Interview with an In-House Professional Organizer
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Most of the professional organizers I’ve met either run their own business or are employed by other organizers, so when I learned that Janice Simon works as an in-house organizer, I was intrigued and had lots of questions to ask her. Fortunately, she agreed to let me share her answers with you.
How did you come to be an in-house organizer?
It was a total accident. I was the first person my boss hired for a new department called Faculty Development, where we provide career development programs for the clinical and research faculty. During our first year, we conducted focus groups to determine the needs of the faculty, and they said over and over how they needed help with organization and time management. Noticing how organized I was, my boss is the one who found out about the National Association of Professional Organizers and sent me to the 2001 conference in Austin. I attended the conference and thought, “Wow, these are my people.” We had someone come in after that to talk to the faculty about organization and time management, but the presentation wasn’t that great. My boss leaned over and said those fateful words, “You know, you could do this.” We began to naively offer my services to the faculty and staff, and 11 years later, I’m still helping faculty and staff throughout the institution with organization, productivity and time management issues.
What does your job entail?
I have the best job! Part of my job is coordinating events for our department for our career development programs. As an in-house organizer, I work with faculty and staff one-on-one in their offices, where we literally go through stacks of papers and oodles of emails or we talk about time management approaches.
I love working with the doctors – the clinicians and researchers, and they are so brilliant. A majority of my organizing clients at work are competitive, Type A’s who are high-end perfectionists with extremely demanding jobs. They get in their own way a lot, especially when it comes to procrastination. They have very demanding careers and juggling it all becomes difficult. A couple of my clients also have dealt with their own cancer battles and the resulting memory issues and fatigue from chemo.
On the technology side of things, I help the doctors set up their iPads, show them what apps they can use to help their work and lives, work with our IT department on any issues the faculty are having, and teach the doctors how to use shortcuts on the institutional Blackberries. I play with apps, research them and talk to other doctors who are on the tech savvy side of things to keep abreast of what’s going on with technology. I push information out to the doctors so they can keep up.
I also make numerous presentations to departments and groups both inside MD Anderson and outside of it. Since we have built several new buildings over the past decade, I make department presentations on how to get ready for a move and have helped departments and individuals pack and purge clutter.
I write a newsletter and send out quarterly Faculty Productivity newsletters to the doctors. The Communications department has asked me to write up organizing tips or create videos for patients and staff on various organizing issues, such as organizing your medications.
What came first, the job or your organizing business?
The job came first. If someone needed help at home, I would refer them to other area organizers, but most of the time they weren’t calling them. They already knew me and wanted me so I decided to see private clients on the occasional Saturday.
Does your employer have any concerns about you running your own business?
Since we are a state institution, I had to notify my supervisor according to our institutional and state policies. I am a salaried, full-time employee so I don’t have a contract. Any writing I do for my blog or the Savvy Auntie website is done on my own time. The institution used to pay for my NAPO membership, but when the economy soured and we had financial difficulties in 2008 and 2009, I decided to pay for my own NAPO membership and created a dual membership with the Clutter Princess name in case something happened to my job. This way, I would be able to walk away with my membership intact.
Do you know of any other people who work as in-house organizers?
Right now, I’m a group of one. Judith Kohlberg used to work for a company several years ago as a productivity consultant. I met one organizer who worked for her state department and was trying to do it part-time within her organization. Another organizer I know was working part-time for a privately-owned company. I haven’t heard from either of them in a while so I’m not sure where they stand. I’m still the only full-time, in-house organizer that I know of, but I hear from other professional organizers who are interested in working for a company.
Do you have any advice for other organizers who may be interested in finding employment opportunities?
Do your research and have data. You need to research the company you’re interested in approaching as well as pulling statistics about organizing and productivity. My institution is run by clinicians and scientists who love data, and HR types love data as well. If you are looking at academic institutions like where I work, it’s usually difficult to create a special job title so you will have to adapt by using an existing job title., and you can search their databases to see the list of titles available in those state institutions. Do not use any title that can be construed as a secretary or administrative assistant. If you want managers, vice presidents and section heads to listen to you, you need to have a non-secretarial title that sounds more authoritative.
You need to show how you can justify your salary and how you can solve their problems. When approaching a company, find out who makes the decisions and approach them. Write up a proposal with what kinds of services you could offer – one-on-one assistance, presentations and workshops, newsletter stories, etc. Part of your research should include whether the company has other departments you can partner with: HR’s educational programs, employee health/wellness programs, communications, records managements and materials management. For example, I partner with our Materials Management department every year to run a personal computer recycling drive where employees can drop off their unwanted personal electronics.
Janice Marie Simon, MA, CPO, is Project Director for the Faculty Development Department at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. In her position, she is an in-house professional organizer, assisting clinical and research faculty with organizing and productivity issues. She also has a blog at www.theclutterprincess.com and writes as The Organized Auntie at SavvyAuntie.com. She previously worked as a journalist at newspapers in Oklahoma and Texas and worked as a media coordinator for the Galveston Independent School District.