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Get Organized!

DR. FRANK BUCK: A simple hack to clear the clutter (column)

Is this policy manual the current version? Do I really need to keep the contents of this box? Anybody know what this thing is?

Are you asking these questions as you move into your office to begin a new job? Are you asking these questions in the home you’ve lived in for a decade? The clutter may have taken over rooms or it may have merely taken over a corner. But clutter is clutter, and it only gets worse the longer it’s left unaddressed.

During my career in education, I held five different positions. Each time, the first order of business was cleaning out and organizing the space left by my predecessor. Generally, those on the way out aren’t as conscientious about having everything neat and organized as the person coming in.

When you are new to the job

As you organize, anything you pick up will fall into one of two categories: 1) you need it; or 2) you don’t. Toss the junk and organize the treasure. But, in the early days, it’s hard to distinguish one from the other. As a result, we hang onto it all and wonder why we can never find anything amid the clutter.

Time tends to answer those questions. Today, the folder that looks like junk may turn out to be the folder you will be looking for next week.

You come across a box of keys. Nobody has any idea which locks they fit. A month later, you encounter that locked storage room. Nobody has a key. A match turns up in that box of orphaned keys. Aren’t you glad that box of keys spent some time in “bulk” before being thrown out?

Establish a ‘bulk’ space

A “bulk” space is a place to toss any questionable item until you can make a better decision about its usefulness and where it needs to live. The decisions are small but necessary ones.

The bulk space can be a designated shelf in a storage closet or cabinet. It can be an empty drawer in a filing cabinet or credenza. Two basic requirements make the concept work.

First, you must check the area regularly. On my task list is a weekly repeating item that merely says, “Check Bulk.” It’s a trigger to look at the contents and make decisions about anything that’s there. In a new position, the “bulk” space grows smaller each week as some items are discarded and others are organized in their proper places.

Second, nothing gets to live there permanently. “Bulk” is a holding tank for items awaiting decisions.

“Bulk” provides a temporary place for the clutter. It’s out of sight. It’s not occupying a corner of your otherwise pristine office. But it’s not out of mind. You are regularly visiting that space and asking tough questions about what’s there, its usefulness and where its present home needs to be.

The ‘bulk’ space going forward

Once the clutter is gone, that bulk space takes on a new and useful purpose: A microscope needs repair, and you plan to deliver it to the proper person on Friday. Where do you put it from now until then?

Have a box of books to donate to charity? You plan to take them on Tuesday of next week. What happens to that box of books until then?

A new box of books arrives. What do you do with it until the books are distributed to the proper place? Do you really want the clutter sitting in a corner of your office? Your “bulk” space is your holding tank for these items.

You’ve heard the expression, “A place for everything and everything in its place.” For those items that don’t have a place, “Bulk” provides that temporary place. Set up yours today.  

Frank Buck is the author of “Get Organized!: Time Management for School Leaders.” "Global Gurus Top 30" named him #1 in the Time Management category for 2019 and 2020. Dr. Buck speaks throughout the United States and internationally about organization and time management. You can reach him through his website: Follow him on Twitter @DrFrankBuck.