10 steps to stay organised when you are never at your desk

It’s hard to stay organised when you are never at your desk. Get a grip of your mobility as a new manager and stay ahead of the game even on the go.

stay organised when you are never at your desk: Talking on a mobile phone in the street

Moving from the role of team member to manager is a major change. If you’re also transitioning into a mobile role, the challenges come at you from a different angle so you need a strategy tailored to a manager on the move.

Same song, different tune

In an article for Harvard Business Review, Michael Watkins discussed the seismic mental shift that must take place as you move to higher leadership positions. You are no longer a bricklayer, but an architect and you must ‘navigate a tricky set of changes in [your] leadership focus and skills.’

As a new manager, you’re experiencing the first tremor of that seismic shift. You must train yourself to look at the big picture and determine:

  • Priorities for yourself and the team
  • How you measure short and long term success
  • How you will meet your goals as individuals and as a team

But while you’re focused on the big picture, you have a number of challenges to address in your day-to-day. When you are a new and newly mobile manager, the typical challenges come with a twist:

  • How do I hold meetings outside the office?
  • How do I address problems at the office or client requests remotely?
  • How do I make sure project and teams keep moving forward when I’m not there?
  • How do I stay organised when I’m never at my desk?

1. Shift into a mobile mindset

When you’re on the go, it’s easy to feel busy, but how do you know you’ve been productive?

‘You never want to confuse activity with accomplishment.’ -John Wooden

Mobility should never be the reason you don’t meet goals. A mobile mindset means you know how to manage tasks wherever you are and see results at the end of each day. To do this, you have to prepare for and embrace the flexibility of a mobile role.

2. Get into the cloud

Filippo Passerini, CIO at Proctor and Gamble, discussed how the cloud allows their company to run the business in real time stating, ‘The idea is to anticipate what is coming and be able to respond and react on the fly rather than getting the information a week later.’

He’s talking about big data and analytics for a major corporation, but the same is true for how you manage your tasks and team. You can’t put tasks, projects and clients on hold until you are back at the office. To stay organised when you are never at your desk you have to get into the cloud and handle tasks in real time.

3. Equip yourself with the right tools

What makes the cloud so useful are the tools. You should equip yourself with apps and online tools to handle:

  • Email management. Email will be the quickest to get out of hand so you need a tool or a strategy to handle emails as they come.
  • Task management and calendar. How organised you keep yourself is a factor in your ability to manage your team. Make sure you have a tool to keep a handle on your own responsibilities and appointments.
  • Project management. Put your projects in the cloud with a tool like Basecamp or Asana. You can see project progression and manage your team in real time with social media features like comments or chat.
  • Note-taking. No matter what you think, you’re not going to remember everything from every meeting when you get back to the office. Have a tool for taking and storing notes.
  • PDF and Word document viewers. If your team uploads a proposal, you need to be able to view it wherever you are. Find apps that work with your mobile device.
  • Document storage. Gone are the days of leaving presentation or project materials back at the office. If you store your materials in the cloud, they are always accessible.
  • Travel and maps. If you’re on the go, staying organised includes knowing where you’re going. Find a reliable set of travel tools to support how you move, where you go and how you get there.
  • Time tracker. If your time is billable to clients or if you simply want to know where your time goes, use a tool like Toggl to track time on certain tasks.
  • Team operations. Just like project management, keeping yourself organised means addressing the needs of your team. Operations like expenses, purchasing and HR can be done from a device with online tools like Turbine.

You can, and should, create your own cocktail of tools based on your role: just be sure each and every one serves a real and useful purpose.

Bureaucracy must die eBook

4. Put together a go-bag

Find a sturdy, comfortable bag or briefcase so your office is ready to pick up and go when you are. In it, you should have a place for:

  • Your mobile phone and/or tablet
  • Laptop
  • Headphones
  • Charging cords or packs

You’ll save time and stay organised if your mobile ‘office’ is organised and ready to go when you are.

5. Optimise your office and transportation

Even if you’re rarely there, your office needs to be a part of your strategy. You want to take advantage of any time back at the office to knock out more tasks. Keep your space clutter-free and orderly.

If you use your own or a company vehicle to move from site to site, it needs to be treated like another office. Don’t hesitate to equip it with a trash can, organizers and office supplies. Keeping your office and car clean gives you a ‘home base’ to return to and helps you stay organized.

6. Prep for each day

You’ll be more organised if you prepare for each day. Every night:

  1. Write a task list and order it by priority and/or deadline.
  2. Make sure all materials and presentation files for the next day are in the cloud.
  3. Review appointments and input destinations into your travel tools.
  4. Make note of time you have outside of meetings and appointments to complete tasks.

7. Track tasks and follow-up activities

Effective meetings lead to real, actionable tasks. If you come out of every meeting with more tasks on top of other pop-up tasks, calls from your team and emails from your supervisors or clients, you need a system to ensure no task gets left behind.

Use the app you chose for task management to track each actionable item. If you meet on a project, update the project right away in your project management tool.

8. Learn how to stop, drop and work

When you’re always on the move, it can be difficult to settle in to work at the office or off-site.

This is when you pull out your prepared task list. If you already have a set of priorities to complete in the hour or two you have to yourself, it’s easier to avoid paying attention to pointless emails that could have waited.

But don’t rely solely on spontaneous spots in the day. Schedule time to accomplish your tasks. It’s ok to disconnect or close the door for bursts of time to work more efficiently.

9. Train yourself to complete tasks without stopping

You don’t have to stop for every task. The right tools will allow you to approve team requests and respond to project questions to keep things moving back at the office or delegate tasks to team members.

CEOs of major companies have admitted they run most of their companies’ operations from their mobile device. Imagine how productive you could be if you learn to act while on the move.

10. Make productivity part of your personal goals

Your ability to manage your tasks and team in a mobile role sets the tone for how your team works overall. This is why it’s so important to anticipate the changes in your role and stay organised when you are never at your desk.

Coming in strong to your first leadership role and first mobile position ensures you don’t lose ground even in unfamiliar territory.

(Hat tip to Nana Agyei for the photo)

4 comments on “10 steps to stay organised when you are never at your desk

  1. Great post on organization… Thank you.

    Having a fully mobile Intranet can be a great aid in workplace organization in my opinion. A centralized hub where everyone knows exactly why they are doing what they do.


    • Jessica Lawrence

      Hi Geoff,
      Yes, I’d agree with you there. Our intranet and the Basecamp tool is what keeps us organised at Turbine, and at our sister company Articulate Marketing. We’re in the process of refactoring our intranet to provide better value to our employees, too.

      • Hi Jess,

        What is your Intranet built on? Are you using SharePoint or something else. I agree that Basecamp (although limited) is great for organization and basic collaboration.

        • We use WordPress for our intranet. We’re not big fans of SharePoint, which we have too because of our Office 365 subscription. It’s just too complicated.

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