What Being Organized Really Means and How It Can Make Your Work Easier

With TV shows like ‘Clean Sweep’ and similar programs that are metaphorically ‘waving magic wands’ and turning unbelievable quantities of excess into sparkling cleanliness, it is tempting to believe that you don’t need to get organized because you don’t have a garage bulging at the seams or a desk and chair you cannot find in your office.  There is a subtler side to organizing that gets less attention but delivers a bigger impact.  Consider the implications of these four concepts…

Organization is about flow … how easily do tasks and information move into your environment, get completed or used and then leave your environment.  ‘Stuff ( a technical term I like to use because it is widely applicable :>) moves in almost of their own accord, especially in the work environment.  While items are in use, they are are worth having.  But, few people have systems for the last step – getting them out of the environment – to make way for what is next – that is a place organization can really help.  Unlike cleaning which is a repetitive chore, getting organized involves engineering systems.

Everything you use will become useless.  Every thing you have – information, material goods, technology is always in a state of dying – some quickly, some slowly, but all inevitably will be used, put away, and ‘die’ because they are no longer useful.  Why?  Because, change is happening to all of us, all of the time.  It is a natural process and it requires periodic attention.  This organizational process of reviewing and moving out – to donate, recycle or discard – those things that are no longer useful is a periodic process that creates the space you need for what is coming next.

Organization is about how well your environment is supporting your ability get to important work accomplished – which has nothing to do with what the space looks like but everything to do with how it functions.  This is a very different measure – for left brain dominant, linear thinkers, it is a clear space, cupboards and one task at a time.  For right-brain dominant, creative thinkers it is a structure within what can appear to be a cluttered mess, piles, shelves and multiple projects at once.  When you look at the Felix Unger and Oscar Madison characters of The Odd Couple, Felix spent all his time tidying the environment but accomplished little more, while Oscar, though often buried in clutter, was a working columnist meeting deadlines in spite of what his environment looked like.  It could be argued that Oscar – not Felix – was more organized though Felix was clearly neater.

Change is happening at an ever-increasing pace.  We are experiencing as much change in just 2 years as the generation before us experienced in a decade.  This means information, material goods and technology are ‘dying’ even faster – in fact projects are dying before they can even be completed.  It can leave people feeling what they do is pointless and they are frustrated.  One only has to look at what has happened to television in the last 2 – 3 years to see this reality of the increasing rate of change.

 For the first 30 years about the only change in television was the size of the screen, the addition of color, the number of hours that were broadcast and the development of a handful of ‘major’ networks. During the next 20 years – things moved faster – cable TV and satellite TV with many, many more channels and networks, and the already come-and-gone video tape recorder – making way for digital recording – it all changed a lot of how and when we viewed TV. 

Look back two years ago – was it even on your radar that you would be watching your favorite show on a cell phone or PDA? That the episode you missed could be watched on-line?  That a snippet would turn viral and be seen all over the world in less than 48 hours (just ask Susan Boyle)? That you would be interacting with your show by voting a winner while the show was being broadcast?  That a local show would interact with viewers sending interview questions in to the reporter via Twitter? That isn’t even the big stuff (digital TV, HD TV, the death of analog TV) and there’s much, much more, but you get the idea.  It feels like suddenly, there are more changes than we can process or care about, and, of course, it is not just television – its just about everything.  In a time of  massive change, organization is a coping tool to manage these rapid changes – to make choices and have some control rather than being ‘swept along with the flood’.

The Bottom Line – this view of organization as process engineering and system design is a more realistic view of what it means to get organized.  It also illustrates why everyone needs some basic organizing skills.  As the world keeps changing, operational models can be re-engineered to meet new demands.  It helps information, material goods, technology and everything else flow through your life with a built-in exit strategy.  You can stay focused and accomplish the things that important to you and you have a tool to help you cope with today’s rapidly increasing speed of change.

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