How do you stay organized at work (both in general and on action item lists)? (x-post w/ MC forum)

rp1990's picture
rp1990 - Certified Professional
Rank: Baboon | banana points 102

TL,DR: I'm dangerously disorganized at work, and would love to hear about your method of organization and staying on top of tasks.

Hi folks! Thanks for stopping by.

Some context: I went into management consulting right after college, and remained there for 3-4 across 2 different firms. I recently transitioned to a small private equity shop.

I've never been the most organized person, and that has become more and more apparent each passing years. I've done fine at work, but with the higher responsibility level that comes with tenure in any field, in addition to the increased visibility and the need to be more aware of the high-level picture of the project - my lack of organization has begun to stress me out more and more. Now that I'm in PE, my lack of organization is threatening to drown me.

My MO to date has been to keep notes scattered across 2 different journals, random word documents, scratch pieces of paper, and post-it notes. Needless to say, it's a wonder I've gotten this far without letting anything major slip through the cracks (and trust me, it's come dangerously close too many times to count). I'm realizing that if I don't get this issue figured out, it's only a matter of time before I drop the ball on something huge.

I'd love to hear how you guys stay organized - both strategically, as well as tactically. I know different folks use a wide range of methods - some use OneNote, while others just keep a paper journal with everything in it.

Strategically - how do you prioritize? When additional items are added to your worklist on a daily basis, how do you remember to return to minor items from a discussion a day or a week ago? What is your overall record keeping method? How do you frame your organization method in your mind?

Tactically - what type of stuff specifically do you write down? How do you prioritize your lists? For example, if you use OneNote - do you keep lists on different sheets, all on the same sheet, do you keep multiple workbooks for one project, or have one notebook for all your projects? What tab names do you use? If you use a journal, how do you make sure you don't lose anything on previous days' entries? Etc. etc. etc.

ANY tips or advice would be helpful! Thank you in advance for your responses - really appreciate it.

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Comments (68)

Best Response
Feb 19, 2018

It is a fairly simple website/app, but Trello has worked pretty well for me. I use it for a mix of personal/professional purposes.

You essentially create different cards for different tasks and can organize them into different categories. In my previous job, I would create a card for every engagement and organize them in rows by the manager who assigned it to me. I would write notes on the cards about any detail, like conversations w my manager on certain numbers to use, summaries of conversations with the client, updates on who is reviewing what, etc. You can also create deadlines that keep you on track and add colored labels (you create the label names), therefore you can customize it to your needs. I did not really edit stuff on the app, however I had it on my phone in case I was ever in my managers office and needed to pull up my latest notes on my phone. Actually worked pretty well. One of my managers used it as well and we could share cards on projects so that the both of us could edit it. This was very helpful but also came with a little less privacy.

Hope this helps. I have struggled with everything you mentioned above as well, so I am looking forward to some more helpful responses...

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Feb 19, 2018

I'll check it out, thanks!

Feb 23, 2018

Thanks for the input, I'll check it out.

Feb 20, 2018


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Feb 23, 2018

No problem. Nope, was not at an MBB - I started out in the management consulting arm of a Big 4, then moved to a boutique strategy consulting shop (~150 consultants, great experience). Happy to elaborate on my path to PE if you'd like, but it was nothing special - decided I wanted to try it after a few commercial DD's at the boutique, shot out some LinkedIn messages and emails, got an interview, took the offer.

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Feb 21, 2018


Feb 21, 2018

I like Todoist to track tasks. It's just a task tracker, but with some added bells and whistles (group by project, share with teammates, add notes, add emails, set due dates, set reminders) that make it more useful to me than Outlook's task list.

It has an outlook plug-in and a phone app that syncs, so it's always current across my devices. I basically use it as soon as I have that "oh, shit" feeling that I have too many tasks to follow up on than I can fit into my head at any given time. I can just jot down quick notes and categorize them by project by hashtag, or add a task from an email without interrupting workflow too much.

