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Tim Millett
Published by Tim Millett
08 October 2013

Are you a victim of your own work environment? Are you confronted daily with an overwhelming amount of work that seems to keep you racing to stay on track much less get ahead? Are you always losing things, redoing work you can’t find, doing the wrong work or failing to meet your organisational project deadlines? Do you constantly feel like you are under pressure even before you get to work because you know exactly how the day is going to unravel?

Managing personal organization is something that often falls by the wayside making the disorganization a self-fulfilling prophecy. You know when sitting down at a desk that if you don’t manage your time, meetings and emails you are going to have problems. There’s an old expression that says, “I’m too busy earning a living to make any money.” In this case the expression should read, “I’m too busy playing catch-up to get organized!”

Albert Einstein said, “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” What is so interesting about this quote, beside the obvious point it is making about thinking outside the box, is that it says “we” three time: we face – we were – we created. Though he was talking about needing new perspectives and new ways of thinking to solve problems, at the heart of the quote is the real issue of ‘”we”. WE are often the cause of our own problems and therefore WE can be the solution.

That is really what effective personal organization is about –finding the effective style (solutions) of addressing organizational requirements so that we can be efficient. First things first though. The two words “efficient and effective” are tossed around in management writings but what exactly is the difference between these concepts?

Effective Versus Efficient

Defining the difference between effective and efficient only takes a few words but they are loaded with important concepts.

  • Efficient – doing things right
  • Effective – doing the right things

Both concepts are important and both concepts need to be utilised in the management of work. It begins with organization no matter whether you are a manager or staff worker sitting at the desk.

Peter Drucker identified the five functions of a manager in his business writings. What is important to understand is that each person must manage their desk and work responsibilities, but the manager does it on two tiers: the manager’s job and the jobs of those answering to the manager. The five functions Drucker identified are the following:

  • Objective setting
  • Organising the team or group
  • Communicating and motivating
  • Performance measurement
  • Developing people

At each step the organisational member should ask if they are acting efficiently, effectively or both.

Objective Setting

To set objectives you need to analyse what you are currently doing and what you should be doing. How many times during the day do you tell yourself you should be working on the other project instead of what you are trying to get finished? You may be efficient and the work you do is accurate but you are not effective because by your own admission you should be working on other things.

To set objectives you need to consider the most basic issues of time management.

  1. Are you or your team members doing non-essential work?
  2. Should you delegate some of the tasks you are currently completing (if a manager) or can you shift tasks of team members to make their desk more efficient and effective?
  3. Are you doing tasks that must be completed by you?

When you ask these three questions, it quickly becomes clear what steps can be taken to better organize work. The three key words are:

  • Eliminate
  • Delegate
  • Concentrate

You need to ask yourself every day what to eliminate and what to delegate and what is left is the work you should concentrate on doing. You will be more effective doing the right things and more efficient because you now have more time to do the essential tasks efficiently.

All About People

Being efficient and effective is all about people’s behaviours, and when people are involved you are talking about organising, communicating, measuring performance, and developing skills.

During the process of evaluating job organization it will probably become apparent that some work will have to be shifted or eliminated. Workflows operate in a continuous circle with work flowing upward to your desk and downward to other desks. You won’t be more effective if you are still getting non-essential work from others that must be handled even if it means taking the time to decide how to dispose of the final product.

Effective personal organization at a managerial level must necessarily include motivating others to organise their desks also. The more efficient and effective staff is then the more efficient the manager’s desk will be also. At that point work flowing upward is being assessed it is then time to be effective. Constant feedback is important. Every day you must ask yourself if completing a particular task enhances the efforts of the team to meet organisational goals.

Anyone who works at a desk should be effective first in order to insure he or she only works on essential tasks and then efficiently complete those tasks. Doing this requires:

  • Identifying personal strengths and weaknesses
  • Changing or eliminating bad habits
  • Providing regular feedback to yourself and your supervisor as to your use of time completing particular tasks
  • Looking for ways to streamline essentials tasks
  • Developing personal goals and objectives that are measurable and achievable
  • Maintaining skill levels

Managers can also use the job performance process to provide important feedback to staff with the goal of improving staff and organizational effectiveness.

