Creative types are like hogs in the mud, rolling in a muck of paper stacks, errant Bics, Sharpies, and one-inch pencil stubs. Post-It notes with snatches of those latest brainstorms and various tidbits dot the room. Indeed, folks of creative minds, though continually sprouting new ideas, often aren’t the most productive, and their journey to fruition is too cluttered to permit a clear, direct path.
Living and working amidst chronic disarray often feels overwhelming, and it can weigh a person down. The organizationally deprived are big-picture people, and more often than not doing the detailed drudge work of keeping order is just not on their radar screen.
Well, thank goodness then for the detailed types and the professional organizers, of which I am one. Whereas creative types have the ideas and know their destination, my type on the Myers-Briggs scale sees through the physical and mental clutter. The organizer can lighten the load by lifting the heaviness that bogs us down, creating a tranquil, clear environment through which to move ahead.
And so, just how is that work done? Therein lies the rub. Let’s get down to the nitty gritty of that inglorious process with the guidance of this organizer.
Most of us know that getting organized at the very least frees up the time too often spent looking for items, trying to remember names and passwords, and finding those precious notes with the glimmers of creative ideas. Some people do swear that they know exactly where everything is amid myriad piles of paper stacked a couple of feet high, but I’ll bet that some things elude them. There is almost always a more expeditious way to one’s destination, and the time and money saved make it worth the effort.
To start, finding the desktop again allows space for the project at hand, a spot to work on one thing at a time without distraction and pawing for the phone just when it’s time to call your contacts. So begin there if you want. It may look overwhelming, so procrastinators hold steady: Set your timer for 15 minutes (you can stand it for 15 minutes) and go.
Pick up whatever’s on top. What is it? A phone number? A bill? Somebody’s business card, but you can’t remember who it is? Ok, now let’s say it is a bill, and unfortunately, an unpaid one. So write on an index card, "Bills to pay," and put your bill in back of that card. That’s the beginning of that pile. Keep moving.
What’s next? That mysterious phone number? Be brave and toss it (you can always get it again), or set it aside in the pile-to-be atop your address book.
OK, progress is being made. Take a brief sigh, and check out the third item. This is an easy one – purple Post It Notes. Those go in Pile No. 3, and you don’t even have to label it, because it’s self-evident: office supplies. Now follow this up, making decisionless, painless progress by nabbing all the office supplies on the desk (don’t get distracted from the desktop) and putting them in Box # 1, called none other than "Office Supplies." The beginnings of organization are here, and even happier, office supplies amazingly were about one-fifth of the clutter, reducing your stacks for measurable, seemingly instant results. And no more looking for that stapler when you need it.
Ding! The timer is ringing just when you’re beginning to breathe a little easier. With the satisfaction of the desktop drawing nigh, you may set the time for another 15 and proceed. You probably have more energy now that you’re started.
You are beginning to get the idea, I’ll bet, and of course this is just the beginning of the organizational process. But look at it this way: You’ve already learned two invaluable things: There is a way to push through procrastination to begin, and there is a way to progress.
Remember some basic principles.
Keep like items together in the way that makes most sense to you.
Ruthlessness, in this case, is a good trait. For many of us, it’s a little scary to toss things that we "might need" someday.
Use the dated discard system. If it’s just too scary, place those things in a box marked "possible discards," and date it. This helps you move along quicker toward getting down to things you’d rather do! Knowing that these papers are still with you makes it easier. When you’re done, this box of stuff can be stored out of sight.
Revisit it in 3 or 6 months, or better yet, mark on your calendar that half-year date, and when it arrives, throw it all out. It’s true – if you haven’t missed anything yet, chances are you never will. And if you do miss one thing, so be it. Life will go on without it.
Plenty of books have been written on organizational tips. Most of my clients have at least two or three of these texts. They can be helpful in certain cases, but the chronically disorganized usually need some hands-on help, some guidance in clearing the path to their creativity and in getting things going. It’s like learning from the teacher rather than just from the book.
A native of Irvington, New York, Suzanne Neilson is an alumna of the University of Pennsylvania and was an editor for many years, organizing every office that she worked in. Now she belongs to the National Association of Professional Organizers and has a very organized home office on McComb Road in Princeton (609-688-9853, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).