This article was updated in December 2023.

Are you yearning to have more time to yourself and to better stay on top of your workload? Whether you’re the one in charge, or you’re working for someone else, it can feel hard to step away from doing tasks that feel urgent, but it pays to learn how to get organised at work to help you manage your schedule and set aside time for goal setting. Spending time getting organised with tools like work diaries and calendar apps will help you be more productive and create clearer boundaries. In fact, you might find you’re so efficient you can cut back on hours. And this wouldn’t only benefit you: one study by 4 Day Week Global found 78% of participating employees were happier and less stressed working a four-day week.

So, make 2024 the year you work smarter, not harder. Follow this guide to get organised and consider that New Year’s resolution sorted!

Make Your Work Diary Work for You

A close-up of a diary covered in colourful post-it notes on a desk as a hand holding a yellow highlighter goes to mark a page.

Whether it’s a physical or digital work diary, or both, some smart diary-management tips will help you stay on top of your schedule.

Set aside planning time: Set aside a few minutes at the start of each week to plan in your work diary. You can still update it daily if you need to, but taking the time to think about what’s to come on Monday morning will help you visualise your week, make sure everything is scheduled and feel prepared. 

Use colours: Colour coding meetings and events allows you to see at a glance what you have lined up for the week. You can go a step further and use different highlighter colours for different types of meetings, so you know straight away whether it’s an external, internal or team get together.

Back it up: Set your digital diary to automatically back up via the cloud so you don’t lose precious information when a server crashes or hardware fails. Prefer a physical diary? Keep a streamlined digital calendar with key contacts or meetings as well in case the diary gets misplaced. 

What To Try:

SEE ALSO: Clever Time Management Skills for Working From Home or Office

Make Meetings More Efficient

Don’t spend another minute in a meeting that should have been an email. Organisational psychologist and Time Wise author Dr Amantha Imber has outlined three top tips for meetings she learned from Rahul Vohra, CEO of email software company Superhuman. First, set a clear agenda for every meeting when you make the entry in the calendar. All discussion topics should be shared with the team the day before, so they can be prepared. Secondly, keep each discussion point to five minutes at most. Finally, if a decision hasn’t been reached in that time, appoint a decision maker. 

Having one person manage the meeting’s agenda is also a good way to keep things on track.

Keeping notes on any recurring meetings can also help you gauge their usefulness. Do people often forget about them or cancel them? Is there often no agenda and lots of waffle? Maybe it’s time to ditch that meeting.

SEE ALSO: How to Use Affinity Diagrams for Productivity

Don’t Set Goals, Set Systems

A man wearing a striped shirt and glasses sits on a dark grey couch, leaning over to write in a diary.

Instead of setting a lofty goal to hit by the end of the year, break your plan down into bite-sized, achievable steps and work out the best way to get there. In a 2022 article for Forbes Australia, Amantha Imber cites Adam Alter, a marketing professor at New York University, who says solely focusing on working towards the overarching goal can often leave us feeling like we are failing until we reach the goal, at which point we immediately set another one. He advocates sitting down each month and thinking about what direction you want to go in and identifying the daily and weekly processes you can set up to get there.

Identify Your Distractions – and Block Them

Block out time each week in your work diary and calendar app that is free of meetings and other distractions so you can focus on deep work. Make that time count and focus on one thing rather than switching between tasks. Studies have shown that when most people think they’re multitasking, they are actually task-switching and it can hinder their performance. If you can’t resist checking social media during work hours, try software like RescueTime, which monitors your patterns of activities, can block distractions and recommend the best times in your day for uninterrupted work with a daily ‘Focus Work’ goal.

It’s also good to keep a checklist that’s separate from your diary and calendar so you can clearly see and prioritise your tasks and goals. Try sticky notes or To Do lists or digital tools like Microsoft To Do, Asana and Trello.

What To Try:

SEE ALSO: Hybrid Working: How to Achieve a Healthy Work-Life Balance

Share Calendars

A woman sits at a desk in front of her desktop, organising her calendar. There is also a pen cup, sticky notes and a yellow coffee cup on the desk.‍

Syncing calendars with colleagues and clients makes it easier to set up meetings and events (you could even sync your work calendar with your family members, if they need to know what your non-negotiable blocks of work time are). Look for a calendar app that’s easy to use, syncs automatically with all the users’ accounts and works across multiple devices and platforms. Popular calendar apps include Calendly, Google Calendar and Teamup.

Whichever app you choose, take advantage of customisations to change things like colours and titles to make it as user-friendly for everyone as possible, and have one person in charge of making changes to avoid confusion. If you’re sharing calendars with people across multiple time zones, the ‘enable time zones’ function, available on most apps, is handy. 

SEE ALSO: 6 Desk Stretches to Ease Muscle Tension

Keep a Tidy Desk for a Tidy Mind

A clear desk not only looks more inviting, but a decluttered space is good for our performance levels. Research suggests our brains prefer a more minimalistic working environment, and that a disorganised desk can reduce our ability to concentrate. To help improve focus, get into the habit of maintaining a clear-desk policy. Set aside a few minutes at the end of each day to file any stray paperwork and give your workspace a general tidy up. 

Desk organisation tools such as magazine holders, pen cups, document sorters, desktop drawers and file racks can work wonders, and come in a variety of colours and designs to suit your tastes.

What To Try:

Supercharge Your File Storage

If you’ve spent the last year drowning under a mountain of loose papers and desktop organisational tools aren’t going to cut it, then you’ll want a bigger solution: filing cabinets. Not only can they help reduce clutter on a larger scale, but many are lockable if you’re in need of a secure option for your records. 

Consider what you’ll be using the cabinet for and how often you’ll need to access the documents contained. That way, you can decide whether a compact one- or two-drawer option is all you require, if a vertical four-drawer cabinet is the better choice or whether an on-hand drawer unit or pedestal ticks the box.

What To Try:

Use a Dedicated Work Bag Each Day

A man in a suit wearing a khaki backpack and white headphones is standing at a train station.‍

If you find yourself forgetting your office access pass because you switched bags that morning, you’re not alone. Nail that ‘be more organised’ resolution with a dedicated work bag that has a place for everything, from your tech and your work ID to your lunch and other office essentials.

Bear your commute in mind: if you use public transport or do a lot of walking, you’ll want something comfortable. A backpack will help distribute the weight of whatever you’re carrying evenly between the two straps, making it the more ergonomic choice over a cumbersome tote or handbag. 

What To Try:

SEE ALSO: 6 Clever Cube Storage Ideas to Organise Your Workspace