Top Ten Tips for a More Organized 2011!

Top Ten Tips for a More Organized 2011!
By Laura Stack, MBA, CSP

There will always be more things to do than time to do it. Working longer isn’t going to save you. (I’d bet you’ve never gone to sleep at the end of a long day with everything on your to-do list completed.) To counter this never-ending battle, you’ll need to learn to be more efficient and get your work done in less time. If you can figure out how to be more productive during the day and achieve greater results in less time, you can leave the office earlier and get a life.

Learn how to use your software. One of the many ways professionals waste time during the day is with Microsoft Outlook (or whatever email software you use). I estimate people waste 30 minutes to 2 hours a day with incorrect or inefficient information management systems. Sometimes it’s a simple matter of not understanding what Outlook is capable of doing (Journaling, Notes, Customized Contact Forms, Task Tracking, etc.). As a Microsoft Certified Application Specialist (MCAS) in Outlook, I estimate most people only understand and use 10-20% of Outlook’s capabilities.

The Inbox is not a to-do list. Pull the action from the email and move it to the correct location. Do NOT simply flag the email, which simply leaves it in the inbox.

1. Right-click on the email.

2. Select “Move to Folder” from the short cut menu.

3. Select Tasks from the list if it’s a “to-do” item or Calendar if it has a specific time.

4. Click OK.

5. This will activate a task properties window.

6. Update all of the information accordingly. Use the “Start Date” to indicate when you want the task to appear on your To-Do Bar.

7. Click the “Save and Close” button.

8. Make sure your TaskPad (2003) or To-Do Bar (2007/2010) sorts by Start Date, not Due Date.

File email in your existing folder system. You already have a folder system on your hard drive or a shared drive. Rather than keeping a different list of personal folders in your Outlook, save emails in your existing folders to keep reference items together. Just as you would save a Word document or PowerPoint show, you can save email as a file. While viewing the email:

1. Under the File menu, select Save As.

2. Navigate to the correct folder on your hard or shared drive.

3. Change the file name, if desired.

4. In the Save as Type dropdown menu, select Outlook Message Format (*.msg).

5. Click Save.

6. When you double-click the Outlook icon, the email will open within your Outlook software, just as if it were in the inbox.

Automate manual actions. Use Outlook’s Rules; they help you manage your e-mail messages by performing actions on messages that match a specific set of conditions. After you create a rule, Outlook applies it when a message arrives in your Inbox or when you send a message. Spend some time playing with the Rules Wizard to explore all the cool things you can do, such as forwarding to a list, automatically deleting mail from certain people, printing, moving messages where you’re cc’d into a specified folder, or moving messages with certain words in the subject field to a folder.

1. On the Tools menu, click Rules and Alerts.

2. Click New Rule.

3. Make sure the “Start creating a rule from a template” button is selected.

4. Follow the Wizard.

Keep your notes on your Contacts up to date. Keep notes for every client contact in a contact management system of some sort: ACT,, Outlook, etc. If you have Outlook, this feature is called the Journal, which is a little-known, powerful feature rarely used by immensely helpful for salespeople to document client history: conversations, phone calls, and meetings. Create a New Journal Entry, tag it to the Contact, type out the contents of the meeting. You can now view a Contact’s Journal entries from years ago. If you share your Journal and Contacts, anyone on your time can see your notes and client activity if you’re out.

Create a travel plan. When you do have to fly for business, you’ll usually have a pretty good idea of how much downtime you’ll have during your trip, so set some goals for your travel time before you leave. How long is the flight each way? How long will you be alone in your hotel room in the evening? Know what you want to accomplish during various parts of your trip. It isn’t set in stone—it’s just a guide. When you sit down in your airplane seat, you should know exactly what to do next. Maybe there’s a report you want to read or a proposal you want to write. Be ready to dive right in. Until I can turn on my computer, I generally do light reading as I catch my breath and get settled. I might even do a Sudoku puzzle. Then I get right to it. I never turn on the television in my hotel, since a quiet hotel room is a great place to bang out work.

Embrace the Smartphone. You don’t need to become a full-fledged Crackberry addict to enjoy the benefits of a smartphone. It shouldn’t hijack your life, but it can be a useful tool while you’re riding in a taxi or sitting at the gate. Use your downtime to keep up with email; it’s comforting to know it isn’t piling up while you’re away. A smart phone can also help you stay on top of things back at the office without playing phone tag and leaving voicemails all over the place.

Simplify with a docking station. Do you find yourself transferring files between a desktop computer and your laptop when you need to travel or bring work home? This was one of my biggest frustrations and time-wasters for many years. Unless your work requires some serious computer resources, you can probably stop using the desktop machine altogether. A docking station will allow you to keep your nice big monitor and full-size keyboard, but still be able to pop your computer out of the dock, slip it into your laptop bag, and have all your files in one place. It’s the best of both worlds.

Be determined to complete a task in less time. Sometimes we’re so busy looking for an extra thirty minutes to complete a task we don’t realize it could be done in ten. Make sure you aren’t over-researching, over-analyzing, or just plain over-thinking what you’re trying to do. Some fish will grow to fit the size of their tank, and tasks will do the same thing. If Step One of writing a report is always an hour of banging your head against the blank computer screen, it becomes the norm. Don’t fall into this trap. Evaluate your tasks and challenge yourself to get them done more quickly. If you had to have the report written by the end of the day instead of the end of the week, you would find a way to get it done. Tight deadlines don’t leave much time for banging your head on the computer. When a crisis pops up, rise to the challenge. Apply the same “never say die” attitude to your more routine tasks, and you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish. Focus, focus, focus. Give yourself ten minutes to concentrate on the task at hand. Once you commit your full energy to getting it done, you’ll be amazed at how things start zipping along.

Hold an efficiency meeting. We all know we can be more productive. When I ask salespeople, “What would you need to change about yourself in order to be more productive and increase sales?” everyone knows the answer. When I ask, “What would need to change in the office in order for you to be more productive?” everyone knows the answer. However, most salespeople and their teams rarely take the time to discuss these issues and formulate solutions. If you haven’t had an “efficiency meeting” in a while, get it on your schedule. Vent your frustrations. Try different methods. Blow up a process. Get help when you need it. All of this effort will pay off handsomely in the way of increased client acquisition.

Wishing you a Happy, Prosperous, and Productive 2011!

** To purchase online video tutorials on the above Outlook functions, please visit

Since 1992, Laura Stack has presented keynotes and seminars that help leaders, teams, and individuals achieve Maximum Result in Minimum Time®. As the President of The Productivity Pro®, Inc., she has implemented productivity-improvement programs at companies such as Wal-Mart, Cisco Systems, and Bank of America, as well as government agencies and national associations. She is the bestselling author of four books and has been a spokesperson for Microsoft, 3M, Xerox, and Office Depot. Laura is the 2011-2012 president of the National Speakers Association and the creator of The Productivity Pro® planner by Day-Timer. To have Laura speak at your next event, visit



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