You may envy those you see that seem to have it all together — organized, polished and ready for any situation, at any time. You might wonder how things will ever seem that simple and streamlined. If you want to be prepared for what lies ahead, read on to learn the tips and tricks that organized leaders used to stay on track.
First, recognize that the truly organized are rarely trying to “do it all.” Prioritizing is key when it comes to getting work done. Not only does it help by forcing you to stop and think about the tasks at hand, but also what is truly critical or time-sensitive. For true success in prioritizing, be sure to ask your direct supervisor — not only will it help in making sure you’ve got the importance of each item straight, it will also signal to leadership that you’re on task and ready to get the job done.
Action step: Some tasks just aren’t important enough to get done at all, especially at crunch time. Work with your leadership to identify those tasks that just aren’t valuable and can be scrapped or deprioritized. Be sure everyone agrees before something gets set aside; it’s not an area where you want confusion or misaligned expectations.
Next, decide how you’re going to get it done. Assess how long you think tasks are going to take, which ones are going to need input from others, and when you can reasonably deliver a finished product.
If, given all the realities of your workplace, the plan doesn’t meet the timeline, start determining how you can make it work. Could the scope be decreased, or minimized initially? What tasks could be done after hours? What can you do in your most productive time window? Which ones could be started and then set aside while you’re waiting for someone to get back to you? Is there someone else who could do some of the steps required? Begin with a rough outline and then involve your leadership to collaborate on how to meet deadlines and expectations.
Action step: Having a plan signals to others that you have thought of everything, even if the timelines are tight and the workload high. If, after you outline a strategy, it proves impossible to get it all done, having a plan helps you definitively demonstrate the issues and acts as a starting point for a discussion on how to pivot and adjust.
Another tactic of the successfully organized is to ask others for help. Initially, it may seem counter to the image of “having it all together” to ask for assistance, but it’s critical to a job well done. Ask for help in prioritizing, in planning and in doing the work. The key is in how you ask for help — presenting your situation with research, ideas and a proposed plan in hand is a lot different than dumping a tangled mess on someone else. Get help with the fine tuning, not all the heavy lifting and always show up with ideas instead of just problems.
Action step: Let go of some of those easier tasks. If you were always the “go-to” person for a specific job, for example, it can be hard to pass that on to someone else. If you’ve mastered the task, however, and turned it into scripted, predictable work, take a deep breath and move on to a more critical task that need your consideration. Someone newer on your team may actually be eager for the opportunity to help.
Finally, whatever else you do, one of the best ways to appear organized is to proactively communicate. How are you progressing? What milestones have you met? What tasks are lagging behind? Are you going to meet a deadline? Clearly and respectfully answer these questions to leadership before they are ever asked. Let them know what’s going on, when you’re running ahead or behind schedule, and when you need input. Even if you don’t have the news they’re hoping for, proactively and consistently communicating is your best bet — it makes you look organized and on the ball, no matter what the circumstances.
Action step: Follow a consistent communication schedule, such as giving an update email at end of day or week on high-priority items, projects or multi-person tasks. Put a reminder in your calendar or phone for yourself and give a quick synopsis; people will come to know when to expect an update and will respect your consistent and organized communication.
Being organized doesn’t guarantee you can do it all, but it can help you set clear expectations about what is possible. Use these tips to get into some consistent habits and many of the other behaviors of the successfully organized will fall into place. Think about how you want to keep better track of your tasks, and how you want to keep those around you informed. It’s not always about doing more, but it certainly is about doing what you do well, and making sure key people know about it, which will help you get ahead in any organization.
Joel Garfinkle is an executive leadership coach who recently worked with a senior manager who had trouble getting and staying organized. He developed this list of four tips after working with this leader. She learned to build on simple habits to break down the work and become a successful, organized leader. Garfinkle has written seven books, including “Time Management Mastery: A Personal Growth Book for Stress-Free Productivity in the 7 Key Areas of Life.” More than 10,000 people subscribe to his Fulfillment@Work newsletter. If you sign up, you’ll receive the free e-book “41 Proven Strategies to Get Promoted Now!“