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Getting Organized in the Era of Endless

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Posts Tagged ‘disorganization’

Decision Making in the Era of Endless Information

Saturday, April 28, 2012 @ 06:04 AM
posted by admin

Making decisions is a good use of time. Decision-making moves a myriad of little daily tasks along to accomplishment, allows us to make progress on complex projects, and keeps us on the path toward goal achievement. In the Era of Endless when information never ends, decision-making is profoundly impacted. Endlessly adding data, more information, and inputs leaves us precious little time to stand back and put all the pieces together. Take the example of the April, 2010 BP oil spill. Within hours of the spill the Incident Commander of the Coast Guard (the person in charge) received 400 pages of e-mails, texts, reports, and other messages. “I might have acted faster if there was less input,” he commented. 

Endless information can also cause some people to freeze altogether when it comes to decisions. We choose the default 401k plan at work or automatically renew our health insurance policy without considering alternatives because “there is just too much information.”

Endless information can bring decision-making to its knees. To avoid this:

  • Pick a time in the information-gathering process to step back, to see the novel connections, detect hidden patterns that emerge and apply judgment about what missing information still needs to be sought.
  • Add a time frame to your decisions. A decision has no power if it is made too late.
  • Since information is endless but time is not, add a limit to how much time you will devote to finding information.
  • Consider team-based decision-making. Divide up the information gathering process between several people, each person share’s the information, and then as a group based on the information, a consensual decision is made

Remember, in the era of endless, there can be no end to the quantity of information we find to solve a problem, address a need or make a decision. Trade in quanity for quality.

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Organizing In Other Countries

Sunday, April 15, 2012 @ 06:04 PM
posted by admin

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.

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How To ‘Stop’ In an Era of Endless

Tuesday, April 10, 2012 @ 06:04 AM
posted by admin

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.
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New Classes of Information

Tuesday, March 27, 2012 @ 09:03 AM
posted by admin

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.

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Work Creep

Friday, January 27, 2012 @ 12:01 PM
posted by admin

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.

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Purge and Output

Friday, January 13, 2012 @ 06:01 AM
posted by admin

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.’

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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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Organize Your Reading

Monday, October 17, 2011 @ 02:10 PM
posted by admin

Almost two-thirds of likely voters in the United States do not believe congressional representatives read bills before voting on them, a UPI poll indicated early this year. The health care reform bill is over 2,000 pages. Now that’s what I call ‘reading!’ Chances are you don’t have that kind of reading, but you could easily have the equivalent of 2,000 pages a year to read in professional magazines, office memorandum, leisure reading, industry and company reports, consumer information, daily news, RSS, ebooks, social media feeds and on and on.

The short solution to “How do I organize my reading material?” is to read it. That may seem obvious, but as you know, it’s easier said than done. Here’s how to read more so you have less to organize in the first place. Make some big categorical ‘buckets’ for your reading. By ‘buckets’ I mean both electronic folders and corresponding physical baskets or bins because you’ll always have both digital and hardcopy stuff to read. I suggest these categories to my clients to get them started:  leisure, business, personal development, and consumer reading. My client, Marge, runs a dog rescue clinic. National Geographic  is her escape (leisure), and The Dog Rescue Clinic Times is professional reading (business) along with several related blogs and online magazines. She reads personal finance and health articles (personal development) to stay well-rounded. Consumer reading can be very diverse. For Marge, it’s that fat envelope full of 401(k) material, her smartphone contract, and that Internet print-out of health savings accounts to look over. Just be sure if you dump stuff into the consumer category that it doesn’t have a deadline or due date. That’s really not ‘reading’, it’s more like ‘action.’    

