5 Tips for Getting Organized at Work

No need to make the "Home Alone" face; we'll teach you how to stay on top of things at work. See more pictures of corporate life.
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Starting a new job is one of the more stressful life events. From learning a new commute to mastering different skill-sets (not to mention trying to figure out if your boss finds your sense of humor refreshing or revolting), it's difficult to develop an organizational system from the ground up. Beyond starting a job, many of us find ourselves starving for a little organization even if we've been toiling in the same office for years.

But getting to a place where you feel confident and prepared in your career means a lot more than simply keeping your pencils neatly stored in your "I Don't Do Mondays" coffee mug.

In the next few pages, we'll scope out ways that you can get your space and yourself organized for optimal working conditions. From cleaning up to calming down, we'll dispel some rumors about how handling multiple tasks at a time is better than one -- and explain why a messy workspace doesn't always mean chaos.

5
Tidy Up Your Desk (Or Not)
Look familiar? Some of us work fine with a messy desk, but others don't.
Look familiar? Some of us work fine with a messy desk, but others don't.
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It may not come as a surprise that the first tip for getting organized at work includes a gentle reminder that a thorough cleaning of your workspace might be in order. But before you dive headfirst into the piles of reports, reminders and refuse that masquerade as your desk, keep in mind that not everyone needs a pristine desk to function.

A black hole of papers and office supplies could really lead to some people losing their organized minds, in which case a big clean-up may be necessary. But for others, there's a certain method to the madness of a cluttered office. Don't get bogged down feeling guilty about your workspace; if you have a system that works for you, use it. That being said, it might be helpful to take at least a few minutes each week to shuffle through your desk to see what you no longer need and toss it [source: Bonkamp].

Even those who can function gleefully in chaos should remind themselves to put away things once they're done with them, leaving you -- at the very least -- only masses of things you really need.

4
Establish Good Habits
If your work is anything like ours, we doubt you have just one e-mail in your inbox.
If your work is anything like ours, we doubt you have just one e-mail in your inbox.
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Whether you're beginning a new position or simply trying to manage a hectic workload, there's no denying that making a few simple attempts to schedule your time is going to benefit you in the long run. Naturally, keeping a calendar of meetings, deadlines and lunch dates is, at the very least, going to prevent you from getting fired.

But beyond a calendar, creating and maintaining habits will add a lot of structure (and stress relief) to your day. We're not talking habits like regular mid-morning smoke breaks, but rather things like reserving a ten-minute period at the end of the day to tidy up your space or having a set time to file away papers [source: Cigna]. Set up systems for your workday, like ways to effectively prioritize e-mail correspondence. Setting up auto-filters that will direct e-mail to specific project folders will allow you to focus on one project at a time, for instance.

3
Manage Time Instead of Multitasking
Hmm, not sure your system is working, buddy.
Hmm, not sure your system is working, buddy.
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You've heard it before: Those who can balance ten tasks at once are the ones who make it to the top of the working heap. If you can Skype into a conference while responding to e-mails, berating your assistant and disseminating reports to superiors, chances are you've got management written all over you.

But is that really true? Consider a study funded by Hewlett-Packard that found that workers distracted by e-mail and phone calls suffered an IQ fall nearly twice that of people who smoked marijuana [source: New Atlantis].

Make a rule to turn your attention to materials like invoices, action items and even e-mails only once. Instead of paying bits of attention to several different areas, you might feel less scatterbrained if you take on a task and finish it to completion (or at least until a set time to stop) [source: Bomkamp]. This strategy will also help you keep clutter to a minimum by filing or getting rid of papers right away.

2
Make Your Space Work for You
Whether you like your space spartan or sparkly, giving it a personal touch will make your work environment more enjoyable.
Whether you like your space spartan or sparkly, giving it a personal touch will make your work environment more enjoyable.
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Unless you're Batman, working in a dark, dank cave of an office is not going to make you feel productive. While we can't all enjoy the amenities of a beautiful skyline view from our cushy corner office, taking a few steps to make your work environment pleasant will help reduce stress.

Putting up pictures of friends, family or adorable baby animals napping is one traditional approach to a happy work space. Instead of sticky notes with frantic deadline reminders, keep plants, flowers or even a calming candle on your desk. Even simple things like keeping your big to-do stack of papers handy but not directly in your line of sight can help you focus on the task at hand (instead of worrying about what you still need to get done). Remember that organization simply doesn't thrive under stressful conditions, so keep yourself motivated with breaks and rewards for diligence.

By making your space an engaging place to work, you'll relieve yourself of the panic that comes from dreading work.

1
Be realistic
There's no way you're tackling this entire pile by 5 pm, so why not break it into smaller, more manageable goals?
There's no way you're tackling this entire pile by 5 pm, so why not break it into smaller, more manageable goals?
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Want to know a dirty little secret to staying organized? Don't pretend like you can.

Instead of trying to wrestle your work anxieties and duties into place, set realistic goals about what you can control and what you need to let go of. Setting small, reasonable objectives for accomplishing job-related tasks will allow you to stay on track while still maintaining a sense of accomplishment [source: Bomkamp]. It's also a great way for you to remind yourself what you can do, as opposed to what you need to do.

Along the way, communicate your status on projects to coworkers or superiors; you'll stay on track and get feedback as you go. Being specific about your goals is important, too. Instead of just vaguely telling yourself to "get a lot done" at work that day, give yourself specific assignments, like finishing up a report before noon.

Are you feeling more realistic and organized already? To congratulate yourself, read on for lots more information and work-related tips.

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Sources

  • Bomkamp, Samantha. "How to get organized when work piles up." Associated Press. Feb. 1, 2020. (Jan. 19, 2012) http://www.mainstreet.com/article/career/how-get-organized-when-work-piles
  • Cigna Behavioral Health. "Eight tips to help you get organized at work." (Jan. 19, 2012) http://www.cignabehavioral.com/web/basicsite/consumer/educationAndResourceCenter/articleLibrary/focus_work9.pdf
  • Myers, Barbara. "Organize your desk in eight steps." LifeOrganizers.com. 2006. (Jan. 19, 2012) http://lifeorganizers.com/cm_articles/39_organize_your_desk_in_8_steps_497.html
  • Peraino, Joe. "Organizing yourself from the inside out: Keys to increased productivity and creativity." Attention Deficit Disorders Association, Southern Region. 2008. (Jan. 19, 2012) https://www.addasr.org/reading/Articles/Peranioorganizing.htm
  • Poole, Pamela. "The 5S process for getting organized." Gigaom.com. Feb. 4, 2010. (Jan.19, 2012) http://gigaom.com/collaboration/the-5s-process-for-getting-organized/
  • Rosen, Christine. "The Myth of Multitasking." The New Atlantis. No. 20. 2008. (Jan. 19, 2012) http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/the-myth-of-multitasking