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Getting Organised - Sticky Notes, Outlook, Way of Thinking

Updated on June 4, 2015

What does being organised look like?

Being organised isn't always about having everything perfectly in place. Rigidity has no relationship with actually being organised. I love this quote from Jim Butcher 'It was a working office, paper work anarchy threatened but was held at bay by a firm will".

This is exactly how it should be! You can't stop life from throwing curveballs, multiple excel files, powerpoint files, pdfs, emails that you need as backup, mail, dirty dishes, laundry and more cables than devices you own, at you. But you can sure lay out where each of them are going to be stored while they are used, maintained and then transitioned out of your life.

I didn't start out with a natural tendency to organise, heck, I'd go the other way and say I was born (along with most of the population) predisposed to leave a mess as a marker of my presence (yes! I was here!), but I have come a long, long way.

Have you ever seen an easily distracted but very organised person?

If you answered yes, please comment. I may know few parties interested in selling this rare specimen to neuroscientists on the black market. But for the majority, distractibility and disorganisation are traits that seem to go hand in hand, begging the question does being distractible make you disorganised, or does being disorganised make you distracted?

Without trying to make pseudo scientific claims, its just possible there's something about the relationship between having the ability to maintain concentration and being organised. Being able to maintain concentration (read: ignore distraction) means that you will see whatever you are doing to the very end. The very end meaning, being filed in a folder on your desktop, being stacked in a cupboard, hung in your closet, placed in your pantry ... the list goes on

Two rules for retrieving files when you need them right now.

1. Categorise and create a folder before you work on excel, powerpoint, word .... or anything really

Everything needs a home. Before you even start creating an excel file, downloading something from your email/database/internet, you need to figure out where it's going to live and where it's siblings are going to live too!

2. Ask yourself: Which categories would I go to retrieve this file? ... Then put it in that category

Everything is about retrieval. How we create and file items into folders in our desktop is oddly similar to how you create memories. The filing on your computer is a reflection of your mental memory storage allocated to work. This is why categorising and sub categorising folders makes for much easier file retrieval, it is because it reflects the way our brains naturally store memories via association. When we create a folder, categorise it, and actually file items related to the category, we are mimicking how our brain would naturally associate related items and retrieve them. So how do we do file things to most easily find things? Before naming (read: categorising) anything, think about in which category would you expect to find the item you are working on... then file it there.

Why filing and organising things makes you more creative.

Don't believe me? Answer this. Does being creative require energy? At this point, I think you would've already gotten my point. When I recall the countless panicky minutes (cumulative hours, days, weeks...) that I have spent being hyper stressed because I couldn't find something that I needed it right then! I can already feel my heart rate rising, breath shortening, migraine beginning ... bad memories, bad bad memories...

I sure wasn't creative then, and I sure know you know you weren't either. In fact when I finally did find whatever it was I was looking for, I would spend the meeting feeling exhausted from the mental energy expenditure, hiding from questions, and also frantically berating myself and promising that I would never do that to myself again. Again, not very creative.

There are many, many reasons to file things, saving yourself from the mental stress and pressure will not only free up your mental energy to apply to a knotty value add problem, but just generally lift your standard of well being in general.

Love yourself, file for yourself.

The thing about to do lists...

There is nothing more scary in this world than not knowing exactly what you need to be doing right now but knowing you have three projects to achieve in six months. Absolutely nothing will make you lose your way faster if you do not maintain a list of things to do that point you, small step by small step to your goals.

Stop there. I want to reemphasise one word. Maintain.

There is no point of having a list that you write down, cross off two things out of five and throw the rest away and start a few days down the track with a fresh sheet. Operating in this manner leads you down the garden path, deceiving you that you are getting things done and meeting deadlines, but you aren't, not really. To be constantly on a steady pace towards accomplishment, you need know what you need to do next and you do this by maintaining a running future list of action items that gets updated, reviewed and reprioritised.

Keep it simple. What seems to work is two lists, a list for Today and a list of things for the Future.

To be more technical, conceptually, you need a place for task capture and you need to know what you need to be working on today. And by crossing off you what you need to do today and updating your list for the future, you constantly grasp firmly the many headed Hydra of life that sprouts three things for you to action every time you knock off one. Like maintaining a hedge, it might keep growing but if you keep chopping you'll never be so out of control you might feel the need to give up.

I suppose it's traditional to give recaps, and admittedly by being useful, recapping will stay traditional so long as humans need to communicate, so:

1. Ignore all distractions until you've filed. You're only finished when you've filed

2. Categorise things the way you think you'll retrieve them.

3. More filing = more creativity.

4. A to do list is a Pet, not a one-use tissue. Maintain it, groom it, pay it lots of attention and it will reward you with a purpose to your life.


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