What distinguishes a professional organizer or productivity consultant from a decluttering or cleaning service? Professional organizers transfer skills rather than simply complete tasks. You might pick up a handy tip or two from an office cleaning service, but that is not their goal. Office cleaners do not want to transfer skills or offer tools and train their way out of a job.
At every client appointment, professional organizers strive to transfer skills, teach systems, and explain processes. They are committed to empowering their clients with the necessary skills to achieve their best organization system. Empowerment is always top of mind because consultants want their clients to achieve success. Success only happens when consultants explain systems and processes in a way that helps their clients organize their environments in their own way, and a way that works for them.
One of my earliest clients, Cindy, called me, saying, ‘ ’My office is a disaster. I need you to come help me organize my office. Things have gotten so crazy that I am in the office every night until eleven o’clock. I’m
just trying to catch up with what’s happened that day, and I never get to the piles of papers around me. I need to feel in control, and I think everything will be okay if I can just dig out from under all of this paper.’ ’
When I arrived for my appointment with Cindy, I found a small bedroom that she had turned into her office. She had a desk with a computer, phone, and an inbox on it. Across from the desk were wall shelves, and there was a filing cabinet. The doors of the closet had been removed. All I could see were piles of papers. They were stacked on the desk, on top of the filing cabinet, on the wall shelves, on the floor, as well as piled in the closet.
We started working, and it was clear to me, just from the first half hour of my assessment, that it wasn’t just papers causing her problems. She had a time management problem as well. The papers were a side effect, a symptom of larger problems, but it was the piles of papers that bothered her. The most common reason people call me is because they think they need help getting their physical space organized, the clutter of papers, books, and other materials in the office. Usually, they cannot see the whole picture because they are focused on the symptoms, and that’s what triggers them to call. The physical clutter gets to the point where it’s too much, and it is too overwhelming and becomes stressful. That’s why Cindy called.
Very gently, I shared my observations. “You know, paper is often a symptom of bigger issues,” I said. We looked at her calendar book and her system to keep track of tasks. There were Post-it notes everywhere, and notes on other pieces of paper stuck with tape or propped next to the telephone. She did not have a system to keep track of calls. If somebody left a message and she needed to return the call, she put a Post-it on her computer screen, desktop, or phone handle to remind herself. There were piles and piles of papers, including especially important files that she couldn’t lose. The first thing we tackled was the physical clutter.
Nearly 90 percent of the people who call for help initiate that first call because they feel overwhelmed by physical clutter. Some clients are happiest
to have someone come in and clean up their offices, file their papers, make everything look tidy, leaving them with an office that’s cleaner. Others welcome the opportunity to find a lasting solution for managing their incoming papers, mail, and other documents. In other words, some clients call and want a Band-Aid for the symptom; others are ready to endeavor to find the root cause of the issue so that they can become empowered to develop lasting solutions to their productivity issues. One thing became apparent to me over the years working as a professional organizer: It was rare that anyone was ready to deal with the other issues, such as electronic clutter and time management, until a person’s physical clutter was brought under control.
When I discovered that there was a flow to introducing the various strategies for achieving physical organization, electronic organization, and so on, I was excited. It felt as though I had made a novel discovery. Sitting across from my husband explaining my findings, I was sounding him out on suggestions for how I could explain this process to my prospective clients. He quietly said, ‘ ’You’ve heard of Maslow’s pyramid, haven’t you?’ ’
Unless you’ve been to business school to study management, or studied psychology, sociology, or another field that focuses on human behavior, you are probably only casually aware of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Like me, you probably haven’t spent a lot of time applying his theories in the real world. In his 1943 psychological research studies on what motivates people, Abraham Maslow discovered there is a logical order of needs that have to be satisfied before people can be motivated to the next level. He identified five levels, starting with the most essential needs:
. The most basic needs that people experience are the essentials for their survival, such as air, food, drink, shelter, sex,
and sleep. They need to satisfy these needs before they are motivated to be concerned about the next level.
2. Safety. Once people’s physiological needs are met, then security becomes important, including personal and financial security, health, and well-being.
3. Love and Belonging. Next in the hierarchy of needs that motivate us are relationships, such as work, group, family, and partner.
