Understanding how you process information to help you get organized, part I

When you read a book or newspaper article, do you instantly commit it to memory? Or, are you someone who likes to pace the floor when you’re thinking? Maybe you are someone who can hear a lecture and have no need to take a single note?

How you process information has a strong correlation to how you may want to organize your home and office. Strategies that work well for an audible processor might fall flat on someone who prefers to intake information visually. Knowing yourself and your preferences can make a difference in how successful you are at creating an organization system. The two posts in our “understanding how you process information to help you get organized” series will hopefully aid you in creating your profile.

The first step is to begin by identifying what type of an information processor you are: visual, auditory, or kinesthetic/tactile. Take the following quiz to help identify where you fall in the information processing spectrum:

Directions: Add one point to your score for each statement that strongly applies to you. The category with the most points is your dominant processing style. You may have strengths in more than one category.

Visual processor:

  1. I can remember that I need to do something if I write it down.
  2. I need to visualize myself wearing something to make a decision about what I want to wear.
  3. I take copious notes during meetings and often can remember what the page of notes looks like before I remember what the notes say.
  4. I need to look at a person when they’re speaking.
  5. It has to be quiet for me to be able to complete my work.
  6. Seeing data displayed in a graph is vital to me understanding numerical information.
  7. I am horrible at remembering jokes.
  8. I can remember phone numbers if I can visualize typing them on a phone’s key pad.

Auditory processor:

  1. I prefer to listen to books on tape or to read books aloud.
  2. The more I discuss a problem with my co-workers, the easier it is for me to find its solution.
  3. In school, I only needed to attend class lectures to perform fine on the tests.
  4. I remember what people have said before I remember who said it.
  5. I like to complete one task before starting a new one.
  6. A train could be passing through my living room and I would still be able to hold a good conversation with my Aunt Sally on the phone.
  7. When I forget how to spell a word, I sound it out.
  8. At the grocery store, I repeat my list either in my head or aloud.

Kinesthetic/Tactile processor:

  1. When I take on a project, I want to start doing instead of planning.
  2. When I need to take a break from working, I have to get up and move around my office.
  3. I can work effectively in a coffee shop or in an airport waiting area — I don’t need to be at my desk to do work.
  4. I can remember a client’s name better if I shake her hand.
  5. I would like to ride my bike to work, if I don’t already.
  6. I think more clearly throughout the day if I exercise before work.
  7. I am often aware of the temperature in my office.
  8. When I pick up something as ordinary as my stapler, my mind drifts to memories somehow associated with a stapler.

Which category best represented your processing style? I am visual processor with a relatively high score also in kinesthetic.

The second post in the series will provide suggestions for how you can take this information you have learned about yourself and apply it to your organization systems. Stay tuned!


This post has been updated since its original publication in 2008.

72 Comments for “Understanding how you process information to help you get organized, part I”

  1. posted by HistoricStitcher on

    I tested visual, with a strong tactile component. And now I’m looking forward to the next part of the series! I expect you’ll explain why paper-clutter is the worst and most difficult clutter to deal with in my house?

  2. posted by Brandon W on

    I scored 7 on Auditory, and 2 on each of the others. People in school always hated that I didn’t take notes and did well on exams!

    I’m looking forward to the follow-up post to this.

  3. posted by Suzyn on

    Fabulous! Can’t wait for part two.
    Now, I often find myself in a room, or a specific area of a room, having completely forgotten what I came to get. So, I’ll walk across the kitchen to get the milk, and find myself staring into the cabinet beside the fridge wondering whether I wanted a cup or the sugar. I usually think of this as spacial thinking – I associate the thing with WHERE it lives. Is that visual or kinesthetic thinking?

  4. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Suzyn — I think the “where” is kinesthetic. When you’re in the space, you can better access the information.

  5. posted by Jeff on

    I’m extreme in the kinesthetic/tactile category.

  6. posted by Sheryl on

    Strongly visual. Don’t give me spoken directions and expect me to get where I need to be; I need them to be written down.

  7. posted by Lisa on

    strong kinesthetic/tactile for me, too…with visual coming in second

  8. posted by Scramblejam on

    This is a really great post, starting what I expect to be an insightful, helpful series.

    For those who haven’t been exposed to NLP, these types of information processor are known as learning styles. They influence much more than just how we process information – it’s a key part of how we think and relate to other people.

    For example:
    “I see what you’re saying” – Visual
    “I hear you” – Auditory
    “That really touched me” – Kinesthetic

    Understanding your preferred learning style is a very important method for working creatively and productively.

    I am really interested to see what strategies you have come up with to help interpret organizational systems for people with different learning styles!

  9. posted by Zach on

    Excellent! My wife and I are so totally different. I am strong visual and she is strong auditory. I am always looking for reasons that I am as unorganized as I am so I am looking forward to part 2.

