While work isn’t everything, getting a handle on your work activities certainly has ripple effects on our stress levels and our ability to show up in our personal life in the ways that we want. The tricky part is that no one taught us how to plan and organize work activities. So, if you’re like Past Me, you just kind wing it and “just work harder” your way through it. This is great if it works for you, but for Past Me, it resulted in a lot of stress because I wasn’t really sure if I was getting everything done or how I would going forward.
So, let’s go over some strategies you can use to plan and organize those work activities with more confidence, clarity, and calm.
1. Don’t forget about the repetitive work activities
When we think about getting organized at work, we often jump straight into organizing the big projects on our plate.
But much of our work days are spent doing less sexy, repetitive work activities – so, any realistic plan that will help you feel at ease has to account for them.
- Email: According to a 2012 McKinsey study, American workers spend 2.6 hours (i.e., 28% of the average work day) dealing with email. If you don’t account for at least some of that in your daily plans, your plans are going to get derailed by email every since day. How frequently and how much time you protect for processing email every day will depend on your job and the required response rate, but regardless, get intentional about it and protect some window(s) of time for it. If you spend about 2.6 hours in email every day, I recommend protecting at least one hour of email processing time each day and doing your best to avoid getting sucked into your inbox the rest of the day. (Side note: I have an email mini-course here if you’re interested in learning more about how to deal with email from a time management perspective.)
- Meeting Prep and Follow-Up Time: While almost everyone calendars their meetings, many don’t calendar the time they need to prepare for and, later, follow up on those meetings. As a result, we’re often scrambling to prep (and doing so late at night the night before), not feeling as prepared as we’d like to, and/or forgetting to follow up on action items we promised but forgot about in the scramble to dash to the next meeting.
- Recurring Job Responsibilities: Perhaps you run a report once a month that requires an hour or more of your time. Maybe you pull information from multiple departments to create a slide deck once a week. If you’re attorney or someone else who bills time, you might enter your time once a day or week. All of us have job responsibilities that repeat with some frequency. Get clear on what those responsibilities are, how frequently you need to do them, how long they take, and when you’ll schedule them in your day/week/month.
Getting clear on these more repetitive work tasks will give you a much better understanding of where your time is going, help you create realistic game plans to accomplish these repetitive tasks, adjust to make those plans work for you, help you appreciate how much you are doing, and help you understand more realistically what remaining time you have to give to one-off projects, which we’ll address next.
In addition, while planning and organizing these work activities is less sexy than tackling the one-off projects, getting a handle on them is GAME-CHANGING. Because they’re repetitive and you’ll see them again tomorrow / next week / next month, putting in the work to figure out how to accomplish these tasks in a way that works for you and in a way that reminds Future You to do them on time will pay off for years to come.
2. For one-off projects, don’t calendar just the deadlines – calendar the work
Turning to the one-off projects, this tip is quick, but effective:
Don’t just calendar the deadline. Calendar when you’ll do all the work.
(We dig into this in far more detail using a 6-step process to manage one-off projects in my 8-week Bright Method time management program if you’re interested in really bringing this to life.)
While getting a handle on deadlines is obviously important, planning and organizing the bite-sized work activities that go into meeting those deadlines will help you understand how you’ll accomplish a project over time (versus that “must do it all right now!” feeling that derails many attempts to relax at night) and improve the quality of your work product.
As you plan out when you’ll do those bite-sized steps, keep in mind:
- Your typical energy and work patterns (e.g., if your work curveballs typically calm down by 1pm, that’s a great time to schedule focused work – versus trying to focus from 8-10am when emails shouting “fire!” are interrupting you every 20 minutes); and
- Your work location (e.g., if you can focus better in the office, schedule focused work time there; or in the alternative, if people interrupt you all day long when you’re in the office, schedule smaller, interruptable tasks and meetings for office days and save the focused work for home).
3. Hold a planning session once a week
I’m a broken record here, but if you want to feel on track, you need to lay down the tracks. And often.
Planning is not a one-and-done thing because life – including work – has a funny way of changing on us. New issues arise. Childcare, if you have kids, falls apart. Someone who was helping you on a project leaves the organization. Something wonderful happens in your life that prevents you from focusing on work one day. We learn more about what a project requires that alters our game plan.
Because of this, you need a weekly planning session. To learn way more about the weekly planning session I recommend (including when to do it, what to do, and more), check out this article, How to Plan a Productive Week and Schedule.
That’s it for today!
Pick one thing in this article that you’ll start implementing today – from calendaring those repetitive work tasks to calendaring the bite-sized steps that go into knocking a project out of the park. Give it a try, and let me know how it goes!
And if you love practical time management strategies (me, too!), consider learning the whole Bright Method, my step-by-step practical time management system designed for professional working women. Jump on the waitlist for my fall 2023 program here. In the program, we dive into all of these strategies in far more detail so you can rock your work activities – along with the rest of your life – with less stress, less last-minute scramble, and more peace of mind.