It's a great feeling to jump from a phone call, make a task, and send it to "Thursday" and have it vanish from your list and pop up a different day when you actually can get to it. Something about capturing it but also letting it out of your present mind is calming to me.

In any case, this helps me when I have 47 tasks across two deals to manage over the next couple days. I'm sure there are other apps/systems that work for others, and there's a whole "personal productivity" rabbit hole you can get going on if you start.

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Feb 23, 2018

Nice, not an Outlook guy myself. Definitely know what you mean about the rabbit hole though - I googled "productivity apps" and got so overwhelmed by the results that I had to watch 3 episodes of Arrested Development to come down from the anxiety. (Just kidding...kind of.)

Feb 22, 2018

Keep a tidy desk for one. I keep two lists of what I need to do, one on email where I can set deadlines with reminders, priorities and color code by task so I can group. The second I write on paper daily and it is a list of everything that I want to get done today, in order of importance. I remember reading an article that said you should focus on just 5 tasks per day, so I try not to write down too many things to do and just add to the list as I cross things off and make more time

Feb 24, 2018

Great idea, straight and simple.

Feb 22, 2018

Had the same issue as stated above, but I have a more old school approach. I have a Italian leather folder, which I keep one pen, one manila folder, and a legal pad in. I carry this with me everywhere I go.

The manila folder has three blank sheets of printer paper in it that I use to write down "To Do Items." These items are larger items, like projects and work related items that I need to accomplish in the coming week. Accompanied with deadlines & dates.

The legal pad is used to take down notes involved with the nitty gritty details of those work items. Once I'm finished taking detailed notes on my legal pad I add these pages to the manila folder as appendixes.

I think whichever avenue you choose (old school or new school) you'll find that either will appropriately keep you organized if you develop a firm regiment. The huge key here is to not deviate from your regiment by taking notes on whatever else is handy.

I've totally paused meetings with my MD to grab my manila folder from my office.

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Feb 22, 2018

Any good Italian leather folder recommendations?

Feb 22, 2018

Any good Italian leather folder recommendations?

One and only one. Vera Pelle.

Feb 22, 2018

Haha, judging by the way you wrote your original post I thought to myself "this guy definitely has a specific brand he uses".

I will check it out. Thanks

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Feb 22, 2018

I do something similar: I have a 18 month planner from moleskine that has each week on the left page and a blank lined page on the right. I draw a line down the middle with "Work" on the left - where I highlight the same high-level projects due, and "Personal" on the right (everything from mba apps, wedding planning, taxes, etc).

Every monday I spend the first 20 minutes or so, drinking a coffee, listening to music, and outlining my week: writing in all appointments from MS outlook in the planner, and copying over the to-do lists from last week. It is a little redundant, but it gives me a good sense of what I need to accomplish. Similarly, I also have a larger professional lined notebook from moleskine that has a blank space at the top for the date, and a to-do space on the side. Similar to Keysey, I use this for nitty gritty notes from meetings, to outline thoughts, and to outline lower level tasks. I'll spend 10 minutes first thing each day writing out these low level tasks.

I would suggest trying a bunch of the methods described and working out what works for you. I've found that it is similar to working out: if you force yourself for a few weeks, it will become habit.

Feb 24, 2018

Awesome! Agreed - trial and error will be the key. Thanks for the reply.

Feb 24, 2018

Definitely agree with your second to last line - from what I see with other people, the biggest component is consistency in whatever system you use.

Feb 22, 2018

My method is pretty simple. I keep a clean desk, put everything on my calendar (which also syncs to my phone's calendar), set reminders on my phone, and try to write everything out as much as possible. Physically writing things helps burn them into your brain, plus you get the satisfaction of crossing tasks out when they're completed. Other than that I just bang out my work first thing and leave the rest of the day for calls or meetings.

I should note that I'm in a shop with two other guys and don't have the bureaucracy and bs of superiors setting timelines for me.

