Monday, March 13, 2006

The Director Loves Her Clear Portfolios

In a few hours, I'm driving to New Jersey to visit Norie Wisniewski, who is the executive director of Interfaith Caregivers in Haddonfield, and her organizer, Ellen Faye, of Straighten-Up in Cherry Hill. Interfaith Caregivers teams volunteers with fragile elderly or homebound people to provide a helping hand -- with transportation, grocery shopping, companionship. Many clients are at the end of their lives and Wisniewski knows how precious their time can be.

I was with them when they first got together in January. Norie told Ellen that because she knows her clients' time is precious, she helps them first. That means that she falls behind on some of her own administrative tasks, such as keeping on top of e-mail or managing meeting notes. Plus, Norie never fully understood a computer system that had been set up for her.
Since then, they met once, on February 9. I wasn't there, but they both sent me reports.

Here's what Ellen wrote:
Norie and I met on Thursday, Feb. 9, from 1 to 3 p.m.

I wore corduroys, a sweater, jacket and boots - casually professional. Norie wore her signature red! Our session began with general discussion about how things were going. Norie was excited about a few small changes she made and the big improvements that resulted.

We talked about:

┬ĚHaving extra pens - and how that small change made her feel in control and carrying the plastic sleeve so that materials wouldn't get intermixed. Her calendar and her frustration with people changing appointments. From our first meeting she was able to figure out that by using pencil in her calendar she could make changes much easier. She has begun to code tentative meetings with question marks, and then can just erase the "?" when the meeting goes definite.

┬ĚHer waiting time when donors/volunteers are late. Norie has always brought work to do - but is going to make a conscience effort to schedule her meetings in a way that better matches the personality of the person she is meeting with. If they tend to always be an hour late for breakfast, she is going to schedule lunch or afternoon meetings instead. We also talked about reframing the experience when people are late - that she just has to let it go and see what opportunities await her instead. So instead of sitting and stewing about wasting an hour, she should consider the time a gift to think about, plan or do something else.

I then presented Norie with the Needs Assessment Summary from our first meeting. She reviewed it and discussed how I handle it if the client wants to change the order. I explained that it was a fluid document that was meant as a guide and that it's purpose was to keep us focused on those tasks that were identified at our first meeting as most important as well as to direct us as needed. If the client wanted to change direction, that was their choice.

Norie commented that she wondered if it would be valuable for her to summarize certain meetings she has in the same fashion.We talked about how much time it took to write up the notes and how I felt that it couldn't be a boiler plate kind of paper - but that it had to be specific to each client, or in her case, meeting. I find the summary very helpful in solidifying the client's situation and needs in my mind so I can keep them focused.

The one thing that I told her I felt strongly about was finishing a task before moving to another - that an unfinished task is as good as wasting time, money and resources, because if the area is not well organized the client won't be as successful in maintaining the area.

With that we moved on to the first project, analyzing and adjusting the organization of files on Norie's personal computer to ensure easy access to frequently utilized files. We began by bringing a smaller chair behind her desk so we both could see her computer. I sat at the computer but Norie eventually ended up sitting on the desk next to me so that we both could see the computer screen.

First I evaluated what was going on on her computer. It appeared as if her files were added to the agency's network, but not put on the server in any logical order. Some files were on the server, some were in "My Documents" and some appeared haphazardly on her system. (They had just recently undergone a computer upgrade in the office - but since her tech guy cancelled two appointments on her and she couldn't find the files she needed on her system we decided that she couldn't wait for him anymore and we just had to make it work.)

Since there was no reason for her files to be on the server I copied all the files back into My Documents. We then began setting up file folders just as we would do in a manual file system.
Many times I got up and showed her visually in a physical file how the computer file system mimicked the typical file drawer, with folders, sub-folders and documents inside.

Many file folders had been set up on her system - but when I asked where a specific document should go Norie would give me a different folder name. We kept setting up new folders and put very few documents in the existing folders. We discussed how she wouldn't want to have too many folders to look in but that what would most likely happen, is that the old folders that were there that she didn't use we could delete so only the ones that she would think to use would have documents in them.

