I am addicted to get-organized-quick schemes. When I’m not busy at work, my favorite thing to do is watch webinars on how to best use my iPhone, Outlook, and other tools to be the most productive and organized person
in the world that I can be.
After a couple of these webinars, advice from other people, and trying out different things, I found some really helpful tricks that have improved how I do things in my professional and personal life. Now I feel like things don’t fall through the cracks and I can keep up on all my random to-dos – the only thing left is finding the energy to do them….
1.Turn off email notifications.
This was a huge one for me. I use Outlook at work, and the majority of the time I’m not so busy that I can’t stop for a second to answer an email, or even just scan the subject line of a new email that would pop up at the corner of my screen. I never thought the notifications were a big deal or that they interrupted anything.
Then I was listening to a webinar and they said to shut it off, and cited studies and all sorts of convincing shit that made me do it. I honestly didn’t think it would make that much of a difference, but it has.
Here’s why: even if the email is not in any way important, I will stop whatever (actually important) thing I’m doing to read it. It was so distracting, and I didn’t even realize it until it was gone. Now, when I start working on a project, I can actually get something done. Even if a super important email comes in while I’m working, can’t it wait 30 minutes to an hour? If it is that urgent, the person in need can just pick up the phone and call me. I’m telling you, it is so much nicer to go into my inbox after completely focusing on a project and seeing 5 emails, rather than checking each one as they come in and feeling like my brain is in 5 places at once.
I never turned my email notifications on on my phone, but it sounds like an awful idea, for the record. I have been hanging out with friends, drinking beers, when their phone makes a noise and all of a sudden they’re depressed because they got a stressful or drama-inducing email and now we’re all bummed.
I say, turn it off! You’ll start spending actual focused time on what you are doing right now, and your time will start to feel like your time, not someone else’s to do what they want with.
2. Set up email folders.
I mean, duh. But – I learned a system from a webinar distributed at work that has saved me from stressing out or losing track of important things during days when I felt like I had 324,785 things to do. I wish I could credit the correct person for this system, but it was months ago! If anyone thinks this looks familiar and knows the origin, please let me know – but it is too good not to share.
Here is how I have it set up:
Seems a little complicated, but I promise it’s not! Let’s start at the top.
This is only for incoming messages. Weird concept, right? I used to just work out of my inbox entirely and only put things in folders that I was saving for the future. But using this system, the inbox only shows you things you haven’t dealt with yet. Then, once you’ve dealt with everything (not finished everything, but allocated everything to its appropriate place in your folders) your inbox will be empty. It’s a marvelous feeling.
These are things you need to deal with today. This is great for when you come in in the morning to a shit ton of emails in your inbox and you just need to go through everything to figure out what is urgent, what isn’t, if any fires are burning the place down, etc. If something needs to be done today, you put it in that folder and make sure everything in there is finished by the time you leave. Simple.
Same deal. Except when you come in the next day, or maybe right before you leave, you shift your tomorrow stuff to today. Sounds like something you’ll forget to do, right? But just try if it sounds like something that could help you – it is way more intuitive than I thought it would be.
This is great for having a reminder email in there to just keep up with a project, stay in touch with someone, etc – but it doesn’t have to have a specific deadline.
Same deal. When you come in on Monday, or before you leave Friday, you update your folders. See below on how I never forget to do that with my Monday calendar event.
THIS IS HUGE. This, my friends, is how I become a magical sorceress who never – I mean, never – lets anything slip through the cracks. Here’s how it works – you reply to someone asking a question, or you email someone needing something in return. After you send it, go to your send folder, and plop that baby in Waiting For. Then, you can regularly check back and follow up with people if they don’t get back to you. When someone gets back to you, you delete it from the folder. (If you are in Outlook, make sure to sort your messages by conversation so everything stays together – that way, it’s easy to see that someone got back to you even when you’re only looking in the Waiting For folder – their reply will be right there with your request.) This is great for covering your ass – you have proof right there that you were waiting on someone else, and you can politely follow up with them in a reasonable time frame so things can get resolved. I am absolutely obsessed with this one – if you do nothing else that I say in this post, but you want to try one thing, do this.
Then I have just helpful folders below – that RANDY/KAREN folder is titled “RANDY/KAREN NO ACTION” (I put it in all caps so it stands out from the other system/default folders). Randy and Karen are colleagues I work with, and they cc me on a lot of stuff that I sometimes need to do nothing about. So I put them in here, so I have them on hand when they bring it up, but it isn’t clogging up my inbox or to-do folders.
The other ones are just helpful folders to save emails that describe processes I need to follow, or a place to put emails relating to the systems we use, etc. The only other one I want to touch on is the Yay Me folder. This is great for work emails – you throw in any email where someone is like, “Hey, you organized-as-hell sorceress, you are amazing at your job and I really appreciate that hard thing you did for me today via email” into this folder. Then when you’re having a bad day, or you are trying to get the nerve up to ask for a raise, or whatever, you look at this stuff and you’re like “How did I forget for one SECOND how amazing I am”. I love it.
3. Set up calendar appointments to start your week off right.
To be honest, I need to do this with my personal life – sit down every Sunday with Anthony and look at the week ahead – decide when we will go grocery shopping, when he has rehearsals, etc. The only headway I’ve made here is getting a joint Google calendar on our phones so we don’t double-book ourselves and nothing sneaks up on us (Anthony’s idea). But the last thing I want to do on a Sunday is sit down and talk about the upcoming week, so this is a work in progress.
But the system that I have grown to love and use consistently is the calendar appointment I make for myself on Monday mornings for work. I’ve actually stuck with this one, and it helps me feel more prepared for the week ahead, and less like I’m being shot out of a cannon.
It gets those email folders taken care of and updated, plus if I have any early meetings that week I can make sure to pay attention and re-set my alarm so I don’t sleep through it.
4. Get Evernote (or something like it)
This just keeps everything in my brain in one place. Little notes, phone numbers, email responses I can copy/paste that I send a lot, blog post ideas, instructions, you name it. I use it on my phone and it syncs to my desktop. It’s simple but can hold a ton of information that doesn’t end up getting lost or forgotten – and everything is searchable. Thank god.
5. Get Wunderlist (or something like it)
I was using Todoist for a while, and then tried Wunderlist after hearing everyone highly recommending it. I just like it. I think I switched because Todoist didn’t have the capability to share lists, which was essential because I want Anthony and I to be able to both add things and check them off. Now I share a grocery list and chores list with Anthony, plus all my other lists are in the same place. There is a desktop and mobile version, and you can set up ongoing reminders for tasks, which I couldn’t figure out how to do in Todoist – that’s huge for me since I need weekly and daily reminders (mostly to not kill my plants).
Alright ya’ll – you now have my secret weapons. Go forth into a more organized life – one with more time for beer and friends. :)
What are your secret weapons for staying organized?