Getting Organized for the New Year

If one of your New Year’s resolutions for 2013 is to get more organized, but you don’t know how to get started, here are ten key tips to get organized and stay organized, all year long.

1. Sort daily mail DAILY. Mail stops being mail the second it comes out of your mailbox. Now, it’s bills to pay, statements to file, junk solicitations to toss, periodicals to read, etc. Each action requires a different location. Relieve yourself of the pressure to take action now (except for the junk mail.) Divide now, conquer later.

2. Clear your desk at night. A clear work surface is your number one organizing tool, if reserved for the vital purpose of processing. Clear your runway at night, so you can take off in the morning.

3. Dedicate an exit zone by the front door. Reserve a small table, ledge, or shelf by the front door for just the items you want to make a point of remembering to
bring with you. Keys, sunglasses, and library books would make the cut. Toys, décor, and stacks of paper would not.

4. Establish a donate depot. It is very easy to accumulate new things, but not so easy to get rid of them. Change that by establishing a donation depot, as close to your car as possible. The easier something is to do, the more likely you are to do it.

5. Limit your to-do’s. Many of the action items that pile up on our desks, actually turn out to be items you just need to find reliably. Retrieval can be trusted if you have user-friendly files. See #6. The remaining true action files can be further limited by separating ongoing projects from tasks. Your daily tasks should fit on one page, between fixed events. This gives you just one place to return your focus, when you get distracted.

6. Create user-friendly files. A file cabinet, in reach from your desk, should only hold current information, statements from the current tax year, and useful records. Free up space by removing the older files you are keeping just-in-case and storing them more remotely. Alphabetizing can actually be confusing. Consider organizing by simple categories in box bottom hanging files. Every file must be easy to find. Otherwise, why keep it?

7. Drain archive files annually. To keep room in your handy file cabinet, older statements should be removed and stored more remotely after tax season. With user-friendly files, this should only take about 20 minutes.

8. Do priority management instead of time management. If you’re looking for the perfect device to capture every thought you have and act on it, forget it. Our brains will always move faster than our hands. Sure, there are methods for doing more, but they will always leave us feeling inadequate until we realize it’s not about managing the time, it’s about managing our priorities. The first step to achieving what’s most important is recognizing and saying “no” to what’s less important.

9. Reveal Don’t Conceal. Those decorative bins and baskets may look pretty, but they are often clutter traps, because they conceal their contents. Clear bins and drawers increase your odds of seeing what you have, knowing what you have, and using what you have. Also, the smooth surface makes it easier to accept an identifying label, so it’s that much easier to be clear about what you have.

10. Set limitations. Limitations breed freedom. This may sound like a contradiction, but setting limit is what keeps us free from excess. It’s important to start with realistic limitations, including a generous room for growth. Otherwise it’s impossible to keep things in control. For example, keeping all your keepsakes in just a shoebox, is not a realistic limitation. As a result, keepsakes that don’t fit will overflow into other dedicated zones.

If you’ve been challenged with organizing all your life, give yourself a break and don’t expect new habits to set in overnight. Start with one or two habits from this list and give yourself some time. Typically a new habit takes 3 to 4 weeks to fully adopt.