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Getting Organized in the Era of Endless

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Posts Tagged ‘chronic disorganization’

Closure

Friday, November 25, 2011 @ 11:11 AM
posted by admin

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.

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Technohoarding

Wednesday, November 9, 2011 @ 12:11 PM
posted by admin

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.

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Disorganization: What’s In It For You?

Sunday, October 23, 2011 @ 12:10 PM
posted by admin

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

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The Leisure Dividend

Wednesday, August 10, 2011 @ 09:08 AM
posted by admin

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.
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Cultivate Your Inner Dictator

Sunday, June 12, 2011 @ 07:06 AM
posted by admin

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!

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Category-Bending

Tuesday, May 31, 2011 @ 09:05 AM
posted by admin

When it comes to organizing, categories are king. Categories are a fundamental organizing building block. They suggest what things go together. Categories make it possible to organize and store things for easy access and retrieval. An article about arthritis might go in a file called Health but a document about bird-feeders doesn’t. Most of us don’t store our belts with our cereal: unless you’re a category-bender. “Watching the birds at the bird feeder is relaxing. It makes my arthritis less painful”, says my client Roberta. So we file the article about bird-feeders under Health. Category-benders think about “big picture” and they see many connections between items that I would never think of. I tend to think of my stuff in a more micro way. It makes it easier for me to categorize it.

I was reminded of category-bending when my great niece (grand niece?) got a wrong answer on an elementary school quiz called “What Does Not Belong?” There was a picture of a shoe, a dog, a cat, and a bird. She circled the bird. When asked to explain, she said, “Well, my dog grabbed Mom’s shoe and ran around the house with it. Mom got mad and ran after the dog. She stepped on the cat’s tail. The cat ran under the couch. We don’t have a bird.” So there you go. Roberta belts are coiled in plastic bags next to the cereal in the pantry. “Weight loss”, she says. “I’m supposed to the eat fiber cereal everyday. The belt/cereal combination works for me.” So there you go.

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One Person’s Clutter is Another Person’s POP

Sunday, May 22, 2011 @ 07:05 AM
posted by admin

People who have a lot of stuff find it challenging to get rid of because they do not consider it clutter. They consider it ‘POP’. POP stands for Potential, Opportunity, and Potential. Think about it. What are people saying when they claim, “I can’t throw these empty plastic medicine bottles away. They may come in handy for storing something later.” The medicine bottles have ‘potential’. As plastic containers they have a latent quality that could be useful in the future. What are people saying when they state, “I’m going to hold onto the newsletters from my old job just in case I work there again.” Circumstances in the future might present an opportunity to return to an old job and the newsletters might become relevent. What are people saying when they explain, “Someone might be able to use the backs of those used index cards. I’d rather not toss them out.” The used index cards express a ‘possibility’, a thing that might happen. The thing about POP statements is that they are not untrue. It is true an item might be useful to someone or some event in the future. I never argue the truth of a POP statement (though, having a learned a thing or two about gambling from my parents, it is just as true the items will go unused.)

When my clients make a POP statement, I engage them, not on the logic of their decision, but on the impact of it. If you keep something, it takes up space. It may need to be dusted, stored, protected from heat or dampness or other maintenance. Here’s another problem with POP. The item that is being kept will need to be remembered in order to be utilized when the potential, opportunity, or possibility presents itself. It is a kind of memory called ‘prospective memory’. Prospective memory is a form of memory that involves remembering to perform a planned action or intention at the time it happens. People who are challenged by disorganization are notoriously weak on prospective memory. What are the chances that while your grandson is visiting you with his guinea pig, the food pellet bag will break, and you’ll be game for sweeping them all up, and remember exactly where an empty medicine bottle would be to contain them. Better to grab a baggy. Will you be able to remember where those index cards are when you’re taking a message at the phone and need to write it down? Better to use the pad. Will you remember what’s in the newsletters when you get a call to come back to work? Better to read the latest ones online to get up to date.

One person’s clutter is another person’s POP. People don’t love clutter. But they do love potential, opportunity and possibility. It reflects a joy for the future. If you’re a POP kind of person, weigh your POP decisions against the burden of the past and the practicality of the present.