Feb 22, 2018

If possible, trying to block work time out in the morning and save the rest of the day for emails/meetings/etc. Even scheduling time in the first hour to appear as busy/in a meeting in outlook. Easier to do intense modelling/thinking first thing before everything else starts distracting you.
I also tend to take 5 minutes at the end of each day to write out on a sticky note 3-4 things I have to do get done the next day. As mentioned above, it feels good to cross things out when you're done with them, also helps to only have a handful of priority things for the day.

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Feb 22, 2018

It's basic, but I made a task sheet in Excel. I've separated it into daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, annual, and ad hoc sections. Columns are as follows: Focus Area, Task, Notes, Working Folders (links), Due Date, and Completion Status (not started, in progress, complete).

I've never felt unorganized and it's easy enough to manage.

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Feb 24, 2018

Great idea, makes sense

Feb 22, 2018

I had a lot of difficulty staying organized when I first started my current role in consulting and OneNote completely changed my career. I went from handwriting everything and relying on my memory to keeping everything in my OneNote except for daily tasks which I continue to write down. Similar to others here, I write down a list of everything I need to do at the start of every week then select the first five tasks I will complete in order of importance. I continue to re-prioritize until my list is complete.

The system that worked best for me was breaking up my OneNote into different categories. My first tab is a 'priority list' of longer term projects the team and I are working on, the next dozen or so relate to the different business units of the engagement I work on and consist of notes from client meetings, information specific to that piece of the project and internal notes for any nuances for the project. I also have a tab for KPIs and metrics that certain partners like to see in their analysis and any internal projects I'm working on.

Feb 24, 2018

Awesome, thanks for letting me know. I've seen a ton of people using OneNote as their central system, so I've been curious as to how they use it.

Feb 23, 2018

Sticky Notes program is used for all active tasks or items due within the week, especially ad-hoc deliverables. This list will get printed if it's too long.

Recurring work or items I need to work on outside of a week go on the Outlook calendar. This accomplishes two things. Keeps my calendar full so people are deterred from putting random stuff on there. But more importantly, I'll get an alert when to start working on deliverables.

Feb 23, 2018

One of my SVP's does this, and I am really fond of it. He has a big whiteboard in his office and will categorize all his different tasks (live deals, pitches, biz dev, conversations, etc.) and will write them all on the board.

I think having it on a whiteboard in plain view makes it more "tangible", and you can't really lose the whiteboard, whereas people will write to-do lists on post its all the time and well...that usually doesn't end well.

Feb 24, 2018

I've got a senior guy in my office that does this as well. He also color codes them to keep him updated on which ones are urgent, in his court, or in the client's court.

It works for him but it does seem like a lot of work for a list that you can only view in your office and have to manually rewrite every update.

Feb 24, 2018

I've been using notepad for couple of years after trying many fancy apps. Since I don't have many tasks to remember, it just works fine, and . I number tasks by priority; list main problems with bullet before under number; writes actions with dash; and change the number as a "x" for done tasks.
1. Meet John Doe
* His interest in xxx
- Research xxx
- Prepare slides
x. Send an xx to someone
* Collect data
* Model that

Before notepad, I tried, trello, todoist, asana, slack reminder, windows reminder,, gmail tasks, etc.

Feb 24, 2018

Pretty basic: I just keep a to-do list as a draft in my email and keep it live during the day. I actually adjust the level of granularity depending on how busy I am e.g. if I am super busy on a deal, I'll keep a very detailed list of all the little things needed. Other times, it'll just be a high level list of deals I'm working on and projects with key next steps/deadline. I also put major deadlines in my calendar so things don't sneak up on me.

Feb 24, 2018

I have a work-in-progress document, it has 2 sections: regular responsibilities and a to-do list. All my tasks are listed, with notes and deadlines. I look at it every morning and highlight (red for urgent, orange for 'keep an eye on it') what to prioritise.

I use Outlook calendar to keep track of meetings. I also add due date reminders for my regular responsibilities.

