Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Need a Boost? Organize with a Buddy

Tip of the Week, August 22, 2010

One of the most common things I hear from clients is frustration at the fact that regardless of how simple or complex their organizing projects might be, they often find it utterly challenging to undertake those projects on their own. "I should be able to do this myself!" they say. "What's wrong with me?"

My reply is always the same: Not a thing! For a variety of reasons, organizing work can be difficult to tackle alone, and trying to do it solo tends to result in inefficiency, frustration, and overwhelm. The good news is that enlisting someone to work with you, even if only for a few hours, can provide a much-needed boost. Here's why organizing is easier with a buddy, along with some tips on finding the right person to work with you.

The More, the Merrier
Here's the truth: organizing work can be boring, overwhelming, tiresome, emotionally challenging, annoying, and sometimes just plain unappealing. If you've ever tried to undertake an organizing project on your own and really struggled with it, that doesn't mean you're unintelligent, lazy, or unskilled; it means that you needed some motivation, guidance, info, or input that you didn't have.

By enlisting someone to lend a hand with organizing, you gain another perspective, a motivator, a coach, a different set of skills and strengths, and someone to bounce ideas off of--if not all of the above. There's no shame in seeking help when you're facing a project you can't or don't want to handle all on your own.

Finding a Partner
When you're ready to call in help, it's worth seeking out an organizing partner who'll be a positive and supportive collaborator. Here are 3 things to look for in a buddy:
  • Caring support: The last thing most of us need is an organizing partner who'll belittle us, our things, our goals, or the way we go about approaching a project. Look for someone who can offer tough love if that's what you need, but who'll be positive and supportive, not harsh or critical.
  • Balanced skills: If you find organizing challenging because it's boring, seek out a partner who can help bring some fun to the process. If your project seems overwhelming, look for someone with a knack for breaking big undertakings down into reasonable chunks.
  • Patience, patience, patience: Organizing can be a long, slow process. Your ideal collaborator is someone with the patience to help keep you on track without trying to rush the process along.
If you're enlisting pro bono help from a friend, neighbor, or family member and worry about feeling beholden to them, make arrangements for a barter of some sort; perhaps you'll help your buddy with her own organizing project, or will offer her a few hours of gardening support or help painting a room.

Another option, of course, is to hire a Professional Organizer. I often spend a few hours with clients simply giving them a boost, sharing ideas and motivation as they chip away at a project that has them stymied, or serving as a personal trainer of organizing and making the process a bit more fun and engaging. If you do opt to go with a pro, find one who's a good match for you (the 3 criteria above apply equally to POs) and who's willing and able to provide the kind of support and guidance you're looking for.

Making the Best Use of Your Buddy
Once you've found a collaborator, decide how you want to work together. Very often, simply having a partner around for an hour or two as you get your organizing project underway is as much of a boost as you'll need; once you're over the hurdle of getting started, there's a good chance you'll be able to take on much of the rest of the project yourself.

Alternatively, you might want someone who can be a regular source of support, spending an hour with you once a week as you tackle a particularly dreaded task (filing, processing mail, folding and putting away clothes, and so on) or checking in once a month to see how you're progressing on a long-term project.

If you've been stalled on an organizing project, consider this a request to stop trying to push yourself through it alone and encouragement to seek out a partner who can help you move forward with it. I can almost guarantee you'll be less stressed and more efficient, and that what has seemed like a big challenge will become much more doable.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

In Praise of Doing Nothing

Tip of the Week, August 8 and 15, 2010

I often compare organizing to two other good-for-you but not always fun pursuits: eating well and exercising regularly. Like both of those good habits, organizing isn't something you can do once and be done with; instead, it's a practice you do over time, bit by bit, until it becomes a regular part of your life, and a task you have to spend much less time on than you might have when you were just getting started.

There's another important way in which organizing is like healthy eating and exercise: in order to avoid burnout, backsliding, or feeling utterly overwhelmed, it's important to take a break from it time and again. Never allowing yourself even a single sweet when you're trying to eat well can result in a chocolate binge when you reach the point at which you can no longer resist your cravings, and trying to hit the gym for 90 or more minutes every day when you're aiming to get more exercise can cause exhaustion, injury, and perhaps the desire never to see the inside of a gym again.

