Some people are “naturally” organized, some are not. I would place myself in the second category, and for that reason have had to make a concerted effort in both my personal and professional lives to stay on track and complete all my deliverables. A few years ago, I had an “a-ha” moment where I realized I needed to get organized.  I received feedback that some programs I was managing weren’t meeting expectations.  I was in a mental frenzy trying to balance the needs of my company, my business partners and myself and it was affecting my performance.  Once I recognized that I needed to get organized to succeed professionally and find balance personally, I started to educate myself on different organizational concepts.  I found that there are three big decisions you need to make to start getting your schedule and task list organized:

How Will You Store Information?

One of the first books I read as I gathered information was Getting Things Done by David Allen. A key concept of the book is that your mind is for creating ideas, not holding them.  Notice how your internet browser slows down when you have 20 windows open? Your brain functions in the same way!  To clear your mind and begin to get organized, you first need to download your to-do lists, ideas, and project plans out of your brain and into a reliable, centralized format. There are many ways to accomplish this.  A wall calendar won’t work for most people due to the lack of portability, so one option is to keep a written planner.  If you don’t mind carrying a physical planner, consider checking out the Day Designer, I’ve heard great things about its unique design. Your mobile device is another option; most of us carry our phones 24/7 so you will never be without your schedule.  If you can manage work and personal schedules on one device, do it! Due to the nature of my work it doesn’t make sense for me to carry my work device all the time, so I settled on a semi-centralized and very reliable system that works for me. For work tasks, I use OneNote and for my personal schedule I use my cell phone calendar. Once I mark a task down, I automatically relax.  I always am a few clicks away from the information I need, but am able to tune out work on personal time and vice versa.

How Will You Prioritize Tasks?

One of the more renowned methods of prioritizing comes from the late self- improvement guru Stephen R Covey. Covey has penned several books on the topic of time management; one of his concepts that sticks out in my mind is the suggestion that you prioritize what is most important to you. I don’t disagree with Mr. Covey, we should consciously prioritize what we value most. However, for me, sticking to this concept is a real challenge.  My mind is constantly going and I have a hard time turning parts of it off, so if something urgent has come up I tend to shift gears quickly and complete the urgent task over the important one. This can throw off my whole day and lead to frustration from deviating from my schedule.  I keep lists of short and long term tasks and prioritize by due date.  I feel this gives me more flexibility in my day and allows me to respond quickly to the needs of others. However you decide to prioritize your tasks, there will be times when, well, everything feels like a priority! When this happens, stop and talk to your stakeholders (manager, friends, family) about how you are feeling and ask them to help you assess what really needs to be done first.


How Will You Stay on Track?

A huge part of staying on track is consistency – making it a habit to check your schedule regularly and marking off tasks as they are finished will not only set your mind at ease but give you a feeling of accomplishment. At first, I asked for help with this.  I asked a trusted colleague to be my “accountability buddy”.  We met weekly for a quick check in where we would ask each other if we had completed our deliverables on time and share best practices.  Neither of us wanted to show up and admit we were off track! Tell a friend, family member, or colleague that you are focused on getting more organized and ask them to help keep you honest early in the process.

Getting organized can feel like a huge undertaking, especially when it doesn’t come naturally.  There are countless books, seminars, and even retail stores focused on getting organized. Spend the time up front finding a method that works for you, stick to it, and ask for help when needed. Now that I have taken control of my own schedule, my head is clearer, my memory is better, and my performance has improved both in and out of the office.

About the author: Darren Kanthal is a Denver-based Talent Program Manager with Charles Schwab. Darren oversees Schwab’s Campus, Employee Referral, and Veteran Recruiting Programs.

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