The client had to have every folder in sight. Filing cabinets, those handy but out-of-sight storage receptacles, would not suffice.
The solution, said professional organizer Denise Craft, was to construct bookshelves and arrange the oldest files on top shelves and the current ones on the shelves at eye level.
Everything was still in sight, but organized, said Craft, who runs Craft Lifestyle Management, based in Ashland, Neb.
If your New Year's resolution is to organize your work or home office, take heart: There's a new definition of being organized, and it doesn't involve summoning a drill sergeant to inspect your workspace or clearing everything off your desk.
The new definition of organization is about creating a system that you are comfortable with — no more comparing yourself with your fellow worker whose desk is spic-and-span at the end of each day, Craft says.
Some people like everything put away; others aren't comfortable unless they can see where everything is, said Amy Tokos, founder of Freshlyorganized.com.
“Just because everything is out doesn't mean it's not organized,” Tokos said.
If you're the kind of person who has to see where everything is and becomes anxious when it's not visible, there's a storage solution for you, Craft said. On the other hand, if you want to clear the clutter from your desk, create a filing system, organize your email and update your contact list, well, that too can be accomplished.
People often overestimate how much time it takes to complete a task, Tokos said. “When that happens, it makes everything seem overwhelming.”
“You look at the clean laundry basket and think it takes 15 minutes to fold and put away everything,” Tokos said. Instead of turning away, set a timer and see how long it takes. Tokos, who hates to fold laundry, discovered it actually takes only five minutes to clear the basket. “That wasn't so bad.”
The same method can be used to lessen the leaning stack of business cards on your desk or taking a few minutes to label a few files and put them into a drawer.
The problem is you look at 200 cards and estimate that it will take you at least five minutes to input the information on each card. If you set a timer, you may discover it actually takes about a minute.
Solution: Devote just 10 minutes a day to inputting the information. And give yourself permission to stop after the allotted time has elapsed.
Forget the so-called power hour, which involves 50 minutes of work, followed by a 10-minute break. “Most people I've worked with find 50 minutes overwhelming,” Tokos said.
Instead, focus on a task for 25 minutes. Set a timer. A mobile application called Pomodoro provides a free 25-minute timer that makes a little ding when the time is up, so it won't disturb your co-workers.
But first, put a notepad and a pen by your side, because invariably this will happen: You'll think of things you need to do — write that email, make that phone call — during the 25-minute interval, Tokos said.
As those thoughts pop into your head, write them down and then go back to the task at hand. “The point is you don't act on the those things,” said Tokos.
Sit at your desk. Imagine you are the bull's eye, the center of a target, Tokos said. The circle that surrounds you, the inner circle, is the stuff you use all the time. “Files that you're working with every day should be within that circle.” If you are someone who doesn't clear your desk, who wants the things you are working on to be within reach or within your line of sight, leave those items on your desk. An outer circle can be made up of less frequently used files or information. If you're comfortable leaving them out, do so. If not, put them away.
And guess what? Depending on the type of job you have, an annual cleaning is “probably plenty for most people,” Tokos said. Too many of us hang onto things we don't need, so start tossing projects that are no longer relevant or file them. “
But don't compare your desk to a picture in a magazine or your neighbor's desk. “Everything is treasure, not 'stuff,'” Craft said. “Some of us have minimal treasures, some of us have excessive treasures.”
Said Tokos: “If you are functioning well, you are organized.”
Managing email is a sore spot for many people. And for some, responding to emails has literally “become their job,” Tokos said. Whenever an email alert pops up on your screen, it can pull you away from the task you're working on and break your concentration. Many people have gotten into the habit of responding to any email immediately — but, depending on your job, that may not be not necessary.
The first step in organizing your electronic inbox is determining what a realistic response time is to any given email. True, some emails demand immediate attention, but others may be set aside. If you don't have to respond right away, set aside a couple of times during the day, for example 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. to answer email. “Figure out what works with your schedule,” Tokos said.
Create electronic email files. The five or 10 minutes it takes to create folders that relate to your current projects will save time later on. Once that's accomplished, drop all related emails that don't require a response or that already have been dealt with into the file.
“Your inbox should only contain 'actionable items' — emails requiring a response or forwarding.” Tokos said. Once you've created this type of system, it becomes much easier to drop unrelated or irrelevant emails into the trash.
Tokos encourages people to create a time map. Begin by keeping a journal for three days. Record how much time it takes to complete an on-the-job task. “It will give you a better perception of time,” and how long on average it takes to complete a task.
“I like to try to get people to map their time out — allotting certain times of the day to do certain things. It can be pretty flexible.” For example, return phone calls at 8 a.m. and 3 p.m., respond to email at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., spend Tuesday mornings dealing with weekly tasks.
“When I started my business, I had all of this business stuff to take care aside from my clients,” Tokos said. After a couple years of struggling and trying to fit everything in between client visits, she decided to set aside Mondays as her “no-client time — that's when I would take care of business stuff that had come up during the week.”
The result? “I can relax knowing it will get done and I don't have to put those things on my to-do list every single day.”
>> Create email folders related to the project you're working on.
>> Clean our your inbox. Start with the emails you can identify and move them into the files.
>> Leave only actionable items in your inbox.
>> High-use office supplies and files should be within arms' reach
>> Low-use supplies and files should be placed farther away on your desk or in a file drawer.
>> If you must keep items in paper form, invest in a three-hole punch and three-ring binders. Put your paperwork in the binders, label the spine and the front of the binder and put it on your desk or in a file cabinet.
>> Use a timer to focus your time. Start with a doable interval, such as 25 minutes. After 25 minutes, you can check your email and phone messages.
>> Do an annual cleaning and dispose of files, including email files and paper you no longer need.