In the same way, trying to do something organizing-related every single day can be overwhelming, boring, or burnout-inducing. Yes, it's important to make organizing a regular habit, whether that means keeping an eye out for clutter, taking the time each day to review your calendar and to do list, or spending 5 minutes putting things away at the end of the day.

But it's just as important to let yourself take a complete break from time to time. Think of it as the organizing equivalent of having an ice cream cone after a week of good eating or doing nothing more grueling than lounging in a hammock in the midst of a month of regular physical activity.

A Late Summer Break
For me, late summer is the perfect time to take such a break. Now, when the weather is still warm, the days are still long, and the start of school or a return to work is looming on the horizon, I encourage you to let yourself go, organizationally speaking, for a few days.

That doesn't mean going wild on QVC or letting your desk at work get totally overwhelming or neglecting basic sanity-maintaining tasks at home (like doing the dishes or tossing obvious junk mail into the recycling). Rather, it means not worrying for a few days about the lurking chaos in your garage or what's happening behind your hall closet door or in your kids' play area, not fretting about upcoming projects on your task list or upcoming events on your calendar, and paying no heed to thoughts about reorganizing your junk drawer or rejiggering your filing system.

There will be plenty of time come next month--or even next week--to tackle all of those organizing projects. Taking a break now means you'll likely be more inspired to do them, will have a different perspective on them, and will give yourself the chance to recharge so you'll be more energetic when it comes time to deal with them.

So take a day or two this week to go off the grid organizationally, and instead use the time you might've spent sorting and weeding or rearranging or rescheduling or planning or worrying to spend time outside, finish off that guilty pleasure book you've been meaning to read, sitting in front of your air conditioner with a cold drink, or doing whatever else puts you at ease and makes you happy. For a little while, the organizing can wait.

Monday, August 16, 2010

How to Find the Right Help & Get More Done

Tip of the Week, August 1, 2010

Last week, I shared 5 questions to ask to determine whether a task is worth tackling on your own or whether it's better to hand it off to someone else. Once you've decided what you'd like to pass along, the next important step is finding the right people to get things done as efficiently and as well as possible. For some projects, this might involve investing in professional help, while for others, you'll be able to beg or barter assistance from a friend, neighbor, or family member.

Here are 5 questions that can help you find the right person for each task on your To Delegate list.
  • What skills and knowledge does this task require? Too often, delegation becomes a headache because projects are passed along to people who don't have the knack or the know-how to do them well. Hiring a neighborhood kid at $10 per hour to sort and organize a shoebox full of receipts is only a good idea if she has sharp organizing skills, can pay close attention to detail, and can stay on task when the project gets boring. Before you assign a task, give some thought to the skills and knowledge needed to get it done right, then take some time to find a person who has them.
  • How much of this project do I want to delegate? You're likely to need a different kind of help if you want to offload a project in its entirety--say, overhauling your office's filing system--than you would if you simply wanted someone to handle re-labeling the folders or boxing up files to be archived. For soup-to-nuts projects, making an extra effort to find a delegatee you really like and trust can help avoid frustration, misunderstandings, and headaches down the line.
  • What's my budget for this task or project? While it's always a good idea to invest in the best help you can afford, bringing in pros to assist with specialized tasks doesn't need to bleed you dry. If you're working within a set budget, find someone who can handle the most complex parts of a project, then ask for direction on how to handle some of the sub-tasks on your own. At The Organized Life, for example, we often work with clients to help plan and map out their organizing projects, and then give them detailed instructions on how to tackle the implementation (sorting and weeding, reorganizing closets, and so on) on their own.
  • Do I want to learn anything from this project? While there are plenty of tasks you might like to see completed with as little input as possible from you, there may be some you'd like to use as learning opportunities: perhaps you'd like a handyman to change out the light switches throughout your house, for example, but would like to watch and interact with him as he works so you can see how the task is done. If you'd like to pick up some ideas or skills from the person you're delegating to, be sure to find someone whose personality meshes with yours, and who has the patience not just to get the job done, but to share with you the steps involved.
  • Do I have skills to share in exchange for this help? One of the greatest ways of getting skilled help is through barter. If you're an accomplished baker, say, and you need a hand with getting a filing system set up, you might strike a deal with a friend who has sharp organizing skills: desserts for a dinner party in exchange for a few hours of paper management work, perhaps. If you're willing and able to barter, you can often get high quality help without having to shell out for it. Of course, for a barter situation to work, you need to have a desirable product, service, or skill to share, and also need to have enough time to uphold your end of the barter deal; if you're looking to delegate vast swaths of your To Do list because your days are full to overflowing, don't enter into a barter deal that requires big chunks of your time.
Finding the most effective help for the projects you want to hand off can take some time, effort, and energy up front, but it'll be well worth it once you've cleared your To Do list and found more time for the things that are most important to you. Put these 5 questions to work as you seek out the right help, and then enjoy the feeling of getting more done.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Should You Do It Yourself or Hire Help?

