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Combining prosperous work lives and balanced personal lives
January 2006

My goal is to bring you news, insights, and information about leading a balanced and prosperous life.

In this issue, you'll find:

  1. Getting Organized
  2. BossWoman coaching
  3. Up and coming workshops

1. Getting Organized

“It is time to get organized.”

Or so says all the post-holiday home and office catalogues. The catalogues are filled with plastic tubs to store your holiday decorations, calendars to keep track of the New Year, and handbags that promise to keep all of your handbag stuff in different compartments so it can’t get mixed up. Of course we all want to be organized and if these products will do the trick, then we should race out to the store or pick up the phone and get them as soon as possible.

Before you buy more junk for your home or office, think about why you want to get organized, what it would take to get organized, and, only then, what products it would take to help you do so. At the start of this new calendar year, BossWoman eNews will be taking a look at tips and techniques for getting organized.

Why Get Organized?
When I ask audiences in my work-life balance seminars why they want to be more organized, the most common answer is “to save time.”

Being organized does save time. Time management studies found that the average executive spends about one hour a day searching for missing keys, folders, wallets, and pencils. That is five hours a week, 250 a year if you work 50 weeks a year with two weeks off for vacation.

In other words, it takes time and effort to be disorganized. You have to work at it. If you consider yourself disorganized, pause to appreciate your accomplishment. Over a ten year career you have spent 2500 hours looking for stuff you can’t put your hand on within 5 minutes. If you work a 40 hour work week for 50 weeks a year, 2500 translates into a year and a quarter of your work life. That’s almost a mini career by itself.

However, one of the best kept secrets of professional organizers and organized people everywhere is that it also takes time to be organized. Depending on how bad things are, it might take a whole weekend to organize a bedroom closet or a whole year to organize a lifetime of family photos.

Since both ends of the organized-disorganized continuum take time, why not just skip these steps and stay messy? Here is the exciting news from the professional organizers: once you do get organized, it takes far less time to maintain order than to maintain chaos. It is the same law of physics that run cars; it takes more gasoline to get up to a speed than to maintain that speed. You can maintain your organizational systems in 15 minutes increments distributed across the week like this:

  • 15 minutes to straighten up the house at night so that in the morning you are greeted by order before you start your day.

  • 15 minutes on Sunday evening to review your up and coming week and get your calendar and lists in order before you start the work week.

  • 15 minutes on Friday afternoon to review the status of all your projects and decide what “next steps” are required on each and when you are going to do them.

With these 15 minute increments, you can eliminate the hours of searching for stuff. Even if you spend one hour a week maintaining your organizational structure (50 hours a year), you will save 200 hours a year.

So here’s the most important question to ask yourself before you vow that this year you will be more organized: what will you do with the extra time you save from no longer living in chaos? Time for your family, time for more interesting projects in your work, how about time for yourself? Two hundred hours of extra time a year is sizable. Being clear about how you will use that extra time will motivate you to plod through the necessary tasks to get organized.

The second most common reason that participants list to be more organized is to cut down on frustration and increase productivity. Have you ever felt:

  • Frustrated by tasks you can’t complete because the materials are difficult or impossible to find?

  • Embarrassed by deadlines missed because there is no system to keep track of due dates for projects and because the disorganization takes its toll on getting projects done in a timely manner.

Being more productive translates into completing desired tasks quickly so that you can go on to other desired tasks and have more discretionary time to spend on leisure and socializing.

The third most important reason people give for establishing order is that they have gotten overwhelmed and disgusted with their own bad habits. They are also fearful of others finding out how disorganized they are. They may be ashamed of clients/patients/students/ colleagues coming to their offices and judging them as not professional enough for their roles and responsibilities.

Comments I have heard include:

  • I wouldn’t blame them if they fired me. I would fire me.

  • What this kitchen needs is a good grease fire.

  • I can’t bring a date back here so I break up with people before they invite me to their places.

