10 tips for becoming an organized road warrior

When you’re on the road all the time for work, it’s really easy for things to slide into chaos. Before starting Buttoned Up, I was a management consultant and was on the road four out of five days each week. As a result, I really struggled to keep my life organized. Everything was messy – my car, my house, my calendar!

I eventually got tired of yo-yo-ing back and forth between chaos and order and took steps to right the ship. Here are ten things that made all the difference for me.

1. Embrace a little imperfection

You may not be conscious of it, but most of us have a little voice in our heads that “defines” what it means to be organized. It’s likely to be rooted in an externally set, perfectionist standard (one we jokingly refer to as org porn). The key to making any lasting change, including being more organized, is to allow room for imperfection. So, for example, if you know that you’re prone to letting expense receipts pile up and float around your car, don’t hold yourself to a ‘perfect’ filing system that requires you to put each one in a specific, pre-labeled folder; you’ll never stick to it, and then you’ll just beat yourself up later for being such a slob. Instead make sure you get some sort of receptacle for them and place it within arm’s reach of the driver’s seat so you can just drop them right in it as soon as you get one.

2. Focus on the small handful of things that really make a difference

Like in sales, there is an 80/20 rule in effect when it comes to getting organized. Focus your efforts on the two or three things that will deliver 80% (or more) of the results. How can you tell what those are? One incredible marker of a top 20% priority is a high-impact, negative consequence if it is not dealt with now. If you didn’t organize that junk pile in your briefcase today, would you miss out on an important follow-up or even blow a sale? Another way of framing it: what three to five things, if you got them organized this week, would make a meaningful difference in your ability to get your job done efficiently?

3. Give business cards a place

We’re guessing one of the worst offenders when it comes to miscellaneous papers floating around your bag or car is business cards. Get a binder and fill it with business card holder sheets. Then, if it is helpful to you, separate them into logical categories by tab. Even if you don’t break the cards you collect down into sub-categories, at least they have a home.

4. Be at the ready to take notes on the go

You probably have a notebook or professional portfolio for taking notes while you are in meetings. But what about those times when you’re in the car, or taxiing to a gate and your customer calls and that bigger file isn’t accessible? Do you resort to scribbling notes on receipts, gum wrappers or whatever scrap of paper you can find? We’ve all been there – but there is a better way. First, get a small spiral notebook, like this one for $1.99. Then stick a pen or pencil in the spiral binding. If you drive, put it in the middle holding bin between the two front seats, where CDs and sunglasses usually go. If you fly, put it in an outside pocket on your purse or briefcase, or in an easily accessible pocket inside. That way, no matter where you are, you’ll have pen and paper at the ready. At the end of each day, be sure to rip out the pages of notes that you took that day and transfer the notes to your usual files.

5. Put your follow-ups on autopilot

Follow-ups are critical to making your numbers, but when you meet with so many people each day, keeping track of who you need to follow-up with and when is tough. The simple solution: make an appointment in your e-calendar to get back in contact with the person you just met with before you leave the premises. Given that you just met with them, you’ll have a good sense of when the right time to follow up is. If there are intermediate steps that need to be taken before getting back in contact, schedule those in as well. Anything you schedule in will pop up as an automatic reminder, so you won’t lose track. If you don’t use an e-calendar, leave a blank page after your meeting notes and jot down your ideal dates and times to follow up. Then transfer these dates and times to your paper calendar. For extra credit, on your calendar put a big “A” next to those follow-ups and circle it so you can see at a glance that it’s important.

6. Start each day with the five-minute musts

Each morning, before you dive into your to-do’s, take five minutes and identify the five things you must get done that day. Make sure one of them is a meeting, call or email you have been procrastinating. Let everything else fall by the wayside and just focus on getting those five things done. If you get through those with time to spare, celebrate! Pat yourself on the back and then go down the rest of your laundry list. It sounds simple, but by setting expectations for yourself each morning, you have a much better chance of having a productive day. If you travel daily, without a set schedule, map out your stops so that you are sure to hit everyone within the area you are going to that day. Taking five minutes to map that out ensures you have everything you need for those meetings.

7. Put Google to work for you as a relationship builder

Set up Google alerts (www.google.com/alerts) to related to your clients, the companies you deal with, or even upcoming book releases. This gives you a chance to get the news first, and for important or newsworthy alerts, you can pass them on to your contacts and have an opportunity outside of just selling to connect with them. It is a great relationship-building tool that requires no extra work from you.

8. Put a basic filing (or piling) system in place at your office

It can be tempting to create complex filing systems for your desk. But the more complicated something is, the more time it takes to use it, and the less likely you are to stick with it. On top of your desk, try to limit yourself to an inbox and “to be filed” box and force all pieces of paper into one of those two trays. Ruthlessly weed out papers you don’t need to keep and throw them away. For papers you do want to keep, keep a filing system that is limited to one folder per client.

9. Consider keeping a notebook just for phone calls

Since phone calls are your lifeblood, it makes sense to keep your records of them buttoned up. Start with a blank notebook or journal. We recommend one that is 5”x7” or smaller so that it’s easily portable. Every day go to a fresh page and write the date at the top. Then note each phone call you make that day along with a top line summary of what was discussed and key next steps. You might also find it helpful to write down the actual contact number so that you can refer back to it quickly if needed.

10. Institute a clean routine

Clearing clutter at work is just like clearing it at home – it’s just always going to be something you have to deal with and do your best to stay on top of. Those office mates of yours who manage to have clutter-free work spaces tend to have established regular routines for staying on top of the mess. They don’t obsess about getting every last bit of clutter or having the ‘perfect’ filing system or an absolutely pristine desk. They simply focus on doing a few things consistently so that they keep their workspace relatively under control. The most effective routines can be done on autopilot and squeezed into small windows of time, like a five-minute Friday file.

{feature photo via: we heart it}