A few years ago, I had quite a few employees under me. They would always marvel at how I could keep track of the few hundred emails a day. I showed them how to organize them as described in “Inbox Zero“. Many of them took to it, others liked it but could not drive themselves to do it.
That about sums up my management style. I am always happy to show you what works for me. Not with the intent of forcing that methodology onto anyone. I do it to provide another way of doing things so that anyone can take that and mix it in with what works for them.
In this article, I aim to walk you through my processes. Take what you want from them and help make them your own. Write back and tell me how you have implemented them so others can learn too!
I do not think it would be appropriate to discuss organization without mentioning The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. If you have the time, I highly recommend ordering a copy and reading it.
Some of the key themes are to set a time limit, use tools to help you organize/track and be intentional when possible.
I usually wake up between 5-6AM. This may seem terribly early for some and late for others. We have two very active children so having some quiet time first thing in the morning is a hot commodity.
I read somewhere, quite a long time ago that the most successful people start out their day early. They are up at 5-6ish, catching relevant news to their job/business/industry, even if it is just playing in the background. It seems to have worked well for me. Wake up late and you are just playing catch up all day.
For me, I wake up to a nice cup of coffee and slowly wake my brain for the day. I follow a few subreddits on reddit. I typically limit this to 10-15 mins.
Sometimes I will have a small project or some emails that came in from overnight that I will start plugging into for about 30 mins.
The important part of this activity for myself is to lightly plug into things. It is just a warm up for the day. Otherwise, I’d just be a workaholic telling you to wake up at 5AM and start working all day!
My schedule is very routine. I find comfort in this and it helps me stay organized. With that said, your schedule needs to be flexible enough for things that may derail it. Do not try to plan ever minute. Work “fires” happen, projects land on my desk unexpectedly. The framework I have setup for my day does not usually change though.
For example, when I arrive at the office, my first tasks are to check emails and log into our ticketing system. I also drop a line on any work chat applications to let everyone know I’m in and in front of a desk incase they need me.
I then look through my tasks and organize them based on priority. From 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “First things, first!”. Many times things are marked “urgent” but they are not important. Those do not need your attention. Work on things that are important and urgent and then just important. Many times “urgent” issues that are not really urgent get cold fairly quickly.
Taking breaks is extremely helpful. Many times when I have been spinning my wheels on difficult projects, I ultimately put it down for a bit. When I came back, I was refreshed and many times had a solution to the problem. This also works with smaller tasks. When you are able to focus, do so with intensity. Do not expect to be able to maintain that intensity for long periods of time.
Switch It Up
If you find that your returns are diminishing on a task and it is starting to slow down, start a new task. This pairs up with take a break. Many times we just need to switch away from the current task to get a breather. Finding a new task that we can meet with enthusiasm helps. Returning client calls for 20 mins and worn out? Switch over to catching up on industry/career news for a few minutes. Again, be intention and set limits. Don’t let that 5 minute switch over lead you to seven layers deep in a wikipedia article (yes I have been there!). This helps organize your time and make it efficient.
At the end of the day, I try to wind down a good 30-45 mins before the steam bell rings. I realize this is not always possible as some jobs are pedal to the metal from clock in to clock out. Even then clock out is a blurry line. If you can though, wind down 30-45 mins prior. Many times, trying to crank out work until the last minute causes you to run over and deter you from obligations after work. Again, be intentional! If you intend to put in another 1-2 hours for the day at work, go ahead. If you want to try to leave right on time, give this a try.
Manage Your Manager
If you know what your manager needs, try to get it to them before they ask. No need to wait until they ask, assuming you have the time to pre-empt their need. If they drop a huge project on your lap but you are already working on a large project, ask them about expectations. Something like “I can certainly do this but I am already working on X. How would you rank the importance? Is it ok to complete it 2 days from now?” You will find being genuine goes a long way. Many times your interaction with your manager and the workload they give you dictates your day.
We made it to the bottom and hopefully you have learned a few things to help organize your day. What helps you organize your day?