I was working with a client recently to organize her home papers. We were purging papers that were no longer needed, and sorting the keepers into categories so that we could put them into files for future retrieval. So far, so good. My client confided that she considers herself organized at work, and actually likes a fairly clutter-free environment. She shared that at home, however, she has a really hard time dealing with paper. This is not uncommon. Some clients can maintain organizing systems at work, and not at home, while others can keep it together at home, but things fall apart at work. There are many reasons for this organizing disparity, and I assumed that as I worked with this client, the reasons would surface.

And surface they did. As soon as we started to set up the filing system, I noticed that my client lacked confidence in her decisions. When I would ask her what to name a certain file, she would get very nervous, mention a possible name, then second-guess herself almost immediately. She became visibly distressed, and started to lose steam. We took a break, and started discussing what she was feeling. She was feeling overwhelmed with choices, and was scared that she would make the wrong choice (her words) and not be able to find papers when she needed them later on. This, my friends, is what happens when someone does not trust his or her instincts when organizing.

It is not a surprise that my client became overwhelmed as soon as we got to the implementation phase. This is when you set up the organizing system in a way that makes sense to you, and can be integrated into your life (for more information on the stages of organizing, check out my unique approach to organizing, DECIDE). For many people, this is the toughest part, as it requires the person to make decisions and own them. If a person lacks confidence in his or her ability to set up a system or to maintain it, that lack of confidence usually manifests itself through indecision. For my client, this reared its ugly head more at home than at work. At work, often the systems are already in place and an employee merely has to follow them. For some, this makes it harder as the system may be far from what he or she would have created. However, for others, following a ready-made system is easier as it takes the decision-making part out of the equation.

So what to do? Use your instincts. Go with your gut.

If you were unfortunate enough to have to sit for the SAT exam in high school, you may remember the common tip that people would give: do not change your first answer, as it is usually the right one. You can say the same thing when it comes to organizing systems. I often will say to a client when they are having a hard time choosing a name for a file, “Quick, what file name would you think to look for this paper under?” I am trying to make my clients use free association, and not over-think the naming process. File names are only important when it comes to retrieval, not storage. Most people get caught up in what to name a file because they are focusing on the front-end – the storage process. But filing is most important on the back-end, during the retrieval process, when you need to access something quickly after time has gone by and your memory is not as fresh.

I am amazed how often clients will fight their natural organizing habits and tendencies. For example, a client will explain that he is having a hard time with mail being everywhere in his home. He will advise that he has a mail slot system but is not using it. I ask why. He tells me it is hanging by the front door, but he uses the back door. I then suggest moving the mail slot to hang near the back door. My client will say, “Oh that makes sense, why didn’t I ever think of that?” Sometimes the easiest solution is staring you right in the face, but you don’t trust yourself to grab it. Organizing systems should be intuitive, not difficult.

Back to my recent client. She realized that she wanted to set up her filing system by using each family member’s name and then using sub-categories within each person’s file area. For example, let’s say her son’s name is Tom. She wanted to have a main category called Tom, and then file folders within that category for Tom-Auto, Tom-Education, Tom-Medical, Tom-Work, etc. The reason for this, she explained, is that she tends to think of each person as a universe unto him- or herself. Once she is within that universe, then she wants to break it down by subject matter category. Others set up their filing systems based on main subject matter categories of Auto, Education, Medical, Work, etc. and then use each family member’s name as the sub-categories and file folders within. Which is right? Well, both, actually. It depends on the way your brain thinks about and processes paper. For my client, this system worked. As soon as we set up her filing system in this manner, I could see her confidence come back and her spirits rise. This felt “right” to her. She just lacked the confidence to try it before.

So, when organizing, trust your instincts. They usually guide you to a great solution.

The phrase ‘time management’ has become one of the most oft-repeated phrases of our society. Almost everyone thinks they need to improve their time management skills. The problem is that most people aren’t even examining what the real issue is. Instead, the average person will blame time itself. Think I am kidding? Let me demonstrate.

When I attend a social or business function and people discover that I am a productivity expert, the topic often turns to ‘time management.’ Many people will invariably say some version of, “I don’t have any time.” To which I then usually reply, “Actually, you have the same 24 hours in your day that every other human being has. What you’re really telling me is that you don’t like the way you are spending your time, or you have not been able to prioritize your tasks to maximize that 24 hours.” I usually get a long pause, and then if the person ‘gets it,’ he or she will have a small epiphany and reply, “Yes, that’s it! I wish I were managing my time better. I’m feeling out of balance.”

The reason that this common time management description irks me so much is that it essentially gives the person an excuse by blaming time itself, when the real issue generally lies with the person. While there may be some real issues involved that cause a person to get into a time management jam, it is also often the person’s lack of planning, procrastination, and failure to adequately prioritize that causes the time crunch.

People are not overwhelmed with time itself, but with what they fill that time with – all of the tasks and responsibilities that make up their busy schedules. That overwhelmed feeling is a lack of control over the passing of time. And that would actually be correct because no matter how hard you try, you cannot control the passing of time.

