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A Manager's Guide to Getting Organized

Learn how to become a task master by identifying organizational problems and acting on them accordingly.
This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

  • Easy Organizing Basics
  • Finishing a Day's Work in Advance
  • Using High-Tech Tools and Software
  • Organizing Your Office
  • Managing Your Computer
  • Going on the Road
  • Working at Home

Easy Organizing Basics

In this section, you will learn how to become a task master by identifying organizational problems and acting on them accordingly.

Getting Started

Every day of our lives is filled with tasks. Some are daily, such as brushing your teeth, taking a bath, and putting on your clothes. Others happen weekly, monthly, or less often. Examples include paying the bills, going to church, collecting a paycheck, or getting that annual checkup.

Finally those tasks for which, generally, we are not prepared. No one wants to think of going to the hospital. And, whether we anticipate it or not, there are those words from the mouths of our children, "Mom, Dad, I'm going to get married."


We need to be prepared for what the world hands us. Living an organized life helps prepare you not only for planned events, but also for the unexpected.

Where do we begin to get organized? Ground zero. Get out two of the most common instruments of organization—a pencil and paper. You are going to begin learning the basics of becoming a taskmaster. You can start with the essential formula for becoming organized:

Organization = Planning + Routine + Refinement

This may seem simple, but it does work.


Close the door and let the machine take your calls. Getting organized requires the time and space to concentrate.

Planning the Day Ahead

The best place to begin is at the office, whether at home or work. Get out that pencil and paper, and begin developing a task matrix like the following:






Open and respond to postal mail

30 minutes

2 p.m.


Open and respond to e-mail

30 minutes

10 a.m.


Give work assignments to staff

30 minutes

9 a.m.


Review daily work in progress

1 hour

4 p.m.


Plan staff assignments for next day

1 hour

4:30 p.m.


Plan monthly calendar

1 hour

1 p.m.

Fill in a list of all the tasks you are expected to start and complete every day on the job.


Determine the time that it usually takes you to start and complete the task. Then list the time of day by which the task must be finished; realign those tasks in order, beginning with the earliest time of day.

You have successfully developed a basic plan. Make sure to leave enough time between each task to allow you to finish in the order they are due. Also, leave time for the unexpected, as follows:






Give work assignments to staff 30 minutes

8:30 a.m.

9 a.m.


Open and respond to all mail 30 to 45 minutes

9 a.m.

10 a.m.


Plan monthly calendar 1 hour

10 a.m.

11 a.m.


OPEN 2.5 hours

11 a.m.

1:30 p.m.


Return phone calls 1 hour

1:30 p.m.

2:30 p.m.


OPEN 1 hour

2:30 p.m.

3:30 p.m.


Review daily work in progress 30 minutes

3:30 p.m.

4 p.m.






Plan staff assignments for next day 1 hour

4 p.m.

5 p.m.


Update your to-do list 15 minutes

5 p.m.

5:15 p.m.

Now you have created time modules to complete known tasks, as well as those that occur on a less frequent or emergency basis.


You may be required to submit a weekly report to your supervisor every Friday. Don't wait until Friday to write, edit, and submit it. Make time every day to begin developing that report.

That "last-minute" routine only defeats the purpose of everything you are trying to do—get organized, become more productive, and gain more time to do other things

Creating a "To-Do" Template

Take your task matrix to your computer, and design a personalized "to-do" list template form. Print out a few blank sheets at the start of each week. Make a habit of filling it out every afternoon before you leave.

When you arrive at work the next day, you're geared up. You don't have to spend time visualizing the day ahead because you're already in motion.

Plain English

Habit A pattern of behavior acquired by repetition. Psychologists and behavior experts say that it takes about 20 to 70 days to form a new habit.

Refine Your List

Begin refining your "to-do" list every morning. Practice using it. Keep the list with you throughout the day. You'll want to determine whether tasks are being started and completed as scheduled.

Problems may arise. You may have two or more tasks that must be completed by the same time every day. Soon, learning to prioritize will become a habit.


Try giving your tasks a priority level, such as A, B, and C. If you have two A priorities, choose A1 and A2, and so on. You obviously can't do them all at once, so this will add order to what may seem like chaos.

Repetition of your routine will allow for refinement. Trust your abilities to prioritize and schedule your obligations. Your boss wouldn't have put you in that position if she didn't believe that you could accomplish the tasks.

Still Have Problems?

If you still can't complete the tasks in a timely fashion, don't panic. It will take some time, especially if you're not a naturally organized person. There are ways to solve the problem:

  • Delegate. If you have subordinates, do they appear to have more free time than you? You might be able to assign some of your tasks to them.

