How to get organized: 17 tips that actually work

Alicia Raeburn contributor headshotAlicia Raeburn25 Maret 202214 menit baca
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Summary

Getting organized can help you ‌be more focused and happier in the workplace. If you’re not an organized person, don’t worry—organization is a skill that can be learned and honed over time, using practical techniques and tools like digital to-do lists, automations, and templates. This article shows you the benefits of being organized and outlines 17 actionable tips to get more organized today.

Organization might feel like a “born with it” trait—you either got it or you don’t. But actually, organization can be learned and honed like any other soft skill

It’s worth learning. Organized people are less likely to miss important tasks and tend to feel less stressed. When things are organized, you know where to find your daily to-dos, how to grab that template you always use, and which emails need to be sent today. This leaves you more time and space for brainstorming, creating, and higher impact problem solving.

Being organized isn’t just for Marie Kondo followers. With a few simple tweaks, anyone can add more organization to their daily routine in order to improve their work and reduce stress.

What are the benefits of being organized?

Being organized helps reduce stress. When you know where things are, you can accomplish more without getting overwhelmed. In the workplace, this means you can do more high-impact work without feeling burned out. When you can see all of your work in one place, it’s easier to prioritize tasks and make sure that the most important items get done.

Getting organized gives you time for the work that matters. It’s a high-impact way to help yourself feel better and happier at your job, thanks to these benefits:

  1. A more flexible schedule. Organizing and managing your schedule with time management tools can cut out time wasters, giving you more time for focus and deep work

  2. Less stress. When you’re organized, you know where things are, when they’re due, and what steps you need to take to get work done. There’s no need to worry because every task is assigned and has a deadline. 

  3. More space for creativity. You know that mental task list that keeps running tabs on what needs to get done? That’s taking up a huge amount of precious brain capacity. Outsourcing these items from your mind will leave more space for creative, focused work.

  4. Less risk of burnout. When you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed, you’re more likely to make hurried decisions. This increases stress and—when compounded over time—leads to burnout. Often, overwhelm stems from feeling like there is too much to do and not enough time. Getting organized helps you to feel in control of your work and reduce overwork.

  5. Increased productivity. In a perfect organization system, every piece of work has a purpose, an owner, and a deadline. Even if your work isn’t perfect—which, let’s be honest, whose is—having an organized system reduces the amount of time spent on meaningless tasks and boosts productivity.

Organization also reduces work about work—things like following up on tasks, switching between apps, and looking for status updates. 60% of our days are dominated by work about work, with only 40% left for skilled work and strategy—the most important aspects of your job. When you know where things are, you can spend less time searching for information and more time executing.

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17 ways to get—and stay—organized

Organizing your work can feel overwhelming—especially if it doesn’t come naturally to you. But like many things in the workplace, you can tackle organization by breaking it down into more manageable steps. Whether you’re looking to organize your individual tasks, your project-level work, or your team’s entire system, here’s how to get started.

6 ways to organize your to-dos

A great place to start is organizing your individual tasks. Tracking and writing down your to-dos helps you get things done faster and more effectively.

1. Track your to-dos in a central place

The more you try to mentally track things in your brain, the less productive you’ll be. The first step to making a better to-do list is to get it out of your head. 

This is a key tenet of the getting things done (GTD) method, which encourages you to free up brain power by tracking your to-dos in a tool instead of in your head. Once you have all of your to-dos written down, use a to-do list tool to turn those tasks into organized, actionable steps. With a digital to-do list manager, you can see all of your tasks, deadlines, and due dates in one place, so you can take action faster and more effectively.

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2. Learn to manage your time

Time management is a critical part of being organized. If you aren't in control of your time, you can't be in control of your tasks. 

Luckily time management, like organization, is a learnable skill. There are a variety of techniques and strategies you can implement in order to get better at managing your time. 

Don't be afraid to try a few different techniques until you find the one that works for you. Check out: 

  • Time blocking: Time blocking is when you schedule out every moment of your day. This includes your meetings, tasks, and everything in between—from scrolling on Instagram to lunch breaks. Creating a detailed schedule gives you control over your calendar. You’ll become aware of exactly how you’re spending your time and any opportunities to improve.

  • Timeboxing: For each task, create a goal to finish it by a specific time. If left alone, tasks might fall into the trap of Parkinson’s Law—where work expands to fill the available time. Timeboxing prevents this, ensuring that tasks take only as long as they need to. 

