Being Organized
April 28, 2012 10:26 AM   Subscribe

Who is the most organized and efficient person you know? What is their strategy?

I want to be more organized in just about every area of my life (I am fairly organized, but not really as organized as I would like). I look at some people I work with and they seem effortlessly to get work done, keep track of appointments, emails, look good, have quality down time.

Do these people learn this or is it an inate behavior? Who is the most efficient and organized person you know, and have you learned any lessons from them?
posted by stenoboy to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 73 users marked this as a favorite
I think you might be linking together two qualities that aren't necessarily related. I mean that people who are organized and efficient might actually have two strategies going on. (At least.) I only point this out because I think I'm the most organized person I know, but do I "effortlessly...get work done"? Ha, I wish, but no. Sadly, it's pretty easy to use organizing as a method of procrastination.

If I can answer only for the organized part, it is innate (for me) but I think it can definitely be worked on, if you treat it like any ongoing thing that might not be enjoyable while you're doing it but feels better after you've done it. Like working out, maybe, or cleaning.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 10:46 AM on April 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

It's learned behavior. There's a whole vein of books on the topic, for example Getting Things Done.
posted by jon1270 at 10:47 AM on April 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would say that in order to be truly organized you first need to make sure that you are not engaging in procrastination.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 10:52 AM on April 28, 2012

The most organized people I know have this awesome habit of doing it now. When they're done eating a meal, they wash their dishes immediately. (They don't have any pots and pans to wash, because they already washed them quickly after they were done cooking, before they sat down to eat.) If they spill something, even the merest dribble, they wipe it up right away. If they make an appointment, they don't just assume they'll remember it, and they don't jot it down on a scrap of paper that they're likely to loose; instead, they enter it into their main calendar immediately. When they switch tasks, they don't leave the materials they were working on a big pile on the desk, they immediately file the papers and put away the tools they were using. 99% of the time, any delay between when something needs doing and when it gets done introduces inefficiencies (things are harder to remember, dried food is harder to clean, stuff is in the way as you try to accomplish other tasks, etc.)

The poor man's version of this, I think, is doing things regularly. You may not do the dishes after every meal, but you do them every evening after dinner. You may not wipe up toothpaste that you spill immediately, but you wipe down the bathroom counters without fail every morning after brushing your teeth. You clear your desk at the end of the day, filing papers and stowing tools, and record any relevant information from scratch paper you find. If you just can't remember do-it-now in the heat of the moment, you may find it easier to remember to do things at regularly scheduled times (and us alarms as reminders!) Doing things regularly creates a passingly good imitation being an actual organized person.

In both cases, being efficient is largely a matter of setting up infrastructure to make things quick and easy. Have the right sorts of cleaning materials stored in logical places so you can given a messy area a quick swipe. Have your smartphone calendar synced to your main calendar so you can enter appointments wherever you are. Have a good filing system. (Getting Things Done describes an excellent filing system that is super-easy to maintain.) Store your tools neatly, out of the way but near your working area, and put some thought into making the most-often used tools easily accessible. Maintain empty horizontal workspaces so that you don't have to clear a bunch of crap out of the way before beginning tasks. (Empty space on your desk/worktable also has the extraordinary effect of convincing your colleagues that you are a crazy-organized, hyper-efficient superperson.)

On a psychological level, though, don't compare your inside to other people's outside. They may seem efficient, organized, cool, and collected outside, while inside, they're stressed out on the verge of a nervous breakdown. They may think you're doing just fine, while inside you're a mess of insecurities and recriminations.
posted by BrashTech at 11:32 AM on April 28, 2012 [59 favorites]

That would be my sister. She is very organized and efficient (two quite different things, I agree) because she absolutely prioritizes being organized and efficient (and projecting the have-it-all-together image). She is a bit of a control freak so she is visibly, palpably uncomfortable if she is not on top of everything all the time.

She is ruthlessly minimalist and is constantly getting rid of stuff (less stuff in general is less stuff to manage overall). She has "a place for everything and everything in its place" so that automatically as soon as something comes into her life she categorizes it (objects or information or what have you) she decides - where does this go? (Appointments and events - on the calendar. Recipes - onto her Pinterest recipe board. Phone calls and emails - she has dedicated times in her schedule to handle those.) When she does a project she's not finished until it's all cleaned up before moving on to the next thing.

