Can You Train a Person to Be Organized?

Two keys are ensuring your managers have organization skills as a core competency, and that employees who excel in organization are given assignments that enable less organized peers to learn from them.

I never thought I was an organized person, but when I joined the workforce, I found I was more organized than many people. At this point, I am more organized than most people. It’s unusual for me to miss an e-mail or forget to respond, and it’s highly unusual for me to miss a deadline or appointment.

I plan further in advance than most of my peers, and have to hold fast against their last-minute-oriented work styles. I became organized by necessity, as not everyone has the same luxury of being disorganized. I have known people—and still know people—in the workplace who are terribly disorganized and it’s up to the rest of us to scramble to tidy up after them.

I also became organized after learning from Training Editor and Publisher Lorri Freifeld, the most organized person I ever met. Like many skills in life, having a good role model is essential. When your employees are hired, some may be more skilled than others at organization. The question is how to leverage the organization strength that some people have, so others in their work group can learn from them.

I found an article in Fast Company by Stephanie Vozza that highlights seven habits of organized people. There may be people in every department of your company who demonstrate these traits. Once you identify who does these things well, you can find ways of having them model those behaviors to their colleagues. For instance, you could make them the lead on a large project, or you could use their gift for organization as one reason to promote them to a higher-level, managerial role.

Vozza says organized people “seek out tools.” They’re more likely to use apps on their phones and other devices to help them stay on track. Sometimes it’s basic technology that the disorganized overlook. Recently, I was talking to someone who was lamenting how he had misplaced his notes. I was about to suggest he use the notepad feature on his iPhone, which automatically puts the notes “in the cloud,” and makes it easy to copy and text or e-mail the material to yourself and others. He jumped to another topic before I could make the suggestion.

Organized people set priorities, Vozza points out. That means you know what you need to do first. I have developed the habit of quickly scanning my e-mails multiple times a day, and only immediately responding to those that seem urgent. The rest I put off answering until the end of the day, when I am finished with all my other work. I am careful about making sure every remaining e-mail has been answered before I turn off the computer. When that’s not possible, I make it a point to answer the remaining e-mails as close to first thing in the morning as possible.

Organized people can sometimes be perfectionists, but often, like me, they’re not. They know they need to get things done, and do the best they can, without getting hung up on minutia that likely won’t make a difference to anyone. A common way to lose sight of your priorities is to get distracted spending too much time making sure one project or task is “perfect.” I’ve learned that serviceable often is a better standard than perfect in the workplace—especially in today’s digital age when things seems to change by the second.

Organized people also “have less stuff,” Vozza writes. I had a former manager whose desk was filled with mountains of papers and folders. When we moved into a new office with much smaller workstations, his paper mountains moved onto the floor, framing his desk. Like the co-worker who still prefers paper notes to e-notes, this former manager never learned how to optimize folders in his e-mail and on his desktop. There is no longer a need for paper—at all—in the modern workplace. Aside from the environmental drawbacks of paper, it’s too easy to lose and misplace. On a computer, or within an e-mail folder, we have the gift of the search function. There is no search function for piles of papers.

Simple solutions are another hallmark of the organized person, according to Vozza. The former manager with the piles of papers is also a good example for what NOT to do when creating “solutions.” I used to laugh to myself that all of his solutions made life harder and more complicated. Being organized requires that you be practical, too. If an employee finds solutions that create additional problems, it’s a sign they’re not a truly organized person. The organization system, in other words, shouldn’t be so complicated that it makes work harder.

Organization also takes maintenance, regular purging and the ability for a person to “project themselves into the future,” Vozza writes. That means the organized person can envision how things will be if they take care of particular tasks rather than letting them sit, and they are able to envision how appointments on their calendar will impact their future schedules.

It’s harder for some than others to take an organized approach to work. Be sure your managers have organization skills as a core competency, and that employees who excel in organization are given assignments that enable less organized peers to learn from them.

Do you recognize organization as a core competency in your company? Do you consider it as a deciding factor for promotions? What have you found works best in creating an organized workforce?