Advice From a Professional Organizer: Time Management for Humans

March 14, 2014 Updated: April 23, 2016

From dozens of books a year being published on time management and hundreds of pounds of paper being devoted to-do lists in one life time –what can we do to finally start striking off tasks? I caught up with Jennifer Zwiebel, Founder of A Place of Joy who is making ripples in the organization world by presenting a new theory: Maybe, we’re not getting things done because of our internal conflicts rather than just our clumsy time management skills.


If we all have something in common, it is the fact that we all abide by the same clock. The sun might linger at midnight in some countries or not go down for months in others, but we are all still confined to 24 hours a day.


So, why are we all so stuck?


Early on in her career, Jennifer began to realize that clutter and organization was much more of a reflection of what was happening underneath. “Yes” Jennifer says, “there are practical things you can do but the clutter is there for a reason. The external is a manifestation of the internal, and change has to be on the internal level if you are looking for any meaningful impact.”


So, the business evolved. It became much more about helping her clients identify what was truly important for them and then helping them get it done.


After several years in the business –helping entrepreneurs, students and event high-powered executives get organized- and with two small children, Jennifer realized that people still did not understand what was important to them. “In the end,” Jennifer says, “it’s not about filling more into our lives but being truthful and honest about things we need and want.”


So, how do you help people focus on what is important them?


Jennifer created an entirely new workshop called Get One Thing Done Days ( the next one is on March 21st!) in which she leads her clients through an assessment of their goals to objectively look at their lists and then calculate realistic time frames for each task. “In the end I realized that what I wanted to do very clearly was help others identify why the clutter wasn’t going away. It was clear to me that once you are doing what you love the feeling of fulfillment comes on it’s own.” And, maybe then, the tasks stop pilling. 


The real problem Jennifer points out is that “no one really taught us how to break a project down.” So, her approach on Get Things Done Days is to help her clients assess what they need to get done but, more importantly, how to actually spring into action. “It’s about telling yourself the truth about your goals [weather they will

actually get done in a month or three days] and then not running into fear and panic and judgment”.


So how do you actually shorten your to do list? 5 Tips from a Professional Organizer:


1. Keep it all one place. Having sticky notes on your monitor, scratches of ideas on your desk, half your meetings on your phone and the other half in your calendar will only make the process more frustrating.

2. Follow Your Heart or Your Gut. Pick the things on your list that either have your gut saying “if I don’t do this my business is going to fail” or have your heart saying “I need this to have a fulfilled life.” Pick one of these items on your list first! They take priority

3. Break things into steps. Just pick one item and figure out how long it would take for you to finish it. Then, layout action steps and carve out the necessary time in your calendar.

4. Keep Being Kindly Honest. Give yourself permissions to look at the list objectively without feeling bad, beating yourself up or judging yourself. Frustration will only make you want to put the list away.

5. Set aside time. This, setting time aside, happens to be the most important tip! Because, explains Jennifer, at the heart of time management and organization there isn’t a to-do list. A lot of why we fail to minimize our tasks comes from our relationship with time i.e. gaging time, knowing the amount of time an actual project will take, how much time we actually have available etc. And, this is why we are constantly beating ourselves up. If you have 17 things on your to-do list but only have 20 minutes then you are going to keep failing and getting frustrated. And yet, Jennifer remarks, we constantly keep ourselves in the dark by not looking at the numbers. So, look at your numbers and figure out how many hours you can set aside each week to get things done on your list. Then, start allocating time to each project.


But, if you are going to take anything away, Jennifer insists that it’s this: remain truthful to your needs and patient with your time.