My top 3 tips for getting organized

It’s a new year. Time for a fresh start with New Year’s resolutions, goals, promises, or pacts. Some wait and enjoy a spring cleaning ritual. I like to tidy up my digital life on a regular basis. Simplify and standardize is my mantra. 

Our lives have become a cluttered digital mess. We have work and personal email accounts; work, personal and family calendars; to-do lists; project management systems; CRMs. We have files on our desktop, in our Downloads folder, My Documents (Windows) or Documents (Mac) folders, in Google Drive, in One Drive, and/or in Dropbox. We have photos on our phone, on our DSLR, on our computer, on our family Shutterfly site. We use Pocket to store articles we want to read later, or maybe just the old fashioned Bookmarks feature in your web browser. We use Delicious to bookmark articles we’ve read and want to add to our digital bookshelf. Maybe you got a fancy new gizmo for Christmas or Hanukkah that lets you talk to it to remember things.

Whew. That’s more than enough to make a person exhausted. Have no fear – I’m here to help. *pulls out Wonder Woman cape*

There are so many great tools out there to make our lives easier. Here are my top three tips for organizing your digital life.

  1. Make your to-do list work for you.
    I am a huge fan and long-time user of Remember the Milk. It has the ability to keep separate lists, you can add tags, prioritize, have sub-tasks, due dates and much more. I have about a dozen different lists, as I like the ability to be able to see not only what is due today, but also see all the topical lists. For example, when I recently moved, I had a “change address” list. I kept populating it in the month prior with all of the companies, bills, etc. I’d have to notify with my new address. When I wanted focused time just to work on that project, and because most of them didn’t have specific deadlines/due dates, I would just view the list and plug through it one-by-one. Other lists I use regularly include: consulting, personal, blog, medical, shopping.
  2. Keep your computer’s desktop clean.
    I’ll admit, I get hives when I see people’s computers with 832 files on the desktop. To others, it doesn’t bother them a bit. I like to use the desktop as a temporary holding place. These are files that I must take action on. Pick one file system and stick with it, whether it’s a cloud-based storage option such as Google Drive or Dropbox, or your local hard drive (only if you backup regularly).
  3. Schedule. Everything.
    This was such a life-changing thing for me. Every day I look ahead to the next day to see what meetings and appointments I have scheduled. I then work around them to schedule other stuff in — reading time, workout, cooking, etc. I’ll schedule multi-hour work blocks for specific projects. I treat that time block like an actual meeting — no interruptions, no distractions. One of my favorite things to do when I worked at Ithaca College was to schedule No Meeting Mondays. That’s right – we didn’t have meetings on Mondays in my department. It’s a great way to ease into the work week, to focus on key projects, to have impromptu brainstorming sessions with colleagues who are also not trapped in meetings. Your time is sacred. Book it.

There is no right or wrong way to do any of this. Everyone’s personality and preferences are different. I work with small business owners, vice presidents and more to help them develop systems that works for them. Contact me to learn more.

What are your favorite digital organization hacks and tools?

Organize your marketing team for fewer silos and more success

This article was originally published on InsideHigherEd’s Call to Action Blog on August 13, 2015

When it comes to organizing your marketing/communications office, there is no single model that fits all institutions. There are some best practices, but how they are deployed largely depends on factors such as institutional size, department size, institutional culture, public vs. private status, whether the department is positioned as a service or strategic unit, where the chief communications officer reports, and the institution’s strategic plan and goals.

In this post, I’ll write about how a team’s organizational structure can help institutions to take advantage of the 6 Rules for a Highly Effective Marketing Team, which Deb Maue, vice president of strategic marketing and communications at Columbia College Chicago, shared previously on this blog.

More and more university presidents are bringing chief communications/marketing officers into their cabinet, ensuring that they will be part of discussions about strategy and tactics and be able to help develop plans to respond to the increased challenges to higher education and the need for institutions to differentiate themselves. According to joint research conducted by the The Chronicle of Higher Education and SimpsonScarborough in summer 2014, 57% of the top campus marketing leaders are members of the university’s cabinet and 49% of them report directly to the CEO. This number will continue to rise.

Whether marketing communications is centralized or decentralized often varies based on institutional size. The larger the institution, the more likely there are decentralized units, with a central university-wide office serving the highest and broadest level. Yet, breaking down silos is critical, even at large universities. Developing effective content strategy, integrating workflow across all areas of the marketing communications functions, and leveraging digital channels requires eliminating silos and merging groups that once focused exclusively on print or digital.