  • Get proper training. Do you rely on others to help you finish certain tasks? Ask for or get additional training in weak areas, such as computers.

  • Turn off the noise. It's easy to get distracted by the problems of others, telephone calls, and even impromptu meetings. Set your schedule (with flexibility built in) and make it clear to colleagues.

  • n Put in quality time. Are you getting to work on time? Are you putting in the number of hours expected of your position? Make the most of it by being organized.

Plain English

Delegate To assign authority or responsibility to another.

An asset of good organizational skills is the ability to identify problems and act on them accordingly.

Put Technology to Work

The beginning of this section was devoted to incorporating simple organizing habits into your daily life. Technology has done a lot for us in terms of providing tools for organization. These tools are not that difficult to implement, either, once you decide what you need.

Computer Filing Systems

Most of what you read and write for your business is stored somewhere, in a physical, paper version (or hard copy). It should also be stored on your computer. Try to label both using the same protocol—for example, client files can be arranged alphabetically in your paper system, Alvarez, Brown, and so on. Try to do the same on the computer:

  • Name your main computer folder Clients. In your physical office, Clients would be the label on the file drawer.

  • Name the subfolders under Clients in your computer with client names. Let's use Brown, Alice as an example. Under Clients, you could name a folder Brown, Alice. In your filing drawer, Brown, Alice would be a hanging file of its own.

Each new document for Brown would be labeled with a date system—for example, Brown, Alice 72800 for a July 28, 2000, document. You could create a new subfolder by month or by topic, depending on the nature of the work.

As an example, the file Brown, Alice would look something like this in your computer:

Drive: C

Folder: My Documents

Folder: Clients

Folder: Brown, Alice

Folder: July

Document: Brown, A 72800

The July 28th document is about five levels down, or five clicks down, in your computer files from your C drive. Now you can easily put your hand on both the hard copy and the electronic file.

Backing Up

The best filing system can be quickly destroyed by a computer virus or a power strike. Protect your files by backing them up. A backup is a copy of your computer files stored on either a disc, a tape, a CD or the network server.

Backing up your computer files is simple and takes very little time. Your computer software will guide you through the steps. You can decide when, where, and how the computer backs up your files. Get your system in place and stick with it.


Create two sets of backup disks. Swap them out so that there is always one full set of backup disks. Store them offsite, such as in a safe deposit box or in your home.

There are two kinds of backups:

  • Full backup. Full backup means just what it sounds like: You back up everything on your computer. Create full backups in accordance with how much and how often the data changes in your files. You can set the computer to do a daily, weekly, or even monthly full backup.

  • Selective backup. Selective backups are useful if you are working on only special sections at a time. You can select entire drives for backing up, or you can choose individual files and folders. Selective backing up should be done on a daily basis.

Create a System

Label and number your disks, CDs, or tapes in advance. We'll call them Set A and Set B for the sake of example.

Pick a day, such as Monday or Friday, to begin your backup cycle. Insert your Set A, and select the drives or files necessary for a full backup in your backup program. Do this again with Set B. Now you have two copies. Take Set A offsite for the week.

Insert Set B daily to perform a backup of selected files, those used most often. These will automatically become a part of the full backup.

At the week's end, bring back Set A and perform a full backup. Take Set B offsite for the week (it's fully up-to-date already). Repeat the weekly process.

You'll never have to fear a loss of data greater than one day's worth if you follow this system. Damaged or lost files can be easily restored, using the backup program's restore feature.


You can back up your files on the Internet. Some Web sites offer free space; others charge annual fees in the $100 range. Two top picks in 2000 by PC Magazine were http://www.connected.com and http://www.xdrive.com.


Don't get discouraged if you don't have all the "traits" of a leader. You don't have to be born with them, but you can use them as inspiration.

Cleaning Up Your Hard Drive

Clutter creates stress and wastes time. Computer clutter may be confined to the central processing unit, but it can be just as debilitating as an untidy office. There is probably junk on your computer that you don't even know about. That's why uninstaller utilities such as Norton's CleanSweep by Symantec or McAfee's Clinic can prove invaluable for getting organized.

Once installed, these programs go through your computer system and help you delete unwanted junk and duplicate files. They will remove orphans and redundant DLLs, and even tidy up the files that hang on after you've been Web browsing.

Begin implementing some of the concepts introduced in this chapter slowly. As you incorporate them into your daily life, you'll find that it's not taking more time, but less, to get things done.

The 30-Second Recap

  • Create personalized task lists.
  • Schedule time blocks to complete tasks.
  • Build flexibility into your day.
  • Plan for tomorrow today.
  • Identify problems and take corrective action.

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