The big O – organized

When most people think about getting organized, they immediately think of their To Do list. Most PR consultants are pretty good at managing their daily To Dos. Whether they use an online system, a PDA or written lists (often with various florescent codings), they tend to keep on top of their daily actions.

As a sweeping generalization, women tend to be better at action tracking than men, and more experienced staff better than more junior staff. If you’re a young man then, you need to write things down more than you think you should. Essentially though, you don’t last long if you can’t keep the plates spinning.

But being organized does not stop there. Stand up, step back, and take a good look at your desk. Aside from today’s coffee cup and the papers you are working on, what else is on it? Does everything that is there, need to be there? Is it all in the right place or does it need filing? Better still, can you throw it out?

You probably sit at your desk for a large part of your waking life while at work. During the course of battle, it will get a bit untidy and accumulate ‘stuff’. But it’s important to wage war on that stuff – the piles of mags you haven’t read, the freebie crapola you were given at a show, all those conference passes, that folder of reference information, and… the filing. There should not be things written on parchment written with a quill at the bottom of that pile.

I openly admit to being anal about having a tidy desk. An untidy desk increases your stress since it reinforces feelings about loss of control. All that ‘stuff’ will constantly attract your attention, get in the way and ramp up the pressure. It’s amazing how cathartic spending just ten minutes clearing the decks can be – and that’s often all it takes.

Plus your coworkers will make judgements about your organization from the cues given off by your desk. Some people are so bad it becomes an office joke. You don’t really want to be that person.

Now let’s look at your work area. If you are fortunate to have an office, what’s in the filing cabinet, those drawers, on the walls? Can you sling any of that out? Are you still filing stuff from an old campaign four years ago? Those clips from now defunct publications about a company which has since been acquired? What’s in that box? [It is amazing how many people keep empty boxes for months under their desks – are they going to sleep there or something?]

Now what about the office? Walk into reception. What’s the first thing you see (apart from Julie who manages front of house)? Probably some magazines and papers – are they recent? The clips on the walls current? Those awards still relevant? Is the paint chipped? The carpet stained or dirty? Like an interview, you’ve got 30 seconds to make that impression to your clients and prospects. Is it the right one or can you smell the cabbage someone is kindly nuking in the kitchen?

Time to go home. If you drive, what’s in the car? The glove compartment, on the back set, in that handy door pocket? At home, is it all arranged to help you relax and re-energize? If not, then it’s time to make a list of home To Dos as well.

In fact, few people track their personal To Dos as efficiently as their work ones. It’s likely there will be just as many of them, and they’ll be adding to your stress levels just like that burning work deadline. Again, it’s cathartic to just write them all down. Work/life is a false delineation, they both impact each other. So if your personal affairs are disordered that will impact your professional performance and focus.

I’m not suggesting taking a Western reductionist approach to organizing your life to the nth degree. Life is inherently chaotic and impulsive. But it is important to acknowledge that ‘being organized’ doesn’t stop at having an updated To Do list, or even a tidy desk – it needs to extend to other aspects of your life to produce a sense of control and calm. So get a bit obsessive about it, and it’ll soon become a habit.

[If you haven’t read them already, you can find practical advice about organization in David Allen’s excellent books Getting Things Done and Making It All Work.]

  • My suggestion? Turn off email for at least an hour at a time while you get through your “to do” list at work. Constant interruptions with email “inbox” pop ups is way distracting. Focus on the task at hand.
    Second suggestion: unblock the lists of others before you unblock your list — who is waiting for you to to be done before they can do their job? I try to do that on the train to work every day.
    Nice post, Morgan! I liked it!

  • Hi Alice – great tips. Distraction is a major factor in productivity – email, IM, Twitter, SMS, phone and interruptions all draw our attention.
    I love the second one. I often feel I get to the end of the day, and haven’t managed to complete many of my actions, because I’ve been helping others with theirs. And being organized helps you to reallocate that time and to know when you can help others and when it’s time to focus on your own priorities.
    Thanks for sharing those.