At most companies, personal organization is considered, well, personal. It’s something that a lot of managers don’t feel they should be intruding on; besides, they assume their employees must already have their act together.
Well, personal organization isn’t something they teach you in college, and it turns out that most people don’t have a sophisticated process for prioritizing their work. So when they inevitably find themselves with a lot of work to do at once, they don’t know where to start, and it seems overwhelming.
Here at Software Advice, we decided to be proactive about making sure our team was organized and effective. We also figured that if we all got organized in the same way, we’d be able to work together more effectively. So we decided to provide organizational training for our new hires.
That’s when we came up with our Bad-Ass Execution (BAE) Principles: Our secret to executing on everything from small tasks to large projects. Borrowing from the classic text on organization, Getting Things Done by David Allen, we updated the author’s advice to reflect the modern project management tools that we use and adapted his core principles to apply to our business.
We decided to share our BAE Principles so that others can learn how to get and stay organized, too. Here’s what we teach to all of our employees:
Getting Stuff Done
This is our adaptation of Allen’s “getting things done” (though around the office, we use a more colloquial expression). The principle is twofold:
- Get everything out of your head and documented in one place. Most people know that if you need to remember something, you should write it down. However, most people also write a lot of different things down in a lot of different places. If you really want to get and stay organized, you need to have one dedicated place where you document all the things you need to remember and the tasks you need to complete. Here, we use a web-based project management application called Basecamp to keep track of everything.
- Break up projects into manageable chunks. In the corporate world, you’re frequently given multiple projects that each have multiple steps. When you think about all the things you have to do to complete them at once, it can seem overwhelming. So we teach our employees to focus on the very next step that needs to be taken to complete each of their projects. This makes projects feel more manageable, and allows everyone to always be making progress. We keep track of these next steps in Basecamp, too.
In business, momentum is important, and we want our employees to be able to work quickly and deftly. There are several components to this:
- Deliver early and frequently. Especially when dealing with large projects, you should try to deliver something valuable as soon as possible – even if it’s something small, like a pitch for an article you want to write. The sooner you can deliver something, the sooner you can get feedback and start refining your approach. This quickly ensures that you’re on the right track, saving time and effort for everyone on your team.
- Seek quick wins. When you begin a project, strive to accomplish something positive right off the bat. This not only helps your project quickly gain momentum, it also sets good expectations and builds trust and authority for you and your team.
Another of our colloquial expressions, this essentially stands for “Google Exists.” While we want our employees to feel free to ask questions when they need to, we also know that the Internet can answer many of the questions they may have. Managers are very busy, and it keeps things running smoothly for everyone when they don’t have to stop what they’re doing. Furthermore, finding the answers to questions on your own builds problem-solving skills and demonstrates individual initiative.
Of course, we don’t want employees to spend so much time searching for answers that it hinders their ability to complete their projects. There’s a middle ground to be found between the extremes of always and never asking for help.
Steps for Implementing the BAE Principles
In order to implement the BAE Principles, we use several online tools to help us get and stay organized: Basecamp, Gmail and Google Calendar. Armed with these resources, here are the basic steps we take to get started:
- Create a “Projects” list. Create a list of the projects you are working on, or plan to work on, in Basecamp. Sometimes we create lists for more than one month at a time, but generally, we try to focus on the things we can execute on within the present month.
- Create a “Next Actions” list. In Basecamp, make a list of the very next steps you are going to take for each of your projects, such as emails you need to send, research you’re going to do or meetings you’ve scheduled.
- Create a “Waiting For” list. To stay organized, you must keep track of not only the things you need to do personally, but the things that depend on others, as well. By making a list of the things you’re waiting for in Basecamp—a response to that email you sent, an interview time to be confirmed—you can determine if and when you need to follow up.
- Clean your inbox. We all know how quickly unread email can accumulate, and part of staying organized is keeping your inbox continuously clean. Using Gmail, we archive any email that isn’t immediately actionable. And, of course, any email we need to act on in the future is added to our “Next Actions” list in Basecamp.
- Put appointments, project deadlines and reminders on your calendar. Put anything you need to remember on your calendar, including time-specific actions like appointments, day-specific actions or notifications and time you’ve set aside to work on specific projects. We use Google Calendar to keep track of everything: it makes it easy for your team to see when you’re free and to invite others to a meeting or phone call.
- Review everything daily. Every day, you should make sure to review all of your lists and your calendar. Make sure you update everything with projects you’ve been assigned or actions you’ve completed.
Using the BAE Principles and the technology available to us, we’ve managed to get organized, and stay that way—and you can implement these principles, too. Whether it’s in your business or your personal life, organization is key to success.