Sucking at Organization and Tips on Sucking Less

messy businessMy house is a safe haven for OCD. Bed made, linens neatly folded in the linen closet, dishes and cups in the cupboard (all pointed the same direction and all white). At first glance, I’m absurdly organized. What you really don’t want to do is go down to my basement.

Consider my house a casserole. On top, you see a lovely, most uniform blanket of baked cheese (mmmmmm cheese). But when you cut into the fucker, all hell breaks loose.

My basement is the place where Things I Can’t Deal With go. Things like everything that happens to be on my kitchen counters and the bar when company is coming over. Boxes I haven’t gone through in years. Boxes I haven’t gone through in years that I randomly decide to go through on a Saturday afternoon and then leave strewn all over the floor after I extract an orange pen found hiding amongst the piles*.

* this pen generally ends up on the kitchen counter as I run outside to tell the dogs to quit barking, starting the entire kitchen-counter-crap-cycle once again.

My desk is clean. The drawers are filled with various administrative vomit.

In short (actually, not so short), I suck at organization. But I’m trying to get better.

Business is never pretty and I use this blog to share both the dark and the light. Today, I’ll share a few things I’m doing to make my business less casserole and more cafeteria meal on a partitioned tray. Organization is important, and what I’m finding is that you have to find a system that works for you.

My Struggles, My Current Solutions

Receipts and expenses: What do I spend? On what do I spend it? Dear god, what IS this pile of tiny pieces of paper and why do they fucking matter?! I said to hell with it and bought a Neat Receipts. 30-day free trial (not an affiliate link), 4 installment payments. It’s super fun to have it slurp up my receipts, extract all of the necessary information, and with a click or two, I categorize that shit like a librarian on a cocaine bender at a card catalog. I place the receipts in an envelope, flat, in order of scanning. Envelope goes in the file cabinet (yes, I’m a Luddite).

My calendar: Who the hell scheduled all of these meetings and calls back-to-back? Yeah, that would be me. I am capable of colossally fucking up my calendar. Before I know it, I’m bogged down for the better part of the day and wondering when I’m going to actually get WORK done.  So how have I made strides to fix that? I say no. I understand urgency. I understand the need to have a short discussion (which generally translates into a lengthier one). But I offer when I am available and I dont feel bad for saying that I’m not. Because I have to work — that shit pays the bills. And if we can’t talk or meet until next week because I’m taking care of clients who are paying me to take care of shit, that’s the shit.

Money: This is an area in which I am perhaps most organized. I know who owes, for what, and how long it’s been since I’ve asked them to pay me. I use Harvest as my invoicing tool and have been most happy with them for nearly three years. Fast, simple, and I can even print out TYD statements that are most useful for things like creating a P&L statement or sharing with a mortgage broker or apartment complex when trying to lease/buy a new home. I also like reviewing them from time to time, seeing who pays on time, what my income trends are year over year, and most importantly where the everliving fuck my money is going after I pay contractors and expenses on jobs. If you run a business and don’t know where your money goes, you’re in for a rude awakening at the worst possible time. Also, standardize your billing. Are you up front? In arrears? Make it universal for every client. No exceptions. (Take my word for it on this one).

My car: While resigning myself to the fact that my recently acquired automobile looks something like a suppository, it is equipped with Bluetooth. This means I can drive and talk, which is very useful. Any call that does not require me to be in front of my computer is generally scheduled or dialed spontaneously from the car, allowing me to get somewhere and get shit done at the same time. It’s a great time to check in on clients, say hello, call my mom, call the vet’s office — anything, really. And with voice-activated dialing, I can drive instead of jacking with my phone.

Tasks: I am a complete and utter Luddite in the task realm, preferring handwritten lists over digital reminder tools any day. In the past, I spaced tasks. But here’s my list method — each morning, I make a new list of Shit to Do. I cross things off as they are done. At the end of the day, I take everything from the list that’s not done and create the next day’s list along with anything else that’s nagging me to get done. This way, I always have a list and the associated glee I find in crossing each item off as I slay tasks like a hot chick in a skimpy warrior costume on a B TV series on the WB.

It ain’t rocket science, but it does take paying attention. You don’t know how messed up your business is until you find yourself burnt out from working 17 hours a day on account of your inability to organize things. And also of note, I’m reading Jason Womack’s Your Best Just Got Better. Worth the price and probably the best guide I’ve read on how to IMPROVE the organizational side of your business. Steven Covey can take a flying leap — Jason’s got this shit on lockdown.


16 replies
  1. Lou Moran
    Lou Moran says:

    Post-Its are my best productivity tool.  My desk is littered with them.  When I’m done with them I throw them out.  When my desk is clear I can go home.  It’s not the greatest system in the world but it manages to get me to run a 20 person IT Department in a ~billion dollar company.

  2. Amy
    Amy says:

    This is so great Erika!  I am a Professional Organizer, but often call myself the UnPerfect Organizer because life is messy and not lined up in neat little rows.  
    Love this!  Thanks for sharing.

  3. Angi Harper
    Angi Harper says:

    I was in a job once where I had a chance to work with a professional organizer in exchange for writing about the experience. FANtastic. She talked to me for a long time to figure out how my brain worked and then gave me organizational tools that worked with MY brain. For instance – no file cabinet because once it is put away it might as well be thrown away. My files are hanging, color coded, on my desk. And she sat there while I threw away about six garbage bags of stuff I was holding onto because I was avoiding the guilt of getting rid of it.

