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How to become a highly organized manager - The ultimate guide

An organized manager
Blaz Kos
13 minute read

Great managers are highly organized managers. 

There are two main reasons for that: firstly, properly organizing yourself as a manager enables you to work smart by being focused on the right things and then doing them in the right way, while at the same time eliminating all wasteful activities

With such an approach, you can create more value for the company.

Secondly, you can only lead a high-performance team if you’re a highly organized person yourself. It’s hard to expect other people to be organized and deliver results if you are not capable of doing so yourself. 

Leading by example (and being organized as an example to others), is the first rule of successful management.

Only if you as a manager become highly organized and coach your people to become better at organizing themselves, can your team have a chance to reach their maximum performance. On top of that, it’s worth mentioning that people love to work in highly organized environments.

Here at Spica we’re very enthusiastic about organized workplaces and highly organized managers, because we know from our 30 years of experience in providing time & attendance, project time tracking and similar HR software solutions the positive impact an organized manager can have on their teams and company culture as a whole.

That’s why we decided to put together the ultimate guide on how to organize yourself at work and become a highly organized manager. We analyzed many different tips and practices and selected the best ones for this comprehensive step-by-step guide.

The end goal of becoming a more organized manager is not only to get more meaningful work done, get promoted and manage your team better, but also to have a better work-life balance and enough free time for family, hobbies and recharging.

1. Focus your work on important, not urgent, tasks

Stephen Covey divides the activities that we face at work into “urgent” and “important” tasks. Highly organized managers make sure they spend time on the most important tasks and don’t let urgent tasks without any real contribution to their business objectives get in the way.

We are all drawn to urgent tasks, like answering e-mails, going to meetings, preparing reports etc., because they are easier to do and enable us to socialize at work. 

But a highly organized manager makes sure distractions, time wasters, and low-value activities don’t get in the way of doing the most important tasks first.

But what are the important tasks? Important tasks are all the tasks connected to creating value, delivering value and capturing value for the customers. You can contribute to that directly or indirectly. 

So, the important tasks to work on are the bottom-line deliveries you are actually paid for. At least 80 % of your time should be spent solely on important activities.

  • In business, creating value includes strategic planning, creating new, innovative products and value propositions, engaging resources, forming strategic partnerships etc. 
  • Delivering value includes optimizing distribution channels, forming customer relationships, marketing products, sales and so on. 
  • From a financial perspective, capturing value means maximizing revenue streams and optimizing costs.

And of course as a manager you have to focus on leading people. Here's what Google identified that a great managers does:

  • Is a good coach
  • Empowers team and does not micromanage
  • Creates an inclusive team environment, showing concern for success and well-being
  • Is productive and results-oriented
  • Is a good communicator — listens and shares information
  • Supports career development and discusses performance
  • Has a clear vision/strategy for the team
  • Has key technical skills to help advise the team
  • Collaborates across different departments
  • Is a strong decision maker

Performing regular coaching, making sure results are delivered, being great at sharing information, helping team members at career development etc. that all falls under the important tasks.

2. Don’t get fooled by the fake feeling of progress

Fake progress happens when you do activities that are intricately connected to your objectives and important tasks, but you are not hitting nail on the head with your work. 

Examples of such activities are: 

  • doing too much research and planning, 
  • over-analyzing or getting lost in information overflow, 
  • talking about doing it instead of actually doing it, 
  • endless brainstorming or having numerous meetings without any conclusions etc.

For example: It’s much easier to polish a sales pitch, than do actual sales and reach out to prospects.

There is an important Kaizen principle that goes like this: It’s more probable that you will get to 100% if you first aim at 50 % and then adjust based on feedback, than if you aim at 100 % with broad and overly-complex solutions. The solution is simple. 

Don’t over-read, don’t over-think, and don’t over-complicate matters. Estimate how many hours you’re spending making actual progress and not just feeling a little better based on fake work. Focus on the definition of work done and concrete deliverables.

3D: Empower the “delete, delegate and do” concept

For every task on a to-do list, you can do three things with it: Delete, Delegate or Do. As you can see, “do” is the last in the row. You want to eliminate (delete) as many “urgent” tasks as possible, and especially the ones that give you a fake feeling of progress. 

