Personal Development: Hack Your Workday

As we all rise and get into the grind every day, leaning in and saying “yes,” we may find ourselves overwhelmed with things to do. Some tasks may stall on the sidelines until it’s nearly too late, leading to last-minute scrambling to get them done. When you’re juggling so many responsibilities, how do you get and stay organized?

This was a significant struggle for me as 2018 came to a close. I had just been promoted to project supervisor and had taken on a host of new responsibilities. My director was confident that I had the ability to accomplish everything set in front of me, but I kept losing my grip on tasks and missing deadlines. I was frustrated with myself and couldn’t tell where my hours had gone. To combat the problem, I did a bit of research about efficiency and organization in the workplace and am proud to say that this past year was my most productive yet. Here are some tactics I used:

 Write it down

One of the key things that I struggled with was overconfidence in my memory. In a meeting, I was sure I wouldn’t forget a task discussed, but when I sat down later to begin the task, the details escaped me. Sometimes I even had an email with instructions and a deadline, but if it was filed before the task was completed, it would fall off my radar completely.

To remedy this, I started a to-do list. It sits beside my keyboard, in my line of sight throughout the day, and I check it hourly to keep myself on track for what absolutely must get done before I leave the office. Each day has its own page and tasks are prioritized by bullet points, asterisks and exclamation points. As I complete each item, I check it off. At the end of the day, any tasks that aren’t completed are moved to the next day’s list.

As a visual and tactile learner, I prefer most of my lists on paper. If you’re in a paperless office or want the ease-of-use that comes with being able to see your list anytime, anywhere, try a web-based option that also offers a mobile interface, such as Google Docs. Find what works best for you and stick to it.

Schedule purposely.

Bill Petrie has a lot on his plate as the president of PromoCorner, board member at PromoKitchen, past president of the Regional Association Council (RAC), a podcast host, serial volunteer and speaker at multiple industry events, including the SPARK Conference 2019. To keep himself organized, he shares these tips. “I have to be intentional about remaining organized as juggling so many things at once can quickly become overwhelming,” he says. “To ensure things get done, I heavily leverage my calendar by blocking out time for everything: content creation, meetings with team members, developing marketing pieces, and, yes, even answering emails. By scheduling specific times for specific tasks, I am much more efficient as I block out everything else but the task at hand.”

Especially with time-sensitive tasks, it’s important to dedicate time to complete them. Once you’ve scheduled time to focus on a single task, keep yourself on track—turn off notifications, close your office door or put on headphones and zero in on the task at hand. Deciding when to schedule these focus sessions is important as well, since everyone has a time of day when they’re most productive. For me, it’s early mornings before most of my coworkers are here. If I have a project I need to get done, I come in earlier than usual to give it a few focused hours.

Jody Shaw, manager of professional development at PPAI, recommends scheduling time for reflection and brainstorming as well. “If you keep notes during that time, just like you do for a regular meeting, over time you’ll be able to see the transformation from the ‘aha’ moments. Try it for one month and then schedule a time to look back at the items you’ve been scheduling/working on. Could you be more strategic about your time? Also, look for the gaps. What are you missing or didn’t allocate time for this past month?”

Most importantly, dedicate time to scheduling in the first place. Deciding what your schedule will look like ahead of time will prevent you from floundering in the middle of the day, trying to decide what to tackle next.

 Prioritize wisely.

“When everything is a priority, nothing is,” writes Karen Martin in her book, The Outstanding Organization. To that end, it’s important to make sure that you take time to rank your tasks.

Personally, I evaluate each task as it’s added to my to-do list and check if it’s something I can delegate and, if so, I delegate it immediately to get it out of my inbox or off my plate. Otherwise, if it will take me 10 minutes or less to accomplish it, I do it right then to keep small tasks from piling up. If it’s something I can do later and I know I won’t have time for it that day, I write it down on the next day’s to-do list. That way I don’t forget it but can dismiss it from my mind for the day.

There are multitudes of systems out there to help you prioritize efficiently. The Franklin Covey Time Management Matrix is particularly popular in my office, as well as the Pareto Principle, aka the 80/20 Rule. If prioritization is something you struggle with, do some research on different options and dedicate time to trying some on for size.

 De-clutter your workspace.

In our gadget-filled industry especially, desktops are a minefield of distractions—stress balls, fidget spinners and other items take up space not only on the desk, but in the mind. If you’re prone to distraction, remove any and all diversions from your desk, especially when it’s time to focus. Put all of them—including your cell phone—in a drawer so they’re out of sight and out of mind.

In addition to simplifying your workspace, adopt a filing system to keep paper off your desk as much as possible. Keeping a clean, open space on your desk helps keep your mind focused. Take the same approach to your computer as well. Establish clear file paths, use shortcuts efficiently and don’t leave files on your desktop that you won’t need, or need often.

 Take a break.

Burnout is a serious problem, especially amongst young professionals who may not have as much PTO or flexibility as their tenured colleagues. It’s difficult to walk away from a task when you have an upcoming deadline, but it’s important to give yourself time to recharge, even if it’s just taking a walk after lunch or sitting in the break room to drink your coffee. Setting aside a difficult or frustrating project, even for a few minutes, can help adjust your perspective and refresh your attitude.

When you try anything new, it’s important to give yourself time to establish a routine. It takes at least two months to build a new habit, so commit  an honest effort and at least that much time to each system that appeals to you before deciding if it will work long-term. 


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Kacie Brinner is the information services project supervisor and Prop 65 SME at industry business services provider SAGE and a volunteer leader with SPARK, the industry network for young professionals.

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