Creating a minimalist workspace — from Zen Habits

We are delighted to have Leo Babauta of Zen Habits as a guest columnist today. Please give him a warm welcome and check out his awe-inspiring website afterward.

How minimalist is your workspace? An uncluttered workspace is a thing of beauty.

I write a lot about minimalism on Zen Habits, including guides to creating a minimalist home, minimalist housework, and beating clutter entropy.

On Unclutterer, my favorite feature is the Workspace of the Week, with its cool setups.

Today, I thought I’d share my pretty minimalist workspace, and share some thoughts on how to go about creating one of your own.

What’s a minimalist workspace?

That question will have different answers for each person. There can be no single definition. The ultimate minimalist workspace, I think, would be to have no desk or papers or computer or anything of the kind — just yourself. You’d think, and talk, and maybe sit on the floor.
Of course, that won’t work for most of us, so it’s more useful to look at our minimum requirements, and focus on creating a workspace that addresses these essentials and nothing more.

So the first step is for you to consider your requirements for working, and what’s essential to your workflow. If possible, streamline and simplify that workflow and those requirements. Then, once you’ve got that down to a minimum, see what the minimum setup would be for those essentials and your workflow. Eliminate everything unnecessary.

What are your requirements?

It’s interesting to note that what you think your requirements are might not be the minimum. They might just be what you’re used to doing.

Taking myself as an example: I used to work with tons of paper, files, sticky notes, and all the usual office tools (pens, pencils, notebooks, pads, stapler, hole puncher, whiteout, calendar, personal organizer, etc.). But then I realized that it’s possible to work without paper, and I’ve eliminated the need for all that stuff. In fact, as I’ve eliminated paper, I’ve eliminated the need for drawers.

Now, you might not have that luxury, and I’m not saying you need to go that extreme. Your needs may be different than mine — but the point is to see if it’s possible to change the way you work, so that you still get the essentials done, without all the same requirements. It’s worth some thought at least — and if you make changes, as I did, you might find that changing things in small increments is better. I didn’t do away with paper altogether. I did it in steps, eliminating different needs for paper one at a time.

My Minimalist Setup

Basically, I have an iMac and a table. No need for papers, files, drawers, other tools.

I work from home these days, and I do everything online. I do have a phone (elsewhere in my house, so it doesn’t disturb me) and a cell phone (also elsewhere), but I don’t have a PDA, an iPod, a printer (though my wife has ordered one for her needs), a scanner, a fax machine, or anything like that. I don’t print anything and I don’t use fax (an outdated technology).

On my computer, I mostly just use Firefox, as I do nearly everything online. I also use text programs for writing (TextEdit, WriteRoom mostly) and a couple other utilities such as CyberDuck for uploading files, Quicksilver for everything, and GIMP for photo editing.

All my organizing needs are taken care of on the computer: Address Book, Gmail, text files for to-do lists and errands and ideas and projects, Gcal for scheduling.

Tips for Creating Your Own Minimalist Workspace

You won’t need to have my setup, but once you’ve determined your minimum needs, here are some tips for making your workspace as minimalist as possible. Not all tips will work for you, so pick and choose which ones will work best for your workflow.

