Getting Organized for 2014

Getting organized is a very popular New Year’s resolution, but like so many resolutions, it can be a very difficult one to keep, without some simple guidelines. Here are some simple guidelines.

Space before time.

A resolution to get more organized usually involves both a commitment to clutter control and to time management.  Attack the clutter first. Clutter is the excess stuff that fills up our space and prevents us from getting to the things that are most important to us. It is hard to develop new time management systems, when our space is not organized in a way that makes sense. And it is hard to make sense of our space if it is filled with clutter.

Garage first.

It may be your home office or kitchen that feels the most disorganized, but if you are looking for the best space to start, look to the garage or basement. These external storage spaces tend to hold a lot of quick wins, that is, larger, lower priority items that you will be more prepared to dispense with, more quickly. You will free up more space faster in the garage and basement, so that you can drain items from more critical areas of the house like the home office or kitchen.

Exit zones.

Another great reason to start with the garage is that you can create the space to establish exit zones. Psychologically, it makes sense to position the things leaving, near the car. Things leaving include not only trash, but donates, sells, and give-to’s. Give-to’s are items that are slated for specific friends or family members, as opposed to a general donate. You’ll be amazed how much easier it is to purge items from other areas in the house, when you have options besides just “toss” in the garage. Also, dedicate a small area near your front door for items that need to leave the house on a regular basis. Things like a cell phones, keys, and library books to return would go here.

Don’t buy containers first.

A big mistake I see a lot is, running out and buying a collection of plastic bins BEFORE sorting and purging. Quantity dictates systems. Don’t choose your system structures, before reducing your stuff down to a manageable quantity. I favor using banker boxes for sorting smaller items, but I use them as temporary processing tools, not for finished organizing systems. When you buy the plastic bins first, you might not have enough, you might have too many, and they might be the wrong shapes and sizes. You just don’t know.

Number one habit.

Organizing resolutions often last a week, because they are overly ambitious. After decluttering and getting organized. It’s important to look at easy habits to keep it that way. Start with just this one habit. Clear your worksurface at night. A clear work surface is your number one organizing tool, so clearing it at the end of every day is your number one organizing habit. I call it a tool because tools always have specific purposes. The specific purpose of a work surface should be work, not storage. A clear surface allows for movement and that is the key to the best organizing systems. Circulation prevents accumulation.

Allow for flexible time.

The one element I see missing in most time management systems is an allowance for flexible time. Flexible time is for tasks that you want to make a point of doing, but don’t require an external commitment to anyone else. I call those commitments, fixed time.  Time management systems tend to be great at locking us into fixed time events, but makes no allowance for unforeseen events that suddenly alter your schedule. A computer is great for scheduling and updating appointments and meetings. For that reason, I trust my computer for organizing my all my fixed events, but then I print out a page for each day. On that printout I add my flexible tasks around the fixed events with 1.5×2 Post-It notes. Then if an emergency comes up, I quickly rearrange the Post-It’s, without rewriting. I’m not saying this will work for everyone, but ask yourself if your new time management system allows for flexible time.

If you’ve always been challenged with organization, you will not suddenly master it, simply because you have made a ritual commitment to it. It’s a great goal, but it’s important to approach it in small steps, so that you can build on a series of small successes. You want to feel good about your progress. If you bite off more than you can chew, then you find yourself saying “well, I try every year, but it never works!” That makes it harder every time. Progress is more likely to come from choosing just one or two organizing skills and mastering them, before moving on.

Happy New Year!