I have worked at two private institutions of differing sizes and structures, and as a result implemented different organizational plans for their communications offices. I generally follow these steps when beginning an organizational assessment:

  • Listen, learn, listen more: Meet with every member of the team, at least twice, and listen to them. Give team members at least two questions in advance they should be prepared to answer at the first meeting, and let them talk about any other challenges and opportunities they see within the organization.
  • Assess: From the notes taken at the initial rounds of meetings with the individual team members, develop a brief SWOT analysis.
  • Brainstorm: Find the change agents and progressive thought leaders on the team, and brainstorm a number of scenarios. This is both a good way to test how the team may react to various changes — and a way to learn more about inner-team dynamics.
  • Read: Read every team member’s job descriptions.
  • Apply: After taking all of this information and putting together a draft plan, share and then apply it.
  • Test: When applying the new structure, be open and fluid to tweak as necessary. Be prepared for staffing changes, which may or may not give you further opportunities for refinement and redefinition of existing positions.
  • Change leadership: I follow Dr. John P. Kotter’s 8-Step Process for Leading Change.
  • Refine: This step almost never ends. Continually assess and refine as organizational needs and staffing evolve. Write the new job descriptions and rollout to the team individually, and then as a whole.

At an institution with nearly 7,000 students, I took on a 30-person division that reported through the vice president of enrollment management and was largely recruitment-focused. We needed to broaden our support for advancement and the five schools within the institution, and break down silos between web, media relations and print. After a restructuring, I eliminated a standalone web group and there wasn’t a single position solely focused on the web. This was a risky strategy, but got the entire staff to think about and incorporate their work into the digital space. See the before and after organizational charts.

At a university with 2,900 undergraduates, we had a much smaller team that was more editorially focused. I reorganized this group into two teams — content strategy and creative. In addition, I created new positions to add to the team, one of which would become a project manager to oversee all projects and workflow for the entire office. See the before and after organizational charts.

SimpsonScarborough has a library of organizational charts available, as does CASE for their members in their Info Center.

What practices have you found work well to create an ideal structure for your department?

Tackling digital overload: Simplify & standardize

Are you overwhelmed by one or more inboxes? Is your todo list a bunch of post-it notes all over your desk? Do you have a pretty good organizational system but could use some efficiency fine tuning? Go read Bit Literacy. (Big thanks to Karine Joly for turning me on to this Friday.) I’m only six chapters in, and I’m already applying the author’s advice and practices. (Side note: This is the first book I’m reading on my iPad, as well as my first Kindle app book. I’m a fan already.)

I’ve become digitally overwhelmed and overloaded. I’m completely in love with my new job, but we sure do use a lot of different systems there. I’m adapting to a new way of managing my calendars (personal+work), contacts (personal+work), and email (work). In addition to these systems, I’ve been trying to integrate my todo list manager, Remember The Milk (still failing on that for work, but active user for personal stuff). Throw in that mix the following that I now use:

  • One paper notebook full of notes & scattered action items
  • Paper files in a desk drawer and in my commuter tote
  • network drive for department file sharing
  • network drive for personal files
  • myHome (portal) community groups for some committees / working groups (files+discussions)
  • activeCollab for web and recruitment marketing projects (project management status, discussions, files)
  • FileMaker Pro for print projects
  • Google wiki as a repository for some documentation and notes
  • Google docs
  • Dropbox

To add to this digital overload, there’s also messages coming at me via social media on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Foursquare, and via SMS. And, I’ve just started using Evernote as a test to see if this might help me organize. The jury is still out on that one.

It’s too much! I can’t remember where virtually anything is saved. I need the Mac’s “Spotlight” feature in my brain! I’m on a mission to simplify and standardize. Reading Bit Literacy is just step three. (Step one was identifying all of these items, step two was ordering a label maker and new file folders for work. Hey, it’s a process.) Once I feel more in control and organized personally, I’m going to attempt to take on these systems at work and see if there’s any way we can simplify and standardize as a group.

Reading this book has also been effective in helping me realize I’m not a total disaster. I actually have some really good organizational practices in place – I just got hit with a whole lot of change at once, and it’s piled up to the point that I’m digitally overwhelmed. Time to take control of all those bits.

Today’s success: I had an email induction ceremony to achieve personal inbox emptiness. I have only one message in my personal inbox that requires me to make a decision on tonight. I’ve never seen my inbox this size. Step two – my work account. Tomorrow.

I think this could be an interesting process, and I’m going to try to keep up with documenting my personal progress with this effort here. I’m always on the lookout for new tools that will help me simplify and be more efficient. I’ve heard lots about GTD and Things. I’ve also read and watched a video about, which was developed by the author of Bit Literacy. I’m actually not convinced to switch to that, as Remember the Milk has been working just fine for me — it’s integrating the work stuff and keeping track of who I delegate certain tasks too that I don’t have a good process for yet. (Delegation & having a “someday” list are two features I wish Remember the Milk would implement.)

How do you handle digital overload? What tools and processes do you have in place to not let the bits overwhelm you?