How to stay organized in school, work and beyond

By Hyun Woo Choi

Staff Accountant | Audit

For twenty-two years, I’ve been a disorganized person, but I’ve only been able to get away with it for twenty-one. In the few months I’ve been with Deloitte, I realized that I’d been very dependent on the luxuries that school provided: a syllabus neatly laying out the whole year in advance; relatively few tasks to juggle; and constant reminders from professors to please remember to do that one really important thing.

I was woefully unprepared for my first engagement and was quickly overwhelmed by how much I had to keep track of. Having learned my lesson, I started building some new habits into my day-to-day to help me stay on top of everything I had to do. They certainly help with work, and can save you a lot of grief and confusion anywhere else you apply them.

Take note

Digitally or physically, write things down. Whether it’s instructions from your senior or facts to recall later, bytes and ink trump brains any day when it comes to memory. While you have a very good chance of being able to recall any single piece of information, the sheer number of pieces will stack the odds against you if you try to rely only on your mind. Instead, free up brainpower by making a to-do list, labeling documents with sticky notes, or leaving comments for yourself in files.

Do it now

Sort emails as they arrive. Put papers back in order. Document new information. It’s possible in theory to deal with everything later, but taking an extra moment now to put things in their place is by far easier and faster than dealing with a backlog down the road. The task at hand is still fresh in your mind and you know exactly where it should go, but will you be as sure in a week? Even in an hour? You’ll take more time in the long run if you procrastinate, so do it now and rest easy knowing you did it right.

Don't stop

A state of organization isn't achieved, it's maintained. It's easy to make exceptions and excuses, but they'll only lead you back to an unorganized square one as your checklists get outdated and important information gets lost among old comments and notes. I've experienced the trap of complacency first-hand, getting lax as I found my methods working, and inevitably scrambling to catch up not long after.

Although these three principles are just the basics, they’ll go a long way even on their own and form a great foundation for other best practices. I’ve only recently started experimenting to find out what works best for me, but whatever I try, I find that note-taking, immediate action, and consistency are what make it work.

Hyun Woo Choi graduated from the University of Toronto with a Bachelor of Commerce, Accounting. He is currently a staff accountant in our Audit practice.

Hyun Woo Choi
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