Compliments of MC =) via Flickr

[The following is a guest blog post from Dr. Amy Sayward, History Department Chairperson, Middle Tennessee State University].

In 2004, I hit bottom organizationally.  I had told myself for several years that I was organized, just not tidy.  But in February of 2004, I took photos of my faculty office, which forced me to confront that I was not organized and my office was a disaster area.  In fact, I recall a student who walked into my office and started talking to me, because he didn’t see the other student seated in my office–that’s how much visual clutter there was!

At that point, a friend gave me a copy of David Allen’s Getting Things Done.  It didn’t magically cure my organizational issues over night, but it gave me a system that I could work within so that things stopped getting worse.  Over time, I started to address the huge backlog of “stuff” that I had accumulated–6 boxes of unfiled papers, 6,000 emails in my inbox, and all of the general clutter.  As I started to get organized–to feel in control of my workspace and life–my stress decreased and my capacity increased.

Dr. Sayward's office

In the fall of 2008, I became Chair of the History Department at Middle Tennessee State University.  I recognized that my new office would be a public space–it would be where faculty held small meetings, it would be where many students and prospective students would form their first impression of the History Department.  I spent the first year trying to be organized, to work my system, but at the end of that first year, it was clear that I needed more help.
That’s when I hired a professional organizer–Ms. Carolyn Powell (  We met for our first session on a Saturday.  I started with a tour of my office and its contents.  Then she started asking questions: “Why was the Chair’s office the home of all the bound copies of theses and dissertations?”  “Is there another secure area in the department where personnel files can be stored?”  What she had realized immediately, was that there was simply too much “stuff” in the Chair’s office for it to ever make a good first impression.  So what started off as a reorganization of the Chair’s office soon led to reorganizations of our seminar room (new home to the theses and dissertations), my executive aide’s office, and other storage areas in the History Department.  

Today, with help from books and organizational professionals, I feel like the Chair’s office is an organized, welcoming, professional space for me and those who enter.  And I feel as if my life and work is more under control, allowing me to focus my mental energies on my work rather than feeling overwhelmed.

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All viewpoints expressed by Jackie Gilbert are her own, and not of her employer.

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