This is not the messy desk, messy life lecture. There are thousands of books available to help with personal organization, and unfortunately only one or two will probably work for you. Don’t be discouraged. Instead, think about it this way: you need a system that will help you keep all the balls you manage in the air while coworkers and live throw more at you.
However you choose to do it, find a system and make it work. I use Personal Kanban (enabled by LeanKit) in conjunction with Evernote and EndNote (free alternatives include Zotero and EasyBib) as resources to keep my life straight. Admittedly, I’m human and I still drop a ball here and there. Honesty, humility, and resolve to make things right will go far to help you when this happens.
Visualizing your work load will help you understand where you have capacity to take on new projects and where you must say no. Saying no to new things is one of the most important parts of managing your system and keeping your sanity. There are times when you have to stress your system slightly to take on projects when you are snowed under, but making a habit of it will shorten your life and make you generally miserable.
One thing that Kanban can be very helpful with is ensuring you don’t miss any follow-ups. Just sending someone an email with a request and forgetting about it does not demonstrate high organizational skills. Instead, be sure to follow up with multiple forms of communication to get what you need. After your first volley, set up a column called “Waiting For” where you can stick all the cards in which you need something from someone. Then, if you are not getting what you need after multiple attempts, escalate.
Having command of your organization system shows that you are able to manage your workload, you can meet deadlines, you are dependable, and you can be an information treasure trove. Without command, you will probably miss deadlines, and your co-workers will label you as lazy, disheveled, and sloppy. In my nearly 20 years of being part of IT companies, I have never seen those words attached to a positive employee review. Take on the work you can do, meet your deadlines, manage the expectations of those that depend on you, and you will be amazed at how much easier it is to keep all those balls in the air.
Bottom line, dependable people will advance and do it in a way that minimizes their risk of becoming the latest manifestation of the Peter Principle.
Up next, we’re going to tackle the Cerberus that is email!