“Making It Happen”: An Interview With Sunny Schlenger
Organizing your life is more than merely putting things away in labeled cabinets and files. What we keep or throw away, how we create space is tied directly to our spirit – this is what author and coach Sunny Schlenger has been teaching and writing about for over 35 years.
“I believe that everything in your Life is connected. Understanding the connections between what you love, what you do, what you’ve saved and what you want out of Life will start you on an amazing journey of discovery and personal development,” said Schlenger.
Schlenger would be the one to completely understand the connection between space and spirit as she is a graduate of John Hopkins University with a Masters in Counseling. When working out what she wanted to do with her life, she said after working four years in a mental health hospital, she quickly realized two things, a) she didn’t want to do a type of work that didn’t have immediate results as she is very action oriented b)she wanted to work for herself.
“When I was young I told my mother I wanted to work at a number of jobs. She said that was impossible. I then realized in the work I do as a consultant, I get to be a part of a number of other people’s lives and it’s just as if I were doing the work. I feel as if I really do get to have my dream.”
I met up with Sunny in a coffee shop in Sedona. What an honor to get to interview somebody that Regis Philbin interviewed on television not long ago. Plus Schlenger wrote the best seller from the 90s “How to Be Organized In Spite of Yourself”, a book that influenced Harvard University to adopt and integrate her approach within their Training and Development Program.
But this is the beauty of living in Sedona, there are so many people who live here who are amazingly talented.
In interviewing Sunny I not only wanted to know more about her philosophy of organization but also how she made a success of herself in business. Her answer – I made a lot of mistakes and learned from them. She also added, “if you do your homework and go by your gut feeling, it’s really hard to screw up. You learn as you go along, the trick is to not become paralyzed with fear. I tell the people I mentor, do something, it is better to risk a mistake than not take action. You will always learn something despite the outcome.”
She also spoke about choices and how people procrastinate because they have so many choices or don’t know how to make a decision. Or, people just don’t feel they have the right to work for themselves or take a creative approach to what they are doing.
“My biggest job is giving people permission to do what they love. So many of us are so limited until somebody brings this to our attention,” she adds.
Last I asked Sunny, what I ask almost everybody – how did you promote your business or yourself.
Having tried many methods her answer was through networking groups, speaking engagements and writing. Sunny was a columnist and appeared in publications such as Women’s World, New York Times and other well-read publications.
Today she is promoting her work more online and is building a tool that allows people to take a quiz to identify their personal style and ways they can improve what they do. The tool is close to launching, she said, it is in beta. Oh, and she also will be working from Guatemala where she was invited to train trainers on her style of organization.
Retired – hardly. Even after 35 years, Sunny Schlenger is still creating and moving, teaching and volunteering, making change and loving life.
Discover Your Personal Organizational Style
July 22, 2010, 8:00 am
I’ve long been interested in systems of personality or temperament typing, ranging from the Keirsey Temperament Sorter to the Ayurvedic doshas to any number of magazine or Facebook quizzes. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve found the Myers-Briggs system very helpful in my personal and professional life—much more so than the quiz I took about which kind of pirate I would be. But all such quizzes and systems offer maps of difference. For instance: in learning that my dosha is pitta-kapha, I also realize that I have no vata traits—which are in fact the very physical and temperamental traits that characterize one of my best friends. The system of doshas offers a way of understanding the differences between us and why we prefer very different kinds of food and activity. The utility of any such system depends upon how detailed its maps of difference are and upon the context in which you’re using it.
My interest in such systems probably explains why, of the many organizational and self-improvement books I’ve read or skimmed, How to be Organized in Spite of Yourself: Time and Space Management that Works with Your Personal Style by Sunny Schlenger and Roberta Roesch really stuck in my mind and remained one that I frequently recommend to others. Schlenger and Roesch believe that no one organizational system will work for every individual, because we each have certain built-in preferences or styles. Through short quizzes, case studies, and specific suggestions tailored to each style, this book offers the reader the possibility of figuring out just why the filing system that works for your colleague doesn’t work for you, or why those stylish containers you splurged on because they looked good aren’t really fulfilling their intended purpose on your desk. No one style is inherently better than any other, as each has its benefits and drawbacks. Understanding those pros and cons can help you select organizational tools and strategies that will actually work for your particular style and circumstances.
Schlenger and Roesch describe five distinct styles to organizing time:
- The Hopper quickly and and frequently switches tasks throughout the day. Hoppers often enjoy variety and like to feel the gratification of completing small tasks, but they may be easily distracted by other people or technology. This is the most common of the temporal organizing styles.
