Time Management Pt. III: How to improve your organisation skills

Improve your organisation skills

Photo: Freeimages.com/Marsy

Stay organised by using a notebook

If you want to improve your organisation skills, keeping track of your tasks and progress in a paper note book is still one of the best ways to organise your thoughts and any actions you pick up throughout the day. I carry one to every meeting at work and have one at home to jot things down when they pop in my head. It is useful to keep a shopping list open in the notebook and add things to it as I realise the jam has just run out in the fridge. I also use electronic versions of a notebook including the notes App on my iPhone and OneNote on the PC.

I have found Microsoft OneNote to be an invaluable tool for improving organisation (Other programs and Apps are available!). It allows you to organise notes into sections and pages like a physical filing cabinet/folder system with the added benefits of adding links to websites/importing photos and snips from web pages. On a work network the pages can be shared and updated by colleagues. This is useful if more than one person is working on a project or task. Microsoft Outlook calendar also gives a direct link to OneNote, so it can be linked to a meeting and minutes taken and shared in the program. We keep a OneNote notenook open for organising this website for instance, with a section for each category, page and post, jotting down ideas as and when they are spawned.

Use a calendar to plan ahead

A desktop diary or calendar, suitable phone App or electronic calendars are useful for helping organise our lives. Whether it’s simply adding the family’s birthdays, dentist appointments or a full daily schedule it can help plan each day and week ahead.

I review my schedule for the following day last thing before I leave work and Friday afternoons for the following week to help me plan ahead. It can also be effective to look at it briefly each morning. This makes me aware of what meetings I have for the day and I add reminders to do things ahead of time, ensuring I don’t forget important tasks. I also block out portions of the days ahead so that my schedule doesn’t get entirely filled up with meeting invites.

Create a better filing system

If you have trouble finding that file or the email from a few weeks ago or your passports when you are due to go on holiday, then a better system may be needed. Keep all associated paperwork in one folder labelled by category. At home this may be “bank statements” at work it might be “supplier invoices”. For project work keep all documents together labelled with a unique project number or title. Store computerised copies in a folder on a PC or server in a similar manner (don’t forget to back up the data).


Thus subject could be a whole post alone (and probably will be soon). Others have devoted entire websites to the topic. In essence for this post tidy desk (or home) = tidy mind. Once you have created a suitable filing system, use it. Keep your desk clear of excess paperwork. Use an in tray for work that needs to be done soon. Allocate some time each week, or day, to admin to keep your desk clear. At home do the washing up regularly. Personally, coming down in the morning to a pile of dirty dishes is a stressful start to the day. Have regular clearouts of your wardrobe.

Preventing emails from taking over your life

Try organising your emails into similar categories as you have for documents and create sub folders under the Inbox. I move all emails from my inbox into the sub folders once they have been actioned. Anything in my Inbox acts as an electronic To Do list of actions still to be completed.

It is possible to “Flag” or categorise emails for levels of importance or types so they can be grouped together. In this way you can file or search emails by different categories, projects or tasks.

How to restrict the number of emails you receive

Do you get over a hundred emails a day at work and find many of them are “For Information Only”? Are you copied in the “CC” box and find the email requires no action? It is normally possible to create rules to handle this type of email automatically. If you get regular newsletters from different groups that don’t need to be read urgently, you can either manually move them to suitable folder to be read later, or set up a rule to move them automatically. If you have been included in an email “conversation” and don’t need to know, politely ask to be taken off the circulation.

For personal emails it is amazing how many daily, weekly, monthly emails you seem to have magically subscribe sending you the latest offers for one widget or another. Take the time to hit the “unsubscribe” button that should be available on every email of this type.

For many of us emails come in thick and fast throughout the day. It is easy to allow them to interrupt the work you are doing to deal with them as soon as they ping into the Inbox. It can, however, be more efficient to focus on certain tasks without interruption. Try setting certain times of the day aside to read and action the emails. Some email software can be set up to receive messages only at certain times. By experimenting with rule settings you can ensure are not even interrupted each time one arrives (or you can turn off the notification).

Don’t Procrastinate

We all like putting off the things we like doing least until later. However, this means we end up with a chunk of the least exciting stuff to do at the last-minute. Perhaps you save all your admin until the end of the week or review your finances and pay your bills once a month. Make a pact with yourself to get these types of tasks out-of-the-way as soon as they crop up. Pay the bill as soon as it arrives, finish that data entry task early in the week.

Further Reading:

Time Management Pt. I: Use To Do lists to plan & improve work life balance

Time Management Pt. II: Managing Workload to reduce stress

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