  1. Have one inbox. If paper is a part of your life, keep an inbox tray on top of your desk and make sure ALL papers, including phone messages and sticky notes, go into this tray. You might have to train your co-workers if they’re not already used to this. Don’t leave papers scattered all over your desk, unless you’re actually working on them at this moment. You might also have a “working file” folder for papers you’re working on but not at this moment, but put this working file in a drawer, so that it’s out of the way. Clear out your inbox each day — nothing should go back in there after you process them. It’s not a storage bin, but an inbox. Read more on clearing your inbox.
  2. Clear your desktop. Aside from your computer, your inbox tray, your phone, and maybe a nice photo of a loved one, there should be nothing on top of your desk. No papers (again, unless you’re working on them), no notes, no stapler or pens or other junk. Clear as much of it off as humanly possible. If you want to include a couple other essentials, you should, but be sure they absolutely must be there. Keep it as clear as possible, as a clear desk is a relaxing workspace.
  3. Get rid of knick-knacks. This goes with the above item, but many people don’t even think about all the little trinkets they have on top of their desk. They’re usually unnecessary. Toss ’em!
  4. Clear the walls. Many people have all kinds of stuff posted on their walls. It creates visual clutter. Get them off your walls. If it’s a reference guide, put it on your computer and set up a hotkey so you can call the guide up with a keystroke when needed.
  5. Clear your computer desktop. Many people also have tons of icons on their computer desktop. It’s the same principle as a real desktop — clear it of everything unnecessary, so you can have a nice simple workspace. Keeping icons on your desktop is usually inefficient. It’s hard to find them among a jumble of files. If they’re necessary to open many times a day, file them away and use a hotkey to call them up. Quicksilver for Mac or Autohotkey for Windows are my favorite programs for this.
  6. Re-examine your paper needs. I started doing this a little over a year ago, and one by one, I realized I could eliminate my different needs for paper. I stopped printing stuff out to read (duh!) and just kept it on the computer. Yeah, that’s obvious. I also stopped keeping paper copies of files I had on the computer, as they just took up more space. Also fairly obvious, perhaps. I also asked people to stop faxing me stuff, and to email it instead. That should be obvious, but I think a lot of people ignore this step. I also asked people to stop sending me paper memos, and use email instead. Stop circulating documents by paper. I stopped bills and notices coming in by paper that I could get online. I stopped catalogs and newsletters coming in by mail. I still get some mail, but for the most part I toss it. You might not be able to eliminate paper, but you can probably reduce it.
  7. Eliminate unnecessary tools. Think about each tool you have in your desk, in your work area, and even in your office. Do you need a stapler and hole puncher? Do you need all those pens? Do you really need a fax machine? Or a scanner? You might not have control over all these types of tools, but if you do, eliminate the ones you don’t really need, maybe one at a time.
  8. Simplify your filing. As mentioned above, it’s unnecessary to keep paper copies of files you have on your computer or can access online. Back stuff up online if you’re worried about losing them. Having stuff digitally makes them searchable, which is much better than filing. Just archive, and search when necessary. If you do need paper files, keep them alphabetically and file immediately, so that you don’t have a huge “to be filed” pile. Once every few months, weed out unnecessary files.
  9. Go through each drawer. One drawer at a time, take out all the contents and eliminate everything you don’t need. It’s much nicer to use drawers if you can open them and see order. Have a designated spot for each item and make sure to put those items back in that spot immediately, every time.
  10. Use a minimalisk desk. As mentioned above, I just use a table, as I don’t need drawers. While you might not want to go to that extreme, you can find desks without too many drawers or contraptions or designs. Simple as possible is best.
  11. Clear the floor. There should be nothing on your floor but your desk and chair. No files, no boxes. Keep it clear!


This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

A place for everything. Seriously.

Once you unclutter, the next step in getting organized is, well, getting organized. The key to personal organization, in my experience, is developing processes that take the thinking out of organization and sticking to those processes. What this means is that getting organized once — tidying up everything — won’t do unless you can keep it organized.

We’ve all had the experience of letting our spaces get so cluttered and messy that we had to stop and put everything away, throw out useless items, and make the space clean. This tells us a couple of things. For one, the mind can only take so much messiness in its environment before it rebels and says, “I can’t think until this place is cleaned up!”

Without organization, you can’t be productive. Suppose you’re working on a project that requires certain tools, such as paper, pens, a ruler, scissors. If you have to stop every minute to think were the scissors or pens are in your mess, several things happen. First, and most obvious, you’ll waste time (as the scientific management school showed us). Second, you’ll never get into a productive flow that will allow for creativity.

Organization is having a place for everything and making sure everything is in its place. I know that cliche sounds trite, but think about it. When you cleaned up, where did you put things? You put them in their place, right? That means most things have “their place” (not an objective universal place, just a place you’ve decided is where they belong). Why did you put them in their place? Because you want to be able to — unthinkingly — find them when you need them without interrupting your flow or creativity.

The other thing that has to be unthinking is putting things back in their place after you’ve used them. First, you have to have a place for everything. If you don’t have a drawer or shelf for DVDs, then when you finish watching one, you’re likely to leave it on the coffee table. Some places are better than others, and I hope to get into this in future posts, but for now just make sure you have a place. Also, remember we’re talking about things after you’ve uncluttered, so hopefully all that is left are things that are useful or enjoyable. Second, you need a process for staying organized. Having a place for everything does no good unless you regularly put everything in its place.

