Like everyone else, I have a lot of stuff — a lot of stuff to do. In my never-ending quest to make sense of it all, I’ve tried more planners, bins, and drawer organizers (not to mention apps and online to-do lists) than I care to think about. And almost none of it helped.
In the end, the only thing that’s really helped is to change the way I think. With that in mind, here are seven common myths about what it takes to get and stay organized.
1. I can’t get organized without the right tools.
Most people associate organization with “systems,” with lists and label makers — and that’s the problem. Having a label maker doesn’t make you organized any more than having a hammer makes you a carpenter, or having a frying pan makes you a cook.
The right tools can help, but if you start getting organized by buying things, you’re always going to end up disappointed. Why? Because organization isn’t a filing system. It’s a habit. It’s not about what you buy; it’s about what you do.
2. I need a professional to help me organize.
Being organized is never easy, but it is simple. Every organizational method and system in the world can be boiled down to two steps:
- Give everything a logical home. (This goes here, that goes there, etc.)
- Put things where they belong. Every time. (Not on a post-it note, the floor, etc.)
That’s it. That first step can be daunting, and it’s the step most organization guides/gurus focus on. But let’s be honest, step two is where everyone slips up, even with simple things. When your bedroom’s a mess, is the problem that you don’t have a laundry basket for your dirty clothes, or that it’s easier to dump them on the floor?
Organization gurus may have some good suggestions, but the most important person in your quest to “be more organized” is always you.
3. There are “good” systems and “bad” systems.
They are a dozen different ways to organize anything. So how do you know which one is the best? Simple. It’s the one that works for you. The best system is the one you actually keep, week in and week out.
Don’t be an optimist; be a pragmatist. A system may be perfect for your coworker, your friend, or your mother. It may be popular. It may look impressive when you first set it up. But that doesn’t matter. If you can’t sustain it in the long run, it’s worthless.
4. I need to organize everything at once.
This is a recipe for disaster. If you’re chronically disorganized, start by setting the bar low. Organize one thing at a time, and keep your system simple. You can always expand it later.
If you expect way too much of yourself and then give up after two days, you’ll be discouraged and less likely to try again. Start with something you can manage.
5. Once I set up the system, I have to stick with it no matter what.
Life is complicated, so being organized requires being flexible. Once you’ve started a new system, don’t be afraid to adjust it. You’ll probably have to do some experimenting to get it just right for you. And don’t be surprised if something that works one year starts causing problems the next. When your situation changes, your organization system should adapt to fit it.
Accept the fact that not everything that sounds good on paper will work for you in practice. You might have to abandon your system altogether and start something new, and that’s okay. You don’t have to get it right the first time.
And remember, even the best system will run up against exceptions. Don’t be afraid to bend the rules every once in a while. The system exists to serve you, not the other way around.
6. When I find the right system, organization will be easy.
Becoming organized is a lifestyle change — a difficult one. In a way, it’s like losing weight. The things you buy (work-out clothes, low-fat foods, etc.) can be great tools, but they’re not going to make the difference. It’s your habits that have to change.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking that if your system is good enough, you will enjoy using it. Before you start any organizational projects or buy any tools, look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself, “Am I really going to keep this up? Am I willing to maintain this system, week after week? Even when I’m stressed out or tired or in a hurry?” Because that’s what it’s really all about. You’re never “done” being organized.
7. I’ll do it tomorrow.
This is the biggest myth of all, because the enemy of organization is procrastination. Get in the habit of putting things in their place as soon as you can. If you can’t do it right away, set them aside and take care of them at a scheduled time at least once a day. The longer you wait to put things where they belong, the bigger the job gets, and the less you want to do it. Remember that you won’t want to do it any more tomorrow than you do today, and think about how satisfied you’ll be when it’s done.
Even highly-organized people don’t really like putting things away. They enjoy the satisfaction they get from knowing that everything is where it belongs. Being organized is a lot of work, but it’s worth it.