  10. posted by Lori on

    I’m visual, with tactile coming in a very close second. I got a zero in the auditory category (which might explain why I can’t follow books on tape and lose patience with long podcasts/radio programs). Very interesting.

  11. posted by Laura on

    Great post! I am strong on the visual with some in the tactile as well. It makes total sense of course as I majored in Visual Communications in college. The problem lies in when someone tries to describe something to me audibly and I’m expected to create it visually…I wonder if you can practice to be better at the other type?

  12. posted by Sheryl on

    Lori, I’m with you with the audio books. My husband and son love them, but I just get lost.

  13. posted by Mary on

    It’s interesting to me that so many who are visual learners claim to be disorganized. I’m guessing it’s because they need to see their papers in order to remember to deal with them (I’m thinking stacks of mail that needs to be dealt with…)

    The host of the TV show “Neat” approaches her clients this way …

  14. posted by Meghan on

    I’m visual – no surprise to me! I always have to write directions/lists to remember, but once I do I don’t usually look at the list again – I just picture it in my head.

    Also, I can’t listen to a baseball game on the radio. I try so hard to concentrate, but I always end up zoning out and missing something exciting. Hmm, although I have no trouble listening to news/stories/shows on NPR.

  15. posted by christa on

    I’m ok with spoken directions as long as they are not cluttered up with a bunch of superflous info such as “go about 5 miles or until you pass the bait and tackle shop – it’s blue with a white awning and the man who runs the place is usually out front sitting on the front porch. If you pass the football field you know you have gone too far…” etc etc.

    Just the facts ma’am:
    Turn left here
    Turn right here
    this is the address

    it’s because I create a mental map (visual) and look for street sign names (again, visual). all that other crap just gets in the way and is unnecessary unless there are no street signs (very frustrating!!!)

  16. posted by JPow on

    Help! I scored a 3 in each one. Is that bad?

  17. posted by Shannon on

    Thank you! For years I have been trying to figure out if I was more of a visual or auditory learner and never related very strongly to either one. Now I know why. I’m kinesthetic/tactile!

  18. posted by Cindy on

    What does it mean if I scored low on all of them?? (3 each for visual and kinesthetic/tactile, and 2 for auditory)

  19. posted by Sandy on

    Hey there! Great post — I did a podcast with Eve Abbott, who is a brain specialist in this area, especially with respect to decluttering offices and processing information. She has some great tips in her book “How To Do Space-Age Work With A Stone-Age Brain.” She was offering listeners of the podcast a special, I’m going to put a post here, b/c if folks are interested in this area, she’s “the one” to go to! I’m afraid I don’t remember what the special was (smile) – I think it’s at the end of the podcast. Silly me that I didn’t post it in the show notes.

    Here’s the link to the podcast (where you can hear me going thru the visual/audio/kinesthetic thing with Eve – it was a “quick and dirty” test but really interesting!):


  20. posted by Suzyn on

    Thanks for the explanation, Erin! So, I’m strongly visual, with some tactile in there, too. We’re selling our house, so we’re keeping it uncluttered and spotless — REALLY uncluttered, and REALLY spotless, maybe for the first time in my life! And I’m finding the visual “space” SOOOOO pleasing! Makes me feel like I have more room in my brain…

  21. posted by ShopLittleGifts on

    I’m definitely a combo of visual and touch. So whenever I’m trying to collect ideas – I always look for them in magazines or draw them out in a sketch book. Visual cues help me organize and record my thoughts.

  22. posted by Megan on

    I tied for visual and tactile. I only got one point for auditory, but I already knew that. Someone has to tell me their name a bajillion times before I remember it – but if they write it down for me, or I happen to see if written, I remember it really well.

  23. posted by Tania on

    wow, Crazy! I’ve always considered myself “visual” and going by these tests I totally am not! No wonder I’m a mess. HaHaHaHA! I’m Kinesthetic w/Audio. Interesting indeed!

  24. posted by Recovering Food Waster on

    I think I’m pretty much all visual, which I wouldn’t necessarily have guessed!

  25. posted by Prolific Programmer on

    @JPow, I scored a 4 across the board. Not sure what it means, but I’ll conclude that you (and I) are flexible.

  26. posted by gigglechick on

    I am definitely a Visual Processor. (I was diagnosed in 1991 with Auditory Processing Disorder — which I explain to people as Dyslexia of the Ears. I sometimes hear words jumbled up and also need to read lips to make sure I am hearing things correctly.)

    You have #7 as “I am horrible at remembering jokes”

    Awful at it. Here’s the kicker… I have performed stand up comedy since 1999. The way I remember stuff is to actually write it down and have a corresponding image or weird way of drawing the word so I remember it.