Processes can be as simple as a commitment to throw out clutter and put everything in its place in your work area before you leave for the day. When you come in the next day, everything will be calm and you’ll be ready to start the day smoothly without a jarring messy desk looking at you first thing in the morning. What makes this a process, however, is making it a habit and doing it regularly. In the posts to come I hope to look at good places and good processes.


This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

Preparing for tomorrow’s work day

Years ago, when I was in my first year of teaching, I was in constant fear of getting sick. Kids would cough near me in the hallway, and I would rush to my desk to apply hand sanitizer. I wasn’t afraid of germs, instead I was afraid of missing work.

Missing a day of school for a teacher is actually a lot of work. If you’re a decent teacher, you prepare lesson plans so that teaching and learning can still take place in your absence. Getting ready for a substitute teacher can take a good chunk of time, and doing this while running a 101 degree fever isn’t fun.

I poured out my fears of getting sick one afternoon to a veteran teacher and she offered me advice that has proven to be valuable even in my professional life since teaching.

She suggested that at the end of the work day I do two things. First, I should clear my desk. Papers should be filed, my stapler stored in a drawer, coffee cup cleaned and returned to the kitchen, etc. Then, for my second task, I should make a stack of all of my photocopied handouts, materials, and lessons for the next day and put them where no one could miss them. By doing these two simple things, which usually took me no more than five minutes, I only had to call in my absence and then fall back to sleep.

Even though I’ve been out of the classroom for years, I continue to follow this procedure. At the end of the work day, I clean off my desk and then I organize everything that I need for the next day. For example, if I were to have a morning meeting, I’d have my agendas photocopied and in a labeled folder at the center of my desk. This way, if I were to be stuck in traffic or sick and attend the meeting over the phone, it’s easy for someone else in the office to grab the agendas and pass them out in my absence.

A clean desk and organized materials also are worthwhile if you do make it to work on time and healthy. This preparation allows you to hit the ground running when you arrive at work. Five to 10 minutes of organization at the end of the work day will have you on your best footing tomorrow morning.


This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

Gadget ‘gas station’

Anthro, an office furniture company, has a product for sale that appeals to both my techie and minimalist sensibilities. The eNook is a “gas station for your gadgets that has channels for you to plug in and charge all your gear.”

Not only does this look like a fantastic docking station, but could easily be used as a fold-away desk. In its compact state, it sticks out only 7″ from the wall. In my mind, this would be perfect in a studio apartment for a traveling consultant or in a busy family’s kitchen.


This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

Home office in a box

CI DeskIf you are strapped for space and you need a workspace for your house or apartment, you may want to check out the CI Desk from Creative Industrial Objects. Its small design and compact storage drawers offer a welcome alternative to a space-hogging desk.

The CI Desk looks a bit like a storage unit on wheels, but it is more than just a way to store your office supplies. The top flips out to supply you with a solid place for your laptop to rest, instead of using your lap. From Creative Industrial Objects:

A multi-functional home office on wheels, in its handy size and elegant shape, adapting to the flexible working habits of the individual at home or in the office. Through a 180-degree turn of its top, it unfolds into a small workstation for laptop users. The smooth contours of the desk cube in fact reveal the delicately inbuilt wooden drawers that open to the front and sides. CI desk provides mobility and a practical working space for any busy individual.

If one was to go this route in a home office, you would more than likely have to keep all clutter out of your streamlined desk. There just isn’t enough room for a junk drawer or desk top toys and trinkets … which is probably a good thing.

(via Apartment Therapy)

This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

Unconventional organizing solutions

Years ago for her birthday, my mother wanted an ice cream cone dispenser. Her pantry had no cupboard doors and given the Victorian style of the house, a big ugly cardboard box just didn’t suit. So, I bought her one.

However, before giving it to her, it sat for a few days on my kitchen counter, waiting to get wrapped. One of those days, an fellow organizer came over for dinner and we got chatting about the dispenser, specifically how else it might be used.

