A roadmap for organization Featured

9:32am EDT July 22, 2002

The paperless office is a hopeful fantasy of many a business in this electronic age.

But according to the HP Internet Printing Index 2000, workers print an average of 32 pages a day from the Internet. Add to that the 40 billion sheets of paper from fax machines each year in the United States and Canada, and the question becomes, what to do with all that paper.

These sheets of paper end up in one of our many ever-growing piles, awaiting an undetermined fate. The piles tend to become familiar and forgotten parts of the office landscape --- that important phone number, the file needed to answer a question, information on next week's seminar, all stacked to oblivion.

Sandra Einstein, president of e=mc2 organizing & coaching consultants inc., is intimately acquainted with the phenomena.

"We are inundated with paper and don't know what to do with it," she says.

Einstein is a professional organizer and consultant who works with businesses and individuals looking to better manage the chaos and clutter. Here are some of her tips to get your office in shape.

Admit you have a problem

Consider flourish, a West 6th Street graphic design firm with three designers who have three different work backgrounds and three different approaches to problems.

"Graphic designers work organically ... very left brain, so our strong points are usually not organization," explains flourish partner Christopher Ferranti.

The problem arose when the company discovered that as workflow increased, so did disorganization.

"We would find a place for things, but we couldn't respond quick enough. Things weren't accessible," explains designer Jing Lauengco.

Magazines found semipermanent homes on someone's desk without being read or catalogued and photographs, slides and artwork were nowhere to be found when a client called about the status of a project. If the business was going to continue to grow its infrastructure and maintain a commitment to customer service, the trio needed some consistency.

"We wanted to grow instead of maintaining a plateau," Ferranti says. "The business was becoming overwhelmed and we wanted to take the business to the next level."

Have you seen my ... time?

Einstein describes organization as "an investment in time." The more a business grows, the faster the pace becomes and the more time that is lost. Disorganization takes time out of the day, whether it's time spent trying to locate information or time lost by not correctly prioritizing tasks.

Flourish was losing time, but its principals weren't ready to cut back on their workload. Instead, they just worked more.

"Our professional and personal lives were blurring," explains Lauengco.

Einstein's answer?

"You need things out, centers and different areas designated," she says. "The best thing is to keep what you're working on close to you."

She suggested that flourish streamline its processes and establish project boxes -- big orange and translucent boxes able to hold everything needed for a project. That put everything associated with a project in a central area and properly labeled.

F.A.T. -- file, act or toss

A place for everything and everything in its place: Knowing where everything is can save time and increase productivity to an extent, but it doesn't matter if you don't know what to do with it when you find it.

That's where F.A.T. comes in.

F.A.T. -- file, act or toss -- is the professional organizer's standard of prioritizing. Everything in an office should go into one of these categories. File and toss are self-explanatory, and anything in the act category goes into the action file.

Once in the action file, the decision becomes placing it in the do, make a call, wait or designate folder.

"For 90 to 95 percent of my clients, I recommend an action file," Einstein says. "Some clients are not focused, always moving from one project to another or working on too many at one time."

You can't go out until your room is clean

A big part of organizing is setting and maintaining goals.

"Organization is a process," says flourish partner Henry Frey. "It helps to be accountable to some one else."

Coaching is only part of Einstein's job. She also helps her clients create and maintain goals. Flourish, for example, has homework. Einstein monitors its progress with follow-up meetings and occasional phone calls.

Skeptical at first, flourish now swears by Einstein's services.

"Sandy has put time back in our day," explains Lauengco. "It is compounded because it's also a lifestyle change."

So what is the key to organization? It's specific to each individual or business.

But, Einstein says, "Think about moving forward, think about what you need to do, don't just put it on your desk." How to reach: e=mc2 organizing & coaching consultants inc., (440) 423-1787

Kim Palmer (kpalmer@sbnnet.com) is associate editor at SBN.