I made a big decision this year. It's one I've been thinking about for a long time. I'm not a big New Year's resolution person but I'm finally going to face the fact that I'm a pack rat and I need to clean up. Now. No more procrastinating.
I'm starting to drown in papers, files and clutter and it's really bothering me. To make matters worse, I agreed months ago to speak at a national conference for professional organizers in 2006, and I just received the request for the outline of my talk. Public speaking may scare a lot of folks but I actually enjoy it; my problem is I have to speak to a group of hundreds of the most organized people in the world and I can't throw anything away. It will be a lot more fun for me if I can face them holding my head up high and share stories from my front-line experience of getting myself organized. Authenticity is one of my core values and I think they deserve a branding and marketing expert who understands their business.
The biggest issue for me is I have a home office and would like to continue working this way. I don't want to have to rent space to work just because I have so many files and papers everywhere. It's not a surprise to me that the storage business is booming. You know there's a problem when you see coffee mugs and t-shirts that proudly claim "I'm not a pack rat, I'm a collector." I try to start every week clutter-free with my desk clear. The trouble is that by Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning the desk and the floor around it are starting to get covered with piles of active files and notes from my conversations with colleagues, clients and prospects. I like being able to see my notes and papers while I'm talking. It's like a security blanket for me.
It's obvious that hanging on to old papers is my weakness. Once you face your weakness, you need a strategy to address it so you can get it behind you and move on. Here are tips I can share with you on my journey toward getting organized.
1. Hire a professional to make yourself accountable. Having someone come into your home office is a particularly delicate issue. It's really letting someone into your personal space, so the right chemistry and personality matter a lot here. I've spoken with many people about this over the years and there are lots of talented folks who help people like me get organized. I just never found the right match and kept using it as an excuse to delay the inevitable. I think turning 40 has forced me to start dealing with things like this; life is just too short to waste time going through stacks of paper looking for that note with the phone number you need.
So I hired an assistant who used to be an office manager and she's very well organized. Pack rats don't scare her. I've known her for years and feel comfortable with her in my home. She's the perfect balance of tough and sympathetic, and I trust her opinion immensely. No more excuses--I found the perfect task master to keep me honest here.
2. Set priorities and get started. We agreed to begin with a few projects she can do over the internet so that I have some time to prepare; it's kind of like having to straighten up before your cleaning woman can actually clean your house. This way we can start building some momentum and begin working together productively. I have receipts to input into spreadsheets, contact files to be updated and general administrative duties to be dealt with--all the things I really hate to do, which is why they pile up. We're working up to purging old files, throwing out irrelevant information, and giving away things that others might appreciate but I no longer use or need.
3. Develop a filing system and stick to it. Whether you have filing cabinets, computer files or both like me, create a way to organize your work and correspondence so you only keep what's necessary and know where to find it when you need to access the information again. I tend to keep too much so I'm really going to work hard at purging more aggressively as I start taking my own advice here. Wish me luck. I'll need it!
4. Go paperless where possible. I have colleagues who've done this and I truly admire folks who don't require a paper trail of their work-in-progress. Call me old-fashioned, but I really like to see things printed out where possible, I have a photographic memory that only seems to work with hard copies. I'm really going to try to develop a less paper-intensive system in my new clean office. I'm already making progress, drafting articles and speeches online without stacks of paper and notes as a crutch. So far, so good. We'll see how long I can keep this up!
I know when this clean-up is done I'm going to feel so much better. My mind and desk will be clear, my files will no longer be overstuffed, and I won't waste time looking for things in a pile. I won't be embarrassed to show people my office and my chest will no longer constrict mid-week since I'll have a system in place to deal with my soon-to-be manageable paperwork. I won't let myself fall back into my old bad habits and will set up regular tune-ups with my assistant as needed to make sure of it. I am committed to getting organized in 2006 before the annual conference of the professional organizer association. Maybe next I should agree to speak at a fitness conference so I'll be inspired to renew my gym membership! Nothing like a kick in the pants to help you get focused on your priorities. All you need is a little motivation!