Workplace Basics: The Art and Science of Being Organized

(This is Part I of a three-part series geared to prepare you for the work environment.)

“The secret of all victory lies in the organization of the non-obvious.” – Marcus Aurelius

When it comes to being organized at work, many people immediately think of their desk – where to put the pens, the stapler, the sticky notes, etc. But, to be successful at your job, you need to be highly organized in all areas of your work, not just the placement of objects. This means becoming a master at managing your time, the flow of your day and your projects, just to name a few. The more you are organized, the easier it will be to meet deadlines and build some flexibility into your work life.

But, the real objective for being organized is to allow you to meet both short and long term goals. Doing so will bring you great success on the job. Here are a few tips to help you become more organized:

Make a to do list.

Keep a daily To Do list so you can see what needs to get done and check off each item as you complete it. Some people keep these lists on a sheet of paper or in a planner notebook, while others use their e-mail program’s task list or other task list services on the web or their smartphones. It doesn’t matter which method you use, as long as you keep track of your tasks.

Understand priorities.

More than just creating a To Do list, prioritize your tasks in the order of importance – there will always be “things-to-do,” but understanding what is most important will assist you in getting to those things that require more attention. It’s also important to understand that some days you may start working your To Do list, but outside influences may create competing demands. You will need to learn to weigh these priorities against each other all while ensuring that you align your day’s accomplishments with your boss’s expectations.

Create project folders.

Keep a folder for each project that you are working on. This can be done with file folders that you store in a file cabinet and/or folders that you create electronically. Whether you choose to create folders on your computer, use Microsoft Outlook to organize your e-mail into project folders or live by the programs you download on your smart phone, there are numerous ways to organize the information you receive for all of your projects.

Manage your calendar.

First, always keep your calendar up to date so others can see your availability for meetings. Next, consider blocking some time each day or each week for you to have “planning time” so you can keep your projects and tasks on schedule. Building time into your schedule for you to plan or even work on specific projects can help you manage your time without worrying about interruptions – it’s a meeting time designated for you.

Set reminders.

There’s nothing worse than missing a deadline or a meeting. Take advantage of the Task List and Calendar features of your e-mail program or other similar programs you might download to your smartphone. I use Outlook on my computer to manage my tasks and calendar. But, when I’m on the go, I use a Blackberry that connects with my e-mail account. So, no matter where I am, I can get notified of task due dates, meeting start times and new e-mail messages.

Keep your inbox clean.

I know people who have 500, 850 or more e-mail messages in their inbox. It’s an unruly monster that becomes impossible to manage–not to mention the challenge of ensuring that all messages that require a response get one. Take time every day to empty your inbox. You can do this manually or you can create rules that automatically move messages to folders in your e-mail program. For example, you might want to create a “Reading” folder and have all of your e-newsletters automatically go to that folder for you to read later. You also might create a folder where you can put e-mail that needs immediate/timely follow up and another folder where you can archive messages that no longer need your attention.

Learn to delegate.

Don’t be afraid to assign a task to others if it outside your job scope. In some cases, you may be given a project that includes tasks beyond your responsibilities. This can cause you to struggle and lose focus as you try to figure out how to get it done, while in the process you lose sight of other important tasks on your list. Don’t let these tasks consume your time if they’re really part of someone else’s job or beyond your expertise. Learn to be quick to delegate these tasks or, at a minimum, enlist help from a coworker.

Reduce clutter.

Keep your workspace clean and only keep the information that is key for that day on your desk. When your desk is a mess, it can sometimes give the appearance that you are not organized and that you put out sloppy work. Additionally, a messy desk or office can make it difficult for you to find things and increase the risk that you’ll misplace important documents.

I hope these tips are helpful as you learn to become more organized in the workplace. Remember, being organized builds the foundation on which all of your work will get done.

In my next post, I’ll talk about business communication and how to raise the bar on how you communicate with colleagues versus friends.

Good luck!


Derren is the Manager, Diversity Recruiting for Sodexo which is a leader in integrated food service and facilities management. He is responsible for managing the Sodexo Future Leaders Internship Program as well as executing diversity sourcing initiatives for both campus and targeted experienced hires. With over 14+ years of experience with Sodexo, Derren has had great success as a General Manager in the company’s Health Care Services division as well as in several positions within their Talent Acquisition Group. He’s an active corporate partner with the National Society of Minorities in Hospitality (NSMH). Derren is an AIRS Certified Diversity Recruiter (CDR) and Certified Internet Recruiter (CIR). Follow him on Twitter, friend him on Facebook, or just Network with Us.

Related posts:

  1. Workplace Basics: Business Communication and Etiquette 101
  2. Workplace Basics: Understanding Your Benefits
  3. Mind Your Manners in the Workplace

One Response to “Workplace Basics: The Art and Science of Being Organized”

  1. avatar Lew Sauder says:

    Derren, this is a terrific list on a subject that is dear to my heart. I’ve worked with younger consultants on this subject to try to establish habits like this early in their career. Some have argued that they don’t have time to take the steps to get organized by reducing clutter and filing things in a disciplined manner, but I still contend that they don’t have time to constantly be searching for things on their desk, in an overloaded “My Documents” folder or in their inbox.
    One caveat I would provide on the email inbox is not to be a slave to email. Constantly checking email can be distracting. I recommend selecting 4-5 times a day for checking it and focusing on other work activities in-between.

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