Organizing @ Work: Dealing with a Crisis

Posted By on May 6, 2014

Life is messy. When it is, it spills over into our world of work whether we want it to or not.

Unfortunately, we all have had experience with the bumps and challenges life throws at us.

I’ve been dealing with family issues during the month of April, which included the sudden passing of an aunt and traveling to Missouri to attend her funeral. If that wasn’t enough, my Dad was briefly hospitalized the same week back in Oklahoma as part of his ongoing health issues.

Meanwhile, back at the office, I jettisoned a full schedule of meetings and events, and one of my co-workers stepped in to work a big event I was supposed to staff.

When you’re stretched thin and dealing with personal issues, how do you handle work?

Be prepared. When talking to my organizing clients at work, I encourage people to be ready to win the lottery. This means you should be organized enough at work before a crisis happens so your co-workers can find the stuff they need to cover for you.

Speak up when necessary. Some people like to keep their personal lives private at work, but you do need to let your boss and co-workers something is happening. You don’t have to go into the details if you don’t want, but the people who work with you should know something is up. If you don’t speak up, then they’ll just make up their own stories.

Practice good self-care. You have to be a bit ruthless and take care of yourself. Make sure you get enough sleep, eat more healthy stuff than bad stuff, exercise, and meditate. Spend time with your friends and family, and see a therapist if you need one.

Also, keep in mind that while you’re dealing with serious issues with yourself or your family members, many work things will seem trivial. It’s hard to get worked up about a staff meeting when you’re planning to attend a funeral or dealing with chemo treatments.

Don’t feel guilty. Stuff happens, and we have to deal with it. Don’t feel guilty. Do what you have to do. At some point, you will pay it forward by covering for your co-workers when they are having their own crisis. Be sure to thank co-workers who are covering for you.

Know your limits. Jettison any extra-curricular things that bog down your energy. Because of ongoing family issues, I had to step down from a volunteer commitment because I was being stretched too thin and didn’t have any additional emotional bandwidth. The leaders were very understanding, and amazingly enough, the world did not end.

Don’t make big decisions. When you’re in the middle of a crisis, this is not the best time to make big, life-altering decisions. Give yourself breathing room before making any big decisions.

Ready. Set. Focus. Work can actually be a welcome distraction when chaos is brewing. When you return to work, take a deep breath and focus on what you MUST do on your to-do list first. Steadily work your way down the list. If needed, come in a half hour to hour early for a day or two to tackle the extra email that’s stacked up in your inbox.

Dealing with a crisis is hopefully a short-term issue, but a little preparation, communication with co-workers and a plan will help you through it.


Organizing @ Work: The Disorganized Boss

Posted By on April 7, 2014

Have a disorganized boss? © Odua Images -

Have a disorganized boss? © Odua Images –

My first Organizing @ Work post featured how to deal with disorganized co-workers. However, what do you do when your disorganized co-worker is your boss?

This is where things can get sticky. Your boss, after all, controls your destiny – raises, promotions, stretch assignments and references to name a few.

First, you need to determine if your boss is disorganized or “just” overwhelmed. By design, the boss has more on their plate, and those responsibilities vary depending on if they’re running a department, a division or the entire company. It seems everyone is trying to do more with less, and that can take a toll on the entire office.

When you get down to it, it doesn’t matter whether you think your boss is organized or not. What matters is how you work with your boss, no matter the situation. Here are some ways you can do that:

Be organized yourself. You can’t help your boss if you can’t help yourself first. By being organized yourself, it trickles up to your boss and co-workers.

Manage information you send them. Ask how they prefer to receive information. Do they prefer email or paper? Do they prefer one-on-one meetings? Do they want a summary or a lengthy report?

Don’t add to the problem. One way to make the boss glaze over is bringing them a stack of stuff to read about your latest project. Give them a one-page summary (shorter the better) and email a link to a longer document via Box, Dropbox, Sharepoint or a shared server. This eliminates extra paper on their desk, and if they want to read the entire report, they have access to it.

Have an agenda for your one-on-one meetings. Keep a running list of items you need to discuss with your boss, and put them in order of priority so you can discuss the important stuff first in case you run out of time. If you need to get their signature on something, this is a good time to do it.

Make it easy for them. If you’re working on a project together or need your boss’ approval before turning something in, give gentle reminders about deadlines. It’s better to say something, such as, “This is the report I have to turn in Wednesday to the finance department, and I’ll need your approval before sending it.” Or “I have completed these sections of the report, and whenever you’re ready, I can plug in the sections you have.”

Ease them into a digital life. It’s hard to break the paper habit, but you can lead the way. Before our office move in mid-August, I used the move as an opportunity to go digital and eliminate paper files in my file cabinets. Throughout our institution, we use Box, a cloud-based service, and several of us showed our boss how to set up Box files and share folders and documents.