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The Starbucks Effect

Tuesday, April 19, 2011 @ 06:04 AM
posted by admin

It wasn’t a scientific survey. The results would never hold up under academic scrutiny. But when 23 people are asked the same question and 100% of their responses are qualitatively the same, it’s safe to conclude you’re onto something. That’s what happened to me when I discovered what I call “The Starbucks Effect”™. I carried a clipboard to make me look official, and color copies of the covers of my books proving that I’m a published author. With a big smile, I approached people in Starbucks who seemed to be doing work. “Hi, I’m sorry to interrupt. I’m Judith Kolberg, a local author of books about getting organized. I’m doing research for my next book about how people get their work done. My survey takes less than 6 minutes. Mind if I ask you a few questions?” Here’s what I asked: “Is Starbucks a good place to get work done?” To a person, each person answered, “Yes, Starbucks is a good place to get work done.” Why? Being away from the distractions of the office or home was a popular response. And the chocolate/caffeine rush figured into most people’s explanation of why Starbucks is better than the office or home. “It’s kind of noisy”, I said commented over the roar of the espresso machine, clatter of cups and din of voices. “Doesn’t the noise and commotion bother you?” I asked. “No” or “I don’t even notice it”, everyone said.

Productivity, simply understood as planning a task and carrying it out, is a huge challenge for many people. I’m always trying to figure out the reasons why some people pull it off more than others. The Starbucks Effect is one key. It works like this. The external noise and commotion cancels out internal distractions so that a person can concentrate on the task at hand. The more scientific explanation for this is ‘white noise’. In other words, some people can’t take in what’s going on around them, listen to what’s going on in their head, and perform a task at the same time. The mind cannot do all three. Something has got to go. Apparently, the noise level at Starbucks is goldilocks – not too high, not too low…just right to not be distracting itself. It cancels out internal distractions such as random thoughts, ideas, worries, mental to-do list and self-talk so that you can do the task at hand: study, balance a checkbook, read a report, fill out a form, or write an article. I’d always thought the best conditions for getting work done are a quiet spot, without a lot of background commotion going on. For some people it turns out that a quiet environment devoid of activity is itself distracting. It lets those internal distractions run wild. If you are a person who finds it challenging to execute tasks from end-to-end, to finish things, or you’re dissatisfied with your level of productivity, maybe the Starbucks Effect can work in your favor. It doesn’t have to be Starbucks. I have a client who does his taxes at the airport!

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“I Was Here” – A Universal Organizing Principle

Wednesday, March 9, 2011 @ 12:03 PM
posted by admin

I recently traveled to The Netherlands to address organizers from throughout the region. In Amsterdam, a city crisscrossed by small bridges over canals, I saw graffiti, in particular the ubiquitous “I was here” post written in Dutch. I’ve seen that graffiti expression in every city I have ever been in. One day I was organizing with Mary, a chronically disorganized retired teacher. Teachers have lots of excess stuff, especially older teachers who entered their careers before the internet was commonly utilized. Like many disorganized people, Mary has a lot of incomplete projects. She has kept a great deal of teaching materials now obsolete. She has saved student essays and writing projects, and hundreds of magazines about teachers.  While we were rummaging through her stuff,  I was reminded of that graffiti.

I believe that some people with lots of clutter find it difficult to discard because tossing it out undermines the sentiment “I was here.” I believe they are saying, “I was here. I became a teacher. I influenced all these kids. I did not finish everything I set out to do, but I had dreams.” I believe what looks like simple stacks of papers and piles of stuff to others, is actually the human need to be acknowledged, to say “I was here.” At the conference in The Netherlands, I presented this idea and it was received very well. Perhaps this is a universal organizing principle, that we keep stuff that is representative of our hopes and dreams, efforts and even failures out of a human need to chronicle being here.

If you are similar to Mary, someone whose disorganization is tied up with memories and the past with no room for the future, let this idea sink in. Realize that your clutter makes perfect sense as an attempt to be acknowledged. Then, when you are ready, I encourage you to find a way to honor your dreams and efforts and achievements without drowning yourself in the remnants of them. For instance, Mary and I gathered a few items from her teaching career: a photo of her students, her “best teacher” award, and a framed essay from a favorite student. We put them together on a pretty table with fresh flowers. Then we tossed out all the obsolete materials, and made room for the next chapter in her life. It was not easy. It took time. We had to stop now and then for Mary to process the emotional reactions she had to opening up not just boxes, but memories. She needed to tell stories and relive the past a bit. And retirement, the ending of a an entire career can be tough. But it was worth it. “I can move on now. I’m ready for the next chapter of my life”, Mary observed when we’d gotten things in better order.

You can find more organizing methods like this one that are compassionate and non-judgmental in Conquering Chronic Disorganization . And I look forward to hearing from you on what you might think about the relationship between universal needs and organization/disorganization.

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Interview with Monica Ricci (Audio)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011 @ 01:03 PM
posted by admin

This is an interview conducted by Monica Ricci on her radio program, “Organization Nation”. The topics are chronic disorganization and hoarding.

Judith Kolberg – Organization Nation with Monica Ricci

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