I suspect that someone else set up the initial folders for her. But if her thought processes wouldn't lead her to those folders then they were as good as worthless. If she wanted to find an old file on "Spring Event" and her mind thought "Fundraiser," then it would do no good at all to file the document into "Events" or "Special Events" folders. If Norie thinks "Fundraiser," then that is where it should go!

We progressed through about 75 percent of her documents. Norie felt the need to delete obsolete files which we did some of as we went along.

For homework, Norie is going to look into one or two folders a day and delete obsolete files. When I return, we will finish processing all the document and then look into the files further to see if and where sub-files will be beneficial.

Filing takes a balance between breaking things down enough to find them but not into so much detail that one is overwhelmed by the number of files there are. This is what we will work to bring into the best balance for Norie.

Norie and I clearly connected from the get-go. There is a mutual level of respect and admiration that is making this project productive and fun. I felt that the session went very well and much was accomplished. I think Norie felt relief in having easy access to the files she uses most frequently.

(Comment from Jane: Ellen has told me that she feels very good about working with Norie, because it is her contribution to the Haddonfield community. Norie is out working in the field and working hard, Ellen says. But if Ellen can make Norie more effective, Ellen has also served her community.)

Here's what Norie wrote:
I am so pleased that I was selected for this project.

Ellen has been so positive and practical to work with.Everyone always compliments me on how organized I am and Ellen realized immediately that I could move things up to another level. Ellen understood that I wanted more time in my life, not that I necessarily felt unorganized. There are many things I would like to do and often I feel short on time. How liberating that Ellen took away my small plate and gave me a bigger one! Also, working with senior citizens and the disabled, I am faced daily with the fact that life is short. So to be given the gift of more time is just that, Ellen's gift to me.

Ellen's ideas are also so easy to implement. I was able not only to accept her suggestions (she is so non-threatening), but also to explain to her that sometimes the nonprofit world is a bit different from the corporate sector and volunteer staff and paid staff also can be worlds apart. She was able to understand immediately my perspective on things.

Ellen asked that I give her some stressors in my daily life. Committee meetings were a struggle as many times I am given items unrelated to that committee. In order not to lose papers or have things dog-eared, I put them in my committee folder. Thus, a golden opportunity to misplace items! Ellen introduced a plastic box system - a box that contains the committee folder, my daytimer, and three pens. Any random items I receive at the session go into the clear container - I automatically see them and have to deal with these items, when I return to the office! No way can they stay in the wrong folder or get lost!

The three pens idea is so practical. Ellen asked if I am ever asked to borrow a pen. It had just happened in the hour before at a meeting! It was as if she were a mind reader! Instead of focusing 100% on the comments being made, I wanted - maybe even needed - my favorite pen back. In the last several weeks I tote my favorite pen along with 2 disposable ones in my box!!!! I can lend pens out with a smile and never even imagine getting or not getting them back!

Ellen also suggested a simple change in entering dates in my daytimer. If a meeting doesn't have a definite date, but 4 that are questionable (I usually give my availability first for meetings and when the group selects a date they get back to me). Though always written in pencil with a ???? next to the meeting time, Ellen took my procedure to a different level. I now enter the ??? followed by a ( ) with the alternative dates inside the ( ). When it is time to erase the dates not being used, I don't have to search for them - they are right there in the ( ). Brilliant or just simple, I am not sure, but definitely a time saving device for me!

My computer files were very annoying. Scattered here and there, Ellen gathered them together and gave me the responsibility of cleaning them out from the one location. Never for a second asked why I kept my history in front of me, nor suggested anything be deleted. Ellen simply asked if I trusted her. When I answered "Yes" I realized that I did just that and my life was on the way to that next level.

If our interaction ends today, if I have no more sessions, nor am given no more suggestions, I realize my desire to extend my day and to have more time, is a realistic goal. If an opportunity comes to join a new organization or have coffee with a friend, I can use my new gained time for these opportunities.

As both of my daughters are expecting my grandbabies within a day of each other, I know how I want to spend my gift of time.


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