  • The Pomodoro technique: The Pomodoro technique can help you get hyper-focused work done. It’s a simple structure: Each Pomodoro consists of 25-minute work blocks bookended by 5-minute breaks. When you’re in a Pomodoro, limit distractions and turn off notifications. The goal is to focus solely on the task at hand. 

  • Eat the frog: It might sound like a weird time management technique, but the eat the frog method comes from a famous Mark Twain quote: “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning.” Essentially, this translates to tackling your most difficult tasks first. Start each day by identifying and completing your hardest tasks, going down the line until you’re left with easier items to end the day. This helps you take advantage of your most productive working hours–often when you first start work—to begin with a success.

By implementing time management, you can take control over your schedule and have more time for… well, whatever you’d like. 

Baca: 18 kiat manajemen waktu, strategi, dan solusi cepat untuk menyelesaikan pekerjaan terbaik

3. Practice Inbox Zero

Contrary to popular belief, Inbox Zero doesn’t always mean having zero emails in your inbox. The concept is more about organizing your emails and reducing digital clutter so you can stay on top of important tasks and updates.

To apply Inbox Zero, set a time every week—or every day if needed—to triage incoming messages. Review your inbox and organize every item by tasks or priorities. Try to apply simple rules that help move the process forward. For example, if you use a work management platform, assign tasks as you read through messages. Or use keyboard shortcuts to speed-read through messages and shoot off quick responses as needed. 

Each time you practice your Inbox Zero, it will be easier to replicate. Use a weekly calendar reminder or daily alarm to ensure that you stay on top of—or potentially ahead of—incoming messages. 

4. Prioritize your most important work

There’s a difference between work that makes you feel productive (busy work) and work that helps move your team and business forward. One might make you feel good—who doesn’t love checking off a box on a to-do list—but the other is the type of work that will ultimately help you grow your career, team, and company. 

Identifying your most important work starts with your company’s strategic plan and organization-wide OKRs. Every task—no matter how small—should lead back to those larger, overarching goals. Connecting your individual tasks to broader goals gives you the context to get your most important work done.

When you know how your work ladders up to larger company initiatives, you have the context you need to adjust deadlines and priorities. That way, when a due date changes or a new project gets added to your plate, you can evaluate how that work compares to your current priorities and adjust accordingly. 

[Inline illustration] pyramid of clarity (Infographic)

5. Delegate tasks

Outsourcing or delegating tasks allows you to focus on high-impact projects. But delegating can feel awkward, especially if you’re delegating work to peers or even—on rare occasions—a higher-up. But in reality, outsourcing tasks to the proper person is an act of trust and validation. 

To delegate, start by identifying all tasks in your current workload. Then determine which ones are the highest priority with an Eisenhower matrix, sorting tasks as:

  • Important and urgent. This is your most important work. Assign these to yourself and prioritize anything in this bucket. 

  • Important but not urgent. These are valuable but might not need to get done today. Schedule them out to ensure they get done.

  • Not important but urgent. These are the to-dos to delegate. They’re not important to you, but they absolutely must get done. Assign these projects to others who can quickly and efficiently manage them.

  • Not important and not urgent. Remove completely. This is work for the sake of work.

If there's work in your "not important but urgent" category that someone else could do better, delegating is actually the best thing you can do.  

Empat kuadran Matriks Eisenhower

6. Declutter your physical and virtual space

A clean, welcoming office space is energizing and exciting to walk into. When you clean up your desk so it's free of distraction, it can help you to feel more confident, creative, and even reduce anxiety. The same could be said for digital clutter. All those unread emails and overdue tasks are the virtual equivalent of having stacks of past-due papers in your workspace. 

Instead of letting things pile up until they feel stressful or unmanageable, set aside time every week, quarter, or month—whatever works for you—for a routine decluttering. To practice virtual decluttering, try: 

  • Reassigning any overdue tasks with new, relevant due dates.

  • Reading through and clearing out your notifications.

  • Practicing Inbox Zero.

  • Time blocking your calendar to make room for more flow.

As you go through the process of decluttering, remind yourself that what you’re really doing is protecting your future self from unnecessary stress. 

Read: 31 desk organization ideas for your remote office setup

6 tips to organize project work

Organizing your to-dos is the first step to getting organized. After that, you’ll need to organize project work. If you've never thought about how to organize your project work, these six tips can help you get started.

