We get it. Managing things during your daily grind can be a bit daunting between the meetings, increasing workloads, and never-ending piles of paperwork that keep managing to find a way onto your desk. You may not be able to stem the tide of work flowing in, but you can certainly get more organized and tackle it faster than in the past. Here’s 5 tips to help you get organized, and make you more efficient at tackling your work.

Create A To-Do List Every Day. On paper. Yeah, Actual Paper

Everyone talks about the latest and greatest ToDo applications for your computer or smartphone. There’s entire blogs dedicated to getting things done in the most efficient, and minimal way possible. The thing is, sometimes an old tool is better than the best new tool. Pencils and papers are often the best solution for managing a task list. Apps are great, but they won’t hold up to a pencil and notepad.

Use a piece of graph paper (or any scrap piece of paper, actually) and make a quick to do list each day with current tasks that need attention. The most pressing tasks should be at the top, and then start dumping your brain onto the piece of paper. Need help setting up a To-Do list? There’s literally 1000s of free PDFs indexed by Google just for that purpose.

You could just as easily use a quick text file, or Word document, but honestly, try the piece of paper first. The most important part of this process is making sure that you are copying down your tasks that you need to do every day. It’s gratifying to write them out, but it’s a transcendent experience to actually cross them off the list. No app, no matter how well designed, can replicate that feeling.

Why’s this important? Well, you’ll be engaging with each of your open tasks every time you look at your paper list. You can doodle on it, mark it up, and work on it in stolen moments. You no longer need to open your phone, navigate to an app, sync it, and then figure out what you’re going to do in a moment. Often, something that doesn’t have a pressing deadline will sit in your electronic to-do list app ignored. A piece of paper on your desk solves that problem pretty quickly. Better yet, why not write your ToDos on a sticky note and attach them to your monitor. Nothing will sneak up on you that way.

Centralize Project Management: One Place To Rule All Of Your Notes, And Ideas

Your ToDo list should only be for singular tasks that are due relatively soon. If you have more long term projects, manage them separately (apps work great for this). You can do this in Evernote, OneNote, or even just a spreadsheet. What you’ll want to do is break down upcoming tasks into manageable projects, moving small upcoming tasks to your physical ToDo list first. Then, find a place where you can collect ideas, thoughts, and small pieces of information relating to your projects. Evernote, in my opinion, is fantastic for this sort of thing.

Collecting snippets of information in a centralized place will help you slowly build solutions and complete tasks while you work. Then, when the time is right, you’ll well on your way to crossing off another task without every actually sitting down to do it.

Just like that, another glorious pencil stroke across a ToDo.

Collecting snippets of information in a centralized place will help you slowly build solutions and complete tasks while you work. Then, when the time is right, you’ll well on your way to crossing off another task without every actually sitting down to do it.

Just like that, another glorious pencil stroke across a ToDo.

E-Mail Management

Everyone is bad at e-mail. Actually, I should rephrase that. E-mail is bad at actually helping you get things done. It just piles up, and up, and up. There are at least a dozen apps out there that all claim to help you get to “Inbox Zero” the fastest. Unless you have an actual system in place for managing your email, they’re all equally terrible. The good news is that it’s not your fault. You should be blaming all those people who assume they need to CC half the office in one fell swoop. If you get a lot of automated alerts and messages, it can get even worse.

The first step to fixing your email problems is to set aside thirty minutes a day to clean up your inbox. Set a reasonable goal. Try and clear out a hundred or so emails. You’ll be at inbox zero in no time. The most important part in this stage of your organization quest is to create a system that works for you.

So, what works for me? Automating as much as possible, deleting e-mails as fast as possible, and deciding in a split second whether I should reply, revisit, or delete an email.

First, create a folder or label system you can rely on to archive your e-mail. This will help you clear out your inbox quickly, but also find things if you need to dig up important information at a later date. Next, decide if you needed to reply, revisit or delete an email as quickly as possible.

If your email requires attention, flag it and come back to it one you have more time. When you first start filing, pay attention to the emails that don’t require any attention from you at all (ie. newsletters). Find a re-occurring subject, or body of text that uniquely identifies these emails, and then create a filter, or rule to automate your interactions. Gmail, Outlook, and Mail all have user friendly tools built-in to help you manage bulk email actions. Now, go back through your flags and sync up with your to-do list to make sure you’re managing your ToDos.

While you’re deciding to either reply, or revisit and email, be sure to delete anything that’s a waste of time. If you’re like me, that’s probably 80% of your Inbox killed off in one quick purge.

Blocking Out Time: It’s Jazz O’Clock.

It may sound a bit obsessive, but I am not talking about measuring every minute of your day in fifteen minute chunks. You already have meetings as a way to block off your whole day. What you should do is set some time at the beginning or end of your day. Make it around a half-hour. Use this time to run through your email, organize your to-do list, or think about particular problems you’re struggling with currently. I refer to this as Jazz O’Clock. It’s all improvisation and ad libbing your way towards your goals.  Let your brain run free. It’s funny how giving your thoughts some air can result in better organization. You may surprise yourself. Taking a moment to think may result in to immediate solutions to problems you’ve been working on without even knowing it.

Just killing time at this point? Why not, use this Jazz time to take a look at your calendar. Make sure you have the time you need to get everything done, and if not try to prioritize your ToDo list. Time management is the most important ingredient in organizing your workday wisely. Don’t overlook the importance of actually taking a moment to organize your work schedule.

Breaking Up Tasks

I mentioned this earlier in the project section, but you should be doing this for everything you need to accomplish. Breaking up your tasks into small pieces makes it a lot easier to accomplish larger problems. These smaller tasks will also give you natural breaking points should you need to redistribute your time, or move on to something else during your day.

Your goal should be to simplify your major projects, and break them into a series of miniature projects. You can use a bit of common sense here. Figure out what tasks can be done in a single sitting, and then attack larger tasks when you have more time.  Not everything you do needs a series of tasks. For instance, checking your email doesn’t need to be three tasks, but maybe gathering together your materials for a presentation requires some additional work: looking at PowerPoint slides, checking the guest lists, and reviewing your talking points with your boss could all be separate tasks broken down from a larger tasks.

Don’t overcomplicate things. Make things more manageable by making tasks a series of bite-sized tasks.