By Mrs. Debt Payer

(Note: When I told my Wife I was having problems at work she suggested the following work productivity systems, and even wrote them down for me.  They were so helpful I thought I would share them with everybody.  I may have a ton of debt but I am lucky in that I have a wonderful wife).

Work Productivity Systems

Ok, so here are a few systems I have put in place over the years to help keep myself organized and detail oriented.  Some are obvious and many you probably do already but I’ve put them together for your consideration.

  1. Lists

So it may seem to be the most obvious of options but the importance of a list is not in just having a list, but in effectively utilizing that list.

First, you must make a list, either pencil and paper or electronically, that you will always be able to access.  Now many people say they prefer electronic lists because they can alter a list quickly on the computer and can set reminders in a phone.  But there is something about physically crossing something off a list that seems satisfactory.

Writing the list: I often use a lined sheet of paper and just let the ideas flow.  Trying to remember every deadline and every detail of an assignment that is due is daunting.  Just write it down. You can even number the items to prioritize them. But most importantly, place a small box next to each item so you can check it off as you complete it.

Additionally, a list must be posted or kept in a place where you see it on an almost constant basis.  Burying it under a pile or closing the window on your screen defeats the purpose of the list.

Most importantly, use only this list.  Now you may have one list for assignments, one for appointments, etc. but they can be the only lists of their kind or you will forget to update each time.

Finally, make every effort to reference your list throughout the day.  You should be looking at your list at least once every hour.  Making it part of your routine will ensure that you continue to rely on this system.

2. Files

I create and label files for almost everything I do.  Again, like the list, the file itself is only as good as you are at keeping it up to date.

Every time I have any notes on a particular subject they go on a separate sheet of paper and go directly into that file.  And a file does not just have to revolve around a client.  I have files for Frequently Asked Questions, I have files for Completed Lists, files for Procedures, etc.  Anything I thought worth remembering but knew I wouldn’t remember I put on paper, either handwritten or typed and filed it away.

Now when I have a question regarding an office procedure or are unsure exactly how someone prefers something to be done I look to my files for guidance.

3. Keeping Notes

Along with lists, notes are the most important work productivity system.  If you were to see me in the hallway at my office on any given moment on any given day I have a note pad with me.  It’s not because I am an aspiring journalist but because I forget things very quickly.  The dilemma…when I am walking any number of people will stop me to talk about specific tasks or to follow through on something.   Then, by the time I make it to my destination and back to my office I have forgotten what each person asked.  My solution: writing it down.  Write down not only what the person indicated to you but also what you indicated you would do on your end.  And then, if it is a timely matter, mark it on your “To Do” list and also file it away in the appropriate file.  Don’t have a file on this matter? Create one (and appropriately label it).

4. Calendar

The worst possible feeling is forgetting you are supposed to be somewhere or to have done something.  Whatever avenue you choose to keep a calendar, paper or electronic, be sure to stick with it.  Religiously stick with it!

I prefer a paper calendar and it is the only place where I put meetings, etc.  That way I am only checking one location.  Along with my notebook, I carry my calendar with me when I am walking around as to avoid having to “get back” to people when they ask if they can meet with me, etc.

5. Running Lists

You don’t always have access to the “higher ups”. And when you do, time is of the essence.  I keep a “boss” list of all of the things that come up through a day/week that I would like some guidance/decisions on.  This way I can schedule one time to hash everything out with him or her while I have his or her ear and can walk away feeling prepared to tackle more work.  I also take extensive notes during those meetings to ensure I do not have to go back and make the boss repeat him or herself.

6. Emails

Never, ever delete!  My motto: CYA. Cover Your Ass.  Always, CYA.

There have been so many times when I have been saved by an email.  Whether it is proving that I followed through on something or calling someone out on not following through, emails are a true paper trail of evidence.  More importantly, you can use emails as premade lists.

When someone sends you an email detailing how a certain project should be done, print it and use it as a checklist to follow as you perform the task.  This way you can monitor that you are including everything they wanted to see included.

7. Check-ins

Whether it is a phone call or an in-person check in,  I like to speak with the “higher ups” at least once a week.  They have this desire to be kept in the loop and hate when something is going on that they are not aware of.  It may sound like pestering or sucking up but I find that by keeping them in the loop I also open up discussions for other topics and work in personal socializing time as well.

Ask about their weekend plans, kids, etc.  Knowing things about them make you real because they share a part of themselves and become somewhat vulnerable.  It also makes them feel like you respect their opinion and inflates their ego that you aren’t a wildcard that will fly on their own without checking in.

8. Taking “You” time.

Get up from your desk and walk around.  Don’t eat at your desk.  Let people see you are human and remind your bosses that you have a life outside of this job.


It’s the worst but sometimes you know you are right but you still have to take the blame to prevent the boss from looking incompetent or keep your mouth shut when all you want to do is scream.  “You idiot!  No matter what you think, within reason, the fact is that they are right.  Why?  Because they are the boss.

10. Life

A parting mantra:

“This is not my life; it’s my job.  My life occurs outside these institutionally painted walls.

What work productivity systems do you use?



Chris Thomas, owner of the online freelance writing and web-copy company, FreelancePF. Chris’s interest in personal finance stems from leaving grad school with six figures in student loan debt.