Updated 31 May 2020
Being organised is not just about having a tidy desk. Organisational skills involve using time management, logic and structure to manage your life and increase efficiency, both at home and in the workplace.
Good organisational skills in the workplace can:
Employers highly value organisational skills, since they often indicate that a candidate can self-manage and is mentally agile enough to adapt to the needs of the company.
Several of the traits featured in this article are key transferable skills that employers look for.
Being neat and tidy doesn’t come naturally to everyone, but it is a skill that can be developed like any other. Getting into good habits of filing things away immediately, having a place for everything and not letting mess build up will prevent the situation becoming overwhelming. It avoids the stress of having to tackle the problem when it gets too big.
The best approach to dealing with a messy workplace is to focus on one area at a time, perhaps allocating a certain amount of time each day to working through it. Even putting aside 10 minutes a day will make an impact and once you gain momentum, you may find that you are eager to keep going.
Having a clean and well organised environment to work in clears the way for creativity and productivity.
Your workplace may already have a functioning filing system in place, so learning how it works and using it as intended will save you time in the long run – as well as preventing friction within your team.
When documents and paperwork are not filed correctly, it has a detrimental effect on your own efficiency and that of your colleagues.
If you’re not sure whether you’re using the system correctly, ask for clarification. The best way to approach filing is to deal with each document immediately, rather than letting a pile grow on your desk which can often become unmanageable and overwhelming.
Managing your email inbox can really test your organisational skills. A large part of the task is recognising which emails are a high priority and which can wait.
If an email task will take five minutes or less to complete, deal with it immediately.
For emails that will take longer to address, allocate a time – maybe once in the morning and again in the afternoon – when you can work your way through them, clearing your inbox so you can focus on your other tasks without distraction.
Prioritising your workload means ordering your tasks according to urgency.
The first step is to identify and keep track of all the outstanding tasks you are expected to complete. Being able to see the bigger picture means you can assess which of the tasks are urgent, important or less important.
Make sure that you have your end goal in mind and that your manager would agree with your assessments.
A good rule of thumb is that work that is set to have the biggest impact should be completed first – client work should come before clearing out your desk drawer, for example.
Maintaining good organisational skills at work will also allow you to be flexible, with the capacity to reprioritise and move between tasks accordingly.
A to-do list is exactly how it sounds – a written (or typed) list of tasks that need to be completed.
One of the benefits of a to-do list is the satisfaction of ticking off your jobs, one by one. The act of writing them out can also start the thought process of prioritising workload.
Once you have listed all your tasks on your master list, identify the most urgent jobs and create a second list. This will be your daily list and you should only add things that you aim to complete that day.
You will then be able to see the progress you have made without focusing only on the longer, master list.
It can also be helpful to highlight small jobs on your list that take 10 minutes or less, and try to slot these into your day when you are taking breaks from a larger project.
People who show excellent organisational skills at work often achieve efficiency through effective delegation.
Delegating work doesn’t mean finding someone to pass the messy or difficult jobs on to – that’s a sure-fire way to cause animosity and resentment in the team. It involves identifying trusted and capable colleagues (often junior to yourself) who can support you within the remit of their role.
If you decide to delegate work, the outcome of the task remains your responsibility, so providing support and guidance to your delegate will be beneficial to you as well as aiding their professional development.
Be careful not to confuse delegation with micro-management – the important distinction is that you are delegating to a colleague you trust to complete the work to a satisfactory standard. You must give them the chance to do so without you looking over their shoulder at every step of the process.
The ability to set goals, work towards them and achieve them is reliant upon solid organisational skills.
Using a goal-orientated method of working allows you to assign priority levels to your tasks, methodically working through each one until it is completed.
It may be helpful to first set your long-term goal – the outcome you’re aiming for – then break this down into smaller, achievable tasks that you can tackle one at a time.
If you have been tasked with updating an internal training manual, for example, it will be less daunting and more manageable to break it down into sections, focusing on one at a time.
Project management involves using processes, plans, methods and evaluation tools to guide a project from conception to execution, while remaining on budget and within deadline.
Often associated with large-scale, high-budget projects, project management skills are also applicable for smaller projects that your employer may expect you to manage.
Although there are formal qualifications you can take to specialise in this area, they are not always necessary as you can also access useful resources online.
A Gantt chart is an easily accessible and effective way to visualise the stages of a project, by plotting the timespan of each phase to fit within your overall timescale.
Alternatively, the Kanban method (using small pieces of paper or sticky notes to record each task on a board and moving them between columns such as ‘To Do’ or ‘In Progress’) can create an effective visual project management tool.
Splitting your attention between several tasks and responding immediately to distractions can result in tasks being completed to a substandard level. Focusing on one task at a time will help you develop better working habits and support your efforts to improve your organisation in the workplace.
If you’re frequently being pulled away from your work by colleagues, try asking them to email you the details so you can give their request your full attention when you've finished what you’re focusing on at that moment. That way, you are acknowledging your colleagues without compromising your focus.
Time management involves a combination of skills such as prioritisation, planning and self-discipline – all key skills valued by employers.
Having a good grasp of time management techniques allows you to work at peak productivity levels by allocating portions of time to each task.
An effective way to plan your time is to think through goals and deadlines to formulate a long-term plan, then break these down into weekly tasks, then daily tasks.
Adopting a time management technique that works for you will stop you flipping from task to task, and will streamline your efforts for maximum output.
While you may know if you are a naturally organised person or not, spending time working on these individual skills can create good habits and have significant effects on your productivity.
Displaying good organisational skills will help you stand out in the workplace as an employee who values their work and is committed to high standards.
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