Successful Organizing Means Listening and Understanding

In today’s paper, I came across a column written by one of the regular contributors to the newspaper.  The article was about her using a professional organizer to get her home office organized in order to be more productive.  Her daily habits included writing notes, phone numbers and “to do” items on scraps of paper that then got lost in the paper shuffle on her desktop.

I was thrilled to see an article about my profession and eagerly read about how the organizer had helped her get her work surface cleared, organize and store her office supplies and recommend containers and other products to help her keep things in order and work more efficiently. 

The article and its praise of organizers fell apart in the last paragraph when the author confessed that she went to Office Depot armed with a list of containers and other organizing supplies to buy and she walked out with nothing.  She went on to write that her brother called and gave her an important phone number which she wrote on a scrap of paper that she now cannot find.  In other words, she has completely reverted to her own system of piling papers on her work surfaces and muddling through her work day losing things and spending time searching for things she knows are in the pile somewhere.

Many people believe that an organizer shoehorns clients into a specific way of organizing that the organizer feels is “the right way.”  This may cause many clients to make the decision NOT to hire an organizer, and in practice, leads to the exact outcome described in this newspaper columnist’s article. . . .the client gets organized during the session but reverts back to his/her old way of working as soon as the organizer leaves. 

What is important for us as organizers to do is to treat each client as an individual. . . .find out how he/she works best, whether he/she needs to have important papers visible and at hand or whether a clean work surface is more important for productivity.  Some clients wok well with colored files in a file drawer that contain various types of “to do” items (bills to be paid, filing, articles to be read, projects to work on).  Others would simply never look in the drawer and bills would go unpaid and articles would never be read.  Some people like to have their tools (stapler, tape, scissors) on top of the desk so they can reach for them easily, others find that distracting and messy and want them put away but in a place where they are easily accessible.

When working with incoming email, some clients can use electronic folders to categorize incoming messages and the client maintains a schedule of checking the folders on a regular basis to act on the items.  Others need to have the messages stay in the “in box” so they are visible when they are working in their email account.  For these clients, colored flags or categories to indicate priority or subject may be helpful.  The emails in the in box can then be sorted by the flags or categories to be handled.  

The important thing for the organizer is to find out what works for the specific client and try to implement systems and processes that will work best for that client as an individual.  This involves talking to the client and truly listening, trying to understand how he/she works best and what type of systems will work best for him/her.  Pushing a client into a specific way of being organized shows a lack of truly understanding the “why and how” of the person’s work style, personality and preferences.

For the newspaper columnist who writes on scraps of paper, a solution may be to have Post-It notes handy for writing these notes, phone numbers and things to do.  She could have a pad of paper or a clipboard where she puts her sticky notes throughout the day.  Then she can act on them, add them to her to do list or calendar and throw away the notes at the end of the day or whenever she has completed them.  This is a baby step toward being more organized as it encompasses her habit of writing on scraps of paper by setting up a way to organize the scraps of paper until she is ready to take the next step to get more organized.

Great App for Blending To Do List & Prioritization

I have always used a “to do” list to track my tasks, phone calls and projects.  However, a simple “to do” list does help with prioritization and scheduling.  There is an app for iPhone and iPad that does. . . .it’s called Priority Matrix.

Based on the Eisenhower method, Priority Matrix lists your projects/tasks in 4 quadrants based on important/not important and urgent/not urgent.  I am a big believer in using this quadrant method for prioritization.  Put simply, the items in the important/urgent quadrant should be done personally by you and they should be your top priority.  Items in the important/not urgent quadrant should be given a deadline so they get done by the time they are needed.  Items that are not important but urgent should be delegated assuming you have someone to whom you can delegate.  And finally, items that are not urgent/not important should be dropped or given the very lowest priority.

The Priority Matrix app is intuitive and easy to use.  It allows you to track your important deliverables and organize your daily activities, putting your emphasis on important tasks.  The app is flexible in that it allows you to:

  • Track completion progress
  • Sort items alphabetically
  • Resize the quadrants to accommodate the number of tasks and details you want to track
  • Use a due-item badge to alert you to a due date
  • Search across all projects
  • Sync your iPad and iPhone through Cloud Sync
  • Use different icons for listed tasks to further categorize


One of the features I like most is the ability to email the matrix (or any quadrant) to yourself or others.  For those of us who have a hard time giving up our paper list, we can still print out the paper until we are able to wean ourselves completely. 

If you haven’t tried this app yet, I highly recommend it.  It is one of the very best apps I’ve found for helping with prioritization.

More on Time Management

Here are 5 more time management tips:

1.  If something you have to do is important, write it down!  Keep one To Do list and keep it handy at all times so you can jot things down (or add them electronically if you have it on your phone, iPad or other PDA).  You can later schedule time in your calendar to work on projects or tasks, but try to eliminate the habit of jotting things down on scraps of paper or post-it notes. 

2.  Keep your desktop work area clean except for what you are working on.  Don’t let piles of paper, mail, bills and magazines clutter the desktop and crowd your working area.  The time you will spend shuffling through papers looking for items on a cluttered desk is a huge time waster.

3.  At the beginning of each day, take a few minutes to determine your top 5 priorities for the day and make sure you schedule time to get them done. 

4.  Don’t be a perfectionist.  Spend only the time that is necessary on each task rather than trying to be perfect.

5.  Attend fewer meetings.  Always question the necessity of your presence at meetings and be ruthless in cutting out unnecessary meetings.

Effective Time Management for Higher Productivity

Do you feel you’d be more productive if you could just control your time better?  Do you often find that you’ve spent hours working and you haven’t accomplished much?  In the next few days, I’m going to pass along a few tips about how to gain more control of your time.  If you get one or two ideas that you can apply, great!  Also, if you have an idea to share, please let me know.

1.  First and most important, schedule your important tasks in your calendar.  I’m a big believer in To Do lists, but remember that a To Do list is just a reminder of the things you need to get done, it’s not a commitment to getting them done.

2.  Schedule the most important and hardest tasks at the time of day when you are the most productive.  Conversely, schedule low priority tasks for times when you don’t have much energy.

3.  Stick to your schedule and minimize interruptions and distractions.  Don’t check your email every 5 minutes and don’t have an “open door” policy that allows your staff to have access to you at any time.  During your periods of highest productivity, close your door and concentrate on the projects that are the highest and best use of your time and skill set.

4.  Deal with mail and email at times when you can actually handle them rather than just glancing at them and leaving them in the “in box.”  With paper mail, open each piece and take care of it by either tossing it, filing it, delegating it or putting it in the proper follow up folder.  Do the same with email so that you don’t end up with hundreds of items in your email in box.

 5.  Delegate!  Remember that every task you are able to delegate frees your time for higher and better uses.  More importantly, don’t delegate any task that can be eliminated. 

Watch for more time management tips over the next few days.

Do you use a label maker?

Using a label maker – Remember when we used to have those label makers where you turn the wheel to the correct letter, punch it and then move on to the next letter?  They were fun when I was a kid, but I’m too busy to take that much time creating labels for everything these days.  If having neatly typed labels on all your files and boxes is important to you, by all means get one of the newer labelers that are designed to create labels in a fraction of the time of those dinosaurs we used to use.  However, another approach is to simply use a black marker to neatly write file names on folders or to write the contents on storage boxes.  Using a marker is certainly faster and easier, and rarely requires you to run out and buy additional supplies.        

Do you use a label maker?  Why or why not?

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