1. Create a place for everything

Aside from making your workplace more functional, having every item—both digital and physical—in its proper place saves you time and can boost productivity

You can do this by organizing files and tasks within their appropriate projects. This works twofold—your team won’t need to search endlessly for files and you can reduce debriefing meetings by pointing colleagues to the exact process or workflow they need. 

To set up, create a project space with all of your team’s relevant files, tasks, goals, and documents. You can use a work management platform like Asana to house all of that information in one place—including reference documents and templates.

2. Break down project deliverables

At its core, a project is a way to house all of the tasks and deliverables associated with a particular initiative. This can be a deadline-driven initiative like an event or a product launch, or an ongoing process like an editorial calendar

Regardless of what your team is working on, break down project tasks into components that are small enough to assign to one person.

Here's why that matters: Imagine you have a complex deliverable that requires multiple people to get it over the finish line. Let's say, a blog. You have the writer, the copyeditor, and the designer. But if that one responsibility is equally shared between three people, who moves the work forward? Who tracks it? Who is responsible for changing the deadline or updating stakeholders? 

Instead, break down project deliverables into smaller pieces of work. Give each team member their own task—in this case, one for the blog design, one for the blog draft, and one for the blog review—so everyone knows who's doing what by when. This is also known as a work breakdown schedule

Project tracking software is the easiest way to do this. Set up a well-defined project and assign tasks so everyone can clearly see who's responsible for what. That way, team members with questions can go directly to the person in charge, cutting out the process of trying to find the who, what, why, or when behind every task and question.

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3. Back up your files

We've all been through that awful moment when a computer crash or software glitch causes you to lose all of your work. But more and more, cloud storage is making that a thing of the past. Many companies offer storage solutions for employees—so if you can, take advantage of them.

Start by creating a system for all your files. Pre-organize the space so it makes sense for you, adding in folders and subdivisions as needed. If you start backing up your files in mass uploads with no real organization, you’re going to be in for a headache when you need to search for something specific down the road. 

Make sure that wherever you work has an autosave feature or that you routinely go in and save your work. Then, set up automatic backups if you’re able. If you’re not, set reminders to back up everything when you finish a task and again at the end of the day. 

4. Centralize status reports

Reporting can be one of the most manual and time consuming parts of your job. We’ve all sat through a status meeting that could have been an email—plus, it takes a lot of time to collect data from multiple sources and manually compile it in a central place. 

Instead, look for a way to report right where work happens. Consider using a project management tool with Universal Reporting that allows you to create reporting dashboards in the same space you track work. Use these dashboards to generate project status reports that minimize meetings—keeping stakeholders up to date or allowing the team to review data on their own time. 

[Product UI] Universal reporting interactive dashboards in Asana (Search & Reporting)
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5. Automate repeated tasks and processes

Did you know that the average worker spends 13% of their time on work that's already been completed? As a result, employees lose a whopping 236 hours to duplication each year.

Organization can help you cut down on manual, duplicative processes and give your team more time for work that matters. And one of the best ways to boost organization is with automation technology.

Automating tasks helps things get done when they’re supposed to—which is critical since 26% of deadlines are missed each week. Put another way, that means 1 in every 4 tasks is not getting done when it’s supposed to. That's a lot of backlog that could easily be avoided. 

If you’re new to automating, try starting with the basics:

  • Use automation technology to automatically assign work to the right people.

  • Shift and adjust due dates based on dependencies

  • Standardize manual processes with customizable project templates.

[Product UI] Creative requests (Workflow Builder)

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6. Track work in a central tool

When all of your team’s work is organized in one central tool, you can see exactly who's doing what by when. This takes the guesswork out of planning because you know when tasks are completed, when it’s your turn to jump in and move a project along, and which items you should prioritize first.

To get started, make sure all of your team’s to-dos are in one place. Organize them so that everyone has access to all the tasks, and ask each person to update what they’re working on in real time. This way, everyone knows the exact status of each task.

You can take it one step further by setting up automated workflows that alert colleagues when it’s their turn to step in and move the project forward. Workflows can trigger action steps and automatically assign deadlines—ensuring projects stay on track. They take some backend work to set up, but once they’re ready to go, workflows act as a central source of information for you, your team, and your daily tasks.

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5 steps to organize across teams

The last—and hardest—step of getting organized is facilitating cross-team work. Each department has their own way of doing things, tools they like to use, and processes that they've implemented over time. But most work gets done cross-functionally across multiple departments. Try these five tips to simplify cross-team work and set your projects up for success.

