Getting organized is often a top New Year’s resolution. This year it ranked in second place, according to the Journal of Clinical Psychology, and for good reason. Research estimates that disorganization accounts for $89 billion worth of wasted business expenses every year.
Consider this: If you spend 30 minutes every day looking for items and fumbling through materials, over the course of a year, that adds up to nearly 183 hours – or nearly eight days wasted.
Getting organized is a resolution that many of us can’t afford to break but, unfortunately, only 8% of us will keep it. I spoke recently with Jill Glist, president of Lambent Services, a New York City-based personal assistant agency for her most basic organization tips to help you clear your clutter, develop better habits start your year off right.
Make the Time/Get Help
Whether it’s one weekend or a few hours every day, Glist says the first step to getting organized is making the time. It’s the reason she says many people use the services offered by personal assistants at Lambert and the like. “When you schedule time with an assistant, you’re making a commitment. So when that person comes to your door, you know what you have to do.”
The cost of professional help ranges between $20-$75 per hour, based on the work you need done. To get the most out of the service, it’s best to be clear and realistic about your goals: what you need done and the time you have to do it. Another, free option is to draft a friend in the process. Lambent says it could be hard to convince someone to help your sort your mess but having company can take the drudgery out of the task.
Glist says, at Lambent, an overarching goal is to do what works best for the client and in organizing your own life, you should do what works best for you. “There are tons of those self-help books out there that will give you advice that you know you won’t follow, at least not long term.”
She says instead of setting unrealistic goals for a pristine space, take small sustainable action that will have noticeable impact. For example, you may not have time to label and archive everything in your inbox so narrow your approach. Pick one category that you’ll use a lot, say, “Payment Confirmations” and work from there. Who knows? Before long, you could work your way through the whole lot. Glist says the same can go for a disorganized home. “Start one room at a time. Trying to get it organized all at once will defeat one immediately before really beginning.”
Master the Art of Editing
It’s not just a writing skill. Editing can go a long way in helping you get organized. It means picking, choosing and prioritizing tasks and items. One of the basics of editing is setting limits. Where a newspaper has word limits, place limits on how many pieces of mail you can have on the counter or how many sweaters to keep in your closet. Having limits will push you to prioritize what’s important and get rid of the rest. “Many people keep everything because they think they’re being responsible,” says Glist. “In fact what they’re doing is creating piles that are impossible to get through.”
When In Doubt, Keep For 3 Years
Whether they’re electronic or physical records, it can be hard to know what to keep and what to trash. Farnoosh recently answered this question for her column with Yahoo! Finance and it varies based on the type of record: banks, taxes, bills, etc. A good rule of thumb is three years unless you expect a dispute. With taxes, for example, the IRS has three years from the due date of your tax return to assess and collect additional taxes. Utility bills, however, you don’t need to keep for more than one year. In general, the same goes for bank statements.
Create A Place For Everything
“Give everything in your home, office, computer a place,” suggests Glist. “Once you’ve done that, returning it to it’s place and finding it later won’t be so hard.” Often this means investing in inexpensive tools for storage and organization. Glist says one of her favorite items is a label maker. “Not only is it helpful for identifying the rightful place for things in a space but it also makes you feel like a pro and really commits you to the process,” she says.
When organizing your office, she suggests getting new folders, a label maker or marker and starting with a pile. “Set aside two containers, one for trash and one for paper recycling.” The items you wan to keep should be put in a file immediately and set aside. “Keep at this until every piece of paper is taken care of and then file the folders alphabetically,” she says.
Get in the Habit and Go Electronic
Finally, staying organized is easily achieved when done on an ongoing basis, instead of in huge monthly or yearly efforts. Glists advises not to let tasks, papers and household items pile up. Address them as you go.
Another tip: If something can be emailed instead of mailed or faxed, insist on email to cut down on actual physical copies that can pile up in your home or office. The most obvious culprits for this are bills on bank statements. As more and more people pay their bills electronically, it’s more convenient but also more secure to maintain password-protected electronic copies of these records on a thumb drive or in your email.
Photo Courtesy, khrawlings.