No matter how organized you are and how much you plan ahead, the reality of life steps in. Good time management techniques are in place so that when life throws you a curve ball, you can hit it and get back on base. You need techniques to put your plans into action so that you can avoid, to the extent possible, the time crunches that can come between you and your best life.

The phrase “time management” is itself an oxymoron. You can’t manage time, only what you choose to do with it. I often tell my clients that if I could invent a time machine and give them all a 25th hour in the day, I would. But until that amazing feat occurs (be patient, I’m working on it), we are all left on even playing field.

Indeed, time is the great equalizer. As Denis Waitley puts it, “Time is an equal opportunity employer. Each human being has exactly the same number of hours and minutes each day. Rich people can’t buy more hours. Scientists can’t invent new minutes. And you can’t save time to spend it on another day.” Wise words.

Another phrase that I often hear is “Time is money.” This is actually a bit of a loaded topic for me. As a former practicing attorney, I am all too familiar with what it means to sell your time as a commodity. You are essentially selling your time (i.e., your life) in six-minute increments. The only valuable time is billable time. The decision to spend time doing anything other than billable work must be justified. It’s no wonder that chief among a host of reasons for the high dissatisfaction among lawyers is the pressure of high billable-hours requirements in large firms, which leads to a serious lack of life-work balance.

Time isn’t money – time is life itself. No amount of money in the world can buy a minute or an hour. That moment that just passed while you were reading that last sentence is now gone forever. To me, that is more of a motivator than money. I can make another dollar in my lifetime, but I can’t get back that moment. However, because time is so forgiving, I can start over each day, hoping to live it to the fullest and use all of its 24 hours in the best way possible.

So let the connection between time and life itself be the impetus you need for managing your time better. “Dost though love life, then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.” ~ Benjamin Franklin

“To do two things at once – is to do neither.” ~ Roman philosopher Publilius Syrus, 100 A.D.

When we need to accomplish many tasks, we do 2-3 things at once, sometimes more. We do this in order to be more productive. Multi-tasking has basically become the American way. In fact, employers often include “multi-tasking” as one of the desirable traits they look for in job descriptions. But is multi-tasking really leading to increased productivity?

According to some experts, the answer is no. Multi-tasking is generally less efficient than focusing on one thing at a time. Studies show it impairs productivity. It is impossible to do 2 tasks at the same time without compromising each. Supposedly, it takes your brain 4 times longer to process than if you focused on each task separately.

David Meyer, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor has spent the past few decades studying multi-tasking. His research shows that not only is multi-tasking inefficient, but also can cause problems at work, at school, and even, in some cases, be dangerous. Meyer explains, “It takes time to warm up to a new task, especially if both require the same skills.” Apparently, the transition time between switching back and forth from one task to another is where multi-tasking starts to result in decreased productivity.

In addition, studies show that some tasks that are frequently grouped together conflict with one another causing a decrease in productivity. Have you ever been writing an e-mail and chatting on the phone, and realize that you are saying what you are typing, or typing what you are saying? Supposedly, it’s impossible to do both of these tasks well because each requires language skills and short-term memory. What about reading your email and talking to someone at the same time? If you’re trying to actually read your email, as opposed to maybe just skimming the names in your inbox, conversation with someone becomes difficult because you’re tackling two language activities at once: reading and listening.

Meyer has also studied the effect of multi-tasking on students (stay with one homework assignment at a time, kids), and on cell phone use while driving (read: don’t do it unless you are prepared to seriously impede your ability to drive). To see some of Meyer’s work on multi-tasking, visit his page at the University of Michigan.

Some people feel that multi-tasking helps them to stay fresh and alert, not get bored, and ward off fatigue. Some even claim that they can’t help it, as their brain gets easily distracted and goes from one thought and task to the next. However, most experts agree that the average person does not know how to multi-task well and, therefore, should refrain from doing it at all. Jim Loehr of the Human Performance Institute has spent a great deal of time studying multi-tasking and writes, “Multi-tasking is the enemy of extraordinariness. Human beings, sorry to say, can focus fully on only one thing at a time. When people multi-task, they are not fully engaged in anything, and partially disengaged in everything. The potential for profoundly positive impact is compromised. Multi-tasking would be okay–is okay–at certain times, but very few people seem to know when that time is.” For more information on Jim Loehr’s research on multi-tasking, visit the Human Performance Institute.

Some people claim to truly thrive on multi-tasking. But are they really increasing their productivity in a quantifiable manner, or just giving themselves (and perhaps others) the perception that they are getting more done? If you are really getting things done in a more productive manner by using multi-tasking, fine, and good for you. You have somehow managed to prove the experts wrong. But, if you have too many balls in the air, you may need to re-think your strategy — unless you learn how to juggle.

Welcome to the DECIDE to be Organized blog, brought to you by yours truly, Lisa Montanaro, owner of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC.  As a Certified Professional Organizer, Busines & Life Coach, and Motivational Speaker, I help success-minded individuals and busy professionals improve their homes, businesses and lives.  My purpose for this blog is to motivate, inspire and empower you to achieve results at home, at work, and in life. I hope this blog proves to be a valuable source of information to you, along with a little entertainment at times. So sit back, relax, get a cup of coffee (or tea!) and come along for the ride.

Warm regards,

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