We often confuse being productive with working as fast as we can every second of the day. We fear that slowing down and organizing will kill our productivity, but the facts suggest otherwise:
- The average office employee spends “at least two hours a day—or 25% of their workweek—looking for the documents, information or people they need to do their jobs,” according to Glean’s 2022 Hybrid Workplace Habits & Hangups survey.
- “54% of U.S. office professionals surveyed agreed that they spend more time searching for documents and files they need than responding to emails and messages,” according to a 2021 survey conducted by Wakefield Research for Elastic. Even executives were frustrated—according to the same survey, leaders were three times “more likely to say quick file search is a top problem than the teams they lead.”
- According to a 2022 LendingTree survey, 23% of adults are late in paying their bills because they “forgot about the bill entirely,” while 22% didn’t forget the bill—but did forget when the due date was, assuming they had more time than they did.
Being disorganized is costly, in terms of both money and time. But if you can convince yourself to slow down and organize, the ROI will shock you.
Habits of an organized, productive person
“For every minute spent in organizing, an hour is earned.” –Benjamin Franklin
While Benjamin Franklin’s estimation is overstated, spending time getting organized is still a valuable investment. There’s a reason why people who are the calmest and least stressed are more productive. They understand the importance of organization, and they’ve adapted their habits accordingly. The good news is that you can become more organized and productive by emulating the habits that they rely on.
1. An organized person doesn’t have clutter on their desks.
You may think you know exactly where, and in which stack of paper, you can find a particular document. But you’re kidding yourself if you don’t think you’d be more productive with a clean and organized desk. Research conducted by Princeton University researchers in 2011 revealed that the more our brains are bombarded by the competing stimuli of clutter, the less we’re able to focus. And this wasn’t just subjective evidence. They were able to see the difference through the use of fMRIs of the subjects’ brain activity.
2. They never touch things twice.
Organized and productive people never put anything in a holding pattern, because touching things twice is a huge time waster. Don’t save an email or a phone call to deal with later. As soon as something gets your attention, you should act on it, delegate it or delete it.
3. They don’t respond to emails as they arrive.
Productive people don’t allow their email to be a constant interruption. In addition to checking their email on a schedule, they take advantage of features that prioritize messages by sender. They set alerts for their most important vendors and their best customers, and they save the rest until they reach a stopping point in their work. Some people even set up an autoresponder that lets senders know when they’ll be checking their email again.
4. An organized person works from a single to-do list.
Remember the days when people used to buy those expensive, leather-bound planners and fill them up with a to-do list color-coded by priority? Those might seem a bit old-school now, but no one can deny that it was effective. Why were those planners effective? They reminded us how important it is to keep a single to-do list. When you consolidate everything into one list, you always know where to look. You can stop wasting time trying to remember which list has the information you need.
5. They have a high level of self-awareness.
Highly productive and organized people have a clear sense of who they are. They know their weaknesses, and they put organizational structures in place to overcome them. If they tend to let meetings run too long, they set a timer. Those who have trouble keeping meetings productive make an agenda. If they forget to check their voicemail in the morning, they set a reminder. The details don’t matter. What’s important is that they think carefully and use specific aids and routines that work with their organizational weaknesses.
6. An organized, productive person makes time for lunch.
We’ve all been there—you’re head-down busy, and by the time you look up, it’s way past lunchtime. You end up either going without, or grabbing a donut or a bag of chips from the snack machine. Both are really bad ideas. Consistent consumption of sugar or other high-fat foods can negatively affect cognitive functioning and increase tiredness. As far as skipping meals, not only does it affect your memory, concentration and mental and physical health, it also affects your waistline—and not in the way you might expect. A secondary analysis published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found: “Skipping meals was associated with less healthy food purchases at work, and skipping breakfast was associated with lower dietary quality.”
7. They eat frogs.
“Eating a frog” is one of the best antidotes for procrastination; ultra-productive people start each morning with this tasty “treat.” In other words, they do the least appetizing, most dreaded item on their list first, before they do anything else. After that, they’re freed up to tackle the stuff that excites and inspires them.
8. An organized, productive person cleans up at the end of each day.
The best remedy for clutter? Set aside about 10 minutes at the end of each day to organize your desk. Although we know that it’s best to touch things only once, we’ve all stopped halfway through a task because the phone rang or somebody stopped by to chat. You really can’t prevent such things, but you can end the day by resolving all of the things you left half-finished.
9. They plan their days the night before.
Organized and productive people go to bed each night secure in the knowledge of what they’ll accomplish the following day. They get their priorities straight the night before, so that once the day starts, they’re less likely to let the “tyranny of the urgent”—those little fires that pop up and get in the way of their real priorities—distract them.
10. They make full use of technology.
There’s been a lot said about how modern technology extends the workday, making it so that we’re always on the clock. While that may be true, technology can also make us more productive. Whether it’s setting up an email filter to keep your inbox spam-free, or using an app like Evernote to organize information you’re going to need again, technology isn’t always bad. Used properly, it can save a lot of time.
11. An organized person doesn’t ignore their snail mail.
For this one, we go back to the “touch it once” philosophy. For most of us, there’s not a lot of snail mail these days that we actually look forward to. But ignoring it can cause problems, especially when it comes to things like bills and tax notifications. Just go ahead and open it, and take care of it as soon as it arrives; otherwise, you’ll end up digging under the sofa cushions searching for that overdue bill.
Every minute you spend looking for something, or trying to remember what you need to do next, will harm your productivity. That in turn eats into your career potential. The good news is that there are many tools you can use to stay organized and productive, and so even the most disorganized among us can put a system in place to keep ourselves in check.
What tools do you use to stay organized and productive?
This article was originally published on LinkedIn Pulse.
This article was published in November 2020 and has been updated. Photo by Roman Samborskyi/Shutterstock
Dr. Travis Bradberry is the award-winning co-author of the #1 best-selling book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, and the co-founder of TalentSmart, the world’s leading provider of emotional intelligence tests and training, serving more than 75% of Fortune 500 companies. His best-selling books have been translated into 25 languages and are available in more than 150 countries. Dr. Bradberry is a top LinkedIn Influencer and he has written for, or been covered by, Newsweek, BusinessWeek, Fortune, Forbes, Fast Company, Inc., USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The Harvard Business Review.