The Values, Virtues and Vicissitudes of Organization
By Chris King

Many people remark, "Chris, you are so organized! You get so much accomplished. If I only had your organizational skills." Every time I hear this, I silently giggle to myself. Why? Because being organized actually goes against my inherent nature and takes a huge amount of discipline on my part. A big majority of free agents, independent professionals and free-lancers are "creatives" and "creatives" don't fit into focused and organized slots. In this article I am going to share some of my tips and tricks for becoming and staying organized.

Why should I work on becoming organized? In my opinion, being organized has many values and virtues. Let me list a few:

  • It saves an inordinate amount of time that can be used for the important projects. When everything that we need has a specific place, we can find what we are looking for immediately. Time management gurus are always quoting huge amounts of time wasted in hunting.
  • Lack of organization will not only rob us of our self esteem, but will also give peers, clients and potential clients cause to doubt us and our credibility. (The worst is to be labeled a "flake.")
  • Organization breeds peace of mind. When files, drawers, closets and papers are a mess, this realization can serve as a thorn pricking us and preying on our production. Disorganization will work on our sub-conscious to slow us down.

What are some of the steps to take on the path to organization? I will share some of the steps that work for me. I am not going to mention the standard steps outlined in the plethora of books on how to be organized. These ideas are a bit different (after all, we free agents are unique) so you may have to gear them to your situation and methods of working, but here I go:

  • Prepare for a trip out-of-town. Last week I was preparing for a weekend away, and even though I do accomplish a lot each week, I found that I was getting caught up and ahead on many projects. You may not be taking a trip, but if you pretend that you are and think of what you would want to get done before you leave, you will be astounded at how organized you become.
  • Set up an organizational project for each Wednesday (or any day of your choice) and then, even if other tasks are calling you, get to it. It is a lot like losing weight and exercising. Once you get into the habit of setting aside one day for organizing, you might even run out of projects. You will find that it becomes fun to organize before long. You will also discover a lot of stuff you forgot you had.
  • Once you are organized, take a few minutes every day to put things (clothes, papers, letters, bills, etc.) in their place. I have a simple wire file holder on my desk with a file for "Bills," "In the Works," "Current Project," and "Important Contacts." Having Fibber McGee and Molly tendencies (they were a couple who threw everything into a closet), I make sure that I put things away neatly and add a certain drawer or shelf that is becoming overloaded to my weekly organizational project.
  • Even though I am not convinced that we will ever become a paperless economy, I do love the advantage of being able to set up files and folders on my computer. I suggest that you take the time to create a system of filing. When I first started getting into technology, my system (not a system at all) was haphazard, so I had a terrible time finding what I was looking for. In the beginning, you might even want to make a chart or a map of where you are placing important information.
  • I also love the great colored plastic holders with handles that you can purchase at an office supply store. I have a different one for each project and make sure that I file everything about the project there, including all correspondence, a copy of the contract, etc.

What is really important? Remember, this is your organization - no one else's, so you must decide what is important to you. If you stay organized by creating "to do" lists and checking off the tasks completed one at a time, do it. But if this just doesn't work for you, don't feel guilty about not doing it. I felt almost ashamed that I like working on several different projects at the same time, until I read Time Management for Unmanageable People by Ann McGee-Cooper. The traditional time management theories often don't apply to or work for creative people.

What distractions should I avoid? It is so easy to fall into distraction to get out of doing something we know would be a benefit to us and our career. Stephen Covey in his The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People describes his four quadrant theory of "First Things First." This diagram will get you into the second quadrant of doing what is important, but not urgent (and organizing and planning definitely fall into this quadrant). Stay out of quadrant four where distractions that are unimportant and non-urgent fall (like watching TV, opening junk mail, some e-mail, some phone calls, etc.).

What else gets in the way of true organization? With the benefits that accompany true organization, one would think that everyone would work on achieving this goal. Even if we know how wonderful it is to be organized, we procrastinate. Part of it is that it almost seems overwhelming and out of our reach. My advice to you it to take it one week at a time, until you are there. If it helps, write down how much you got done that week and/or give yourself an award (even a colored star on the calendar can make you feel good).

So, stop surfing now, and start organizing, or plan your organizational scheme. You will be glad you did! And do send me your FEEDBACK. I love to hear how it's going.


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