Office Organization Tips to Conquer Your To-Do List

How to stay focused in the midst of workplace chaos.

Every office manager has been there. You assemble a to-do list for the day, only to get totally derailed by a never-ending stream of unexpected requests from coworkers and your boss. That's all part of the job, of course, but the frequent requests can make it tough to focus and prioritize. Sometimes you wonder, "Why do I bother making a list at all?"

But a few office organization tips can help you manage the chaos, keep your priorities straight and make sure no little task falls through the cracks. Try these ideas to manage your to-do list:

1. Create Email Filters

Go to the source. Many requests come in through your email, so you can turn your email inbox into your to-do list by activating features that categorize and prioritize requests as they come in. Both Outlook and Gmail have options to help do this.

Within Gmail, for example, you can flag all emails from certain people — such as your boss — or emails that contain specific words in the header to be marked as "important." Outlook allows you to note priority senders, and it even has features that allow you to color code your most important messages so they stand out. For step-by-step instructions, see this tutorial by Techlicious.

Various email services also allow you to sort messages into different categories, or set calendar reminders so that specific emails get routed back to your inbox on dates when you need to take action on them. Explore your email system's offerings and see which methods might work for you.

2. Incorporate Spreadsheets

Sometimes staying organized is as simple as making your to-do list digital. Set up a spreadsheet to help you stay on top of tasks. Create different sections within the spreadsheet for tasks like recurring office management, non-urgent requests, organization projects and high-demand issues that require your immediate focus.

As you work through tasks, you can update the spreadsheet with their current status or make notes for future reference. If you choose a cloud-based solution like Google Sheets, you can also share the spreadsheet with your immediate supervisor, so they always have visibility into your current and future workload.

3. Turn Your Smartphone Into Command Central

When a pen and paper don't cut it, try using your phone. List apps, such as Todoist and Trello, are highly customizable. Todoist reminds you of deadlines, helps you map out projects with subsections and tracks progress with visualizations, while Trello allows for collaboration with team members on "cards" that keep track of notes and attachments.

Or, project management tools like Asana and Basecamp can maintain timelines for larger projects, integrate with email and mobile apps, and create centralized views of current tasks and projects. If your work requires taking detailed notes, Evernote or Google Keep may help, too.

Office organization tips are a dime a dozen, but most don't take into account the hectic life of an office manager. The bottom line: If you despair of having a to-do list that actually reflects everyone you have to do, it may help to develop a system that helps you manage the flow of requests, see what's in progress and make room in your schedule for urgent incoming tasks.