Soap, Sweets, and Talking to Yourself: Advice on Getting Organized

Savon de MarseilleI’ve been thinking about starting a support group for the unorganized. UA, Unorganized Anonymous. A place for people, like me, who have not stayed on the GTD track like they wanted. And, of course, a place for free coffee and desserts.

"Hello, my name is Blyth, and I’m disorganized."
"Hi, Blyth."
"I’ve been disorganized for . . . hey, are those cinnamon rolls homemade?"
(I also need to join Sugar Addicts Anonymous and Short Attention Span Anonymous, but that’s another story.)

It’s not that I don’t want to be organized. I do. I really do. But sometimes, getting to your destination just doesn’t work the first time. Personally, I’ve been trying for many years to become organized, and GTD is just the latest, and honestly, the most useful, system I’ve tried. But even now, I’m still not going as fast as I would like.

The things is, I’m not perfect, no matter how much I tell my wife that I am (of course, she doesn’t believe me anyways). None of us are. And like me, I’m sure many of you have had problems getting where you want. Even if you have successfully implemented your trusted system, I’ll bet there has been a time or two when you forgot to write everything down, missed an important step in a project, or simply forgot your planner behind one day when you really needed it. If so, you might need to join UA.

Unfortunately, being busy people, and being spread out across the globe, I don’t think most of us could meet up weekly for donuts and hugs. Even if we could, I’m betting at least half of us would not write down the time, so we wouldn’t ever make it. And I’m pretty sure David A. is too busy to be my sponsor. Also, I’m a little worried about support groups, as I don’t want to start imagining Brad Pitt making soap or pining over Ikea catalogs (remember, the first rule of UA is you don’t talk about UA). So instead, I decided to go it alone for now. To do that, I decided to take a good look at myself.

I tend to talk to myself a lot, and I’ve found asking myself questions is a good way to see what’s going on inside my head. So I started with the six basic questions (who, what, when, where, why, and how), and I thought about each basic question relating to being organized and disorganized. From there I came up with some more direct questions to ask myself. Then I answered those questions, both by writing and by talking to myself. The answers I gave formed a basic self-help primer on getting back where I wanted to be. Pretty simple, but it sparked a lot of ideas and thoughts about my purpose for getting organized and my plan to do so.

If you need some help getting back on track, take some time to talk to yourself. Below are the questions I came up with. Either talk out or write down your answers for each one. If you think of some other questions, ask and answer them as well. Try spending a little time in your own head to see if you already have the answers to your organizational worries.

Who
Who is affected?
Who is affected by my organization, or lack thereof? Who affects my organization, or lack thereof? How are they affected, and how do they affect me?

Who can help?
Who can I go to for help? Are there other people I know who have been here before? What did they do in this situation?

Why
Why do I want to be organized?
Do I want complete all my projects? Spend more time with my family? Move up the ladder? Start my own business? If there are multiple reasons, which is the most important at this point in my life? Which is the least important?

Why do I get disorganized?
What causes me to get disorganized? Is it only in certain areas of my life? Is it when certain circumstances arise? Are they something I can control or that I can somehow manage?

How
How do I get disorganized?
What exactly happens when I get disorganized? Do I start to miss appointments, fall behind schedule, or lose items? Is it because my system is too complicated? Is it not flexible enough? Do I not have enough places, or too many places, for stuff to go once it’s processed? Am I spending too much time "tweaking" my system and not actually working?

How do I get organized?
What do I do to get organized? Do I try new approaches, or do I try to fix what was broken about the last attempt? Which way has worked better in the past? Which have I not tried yet?

When
When have I been organized in the past?
What were the circumstances that lead me to be so organized at that time? Was it because I simply had to be, or was I just in the flow? Is there anything from around that time that I could use to take back control, such as environment, systems, or people?

When does my organizational system stop working?
When does my organization just seem to stop working? Weekends? Going out of town? When I’m really busy? When there are unexpected changes? Is it something I can control? If not, can I change m system to accommodate it?

Where
Where do I go to get organized?
Can I make a quiet place to just sit down and get everything organized? A quiet time? Or is it just any chance I get? Can I sit down on a regular basis to work on this? How could I make this time and place? What materials or supplies might I need to do it?

Where does all of my stuff go?
Where do I keep my data? More specifically, how many places right now do I have data that I need to be able to access? Do I have a way to track the different places, and the data in each place?

What
What can I do to get organized?
What steps can be taken to get organized? Have I thought through my current system enough? Do I need to spend more time thinking how I should keep things organized, or what I really need organized? Are there new ways I have not tried that I might now be ready for?

What can I do to keep myself organized?
Once I get organized, how can I stay that way? How can I keep my system going? Is there something currently missing from my system that keeps me from maintaining it? Is there too much complexity? Would I be able to keep it up if I changed something I currently do?

What would it look like to be organized?
What is it that I consider organized? What does my perfect system look like, sound like, feel like? How does it work? How does it integrate with my life? How would I feel once I am organized? How can I get that feeling right now?

When I asked myself these questions, the most important thing I learned is to not blame myself. I know I made mistakes. But blaming myself, or trying to place that blame on someone else, doesn’t fix the problem. I just need to take stock of those mistakes, and use that knowledge for the next try. Learning isn’t about knowing or doing something right the first time. It’s about not making those mistakes again. And organization is like any other skill that you have to practice before you get it right.

I also learned a bit more about what I needed to feel organized, not just be organized. Before, I would often have what I thought was everything written down, ordered, categorized, etc, but I still felt like something was missing. What I was missing was the things that were most important to me. My goals and aspirations. While I knew them, and had even written them down, they weren’t part of my overall organizational system. And by separating the two, I lost the control over my goals that being organized would give me.

I’ve found talking to myself is a great tool for figuring out problems and finding solutions. By looking closer at what I want, I lead myself to new ideas about how I can reach my final destination. I’ll admit that when it comes to being organized I’m still not there, but hey, I now know I’m on the right path.

I’m also squeaky clean and on a sugar high, but that’s a story for next UA meeting.

By the way, who’s bringing the coffee next week?

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Soap

Am I dreaming or could this soap be a good old Savon de Marseille?

Yes, it is. Good catch!

Yes, it is. Good catch!

UA already exists....

There is already Clutters Anonymous - http://www.clutterersanonymous.net - and Messies Anonymous - http://www.messies.com . So now you know.....

Good to know, but...

Those sound like they are more for people who need their houses organized. I was thinking more along the lines of goals and to do lists. Although, I'm not aversed to checking them out if the meetings include donuts.

list for disorganized people.

yes- you should start one for goals and to do list disorganized people. I was thinking today- I really need to sit down and put what I really want to do on paper to sort it out. I have so many ideas and goals going through my mind- here I am 54 - I still have tons more I want to do.