Being organized has always come naturally to Brenda Prinzavalli.
Even as a child, Prinzavalli lined up her toys just so. Now, as chief executive officer of Balanced Organizing Solutions, she helps businesses and professionals get organized both at home and on the job.
Prinzavalli started her career as a teacher, and moved into consulting, training teachers to use educational software. But life took her in a different direction altogether, as increasing numbers of friends and acquaintances, impressed with her organizational skills, asked her for help with tasks ranging from putting together training manuals to creating better filing systems.
Roughly a decade later, Prinzavalli has written several books on organizing. She appears in regular segments on KVVU-TV, Channel 5's "More" morning show. She also just added social-media organizing to her list of services, and helps companies establish streamlined strategies for marketing through Twitter, Facebook and other websites.
Question: What drew you to a career in organizing?
Answer: I have a gift for looking at the world in a very organized way. I also have a background in education, so I can teach other people how to see the world and their actions in an organized way, as well. Entrepreneurs or small-business owners often have a passion or a skill. They want to make that skill their life's work, but they don't necessarily wrap themselves around the business components of it. I can help them get organized, so they can make a livelihood of their passion. There's no greater satisfaction than helping someone do that.
Question: What do you do when you're retained to help someone?
Answer: I do a lot of thinking. When people say, "I need to be more organized," it's very similar to when someone says, "I need to be more healthy." Do you need to eat better, exercise more, get more sleep? When people say they need to be more organized, I have to find out what that means -- whether they need to be more punctual, have better discipline or get rid of stuff they don't need. I like to help people go to that next level. We sit down and talk. I do an assessment, and find out the most frequent actions we can put a solid system to for great results. After the assessment, I facilitate a company meeting to learn where the system breakdowns are, and what internally needs to be taken care of.
Question: How often is it just cleaning out closets or cabinets, versus dealing with a bigger emotional issue?
Answer: It's a tie. I like people to have a new relationship with how they organize, and how they think about how they organize. I help them with the philosophy of it. Instead of a habit or an end result, like your files need to be this color or in that particular order, I begin with what you want your space to look like, or how you want your business to operate. I outlaw certain words. You can't say you're embarrassed. All that kind of language does is reinforce where someone is. I look at where you want to go. I organize the organizing process and help people step through it. They may say they need to organize the business, set a bottom line, be less stressed or have things take less time, but they don't know where to start. I cut through that, get to the heart of what we need to take on and set up a plan. We take it one step at a time.
Question: How organized are you personally?
Answer: I look at everything with a critical eye, so I see disorganized areas more than someone else would notice. I find things when I need them. I know where they are. But clutter happens to everyone. There are those moments where it hits you like a ton of bricks. The key is to find a way to get out of it, to get a hold of the paper in your life.
Question: Have you always been that way? Were you the kid who hung up her clothes in color-coded order, or did you have a messy room as a teen?
Answer: I jokingly say I've been organizing since I could stack blocks by color and in alphabetical order. When I was in high school and college, I would help people organize processes, or people would ask me how I did things because I was always very organized.
Question: Why is being organized so hard for so many people?
Answer: Because most people think organization is supposed to be done a certain way. But every client I've worked with, we individualize things for them, whether it's in a business or personal setting. I help people set up a system that matches their personality and style, so they'll have a much better result and a better chance of keeping it up.
Question: How does disorganization affect people's lives? Most people think of the messy closet or the occasional forgotten doctor's appointment. Is it more than that?
Answer: It has an emotional component. It is a physical reminder of how people will talk to themselves. If it's in business, when you've forgotten something for a client or failed to deliver because you were disorganized, the first thing you do is have a lot of negative self-talk. That impact is huge, because the loudest voice in our head is our own. If we're not talking nicely to ourselves, that's not going to help us create good results.
Question: What's the funniest or weirdest thing people have found when you help them reorganize?
Answer: We find money, like $100 bills stuffed in envelopes and tucked away, or 6-month-old checks for $1,400 that haven't been cashed. Disorganization not only costs you in the emotional drain, but it can cost you financially. Think of late bills. I have a fun little thing where I watch how long it takes someone to say, "Oh, I've been looking for that!" The shortest was 12 minutes. Sometimes it takes a lot longer, but it never fails to happen. I wait for it. It's part of the joy of helping people organize.
I know people are very vulnerable when they ask me to come in and see something they don't like. I have the utmost respect for that. I pass no judgment. It simply is where they are now, and where they want to go. They want to do things differently. They've invited me to help them with that, and I'm honored.
Question: You're asking people to make a long-term investment in doing things differently when they're focusing on staying above water in a downturn. How do you convince them they need your services?
Answer: It doesn't need to take a large chunk of time or the reorganization of an entire system. Small things can have a large impact. When you make a change in one small area, or you commit to doing one thing differently and you carry through, you develop inner pride and confidence, which helps you approach the next project. Work on one problem that keeps coming up, even if it's as simple as making your bed every morning, so that every time you walk by, it's not a reminder of messy habits. It becomes a ritual, something you do because it makes you feel better to take care of your space. Small changes can remind you that you're taking care of your business and your clients, too.
When things are slow, it's actually a great time for businesses to take on their foundation, and to look at and test their systems and best practices so that the whole experience will be more satisfactory for clients. Customer service is so important. People want to know they are buying a service from a company that's organized, and that has systems and processes to know when something's wrong and how to fix it. Being organized creates confidence for customers. In your personal life, it's more important than ever to organize your finances. When things are tighter, be proactive about it rather than putting out fires and getting late fees.
Question: What's your No. 1 tip on getting organized?
Answer: Find the organizational style that works for you, because that will give you the greatest long-term success. Are you better at tasking things in the morning or the evening? If you're a morning person, do things that need the greatest focus in the morning. Know your best way of approaching things based on your style. Also, don't wait for one week or weekend where you can close down the business for a project, because big chunks of time don't work. Break it into small steps -- what can you do along the way to start making organizational changes?
Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at email@example.com or 702-380-4512.