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March 31, 2009

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If there's one thing you can do to help yourself succeed in a corporate environment, it's developing superb organizational skills. You will be judged on your personal organization and the appearance of your office, files or cube. You also will be judged on the speed with which you can find a document, a phone number or your notes. When your manager asks you for version six of the document that's now on version 13, either you will have that file accurately named, dated, and saved in the right folder on your computer, or you will get down on your hands and knees and start sorting through your recycling box.

While you'll naturally become more efficient as you gain experience and start seeing the same types of work over and over again, you can get a head start by developing smart, meticulous work habits and using the tools and resources at your disposal. Here are some things that will help you organize your work life.

  • Find out where the company's shared main files are kept and what you have to put in them. For example, law firms often require files be kept by client and by chronology. Make sure you are (or your assistant is) filing accordingly and in a timely manner.
  • Follow the department filing system for hard and electronic documents, so that you can find key documents quickly. If there is no corporate naming standard, an alphabetical system is easiest. Name each matter something obvious (e.g., by client name and the date) and clearly indicate all versions up to the most current. For example, an analysis of IBM's return on investment done on September 15, 2003 could be called "IBM_ROI_Analysis_091503.xls."
  • Have someone to back you up. Show at least one person in the office how you have organized your files so they can find things in your absence.
  • Have an inbox so people know where to drop things off for you. Otherwise, they will just drop documents on your desk, where they may be misplaced. Go through your inbox daily so it doesnt pile up. Everything in your inbox should be either immediately discarded, filed or put in your to-do pile. If you must leave a file for someone who does not have an inbox, leave it face down on his chair.
  • Organize your to-do pile. Assign deadlines and calendar items in your to-do pile so nothing falls through the cracks. Create notes to remind yourself when a deadline is approaching (e.g., one month away, two weeks away, two days away). A written list of items that you cross off is low-tech, but very helpful.
  • Throw out clutter. Do not leave things in your inbox more than one day, or in your to-do pile past the deadline assigned.
  • Create a list of key phone numbers (external clients and internal extensions), to keep with you at all times. If you have to unexpectedly return a phone call after hours or on the weekend, you will be glad you don't have to drive into the office to find the number.
  • Get on standard and special distribution lists to keep updated on changes to important phone numbers, policies, meeting schedules, etc. You can ask admins or junior people on the team for these lists. Keep this information on your Palm Pilot (if you have one) and cell phone.
  • Keep one master calendar. Consult it daily and weekly to make sure you are on top of approaching deadlines and meetings. Bring it to meetings so you can check key dates or note the dates of future meetings. If your calendar is electronic, set reminders to sound an alarm before each meeting to keep you on time.
  • Do your best not to work late. Tasks grow to fill the time allotted, so don't let a task spill over past quitting time or into the weekend. A common procrastination technique is not to do any real work during the day and then "catch up" after 5 p.m. or on weekends. This method is OK on occasion if you find it difficult to get work done during the day (due to meetings, telephone calls and other distractions), but it can be a bad habit to get into. In general, you will find that you are not more productive -- your per hour productivity will most likely decrease, as well as the quality of your work, because you will be tired and more likely to burn out. And waiting until after everyone has gone home to get work done can mean that other people will not be around to give you crucial feedback and information.
  • Don't forget to alternate work with breaks. Nothing will hold your attention 100 percent of the time, and staring at your computer screen doesn't count as work. Break your work into 30-minute chunks, alternating with smaller tasks or something fun, like personal e-mail or Instant Messenger (IM).
  • Keep all your daily notes in one notebook. Keep to-do lists, notes from phone conversations and other records in one notebook. You'll be able to find information much more easily.
  • Perfectionism is a trap. Not every thing you do must be perfect. High quality performance also means smart use of resources. If you find yourself spending hours laboring over an e-mail to a co-worker or endlessly revising the layout of a draft document, you may be spending far too much energy on inconsequential details. While over-delivering is heroic, you dont want to squander your time and resources. So if you have promised an outline, deliver an outline, not the final product.

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Filed Under: Workplace Issues

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