As a consultant, one of the battles I fight on a day-to-day basis is remaining organized. When chaos becomes the rule of the day, the work becomes challenging, inefficient, and frustrating. But keeping chaos at bay is not always an easy task. Murphy's Law will take your feet out from under you at every corner. So how can consultants keep themselves organized? There are many ways — and you might be surprised that it's not all about checklists and to-do lists. It's about working intelligently and efficiently. Let's take a look at some methods that will help you get through the day without chaos making you its lapdog.Notes: This post was first published in TechRepublic's 10 Things blog. The post is also available as a PDF download.
1: Structure your day
When you arrive at work, you should have a schedule ready for you. Often times, that schedule is flexible. When that's the case, structure your day so that you have time to decompress after more challenging jobs. Don't set up your schedule so that you have one daunting task after another. Switch it up. Pad those difficult jobs with simple jobs. And make sure you schedule your day so that you have enough time for a good lunch. Never underestimate the revitalizing power of a good lunch.
2: Keep the driving to a minimum
Unfortunately, consultants drive a lot. It's part of our job — going from client to client. But you still want to reduce the driving as much as possible. If you have four jobs one day that are taking you to different parts of the city, try to schedule them so that your driving is minimized. Don't go west and then east, only to go west again. Group as many appointments by location as you can.
3: Don't let the inside of your car look like it was hit by a tornado
One thing I have realized over the years is that chaos begets more chaos. If your car is a battle zone, your work habits will reflect that. So don't continue tossing those Mountain Dew cans and McDonald's sacks on the floorboard of your passenger seat. You spend a good deal of time in your car (although perhaps lessened with the help of #2). Don't let that time be spent in chaos.
4: Keep pen and paper handy
I understand that we're all geeks here and we want to project an air of geekery. We want tablet PCs to take our notes on so that people will be thinking, "Gosh that consultant is lookin' intelligent AND hot with that gadget." Well guess what: They aren't thinking that. Having an iPad doesn't make you look sexy any more than those jeans make you look fat. But without the means to take good and copious notes, you will look stupid.
5: Use a password manager
I have a long list of passwords for clients' machines. I can't just keep those passwords on a spreadsheet or text document. They must remain safe. To that end, I employ a solid tool to protect those passwords. Not only am I assured of the security of my clients' passwords, I don't have to remember all of them. Just make sure the encryption you use to safeguard the passwords is strong.
6: Organize your notes in files and folders
If you're like me, you carry around paperwork for clients — even if only in the form of notes. If you have that paperwork stuffed loosely in a backpack, you're going to look like a fool. Have a folder ready for each client. Even better, take your notes and then, when you're back at the office, transfer them to digital format. Doctors do it, why can't we?
7: Buy a smartphone
At our consultancy, everyone has a smartphone that can access the Exchange server as well as help keep us all from getting lost. Some of us use Android phones, while others use iPhones. The brand and OS you use don't matter as much as their ability to keep you organized and in touch. And because most smartphones are all-in-one devices, you won't be carrying around multiple tools that only add to your lovely chaos.
8: Use a Bluetooth headset
Using a phone handset in the car is a special brand of chaos — and it could lead you to an untimely death. Most likely you have a smartphone (see #7) that can connect to a Bluetooth headset. This is a must-have for a couple of obvious reasons. First — driving. You do not want to drive with a phone up to your ear, leaving one hand on the wheel. You also don't want to be holding a handset up to your ear while you're frantically trying to type commands (or point and click) your way to another successful repair and restore. Buy a Bluetooth. Your family and your neck will thank you for it.
9: Don't forget your kit
Make sure you have a kit in your vehicle that includes any physical tools you need (pliers, screwdrivers, etc.) as well as spare cables you might need, tape (duct tape never fails), extra flash drives/external hard drive, and a flashlight.
10: Develop good habits fast
The sooner you develop good working habits, the faster they will stick. When you start that new job (or even after you make that resolution), don't put off getting organized. Do it now. Don't just say, "I'm going to get better organized." and then drive 20 miles out of your way for another paper sack and aluminum can to toss onto the floor of your car. Commit to those good habits and make them stick.
Have you managed to conquer chaos?
Share your suggestions and experiences with fellow TechRepublic readers. That way, we can all be as organized as humanly possible.
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.