In the previous installments of this series and in response to the innumerable choices life constantly throws at us, I have discussed how important it is to ‘Value’, how the values you try to achieve must be ‘Objective Values’ and finally the importance of establishing a ‘Hierarchy of Values’ if you are going to successfully navigate through all of the responsibilities, desires, and choices available. You may think that with this we are done, but even if you have developed a perfectly wonderful hierarchy of values that fits you to a tee, you still are faced with the fact that there are only so many hours in the day. In order to make your prioritized set of values work the best they can for your life, you must learn how to organize your time as efficiently as possible.
When I worked at Colorado Container, our CPA would constantly marvel at my clean desk. He and I have both known many accountants and one of the constants you could count on with many of them was the fact that their desks and offices were typically filled with papers stacked on just about any level place available. In addition to my clean desk, I also had developed the reputation for being able to respond to requests for information and reports almost instantly. See some of the testimonials if you’d like to know what my former coworkers thought about my organizational skills. The reason why my office and desk were almost always clean and I could almost always respond to people’s needs instantly was because I worked very hard at staying organized. Here are some tips for how I do it:
- Plan, plan, plan – I am the king of the To Do list. I put a great deal of time into thinking through what I need to do. I prepare or update my To Do list at least once a day, and sometimes more often.
- Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize – When I prepare my To Do list I take great pains at putting it in order of importance, and I have every intention of completing the list in the order I put them down. In the interest of efficiency, however, the next three tips are exceptions I make to this rule.
- Take care of the easy stuff first – When I have a whole lot of obligations to take care of, I mentally sort out the ones that will take only a little bit of time- anywhere from a minute to 10 to 15 minutes per job- and do them first. Having a lot of things to do clutters up your To Do list, your mind, and your office. So the quicker you can tick off the most number of items on that list the easier it will be to deal with the other items, which because they take more time are typically a lot more important. A perfect example of taking care of the easy stuff first is that I like to go through the mail the instant I get it and organize it at that time taking care of any items I need to immediately. I have done this every day of my life, and doing so keeps the little stuff off of my desk and off of my mind.
- Get rid of the dross as quickly as possible – to continue with the mail example there is an unbelievable amount of useless junk that comes in the mail. Very early on, I learned how important it was to throw this stuff away the instant I realized it was not going to be of any future value to me. I employ the same thought process with email and phone calls, and through doing this for many years I have gotten very good at understanding almost instantly if something is going to be of value or not. If it’s not, it’s gone.
- Respond immediately – An awful lot of time can be wasted in putting people off. When you do that, you typically need to add something to your To Do list or your calendar at the time of the first request. Then you have to continue to worry about taking care of whatever that person needs, and perhaps spend some time researching the person’s request/problem. I have found that I can eliminate ALL of this if I simply take care of what the person desires at the time he or she requests it. Now I can’t always do this, especially if I am truly in the middle of something more important or if responding will simply take too much time at that time. But more often than not I have found that getting back immediately, even if it significantly delays other jobs on my To Do list, will keep the job off of my To Do list with a side benefit that whoever is getting the report or information is thrilled because he or she can proceed with whatever task they are trying to accomplish. They also are happy they won’t have to put the request on their ‘To Do’ list. They won’t have to worry about it, and they won’t have to make sure they follow up on it. All of this greases the wheels of the organization I am working for, which improves its efficiency and mine.
- Think through the future – As I do my planning and prioritizing I am always mentally going through each obligation/job in turn thinking through just what taking care of it will entail. In doing this, and having done this for many years, I get a terrific understanding of just how much time doing the job will take. This allows me to mentally plan out my schedule for days, weeks, months and even years in advance.
- Use alerts in Outlook (or whatever calendar program you use) – When I have a time obligation that will repeat, which happens all the time in accounting, I always make sure I set-up an alert in my Outlook calendar that will remind me of the need to take care of the obligation both the next time and for all future times it will need to be handled.
All of the above represent a number of ways I have organized my work throughout my career, but all of them are applicable to life as well. When you have created a strong, well thought-out hierarchy of values and then begin to organize your life well you will then be in a terrific position to reap the benefits of all of the work you have put in. That is the subject of the next post in this series – how to take all of this thinking and planning and organizing and put it all to work to make sure you get the absolute most you possibly can from the one life you have to live.