Get Organized the Smart Way

In the glow of beginning a new year comes a renewed sense of purpose and a vow to change our habits for the better. However, by February, that glow has tarnished a bit and our resolutions are often abandoned for the comfort of our old habits and lifestyle. If getting organized was on your list and you’re still struggling to get started, it’s time to reframe that resolution and get organized the SMART way. The SMART acronym is an often-used, project management-based concept that translates well into formulating and accomplishing organizing goals. While there are a few different versions floating around, I’ve found the following definitions to be helpful for my clients and myself when it comes to framing their organizing objectives:

Specific: Goals should be simply phrased, easily defined, and specify what needs to be done. Instead of “I want to get organized,” name the space you need to organize and break it down into specific areas. A mind map can be helpful for this process. If your goal is to get your home office organized, divide it up into specific areas and set goals for each area. For example, your first goal may be to organize your filing cabinet. Making that happen means breaking it down into purging outdated documents one drawer at a time. The next step would be to rework your filing system to accommodate any needed changes. The last step would be to set up a document retention schedule to maintain the system.

Measurable: Establish concrete ways to measure the progress of your goal. Instead of “I will get my kitchen organized,” resolve that you will have countertops that are clear of papers and other clutter. This gives you an easily visible standard to reach.

Achievable: Your goals should stretch you so that you feel challenged, but not intimidated, and be within the scope of your knowledge, skills, and abilities. Organizing papers, spaces, and time requires making decisions in a timely fashion. If you struggle with decision-making, or know that your organizational abilities are limited, you may need to hire expert help to guide you through the process and teach you the appropriate skills.

Realistic: A goal must be something that is possible within your power and control to make happen. If you have multiple spaces that have been disorganized for a very long time, setting the goal to have every single space completely organized in one weekend is unrealistic. The problem didn’t arise overnight, and it won’t be solved in a day. Challenging yourself to clean out the junk drawer in the kitchen over the course of the weekend may seem small, but may also be the most you can expect if your weekend is filled with errands, kids’ sporting events, and just catching up on work. Breaking your project down into small, realistic chunks and working at it steadily in short increments of time is realistic, and much more likely to become reality.

Time-bound: Establish a specific time period and deadline for yourself to accomplish each step of your goal. Deciding that you will make more time for your family in the coming year is a laudable goal, but won’t happen without a specific framework. Deciding that you will leave the office by 5 pm, 6 times between now and March 1st, will more likely help you accomplish the goal of having dinner with your kids more often (and putting some specific time management measures in place to make that happen will greatly improve your odds).

One thing that the SMART system doesn’t cover is broad-based outcomes. Before you sit down to frame your goals for the year, you need to decide where you want to be when you’re done. How do you want your space to look and function? What is your ultimate purpose for getting organized? Do you want to be more efficient at work? Make more money? Spend more time with your family? Have more leisure or vacation time? Eliminate the stress that being disorganized causes? Whatever the answer to your big question is, make sure that you clarify it before you begin and keep it in mind as you progress. Stopping every once in a while to remind yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing helps keep the momentum going and gets you over those rough patches when you just want to give up. Picture your uncluttered, efficient space in your mind, savor the thought of time and money saved, and imagine the peace you will feel. By next year at this time, you will be able to move on to a new resolution with new goals, because getting organized will be a done deal!

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