14 consultations in 3 days: What my clients learned

I typically work in 3 hour sessions, allowing me to see 1-2 clients per day. Earlier this month I travelled to Jackson, Mississippi to work with 14 school administrators and staff in just three days. The Head of Christ Covenant School, Cathy, arranged for her team to each work with me in hopes that they would get organized as a whole for the upcoming school year, being better able to focus on serving their students. 

Some needed hands-on help with paper, some needed digital organization guidance, while others needed help with routines and time management.  I was met with the most eager team who saw these sessions as the treat they were. Everyone was so appreciative for Cathy’s creative way to give back to her team: Inspired Office consultations for everyone!

We started with back to back presentations on office organizing and workflow, giving everyone a sampling of where all we could focus our limited time.  I proceeded to work in 1-2 hour “power sessions.” Just as with my clients at home, every office and every set of questions was different. It was a true microcosm of my work as an organizer: a laboratory where I could suddenly grasp the scope of what I do and have to offer.

Personally, I learned that my strengths are in quickly seeing categories that tie together and solve the puzzle of a space.  Proper categories are the backbone of an organized space. You’ll see an example of that in stories #1 and #2.

I never set out to be a time management and productivity consultant, but my clients have shaped me into one. Crafting smarter to do lists and building tight routines was as major a theme in Mississippi as it is at home. W.H. Auden said, "Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition.” This was as ambitious a crowd as any.  You’ll read about one client’s short journey towards a magical routine in #4.

My ability to listen deeply was reinforced.  In most 1 hour power sessions, 45+ minutes were spent with me asking questions, scribbling a smattering of notes, and together, the two of us grabbing the solution seemingly out of thin air!  Solutions flew in at the last minute, but they made us giddy every time and they worked.  Here is a set of stories of lessons learned, in hopes that you too can transform your office and mind as did Cathy’s team at Christ Covenant.  

If you know of a school or company who could benefit from a similar multi-day offering of power sessions, please let me know

1 - A smart set of categories is something worth anticipating.

In Mississippi I found someone who is as excited about categories as I am.  The day before my session with Martha, the Admissions Director, she said:

“I can’t wait to see what my categories are!” 

Word had spread that I could extract crystal clear, creative categories that make it all come together.  You would have thought I was going to reveal her future or an extreme kitchen makeover!  Sure enough, a little package of categories was delivered and Martha’s file drawer was extremely made over.  Almost as exciting as a kitchen makeover! 

2 - Radical change can happen in hours or minutes, not days.

Kathy, the Head of the School’s Administrative Assistant wears many hats, and her office showed it.  She was eager to have a system that allowed her to grab and drop things at a moment’s notice, without being too complicated or fussy.  Kathy and I collectively had 4 hours together, so luckily she was decisive and eager!

Walking in for the first time I immediately saw the culprit: she had TOO many systems. This is common.  There was a smattering of good products used poorly and bad products in the way. Our focus became threefold:

1. See the space’s main strength. In this case it was her long counter.
2. Recognize the client’s habits (without trying to change them).
3. Recognize which systems weren’t working.

The result: file boxes for each of her “hats,” her to-dos, and another independent project. Armed with the understanding of how many file boxes to have and precisely how to define them, Kathy moved mountains between our day 1 and day 3 sessions.  She swiftly filled them, passed along the products that didn’t make the cut, and tossed the rest!  We also squeezed in a lesson on Evernote so she could do the same for her digital life.  That part doesn’t photograph so well, so here’s the office!: 

Before

After

3 - It’s important to pause to define what was just learned

Working with so many people in three days, the ideas, breakthroughs, and inspiration were flying at me so fast. Thankfully I had a way to capture the essence of helping each individual.  At the onset I decided to do a micro exit interview at the end of each session.  The answers were pure gold.

Favorite answers to “What did you learn?"

- “I had too many systems."
- “It’s doable!"
- “I have more control over my space than I had realized."

Favorite answers to “What surprised you?"

- “A-ha moment of how my to do list doesn’t have to look the same every day."
- “It’s not about the space you have, but how you deal with it."
- “How many double files I had!"

Favorite answers to “What will you do differently?"

- “File with ease because of new categories."
- “Weekly, use the fresh environment of a coffee shop to do specific tasks."
- “Be more intentional about dropping and retrieving things.  Take the extra minute."

4 - There’s great power in setting a simple routine

I heard the best testimonial anyone could ever give an organizer:

"You did in 15 minutes what I’ve been trying 15 years to do."

The Lower School Division Head said this after a breakthrough. You would have thought we had excavated a a junk closet or filing cabinet.  To the naked eye, nothing in her office actually changed. A discussion about how best to capture her ideas and to dos that fly through her head led us to talk about the things she would like to make time for and how to set priorities.  I had just taken a minute to sketch out a potential checklist and fill-in-the-blank style weekly routine sheet that would help her set priorities and make more time for face-to-face interactions.  

This was testament to the fact that sometimes the most powerful change:

A) Can happen extremely fast.
B) Happens with words and listening, not with doing.
C) Is in generating hope, a very real deliverable.  She calls it “My hope pad." 

5 - Most popular product: pocket folders

I’m used to having a trunkful of supplies on-hand, so Cathy offered to order anything I expected I might need.  I had her order the usual:

- Open top file boxes
- Transparent file folders
- Pocket folders
- Hanging folders & classic file folders 

There was no predicting that pocket folders would be the most used product!  (File boxes were a close second). They are my #1 ally in the fight against the common "to do" pile.  Given that the team’s needs leaned towards organizing time, rather than paper and stuff, most conversations led us towards defining what customized to-do categories would land in each pocket.   

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Office Organizing Expert Kacy Paide loves to do what most people hate: organize offices & paper.

She works with folks who are desperate for a more functional, more beautiful, more inspiring office. Kacy has been a Professional Organizer since 2001 and has worked with over 500 clients. Call her crazy, but she loves a good mess and wants to fix yours. Learn her time-tested solutions in her eBook, The Inspired Office: Organize Your Life One Paper at a Time. Based in Silver Spring, MD, Kacy is nationally available for consulting & speaking.