Many people work in an unstructured work environment. That means their day-to-day tasks — like running meetings, responding to emails, answering phone calls, etc. — are flexible. Because the work varies, employees have to learn as they go, deciding themselves how and when to complete tasks.
Compared to a more structured work environment, there’s less oversight and no clear definition around guidelines and procedures.
But not all people thrive in this type of environment. If you’re the type of person who craves structure, learn how you can organize your day in an unstructured work environment.
1. Create a To-Do List
A to-do list is a reliable way to plan out the days, weeks and months ahead. As obligations come up, you can pencil them in. Then, as you complete tasks, you can mark each item off. When writing a to-do list, don’t get ahead of yourself. Write your list the day before to ensure there are no last-minute changes for the next morning. And don’t schedule things too closely — remember to give yourself room to breathe, relax or go to the bathroom.
In the same vein as giving yourself breaks, you should also write your list in pencil. And instead of writing a firm timeline, consider giving yourself an estimate on how long it will take to complete a task. That way, if you need to change something or a more important obligation comes up, it’s no problem to make the necessary adjustments.
2. Set a Daily Goal
Feedback is often lacking in an unstructured work environment. Nobody is looking over your shoulder and saying, “Hey, you’re doing a good job.” Or even possibly, “Hey, you’re doing that wrong.” One way to feel more fulfilled at work is to create daily goals or milestones to work toward. When you achieve them, you can feel more confident in your efforts.
To start, think about your overarching goal for the day. You can even do this the day before when you’re creating your to-do list. What is most important for you to accomplish? Just remember to be realistic with daily goals. If you have a multi-day project in mind, consider how you can set goals that work as steps.
3. Take a Power Hour
An unstructured workplace can make it hard for some to stay productive. One way to boost your output is to use the Power Hour technique. Similar to the Pomodoro technique, the Power Hour technique works by dedicating one or two hours each day to work with no interruptions. The primary difference is you ask your co-workers to join in.
During this time, you should sit down and work on your tasks without any breaks. If you have a question or comment, write it down for later. Many businesses take a few minutes before and after power hours to allow colleagues to ask questions and share progress with team members.
4. Make a Productivity Planner
One way to accomplish more in any environment is to make a productivity planner. This project doesn’t have to be long or tedious. Instead, it’s one page that includes your to-dos, ideas and reminders about appointments and events. Essentially, you want to use this page as a way to keep track of any information you don’t want to forget.
You can start with a blank piece of paper, or you can find a printable design online. Or, if you prefer something digital, use an online productivity tool to help you plan out your days. Once you have the right format, add the relevant information, like returning a client’s email, consulting with a co-worker or even picking up the cake for your niece’s birthday party.
5. Take Small Steps
The key to long-term organizational success in an unstructured workplace is to take baby steps. New habits don’t form overnight. Research shows it takes 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic. So when you make a change, give yourself ample time to adapt. Ask yourself if the change is helping you get more accomplished. Do you feel more satisfied at the end of the day?
Everyone is different. And depending on where you work, not all strategies will work equally well. If you don’t see any noticeable changes, consider dropping the practice for something new. If you do notice changes, consider taking your organization efforts to the next level by incorporating another new strategy.
The Benefits of Organization
If you’re the type of person who needs an organization system in place to thrive, you’ll greatly benefit from adopting the strategies above.
Even in an unstructured work environment, you can organize your day by creating a to-do list, setting up a power hour or anything else that helps you focus and work harder. Plus, if you get your co-workers involved, you may be able to set off a chain of events that leads to more structure and organization company-wide.
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