These quick changes can make a big difference in your productivity.

By Sara Gaynes Levy
Updated September 03, 2019
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Getting organized on the job is addictive. Sure, it takes some momentum to get started, but once you’ve got systems in place that work for you, everything clicks. “It’s kind of like clearing out your fridge—every once in a while, you have to go in deep, but it pays off in the day-to-day,” says Sue Rasmussen, a clutter coach who works with professional women. To kick-start an organization spree in your office, try these tips.


Assess the emails you receive each day. Getting newsletters or updates that aren’t serving you? Unsubscribe, says productivity consultant Carson Tate, founder of the productivity consulting firm Working Simply. If an email will take less than a few minutes to deal with, do so right away, even if that means deleting or archiving it. If the response needs to be more involved, try changing the subject line to an action item. “Say I got an email about revising a PowerPoint presentation. That’s my action step that I type into the subject line so I don’t have to reread the email,” says Tate. Can your email server automate certain things you often do? Turn common responses into signatures, or try auto-filing: “You can write a rule in Outlook to automatically move messages from direct reports to their file folder,” says Tate, “which is great for finding things later.”


Put everything you do in a digital calendar—include meetings, yes, but also block off time for eating lunch. “A calendar is a visual manifestation of your time, and you should use it as a plan for your day, not as a place for others to plan your day for you,” says John Zeratsky, coauthor of Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day ($19; Rasmussen likes Acuity Scheduling, a platform that lets you cross-check your availability with clients and coworkers. An organized calendar can show how well (or poorly) you manage your time, notes Zeratsky. “When weeks feel really crazy, I’ll look back. A bit of reflection helps me plan better in the future.”


Aim to reduce the loose papers on your desk, says Rasmussen. (To cut clutter even further, scan the documents you want to keep and create a Google Drive folder for the files so you can access them anywhere.) Sort papers into categories based on whether you need to read them, file them, send yourself on an errand, call someone, or go online to follow up. Feeling overwhelmed by all the paper? Pick just one area of your work space—it can be as small as one drawer or as large as your whole desktop—and clean out anything you know you don’t need. Repeat on more areas until you’ve covered your entire office.


Borrow the organizational structure that smartphones have. Similar apps (think health apps or shopping apps) can be grouped in folders. Tate suggests using that as a guiding principle for organizing your computer files. Adding dates to folder names can also be helpful; this is a good time to check on your company’s digital-records retention guidelines and find out how long you need to store documents and what you can trash. For the documents you keep, “think about how and when you retrieve them,” says Tate. Files you use frequently should be easy to access. “To name files for your retrieval system, look at the document and ask yourself, ‘What is the first thing I think of when I look at this document?’ Whatever comes to mind first is the name of your file,” she says.


Lauren McGoodwin, founder and CEO of Career Contessa, a career site for women, suggests writing down next-day tasks before you leave the office each night. “I try to put my tasks into priority levels. I break them up into ‘high priority,’ ‘easy wins,’ and ‘can wait for the next day,’” she says. Doing so helps her include personal to-dos, like exercise, because she can see when she’ll have pockets of time. Whether to make your list digital or analog is up to you. Some research shows that writing a task down can make you more likely to achieve it. Tate says she prefers digital lists because it can be hard to conceptualize future projects if you don’t have a physical space for them in your paper planner; you can easily keep track of future months and years in a digital one.