9 Steps to Organization

9 Steps to Organization

When you made your New Year’s resolutions last January, was “Get organized!” near the top of your list? Did you make the same resolution the year before? And the year before? Is your desk still stacked with magazines, catalogues, event schedules, junk mail and very important things to do? Are your closets still untidy and your photos stuffed in shoe boxes? Does your garage make you think that a bulldozer may be the only answer? Do you feel like you will never find the time to do the things you love to do?

Perhaps you are feeling that there is something wrong with you because you just can’t seem to get organized. You ought to be able to do it yourself. Right?

Well, not necessarily! It is very likely that you were never taught organizational skills. Our parents and grandparents were not faced with the information and paper onslaught of the current age, and schools did not address it in their curricula. Even now, with all the excellent organizing books available, the task of getting organized may seem overwhelming.

Don’t despair. You can create order in your life. Here are nine steps you can take to get you started. The first four deal with internal attitudes and address your willingness to make the necessary commitments. The next four involve external components which provide a format for creating systems. The last, but not the least, is where you can go for help.


1. To Commit the Time

To begin, you must be willing to commit the necessary time and attention to set up the systems. However many hours it takes, this investment will save you hundreds of hours (and a lot of anxiety) in the future. How long it takes will depend on the size of the task and the number of hours you can devote on any given day. Basic paper and workflow systems can usually be set up in a day, small filing systems in a few days. Large filing systems take longer. Projects, like photo albums or travel files, can be gathered in boxes and worked on one at a time, a method that helps defuse the sense of overwhelm. Once a system is in use, refinements and modifications can be made as necessary.

2. To Make the Decisions
Next, you must be willing to make the necessary decisions to set up the systems. If you turn the design over to someone else, you will wind up with a system that works for them but not necessarily for you. Your systems need to be created with attention to your particular priorities, patterns and style. And remember, a wrong decision is better than no decision (the techies say “Fail fast!”) because it moves you along in the process. When you discover what doesn’t work, simply make an adjustment.

3. To Embrace Change
You must also be willing to embrace new habits. If you find yourself saying, “That’s the way I’ve always done it,” or, “I’ve always been disorganized, unfocused, late, . . .” try a new approach. Begin to say, “I used to be disorganized, unfocused and late, but now I’m organized, focused, and on time.” Positive speaking, like positive thinking, is a very powerful tool and can be used to your advantage. With this approach, and the support of systems designed with ease of use as a factor, the transition to new habits can be easy. I always favor solutions that move along the “line of least resistance.” If the new way of doing things is easy, change can occur quickly and comfortably.

4. To Do the Maintenance
Because being organized is an ongoing process, you must be willing to commit regular time to maintain your systems. This is the piece we often put off because we are taking care of what seem to be more urgent tasks. However, when our infrastructure breaks down, the simplest tasks become difficult and time consuming as we search for bills to pay or our child’s school authorization form. With the constant flow of information and paper in our lives, and our changing personal and professional needs, it is essential to schedule and show up for maintenance time.


5. The Right Container
One reason disorder occurs is the lack of boundaries. Without boundaries, paper piles spill onto other paper piles. Pens and pencils, rubber bands and paper clips become a jumble in desk drawers. Children’s toys, kitchen utensils, tools and hardware mix together and are time consuming and annoying to manage and retrieve.

The right container is the first step in the solution. First, a container allows us to group “like things with like” either by kind or by function. Second, a container sets limits on the space the items inhabit and keeps them in their place.

Containers come in all shapes and sizes. File folders, file cabinets and desk racks contain papers. Drawers and drawer organizers contain tools. Planning notebooks and PDA’s contain appointments, tasks, contact information and resources. Even an increment of time can be used as a container; a task scheduled from 1:00 to 3:00 on Tuesday afternoon can be comfortably set aside until its time arrives.

Storage boxes and shelves, scrapbooks and photo albums all act as containers to set boundaries for objects and information. By grouping “like with like” in the right containers, we can take the first big step in creating order in our lives.

6. The Right Label
The second component is the right label on a container. A label tells us (and others) what belongs in the container. More important, it tells us (and others) what does not belong in the container. If honored, labels help us maintain our systems. Labels also remind us where things are and save us the time we might otherwise spend hunting for them.

7. The Right Procedure
A procedure should be thought up for maintaining things in your containers: what, who, when, how? An easy way to capture this information is to write down your ideas on post-it™ notes as you think of them. Then stick these in a binder or a small notebook.

When you’ve gathered enough, these notes can be put into documents by category: kitchen, office, playroom, garage, etc. (If useful, certain tasks can be assigned to certain people.)

These procedures can be kept in a house or office manual. They can also be placed “on location.” For instance, the steps for filing health insurance claims can be taped to the front of a vertical file rack containing folders of claims in their various stages of completion. Or, a page about how and where to put tools away can be tacked to the garage wall.

8. The Right Location
And lastly, the right location. If you have old IRS records in your desk drawers and resource information for a current project in a file cabinet with your ski equipment stacked in front of it, your project work will be difficult and your anxiety level high.

Put the IRS records in labeled, uniform-size storage boxes in the closet or a storage area, and hang the skis in the garage. Place your Current Projects and Action Files in a desk file drawer or in a vertical rack on your work surface. Place all the necessary tools for particular tasks in the area where those tasks are done.


9. The Professional Organizer
Most of us have mechanics to doctor our cars, accountants to prepare our tax returns, lawyers to negotiate our contracts, and housekeepers to tidy our nests. However, it is often difficult for us to ask for help with a task about which we feel out of control, embarrassed, or that we ought to be able to do ourselves. Remember, being organized is not a moral issue. It is a skill that can be learned.

The good news is, help is available. You can now hire a professional organizer to help you learn that skill. A professional organizer can offer creative problem solving and an objective view, provide you with practical solutions, and support you and keep you on track during the process of change.

When engaging a professional to help you, remember, this can be very intimate and sensitive work. This person is going to have access to your private life. Choose someone with whom you feel comfortable, someone you feel you can trust. If the person you initially hire turns our to be someone with whom you are uncomfortable, try again until you find the right person.

For an organizer in your area, contact the National Association of Professional Organizers at www.napo.net.

Best of luck!

Excerpted from An Invitation to An Extraordinary Life
© 1993, 2011 Anacaria Myrrha ~ All Rights Reserved

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