Getting Organized at Work

I do not generally consider myself a naturally organized person. However, over the years I have had to work to try to get more organized due to the demands of full-time work and a family.

I use a number of tools and practices at work to try to keep organized (and more productive). I am not always successful, but I am better than I was years ago. Here I will list out some of the tools and practices that I use to keep organized.

Table of Contents

Reduce Stress by Writing Down Tasks

During the pandemic, I did some research on how to stay organized when your normal routine has been broken. One of the best pieces of advice that I found was to make sure to get all the new tasks, which are floating around in your head, written down somewhere by the end of the day. If you are constantly trying to juggle a huge task list in your head, it can lead to stress; so, by writing these tasks down, you relieve that stress. I tried it out and, for me, it does help reduce my stress since I no longer have to juggle these tasks mentally.

Later in this article, I will mention some of the tools that I use for keeping track of issues, such as Microsoft To Do.

The "Two-Week Rule" for New Technologies

Whenever I try a new application, a new interface, or a new technology, I have a general rule that I try to follow. I actually think there are many "two-week" rules out there, but in this case, it is related to technological change.

Here is the basic rule; if I am given something new to work with, such as an application or interface, I will give it an "honest try" for two full weeks. An "honest try" means I will truly try to learn the application or interface before passing any judgment.

If I still dislike the application or interface after two full weeks, then perhaps it is flawed. Sometimes I will decide to give it more time (if I am unsure) and other times I will decide to move on, but either way, at that point I feel I have gathered some valid data in regards to why I like it or dislike it. This helps me to have less "knee-jerk" reactions to change, which is healthy.

I applied this rule to the following list of tools which is how I ended up using them. Historically I have not been a fan of Microsoft (I run Linux as my primary operating system, so that might give some context as to how I have felt about that company in the past).

When I decided I needed to simplify things to get more organized at work, it seemed like a good idea to see what our corporate offerings had to offer, and in this case it was mostly Microsoft products. So I decided it was time to give a number of them the "two-week rule" treatment and I ended up using some of them.

Implement a Form of "Monk Mode"

There are a number of definitions of what is meant by "Monk Mode" and there are many ways you can do it. However, for me recently, I have used a form where you shut off all distractions (music, notifications, checking email, etc.) and just focus on a specific task for a minimum of 20 minutes and a maximum of one hour; then you allow those distractions back in. Once you have caught up on the distractions, such as Slack messages and emails, you then dive into another "Monk Mode" session.

Borrowing from an article on the topic, here is a definition of some of the rules of "Monk Mode":

The idea is extremely adaptable, but every successful Monk Mode project must follow four basic principles, he writes:

  1. A commitment to do certain amounts of certain kinds of work.
  2. A commitment to abstain from certain distractions or vices.
  3. Definite rules for both of these things.
  4. A definite start and stop date.

I have only recently started doing this, but I do find it to be helpful in making progress on tasks that need a good amount of focus.

Use Available Tools

Over the years I have learned to try to use the tools that are readily available to me at work. In my younger years, I might have been more inclined to find the "ideal" tool versus the tools that I can start using immediately. The problem with trying to find the "ideal" tool is that sometimes you end up in a situation of "paralysis by analysis" and you end up losing site of the original goal, which, in this case, is being more organized (and hence, more productive).

When I was trying to determine which tools I should evaluate at work, I used some simple rules:

  1. Is this tool likely to be supported at a corporate level for a long time?
  2. Does this tool store information online so that I can access it from anywhere?
  3. Is the functionality of the tool sufficient to do the needed job?
  4. If needed, can I easily grant others access to anything created by the tool?
  5. If the tool goes away, is there the possibility of having corporate support for migration to the replacement?

Office 365

At work we use Microsoft Office 365 as our main office/productivity suite. Though it is far from perfect, the different products have seen major improvement over the years, and I tend to find they have tools that work "good enough" to help me get organized.

I used the five rules from the previous section to help figure out which Microsoft Office 365 tools could do the job of helping me get more organized. I will list out some details on the ones that I found most useful.

Microsoft To Do

During the course of a normal day, I find that a number of tasks come up that I simply don't want to forget about. However, sometimes I don't have much time to write a detailed ticket about the task. This is where Microsoft To Do has come in handy.

