At the beginning of a new year there is always a big push for getting organized. Is it the lure of a fresh start? A cleanse from a month of holiday over indulging? Whatever the reason, I say, embrace it! In fact my own New Year organizing marathon is partly to blame for my lack of posting last week. I was knee deep in a toy purge (details to come soon).
But before we all get carried away, myself included, I figured it’d be helpful to first wade through the endless organizing tips and articles to find what tips are keeper and which are more hype than helpful.
Don’t worry I did all the wading for you, and culled the boatloads of tips to a few key ones that seemed to keep resurfacing. So dive in! With these 5 principles we’ll stay ahead of the clutter and create more space in our life.
1. Do it now
It sounds so simple right? Just do it now, of course! If I could, I would right?
Next time you’re tempted to instead say “Do it later”, a simple 2-minute rule prescribed by David Allen in his popular book, Getting Things Done puts it into a perspective.
When you first pick up an item, ask yourself, “Can I do this in two minutes or less?” If you answered “yes,” then do it now. This rule really increases your productivity as David Allen explains,
“The rationale for the two-minute rule is that that’s more or less the point where it starts taking longer to store and track an items than to deal with it the first time it’s in your hands-in other words, it’s the efficiency cutoff. If the thing’s not important enough to be done, throw it away. If it is, and if you’re going to do it sometime, the efficiency factor should come into play.”
His example can be extended to any task. This tip can help you par down your to do’s, if you still don’t want to tackle it even if it’d take less than 2 minutes, you can use this gauge to help you chuck tasks that aren’t worth your effort.
Once you find a task that is worth tacking, you can either knock it out in that 2 minutes or set aside time for focused processing. If you answered no to the 2-minute question then be sure to have a trusted place to record the task and create a holding spot for action papers that take longer then 2 minutes.
There are assumptions however, that make following the 2 minute rules a little easier:
- Items have a “home.” If items don’t have a specific place to go it is difficult to put them away. This will take a little time to remedy. My favorite way is with simple 10 minute organizing sessions. Choose one small area to work on at a time for only 10 minutes each session. Click here to see a few examples from my own home.
- Items are easy to retrieve and put away. Keep your cabinets and drawers as de-cluttered as possible and use easy to access storage. For example, open-lidded containers, hooks, and labels. If it takes you 5 minutes to dig something out of a junk drawer, of course you are going to leave it out to avoid having to dig it out again.
2. Set aside time
Just like we have to set aside time for exercise or for important meetings, we must set aside time to straighten our homes and desks or time to actively process paper. In order to set aside realistic pockets of time it is important to know how long tasks really take.
If you consistently underestimate how long a task will take, you’ll wind up feeling frustrated when you have to leave the project half finished. On the flip side, if you over estimate how long a task will take, you can feel too overwhelmed to get started.
Julie Morgenstern touches on this subject beautifully in her book, Time Management from the Inside Out. She states that most people greatly underestimate how long tasks actually take. And this goes for when we start and end our day. We often don’t plan enough time to prep in the morning or clear our desks before quitting time. Here are a few tips to get started.
We all have a tendency to rush off to the next thing, but see how it feels to really complete a task. Leave time to do dishes after dinner or straighten the bathroom after getting ready.
3. Focus on small steps
Don’t try to change all of your behavior immediately. I am sure you have experienced the difficulty of trying to change too many things at once if you have ever tried to lose weight. You cut out sweets, record your calories, exercise 5/week and make everything from scratch all at once. As we know what inevitably happens is a short period of sticking to all the “rules” followed by a quick downfall into our old ways.
In the same vein as taking baby steps towards a more healthy lifestyle, focus on small changes towards becoming a more organized person. Choose one goal or habit you would like to change and focus on just that for a few months.
Mine was doing the dishes right after dinner. I tended to sit down on the couch and never get up. By the time I did get up I was too tired to think about doing the dishes. Needless to say it was never a pretty picture in the morning. Who wants to be greeted by a mess?
I focused on that one particular habit for a long time. Now it feels weird to go to bed without a clean kitchen, (although I still have my days). Expect some ups and downs, but if you stay focused on one goal it will become second nature.
4. Have a plan
Have you ever planned out a day to the “T”? I mean really thought about what you want to do when and why and how? It always seems to go smoother doesn’t it? Having a plan or even a prioritized list saves you the effort of stopping, deciding what’s the next to do and then rebuilding momentum each time you move on to a new task.
This is not as hard as you think…routines are little heroes that save the day. Routines can be small moments built into your day or week that allow you to flow seamlessly through your tasks.
If you pay close attention you find you have some routines you do naturally. They could be a simple as prepping your coffee and breakfast the night before or having a cleaning order you follow to breeze though chores.
As you make small steps towards becoming organized, notice areas you can create a routine around. For me, I have loved the benefit of setting a theme for each day of the week.
For example, I have a desk day. On this day I make time for processing paper, filling out forms, catching up on filing or getting to the bottom of my inbox. If a desk-related task comes up on another day I can simply say, I’ll get to that on Wednesday (my self-appointed desk day) and I know I will.
It is like when people advise you to make an appointment with yourself. Having this appointment on the same day each week makes it a trusted time to accomplish specific tasks.
A great resource for planning out your days is Amy Andrew’s ebook, Tell Your Time.
5. Be Decisive
The last one might be a surprise for you but the more I work with clients the more I am convinced that being decisive plays a major role in clearing clutter. This also includes knowing what you can and can’t do based on time and motivation.
When you pick up a paper decide in that moment what is the very next action to be done? Record information, keep for reference, etc. I touch on this more when describing action files. The more clear you are on what the next action is the sooner you can find a space for it and process it.
The same amount of decisiveness is required when thinking about items in your home. Do I use this item, do I enjoy and love it? Does it deserve a space in my home? Don’t wait until you get sick of being surrounded with clutter. Make decisions as you move throughout your home. Create a permanent donation spot. Question new items before you bring them into your home.
If you are not decisive by nature create a new habit. Practice, practice, practice. Just like our teachers taught us, the more we practice, the better we get.
Did I miss one? What is your most important organizing strategy? Select one of the 5 to start working with. Find ways to incorporate the strategies and tips into your day and you will be surprised at the difference it can make in your efforts to make more time and space for the things and people you love!