Monday, September 20, 2010

Why Is Organizing So Challenging?

Tip of the Week, September 12, 2010

"I'm smart. I'm motivated. I'm capable. So why is it so hard for me to get organized?"

As they say, if I had a nickel for every time I heard that, I'd be a wealthy woman. Clients, friends, Tip readers, and people I meet when I speak to groups frequently bemoan the challenge of getting or staying organized, and often feel like their inability to tackle organizing projects on their own means there's something wrong with them.

Organizing may not be rocket science, but it's also not something everyone has a natural affinity for, nor is it always (or ever!) a straightforward, simple, unemotional process.

Here are five of the biggest reasons it can be so hard to get and stay organized, along with realistic suggestions for overcoming them.

#1: It's Overwhelming
I often compare getting organized to untangling a ball of yarn or a string of Christmas lights: when you can't even find the end of a strand, it's almost impossible to get things straight again, just as tackling an organizing project can be totally overwhelming if you don't know where to begin or if you try to do too much at once. This sense of overwhelm is the #1 roadblock I hear about.
  • The solution: If you feel paralyzed by the magnitude of your organizing project, break it down into very small pieces. Instead of trying to declutter an entire bookcase at once, for example, aim for a shelf (or even just a few feet of shelf) at a time. Don't know where to begin a project? Start with the spot that'll have the most impact and that will provide the biggest dose of relief and accomplishment once it's organized.
#2: It's Hard to Do Alone
As I mentioned in my Tip on working with a buddy, organizing tends to be an activity that, for whatever reason, is much easier to do with someone else. When you try to handle an organizing project on your own, you might feel bored, overwhelmed, distracted, annoyed, depressed, paralyzed, or just downright unmotivated.
  • The solution: Enlist someone to support you as you get organized, whether that means a friend or family member working side-by-side with you or a group of like-minded folks who can offer encouragement and guidance by phone, by e-mail, or in person in between organizing sessions.
#3: It's Boring
If you're driven to tears by the thought of spending more than 10 minutes sorting through files or deciding which of the clothes in your closet stay and which go, you're in good company. Many, many people find the process of getting organized to be a complete drag, even if they're enthusiastic about the end result.
  • The solution: You may never be thrilled by sorting and weeding or rearranging your file drawers or reorganizing your kitchen cabinets--and that's OK. The trick is to tie these tasks to something you do enjoy to make them a bit more palatable: put on a favorite book on tape to listen to as you tackle your files, for example, or have a friend over for a glass of wine as you sort through your clothes.
#4: It's Emotional
Things are far more than things: they're also often memories, intentions, reminders of past events and accomplishments, symbols of things we'd planned to do, and mementos of people, places, and happenings that have shaped our lives. Getting organized very frequently involves revisiting our stuff and the emotions behind it--a process that can be extremely tough.
  • The solution: Here again, having a trusted source of support (a friend, family member, professional organizer, or support group) can be invaluable, and can make the difference between being able to work through your emotions and continue with your organizing project or feeling mentally overloaded and giving up. If your emotional issues around your stuff are particularly deep-rooted, it's well worth seeking the help of a counselor or therapist to process what comes up for you.
#5: It's Tiring
Finally, in what can be a culmination of the other 4 stumbling blocks, organizing is often just plain tiring, both mentally and physically. Whether you're lifting and moving things as you work or making decision after decision about what to keep and what to part with (or doing all of the above), you may well find that you're well and truly zonked after an hour or two.
  • The solution: To use a slightly threadbare metaphor, long-lasting organization is a marathon, not a sprint. It's completely natural to want to make significant progress in a relatively short span of time, but trying to do too much at once can leave you burnt out and exhausted, which can make you want to abandon your organizing efforts altogether. As with avoiding overwhelm, the trick here is to take slow, steady action and to divide your project into reasonable chunks. You may feel like you're making much slower progress, but you'll be far more likely to maintain success over the long term.
If you struggle with getting organized, you're not alone, and there's nothing wrong with you. Identify which of these 5 hurdles is making it challenging for you to work toward your organizing goals, and put the suggested solutions into practice.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Introducing Organized for Good

You're ready to get organized.

