Audio: Organization: The 7 Skills of a Successful Careerist — from the Career Opportunities Podcast

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Read and Listen to the Introduction to this series, The 7 Skills of a Successful Careerist.

When most of us think about organization, we think about calendars, address books and to-do lists, but organization, as it relates to your life and career, is so much more. We all know  from personal experience how unorganized people and companies can make our lives much more difficult than it need be – sometimes to the point of chaos. Why would we wish to inflict this on others ourselves? If you want to have a successful career, you must become organized – at least in some basic way. Thankfully, and despite what you might think, it’s relatively easy to be organized. Even more, the slightest bit of organization, will help you to stand out among those who haven’t yet learned that lesson. Organization can be an excellent way to build a very successful career.

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The first step in getting organized — and staying organized — is to CAPTURE EVERYTHING. Too often – in work and life – we simply ignore or forget when we are given the events, action items, and creative ideas that need to be accomplished. There’s no way you can hope to smoothly make your way through life, if you don’t remember what needs to be done and when. Yet again though, through personal experience, we know that people do this every day. Instead of organizing themselves, they rely on others to constantly remind them what they should be doing.

Capturing everything doesn’t require any technology more expensive than paper and pencil. Sure technology can help you capture and manage more information, more easily, but the basic factor in organization is a change in behavior, not the addition of more technology. Developing an understanding of organization and the methods involved will allow you to use whatever is available. Here are 3 basic concepts to get you started on the road to organization.

To begin, there are three capture “triggers” that you must learn to identify and act on the moment they occur. Sure, you will eventually need, and want, to collect even more trigger items, but these 3 are the most basic and important.
Dates and Times – Put them in your calendar

Even in our modern and technologically advanced world, our lives still follow the calendar of days, weeks, months and years. Each season still brings common activities and themes in our work. Just as we pay attention to the movement from Fall to Winter or Winter to Spring, we need to pay close attention to the events that pass through our calendars.

Whenever you are given a date or time for an event, stop – immediately – and capture it. It doesn’t matter if the date is specific or vague, near or far, large or small. Dates are important markers in our lives and in some ways they allow us to see into the future, knowing what must be done and when. The simple act of capturing these events allows us to prepare and plan.

Capturing events in your calendar also directly sends a message to those around you. If you are speaking with someone and you stop for a moment to put that date in your datebook, calendar, wherever, you are demonstrating to those around you that you are committed to being organized.Your simple action of writing it down, or entering it into your phone, sends a clear and loud message — “I Care!”
Don’t worry if the date is vague, or might change in the future. Put it in anyway. You could always move it, if it changes. It is far more important to capture all the events, rather than trying to sort out which ones are useful or not.

Next, when you’re given a prepared calendar for a school, company or organization, take a few moments to enter in any and all dates that are of interest or importance to you, your family or your company. This might include days off from school, holidays, teacher meetings, business conferences, ends of fiscal years, tax filing deadlines, etc. If it’s a date — and has any meaning or interest to you — capture it.
As a parent, I find this step particularly important. It can be hard to juggle multiple calendar when both parents work and high school age children begin to have their own unique calendar. Pickup must be arranged. Practices for theater and sports teams must be considered, along with homework, tests and other events. Capturing the bulk of those events at the beginning of the year can make your entire year run much more smoothly.

While capturing these items is a starting point, there is an advanced method you can include once the basics are working. Whenever you enter an event, take a moment to think about what needs to be done to prepare for that event and then capture those date and put them into your calendar as well. If you need to make cookies for a bake sale, or create an end-of-quarter presentation, add an event 1-2 weeks ahead to remind you to prepare.

Action items

After dates and events, the next important capture trigger are the “action items” that make up your life. These action items can be given to you by others, driven by your calendar items, or action items you give yourself. Just as with calendar items, you need to capture these items immediately, so that nothing falls in the “cracks” of your work and life.

As with calendar events, when you are having a discussion with someone, listen for action item triggers and capture them as they occur. If you hear the words “I need” or “I want”, it should immediately send you into capture mode. Those around us often give clear indications of what they want and need us to do, but if we fail to capture them, it is as if they were never said at all. This can lead to large disagreements both in life and work. Capturing these action items can go a long way towards smoothing and speeding communication with those around you.

You can capture action items in a simple list, organize them by project or category, or in whatever way makes the most sense for you personally. It’s far more important for you to capture them, then the methods you use to capture them. That said, capturing action items in one place is best. This can be a notebook, paper journal, phone or computer, but I would advise against scattering them across a bunch of sticky notes or scraps of paper. In that form, they are far too easy to misplace and make it difficult to review these items when needed.

Thoughts and Ideas

The final capture trigger in this basic organizational strategy is your own thoughts and ideas. We all have thousands of ideas and thoughts each day and yet, if you don’t capture these ideas — good, bad or indifferent – most will be lost forever. These ideas could be the basis for dramatic changes in your life and career and — in some ways — failing to capture them is like throwing away money. Your ideas are important and deserve to be captured. They are the fuel that drives your work and career. You can never tell what ideas might be useful or important in the future, so your job is to capture as many as possible and review them on a regular basis.

Rinse, Repeat and Review

That review, of course, is the final piece of this organizational strategy. You will find that calendar items, action items and your own ideas will naturally generate even more items that need to be captured. It will become a never-ending cycle of organization and productivity. The simple act of capturing these items, puts milestones along the road of your life. You can’t help to grow and improve in your work and life, because the simple act of capturing these items will constantly remind you what needs to be done and when it needs to be done.This basic and easy-to-use organizational strategy lays an excellent foundation for building the career you deserve.


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