Finally, I have a notepad which I always carry with me, e.g. for meetings. It's not particularly organised, but I make sure that there is a date and title for each patch of writing. That way, if I want to revisit some notes (happens daily) I can just flick through my notepad and the title will catch my eye.

Being on-top of everything and proactively managing your timelines is incredibly important in industry. I'm currently in a non-finance corporate role (in my industry, the finance function isn't revenue generating/considered "front office") and I'm not considered particularly well organised. By sound of things a few of you would really struggle.

Apr 17, 2018

I keep a whiteboard in my office where I write my tasks for the day and individually check them off when completed.

Apr 17, 2018

I keep a folder for internships, in there i have seperate folders for things like resume, Cover letter, networking, etc,

For cover letter I submit them as just a plain name like "First Last Cover Letter" and after I submit it i would edit the name of the file in my documents and put "First Last Cover Letter Citi" - so I know which is which. I always keep one general format letter in word format as well.

Apr 17, 2018

i put all my files under a folder called "v".

Apr 17, 2018

I put everything on my desktop and when it gets too full I make a new folder called desktop and move everything into there. I'm on Desktop VII right now and it's not too hard to find stuff as it's all sorted relatively chronological order.

Apr 17, 2018

- Sorting e-mail into folders and subfolders (i.e. Inbox -> Dell Buyout -> Due Diligence, Inbox -> Dell Buyout ->Transaction Documents, etc.)

- Taking notes on paper (usually spending two thick notebook per year) regarding everything - short term tasks, instant ideas, conf call notes, etc.

- Regarding news and research on the internet: if I want to read something, I open it in new tab and come back to it when I have time. If some tabs are open unread for more than couple days, I close them as it is not important. For very good things there are bookmarks in browser.

Apr 17, 2018

1. I use Evernote to keep a personal/private to-do list that I update, mostly on my phone, whenever something pops up (I think acting directly on the thought is the most efficient way and you definitely don't forget anything). I also have separate notes for larger individual "missions" like the next vacation plan, for example - keeping this up to date on Evernote has the beauty that you can show it around wherever you are or just pass on via e-mail.

2. For work, I have one central to-do list in Word. At Arial 10, this is currently 5 pages and covers all key next steps as well as notes to myself for later (e.g. remind board in next session that we can't forget X) for each firm. I deal with a handful of portfolio companies currently and always have 5-10 potential investments in the pipeline and a few additional projects for our firm going on simultaneously, and without regular updates to this document (I take a little bit of time to update each day) I would be completely toast.

3. As I am involved in a lot of various projects simultaneously, I have found that the old-school moleskine that was great for me in consulting doesn't really work here in VC - when you want to look up something target company management said ten weeks ago, you simply don't want to be going through 8 notebooks, which cover everything you've done since then, to find the relevant entries. I just keep all hand-written notes on individual sheets of paper (I regularly just raid our copier to get a few pages) and have all notes specific to a portfolio firm / investment opportunity / other project in a folder that I carry around into meetings and calls.

4. Most of the information I deal with is just stored on our network. Pretty complex folder structure but once you've gotten used to it, you can find stuff that some other guy did during diligence back in 2009 with a few clicks.

5. In terms of e-mail, filing stuff away in folders and aiming to keep that main inbox empty is key.

Apr 17, 2018

Hi rp1990, just trying to help:

  • How do you stay organized at work (both in general and on action item lists)? (x-post w/ MC forum) you prioritize? When additional items are added to your worklist on a daily basis, how do you remember ... method? How do you frame your organization method in your mind? Tactically- what type of stuff ... only a matter of time before I drop the ball on something huge. I'd love to hear <
  • How do you stay positive at work? How do you stay positive at work when you're tired, disengaged and unmotivated? In my early ... doors. Does anyone have any suggestions of how to stay positive and enthusiastic at work? I've ... firmly decided not to pursue a career in PE or investment banking, but
  • How do you organize your inbox? How do you organize your inbox at work? Do you make sure to clear your inbox every day? Please ... Resources</p><ul class="career-resources list list-unstyled text-left"><li><a href=&quot ... .com/forums/investment-banking-analyst-a-true-day-in-the-life">Investment Bankin
  • How do you stay productive? My fellow monkeys, What do you do to keep yourself productive at work? I usually feel my ... exercising, please let me know if you do anything differently (what worked for you) to stay productive during ... productivity significantly diminishes after 3pm (even after my second cup of coffee around 1 ish at lun
  • How Do You Stay Awake When On 2 Hours of Sleep? a report due in 2 hours... Any remedies for the lack of sleep that you guys can recommend? How do you stay ... awake at the office when you are only working on a few hours of sleep? lack of sleep ... up scheduling a doctor's appointment at 8 am in order to make it to my internship by 9
  • Best ways to stay organized as a first year analyst? What are some of the best ways you've found to stay organized as a first year analyst? How do ... you organize your computer files and emails? How do you take notes when in a meeting with an Associate ... or VP? What items do are essential to keep at you
  • Investment Banking Analyst: 15 Things I Wish I Knew in seconds if you know what you are doing. Especially if you work in debt, know how to use the ... a god-send- my girlfriend says it looks like I am glowing after I put it on. 14) If you do mess up badly at ... future colleagues can send you some pitches/other helpful materia
  • More suggestions...

If we're lucky, maybe I can guilt some users to help you out: @JohnnyForeigner @Adabot @ivan.diaz

You're welcome.

Apr 17, 2018

Well this is not going to work in a professional environment, but you can put those stocks in excel and upload then to google finance or a couple other sites. They will populate and give a pretty easy way of tracking.

On Bloomberg I have a list of all the stocks I follow which pops up when I sign on. I think it is Launchpad.

Apr 17, 2018

Yea, creating a functional and useful launchpad is key. Also, ask around to see what other traders have as their own spreadsheets for tracking....perhaps someone will send you his, and you can model yours off of that.

Apr 17, 2018

Set up a Bloomberg API which will fill in prices daily. It should be pretty easy to set up a profit and loss with a few calculations.

Apr 17, 2018

A4 notepad, pen, iCal - job done.

Apr 17, 2018

After trying an incredible array of tools for about 4 years....I use my Blackberry Calendar (synced with Google Calendar) for reminders, and a general notebook (Whitelines Squared) for everything else.

Apr 17, 2018

Moleskine to take notes at meetings, iPhone for everything else.

Apr 17, 2018

I just bought a planner for 20 bucks and write shit down

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses - Henry Ford

Apr 17, 2018

Gmail calender. Sync it to your iphone. you can set it up to send reminders via text, e-mail, computer pop up. Its Money.

Apr 17, 2018

Pen (greatest pen ever made):
Also my BlackBerry with the computer sync.

Apr 17, 2018

Pretty surprised by the above.

Outlook calendar, synced to Blackberry.

Don't know where previous posters work, but at my firm (one of the strats) it would be impossible to escape from Outlook as this is how all clients and all partners manage their calendars, which ultimately dictate mine.

Apr 17, 2018

We use Microsoft Dynamics and frankly, it sucks.

Apr 17, 2018

quick base. Its alright, definitely better out there

"An investment in knowledge pays the best interest." - Benjamin Franklin

Apr 17, 2018

Thx a lot...v helpful actually.

ValueAdder - you happen to know of any - or what specifically to google...thx

Apr 17, 2018

Below are various short frameworks to use as a guide. Good luck and keep practicing.

I. Research Frameworks: Business & Management & Price (primarily) + Opportunity + Catalyst
Li Lu [Source: interview]
Is it cheap?
Is it a good business?
Who is running it?
What did I miss?

Buffet []
Do we understand the business?
Do we like the people running it?
And does it sell for a price that is attractive?
What do I not know that I need to know?

James Rosenwald, Dalton Investments [NYU Evaluation Newsletter]
These three criteria are the foundation of each analyst's research!
1) is the company a great business with pricing power and a moat?
2) are the managers interests aligned with our clients?
3) does the current price provide a margin of safety for investors?

