In business, time is money. And in small businesses, this is doubly true: Small businesses frequently have neither time nor money to spare. So, you'd think they'd be bastions of efficiency, right? Wrong.
Although people talk about it a lot, time management is rarely used in business. Most of us know the concepts: set priorities, handle each piece of paper once. But we rarely use them.
Instead, we find ourselves dallying over that "C" task when the "A" project is due this afternoon. Or frantically searching for last month's invoices in that tower of papers on the desk while the file cabinet holds coffee cups and dust.
When I ask business people why we are this way, they nearly always come up with the same answer: We're disorganized because, at some level, we're getting something out of it.
This is a fundamental principle of humanistic psychology: If it doesn't make sense to you, you won't do it. And if you're doing it, then at some level it is making sense to you. The psychologist Dru Scott identified several "benefits" people can get from being disorganized. I call the list, "How disorganization works for me." Among them are:
Getting attention: Disorganization is one of the few proven attention-getters.
Secret power: A major aspect of control is determining when something will occur. It may be false power, but if all the bosses are waiting for your late figures, you're in control.
Sidestepping the unpleasant: Running behind is a common excuse for putting off something you don't want to do.
Shirking responsibility: If you're disorganized, you can't be held accountable. Nobody will ask you to do anything for fear of hearing: "Why didn't you remind me? You know I always forget."
It is normal and healthy to want recognition and influence. And few of us look for unpleasant tasks. The challenge, however, is to address these needs and wants directly rather than through the back door of disorganization. If you want attention, commit to a 100 percent increase in your sales volume this quarter. If you want influence, identify a unique skill that is needed in your organization and learn it.
If you supervise others, don't reward disorganized individuals by giving them less to do. Instead, assign small, structured tasks that you then monitor and expect to be completed -- or else. Get tough.
Once you know what you're getting from disorganization, you'll be more likely to find ways to use it that not only satisfy you now, but also won't hurt you later.
If you would like a free copy of the pocket reminder card, "Ten Adages to Organize By," just send me a stamped, self-addressed envelope.
Send questions to Jane Elizabeth Allen, Business Monday, the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla. 33132.