Being Organised & Managing Distractions Part 1

Being an avid reader of productivity and organisation related books and articles (yes, I am that exciting) I have decided to share with you some of the best pieces of advice I have come across in my quest for organisational zen! This week I will be looking at tips for getting and staying organised and in part 2 I will be looking at how to manage distractions for better productivity. So here goes…

Got everything you need?

Ever gone to start a task and realised that you don’t have all of the information or equipment that you need in order to actually start it? It is a pretty common occurrence and something that wastes so much time. Spend the last 15 minutes of your day reviewing your to do list for tomorrow. Will you require log in details, a chat with a colleague, a certain piece of stationary, a particular file or other piece of information in order to get started on anything? Once identified, go and find whatever it is you may need and store it somewhere close at hand ready to hit the ground running when you arrive.

Walk It Through

This is one of the most useful tactics I know when it comes to planning or preparing for meetings and events. Simply imagine yourself at the event or doing the task in question. You arrive at the venue and walk into the lobby and realise that you don’t know where to go – signage needed. You see people milling around wearing name badges – a reception table with pre-printed name tags are needed. You see people filing into the meeting and taking notes on the awesome things being said – notepaper, a projector and pre-prepared slides needed. Perhaps you are attending a meeting; imagine yourself getting up on the day of the meeting. What do you need to wear and how are you getting there? Can you see yourself showing slides on your laptop or giving them out as handouts? Hopefully this will help you realise that you need to pre-print your handouts and pack them in your laptop bag and so on.
See how it works? Make sure you have a pen to hand when doing this so that you can write your thoughts down as you go.

Add Replies to Your To Do List

When you are processing your emails it is tempting to leave ones that require a more thorough response lingering in your inbox. To ensure that you don’t forget about it and that you get it answered in good time, add replying to it to your to-do list. That way you can plan time to respond into your day and ensure that you are paying it the attention it deserves. Always have your to do list open when processing emails so that you can pick up any actions contained in them, actions that very often get lost in long threads and overcrowded inboxes.

Just a Little Reminder

Have you have asked a colleague to complete a task for you? If so, it can be very tempting to wipe the item off your to do list as soon as you have asked the question but what if they forget or are behind schedule? In this instance you need to have some kind of system for chasing things up. Google calendar (and I am sure other email services) can be a great tool for helping you stay on track in this area. Once you have asked the colleague to do X, simply create an event a few days later called “Check in with Vicky on X” and add an email reminder to it (not a pop-up as pop-ups are quickly forgotten whereas email must be processed!). You could then set a further reminder a few days before the deadline to check again and ensure all will be completed on time. It works for all kind of things. In the past I have created events and reminders to remind me to book train tickets and plan agendas for meetings, to remind myself about emails that I have asked for replies to by a specific date or simply to jig my memory about a dentist appointment later that week!

Email Reminders

As well as doing this you should keep a ‘chase’ or ‘backburner’ list (perhaps as an extension of your to-do list) where you can list all pending activities. Review this list on a regular basis and between this and your calendar reminders you should keep everything covered!

Inbox Zero

Inbox Zero has gone through a bit of a bad spell of late with many now saying that it is far too tall and unrealistic an order to be useful. I have got to the point where I accept that having NO emails in my Inbox is a tad unrealistic. I think it has happened once in the couple of years I have been practicing inbox zero and within about 4 minutes of hitting the big zilch I had at least a dozen new messages. I think the main takeaway from this practice is the daily setting aside of time to process and sort your emails. Find a time that suits you, grab all the actions from your emails and, once you are confident that everything is in place to get the email properly processed (on your to-do and relevant reminders set), reply if necessary and then file. If you do this daily your inbox should never become unmanageable.

To make your life easier remove yourself from any non-essential mailing lists (twitter, GroupOn etc.) as they just clog up your inbox. If you are a GMail user try their canned responses to make sending bog-standard replies much quicker.

Brain Purge

This is a tactic I learnt from reading “Getting Things Done” by David Allen. He believes that ‘stress free productivity’ is achieved by getting things off your mind. This means being able to genuinely forget about tasks because you have the proper mechanisms in place to ensure that they get done or that you are reminded about them at the appropriate time. This is what kick-started my use of reminders and always, always writing down any thing that came to mind as you can’t guarantee that you will remember it again later on! To kick start the process sit down with a pen and piece of paper (or computer if you prefer) and write down absolutely everything that is on your mind at this moment in time. EVERYTHING. I guarantee that you will feel a lot less stressed and more in control after doing this. That is not the end of it though. Ensure that you process what you have just written down by adding actions to your to-do list or whatever is required for you to feel completely easy that the tasks have been or will be taken care of.