Posts Tagged ‘disorganized’
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.
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.
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