Our favorite solution was as a panty dispenser for women wear small, lightweight underwear. Other ideas were cotton ball dispenser in the bathroom, microfiber cloth dispenser in the garage or workshop, and cloth scraps dispenser for those who are into patchwork or other fabric arts.

My father, who had a workshop the envy of master carpenters, bought an antique printer’s cabinet and used the flat drawers with their small dividers to hold screws, nails, nuts and bolts of all sorts of sizes and shapes.

There are a million organizing solutions out there, often very specific to one particular need. However, sometimes these items can be expensive, or may not live up to their promise once you get them home.

In today’s post, we going to have some fun. I am going to give you some common household items and give you one or two out of the box organizing ideas, then it’s up to you to come up with more to share with other Unclutterer readers in the comments or in the Forum.

Also, we’d love to hear about your own unconventional organizing solutions. What have you re-purposed for home or office organizing whose original design had nothing to do with the solution?

Right, let’s get started.

A wine rack:

  • Lay them on their back, put one on top of the other and you have a way to keep rolls of paper (wrapping paper, architectural drawings, etc.) organized.
  • If you weave, sew, or knit a lot and have large spools of thread or yarn, use the wine rack to store them.
  • Put it in a kitchen cupboard, or on the counter even, and stack glass containers with rice, lentils, etc… (with the labels on the lids instead of the bottles themselves)
  • Store rolled up towels in a guest bedroom or bathroom

A hanging shoe bag:

  • A doll sorter in a child’s bedroom
  • Storage for bottles of cleaners and brushes in the laundry room
  • First aid storage (in a shoe bag with transparent pockets)
  • Apartment Therapy also suggested a way of keeping camping items sorted and off the ground

Now it’s your turn.

What other uses can you think of for an ice cream cone dispenser, a wine rack, and a shoe bag? Are there any other unconventional organizing solutions you could suggest?

Tackling office desk clutter

Recently I moved into a new office at work, much to my former office mate’s delight. With two desks, two bookshelves, a filing cabinet and a large printer/scanner all crammed into a small room, he and I felt like we were always in each other’s way. My moving out gave us some breathing room as well as the opportunity to assess what should go where.

My first task stepping into a new, solo office was to figure out what I needed in hardware and systems. I came up with four categories:

  • Inboxes
  • Working areas
  • Storage points
  • Exit points


I made this plural after careful consideration. The idea is to have as many inboxes you need, but no more. Right now, my inboxes are:

  1. A box labeled “In” on my desk
  2. The notebook I carry in my pocket at all times
  3. My email inbox

These three pieces of hardware allow me to capture everything I typically see in a day. Papers, forms, and documents from staff and co-workers are placed in the inbox tray. The notebook captures what I come across during the day, like requests, questions, and ideas I need to follow through on. The email inbox, well…that’s its own thing. Here’s an article on how I handle that particular job.

Working areas

This is obvious but I need to get work done while in my office. That means an adequately-sized, flat surface where I can process all those inboxes and get down to tasks and projects. For me, that’s my desk, which I keep completely free of clutter. The only items allowed to live there long term are:

  1. Computer
  2. Inbox
  3. Outbox
  4. Pens
  5. 3×5 index cards, for jotting down items that need follow-up (These are tossed into the inbox for later processing.)

That’s it. When I’m working on something, the related files come out and are placed on the work surface. When I’m done with that particular project, all related materials go away. Which brings me to…

Storage areas

I’ve got two types of storage: analog and digital.

Analog storage is a good, old-fashioned filing cabinet. Hanging folders don’t work for me as I always knock them off the tracks. I prefer labeled, standard file folders. Sorting by simple alphabetical order is best for me as I can find anything.

Digitally, I use Evernote. It holds information that may be useful in the future, but doesn’t require any action such as policies and procedures, etc.

Exit points

Just like the inbox, the outbox sits on my desk. Anything that isn’t digital and must travel from me to someone else, begins its journey in the outbox.

None of this is new technology or technique, but it works for me. It’s also clutter-free and efficient. While the office I describe here is at work, this setup would benefit a home office, student’s desk, or homework area. See if you can reduce your office system down to what’s necessary and see your efficiency and productivity rise.

Being mindful: National Situational Awareness Day

Did you know that tomorrow is National Situational Awareness Day? September 26th was officially proclaimed in 2016 as the day that we should take a few minutes to really think about and be mindful of our surroundings.

