Ever wonder what it’s like to have an organizing lesson with a professional organizer? Are you curious about how it works to have “virtual” organizing sessions? The following is a real-life example of an email exchange with one of my current clients. I’ve edited the email to remove any personal identifiers or for clarity.
Thanks for your always inspiring columns. It is good for me (and others, am sure) to be reminded and makes for pleasant reading with my morning coffee! Thank you for your kind words – I’m glad they are helpful to you.
I do have problems, –it seems that my problems are, at least mostly, what we’ve already discussed. Please stop thinking in terms of problems. The real issue is to identify your habits and personality traits so that you can work WITH them instead of trying to fight them!
I manage to have a lovely desk at the beginning of each week: three small piles (one desk work, one accounts, one [group I’m involved with]) that i plan to take care of in the next few days. I schedule about 45 minutes for morning “office work” including checking my e-mails almost daily. This is a good start.
But all too often I get sidetracked doing something more urgent, realizing that it needs to be done and I won’t have enough time later in the day–or that has carried over from a prior evening (as in this morning). We need to identify how these items end up becoming so urgent. Are you not processing them early enough? Do they crop up from nowhere or are they a result of procrastination? Or that comes up and I feel it is easy (just a few minutes) to take care of it now, while it is fresh in my, and those involved, mind. We already know that these things take much longer than we anticipate. The key here is to not open the message until you are in a position to deal with it. One reason we get so sidetracked – and that things slip through the cracks – is that we open an email to check what it is and decide we can deal with it later or try to deal with it now when we don’t really have the time. This can be a problem for me, too, so I move the message (opened or not) to Calendar in Outlook and schedule looking at it at a more appropriate time. I can show you how to do that when we meet.
And, the folders may have a bit too much to accomplish in the allotted time–what I think will take 3-5 minutes takes 15-20. As mentioned above, things take much longer than we anticipate. We know that, so I recommend adding at least twice as much time as you think it will take. Nothing is going to take us (who tend to be disorganized) only 5 minutes. Everything takes at least a minimum of 15 minutes, so just realize that at the get go and forget about 5 minutes.
And, I often add things that come in to the bottom (or top) of the pile. I think we have talked about figuring out next actions in the past. When new stuff comes in, things you haven’t processed should have their own inbox. Once you look at an item, determine the next action and then put it in the appropriate place (we can talk about what that means at our next session).
So, by the end of the week the piles are a mess. I just finished going thru each and pulling up the most urgent things. That way– time permitting–, when i sit at my desk during the day I can take care of one or two before getting to the task at hand. I find if i put them away in folders, i often forget about the entire folder. This is where the planner comes in. You don’t have to remember the folder in your head – the action item is written in the planner, along with WHERE that item is (i.e. which folder or pile or file cabinet).
Some of these are a back log, and so I do schedule “catch up” time on the weekend but it is never enough. Also, i find i waste more time “getting re-acquainted” if i let something go for several weeks…. I recommend either keeping a “log” (which is essentially a piece of paper) attached to the item with progress report notes jotted on it, including what you have to do next. That way you don’t have to remember what it’s all about.
btw, I don’t have a time scheduled for our meeting, did we ever schedule? No, we haven’t yet scheduled our meeting. I have [available dates] open, both beginning after [available times]. Let me know what works for you.
So, there you have it — real answers to real questions about organizing yourself. (By the way, emails like this are included in my session fee.)
Have you ever worked with an organizer? Why or why not? I would love to hear about your experience in the comments below.
Janet J. Johnson says
Barb, it all depends on what your priorities are. If being organized is one of the top three on your list, I say go for it. As for me, I need all the help I can get, and Brenda is the best. J. J.
Brenda Spandrio says
Everybody needs help now and then. The key is to find someone who understands your what you need and motivates you to make it happen.
Andrea Anderson says
Barbara, I want to encourage you not to give up. When you’re REALLY ready for help, you’ll find it. Maybe that’s what brought you to Brenda’s website….Maybe you’ve been ‘guided’ to the person that can help you…:) She’s the real deal! If you haven’t already, I encourage you to complete her free assessment as she offered and connect with her. If she’s not the right fit, I’m sure she’ll help you find someone who is. Don’t give up! Glad you posted your comments. 🙂
Brenda Spandrio says
There are lots of us ready and willing to help!
