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How to Organize Your Disorganized Boss

Updated on October 11, 2016
FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway in an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist with applied experience in corporate Human Resources and consulting.

They're Boss For A Reason (But Organizational Skills Aren't It)

Helping your boss get organized will boost his or her professional image.  Help them get it done without being a show-off.
Helping your boss get organized will boost his or her professional image. Help them get it done without being a show-off. | Source

Help Your Boss Get His (Or Her) Stuff Together

He's the boss for a good reason, but that reason is certainly not his organizational skills.

Sometimes he neglects key details. His office is a mountain of misplaced files. When your boss can't find that important document, impending deadlines can make the office feel like a pressure cooker. Sound familiar? If so, help your boss manage his time and prioritize -- all the while letting him think that it was his idea.

As your boss becomes more organized, he will enhance his professional image. He will also be more aware of what is on his schedule and will develop greater command of his time. In turn, you can reap residual benefits of less stress and more efficiency.

Think of the extra time and effort required in getting him organized as an investment. By managing up, you will be managing your own career progress and professional image at the same time.

Ready to get started?

You Got This!

Lead by example.  First demonstrate solid organizational skills yourself.
Lead by example. First demonstrate solid organizational skills yourself. | Source

First Build Trust

Before you try to fix anything, you have to earn the right to do so. That means building a foundation of trust.

Lead By Example

Make sure you demonstrate solid organization skills yourself by fine-tuning your system for staying on track. Keep your own work space tidy. Show up to meetings prepared. Meet all deadlines. In addition, demonstrate your resourcefulness by having the most frequently relied upon information at your fingertips (e.g., key contacts, frequently accessed reports).

Seek To Understand

As you gain your boss' trust, also listen, paying particular attention to any feelings that are expressed. Listen for signs that your boss' poor organizational skills are causing him frustration, conflict, or even consequences in the organization. Examples include missed deadlines or meetings, lost paperwork and comments from others.

Assess the situation first before jumping in to help, and especially avoid providing him feedback which could backfire on you. (Remember that you are in an information gathering mode.) There may be a method to his madness, however ineffective, which you need to understand.

Also, no matter how irritated his sloppiness makes you, never chime in with anyone who bad mouths him. Your venting could get back to him, and such critical comments are inconsistent with your intent to help.

Building A Trusting Partnership Is A Key To Success

Demonstrate solid organizational skills yourself by showing up to meetings prepared and keeping your own workspace tidy.  Listen for the feel to what feelings or consequences the boss' poor organizational skills are connected with.
Demonstrate solid organizational skills yourself by showing up to meetings prepared and keeping your own workspace tidy. Listen for the feel to what feelings or consequences the boss' poor organizational skills are connected with. | Source

Provide Strategic Support

Make sure that both your role and your behavior support your boss' best performance by minimizing distractions and enhancing his efficiency.

Align Goals

Learn what your boss' goals are and how he is measured in the company. Be sure that your performance goals are linked with his. If you perceive a disconnect, tell him you'd like to seek clarity on how your goals can more fully support his and the organization's.

Get The Hint - Gentle Reminders Tags
Get The Hint - Gentle Reminders Tags

Get the Hint Gentle Reminder Tags. Help your boss remember that important document. Tags read: Looking For This?, Do This, It's Here, Take This, Don't Forget This.

Find the joy in snarkiness, bewilderness, and befuddlement.

 

Minimize Interruptions

Ask him how he prefers to receive information, both in terms of his channel (e.g., electronic, in person, phone) and timing preferences. Some people are "morning people" and enjoy diving right into their day, whereas others are slow to warm up.

Also understand how he wants interruptions to be handled, and help him to avoid those that are unnecessary. Research indicates that office employees are interrupted an average of once every three minutes.1 Given that it can take up to 23 minutes to return to the original task, it's no wonder anyone can finish what they start.

Rather than popping in to ask that quick question -- which often isn't all that quick, is it? -- try this technique. Group together several less important items, then book 15 minutes on your boss' calendar to take care of all of them in one sitting. After using this technique a few times, explain to him that your rationale is efficiency and minimizing disruptions. Discuss how it works for both of you. You might find that this is a great conversation starter regarding efficiency.

