Interview with Professional Organizer Sara Skillen

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Continuing our series of interviews with professional organizers, today we have Sara Skillen of SkillSet Organizing!

Please tell us about yourself and your business.

I started my business, SkillSet Organizing, six years ago when I discovered the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO). Up to that point I hadn’t realized there was a profession for people who love to organize, plan, and help others lead more peaceful and streamlined lives. I jumped in with both feet and feel like I finally figured out what I was supposed to be when I grew up! Before then, I had been both a teacher and a paralegal and worked in a wide variety of settings – classrooms, corporate environments, and home-based offices. I’ve also moved around a fair amount, and have always been fascinated with the way our surroundings affect our life, work and overall productivity.

My mission is to help people manage their stuff, their time, and their tasks in order to thrive in an increasingly distracting world. To improve my skills and offerings for clients, I became a Certified Professional Organizer, an Evernote Certified Consultant, and am currently in the process of becoming a Certified Organizer Coach.

What are your clients’ biggest challenges? 

Much of my client base experiences the challenges associated with adult ADD/ADHD, which can affect organization, time management, and planning skills.  I love helping them work through creative solutions that fit their lifestyle and the way their brains work.  Dealing with paperwork is probably the most common hands-on organizing problem people want my assistance with. Ironically, even though I’m a pretty digital person I LOVE organizing paper!  Another common challenge is developing confidence in a decision-making process. For example, sometimes clients are already set up with good tools (like a planner, containers, or a file cabinet), but they need some guidance and reassurance about the best ways to use those tools.

In your experience, how does a person’s physical space affect their ability to manage their time effectively?

Physical space affects time management way more than most people are willing to admit. It’s pretty simple: if the items you need aren’t where you need them, WHEN you need them, time is wasted looking for them. Various studies have shown anything from 38 to 150 hours a year being lost due to looking for misplaced items (not to mention the stress and expense of sometimes having to replace them).

I believe comfort in our surroundings also deeply affects our ability to utilize time wisely. Whether a person needs a clean, minimalist atmosphere or prefers to have collections or other items out on display, if they are not at ease with the space then distraction becomes a problem. I quickly became aware of this back when I was teaching – if the room wasn’t set up and organized for the day’s lesson students were unsettled and unfocused, and we wasted time getting settled in to work.

What are some ways people can minimize distractions to help improve their productivity? 

Put a regular block of “protected time” on the calendar for focused work. Turn off and tune out the electronics. If you need to spend concentrated time on the computer turn off those notifications and put your phone out of sight, sound, and reach. I’m also a big fan of the Pomodoro Technique, where you spend 25 minutes of concentrated effort followed by a 5 minutes break. Simply setting the timer really helps me to mentally settle in.

These days when people are so busy, how can they integrate organization into their schedule?

A little planning or organizing is always better than no planning or organizing. 10 minutes a day can make a difference over time, so sometimes I suggest clients work through a cluttered spot by using a 3-4 song playlist as they cull through things and discard or put away.  Once the playlist is done, they can stop… or not, if they get in the organizing groove!

What are your top recommendations for how people can be more organized?

I think one of the best ways to be more organized is through prevention. The more you have, the more you have to deal with, so learn to say “No” more often. Say no to excess purchases (especially “bargains” or freebies – remember it’s not a bargain if you never use it). Gently say no to the well-meaning friend or relative who wants to gift you something they don’t want. Say no to some extra, non-essential commitments on the calendar, too. Saying no to the excess allows you get some control on the front end, and say yes to the things that truly make you a better you.

You can find Sara Skillen here:

twitter: @saraorganizes
instagram: @saraorganizes

4 thoughts on “Interview with Professional Organizer Sara Skillen

  1. Thanks Sara for your specific ways to minimize distractions. It’s especially valuable to use a a block of time to get more done. Also referred to a “time blocking, this strategy helps assign tasks to get them complete too.

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