I really wish I were more organized and efficient - and I am capable of being so; I hate being disorganized and it drives me nuts how much time I lose because I'm currently not in order - but I allow myself to be complacent about it because I haven't made it a priority over other ways to spend my time. I often favor writing one more comment on MeFi or having a chat with a friend or taking a hot bath with a magazine over getting that sort of work done; it's a lot of mental focus that I don't feel I have right now to dedicate to that stuff when I have so much else going on in my life.

And that's because I'm not in the habit of it all as she is; she's been like this since she was a child. A lot of this is setting up systems and easily enabling habits I think, and I have that perfectionism of "it's not worth doing unless it's done right" so I don't set up systems because I don't have the hours of time and focus to stop where I'm at and go back and set up the system. Another difference is that I spend a lot of time thinking and ruminating and going over the past, or worrying about the future, and it's easy for me to daydream over things that I will never own or do. She seriously does not understand that; she lives very much in the present, and the past/future thinking she does is "how do I do it better than I did it before?" and "what do I need to plan to do it better in the future?" That requires a big mental shift on my part to accomplish.
posted by flex at 11:40 AM on April 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

There's a lot of behaviors that go into getting results. The stuff you want to organize can also call for different techniques depending on what it is. There's physical stuff, virtual stuff, records and data stuff, use of time, managing multiple threads of projects and so forth.
For example, I used the GTD method for organizing my projects and tasks for years only to ultimately find it lacking. So I upgraded to Priactca's Totally Relaxed Organizing (TRO) method, kind of GTD on steroids. Works really well for me.
For virtual organization, I keep stuff on Google docs and Dropbox so virtual data is at hand when I need it, via my smart phone if I need it.
For physical organization, there's lots of information about organizing your stuff. TRO has some good inpyuts on that like eliminating collection points, making a single home for everything you store, having an 'out' box in every place you work for stuff that needs to go elsewhere, and how to file effectively.
One major point about GTD/TRO. If new tasks get stored in your head instead of in a trusted system, eventually the tasks build up until you get chaos in your head trying to manage too much complexity. Getting all my tasks and projects into a quality GTD system doesn't necessarily get them done but it gets them out of my head so I can focus on what I'm doing right now. That's a major plus for me.
posted by diode at 11:41 AM on April 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

I find many people that I admire for being efficient and organized also have a metric ton of energy at their disposal. They are humming around like bees, and just watching them makes me tired. I, by contrast am ever happy sitting around doing vast tracts of nothing mixed with internet, so by default I will never accomplish as much as they do.

So to echo brashtech, many of them have built in processes that ensure efficiency. One young mom of two I know, has a few minutes leisurely coffee in bed in the morning, then she gets up, makes the bed, has a quick shower and tosses a load of laundry in the washer on the way out the door. Hubby takes the kids to daycare and starts work later. Then she accomplishes half her personal chores at work - booking doctor appts, arranging car repairs, taking clothes in to get altered, booking vacations. It doesn't affect her work since she's fast and efficient. On the way home she'll easily stop at a store or two, then home, dinner, chores bed. Her whole day is go go go, which would drive me bananas.

She's also a brilliant organizer and finds, boxes, throws out stuff and designates room and proper storage for stuff until the cows come home. Another quality that I don't have as much of. So, basically, between having high energy, implementing efficient processes, and arranging everything in its place allows her to have a pretty organized and well running life, sometimes at the expense of relaxing. But she's not a person that relaxes easily if there's stuff to do, so there's that.
posted by tatiana131 at 11:45 AM on April 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

I am probably the most organized person I know. I'm not sure if I'm the most efficient, but I'm usually on the upper end of the efficiency group. This is all for one basic reason: I am LAZY. I'm probably the laziest person I know. So for me, being organized and being efficient is all about maximizing the time available to sit on my ass doing nothing productive. I couldn't do that if I didn't plan it all out in the most efficient, time-effective way so that's a prime motivating factor. If I have a bunch of things to do, I naturally think of the most efficient way to get them done (sometimes I write a list and number them, say for a Saturday morning errand run, which means I also think about things like which side of the street something might be on and how to make the fewest number of stops) and then I just GO. I don't stop, don't get distracted and power through. But then when I'm done, I'm DONE. Once I stop it takes incredible effort to get going again.