Read: Building a cross-functional team: 9 tips and benefits

1. Integrate your favorite business tools

Context switching—moving quickly from one task or app to another—is a serious disrupter. Every time you switch, your brain has to adjust. This saps your energy and concentration, making it hard to focus on work or make effective decisions. 

Context switching is a problem for many of us. The average worker switches between 10 apps up to 25 times per day. As a result, over one-quarter (27%) of workers say that actions and messages are missed when switching apps and 26% say app overload makes them less efficient. 

You can reduce the number of apps you’re using—and by default, some of this mental strain—thorough business integrations. Integrating your favorite business tools allows you to access information from different sources all in one place. That means you can centralize your information in a work management platform while also reaping the benefits of powerful tools like Salesforce or Google Docs—the best of both worlds. 

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2. Break larger goals into smaller tasks

Large goals can feel overwhelming. When these big, hairy audacious goals aren’t organized properly, your team might feel like they’re impossible to achieve or their work doesn’t matter. But motivating workers is crucial to a successful team—39% of workers want to know that their work will add value to the company. 

Connecting these larger, big-picture goals to individual responsibilities shows your team that their work matters. For example, let’s say your long-term goal is to grow your customer-base by 300% over the next 5 years. At this broad level, it’s hard to grasp how to do this or what it means for the company until you break it down into short-term goals, year by year, task by task. In this case, it might look something like this:

Goal: Grow customer-base by 300% in 5 years

Yearly goal: Grow 30% by end of the first year

Sub goals: 

Increase sales team by 25%

  • Deploy employee referral program and increase referrals by 5%

Launch 1 product feature quarterly

  • Hire for a customer success manager to communicate with product

Boost marketing reach by 10%

  • Hire 3 new team leads

  • Schedule 300 social media posts

By breaking your goals down into actionable steps, you’re both ensuring that you pace yourself well to hit target deadlines and showing employees exactly how their daily tasks are contributing to large-scale, high-impact goals. 

3. Track project dependencies

As a team, we depend on one another to do our own work. But what happens when something you’re relying on gets delayed? Without an easy way to visualize dependencies, you don't know when work is delayed and you need to adjust—and your team members don't know that their delay is actually impacting someone else. 

Clearly tracking project dependencies helps reduce unknowns for everyone on the team. Project dependencies help you see when your work is dependent on someone else's task, meaning you need to wait for them to finish before you can get started. By tracking dependencies with project management software, you can ensure team members are notified when they’re unblocked. And if something is delayed, task owners know exactly who to contact to get an updated due date or deadline.

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4. Create reusable templates and reference guides

Even if it’s something you do regularly, launching a new project can come with underlying stressors. There are a lot of details to consider—remembering every key stakeholder and task, for example—so it’s easy to overlook an important element. At the same time, you don’t want to spend hours reinventing the wheel for every new project plan. The solution is a customizable project template that you can use and adapt to your specific project needs. 

Templates and reference guides give structure to repeating tasks, allowing you to track them and prevent duplications. They’re an adaptable tool that can help you to work better and faster.

Why use templates?

  • You’re less likely to overlook small tasks since they're all tracked in one place.

  • Templates are easy to change and adapt to lessons learned.

  • Templates democratize project manager knowledge, making it accessible to everyone.

  • They help new teams to spin off of existing initiatives.

[Product UI] Creative requests (Templates)

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5. Build a centralized information hub

Organizing your team’s work often comes down to creating one centralized source of information. When you’re operating from one pool of information, it reduces confusion for the entire team because each person knows what they’re supposed to be working on, when to do it, and where to get the tools to complete it. It also allows stakeholders to get insights at-a-glance and makes it easy to provide status updates and reduce unnecessary status meetings. 

Using project portfolio management, you can streamline work into centralized portfolios to get a bird's eye view of your programs and projects. This is the digital version of a whiteboard in the common space. Here, everyone’s work is listed and assigned to the appropriate team members, creating an active project space that can be adjusted and reported on in real-time.

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Getting organized helps you work smarter

It takes a bit of effort and time to implement organizing tips and simplify your life. But doing the upfront work to get more organized helps you down the road. With time, you’ll create more space in your workday for focusing on the tasks you’re best at or bring you the most joy—helping you work better and happier.

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