Seminary Time Waster #5: Disorganization

In Time Management by adminmark

A common frustration about seminary is all the balls you have to keep in the air at once. Seminary coursework alone can have you managing several multi-step projects with their own timelines and deadlines. Add to that your job, family commitments, and whatever ministry you’re serving in. It’s a lot to keep coordinated.

In the midst of this, being disorganized can cost you hours of time every week.


  • Americans waste 9,000,000 hours per day searching for misplaced items. (American Demographics Society)
  • The average U.S. executive wastes six weeks per year searching for missing information in messy desks and files. (That translates into one hour per day.) (The Wall Street Journal)
  • 60% of Americans feel they do not have enough time to get everything done. (Vital Stats)

Being organized will not only save you time, it will also reduce your stress. It’s well worth the effort. If you’re not a “natural” at organization, it’s ok. It can be learned, and the benefits are well worth it.

Your goal for organization is to know where things are, and to be able to get them when you need them with minimal effort.

Step One: Declutter

If you have areas at home or work that are a disorganized mess, try these basic organization steps as starters:

  1. Start small. Pick just one area: a room, a closet, or even just the top of your desk or dresser for starters.
  2. Limit the time. Designate a fixed period of time to declutter. Ten minutes, four hours… any amount is fine.
  3. Bring with you a big garbage can and at least one other box for out-of place items.
  4. Go through everything in that area systematically. As you pick up each item, ask yourself what needs to be done with this? Possibilities:
    1. Action. The item demands or represents some kind of action on your part. Take a moment and figure out what the next action is, and put the item in your inbox. If it’s not obvious, put a sticky note on it to remind you of the next action.
    2. Reference. It’s something you need to keep for information. File it.
    3. Out of place. It’s an item that belongs elsewhere, If its home is the area you’re working in, put it there. If it belongs somewhere else, like in another room, put it in your box for out of place items. Don’t take it back now or you’ll be tempted to clean the messy room it belongs in! Stay focused on the area you’re working on. Then use the last few minutes of your organizing time to take those items where they go.
    4. Trash. Throw things out! Most of us keep too much useless stuff. Clutter adds to our stress. If you don’t know what it is, where it came from or why you have it, pitch it immediately.

If the item is not actionable or reference material, ask:

  • Have I used this in the last 12 months? (if yes, ok)
  • Does this have sentimental value? Would I save this if my house were burning down? (if yes, ok)
  • If you answered no to both questions, throw it away.

As an alternative to throwing away, you can recycle or give items away—but pitching them is faster and simpler.

Step Two: Working through the Inbox.

The actionable items you put in your inbox now need to be dealt with. Pick them up, one at a time.

  • If the action required will take two minutes or less, do it immediately. Sending an email, making a phone call, looking up a fact, etc.
  • If it will take more than two minutes, take a minute and decide when you’re going to do it, and assign it to your calendar: 4:00 Monday, next week, next month., etc.
  • Try to keep your inbox empty.

Step Three: Setting up systems

As you work through your disorganized clutter, you will find yourself needing to set up systems of organization that will fit you and are usable. This is where some people get freaky with containers and labels and shelving systems, but it doesn’t have to be that complicated.

For instance, on my desk at home, I have a computer in the middle, and your standard office supplies in a caddy next to it. The rest of the desk is divided into two regions: on the left is my inbox. Anything on that side of the desk is waiting for me to deal with it: a bill to be paid, a letter to write, a decision to make. On the right is my outbox. It holds things that I’ve acted on, that simply need to be put where they go. Paid bills go in the file, stamped letters or bills go in the mail, etc.

A few suggestions:

Keep it together. If you’re working on a paper for class, keep all the materials for that in a single place. Create a folder or bag for that project.

Store it where you use it. If you’re working on your paper, at home, put your stuff where you’ll use it. If you’re writing at school, that folder should be in your car or your backpack. DVDs should be stored next to your DVD player.

Keep systems as simple as you can. One of the primary discouragements to organization is if it’s hard. I try to keep all my systems as simple as I can…. Because otherwise I won’t use them.

Do the hard work. I find that using systems is easy, but setting them up takes some hard mental work. If you pay the price of thinking through the organization

Step Four: Maintaining Systems

Whether it’s your desk or the clutter in your room, organization is maintained by the same kind of decision process used for decluttering. Take every item, make a decision about it, and put it in its place.

One way I like to keep my house decluttered is to set a time for 10-15 minutes before I leave. I declutter until the timer goes off. Anything I don’t get to, I just leave behind for next time.

Commit to organizing an hour or two each week, tackling a small to midsize project each time. You’ll be surprised how much your stress will go down.

Organization resources:
Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
Zen to Done