Make them look good. Always make the boss look good, and never let them be surprised by any issues. Don’t let them miss a deadline – especially one with their own bosses.

Learning to manage your work with your boss will help you both in the long run.


Organizing @ Work: Arranging Your Desk

Posted By on March 30, 2014

my desk 2Your desk is an essential organizing and productivity tool for your work. You certainly spend enough time there each day so it should work for you, instead of against you.

When it comes to putting your stuff where you need it, break your desk space into three categories: hot, lukewarm and cold.

Hot. When you sit in your chair, you should be able to easily reach everything you use on a daily basis. You should be able to do this with minimal effort and without discomfort.

Think about the items you use each day. Don’t use your tape or stapler every day? Put them in a drawer to keep them out of the way.

Make sure your keyboard, chair and computer screen are in ergonomically correct positions for you. has a great ergonomics article about to correctly set up your desk.

Lukewarm. In this category, you may need to stretch, do a slight lift out of your chair, open a drawer, or roll your chair over a couple of feet to reach the lukewarm items.

Cold. As the name implies, cold items are those items in cold storage. Cold items require you to standup or walk over to another piece of furniture, such as a file cabinet.

Setting Up Your Desk

Pens and Markers. Have one container for pens and markers. You only need one. It’s okay. Extra pens and markers go in the desk drawer to use as they’re needed. In my pen container, I also keep my ruler and scissors for easy access.

Organize Your Desk Drawers. Use the extra deep drawer organizers in your desk drawers to organize your supplies. To keep it from shifting each time you open the drawer, I use Velcro circles or squares to keep it in place. Use one drawer to round up personal items, such as medication, lotion, and food.

Overhead Space. If your desk or cubicle comes with an overhead cabinet, you can use desktop organizers to carve out spaces you need for organizing materials and supplies. Vertical file trays are great for storing paper for the printer, letterhead and envelopes.

Manage Your Wall and Bulletin Boards. If you have a bulletin board or hang stuff on your wall, this is where things can start looking very messy. Keep the important stuff out that you actually look at often.

With bulletin boards, keep inside the lines and make sure all of your papers and photos are hanging inside the border. When you hang items on your wall or bulletin board, keep it to one layer instead of letting it stack up.

Limit Your Shrine. I always encourage people to have photos of their loved ones or a little doo-dad or two to show off your personality. When your collection gets too large, it can impede into your work zones.


Organizing @ Work: Dealing with Co-Workers and Clutter

Posted By on March 23, 2014

© Monkey Business -

© Monkey Business –

Note: Happy Monday! Welcome to a new weekly blog series called Organizing @ Work where I will feature tips and strategies to help you with the wild world of work.

In my work as a professional organizer, I’ve had many clients “turned in” by their bosses or co-workers over the years.

It’s an awkward way to start a new work relationship.

These are the clients who are labeled as the office hoarder or are considered too disorganized by those who supervise and work with them.

Does it really matter if a co-worker is disorganized and has more stacks on their desks?

Whether you work in a small or large team, our work impacts the people around us on a daily basis. When one or more person is disorganized in an office setting, the impact trickles down to the rest of the team.

First of all, having a cluttered desk can impact your promotion. According to a 2011 Career Builder study, 28% of employers are less likely to promote someone with a messy work space, and two in five employers say paper piles covering a desk negatively impact what they think of a person.

I think a couple of things are going on with these statistics. First of all, shows like Hoarders and Buried Alive have drawn much needed awareness to hoarding and hoarding behaviors. However, people who have a tendency to be disorganized may being judged more harshly when compared to true hoarders. Not everyone who has stacks of stuff on their desks is a hoarder and have homes filled with dead cats and tunnels.

Secondly, it’s much easier for us to go digital at work and home – even compared to five years ago. With the advent of tablet computers, smartphones, apps and cloud services like Dropbox and Evernote, make it much easier to store, access, and handle your information and photos. It’s easier these days to have fillable online forms, electronic signatures, and PDF’s, and we do most of our communication via email or text. You simply don’t need as much as paper as you used to.

Finally, the sizes of individual workstations are shrinking. According to a Haworth white paper, the International Facility Management Association shows average office spaces in the 1970s were 12 x 12. By the mid-90s, the average shrank to 10 x 10. These days, the average size is 6 x 8. When you have less space, you need to have less stuff. It’s simple physics.

It’s Not Me. It’s Them.

Then again, it could be you. Several times, I’ve seen bosses or co-workers judge someone’s desk by their own organizing standard. If someone is hyper-organized and has practically nothing on their desk, someone with a bin of paper clips and a stack of paper is going to be considered a hoarder.

