For years I told everyone I was organized. I gave every impression of being organized for if anyone watched me for long, they could see me getting that way. It took a lot of time and it sure was hard work. While I could usually find things, was on time, remembered due dates, and rarely missed a meeting, I worked terribly hard for what was really only a barely acceptable result. I was fairly organized, but for all the time I spent at it I should have been.
None of us can really afford to spend a great deal of time at organizing ourselves. Don’t get me wrong, we must get organized, but most of us only learn enough at organization to “get by” and never really become proficient at it. As a result the rewards we receive from our efforts are only adequate and come with a high investment of our productive time.
Most of us have read personal organization and time management books, seen films, and maybe even gone to seminars. I did and while I learned from most of them, I was still spending a lot of time at my organizational efforts with only fair results. As I went along, I kept reading, watching training tapes, and asked others how they stayed organized. I attempted everything I learned and gradually found a method that works for me. It is a combination of many of the things I read and heard plus some of my own ideas. As a result, I am extremely organized now and my time investment in the effort is not burdensome.
What follows is a description of my method and examples of the techniques I use. While this will not be for everyone, it is certainly a simple, precise method that is not labor-intensive. This method has removed much stress from my life. I know now that I am in control and nothing is going to prevent me from staying that way.
Amazing what a little organization will do.
The method that follows is very effective, but as in all management tools and techniques, it is not for everyone. You will have to pick and choose what works for you. I would recommend to anyone who wants to try this method that you set out a short period and use all the suggested tools and procedures. Try it for at least two weeks. At the end of that time, you should have a good idea of what works for you and what changes you need to make. As you read about this method and its tools, you may decide that parts will not work for you, but you should still try them for the trial period. That is the only way you can truly evaluate the plan. Again, all parts of the plan will not be best for everyone, but you should try all of it and then change what experience shows does not work for you.
Most of us work off lists of one kind or another. We have learned the hard way that we cannot remember everything. The lists may be a formal “To Do List’ or it may be little yellow “sticky” notes all over your desk. You cannot be organized without some type of work list. I use two types: a Master List and a To Do Today List.
The Master List is where you jot everything that needs to be done, remembered, or communicated. There are no priorities on every item, but an asterisk may be used to flag something very important, an “A” priority item. Along the right margin, I write a target name for the item. In other words, if I have written down something which requires that I talk to John, I write “John” in the margin. If it is for the supervisor’s meeting, I write “supervisors meeting”. Other common margin target names include “file”, “email”, “project to assign”, “to do list”, etc. At my next meeting with John, I scan the margin of my Master List and find all the things I need to discuss with him. Same as with the next supervisor’s meeting, etc.
The Master List takes the place of all your other notes, lists, sticky notes, scriblblings on the back of envelopes, etc. It is your substitute memory.
As you complete an item, you scratch through it.
The To Do Today List is a very short list of only the actions you will be taking today. These are prioritized with A, B, or C. You should put nothing on the list that you do not intend to do that day.
Ideally, the To Do Today List is actually made out the night before or at the end of your work day.
A priority items are things that must be done today. They are of the highest priority.
B priority items need to be done today if possible, but they can be put off.
C priority items are just things that need to be done sometime.
The To Do Today List is made up from items on your Master List. Draw a line through those items on you Master List as you transfer them.
A,B,C Files are for the paperwork support on the things you have written down. I use three manila files labelled A, B, and C. Everything supporting the Master List will be in the C file. As you place items on your To Do List, you will move the supporting paperwork from the C file to either the A or the B file, depending on its priority. At the end of each day, the A file should be empty.
You may have other paperwork which has a specific due date for action or follow-up. That paperwork should be placed into a 1 – 31 File under the calendar day due. For example, if you have given out a work assignment on the 10th and want to check on the progress in two weeks, you would put the supporting paperwork in the 1 -31 file in the number 10 slot. On the 10th, you would check that slot and pull it and any other paperwork for the 10th from the file.
Many of your activities will be tied to the calendar. Meetings, deadlines, implementation dates, etc., cannot be kept in your head. All must be written in the calendar. With these items there may be supporting paperwork. This paperwork is also kept in the 1 – 31 file.