You just develop a habit not to bother your mind with the tasks that don’t provide any real value. Every organized manager starts with eliminating waste.

Then you have delegating, as the next approach. A highly organized manager doesn’t micromanage, but rather trusts and empowers their people. 

They delegate those tasks that somebody else in the team can do. The main obstacle here can appear if you see yourself as the expert and therefore the only one who can do the job correctly, and in that case you will drown in work sooner or later.

A highly organized manager finds the right people, mentors them, and then delegates more and more demanding tasks. That’s how people and teams grow. 

And it gives a chance to you, the manager, to focus on even more demanding and valuable activities.

In the end, after deleting and delegating tasks, you can and should focus on your most important tasks, the ones that really only you can do and that will have a serious impact on progress towards the company’s objectives.  

5. Track your time, it’s the best way to keep it under control

Most people waste time while not even being aware of it. They think they are in control of their time, when they are really not. 

Thus, one of the best things you can do as a manager to have better control over your time, is to track how you spend it. A good time-tracker will help you be more aware of how much you are working on the most important tasks, and how much time is going to waste.

With a good time tracker, you can also make a very good analysis of where the opportunities are for optimization. You can also have an honest metric of how much time you spend on the most important tasks for you as a manager, like coaching people. 

Only what you measure, can you really manage. The most organized managers definitely employ time tracking for themselves and their team members and make sure no time goes to waste. Check out our time tracker My Hours, which you can test for free.

6. Know and respect your work limitations, we all have them

Imagine a highly organized person: I assume you don’t picture someone that is exhausted, stressed out and constantly firefighting, which is exactly what happens if you don’t put some limits on workloads for yourself and your team. 

An organized manager knows how to limit work in progress and how not to put too much stress on himself or other people.

We all have daily limits for how much you can actually do, and we tend to overestimate our energy capacities and how much meaningful work we can do in a day. 

No matter how organized you are, some parts of your day will probably be filled with some useless meetings, in-between time, time for fun and relaxation, and so on.

Face the limitations: you can do nothing about the fact that there is a limit for how organized you can be. There is never enough time to do everything, but there is always enough time to do the most important things. 

So, plan for 70 – 80 % (approximately 6 hours) of meaningful work and make sure nothing intervenes with those productive hours, but at the same time keep some flexibility during the day and don’t overload yourself in the long run. A burned-out manager is not a highly organized manager.

7. Develop habits and routines for yourself and your team

There are two ways things can be done: either you have to use your willpower and mental effort to do something, or you do things automatically, as part of a habit, without any effort. 

It’s impossible to be a highly organized manager without developing some core habits and routines and this kind of structure is also very beneficial as it makes people feel safe.

The best habits and routines you as a manager can set up at workplace are agile leadership practices. Employing a few core routines from the SCRUM agile framework can do wonders for your productivity and the productivity of your team. Examples of these routines are:

  • Have a daily 15-minute stand-up meeting with your team
  • Have 7- or 14-day sprints that start with sprint planning and finish with sprint reflections
  • Visualize work on a Kanban board

You can also employ other leadership best-practice routines, like having weekly 1:1 coaching with your team members or direct reports, or having at least one informal lunch per month with every one of your team members and so on.

8. Work in the flow when you are not managing people

When you work on the important tasks in your life, you want to fall into the flow as soon as possible. The flow is a divine experience that enables you to create and add real value fast and efficiently. 

While working in the flow, your productivity, creativity and learning abilities will climb to their maximum levels. You know you are in the flow when you forget everything around you and just create, learn, and experience.

Since we all have a limited amount of energy, most of us have the capacity to fall into two to three flows per day, with every flow lasting a couple of hours. Time-boxing, reserving time in advance in your calendar, is one of the best methods to plan working in the flow.

Simply put, time-box at least one 2-hour block of work per day. And if you fail to get in the flow on a particular day, don’t try to catch up. 

You’ll end up putting too much pressure on yourself and giving up sooner or later. It’s hard to get into the flow if you are under pressure. Just make better organizational decisions the next day.

9. Sharpen the saw – don’t forget to invest in yourself

A very important rule among time management techniques is sharpening the saw. Investing in your skills definitely already sharpens the saw, but either way you must not forget to take care of all four of your bodies– physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. 

