Updated: Nov 17, 2021
As someone who constantly balances two careers—that of a freelance writer and a life and success coach—I can’t emphasize enough how essential organizational skills are. Really essential. Organizational skills are the foundational skills that allow me to work efficiently, deliver my best work on time, and most importantly, maintain my peace of mind. Organizational skills can not only help you manage your current job—wherever or however you work—but they can also help you look for a new job or land a promotion. And thankfully, you can improve your organizational skills and show them off in your job hunt.
What Are Organizational Skills?
With so many requests, tasks, and expectations on your plate, organizational skills are what help you use your time, resources, energy, and mental bandwidth efficiently to achieve your goals and get your job done with less stress. Organizational skills can aid you in arranging your digital and physical spaces as well as managing, prioritizing, and planning everything you need to do. Simply put, organizational skills optimize results in the workplace. They enable you to be the best you can be at your job.
5 Essential Organizational Skills for the Workplace
Learn about some of the core organizational skills for the workplace and get tips for improving yours.
1. Physical Organization Maintaining an organized physical workspace can improve your mindset and productivity by eliminating the stress and wasted time spent looking for the things you need. An organized space also cultivates a more serene ambiance—would you rather work at a clear desk or one covered in papers and files? Physical organization can include keeping a tidy and clutter-free workspace, filing paperwork into different labeled folders so you can easily find them, returning items where they belong after use, and keeping any other physical resources needed for work organized, too.
To improve or optimize your physical organization, try “creating and developing sensible strategies and physical solutions for facilitating workflow, cleanliness, and efficiency in a workspace,” says Elizabeth Pearson, an executive career coach. In other words, put physical organizational systems in place and stick to them.
Begin by decluttering. Ask yourself what items you really need and what is just taking up precious space—literal desk space and figurative brain space. Then, designate a “home” for everything so you know exactly where to find it, saving time and frustration in the future. The rule of thumb when choosing a home for an item is to make sure everything is accessible. If you have to struggle to put something back where it belongs—let’s say, in a box high up on a shelf you can’t reach—chances are you aren’t going to make the time and effort to put it away and your physical organizational system will break down. The easier it is to tuck an item back into its designated home, the more likely you are to maintain your organizational system.
You can also schedule five to 10 minutes of tidying time in your calendar at the end of each day to straighten up, so you start each day with things in their proper place.
2. Digital Organization Given that many of us primarily do our work on computers, organizing our digital lives is also essential. When you’re not spending valuable time tracking down important files or emails, you can use your time efficiently and boost your productivity. Organizing digitally can encompass both your individual computer usage (for example, properly labeling and storing files and emails in different folders, arranging frequently used applications front and center on your desktop or dock, and bookmarking links you visit often) and shared digital resources (for example, using digital project management tools to manage your team’s tasks, and creating master documents with resources your team can refer to regularly).
To improve your digital organization, decide what things will be saved where and how. When applicable, communicate those new rules to everyone on your team who will have access to those resources. For example, you can create a master Google Sheet that’s clearly labeled in a shared folder where your team will add in certain details about clients. For your inbox, Pearson suggests creating labels or folders and using filters to sort emails, which makes messages easy to locate and prioritize according to importance and urgency.
And lastly, to stay on top of your digital organization, set aside a few minutes at the end of each week to back up important files and label and organize them properly. Pearson also recommends checking in with your digital organization system regularly to ensure it’s functioning at its full potential.
3. Planning Planning requires thinking both long and short term to “organize tasks and assignments in a way that facilitates productivity and performance,” says Dr. Brooke Wachtler, a licensed psychologist and founder of BEW Consulting and Training LLC. You can use planning skills at work to map out big projects, break them down into smaller tasks, and then decide when each task should be completed and how they’ll be accomplished, taking into account what resources are needed. Those planning skills will also come in handy for project management when others are involved, in order to determine who will be responsible for what pieces of the project and how elements completed by different people or teams will come together. Planning is essentially creating a roadmap with clear directions and instructions for everyone involved to achieve the desired outcome in the most efficient way possible.
To step up your planning skills, begin by reverse engineering whatever you’re trying to plan. For example, if you’re mapping out a big new project, get clear on the end goal then brainstorm all possible steps that will be needed to accomplish it. The tasks may change, but it’s helpful to have them outlined from the get-go. From there, arrange the different steps in a logical order, and set timelines and deadlines for each one. If others are involved in the project, you can then make decisions around who will do what and how they should accomplish each task. Schedule check-ins with your team so that both long-term and short-term expectations are always clear, Wachtler says.
Most importantly, lean into your intuition. It won’t always be crystal clear what the right decision is, but going with your gut will allow you to get started instead of wasting time second-guessing yourself—and you can always adjust your planning as you get more information.