- The Perfectionist Plus seeks excellent performance in every activity, sets very high standards for herself and others, and may have difficulty distinguishing between valuable and less-valuable uses of her time.
- The person who is Allergic to Detail enjoys thinking about the big picture and new ideas, sometimes neglecting smaller details or follow-through.
- The Fence Sitter can see both sides of an issue and thoroughly researches upcoming decisions, both large and small, sometimes to the point of forestalling action.
- The Cliff Hanger thrives on adrenaline, deadlines, and external pressure, but sometimes loses track of all the commitments he’s juggling.
Each of these styles has particular strengths, such as the ability to juggle multiple tasks or to do big picture planning—and yet those very same tendencies can lead to problems when you’re under pressure or working with others. Schlenger and Roesch offer specific suggestions for each style, including different kinds of to-do lists: some are organized by date, others by priority, and others by enjoyability of tasks.
Schlenger and Roesch also recognize that changing circumstances might lead you to temporarily adopt the behaviors of a particular style as a coping strategy. Thus they recommend reading not only the chapter that seems to best describe your own style (and there might be more than one—you might be a Hopper and Cliff Hanger combined, or perhaps a Hopper at work but Allergic to Detail at home) but also the other chapters as well. Reading the profile of a temporal style very different from your own preference can at the very least demonstrate to you the strength of your own internal tendency—as well as some of the assumptions or judgments you may make about people with styles different from your own.
Schlenger and Roesch describe five styles of organizing physical space:
- The Everything Out likes to have reminders, mementoes, and project materials in plain sight and within easy reach.
- The Nothing Out prefers to have surfaces cleared off and materials stored away.
- The Right Angler enjoys having things look a certain way, with the appearance of precision.
- The Pack Rat keeps almost everything.
- The Total Slob believes that organizing things is a waste of time that could be spent on creative pursuits.
Again, each of these styles has particular strengths and weaknesses. Each chapter offers specific suggestions for filing systems, furniture placement, and strategies for working within your natural tendency to enhance your productivity. Granted, I think the label “Total Slob” sounds fairly pejorative, but the overall approach of this book is to honor the individuality of each style and its possibilities.
Working With Others
Whether you share living space or working space with others, collaborate on projects, or delegate tasks to someone else, sooner or later your own organizational styles may come into conflict with those of others. Like the Myers-Briggs system, which helps me get along better with others whenever I serve on a committee, this typology can assist you in understanding why other people behave the way they do and how best to communicate and work effectively with them.
The first edition of this book, which is the one I remembered reading in a public library 20 years ago, was published in 1989; the copy I re-read to write this post was from the second edition, published in 1999 with some additional chapters about using technology. As you might expect, the paragraphs about BBSes and “The Internet” now seem very dated. But Schlenger and Roesch make some excellent points that any ProfHacker reader tempted to jump at the latest and greatest tool or device we write about would be wise to remember. You have to ask “will it work for me”—and more specifically, “will it work for my particular organizational tendencies.” If you’re an Everything Out, for instance, a paper-based planner might suit you better than just using the calendar in your phone.
In short: if you suspect that your organizational strategies could use some modification, but you haven’t been successful with one of the popular one-approach-for-everyone systems, this book might help you understand why and offer you some helpful tips for doing things your way, only better.
“He who knows others is wise, he who knows himself is enlightened” – Lao Tzu
One of the first steps in change is awareness — understanding how and why you do things the way you do.
But why is it important to know yourself?
Awareness of self…empowers.
It creates space and understanding for decisions to be made. Decisions on how to move forward or decisions on how to change. Self-awareness gives us a starting point, a place to work from.
In Sunny Schlenger and Roberta Roesch’s book “How to be organized in spite of yourself”, they explain that everybody can be identified by a different operational style and knowing what your personal style is can be a good starting place if you feel the need to organize your work life.
In the book, people are classified by the following Time Styles:
Hopper: A person who generally has many projects on the go at once and likes to works on all simultaneously. They constantly jump from task to task without finishing any of them.
Perfectionist Plus: The Perfectionist Plus gets so involved in their projects and believe they can do everything right that they rarely finish a project on time. Even when they do finish a job, they are usually dissatisfied with the outcome.
Allergic to Detail: They would much rather formulate the plans than carry them out. This type is very weak on follow through.
Fence Sitter: The Fence Sitter leaves most things to chance because they are incapable to making a decision and worry whether their decisions will be the correct ones.
Cliff Hanger: These people thrive on excitement, delay everything to the last minute and usually need a deadline to complete anything.
