Simplify and Organize Your “Workspace”: Q&A with Coach Debbie Stinson


Today’s careers tend to be “boundaryless” and unfold outside traditional organizational structures, not to mention the fact that personal values have evolved such that people increasingly change work settings for greater autonomy, life balance and meaning in work. The result is that modern workspaces are becoming as much mental as they are physical domains.

Debbie Stinson headshotThis is where Debbie Stinson’s expertise can help you or anyone to become more organized and productive. She owns, and started taking clients for her professional organizing service in 2009. Up to this point, she had been voluntarily organizing for friends, family and non-profit organizations. Before she knew she could create a career with the use of her organizing talents, she was hired to organize the office of a local small business. In addition, Debbie has more than 30 years’ experience organizing and running her own small businesses.

Debbie is a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers and the Institute for Challenging Disorganization. The existence of prominent organizations like these indicates that time management and personal and professional organization skills are ubiquitous and pervasive issues for contemporary professionals. Debbie loves working with people who feel overwhelmed because of unprocessed “stuff” that dominates their lives. Her stated mission is to bring awareness and hope that everyone can experience peace and progress in their homes and businesses. She works with people of all ages, and understands that these are not lazy, irresponsible or lower-IQ individuals. Rather, her clients are creative, intelligent and have chaotic schedules filled with volunteer work, high demanding jobs, and family and friend commitments. Maybe this sounds familiar to readers.

Debbie shared details about her work, as well as tips, tactics and resources that anyone can use to mentally and physically de-clutter, get organized and ultimately stay that way. Her feedback and insights are not theoretical but rather time-tested ideas that come from actual clients with whom she has worked successfully in seemingly overwhelming situations.

What are the benefits of an organized mind and workspace?
Professionals want to control their lives, rather than have their lives and circumstances control them. Control comes when people gain order, establish structure and routines, hone an ability to sort and purpose spaces, and to develop and practice “memory muscles” to maintain organized spaces. The benefits of achieving this begin at a very basic level, such as paying the electric bill before the lights will not turn on or spending less time moving things around and more time concentrating on doing what they need to do or what they love. Distractions are limited in an orderly space. Living and working spaces will be easier to keep clean and make for quick tidy-ups. Time and money are saved because people will know what they have, when they have enough and can find what they need. There is less stress and more time to enjoy their professional and personal lives.

What are the major hurdles or obstacles to becoming organized?
Personal hurdles: The major hurdle here is that people often are unsure where to begin and are not excited to start, because many individuals are not natural sorters, organizers or time managers. Another critical factor is that they do not have enough time or would rather be doing other things – of course these are excuses rather than legitimate hurdles. Having a knowledgeable coach who can help to develop organization skills overcomes these obstacles.

Professional hurdles: The major hurdle here can be ego. Many professionals are neither humble enough nor otherwise ready or willing to show someone their home or office. They are too ashamed to ask for help, or perhaps they do not want to be vulnerable to others because of trust issues. Another obstacle can be financial, if people lack funds to pay for professional organizing services or are unwilling to adjust their budget. Here again, coaches with a practical understanding of getting and staying organized can be an effective remedy. To dispense anxiety and fear, coaches should be patient and allow clients to set the pace. Luckily, professional, external coaches are not mandatory – sometimes individuals merely need to ask their company’s HR for coaching support. Regardless of where the support comes, moving forward in small steps adds up to noticeable progress.

What are “five fast tips” for effective time management?

  • Break tasks down into small, manageable steps.
  • Stick to one calendar.
  • Check in with your calendar at night and in the morning to get ahead of tasks and time demands.
  • Be honest about how long it takes to accomplish a task, how much you can fit within a day, and then set the timer for tasks.
  • Strive to be proactive as much as possible, not reactive. Always know what you want to do next in different areas of your life, and then have items ready for that next step.

What are the best books or resources for people eager to become organized?
There are many online and offline resources available, and even YouTube offers great tutorials on becoming organized. However, here are six books that my clients have found particularly useful to increase their organization and productivity:

  • Tolin, D.F., Frost, R.O., & Steketee, G. (2013). Buried in Treasurers: Help for Compulsive Acquiring, Saving and Hoarding (Treatments that Work) (2nd ed.). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  • Makridakis, M.K. (2012). Creating Time: Using Creativity to Reinvent the Clock and Reclaim Your Life. Novato, CA: New World Library.
  • Allen, D. (2012). Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. London, UK: Penguin Books.
  • Maurer, R. (2014). One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way. New York, NY: Workman Publishing Company.
  • Frost, R.O., & Steketee, G. (2011) Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things. New York, NY: Mariner Books.
  • Vogt, S.B. (2012). Your Spacious Self: Clear the Clutter and Discover Who You Are. San Antonio, TX: Hierophant Publishing.

Debbie merely scratched the surface during the interview, but two main ideas clearly emerged. First, having organized workspaces – and lives in general – is fundamental for professional success in today’s unbounded work environments. However, it is a skill that is too often learned the hard way. Coaches, HR pros and leaders therefore need to make a concerted effort to screen and select job applicants who show effective time management, priority setting and proactive organization skills, as well as work with incumbents in establishing and honing organization skills as a core competency.

Second, there is an art to working with others on developing these skills. The trick is to think about the process of de-cluttering and organizing as merely mini-steps taken at a slow and comfortable pace that help to simplify one’s mental and physical spaces. That’s a carefully chosen and powerful way to frame the issue, because it underscores that positive and lasting changes come from actions that make things easier – not more complicated – for people.

Do you need help to become better organized and manage time effectively? And leaders and HR pros, are you looking for a simple way to diagnose deficits in organization skills for company employees? We thank Debbie for offering a sobering quiz to help identify a development opportunity. Self-awareness is critical to becoming and staying organized. Feel free to use it on yourself, with your team, or to help you work with someone who might need support in this area.

Answer honestly “YES or NO” to the ten questions below – every “YES” is 1 point. A score of 5 or higher indicates a prime candidate for coaching on organizational skills:

  • Do you avoid cleaning out your wallet/purse/bag/desk drawers or email on a regular basis to remove irrelevant items?
  • Do you resist discarding things at home or in the office that are no longer needed?
  • Do your books, music, printed or computer documents and other collections lack a logical system of organization?
  • Do you tend to schedule important tasks during the times of day when you are least productive?
  • Are you often late to appointments or otherwise changing plans because you are consistently overbooked?
  • Do you typically devise a “Plan B” after things go wrong, as opposed to before the contingency plan was needed?
  • Do you often leave or forget possessions in other people’s spaces or in common areas?
  • Would it be difficult for you to locate your medical records, important bills, or other critical documents in case of an emergency?
  • Do people often find you missing deadlines or rushing at the last minute to complete a task?
  • Do you often begin important tasks or projects before ensuring you have all the necessary tools, items, instructions, etc.?