How To Do Life

Fresh ideas about career and personal issues

Which Approach Will Help You Get Organized?

13 cures for disorganization. Is one right for you?

No, you needn't be a neat-freak. Indeed, people who color-code everything and create systems within systems may accomplish less.

But too much disorganization can leave your career and life on the cutting-room floor. Disorganization's cure depends on its cause. Let's figure out yours.

What’s causing your disorganization?

Divide a pie chart in proportion to what you perceive to be your disorganization’s causes:

  • You feel that getting organized isn’t worth the effort.
  • Distractibility
  • Poor memory
  • Difficulty figuring out how to organize things
  • Inability to prioritize
  • You thrive on chaos
  • You resent authority
  • You won't grow up (the Peter Pan Syndrome)
  • Lack of a formal organization system
  • Not regularly using your organization system
  • Being organized won't make a difference
  • Hoarding
  • Depression
  • Other (specify:)

A customized approach to becoming more organized.

Okay, now that you've identified the cause(s) of your disorganization, we can turn to solutions.

Good counselors realize that the best solution often comes from the client. Through self-knowledge, preferences, and peccadilloes, they understand themselves better than can most counselors. Also, clients are more likely to implement their own solution. So, first off, does your pie chart suggest what you should do to make you better organized?

No? Here are solutions to consider for each cause of disorganization:

Being organized isn’t worth the effort.. Your life sucks and you feel that being more organized would simply be rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. Unless you have stage four cancer, it really isn't hopeless. Improving your life is like climbing a big hill. If you look up, it's so daunting you'll probably want to just pop a brewski and hang out at the bottom. But if you keep your head down and focus on taking that next step, you'll soon look back down and be surprised at how far you've come.

Distractibility. Might any of these help? Move your desk to where there are less distractions, wear earplugs, add walls to your cubicle's side, block-out hours for work when you're less likely to be distracted, indulge some of your distractions but only for brief amounts of time.

Poor memory. Religiously write your to-dos on a list and check it frequently. Say aloud the things you need to remember. That will help lock them in your brain. Get seven or eight hours of sleep per night.

Difficulty figuring out how to organize things. Ask an organized person to help you set up a system or, for a daunting project, how to break it into baby steps.

Inability to prioritize. Create a personal mission statement. Use that to help rate a task's priority: Is it important, urgent, both, or neither?

You thrive on chaos. Accept or decide that while living in chaos may have worked when you were a student or in a less demanding job, it's not serving you well now.

You resent authority. You make your choices, you gotta accept the consequences. Your call.

You won't grow up. Do you still need more time to be a kid, to be irresponsible? Or is it time to grow up? Your call.

Lack of a formal organization system. One size doesn't fit all. Want to try one of these: Google Calendar, a pencil-and-paper engagement calendar, an app such as Astrid, write your to-dos in a Microsoft Word file or even---and this will give professional organizers the shivers--on little pieces of paper on your desk.

Not regularly using your organization system. If you don't use it, you'll lose it. Make a habit of writing everything on a to-do list and checking it throughout the day.

Hoarding. Hoarders can’t bear to part with items, their perfectionism makes difficult choosing what to toss, and they’re afraid they’ll be bereft without those items. You must realize your life will be better if you freed yourself from the shackles of stuff. If you can’t make yourself believe that, it may be worth seeing a cognitive-behavioral therapist specializing in hoarding  HERE is information including videos on therapy for hoarders.

Depression. Mild to moderate depression is often best addressed by replacing self-absorption and introspection with productivity and a greater focus on the needs of others rather than your own. Exercise may also help. If those are insufficient, try a few sessions of cognitive therapy. Serious depression (read, you can't get out of bed,) usually requires more extensive professional help.

What if none of that works for you?

If none of the above works well enough, perhaps you aren't correctly perceiving your disorganization's cause(s.) Ask a trusted colleague or friend, or even a professional organizer. Here is a directory of them. But beware if they urge you to focus on color-coding.

Marty Nemko’s bio is in Wikipedia.

Marty Nemko is a career and personal coach based in Oakland, Ca. and the author of 7 books. 
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