I can use Microsoft To Do to quickly put in a task, give it a due date, and then flag it if it is really urgent/important. In many cases, this is just a temporary checklist and most of these tasks end up getting migrated to a ticketing system (unless they are very simple and don't require a full ticket).

Utilizing this application really helps in preventing things from falling through the cracks and also reduces my stress because I don't need to keep things in a mental checklist.

Microsoft OneNote

For taking meeting notes, I am currently using Microsoft OneNote. Though this app does get the job done, it is probably my least favorite of the group of applications that I am currently using.

OneNote allows me to create sections in a notebook and those sections have pages in them. I have a section for daily meetings and then each day has a page for all the meetings of that day.

OneNote has some nice features, like being able to quickly convert a list to a checklist and has a lot of formatting options. However, this is not a great application for jotting down code snippets and such, you can do it, but the formatting doesn't always end up being the best.

As with the To Do application, I like the fact that I can access and take notes either from my laptop or my phone, and they stay within the corporate ecosystem (which I honestly prefer from a security perspective). The search function is acceptable, though not great. I can usually search my notes and find what I am looking for, which is sufficient.

My biggest gripe is that OneNote can randomly be slow to load notebooks. I honestly haven't been able to figure out a pattern with this, so it does confuse me at times.

Despite its flaws, OneNote has allowed me to centralize all of my meeting and research notes, which is a big win over how I used to do things.

Microsoft SharePoint

In my current role I end up helping a lot of teams that have different ticket queues and my team hasn't historically had a ticket queue of our own. Because some projects I help with are long-lived and really needed a good progress history, I decided there would be benefit in setting up a simple ticket queue of my own.

Everyone at our company can have their own SharePoint site. I did some research and realized that within SharePoint there was a simple List type that I could use to create a simple ticket queue/task list. I have since come to find that you can reach these lists in Office 365 outside of SharePoint, but I still generally view it through my personal SharePoint site.

The list I created allows me to put in detailed tickets for large projects that I am helping with, and also allows me to have a ticket number to reference (when needed). Though what you get is fairly limited, the lists are customizable, so I customized mine to get the extra fields I needed for a general ticket queue.

Even if your team has their own ticket queue, it doesn't hurt to have a personal one at work because not everything you do will have a work ticket. For instance, if you are volunteering on a committee, that committee may not have a queue and the related work might not fit into your team work queue; in a situation like this, having your own queue gives you a place to track that work against other priorities.

I will freely admit that I don't always keep everything on the list updated as well as I should, but it has helped me greatly in regards to not having issues get dropped. Of course it can still happen, but setting this up was a step in the right direction.

Microsoft Outlook

Though Microsoft Outlook's focus is email and calendar, there are still some things you can do to be more organized when using this email client:

  1. Set up useful email rules. Take some time to make sure the filters make sense and then remember to actually check them.
  2. Flag important emails and then check your flagged emails at the end of the day. If they need to be put into a task so that you don't forget, then do so.
  3. Check email at regular intervals instead of constantly checking it, maybe once an hour. In our office, people know to use Slack for things they need urgent responses to; if your situation is similar, then reduce email checking, it will help you stay focused on your current task.
  4. Use message scheduling for sending important emails at the best time. I have found that if you send an important email on a Friday night, by Monday it may be far down the list because of emails that came in during the weekend. Because of this, the scheduled email feature of Outlook is really useful to send it when that person is probably monitoring emails.
  5. Our company has a limit on how long emails are retained, but we can set emails to be retained for a longer period of time. If your company has this same situation, make sure that important emails get marked for this longer retention, otherwise you can end up losing the email entirely, and that can be frustrating.


Slack is a topic all of its own, there are many ways that you can leverage Slack features to improve your productivity. I have written up a separate post on Slack.


From my perspective, there is no silver bullet you can use to get completely organized at your job. But you need to make an effort to get organized if you want to keep your sanity. The tools and practices that I have listed in this post have helped me move towards that goal.

Sometimes, because of circumstances, you might not have the "ideal" tools readily available to you, but if you use the tools that you do have (as imperfect as they might be) you can still use them to get more organized and hopefully live with a bit less stress in your life. In other words, as the old saying goes, "don't let perfect be the enemy of good".

I have used some similar tools to try to keep the family organized at home, maybe I will write up a post about that sometime.