My workshop participants also give this reason as the fourth most common: they are looking for peace of mind. They want their systems to run in the background so that they can occupy their minds with more important matters. This is a favorite reason given by creative people like artists and writers. Being greeted by piles of clothes, last month’s newspapers, and half-eaten sandwiches shuts down their creative juices. Walking into a clean uncluttered room frees them to create. People who give this reason liken the feeling of being organized to feeling they are living life according to spiritual principles such as good stewardship of one’s possessions, sustainability, and Sabbath time.

What are your personal reasons for getting organized? If you are clear about why you want to get more organized, your motivation will carry you through the boring tasks (and they are really, really boring) of getting organized.

Your Ideal Environment
What is your ideal environment?”

Describe the environment with as many words as you can. If you don’t know where you are going, how will you know you are on the right path? Although I often ask coaching clients to “Describe your ideal life,” it had never occurred to me to ask that same question about my own environment until I read “Love It or Lose It: Living Clutter-Free Forever,” a book on decluttering by Barbara Hemphill and Maggie Bedrosian. Just as time management and priority setting gets very easy once you have a life vision, clutter control gets easier once you have an environmental vision.

So ask yourself, “What environment best supports who I am and what I do?” You might find that the gap between your vision and your current reality is not so wide and can be narrowed by buying a few plastic tubs and putting your off season clothes into them.

Or you might find a huge gap. Be warned this questions could life changing. It could get expensive if you describe your ideal environment as “with the sound of the waves outside” and you live in the heart of Kansas. My description about living in an environment that was “clean, uncluttered, and aesthetically pleasing” was in stark contrast to how I was living last year. If you have been a reader of this newsletter you know that I have recently chosen to spend time and money to narrow that gap so that my environment now supports my life.

Here are some additional questions to help you define how you want to use your environment:

  • How much clutter is comfortable for you to live/work in? You might think everybody wants a house magazine picture perfect environment but that is not true. Most people need some “stuff” around them to feel comfortable. For example,
    • Do you like pots and pans hanging from the ceiling in the kitchen?
    • Do you like open shelves for your dishes or do you like them hidden?
    • Do you like you office to be filled with books and magazines?
    • Do you work best with a bulletin board backdrop with a giant calendar or do you like to face your desk towards the door?

  • What styles excite you when you visit other people’s homes or offices or go to model homes? Do you like traditional or contemporary or eclectic? What materials or fabrics are interesting ­ silk, leather, canvas, velvet?

  • What colors are pleasing for the mood you want to create? The psychology of color can be overwhelming but the simplest notion is how you feel about the color. Are reds and oranges high energy colors for you and blues and greens soothing or does one red wall in a camel colored room feel like an interesting focal point to show off your art work? It is your taste that matters.

Defining your ideal environment gives you something to work towards. It does not mean you have to throw everything out and spend lots of time and money redecorating. It might mean reducing the clutter a bit or organizing it in an eye-pleasing way. For example, the human brains reads a collection of little perfume bottles things as more interesting they are grouped together on a shelf or a table than when they are distributed randomly around a room. Simply rearranging objects in a room can make a significant difference.

Being able to reach the equipment you need to complete a task saves time and aggravation. For example, if your bill paying equipment is scattered around, try grouping it into one or two desk drawers now and worry later about what fantastic plastic gizmos you need to purchase to keep everything from rolling around and getting lost.

Principles of Getting and Staying Organized
I had a bad year the year I turned 30. A beautiful baby, great husband, nice home, and challenging job were not leading to the kind of life satisfaction I thought I should have. The crisis turned out to be a great opportunity as I struggled to figure out what was missing. One of my insights was how randomly I was managing my time. I was going through life being reactive, just winging it, worried that I would be found out as one big fraud. In the jargon of the time, I was “not walking the talk.” There was a huge disconnect between my “wise professor” self and the mess that I really was. Once the loose ends of my life came together into a renewed sense of purpose, I learned a lot that year that increased my satisfaction and has informed my personal and work life ever since. So here are some lessons from a “recovering messy.”