The more you take care of yourself, the more energy you will have for productive work. The rule is simple: put yourself in first place.

  • For your physical body, exercise, eat healthy, avoid stress and sleep a lot. 
  • For your emotional body, connect with positive people, make love, think optimistically, enjoy everyday life, be grateful, believe in yourself and manage your emotions. 
  • For your mental health, read books, do new things, do some brain exercises, create something artistic, go to a museum, do some math, wash your teeth with your non-dominant arm, brainstorm, meditate and so on. 
  • As for your spiritual life, keep finding and realigning your life purpose, give back to the community, be a good person, help others and donate, and so on. What you give, you will get back.

For a manager, taking care of yourself is even more important. Your people will need you and you can only lead them if you are in good shape: organized, mentally sharp and ready to conquer new goals.

10. Practical recommendations for becoming more organized manager

Let’s look at some additional practical recommendations before being a more organized manager:

Clean your desk

Some people are big believers in the “creative chaos” philosophy, but in reality this usually just means that they are messy (sorry). Clean your desk and have everything in its place. 

Be a role model for the people you lead-it will go a long way to helping you focus. Mess and chaos are nothing but distractions.

Light-asset life, and living “in the cloud”

You want to have as many things as possible “in the cloud” – from your music, movies, documents, software, notes, records and so on. 

If you have everything in a cloud, even if you lose your device, or it breaks down you won’t lose anything. You just buy a new device, enter your passwords and everything synchronizes.

You can be really productive having your life organized in the cloud. You can work from anywhere and you are not chained to your physical belongings. 

All you have to do is make sure that your life in the cloud is also organized to the full. You don’t want to be wasting your time looking for files, folders, notes or information. If you have a good system, living life in the cloud can be miraculous for your personal productivity.

Using great project time tracking and time & attendance app in the cloud to manage yourself and your team better are no exceptions here.

Know your biorhythm / Manage your energy

Every one of us has a different personal biorhythm. Therefore, you have hours when you are extra productive and hours when you feel less energetic. 

Being an early riser brings many benefits, but still, some people, especially in the creative fields, are at their most creative when the sun goes down. Find out if you are more of a morning or an evening person.

Identify your personal biorhythm: plan naps and walks for the less energetic times of the day, and creative flows or agile execution for that time of the day when you feel the most productive and energetic. And make sure you take into consideration the biorhythm of your team members.

Use two computer screens

A big improvement for productivity is definitely having two big monitors. You should maybe even use three, but they can emit too much radiation and your head could start hurting. 

You won’t believe how much more productive you can be on a computer with two big screens compared to a laptop or a tablet.

Buying a second monitor is not expensive at all and is easy to set up. Just don’t have e-mail open on one of your screens, since that will just interrupt you all the time.

Productivity apps

You can find tons of productivity apps for your smart phone or tablet. Their main disadvantage is that they can be quite time consuming, but if you are productivity freak and you find that they help you, then why not? 

Explore best time management tools and you will find tons of them, and having a good time tracking app is definitely advantageous.

Drink plenty of water

Drinking at least 2 - 3 liters of water per day will help you stay fresh, focused and energized. When your mouth is dry, it’s already too late. 

The best way to follow this advice is to have a bottle of water with you at all times and just drink it throughout the day. You can buy a nice looking ecological, antibacterial bottle for less than 30 dollars. 

Regular water drinking is basically the only distraction allowed when you are in the flow.

The conclusion

Being highly organized and disciplined is one of the most important parts of being a great leader. When you are highly organized as a manager, people perceive you as being sharp leader, knowing exactly what to do, as well as how and when to do it. 

As a good manager you must know how to set priorities and limitations, and you provide structure.

And only when you organize yourself can you have the necessary competences to organize others. Not only this, but you also set an example for others. Being organized is one of the best and most proven ways of being a great manager and leader.

It’s not easy to become highly organized, but it’s definitely worth the investment. In this article we looked at many different ways to become an organized manager. 

Now go and put those pieces of advice you liked most to use. And remember, there is never enough time to do all things, but there is always enough time to do the important ones.

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