“This desk is a disaster!” How many times have we heard someone make that comment as they search for a missing document? There are many degrees of what constitutes a disaster depending on the person’s tolerance level for disorganization. For some, two stacks of papers or one overflowing inbox is a disaster. For others, having to kick a path through the stacks and clutter on the floor, which overflowed from desks and cabinets, is now a disaster. Disaster: Level One In determining whether disorganization does exist, there are two areas to consider: 1.Am I wasting time trying to find something that should have a specific place and be easily retrievable? 2.Is the clutter draining my energy and creating chronic stress? With the demands on our time today, we need systems in place that allow us to locate any document within seconds. Spending extra minutes.. or hours.. searching for something is definitely not the most productive use of our time. It cuts into our income and increases our stress levels. The clearer we can keep our space, both at work and at home, the more productive and less stressed we are. Disaster: Level Two On a personal level, no one ever likes to consider that there might be an accident or personal emergency that could keep us out of the office unexpectedly for weeks. If that scenario occurred, would someone else be able to determine what you had planned to work on each day during that time and be able to have the priority activities covered? Within a department, disorganization in our office is not simply a personal issue. One stressed, overwhelmed person in a department can affect all the others. This person interrupts others in seeking information that was already provided and often doesn’t have his or her part of a project completed on time. As stress builds up, it in turn can lead to illness and absenteeism, adding more pressure and responsibility onto colleagues who then have to cover for that disorganized party. Disaster: Level Three Taking disorganization with your paperwork to another level, how would you cope with a natural disaster in your area? What would it take to retrieve your important records if your office were destroyed in a fire? If a tornado lifted your house, how difficult would it be to recreate the figures needed for insurance? If you were named executor of an estate, would you be able to locate all needed documents? As we struggle to keep up with the incoming demands placed on us every day, we often don’t take the time to be prepared for emergencies. We know we need to be ready, but there seem to be so many urgent tasks at this moment. Planning for the future is put off for another time. Yet we don’t know when that time might come. Here’s a short checklist of basic measures: 1) Is the computer backed up on a regular basis and the backup kept offsite? 2) Do you have a master list for all of your financial information? 3) Does someone outside your home and office have a copy of your master list? 4) Can someone besides yourself and your spouse access your safe deposit box? 5) Are beneficiaries up-to-date? Disasters of a natural type have been major news in the last year. From wildfires and flooding to the four hurricanes in a row that hit Florida, followed within a few short months by the Pacific tsunami, with its almost incomprehensible losses, and then a regional earthquake, we find ourselves bombarded by tragedy. In addition to loss of life from the tsunami, another fall-out in that region related to loss of documents. In an area where many of the developing countries relied only on paper records, most of these were destroyed. Since bank records were lost, customers had to prove they had money in an account or else hope that the teller recognized them. Police no longer had records to prosecute cases. Marriage certificates and other vital records were gone, leading to long waits for basic services. By contrast, since so many of our records in the United States are stored digitally, after 9/11 some survivors and companies were able to recreate lost documents more easily. However the fact that our records are often stored “somewhere” doesn’t do away with the necessity for having a list that we ourselves keep, whether for insurance claims or for our survivors. Without notes, we often can’t recall all of our own accounts. Just consider the pages of unclaimed accounts that are periodically listed in the newspapers. How can we expect someone else to piece everything together when it’s even difficult to set up our own recordings? Emergencies and disasters do not give advance warning. It’s worth taking the time now to organize your papers, at work and at home, to minimize the damage that can occur at every level. Make sure that your life, both personal and business, doesn’t echo the refrain caused by nature when we say, “It’s a disaster!”
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