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The Importance of Being Organized

Consultants often work with multiple clients at the same time.  Even when they work with a single client, they deal with a myriad of
Get Organizeddocuments information and schedule issues.  In this week’s podcast we will discuss why it is imperative for one’s consulting career to be organized and to stay that way.

  1. Is it more important for a consultant in particular to be organized?
    1. As you mentioned, a consultant often times deals with multiple clients.  When that’s the case, the consultant needs to be able to keep these clients and their information separate.
    2. As an example, I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I had a situation once where I was in charge of five or six different clients.
    3. It was a very hectic day.  I need to gather some data in some spreadsheets for each client.
    4. It was the end of the day and I sent out each spreadsheet in separate emails to each client.  In my rush, I attached the spreadsheet of one client in the email of another.
    5. I was very fortunate that the client who got the wrong file graciously responded saying she didn’t think it was her data, but she could have escalated that to my management and notified the other client.
    6. If I had been in healthcare consulting I could have violated HIPAA laws.  Either way, that could have been what we used to call a CLM, or a career limiting move.
    7. Another reason that a consultant needs to be organized is the client’s expectation that they always be on top of things.  When a consultant is organized, they know where things are and can quickly refer to them.  Whether that’s paper files they have in their desk or electronic files on their laptop.
    8. And when you’re organized like that, you also are more organized in your head.  You can think more clearly and organize your thoughts as you communicate with your client.
    9. One final reason that organization is important to a consultant is that we tend to be nomads.  Even if we have a single client at a time, when we are at a client site, even when they give us an office or a cubicle, it’s a temporary site.  You never just move in.  So it’s important to be organized because of that mobility.
    10. My son is in high school and he has one teacher that doesn’t have a classroom.  They meet in another teacher’s classroom.  She teaches at two different high schools in the district and uses the classrooms of different teachers for her classes.  I was talking to him about that class and he said the teacher seems really disorganized.
    11.  I wasn’t too surprised about that once I heard she doesn’t have a classroom.  She’s mobile and always on the run. She needs to be more organized than the typical teacher because of that.
    12. And the same goes for mobile consultants.  They don’t have the luxury of the office with bookshelves and file cabinets.  They need to be much more nimble.
  2. What consequences have you seen of a consultant being disorganized?
    1. I once knew a woman whose desk was always literally covered with papers, strewn about to the point where you could not see the top of her desk.  When her manager commented about it, she defended herself that she knew where everything was.
    2. Over time, he realized that that wasn’t the case.  She consistently asked him to resend emails that he had sent before and if he stopped by to ask for something, she would dig through the piles, wasting her time as well as her boss’s time looking for it.  And it was a 50-50 chance she would find it.
    3. And it goes beyond just piles of paper.  I had a guy that worked for me once that kept all of his electronic documents in his ‘My Documents’ folder.  This is really the electronic version of the piles of paper on the desk.
    4. I would ask him for a document from a certain client and he would peruse through his one and only directory looking for it.  He’d open one and say ‘No, that’s not it’ and keep looking.
    5. Both of these people had a history of slow performance.  I heard complaints from clients that they were slow to respond.  They simply couldn’t serve their clients efficiently because it took so much additional time for them to do anything.
    6. One of the biggest consequences I see is that disorganized people are late on a consistent basis.  Now there are many reasons that people are late.  Some people are just inconsiderate of other peoples time and some people, I’ve learned just don’t have a concept of timeliness.
    7. Three o’clock to me means three o’clock.  But it’s meaningless to someone who just doesn’t have the concept down.
    8. But I’ve found that it’s almost impossible for disorganized people to be on time on a consistent basis.
    9. I’ve watched them.  They wait until the last minute to go to a meeting or wherever they need to go. Then they start gathering the things they need for the meeting, which takes longer because they haven’t thought about what they need and they don’t know where the hell it is once they think about it.
    10. Then they realize they need some input from someone else for the meeting, so they stop by their office and ask the question.  And all of this piles up causing them to be anywhere from five to fifteen minutes late for a meeting.
  3. What are some tactics a consultant should follow to be more organized?
    1. As an organized person, I break it down into some separate areas.  First, with paper documents, I try not to have too many of those.  Unless you need the document for a signature or to carry it around, I recommend getting rid of it.  If you need to keep the information on it for future reference, I recommend keeping a soft copy.
    2. If you have it in soft copy form that’s great, if you don’t, I recommend scanning it and storing it rather than storing the paper document.
    3. I used to file away bank statements and investment statements and even paid bills.  I came to a realization that if I ever needed to refer back to them, they’re available online.
    4. So I shred everything and scan anything I need to keep for records.
    5. If you feel you must keep the paper for future reference, have a filing strategy that makes sense.  Come up with a categorization that makes sense to you and use it.
    6. For electronic documents I recommend separate directories for each client and then subdirectories that make sense to you for quick access.  I used the same categories that I use for paper documents so that it’s consistent.
    7. I also use a two to three character prefix for files by client.  Even though they’re in the client’s subdirectory, it makes it that much clearer when I’m working with that document where it should be refilled and more explicit who that document goes to.
