Corrections or additions?

This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the May 8,

2002 edition of

U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Drain Your Brain, and Other Tips For Office Efficiency

<d>Deb Cullerton spent seven years following UPS

guys and gals around. No, she wasn’t a Big Brown groupie. An


engineer, it was her job to make sure that UPS’s field workers were

completing their rounds with the maximum efficiency that breeds


"UPS has delivery methods down to a T," she says. "For

example, drivers have to keep their keys around their little fingers

at all times." It may seem like a small thing, but "think

about it," she says. "If every driver is fishing around for

keys, it eats up time. In an environment as fast-paced as UPS, you

have to have all your ducks in a row."

So Cullerton walked around behind drivers, stop watch in hand,


for time-wasting behavior, and devising methods to eliminate


delays. Then, she went back to her office. And it was there —

in the executive suites — that she found a much bigger efficiency


"At the front end, people were wasting seconds," she says.

"Back at the office people were wasting hours. There are much

bigger problems in white collar productivity. I thought maybe I was

working the wrong end."

Now northeast regional manager with PargasVenuto, an HR training and

development firm based in Mt. Laurel, Cullerton specializes in helping

desk jockeys cut stress, save time, and achieve work/life balance

through better organization. She speaks on "Organize or


on Thursday, May 9, at 6 p.m. at Mercer NJAWBO’s dinner meeting at

the Metro Grill in Ewing. Cost: $33. Call 609-924-7975.

Cullerton studied industrial engineering at the University of Rhode

Island, where she discovered she "wasn’t nerdy enough to be an

engineer," and shifted to management. Passionate about the


of getting organized, she says "no more than 20 percent" of

office workers are optimally organized.

"Some may look organized," she says, "but they’re not.

They’re just neat. There’s a difference between putting things away,

and finding them when you need them." The effects of this


not only hurt productivity at work, but also keep the disorganized

from enjoying time away from the office. "It lands on people’s

ability to achieve work/life balance," says Cullerton.

There are studies, she says, that indicate the average office worker

wastes 72 minutes a day. It is not uncommon for executives to spend

three hours a week just looking for papers. Getting those papers in

order is important, but it is only one-third of the solution.


says, "we look at organization from three sides."

Drain the brain. "People keep too much in their


says Cullerton. "Things start slipping through the cracks."

What’s more, a brain stuffed with phone numbers, E-mail addresses,

project deadlines, and appointments is a brain that is not free to

work on more important tasks. "How can you use it for creative

thinking, for strategizing?" asks Cullerton.

Empty the brain of all the minutia, and — obviously wise to all

the tricks office workers employ — she adds, "don’t empty

it onto stickies." Putting phone messages, meeting reminders,

and business lunch dates on Post-It notes does little to create an

organized work life. Scribbling on the back of reports doesn’t do

it either.

Instead, get a personal organizer, a Palm Pilot, Pocket PC or similar

device. Let it be your auxiliary brain. People worry, Cullerton


that this brain annex could be lost. At her seminars, this concern

always surfaces. "I ask how many people in the audience have lost

their Palm Pilots," she says. Rarely does a hand go up. And even

when the devices go missing, she says there is an excellent chance

that someone will find and return them.

"I found one on the sidewalk," she recounts. "I thought

`Oh my God! This person must be having a heart attack.’" She found

the owner by pressing the automatic dial phone number labeled


Dialing, she said, "one of your kids has lost his Palm Pilot,"

and got contact information. Another defense against loss is backing

up the pocket organizer on the office PC or laptop. This is easy to

do now. "I keep mine in a cradle right next to my laptop,"

says Cullerton. Backing up the data is now a nearly-unconscious part

of her day.

Map the day. When people think of organization, says


most think only of getting paper under control. Far more important,

in her view, is getting each day under control. For all white collar

workers, and especially for entrepreneurs, this is the biggest


"They let details consume them," she says. "They lose

sight of priorities."

Before leaving the office at night — every single night —

she suggests spending 10 minutes writing down (in an electronic


— not on the back of an envelope) the schedule for the next day.

"People," she says, "are very unrealistic about how much

time they will spend on their to do lists." A business day is

full of interruptions that eat up time earmarked for writing a report

or planning a campaign.

But at the end of each day, "suddenly everyone becomes an


Cullerton finds. In planning the next day, there is a tendency to

think "tomorrow I’ll have four hours to work on the project."

Chances are, says Cullerton, it won’t happen. "The computer goes

down. All those pesky customers are calling again," she gives

as examples of why this is so. "You have to be realistic,"

she says. "Maybe you’ll only have two hours."

Armed with this knowledge, top priority projects become

more urgent. Maybe it isn’t such a good idea to put them off until

Friday after all. With a realistic idea of how much time really will

be available tomorrow, it is also easier to say no to extra work.

You don’t have eight hours at your disposal tomorrow — not if

you factor in necessary interruptions. You really have only six, or

four, or two. If a high-priority task is going to take up that much

time, there is nothing left for the additional work.

Planning a work day means there is some control over family life,

too. If Cullerton needs to be home at 5:30 p.m., she says, "I

draw a big black line under 5 p.m."

Purge the desk. At UPS there was a rule that desks had

to be clean before employees left for the day. That’s a good start,

but Cullerton goes much further. "There are three `Ds’ for the

desk," she says. "The first is `dump,’ and that is the most

preferable." Delete junk E-mail and toss all non-essential papers.

Having trouble deciding what is non-essential? Cullerton has a test.

"Ask a question," she suggests, "If I keep this, will

I even know I have it? If not, throw it away now."

The second two "Ds" are the twins, "delegate" and

"deliver." If you are not going to do anything with the paper,

but someone should, get it into that person’s hands pronto.

The last paper "D" is "decide when." Here are the

criteria. "If it is going to take less than three minutes,"

says Cullerton, "do it." Immediately. She puts filing into

that category, and urges anyone without a good filing system to waste

no time in setting one up. If the task represented by the piece of

paper is going to take more than three minutes, decide when it will

be done, enter the task and the time allotted to complete it into

the electronic organizer, and toss the paper.

Cullerton swears that she is "not a weenie."

"I’m not naturally organized," she says. "I fight the

good fight on a daily basis." Things pile up on her too. The


"I can get rid of them faster than almost anyone."

This efficiency spills over to her home life as well. "I drive

my family nuts," she admits. Among the habits that tend to annoy

is one she picked up at UPS. "I search until I find a parking

spot I can back into," she says. "That way I’m always pulling

away. It’s a safety issue." At vacation time, her training


again. "I’m a monster packing for vacation," she laughs.


can pack the car as tight as a UPS truck."

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