Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Are the Benefits of Organization Overrated?

I like to be organized. Apparently I was born that way. Mostly, I've grateful, though at times, I'd rather be brilliant instead, or stunningly creative, or gorgeous, at least wildly successful. I've written here before about why it disturbs me to have a reputation as an extremely organized person, even though I understand that having this inherent trait is enormously helpful – in work and life.


Sometimes I get carried away. I over-organize, which isn't a bad thing by itself I suppose, except when it is. Lately I'm asking myself if the time it takes to organize things could be better spent DOING things.

Does it really pay to spend time organizing a spread sheet -- by type, deadline date, word count and other criteria – for the publications, online venues and contests where I want to submit? Or would a simple (less time consuming) list do the trick? Does the time I invest in meticulously mapping out future marketing plans and dates for my classes make sense, or should I really just be blasting out links whenever and wherever I can? Will the way I organize my in-development writing, into electronic files and sub-files, and the way I gather and organize my rough handwritten drafts and notes -- by carefully sliding notebook pages, ripped out articles, photos and other paper stuff into carefully marked old-style file folders -- really help in structuring the memoir-in-progress, or should I instead just be writing and editing and revising like mad?

How to know when one's highly toned organization muscle would be better off going just a little bit slack, in favor of just getting on with things? Can organization be a procrastination tool? Hmm. This is interesting – and unsettling – to me, because I have never thought of myself as a procrastinator, and in fact, others tell me I'm pretty darn productive. There's not much evidence that I do put things off. I get things done.


Getting things done is not the same as getting the most important things done. The things that will matter more over the long haul. The things I may not have time for because I'm spending that time you know, getting organized.

I’m nothing if not self-critical. And lately, I've noticed that not only do I spend what I think might be too much time organizing, but that I also have grown rather annoyed with my highly organized self. She just seems kind of bothersome lately. Who cares? I want to yell at her, shake her by the shoulders. Who cares? Do I really care any longer if everything is color coded, cross-referenced, totally updated, crossed-off, linked up, mapped out? Do I really need a monthly list, weekly lists, daily lists, and then – oh, I'm so sorry, but it's true – a morning, afternoon and evening list?

No? No kidding!

Changing an ingrained habit is difficult, especially when that habit is, mostly, a good one. But it can be done. As I'm sure you can guess, my organizational tendencies spill over into non-work related areas. Just ask my kids how many lists I make before a trip, how intricate the itinerary is, how often I explain where the tickets, hotel confirmation emails, GPS and antibacterial hand gels are to be kept. On an upcoming trip, I've decided to test my ability to be less organized and more spontaneous, and hoping that if I can live through it, maybe I can transfer those newfound (non)skills back to the office.

We might get lost, delayed or dirty. It's a start.


Andrea said...

I'm generally a very disorganized person, but when I was in college, when I would sit down with a pile of homework and studying, I spent the first hour apportioning time for each subject/class/paper in my day-timer (procrastination? yes); or when I had a big paper to write, first I would clean my very messy dorm room (procrastination? or just creating a comfortable, pleasing work space?). Even now I have the sense that once I get my whole entire house clean, de-cluttered and organized, I'll be able to sit down and write a novel. Procrastination? Delay tactics? Avoidance behavior? Definitely. Good luck de-organizing and have fun being spontaneous!

Laraine Herring said...

Lisa! I am always envious of people like you who can organize like that. The thought of a spreadsheet gives me heart palpitations - I feel the walls close in on me! :- ) But, of course, I can't always find things I actually need; I forget I just bought that really gorgeous blouse & buy it again; I have multiple copies of the same book...spoons live in the same opening as forks in the drawer (but they do at least go in the silverware drawer). You get the picture. :-) I spent some time this summer trying to get more organized. I don't need to be organized when I write. It stops me dead. But we're all different. I think it's always about the balance - what our greatest assets are (in this case, your ability to organize; my ability to let it all go) turn to liabilities when they go overboard. Together, we'd be a perfectly balanced human! :-) Have a great trip. It's OK to get lost and, um, it's probably OK if I were to open Excel (I think the computer might explode though!) Have fun!

Lane Diamond said...

You are who you are, and you can modify that only so much before you start to fidget, fear, lay awake at night, etc. Psychologically, when you drift too far from your comfort zone, you pay a price.

Recent studies have shown that you're much better off finding ways to capitalize on your strengths, rather than argue that they might be weaknesses and try to fight them.

Embrace the real you, and turn it to your advantage.

Interesting discussion. Thanks for letting me weigh in.