Why Get Organized?
The average businessperson receives 190 pieces of information each day. The average businessperson wastes 150 hours each year looking for stuff. Add 10 more hours and that is an entire work month. If you got organized, you could have an extra month each year! Just think how much more you could accomplish (or how much vacation you could have) if you got organized. You could take a three-day weekend every other week and still do as much as you are doing now -- or MORE. What a concept.
Most of us have some sort of organizing system or, more likely, multiple systems. Unfortunately, those systems are not all-encompassing. They have holes, things that don't fit or aren't accounted for within the system you have designed. The piles on your desk result from holes in your system (as well as from the incoming 190 pieces of information each day). What you need is one, all-encompassing organizing system. Until you have one, simple, intuitive, easy-to-maintain system, attempting to clean off your desk will only thwart, exhaust, and annoy you. And your desk won't stay clean for long.
One of the major benefits of having a single, comprehensive system is that we don't have to make thousands of little decisions each day, such as "What do I do with this piece of paper?" "Where can I put this so I can find it again later when I need it?" Making 190 of those decisions each day is emotionally and mentally exhausting. Once you have a system, you know where those pieces of paper go, and it is simply a matter of putting them there.
You also need to change the way you think about those 190 pieces of new, incoming information each day. The biggest mistake disorganized folks make is believing there is a "later." For us, there is only "now" and "too late." All the things we optimistically put off till later end up just lying there for days, weeks, months, or years. How old are some of the things in your stacks? We need to develop methods for making decisions about things as they come in, not waiting till that magical hour in the mythical "later" miraculously appears. Then and only then can you begin get control of your own personal chaos.
What qualifies me to help those of you who are by nature disorganized? Because I am just like you. I am, by nature, disorganized. I have the same personality profile as most of my clients; that is, we are creative, we hate details, we are spontaneous, and we like to leave things open-ended. We are the creative geniuses of the world. Our energy is focused on the future -- the next project, the next idea, the next grand scheme. Unfortunately, paper belongs to the past or, at best, the present. Our attention is on the future. Therefore, clutter is the natural side effect of being creative. That doesn't mean we don't have to deal with it; it just means we have a good excuse for our mess!
Given my personality profile, I have just described someone you would probably not hire to help you get organized. Another factor comes into play; I was born legally blind. This problem went uncorrected until I was 30. The effect has been that since birth, if I did not know where something was, I couldn't find it by just looking for it. So I learned to create simple, disorganized-person-type systems that are easy to set up and maintain.
If you only have the energy to implement one thing from this book, make it Step 1, the Cockpit Office. If you have the inclination to go further, implement Step 2, Air Traffic Control. Do not do Step 3 only, or Step 6 only, because each step builds on the last. I recommend spending at least one week accomplishing each step, but I don't care how long it takes you to do all the steps, just do them in order, please. What is offered here is a very simple system for businesspeople. It works for everyone, even you, because of its simplicity. You can modify it to fit your individual circumstances, but the basics apply to anybody who has a desk. So get going and get organized!
The Game Plan
Some of us need to have the big picture before we are willing to listen to the details, so here is an overview of the whole system. Each step is intended to be executed over the course of a week. At the end of each chapter is a detailed checklist.
One tip for success . . . getting organized is not a solitary activity. You will more likely succeed if you have someone to discuss things with, work with, or just to help keep you on track. Otherwise, you may easily get sidetracked, find something else to do, or simply never quite get around to it. So tackle this project with a friend, a family member, or a coworker. Share your schedule with them for the entire six-week program and ask them to ask you for weekly updates.
If you still have trouble getting off the dime, then invite them over for no more than four hours at a time. Fix them a pot of coffee (or a pitcher of margaritas) and tell them their job is not to touch anything, but rather to keep you on task. It is far easier for them to toss stuff-it isn't their stuff and they are not attached to it like you are. Truth be told, it will probably all look like junk to them. Keep to a schedule. Allow no more than 30 seconds for keep/toss decisions. Five seconds is even better. In your heart of hearts you know immediately what to do with your old stuff, you just let your fear get in the way.
step 1: THE COCKPIT OFFICE
When you sit down at your desk to work you should have everything you need to complete any project. Many of us believe that having other people interrupt us is the biggest waste of our time. In reality, interrupting ourselves is the real thief of our time.
Consider your desk your "Cockpit." Inside your Cockpit you want only "now," "happening" kinds of things, not old, archaic, moldy things that have not seen the light of day in years. For example, consider that file drawer in your desk, the one easiest to reach. What's in it? I'll bet you cannot even name, much less use, some of the things in it. It is a place where things go in and never come out again. They are often "important" things, not frequently used things. If the drawer contains some frequently used things, they are probably only in the front couple of inches. Sound familiar? Step 1, then, is to create the Cockpit Office, a space where you have only the essential tools necessary to do your work.
step 2: AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL
If you need to remember to do something, how do you remember to do it? You probably put that important piece of paper on the desk in front of you where you can see it. The next important thing you absolutely must not forget to do goes in front of you, too. The next follows suit, and on and on, ad infinitum. Soon you are buried under important pieces of paper, and every time you look at them, you ask yourself, "I wonder what is in that pile that I am forgetting to do?" Up goes your stress level. Creating an Air Traffic Control system is the alternative to the "out of sight, out of mind" methodology that most folks use. Your Air Traffic Controller is your single radar screen for each day and contains
* a section for appointments,
* a section for to-do's, and
* a section for important notes relevant to that day.