    8. One reason people like to have the paper documents and not keep them electronically is the fear of a disk crash or somehow losing the electronic copies.  I always recommend backing up to the cloud, or better yet, storing it on the cloud and taking it completely off your hard drive.  Regardless of how you do it, having a secure copy on the cloud is critical.
    9. One other area that requires good organization is with emails.  In my Outlook account, I create folders for each client and subfolders with the same categories as my electronic and paper files.  I rarely delete an email.  Once I’ve read it and performed whatever action I need to do, I file it away.
    10. Having a good filing system for paper, electronic records and emails allows me to quickly access whatever I need.
    11. Going back to my example where I sent one client’s spreadsheet to the wrong client, I’ve always considered myself to be organized, but I was in a rush.  And when you rush unnecessarily, you tend to make mistakes.
    12. Being organized allows you to be so much more efficient and to get things done faster.  But you have to slow down enough to stop to think about what you’re doing.
    13. I can be impatient and in a hurry.  I’ve got this to do list and I want to get through it all by the end of the day.  But there’s no point in getting anything done if I rush and do a poor job of every task.
    14. Since that time, I write a list of each email and client name and before I send it, I verify with the list and then check it off to show me exactly which client or which item in the list I’m on.
    15. The final major area of getting organized is with time management – I try to follow the 3 P’s of time management: planning, prioritization, and being proactive.
    16. Planning is the first thing I do.  I usually type up my to do list at the end of the day for the following day’s tasks.  It makes me think of what I need to do and plan out the day as much as possible.  I always know that things can change at a moment’s notice and I need to be flexible.
    17. Then, once I have everything listed I prioritize things as A and B items.  A items need to be done before the end of the day, B items could be put off if the day gets out of hand.  Then I number the A items in the order then should be done.
    18. As I said, things happen and you have to be flexible, so you always have to be ready to reprioritize as things happen, but at least you have a plan to go by that’s always open for changes.
    19. Finally, being proactive is the third step.  I find it helpful to always be looking ahead.  What do I need to do in the future that I have to plan for.  For instance, if I have something due by Friday and someone will need to review that deliverable.  I need to schedule a meeting with them for Friday.  If I wait until Friday, it will be too late to get on their calendar.  So being proactive and always thinking ahead is another critical step in managing your time and being well organized.
  4. What do you think are the biggest factors that keep people from being organized
    1. I think one big issue with some people is the aversion of throwing things away.  People tend to keep things just in case they’ll need them down the road.  Those things pile up on their desk or collect dust on shelves and tend to get in the way when they’re looking for the things they do need.
    2. Now I’ve been guilty of going through a purge process where I throw things away and it never fails that I need it a week later.  But for things that you rarely use that you may need, they need to be stored where they’re not in the way of your everyday things.
    3. For papers, store them away to get them out of the way.  Or better yet, digitize them and store them in separate sub-directories.
    4. Another factor is the effort and discipline involved up front, being proactive enough to stay organized.  I’ve seen people set New Year’s resolutions or decide one day that they’re going to get organized once and for all.
    5. They create all kinds of color coded filing systems and clear off their desk and get organized.  The only problem is that they don’t have the discipline to keep it up.  A new document comes across their desk and they go back to their old habits of printing it and laying it on the pile on their desk.
    6. Before they know it they’re back to the mess they started with.
    7. Finally, I think the cool factor gets in the way with some people.  There can be a certain amount of ostracizing from some people who accuse you of being the geeky accountant type for being so organized.  We all know that in the odd couple, Oscar was way cooler than Felix.
    8. I’ve been well aware of how not cool I am since about 3rd grade, so that hasn’t been a problem for me.  But some people shy away from being too organized for that very reason.
  5. We’ve talked about the consequences of being disorganized, what do you see as the biggest benefits of being organized?
    1. One of the biggest benefits is having more time.  It’s something of an irony that some people don’t want to take the time to be organized.  It takes that discipline of filing the document or the email in the proper folder so you can find it easier at a later date.
    2. It’s like I’ve told my kids about cleaning their room.  If they’d just hang the clothes up or put them away, they’d be able to find them easier.  Instead they waste time looking through piles of clothes.
    3. It’s the same with organizing your work.  It’s like an investment in time.  If you spend the time up front putting it where it belongs, you spend less time in the long run.
    4. I also think that when your stuff is well organized and you manage your time efficiently, your brain is less cluttered.  You think more clearly as you work and as you talk with your client.
    5. Some of it is confidence that you know you’re not forgetting anything.  But it’s also knowing that you have everything together.
  6. Any final thoughts?
    1. I want to clarify that simplification doesn’t necessarily mean less stuff.  It’s a matter of having a place for everything and everything in its place.
    2. I had a friend from high school who’s dad had a basement full of junk. But if you asked him for an issue of Time Magazine from July of 1962, he could go right up to it.
    3. So we talk of reducing clutter and eliminating unnecessary things.  We should be careful to clarify that you’ll likely be more disorganized if you throw everything away.
    4. You do need to keep some things. Part of organizing is simplifying and part of simplifying is organizing.

Next week’s topic: Reporting Status to the Client

Recommended Books

Getting Organized by Stephanie Winston: 

 

 

 

Getting Things Done: The Art of  Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen:

Next week’s topic: Reporting Status to the client