I have not yet worked with an organizer. I finally decided to reach out and ask for help last summer, but could not find an actual organizer… just a page where I could leave a message and “someone” would get back to me. Well my name was given to someone as a “lead” but apparently she had someone big going on in her life and could not respond for awhile. By the time she called me, we were out of town for almost three months. I picked up the message and wrote down her number, but something spilled on the number and smudged the ink. I figured she might call again, but she never did. What kind of organizer doesn’t realize that a disorganized person will very likely lose the phone number in some manner or another?
A friend who is highly organized offered to help me, but her life circumstances have suddenly changed and she has her hands full caring for a mother-in-law with dementia. So I continue struggling alone…
Brenda Spandrio says
Thanks for your heart-felt — and honest — comment. I do hear your frustration and desperation.
As someone who is not “born organized,” I understand the reluctance to ask for help. Who wants to admit that they can’t handle as seemingly simple a life-skill as keeping stuff picked up? And then you finally take that risk and it doesn’t help at all. As you discovered, people can be unreliable and unresponsive.
As a professional organizer, I see the other side of the coin as well. I spent an entire year following up with one potential client with gentle reminder messages (about every six weeks or so) that I was available to her when she was ready, only to have her tell me that I was “stalking” her and to cease and desist or she would report me (even though I have email records of her thanking me for checking in and saying I should continue to do so).
The fact is that pretty much anyone can label themselves an organizing consultant and hang out their shingle. No formal training is required. Even if you choose someone from the National Association of Professional Organizer directory, you have to do your homework. And even a highly recommended professional may not be a good personality “fit”.
Professional organizers are in business to make money to support their families, but most are very generous and give lots of tips and information freely. Some organizers (like me) offer a free assessment. It’s a chance to talk with the organizer to see if you think you can work together. Others will charge a nominal fee that may or may not be used toward your purchase of services.
I’m going to tap into my network of colleagues and clients to see if we can get additional comments to your situation. In the meantime, feel free to schedule a free session with me!
Sherri Papich says
Most Professional Organizers will get back in touch with a potential client within a day or two. And most of us follow the ethics of helping to find another organizer if they are unable to help.
Chronically disorganized persons can find an organizer trained specifically for that situation here: http://www.challengingdisorganization.org/content/find-icd-organizer-or-related-professional
Don’t give up! There is understanding, compassionate help out there!
To Your Success!
Sherri Papich, CEO
Organize Your Life LLC
Brenda Spandrio says
Thanks for your comment, Sherri, and for the resource link!
Aimee Bradley says
Barb, Don’t struggle alone! In fact when I met with Brenda, she made it clear that she was there to help me (to help myself) end the struggle!
She was there for me in a way that spoke to the understanding of the emotional mindset of clutter, not to mention that her ideas work!
Good luck on your quest for a de-cluttered life. I hope you take Brenda along on this Journey!
Brenda Spandrio says
Thanks for your kind words, Aimee!
Just read your comment, and thought of me a couple of years ago.
As someone who had long felt overwhelmed by piles and boxes of papers, and also that I was “smart enough” having read lots of books, and had considerable expensive coaching as well as advice from friends, that I be able to “get organized” for years I continued to spend hours searching for a bill that needed to be paid, or a paper that I knew I had seen last week.
Just a few hours of one-on-one work with Brenda was what really changed my behavior.
She does not bother with the “whys” or psychological investigations, nor adding overwhelming things to do. We started slowly, Brenda stood with me while we looked at each piece of paper. She asked simple questions: what needs to be done, when? With just a very few minutes a day and a few sessions, I soon gained the good feeling of seeing light at the end of the tunnel, got rid of a lot of unnecessary stuff. Brenda was available for tips or a review session whenever I felt a need for some help.
I am far from perfect, but Brenda also helped me see that a certain amount of clutter is how I function. And that decluttering is an ongoing process. So I still have a “messy” office, but it is an “organized mess.” I know where things are, files and papers are clearly labeled. My closets are not impeccable, but neat enough for me or to show my home to prospective buyers.
Hope this helps you decide to “take the plunge”.
Brenda Spandrio says
Thanks for your kind words, Lili!