What is situational awareness? According to Pretty Loaded, the organization that developed the day, it is:

Situational awareness is really just another way of being mindful of your surroundings. Developing this skill will make you more present in daily activities, which in turn helps you make better decisions in all aspects of life.

The concept was developed during World War I and focuses on personal safety, as does the site Pretty Loaded. However, situational awareness extends beyond security. We all practice situational awareness without thinking. For example, we don’t cross a busy street because we know that it’s highly likely that we will get hit by a car. Similarly, most people will think twice about walking down a dark alley in an unknown city.

Situational awareness can help you with your organizing challenges as well. Recently in the forums, someone asked how to get started in uncluttering, stating that decision paralysis was causing a block. Let’s take a look at this paralysis from the point of view of situational awareness.

We have in front of us a drawer full of who knows what. Many people who have trouble uncluttering state that what blocks them is the idea that everything they hold onto might come in handy at some point in the future.

First off, let’s forget about everything else in the house. We are focusing on just this current situation, the drawer. Nothing else exists. This helps take off the pressure. We’re not uncluttering the whole house, only one small piece of it.

Next, as we take each thing out of the drawer we ask ourselves the following questions:

  1. In what situation might this item be useful?
  2. What level of probability will this situation actually happen?

We then put the item in one of three piles:

  1. We can’t imagine using the item.
  2. We can imagine using the item, but we don’t think the situation will come to pass.
  3. We can imagine using the item and see a real possibility of the situation arising.

When we finish the drawer, items in pile A get donated or tossed out. Items in pile B get put in a box (with or without an inventory) and  dated six months in the future. If we don’t touch the box in those six months, the contents get donated or tossed out without any more decision agony. And finally, items in pile C go back in the drawer. Later, once everything in the room has been sorted, we can reorganize what’s left for better access.

By approaching uncluttering using the concept of situational awareness, we take a skill we all have (avoiding putting ourselves in front of moving vehicles, for example) and extend it to an area of our lives that causes us confusion and pain (getting rid of things that no longer serve a purpose).

This same technique can be used for any area of organizing, from prioritizing our time to reorganizing the kitchen cupboards for ease of use. As mentioned above, situational awareness is really just another term for being mindful and present in the moment.

So, now over to you. How are you going to use situational awareness day to help you organize one part of your life?

Words to keep you motivated

Listed below are the most common pieces of advice I give to people on the topic of uncluttering. With a three-day weekend on the horizon for those of us in the States, I thought that some encouragement might be appropriate. Have a great holiday, everyone!

  1. You don’t have to unclutter in one fell swoop. Many projects, spread out over weeks and months, will get you the same results as if you had tackled it all at once.
  2. Benefits of uncluttering can include being better organized, less stressed, and having fewer things to clean. When you walk into a room, you’re able to relax because there is a place for everything and everything is in its place.
  3. Your motivations and visions for your uncluttered life are your guiding star when taking on uncluttering projects. Keep your eyes on your goals and you’ll find that uncluttering has less to do about the stuff and more about the life you want to lead.
  4. You can do it!
  5. You don’t have to unclutter alone. Seek out friends, family, or organizational professionals to help with motivation and keep you focused on your uncluttering goals.
  6. Keep things in perspective. If you relapse and get bogged down, don’t become frustrated and beat yourself up over it. Start again tomorrow. This is home and office organization, it’s not brain surgery. There are worse things in the world than not succeeding your first time with an uncluttering project.
  7. The person with the most amount of stuff at the end of his or her life doesn’t win an award.
  8. The person with the least amount of stuff at the end of his or her life doesn’t win an award, either. Living an uncluttered life doesn’t mean that you have to live an ascetic life. Simple living is about getting rid of distractions that prevent you from enjoying a modern, luxurious life. It’s about smart consumption, not no consumption. To paraphrase Albert Einstein, “Things should be made as simple as possible, but not any simpler.”

What advice, motivations, or thoughts have helped you to be more organized? Let us know what has influenced you!


This post was originally published in August 2007.

