Organizational Skills: Why Everyone Needs Them

This week, the conversation focuses on the importance of managing a busy schedule and developing organizational skills. It’s essential for all career professionals to use their organizational skills in order to manage a busy schedule and take the next step in their career. Our featured guest is Patty Stokes. Dr. Stokes is a Women’s and Gender Studies Professor at Ohio University.

7/15/2014 – Interviewed by Scott Proietti

1. How important is it for any job-seeker to stay on top of things  and use organizational skills(sending out resumes, keeping up with phone calls, etc) when it comes to a job search, and why?
organizational skills
Dr. Patty Stokes

PS: I do think it’s important for job-seekers to be well organized and optimize their organizational skills. This is partly because today’s tight job market means many seekers are sending out an extraordinary number of applications, and this in itself is an organizational challenge. When it comes to corresponding with a potentially interested employer, you also want to give the impression that you’ll be a committed and responsive employee.

2. What steps and organizational skills do you use to effectively manage a busy schedule?

I find it most difficult to cope with wrenches thrown into my usual schedule. Since I have two school-aged children, those wrenches come predictably – but at unpredictable times – whenever they are sick. I try to schedule my most time-sensitive work (teaching) at times when my partner has more flexibility. Most employees with dependents (children, elders, or others) don’t have that luxury, however. It is important to have a strong network of friends and neighbors who are willing to help out in emergencies in order to manage your busy schedule. While this point is most crucial for people who have dependents, it even holds true for, say, a young single person with an unreliable car! Not to mention that we all work better when we are happy and have well-rounded lives.

For that reason, I am a strong advocate of flexible work schedules wherever feasible, and more generous vacation policies than many U.S. employers offer. Having lived in Germany, I’ve seen how a whole country can work smarter – not longer – and thrive

3. What piece of advice would you offer to job-seekers of any age?

My advice to job-seekers would be not to internalize rejection. In a tight labor market, it’s hard to find a job. Many times applicants come up short not because they are poor candidates, but because someone else was perceived to be a better fit – or for completely random reasons. I would also counsel people to think about how their skill set may be transferable to another, related realm if they’re coming up short in their first-choice field. For instance, I got my Ph.D. in History but used a minor field in Women’s Studies to move into teaching Women’s and Gender Studies. I made the move because my partner already had a good job, so I was geographically limited, and the university didn’t need another historian in my particular field – but they did have needs in my current area, and I’m so happy they did. I think I’m happier teaching in WGS than I would be in History.

4. Should people learn how to effectively manage a busy schedule early on in their life in order to avoid problems down the road? Why or why not?
I believe wholeheartedly that young children are over scheduled – and this is not just a matter of personal feeling, there’s a raft of research to suggest that kids need to have more unstructured time, more playtime, and lots of time to move in order to learn well and be healthy in both mind and body. I see college students who are already somewhat burnt out from the stressors of high school. So I actually advocate a critical perspective on being “busy” as a positive value. Yes, if we are leading full lives, there will be times when we are unavoidably busy. But being busy should not be seen as evidence that we are upright, moral, serious, successful people. We should all strive for some balance in our lives.
That said, organizational skills are increasingly important as we move from the teenage years into adulthood and (usually) expanding responsibilities at work and at home. Organizational skills really help you manage a busy schedule. But they are important in part because being organized at work can help maintain boundaries between our work lives and our other responsibilities and passions.
5. What organizational skills should someone implement in order to remain on top of things and effectively manage his or her busy schedule?
I have found it useful to be able to prioritize and triage when my life gets busy. Sometimes not everything will get done to perfection. For instance, I’ve come to realize that I feel strongly about making time to meet with students who need advising or guidance or a rec letter, and if that means I return graded papers a day or two later, so be it. Sometimes, too, a person needs to say no, which can be very difficult when you are new to a job, or a people-pleaser, or just deeply invested in your work.
In concrete terms, I’ve come to rely more and more on my calendar, linking it on all my devices with iCloud in order to manage my busy schedule. For those who are bound to a workplace calendar (something I’ve successfully resisted), it may be necessary to block off times when you are not available for meetings in order to devote unbroken attention to your highest-priority work. I use Doodle polls for everything from scheduling work meetings to setting up car pools. And from the department of “do as I say, not as I do”: don’t use email and social media to procrastinate. (I’m working on that!)
Why do you need organizational skills?

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