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Disorganization is not your destiny

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“I’m hopelessly disorganized. I’ve been this way forever; people at work shudder as they walk past my little desk of horrors. From my parents to my husband, they all confirm I’m disorganized. I guess this is who I am.”

You’ve heard these self-limiting remarks made by people you know, sometimes even from yourself, about yourself! “I’m always late” or “I procrastinate my life away.” We talk ourselves down as if we aren’t capable of being on time or being productive, as if we have a permanent genetic defect with no cure. We store up images of our “faulty” behavior over the years, and live out what we’ve chosen to believe about ourselves, a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The research on left and right brain functions are not new; we know that each of us is wired a certain way from the factory. If you use the left hemisphere of your brain predominantly, you will tend to be organized, among other things. Does this mean that if you are organized, forget about being creative? Or conversely, if you tend to utilize the right brain hemisphere, does it mean you will be artistic, but never organized enough to keep your art supplies in order?

Perhaps this is on my mind because my daughter recently had an assignment for her high school psychology class to give her family a “test” to find out which brain hemisphere we favored. We answered questions such as “Can you tell how much time has passed without a watch?” and “Do you like to keep papers out in piles where you can see them?” To take your own test, visit

I believe everyone can get better organized at home and work, regardless of brain dominant tendencies, or the habit of putting yourself down. There are no hopeless cases in organizing. Organization is something that can be learned by doing. Following are time tips adapted from Organizing for the Creative Person by Lehmkuhl and Lamping:

Five minutes every hour
Turn a timer on for five minutes and clear one small part of a desk or other surface that is cluttered. When five minutes is up, reset the timer for 55 minutes to do your normal work. When the 55 minute buzzer rings, set it for five minutes again to clear more clutter. “Oh, how can she think I’ll get anything done in five minutes?” If you try it for two weeks, I’d love to hear about your results.

Budget your time
“I could go into the closet to clear it out and not be heard from for days. Everyone at my house simply loses track of all time.” If this is you, a good technique is to divide the work into the time. For example, you have two hours to clean out your desk with six drawers. You have 120 minutes, so that allows 20 minutes for each drawer. Some drawers will take more time and others less, but the averages help establish boundaries. Think of budgeting your time as you might budget money: large spells of time for dollar-sized projects, and small periods of time for dime-sized projects.

Do it now
This is a common practice of most organized people, but it needs to be applied sparingly.

Do it now if:
• It finishes what you are working on right now
• It’s a 911-type emergency
• It can be done in two minutes or less

Note it now and schedule it later if:

• It will interrupt what you’re working on right now
• It’s not a 911-type emergency

Right brainers are very good at seeing the whole forest, and not noticing the trees. This makes it difficult for them to divide a job into manageable parts. In beginning to work on their desk, they may not know where to start, randomly shuffling papers and getting sidetracked by reading (not skimming) an article in the pile. If you tend to have this approach, envision yourself wearing blinders, so that you focus only on what’s in front of you, or get a tube from a paper towel roll or gift wrap, viewing the project through this narrow focus, and then working within that focus. If you’re faced with an entire room of heavy clutter, throw a Hula Hoop in the room and focus on clearing the clutter inside the hoop. See, organizing can be fun!

So when you hear yourself saying, “I’m not good at organizing”, purge the thought and ask yourself why not. You can get better at anything you choose to focus your time and effort on. The key to being better organized is you.