Posts Tagged ‘chronic disorganization’
Organization and Quality of Life
Organization is a little like art. We may not always know how to describe it but we know it when we see it. Without ‘organization’ the quality of our lives is diminished. I have been privileged, as a public speaker to travel to Japan and The Netherlands. I have had organizing clients in Bermuda and Costa Rica. And I’ve corresponded regularly with readers of my books in Korea, Brussels, England and Saudi Arabia. Everyone I have spoken with shares the view that quality of life and organization are paired. “An organizer is uniquely able to influence a client on reaching goals, managing stress, and getting things done” notes Mayumi Takahari, President of the Japanese Association of Life Organizers. Reaching goals, managing stress, and enhancing productivity are at the very heart of a good quality of life. My Bermuda real estate client said, “I want to conduct my business efficiently but not lose sight of old ways that bring us quality of life in Bermuda.” In organizing terms, that meant setting up office hours rather than permitting constant interruptions, and developing routines at work so her fine 18th century home could be dedicated to family and leisure.
Organization and Demographic Shifts
The Japanese are known for living and working efficiently in small spaces. The average home is only 983 square feet. They enjoy the planet’s longest life span. It is common to see active 80 and 90-year olds. There are also many baby boomers. Elderly Japanese are increasingly moving into senior community homes. Many middle-age boomers no longer want their parent’s possessions. “Middle aged people and younger prefer to shop at IKEA”, my Japanese/American translator told me. Coping with multi-generational stuff that is no longer wanted or handed-down is an example of how professional organizers are smoothing out these demographic shifts. Demographics in The Netherlands are also shifting. It is common for both household adults to be working. Boomers are sandwiched between the needs of their grown children and elderly parents just like in the US. Affordable housing is in very short supply. And, more and more people are working from home as corporations outsource. Here too, organizers smooth the way helping families and businesses manage projects, time, clutter and space.
Organizing Makes The World Greener
The rain forests of Costa Rica with ozone-filled clouds wafting past 2,000 year old trees and bizarrely colored frogs jumping at your feet can turn anyone into an environmentalist. My client, a professor at a Costa Rican university, and I traveled miles to take waste paper from her office to a trade school where it is combined with banana by-products and pressed it into another generation of paper. Recycling, reusing and repurposing is important in small countries were landfills are not an alternative. Even small towns in Japan have modest recycling centers. Charitable-giving, with its roots in the Christian church, is not a big part of Japanese culture. In Holland these charitable thrift stores are common and known as ‘kringloopwinkels.’ “In the Netherlands we are known for frugality”, a leading organizer told me. “Our clients tend to want certain objects completely used up before they are willing to discard them.” Yard sales and garage sales are strictly a US tradition, though flea markets have there origin in Europe. My Dutch colleagues were unfamiliar with consignments stores but Tokyo touts high-end, designer brand consignment stores. Every country has its own reuse, repurpose and recycle methods.
Organizing Is Universal and Personal At the Same Time
Organizing has universal appeal, but it is still a fairly personal activity. This is very beneficial to chronically disorganized clients who require one to one assistance. A Japanese organizer asked me, “I am patient while my client learns the organizing process. I believe it is better to wait than rush her. However, it means the organizing takes a very long time. Can you tell me how to manage a client who works so slowly?” Organizers everywhere confront these issues with grace and compassion. The Netherlands, with its long tradition of psychology (think Freud) makes it easy for organizers to connect how the mind works to how people organize. If you are diagnosed with ADD you can get a ‘persoonsgebonden’, a personal budget from the government for services, including organizing services. In Japan, an obstacle to organizing like a neurological disorder or a learning difference might still be considered a personal failing though thanks in part to professional organizers, that is changing. In Bermuda, Costa Rica, and many countries throughout the world, asking for organizing support carries a stigma. Organizers are playing a role in helping to bring that stigma to an end.
—-This article originally appeared in the March/April 2012 issue of NAPO News.
My client, Lisa does not know how to stop. Lisa is a 39-year old university professor. Like most professors, when it is time to prepare her student’s reading list, she reviews hundreds of books and academic journal articles. That was overwhelming enough, but to ‘keep up’ now, she also has to go through videos, podcasts, and blogs. “I’m afraid I’ll miss something really vital to their education”, Lisa says. She researches and prepares, prepares and researches until the final deadline for submitting the reading list looms close and large. “I have no idea when to stop because I have no idea when I’m done,” Lisa confesses.
