Sunday, December 9, 2007

Organizing Your Time & Tasks

A primer for when you or an employee must juggle multiple tasks.

Track your tasks.
Get a notebook and write down each task you must accomplish. Add a check box in the margin beside each task so that when you’ve completed something, you can check it off. In this way you can go back through the pages and see which tasks haven’t been done. Remember to date the pages; if multiple pages per day, then date and number them. The notebook doesn’t have to be neat; your notes don’t have to make sense to other people, but they’d better be understandable to you a week or a month later, especially if you have to figure out why you did something. This is also a good way to determine how much you accomplished in a specific time period.

File everything.
When you start a task, take the time to create a folder for it, label the folder and keep all pertinent information in the folder, unless the information is in your notebook. If the data is in your notebook, copy it and put the copy in your folder. Yes, this is a waste of folders since you’ll be moving information out of a folder once you’ve complete the task, but you’re organized while you’re working on the task!

Establish a logical order and place.
The object here it to reduce the time required to search for files. Pick a spot on your desk, or better yet in your file drawers to maintain all of your folders. Organize the files by type of task. Don’t create a special folder for problem tasks. Problem tasks tend to pile up when placed in a special folder. Human nature would then be to avoid the large pile, so problems would never get resolved. Don’t do that to yourself.

Work on one task at a time.
This means: Never have more than one folder open at a time. This doesn’t mean: Work on one task until it’s completed before starting the next task—doing so just isn’t possible in our busy environment. Working on one task at a time is simply a method for reducing the amount of paperwork [clutter] we keep on our desk at any given time. When you have to pick up another task folder, close the one you were in, put it back in it’s logical place and focus on the next task. This may be hard to do, but if you ask the person on the phone or the person standing over you to wait one moment while you put away a folder and pull their item out, they’re usually patient.

Put it all away at the end of the day.
Reserve five minutes or so at the end of the day to clear your desk, so that in the morning you don’t have to face any clutter. If there’s a specific task you need to start on in the morning, lay that folder on your desktop in full view as a reminder. If you can’t clear your desk every evening, you must do it once a week. Work on slowly building up to every day.

What are you doing tomorrow?
Once you’re clearing your desk at the end of the day, go one step further: Write down which tasks must be accomplished the following day (deadlines). When you come in the next morning, you can review this list and plan your day accordingly. Sure, we all get interruptions and fires that must be put out. But you can always get back on track by referring to your task list.

Remember: It takes time to be organized.
Time to create the file folders, time to put them away, etc. But in the long run, you will have the time to do this because you will no longer be searching for that missing piece of information. Instead, it’ll be exactly where it’s supposed to be – in its logical file.