I just stumbled upon a post from MSNBC’s Eve Tahmincioglu (aka Career Diva on Twitter) about standing out in a job search. One of her tips – stay organized. I couldn’t agree more.
To say I’m an organized person is a total understatement. And I believe being organized is a big part of being successful. Not just for a job search, but in general everyday business. Being organized helps you stay on top of deadlines, follow-up when you’re supposed to and tackle responsibilities in priority. It’s the cornerstone of personal accountability.
IMHO, organization and planning are very interrelated. I try to think of planning as putting together a strategy or action plan. Then organization as breaking it down into steps and allocating resources to complete the strategy. Using the MSNBC article as an example, you can plan a job search strategy then organize your resources to implement the strategy.
I also view organization as a very personal thing. I can give you some tips on how I stay organized (see below) and they may help. Or maybe not. Your organization system has to work for you. Some people stay organized online. Others use paper calendars.
The important thing is to find a system that works for you and stick with it.
One of my favorite quotes comes from Celebrity Chef Alton Brown – “Organization shall set you free.” It’s so true. Being well organized can help you feel in control of just about any situation. Case in point: think about a project you’ve worked on. When a project is organized well, you know what’s supposed to happen, when it’s supposed to happen and who’s responsible for making it happen.
On the other hand, think of a disorganized project you’ve been involved with. There’s nothing sexy about running around wondering what’s going on, who’s doing what and when you might see the deliverable. I’m all for “being fluid” and “organic thought” but there’s a point when things need to start happening.
There’s only one circumstance where I’ve seen disorganized people be successful. That’s when they have such a unique skillset, companies are willing to overlook tolerate their “absent-minded professor” behavior. And I mean a really unique skillset. If you feel you’re one of those people, fantastic. For the rest of us, finding ways to stay organized will be a key to our success.
Here are two tips I use to stay organized:
I keep two Pendaflex folders – one labeled with the months of the year and the other with 1-31. I file everything based upon when I need to deal with it. Current month goes into the 1-31 file by date. Future months in the monthly file. The only thing on my desk is what I need to work on right now. This keeps me from getting distracted by projects with a later due date or activities that might be more fun than what I’m working on at the time.
I maintain a paper calendar with major project due dates as well as volunteer days and conferences. I find it helps me balance pro bono work and paying work. The first year I did this, I discovered I had one entire month with only conferences and pro bono work scheduled (read: no paying business). It was a very eye-opening exercise.
I’d love to hear your tips and resources for staying organized. Please share with us in the comments!
Image courtesy of orphanjones14
Laura Schroeder says
Since I don’t have to invoice customers I get away with being less organized… but I take deadlines very seriously. In fact, I’m much more organized professionally than personally. My secret organizational tip is very low tech: Every day I write down what I have to get done the next day on whatever piece of paper lies at hand and tuck it in my laptop. Anything that doesn’t get done shows up on the next day’s list.
Sharlyn Lauby says
Hi Laura. Great tip. Thanks for sharing!
Elizabeth Borton says
I have two lists. One is typed up on my computer with everything listed, categorized by need to do, coming up, waiting for response. Then each day I create a handwritten note of things I have to do that day. Like your system, it keeps me focused.
Laurie Fontenot says
What wonderful advice – love the pendaflex ideas. I’ve always thought of myself as organized (anal-retentive,obsessive-compulsive), but find that I sometimes get bogged down at work and cannot get everything done. Of course, the mulitple distractions – phone calls, questions from students or faculty – can interefere with my good intentions. A favorite saying of mine is, “Work smart, not hard”. My interpretation of that is there is nothing wrong with hard work, but do things in an organized, systematice approach. I plan to try your suggestion with the files – many thanks!!
Lori Gosselin says
I am always looking for ways to be more organized! Thanks for sharing these two methods.
I use a paper, daily calendar to hold appointments and To Do’s and a computer calendar for appointments since it is synced with my iPod and therefore with me wherever I go.
One can never be too organized, can they!?
Doug Eikermann says
Thank you for the great tips! I use a filing system similar to yours, but your daily and monthly distinction seems excellent to me. I must admit, however, that I keep more than one open matter on my desk at a time. I need to see the higher priority stuff in order to keep it in my mind. Thanks again!
Sharlyn Lauby says
Thanks everyone for the comments!
@Elizabeth – Couldn’t agree more. Focus = Productivity.
@Laurie – Love the “work smart” quote!
@Lori – Yes, having my calendar on my iPhone is a must! I’m sure there are people who feel I’m too organized, but the system works for me.
@Doug – Oh, I never said I don’t have multiple windows open on my computer…that’s a whole another story. LOL!
being organized is extremely important. I fully agree. We try to catch tasks, orders and wishes. On the other hand, it is extremely important to know, what I will really do. What will be beneficial for me and the company?
I do not write down all tasks. I think about them. I do not do everything. I choose. I have just few hours day to make everything done. I prioritize.
I do not answer emails the same day. I wait for 24 hours. Is it still important to answer? Can I connect answers? I cannot do everything, I have to choose.
Sharlyn Lauby says
Good point Luke about priorities. We can do a lot of things but, if they aren’t the right things…it could be a waste of time.