It’s a common complaint these days. In the era of endless, information is infinite, but time is not. Time is finite. So at some point quantity has to be qualified. What is a sufficient quantity to sift thru? How much is enough to qualitatively satisfy a need? It’s increasingly difficult to know. Too Big To Know by David Weinberger traces the history of facts as they evolved from scarce, isolated foundations of finite bodies of knowledge to the present day where knowledge and facts are common, group-oriented, and readily available. The concept of rare has gone away in an era of endless when things are equally and endlessly available.
If you find it difficult to stop, here are some tactics you can use:
- Practice the Law of Diminishing Returns which is the tendency for a continuing effort toward a particular goal to decline in effectiveness after a certain level of result has been achieved. Or, as a client in Houston once put it, Stop when the lemonade ain’t worth the squeeze.
My client Debra is an HR director for a law firm. Her job is to find qualified prospective attorneys to work for the firm. The longer she keeps looking, the more the open post continues to go unfulfilled. The other attorneys have to add more work to their plate to cover for the unfulfilled position, and the as-yet unhired attorney’s contributions are forestalled. Debra says, “It’s just not worth it to the company for me to keep going and going and going with my recruitment efforts.”
- Spell ‘done’ out ahead of time. Debra decided to prospect the 10 best candidates as a result of her best efforts exerted over 30 days. Any more effort applied actually diminishes the return.
- Keep in mind that progress towards closure is a quality of life issue. It is good for your mental health to complete things. David Allen, of Getting Things Done fame rightly observes that, “When we spend a lot of psychic energy on half-closed loops, on things left undone, we waste time and energy that could be put to better use elsewhere.”
- Ask yourself, outloud, what are the 2 things I can do right now to bring this task/project to closure, to get it off my to do list? It might be to make a call, find something on the web, get a question answered, or take even a small action towards closure.
- Close before you open especially in the morning. Finishing something early in the day builds a “meaning reservoir”, an expert on obsessive behavior once told me. Completing just one thing early in the day can give meaning to the entire day.
- Focus on one or two big wins for the day.
Are you confused about what information to keep? How to keep it and for how long? Digital society has given rise to entirely new classes of information that require us to make more and more deliberate us decisions about our ‘stuff’. If you don’t decide, you let the deluge of information overwhelm you. Consider bank statements, for instance. Hard copy or digital or both? Hard copy gives you that ease of viewing without ever being near a computer (assuming your bank statements are well-organized), and are permanent unless you have a major fire in your home but they do take up space. Digital copies are neatly organized and invisibly stored but only accessible with a computer. Also, many banks are putting a limit on how long they’ll keep your digital data. Both versions, digital and hard, seems a bit exccessive. And so it goes, for every document and bit of information you encounter.
New Classes of Information Sample______________________
Born digital/stays digital E-greeting cards
Born digital/tangible twin set Electronic legal document, printed and signed
Born digital/selective tangible E-mail
Born tangible/stays tangible Greeting cards received by snail mail
Born tangible/digital twin set Heritage photos with no negatives that are scanned
Born tangible/selective digital Business cards
In the book Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age, the author, Viktor Mayer-Schonberger predicts photos and documents will soon come with self-determined expiration dates and the capacity to self-destruct. Remind anybody of Mission Impossible? Until then, I highley recommend, given our digital society, that you proactively determine which documents are in which class. Those decisions will then guide you about storage, retention and disposal. But if you’re still overwhelmed, contact a local professional organizer to give you a hand.
A day is still 24 hours long yet there are features of modern work that seem to bend a day a little bit farther over its natural edges, a phenomena I call ‘work creep.” In the name of greater productivity, there are out-of-office conference calls, weekend team building trips, shifts to cover, and time zone differences. ‘ Technology has made it possible to work without an office, without a supervisor, and without regard for time of day. In the absence of absolute clarity about the boundaries of work, the line between our working lives and our non-working life is blurred, and discretionary time is disappearing altogether. 62% of at-work email users check work email over the weekend. 50% check email on vacation. In 2009 Americans threw away 465 million vacation days. And 40-hours is rapidly becoming the new part-time. Add to this mix, the fact that we are in a deep recession where the expectation of working longer hours is the norm, and its no wonder we find it hard to find the time to anything but work.