What else do you need? Very little, but there are some other things you may find handy. For example, I use an indexed phone listing. I not only put phone numbers and addresses in it, but I also use it for brief notes about individuals. These notes include such things as birthdays, job concerns, problems not serious enough for a note in their personnel file, and any other interesting, useful information about that person. Entries might include “hates working nights”, “wants to be considered for crew leader”, “has daughter with leukemia”, etc. When the amount of information or the amount of interaction requires it, I use a Contact Sheet. This is simply a prepared form which has a place for the person’s name, a column for the dates, a large space for a brief discussion of the contact/conversation, and a place for a follow-up planned date.
Another prepared form that I use is a Project Sheet. This is designed to assist with the planning and implementation of projects. It has spaces for dates, title, description, plan of action, people, places, things needed, time, money, and a small area to draw out a flow chart or other drawing. These are very handy and may be used to write up planned projects in a rough form which will be assigned at some date to the person who will manage the project.
There are also sheets to hold business cards, plastic pockets to hold pens, paperclips, etc.
All of these materials are kept in an 8 1/2 inch three-ring binder. I prefer one which zips closed so I can carry paper and other loose materials without danger of losing them. I take mine with me to work each morning and home each night. That way I always have my substitute memory with me along with all the phone numbers I might need. If I have a thought at home about something I need to do, I just pick up the notebook and write it down rather than scribbling it on a piece of paper and hoping I remember it the next morning.
There are many other things that you might add, but these are the basics of a very efficient organizational system.
2. PHONE DIRECTORY
3. 1 – 31 FILE
4. THINGS TO DO LIST
5. MASTER LIST
6. A, B, C FILES
7. PROJECT SHEETS
1. Calendar. I use a calendar that shows a week on two pages. Each day has a couple of inches to make note of all appointments, due dates, etc.
2. Phone directory. The phone directory serves two purposes. The first is its usual function as the location for phone numbers. The second is as a mini annotated employee file. I list employees with a short comment about any particular info that may be pertinent. This might include personal information such as notes on family, or a list of his concerns. I might also include problem areas.
3. 1 -31 file. This file corresponds to the days of the month. It is basically a suspense file. One primary use is as a reminder. One of my major uses is for email messages that are being worked on or have a due date. As an example, say there is an email that requires all drivers to be trained in a particular area. I may assign that job to a dispatcher, give him one week to get it done. I then put the email in the 1 – 31 file under the date one week from today.
4. To Do List. The To Do List is made up of the things I plan on doing today. It comes from items that I have on my master list. I also break the list down in three priorities: A, B, C. A’s must be done today. B’s should be done today. And C’s are lowest priority. A To Do List that contains more items that can be done in one day is not effective.
5. Master List. This is the list that contains everything that comes up needing to be done. It is used constantly. Each time a need is identified, it is written on this list. I use the margins of mine for the date, on the left, and for assignments on the right. As an example, while on the dock, a dock employee suggests that we could handle a particular daily shipment better if we made a special cart. You write this on your master list with today’s date on the left, the suggestion in the body, and “Bob – shop” on the right.
6. A, B, C Files. This corresponds to the To Do List. It is where any corresponding paperwork is found.
7. Project Sheets. These special sheets are made for assigning and planning projects. I use these with all significant assignments. For example, for an upcoming holiday, I will assign a Holiday Team who will use the project sheet to develop our Holiday Plan.
8. Notebook. All of the above, except the files are kept in a notebook . I take the notebook home with me at night and on the weekends. It accompanies me to all meetings. Otherwise, it remains in a readily available spot on my desk.
9. “Rules” A written list of rules and maxims for productivity. These include such things as :
Handle each piece of paper one time.
THE TO DO LIST
The objective of creating this list is to keep track of and focus on all actions that must be taken today. Under normal circumstances this list will be rather short by design. The object being to list only items that will be completed on that day.
Generating the list is rather simple. Check the Master List for anything that should be done for that workday and list any other actions necessary for attention that day. These items should be formally listed at the end of the day or the first thing in the morning. Of course, as the need dictates, items can be added any time during the day.
