5 Tips for Productivity, Organizing & Changing Your Life

Have you ever had one of those days or weeks where nothing goes as you originally planned? Well, if you have, you are not alone.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the average person spends over 150 hours per year just looking for information.  The Esselte company conducted a study of over 2,600 executives and found that the average executive wastes 6 week a year just looking for lost documents and information.

If your business is not effectively organized, it is costing you money.  If you are like the average executive, I bet that you have a lot of things that you would like to do, but don’t have the time.  You are so busy working you can’t even imagine taking time off to enjoy life.  It is not an easy problem to solve – otherwise there would not be so many places with this problem!  The good news is that you can solve it!

1 – Define Success – What is Your Dream

Start by making sure that you and your team know the vision.  Here are a few questions you can ask yourself as you figure out your “why” for doing what you do.

  • In a perfect world, how would things work for you?  What would no longer happen?  What would happen that is not happening today?
  • What would success look like?  How would you feel?  What would you be able to do that you can’t do now?
  • What are you building? Why does your business need to exist?
  • What could you measure over time to know if you’re making progress?
  • How do you intend to build the business?
  • What are the key projects to be completed this year?
  • If you are not sure how to answer these questions, begin by writing down what you don’t want!

You can be as detailed or as broad as you would like.  Consider your life, your home, your work, your office, or your desktop.   Consider what things might look like.  Consider how you will feel.  Nothing is too crazy.  Don’t limit yourself.  It is your dream.  Write it out.  It is important to understand your “why” because it is the foundation for everything else that you put into place.

2 – Understand You

This sounds really simplistic, but for many it is not.  In fact, most of the time this step is skipped completely!  We learned back in pre-school that trying to fit a square peg into a round hole just does not work.  No matter how we turn it or twist it — it doesn’t fit.  Yet, we try to do it all of the time by putting systems in place that don’t match our personal or our organizations’ styles.

Begin by being realistic about your lifestyle and personal style.  Focusing on the way you live is important to finding the right organizing strategies for your life.  Be realistic about your personal style – it is not about what you should do, it is about what you WILL do.

There are some that think that one system should work for everyone.  It would be nice if the world was that simple, but as we all know, people have different thinking and learning styles.  They even have different rates that they can learn and absorb information.  There are different organization styles too.  Understanding your style and developing systems that fit with who you are sets you up for success.

Are You an “Innie” or an “Outtie”? Understand Your Organizing Style
An “Innie” is someone that functions better when their space is clear of distractions.  An “Outtie” is someone that will forget items even exist if they are enclosed.


Organizing Style for Personal Productivity - Innie or Outie
Recognize that I’m not talking about piles on a desk or papers shoved in a cabinet.  If you have piles all over your desk, it does not mean you are an “outtie.”  That means you don’t have good systems.
Consider that organizing systems work differently for different people.  In the picture above you see a standard file cabinet on the left and one that is open and on wheels on the right.  Both are containers for holding files, but one would work better for an “innie” and the other would work better for an “outtie.”

3 – Get Solid Systems in Place – Make Good Use of Routines and Processes

Routines/processes are habits that support your efforts in an effortless way.  To illustrate, let me ask you a few questions (no calculators please):  What is

2 + 2?

4 + 4?

8 + 8?

7,873,923,740,934 + 981,748,174?

When you read the math questions above, could you answer the first 3 quite quickly; but wanted to reach for your calculator for the last one?  Why is that?  It is because when we were quite young, our adult caregivers drilled the basic math facts into our minds until they were routine.  When you first started to learn 2 + 2 it was not as easy as it is now.  That is true of any routine or process you put into place.

Look at the answers you came up with in Steps 1 and 2 above.  Then look at all of the different activities that your business does every day.  Do you have a process manual and an employee manual outlining expectations and procedure?  If not, now is the time to start!  Businesses with well-defined systems and processes not only function better, but are actually valued at a higher rate by business appraisers than those that are run by memory.

4 – Understand the Best Way for You to Retrieve Information

One of the biggest time wasters in the business world today is time spent looking for information.  Accenture conducted a survey of 1,000 middle managers in large companies in the U.S. and U.K. and found that 59% miss important information almost every day because it exists within the company but they cannot find it. The paperless society just never happened. We actually have more paper today than we did 10 years ago!

There are 2 parts to a great information organization system.  1) reference information and an 2) action system.

Reference Systems
Your reference system is what you might think of as a traditional paper filing system.  It contains the information that you need to keep for reference, but is not necessarily accessed on a daily basis.  For ideas on how to get started building your reference system, see effective physical “finding” system.   If you struggle with deciding what to keep or what to let go, read Set Your Target and Throw Your DART! How to use the DART system to get through your paper piles.

Action Systems
An action system is created to manage all of those pieces of paper that seem to stay on your desk because you don’t want to forget to do something. There are a few different ways that you can create an action system.  Here are three resources to help you pick the right one for you:

Which picture looks like your workspace?

Before and After Calahan Solutions Inc Office Miracle Service After Colleen put information organization systems into place (reflected in the picture to the right) she found that she was leaving work earlier and even accomplishing more in her day.

5 – Know Where Your Time is Going and Resist the Temptation to Multitask!

In today’s society, it is difficult to get away from all of the electronic gadgets that keep us “on” all of the time.  Unplugging, even for a short while, is not readily accepted by our co-workers, clients, friends and family.  The false assumption is that the more gadgets we have, the more we can get done.  The reality is that the more gadgets we have the more we can get done half-way.  Completing projects and tasks is harder than ever for most of my clients.

