How to Stay Organized and Get Focused

Parents share how they get organized at work (and also at home) and talk tips, strategies and more about how to stay focused on the job.

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From the Original Poster:

"I am hoping for some collective wisdom and advice. I recently got hired for a job (Yay!) that's starting in about a month, and though I am super excited, I am also totally freaking out.  It is an office job that requires high organizational skills and implies being super efficient while not losing your cool. While I am not the dumbest person around, I admittedly have A LOT of progress to do as far as being organized and focused.  So I was wondering if anyone had advice on how to become a more organized person. Not just for work purposes but in general as I could really use some organizational skills at home, with the kids. etc. Any books worth reading? Any "brain exercises" or apps that can help me? Finally I should add that my dilemma is that I am a super nervous/anxious person and while I want to be super organized/focused, I also need to do it while being a more relaxed person and not spent my time stressing out about this job."




1. Write lists and goals:

"Use a to-do list and break down tasks into smaller segments to make gradual progress."

"I am old fashioned in that i use paper, a new sheet for every day. I have a master list of to do's on a clip board. I then make a fresh to do list for each day on that new sheet of paper and an itinerary for the day.  I find the physical act of writing things out vs. typing or seeing it on a screen works better for me as a working organizational tool."

"At work, always have a notebook with you and create "to dos". I place a
star or a check-off box next to notes I will need to follow up on.

"Lists! I am a therapist and one thing that works with my "unorganized" clients is making lists. You can list things in order of importance or if things need to be done in a certain sequence. This allows you to focus on one thing at a time without getting too overwhelmed with all you have to do. You will feel a sense of accomplishment as you cross things off that list when you complete them. Also, take breaks after 5-8 things you are able to get done (depending on time) and reward yourself with something small when you can (chocolate?!).
Similar things can help at home with kids. Charts, rewards etc.  But most important is setting a good example and not taking on too much at a time. Set small goals and  celebrate when you reach them. Then move on to the next goal."

"Make lists - I love lists. I love even more crossing them out. I make lists on post-it notes and I sometimes make them on the subway going home and send to myself."

"I have goals for the week and I have a goal setting partner (with a friend,, talk on Facetime every week for 1/2 hour and we hold each other accountable)
Components of my organizational approach:
- Overall life vision written out in notebook
- Weekly goals with goal setting partner, written out in notebook
- Daily time management system, written on paper and scheduled in Outlook (alerts, too)-my husband likes the phone alerts."


2. Streamline repetitive work through templates:

"Set up systems and templates for things you'll need to do over and over."


3. Try David Allen's "Getting Things Done Method":

"I love Getting Things Done by David Allen (book). It's a method of organization and information processing."
"I suppose this isn't completely free but the "getting things done" method has really helped me. There is something so satisfying about getting all your to do's in one place and periodically taking the time to check them off and separating them into priorities. Also scheduling the tasks in my calendar instead of keeping them in giant to do lists has reduced my anxiety tremendously. There is a book about this method. People use apps, paper notebooks desktop software. It depends on the job/lifestyle you have. But you do need to get everything out of your head and into a reliable and accessible system.  If you do a google search, there are many summaries & tutorials. I would begin with Wikipedia.
I hope this helps. I fight with anxiety every day and this was helpful to me so I thought I'd share."

"I agree with the “Getting Things Done” system."


4. Harness technology with programs like Evernote, Wunderlist, Nudge Mail, Google Docs:

"Use to do lists; I often just use Notes on my phone, and then daily to do lists on paper, but there's also apps like Evernote and Wunderlist."
"Depending on what your office tasks are, you could use project mgmt systems online - many are free - Google docs (I use Google spreadsheets to track many, many things!)."

"And then if you like the general idea, I recommend using Evernote to apply it. It's like $60 a year to get an account with them. And you can clip websites, email notes, use photos as reference for your notes/to dos.  There's a method called, I believe, "the secret weapon". This is what I use. And although it sounds a bit complicated if you don't understand the "getting things done" terminology, it actually isn't. You just need to take the initial time to put everything there and then make sure you schedule time to go through your notes every day. Then once a week you can have a scheduled overview."

"Don’t get overwhelmed by all the different ways to organized. There are lots of different ways to do things and not all of them will work for you. Someone else mentioned Evernote—that just didn’t work for me. It was a black hole of “to dos” and I gave up."

"My lifesaver is Nudgemail.  Someone says, “let’s loop around in a couple of weeks” in an email you can send that email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with the date 2 weeks from now and it will send it to you. Voila—that is one piece of “I need to remember to…” that you don’t have to worry about. (You can put it on your calendar but frankly seeing all those little niggly follow ups and reminders on my calendar makes me think there’s more to do than there really is!)."

"I use Outlook for my schedule as well. I like Outlook for work schedules, too."

"iPhone reminders. This is great for helping me remember to make important
calls at certain times or pay certain bills. It's a to do list that allows you to set date and time removers."

"ZocDoc App- recently got this but helped me find and make doctor apts."

"Use reminders for everything. Email follow ups. Set up calendar reminders for everything and anything. I include my personal stuff too, for example order Freshdirect, everyone's birthdays (with 2 weeks reminder time that I then reduce slowly), relieve the nanny daily reminder an hour before I have to actually leave (my husband and I alternate, but it still helps)."

