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The Organized Leader: How to Organize in Three Vital Areas

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Time management is often broken down into prioritizing, planning, and scheduling; however, lack of organization can undermine all those strategies. Organizational skills affect your environment, your thinking, and your team.

Organizing Your Environment

A cluttered desk or office is distracting. Yes, you may be able to find that one file you need among the mess, but the negative effects of clutter include frustration, waste of time, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Moreover, if you are unavailable for any reason, no one else will be able to find that file.

Sometimes clutter is helpful. We all know someone who finds the right-sized staples or the exact email address that no one else has because everyone else thought the item or information wasn’t worth saving. One study, published by the American Psychological Association, found that messy rooms encourage more creative thinking and a willingness to try new things.

Assuming, however, that the long-term benefits of organization outweigh the short-term benefits of disorganization, here are a few organizational tips:

  • Designate a specific area for the tools you use most—a drawer for pens, a file cabinet for physical files, a bowl for thumb drives.
  • Clean up the files on your hard drive—if you have to wade through hundreds of unread and never-to-be-read emails, you will waste time and energy looking for the one email you need.
  • Remove what you don’t need—old business cards from contacts you haven’t reached out to in years, thirty pens, dead plants, a broken computer. If you don’t have a trash can nearby, get one.
  • Scan physical copies and save them electronically—then throw away the paper.
  • Open up any space anywhere—even shuffling a disorganized pile into one stack helps to clear space for further organization.

Organizing Your Thinking

When your thoughts are scattered—and multitasking is a major foe of focus and concentration—you will have difficulty prioritizing, planning, and communicating, let alone thinking creatively. To promote organized thinking:

  • Write it down—make a list, fill a page with words, create a diagram but make those thoughts physical.
  • Talk it out—but first, tell your listener that your thoughts aren’t clear yet so they are prepared for rambling.
  • Walk away and do something different—break the pattern of your thinking and let another experience prompt a different viewpoint.
  • Return to a problem at your best time—you may be a morning person or a night person; use your best time for generating solutions, fresh ideas, and new approaches.

Organizing Your Team

A disorganized hiring approach will interfere with team synergy because you will hire people for the wrong reasons or using the wrong tactics. For example, if you believe a team works better when all the people have the same skill set, you may find that the team suffers from the lack of skill or becomes highly competitive in one narrow area—and dysfunctional as a result. As another example, if you feel that challenging people during interviews is the best technique, you may build a team entirely of bullies or people who are capable of being bullied. In organized hiring, you:

  • Create a clear job description, with a combination of skills that it is humanly possible to attain.
  • Follow a recruitment plan (advertising, social media search, job fair).
  • Acknowledge all responses if humanly possible—this is simple politeness.
  • Evaluate responses and select interviewees.
  • Conduct interviews based on legal, objective criteria that match the job description and your team and company culture—use a scorecard to keep track of relative fit.
  • Check referrals and candidate(s) background.
  • Make a selection and present a firm job offer.
  • Thank all other candidates—again, simple politeness.
  • Includes a new hire orientation plan.

A well-organized team, on the other hand, appreciates and supports each other’s contribution to the team; knows and acknowledges the role each member plays; and is aware of goals, schedules, and plans. An organized leader allows the team to be organized by:

  • Assigning roles
  • Describing goals 
  • Creating schedules 
  • Communicating plans
  • Appreciating everyone’s contribution in a timely manner.

Team meetings are often a breeding place for disorganization. An organized meeting: 

  • Begins with an agenda
  • Begins and ends at the allotted time
  • Sticks to the agenda 
  • Encourages participation but discourages rambling and repetition—signs of disorganized thinking.

Delegation is a strong organizational tool. If you are overwhelmed, delegate. Not only do you free space to organize your own work and thinking, but you give team members a chance to acquire new skills and learn leadership.

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