Professional Organizers Are People Too!

Those of us naturally inclined to organization can take as much ribbing asthe pack-rat.  We have been referred to in unflattering terms – fuss budget, “a”retentive, neat freak – you get the idea.

The truth is we all live on a continuum and we are all subject to the same natural laws.  The messiest person can have useful systems and be organized somewhere.  Conversely, the most organized among us can be late because of traffic or overwhelmed because we over-promised our time.  We also have to set aside time to get organized because our well-oiled systems are impacted by change as much as anyone else’s.  That’s what I did this weekend.

This past weekend, I found myself remembering the implications of Parkinson’s Law – “things expand to fill the space available”.  My house has lots of storage space -so much that some I have never used.  This allowed me to store my tax records… and just keep storing them… and storing more until I had over 20 years worth.

Like any client of mine, I was experiencing the the same feelings of overwhelm when I looked at the size of the project and thought about having to handle all those pieces of paper. 

I also had the same warm memories – my first client file – or laughing at myself over a reminder of a past lived in a world so different from the one I occupy now – my 1991 presentation at NAPO (National Association of Professional Organizers) conference – “How To Decide if Your Business Needs a Computer”. I even had the handout I printed using an old daisy wheel printer.

Sorting is time consuming and dirty.  I don’t want to have to do this large a file purging project again.  From now on,  when I file away one year’s documentation, I will take a few extra minutes to eliminate everything I no longer need from eight years ago so I only have what I need to keep for 7 years or permanently in sotrage.  One year at a time sounds much more manageable than 20 at once!

Like any client, I felt lighter as each box was reviewed and dispursed to either the permanent file, the recycle bin or the shred bin.  Thanks KGW for having a free shred day yesterday so I could finish even that piece of the project quickly!

I took breaks to relieve the boredom.  I alternated work to keep from wearing out my willingness to do any one activity (as I finished a box, I left the attic to put the folders in my office supplies, take the recycle paper to the bin etc.).  I allowed myself to remember without getting stuck in the past.  When it was all said and done I felt good about what I accomplished that day and all that I have accomplished with my business in the past 20+ years.

What task do you postpone until it becomes a big project?

Liberate Time – Unusual Option #1

You hear it all the time – “I need more time.”.  But where do you ‘find’ it?  You don’t ‘find’ it of course, because it is not missing.  You can liberate it however if you are missing something.  Huh???  Here’s one place to look that you probably wouldn’t consider.

Liberate time by sleeping more

Look at your bed.  One secret to finding more time in your day is to sleep more.  Sound crazy? Maybe.  But according to James Maas, Ph.D., a Cornell University sleep researcher, sleep deprivation is a time thief.  “Being sleep-deprived makes you do everything more slowly and with less focus.  Most people don’t realize what it’s like to be fully awake and how much they can accomplish when they are.”

When every mental, emotional and physical function is working optimally, you get things done faster and better and that liberates time.  Are you laboriously replying to e-mails or are you firing off answers?  Are you struggling to decide what to do first or are you focused on what you need to accomplish today and knocking off your to-do items with speed and accuracy.

To test if sleep deprivation is one of your time thieves – other that looking at how often you you grab for coffee to perk you up – add one hour of additional sleep to your night.  A study done at Henry Ford Hospital’s Sleep Disorders and Research Center in Detroit, MI showed test subjects who slept one extra hour experienced a 25% jump in alertness.

Who knew you could liberate time by using for something but you can sleep more – it’s a good investment of your time!

How you choose to spend your time is how you are choosing to spend your life.  Do you want to spend it on full alert and fully engaged in everything you do or do you want to stubble through it, half aware and half asleep?  I know my choice and it starts by slowing down by 9 pm (no more engagement with work or the outside world) and in bed by 11 or so.

Sleep one extra hour for the next week and let me know if it helps you liberate time.

Time Liberation Starts With Clarity

Liberate Time

Despite what you may have heard, you can not make time, save time, find time, or manage time.  You can however  liberate it.

It is easy for a small business owner, to become a ‘poster child for people who do too much’. 

It is a mistake – one I have made and in all honesty I continue to make – to believe that as an owner, I have to do everything.

There is a big difference between deciding what needs to be done and the actual doing everything.  It is critical as the owner to decide what needs to be done.  It is just as critical to do what you do well but hand over critical functions you are not good at to someone who can do it better and more quickly.

Time liberation starts when you get clear about what truly needs doing, deciding who can do it best and then monitor progress.

Deciding What Truly Needs to Be Done 

The list of what can be done never ends.  Clarity means you narrow down the options based on brand (mission and vision) , focus (target market and product/service offerings) and core values(what you stand for)  to a reasonable number of tasks and projects.  Keep a balance among the key functions of building leadership, advancing technology, building expertise, executing marketing and staying current with the finances.  If you are struggling with what to do, revisit the brand, focus and values decisions.

