Making Work Work

Whether you’re currently working, or in an intense job search, being organized and feeling organized (which, by the way, are two different things) should become a priority for you. Julie Morgenstern is the founder and owner of Task Masters, an organizing firm based in New York City. She’s written a handful of New York Times best sellers, including Making Work Work: New Strategies for Surviving and Thriving at the Office. She offers case studies of her clients throughout the book, and it’s interesting to note that they’re all bright, successful, high-powered career people who just happen to have an organizing problem. If you hate to admit that you have a problem, Morgenstern eases you into thinking about organization differently.

She starts out by asking you to rate yourself on a scale of “Breast Stroking” (good for you!) to “Treading Water” to “Drowning.” Then she asks the question that matters most to getting the help you need: Is it you, or is it them (your coworkers, bosses, or your company culture)?

Morgenstern says it’s you if:

  • you don’t plan well
  • you’re unable to prioritize tasks
  • you consistently can’t tell how long tasks will take to finish, or
  • you are physically unorganized (you have a bad system or no system.)

It might be “them” if:

  • The company or your team is always in crisis mode
  • The company is understaffed and there are simply not enough people to do the job
  • Your coworkers aren’t pulling their weight
  • You don’t have the information or resources you need to do the job, or
  • You have an interruption rich environment.

For the purpose of this post, let’s assume it’s you who is the problem. Morgenstern offers some quick tips to help people who have trouble planning.

First, try jumpstarting your week by taking a few minutes to plan on the weekend. Just 30 minutes of quiet time before the week starts can get you organized for the week and really boost your productivity. Look over your planner to get a feel for what will be your busy times and more flexible times. Make a to-do list of your big projects and deadlines, and block out some time on the calendar to work without interruption on them.

Make a list of short projects or calls that you can knock off when you have some down time – waiting for meetings to start, for example, or when a spot on your calendar opens up unexpectedly. Take a few minutes to list the calls you have to make, jot down notes for the call, and find the numbers. Carry this list, which can be paper or digitally stored in your phone or on your desktop, with you so you can go from zero to productive in mere seconds when you get the chance.

If you have trouble managing your time, set an alert for 30 minutes before you have to leave for an appointment or for the day. Use those 30 minutes to finish what you’re working on and make notes about where to pick up when you return. You can’t start new projects or answer the phone; that’s what usually creates the schedule chaos and makes you late.  Let technology help you build discipline and control your work flow.

Batch tasks together to avoid switching from one kind of task to another; the switching takes your brain time to achieve, and those few lost seconds add up to lost productivity. You also lose time on the back end, when you have to re-focus.  As you make call after call, or handle emails or file, you’ll get into a flow that will make you more efficient (and make the job easier) as you go along.

Next post: Better prioritizing.

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