, for example, set two or three 30-minute slots in each day for your team members or your manager to book if they need to speak to you. You will be sent an automatic reminder just before the meeting, so that you don’t miss it. This will maximise the time spent interacting with the people you need to speak to, and minimise the requirement to organise meetings.

Many apps will also allow you to hide any slot that is not identified as available for meetings. This means that you can schedule in time to work at your desk, and colleagues will not see that you are nominally available to talk.

Further Reading from Skills You Need

The Skills You Need Guide to Leadership

The Skills You Need Guide to Leadership eBooks

Learn more about the skills you need to be an effective leader.

Our eBooks are ideal for new and experienced leaders and are full of easy-to-follow practical information to help you to develop your leadership skills.

Organising Yourself or Organising Projects?

Most of what’s described here is about organising yourself, and keeping your work or life under control.

The same principles apply to organising anything, from a family through to a project or event.

Most crucially, taking time on a regular basis to think about what you’ve got to do and when, and in particular what’s time-limited, will really pay dividends.