Feeling Overwhelmed?

Many times we all feel overwhelmed with the tasks at hand.  It is a full-time job to handle the day-to-day problems and issues and there is no time to think about tomorrow, investigate improvements or move the business forward significantly.

The keys to productivity:

  1. Be organized.
  2. Plan things in advance.
  3. Focus on one thing at a time.
  4. Get one thing done completely.

Easy to say…a little harder to do.  The key to change is to break old habits and replace them with new habits.  Outlined below are various techniques designed to help you develop these new habits for better efficiency. 

Ready, Aim, File

Just as you wouldn’t tolerate a shop floor where things are all over the place and disorganized, likewise office workplaces should not be disorganized and cluttered.

In Tray System

First, go to your in/out tray.  This tray system should be organized as follows:

IN:                  Items never touched.  Do not put things back in here!

PENDING:    Short term items to be waiting for information from others.

OUT:              Items to be forwarded to another person.

READING:    Reading material to be blocked together at another time.

  • Action Item: Organize your trays


Next move to your files.  We break files into work files, project files and reference files.

Work File:

 Basic Information

    1. Phone list
    2. Etc.
  1. Tickler
    1. Week 1
    2. Week 2
    3. Week 3
    4. Week 4
    5. Jan
    6. Feb
    7. Etc.
  2. Meetings
    1. Project Meeting
    2. Staff Meeting
    3. Etc.
  3. Follow-up
    1. Person 1
    2. Person 2
    3. Etc.
  4. Work Specific Files
    1. File 1
    2. File 2
    3. Etc.

The tickler file system should include tabs for the weeks (or days) of a month, and files for each month.  Information that is needed for a specific month can be placed in the particular months while an entry is made in your schedule to remind you.

The meeting files are designed to document items to be handled at the next meeting.  Write the item on a sheet of paper and throw it in the appropriate meeting file.  When you are preparing for the meeting you will be reminded of all the items that you need to cover.

The follow-up files allow you to place items to discuss with each person in their file.  The next time you meet with them open the file and you will be reminded of all the items to be discussed and dealt with.

The work specific files are those things that you work on a daily or weekly basis and are required for your normal routine.

  • Action Item: Set up your work files.

Current Project Files:

  1. Project 1
  2. Project 2
  3. etc

Current project files should be kept separate from your routine files.  File everything to do with the project in the particular file.  Keep follow-up notes in your schedule. 

If a project has a lot of bulk associated with it file a spot that allows you to pile al the related material together.

  • Action Item: Set up your project files.

Reference Files

  1. Reference file 1
  2. Reference file 2
  3. etc

Reference files are those that may be required from time to time for reference but are not used in the regular routine of your job.

  • Action Item: Set up your reference files.


Now tackle your desktop.  It should be cleaned up!  Get project things into project files, follow-up things into follow-up files.  Throw out junk!  All of it!  You are not finished until everything is filed and your desk is clean.

  • Action Item: Clean your desktop.

Plan, Plan, Plan

It is essential to plan things out, otherwise there is a tendency to run from thing to thing and accomplish little or get little actually completed.  We all know it is better to finish a project once we’re into it, rather than go back and forth 16 times.  Each time we open the file we have to remember where we were and what we were doing.

Planning is not that difficult, but it does take some discipline.  Planning also give you a visual representation of the work to be done.

Weekly Planner

I prefer to plan using a dairy that has scheduled events on one side and items to accomplish for the week on the other side.

Some people may prefer to use a daily planner but I would advise against this approach.  A daily planner does not provide you enough visibility.

  • Action Item: Set up your weekly planner.

What to Plan?

Schedule things that will take some time to accomplish.  Leave open time blocks for other more routine items.

Project Planning

Most projects will require there our project plan, however the approach here is slightly different.  In this case we want to see the progress of the project and the responsibilities.  The individuals involved should schedule their responsibilities in their weekly planner.

Handle Things At Once and Only Once

People can only do one thing at a time, but you wouldn’t know it by the way some people operate in the office.  You can’t run from thing to thing and expect to be effective.

What is the sense of going through an in-box and then putting everything back?  Then going through it all again later?  But many people do it.  They think it helps then to stay organized.  But is doesn’t!  To be efficient you need to handle things at once and only once. 

For instance, take the top item in your in-box.  Deal with it right away.  File it, respond to it or otherwise deal with it.  In some cases it make take 2 hours to deal with an item, so in this case schedule it and then file it in your tickle file for the appropriate date.

Block Your Time

Many times work of similar types can be grouped together and handled in a block.  This is more efficient.  For instance, reviewing the items in your inbox at one time, returning phone calls at one time, or responding to your email are all handled more efficiently when they are grouped together.

Interruptions are one of the most serious productivity drains on business.  They occur for several main reasons:

  1. You haven’t finished something on time and now you’re dealing with the consequences.
  2. Other people are disorganized.
  3. There has been poor communication.
  4. The phone rings.

Control interruptions.  Have people schedule meetings for non-urgent things.  Remember at those meeting block everything together than needs to be discussed with that person and deal with it all.


Just as you need to ensure that you get your tasks done properly and on time, you need to ensure that other people follow-up and return information to you on a timely basis.  Your follow-up system needs to be streamlined and relentless.  Your people need to understand that when they commit to doing something by a certain date that it must be done, or they need to report back to you that they are having trouble and would like to defer the date.

It’s All About Systems

Are there routine things that you need to do, or have done, that require a lot of effort and concentration to prepare?  These things need to be moved into smoothly operating systems.  Things that should be done using documented systems include:

  1. Order entry system
  2. Estimating systems
  3. Shop release systems
  4. Quality systems
  5. etc

Other things that should be systemized:

  1. Month end reports
  2. Standard cost analysis
  3. Financial reports
  4. Productivity measurement systems
  5. etc

In other words, information critical to the operation of your business should be generated monthly and automatically without people having to chase it down or ask for it.


Stay focused and make progress every day on something that moves you forward on a sustainable path.  Do these changes come easy?  Of course not.  If it were easy, you would have done it already.  However, once your plan gains some momentum you will be amazed at the results.