Julie Morgenstern: How to Get Unstuck

If you've got too much stuff cluttering your desk and your mind, organization guru Julie Morgenstern offers ideas for making a fresh start.

January 1, 2010

Why is it important to be organized?

It saves time and money—and reduces stress. If you can find what you need, when you need it, and feel comfortable in your space, then you're organized.

Yet, plenty of successful folks are surrounded by piles. Right?

Yes, many live or work in a physical mess, yet feel comfortable in this environment. But there's a difference between being successful and reaching our fullest potential. It's hard to do the latter when you're surrounded by piles. Eliminating clutter gives you room to think.

As businesses cut back on office space, real estate pros are working more from home. How can they get—and keep—their work organized?

If they don't devote physical space, they're probably not focusing sufficient time on their business. They may be trying to fit work in around their lives rather than giving it the proper attention. The solution is to dedicate a location to work.

When people work from home, how can they avoid interruptions?

Let family and friends know your hours by posting them and saying nicely, "During those times, I'm uninterruptible, except for an emergency." Explain what constitutes an emergency.

You say that organizing isn't simply about decluttering but identifying what's important.

 That's right. It's not just about throwing out, but deciding what's important and designing a system that works for you so you're free to grow.

For many brokers and salespeople, their cars are secondary offices. How do they keep these organized?

The key is a portable file box that lives in their car when they're not toting it to their office. It should be big enough to hold client files, sales literature, business cards, and maps in file folders. Some file boxes come with a lid to use as a writing surface.

Isn't staying organized hard to do over a long period?

It takes mindfulness, especially in the beginning. I do the same tasks at the same time daily such as opening mail and calling back prospects. Your brain adapts to the routine so you focus on the execution. We spend too much time thinking about what we should do rather than doing it.

How do you get unstuck when making big changes such as starting a new business, which you delve into in SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life (Simon & Schuster, 2008)?

Realize your identity is separate from your stuff. Declutter your life by letting go of mess in your physical space and schedule, which allows you to discover what's stopping you from achieving your goals.

Why do people so often fall back after getting organized?

They fail to put stuff back neatly because they never set up a system that worked for them. Papers have to be filed so the user recalls them for retrieval, perhaps labeled by the name of a condo building rather than by a client's name.

You've found that most of us regress by about 30 percent after we reach our goal. How do we get back on the horse?

Start over, which takes courage. Think of firsts you tackled—college, job interview, solo travel. You had only yourself to depend on, and you succeeded!

What other essentials do these pros need to be productive?

A desk to place a laptop, printer, and fax, maybe a scanner and shredder, at least one or two file drawers with folders and tabs, a drawer for supplies such as pens, and a wastebasket.

What if two work from home?

Each person needs a personal work space since we all have our own way of organizing stuff, working, and tolerating quiet or noise.

Is time the No. 1 reason people find it hard to get organized?

It's people's perception of time. They can see and measure space, but time is hard to grasp.  You can make it more tangible by estimating how long tasks will take. Schedule when you'll do what and don't overstuff days. My WADE formula encourages overcoming what seems like chaos by Writing everything down you need to do; Adding up how long you think all may take; Deleting, Delegating, or Diminishing what you've got to do; then Executing.

How does your "time map" help maintain personal time, particularly when work-at-home hours run beyond the typical 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.?

Carve out blocks for personal/family time. If you don't, you won't schedule and commit. The more roles you juggle, the more important it is to protect that schedule.

Want More?

For more information, go to www.juliemorgenstern.com.

Barbara Ballinger

Barbara Ballinger is a freelance writer and the author of several books on real estate, architecture, and remodeling, including The Kitchen Bible: Designing the Perfect Culinary Space (Images Publishing, 2014). Barbara’s most recent book is The Garden Bible: Designing Your Perfect Outdoor Space, co-authored with Michael Glassman (Images, 2015).

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