As a professional organizer and time management expert, I tell my clients that I will find them more time, but not to invest into more work. Instead it will be leisure time that we will actually put into their schedule to rest, relax and recreate. Here is where that time can be found:
- Use Skpe, web-based meeting programs, and phone to limit face-to-face meetings.
- Agendize business phone calls, all meetings, and interactions. Write a teeny agenda of what to cover, ask, solve or do at those interactions.
- Delegate to the machines. Taking time to learn how to optimally use your smartphone, tablet, web tools, software and apps can be a huge return on investment in terms of time you save.
- Limit social media usage to a hour at a time. Set an alarm. Get up, walk, and then before setting the alarm for the next hour, decide if you can knock off.
- Schedule leisure, rest, relaxation, and every other kind of downtime. It may sound counter-intuitive to your sense of spontaneity and fun but you’ll find you have the best of both worlds: spontaneity and planned non-work time.
Need more help? Contact a professional organizer who can show you how to manage your time to combat work creep.
PURGE AND OUTPUT
A society marked by inundation requires a new time management, one that puts more of an emphasis on purging and output than the old time management does. We regularly have to carve out time to clear up backlog and inundation whether it’s our hard drive groaning with content, flash drives of mysterious content floating around the desk, or scores of bookmarks and RSS feeds. Purging has to move into the mainstream of our schedules and not left “for a rainy day” or “when we find down time.” Those days are gone and not coming back.
Here are three ways to purge:
- Scour your Favorite (bookmarked websites) and RSS feeds monthly. What else do you do monthly? Review your investment statements? Visit your Mom? Tie your scouring habits to something you already do monthly.
- Download thematic, archival content to flash drives and label the flash drives. Get stuff off of your hard drive that has a theme and is inactive. Examples might be an old job search, or the research material for a report you finalized. Another option is to send this stuff to the cloud using Dropbox or another cloud alternative.
Purging takes time up-front. The return on this organizing investment is great. It saves time finding information, saves time coordinating files together, and saves time releasing space on your computer. It also saves time that would otherwise be wasted worrying about what is where. Never underestimate how much wasted energy and time is devoted to worry.
Output activities means actualizing all that information you have gathered. Make it come alive. Use it. Output activities include:
- Print your favorite photos. You are allowed to have favorites!
- Plan time to view videos and movies
- Move your music files to where you’ll actually listen to them
Couple your purging habits with output activities, and you’ll be able to turn ’overwhelm’ into plain old ‘whelmed.’
In a world of endlessly available, unlimited information, it is not so easy to know when a job has been completed and has come to closure. If you’re doing research, how do you know when you’re done especially when there is so much more information ‘out there’ that could be incorporated into your findings? How in-depth or thorough does a report need to be before it can be considered done? Unlike other kinds of work, knowledge work requires judgment and experience to determine when you have reached the point of diminishing returns where additional work will not add enough value to justify the cost, effort and time. Closure has come to mean not so much when something is ‘finished” as when the tendency for a continuing effort toward a particular goal actually causes effectiveness to decline after a certain level of result has been achieved.
My client Marsha is in HR, charged with ‘prospecting for the best legal talent available’, one of those knowledge work kind of assignments that can go on forever. “I never knew when enough was enough. I attended recruitment fairs, interacted on social media, prospected at law school events…there just seemed no end to the work.” Meanwhile, all that time prospecting for a new attorney meant the open post continued to go unfilled, the other attorneys had to add more work to their plate, and the yet unhired attorney’s contributions was forestalled. “It’s just not worth it to the company for me to keep trying to find the perfect candidates. I’m done when I prospect what I think are the best 25 candidates a month.”
