Posts Tagged ‘professional organizer’
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.
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
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.
As you know, electronics become obsolete very quickly. I tell my clients to be careful not to create a museum of their journey through modernity. Devices sitting in drawers and basements cause no harm, except taking up valuable real estate in your home you could use for other purposes. However, electronic devices tossed in the trash that are sent to the landfill and devices incinerated do cause harm. Electronics contain many toxic chemicals like lead, mercury, beryllium, cadmium, arsenic, and halogenated flame retardants in the plastics. These toxins can leach into groundwater especially in older landfills built before leaching safeguards. Incinerators can release toxins into the atmosphere.
As people migrate to smart phones the hope is that a lot of devices like PCs, cameras, cell phone, and GPS devices would be recycled. But that is not yet happening. The EPA recently released the report, 2009 Facts and Figures On Municipal Solid Waste, the latest statistics available. The vast majority (82.3%) of e-waste discarded in the U.S. ends up in our landfills and incinerators, with only 17.7 percent going to recyclers.
The best de-acquisition method is to bring your castoffs to a Responsible Recycler (RR) in the E-Steward Program. RR’s will repair electronics and donate them to charity for use or to sell to raise funds for their programs. These programs help place your electronics products into the recycling stream by refurbishing the device or giving it back to the community, either to schools, charities, economically disadvantaged or disabled citizens of your community. These efforts benefit both the environment and your community. You can even get tax deductions for donating your working electronics to schools or charities.
If the electronics are beyond repair, they can be re-manufactured, a process that extracts valuable metals such as gold, copper, silver, and platinum. In fact, a whole new industry is flourishing called ‘urban mining.’ A ton of circuit boards contains 40 times the concentration of gold typically found in ore mined in this country. The yield for copper is 30 times richer than copper mined in the U.S. So, recycling, in addition to keeping electronics out of the landfill, holds promise for metal extraction without the expense and dangers of mining. RR conducts metal extraction in the U.S. where safety and health regulations protect the workers. “The dirty little secret is that when you take your electronic waste to a recycler, instead of throwing it in a trashcan, about 80% of that material very quickly finds itself on a container ship going to China, Nigeria, India, Vietnam, or Pakistan”, says Jim Puckett, the executive director of the Basel Action Network which works to keep toxic waste out of the environment. In foreign countries, the “recycling” process is often nothing more than poor people with hammers smashing circuit boards and exposing themselves to toxins that cause brain damage, liver damage and other serious health problems.
EcoSquid is like a Kayak for gadget recycling. Type in gadget type, quality, and equipment specs and EcoSquid finds the best service to buy, recycle, or repurpose your gadget. To sell your electronics, go to Gazelle.com or BuyMyTronics.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.
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.