When it is a Little Too Overwhelming…

When your organizational task seems overwhelming, I submit this strategy – in remembrance of my Father-in-Law, Tim Richards.  This was one of his very handy organizing strategies.  He was an engineer by training and a successful business man by trade.  One thing he liked to do was photocopy articles and send (sometimes multiple) copies to his children – one of which was my husband.  We have a collection of clippings, photographs and pamphlets all with a note handwritten note and signed “-Dad.”  One result of this habit is that perhaps his own office became a little full at times with all of the interesting things he wanted to keep and share with others.

I’ll never forget visiting his office for the first time, and he described in great detail his strategy of getting his office organized.  The long and short of it was a timing system.  He didn’t look forward to the task at hand, and it seemed quite overwhelming when he considered the sheer volume of paperwork that comes with a life full of activities, boards, volunteer work, owning and running multiple businesses and a voracious appetite for reading.  Paper, people.  Paper was everywhere.  Stacked, labeled, separated, piled.  Organized, but full is how I would describe the scene.  He had decided to pare down, but knew it was going to take a very long time.  Already not having enough time in his days, he devised a system to stay motivated and to track his efforts.

At the crux of this effort was his stop watch.  He vowed to spend 15 minutes each day sorting through paperwork.  He kept a stopwatch at hand to keep track of the time as it passed, and noted each day’s time.  Some days the timer would chime and he’d just take a few more minutes to finish that one folder, some days he’d get interrupted by a phone call or important email and need to stop the watch and come back to it.  After some time, he had made a serious dent in the quest to get his office organized.

Why does this work so well?  Two main reasons:
1.  It helps hurdle the initial fear of the whole task.  It helps eliminate the overwhelm.  It’s a bargain of motivation.  Say, “Ok, if I can just tackle this for 15 minutes I can be done for today.”  Think of it as the “8-minute Abs” of the organizing world.  (Tell me you remember that workout phenomenon…).

2.  This also works for people afraid to get lost in the task and see the entire day slip away – or worse – reach the point of burnout on the project and then not return to it again.

So, if you’re dreading a major project, this might be a great solution for you to get motivated and stay on task.  Just little by little you can sort and purge your way through any major organization endeavor.

Another seemingly insurmountable task he tackled was the sorting and purging of his parent’s home in New Canaan, Connecticut.  He single-handedly sorted through 25 four-drawer file cabinets from their house.  Being artists, and living through the depression era (when you saved everything), and having the space to do so – they had kept nearly every shred of paperwork that had come into their home.  Junk mail from the 90’s was mixed with important insurance paperwork, etc.  He combed through those file cabinets, attics, crawl spaces, basements, main living spaces and studios.  It was a monumental task.  When he would have finally finished off a space, whether it be a drawer, bin or closet he would stick on a post-it note that simply said, “Empty.”  When we later went down to help him with the task, those little sticky’s were so numerous – and comforting.  It really put into perspective, visually, how far he had come in that task.

To him, I would say thank you for your insight, and for your interest in my fledgling business many years ago.  Your advice and interest were priceless.

One response to “When it is a Little Too Overwhelming…

  1. Having just purged my father's home of 50 years I can so appreciate your words. I am now trying to organize my "papers" after moving from Fairhaven to a to be renovated home in Wareham. Trying not to spread everything out just to have to re box it all again and yet find things is proving to be a monumental task. I love the Stop Watch inspiration. Thank you!

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