But I also have a few other major traits that I think contribute to how organized I am: 1) I am a linear, rational thinker. I think in terms of processes and procedures and maximizing their efficiency pretty naturally. I'm not a scattered thinker. 2) I am extremely visually oriented: that is, I remember things that I see, and I hate having things cluttering up my line of sight because they just represent distractions. So in order not to drive myself crazy I have to keep my physical environment pretty clean and tidy. Everything has a place and I am constantly purging "stuff". 3) I'm a control freak. It's not pretty but it's true. I wish I could be more spontaneous and less controlling but it doesn't come easily.
posted by marylynn at 1:19 PM on April 28, 2012 [7 favorites]

I'm probably the most organized and efficient person I know. The organization chart from the 7 habits is a lifesaver when you're overwhelmed. This page explains it nicely.

Also, seconding the doing it now suggestion. Every time I see something out of place, I put it back. Every time I see something dirty, I clean it. It never seems like much because it only takes a minute or two for each given task, but it seriously reduces the amount of cleaning/organizing/etc that builds up.
posted by zug at 2:18 PM on April 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

err, 7 habits of highly effective people book
posted by zug at 2:19 PM on April 28, 2012

It helps tremendously if you have a gold temperament. I have a green temperament and I worked under a gold for a while, and he was so organized, so on top of things, that it drove me absolutely nuts trying to keep up.

I learned about this by taking a seminar from some really smart guy who does it for a living and is extremely wealthy. :-) Not sure what his other qualifications were. But the website I linked to is just the first Google result I found on the topic. All I could remember were the colors:

Gold: Organized
Green: Competent
Blue: Emotional / great at relationships / artistic
Orange: Active, always moving, playing, etc.

And you have a primary color and a secondary, to which you apparently switch when you're really stressed out. My secondary personality is blue. On a good day I can develop websites and software all day. On a stressy day, I just want to draw comic books.

I have friends who are Orange/Green, Blue/Orange, etc.

In my experience, it's pretty accurate stuff.

I've tried several times to convert myself to a Gold out of sheer willpower but all I come up with are tools that get me just a little bit closer, like things you might dig out of a self help book. But I'm pretty happy with my temperament color, overall.

Oranges drive me nuts sometimes.
posted by circular at 2:51 PM on April 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

You don't let things fester, is how it works. If you have a hole in your shirt, mend it when you take it off. You know you won't ever get around to the mending otherwise.

In general, only handle it once; do stuff as you go along; and have a process for doing stuff you can't do immediately. I can't change the bed linen or test the fire alarms on a weekday, because people aren't up yet. So as much as I hate to do housework on weekends, I do those things on a Sunday morning. It takes less than half an hour.

Also it helps to build up habits: one new habit a month, like, this month I will sweep the kitchen floor every morning. In this way, your kitchen floor will be almost sweeping itself.

Next time you get the mail, deal with all of it on the spot. Junk mail with your personal details on it can get shredded right away. If you don't have a shredder, order one now, and a pack of sheets of shredder oil which you will use one of on the first shredding of every calendar month. Your bank statements, you can sort into piles per account, file them immediately, and reach any statements that are more than 12 months old out of the back of the file and shred them. What? You don't have a filing system? Order one now, plus some suspension files with the little tabs. Label them "current account", "savings account" etc. and file your bank statements in there. Do likewise with the next bit of mail.

The fastest way to make a chore go away is to just fucking do it. Often it takes less than five minutes.
posted by tel3path at 3:51 PM on April 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

They are all highly motivated. They are almost all motivated by either fear or greed.

This is the essence of the Tony Robbins Awaken the Giant Within method. Feed your fear and feed your greed and get motivated!

