Life: Organized

By Rob Farmer, Director, Landis Communications, Inc.

It’s not that I was previously a scramble-brained clutter junkie. But, like any modern-day professional, I was in need of some organization in my life – work life, primarily.

In the Public Relations industry, you either keep up or you get swept aside. There is little argument that ours is a demanding industry – moving at a break-neck pace and constantly changing. P.R. pros must always be ready to react quickly, adapt on the fly and navigate a roaring river of deadlines. This means being prepared. And the best way to be prepared is to be organized.

And so it was that I found myself in need of a better way. And it wasn’t until joining the team at LCI that I was shown the light. In a 15-year career with management responsibilities, I had evolved to rely upon homegrown systems – self taught and self reliant. I knew what worked for me and stubbornly depended on my “proprietary” methods for getting things done. Unfortunately that meant an in-box that was rarely empty and a desk that was always a mess. After all, I had come to P.R. from the world of journalism, where an office piled high with front pages from an era gone by was not only accepted, it was a point of pride.

No more. Today, a cluttered office looks to me less like the workspace of a busy and important individual than it does a fire hazard. And an in-box with no bottom is representative of an in-box operator with no method for finding the bottom. Over past months, with the guidance of the outstanding organizing and productivity consultant Tiffany Holton, I have become happily, obsessively, organized.

For the first time in my professional life, I have been shown a better way than my way. I was no indignant skeptic going into the consultation, but I was apprehensive – unsure of how it might work, or what ingrained habits I would be forced to reconcile. Turns out, those old bugaboos and demons were quick to be shown the exit. In their place are new (still forming) habits that have not only helped my productivity, but also my psyche.

The hectic pace of the workplace is no longer as daunting as it once seemed. Now, I am armed with a strategy to accomplish even the most complex tasks and time-intensive projects. And my office looks more like a place of cool, collected order and less like my 3-year-old daughter’s room after a playdate.

I won’t get into the nitty gritty here – and of course there is no one-size-fits-all method for individual productivity. But here are some VERY top-level tactics that immediately resonated with me:

1. Get the in-box (email and physical) to “zero” every day.
2. Keep only one thing on your desk at a time – the thing you’re working on.
3. Keep your to-do list as short as possible and as long as needed.
4. Prioritize and categorize.
5. If it takes 2 minutes or less, do it NOW.

I can’t say enough about how number 5, ALONE, has made a difference in my life. And when I say “life” I mean that, yes, this has also begun to transform all aspects of my life –trickling out of the office and into my home life (much to the consternation of my wife!).

As the system becomes more ingrained in my DNA (I’m far from being completely evolved!) I’ve started to wonder: Why doesn’t everybody do this? Indeed most people can use some method by which they attempt to make sense of a busy world. In the P.R. realm, a semblance of organization is essential. My new approach to scaling the workload mountain has been transformative. I’d love to hear from my fellow industry colleagues about their secrets to organizational success. What’s your one go-to tactic for staying in control?

Email me at [email protected]

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8 Comments

  1. david Reply

    Rob – I know everyone here thinks I’m a total organized freak. But actually, truth be told, I’m a complete disaster. At my first job (30 years ago – how did that happen?) at the SF Symphony, then Marketing Director Margo Hackett took me aside and showed me her organizational system. I’ve used it to this day and it works like a charm. And I would agree – the most important tenet is: if it takes you less than 2-3 minutes to do something, do it and get it off your desk. And make sure to clean out your in-box daily. Brianne also says you should only look at your email about 3 times a day, but I find that harder to do. Thanks for a great post! Cheers, David

  2. Tarah Reply

    Rob, thanks for sharing your tips on how to get those “bugaboos and demons” organized. Great blog post! Best, Tarah

  3. Erin Reply

    Rob – thank you for sharing the magic. You know I’m a convert – you’ve seen signs of transformation on my desk! Although I wouldn’t say that I’m disorganized, my own “proprietary” systems were not serving me as well as they could and I certainly wasn’t feeling zen at my desk. I’m not quite fully indoctrinated – I still need to get the book – but after following a few easy tips (loved the throwing out/recycling step!), my office is now decidedly feng shui – leaving me with more energy to focus on priorities and feeling much calmer. Imagine that in our business?? Thank you for inspiring – a fantastic post from a wonderful colleague!

  4. Aaron Reply

    Rob, I can relate! When you get your email box to zero, you have beat the email beast! I’m now resorting to the phone more often. Keeps my box empty. 🙂 Thanks for the post!
    Aaron

  5. Lawrence Reply

    Thanks for this article. I have taken it to heart, especially #5, and had a very productive evening. I’ll be re-reading this, as my desk looks very much like the mess you describe. I agree with David — email checking ends up eating away hours…

    One question: For projects you are working on, where do you keep them? A file, I presume, but then isn’t “out of sight, out of mind” an issue?

    Lawrence

  6. Tiffany Mock Holton Reply

    Rob, Thank you for the testimonial not just to our work but to the importance of great systems to get things done. I have really enjoyed working with you. I agree, this practice can be life changing if you are ready, and you work the systems.

    I’m glad to see we have converted Erin. Our brains crave control and the sense of calm comes from that.

    Lawrence, put the project papers in a folder on your desktop or in a drawer. The key is tying it in to your systems. More specifically, write the next action on your to do list. If you follow the list, it will remind you about the project. Out of sight, out of mind won’t be an issue if you follow the list. Yes, I know that is a big “if”.

    If you don’t have a dependable “to do” list yet, then separate your paperwork into 2 piles – “Action Items” and “No Actions”.

    I’m happy to answer questions – [email protected] or http://www.tiffanyholton.com

    Enjoy the rewards everyone.

    Best,
    Tiffany

  7. Rob Reply

    Lawrence: So glad you’ve taken it to heart. It has really been helpful on a number of fronts for me, not least of which is stress relief! Re your question about projects, that relates to No. 4 above. Part of emptying the in-box is to create folders that makes sense for how you work, that way you’re not simply emptying the in-box for the sake of emptying it. Instead, you’re actually “processing” everything in it with a purpose. It requires discipline to be sure you’re paying attention to the folders, because it could easily become “out of sight out of mind.” But I’ve found the system to be MUCH more manageable than an email in-box with 7,000 items in it! Instead, I’ve got a handful of working folders with an average of 20 items in them at a time. Not bad, eh?

  8. Abbie S. Fink Reply

    Oh Rob — such wonderful advice. If only I could get my email to zero. But I am much more organized thanks to the creation of rules that move items into specific folders. We did a post on it awhile back, I am including it here in the hopes that it will help others. And now, I must get back to deleting…

    http://hmapr.com/?p=2915