Work better, do more in 2020: Optimize how you organize your work

Having trouble getting into the groove for 2020? Welcome to the first full work week of the year. Over the next five days, we'll explore 20 techniques that'll light your productivity on fire. Today, on Day 2, we dig into organization tips and techniques.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor
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The fact is most of us have to be productive in order to get work done and get paid. Fortunately there are techniques you can use to fire up your productivity, fuel your motivation, switch on your inspiration, keep you healthy, help you quantify your life, and get back into the groove.

Before we kick off the list, one quick note: different techniques will work better for different people. I've used all these techniques from time to time and they've kept me on deadline and on track. There are also a lot more beyond what I'm discussing here. Feel free to share your favorites in the comments below.

The full series

For now, let's dive into organizing your work.

Clean and organize your workspace

Working in a disorganized, messy space can be distracting and diminish productivity. Working in a clean, optimized environment can fire you up.

I try to work on only one project at a time in any given workspace. That way, whatever I'm working on can dominate that space. When I finish the project, I clean everything up and put things back where they belong. I also try to learn, and make changes if I've discovered that something wasn't optimal.

You don't have to wait until a project is done to clean up though. If things seem to be getting out of hand, take the time to "sharpen the saw." That's a Stephen Covey phrase and you'll be hearing more from him in this series. He did a lot of the early thinking and teaching for much of what we consider modern productivity practices today.

As Covey described it, if you're cutting with a dull blade, your work will take longer, the work output will be lower quality, and you could get hurt. But many of us don't want to take the time away from what we think of as producing to do maintenance tasks like sharpening the saw -- and yet, doing so is what keeps us sharp.

Keep lab notes

Back in engineering school, we were introduced to the concept of a laboratory notebook. This is a way of documenting projects, observations, hypotheses, and data gathered along the way. The idea of lab notes stuck with me and I've kept them throughout my career, not just for projects done in the lab, but any project that has a lot of details. This includes my coding projects and even the servers I've put together.

You can keep lab notes in a paper notebook or use an app like Evernote, Google Keep, or Notion. I've even published some of my lab notes online when I wanted to share them with others. The key practice, whether public or private, is to keep notes on as many details as you can so when you later need to go back and understand what you did or what you discovered, you'll be able to dig it up and make use of it.

Track obligations and meet commitments

When you make a promise to someone, you're putting your integrity and credibility on the line. You're saying you can get this done, and do it when you say you can. Fail to meet that obligation and you lose face (and possibly lose a gig, a job, or a referral).

Some people make promises simply to help the person they're making the promise to feel better in the moment. And yes, doing so might well mollify a concern or worry. And maybe they even mean it when they say it. But when the time comes to deliver on a promise and you've either forgotten or decided you don't care that you made the promise, you do damage to your reputation that's hard to repair.

My recommendation is two-fold. First, only make commitments after you've made sure you can deliver on them. Learn to say "no" and be selective about what you agree to get done. Don't sign up for anything you're not prepared to be rock solid on delivering -- and delivering on time. Second, track those obligations and commitments. Keep track of them in something like Notion, or a list in Evernote, Todoist, or even Google Keep. Always know what's due, when it's due, and what you have to do to deliver on-time.

Do banks and bills regularly

All the work you're doing doesn't mean much if you can't manage the money you make. It's incredibly important to take regular stock of your financial state, particularly in these days of phishing and hacking. Identity theft can cost you a lot of money, and the time and stress isn't something I'd wish on anyone.

I've long conducted a practice I call "banks and bills." When times were tight, I did a banks and bills review daily. Now, a quick weekly review is good, with a deeper monthly review. This article details how this works. You probably don't want to wait more than a week to do a banks and bills run, because if you get a fraudulent charge or an account is hacked, you want to know about it as soon as possible in order to try to work with financial institutions to recover the loss before it's too late.


So there you go. As you get fired up for 2020, keep in mind these organization suggestions. I've listed four here, but there are many more. Feel free to add your suggestions in the comments below. And stay tuned for our next installment, blast-off with these best practices, coming tomorrow.

You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.

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