USA Wellness Café
Stress Management Take-Out Course:
Strategies for Getting Organized

Written by Staff Writers of USA Wellness Café ™

Do you look at your home, office, or workshop and say: “How did things get this messy? When did I lose control?” You might have areas that look like a pack rat has been working steadily for a couple of decades. Or, your basement, garage or workshop might resemble a war zone--with stuff all over the place.

The good news is this: Creative people tend to acquire clutter and make a lot of messes. This is one excellent excuse you can use to redeem yourself. If things are totally out of control, you can take this as a sign you’ve been doing something important -- such a raising a family or having a lot of fun building a business.

The problem with messiness, however, is this: It will slow down your creativity. Part of the problem is physical, due to the fact it’s tough to locate what you need in piles of stuff. But, the other part of the problem is emotional: It’s just plain stressful to work in a giant mess.

It will take you longer to build that bookcase in a cluttered workshop. And, it may take you a decade versus a year to write that great American novel at your messy desk.

If you take 30 minutes to locate a hammer or rummage for notes on the basic plot of your novel, you can become so frustrated that you drop the idea of work. You give up and go for a walk or jump on the sofa to watch TV.

To get the idea of writing a novel with less clutter and diversion, let’s go through some steps of getting organized:

  • Envision for a moment that you create an outline of each chapter of the book and save in on your computer.
  • To organize a little further, just in case you want to review your plot, you create a printed page of each chapter outline that you place in a hard-copy folder as well.
  • You put the folder of printed chapter outlines in a single drawer of your desk -- with nothing else in the file drawer.
  • You now create a folder for each chapter outline, so you can pull a single chapter to work on at any time. You place 20 sheets of blank, lined paper in each folder for a given chapter. This way, you can pull out Chapter 2, for example, and make notes about that chapter when creativity hits you.
  • As you complete your notes for a chapter, you can go into your computer file to enhance what you’ve already written. Moving between your notes and the chapter outline, you can write that novel in sections on your computer.

If you work chapter by chapter like this, you will complete your novel--possibly in six months to a year. If you don’t segregate the chapters in a neat, orderly way, you might end up with a mish-mash of one long story with no chapters -- and no structure. Hence, you will have no publisher.

Not only will getting organized save you time and energy, it will also help you feel better about life. Working in a neat environment makes most of us feel emotionally grounded, because neatness gives us the feeling of being in control. When you organize your projects, your clothes, your finances, you are in control.

Your Habits Are the Key

Key Point

Changing your habits will require simple moves that you repeat. Habits require little time. You just have to practice doing them. Each is built on a simple plan that you can picture doing over and over without too much stress.

Creating better organization and keeping things in order requires practicing well-thought-out habits consistently. While anyone can organize a messy room or garage, given enough time, it can be difficult to keep that space neat over time.

To gain control, implement some brand new habits. Or, start utilizing old habits you’ve used in the past. Make a game of paying attention to what works.

For example: If you take out a bag of trash from the kitchen garbage can, don’t just put in a new liner bag. Throw several new, folded bags into the bottom--before you place the new plastic bag into the trash can. This way, you will save steps on retrieving future trash bags from a pantry or storage cabinet.

Let’s take a look at habits you might acquire. Could you try some of the following?

  • Make up your bed the moment you get out of it.
  • Clean your a shower while you’re still in it.
  • Hang up your coat the moment you come home.
  • Do one load of laundry every day.
  • Always cook extra food to freeze for a second meal.

An executive we’ll call Jane was very embarrassed when her boss, who seldom visits Jane’s wing of the building, saw her office full of clutter. “When my boss came in, I opened a cabinet behind my desk to grab a printer cartridge. The books and stacks of reports in file folders tumbled out!” says Jane.

“The really embarrassing part of this story,” says Jane, “is that I actually taught a company seminar on getting organized the week before. My boss could instantly see I could talk authoritatively on this subject, but I couldn’t produce real results in my own world.”

While habits are enjoyable to learn and implement, tools can help as well. While you’re practicing a few new habits (so they become automatic to you), start noticing inexpensive organizational tools while you’re out shopping.

Key Point

Practice organization in steps. For example, don’t take on too many goals to gain order and harmony right away. Go slowly to implement new habits, make them stick, and add a few more habits.

Look for tools such as these:

  • A small lined tablet with a magnetic square on the back that sticks to the refrigerator (for writing grocery lists)
  • A white erasable board for the family schedule
  • A caddy for holding kids’ toys (that hangs over the driver’s seat)
  • Flat, segmented drawer caddies for dividing cosmetics or jewelry
  • Special hangers for slacks or dress clothes
  • Stackable baskets that hold office supplies
  • Over-the-door clothes hanging racks

Don’t buy a dozen organizational tools right away, either. Make sure you’re actually using a tool effectively you purchased last week -- before you throw 10 more interesting gadgets into your shopping cart. Your “tools” might wind up in a yard sale, if you can’t actually work them into your daily habits.

