Surefire ways to stay organized in a hectic workplace

Use these expert tips for an organization overhaul that won't dissolve overnight.

Surefire ways to stay organized in a hectic workplace

Conquer clutter and watch your productivity improve.

You’re running late to a meeting that you almost forgot you had. You’re frantically shuffling through old PowerPoint docs, looking for the latest version of the report that you have to present.

In that moment, you vow that if you find the report in the next five seconds, you’ll get organized for once and for all. Of course, once you’ve set up systems to tame the clutter, staying organized can be a continual challenge—but it’s a worthy one.

Being organized can likely make you perform better at your job, and unfortunately, the opposite is also true. An OfficeMax survey of more than 1,000 adults found that 90% believe clutter negatively impacts their lives and work. Look at these numbers:

  • 77% said clutter damages their productivity
  • More than half said that being disorganized impairs their state of mind and motivation levels
  • Two out of five said being disorganized hurts their professional reputation

Sound familiar? It’s time to clean up your act. Monster spoke to experts to find out what to add to your super-organized organization to-do list.

Use the rule of threes

At the end of each workday, set yourself up for the following morning. Before you leave to go home, create a must-do list for the next day, and only put the three most important tasks on the list, says Sumit Bansal, a New Delhi–based productivity and organization coach.

“By making your to-do list in advance, you allow your mind to relax because you have a plan in place,” he says. “Choosing only three tasks forces you to prioritize your work and focus on the most important ones.”

Get out of email quicksand

It’s easy to get snagged by your email so often that you neglect the rest of your duties.

Instead of bouncing back and forth between email and other apps all day, schedule designated timeslots to check your inbox. Bansal suggests setting a calendar alert to go off two or three times a day to remind you to stop what you’re doing and focus on sending and responding to emails.

If there are a few people who often send time-sensitive emails that can’t be ignored—like your boss who wonders why you don’t respond in five seconds or less—adjust your phone settings so you get push notifications from VIPs you need to get back to quickly.

File, label, and categorize

How much time do you lose looking for that invoice, email, or sticky note?

Instead of wasting valuable minutes conducting a search-and-rescue mission for your documents, make use of a scanner or even your phone’s camera to digitize documents. Then create a simple filing system.

Laura Handrick, a workplace analyst at Fit Small Business (a New York City–based resource for small business owners) scans important documents and then organizes them in folders on her computer so she can quickly search and find what she needs.

“I even keep a folder for accolades and thank-you notes in case I ever need a dose of good karma on a bad day,” she says.

This system isn’t just for physical papers; it also extends to her email: “My inbox is set up with folders for vendors, business experts, research information, company policies, and so forth,” she says. “I keep a ‘work in progress’ folder for things I'm awaiting a response on so that my inbox isn't full of pending items. The only things I keep in my inbox are things I have to do or respond to that day.”

Use your calendar like a to-do list

Sure, you might think you’ll remember you have a marketing meeting at 3 p.m., a report due by the end of the day, and that it’s your anniversary. And you might! But it’s more likely you will forget something important when you have so many events to remember on any given day.

Schedule yourself. Put all of your meetings, deadlines, and activities into your calendar so you get notifications and don’t miss deadlines. Use color coding to separate your work events from your personal ones so you can quickly glance at your calendar to see what’s on the docket for the day.

Just like you dedicate time to tend to your email, claim time on your calendar to do your work—uninterrupted. “If you work in an organization that loves to have lots of meetings, block out your calendar with working times so you can actually get things done,” says Fiona Adler, a founder of the workplace productivity tool Actioned.

Create a Zen-like workspace

If your surroundings are a mess, chances are your headspace is too. “I can't over emphasize the importance of a clean, organized desk. A clean desk clears your mind and instantly increases productivity,” says Bridget James, a Philadelphia-based senior professional organizer with the organization consulting company The Organization Professionals.

To declutter, she recommends taking everything off your desk and donating or throwing away items you don’t need anymore. Then group together items like pens and pencils, stationery and stamps, and notebooks and planners. “Treat your desk like prime real estate,” James says. “Place only daily used items on it and keep other items either in your desk drawers or close by.”

Organize your future

If you’re the type of person who spends hours searching job ads and then unloads dozens of resumes at a time, well, good luck with that. Need a better way to find a new job? Join Monster today. As a member, you can upload up to five versions of your resume—each tailored to different types of jobs that interest you. Recruiters search Monster every day looking to fill top jobs with qualified candidates, just like you. Additionally, you can get job alerts sent directly to your inbox so you can apply as soon as the jobs are available. Plus, your Monster profile page keeps track of all the jobs you’ve applied to so you don’t have to.