4. Time Management While planning is about mapping out tasks, time management skills are more about scheduling your time day-to-day, which ultimately impacts how effectively you can stick to the plans you’ve created. “Having proper time management allows you to prioritize projects that will deliver the most impact,” Pearson says. “It also staves off procrastination because you have a thorough understanding of your action plan and when tasks need to be completed.”
If your time management skills could use an upgrade, the two key things to home in on are prioritizing and scheduling, Wachtler says. “Start by writing out a to-do list. Next, prioritize the tasks on the to-do list based on deadlines and expectations.” Once you know what’s most important to do and when it needs to get done, “Create a schedule for the day outlining when you will work on each item, starting from high-priority to low-priority items,” Wachtler says. She also suggests setting aside blocks of time in your calendar so you’ll know exactly when you’re going to work on each task. You should account for the unexpected by leaving some wiggle room in your schedule for requests or demands that may come up.
Pro tip: Use a time tracker app or similar. Tracking your time allows you to better predict how long a task will take you when you’re scheduling your days.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to time management. Everyone’s productivity style is unique and influenced by different factors such as their energy and environment. Start to pay attention to what times of the day you work best and use that intel to plan your time accordingly. This may require some experimentation but it’ll be well worth it. For instance, let’s say you discover that your mind is sharpest first thing in the morning and your energy dips after lunch. Knowing this, you can block off your mornings to work on your biggest needle-moving tasks without any distractions and reserve the afternoons for other admin-related tasks like meetings and responding to emails.
5. Communication While communication may not be your first thought when listing organization skills, “Many problems result from miscommunication,” Wachtler says. “To work effectively with our colleagues, we want to be able to express our point, ask questions clearly, and effectively communicate feedback.” In other words, strong communication skills ensure that everything stays organized. They help others understand and follow your plans and organization systems, and help you figure out what’s expected of you for anything you’re trying to organize at work. Keep in mind that communication isn’t just about verbal expression but also nonverbal communication such as posture, eye contact, and body language, as well as your listening ability, Wachtler says.
In fact, improving your communication skills begins with strengthening your active listening skills. “When we listen to respond, we may miss out on what the other person is actually saying since we’re focusing on ourselves,” Wachtler says. “Listening to understand helps us to truly understand the other person’s point of view and respond in a more effective way.” Try summarizing the point they made to ensure that you understood them correctly (i.e. “What I’m hearing is…”), asking for examples (i.e. “Can you share a specific time that occured?”), or asking open-ended clarifying questions (i.e. “What did you mean when you said..?”) before offering a response. The more information you can collect from each workplace conversation, the better you’ll be able to organize yourself and respond to problems with something you’ve planned. When you’re the one trying to communicate something, Wachtler recommends taking time to think about what you want to say first and being as direct as possible. “When we’re worried about another person’s reaction, we may try and avoid saying what we actually mean, but this could lead to poor communication,” Wachtler says. So if you’re trying to delegate tasks according to a plan you’ve made or give feedback that will help keep that plan on track, “It is much more helpful to the other person to communicate clearly and make sure you say what you mean to say.”
Overall, clear and direct communication will save you and your colleagues time going back and forth trying to understand one another and, in turn, help streamline your workflow.
How to Show Off Your Organizational Skills in a Job Hunt
Given how essential organization skills are in the workplace, it’s important to highlight them to potential employers when you’re applying for jobs. Here’s how to do it:
On Your Resume Pearson recommends including organizational skills—such as the ability to create and keep deadlines, delegation, goal setting, decision making, team management, project management, event coordination, team leadership, and strategy implementation—on your resume and LinkedIn profile.
How you showcase these skills on your resume is important. Instead of just listing them in the skills section, incorporate them into your work experience and give them context using strong bullet points. A standout bullet point that demonstrates your digital organizational skills could look like this:
Created a digital organization system that included master documents and databases of resources that optimized the team’s workflow and increased productivity.
During Your Interview The key is to not just tell your interviewer that you have great organizational skills but rather to show it and prove it by sharing specific stories that highlight those skills. “Have specific examples prepared for each of the skills you [list on your resume] and be prepared to speak to the results each skill generated,” Pearson says.
Don’t wait for an employer to ask you about your organizational skills explicitly (they likely won’t). Use every question as an opportunity to show them off with specific examples. Common interview questions such as “What are some of your strengths?” or “What makes you a good fit for this role?” give you the opportunity to share a bit about your organizational skills and how you’ll add value. For example, if your greatest strength lies in planning and project management, you can tell your interviewer about the time that you mapped out the timeline for a big product launch, set deadlines, delegated tasks to your team, and designed systems to optimize the workflow, all of which resulted in a successful launch.
Pearson also suggests practicing with a friend or career coach, role-playing the interview and how you’ll share your examples in the moment.
All in all, no matter what job you have or what company you work for, two things are certain: Organizational skills are essential in the workplace, and the benefits of continually working on improving them are always worth the effort.