You know that getting control of your space, your stuff, and your time will make your life fuller, richer, and less stressful, and that being organized will make it easier to enjoy the people and experiences you care about most.

You're motivated, dedicated, and determined to make a change.

And yet, you feel stuck. Where should you begin? What's the best way to tackle a big organizing project? What happens when you run into a snag? What if parts of the organizing process are boring, tiring, or emotional--or all three? And what about those days when you just don't feel like sticking with it?

No matter how motivated you might be, getting organized on your own can be a challenge. But with the right information, some effective strategies, guided tasks and projects, and--most importantly--support from others who are determined to bring more order and organization to their lives, you can not only achieve significant change in the short term, but also ensure that your success lasts well into the future.

Organized for Good
In response to many requests from clients, Tip readers, and others who've shared with me their organizing challenges, I've created Organized for Good: 6 Weeks to Getting--and Staying--Organized.

Organized for Good is a comprehensive online course designed to give you the information, direction, and support you need to set and achieve a challenging but realistic organizing goal, to make lasting changes in your relationships with your space and your stuff, and to develop habits that will help keep you organized over the long term.

For six weeks, we'll delve into the different phases of the organizing process, from setting a goal to sorting and weeding to overcoming obstacles. Each week, you'll get
  • a workbook with tips, worksheets, and assignments,
  • an audio recording with guidance and motivation from me,
  • and the chance to participate in a private online discussion group just for class members, where you can share your successes and challenges, ask and answer questions, and get support from me and your fellow classmates
The class also includes a one-on-one 30-minute coaching call with me, which you can use at any time, whether to give yourself a boost as you begin your organizing project, to overcome obstacles you encounter along the way, or to work on creating effective maintenance habits once you've made it through the project.

Time to Make a Change
Organized for Good begins on October 10 and ends on November 20, so it's the perfect opportunity to declutter and regain control before the busy winter holiday season begins. The course is designed to let you work at your own pace and according to your own schedule each week.

Ready to make a change? Visit the Organized for Good class information page to read more and to reserve your spot.

I look forward to helping you clear out what's been holding you back, reach your organizing goals, and take a big step toward living a fuller, richer, happier life.

Here's to getting organized for good!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Organize Your Home Office

Tip of the Week, September 5, 2010

Whether you're heading back to school this fall, want to create a study space for others in your household who are, or simply want a less cluttered, more functional workspace for day-to-day tasks, now is a great time to get your home office in order. Even if that office is a sliver of space in a room used for other purposes, you can make it an effective, well equipped spot. Here's how.

Step 1: Choose Your Spot
A separate room that can function as a home office (say, a guest bedroom or a den) is ideal, as you'll have extra room to work and can close the door on the space when you're ready for a break. But if, like me, you don't have that luxury, no fear: with a bit of creativity, you can carve out a functional office space in another room. Take a walk through your house and look for spots that might work--perhaps a nook in the kitchen, a corner of the living or dining room, an alcove under the stairs, or even an under-used hall closet. The spot you choose should have space enough for at least a basic desk and chair, and should mesh with your work style: if you need utter peace and quiet while working, for example, a space in the center of your home will likely be too distracting.

Step 2: Set up the Space
Once you've chosen your spot, outfit it with the furniture and supplies that will let you work comfortably and efficiently. A sturdy desk and comfortable chair are musts. (Ikea has some great options for customizable desks that fit into small spaces.) You might also want a computer of some sort and a printer. And while it's smart to have essential supplies like pens, paper, a stapler, and mailing supplies close at hand, be mindful of not over-stocking the space. To prevent clutter, keep within an arm's reach the supplies you're bound to use over the course of a few weeks and store elsewhere items you use less frequently and extras of your basics (like printer paper).

