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Revealed: The Secrets to Becoming Organized


Last updated 8/5/2010

I’m sorry to say that generally, most people are not very well organized. But the good news is that organized people are made, not born. And organization is a skill that anyone, in any profession, can learn and use to increase his or her productivity and efficiency.

During my years as an administrative assistant, I worked closely with executives of large corporations and presidents of small companies. These people were all very organized—part of the reason they were able to attain their high positions. I learned a lot from them. What I pass on to you here is a culmination of the techniques and systems I’ve found effective over the years.

Being Organized Is Being in Control

For many people, becoming organized is related to getting rid of paper clutter, improving their filing system or finding more time each day to get things done. And it is true that solving these problems will help them become better organized. But there is another facet to being organized that really is the basis for solving all these problems. Here’s the real secret of effective organization: Being organized is being in control. That means you are in control of how you handle paper, e-mail, the phone, your time and all the tasks and responsibilities that make up your work day.

It means knowing the status of every aspect of what is happening in your job at all times. It also means arranging your time and workload to meet your goals. Yes, goals—a very important part of being organized.

Writing Down Your Goals Is Critical

If you don’t have goals, you won’t know where you are going. Here’s a little statistic to illustrate my point: In 1953, Yale University gave a questionnaire to all of its final year students. Here are two questions that had far-reaching consequences:

1.  “Do you have goals?” 10% answered, “Yes.”

2. “Have you written down your goals?” 4% answered, “Yes.”

Twenty years later, the faculty wanted to repeat the questionnaire, but figured they'd better follow up on the original ones first, to see how they were doing. They tracked down all of the 1953 respondents and made basic assessments of their lives. It turned out that the 4% who had written down their goals were miles ahead of all the rest by any measure of success. In fact, it turned out that the 4% were worth more than the other 96% put together! So while making and defining goals is great, writing them down is magic.

It is not my purpose to get into goal setting here, although that is an issue I talk and write about often. But it is important to mention it as it is a facet of how to control what takes place in your life every day.

Organized People Are Proactive

To be in control is to be proactive, as opposed to being reactive.  Proactive persons take responsibility for their own life. They are in control of how they use their time and how and when they perform certain tasks. Proactive people make things happen rather than letting things happen to them. Responsibility is made up of two words, response and ability. Proactive people use their ability to choose their response to any given situation.

In contrast,  reactive persons empower others or circumstances to control them. They are victims of constant interruptions and so are more prone to being controlled by crises and the unexpected events of the day that invariably arise. Reactive people are controlled by what others think, how they are treated by others—even the weather.

There are many events and circumstances that can and will present themselves in each work day that can eat up your time. It is how you respond to these events that determines the impact on your productivity and effectiveness. It’s the difference between being proactive or reactive. Being proactive is also known as “self-management.”

Each of us has the choice of deciding how to handle day-to-day events. For example, what do you do if you are focused on a task and the phone rings? Do you answer it, interrupting your work or do you let it go to voice mail until you have completed the task you are working on? Which is more important, the task or the phone? That’s up to you decide.

Or say someone walks into your office while you are focused on a project, and you know they just want to chitchat. Are you going to let them waste your precious time or will you tell them that you are involved in an important project, can you get back to them later? Again, you decide.

Action Plan for Organization

Ask yourself:

- What are your priorities for today?

- How are you going to spend your time?

- Do you have a place for each piece of paper that crosses your desk, or does it pile up because you don’t know what to do with it?

  • Preplan what you want to accomplish today, this week, this month, this quarter and so forth and write it down. It makes you aware of where you are now, where you want to go and how you are going to get there. This process means being proactive and taking control of your job responsibilities. Some of you may be able to set aside specific times for specific tasks. For others, the times and tasks may change every day.

  • Don’t become discouraged if your plans don’t work out exactly the way you’d planned. Unexpected, schedule-disrupting events can, and most likely will, arise from time to time. But if you are in control, chances are they won’t disrupt your entire day.

  • Decide how and when you will handle any unexpected events. Figure out your priorities. Is the disruption more important than what you are doing now or can it wait until later? Just remember to address it proactively; don’t just react to the circumstance without considering its level of importance.

Getting organized takes work and perseverance—but keep in mind that it is a skill that anyone can master. The top level executives I worked with had goals, prioritized their tasks and focused on the most important ones and, most important, controlled how they spent their time every day. I promise: you can do the same. You’ll be amazed at the difference a little organization can make in your life.

© 2006 Carol Halsey.  Used with permission.