Is Your Organizing Funnel Upside-Down?

funnel go and stop copyWhen you want to get organized, do you run out and buy organizing supplies? If so, odds are good, your organizing process is like an upside down funnel.

The best way to get organized, is to work from general to specific, in stages, as if you were filtering all your excess stuff through an imaginary funnel. When you’ve bought your organizing supplies first, however, it’s a bit like a doctor giving you a prescription without a diagnosis. You’re going from specific to general, down an upside-down funnel.

Maybe, you haven’t bought the supplies, but you just want to focus on one area of the room, like your desk surface. I know a lot of professional organizers recommend this, but I think it’s asking for trouble. Without a comprehensive plan, getting your desk surface cleared can quickly lead to other problems. At first you feel good as you throw away a few papers, but then you find you can’t fit any more files in your file cabinet, because it’s packed, so you place a stack of files on the floor, because you are determined to clear your desk. The problem is, those files get forgotten then accidentally kicked and mixed up with the other mess on the floor.

So what should you do instead? Work general to specific down a processing funnel. Here’s three steps to follow.

1. Sort. To free up space on a specific place, like your desk, means you have to look at your general space, like your office. A general sort means general categories, like office supplies, stationery, keepsakes, computer/electronics, and loose paper. As you work down the funnel, you can focus on one category and create general subcategories. With loose paper, just quickly break it into action files, easily findable files, and archive files. When you identify your archive files, you can store them more remotely and free up space in your file cabinet for those easily findable files, you would otherwise have to pile on the floor.

2. Purge. When you see how many boxes of computer supplies or office supplies you have, it makes it much easier to free up space by tossing, donating, selling, and reassigning.

3. Assign. Speaking of reassigning, by working from general to specific, it is much easier to recognize that some items, like back up office supplies, keepsakes, and archives, can be stored more remotely, thereby freeing up space in your office and, ultimately, that all-important desk surface.

Once you are clear on the quantities you are keeping and where, only then is it appropriate to ask what kind of containers or systems you need to buy (if any). While this funnel perspective is mine, the S.P.A.C.E. acronym (Sort, Purge, Assign, Containerize, Equalize) belongs to professional organizing pioneer Julie Morgenstern, from her classic, Organizing From the Inside Out. I highly recommend it.

One of the greatest benefits of getting organized from general to specific, is that you can work much more quickly in each stage, because your focus is more singular i.e. just sort, then just purge, etc.

Have you every found yourself losing momentum, losing focus, and getting sidetracked during your organizing process?