  • Consider delegating reading. That’s what your Congressperson does. She delegates portions of the legislative bills out to various staff who read it and summarize and report back to the Congressperson. Just make sure that your delegatees have enough knowledge to understand what it is you’re asked them to read.
  • Read with a closed mind. That’s right. Don’t be open-minded. If you know what you are looking for before you read a book or article, you’ll be able to tell fairly quickly if it addresses your needs. But if you don’t know your needs, you’ll be slogging through a lot of irrevelant stuff. (Obviously this advice doesn’t apply to leisure reading.)
  • Schedule a regular purge of your reading material. “I always add reading but never seem to subtract any so my filing and retrieval systems are so big and complex, I can’t find what I need when I need it”, complains Daniel a client of mine.  Good times to purge are April 15th while you’re churning up documents and files, New Year’s Day for that ‘fresh start’ feel, or during National Get Organized Month.
  • Move professional reading into the mainstream of your schedule. Don’t rely on ‘finding the time’. Those days are gone and never coming back. Give yourself permission to read at your desk if the reading is relevant to your career or job. I find my female clients tend to see professional reading as self-indulgent. Not so. While your male counterparts might not be putting their feet up on the desk and spreading open a newspaper, you can bet they read online and offline to keep up with their careers. You should too.
  • Be an active reader. Taking notes, highlighting and underlining helps the brain retain information, and helps you block out internal distractions.
  • If you need to read something with a lot of numbers or graphs in it and it’s not your forte, consider a reading partner. Someone who you can read with, outloud, who has a better grasp on that kind of material than you do.

Know How Deeply to Read

Mindstool.com recommends you know how deeply you need to read. They suggest, where you only need the shallowest knowledge of a subject, you can skim material. Here you read only chapter headings, introductions, and summaries. If you need a moderate level of information on a subject, then you can scan the text. This is when you read the chapter introductions and summaries in detail. You can then speed read the contents of the chapters, picking out and understanding key words and concepts. Only when you need full knowledge of a subject is it worth studying the text in detail.

Use Technology to Organize Your Reading

* If you’re a big reader of novels, poetry or best-selling business books, consider getting a Kindle or Nook, especially if you travel.

* Use Calibre.com or another program to organize your ebooks. Assemble them by subject, like the library does. Add tags and  you’ll be able to find any ebook content at the click of a button

* Readability.com makes it easier to read articles on the web by stripping them down to text and photos, removing ad and other extraneous material.

* Use Google Reader for the blog and website you frequently visit.

* The coolest book apps can be found at Huffingtonpost.com

A Word About Books

If you’re a biblioholic with thousands of books you want to pare down, Literacy Volunteers could sure use them. Donate them to your local library only if they are in good condition. Chances are the library will sell your books to raise funds rather than shelve them. Selling your books is tough unless they are rare and in great condition. Used bookstores are likely to offer you credit to use in the store rather than cash.

If you’re having difficulty organizing your reading materials and books, contact a professional organizer at the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals.

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Organizing During A Recession

Saturday, September 24, 2011 @ 07:09 AM
posted by admin

In simple terms, a ‘recession’ is a period of economic contraction. When the economy contracts, we all do a bit of receding. We tend to withdraw back to basics as we wait for more expansive times. A recession is a challenging time. Some of my clients have lost their jobs and health insurance. Those who own their own businesses may have fewer clients and less revenue. I understand. I own a business too. Let me share with you what my clients and I are doing organizationally to hunker down during this long-lasting and rather deep recession.

  • Get lean. Now is truly the time to clear off your desk, toss out the clutter, find the prime ‘stuff” that needs doing, and make a plan for getting things done.
  • Get focused. As a recent episode of ‘Raising Hope’ but it “Stop procrasterbating!” There’s too much at stake. Get rid of the distractions of projects you’ll never get to. Get real about your commitments and promises. Now is not the time to spin wheels. It’s the time to act.
  • Get support. If you’re looking for work, hit the Internet for (free) job hunting exploration and consult with a career service. I recommend Jewish Family and Career Services. Anyone can participate but a donation would be nice. https://www.yourtoolsforliving.org
  • Get thrifty. If you’re organized enough to cut coupons or download them from the Internet, keep them in your car where you’ll have at least a chance of using them. www.groupon.com is very cool. Check out coupon apps at http://www.cheapism.com. Resist buying techno toys and stock up on the stuff you use daily like office paper, toothpaste and wine (well, no need not to have some fun.) Consolidate your errands; the price of gas is going up again.
  • Get closure. Got an error on your credit card bill? Call and get it resolved. Have a lingering decision to make? Do your research, make the decision and live with the consequences because the less ‘open loops’ you have hanging around in these trying times, the less stress you’ll be under.

I know, I know, easier said than done. Hiring a professional organizer is a smart low-cost investment you can make during a recession if the above advice is difficult for you to implement. Professional organizers are experts at ‘lean and mean’, can get you razor-focused, and you’ll find nobody stronger in the ‘closure’ departments. Go to www.napo.net to find an organizer near you.

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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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