"iPhone notes- keeps tally of random lists all in one place (piano teacher
recommendations, books to read, etc)"


5. Minimize errands, maximize your time:

"I rely on the internet and mostly iPhone apps - Amazon and Freshdirect. I try to operate with zero errands after work or on weekends.  Besides those two - shop on rue la la and gilt for work clothes, use uber when running late for a morning call, when can't cook; GoodEggs when can't get to the farmers market.  A dry cleaner who is kind enough to pick up and deliver. And then I keep a good old paper list of all the things that need to be done.

"Avoid errands on the weekend: use Fresh Direct for groceries, for drugstore items, etc. Hire a cleaner if you can afford it."


6. Have an organized email system:

"Jenny at Robot Foundry (great place by the way) forwarded this on to me and it has potential as well. That system relies on date-labels. Worth a read."

"Unsubscribe to any e-mails you don't want to be part of (I have nicely discouraged friends from forwarding "funny e-mails" since can be a huge time suck."

"Remove yourself from any junk mail/catalog/whatever lists so you cut down your time on sorting through and dealing with mail. If it always just ends up in the recycling then get your name off their mailing list."

"I use Microsoft outlook and they have this system where you can flag your e-mails. I flag all e-mails I need to respond to that day and then just at the end of the day to make sure they are all complete. It's very satisfying to check off a little flag."

"Clear and similar email subjects, or possibly keep the same when you need to ask other people's input. Easier to find."

"And for email organization look up Inbox Zero on the web."


7. Find a work buddy to keep you accountable and on track:

"Get a work friend or someone you can talk to for support. I have a colleague and we have a standing lunch date every week. We often can't meet, but it's always there and even when we touch base once or twice a month, it makes a difference."

8. Keep your work space neat:

"Organized environment/desk."


9. Schedule tasks and assignments:

"Set and make standard schedules for daily routines at work (daily tasks I need to do and when), at home (e.g. chore list, schedules for my son), Family Rules list, Self care lists."

"I started keeping a time tracker to see how I use my time. I found an old school paper grid online that breaks up my day into 15 minute increments. I realize that I get interrupted a lot by checking email too frequently, multi-tasking/switching tasks too frequently, and by being too generous with an 'open door' policy with my staff. I am trying to devote more uninterrupted time to completing a full task and that has led me to feel more organized and productive."


10. Dedicate time everyday to organize yourself:

I take time everyday to get organized. (I take 5 minutes every morning for personal organization- I get "centered" -whatever that means to you)."


11. Prioritize:

"I live my the adage "Priorities are payoffs." Think of your priorities for the day."

"Prioritize. I work with multiple clients, and have to do this all the time. Prioritize clients and tasks, what's a must and  has to be executed ASAP and what can wait. Also, what depends on other people's input (send it to them asap) so will take longer anyways, and what can be solved immediately."

--Use an online calendar: I use Outlook at work (for appts, follow-up reminders, deadlines, etc) and Google at home, which I share with my husband, where we figure out drop-offs/pick-ups, how to cover school closures, etc. I look ahead for 3-4 weeks to make sure I stay on top of everything. In my job I have a lot of deadlines that can sneak up on me if I don't plan ahead.


12. Don't procrastinate, or even wait:

"Try to deal with things immediately. Just make a decision right then and there (but this might be more related to procrastination)."


13. Use your commute wisely:

"I have a 30 min subway ride to/from home, I use this time to scan through my emails to answer anything I may have left out. Anything that's not urgent or can be answered later - I answer on my phone from the subway. (Note - make sure your work email has an appropriate signature if you do this)"

" Read industry news/scan through highlights on the subway, then delete. Gets rid of extra emails. I do it daily with a few industry relevant publications, and a few general news sites (newsletters)."


14. Be cautious when working late:

"If I need to work late/after kids bedtime (usually once-twice a week, but not every week), I don't like sending emails to clients at these hours. (Although I like doing this for certain things where I need to really think things through and do some investigating.). I'm also usually more tired and may pay less attention at this point.  So what I do is write emails, and keep them in my drafts, then next morning when I get to work I proof read/QA them and then send them out."


15. Make sure you find time to unwind:

"Invest in date nights and nights out with friends for respite from work stress. Put these on your calendar, too!"

"Meditate: start with 5 minutes in the morning and 5 minutes when you get home and build up to 15-20 minutes 2 times a day. There are tons of free meditation apps/podcasts that you can use. I often meditate on the subway because your fellow passengers just think you are napping. It makes a huge difference with increasing focus and decreasing stress."


16. Remember, everyone has their own work style and system. Experiment with all these tips and figure out what works best for YOU:

"Finally, everyone has a different way of working. Figure out what works best for you. And try not to stress yourself out. It will just make others unsure of your abilities. It's fine to say "let me look into that" and follow back up with people. Often people just need to know when they can expect something, instead of needing it right then and there."


Useful resources:

"Read the book 'Happiness at Work' by Sharon Salzberg to learn more about mindfulness and meditation strategies that will help you be successful at work"

The Real I Don't Know How She Does It Moms