It’s Thursday afternoon. You have a few binders, a few more manila file folders, and approximately 281 pieces of paper lying around your workspace. Your email inbox is starting to look a little scary, and you don’t remember the last time you saw it empty. Your coffee mug from this morning still has a few ounces of cold swill in the bottom because you were called into a meeting before you could finish even waking up. You considered ordering in lunch, but you forgot and now it’s 2:45. Also, your desk is covered in sticky notes and other scraps of paper from all the notes you left yourself last week.
Unless you’re in the (estimated) 0.12% of people that have never made a mess in their lives, I’m sure your own workspace popped into your head while reading that. A cluttered area makes us all more anxious, more stressed, and detracts from the great work we’re doing for the sake of our nonprofit missions. Here are some hard truths for your consideration in becoming a more organized, less stressed coworker:
1. Multitasking helps no one. We’ve all tried it. We all think we’re great at it that we’re twice (if not three times) as productive as before. But as author A.J. Jacobs writes, “Our brains can’t handle more than one higher cognitive function at a time. We may think we’re multitasking, but we’re really switch-tasking. Toggling between one task and another. First the phone, then the e-mail, then the phone, back to the e-mail. And each time you switch, there are a few milliseconds of start-up cost. The neurons need time to rev up.” (You can read more in his book The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment.) So while you might be itching to read that email or check your Instagram feed, it serves us much better to finish the current task to completion or to a good stopping point before switching our full attention to another task. Even loud music is enough to detract from our full potential productivity level. So if you need a little background noise (like some Lumineers jamming in the background), keep the volume low and your productivity high!
2. A clean email inbox is a happy email inbox. If your Gmail or Outlook inbox has a never ending scroll bar or “next” page, it’s time to do some deep e-cleaning. Set up folders- not so specific that only one email will fit each criterion, but not so vague that you end up with three miniature inboxes that you’re still having a hard time finding things. If you work in development, consider a folder for each funder/grantee. If you work in programs, organize by client or service offered. Once you have files set up, consider a few 10 minute blocks throughout your day to respond to, organize, and delete emails as they come in. A clean inbox is unbelievably freeing. (For those of you looking at email inbox clean-up 2.0, check out Boomerang for Gmail or Outlook which archives emails for automatic reminding later!)
3. Speaking of clean inboxes, keep your hard drive files tidy, too. Don’t waste time while stressing yourself out trying to find that one document you created last spring for that one event for that coworker...oh, shoot. What did you title that silly thing anyway? Set yourself up for success with organized e-folders and sub-folders.
4. Set aside time on your schedule to clean up and organize every day. Even if it’s fifteen minutes, setting time and holding yourself accountable to clean up, re-file, and even clean up those paperclips and water bottles you said you’d clean up later will help organize and streamline your working environment. Know that this time is just as important to keep as other meetings on your daily schedule. Ignoring your organization time is like ignoring the check engine light- it might be okay for the next week or two, but eventually it will catch up!
By implementing a few new organizational habits into your daily workflow, you can make yourself a less-stressed coworker, a more productive teammate, and mentally free yourself to enjoy the beautiful summer months (and all those to come!)