Want to be organized? Know thyself.

One of the best ways to create an effective organizing system is to know who you are. If you don’t know your strengths and weaknesses, you can’t build a system that reflects your abilities.

Someone who is easily distracted shouldn’t have an intricate paper filing system based on numbers and codes. Someone who takes his shoes off at the front door shouldn’t have a shoe organizing system in his bedroom. The more a system reflects how you live and your preferences, the more likely it is to work for you.

  • Are you a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic processor? Find out in “Understanding how you process information to help you get organized” and then learn how to take action on those strengths.
  • What time of day can you focus at your best and when are you easily distracted? Keep a log and then “Plan and execute a productive work schedule” that best reflects your energy waves throughout the day.
  • How long can you effectively focus on something? Scientists have concluded that 40 minutes is the average time span for most people. Check out the Science Daily article “Are you really paying attention” to learn more.
  • What do you really like? I don’t mean what are you supposed to like, but what do you sincerely enjoy? Is there a way to integrate these passions into your organizing systems? If you love watching television, can you find a way to watch television and straighten up the house during commercials? If you love birds, can you use bird labels on files in your filing cabinet so that doing filing is more joyful for you?
  • What do you despise? If you can’t stand putting away laundry, can you swap the chore with someone in your house and take over a chore she can’t stand but that doesn’t bother you? Can you hire someone to take over this organizing task for you?
  • Do you know why you want to be organized?

There are hundreds of questions you can ask yourself to learn about who you are and what are your preferences. Once you know your strengths and weaknesses, you can build an organizing system that will be easy for you to maintain and help keep your life less chaotic.

13 Comments for “Want to be organized? Know thyself.”

  1. posted by Lema on

    Thanks for the post—good stuff here. I definitely agree with the point that you need to determine what kind of learner you are before figuring out what organization style is best for you. For example, I know that I am a visual learner, so any “visual clutter” can really take away from my concentration on the work I’m supposed to be doing. To help cut back on this clutter, I found some computer desk accessories so I can keep useful items on my desk, but they stay neatly organized so they don’t become a visual distraction. Hope this helps and thanks again for the tips.

  2. posted by Marylee on

    I am not so enlightened that I can let go of all my memorabilia but choices strengthen my connection to the things I decide to keep. Somewhere between the cobwebs and the keep box I realize that if everything is “important” then nothing is.

  3. Profile photo of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    Hey, gang — Our comments are not free advertising space. If you drop in a link, and it’s not to a major, trustworthy news source, we’re going to delete the link.

  4. posted by Lisa Zaslow on

    This is SO important in developing organizational systems that work for you – and it’s so often overlooked.

    Most of my clients have been frustrated by trying to shoehorn themselves into a certain system that they think “should” work for them, and blame themselves when it doesn’t work.

    When I tell that, for example, it’s okay not to fold your sweaters perfectly, they are tremendously relieved. (And everyone loves it when I confess that I – a professional organizer – don’t make my bed every day.)

  5. posted by Emily on

    This is so true! I spent forever trying out systems that required me to neatly categorize everything, but I realized I’m a person who would rather drop things into generic baskets and sit down once a week to sort out where things would go. Our mail is much easier to process now that I just chuck things into a Junk, Bills or File basket and take care of it every Sunday.

  6. posted by *pol on

    An example of me learning myself: filing cabinets… I know they are useful in my heart, but I am a “pile filer” so a system of shallow drawers works much better for me, especially if they have transluscent fronts.

    Like Emily above I prefer the generic baskets and a regular sort, it’s the only way I am happy doing it. As soon as a bill comes into the house, it’s opened and put face up on my desk. Next time the computer goes on I post a scheduled payment online then write the details on the bill and put it in the basket right behind me. No remembering, no detailed filing, no drawers to open (until the sort). And if I need to reference soemthing, it’s in the pile chronologically (like and archeological dig) It works great for me!

  7. posted by Heidi Poe on

    Help! I scored 2 in all three categories in the little test in the first link. What does that say about me? :(

  8. posted by Melanie on

    Trading chores works for us. My husband hates to fold laundry, pay the bills, or do grocery shopping, so those are my chores. I hate to do dishes, scrub the toilet or change the oil in the cars, so those are his chores. Neither of us want to mow the grass, so we hire somebody else to do that.

  9. posted by Cameron on

    All good points. I find my clients are always embarrassed by their current organization systems and don’t think they are “up to snuff.”

    However, I always remind them that there is a reason that the current system works and we can’t force something that isn’t meant to be. I usually try to work with their strengths and weaknesses to make something that will last.

    Now the 40 minute point, that’s a good one! I definitely have my 40 minute limit yet I’ve never thought about it and how to counter it. Thanks!

  10. posted by Laura on

    I find the “take action” link goes back to the “Understanding…” page and not a page 2. Should it go to a different page?

  11. posted by Sue on

    Bah, I love to read which is not something I can’t do while organizing things.

    But I’m really good at analyzing myself. I keep an “organizing” notebook in which I take notes and make observations. I use it to analyze which systems are working and which aren’t, and try to figure out why. I’ve learned that I’m good with visual systems that are easy to maintain and not too cramped. If I have to move something aside to put something else away, it’s never going to happen. Ever. But if the space is easily accessible, it will.

    I haven’t ever analyzed my daily peaks, but I’m sure I’m at my best mid-day. Sometimes this is late morning, and sometimes it’s late afternoon. These are the times I find myself likely to get into a groove and really get work done. I drag during the start and end of the day, with a small slump somewhere in the middle.

  12. posted by JJ on

    Understanding what level of organization you can live with and be both effective and at peace is also important. I cook and bake all our meals so I have a lot of that type of tools/gadgets. They are sorted generally by type/use into drawers and cupboards with a few exceptions, for example things that cut like knives and zesters in one drawer, measuring tools in another, stirring/ flipping/ scraping in another; bread tins are stored in the same cupboard as the wheat grinder. I don’t care if I have to spend a few fractions of a second more searching the drawer for the half cup as long as it’s in the right drawer. On the other hand, my mother requires her stuff to be sub-sorted: measuring cups/spoons and wooden spoons are separated from spatulas into their own drawer dividers. Both of us have learned what level we need to be at peace in our kitchen spaces but neither system is “better” than the other except for the fact that it works for the individual using the space.

    One of my major weaknesses is paper/filing. I’ve tried creating a few different systems based on my personality and have decided that nothing is going to make me enjoy dealing with paper. So, I have the freedom filer system that was discussed on this site a few times. It tells me what, where, and how to sort/save my paper. I still don’t like doing it, but I do get it done most of the time, and I can always find what I need relatively quickly, which is the whole point.

  13. posted by Haley on

    Funny, I just posted a blog entry with organizing tips for the visual person. One I did not see here is: “Make sure to have a space or system that is beautiful enough to make you smile while still functioning.” If it’s ugly, no matter how functional it is, the visual person will see it as clutter and avoid it. Something as simple as a favorite color or pattern can help.

    Also, “Find free or cheap solutions to test run a system before spending a bunch of money. It is a horrible feeling to get excited about a new organizer only to find out your solution creates unseen problems.”

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