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MCLEOD: Three keys to getting yourself organized

What is lack of organization costing you?

According to The Wall Street Journal the average worker wastes about an hour a day looking for missing information in messy desks and files.

That’s 20 hours a month, or six working weeks a year lost to disorganization. Said another way, if you got more organized, you could take a month off work every year and still get in an extra two weeks of productivity.

We know what being disorganized feels like. Lost files, missed deadlines, piled up dishes and frantically reacting to everything around you without ever accomplishing any of your real goals.

We usually tolerate the chaos, until something hits the breakpoint. Then, the lost client, misplaced jewelry, or missed opportunity propels us to action.

We head off the Target in search to storage bins, or the office store for a new calendar and filing system. Or we get a smart phone. Surely an iPhone will help us get more organized.

For a while our new system works. But then our old habits return and within a few months (or days) we’re surrounded by the piles.

Why? It’s because we started with the stuff.

The real secret of getting organized has nothing to do with file folders or alphabetizing your spice drawer, it’s about getting clear on what you want out of life.

I’ve spent my fair share of time sorting and resorting piles of clothing or papers. But I never got truly organized until I took a long hard look at my business and my life, and decided what success looked like in both arenas.

You have to create a mental framework for yourself before you can start working on a physical one. Instead of hoping to create success and happiness by organizing your stuff, you need to define what success and happiness mean for you.

Here’s a three-step success template we use with our clients:

1. What’s your purpose? This is a big question and the answer may be a moving target. But unless you have a reason for getting out of bed, your life is going to be nothing but a grind. Thinking about what mark you want to leave in the world is the only way to clarify your priorities.

2. Where do you want to play? You have a zillion to-do’s. But which ones are truly important: to the bottom line, to your staff, to your family, to your spirit? Identify the 5-7 core areas that have biggest impact. In our business, spending time with clients is the single most productive thing I do. As a mother, one-on-one conversations with my daughters have a huge payback.

3. What are your success priorities? Look at your seven or eight important activities, how much time are you spending in each of these areas? If your answer is not enough, the problem isn’t your file folders. It’s learning how to allocate your time.

I posted my seven core success areas on a white board in my office. Every time I pick up a piece of paper, set an appointment or start buy something, I look at the list and ask, is this going to create success? If not, why the heck am I doing it, buying it, or touching it?

When you know what’s important to you, it’s a lot easier to organize the good stuff, and part with the useless junk.

Lisa Earle McLeod is the author of several books, including “Selling with Noble Purpose: How to Drive Revenue and Do Work That Makes You Proud.”