The Organizing Principle

The Organizing Principle

Stephanie Winston

America's #1 Organizer Tells How to Work Smarter, Faster, and Better

A disorganized life is a series of missed opportunities. Lesser concerns wind up stealing our time and energy, while people and activities we care about suffer for lack of attention.

The busier we get, the greater our need to be efficient. We all know that we must set priorities, delegate tasks and manage our time. The trick is to find simple, straightforward and creative ways to achieve these goals. Here are my favorite strategies:

Perfectionism is the problem, not the solution. Good organizing is a series of choices. It's the ability to differentiate what you need to do from what you might like to do if you had unlimited time, which none of us ever has. Because perfectionists tend to dwell on the secondary, they often procrastinate, pushing the envelope of their deadlines.

Another trap: Habitual overkill, such as staying late to finish a 20-page report when the boss only wants a two-page summary.

In either case, perfectionists wind up exhausting themselves and anyone who has to work with them.

Find your optimum work style, and stick to it. Busy people usually juggle complex projects and a number of different deadlines. While there is no one "right" way to proceed, it pays to recognize your style and find the approach that works most efficiently for you. Do you prefer to:

  • Tackle the toughest parts of a big job right away or ease into the simple parts first?
  • Work on several tasks at once or one at a time?
  • Work for four or five hours at a stretch or take more frequent breaks?
  •  Perform under deadline pressure or pace yourself more evenly?

Use bulletin boards for reference papers, not important ones. Bulletin boards at home or at work are ideal for deadline charts, schedules, inspirational sayings and favorite takeout menus, anything that has a long or indefinite life span.

Immediate reminders ("Call Joe Thursday") or tasks that must be done by a certain date belong on your calendar. Task lists belong in an action stack, where they can't be overlooked.

Name your file folders so they stand out. Always start a file name with a noun, not an adjective.

Example: New Prospects is apt to get lost in a packed file cabinet. But a file labeled Prospects: New will be much easier to find.

Headings to avoid: Clippings and Miscellaneous.

Stop wasting your downtime. A significant portion of our lives is spent waiting. There's time before business appointments, at doctors' offices, in bank lines or at home waiting for a family member who is not ready on time.

We have two choices. We can either remain idle, or we can seize the time to get something done.

Things you can do in five or 10 minutes: Make an appointment, finish reading an important article, come up with ideas for a project at work, write a short note, water the plants, review mail.

Spend money on people who save you time. They're worth it. Specialists provide more services than you realize and can generally do their jobs more efficiently than you can.

Example: Aside from booking your flight, a travel agent can get your vaccination certificate stamped, a task that could steal hours of your time.

Take advantage of messenger, pickup and delivery services. The costs are invariably less than what your own time is worth.

Think about bartering your skills for services that you need and to avoid tasks you don't do well.

Example: I organized an office for a client who had a successful seminar business. In exchange, she developed a marketing program for me.

Writing letters is easier than you think. To guarantee timely thank-you notes, keep a file with samples that you like. It will save you the time and dread of having to start from scratch.

For people with whom you want to keep in touch, keep preaddressed, prestamped envelopes in your desk drawer. Drop in notes (you don't need to write long letters) and clippings of interest as you find them. Then simply mail the envelopes.

For ongoing "conversations" with your friends, keep a "running" letter, adding sentences or paragraphs as they occur to you. After a week or so, throw the letter in an envelope and mail it off.

Put an end to telephone tag. Leave messages that ask for specific responses, instead of vague requests to call you back. If you're not by your phone when your call is returned, the caller can still provide the information you need on the answering machine.

Schedule callbacks for set times during the day, when you can consolidate them.

Also: Time your calls strategically to limit chitchat. Most efficient times: Right before lunch or near quitting time.

When in doubt, throw it out. Paper will bury the best of us unless we resolve to take no prisoners. While the TRAF (Toss-Refer-Act-File) strategy is tried and true, it quickly breaks down if you fail to implement your first option to use your "circular file," the one that gets emptied each night.

If you're prone to push paper aside rather than dispose of it, ask yourself, What's the worst thing that could happen if this didn't exist? If the answer is less than traumatic, get rid of it.

Bottom Line/Personal interviewed Stephanie Winston, the country's leading expert on self-organizing strategies and president of The Organizing Principle, a time-management consulting firm, 230 E. 15 St., New York 10003. She is author of Stephanie Winston's Best Organizing Tips (Fireside/$11).

Copyright ?1997 by Boardroom Inc.

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