Step 3: Create Simple Organizing Systems
Getting your home office set up and organized is a good first step; now you'll just want to keep it that way! (If you already have a home office set up, start with this step.) Based on the work you do in your office and the supplies you need to have on hand, take some time to set up basic organizing systems to keep things in order. Drawer dividers or small boxes (like those used to hold checkbooks) can keep supplies like paper clips, pens, and rubber bands from running wild in your desk drawers. Stacking letter trays can hold blank paper and envelopes. A rolling file cart or a simple portable tote is a good option for stashing the files you use most often. (If you're pressed for space, store archive and reference files elsewhere.)

While you're at it, look for items that may have migrated to your office space that don't belong there: books to return to bookshelves, bits and pieces of clothing that belong in dressers or closets, or supplies that should be stored in the kitchen, the linen closet, or the garage. Aim to keep your workspace dedicated to the papers, supplies, and gear you need to do your work.

Step 4: Do a Once-Weekly Clean Up
Finally, with your office space functionally stocked and running smoothly, take a few minutes once a week to make sure it stays that way. Set aside 10 minutes or so early or late in the week to restock supplies that are running low, file any papers you're not actively working with, tidy up your supply storage, empty the trash and recycling, and return to their rightful homes any items that have made their way to the office from elsewhere over the course of the week. These few minutes of maintenance are the key to ensuring that your workspace remains functional and comfortable over the long term, so don't skip them!

A functional, organized home office may not make homework, bill paying, or other work tasks more fun, but it'll help make you and the others in your household more effective at the work you need to do, leaving you with more time for activities beyond the desk.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

6 Ways to Decrease Post-Vacation Stress

Tip of the Week, August 29, 2010

Labor Day weekend is a popular travel time here in the U.S., with millions hitting the roads, rails, and skies for one final summer trip before settling down to a return to school and work in the fall. If you're taking off this weekend, a few simple steps before you leave and after you come home can help make your post-vacation time much less stressful. Staying close to home for now? File these tips away for your next trip.

Before You Leave
Getting things under control at work and at home prior to your departure means you'll be much less likely to return to chaos after your trip. Here's what to do before you leave.
  • Tie up as many loose ends as possible. Aim to finish as many of your current tasks at work as you can so that you'll be better able to disconnect and enjoy your time away and won't return to an out-of-control task list. At home, knock off tasks like returning library books, picking up dry cleaning, and returning essential phone calls.
  • Do a quick round of tidying. Coming back to a messy, disorganized home or office is a great way to kill your post-vacation buzz and replace it with a heap of stress. You don't need to deep-clean before you take off, but doing simple things like straightening up your desk, washing and putting away dishes, and making your bed will let you return to an environment that's neat and under control.
  • Plan for what'll happen while you're away. If you'll be gone for more than a few days, it's a good idea to enlist help with tasks that need to be done in your absence. Have a trusted neighbor pick up your mail and water your plants, for example. Planning to be away for a few weeks? Consider having someone take care of your yard work, clean the house, and perhaps even stock the fridge right before you return. The less you have to deal with on your return, the easier it'll be to slip back into your routines.
After You Return
Ease yourself back into real life, and prevent disorganization from becoming a post-vacation headache, by taking these steps when you return.
  • Plan time to reacclimate. If at all possible, structure your trip and your post-travel schedule to allow for a day to unpack, run errands, and generally adjust to being out of vacation mode. Trying to jump right back into work or school the day after you return can make you stressed and inefficient. Can't spare a whole day? Give yourself at least a few hours early on the day after you get back to readjust.
  • Unpack ASAP. Letting a half-empty suitcase (especially one with laundry that needs to be done) linger for more than a day after your return will very likely make you feel out of control. Set a timer for 20 minutes and dedicate that time to unpacking. Put away anything that's clean, toss washables into the hamper, stash toiletries and other travel gear, and then put your suitcase away so it doesn't crowd up your bedroom or living area.
  • Deal with the mail. Finally, take a few minutes to sort through the mail that accumulated while you were away. If you have time to open and process all of it, great. If not, simply aim to weed out and shred or recycle the junk, and then schedule time within a week to take a closer look at everything else.
As you plan your next trip, take some time to put these tips into practice. They can't help extend your vacation, but they'll go a long way toward helping you feel less stressed, more organized, and more in control after that vacation comes to an end.