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How a personal organisation system can boost your productivity

You are always busy, but does that mean you are always productive?

Incoming queries from your team, requests from your seniors, Slack notifications, ‘quick questions’ and other ad-hoc tasks can soon mount up and make it hard to feel that you have been productive. Then there’s life admin, another culprit encroaching on the output of your working day. The niggling mental interruption that you must pick up milk on the way home; or any of the numerous distractions a remote worker has to try and suppress!

The solution: a personal organisation system. Here we take a look at what defines a personal organisation system, what practices you may already have in place, and actionable tips for achieving a system which works for you. A system which, most importantly of all, boosts your productivity.

What is a personal organisation system?

A common misconception is that a personal organisation system is what software you use to keep you on track. Be it Google calendar, Trello, Toggl, Miro, Todoist or any of the various Hubspot tools. But these are exactly that – tools. How you use them is your system. And this will be different for everyone.

A personal organisation system is a set of rules you give yourself. These practices help you handle the various inputs in your life. And key to staying organised is making these good practices a habit.

How to tailor a system that works for you

Achieving a strong system can improve your work rate, save you time, and prevent the stress associated with being unorganised. The first step to attaining a successful personal organisation system is to reflect on what you already have in place.

Perhaps Kanban boards are your go-to for organising your workload? You have them tagged and colour coded and are obsessive about updating them. Or maybe you are forever using iPhone Notes on the go and love how it syncs with Gmail? Reflect on the great habits you are in and what is working for you. Let these form the foundation for your personal organisation system.

Next up, you should think critically about parts of your current system that are not working. Be brave enough to iterate or eliminate what is not serving you. Rather than settle for a tool that has pitfalls, feels a chore or generally doesn’t work for you, seek out a better one.

Try out new apps

Are you forever missing calendar notifications? Just because coworkers swear by Google Calendar does not mean it’s the tool for you. Be open to different software. Recognise if there are parts of your toolkit which could be improved. Would it be easier if your ticketing system integrated with your chat tool, for example? Or perhaps you’d benefit from the ability to access finance spreadsheets without launching a different software.

Chances are if there are features missing from your favourite software then others have experienced these issues too. Software is constantly being invented and reinvented to accommodate the changing needs of the project professional and to boost their productivity.

Though time-consuming at first, it is worth the investment of trying out some of the leading productivity apps on the market. Do your research to suss which ones integrate your must-have tools and go from there. Best of all, many offer free trials. The invested time will pay dividends when you find the right tool that seamlessly becomes part of your system.

Establishing your own rules

Armed with the right software in your project management toolkit you can build upon your system. Establishing your personal system’s rules will involve forming habits and being disciplined. Issues that come up in your daily work life are sure to test and challenge your system, so it is important to have rules. Here are some examples:

Issue: Back to back meetings mean you have no time to create tickets or actionable tasks from your meeting notes.

Rule: Use your preferred tool to schedule time or set a reminder to come back to your notes later.

Issue: Forgetting to reply to emails. Particularly common if your personal organisation system involves chunks of the day when you are in ‘do not disturb’ mode in order to make headway with tasks.

Rule: Get into the habit of ignoring your inbox completely during these times. That way your emails will remain in the status of unread, making you less likely to skim them with the intention of coming back to them later, only to forget.

Issue: Forgetting to reply to emails still

Rule: Go a step further and set yourself the rule that you are only to open an email once! You must reply to it straight away or file it. Only allow yourself a few exceptions for those which require research or more thought. Alternatively, take a look at Boomerang for Gmail for more smart ways to organise your inbox.

Issue: Missing notifications and reminders

Rule: Determine what level of reminder each type of task needs. Slack’s ‘remind me’ feature is ideal for gentle nudges that you can snooze. Whilst an alarm on your phone is a more disruptive approach for things that cannot be missed.

Issue: Unable to locate an email or file even using search

Rule: Tidy up your inbox and drive, whether it's filing by project, file type, recipient or status. Good file naming can help with this, as can regular clearouts and archiving items.

Issue: Flitting between tasks. Project managers are born multi-taskers. When even was the last time you handled just one thing?!

Rule: Carve out a chunk of time and activate do not disturb modes. Whilst chipping away at tasks a little at a time will get them done, focussing for a period at once can be far more productive.

Toolkit: Mastered

Once you have set your rules and have your toolkit mastered you are well on your way to a successful personal organisation system. Organisation in itself takes time. It’s okay to have not-actual-work time, if it improves and enhances your work for the rest of the day/week. Block out time in your schedule for getting organised. For some this will be first thing every morning, for others it will be Sunday night ready for the week ahead.

A personal organisation system has the potential to substantially boost your productivity. It will improve your focus, save misspent time and remove the stress of letting things slide. A solid system can see your everyday performance rise and make you a superior project manager.