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Top tips - Planning and organising; or How to keep your New Year's resolution


Are you thinking of getting more organised in 2017? The good news is that you're not alone. Becoming more organised is the second most common New Year's resolution in Britain (behind losing weight).* But the bad news is that most of us are going to fail to keep our resolutions. That's where we come in. We're going to start the New Year by giving you our top tips for planning and organising. And to help you keep your resolution, we're going to give each tip a focused blog over the course of the year.

If you would like to use this image please credit me; @Arc52Cathy and use the title and date of this post.

All of these tips are helpful in all types of professional life, but as usual we're focusing here on the work life of a researcher or academic.

1. Plan! Get some tools and use them

2. Make time for your planning

3. Plan on a Friday

4. Create an index for your note-book

5. Use the phone, not email. Log your calls

6. Make lists

7. Make mind-maps

8. Clear your inbox

9. Review your planning

10. Be aware of how you are using your planning and organising

1. Plan! Get some tools and use them

The chances are that you already have lots of planning and organisational tools at your disposal. I'm frequently surprised by how often research students don't use them. They carry it all round in their head. In contrast, senior colleagues use organisational tools are the time, but they sometimes see it as so ordinary and common-sense an activity that they don't call it by any particular name.

I will share examples in these posts, but ultimately it doesn't matter which tool you use, so long as you use something. A battered diary, a gorgeous leather-bound book, an app on your phone or tablet; it doesn't matter right now. Pick one, and use it.....every working day.

2. Make time for your planning

Talk about stating the blindingly obvious! But please don't think that you have to spend your life planning and organising. The whole point of this exercise is to have time in your life for the important stuff (and the stuff that others in your life see as important, even if you don't). Short-term items will be dealt with more frequently than medium and long term. For me my planning is split in to daily, weekly and termly planning tasks, with a forward view of a couple of days, a couple of months and six months respectively.

3. Plan on a Friday

In all the planning and organising advice that I've read and been trained in over the years, this is one of the most useful pieces of advice I have ever had. The principle of course is that you can walk in to work when you are feeling refreshed and start work, not start planning. I was sceptical when I first heard this but gave it a go. To my surprise it worked. I'm really looking forward to sharing more about this one in a future blog, as I know many of you will be as sceptical as I was.

4. Create an index for your note-book

Almost all of us will take some of note-book to a meeting, have lab notes to keep, a research journal, or just random notes that help with thinking. Organising these fairly unstructured items can be a pain, and retrieving important facts and thoughts from these notes can be challenging at short-notice. It's one of the reasons that increasing numbers are using technology, so that they can press <Ctrl> <F> . If you are using something like Evernote (I do!), be sure to create suitable headings rather than just starting to type (again with the stating the blindingly obvious). If you're still using pen and paper - and let's face it paper is just so 'flick-through-able' and 'thoughts-flow-able', as well as not requiring battery power - leave plenty of space at the start for an index and remember to number the pages.

5. Use the phone, not email. Log your calls

This one is simple. The more complicated the matter the easier it will be to deal with by talking rather than writing. Follow up by email if you need to or simply keep a brief log - just in case that senior person demands to know when X was agreed to and by whom. I got mine from the stationers, but a notebook will do.

6. Make lists

Yes there is room for the trusty (or boring) list. They are great for short-term planning and prioritisation. Put a date at the top. Number the items once you've had a chance to decide on the priority. Only tick items off once you've achieved the items. And one last thing, make no more than one list a day.

We'll explore what Oscar Wilde and General Franco might have had in common when we explore this in more detail later in the year.

7. Make mind-maps

Mind maps a fabulous medium and long term planning tool. Keep your mind maps. Pin them up in a place where you can see them, or make them in your planning book (online or paper) where you plan on a weekly basis. If you hate lists and only do mind-maps, be sure your daily mind map does not morph in to a medium-term plan.

8. Clear your inbox

This is really much easier than it sounds. We're not expecting you to attend to every single thing in your inbox, just clear away the stuff you are not going to deal with, or perhaps aren't even going to open, but you can't bear to delete, just in case it turns out to be important. Create a folder, call it something like 'Later' or 'Older than x' or anything that reassures you that you haven't abandoned your work. At the end of each day drop all the stuff in your inbox that is just clutter into the folder. The next day you can see spend so much less time trawling through a cluttered inbox.

9. Review your planning

This means two things; Review the items in your plans and review your planning tools as part of your medium and long-term planning cycle.

10. Be aware of how you are using your planning and organising

This is very similar to review. It is the follow-on activity from no. 9. You need to be honest with yourself. What is really working as compared with what you do and don't like doing. Also, be mindful that your needs will change as you change, as your job changes, as your boss changes and as technology changes.

Best of luck with that New Year's resolution - whatever it is.

*Remarkably the International Business Review and The Sun newspaper agree on this.

#NewYearsresolution #Toptipsplanning #Toptipsorganisation

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© 2014 content by Cathy Gibbons. Updated 2019. 
 

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