A fine line between chaos and creativity in the office

Valerie Morton on how to handle disorganised staff

Valerie Morton

Q. Does it matter if my deputy's organisational and time management style seem chaotic to me?

A. This is a subject close to my heart. I can confess to taking great pride in triple-tasking: this morning's achievement was an early morning run while mentally drafting this copy and drying nail varnish. I have had my organisational slip-ups, of course. I once arrived in time for my 7.30am flight from Stansted, only to discover it was leaving from Luton.

Being organised is obviously a contributory factor in how productive we are as employees, so there is a base level of skill we need just to avoid wasting money through inefficient use of time and to keep stress levels down. Equally important, though, is the management of risk. A tender missing the deadline, a donor not receiving a response to a query or an important document being mislaid will all have a negative impact on a charity's business.

It never ceases to amaze me, therefore, how few people I come across who have been trained in time management or organisational skills. The received wisdom seems to be that such training is only for people who clearly have a problem in this area. Not true. Some people are well organised by nature, but that does not mean they will not benefit from learning new techniques - and some people are not well organised, but hide it well. The most vulnerable group, and those posing most risk to your charity, are people who are convinced they are well organised but in reality are not. They will not see training as good use of their time when it is obvious that it is.

Coming to your question about style, let's consider your deputy. Do you have evidence that their 'chaotic' approach either does or does not work? What is your assessment of the risk to which they are exposing your charity as a result of their style? A good test is to imagine they have to take a week's sick leave; would their systems allow business to continue?

Perhaps their style is an understandable weakness, given their strengths. Some people with strengths in areas such as creativity may well not have tidy desks and well-organised email systems. If you try to force them into a different way of working, either it just will not work or you will be in danger of dimming their bright lights. Sometimes, making sure someone has good administrative support is a more effective solution.

Finally, do consider the impact of the chaotic style on other people. When we work in teams our colleagues need to know they can trust us to turn up at the right meeting at the right time. They need to have confidence we will meet our deadlines.

Do you want one simple way of deciding whether to be worried? See how many emails are in their inbox.

Valerie Morton is a trainer, fundraiser and consultant

Send your questions to Valerie.Morton@haymarket.com

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