4 Proven, Bite-Sized Tips to Help You Be Organized

I can walk into a person’s work space and tell you where their brain is at. Is their desk messy? Then I can pretty much guarantee that this person complains of having “too much to do”, being “overwhelmed”, or of having “not enough hours in the day.”

This is the 4th in a series of 10 steps to become better organized.

In contrast, I find that the person with the clean desk is oftentimes calm, routine, with an air of relaxation about them.

People with little business experience might assume that the organized person has a light workload or easier projects.


Great organization skills make their jobs look easy because they have learned how to manage time.

The messy desk person wants to look busy but is not working efficiently, if they are getting any significant work done at all. They rush around all day with little sense of accomplishment while the organized person doesn’t go into a panic when they spend their lunch break at the gym.

In other blogs I offer tips to simplify your life and manage time better. Additionally, here are 4 things that successful professionals do to live a calm and organized life.

  1. Turn your environment into a memory padIn order to become more productive without putting a lot of demand on your mind, you can take advantage of the environment around you as if it is part of you. Leave clues and engineer your environment in such a way that you simply stumble over information exactly at a time when you need it. We all do these tricks to some extent, though it’s always good to think of more.Here are some ideas:

memory pad

  1. Cluster
    Group related items together to increase the efficiency of your flow. Pick up the phone and make all the calls you need to make in that day. Pay all the invoices in one shot. Make a list of things you need to do when you are in the shopping center such as shopping, going to the post office, visiting the bank and so on.

    The trick is to make sure you don’t miss even a single item (otherwise known as leaks). If you forget to take an important piece of mail with you to the post office, you must make the trip all over again. That would defy the whole point of the clustering method which is saving precious time.

    I use clustering in very specific ways. For instance, I might plan all of my face-to-face meetings on Wednesdays. This is a time my team members know I am in the office and available. I will not schedule projects on that day. It is 100% for my staff. I focus on their agendas and needs. Clustering.

    Another item that I cluster every day is email, one of the biggest time wasters in today’s modern office. So it deserves its own point…


  2. Control email
    Let me ask you, how many times a day do you check the mailbox at your home? Do you run out there every 5 minutes to see if you have a parcel?

    Of course not.

    In fact, you would consider that a ginormous waste of time. And you might be labeled the village idiot too.

    Now, ask yourself: What does “email” mean? It is short for electronic mail. At some point in recent anthropological history, the culture of email drastically changed from its intended purpose. At many companies, email morphed into instant messaging. Instant messages generally require an immediate response.

    Emails DO NOT!

    Now, you’re sitting there thinking “PSHAW!” If I didn’t respond to my bosses’ email immediately, they would have my head on a platter. Are you sure about that? Have you asked them, “How long do I have to respond to an email after you send it?” You might be surprised when they say, “Before the end of your work day,” or better yet (like at my company), “Within 24 hours.”

    My company culture is that if you do need an immediate response, pick up the phone or send a text message indicating why an urgent response is needed.

    But do not let other people manage your time, making you jump through hoops for the sake of their instant gratification and, all too often, their own laziness to do a bit of research.

    “Highly organized people check their email at designated times during the day.”

    Highly organized people check their email at designated times during the day. By incorporating this practice into my work life I have trained my team to put great thought into emails before sending them to me.

    I control my inbox. It does not control me.

  3. Organize your environment at least once per week
    I have a tool I use every week to help me be better organized. I call it my flowchart. It is based on David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) with a few tweaks.

    I do not strictly adhere to the GTD method. You will find various variations of it online. I actually find GTD too time-consuming. And you know me. I only want to spend 15 Minutes Per Day organizing my life.

    So, I changed and adapted GTD to the reality of my workday. To organize your life, I suggest you do this procedure (or something like it) once a week.

    First, you need to setup your environment. Assign a place as your Inbox (this could be a corner of your desk, a large box, etc.) Put everything related to your work into this inbox. Remember to put these in the inbox as well:

    1. Things on your mind. Make a note of to-dos floating around your cerebral cortex and put them in the inbox.
    2. Items needing to be calendared like emails or voicemail.
    3. Any loose pieces of paper that might have information on it (Post-It Notes, envelopes, paper towel, etc.). 

You want to process everything.

Before starting to organize your inbox you need to know where your organized material will go. You need to setup a number of physical (and/or digital) locations that will hold your material. These could be filing cabinets, box files, inbox trays, Dropbox and so on.

Once you have piled up everything in the inbox, you can follow the following flowchart to process the “stuff”. Remember to ask yourself, “What is my next action? This will continually help you to make forward progress on any task.

Here is a list of definitions for the flowchart:

Bin It – Simply, trash it. Waste of time, not your responsibility, or something you don’t really have to do. No one is holding you to it. So, get rid of it.

Reminder – Go to your calendar system and set an automatic reminder. You may need to call someone at a particular time or check on the status of a project.

Someday/Maybe – Honestly, I never use this one. This is for people who dream about getting things done like taking a vacation or reading a book. I actually move on items or I have no use for them. In other words, Bin It.

Research – This is an item for which I need to carve out study/research time. I might need to read a book, do some online research, talk to the right people, engage in personal development or attend a class. I place the time I need to do this on my calendar.

Waiting – This means I am waiting for someone else to complete their piece of a project. It is very similar to reminder as I set a reminder to check in with whomever I am waiting for. Usually, I book a face to face meeting or tele/videoconference to check project status.

Projects – This is time I need to actually work on a project. This might mean budgeting time to write, meet with key people, design instruction, prepare documentation, etc. I like to break a project into different chunks of time on my calendar. This keeps my mind fresh and focused. For example, I will spread out a 3-hr writing project into three different periods of time, perhaps over 3 consecutive days.

Armed with the definitions, here is the flowchart. As mentioned earlier, I use this at least once per week to plan my week and keep my priorities straight.flowchart

A few last notes on some of the terms in the flowchart:

“Takes less than 2 minutes” – In reality, nothing takes just two minutes to do. However, it does take less than two minutes to take my tasks and give them little spots on my Outlook calendar. It’s surprising how many little tasks become unnecessary as time passes.

For example: An email needs a response. I email the sender informing them that I need to research the matter and will response by next week. I place it on my calendar to research. A day later, the original sender tells me they found what they were looking for. Ah! Task gone.

“Project plans (generate plans)” – For more on how to do this, see the Tasks vs. Projects explanation in a previous blog.

“Delegate it” – See more about delegation in my blog, “Work Like a Professional”.

I have been using this simply 4-step method to organize my week for years. So, remember. To Be Organized you need to:

  1. Turn your environment into a memory pad
  2. Cluster
  3. Control email
  4. Organize your environment at least once per week

These 4 methods are now ingrained in my day-to-day life. I do not need a printout of the flowchart. It is now habit. Once you do this for a few months, it will become old habit for you too. Have at it!

(This blog series begins with 5 Mental Techniques to Master Time Management. And for more on my personal heroes, productivity tips, and articles on leadership visit 15 Minutes Per Day.)

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