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Managing the Chaos

By: Katie Phillips | Compliance & Operations Manager, Dairy Connection Inc.

Editor’s Note: This post brought to you by Dairy Connection Operations Manager Katie Phillips, who — in addition to holding a key leadership position with our company — is also mother of a busy trio that includes one four-year-old and two-year-old twins.

Organization and time management are two virtues that are not second nature to everyone. At least, they definitely aren’t for me. It’s a constant battle because I have a combination of perfectionist and hoarder tendencies. I don’t like to complete things because they aren’t perfect, and I hate throwing away things that are still useful. The struggle is real. 

My husband, on the other hand, is the exact opposite. He grew up in a household of neat, tidy, organization around every corner. When his mother started watching our children at our house during the workday, I felt the need to keep my house as tidy as she keeps hers. With three children under the age of 4, this is no easy task — especially when I don’t even have an organizational foundation and the previously mentioned issues. But I’ve read some good books and learned a few tricks that have helped me improve my tidiness. I’m still not as good as my mother-in-law, but I am improving! 

I found through clearing the clutter of my home, I had more time on the weekends where I didn’t have to feel guilty about not cleaning something. It was already done. That is a wonderful feeling!  

I thought, how can I apply these ideas to my working life too? During my workday I am constantly solving problems, jumping from one task to another, and feeling like I never get anything done. It took me about one day to get my office organized. I found I had approximately 999 pens in my desk (I only use one pen at a time!). I had 30 pamphlets from training courses I’ve taken since 2010, none of which I ever looked at again. There was an entire filing cabinet drawer worth of papers that I “needed” to file but haven’t touched since 2017. Once I cleared out all the things I didn’t need, my office changed dramatically. I went from, “I NEED more filing cabinets!” to “Wow. What am I going to do with all this extra space?” Every single person in our office commented on how different my desk looked. I felt like a weight had been lifted. I also feel more professional just by being organized.  

Once the initial decluttering/organizing was finished, that freed up time to spend on planning my days. I heard once that when you experience a traumatic event in your life, one way to cope with the tragedy is to plan a time and duration to think about that tragedy. I’ve tried to adapt that concept into my work tasks. I often feel guilty about working on one task that is not urgent, but it is important. I know I have other things that are more urgent, but if I can spend some time on this one important task it will make a huge difference in my daily productivity. Planning a time to focus on each task helps me to push aside the guilty or distracting feelings because I know I’ve already scheduled a time to work on that urgent task. 

It helps me to organize the tasks that I do into categories: accounting, compliance, email, IT, etc. Sometimes I’ll plan a couple of hours per day for each category, and sometimes I’ll dedicate an entire day to one category. If you attend a lot of meetings, you can start planning your meetings around your schedule. If Tuesday is your planned day to work on accounting (or insert your activity of choice), then schedule your accounting meetings on Tuesdays. Then your mind is already in that accounting mode, and it saves you time and stress not having to switch gears. 

I’ve tried a lot of things over the past couple of years. Here are some of the more simple to-do tasks that have worked well for me and have made a huge difference to my efficiency and feelings of accomplishment: 

Filing Emails

I. Hate. Emails. My coping method is to file all read emails in a “Complete” folder. No special filing structure, just Inbox or Complete. I use Outlook, which makes it really nice to flag the emails needing actions, file them away and work off of your task list. Outlook has nice filing rules too, where you can automatically have an email sent to a folder as soon as it hits your inbox just by entering specific criteria. For instance, I send all emails with the word “invoice” in the subject to an Invoice folder. When it’s time for me to enter invoices, they are already in one spot. 

Papers

Marie Kondo is one of my heroes. She clarifies concepts that relate to my inner hoarder. She has a new book, Joy at Work, that explains it all. She basically says get rid of everything you don’t need to keep. Simple. It’s more like she gives me permission to toss things that will only sit on my shelf for the next 5 years. Takeaways: 

  • Categorize workspace items – includes books, education pamphlets, office supplies, etc. If you keep all the items in one spot, then you’ll know how many of each item you have. 
  • File papers by “Have to Keep,” “Pending,” and “Toss”. 
  • Everything must have a place. “Clutter is caused by a failure to put things back where they belong.” 

Bullet Journal

This method is basically a custom day planner. The original Bullet Journal creator is a very minimalist planner. My approach is the artsy, doodle style. I don’t get wild like some Bullet Journalers, but it does allow me a creative outlet at least 10 minutes per week as I set up my schedule. Takeaways: 

  • Removal of Post-its and scrap paper from my desk (I still use them, but immediately throw away once done) 
  • Weekly setup – I plan out my full week of goals, tasks, and appointments. 
  • Monthly Reminders – I have “spreads” of monthly checklists and other items to keep track of. 

2-Minute Rule

If it takes less than 2 minutes, do it now. This has surprisingly helped to keep my desk clear. For me, it’s a snowball effect. If I have one thing on my desk, then the next thing I know my whole desk is cluttered. Takeaways:

  • Filing the “Have to Keep” papers 
  • Send Emails 
  • Unsubscribing from Email Newsletters (not Dairy Connection’s, of course!) 

If you are like me, working for a small business requires one person to wear a lot of hats. It’s hard to juggle each task, jumping from one category to another, and putting out fires along the way. Hopefully, you’ll be able to find at least one thing of use to help ease your workload!  

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