4. Esteem. Both self-esteem and respect from others are among the needs identified in the next level.
5. Self-Actualization. The highest level that motivates people is fulfilling their greatest potential.
Most often Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is expressed as a pyramid with the most essential needs expressed in the lowest level. Figure 1-1
illustrates his philosophy of the relationship between the different types of needs. For example, people who don’t feel loved or a sense of belonging (level 3) will not have self-esteem or feel respected by others (level 4). You cannot convince people to possess self-esteem unless they achieve the love and belonging needs in the third level first. People need to fulfill each level, starting with physiological needs, before being motivated to move up the pyramid and achieve the next level.
The strategy for fulfilling a more productive life follows a similar pattern. People have to satisfy, to some extent, competency with one level before they can move on to the next. That led me to create a structure that mirrors Maslow’s pyramid, using what I have learned working with so many clients to help them improve and enhance their productivity. It’s called the Peak Productivity Pyramid™ system.
The Peak Productivity Pyramid™ System defines the motivational relationship among five areas of productivity. It is a holistic and comprehensive approach to productivity that starts with streamlining your basic organizational systems and moving up the pyramid, working toward developing goals for different possibilities in your life. The Peak Productivity Pyramid System is a unique and proven framework to take people who want to improve their productivity through the journey of aligning their daily activities to their goals and objectives.
Here are the Peak Productivity Pyramid’s five levels, starting with the first level:
1. Physical Organization. The process begins with managing the accumulation of documents, magazines, mail, notes, and books. In the business world, this is the primary need that draws people into improving their productivity.
2. Electronic Organization
. Having systems in place for handling your online information—all the different ways we have to
communicate, store, and retrieve information electronically—is essential to success at the next level.
3. Time Management. This is the most common need associated with productivity. Time management involves managing tasks and appointments, to-do lists, calendars, and what you do in a given day.
4. Activity-Goal Alignment. The tasks at this level are setting goals, both business and personal, and then aligning what you do each day to fulfill those goals.
5. Possibility. Similar to self-actualization in the Maslow hierarchy, the fifth level of the Peak Productivity Pyramid is the culmination of mastering the previous four levels. Level 5 is not something to be achieved or a place to be; rather, possibility is the continual examination and goal-setting process on the path to fulfilling your potential.
The Peak Productivity Pyramid illustrates the way people approach productivity level by level. Although it is a series of five levels, the Peak Productivity Pyramid (see Figure 1-2
) is not always exclusively a linear path. Given the busyness of our lives, the distractions we experience, and how our physical and electronic worlds are constantly evolving, there will always be ways to improve productivity.
Even after mastering a productivity level, it is helpful to revisit each level occasionally. It’s easy to backslide and fall into old habits, especially when life gets extremely busy. It’s important to check whether you continue to implement the systems you have in place. Other times you might want to backslide on purpose. You may need to reassess whether the systems you have in place are meeting your current needs. Particularly with the speed at which technology evolves, a tool that worked very well for a while could be made obsolete by a new app or program that better aligns with your methods of managing electronic information or your time. New strategies and capabilities introduce new tactics for increasing your productivity. As the scope of your goals and the resulting activities change, you might need different systems to accommodate those differences in what you do.
In most cases, when I start working with a client, the most pressing needs for improving productivity are quickly apparent. The exact needs and the outcome will be as varied as the people who undertake their own journey toward peak productivity. Not every path is a smooth one.
Cindy was very challenged by change. A short time after our initial project together, her business expanded and she was preparing to move from her home office into a professional office park. She asked for my help in setting up her new environment before the move, so that it would be ready to handle her expanding business needs.
To start, we set up a well-planned physical structure, using shelving, filing cabinets, and other storage containers. We revisited systems for sorting and filing documents. We looked at the business’s electronic files and established filing systems that mirrored their physical counterparts. We created a shared electronic calendar for all employees and developed processes and systems for training new hires. When we finished, it was a state-of-the-art business setup.
It wasn’t long, though, before Cindy called and told me that she needed more help. Once again she was buried by physical clutter, her e-mail and electronic scheduling systems were disorganized, and she was failing to execute effectively on her business deliverables. My first reaction was to assume that the systems we’d chosen weren’t working for her, but upon further analysis it was clear that she just wasn’t ready to embrace change. The lesson learned is that unless you are ready for change, and are willing to implement and learn the systems you put in place, the papers will continue to pile up, e-mail will continue to overwhelm you, and deadlines will continually be missed. Unless you commit to the process, you may never find out what other changes would help you to be more productive and help you achieve your greater goals.
I met John when I first moved into town. He was a forty-year-old successful entrepreneur, and we hit it off right away, so we stayed in touch.
By coincidence, he appr...