Organize Your Time and Space

In Two Minutes Or Less

By Karen O'Connor

"Is your office space or the desk where you write a black hole of disarray?" asks Marcia Ramsland, Professional Organizer and President of Life Management Skills in San Diego, California.

If so, don't despair. Ramsland, a writer as well as seminar leader knows what it's like to be a 'messy.' Years ago she was one herself. Her life was out of control to the point that she couldn't go on in the same way. She looked at her family and took stock of her household. "I have got to get organized!" she exclaimed. And so she did. Soon friends and neighbors noticed what she had accomplished. They began asking her to help them. This led to seminars for church and civic groups. Today, some fifteen years later, Marcia Ramsland has a flourishing business advising men and women how to order their lives, as well as how to get control of their work and living space.

Wall-To-Wall Paper

One of the biggest hurdles for writers, according to Ramsland, is paper clutter. Even those who attempt to create a paperless office by transferring data to computer files still cannot get away from it completely. A quick look at our desks proves it. Here a scrap, there a scrap, everywhere a paper scrap! A note to acknowlege, a memo to answer, a bill to pay, a magazine to file.

Ramsland claims it is these little things that keep us spinning and then stuck! We want to get to the big stuff--those great articles and short stories that are brimming in our minds--but we get bogged down by the myriad tasks that shout at us like little children, demanding our attention. "Pick me!" "Handle me next." "Don't forget about me!" "Hey, it's my turn."

How can we change the pattern? Ramsland says we can do it in two-minute segments. She calls her technique The Two-Minute Pick-up™! Here's how it works.

"Whenever you leave your work area (whether it's a room in your house, an office outside your home, or a small space devoted to writing), stop, look around, and take an action step--something you can do within a two-minute time span," says Ramsland. "When you return you'll find it much easier to do what's next on your list."

For example, suppose you've agreed to meet with an editor, or you've scheduled a meeting over lunch, or you simply want to get away from your desk for a few moments to stretch or walk or grab a snack, or you decide to run out to the office supply store on your way to pick up your kids from school. Whatever the scenario, your flow is interrupted. You glance at your desk and sigh. There's always so much to do and too little time in which to do it all.

Ramsland suggests that you stop right then--before you leave and take just two minutes--not three or five or thirty. Just two--to do one of the tasks on the following list, or one from a list of your own making. Time yourself. You'll be amazed at how much you can accomplish in one hundred and twenty seconds when you are determined and focused. Instead of giving up or giving in to self-pity, take charge!

The Two-Minute Pickup™

Each of the following steps takes just two minutes or less.

1. Send an e-mail that moves an action forward. (Example: Introduce yourself to an editor you'd like to write for. Attach your resume.)

2. Return file folders to their proper drawer or cabinet. (Example: You've finished working on an article. Stow the copy and notes in the rightful folder before it becomes another piece of clutter on your desk.)

3. Make a phone call to someone's message center. (Example: Let an editor know an assigned manuscript is on its way; confirm an appointment, etc.)

4. "Stair-step" your assignments or files or projects on one side of the desk. Put the most important one on top and the next one a half inch above and behind that one and so on. (Example: A magazine you need to study followed by the editorial guidelines, followed by a list of ideas you wish to present to the editor, followed by a list of phone numbers of experts you intend to contact if you receive a go-ahead from the editor.)

5. Create a short 'action' list for when you return (Example: file, phone, attend meeting, etc.)

6. Put three Post-it notes on your desk with an action step on each one (Example: Outline article for Highlights for Children; Finish short story for Children's Playmate, E-mail Martha to set up interview.)

7. Make an entry or cross off a completed task in your Daily Planner. (Example: Write two query letters today. Complete article on family vacations, etc.)

8. Clear off and wipe down your desk and computer station. (Example: Keep a few cleaning supplies on a shelf or in a cabinet in your writing area so you won't put off this important daily task. A clean, dust-free desk and computer station create a healthy and attractive work environment.)

9. Set out the tools or equipment needed for your next project. (Example: paper cutter, three-hole punch, editorial guidelines, computer paper, grammar handbook, sharpened pencils, etc.)

10. Transfer contact info from business cards or voice mail messages to your contact manager system. (Example: Instead of tossing business cards into a drawer, or scribbling a name and phone number bn a scrap of paper after picking it up from your voice mail, type the info into a designated computer address file, e-mail address book, or whatever system works for you. Then toss or shred the cards or notes. In less than a minute you've eliminated one more piece of clutter.)

Take Action Now

According to Ramsland, "Loose papers equal incomplete action steps." "Therefore, as you take control of your paper with the Two-minute Pick-up (by filing, transferring data to your computer, tossing, shredding, etc.) you free yourself to take productive action."

And for a writer, this is paramount to success. If we don't get out the queries, complete the articles we've been assigned, write the next chapter of our books or reply to letters, phone calls, and e-mails then we remain stuck--dreaming about our futures instead of investing in them with positive forward movement.

MORE ways to take control in two minutes or less:

1. Dust office furniture.

2. Empty waste basket and sweep or vacuum the floor.

3. Add fresh paper to your printer.

4. Place reference books on a shelf near your work area.

5. Create an IDEA folder to hold notes, magazine clips, etc.

6. Open mail over the waste basket. File 'keepers.' Toss junk.

7. Stand, relax, stretch, twist, bend over and let your arms hang.

8. Load your cassette or CD player with your favorite background music.

9. Prepare a bowl of fresh fruit snacks and place on your desk.

10. Put a pitcher of lemonade or ice water and a glass nearby.

11. Close your eyes and count to 120. Then get back to work!

Beautify Your Space

Ramsland also encourages writers to beautify their work space--regardless of how humble it is. Once you get your office under control you'll enjoy spending time there. And if you make it attractive, you'll feel more motivated to write. You may wish to hang a family photo or frame an inspirational message, or set out a pretty box, or a small vase with a fresh flower.

For example, Betty, my hiking buddy and writer friend, brings outdoor beauty into her office by hanging framed photos of special scenes from the Sierra Mountains.

Earl, a cartoonist and writing workshop leader, decorated his office with photos and other artistic expressions from The Wizard of Oz, one of his favorite books.

Lee's office walls are filled with photos, certificates of achievement, and quotations from authors he admires to keep himself motivated and enthusiastic about his writing goals.

I have two scented candles in my office and a framed print of a mother reading to her two daughters which I bought at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, as well as assorted plaques and certificates of some of the awards I've received. I also like to listen to classical music as I work so I keep a stack of CDs next to my desk. I am more likely to stay at my desk when I'm relaxed and inspired.

Capture It On Film!

If you're still in doubt about the value of bringing order and beauty to your office, take a 'before-and-after' photo. Ramsland promises that when you see how it was and how it can be, you'll never again want to slip back into the black hole of disarray.

"Control is not a once and for all experience," says Ramsland. "It is steadily practiced, and gained each day through good habits." And it is something everyone can achieve.

You may contact Marcia Ramsland and Karen O'Connor via e-mail. and
Karen O'Connor is a sought-after speaker and award-winning author of more than 45 books for adults and children, including the best-selling Help, Lord! I'm Having a Senior Moment (Regal Books), Getting Old Ain't For Wimps, (Harvest House) and In Step With Your Step-children (Beacon Hill). She is a wife, mother, grandmother and writing mentor for the Long Ridge Writers Group ( and for the Christian Writers Guild ( Karen is known for her wit and wisdom on the platform and in print. Visit Karen on her web site for more information:

© 2005 Karen O'Connor. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.