Identify your own style. When I identified myself and my style of working, I realized that it wasn’t so much a character flaw as I had previously believed, but a recognizable style that probably one-fifth of the population of the world share with me. Knowing this allowed me to (firstly) not be so hard on myself but it also put me in a position of power to allow me to learn to work with it.
Here are a few tips to help you work better with your each style
Hopper:Slow down. Eliminate distractions and interruptions.Do high priority tasks when you have most energy. Break projects down into mini-goals.
Perfectionist Plus: Identify and focus on your highest priorities. Anything else does not need high attention to detail. Learn to say “no” and to delegate.
Allergic to detail: Create simple, basic routines, set reminders, break up tasks into smaller goals, and schedule tasks.
Fence Sitter: Understand that there really are no bad decisions. Break down decisions into small steps, pinpoint your fears, and get familiar with your gut feeling.
Cliff Hanger: Schedule time for tasks. Become aware of how long they really take, check your to-do list regularly to ensure you are not procrastinating on important tasks.
How do you spend your time?
Another important factor is to see how you currently spend your time. We all work hard — we spend many hours each day on tasks and projects that need to be done.
But are there tasks that could be eliminated?
Are we perhaps spending too much time on certain jobs? Identifying how you spend each moment of the day can be very enlightening.
When the end of the work day comes and you think you know how the day was spent, do you remember that you spent twenty minutes chatting to your work colleagues about the football game or the fact that you spent thirty minutes on social media? What about the time spent at two meetings that didn’t really affect your job? Could you have read the meeting minutes rather than attend it personally?
Analyzing how the hours of each day were spent will allow you to make better decisions about your time going forward.
This can be done by using a paper time sheet where you detail all of the things that you spent time on during the day or you can download an electronic time-sheet from the Internet that will monitor all that you do on your computer during the day.
When you discover more about your personal style and how you currently spend your time you will be in a more powerful position to make more informed decisions about how you can work at your best.
As for my style, it turns out that I am both a Hopper and Allergic to Detail. Confusion, disorder, chaos, disarray were all words that described me in the past. Getting organized has been life-changing for me. It has been the facilitator of my personal success — and believe me when I say that if I can do it, anyone can!
(Photo credit: Document folders sorted via Shutterstock)
|Remember the times of your life with scrap book|
|Written by Lu Stitt|
|Friday, 25 March 2011 00:00|
Tom Hood/Larson Newspapers
Preserving memories is something everyone wants to do — to keep those bits and pieces of a life well lived preserved for coming generations. If that is true, then why do most of us just toss the items in a box and stick it under the bed or in the back of the closet? “Oftentimes, people just don’t know how best to put those items together in some type of organization,” Sunny Schlenger said. “There are many ways to create your personal legacy.”
Schlenger teaches a class through Yavapai College’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute to help people create and preserve their life story using the memorabilia, photographs and writings they’ve kept piled together in a box. The first step, she said, is organizing.
“It doesn’t have to be done all at once. You can even start with one photograph and write a description about it and why it is important to you,” Schlenger said.
Schlenger has written two books on organization. After her parents died, she inherited a large number of pictures and collected items from several years of saving.
“Some [organizing skills] I knew and some I didn’t. I started scrapbooking about the same time and found I had to find things first, then organize them,” Schlenger said opening the book she made. “I decided I wouldn’t just pass along a box of unmarked ‘stuff’ to my kids.”
From that decided statement, Schlenger came up with an idea of how to put her life into a book, then the idea for a class began to surface to help others do the same.
“In my class you take one photograph and write about it, focusing on the positive. You ask questions of why and how this item is important. Include what memories and feelings are associated with the photograph and why. If we take it a step further, we can create pages from an era, like the 1960s or one year,” Schlenger said.
Other ideas for organization are by people, family or events. It can be very basic, like a photograph and information about the people pictured. This is done most often with very old photographs of an ancestor. Creating a personal legacy is not just about remembering the past. It’s paying attention to the present and passing the stories along.
“I want my kids to know what life was like for me on March 8, 2011. You can go from very general, like who is my family, to what I did yesterday,” Schlenger said.
She starts by asking the question, “If you were gone tomorrow, what would you want others to know about you and the life you lived?” She said it is like an African proverb she likes to quote: “When an elder dies, it is as if an entire library burned down.”
What Schlenger and the people in the class will do is keep it simple and specific to the individual. Every person’s life is different, even if the experiences are similar. Many people crossing the American plains and prairies in the 1800s to find a better life in the West bore some of the same hardships, but the journals they wrote were all different.
