Change the Way You Organize to Salvage Wasted Time

A cartoon figure has lassoed the hand of a giant clock and is trying to pull it backwards

Are you going crazy because there’s too much to do and too little time to get it done? Time is our most precious commodity and we can’t afford to waste it. However, the work keeps coming over the desk, the phone keeps ringing, and “our people” continue to need us urgently.

The only way we can keep sane and reduce our stress is to find a better way to manage all the incoming stuff. It’s called organization and it’s all about prioritizing, sorting into buckets, and being disciplined about the system we establish. And in times of change, when the upset and chaos seem to grow exponentially, finding a system for organizing our work is even more critical.

The process is very like what we in change management consulting outline for our clients. You need to be sure of the goal and agree upon the benefits. You have to be flexible as obstacles arise. You have to stay focused and committed. And you need the support of stakeholders.

The first step in getting organized is to recognize how much harm your current level of dis-organization is causing you. Your stress is off the charts and this affects your relationships at home and at work as well as your health. You are not able to check anything off the “to do” list because you are constantly distracted and rarely finish what you started. You are not able to maintain even a modicum of efficiency because you lack focus and, with so many distractions, need to reorient yourself to each task as you begin it again. Convinced that change is needed?

Know that change is possible with planning, effort and commitment. And these are all under your control.

1. Planning
Think about what activities take up your time each day…from the ridiculous to the sublime. There are incoming and outgoing phone calls, scheduled meetings, unscheduled visits, email, keeping informed, etc.

a. Incoming phone calls should be screened for their importance. If from a client, pick it up. If from a chatty colleague, let them leave a message. For outgoing calls, set up a regular time when you can expect to reach your targets and go through the prioritized list, one after the other, focusing on the goal of each call. Do not try to multi-task by handling email at the same time; this will only reduce your effectiveness on the phone.
b. Scheduled appointments should immediately go on your calendar with enough lead time for you to arrive as agreed or prepare ahead for the discussion.
c. If you are a manager, you need to be available to your direct reports as questions and issues arise. But ask them to save all but the most urgent to a time each day that you establish when you can listen to and support them.
d. Email needs to be evaluated and sorted. Some are just informational and should be filed in the appropriate subject folder. Some need to be answered right away; others can wait. Use color coding to help you deal with them as needed. Use the same system for paperwork: to do today, to do this week, pending, and done. Review them daily but quickly to re-shuffle as needed.
e. Reading reports and doing research so you stay up to date needs time. Only you can decide what is really important to keep you sharp and current. Depending on your level in the company, you may also need to schedule “thinking” time when you consider the big picture…better strategies or ways to improve.

2. Effort
It is not easy, but if you spend just 15 minutes at the beginning of each day setting up your agenda, you will feel that your tasks are in place and prioritized by business importance. Resolve not to procrastinate. A full week is needed to begin the new habit of organization and to realize the benefits.

3. Commitment
Trust yourself and stick with it. Imagine the feeling of knowing that everything is in its place and will be handled in order of importance. Think of the time you will salvage and the sense of calm as you go about your day. And those who work with you will appreciate knowing there is a planned space for them too.

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