You may be judging a co-worker or your team member with skewed perception. Instead of looking at their desk, ask yourself:

  • Are they getting their work done in a timely manner?
  • Have they missed any deadlines? Or have they lost a document?
  • If you need something in their office, how long does it take for them to find it?
  • Are they causing co-workers and their boss any delays?
  • Have they renewed their licenses and certifications in a timely fashion?
  • Most importantly, are they violating fire codes and endangering themselves or others by having boxes and piles on the floor or near exits?

So how do you handle a problem like a disorganized co-worker? As a co-worker, there’s not much you can do since you don’t have the power to demand change. Here are a few ways to handle the situation:

  • If you’re sharing an office space, make sure your space isn’t invaded by someone else’s stuff.
  • Model organized behavior by making sure your area is organized and you’re getting work done.
  • Encourage your co-workers to go digital instead of having paper files.
  • Avoid teasing them, and never, ever buy them any sort of organizing tool or book.
  • Focus on deadlines and make sure work is getting done when it’s supposed to get done.
  • Encourage your department to develop department retention policies on how long documents are kept, who keeps them and if they can be kept offsite or digitally. What documents should we keep? What’s historical? What’s important? What’s not important? Everything has a time limit.
  • Have regular “decluttering” days a couple of times throughout the year. Bring in large trash cans and dumpsters, wear jeans and order lunch in.



Let’s Get Some PEP

Posted By on March 17, 2014

My friend Lisa Boesen has always been a bubbly, perky person who sees the optimistic side of everything, and that’s one of the many reasons I love being her friend.

Back in 2009, Lisa and I found ourselves in a new club together. I lost my birthfather Mike, and she lost both of her parents within weeks of each other. Our lunches at the time were like a form of group therapy.

Lisa had to handle her parents’ estate, and all she had to go on was some mail, a partial list on a legal pad and a pouch with some account information in it. That was it. She equates the search of her parents’ home and records as a “treasure hunt.” It was a long, exhausting process, which can wear on the perkiest of people.

Out of adversity, Lisa found a way to turn the lessons she learned into a positive. She created a blog called The Domestic Administrator where she shares what she’s learned about organizing and managing your home and life. Since she is an excellent cook, she also shares her favorite recipes.

Because of her experience, Lisa decided she needed to create a notebook for her, her husband and stepsons to use in case of emergency. She calls this PEP – Personal Emergency Planning. To help other people with their own PEP planning, Lisa created her Home Management Portfolio, a 54-page workbook where people can write down all of their information to keep in one place for their family members.

Lisa keeps her portfolio as a paper version in a binder. I’ve opted for the digital version of her portfolio.

So why is it important to have your own PEP? I’ll be honest. I know it can be a little weird talking about having stuff prepared in case something happens to you, but it’s one of those grown-up things we need to deal with. Anything can happen to us, our loved ones or our property, and it’s important for your family and friends to have the information they need to help you. Just imagine being in the hospital and needing someone to make sure your bills are paid.

Some of the information captured in the portfolio includes:

  • Utility account information
  • Banking and financial information
  • Auto, home, health and life insurance
  • Magazine subscriptions
  • Key locations

So it’s time for us to get a little peppy. Being a grown-up? That’s still optional.


Guest Post: Becoming a Productive Writer

Posted By on January 19, 2014

PictureToday’s guest post is from Maria Rachel Hooley, who has written over 30 novels. As part of Get Organized Month, she shares how to make time for writing.

While there are many quotes I could use to describe all the frustrations about writing and not writing and not writing when you want to, “A year from now, you’ll wish you had started today,” by Karen Lamb, seems most fitting because writing, and particularly the writing of novels, is something that requires consistency and devotion, which means writing even when you may not feel like it.   There’s no other way to get the novel finished, and the longer it takes you to commit to it, the longer it’s going to be before you can embark on the writing career you’ve always wanted.

Of course, here’s where a lot of people drag “the muse” into things as an excuse for not writing.  That’s what it is—an excuse.  While what we write may be magic, the process isn’t.  It’s work.  Truthfully, however, the most productive writers follow one simple rule:  apply butt to chair and don’t get up again until you’ve achieved your word count goal.  It has nothing to do with the muse acting like Puck from A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream.  It has to do with training your mind to accomplish the goals you’ve set for yourself and remembering that if writing were easy, everybody would finish a book.

So now let’s look at some tricks and tips to help you get into a writing mindset.