Tip of the Week, July 25, 2010

The instinct to be as self-sufficient as possible and to tackle tasks on our own is deeply embedded in American culture, and also pops up elsewhere around the globe. Whether we're talking about making home repairs, filing tax returns, getting organized, or running errands, we tend to want to do as much as we can on our own.

While there's a lot to be said for this DIY inclination, it also has its downsides: trying to tackle on our own tasks and projects that require significant investments of time and/or specialized skills can mean spending way more time and money on something than we would if we brought in a pro to help--not to mention having to deal with the frustration of a half-finished project or unsatisfactory results.

Here are five questions that can help you decide what's worth handling on your own and when it's best to call in help.
  • Do I have the skills to handle this on my own? If a task requires know-how that you already have, it might be a good DIY candidate. But if getting it done would require learning something new, ask yourself whether it's truly worth the time and effort to build up those skills and knowledge. Yes, you could teach yourself to install a new ceiling-mounted light fixture, but be sure to weigh the costs of doing so (in time, research, and effort) against the cost of hiring a pro who could knock the project off in an hour.
  • How much time will this project actually take? It's entirely too easy to underestimate just how long you'll need to complete a project, even one for which you already have the skills. Before you commit to undertaking something, do some realistic thinking about the time involved. Not sure? Ask friends, neighbors, or family members who've undertaken similar tasks to get a ballpark figure, and then modify that based on the specifics of your project. For a point of comparison, you might also contact some professionals and ask them for rough estimates of the time they'd need to get the project done.
  • Do I actually have the time to do this? Once you have a general sense of how long a task might take, consider your current schedule and think carefully about whether taking on such a project is realistic given the other things clamoring for your time and attention. If your calendar is bursting at the seams and you really need the project done (no matter how simple it might be), it's probably best to outsource it.
  • Why do I want to attempt this task or project on my own? There are a number of good reasons to take the DIY route: you might be working with a limited budget, for example, or might want to learn some new skills. But beware the "I should"s and the voices of others: "I should be able to organize my files by myself," say, or "My parents always said that hiring a housecleaner was a waste of money." Taking on a project yourself only because you feel you should, or because that's how someone else in your life would handle the situation, is a quick route to frustration.
  • Would I enjoy the process of tackling this project? There are, of course, some tasks you're unlikely to love but are nonetheless willing and able to do (perhaps scrubbing the tub, mowing the lawn, or adding a fresh coat of paint to a room, say), as well as some tasks you could delegate but are actually happy to do on your own. For everything else, take into account how you'll feel once you're in the thick of the project. Giving your hall closet a makeover on your own may seem like a good way to save money, but if you cringe at the thought of taking the project from A to Z, do yourself a favor and enlist help.
Ready to divide your projects list into those tasks you're willing and able to handle yourself and those you want to delegate? Check out next week's Tip for suggestions on how to beg, borrow, barter, or invest in some outside help.