Albert Hicks, Bowery Investment Management [NYU Evaluation Newsletter]
I source the majority of my ideas through a combination of screens, news, and other investors. After finding a situation that seems mispriced, I try to quickly determine
(1) why the situation is mispriced
(2) what needs to happen in order for the rest of the market to recognize the mispricing and correct it
(3) whether the time it will take to correct makes it worth doing more work

II. If after deeper analysis (processing, analyzing, interpreting data and information) you have conviction in the idea, then would come the write up and pitch (these frameworks below should answer your original question):

[from HedgeFundWisdom sample issue,]
When presenting an investment idea to a fund manager, an analyst outlines numerous aspects of a thesis.
This section aims to briefly summarize the following bullet points:
- Company background
- The business model & current situation
- The investment thesis
- The bull case versus the bear case
- Market valuation
- Potential catalysts (if any)
- Hedge fund activity in the stock

[From WSO thread: On the Job With Simple As... My Research Process -look it up]
Basically, my pitch boils down to five basic steps:
1)Company/Why market it wrong
3)Upside %
4)Downside %
5)Brace myself for a game of 20(0) questions

[from M&I Hedge Fund Case Studies 101: Part One - Detailed Overview]
Question: But just to get everyone thinking about it, can you explain how you'd usually structure your
1) Recommendation
2) Company Background
3) Your Investment Thesis
4) Catalysts
5) Valuation
6) Risk Factors and How to Mitigate Them

Albert Hicks, Bowery Investment Management [NYU Evaluation Newsletter]
The four things I need to lay out in an investment pitch before it is presented:
(1) what the opportunity is
(2) why the opportunity exists
(3) how we'll realize value and make money
(4) what the downside is and why I'm comfortable with the risk.

Also see
WSO : WH's Interview Stock Pitch Checklist
WSO : Anatomy of the 10-k
Look on the internet (Value Investors Club for example, or publications such as Columbia's Graham and Doddsville - not seeking alpha) for write ups and then use these as templates to guide you

    • 1
Apr 17, 2018

Don't propose any time. Keep it vague. Ask him what times work for him. Not what times work for him in the next 2-3 weeks.

If you mention 2-3 weeks, he will instantly ignore.

"I do not think that there is any other quality so essential to success of any kind as the quality of perseverance. It overcomes almost everything, even nature."

    • 1
Apr 17, 2018

so don't mention a date or a time which is three weeks away?

Apr 17, 2018

Yes, don't. What are your reactions when you hear?

1. What times work for you in the next few weeks to talk briefly?

2. What times work best for you to talk briefly?

Minor difference, but makes a big effect. Small things matter a lot!

"I do not think that there is any other quality so essential to success of any kind as the quality of perseverance. It overcomes almost everything, even nature."

    • 1
Apr 17, 2018

I was always under the impression that you should try to propose a day and rough time (i.e. this Friday after 1pm) and then put in the disclaimer asking what time works if they're unavailable then. Automatically puts a date and time into their head so they don't have to think about anything.

It's like the same affect when you go to a supermarket and see a sht-ton of the same item, but different brands. Takes time and causes you to think. Don't cause your contact to think or put effort into setting up the call, they're not obligated to help you.

Apr 17, 2018

I was always under the impression that you should try to propose a day and rough time (i.e. this Friday after 1pm) and then put in the disclaimer asking what time works if they're unavailable then. Automatically puts a date and time into their head so they don't have to think about anything.

It's like the same affect when you go to a supermarket and see a sht-ton of the same item, but different brands. Takes time and causes you to think. Don't cause your contact to think or put effort into setting up the call, they're not obligated to help you.

It does put a time in their head, but it's also rude. When addressing a senior, almost always let them propose a time.

Apr 17, 2018

the only reason I was thinking about talking three weeks into future was because I have exams in a week for two weeks

Apr 17, 2018
Apr 17, 2018