Last spring I watched as crews of college students patrolled the beaches on Bolivar Peninsula in Galveston, Texas, doing the spring clean-up to rid the shore of accumulated debris.
Two months later I returned to the beach and found very little evidence of their earlier efforts. Cans, bottles and paper were scattered across the sands. More clean-up days needed to be scheduled.
It struck me that this is the way many people approach their offices in their attempts to gain control of the overwhelming demands on their time. They decide to get organized and designate a time to get it all in order.
Old papers are dumped, materials added to existing files and, often, some new baskets and containers are purchased to handle all of the materials. Everything looks great. Then, in a couple of weeks, when they enter their offices it is as if that day had never occurred.
What happened in both of these scenarios?
1. There is no new procedure established that would eliminate future clutter.
2. Cleaning up and getting organized are not the same.
Getting organized means:
• Creating systems and realigning spaces.
• Making an immediate decision about everything coming in.
• Placing the paper or item in the appropriate location for further action.
• Prioritized use of time.
• No reshuffling of clutter.
• Increased ability to focus.
Keeping the beach cleared and keeping our desks cleared are both about developing habits to tie in with the system. On the beach, if there were sufficient trash receptacles and visitors would develop a habit of putting papers and debris immediately into the trash can, someone else wouldn’t have to come by and process this for them by picking it up and disposing of the litter, allowing those volunteer hours to be used for other purposes.
The same concept can be applied to your daily work flow. Most people are familiar with the adage, “Handle a piece of paper only one time.” What that means is that you make an immediate decision about what to do and when to do it, then place it in the proper place right away. The fact that there is a process and a place is the difference between cleaning or clearing and organizing.
Why keep repeating the cleaning-up scenario when you can set aside one day to really get organized, establishing systems that will continue to work for you? By using your time more productively, you might even manage a few extra vacation trips this year instead of being stuck in your office.
• Ahwatukee Foothills resident Denise Landers is a time management specialist and author of “Destination: Organization, A Week by Week Journey.” As owner of Key Organization Systems, she helps businesses and individuals accomplish more with productive systems. For additional organizing and time management tips, visit www.keyorganization.com.