Do you feel the urge to purge as spring approaches? Maybe it’s the extra hour of sunlight reflecting off the piles of paperwork collecting in my office or the urge to get things done more efficiently so I have time to sneak outside in the afternoon to take advantage of the warming weather!!
It is amazing how much junk you can accumulate in a year and I’m not talking about the silly snowman sweater you got from Auntie Jane or those, not so comfortable shoes you picked up in 3 colors because the sale was too good to pass up. I’m talking about in our office and work life.
I’m talking about the 11,528 emails in your inbox waiting to be organized and filed or the to-be-shredded pile on the corner of your desk. Or the new planner you couldn’t wait to use on January 1 that is already stuffed full of little slips of paper with random notes and to-do lists that you can barely squeeze it in your bag! Okay, maybe that’s all just me…but is it? 🙂
If not, here is a list of things that I have been doing the last few years to get in the swing of spring and I am starting to notice that the job gets a little easier each year PLUS I feel SO MUCH BETTER when it’s all done. I feel ready to take on the world again. It is amazing how a little organization can really make you feel better mentally.
I will admit right out of the gate that I save all of my emails…every single one except for sales ads. It makes for a bit of an organization challenge but early on in my career, I used to dump my inbox periodically and not keep anything more current than six months. This worked well for a while until I needed one of the emails I had deleted and then another…it started to become a pattern until one day I spoke to a co-worker who said they never deleted anything. Seemed a bit radical to me since I don’t like clutter…at all.
My colleague explained that they had learned archived emails could come in handy not only for when you needed it to accurately answer a new email but also for more serious occasions such as if you are questioned about something you said or did then you can produce the email traffic to back up your actions. Or as a manager, to demonstrate someone else’s actions either positively or negatively.
Basically, the email archive can be a virtual CYA tool. It does take a little more time than the bulk delete function, but if you develop a good filing system it shouldn’t take much longer. Most companies use Outlook these days, which has a very good archiving and folder function. It allows you to drag and drop messages into the appropriate folders whenever you want. It even has the option to set up rules so emails automatically go to their folder. (I suddenly had a Happy Gilmore flashback of Adam Sandler shouting at his golf ball to go to its home!) 🙂
The first thing I do is go through my inboxes both work and personal and create new folders as needed, delete old sales flyers (does anyone else feel like they are constantly unsubscribing from clothing store flyers?), set reminders for emails that need to be responded to and start clearing out that inbox! Ultimately you have to find a system that feels comfortable for you.
I have seen files organized in a variety of different ways:
- By month
- By subject
- By status-completed, in progress, awaiting response
- By sender
- By project
- Combination of several of these
Outlook lets you add messages to your task list and set flags for emails for follow-up on a certain date and you can even add a reminder to pop up so you don’t forget. Similarly, Google lets you send emails to your task list or your calendar as an event. Over the past couple years my email traffic has grown and my time to handle them shorter so I have become a big fan of the tasking option for messages I need to respond to, but not at the very moment I open them. Being able to start my day by looking through my task list helps me not forget to reply to emails.
Since you are already at the computer…next up is organizing your files. Are you one of those people who save everything to the desktop so much so that you don’t even need wallpaper? Let me guess, it is how you know you will be able to find everything right?!? But what if there was a better way? And then you could see that really cute picture of you and your puppy in the background? Okay, maybe that’s just my computer!
Just like email filing, my own system has taken years to evolve, and frankly, it seems to get better every year because I review what did and didn’t work and adapt my approach. Often times, the files that are sitting in the to-be-filed folder, downloads, or on the desktop are the problem areas. If I didn’t know easily what to do with the files then, clearly, I need to figure out a plan.
Nothing worse than putting something away in your house in that oh-so-clever spot that made SO much sense at the time, but you have no idea where that spot was. Perhaps I am the only person that does this on a regular basis. Hey, it just means that on some days, I am even smarter than me! 🙂
Back to the filing…again there are many ways to do this and it is up to you to determine what you are most comfortable with. File naming is very important and the more consistent you can keep it, the better. The more information you can put in the file name, the easier it will be to search for a file even if it landed in the wrong folder. I usually put the name of the document, draft or final, and a date. For example, “Organization Plan_Draft13_5Jan18.doc.” If you have job numbers or client names, you could add those in there as well. Or if you need to have a document signed or reviewed you could add, “for signature or review,” to the title. Here are some folder structures for either a home or work computer to get you started:
Once the files are all organized and put where they belong, it’s a good idea to check for software updates, update login passwords, and remove any programs that you do not use. Your home computer should allow you access to do all of these things, however at the office sometimes this means you need to track down an IT person if you do not have Administrative Authority. This might be a pain, but your computer will operate faster and more reliably if your systems are up to date and aren’t bogged down by unnecessary files.
