What does it mean to be organized?

What does it mean to be organized? It used to be the definition was clean and neat. You know the offices–you walk in the door and it looks likes no one works there. The desk has nothing on it, except for a cool object and a photo. Is this what being organized really means?

My answer is we need to update our definition of what the term organized means. We still think in terms of clean and neat. Most of us have some old unconscious wiring when it comes to thinking about organization. If you go digging, someone in there made it up that good, smart people are organized and the sloppy stupid people are disorganized. So we all want to be in the first group, but how do we get there?

Now I am really speaking from experience here because years ago I was searching for some answers. I only found the results I was after when I learned how to think in a new way, when I learned the Getting Things Done® methodology. Trust me, I have I tried it all.

Tell me if any of the thinking below rings a bell for you?

Myth: If we just get the files set up then we will be organized.
Reality: I tried this solution on more than one occasion myself, and I have seen people try this on as a solution on more than one continent. My personal and professional experience is that the beautiful color coded files don’t stay that way for long without a new way of thinking about reference materials.

Myth: There is just too much to do; let’s hire more administrative staff.
Reality: Great admin staff are worth their weight in gold, and all the support in the world will not manage your workflow. Personally I tried this solution on as well, the results were that I created more work for myself and still was stressed. I still felt like the Pig Pen character in the Peanuts cartoon.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am the biggest fan in the world of great administrative staff, and professional organizers are great when you need assistance with a special clean out project. None of the above though will assist you to think differently about your stuff or to learn to define what you want in your life and how to get there more elegantly.

So let’s redefine the conversation, shall we?

How your space looks says very little about your ability to get things done.

The real issue is not how your home or office looks, but how we all think about our workflow either at home or at work. This is the paradigm shift that is so radical, it is not about our outer environment, it is about our inner environment. The new conversation is about how we learn the methodology about the art of work. It is an educational process that takes time and energy to learn, just like learning any language.

Hopefully most of us would not wake up and judge ourselves for not speaking say Italian? (Pick any language here that you don’t speak. I personally would love to speak Italian.) Most of us accept that to learn a language you need time, dedication and energy. Learning the art of work for most of us is like learning a new language. Here is the good news: learning a language can be fun.

We also wouldn’t expect that if you know Italian you should be able to speak Chinese. Learning the art of work is distinct from having learned the skills to do your work. Most knowledge workers have spent years learning their profession, yet there is still the old thinking that they should instantly know the art of work. This is simply part of what I call Old think.

If you are looking for peace of mind, then learning how to think differently about your work is the key. Yes, the result is often a cleaner and more organized environment; this is only a nice byproduct of learning to think differently.

One day I hope that this conversation will not even be necessary. We are being frequently approached to teach the GTD® process from the grade school to the university level. The word is clearly spreading that there is a new way to think about yourself, your work and the art of work. So treat yourself to greater peace of mind, learn the GTD process, and relax and go have some fun.

–Marian Bateman, Certified Coach


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  1. Workflow. That’s the bottom line.

    Getting things done is what matters. You’ve opened my mind to those offices where it looks like no one works there. I wondered how the person who needs paper to write phone calls and to-do lists on ever manages. I worked with someone who got things done in the middle of a mess. It’s a myth that those people know where everything is but they do get things done. They also waste time looking for things under all the junk mail and other stuff, but we all have our ways of working.

    I like to work almost minimal, with a few notes and brainstorms and drafts on paper. My problem is letting a pile of ‘important’ and semi-important papers accumulate, then I need to file or dispose of them and that is a discreet chunk of time. Trying to deal with each piece of paper only once is my ideal, but the filing does tend to build up. We’re not ready to go paperless on certain types of paper.

    So, what I need to do more of is pause every day/2/3 or at least once a week to file those papers. Filing Friday might be a good mantra. Take a few minutes on a Friday to clear any filing that is still sitting there and start each new week with a clean desk.

    Thanks for raising this issue.

  2. Wow, this article actually reflects on different ways of working very well. I tend to have a very random process,but it usually starts with a to-do list and then it transforms in to organised mess that only I can understand how to clear in the end! I do honestly believe its not how you work but how you feel comfortable to achieve what you want. Great work!

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