Another factor that affects closure (finishing or completing something) is the extent to which one is taken off task by an interruption or distraction Each day a typical office employee checks e-mail 50 times and uses instant messaging 77 times, according to RescueTime, a firm that develops time-management and tracking software. So defend your right to concentrate. If you truly need to close the door, turn off the cell, and leave email unattended for 3 hours, do it. A recent Harvard University study of 600 managers found that the most significant factor in their perception of their best work days were the days when they made progress, the days they were able to move work forward to closure. Their findings are in a new book called The Progress Principle by Teresa Amabile and Steven J. Kramer. I have a client who puts yellow crime scene tape across her cubby office opening. She doesn’t have a door but the message is clear. Don’t disturb her till the tape comes down. Many companies have a “no devices in this meetings” policy. Find a place to hide where you can concentrate.
Saving things is a part of the human experience. We are a species that collects, enjoys, and loves objects for sentimental reasons and sometimes for no reason at all. Some people who collect all kinds of electronics, gizmos and gadgets have what psychologist Dr. Randy Frost calls ‘object-sensuality’ in his book Stuff . Object-sensuality is the ability to experience objects sensually in rich detail – their precision, craftsmanship, and weight and size. According to Dr. Frost, this ability may indicate a special form of creativity and an appreciation of aesthetics,even the aesthetics of machines. “The very meaning of objects expands with the sensory experience of them”, notes Dr. Frost. Long ago I write about this kind of phenomena in my book Conquering Chronic Disorganization. Object sensuality and collecting is fine but a line can be crossed into a more negative form of technohoarding under the following circumstances:
SERIOUS TECHNOHOARDING OCCURS WHEN:
- The acquisition of and failure to discard useless, non-collectible and obsolete electronics clutters up living spaces and impedes normal activities such as cleaning, cooking and sleeping.
- The impulse to purchase electronics is uncontrollable and results in debt or diversion of money from necessities.
- A preoccupation with internet, computer, or electronics disrupts family relations, work obligations and sleep.
If you are someone who technohoards and you want to change, try this:
* Ask yourself what need is fulfilled by being amidst all the clutter. It could be the need for seclusion, control of your environment, or a need to feel protected and secure. Machines can do this for you. People, well, now that’s a little messier. Confront your needs and see if you can get them fulfilled more constructively.
* Make room for the future. Clutter keeps us stuck in the present and in the past.
* Think of yourself as someone who deserves to be picky, selective and more discerning about how you choose to spend your time, money, effort and space.
* Got technohoarding real bad? Contact the Institute for Challenging Disorganization, www.ICD.com for a professional organizer specially trained in hoarding behaviors.
At the ripe old age of 58 I have come to understand that people usually change when there is something in it for them to do so. The same applies for why they don’t change. There is something in it for them to not make the change. Recently I worked with a chronically disorganized client whom I will call Joshua. Joshua was of two minds (at least.) He wanted to change the cluttered environment he was working in, but at every opportunity given to him to de-clutter (i.e. discard, donate, shred, sell, etc.) he chose to hold onto the item. How could I reconcile Joshua’s stated desire to do something different (i.e. declutter) with his inaction that left things exactly the same? How could I get him unstuck?
I employed a method that I call ‘Disorganization – What’s In It For You?’ I learned this technique from Byron Van Arsdale, a business coach who gave a presentation at an Institute for Challenging Disorganization conference. It was very successful with Joshua. Here’s how it went:
(Judith) Here’s a stack of credit card receipts for 2008 purchases. What’s in it for you to keep these receipts?
(Joshua) I have no idea who much I’m spending. If I keep them I’ll someday find out how much I’m spending.
(Judith) Okay. That’s a good goal. If you were to sort these receipts by store and add up each stack you would know what you spent in 2008 in these stores. From my experience, I can tell you that sorting and tallying this size stack of receipts would take about 2 hours. What’s in it for you to spend two hours knowing what you spent in 2008? (Joshua) It would be worth two hours to finally get it done.
(Judith) Okay. We could get your schedule and plan out the two hours. What if you could find out in about 30 minutes. Would there be something in it for you to spend less time to know the same thing?
(Joshua) Sure. The less time the better.
We went online to the bank that issues Joshua’s credit card statements and arranged for a year-end statement for 2008. It came by email with a breakdown of all his expenditures by type. It took less than a half hour.
(Judith) Can I toss out the receipts?
(Joshua) Not yet. I’m not ready.
(Judith) That’s fine. What’s in it for you to wait?
