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Organize Your Work in 2009

Organize Your Work in 2009

reginaleeds

    Regina Leeds, the best-selling author of One Year to an Organized Life: From Your Desk to Your Deadlines, the Week-by-Week Guide to Eliminating Office Stress for Good, has a brand new book out that might come in handy as you work on getting your work organized for 2009. It’s called One Year to An Organized Work Life — and it’s different from a lot of the self-help, get-yourself-organized books that are out there.

    There are two factors in this book that convinced me it would be useful to just about anyone. Most important is Regina’s approach: she’s known as the Zen Organizer, and her books are all about getting organized with a Zen approach. Don’t worry — that doesn’t mean that she expects readers to get touchy-feely about which drawer their paperclips go into. Instead, Regina’s references to Zen are a matter of focusing on eliminating stress. The philosophy of Zen is about creating calm — an impossibility when you’re stressed out over a messy desk or a disorganized calendar. To reach a more Zen-like state, Regina walks readers through getting rid of some of that stress.

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    The second factor that makes Regina’s book stand out is the fact that while the book has the word ‘work’ in the title, it takes a holistic approach. Regina makes it clear that a person can’t get his or her work life organized but still be unproductive at home. She quotes a Zen proverb:

    …the way a man does one thing is the way he does everything.

    Throughout the book, Regina makes a point of giving readers the tools to organize their entire lives, even if their current focus is work. After all, you can’t just stop being organized when you leave the office each evening.

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    The Twelve Month Guide

    One Year to an Organized Work Life is organized in twelve chapters, one for each month. Each chapter is broken down even further into individual weeks. For each month, Regina sets out a work habit and a home habit for readers to work on developing. For January, for example, readers are asked to leave their desks every day for at least five minutes and to make their beds at home.

    At first glance, these habits may seem to have little to do with getting yourself organized. Even the work habit is counter-intuitive: you’d think that doing something at your desk is more likely to get your stuff organized faster. But there is a reason behind Regina’s approach. Moving around for five minutes refreshes both your mind and body after hours of staring at paperwork — and knowing that you can step away from your desk for even a few minutes can reduce your stress over trying to deal with everything that has built up.

    But why a home habit? The book is about work, right? Regina includes home habits as a part of that holistic approach I mentioned. If your home is more organized and less stressful, making the transition between home and work is that much easier. In both cases, Regina sets forth relatively simple habits. She also provides some simple advice on developing a new habit, including the advice to repeat the same action every day for 21 days to make it habitual.

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    The Weekly Tasks

    In addition to monthly habits, Regina offers small tasks for readers to complete each week. These tasks range from something you can knock out in thirty minutes to something you may need to dedicate two hours to. The tasks vary: some involve setting goals, others cover reviewing your filing system. Regina devotes several pages to each task, making sure to provide readers with all the tools necessary to complete each task as well as explaining why the task will be useful.

    We are talking about 52 individual tasks here, as well as 24 habits. It seems like a lot of work. I bet some prospective readers are already wondering whether it’s worth their while to spend the next year with One Year to an Organized Life. I think it can be worth the effort, though: setting out to get organized is very difficult without any kind of roadmap. You have to organize your organizational plans and it’s easy to get discouraged in the process. But Regina’s book lays out a clear approach. It might not be the approach you would have planned for yourself, but eliminating the planning phase can get you on the road to organization a lot faster.

    I think Regina’s background has allowed her to create a logical approach to organizing work: she started working as a professional organizer in 1988. While Regina has done a lot of organizing homes, she’s also helped a long list of business professionals get their work under control. While organizing might not be an exact science, Regina has had the opportunity to see what actually works in the real world — and to find out where the pitfalls are. Her book acts as a roadmap around those problems.

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    Finding the Book

    You can find One Year to an Organized Work Life on Amazon, as well as at many brick-and-mortar book stores. It is published by Da Capo Press and weighs in at 304 pages. You can find more information about Regina at her personal website.

    While I might not recommend Regina’s book for every reader, I do think it’s a good basic route to getting your work organized. If that’s one of your goals for 2009, One Year to an Organized Work Life will get you going.

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    Last Updated on August 20, 2019

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

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    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

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    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

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    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

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    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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