“History books were written from people’s writings, how they saw what was happening. We all have a history that is worth telling. It helps us to see our purpose in life — why we are here,” Schlenger said. “It also helps us revisit those most treasured moments of our lives.”
Creating a personal legacy can be like a treasure hunt to discover those bits and pieces, and why they have been kept as cherished possessions.
“It helps connect us to ourselves and to each other. You can approach this from any angle,” Schlenger said as she opened several books on a table to demonstrate the different approaches she has used with her own legacy project.
“It’s a lifelong process you can start at any age.”
She said virtually everyone who comes to the class walks in the door with a tub full of photographs and collected items, and wants to organize them somehow. “Where should I put this item?” is a big question for most people, Schlenger said.
“I want to help get people where they are and bring them into the perspective of their life as a story. I encourage people to write about their lives and having an item to write about helps,” she said. “I think this is part of my mission, to help people record their own lives.”
The class is also designed to help people understand what is important in their life, what is worth keeping, and how, with a deep breath, to blow the rest away.
“People need to record their lives, and not be just a name on a family tree or three paragraphs in a newspaper obituary. It’s a way to reclaim your life and have something to pass along,” Schlenger said.
Schlenger is the author of “How to Be Organized in Spite of Yourself” and “Organizing for the Spirit.” She received a bachelor’s degree in social and behavioral sciences from Johns Hopkins University and a master’s in counseling from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Schlenger has lived in the Village of Oak Creek since 2007.
Creating Your Personal Legacy will be taught for five weeks beginning Friday, April 8, from 10:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. in Room 39 of Yavapai College Sedona Campus, 4215 Arts Village Drive in West Sedona. For more information, call 649-4266.
THRIVE – VOLUME 2, ISSUE 6 – APRIL 2008
Sunny Schlenger is featured in this April 2008 article on Thrive.
“Penny, rest her soul, has been dead for at least 25 years. An extreme case of clutter-itis, maybe. But most of us can relate on some level — that closet we just keep throwing stuff into and closing the door, the drawer in the kitchen with its hodge podge of contents, the magazines stockpiled in the garage. Don’t wait 30 years to get organized, start now, advises Sunny Schlenger, professional coach and organizer and author of “How to Be Organized in Spite of Yourself” (Penguin/Putnum)…”
Sunny Schlenger was quoted for the January issue of Family Circle, and quoted from that article in John Tesh’s Radio Show newsletter.
“Organize your environment. If every flat surface in your house is piled with papers and junk, watch out. Sunny Schlenger, author of Organizing for the Spirit, says you can tell how well you’re dealing with life by what your environment looks like. She points out that clutter can overwhelm your spirit, and disorganization causes constant, imperceptible stress. The fix: spend 10 minutes every day de-cluttering one spot where things accumulate. And stop trying to find places to store what you don’t really love or need. Give it away or haul it to the curb. With less stuff to take care of, you’ll have more time to devote to the things that really move your life forward.”
Cut the Clutter
By Christine Richmond
MarthaStewart.com in Body + Soul, Green Living
September 2006 It doesn’t seem so bad at first. A stack of bills (or your kid’s latest artwork) sits on the kitchen table, and some old photos amass on the floor by the bed. Somehow, these innocent-looking piles proliferate, as if by their own free will. In mere days, a few contained cases of clutter morph into utter mayhem—and you have no idea how. (more…)
How to Make Those “Sweeping” Changes
By Natasha Hunter
The Harvard Resource: News and Information
for Harvard University Faculty and Staff
July 2005 It’s a beautiful afternoon and you’re standing glumly in your office, staring at seemingly endless stacks of, well, stuff. When did those piles get so high? What the heck is in them, anyway? And how are you going to dig yourself out?
While the time may not be less busy, summer months can be a moment to take on special or neglected projects. Many Harvard employees choose summer to attack the previous year’s accumulation of papers, files and miscellany, in order to face the new academic year afresh. Moreover, as Harvard’s supervisor of recycling and waste Rob Gogan points out, “This is the season for moving, renovations and office cleanouts – plus a lot of dorms are cleaning out and upgrading.” (more…)
Lose the Clutter, Find Your Soul
By Kama Lee Jackson
Microsoft Home Magazine
April 12, 2005 For Janette Kincaid, clutter isn’t just taking up space in her home. It’s taking up space in her thoughts, day and night.
“I’ve got a list going in my head as to which rooms or areas I need to tackle first,” says the Burlington, Ont., working mother of two. “The other night I couldn’t sleep. I got up, went through and organized my youngest daughter’s drawers. It had been bothering me that they were so full of stuff that she can’t wear anymore.” (more…)
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