Deciding Who Should Do It

Do the things you love doing and are good at – delegate everything else.  Hire an employee, contract with a professional  or a virtual assistant, barter with someone else in your network, bring in an apprentice – what ever it takes.  The time locked up when you struggle to complete hated tasks, or locked in worry about what it not getting done is worth looking for an option that can work for you.  Employees are just one of many options.

Monitor Progress

In my earlier post about delegation, I set out a clear method for controlling authority levels on each delegated task or project.  As the owner and therefore leader of your enterprise, you do have the responsibility of making sure that work you delegate to others is completed in a timely manner and in alignment with your brand, focus and values.

Bring clarity to your to-do list and begin to liberate time.  What task should you remove from your to-do list because it doen’t build your brand, fit your focus or values?  What should you delegate to someone else?

Lessons from the Blackberry Bush

Here in Oregon, blackberries are an invasive species that we spend a lot time trying to irradicate  – that is, when we’re not busy making jam and pies from the fruit. 

The difference between pie and pest is the circumstance.  Find them along a hiking trail and they’re a treat.  In your backyard they are a pest.  Every skill you have, strength you possess and idea you have can be both good and bad –  it depends on the circumstance.  When you can open your thinking to recognize where good becomes bad or bad becomes good you empower yourself to maximize all you skills – good and not so good – all your strengths and weaknesses and all your ideas by seeing where to best apply them.

Sometimes you have to get out of your own way.  While uprooting the blackberries along my fence line, I got to one that I just pulled at with no success even though other canes came out the loose soil bed easily.  I shifted positions to get a better grip and the plant just popped out.  Turns out, I was standing on the roots.  When I got out of the way, the job became easier.  Have you ever gotten in your own way?

Gentle handling can make a prickly situation easier to manage.  Blackberry canes can pretty much reach out and snag you.  They are covered in curved prickers that can leave scratches and really garb on.  But the curve is consistently the same direction. If you use a little patience and cut the canes into pieces and lay them with the prickers all facing the same direction and you can push them into the recycle bin, with a bare hand easily and without injury.

Blackberries - Pie or Pest? Both depending on the circumstance.

While I was physically yanking out the blackberries, my mind was free to think. Which is the last lesson.  Need to think take a walk or do something physical that does not require careful attention – weeding and walking are two such activities.  There is something about the movements that equally stimulate the right and left hemispheres of the brain that lead to whole brain thinking – pictures in the right intuitive side are more easily recognized and translated into language and cognitive thought.  

That’s how this blog post was mentally written while I busy getting some yard work done.

That said – I’m ready for a piece of pie!

Delegating Clearly

As a solopreneur or small business owner, delegation can be a big challenge.  Whether it’s an employee, an independent contractor or a virtual assistant you have to turn over the reins enough for trust, comfort, and clear authority and that will vary for each task you delegate.  Take some of the pain and worry out of delegation so you can shift to more important work using clearly defined levels of authority.

Clearly communicate the delegation limits and how much authority you are giving them.  Here’s a shorthand for communicating the limits of authority: 

    Level 1 – Decide and take action — just do it – no need to report back. 

    Level 2 – Decide and take action, but let me know what you did. 

    Level 3 – Decide, let me know your decision then take action unless I say not to. 

    Level 4 – Decide, let me know the decision, wait for my go-ahead before proceeding

    Level 5 – Decide, but tell me the alternatives with the pro’s and con’s of each.

     Level 6 – Look into this issue and give me the facts.  I will decide.

Once your helpers clearly understand the level of authority on any give task, you they will know exactly what to do and how to interact with you.

Delegating well is a key to empowering your staff.  Delegating well leverages your time.  It frees up your time to focus on those activities that are most deserve your personal attention.

It’s An Evolution

Three truths:

It takes about seven years for every cell in your body to replace itself. So, basically every 7 years you are a whole new person.

Each year you are in business, your skills are growing, your knowledge base is growing and you are learning more about your customers, what they really need and what others in your industry are doing. 

Change is constant.  These days, it’s not only constant, the speed of change is accelerating.

What do these three facts mean to you as a business owner?  Every 5 – 7 years you need take time out to look at your business from the perspective of evolution.

Incremental change can happen anytime, but evolution is a commitment to look at really shaking things up.  Every five to seven years I slow the business down to give myself time to look at every aspect of my business.  What have I learned and how can I use it.  What is happening in the business world in general and what do I need to bring into the business.  What is happening with technology that can help my business or help my clients.  How is the brand working?  Have I changed so much I need to upgrade the brand, the image and all the core elements of my marketing.

Over the years my colors have change from brown on beige to blue on white to a more full color blend of blues, greens and yellows.  My tag lines went from non-existent, to “The Business Organizing Professionals”, to “Liberate Time to Think and Space to Act”.  My job title has evolved from consultant to professional organizer to time liberation agent.  My service offering started as general office organizing – filing systems and the like to  business organizing – a much broader perspective beyond just the office to the business as a whole.  You get the idea – shake it all up!

