Organisation and productivity

Putting in some upfront work to be more organised can deliver long-term benefits

A lot of life is about short term pain for long term gain. Even for those that enjoy the process of organisation (yes, that’s me!) there is always an element of balancing the amount of upfront effort with the pay-off that you expect you will get down the track. When creating systems and planning in business, this is always a consideration because that upfront effort costs money.

With all the people that I have managed, I have tried to instill some good organisation and planning practices. Not everyone has been immediately convinced of the benefits, however I have pushed for systems that help the wider team or organisation work better and tried to communicate the longer term pay-off for individuals.

Of course, you need to be careful not to micro-manage and the same goes for imposing personal organisation systems onto others. It usually doesn’t get accepted very easily. However, if you are seeking some motivation to spend some upfront time getting your own things in order, or you are sharing a project or element such as a family budget, this list of benefits might be of use. I think it goes without saying that being more organised will reduce stress, but here I’ve explored some of the specific advantages.

You always know what the next step is

Switching tasks too often has been shown to be detrimental to productivity. It takes time to get back into a ‘flow’ state, but it also takes time and energy to decide what the next, most urgent task is. I used to work in a team that had to be very reactionary, and we would often be disturbed with pressing tasks throughout the day. I would make sure that each team member had their side projects mapped out so that they quickly return to them, and they always knew what their priorities were. It’s also a bonus if you happen to get into the lift with the boss and they ask you how things are – you have something interesting and relevant front of mind to reply with.

Day to day life can also be very reactionary. Having a project planned out, or knowing what values you want to focus your time on, means that you don’t waste time or motivation figuring out what your next action is. This might be the case even if you can’t come back to a project for weeks at a time.

You can also focus on a single activity without worrying about conflicting priorities because you have already done the decision making. You know when your deadlines are and which things are important and which are just urgent.

Tasks become more efficient when tools and workspaces are prepared

When you come to do tasks, the workspace and the tools that you use are already in a good state of order. You don’t need to spend extra time sorting through anything before you even begin and everything you need to complete the task itself is to hand. It also removes a barrier that might become an excuse not to do the task. It’s much easier to cook a meal if the kitchen is clean and tidy beforehand, but you are also more likely to try something a bit more challenging.

You can tell you if you are over-committing and can easily prioritise

I once had someone in my team who constantly over-committed to new side projects, and never found the time to complete old ones or do some of the more mundane business as usual tasks. They viewed anything new as more exciting and thought it was more important than anything else. In the end I asked them to map out their week in terms of time allocated to each of their existing projects, and also forced them to include all of their regular tasks that came with their role. If they were to complete projects in the timeframe that they had agreed to, it came out at around three equivalent full time people! We agreed that the priority needed to be on fulfilling existing responsibilities, and that they wouldn’t be putting their hand up for anything more until some projects had been completed.

The same goes for personal organisation. If you have your weekly schedule and annual goals set out, you can quickly see if a new commitment is feasible or if you will need to say no to something. If you have your values established, you can prioritise new demands on your time based on whether or not they align, or if you intentionally want to put something on hold. Last year, my partner asked me for help to complete a course that he was one – proof-reading essays, helping him with research, it added up to a fair bit of time. Completing a course was not one of my values, however my relationship with my partner was. Because my career was on a bit of a hiatus, and gyms were closed, I was able to consciously lean into this value and adjust my weekly schedule to accommodate the extra time.

You can better respond to unplanned events and opportunities

If you have a goal mapped out, you can better judge what the effect of an event will be on achieving it. This is particularly true with budgets but is also useful for projects where you might have allocated time to complete it. Last year our city got hit by a huge hail-storm that completely wrecked our car. We got a second-hand one but it was plagued with electronic issues. Because I had my budget mapped out, I was able to quickly check that I could save up enough for a new car in the time it would take for delivery, see what the impact would be on my savings goals, and weigh this up against the advantages of having a reliable car. Being better organised not only helps you make a better judgement in response to negative events, it can also help you in deciding to take opportunities.

The ‘someday’ things might actually get done

Having a system in place that allows you to get through necessary tasks more quickly frees up time for those ‘someday’ things. Books you want to read, languages you want to learn or just getting around to clearing out the garage. Being organised makes it much more likely that these ‘someday’ tasks will make their way onto your ‘next action’ list.

For me, over the past year this has been the process of minimising my possessions. Something that always seemed to get put to the back of my mind before I had a system where it could be parked, and I could be reminded of it when I had periods when I was less busy.

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