With the approach of every New Year, as we flip the calendar’s page from December to January, many of us start to rethink the way we do things. We start thinking about a way to reboot. We start thinking about ways to improve — our health, our relationships, our outlook on life, our work. As we move from 2012 to 2013, I’m thinking more about my need to organize, especially as it relates to work.
“One of these days I’m gonna get organizized.” — Travis Bickle (Robert DeNiro) in Taxi Driver
I’m thinking most of all about how I can be better organized at work. Let’s face it: A lot of our time and energy is spent on that thing called work. This is true whether we work for ourselves or someone else. So the more efficient we can become, the better off we’ll be, right?
There’s only so much efficiency one person can manage. Also, most of us are dealing with bosses, clients, co-workers and others who are — well, let’s just say their methods of efficiency, setting priorities and time management don’t always align with ours. (And of course, our methods are always the best methods.) So in this clash of styles and preferences, conflict arises. That conflict can sap our energy and motivation, which in turn creates chaos and clutter, which in turn disrupts our plans for becoming more efficient and organized.
So, all of this is rolling around in my brain this final weekend of 2013. I decided to review some of the ideas that have helped me organize myself in the past. Several of these I’ve shared on this blog, which is a handy way of recalling ideas I’ve forgotten or overlooked. (I use the productivity category to file that stuff away. Pretty efficient of me, no?)
I’m no LifeHacker or Zen Habits or, heaven help us, David Allen. I’m just a higher ed marketing/PR guy in middle management who deals with too much information. I spend my work hours reading and responding to email and phone calls, attending meetings, attempting to manage expectations, handling last-minute demands and tasks, coordinating schedules, running interference for staff members so they can be more productive, smoothing ruffles, responding to media calls, fighting the proverbial fires. I deal with missed deadlines, ignored schedules, last-minute crises that could have been averted (had they just listened to me in the first place, or met their deadline). In between, I try to crank out a few writing projects here and there to ensure our university brand has relevant, meaningful and up-to-date content (mainly, news and feature stories). I’d love for those stories to be more thoughtful, but there are times when I simply don’t have the “think time” to make them that way. I often appear harried and distracted, and when my schedule is interrupted by events beyond my control, I get frustrated, sometimes upset or angry.
In other words…
I’m probably not the go-to guy if you’re looking for advice on how to get stuff done, balance work and life, manage your schedule and workflow.
But all that stuff interests me. I read about productivity, sometimes obsessively. I read and re-read some of these lessons to remind me what I’ve too often forgotten. And I think learning productivity tips from the likes of LifeHacker, David Allen, etc., has helped me. Which might amaze those who know or work with me. (To that I respond: Just imagine how bad off I’d be if I weren’t as organized and productive as I am now?)
Anyway, that’s a helluva long preface to my list of several links that I think are helpful to anyone interested in getting better organized in 2013. Good luck to you. And to me.
Let’s start with the not-to-do list: 9 habits to stop now
This wonderful blog post by Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek , is now more than five years old, but it’s probably more relevant today than it was then. While most of us obsess over making sure we list every possible thing on our to-do list, Ferriss suggests we focus on what not to do. “The reason is simple: what you don’t do determines what you can do,” writes Ferriss.
I’ve been reading and re-reading this list for — well, off and on, probably for five years now. I’ve become pretty good about curtailing early-morning and late-night email, not worrying about perfection, and some of the others on Ferriss’s list. But the one that still trips me up the most is No. 3, because it is dependent on others as much as ourselves:
Do not agree to meetings or calls with no clear agenda or end time
If the desired outcome is defined clearly with a stated objective and agenda listing topics/questions to cover, no meeting or call should last more than 30 minutes. Request them in advance so you “can best prepare and make good use of the time together.”
Here’s another take on the not-to-do list
This one has more to do (heh) with your actions and intentions than your activity, and includes a great “to-be” list (be kind, be joyful, be grateful and content, etc. — a list of great attributes worth remembering).
Nip multitasking in the bud
Multitasking is like trying to chase two rabbits at once. This is one of those life lessons I picked up from the wonderful little book for guitarists, Zen Guitar, by the late Philip Toshio Zudo. (It’s a great read for anyone, I think.)
Assume you’re going to succeed
Take this approach with any project or task you undertake or are assigned. This is a new one, freshly stolen from Forbes’ How to be better at your job in 2013. There are some other good tips there, too.
Above all, remember…
There’s only so much you can do to improve work processes.
You’re not likely to be setting your own agenda every day. People miss deadlines, thereby screwing up yours. Bosses interrupt you with urgent tasks that must get out the door today. People call in sick, don’t return phone calls or emails. A crisis erupts. But in work as in life, it’s all about agreements and expectations. Do your best to set and clarify expectations with those you’re working with (including your boss). Hold accountable those you are able to hold accountable (including your boss). Make sure you are in a position to meet the expectations, and if you aren’t, make sure whoever is assigning the work is aware of the limitations or challenges. Then do everything in your power to hold up your end of the bargain.
Oh, and one more thing…
The thing I need to remember the most in 2013:
Make this day your best day ever. Here are 10 simple but brilliant ways to do that. One of my favorites is No. 8 (listen to great music). Toward that end, I’ve created a playlist of songs that send me to my happy place (also embedded below). I hope you find a happy tune or two there as well. Happy New Year.