(This won't work for everybody and it absolutely does not work for me. This is how the organized efficient people I know appear to do it however.)
posted by bukvich at 4:07 PM on April 28, 2012

The fastest way to make a chore go away is to just fucking do it.

That was the mantra I developed in college.... "It don't get done until you do it."
posted by Wild_Eep at 4:29 PM on April 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have three friends who are all amazingly organized and have spotless houses. Each of them has separately told me -- when I asked for advice on how to get my own house that clean -- that they suffer from anxiety and/or OCD, and that the cleaning comes from stress and unhappiness and that their houses never seem clean enough.

Not to say that everyone with a clean house is miserable, but there might be more going on there than you think.

A friend's mother is also a very organized person. She loves reading and hates housework, so every morning she gets all the housework done right away so she can spend the afternoon reading. I prefer that perspective.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:47 PM on April 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you haven't read Getting Things Done, you should, because it lays out a very well thought out system for being organized, which then enables you to get things done. It makes a lot of sense, and while it can take a few days of work to get the system going, once you are going with it things get done a lot quicker (assuming that the road block to getting things done before was lack of organization and mental stress about having too much to do)
posted by markblasco at 12:04 AM on April 29, 2012

I'm very strict about having one day off a week, in which I do no work. None. There is a commandment to this effect for a reason.

There was the boss who found out that Saturday was my day off, and made a special point of giving me huge assignments late on a Friday afternoon that needed to be done right away "but no need to stay up too late! You can do it tomorrow!" This was not really disorganisation, though it masqueraded under the tee hee I is so disorganised ain't it cute LOL! strategy. This was about making clear that all my time are belong to boss. That kind of perfect accidentally-on-purpose timing requires careful monitoring and accurate planning by people who expect complete control over all their subjects.

But it is also offensive to genuinely disorganised people in my life. They do everything in their power to make sure I learn the real truth about life: that it is an avalanche of horror and chaos that we are doomed to go tumbling down, down, down, buried in anguish, screaming and sobbing with no-one to hear and no-one to save us, and there is nothing we can do to save ourselves or control it, nothing.

I mean, obviously I must be some kind of entitled asshole who thinks she has a maid. Meanwhile, these people genuinely do spend three hours a day washing dishes, every single day. Partly because they are very slow-moving and partly because it's their policy to let the dishes pile up. I suggested putting a dish straight into the dishwasher and a tantrum ensued, on the grounds that that would make it take four hours and I didn't understand and did I want them to work themselves literally to death? I needed to get treatment for my OCD, because her house was as clean as she could get it without having OCD, and only people on television have spotless houses not like in real life unless you're mentally ill. Which I obviously was.

So, that's a lesson for us all: don't give unsolicited advice.

Also: not suggesting that you are like either of these examples, OP, but it is worth examining what, if anything, being disorganised is doing for you, if you feel a particular resistance to making a change in a particular area. If you're in the habit of being late, for example, one effect of that is that you never have to be kept waiting. That sort of thing.
posted by tel3path at 3:06 PM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am not an organized person. In fact, I am really, really disorganized. My house is in constant disarray. My last semester of college I had one notebook that I used for all my classes. I often forget responsibilities until after they're due, and literally don't even SEE messes around the house until my boyfriend points them out.

I just started graduate school this semester and realized this type of behavior would not cut it with the amount of schoolwork I have. It's absoluely too much work to be able to put it off until the last minute, so this is what I've come up with:

One day a week I sit down and figure out everything that needs to get done within that week. If a homework assignment is going to take more than one evening, I think about how many days it might take. I divide everything up among the 7 days, and if time allows it, I leave days in between for buffers. Then I put EVERY SINGLE BIT of it in the calendar on my phone, with reminders. Every minute detail. "Monday: email advisor to set up appointment. Tuesday: write intro to paper, drop off form in advisor's office. Wednesday: write body of paper. Call landlord" Etc.

This has helped immensely. I have turned every assignment in on time this semester, and have been prepared for every test. This summer, I plan to apply this same strategy to housework so that hopefully I can start good habits there before school starts back up.
posted by a.steele at 8:54 AM on May 2, 2012

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