In business, we often hear or maybe even state that we are looking for excellent organizational skills. We see this in a job ad, or we might wish that a current team member had better organizational skills. Do we really know what we are asking for?
I was considering this just last week as I worked through quarterly reviews and as I interviewed candidates for a sales position. I had to ask myself, “What are the skills I want people to have when I ask for this?” If someone could hit a home run in with organizational skills, what would that look like? I identified 6 Organizational Skills of Effective People:
- Taking Notes – I am always surprised when someone applying for a job shows up with nothing in hand or when a team member shows up to a meeting without paper or electronic note taking capability. It doesn’t make someone unemployable, but it does give me insight into their level of preparation and experience. What are important skills in taking notes? First, come prepared to take some. Next take notes in a way that exhibits some continuity. Don’t just show up with a blank page, keep some history and know what was discussed in our last meeting. If using paper this usually means a notebook or diary that holds notes from previous meetings. If using a tablet, Evernote or one of the other note taking apps provide easy history.
- Making Lists – Keeping lists is an essential part of prioritization and getting things done. What is next? Check out your list. I prefer to use a Top 5 list with my most important 5 things to get done for the day on that list. I then keep another list of things that will move to the top 5 in future days. Lists are also an essential outcome of a good meeting. The list should contain action items agreed to by each person in the meeting with a goal for completion.
- Keeping a Schedule – Everyone keeps a schedule of some sort, but often the schedule just includes meetings with other people. Someone with good organizational skills schedules their own time as well. They are good at moving unscheduled “to do” type items to scheduled actions. By date activating things, they have a better chance of moving them to completion. Another scheduling skill is to set a default calendar. For instance, on Mondays between 8:00 and 11:00 is my start of week planning time. It is in my schedule or it would never happen. Something more urgent or more interesting could take over, but without a schedule I would never have Monday AM planning time. I find the default calendar especially helpful for salespeople. Following the “eat that frog” concept, it is important to get cold calling and lead generation on the schedule as a priority so that it actually happens before everything else takes over.
- Delegating Tasks – The temptation in thinking about delegation is to think that it is a skill that is only required by a manager. And yet, we all delegate at times by simply asking someone to help us with a task. Even if our opportunities to delegate are rare, understanding delegation will help us manage the way that others delegate to us, increasing our chance of success. Someone with good organization skills will know how to clearly define each task, set a timeframe, define the level of authority, set checkpoints, debrief, and validate for understanding. If you want to brush up on your delegation skills, check out the excellent short book on delegation, “If you want it done right, you don’t have to do it yourself”, by Donna Genett.
- Prioritizing the Important – It is so easy to get caught up in the urgent and become entirely reactive as we go through our day. Some of us have jobs that are mostly based on being reactive. However, even in these types of positions, finding a way to carve out time to learn, think, and plan is essential. This seems like such a simple concept, but it is one of the hardest things to do. Being reactive is just easier. We get into a mode where we just handle whatever faces us and appears to be urgent, whether it is truly a priority or not. By contrast, someone with good organization skills will plan that time to do the important but not necessarily urgent. It may be before or after the start of the work day, or carved out in the middle, but time to learn, think, and plan is part of their schedule.
- Setting Goals – A number of years ago, we began to set quarterly goals or “Rocks” each quarter as a business and with each of our team members. This was a completely new discipline for us, and it has created a great deal of change and progress in our company. We don’t always make the goals we set in the timeframe we choose, but we progress them forward. And, everyone on our team is learning to set and achieve goals. We have lots of discussions on how to make a goal SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely). Setting goals is essential to be effective. Someone with strong organization skills will have a discipline for setting goals and achieving them.
The interesting thing to me in identifying these skills is that they can be learned. They take study and devotion to get better, but they are something everyone can learn, develop, and grow. So the next time someone asks about your organizational skills make sure you can tell them you take notes, keep lists, have a default calendar, are good at giving and receiving delegation, carve out regular planning time, and set goals like a pro.