How To Be More Organised
Illustration by Mr Adam Nickel
To-do lists and time-management are the key to a happier life, or so says efficiency expert Mr David Stiernholm.
“Exceptionally organised”. It’s the kind of thing you automatically write on every new iteration of your CV, without really thinking about it. But are you? Do you enter the office each day with a deep sense of calm, knowing exactly what you have to do and when you’re going to do it? Do you never miss a deadline or forget about an item on your to-do list? Do you never run out of time?
For most of us, the answer would be a sheepish “probably not” or even a stunned “no way”. The truth is, we’re living in a highly over-stimulated era in which both working and off-duty life is disrupted by the constant pinging of mobile phones, 24-hour digital media and instant global communication. Plus, says efficiency expert Mr David Stiernholm, the many freedoms that have been brought on by advances in comms and technology have left us without the fundamental structures that we enjoyed in the professional world of yesteryear. “Now, more than ever before,” says Mr Stiernholm, “it is possible for us to work anywhere and anytime. This demands that we ourselves set the limits and the structure that suit us, our personality and our role in the organisation we work in.”
For anyone wondering just how they should do that, Mr Stiernholm has the answers. A born planner (he admits that, as a child, he used to draw up schedules that included appointments like “Rest, 15 minutes”), he has spent more than a decade working as what he calls a “Struktör”, that is, a sort of organisational guru to business large and small.
In his new book, Super Structured: How To Overcome Chaos And Win Back Time, he sets out a 31-day programme designed to transform even the most scatterbrained professional into a lean, mean productivity machine, via a series of straightforward 30-minute practical exercises. Topics range from creating a hyper-efficient to-do list, to clarifying goals, to making meetings more snappy and fruitful. After following such steps, he says he has seen clients not only become more efficient, but happier in what they do.
“To an extent, they save time,” he says, “but the most mentioned effect is on how they feel and on how they perform. By having improved structure… they feel less stressed and they thereby make fewer mistakes. They prioritise more deliberately and get the important tasks done further in advance instead of at the last minute. Basically, good structure gives them peace of mind to focus on the task and hand and to perform better at what they do.”
To get the full benefits of his structural philosophy, Mr Stiernholm recommends you pick up his 31-day course. But he also admits that minor improvements can make a big difference. “When it comes to structure,” he says, “even small changes result in substantial benefits, since what we improve is how we work – every day.” In that spirit, he has kindly offered up three of his top tips for better organisation. Scroll down to discover them, below.
Centralise your to-do list
It’s all very well having a detailed to-do list, but people tend to have more than one, says Mr Stiernholm, which can get confusing. Instead, he recommends bringing together every task – minor and major – into one central place. “Keep track of what you have to do in as few places as possible – preferably only one, and choose a tool for this that suits your work and your personality,” he says. Useful tools for this include the online dashboard Trello and Microsoft Outlook’s “Tasks” panel. But the main thing is to get it all in one place – otherwise how will you have an overview?
Define your goals
When dealing with multiple tasks and objectives, it can be easy to lose sight of the wood for the trees, so to speak. This becomes less of a problem, says Mr Stiernholm, if you fix more clearly on what matters to you in the big picture. Then, you’ll be able to prioritise to your own benefit. “Clarify your goals so that it becomes obvious what tasks contribute to them and prioritise these important tasks before other things – regardless of how urgent they seem,” he says.
Set up templates
How much of your day is spent emailing? And how many of these emails are roughly the same? Probably rather a lot. But there’s no need to write the same thing hundreds of times. Instead, use templates. “Save and reuse texts you need to write from time to time, such as elaborate answers to recurring questions or similar emails that you send every now and then, so that you get more time to formulate the texts that you really want to be unique,” Mr Stiernholm says.