Image by Mary Anne Enriquez
There’s something hypnotic about organization systems. Reading a productivity blog, I can feel myself swelling up with virtue.
“From now on, there will be no missed appointments, no lost emails, no mislaid pieces of paper. My office will be clean and orderly. I will always have my keys when I need them. Every scrap of information will be classified according to a complex code so that I can find my receipts at tax time, have my travel information in hand before I leave for the airport, and have the address of every facility that I need to visit in my cell phone (no lost papers for me).”
But somehow it never works that way. What happens instead is that I lose time reading the productivity blogs, going to the office supply store, and organizing and labeling everything in my office.
I estimate that I lose 8-15 hours of work every time I go on an organizing binge. And who knows how much money I’ve invested. In the end, I’m usually more behind than I was before. There has to be a middle ground and I finally think that I have found it.
Here are my tips for staying organized, but not too organized:
The Mishmash Notebook
I’ve started carrying a little notebook around. I write everything in it; messages, phone numbers I need to call, things I need to do, books that people recommend to me, ideas that spring to mind, everything.
It’s not organized. It’s a mishmash. But it’s one notebook and everything I write down goes into it. Unfortunately, if there is a page that I need to refer to several times, I can lose time paging through my notebook. But I found a solution for that as well – I use the new magnetic bookmarks that fold over a page. I put one magnetic bookmark on each page that I need to refer to frequently. I also use a bookmark to hold my place in the notebook so that I can easily open to a fresh page.
It’s not elegant, but it works and it doesn’t require me to go out and buy labels (or remember to use them).
Phone Call Notes
In my mishmash notebook, I also take notes on all my phone calls – even my calls to family and friends. It is a quirky habit and may seem unnecessary, but if I write things down, I usually have an easier time remembering them. Ironically, I end up not referring to my phone call notes very often.
I’ve written before about how writing helps to trigger memory in the brain. It works very well for me, and every now and then I’m very glad that I did take notes on a call because, like everyone, I can forget details.
Hacking To-Do List Software
I don’t use fancy to-do list software – well, not for making to do lists. I just jot down things I need to do in my notebook. However, I do use the to-do list software for another purpose. Even though the software is meant for tasks, I can make lists of anything I want to.
Currently, I am using Taskwise, and I have several ‘non-to-do’ lists going. I find that a ‘have-done’ list improves my productivity more than a to-do list, because if I am keeping a list of the things that I accomplish, it keeps me motivated to accomplish more. I also use Taskwise to keep a list of sources that I use when I write memos, blog posts, and other documents. That way I can easily refer people to where I got my facts, in case someone wants to know later on.
Less Is More
I am trying to spend less time with technology and more time doing things that give me energy and make me feel alive. I try not to check email more than once or twice a day. I stopped using an electronic calendar (except for events that I need an electronic reminder for) because the calendar was becoming one more thing that I had to take time to maintain. I wanted to decrease my screen time, not increase it.
Now I write things down on a calendar instead or I do what organizational experts say you shouldn’t do, I jot things down on post-its and stick them in obvious places. It’s may seem like a low tech and totally disorganized solution, but for me? It actually saves time.
The Pile System
I pile stuff on my desk. It’s true. I know, you are probably gasping with horror and thinking that I need to join ‘Pilers Anonymous’, but it works for me. All the files, books, notes, business cards, and other assorted items that I need for my current projects are sitting on my desk in a big jumbled mess.
Strangely, however, it isn’t slowing me down. I always seem to find what I need. I used to try to organize it all. I would spend an hour every evening cleaning off my desk and putting my files away. Then in the morning I would get everything out again. But why take time to do that? If I leave it all on my desk, it’s right where I need it when I start working again. No need to pack and unpack every day (as long as it’s not a day when I’m traveling, of course).
By now, some of you may be totally disappointed with me, especially if you are a professional organizer or a dedicated follower of one. But this system works for me. If you are finding that your organizational aspirations get in your way and cause you to fall behind in your work, maybe you could allow a little more chaos into your day!
How Organized Are You?
Do you agree that being too organized can stop you being productive?
Do you break any of the ‘cardinal rules’ of productivity and organization?
Any tips for striking the right balance between organization and chaos?
About the Author: Art Gould is a division manager with Self Storage Company, which operates a group of websites, including a New York self-storage locator. Though busy, Art enjoys meeting new people and clients when traveling to sites from Texas to the New Jersey self-storage center.