In addition to making the list, each item needs to have a priority. All items which absolutely must be completed that day are assigned an “A”: those which should be done that day are assigned a “B”; and any which are on the list just in case there is time to do them are assigned a “C”.
Any paperwork support for this list is kept in your “A, B, C” folders.
As an item is completed it should be crossed off the list. The supporting paperwork should be removed from the folder and either filed or thrown away as needed.
Naturally, throughout the day, you should refer to your list to see what you still need to accomplish. You will, of course, have other things come up that demand your attention. That’s a part of the normal workday. As these events are handled, you again refer to your list for your next task.
All of this is pretty simple. Even so, it is a dramatically effective tool. Few things you do in getting organized will even approach the value of this one list. With it, you remain focused on what must be done. You should also see completing the list as part of your daily goals. The combination of planned, focused activity on reaching your goals is the exact purpose of personal organization.
ANNOTATED TOOL LIST
1. Calendar. A weekly calendar format is usually best. The space available for each day should include appointment times and plenty of space for notes. In the large format, one which shows one week on two pages is ideal. In the smaller format, it may be necessary to have no more than two days per page in order to have enough room for notes.
2. Master List. This list is to record everything that you need to do, have done, check on, etc. It takes the place of all other lists, slips of paper in your pocket, phone messages, post it notes, etc. For this list there is no need of priorities on all items, but asterisks or other means of highlighting may be advisable. A column on one side will be used to indicate the person, meeting, action needed, etc., that is required for this item to be completed.
3. To Do List. This is a list of the things you are going to do today. It will be made up of items on your Master List. All items on this list will be prioritized. Ideally, today’s list was generated last night or, at least, late yesterday afternoon. It should be the last bit of work done each day.
4. Suspense File. A file that will be used to keep any paperwork needed as support to items on your calendar. An expanding file with 1 thorough 31 tabs works best. No need to ever wonder where support documents are filed.
5. A, B, & C File Folder. Manilla folders marked “A”, “B”, & “C” are used to hold any paperwork needed for your To Do List (“A” and “B”) and for your Master List (“C”).
6. Phone/Address Sheets. An indexed place to keep phone numbers and addresses. It may also be used to maintain brief amounts of information about individuals. This can be a valuable bank of information when you have large numbers of people to keep up with.
7. A three-ring binder to hold the tools above. One with a zipper which encloses the entire binder is best.
8. Any number of special purpose forms such as project sheets, objectives sheets, contact logs, etc. Some of these may be invaluable to you. Can be commercial such as Day Runner products or something you make on your own.
9. Business Card Holder. This should be a plastic sheet business card holder made for a three-ring binder.
10. Pocket Notebook. This is a small notebook to be kept in your shirt pocket. Its sole purpose is to provide a place to write down anything when you are not at your desk and/or when your Master List is not immediately available.
1. INTRODUCTION. Why do it? It’s easy. Too much to ever remember. Get
rid of stress.
2. BASIC PRINCIPLES. Write it down. All in one place. Don’t trust memory.
Organization is easy.
3. ANNOTATED TOOL LIST. List of tools with short description.
4. THE CALENDAR. How to use it. What to put on it. Write it down and forget
5. THE MASTER LIST. Your substitute brain. What goes on it. What does it
do? Get rid of all those other pieces of paper: scribbles on napkins, postits,
torn strips of paper, etc.,. Use the reference column. What a concept?!
6. THE TO DO LIST. What is it? Limits. Priorities.
7. THE SUSPENSE FILE. What is it? What goes in it? How to use it.
8. A, B, C FILES. What are they? Why have them?
9. PHONE/ADDRESS SHEETS. More uses than just the phone/address data.
10. SPECIALIZED FORMS. Short annotated list. What are they for? How to
11. MISC. ITEMS. Biz card holder, plastic pocket, calculator, etc.
12. EXAMPLES OF FORMS. Completed set of forms showing use of all.
13. TIME MANAGEMENT. Basic principals. Short how to… Monkey theory.
14. SETTING PRIORITIES. Basics. One to one evaluation. Whose priorities?
15. REDUCING PAPER. Filing needs. What to throw out, to keep, to suspend,
16. REDUCING STRESS. Organizational effects. List by bed. Pad in pocket.