By Stephanie Olsen
Being organized in the workplace is a pathway to success for you and your company. The “time is money” adage is literal in business, so your ability to efficiently manage your time, workload, and resources directly affects your productivity, that of your team or department, and ultimately your organization’s bottom line.
Employers look for people who have the skills necessary to achieve consistent results and who use their planning, decision-making, and creative abilities to effectively handle unforeseen delays and problems. The opposite of strong organizational skills are poor work habits like miscommunication, procrastination, and inefficiency. These can bring productivity and profit to a screeching halt, destroying employee morale and engagement.
What are organizational skills?
When defining organizational skills, most people think of the physical first. An uncluttered desk with to-do lists and sticky notes in evidence, for example, is classic for the conscientious person, one who is orderly and disciplined, says environmental psychology consultant Lily Bernheimer. But it’s not just record keeping or inventory counts that matter here. Being organized also refers to the ability to use set processes coupled with creative thinking in order to complete tasks and move projects forward effectively.
Employees with strong organizational abilities can see the big picture from the outset. Good leaders have the organizational skills required to analyze disparate information, make strategic decisions and manage the teams, delegating as necessary. Organization is an innate way of thinking, but also a skill that can be learned and honed over time.
Why are organizational skills so important in the workplace?
Simply put, you’ve got be to be organized to get stuff done. That applies to everything from housework to homework to workflow at the office.
And it’s not just workplace leaders who should be organized. Every employee with organizational skills benefits an organization’s bottom line. Through efficiency, customers and clients are satisfied with better quality work. In addition to increased productivity, efficient business practices build trust, word of mouth referrals and testimonials, and in turn, new and repeat business.
Organized employees create schedules and timetables that are both effective and realistic, and help avoid potentially costly mistakes or contact cancellations. They prioritize tasks, recognizing those that are urgent versus those that can be delegated, postponed or eliminated.
In addition to all of these benefits, employers value organizational skills because they’re transferable. The actual job itself does not affect your level of organization: a well-organized employee will remain well-organized regardless of the job at hand.
Top organizational skills and how to develop them
Organization breeds valuable work habits like focus, efficiency, and productivity. And while a habit like always planning ahead may seem rather obvious, it’s vitally important in that it allows you to be proactive, so that you’re not simply reacting to situations.
Here’s a list of the most important professional-level organizational habits valued by employers and how you can develop and improve them.
Making schedules, deadlines, due dates, and appointments is part of efficiently managing time at work. And usually it’s not just your own time that you need to consider. The team you lead (or are part of) may meet daily or weekly, there may be other internal meetings with department heads or staff, or you may have meetings with clients or partner firms. Meetings can also be held online from your desk or require in-person conferences. In all cases, you need to be thoroughly prepared and on time.
Calendars and time management software programs (such as Google Calendar, Trello, and Outlook) can help you stay on top of meetings and deadlines. Setting dates with reminders is a good idea. A reminder notification one day before a conference gives you time to finalize your presentation, and a notification 30 minutes before the event gives you time to finish whatever you’re working on and get to the meeting on time.
You can drill down on this idea, assigning a block of time to each task (a strategy known as time blocking). If you organize tasks by urgency or importance, you’ll get those completed first. Plus, by tracking activities, you can spot time wasters. Remember to allow short breaks to refresh and recharge throughout the day.
Prioritizing and planning
Setting priorities isn’t important only to get those crucial jobs done on time. Organizing by priority also recognizes the 80/20 rule, a business principle which states that 80 percent of your results come from 20 percent of your efforts. Based on that principle, “the key to maximizing your efficiency is prioritizing the tasks that contribute to the majority of your gains,” says business coach Brian Tracy.
Deadlines and due dates can help you prioritize, but so can your ability to plan ahead. If by postponing a less pressing matter now, you create a roadblock later on, then you’ll need to reassess its priority. It’s this kind of global organization that keep projects on track and makes prioritizing a crucial skill in your organizational arsenal.
This is another dual-platform skill. If you’re not organized in what you want to achieve and how you plan to achieve it, you won’t be able to clearly communicate to others. And even if you do know the outcome you want but you’re incoherent in your written or spoken directions, the result will be confusion at every level. You’ll make mistakes, lose efficiency, and threaten the entire project.
Mind maps and flowcharts can help organize a clear path from a project’s inception to its conclusion. Examples of useful software for diagramming purposes include MindManager, Cacoo by Nulab, and Creately.
Knowing what to delegate, when, and to whom is a skill set many team leaders have trouble with. They like to be in control, micro-managing projects, with the ultimate outcome usually frustrated colleagues and missed deadlines. Part of being organized (and good leadership), however, is a clear understanding of your own skill set and those of your colleagues. You know which tasks can be better completed by team members and delegate them. This leaves you better able to problem solve and concentrate on other matters.
Teamwork and team management
Well-organized teams are composed of members with a variety of skills, each of whom are assigned to different roles. Organization is necessary in the creation of a complementary team so that the members can use their various talents cohesively. Plus, the team members themselves must be organized in order to do their part of the whole, from meeting deadlines, attending meetings, reporting issues, and communicating clearly with colleagues, clients, and team leaders.