    If you can afford it, it is worth every penny.

  4. MegCarpen
    MegCarpen says:

    See, this is what I mean when I say I think you’re in my head somedays. This weekend my boyfriend and I started weeding out all the old clutter, and discussing what we’re keeping and what we’re leaving when moving time comes (we’re leaving a lot more than we’re keeping). I think I remember reading somewhere that organization helps people think clearer, but I can’t remember where. I do notice if everything is organized it leaves me fewer ways to procrastinate what I really need to be focusing on.
    I prefer paper lists too. I keep a legal pad on my desk with tasks, and use post-its as bookmarks in it (for those dreaded times when I go beyond a page of current to-dos.) Once I’m done I can file or recycle the whole damn thing.

  5. LegalTypist
    LegalTypist says:

    You know I love ya!

    Instead of just a to do list – try a notebook. Date each page upper right (like in school) and put all your notes for that day (including a list of to dos) on it.  Put a huge check mark through anything that needs to get transferred to something digital (like your calendar or contacts) after you have done so.

    Writing places stuff in the brain in a way no other method of recording information can.

    Have you seen my guide:  DAFT Your Way to Organized? I’m revamping it to be …. OH!!  CALL ME!!!!

  6. Jack Grover
    Jack Grover says:

    It’s not that I don’t know what methods are available to help keep me organized and on track. Hell, I own all of them. On every device. Collecting the equivalent of digital dust. No, what I need is someone to call me at the same time every morning to walk through the day’s priorities, make sure they are all logged properly so I stay on task, and then review the day’s events sometime in the evening. Really. I want that person. I’ll pay that person.  

  7. John Heaney
    John Heaney says:

    It’s not that I don’t know what methods are available to help keep me organized and on track. Hell, I own all of them. On every device. Collecting the equivalent of digital dust. No, what I need is someone to call me at the same time every morning to walk through the day’s priorities, make sure they are all logged properly so I stay on task, and then review the day’s events sometime in the evening. Really. I want that person. I’ll pay that person.  
    Any professional organizer, GTD, Get Off YourAss type consultants out there?

  8. Larry S. Evans II
    Larry S. Evans II says:

    Set my sights on “being better organized” about six-to-eight months ago as part of coming out of a long series of health issues. It’s a process, because old habits don’t just die hard, you have to run them through the wood chipper and burn the remains. 

    I bought into the “digital organizer” concept back in the mid 1990s, but truthfully I’ve not availed myself of it’s full potential until recently, because the technology “gaps” were not acceptable. That is, the means of EASILY and SECURELY making the information truly portable, synchronized, and uniform just wasn’t out there. 

    I finally broke down and bought a tablet, and synced it to my appointments, tasks,  and e-mail (which are also synced across two workstations and a laptop now).  I don’t have a smart phone because a) my paws are of sufficient dimensions that I required the tablet, and b) my phone works very well as a phone, and since that’s pretty much what I use it for, then I really didn’t need something else. 

    I’m still a Luddite with financial information, because I’ve been through drive crashes, fires, and floods, and know that even in our ideal paperless world there still needs to be a secure hardcopy somewhere. I do not do accounting “in the cloud”. I will use paper ledgers first. I really don’t care if Google (and all the fine folks who work for Google and it’s subcontractors and their affiliates and their subcontractors ) knows I’m having lunch with friends, but they are not going to know my gross margin on that last sale. 

    My greatest challenge is that in Houston we do not have basements, so it is necessary to have rooms in the house which are used to store “hurry up, people are coming over” materials. The problem is that you end up needing to use those rooms. Any ideas on that, Red? 

  9. Victoria
    Victoria says:

    I can relate to the veneer of organization…my closets need a serious adjustment. It’s where I throw all my crap when people are coming over and I don’t feel like actually cleaning.

    But the important question, Erika, is…where did you get that awesome fucking purple chair? 

  10. Jen Hollywood-Showell
    Jen Hollywood-Showell says:

    She said, ” My basement is the place where Things I Can’t Deal With go.  Things like everything that happens to be on my kitchen counters and the bar when company is coming over.”

    Isn’t that the best?  Just toss the mess out of sight.  Until we need a beer from the basement fridge and are terrified someone may glance down the steps at the nightmare that is below deck.

  11. Jennifer Newell
    Jennifer Newell says:

    Love, love, love this list, Erika. Absolutely awesome. I kind of agree with the Luddite task list; it helps me the best. I keep a bound journal for those kinds of task lists.

    My mom has been trying to convince my father to get Neat. I think they should. It seems pretty good for under $300. Any other helping tips to sway my father?

  12. Stacy Lukasavitz
    Stacy Lukasavitz says:

    Once again, a post of yours comes at the PERFECT time for me, as I struggle to get my own shit organized. I’m starting to think that we live parallel lives but in different time zones or something in a universe where the sun goes from W to E, because you’re always ahead of me when it comes to this shit but only by a few hours. 

    Thanks. 🙂 

  13. Amy
    Amy says:

    I too cannot function without a handwritten to list. I have tried all kinds of digital fuckery to no avail. Same goes for my calendar.


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