Create Systems That Work

Key Point

Getting organized is aggravating and upsetting at first. It requires doing something very different than what you’re used to doing. But, as time goes on, good organizing techniques save you lots of time and energy.

Your methodology for feeding the dog or keeping the car tuned should work well every single time. If so, you’ve got a good system you need to keep.

If a system isn’t working, change it. Invent something else that works. Try something different until you know it’s simple and doable time after time.

For example, a woman we’ll call Sherri found out her 12-year-old son is diabetic. Managing his snacks and school lunches were a top priority, so Sherri began her organizational plan with a shopping list.

She wrote down many foods her son would actually eat, which all fit his medical program. Next, she stocked up on workable foods, such as store-ground organic peanut butter, granola bars with limited carbohydrates, and fruit.

“I wanted to scream,” says Sherri, “because I knew I couldn’t possibly give my son the same foods over and over. I had to come up with a workable plan to organize his meals because his quality of life would be affected.”

Finally, Sherri joined a group of mothers online that gave her some great ideas for getting organized. She bought a freezer ice pack to fit into a small canvas lunch bag for her son’s backpack. The mothers shared their cook-ahead, freeze-ahead ideas for great foods Sherri could move from freezer to lunch bag. All she had to do was toss the freezer ice pack in the lunch bag to keep the food cool.

“It took me about a month to get my system down pat,” says Sherri, “but I can now give my son good food at a moment’s notice. I got further organized by using some of his foods as our family meals, so I wouldn’t have to work harder to keep this routine going.”

Here are some tips for organizing your tasks at home:

  • Put a TV next to the laundry room. Don’t fold laundry in the living room in front of the TV. Fold in the laundry area while you watch your favorite shows.
  • Wash bedding on weekends. Put clean sheets on all beds on Sunday night.
  • Buy a cabinet for pet food that fits in the garage. Feed your pet near the cabinet, so you’ll save steps.
  • Dust the living room while you watch a movie in that room.
  • Sort your brief case while you watch TV.
  • Shop for large supplies only once per month. Buy big boxes of detergent, paper towels, large bags of dog food, cartons of canned drinks, and all bulky items in one big shopping trip.
  • Pay bills on Sunday afternoon. Pay most of them online to save time.

Getting Organized at Work

Key Point

It will take much longer to wrap up your project if you drop it altogether. For example, keep a specific document on your computer screen and actually write it or edit it over a period of time -- versus coming back to it 10 times over the next two days.

Depending on your job, think of those tasks that seem to absorb lots of time. This might include sorting through emails, returning phone calls, or shuffling through paperwork on your desk.

Unless you really need to check email every 15 minutes to acquire incoming business, limit this task to 9 a.m., noon, and 4:30 p.m., for example. Focus on any action you need to take for any given email.

You might, for instance, need to give a client some product delivery dates. Or, you might need to fax information about a project to an associate. Deal with each email immediately, if you have the information and resources at hand.

Organizing calls will mean dialing five people, one after the other, versus calling people intermittently between checking email. Working in an unfocused way will kill much of your time. Besides, it’s easy to lose your train of thought jumping around too much. Call five people, do something else, and then call five more to keep work flowing.

While you will have to multi-task on many occasions, try to carve out two or three hours of focused calling or outlining a project as often as you can. Working on one task, without interruptions, will help you maintain your speed. If you get tired, and have to take a break, simply rest. Don’t jump into another task.

Managing Clutter Disposal

If you have a lot of paperwork or household items to sort through, you can get very stressed out just thinking about it. This kind of aggravation is something most people run from, so the chaos tends to pile higher and higher.

That’s why it’s critical to deal with clutter when you have the most energy. For example, spend 15 minutes every morning sorting though your closet before work -- versus coming home tired trying to make yourself clean out old clothes for your Goodwill donation.

Here are more tips on sorting clutter:

  • Consistency of sorting is the key. It’s better to spend two minutes every single morning for two months than a focused hour here and there.
  • Break the piles into manageable chunks. If you have three desk drawers full of junk mail, bring a stack of 10 envelopes into the TV-watching area of your home. Sort those 10 before going back to grab another fistful of junk mail.
  • Work in a single area. Don’t jump from closet to closet. Stay with a single closet, a single desk, or a single garage area until you see real results. Working in one spot will help you see results much faster, which will make you feel more in control.

When you get very well-organized, the harmony you create in your home, office, garage, or basement will reduce your stress. You’ll feel on top of things, versus buried under the madness yourself!