We are bombarded with so many factors that perpetuate disorganization. Computers, fax machines, cell phones, and online services allow us to do more and require us to do more. Microchip speed doubles every 18 months, with no end in sight. There is also a heightened sense of urgency due to rising expectations. If I can email you a question in 20 seconds, why can’t you reply to my email just as quickly?
However, it is not as bleak as it may sound. In fact, I can help you learn how to use organizational skills to survive, and even prosper. You will streamline all aspects of your personal and professional life simply by applying these skills. If you’ve been reluctant to organize, you may have been misled about what it means. Let me clear up any misunderstandings!
Organization is not neatness. You already know that old adage “A place for everything and everything in its place”. It’s half on the right. In my experience, stress comes, not from clutter, but from wanting to clean up clutter and not knowing where to put it. A place for everything is crucial. Everything in its place depends on your needs and your personal style.
Organization is not efficiency. Efficiency is the mechanics of a task, like “What’s the fastest way to get from here to there?” If you look at your “to do” list one item at a time, you can do each item in it. The problem arises when you try to attack them all at once.
The organization is not a destination, it is a journey. People often get frustrated because they organize some aspect of their lives, and then suddenly everything is disorganized again. Organization is a continuous process. As our lives change, so do our organizational needs.
Organization is not a moral issue; Despite what your mother told you. It is a skill. Some people are born with it and others are not. But anyone can learn it, if they are motivated and have the right teacher.
So what is organization? Ask yourself these three questions. It works? Do you like it? And if what you do affects others, does it work for others?
If you have trouble getting organized, you are not alone. In USA Today, a survey of 3,000 people cited that in addition to losing weight, getting organized was their top priority. However, we keep making excuses. If you don’t have time, is it because you are wasting it unnecessarily by not being organized? If you don’t know how, have you ever taken a course on organization? If you don’t want to, is it because you need to try another approach?
It is time to break down the barriers that prevent you from organizing.
Here are some ideas to get started:
1) decide what really matters
Identifying a few things that are really important to you can serve as a great motivator to get organized. Many companies have mission statements posted on their walls. Try to write a personal mission statement.
Take a notebook and pencil and find a quiet place. Make a list of 10 things you love to do. (If eating and sleeping are two of them, write 12!) I tried this exercise and was surprised and saddened to find out how difficult it was to even think of 10 things I loved to do. Most of them were simple, non-monetary things, like “taking a walk in the woods” or “having dinner with my daughter.” And most of them, to my dismay, I’d just been “too busy” to do them. Ask yourself a tough question like, “If you only had 6 months to live, what would you be doing?” If you are not doing it right now, why not?
2) Eliminate the unnecessary in your life
My favorite chapter in Taming the Paper Tiger is “The Art of the Trash Can®”. Research shows that 80% of what we keep we never use. But we are afraid to let it go, afraid that we may need it again. I’ve never met anyone who said that their problem is having too little. Things are our security blanket. However, all things in the world will not fill a hole in the heart. An old adage from a textbook in the 1600s said, “Don’t have anything in your house that you don’t know is useful or you think is beautiful,” and I would like to add, “or love.”
The theme of letting go is also prevalent in our offices. An important step toward better organization in the workplace is a file cleanup day. I orchestrated such a day for a major association in Washington, DC several years ago. A gentleman in the office was horrified at the thought of throwing away the boxes of papers that had accumulated over the past 15 years. On my follow-up visit several weeks later, that same gentleman came up to me, “I knew it,” he said, “We threw away those old records and sure enough, someone called and asked if we had them.” “And what happened? ” I asked. He paused and a slow smile appeared on his face. “Absolutely nothing,” he replied, “absolutely nothing!”
When you’re trying to decide whether to keep something, ask yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen if you didn’t have this?” If you can live with the results, get rid of them!
3) try something different
I think it was an old Burma Shave sign that said “Choose your routine carefully. You’ll be in it for the next 30 miles.” Some of us have been struggling with disorganization for 30 years. Even when you go out, it’s so easy to get back in! It’s easier to keep doing the same than change, even when you want to change. But if you keep doing what you’ve always been doing, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always been getting.
4) Ask for help when you need it
We often hurt ourselves terribly by assuming that everything is competitive rather than cooperative. Recently, in my own home, I frantically ran to get all the trash out before the garbage collectors arrived. I assumed that my husband could see my frustration and would help me. Finally, as he walked to the door, he looked up and asked, “Do you need help?” “Not now,” I replied dryly. He replied, “Why didn’t you ask?” (I reminded myself that this is the same man who can trip over three pairs of shoes and not realize they are there!) It is not a sign of weakness to ask; it is a sign of ignorance not to do so.
5) Eliminate perfectionism and procrastination
I’ve always been the great procrastinator. Then I had the opportunity to work with an art therapist. I had put off creating art, feeling like I couldn’t express myself the way I really wanted to. One day the art therapist said, “Today I want you to draw an ugly picture.” I thought for a minute and then felt relief. Anyone can make an ugly picture, even I can do that. I started drawing and for a moment it looked pretty, and I started to panic, “maybe I can’t even do it right.” Suddenly, I realized that what I had always called “creative procrastination” was actually fear. Fear of not being perfect. If I procrastinate long enough, my fear of not doing it will outweigh my fear of failing, so I will have no choice but to do so.
6) Choose the right tools
My father used to tell me, “Half of any job is having the right tool.” Probably 8 times out of 10, one of the main obstacles for the organization is not having the right tool.
Consider what happens when you don’t have the right tools in the office. In my experience, most offices have paltry filing systems. How can I say? It’s easy – just walk down the hallways and take a look at people’s workspace. If they are full of paper, I can guarantee that the filing system is not working.
One of the biggest mistakes in disorganized homes is not having a “home office,” a place (that you like!) To run life’s business.
7) If a system is down, don’t try to fix it, start over
Photographs? Filling system? (No, this is not a bug, just something to think about!)
8) Manage your “to do” list instead of letting it manage you
In my early days as a professional organization consultant, I was convinced that if I organized enough, I could do everything on that list. Now I take comfort in a comment made by a colleague: “A creative mind always has more ideas than the physical body is capable of carrying out. The only people who finish their ‘to-do’ list are dead.” When you leave work at the end of the day, identify the three most important “to-dos” for the next day – and get them done!
9) Clutter is Deferred Decisions®
I learned this from clothes closets! How many items do you find in your closet because you haven’t decided if you’ll ever use them again: “Maybe one day I’ll lose 10 pounds!”
Have you ever walked into your office one morning and said, “Okay, I’m going to clean up this mess today?” You pick up a sheet of paper, then another, and another, and before you know it, the pile on the left is now on the right. There are three options with any sheet of paper: File, Act, or Throw!
10) Forgive yourself when you’re wrong and move on
Human behavior is not like computer software. It can not be installed. It has to be nurtured.
It always amazes me how much we can learn from children. On a flight from Los Angeles to Chicago, he was sitting next to a six-year-old boy who was traveling alone. He was doing his best to entertain himself and he was actually being very good, but I often wondered, “How much longer is it going to be?” After what seemed like the 100th time, I replied, “Just 30 more minutes. You just need patience.” He looked at me innocently with his big brown eyes and asked, “How long is patience?”
You have already taken the first step towards a more organized life by reading this article. But be patient with yourself and others when it comes to getting organized. Like a puzzle, take one piece at a time. Organized life in a disorganized world may be just a few more pieces of the puzzle. And then before you know it, you can see the whole picture more clearly.