The calendar may start with January, but when it comes to getting organized, says Robert A. Moskowitz, September is the Psychological New Year.
"It's a time when people feel like getting a fresh start," says the 34-year-old management consultant who teaches people how to organize everything from their desks to their lives. "Vacation is over, Congress is back in session and a new school year begins."
Come the day after Labor Day, he says, even those who spent a "listless" summer have renewed enthusiasm for list-making.
"And the top of your list," he says, "should be a resolution to learn some basic methods of organizing everything you do. That way you can get what you want easier and sooner."
Moskowitz is his own best advertisement for achieving goals. Over a 10-year period he organized his way out of a New Jersey junior high school--where he taught social studies--to become a self-employed author, lecturer and consultant on time management from his home in suburban Los Angeles.
In between he read "every time-management book I could get my hands on," edited a time-management newsletter, created management-training programs for the American Management Association and started a syndicated column on personal productivity.
Although "time management" pays his bills, Moskowitz hates the term. "It's got a dull, business, jargony ring. It sounds like something a mindless, regimented efficiency expert dreamed up. And no one cares about managing time."
What they do care about, he says, is "getting more done and accomplishing goals." Which is why his latest book is titled How to Organize York Work and Your Life (Doubleday, 342 pages, $6.95). It contains, he claims, "virtually every time-management technique yet discovered.
"It's a humanistic, enjoyable method of putting your time to best use . . . which could be writing the Great American Novel or goofing off. If you learn to work more efficiently you can have more time to be with your family, play tennis or work more--whatever you want.
"I work 30 productive hours a week, compared to most workers who are effective just 16 hours a week. The rest of the 40-hour week is wasted. The biggest time-wasters," he says, "are routines.
"Take shopping. You probably shop the way your mother shopped, cruising with a cart down the aisle. You could save time--and money--by organizing your shopping list according to where items are in the store, shopping less often, shopping by mail or by phone."
Americans are hungry for efficiency-boosting skills like these, he says, "because we're all caught in a time-crunch. We're taking on new roles and still holding on to the old ones. So we've got a lot more to do.
"And we've experienced an information explosion before the technology has caught up. The media, for one, bombards us with information that we don't have time to digest.
"Even though there's more information pouring into our homes and offices, we still use old organizing habits and tools--like filing cabinets--that are slow and tedious."
When everyone has a personal and business computer, says Moskowitz, whose home/office is equipped with a computer system, "we'll experience a productivity explosion.
"It's a whole new way of working effectively that requires breaking a lot of outdated habits. I predict that the next generation of kids will be taught time management in school, along with life skills like creativity and transcendental meditation."
Most people aren't as productive as they could be, he says, "because they waste time doing trivial things. They fail at the choice point, which comes when you finish something you've been working on. Then you've got to decide what to do next.
"Most people start in on whatever catches their eye, instead of working on whatever it is that would move them farthest towards their next, most important goal."
It helps to have a list of goals and projects important to you. When you get to a "choice point," the list can remind you what you really want to do.
Among Moskowitz's other organizing ideas:
Establish a quiet hour, when everyone concentrates on important actitivies. Allow no phone calls, unnecessary talking or moving around.
Set a deadline for work, so it commands attention and gets action.
Master the art of "cutting it close." Finish just in time to avoid having to re-do work in light of last-minute developments.
Avoid attending meetings. Phone or write, or send someone in your place.
Learn to say no to those who want to buy, beg or borrow your time against your will. "Just open your lips and speak the word. It's easier than you think."