Make A Good Boss An Organized One

Be succinct in communications and help your manager avoid distractions.
Be succinct in communications and help your manager avoid distractions. | Source

Reader Poll

How organized is your workspace?

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Communicate Clearly

Be Brief

Because time is so precious, keep both verbal and written communication succinct. If the text of your email is longer than two paragraphs, consider shortening it or using another mode of communication.

Use "Reply All" Sparingly

Email chains can become overwhelming when long lists of employees volley back and forth using "Reply All." Help your boss manage his inbox by asking him to specify under what circumstances he wants to be included on emails. If you see a lot of back and forth replies, then a meeting, conference call, or the use of email voting buttons are more appropriate venues for discussion of the issue.

You might also volunteer to be a key contact person for a project so that your boss can delegate inquiries to you. This increases your visibility within the organization at the same time it helps your boss manage his priorities.

Form a strong partnership with your boss by helping her organize her work.
Form a strong partnership with your boss by helping her organize her work. | Source

Employ Consistent Labeling

Agree on consistent labeling in the email status line for confidential, action-needed, and similar items. For example, draw attention in the status line to items that need special handling (ACTION REQUIRED by date) or those that are CONFIDENTIAL. Consider using built-in email system reminders to help with deadlines. For best results, ask to include the entire team on the conversation so that everyone is on board with the labeling structure. Then, apply it across the department.

Help Your Boss Share Information

In staff meetings or other appropriate venues, prompt your boss to share what is going on elsewhere in the company by simply asking him. He may otherwise forget. You will appear eager and interested in the company while helping him to do his job. That's a win/win!

Present Solutions, Not Problems

When you present a problem to your manager, avoid simply "dumping" it on him with the expectation that he fix it. Instead, present the problem along with three solutions. (More than three solutions is overwhelming, however.)

One solution should usually be to do nothing because let's face it: staying the course is an easy option. A second solution can be one that is ideal or expensive. The third is a compromise or more reasonable solution. This should be the one you are advocating. Be ready to discuss advantages, disadvantages, and the financials associated with each solution you present.

Manage Your Time And Help Your Boss Manage His

Use automatic meeting notices to remind your boss about meetings.
Use automatic meeting notices to remind your boss about meetings. | Source

Time Management

Help your boss with time management using the following tips:

Create and Share A Calendar

Help your boss create a calendar that he can share with the team. Update it and refer to it often as projects and other due dates approach. Ask questions that reference the calendar (e.g., "I see that the Chairman's report is due next week. Would you like me to pull the numbers for you so we can start working on it?") He should also have access to calendars of his subordinates, and calendars should be linked. This can be done with ease electronically.

When you have important discussions with your manager, integrate due dates, dates for status checks, and progress milestones to keep you both on track. Stay organized by keeping all notes of meetings that you have with your boss in one notebook.

Follow up any key discussions with email verification of agreements you make with him. Honor any time-bound commitments, and hold your boss accountable for his end as well.

Meeting Management

If your boss frequently runs late to meetings, offer to prepare an agenda. Email her the bullet-points several hours prior to the meeting and remind him how he will be needed in the meeting. Use automatic meeting notice reminders in the email system to assist attendees in being timely.

Conquer Disorganization Together

Make changes in small increments and get your boss' buy-in so you can both succeed.
Make changes in small increments and get your boss' buy-in so you can both succeed. | Source

Divide and Conquer

Divide and conquer your boss' mess using the following pointers.

Label, File, and Store

Well organized people have a mantra: "A place for everything and everything in its place." Develop a system of folders, bins, or file drawers that works for your business. For example, use color coding based on project type or topic. Where relevant, prominently include the date to help you purge out-of-date files later.

First organize your own files, then request permission to tackle some of the common files (perhaps with the help of teammates). After you receive compliments for your efforts, offer to help your boss with some of his files.

Adopt the "One Touch" Rule

As new items come across your desk or email in-box, resolve to touch them once rather than allowing them to accumulate. Either read, respond, dispose of the item, or direct it to an appropriate file. As you gain success with the technique, resolve to share your learnings with your boss.

