Column: Your Organizing Guru Cheryl Lowitzer


3 Essential Keys to Getting and Staying Organized: Part III

Several months ago, we began talking about the formula for getting and staying organized:

Methodology + Tools + Maintenance = A Productive Environment

  1. Methodology – a way to think about something
  2. Tools – ones you like and will use
  3. Maintenance – answering the question “What will you do?”

The result of applying this formula is A Productive Environment — a setting in which everything around you supports who you are and who you want to be professionally and personally.

No one likes to think about maintenance – but obviously, unless we figure out how we can maintain any system, it will fail. I can buy a luxury car, yet if I don’t perform the necessary maintenance, it will soon cease to function and lose its value. We can go to Nemacolin Spa to shed unwanted pounds but unless we come home committed to daily exercise and good eating habits we wind up right back in the same tight pair of jeans. So, maintenance is truly nothing more and nothing less than a set of habits or behaviors we are willing to engage in CONSISTENTLY to achieve the results we desire.

When it comes to keeping our physical environment organized, whether it’s our workplace or our home, a certain amount of maintenance is mandatory. The key to successful maintenance is a CLEAR understanding of what we ARE and ARE NOT willing to do to keep our cars, our bodies, our offices and our homes working in ways that support us in bringing our BEST to each day.

If you’ve taken the time to choose a method that makes sense to you and have the right tools in place to suit your situation and personality, the GOOD NEWS is that maintenance will take less time and effort than ever before.

The “secret” to maintaining anything is certainly no mystery, whether we’re talking about a SYSTEM (Saves You Stress Time Energy Money), our health, our relationships or our stuff:

1.     Understand it: what level of maintenance is required to achieve your vision for the car you drive, the body you inhabit, the space you work in, and the place you call home?

2.     Schedule it: we make appointments to get the oil changed in our car; we’ve all heard how important it is to schedule time on our calendars to go to the gym and fans of FLYLady Marla Cilley know when to work on which cleaning zones in their homes.

Are you WILLING to set aside 15 minutes before your day begins or ends to develop the simple habits of routine office maintenance that will keep your life running as smoothly as filling the tank and changing the oil regularly do for your car? 

3.     Do it: we’ve all heard a certain sporting shoe manufacturer’s tag line enough that it can almost be said to be “overdone”. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? “Just do it!” So, why don’t we just “DO” whatever it is we feel we “should” do? Because the true “winners” in life know it’s not about “shoulding on” themselves. It’s about knowing and committing to what they are WILLING to do achieve their goals. Whatever your goals, why not conduct your own productive environment experiment? Choose one or more of the following ideas and see what happens if you take the 21 Day Challenge to adopt a daily or weekly workplace maintenance routine :

a.      Desktop: Loose papers on your desk: before you begin your day and end it, decide to DECIDE and remember, there are ONLY three decisions TO make: FILE, ACT (and that may simply mean you place something in a date or project specific folder/tickler file) or TOSS any loose papers sitting on your desk?

b.     Calendar:  Scan and plan the day/week ahead for upcoming appointments and consider what you can (are willing to) do to avoid feeling rushed or unprepared going into them?

c.      Identify your TOP 3 priorities EVERY DAY: write down on an index card the 3 things that will make a meaningful, positive difference that day; keep this card in front of you so you can refer back to it after any interruptions and quickly get back on track.

d.     Empty the OUT box: what can you transport/deliver/ drop off or mail to the location that is more appropriate for it than your workspace?

e.      Deal with your TO FILE box: if you thought it was important enough to keep, it’s important enough to file so you can easily find it when you do need it again. When there are only 1-6 items in it, just FILE them. If it’s overflowing, either schedule time on your calendar to file yourself, or DELEGATE this task. In fact, if you’re using a file indexing system, you’ll soon discover the freedom of being able to delegate filing to any 10 year old interested in earning a bit of pocket money!!

Ever wonder why those top level athletes we adore seem able to train for their events day in/day out under any conditions? For no other reason than they happen to have a much clearer idea than most of us of their desired results and have been trained to use the power of VISION to help them reach their goals. Do you have a vivid image of what success will look, feel, smell, sound and even taste like (perhaps the Champagne you’ll uncork on that special anniversary?) to motivate you to maintain your systems?   

In closing this series, I’m willing to bet that if you approach income tax season with confidence, it’s because you apply the formula that’s been our topic in the past 3 issues.  You use a METHOD you like + TOOLS that work for you + you MAINTAIN your system consistently. Your RESULT is a relatively painless experience of filing your taxes. If that’s not your experience, there’s no better time to put the formula in place than right NOW for next year!!  

——————————————————————————————————————————Cheryl A. Lowitzer serves on the board of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO, Pittsburgh chapter). She is a certified Paper Tiger Authorized Consultant™ (PTAC™) personally trained and mentored by Barbara Hemphill and the Paper Tiger Productivity Institute. For help finding and working in your Productivity Zone, contact Ms. Lowitzer at 412.231.2127 or via email:

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