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How To Organize Your Day To Set Yourself Up For Success

If you’re constantly frazzled on the job, logging super-long hours with little to show for it at the end of the day, chances are good that you’re mismanaging your time. But the good news is it’s easy (enough) to reorganize your schedule and get back on a successful track, stat!

“There’s a lot coming at us: mail–and [all kinds of] paper in general–emails, texts, phone calls, bosses calling for help, deadlines, projects–it doesn’t stop,” points out Felice Cohen, organizer and author of 90 Lessons for Living Large in 90 Square Feet (or More). No wonder so many of us get so behind and feel so exasperated. But it doesn’t have to stay that way.

The answer isn’t to do more. “Not everyone can multitask, and most of us who do probably shouldn’t,” says Cohen. Rather, the answer is to do what you do smarter. And here’s how.

1. Keep Only Four Items On Your Desk

Clear the clutter–trinkets and extra papers and Post-It notes and staplers and tape and that mug filled with 50 pens–and leave room only for your computer, inbox–the old school paper tray kind, if that’s your thing–phone, and to-do list. “This is your workspace, and to get work done, you need the space,” says Cohen.

2. Keep A Digital To-Do List

Speaking of that to-do list: Consider skipping the paper version and keep a digital list instead. Why? “A digital list allows you to search, which is a powerful advantage over paper,” explains Frank Buck, author of Get Organized! Time Management for School Leaders. For example, Buck says, “Let’s say Jim walks in the door unexpectedly. You can search for ‘Jim’ on your list, and watch the list highlight only the things you need to talk with him about. Or when you have down time, you can search for ‘call,’ and you will see a list of phone calls you could be making during that time, so you’re not wasting the time.”

3. Set Aside 15 Minutes At The End Of Each Day

No, those last 15 minutes aren’t for deep breaths before you leave. They’re to set yourself up for success tomorrow. “Fifteen minutes before you leave for the day, put things away: file papers, return items to other offices, bring recyclables or trash to where it needs to go, rewrite your to-do list,” says Cohen. “You will come to work the next morning with a neat work area and a direction for the day.”

4. Schedule “Organizing” Or “Filing” Time

But don’t wait until the end of the day to get all your organizing on, warns Cohen. (If you do, you may need more than 15 minutes to get on track for tomorrow.) Throughout the day, “even 10 minutes can make a difference,” Cohen says. “When you schedule lunch and meetings, you go, right? So add [organization time] to your day. You can even return phone calls while you do—just put the phone on speaker.”

5. Put Repeating Tasks On Autopilot

“Every job has projects that recur every year at the same time,” points out Buck. “And every job has little tasks that need to be handled weekly and monthly. Don’t reinvent the wheel every time you tackle one of the recurring projects.”

Here, automation tools can be your best friend: prewritten ‘thank you’ emails to customers that you can copy and paste–or put on short-key–will save you valuable typing time. If your job keeps you on social media, there are tools you can use that will post for you. Just do a search for the tools that will help you most, and employ them as soon as possible. 

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