How to stay organized at work?
February 20, 2006 8:18 AM   Subscribe

I have a hard time staying organized at work. My problem isn't working on something, it's staying aware of the many projects and tasks that I have to complete, prioritizing, and staying on top of a project (and letting clients know that I'm on top of it, next step, etc.) There are multitudes of tools out there, and I have access to many of them. What I'd like to know is what methods have you found that work for you with regards to your daily organization at work? Notebook, spreadsheet, Outlook, etc?
posted by adampsyche to Work & Money (20 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I have tasks that are the same month to month, or at least I know what they will be before the beginning of next month. So, I make out a calendar (not Outlook, because I resent the hell out of it, and I often turn it off because the way the client's run at my work place kills all of my machine's ability to do anything but check email) and put everything on it. I put what it is and how much of it I want to get done (so, Review X and so whatever, finish 1/2 of the document). Then I get the unholy joy of crossing things off my calendar, which is something I really enjoy much more than dismissing an Outlook appointment.
posted by Medieval Maven at 8:25 AM on February 20, 2006

I have a binder with one sheet for each project. I keep dated notes of whom I talked to when, and what (and when) the next step is.

Old fashioned and harder for me to ignore or screw up.
posted by small_ruminant at 8:46 AM on February 20, 2006

I write (often arbitrary) deadlines on my week-at-a-glance desk calendar. I need to see something on paper for it to register in a real way, I've found, and being able to mentally space things out over the course of a week helps.

As for checking in with clients, can you set up a weekly (daily, monthly) time you'll call to check in?
posted by occhiblu at 9:01 AM on February 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

I use Outlook both at home and work, synching the two with a PDA. I have DeskLook installed on my office PC, so my task list and calendar are always easy for me to see.

I work full-time, with 5-6 appointments per day in various places. I have two kids, both heavy into after-school stuff, so I have Reminders about who to pick up, when, etc. Grocery lists become appointments. I email myself things I need to do or get, move it the Calendar and then set a reminder for an opportune time.

You may be asking more about project planning, but for every-day organization I hope this helps.
posted by Marianne at 9:14 AM on February 20, 2006

i'm one of those people where, if it's not written down, it's likely forgotten. that earns me a lot of trouble, so i do my best to fight it off.

for one thing, i don't like using a computer to manage my tasks. it's not always convenient (when i'm not at my desk, or going from one place to another), and despite working with computers all day and being in an IT department, for simple tasks i find myself drawn to simple solutions such as pen and paper.

i am certain that people have told you, and no doubt people will tell you here, that reading "getting things done" by david allen will help. what i have taken from the book most strongly, i think, is the idea of the checklist. i just write down every task i have to do. not just at work: i also have a small moleskine in which i write down personal tasks, things i have to do at home, etc.

this works for one-and-done sorts of projects, not necessarily for long-range stuff such as "paint garage" or "make lots of money". but i'm surprised at how many of the one-and-done tasks i do have -- maybe you will be at your own list of them.

for long-range stuff, i usually write them down in a place where i will see them but not in my checklist. i've got a whiteboard at work, which works good for me. i don't quite have the equivalent at home -- maybe i should.

strangely, i don't use a calendar. this may change, but for the time being, i've been ok with writing down events and dates on my whiteboard.

some people get a bunch of index cards together and carry them around. you could use them for a checklist, and the moleskine for long-range stuff; or vice versa. in my experience, it's best to keep short and long-term stuff separate. it's distressing to see a lone, if long-range, item sitting in my checklist, knowing i can't get it over with until such and such occurs... but, of course, it also helps to keep the work/home lists separate as well.

before long, you'll have completely organized your email inbox into many subfolders and never have more than a handful of email in the main inbox. and then you'll wonder, my god, what have i become?
posted by moz at 9:27 AM on February 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

Small dry-erase board. If it's on the computer or folded up somewhere, I'll forget there's even a list. If it's hanging in a spot to my left or right (as opposed to just over the monitor where it would be blurred out as peripheral tends to for me), my idle glancing will inevitably catch it.
posted by vanoakenfold at 9:36 AM on February 20, 2006

I have a pretty high-volume job and I find the best way for me to stay organized is, like moz, a big-ass whiteboard. I note the job, the deadlines and my responsibilities re: said job.

It's always there, looking down. And because you can see all your jobs at once, you can see where they overlap.

Won't work if you're on the road/ out of the office a lot, but it seems to work if you're at least there in the a.m. to see where you stand.
posted by theinsectsarewaiting at 9:41 AM on February 20, 2006

I've been using Remember The Milk to keep track of my projects at work for the last few weeks, and it's working pretty well. Like moz said, if I don't write it down I will forget it. And since I work at a computer all day, it's easiest for me to "write it down" online. I like RTM because I can set deadlines, prioritize projects, add notes for projects, and do it all very simply in one location.
posted by geeky at 9:43 AM on February 20, 2006

My productivity took a huge jump when I bought Franklin Coveys' PlanPlus for Outlook (30 day free trial).

