Jeff Davidson's book, Simpler Living, was Amazon Kindle #1 in its category, first quarter, 2012. Jeff is featured in the NY Times, Forbes, Chicago Tribune, Businessweek, Fortune, Organized Executive, and Success.

Becoming Organized

The phrase “to get organized” as in “I’ve got to get organized!” serves as a rallying cry for some and invokes dread in others. The legions of career professionals who I’ve met at more than 806 speeches I’ve given and more than 350 companies I’ve consulted for, seem to fall into one of two camps. They either:

1) Embrace getting and remaining organized and have reasonable skills in doing so, or
2) Are not good at getting and remaining organized and even if they have the skills, nobody can figure out when they’re using them.

It’s vital to acknowledge that there’s no moral judgement attached to “getting organized.” If your perpetually disorganized, you’re still a good person, unless of course, you forget to feed the cat, and then you’re an ogre. Some of the greatest geniuses throughout history have had relatively poor organizational skills and most were not considered ogres. Being organized in and of itself doesn’t necessarily add up to a hill of beans in terms of getting specific things done.

The odds of accomplishing any endeavor favor those with organizational skills. Think of a political campaign where there is little coordination, construction of a new building where work schedules are unpredictable, or a hospital where the admitting procedure is unstructured. That candidate will lose, the bridge, if ever finished, will be over budget, and the hospital admittance office, …well, don’t go there, as in literally. You can’t afford to receive Mrs. Johnson’s injection.

On a personal level, disorganization can cost one time, money, and even the respect of one’s peers (who might have otherwise been willing to be of assistance). If personal organization has been a continuing problem, perhaps what I offer here will make a huge difference in your career.

Organizing is Fundamental

You wouldn’t drive your car and expect to cruise for 300 miles on a few gallons of gas in your tank. Likewise, your range of professional capabilities will be limited if you’re low on one of the key components that keeps your getting-things-done vehicle operating smoothly. It’s time to view organizing as a fundamental component to getting things done.

Getting organized requires effort and thought, while saving time and offering peace of mind. The minor paradox is that you spend time to save time. If it’s helpful, think of getting organized as preparation “to respond to challenges.” What’s stopping you?

Generally, people aren’t born with organizing skills; they are acquired along the way. When you seek to become organized, do you quit after a short time, believing it’s hopeless? As I discuss in my book, Breathing Space: Living & Working at a Comfortable Pace in a Sped-Up Society, the key to getting and staying organized is making the effort. For many, it is a minor relief to learn how long it will take. It depends on how long your work space has been disorganized, but for most career professionals, allocating the equivalent of three full weekends should suffice.

Being neat and being organized are not the same thing. Not everything needs to be in its place as long as you know where items are and can access them freely. Why do some people shun getting organized? For whatever reason, they approach it with fear and trepidation. Like natives who fear that a photograph of them captures their soul, some people proceed as if getting organized will strip them of their inner essence. They become anxious about doing nothing but getting organized.

Many traps to getting started may await even when you know it makes sense to “clean house.” Here are some major excuses for failing to get started:

1. “I have been meaning to.” If this proves to be a familiar self-lament, then make getting personally and completely organized a high-ranking item in your life.

2. “I have never been good at organizing.” Okay, no matter, all is forgiven! The difference between people “who are good at organizing” and “not good” is that organized individuals understand the level of effort required to maintain the organization. Those who are “not so good” at organizing believe that items somehow “get out of order” or “get lost.”

3. “I don’t know how to get started.” Keep reading.

4. “I have so many other things to do.” Of course you do; you will for the rest of your career. After becoming organized, the other things “you have to do” will more directly support what you want to get done and you’ll have a clearer understanding that they do.

5. “Organizing will take too much time.” Initially, it takes the equivalence of about three weekends. Also, consider how much time disorganization has cost you.

6. “I don’t see any value in organizing.” Many aspects of your career are already organized. Now you’re going to extend the procedures to enhance your ability to get things done.

7. “It makes me anxious; I don’t feel that I am accomplishing that much.” Tossing unnecessary files and papers to create more space in itself can accomplish a great deal.

Don’t Equate Organizing Time with Wasted Time

Sometimes it seems as if the energy and effort you expend at getting organized will be a waste. After all, if you’re already feeling behind and have much to accomplish, wouldn’t good time management necessitate simply jumping in and handling those things that beg for your attention? Not exactly…. Often, you have to slow down in order to speed up.

By slowing down, you give yourself a chance to collect your thoughts, form a more coherent plan, perhaps take a deep breath or get a glass of water, and then tackle the project anew.

Sometimes, people use getting organized as a stall technique, but in general, being organized greatly enhances your ability to manage your time thereafter. Knowing where items are located on file or on disk puts you in charge, and provides freedom to concentrate on creative, fulfilling, or necessary tasks and not the clutter that surrounds you.

Jeff Davidson is "The Work-Life Balance Expert®," is a preeminent time management authority, has written 65 mainstream books, and is an electrifying professional speaker, making 886 presentations to clients such as Lockheed Martin, Eckerd, Kaiser Permanente, IBM, American Express, Lufthansa, Swissotel, Re/Max, USAA, Worthington Steel, and the World Bank. Jeff is Executive Director of the Breathing Space Institute and the author of books such as:
  • Simpler Living (Skyhorse Publishing)
  • Dial It Down--Live it Up (Sourcebooks)
  • The 60 Second Innovator (Adams Media)
  • Breathing Space (CreateSpace)
  • Accomplishing Your Goals (Smart Guide Publications)
Jeff is the premier thought leader on work-life balance issues and has been widely quoted in the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, New York Times, USA Today, Businessweek, Forbes, and Fortune. Cited by Sharing Ideas Magazine as a "Consummate Speaker," Jeff believes that career professionals today in all industries have a responsibility to achieve their own sense of work-life balance, and he supports that quest through his website

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