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.

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