Top 4 Tips to Improve your Organizational Skills

Since graduating from college in 2017, I have tried out a bunch of workflows to keep myself organized. The following tips are my top four tips that work for me and I hope these help you!

1. Mise en place or “everything has its place”

Mise en place, pronounced (MEEZ ahn plahs) or (mi zɑ̃ ˈplas), is a French word which means is to have all your ingredients prepared and ready to go before you start cooking. Translated to English, it means “ to put in place.”

When applying this to your workspace, make sure that the items you need most often are the easiest to access. For me this is my to do list notebook, notes notebook, and calculator.

Before you shutdown for the night each night, clear your workspace of any unnecessary clutter. Keep only the most critical items and information you need for the next day on the top of your desk. For when I was in the office, I had a pile of papers that I kept in a box under my desk for the sole purpose of scanning. I took some time at least once a month to scan this pile, digitally archived them into their respective project folders and then recycled the hard copy. Now as I work from home, I have transitioned to more digital markups through Bluebeam, so I have not had to keep up with this part of the organization of my desk. 

In terms of “digital clutter” particularly in my email, I have separate folders for each of my projects to archive emails into as well as other folders related to recurring topics such as performance review, standards updates, and for tracking PDH’s.  

2. Find a workflow that works for you

As much as I would love to make this post just a list of “productivity hacks” on how to get more done in a shorter amount of time, I have realized that doesn’t help in the long run and that everyone has to establish the best workflow that works for them. Digital? Paper? Hybrid? I have gone through a number of different workflows and will constantly be working to improve this.

Currently, I make a weekly to do list at the end of each week in preparation for the next week, usually high-level tasks that need to be done the following week. Of course, things will come up throughout the week, but having a plan means that is something doesn’t come up I can look at my to do list (TDL) and instantly just get into one of those tasks.

As you can see by the photo above, I make a weekly TDL in a bound notebook and try my best to organize it by project. I leave room to the left of each task if I need to number my priorities or add in specific deadlines associated with each task. I have made it a habit to review this TDL at the beginning of each day.

I further supplement my organization through a larger notebook. Here I keep all my notes from internal meetings, meetings with clients, and more recently some “cheat sheets” for things like CAD (both AutoCAD and Microstation), and tasks I have done for several project (rebar schedules, cost estimates, concrete checks). Logging your notes, tips, and other thoughts will help you know exactly where to find them when you need them. Although both of my examples involve paper, there are numerous digital ways to do this such as Notion, Microsoft OneNote, or Trello just to name a few. I personally use Notion for more long-range planning, but I can talk about that in a future post.

3. Time is your most valuable asset

My last planner included the quote “Only time does not disappoint us” and while I don’t like the exact wording, it does get the point across. Time is your most valuable asset, so when I take on a task or new opportunity, I always keep time in mind.  I block a chunk of time on my calendar for shorter tasks (4 – 8 hours) that I know I need to get done that week like a shop drawing review. If something comes up, I just move the task to another day but this helps me to remember to complete that task that I need to fit in. Also, when you know your current TDL and the approximate time for each task, it is much easier to prioritize work and say no to other things. A pro tip that I have learned if you don’t want to outright say no to an opportunity, you can respond something like “I would love to take on this task, but with my current schedule, I would not be able to start on this until INSERT DATE HERE. Does that work for you?”

Also, in terms of time, breaks are extremely important! University of Illinois psychology professor Alejandro Lleras’ research suggested that when faced with long tasks it is best to impose brief breaks on yourself. Brief mental breaks will actually help you stay focused on your task. I personally like to take walks with my dog Nemo or use my lunch hour to cook lunch (rather than a quick microwave meal) to break up my workday.

4. Automate whenever possible 

Need to take out the trash Sunday and Wednesday night? Put it as a reoccurring event for both nights.

Just sent an email and gave a deadline in the email for them to get back to you? Put that deadline on your calendar as a reminder to follow up.  

Credit card due on the 16th of the month? Set up automatic payments.

The theme for this tip is do not rely on your memory solely to do a task. If you can add this on your calendar as a reminder, it will make each day more intentional since you do not want to be spending time on things that can be automated!  For incorporating this tip into your own life, you want to constantly think about WHERE is my value best added.

I hope these tips have been helpful! What is your favorite tip? Any questions about this article? Leave a comment below.

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