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Organizing Paper and Information: 7 Mistakes that Sabotage Your Productivity

Organizing Paper and Information: 7 Mistakes that Sabotage Your Productivity

As Professional Organizers helping people organize their home offices and workspaces, here are the 7 biggest information-organizing mistakes we see in our work with clients– are you making these mistakes too?

Paper

    1. Not knowing the difference between “Action” & “Reference”

    This concept is very important for beginning to get through your piles. You need to separate out paper and information that requires action from information that simply needs to be kept for possible future needs.

    2. Not having a standard contact management system

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    Do you have a combination of scraps of paper, rubber-banded stacks of business cards, your e-mail address book, and a paper address book? Decide on one system and put everything in one place.

    3. Equipment and supplies making it difficult to file

    Many people have poor quality filing cabinets that create barriers to effective and timely filing of your paperwork. We often see drawers that stick or don’t work correctly, making you just not want to open the drawer at all. Purchasing quality filing supplies is also important. We often see cheap hanging folders coming apart, causing the metal piece to fall out (and your papers too).


    4. Not dealing with paper and information on a regular basis

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    What is your tolerance for doing dishes? Do you let your sink pile up until it feels overwhelming? Probably not… most people do their dishes daily. We teach people that their inbox or mail basket is just like their kitchen sink! The mail is just going to keep coming, and letting it stack up is just going to make it feel worse.

    5. Not having a secure home for your passwords

    It’s important to keep your passwords secure and change them often, but if you don’t have a system for tracking them, it’s very easy to forget the information. There are many password-keeper software programs on the market that are secure, encrypted, and require only one master password to unlock all of your other information. Our favorites are SplashID (for PDA users), Password Agent, and Password Depot.

    Remember, it’s crucial for someone else to know this information if you were to get hit by the proverbial bus. Tell someone you trust how to find your information.

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    6. Keeping too much for too long

    Probably the most frequently-asked question we hear is about how long to keep papers. In general, tax supporting documents like bank statements can be shredded after seven years, according to most experts. But it’s advisable to save the tax return itself indefinitely, and investment and real estate documents may need to be kept forever as well. You need to check with your attorney or accountant to be completely certain about your unique situation.

    7. Not backing up your computer

    We are always shocked at how many people do not back up their data. The question is not if your hard drive will fail, it’s when! Are you prepared? A good backup system should be:

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    • Secure– reliable and safe from hackers and prying eyes
    • Automated– so you won’t procrastinate or forget
    • Remote– in case of fire or disaster

    We usually recommend www.backuphelp.com or www.ibackup.com. These reasonably-priced services have saved the neck of more than one of our clients!

    Lorie Marrero is a Professional Organizer and creator of The Clutter Diet, an innovative, affordable online program for home organization. Lorie’s site helps members lose “Clutter-Pounds” from their home by providing online access to her team of organizers. Lorie writes something useful, funny, interesting, and/or insanely practical every few days or so in the Clutter Diet Blog. She lives in Austin, TX, where her company has provided hands-on organizing services to clients since 2000.

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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