I didn't produce more work, I now just get more out of my slacking-off time
posted by Mick at 9:44 AM on February 20, 2006

I use outlook tasks along with my blackberry. The alerts come through regardless of where I am since I carry the infernal 'berry around with me all the time. It also allows me to update my task list directly from the blackberry.
posted by aberrant at 9:55 AM on February 20, 2006

Getting Things Done

Don't buy into all the hype -- just get the book for the GTD "do it, delegate it, delete it" road map.
posted by frogan at 10:15 AM on February 20, 2006

I second frogan's advice. I have the flow chart from the book taped to my wall. I gave the book to everyone at my law firm for Christmas.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:28 AM on February 20, 2006

A couple of stacks of those plastic 'in/out' boxes each one dedicated to a project of some sort. Within each lie ONE manilla folder containing everything pertinent to that project. If project gets too big, the folder becomes a binder. I can clearly see the label of each folder yet the stacks are low-profile so as not to clutter the desk. When the project is complete, the folder goes into the file cabinet.

In addition:
A small list for smaller to do items.
Another list for long term ideas/project that are still in the very early 'idea' phase.

If I needed to, I'd flowchart them all, but I usually don't need to go to that extreme.
posted by lyam at 11:28 AM on February 20, 2006

I third frogan.
Buy it. Learn it. Live it.
posted by thimk at 11:40 AM on February 20, 2006

GTD can change your life once you grok the next action/project system. Most to do lists look like this:

Fix Computer
Upgrade Blog CMS
Clean Hard Drive
Client Project

This is a morass of undoability. What the hell does any of that mean?

I use Swift To-Do List Lite to manage my lists. I separate each list by context, so it's like this:

@out&about (this gets xferred to my HPDA when I leave to do errands)

Then each action is listed like this:

na: Read WP upgrade instructions (url)
(in the notes field) Project: Upgrade WordPress

Of course, some things are just single actions that have no project. Anything that would take less than 10 minutes to complete I do immediately.

For tasks I need to do daily but tend to forget (work out, take medication, etc.) I keep a (blank and filled in) Franklin Daily Virtue card printed out on an index card. I put a little dot in the square when I've finished the task.

I keep another Franklin card for stuff that needs to be done once a month (rent, descale the coffee pot, etc.) and yet another card for weekly tasks (water plants, print new weekly cards, make a fresh image of my HDDs, back up my blog, etc).

I also keep running lists of crap I need/want on different cards, and I keep another card with an extremely abbreviated list of books, cds, and games I'm particularly interested in so that my B&N and Target trips are more organized and less impulsive.

People with busy work and social lives often use ticklers to remind them of things. There's a lot about ticklers in the GTD book.
posted by xyzzy at 12:14 PM on February 20, 2006

Oh, I forgot to mention...

In Swift To-Do List Lite, you can add categories to your tasks. I use this feature as another level of granularity for my to-do list. So I've got categories like Calls/Conversations, Entertainment, Writing, etc. So if I'm in the mood to deal with people, I'll sort the list by category so I can just look at tasks that require talking to people. If I feel like writing, I'll tackle some tasks in the Writing category. Yadda yadda.
posted by xyzzy at 12:18 PM on February 20, 2006

I'm into Getting Things Done as well. I use Outlook for managing the data, using the pdf file sold at the website for configuring it.
posted by Manjusri at 1:24 PM on February 20, 2006

I've tried myriad approaches including the "Franklin" method (took a two day class and everything). Sometimes the best method is just to dumb it down. I'm I pilot so I call my technique "Near Rocks, Far Rocks". Identify the threat and prioritize it by "how bad will it kill me?" I love the white board method as previously posted; it's simple, easy and doesn't lend itself to the strict format of keyboard and screen. Just remember, sometimes the best ideas are the simplest.
posted by mjbf15c at 1:38 PM on February 20, 2006

Software-wise, I've tried a lot of locally-installed and web-based tools over the past year - Backpack, TaDa, Remember the Milk, etc. The one I've settled on is Tracks. It's aimed at GTD users but is fairly adaptable for other situations - it allows you to categorise todos by project and context. Worth trying.
posted by blag at 3:29 PM on February 20, 2006

My work life is built on Post-It notes in varying degrees of blindness-inducing colors. Highest priority tasks are written on neon red/pink notes, moderate on neon green, low on yellow.

The current week's notes are stuck around the frame of my monitor. Each note has a date header followed by detailed notes (down to code snippets). As I finish them, I peel them off, cross them out, and stack them on top of the monitor. Unfinished tasks at the end of the week stay on the monitor.

Behind me is a large whiteboard. Black horizontal lines divide up the board, giving each project/client an edge-to-edge horizontal rectangle of real estate. On the x-axis, I divided the board into | Next Week | This Month | This Quarter |. Anything farther off is written directly on the board until they become part of the current quarter (and become a note). On Monday morning, notes from "Next Week" get transferred to the monitor.

Outlook and a cheap "At-A-Glance" weekly mini-planner for work and personal appointments, respectively. For clients, I set aside a few hours on Friday afternoon to blast off quick emails about the week in review (when appropriate) and what to look out for in the next week. So far they seem to dig that in their inboxes on Monday morning.
posted by junesix at 5:13 PM on February 20, 2006

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