Sunday, March 11, 2007

Proportions of Busy-ness to Organization

There seems to be a natural law of the universe that dictates that the busier we are, the less organized we become. We're too busy to put something away. Too busy to take proper notes after a meeting or phone call. Both being busy and being disorganized lead to stress, and "stressing out" is very counter-productive -- I can't say whether it's correlation or causation, but remedying the disorganization can help sort out the busy-ness.

Just like a diabetic craves candy, sometimes we continue to crave things that are bad for us. Stress leads to a mindset that begets more stress. Stress can be addicting, because the brain chemicals that come with the pressure are addicting. Just like other addictions, however, it takes a toll on our ability to think, to plan, to be productive and to even live a longer and healthier life.

Conversely, the more organized we become, the more productive we can be. The less we need to stress. When you can easily review notes from a meeting, you can give yourself permission to "let go" and relax about it. When you know exactly what you need to do next (cf. Getting Things Done by David Allen), you can really concentrate on the one task-at-hand with all your mental ability.

I had a plan in place after last year's Tax Time to keep my books in order, and failed to make a good habit of following through on it. Thankfully I'm a pretty organized person, and don't have to stress too much to find all the paperwork I need. But now, work has picked up (finally!) and it's a bad time to have to take hours or days to do my accounting and tax paperwork. My lack of planning, poor foresight, and being somewhat disorganized are coming back to haunt me.

As a result I'm stressed, and my normally rather organized habits start falling apart at the seams. A few client notes haven't found their way into the books they need to be in. I have more hasty post-its laying around. I have to consciously review the last week to make sure I didn't miss anything important...

If you're finding that you are disorganized in direct proportion to your level of busy-ness, take a moment to step back and clear up the clutter -- it might take an hour or two, but the rewards are worthwhile, and you can get yourself back on track. It helps me to regroup, find some space on my desk, filter through the small side projects I started and abandoned part-way through.

If you are never organized in the first place, you are in danger of becoming disorganized to the point of putting yourself out of business. When you become busy, the resulting increase in disorganization may wreck your ability to focus. I've considered hiring a professional organizer on several occasions, to help me sort through the clutter. But I have meticulous systems in place, even if the system straggles a little when I have a stressful week, and there are people who need those services much more than I do.

Many people require a professional to help them set up a system in the first place: If you live in my area, I would highly recommend calling Cindy Croll of Croll Organizing (she's not a client; that's not my website :) [ed (post-September 2007) Actually, now it IS a website I have created, re-using the design of her old website!]) -- she's a highly perceptive person who tailors her organizing services to suit her clients, then leaves the client with a system in place. She specializes in small businesses and home offices, and travels throughout the Orange County area, and I believe she even goes into Rockland, and maybe even NYC. I'll see if I can get her to comment on this post so people can follow up with her. I see from her website she's giving a workshop soon!

Keeping organized takes work and dedication, but has many rewards. I could sail through tax time if I had kept to my system of entering receipts and invoices weekly. Instead, I have a pile of work to do, several open projects, and I have to take an entire weekend to enter receipts and fix my accounting system so I can do my taxes. The resulting stress is hampering my ability to concentrate on anything at all.

Good luck!


  1. Hi Everyone.

    Criss is absolutely correct. Another valuable resource for being organized is "Time Management from the Inside Out" by Julie Morgenstern. For all those people with empty file cabinets and piles of paper, there is hope. To get all that paperwork into the file cabinet, you need a system to process it. Then you need to schedule processing the paperwork into your work day. The busier you get the more the lack of these can spiral out of control and cost you valuable time and money. Not to mention the personal stress which creates a lack of confidence. This will ultimately hamper your performance.

    The most valuable thing about having a handle on your time and to do's is when bumps in the road come, or you have a really busy time, you can adjust and get back on track relatively quick. You can prioritize and postpone things with confidence.

    Having control over your choices of what to do or not to do is the ultimate liberation.

    I help clients set up systems in their office so they can go do what they specialize in.

    Cynthia Marsh-Croll
    Croll Organizing
    "Developing Systems for Maximum Efficiency"

  2. [...] I’m an unashamed pack-rat. It’s my doom, especially in a small home. It’s also occasionally enabled those odd moments of synchronicity to occur. Right now is one of those times. Being organized is exceptionally important, mind you. But I get stressed out when I go on the occasional tossing streak, because at the time I collected something, I probably had a reason for it, whether conscious or subconscious. [...]