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Getting Organized in the Era of Endless

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Posts Tagged ‘organize’

Purge and Output

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


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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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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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:


  • 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, 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

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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 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 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

* 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

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.
  • 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. is very cool. Check out coupon apps at 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 to find an organizer near you.

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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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Getting Organized? No. Creating? Yes!

Sunday, March 6, 2011 @ 11:03 AM
posted by admin

“Getting organized”….just the sound of it can sound daunting. What’s worse: dusty new piles of stuff you probably don’t know what to do with, pulled out of your closet that might take you hours to sort through, or your closet stuffed to the max that at least has a visual familiarity to you? Put that way, it probably doesn’t make much sense to get that closet organized.

Too often organizing is thought of as what you will lose – your stuff, time you could be spending on something else, familiarity, etc. But if you think of getting organizing as a creative process rather than a disruptive process, it changes the terms of the problem.

  • Think of yourself as creating jobs. Donate that stuff to Goodwill and the income goes to job-creation programs for poor youth.
  • Give those cool craft items to your local elementary school and you’ll create fun for kids, relief for an art teacher pinched on supplies, and goodwill as a community member.
  • Creating a little cash by having a yard sale could mean the difference between a dollar menu dinner and sitting down at a restaurant.
  • And who couldn’t possibly use the creation of a tax-write off.
  • Create a reputation as a “giver”, as a generous person who passes on items of value to others with no strings attached (i.e. you can’t get miffed if they turn around and give that item away.)
  • Create space – lovely, clear, unmitigated space.

I promise you if you pull everything out of your closet you will experience a period of deconstruction and a bit of confusion. It’s normal for things to get more disorganized before you pass through creation and onto organization. Just knowing that in advance can be a big help. If you hire a professional organizer to help, they’ll keep you motivated, help you make a plan for getting rid of stuff you don’t want, support you in your decision-making process, and some of them will even cart stuff away in their vehicle so you can have that deep out-of-sight, out-of-mind satisfying feeling you so deserve.

Organizing as a Creative Process In the Office

The benefits of organizing as a creative process pays off big time in the office. When you organize your office, you create:

  • a true picture of the active, incomplete work that needs to be finished
  • a better estimate of the time it will take to do the work that’s been hidden by clutter
  • recapturing time that might otherwise be lost looking for missing papers
  • cost-effective use of your office space
  • the security of knowing sensitive information is not just lying around
  • more welcome place for co-workers and clients
  • a productive environment for administrative assistants, team members and others
  • a green reputation as you trot pounds of paper to the recycling bin
  • grateful co-workers who will thank you for finally returning things to them
  • filing…okay so maybe that’s not such a good outcome, but hey it’s better than not knowing where anything is!
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