Interruptions Cost You More Than You Think!
University of California, Irvine researchers, Gloria Mark and Victor Gonsalez, found that it takes workers 25 minutes to return to the original task — if they return at all.  In another study, Basex, a New York research firm specializing in information overload, found that office distractions and interruptions ate up 2.1 hours a day for the average worker.  The time it takes for your brain to get back into its original train of thought is costing your company money in unproductive time!  Your brain can really only process one type of thought at a time.  Cultivating the skill of just focusing on one thing for 60 minute time period is an important skill that we are loosing with all of the multitasking that we do today.  So, the next time you have a project that is important consider the following:

  • Block the time on your calendar.
  • If you have something electronic around you cell phone, radio, tv – anything that is on or could come on anything that could bug you – turn it to the off position.
  • Email is the ultimate distraction that most of us face now.  Try to prevent any incoming email from coming in and bugging you.
  • Close all online social networking applications – or better yet, close down your internet browser.
  • Use the restroom and get yourself something to drink so that you don’t have to get up and leave.
  • Close your door so that you cannot get interrupted and consider putting a do not disturb sign on the door.

    Then, work on your project fully focused.  If you find your mind wandering or have a strong desire to check Twitter, resist!

    If you are really guilty of multitasking and doing too many things at once, you might want to put a sticky note on your screen that says ‘Eliminate Distraction and Interruption‘ – the more you can do that the better you can do in business and life and everywhere else.

    Start Small and Build on Successes

    If you or your employees are exhibiting stress due to disorganization, take a step back and start looking at the causes of the stress rather than the symptoms.  Don’t know where to start?  Take caution in making numerous changes at once.  The average person can only work on 3 major changes at once and be successful.  Getting organized takes time and a change in habits.  When the habits are changed and maintained, a feeling of release will happen and more creative work on the business can begin.

    Have some ideas that you would like to “bounce around?”  Have something you have tried and it worked?  Leave your comments in the comments field below.

    To your success!

    image from scalahan.typepad.com

    Stephanie H Calahan - StephCalahan - Productivity and Organization Specialist with Calahan Solutions Inc Stephanie LH Calahan (AKA StephCalahan) is a dynamic entrepreneur, nationally known speaker, media personality, author, publisher; productivity/organization consultant, and business coach.  She understands that every person is different and requires systems that work for them.  As the founder and CEO of Calahan Solutions, Inc., she and her consultants focus on conducting presentations, personal coaching, assessments and productivity/organizing services for entrepreneurs & time pressed professionals.  You don’t have to do it our way, because we help you find your way! tm  Learn more: www.CalahanSolutions.com.

    © 2010 Copyright Calahan Solutions, Inc. ñ All rights reserved


    1. Dan
      Posted December 16, 2010 at 6:43 am | Permalink | Reply

      Great post. I could really do with some help organising myself.

      The best way I do things is to write down absolutely everything. But at times I’m in a rush and I can’t recognise my own handwriting when I go back to it.

      • Posted December 16, 2010 at 9:03 am | Permalink | Reply

        I am a big list maker too. The only time I have trouble reading what I wrote, is if I was trying to note something in the middle of the night and didn’t turn on the light. In the morning it looks like hieroglyphics.

      • Posted December 16, 2010 at 2:47 pm | Permalink | Reply

        Dan –
        Glad that you liked my post. If you are interested, I’d be happy to offer you a telephone strategy session (no fee). Together we will define how you can get on track to a world more organized for you. Just let me know when you would like to schedule. You may also like our self-assessment. You can find it here: http://www.calahansolutions.info/self-assessment.html
        To your success!

    2. Posted December 2, 2010 at 10:48 am | Permalink | Reply

      Shannon – Glad that you liked my post and thanks for the opportunity to share with your readers. Finding an information management system that works for you is a really important key to success! I’m glad that you have found (at least partially) one that works for you! There are a number of fantastic systems out there to help you manage your digital information too. Do you scan and save in “My Documents”?

      • Posted December 2, 2010 at 1:43 pm | Permalink | Reply

        Yes, my My Documents folder gets bigger by the day. 🙂 I save all business and donation receipts electronically. All of my bill paying is done online too. Not only do these simple steps cut down on the amount of paper I have to touch on a daily basis, but it also allows me to take care of things even when I am on the road. What I am now seeking is a great tool for to-do’s with built in alarms and something that will adjust things easily if something needs to be moved to the next day. Any suggestions?

        • Posted December 2, 2010 at 2:00 pm | Permalink | Reply

          Shannon –
          I do a lot of those things as well. Even my faxes come to my email. (www.efax.com) There are slews of awesome tools out there for to dos.

          Do you use a smart phone? If you do, one choice would be to select an app that works with your phone (one less thing to access or carry around). For example, I use Outlook calendar and to-do list. Both functions in Outlook sync to my phone and do the things you are suggesting you would like. When I am at my desk, I get the reminders on my screen, but can easily manage and move things around from my phone as well.

          A few other sites that are getting rave reviews right now for to-dos are http://www.rememberthemilk.com and http://www.jott.com

          Just last week I was introduced to a new CRM tool that is focused on managing actions too. http://www.onepagecrm.com/

          Check these out and tell me if they are what you had in mind. To dos are really personal and it is an art to identify the solution that will work best for you.

          • Posted December 2, 2010 at 2:19 pm | Permalink | Reply

            Thanks for the links, Stephanie! Can’t wait to check them out. I have only only recently looked at To-Doist but as you mentioned, finding the one that works for you is a personal thing. 🙂

    3. Posted December 2, 2010 at 7:52 am | Permalink | Reply

      Stephanie, Thank you for your awesome post! I know that I could sure use some more organization in my life. I am a definite “outtie” when it comes to filing, but my system doesn’t look quiet like the neat and tidy photo. 🙂 I am finding that the more I can file digitally, the better organized I am. Paper and I don’t get along very well in my home office. These tips are so timely as we all prepare for the New Year! Thanks!

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