Meet Marvin. He seems really smart, but he's also very messy. He always has trouble finding documents. His pile of papers seems to defy gravity. His computer screen is filled with random files; he seems to have every application open. He's always at least 3 minutes late to every meeting.

No matter how brilliantly Marvin can do his work, he can't succeed unless he solves his biggest problem: getting organized.

To help Marvin (and everyone else who struggles with at least occasional messiness), members of my team came up with 11 ideas for how to get organized. Our advice is this: Even small steps can lead to big gains in productivity. Start here:

  1. If your desk is a major mess, set aside an afternoon (or a day) for triage. You don't have to clean up every scrap, but at least get it to the point where you can function. (Bonus points for every inch of surface that appears.)
  2. Dedicate 15 minutes a day to staying organized. Even that small amount of time can keep the mess at bay.
  3. Use colored folders or paper to organize stuff into key categories. (If red always means Project A, you can always see red to find content related to Project A.)
  4. For a big bold step, go completely paperless. (Of course, that means you have to keep your electronic files in order.)
  5. Use a Notes app (on your computer or phone) to keep a weekly or daily to-do list.
  6. Hang a whiteboard on which you list high-priority items for the week. Take a photo of the whiteboard to carry the list with you wherever you go.
  7. Take detailed, actionable notes. Always come to meeting equipped with note-taking tools or a great app on your tablet.
  8. Instead of taking notes chronologically, organize them by topic. And use symbols to flag certain triggers: stars when you need to take action; Xs for not important.
  9. Now that you've got notes, what do you do with them? Two schools of thought: 1. Keep everything in one notebook, which you take everywhere. Or 2. Tear out the notes and put them in the appropriate project folder.
  10. Pay careful attention to your calendar. Look at your schedule every morning so you understand what's ahead. If every minute is booked, see if you can move activities so that conflicts don't occur.
  11. Schedule time for deep-focus work. Remember to set aside time for what matters most to your job and your long-term goals.

Don't you feel more productive already? 

 

Published on: May 3, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.