So far, the greatest number of calendars any one of my clients was using concurrently was eight. How many do you use? If you have one you carry with you to write appointments on, one on your computer, one on the front of the refrigerator the family uses, and one on the desk pad at the office, how can you possibly expect to not miss something sometime? We are not even going to talk about the sticky notes everywhere or about all those things you carry around in your head. It is too much for anyone to check all of them every time. You need one system, one radar screen that allows you to schedule activities for one day at a time, so you only have to look at them when you need to act on them. You do not need to have them lying around cluttering up your desk and making you feel overwhelmed.
The notes page in your Air Traffic Controller (to be explained in detail later) replaces the 17 layers of sticky notes, the backs of envelopes, and the odd scraps with pertinent data on them as well as the reports, agendas, meeting notices, and copies of things already lost at least once, which many of us typically have lying around on our desks so we will "have them when we need them."
step 3: THE PENDING FILE
Many clients think the Pending File is the best idea I offer them. The Pending File works hand in hand with Air Traffic Control to get rid of clutter. When you find a piece of paper that requires action later, but does not need its own individual file folder, you note the required action on the appropriate day in your Air Traffic Controller. Then you put the supporting piece of paper in the Pending File. There it is, out of the way but not forgotten. Simple yet brilliant, yes?
At this point, we will have mastered the physical environment. It is time to deal with "every piece of paper" in your life. To more fully refine and personalize your office, we need to look at what other systems, routines, and repetitive tasks we can systematize to streamline the workday. After Step 3 is completed, you will have one, simple, all-encompassing system for all the papers, appointments, and to-do's in your life.
Now we go to level two, where we deal with your attitudes about those 190 bits of information that come in each day.
step 4: MAKE DECISIONS
How many things can you do in a day? 10? 20? 50? If 190 requests are made of you each day and you can only do 20, how many times do you need to say "No"? Do you say "No" 170 times each day, or do you say "Maybe" or "Later" or "I'd like to someday"? Much of the clutter surrounding you is simply generated by those unmade decisions.
How many times do you pick up a piece of paper, look at it, say "I don't know what to do with this," and set it back down? The first time you have a piece of paper in your hand, you know 99.9 percent of the time as much as you will ever know about that piece of paper. So JUST MAKE A DECISION. When we do not have a system, the process of deciding what to do with each piece of paper is exhausting. Once we have a system, it is a snap.
When I work with clients and they say, "I don't know what to do with this," I ask "What is it?" "Why are you saving it?" "What action is required?" and "Should you really just throw it away?" Somewhere in the series of questions, they tell me what should be done with the paper. Then I point out that they really did know what to do with the paper, they just weren't doing it. Why? We, as human beings, have an addiction to paper. We save paper we do not need. Therefore, the plan is make a decision the first time you have it in your hand; shorten the process and eliminate the clutter.
step 5: PRIORITIZE ONGOINGLY
(I realize I "Ogden-Nashed" a word here but our language doesn't have one quite as perfect.) Most of us are being "nibbled to death by ducks." By that I mean, we are each inundated with niggling little things each day that eat up our time. "Ducks" are those unnecessary, unproductive phone calls that interrupt us on our landlines, cell phones, pagers, satellite dishes. They are the other people's emergencies we get sucked into, as well as the faxes and e-mails, which assume a status of urgency by their very nature regardless of their true status, and on and on. Statistics have shown that only 15 percent of daily interruptions are truly worth your attention. That means 85 percent of them are wasting your time. Meanwhile, the truly important things we need to accomplish fall by the wayside. Prioritizing helps us to focus on the essential stuff and avoid the "ducks."
First, prioritize your Air Traffic Control daily radar screen. Remember Step 2? (This also helps sidestep procrastination, by the way, but more on that later.) Then, weigh the incoming "ducks" against your progress on the already identified most important tasks on your list. If you don't write down what you need to do, and prioritize that list, you have nothing to measure the "ducks" against. Last, but certainly not least, is Step 6.
step 6: PLAN YOUR DAY, END YOUR DAY, CLEAN OFF YOUR DESK AT THE END OF THE DAY
Once you have conquered your physical environment and modified your attitude about the incoming, you are now ready to institute some daily habits.
Plan Your Day means to start your day by reviewing your radar screen (your appointments and to-do's) and prioritizing your day. It includes having at least one item that is a baby step toward a larger goal on your list. Once you have created a plan, you have obtained the assistance of your greatest ally, your subconscious, to help you in manifesting your plan. You can focus your energy where it will be most effective and enter your day head-on, calm, prepared, and in control.
End Your Day means to review your radar screen, check off the tasks that are completed, reschedule any tasks that are still incomplete, and have closure with your day -- finished, complete. This component is absolutely necessary for those of us who have brains that won't shut off. It can be the greatest gift to not wake up at 3 a.m. with an "Oh NO! I forgot to (fill in the blank)." This is an amazing way to improve your sleep patterns.
Clean Off Your Desk at the End of the Day means just that. Once you have conquered your physical environment and are making decisions as things come in and prioritizing ongoingly, cleaning off the desk at the end of eight or so hours should be a cakewalk. I mean, really, how much can accumulate in eight hours? Certainly you will have a different answer than if you only are cleaning off your desk weekly, monthly, or yearly -- as you may be doing now, eh?
So, that is it . . . what do you think? Doable? You bet, so let's start and . . .
GO GET ORGANIZED!
Excerpted from Order from Chaos by Liz Davenport. Copyright © 2001 by Liz Davenport. Excerpted by permission of Three Rivers Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.