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.

Tips to Get Organized in 2011

Is one of your resolutions for 2011 to get organized?  In a survey conducted by the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) in November of 2008, a whopping 96% of the people surveyed said they would save time every day if they were more organized.  But besides saving time, being more organized can reduce stress, increase productivity and simplify your home or office workflow. 

One of the difficulties with getting organized is simply finding the time to do it.  Another is feeling overwhelmed and not knowing where to start.   Here are some tips to help you get started without feeling defeated before you even start:

  •  Start with an area that really bothers you or makes you unproductive.  If you organize that area alone, the payback can be substantial.  This may be your office, your desk at home, your files, the way you handle incoming mail and bills. 
  • Don’t feel like you have to organize an entire office or workspace in one day.   Set small goals and accomplish one goal at a time. 
  • Set aside a few minutes a day to organize.   Imagine if you set aside just 10 minutes a day.  That seems like something you could fit in, right?  Take that 10 minutes and just tackle one drawer in a filing cabinet, one bookshelf, or the top of your desk.  If you can set aside that 10 minutes almost every day (or even just 4 or 5 days a week), think of the progress you can make over time.
  • Optimize your work area by putting things you use often at your fingertips.  Put away items that are rarely used so they don’t take up valuable work space.  
  • Take control of your time.  In today’s world of email, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, it’s easy to get bogged down with communications.  Set aside times of the day when you make yourself unavailable for email and social media and use those times to work on your highest priority projects.
  • Regarding email, if you don’t already have a strong spam filter, that may be your best investment from a productivity standpoint.  Not having to filter through hundreds of spam emails every day can save time to read and respond to important messages.  
  • Try to handle email systematically . . . . make a choice to delete, file, respond or follow up when you first read the message.  Delete, file and respond items can be handled immediately.  Follow up items can be flagged and worked on later.
  • Set aside a block of time each day to respond to emails that have been flagged for follow up.
  • Set limits on the amount of anything you will buy or keep.  This applies to sundries like paper towels, napkins, and so forth but also to office supplies (pens, paper, tape, post it notes), kitchen utensils, and even clothing.
  • Always have donation containers handy for everything from clothing to books to household items.  If you find you are keeping something that you don’t need, want or use, consider donating it.  Remember that something you don’t use or need can be a true gift to someone less fortunate.

Above all, don’t let the need to get organized add to your stress.

Living with Less – Thoughts

I recently subscribed to a blog called BeMoreWithLess.  Written by Courtney Carver, the blog is about simplifying your life. . . about having less debt and more savings, less stress and better health, more joy and less obligation.  Courtney’s blog has posts dedicated to this lifestyle.  I found myself reading several of them and making plans to implement them in my own life.  I was struck by one in particular titled “Free Stuff is Still Stuff”. . . .it was about the irresistable urge to buy $30 worth of makeup so you can get a free lipstick.  The point she made in this post is that free stuff still requires your time and attention and has the propensity to clutter up your life. 

Another of Courtney’s posts deals with the notion that adopting a minimalist approach does NOT mean that you live with nothing, it simply means that you live with what’s important to you. 

If you are interested in these topics, check out the blog at:

Time Management Pitfalls

In addition to things you should do to manage your time, there are also pitfalls that may keep you from being successful.  Here are just a few:

1.  Poor time estimation:  This can cause problems especially if you constantly under-estimate how long tasks or projects will take.  The result may be that you take on more projects or work than you can handle or you over-promise and under-deliver on assigned work.

2.  Poor work/life balance.  If you take on too much work, you may find yourself spending a disproportionate amount of your time on projects for work, which encroaches on your family time, exercise, relaxation or volunteer activities.  Separate the hours of your day into blocks of time and allocate those time blocks to all areas of your life, not just to work.

3.  Thinking you are “too busy” to delegate.  One of the most powerful tools to managing your time and freeing up time to do your “highest and best value” work is to delegate lower priority tasks and projects to others.  There are many reasons we don’t delegate, and I’ll just mention a couple:  thinking that it would take longer to explain the task than to just do it yourself; thinking the person you delegate a task to won’t do it as well as you; and not wanting to ask someone else to do a task that you don’t want to do yourself.  If any of these apply to you, try to look at the big picture.  It may take a while to train someone to do a new job the first time, but after they have learned it, think of the time you will save in the long run.  If you worry about the quality of the work someone else may do on a delegated task, use delegation as an opportunity for developing their skill and working with them to teach them they way to do it right.  Finally, just because you think something is “grunt work”, that doesn’t mean everyone else thinks it is. 

4.  Using more than one calendar to schedule your time and tasks.  It doesn’t matter if you use a paper day planner system, an online calendar like Microsoft Outlook or a white board on the wall, but consolidate all your activities, appointments and reminders in one system.  This will help you keep track of everything you need to do and will eliminate duplicate scheduling.  Think about what type of calendaring system would work best for you and your lifestyle.

10 minutes a day

Do you avoid organizing (or never get around to it) because it just seems overwhelming?  Here’s an idea that you can use to get organized in 10 minutes a day (and you can even skip a day here and there).  Think of the areas of your house that need to be organized.  Then break those areas down into bite sized pieces.

Example:  If you want to clean and organize your master bath, break it down into components.  Mine would be:  medicine cabinet, make up drawer, hair products drawer, nail products and bath products drawer, under sink storage, top of vanity.

Then, just tackle one small bit at a time.  One day, take 10 minutes to review the items in the medicine chest, throwing out the expired medicines, sorting what is left into categories and neatly placing the items on the shelves.

On another day, sort through the makeup, tossing out old or broken containers, sorting all the remaining items and then putting them into a basket or clear container with dividers so that they are easy to find and use.

Continue with each component until you have finished the entire bathroom.  If you continue this process through the other rooms of your house, 10 minutes a day can lead to a completely organized house after a few months.

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