Another Meeting?

Time management is the core concept which drives efforts to become more efficient and effective. Notice the word “and” is used because the two terms efficient and effective – that’s because efficiency and effectiveness are interrelated and not mutually exclusive. How do people spend their time at work? For many a large segment of the day is probably tied up in meetings.

People seem to naturally want to set up meetings. Meetings can be useful but unfortunately they are often used to delay making a decision or are used as a way to “share the blame” or avoid taking responsibility for a decision that needs to be made. Unnecessary meetings are not only time wasters, but they also often create new time wasting assignments for organisational personnel.

Managing meetings requires addressing a similar set of questions as those considered when reviewing objectives.

    • Is the meeting essential for achieving organizational goals and does it contribute to efficient and effective completion of essential job functions?
    • Are the attendees able to collaborate during the meeting and then able to delegate tasks resulting from the collaboration?
    • Do you get benefit for your job, team, department or unit by attending the meeting?

Meetings should only be held when they are absolutely necessary and that means only when more effective decisions will be made if people are brought together. Work, tasks and decisions that can effectively be made outside of a meeting should always be done so.

When it is determined a meeting is necessary, the right amount of planning should be done in advance. Lack of agendas and guidelines can lead to inefficient meetings and ineffective meeting results. It is amazing how much wasted time can be spent in a meeting that is aimless and does not set ground rules in advance.

Every manager should periodically evaluate the meetings held in their unit and determine if there were actionable results. It is easy to fall into a routine of calling meetings believing anything that includes many people in the organization has to be beneficial.

Email Management…Online Time

Written memos are almost an anachronism already because emailing has proven to make more effective use of organisational resources. They can be easily typed and delivered quickly…sometimes almost too easily and too quickly. It can be tempting to spend a good part of the day reading and responding to emails and never really accomplish much for the time invested.

Email management is unfortunately not addressed in many organisations. Managers and staff are given internet access with no official company policies and procedures. In addition, since emails can be viewed immediately upon receipt, it is tempting to stop and immediately read and respond to the information it contains.

When handling emails without a process, the net result is the same as getting frequently interrupted. This makes it difficult to maintain concentration on the current task, increases the chances of error, consumes time and decreases efficiency. It becomes a question of whether reading and responding to an email at a particular time is effective time management. Is reading that email the right thing to do?

The basic guidelines for email management are as follows.

      • Use emails for setting up meetings
      • Use emails to relay valuable information
      • Establish a time/s each day to review and respond to emails
      • Electronically label or file the email at the time it is read to avoid wasting time later locating the email again
      • Take advantage of software features such as central locations multiple people can access
      • Clearly label subject lines
      • Keep emails concise, well organized and written with real content
      • Do not let emails back up so that you are confronted with dozens of emails at a time that are unread
      • Avoid being placed on non-essential group email lists

Another step in email management is deciding what to do with the email after you read it. Do you go ahead and delete it or should you act on it later? Would it be wise to forward the email to appropriate personnel or do you defer action until you have more time?

You should not save emails that are unimportant to your work. They will just clutter up your email system and chances are you will never find time to return to them. Deleting these after a single reading takes some dedication and determination to control the accumulation of emails.

On the other hand, if you read an email and can handle it in a short period of time then it’s probably wise to dispatch of it right away. By following the guideline of reading and responding to emails during an allotted time of day then it’s appropriate to go ahead and spend time taking care of whatever business it involves.

Naturally some emails will need your attention for a longer period of time. Those emails become part of the larger aspect of effective personal organization. The work should be appropriately scheduled using time management principles.

Worth the Effort

Developing effective personal organization habits usually means changing habits, and everyone knows that can be difficult. The first step in changing habits is to change thinking patterns. Habits are actions taken without conscious thought. If you truly want to begin to take control of your time in order to be both more efficient and effective, then the first step is to become aware of your behaviours on the job. The second step is making conscious and wise time management decisions.

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