Top 10 Tips for Getting Organized

A few years ago I was overwhelmed with too much to do and not enough time. Sound familiar? I tried everything–just about every paper planner and organization software out there. Then as I was prepping for a Microsoft Outlook class, I came across the book Take Back Your Life: Using Microsoft Outlook to Get Organized and Stay Organized. That book changed my life!

It’s based on the principles of David Allen’s Getting Things Done, but you don’t have to have read GTD first. Take Back Your Life tells you specifically how to apply Allen’s time management system using the features available in Outlook.

I have to say it took some getting used to. In the past I’ve managed my life by email. You know what I mean. I was even at the point of emailing myself things that I didn’t want to forget! I had everything in my Inbox from staff requests for training to my user name and password for Yahoo training accounts.

It took some time to actually implement the new system, but it was time well spent. My home and work life feel more organized and efficient.

So now I’ll share with you, my top 10 tips for getting organized.

  1. Don’t use your Inbox as a task list. What’s the golden rule of handling snail mail? Handle it once. Toss it, act on it, or file it. Email is no different. I started setting aside some time each morning and each afternoon to process email. When I read a message I immediately reply, delete, or file (and it rarely needs to be filed). I never let messages stew in my Inbox. It just takes too much time to go through them repeatedly. Any emails that need action become a task on my task list.
  2. Schedule time each day or each week for your system. Use this time to plan the next week, file, straighten up your desk, etc.
  3. Use the same time management system for home and work. It just takes too much time and effort to have two separate systems. Plus these days there is just too much overlap between home and work.
  4. Keep a list of quick tasks. We spend a lot of time waiting. Waiting in line at a drive through, waiting in a doctor’s office, waiting on hold on the phone. Have a list of some tasks that you can do quickly during these times. Take this time to catch up on reading journal articles, make a phone call, enter information from business cards into your address book.
  5. Stop multitasking! I was once the self-proclaimed queen of multi-tasking, but once I stopped I found that the quality of my work improved. Obviously there are times when we have no choice but to multi-task. But when you have the opportunity to give one project your full attention, you’ll be amazed at what you can get done.
  6. Reclaim your life from email. Do you really need to be notified every time you’ve got mail? Turn off all the bells and whistles and stop getting distracted every time you receive an email. A study cited in Time Magazine evaluated the work habits of 1,000 office workers. The study found that interruptions take up about 2.1 hours or 28% of the average work day. Imagine what you could do with that extra time. If you are really bold, try organizing email-free Fridays.
  7. Weed! The principles of weeding books apply to other areas of your life too. Choose what you really love and enjoy and focus on those things. Pareto’s 80/20 rule applies to just about everything. 80% of the time we read 20% of our RSS feeds. 80% of the time we wear 20% of the clothes from our closets.
  8. Cut the clutter! This goes hand in hand with weeding. How much time do you spend looking for lost or misplaced keys, wallets, or other items? Keep only what’s absolutely necessary or what you love and let go of the rest.
  9. Find a safe, secure solution for keeping up with accounts and passwords. It’s not safe to write them down or keep them in an Excel spreadsheet. I use eWallet and have found it to be a huge time-saver and well worth the $20-30 investment. It synchronizes with my PDA so I always have this important information with me.
  10. Stick with it. It takes time to develop new habits. If you fall off the organization wagon, hop right back on.

Do you have an organization or time management tip to share, please post it in the comments.

p.s. Great minds think alike. Shortly after posting this I got around to reading my RSS feeds and saw that Karen over at Library Web Chic is now a GTD fan as well. She’s post links to some great web-based time management tools too.

About Lori Reed

Lori Reed, coauthor of Workplace Learning & Leadership: A Handbook for Library and Non-Profit Trainers, is a learning and communication strategist with more than twenty years experience in learning and development. A 2009 Library Journal Mover & Shaker and a 2010 "One to Watch" for paralibrarians, Lori graduated cum laude from East Carolina University with a Bachelor of Science in Communication. Lori is a certified Synchronous Learning Expert and a North Carolina Master Trainer and has traveled across North America speaking about libraries and training.


  1. These are great tips. Many of the ideas come down to one word – simplify! Every opportunity you get to remove distractions, do it. This will reap amazing dividends in focus and clarity.


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