I guarantee you that if you regularly come up with incremental improvements and shake everything up with an evolutionary shift every 5 – 7 years you will never burnout, never get bored, and never run the risk of becoming irrelevant in the markeplace when change happens.

How would you evolve your business?

Beyond Overwhelm

It’s pretty easy to feel overwhelmed these days as a business owner.  Ownership carries a lot of responsibilities and we are now under a lot of new pressures because of the rapidly changing world in which we operate.

Advertising is becoming ubiquitous with the internet and social media and technology is bringing a basic shift of moving work and the cost of the work from the corporations to us individually.  Under the guise of giving us flexibility, customization and choice, many actions that used to be done for us are now being done by us.  There are many more tools available to us that owners even 20 years – I know, because 20 years ago a PC was an investment of a thousand + dollars and typing a document was about all you could readily do with it. 

We have to make a lot more choices so we have to make more decisions.  Making decisions, especially a lot of decisions can become tiring.  I know.  It’s why I don’t work more than 6 hours, usually only 3 with a new client.  Organizing is a decision making process because, according to industry founder Barbara Hemphill –  clutter is a postponed or incomplete decision.

New technologies have to be assessed and worked into you basic business strategy. Should you switch to on line storage and software subsriptions and technology needs.  What if any social media options should be added to your marketing strategy?  And, oh yeah, you need to actually work with clients and generate revenue and you can’t do that until you develop a product or service package then network and market it using the right combination of marketing and advertising options.

When it all gets to be too much, we stop –  faced with so many options it becomes impossible to decide what we should do and so we just grind to a halt, unable to decide.

When I hit that moment – and I do – we all do – the best thing you can do it just pick any one action – without thought to value, rightness or priority and, borrowing a line from the Nike ad,  just do it.  Get moving with an action of any kind and you will begin to compare it and start to make the judgements of this is better than that.  The sense of accomplishment of even a small task will help propel you through the roadblock of overwhelm.

What do you do when you feel overwhelmed?

The Time Management Myth

You hear the words all the time – I need to manage my time better – This will save some time – I need to make time for ….

They are common phrases but none of them reflect the reality of time.

Time flows continuously and all your time is full.    Ever moment is already being used for something.  Maybe it’s full or work, or play or sleep or even clearing your mind with meditation but every moment is full.

It means the only things in your power are deciding which actions to take and how much time to allocate to an action.  It means you cannot add an activity – you can only replace how you are using the time now with the new activity.  Imagine your day as a pie chart – start with marking out sleep, meals and commute times.  Based on priorities partition the rest of day allowing for emergencies and overages.  This view of your day is much more realistic.  It becomes clear that there is a lot less time available than most of think or typically plan.

Realistically, I find there are only 2 or 3 major projects I can work on in a week – the rest of the time is full of all the just all the little tasks that keep everything moving.

How many hours of actual work are you typically trying to fit inside the limit of 8 hours at work and 6 or so hours of personal time?

Cleaning V.S. Organizing

I often hear people talk about how they organized their office but it didn’t stick – that a few months later is looked as bad or worse than before they did the organizing.

It is not that the organizing didn’t stick.  It’s because they didn’t really get organized. They cleaned.

Cleaning is a clearing process.  It is a repetitive process.  When you clean, you put things where they belong, clear a space, maybe you even put a few things in order.

Organizing on the other hand is an engineering and design process. As I remove the clutter, I am analyzing to identify the dysfunction in the system that created the clutter.  I am concurrently re-engineering or designing a new system to better facilitate the flow of work and information in and out of your workspace. The structure needs to be flexible enough to modify easily as change impacts.  It can take a professional to design and engineer the kind of systems you need so the organizing process sticks.

So, are you organizing or are you really cleaning?

Walk Your Way to Ideas

Walking is not only good for your health, it’s good for your business.

You probably know the human brain has two hemispheres.  The left side is linear and logical.  It controls language, likes order, and thinks 1,2,3.    The right side is random and creative.  It generates ideas – usually in picture that the left side has to translate into language, likes chaos, recognizes patterns and usually think 1, 12 oh 76!!

Most every person is dominate in one hemishpere or the other. It can be challenging to use the non-dominant hemisphere but the benefits can be substantial.  An idea without a logical sequence of steps for implementation is just an idea.  New products and services have to start with an idea.  That’s where walking comes.

When you walk, the right arm moves with the left leg and vise-versa.  This means that when you walk, both hemisphere’s of the brain are stimulated equally.  This equal stimulation dampens the dominate side and brings you into a more whole brained state where both hemispheres are functioning together.  This lessens the impact of the dominant side of your brain to override the non-dominant hemisphere.  Ideas are formed in the right side and quickly translated into words in the left side.

Walking improves thinking

This makes walking a great way to think about plans, about problems, about yoru business in general.  You may have already had the experience of walking and talking and suddenly realizing you just said something and you don’t know where it came from.  It seems to have just popped into your head. 

Bottom line.  Take a walk at lunch.  It gives you an energizing break, improves your health and you just might find a million dollar idea pop!