(Joshua) If I wait I’ll get used to the idea of not having the receipts for real, in my hand.
(Judith) I’m going to print out your year-end statement so you can hold it in your hand.
We printed out the 2008 and 2009 and 2010 year-end statements. Joshua tossed all his receipts. He even shredded his monthly credit card statements for those years.
Once you know what you get out of a behavior, you can change it. For Joshua, what he gets out of saving receipts is a mental reminder to deal with where his money is going. Saving the receipts never really gets him to that outcome. But now that he was aware of what was in it for him to save the receipts, we could do something different, something more powerful to actually achieve his goal. There almost always is a better way, a more organized way to get at the same goal.
You can try the ‘Disorganization: What’s In It For Me?’ method with any organizing obstacle. You might discover that what’s in it for you to keep your stacks and piles and stuff is:
A feeling of control
A fear of forgetting
An environment of inventiveness
Remember, the second part of the method is to find a better way, a more organized way to get at the same result. That’s why the method works best when you do it with a professional organizer. If you’re still stuck, hire an organizer who specializes with chronic disorganizaiton at www.challengingdisorganization.com
The point of productivity is to generate a ‘leisure dividend.’ When you are productive you do more in less time leaving you time left over for not working, for having fun or just relaxing. At least that’s the theory. Some people are naturally productive. They can prioritize instantly, integrate new tasks on the run, and finish what they start. Productivity tools such as mobile devices with multiple functions, apps, and cloud-based tools can increase productivity. The problem is people tend to reinvest their leisure dividend into more work instead of into leisure. Only 38% of Americans take all of their vacation days. 72% check into the office during their vacations. You recall Clement Clark Moore’s Twas the Night Before Christmas? Remember the line “. ..and mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap, had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap. Not, “…had just settled down for a long winters nap”, but instead “…had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.” We need to rest our brains. All that information we are getting? It needs to be digested, it needs to sink in, be reflected upon and that requires rest.
How do you measure personal productivity? Some people are taking a crack at tracking all their time using a variety of apps. I think tracking our time holds some value but the time is takes to do all that tracking might be using up any benefit of time gained being productive in the first place.
If you are someone who strives for productivity but has difficulty realizing your leisure dividend, try doing the following
- Take whatever vacation you have coming to you. Scientists have found that it takes at least 3 days to relax, and to feel you are on vacation, so take at least 4 days.
- Full engagement in reading is also a good investment of your leisure divident. In-depth, hard copy book reading is a multi-sensory experience involving motor, visual, materiality, and focus that helps us be engaged but relaxed.
- Exercise promotes weight control, lowers stress, controls cholesterol, and supports a good night’s sleep making it a top choice for investing your leisure dividend.
- Sleep a little more or learn to nap.
Okay, okay, “cultivating your inner dictator” might be a little harsh, but one of the best organizing tips I give my clients is to be more selective (other terms: picky, choosey, more discerning, downright discrimminating.) Selectivity is a new organizing skill. That’s because the Internet is a real game changer in the organization/disorganization realm. Information is now unlimited. Shopping has no bounds (except poverty) and sharing videos/photos/thoughts/ideas is easy and unrelenting. If you are overwhelmed you are likely under-selective. How do you cultivate your inner dictator? Let’s say you have 300 hard copy photos. You easily could receive, depending on the size of your family, another 100 or more a year, digitally. This discussion could easily devolve into a debate about the best features of the zillion digital photo programs/services available. And you should use as much technology as will make the job of dealing with photos easier. But I’m making the case that cultivating the skill of selectivity trumps technology. Here is how it is done:
CULTIVATE YOUR INNER DICTATOR
- Have a criteria(s). It can be “appealing”, “most recent”, “something I don’t have already”
- Schedule a sort time just before occasions (the week after a family reunion, a few days after Christmas, etc.)
- Sort with a closed-mind using your criteria to guide you
- Put an in/out ratio in place. For example, for every 100 photoes I receive I’ll get rid of 20
Being selective takes practice. Good items to practice on are your bookmarks/Favorites, e-books you’ve accumulated, and magazines. Bad items to practice on are tangible books, shoes, and office supplies. You simply cannot have too much of those!