Almost all of these tasks can be applied to your mobile devices as well. I am guilty of downloading tons of apps for every function so that I can try a bunch out until I determine which I like best. Often times I forget to delete them all or throw them into the extras folder in case I change my mind. I have to remind myself that it only takes a minute to re-download so just dump it!
Calendars and Planners
Are you an online tracker or a paper person? Me…I’m a paper girl all the way. I have downloaded app after app to try to convert but I can never completely commit. I use an online calendar for personal and work but I still carry around a hard copy planner. It’s really all about fun colored pens!
There are so many out there to choose from, large ones and small ones, ones with task lists or daily quotes, spiral ones or build your own. Honestly, the planner topic is a whole separate article in and of itself, but for now, we will keep it simple…get one.
Whether you prefer digital or paper, it is a tool to keep things organized every day as well as a way to hold yourself accountable. There is nothing worse than meeting up with a friend only to have her mention that she had a great time last week celebrating her birthday. ARGGGHHHH. How could you have forgotten? You knew it was coming, right? Well, mark it down so you will know next year. Better yet, set a reminder on your Google Calendar so it will ask you to send a text the morning of.
I’ve become a big fan of the planners that give your space to write down your goals…yearly, monthly, daily sections in the front for your goals. The last few years, I have used the Action Day Planner, which is broken up by the week with plenty of space to plan out tasks and to-dos for the week as well as a bunch of useful tools at the front for developing your plan for the year.
Timekeeping is a very personal thing in my opinion and what works for me may not work for you, but I do encourage you to find some approach that you like. The more organized you are with your schedule and tasks, the MORE free time you find you have. Who doesn’t want more free time?!
This seems crazy, I know, but it’s kind of like keeping a food journal. Did you ever do this to lose a few pounds or in hopes to figure out a food allergy? Did you review the journal at the end of a few weeks and discover that you ate pizza 4 times and 5 bowls of ice cream in a week?! 🙂 I promise you’ll get no judgment from me since those are two of my favorite foods!
The point is if you get in the habit of planning your time out you will start to see patterns. You go to yoga every Tuesday which is right next to the dry cleaners. You typically plan to pick up the dry cleaning on Mondays. Why not shift the schedule a bit to do them both on Tuesday? Perhaps it only saves you 20 minutes…I don’t know about you, but there are days when an extra 20 minutes are worth a lot to me.
Okay, you get the point and if you have lots of free time, send me a note I would love to know how you do it! If you are sitting there thinking now about ways to claim a few lost minutes, you might be interested in reading 5 Easy Ways To Find Time In Your Busy Schedule.
Clean Up Your Space
The last chore is to clean up your desk, cubicle, or office. I mean this is a no-brainer, right? How can you sit in a messy workspace with papers and coffee cups and old post-it notes, and overflowing trash basket and get anything done on your nicely organized computer? I suppose some folks could just block it out, but wouldn’t it feel so much better to sit in a clean space?
No one wants to be that person at work with a science experience growing on the corner of the desk in last week’s lunch container. YUCK!
Basically, this is somewhat self-explanatory, but a few things you might consider are:
- Empty the trash
- Shred Old Documents
- File away any papers lying around
- Go through the pen cup and dispose of pens that no longer write (I always have a bunch of these!!)
- Wipe down the desk, phone, keyboard, and mouse
- Take any extra dishes or Tupperware home or to the kitchen
- Put books and binders on the bookshelf or where they belong
Now for the best part…sit down at your desk, lean back in your chair, and take a deep breath and relax for a minute while enjoying how organized you are at this minute. Remember George on Seinfeld? He said something in one of his episodes that is inspirational, “This is going to be the year of George” well, this year is going to be the year of you!
I hope you found this article helpful and I would love to hear from you if there are tips and tricks that you have!