  1.  Establish ultimate goals.  Are you going to write a book you want to see in print?  Do you want a blog to reach out to people with common interests?  Do you want to write a screenplay in the hope of breaking into that market?  Yes, this is all writing, but mentally, you will approach each of these projects a little differently.  Some will require more research.  Others will need time spent on characters and plot.  Whichever project you pursue, set up a realistic deadline to finish the research/prewriting portion before you start writing.   Also set up a realistic goal for finishing the writing of the book.  If you base daily goals on word counts and figure out how long you want the project to be, you can figure out how long it’s going to take.  Notice I used the word Realistic.  The first way to cause yourself grief is to set up goals you can’t achieve.  You want to succeed.
  2.  Set up either page counts or word counts for each day.  Add this to your To-Do List.  If you don’t make your writing a priority, no one else will, either.  Yes, you will probably get complaints from family and friends and maybe even employers, too, but that happens to most of us.  Other people don’t understand why we need to lock ourselves in a room with only a computer for company.  Some are still looking for the DSM-IV TR to diagnose this condition.  They won’t find it.  Even the psychotherapy community knows better than to mess with writers….
  3. Get a calendar or planner and jot down your page count for each day. Highlight that count with one particular color so at the end of the month you can see what you did to further your dream.  This accountability will either make you very happy or make you want to get your butt in gear.
  4. Always have pen and paper handy.  I’ve been known to work on my book for the fifteen minutes I was waiting for “the rest of my life” to work itself out.  Besides, who isn’t sitting at a doctor’s appointment or waiting to pick up kids from somewhere?  This will make the time pass more quickly and give you something to show for it.
  5. Give yourself to inspiration.  For me, it’s movies, music, and books.  When I see a story done well, it makes me want to work, to try to make someone else feel the way I felt when the credits rolled or I finished reading that last novel.  If you don’t feed your creativity, you can’t expect it to produce good stuff.
  6. Network with other writers.  Yes, I know this seems counter-intuitive because it takes more away from the writing time, but even the most introverted writer needs friends who write.  Think of it as cheap therapy.   Sometimes that  “therapy” will keep you writing when nothing else will.  And another pair of eyes on your work can be invaluable.  Someone else can often see the gaping plot hole you manage to miss.
  7. Figure out whether you are a plotter or a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants writer.  This bit of knowledge hit me when I had to ditch ninety pages of a novel and start from scratch because the story was going nowhere.  I’m a die-hard plotter.  If you know which of these writing personalities you are, you’ll find it so much easier to get from point A to point B.  How do you know which you are?  If you don’t want to know the end ahead of time because it ruins things for you, you are probably the latter.  If you care more about the path making sense along the way and you need a schedule to do most things, you are probably a plotter.  While that’s not a hard, fast rule, it is a good general guideline.  Knowing which type you are is important because it will allow you to spend the time where you need to in the pre-writing stage.  Most plotters go for extensive outlines.  If you are a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants writer, you’d do better to spend time knowing your characters really, really well because that’s pretty much the only blueprint you’ll have.
  8.  Set up a Dropbox or other type of cloud back-up.  This will save your sanity when your computer suddenly goes on strike and keeps you from abandoning the novel because it’s too much work to re-write.
  9. Treat writing like any other part of your life.  Give it time and realize that while “Richard Castle” may have a life you envy, that’s not what most writers’ lives are like.  Writing is a second job.  It can be incredibly hard and very frustrating.  Know this going in.
  10. Celebrate your victories.  I reward myself for every book I finish.  It reminds me that no matter what the world may think of my words, I value the creative side of my life.
  11.  Try to have a device that is strictly for writing.  If you decide that this device is only for writing, you will build a habit that gets words out there.  This will help you stay off the Internet when you want to work on a project.  This device doesn’t have to be a laptop.  I actually have a 7 inch Kindle HDX and keyboard that I use for this.  It automatically saves my work to my cloud service so the file is backed up on all my devices.  Conversely, you could set a tablet up for the Internet and dedicate your laptop to writing.
  12. Consider investing in a device that has speech-to-text capabilities.  My Kindle does.  It’s great because sometimes I just don’t want to sit at the keyboard and type but still want to get my word count in.
  13.  The very best thing you can do for writing is start today and stay committed to whatever project you start.  A lot of people will start a book and quit because it gets too hard.  Yes, writing is hard.  That first book is the hardest.  Write through it.  You’ll be surprised at how differently you view the process after you finish, and how many things will fall into line after that.
  14.  Have fun.  Or have heartbreak.  If you don’t feel the words, no one else will, either.
  15.  Remember why you are doing this.  First and foremost, it should be for you.

Maria Rachel Hooley has written over thirty novels, including New Life Incorporated and When Angels Cry.  Her first chapbook of poetry was published by Rose Rock Press in 1999. While her novels typically venture into different genres, the one constant is the theme of redemption.  She lives in Oklahoma with her husband and three children.  If she’s not writing, she’s probably teaching English to high school or college students.