Order from Chaos


Air Traffic Control





Professional Organizer Cleans Up With Her Business

By Wende Schwingendorf
of the Albuquerque

Elizabeth Davenport is the master of disaster.

As owner of Order from Chaos, she uses organizing techniques and a little bit of psychology to clean the clutter that plagues desks, office spaces and minds.

Ever since she was a child Davenport said she was an organizer. Her mother, a former secretary to Gen. Douglas MacArthur during World War II, attired her in frilly white dresses that stayed spotless. Her father, who used to run Post Exchange stores on military bases, was also an organized person.

"We never knew disorder in my family, my toys were always put neatly on the shelves," she said. "I learned early on that if everything has a place, it's easier to get those things there."

Davenport is also legally blind another reason why clutter can't rule her life. "I have 20/360 vision," she said. "If something isn't where it belongs, I can't see it.

"But everyone knows how to do a certain task well and mine is that I know how to organize." And that motto has made a lifelong career for her.

She's run her own organizing businesses since 1989, and also worked for Intel Corp. as a project scheduler and a consultant for the computer chip giant.

Under the name Order from Chaos, she has organized small businesses like Garfield Laundry and Attwell Glass, and also worked with larger organizations such as the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Colorado Springs, Colo., City Council.

Recently, Davenport brought her expertise to Judie Framan, a consultant with Framan & Smith Communications.

In Framan's Corrales home/office space, Davenport is introduced to a closet full of old files in boxes and stacked on desks.

Framan's working desk, adorned with a stuffed replica of "Babe" the movie pig is buried under piles of papers. Cubbyholes are stuffed with office supplies and even more paperwork.

"I'm trying to bring this business out of bankruptcy," Framan said. "The pig is a reminder to me that if Babe could do it, I can do it."

After a series of consultations with Davenport over a week, Framan said the experience of working with Davenport was "very freeing to me."

"I think it's because of her approach " Framan said. "You understand everything you're doing because it's taught in a hands-on sort of way.

"Plus, I'm saving time," she said. "There's not a lot of fumbling for phone numbers or files. Because of that, I'm able to achieve another goal --being able to take a walk by the river instead of being frantic at 5 o'clock."

Davenport straightened out Framan's life by first purging years-old files. Cross-referencing remaining files made information easy to find.

Additionally, she taught Framan how to effectively use a daily calendar and a pending file --a place for things that don't need immediate attention.

Davenport said she takes advantage of her business degree and an additional advanced degree in adult education.

"I'm familiar with the issues that businesspeople face," she said.

Every client is told to think of their workspace like the cockpit of a plane. "Things that are used at least weekly should be kept within arms' reach," she said. "Otherwise, it needs to go to a less critical space."

She also tells her clients never to share a desk. Ever.

"I don't care if you're husband or wife, or even if you have a Siamese twin," she said. "No two people work the same. If you have to share a desk, take some masking tape to cut the desk in half and each person gets to do things the way they need to."

Davenport prefers to work with small businesses up to 10 people who "have a lot of things to keep track of, that don't have good systems to start out with and then get overwhelmed."

Elizabeth Davenport's five rules to Organization

1- Write everything down; trust nothing to memory. Keep one calendar. Keep paper on the front of the fridge to write down grocery items as they are needed. If someone asks you to do something, write it down, right then.

2- Have a method to remind yourself when things need to be done. Your calendar and a pending file are just the ticket. Make a note on the calendar to remind you of the thing to do and keep the corresponding paperwork in the pending file.

3- If items have an assigned home, they will gravitate toward it. If they have no assigned home, they will wander into aimless piles on your desk. Decide how you might use an Item in the future, create a place for it, and put it there. Extra tip: Group things whenever possible.

4- Incoming information is the enemy. Don't ignore it or put it off. Have a station for dealing with all forms of incoming data mail, e-mail, faxes, phone messages. Have your calendar handy, your to-do list and a huge trash can. Write appropriate notes in your calendar and toss the supporting documentation, unless it will be needed.

5- Ask yourself, "If the house was on fire, would I grab this?" If not, why save it? Don't keep anything you can find somewhere else. Clear away as much as possible, then clear away more. Form the habit of throwing things out the emotional cost of being surrounded by useless paper is higher than you realize.


Hopefully this will allow me to keep my job...
When I was reading your book - I realized that I coped (fairly) well in college because there were only a limited number of projects (i.e. courses). Now I have triple the number of my heaviest course load in work projects, let alone home stuff.

I needed to have a heavy priority discussion with my division head. We had the most productive discussion we've ever had in terms of what's number 1 or what can wait, in a format I can internalize. I'm keeping the goal cards in a pocket in my Order from Chaos Air Traffic Control planner so I can review them as needed, again in a format that makes sense to me.

As a creative genius, I HATE strategic planning but hopefully this will allow me to keep my job…

~ Priscilla J. Matthews, Senior Cataloging Librarian, Associate Professor, Illinois State University, Normal, IL


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