The power of the plastic inbox

I receive a lot of paper at work. You would think that by 2017 the fantasy of the “paperless office” would have become a reality. While many businesses have reduced their paper consumption, it hasn’t disappeared. I recently tackled the problem at work with a tried-and-true solution: plastic trays (similar to these).

After some rummaging around in the depths of the office supply closet, I found to dusty, unwanted, plastic trays. I cleaned them off and made two labels: “IN” and “OUT”. Triumphant, I put them on my desk. I’ll admit that I felt like an out-of-date 1950’s business man — or at least TV’s depiction of such a creature.

The following morning I told my staff, “Anything you have for me that requires some action — a signature, editing, filing, anything at all — put into my new inbox. You’ll find it on my desk.” Although they scoffed at Grandpa Dave’s request, it’s been a huge success. I’ve realized the following benefits of the good old-fashioned inbox:

  1. Everything that needs my attention is once place. There’s no more searching around for who’s got that paper I need.
  2. Stress levels work are greatly reduced because when you trust your system, your brain stops perseverating, and you can get on with work.
  3. Going through the inbox at the end of the day, when things are quiet and wrapping up, is actually pleasant.
  4. My staff and other colleagues appreciate having a clearly-defined drop point for items that need my attention.
  5. I have more space on my desk to do actual work! No more mini-stacks of paper here and there.
  6. Boy, it sure feels good when that box is empty.

The secret here is to put everything in the inbox. The receipt in your wallet? Inbox. The notes from that meeting? Inbox. The packing slip from this morning’s delivery? Inbox. You can process all of this stuff (decide that it is, what action needs to be taken, and then act accordingly) when time allows.

It’s such a simple, inexpensive thing. Give it a try at work, home, or where ever you collect and process “stuff.” Let your co-workers, family members, or housemates know, too. You’ll be very glad you did.

The organized teacher: three teachers offer advice

As we approach the new school year, organizing gets imperative, not just for families (books, clothes, schedules, and extracurricular activities) but also for teachers. When I was a child, I never once thought about all the work that goes into being ready for September and the start of school. Teachers had two months off, just like I did and they came back to class the same day I did.

But we all know that’s not at all true. As with any project, being well organized before starting can mean the difference between success and disaster and it’s the same for teachers starting a new school year.

How do teachers organize themselves? Is it any different from any other job?

I interviewed three different head teachers, one from Canada, one from the U.K. and one from the U.S.A. And no, being an organized teacher is no different than working in any other service industry.

From what these three teachers told me, there are three areas of organization that teachers need to consider:

  • Use of space – the classroom, paper storage, seating plans, and so on.
  • Personal preparedness – finding the right balance of planning but not over-planning, of learning new things but not obsessing, of using planners versus “winging it”.
  • The needs of students – who they are, what mix of personalities, genders, ages, and abilities they have, how the students did the previous year, and what needs to be reviewed or re-taught.

Use of space

Before starting the school year, our U.K. teacher suggests that together the teachers at a school should:

check and clear the school of any accrued mess to ensure the school feels tidy and organised before we open the door – if the school is tidy, the children are likely to keep it tidy.

The Canadian teacher reminds teachers to:

Throw things out! Teachers cling to paper and stuff! Purge! Keep a file on the computer and get rid of everything else.

Finally, the U.K. teacher also reminds us that daily maintenance keeps papers from overwhelming us:

Tidy each day! Tidy the classroom so it’s prepped for the next day. File away paper and keep your mind tidy and on the job at hand.

Personal preparedness

For all three teachers, planning is imperative, but they all also insist that over-planning is paralyzing and counter-productive.

Our U.S. teacher has this new school year routine:

I like to take a glimpse at the curriculum for the year and see the material that will be covered. Based on the level, I like to prepare a short review at the beginning of the school year, based on the previous material covered to help them ease into the new school year.

The Canadian does something similar:

Depending on what I’m teaching I generally plan out the course, first the big stuff, then break that down. If its a course I’ve taught before, I think about what worked well, what worked OK, and what didn’t work at all. I also like to to change things up (so I don’t get bored) If I have read/learned something new, I think of ways to incorporate it.

An the U.K. teacher suggests getting others involved:

My advice is to prioritise what needs to be done and park desirables until you have a clear plan. Use the human resources around you. People generally want to be involved and including them in the thinking and the journey will help in organisation. They might even come up with a better idea. Talking is the key!

