The days are getting longer and the weather is warming up. Maybe you’ve booked those tickets for summer vacation already, or you’re planning to put in your time-off request next week. You look at that tropical desktop background–the lame, preset one that’s on your computer year-round–but today it’s faintly different: The palm trees seem to tremble slightly in a salt breeze you can almost smell.
Snap out of it! Unless you do something about it now, you’re likely to find yourself sitting on a beach chair thousands of miles from your office, shading your eyes while you squint at your sunscreen-streaked phone screen, tapping out another annoying work email. If you’re disorganized now, you’ll be disorganized the week before vacation–and the week of vacation, too.
If you frequently find yourself unable to find documents, unsure of who on your team is responsible for what, or searching your email endlessly for notes about upcoming meetings, you already know you’re in trouble. But what you may not realize is that if you can’t address these problems now, you’re in for a less-than-relaxing summer vacation and a frazzled return when it’s over.
Here are a few ways to declutter your work life right now so you’re fully on track when the summer rolls around and can actually unplug during vacation.
Some claim that creative geniuses thrive when their desks are a mess. But geniuses who work on teams and have meetings to attend can’t be creative 100% of the time, which means that disordered workspaces can get in the way as much as they can inspire flashes of brilliance.
And as anyone who’s ever tried some form of spring cleaning (whether at work or at home) knows, it always takes longer than you think. So if you start decluttering this week, you’ll have plenty of time to cement better organizational habits come summertime. If you’re a fan of writing reminders on sticky notes–or just random scraps of paper–look for an easy way to take some of that digital, and a good place to put the papers you do need so you can toss the rest.
Don’t forget the small stuff, either. Now’s also a great time to get rid of all of those pens that don’t work, and dull pairs of scissors that don’t cut.
While achieving “inbox zero” may be a great goal for many, it’s probably too ambitious to aim for right now. But that’s still reason to pretend that the state of your inbox doesn’t have a huge impact on how organized you are at work in general. So over the course of the next month or so, try experimenting with some new methods to pare down your inbox and keep it that way.
Not sure where to start? Here’s how one MailChimp exec limits his email time to 90 minutes a day, a five-folder-only method for organizing your inbox, and a few tips for writing shorter, more effective emails (from somebody who literally wrote a book on emails). Or, at a bare minimum, commit to blocking out 15 minutes twice a day to sort through your inbox. If you keep up with any of these tactics for even just a few weeks, it’s likely to become habitual.
By focusing on your inbox in the near-term, you’ll preempt the threat of missing a message or a question in the days before you leave, when you’re bound to have trouble focusing or caring much about your work in general (it’s okay, everyone goes through it).
Start a document in Notepad, Google Docs, or even just a draft email, to write down which daily or weekly action items your coworkers, managers, and clients will need to know while you’re out. Take note of any meetings you’ll need a stand-in for, key due dates on projects you’ve been working on, or quick guidelines for coworkers to handle whatever you’ve been working on while you’re out.
You can either start this running list right now or wait until the month before vacation–either works. But if you’re in spring-cleaning mode, it doesn’t hurt to pull up a fresh document and just plug a few tasks into it right away. You can add more later.
At any rate, if you have a handover plan drawn up a month ahead of time, you can start sharing it with your boss and any colleagues who’ll cover for you while you’re out. This means you can prevent the usual scramble to get it all done the week–or day–before you leave. Instead, all you’ll have to do is clean it up and send it out.
As an added bonus, you’ll be able to be the responsible coworker who gives everyone on your team time to ask questions and clarify things before you’re actually gone. They’ll appreciate the thoughtfulness, and you won’t have to answer frantic emails while you’re on the plane or in your flip-flops.
The annoying thing about spring-cleaning is that it feels like more work than ever–because it is. But while all of these tasks may seem like they’re just adding tasks to your plate right now, they’ll help you clear it completely later. Keep in mind that the most lasting productivity habits take awhile to learn. So even if you can’t (and probably shouldn’t) start working toward them all at once, you can do some small things right now that you can build on as the summer approaches.
There’s no time like the present for clearing time in the future.
AJ Agrawal is an entrepreneur, growth marketer, and management consultant. A frequent traveler, he writes about the leadership and marketing lessons he’s picked up while traveling the world. Follow AJ on Twitter at @ajagrawal24.