It’s not often that I see an approach to organizing that is totally novel, but it happened when I worked in LA last fall. I helped a client organize a home office that was adjacent to her master bedroom. As I was frittering away with supplies in the office, she was slowly covering her bed and bedroom floor in at least a dozen piles of paper, each no more than a couple inches thick. She was certain that she could mostly conquer the paper on her own, and needed me to mastermind and execute better space planning for the room and its supplies. My tendency is to gravitate towards the paper end of things, so I kept picking up papers, but she kept assuring me that she had this. She not only could do it alone, but she needed to.
It was about halfway through the project that I noticed these shallow piles spreading across the surfaces. Then, something brilliant happened; she started numbering them! Immediately I understood her master plan. She was going to use the numbers to focus her on each pile, not moving onto the next until she completed this one.
Sometimes clients need willpower, tough love, getting fed up, right timing, or a major life event such as a move to get them to move the needle. This is where I learned that what most people need is FOCUS. The numbers focused her. She couldn’t lilly pad jump from one pile to the next. She had to follow the sequence of just clearing these few papers without getting distracted by what was sitting in the next pile, as nearly all my clients do. It reminded me of my old post, Say this out loud before getting out of your chair, where I shared my words “Let’s finish this first” to help one client break through her tendency to start too many projects at once.
If I remember correctly, there wasn’t much rhyme or reason to the contents of the individual piles. Though it would be nice if there were mindfully grouped (bills, medical, reading, house, etc.), but they needn’t be. In fact, I like how she let herself off the hook to do even that level of a crude sort. This was mostly a visual sort. This could not have been simpler - and it worked. The piles weren’t gone by the time I left, but most were, and I was certain that she would continue at this pace after I left. This could not have been simpler - and it worked.
If you’re stuck on where to begin sorting, I can’t think of a more straightforward assignment. Cut out some scrap paper and boldly number each pile, allowing yourself to move on only once the one in front of you has dissipated.
Can you see yourself numbering your piles to help you focus on clearing one pile at a time? How many piles do you think it would take to feel like you’ve made major progress in your most paper-filled room? Please share in the comments!