  1. Live your life on purpose. Figure out why you are on the earth and it will become easy to throw out old files and say “No” to opportunities that sound good but may not be for you. You won’t see this step on the TV decluttering and remodeling shows but it is an important one. If you are one of my students, clients, or workshop participants you have likely gone through my process of defining your purpose, mission, and vision. Without clarity of purpose, your organizing efforts may result in large folders and closet containers labeled miscellaneous because you don’t know what you are supposed to be doing about them. If you have never gone through the important process of self-definition prior to trying to get more organized, send me a note (Susan@BossWoman.org) and I will send you the steps to writing a purpose statement.

  2. Skip the archives; go for the “here and now.” Common sense would suggest that if you decided to get your files more organized, you should dump all the files in the middle of the floor and start trying to find a system. That “all or nothing” techniques scares most people. They feel numb and paralyzed because the task is too overwhelming and therefore do none of it.

    Instead, start with your present situation and work backwards. Imagine that the first pile of papers on your desk is the only one that needs to be organized, what system would be the best? Set up categories by how you retrieve that information and use it at the present time. If you have to find that piece of paper tomorrow, where you look, what would be most logical to the way your brain works? Very quickly, you will have your present materials reachable and useable for your needs and immediately feel more productive.

    Eventually you can work your way backward to all of your files and organize them using the same logic of “How I will retrieve and use this information.” You will probably find what most people find -- 80% of what is filed is never needed nor used. Here are some ways to apply the “here and now” principle to your closet:

    • The next time you switch your seasonal clothes organize most of your closet in a few hours sorting and purging as you switch the clothes in or out. Throw out or recycle anything you haven’t used that season with exceptions for evening wear or special sports wear like ski garb that you maybe use only every two years.
    • Organize a category at a time, blouses for example one month and suits the next.
    • Every 5 years or so set aside a weekend to pull everything out, clean the floors thoroughly, repaint, repair or replace shelves and start over again.

Stay Tuned
Next month I continue with more principles of getting organized including basic principles of when you most need to get organized, the zone system of organizing, what equipment to buy, and how to set up maintenance schedules. Throughout this year I will be collecting tips for you to apply to your organizational needs.

Busy professionals don’t have time to create extensive and expensive organizational systems. If you are feeling a need to get better organized, start with the barest minimum. Small changes can make big differences.

Susan Robison

2. BossWoman coaching

About the publisher: Susan Robison, Ph.D. is a professional coach, speaker, author and seminar leader. She loves to coach women who want improvement in:
  • work-life balance,
  • career transitions,
  • building your business or practice,
  • time management,
  • increasing productivity.

If you are feeling stuck on the way to your ideal life, give Susan a call for a complementary half-hour coaching session.

She provides keynotes and seminars to business and organizations on the topics of:

  • leadership strategies for women,
  • relationships,
  • work-life balance,
  • change.

She offers her audiences a follow-up coaching session because she knows that workshops don’t work.

Contact Susan for your coaching, speaking, or seminar needs at Susan@BossWoman.org or at 410-465-5892.

3. Up and coming workshops

I have booked a number of work/life balance workshops for the winter that are not open to the public.
Contact me if your group needs a speaker on any of the topics listed above.

I will also be working with Johns Hopkins medical women faculty on “Playing Well With Others: An Introduction to Communication Skills in the Workplace.”
Date: February 17, 2006
Place: Johns Hopkins
Registration, fee, and directions: Linda Dillon Jones, Ph.D., Director, Center for Training and Education: 443-997-6800

Title: “Happiness is an Inside Job: Creating Lives of Joy, Hope & Grace”
Date: March 3, 2006; Soup 6:00; Speaker 7-7:45
Place: St. Joseph Parish (Sykesville, MD)
Registration, fee, and directions: Andrea Springer 410-552-5402

To start receiving the BossWoman e-Newsletter send an email with “Please send BossWoman” in the Subject to: Susan@BossWoman.org.

BossWoman e-Newsletter is intended for informational and educational purposes only. Coaching should not be construed as a form of, or substitute for, counseling, psychotherapy, legal, or financial services.

© Copyright 2006 Susan Robison. All rights reserved. The above material is copyrighted but you may retransmit or distribute it to whomever you wish as long as not a single word is changed, added or deleted, including the contact information. However, you may not copy it to a web site without the publisher’s permission.

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