When it comes to over-planning, the Canadian teacher believe that teachers should be careful not to waste too much time. “Sometimes things go off course so be prepared for that. Also lots of teachers waste time with detailed busy work, creating forms, binders, labels, etc. that make more work for no reason.”

The U.K. teachers reminds us as well that all too often “teachers spend too much time prepping, planning before they really know the class. It’s great to be prepared but there’s no point teaching children what they already know. Plan the first few lessons and then asses what’s needed.”

The Canadian teacher offers a good list of basic planning activities:

  • Familiarize yourself with the course outlines, expectations, and assessments.
  • Use a calendar for unit plans and due dates.
  • Colour code courses (it helps to visualize).
  • Make a note of important due dates like when report card marks are due (you would be surprised how many people are caught off guard).
  • Don’t take on too many things too fast. It’s really easy to get overwhelmed.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

The needs of students

Our U.S. teacher really focused on this area, as did the U.K. teacher. They both insist on getting to know the students and working with the rest of the school’s staff to set individual learning targets where possible before diving into too much organizing. The U.S. teacher will even “go over class lists and see what my classes look like: student numbers, total class size, and gender. This helps me for organizing the class and seating charts.”

She also talks about the need to establish rules the first day of class.

Do not assume they just know how to act. All teachers are different and have different levels of what they will tolerate so communication between teacher and students is important.

Finally, she makes what I believe is the most important point that teachers need to remember:

What is important is to establish is an atmosphere of mutual respect where students feel comfortable in expressing themselves in class amongst their peers and with the educator. Teachers need to remember we are not there to make friends; we are there to educate and help in the students’ growth in the content and be good citizens as well.

For those readers who are teachers, does this advice sound familiar? Is there anything you would add? And for those who aren’t teachers, how might the ideas offered by these teachers apply in your job?

When chaos is king

Last week, I wrote about organized chaos and how to work around it. Recently, however, my boss and I were discussing how we always seem to be putting out fires and going from one challenge to another. No matter what we do, we always feel disorganized. We just never have the time to move projects forward or plan events in advance or do anything that an organized successful business should do.

And yet we are an organized successful business.

Every year we grow. We have a reputation of being one of the city’s best companies in the sector to work in. And the ratio of happy to complaining clients is overwhelmingly positive. So, we are doing something right, but despite all the processes and automated solutions we have implemented, we just never seem to have time to do more.

It’s not that we are disorganized. In fact, we are much more organized than most other businesses in our sector. There are just so many last minute issues to resolve that it feels we move forward only by chance.

In looking for a solution to this problem, I found a great article about the impact of being disorganized at work. Unfortunately, we do every single one of these best practices and we still operate in last-minute chaos. Here are some of the good suggestions the article includes:

Time block and leave space for last minute issues: We do that but when a “challenge” absorbs half the day, the rest of the day gets eaten up by daily tasks.

Use task lists: I actually have blocked out all the major and most of the minor tasks that have to happen each year, and yet I miss deadlines all the time and have to scramble to catch up.

Reschedule tasks when you don’t get them done in the assigned block: We also do this, but at some point the task needs to be completed and can’t be rescheduled anymore, which means delaying and rescheduling other tasks.

Plan the whole week on Monday: However, on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, three different crises arise and the nothing gets accomplished.

Hold yourself accountable: We are all accountable to each other at the office but are all in the same challenge-to-challenge mode.

Develop processes for the things that need to be done regularly: I am the king of processes and without them nothing would happen ever. We continue to be successful despite the chaos because of the many processes that have been implemented

The article has more points, but as you can see, the daily challenges seem impossible to conquer. This year we even added a new position to deal with a lot of the crises and yet they still occupy too much time in our calendars.

I don’t yet have a solution and to be honest, I think if I did, I’d become a millionaire because this is a problem that most businesses, especially small service-based ones, face. Small companies can’t throw staff at problems the way large ones can.

There are steps we can and will take to minimize the problem, but sometimes you just have to accept that chaos and disorganization are part of your reality and you have to learn to work around both of them.

What do you do when it seems that due to circumstances beyond your control chaos and disorganization do their best to keep you from achieving your goals?