Yes, Change Is Possible

When you feel organized, you feel more in control of your calendar and your world.
When you feel organized, you feel more in control of your calendar and your world. | Source

The Soft Sell

Small Changes and Buy-In

Making changes in small increments and getting her buy-in as you go along will work wonders. You may find that he asks your coworkers to adopt your new efficiency techniques.

Don't Be A Know-It-All

Rather than telling him how to organize, try asking if you can help him or suggesting that "we" try something new. No one wants to be schooled by a sassy-pants, event if that person is right. Try these lead-ins when suggesting something new:

  • "How about if I help you ..."
  • "I bet we can figure out how to ..."
  • "I've learned ..."
  • "One thing I have found is ..."
  • "What do you think if ...?"
  • "Would you find it helpful ...?"

Encourage

Since your boss is not naturally organized, he will need your encouragement. Don't expect change overnight. Encourage him and celebrate small successes, and keep working at it.

What's In A Name? Locations Whose Names Are Associated With Losing Things and Poor Organizational Skills

show route and directions
A markerJumbled Mountain, Nevada -
Jumbled Mountain, NV, USA
get directions

B markerJumbled Hills, Nevada -
Jumbled Hills, NV, USA
get directions

C markerLost Trail, Iowa -
Lost Trail, IA, USA
get directions

D markerLost Creek, Montaina -
Lost Creek, MT, USA
get directions

E markerLost Road, California -
Lost Road, CA, USA
get directions

F markerMisplaced Lake, Minnesota -
Misplaced Lake, Superior National Forest, West Cook, MN, USA
get directions

G markerMissed Spring, California -
Missed Spring, San Bernardino National Forest, CA, USA
get directions

H markerMislaid Rock, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands -
Mislaid Rock, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands
get directions

I markerPuzzle, New Mexico -
Puzzle, NM, USA
get directions

J markerBaffle Point, Texas -
Baffle Point, TX, USA
get directions

Notes

1The Wall Street Journal. "Workplace Distractions: Here's Why You Won't Finish This Article." Last modified December 11, 2012. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324339204578173252223022388.html#project%253DDISTRACT1212%2526articleTabs%253Dinteractive.

© 2013 FlourishAnyway

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    • FlourishAnyway profile image
      Author

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      Crafty - I hear you. You can often use such a meeting presentation to showcase your competence. After awhile it becomes obvious that you deserve a higher position, more recognition, more pay, etc. The trick is getting the right audience!

    • CraftytotheCore profile image

      CraftytotheCore 3 years ago

      This is a very useful article. The one thing I used to hate about corporate meetings is that some people didn't have to do anything for the meeting but show up. Others had to present cases like myself. So it got exhausting dealing with clients all week and having these meetings which I thought were just to fill the void in some of the other work schedules. Mine was full enough and I certainly didn't need any more pressure!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image
      Author

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      grandmapearl - That's a good one! Maybe when you find what works you can write a hub, "How to Organize Your Husband." That's one a bunch of people would read. Thanks for reading, voting, commenting. Good luck with helping your "better half."

    • grandmapearl profile image

      Connie Smith 3 years ago from Southern Tier New York State

      I'm going to try some of these suggestions with my husband. For all the years we have been married his catch phrase has been "one of these days, when I get organized".

      I have tried some of the things you have outlined, to no avail. But there are others that might work! ;) Pearl

      Voted Up+++

    • FlourishAnyway profile image
      Author

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      I like that, LongTimeMother -- stickers that warn the boss to stay out of the department's files. I bet that assistant had great job security! Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • LongTimeMother profile image

      LongTimeMother 3 years ago from Australia

      ROFL. I'm guilty as charged. When I was the boss, I always relied on a brilliant assistant to get this air-head to meetings on time. There's just one hint missing from your very impressive list.

      At one time all the filing cabinets in my office had stickers on them telling me to "keep out!" All except one. It had a sticker that said, "Don't even think about it!"

      If I wanted paperwork that had already been filed, I had to ask my assistant to get it. It was the only way she'd know where it was. Fortunately I've always made my money out of being creative. In any normal job I would never have survived.

      I love this hub. :)

    • FlourishAnyway profile image
      Author

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      Thank you for the read and feedback, Vacation Trip!

    • Vacation Trip profile image

      Susan 3 years ago from India

      Great hub with good ideas. Thanks for sharing. Voted up and useful.

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