  27. posted by gigglechick on

    (oh. and I can remember phone numbers from when I was 7 years old because I remember the pattern of which I dialed— kinda is weird remembering the rotary dial though)

  28. posted by Elaine on

    8 on Visual, 6 on Kinesthetic, 1 on Audio. Absolutely no surprise. My note-taking & list-making drives my husband nuts.

    gigglechick, how did you get diagnosed with Auditory Processing Disorder? I just ran across the term a few weeks ago and thought it fit me to a T. I have a dyslexic sister, and I’ve joked for a long time that I have the audio version of her condition.

  29. posted by Michael Moncur on

    Wow, I scored 2, 1, and 2.

    I have to conclude that either I’m completely dysfunctional, or there’s a fourth category. (Or the whole thing is bunk.)

    For example:

    – I can retain a ton of information from reading – I just bought a camera, read the user’s manual cover to cover, and then put it away. Reading is better than listening for me.
    – I can’t stand books on tape but I can read fiction very quickly.
    – I can memorize phone numbers effortlessly, but there’s no visual component. They’re just numbers in my head.
    – Although a graph can be helpful, I understand data better in its raw form.
    – I can use a map, but a list of directions is just as helpful.
    – When I plan something or brainstorm, I prefer a simple list or outline to a mind map.

    I think I’ll make up some criteria like these that peg me as an “abstract ideas and information” processor. Then I’ll feel better about “failing” this test. 🙂

  30. posted by Mardi on

    @Michael Moncur, Your list of examples all describe me exactly too so I’m interested to know if there’s a fourth category!

    I got 4, 1, 1 so I guess I have a visual lean. I am very aware that I understand something waaaay better if I can see it – for example where I used to work I did some IT support, if someone rang and told me a problem I’d have to go round to their desk and look before I could help them. If my husband reads me an article out of the paper, even though I listen intently I still have no idea what he’s said when he finishes and I annoy him by asking him questions that were answered in the article. So I’m surprised I only got 4 for visual!

  31. posted by Firehat on

    Interesting. Seems as though many of the strongly visual learners have a secondary tactile preference. I am strongly visual but my secondary preference is actually auditory. I wonder how common that is?

  32. posted by christa on

    Michael Moncour: sounds like you have a very analytical mind and understand patterns and numbers very easily. Yes I do believe there are other categories that a minority of people fit into.

  33. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Michael and @Christa — Actually, based on the descriptions Michael gives, the response would be visual with strong preferences in the other two categories.

    There are only five ways to input information into your brain: vision, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. Most people don’t rely on smell as their main form of information processing, and taste falls into the kinesthetic/tactile category along with touch.

    A person can have analytic reasoning with all of the styles mentioned in this article. Analytic reasoning is a second stage thought process. The information has to first be received before it can be processed. This article speaks to the ways in which people input information only.

  34. posted by gigglechick on

    @Elaine – I was 20 (in 1990) and going to a therapist who recognized that something was not great, so she sent me to an Audiologist. SO they put me through a couple of hours worth of hearing tests. It was interesting. Of course, they actually said to me “wow, it’s a good thing you have a high IQ because you’re in the 20th percentile and most people wouldn’t have made it out of high school much less college”

    good times. they told me to carry a tape recorder with me to class (which personally didn’t help since it was garbled and my hearing was messing with me.)

    it’s classified as a learning disability.

  35. posted by Dee on

    I scored 6 – 4 – 6, so weird. . .thought I was very strong in the auditory all this time . Can’t wait for round two . .. love learning theory stuff and applying it to real life problem solving.

    Great post

  36. posted by Michael Moncur on

    @Erin – I was thinking the same thing – I would seem to lean toward visual, although I only answered “yes” to two of your specific questions.

    However, many of the quiz questions confused me because I have almost no ability to “visualize” anything. Ask me what I look like in a particular shirt, and I’ll have to put it on and look in a mirror. Ask me to draw a picture of the house I’ve lived in for years and I’ll get it quite wrong. Ask me whether my best friend who I just spent the weekend with was wearing glasses and there’s a good chance I won’t know. Maps are almost useless to me, although I’m okay with a GPS. I can picture my wife’s face in my head, but not anyone else including my parents.

    On the other hand, if we leave off visualizing, I can think of some visual things I’m very good at – reading, spotting patterns, or seeing tiny movements of distant animals while hiking.

    On a third hand, I can think of some auditory things too. I can recognize voices far better than faces. I’m a musician. I can discriminate individual parts within a complex piece of music easily.

    I guess I’m saying you’re right – I’m probably somewhere around 60% visual and 30% auditory – but it’s interesting to me that many of the stereotypical examples of being visual don’t fit me at all.

    @Mardi: your examples fit me too. I understand things much better when I can see them. So I guess there are some very different ways of being a visual processor.

    Anyway, thanks for this article! It’s good food for thought.

  37. posted by Shalin on

    I’m about equal Visual and Auditory with Tactile as a distant 3rd. hmmm….

  38. posted by Jarick on

    The only thing I know about my learning is that I learn better when I move at my own pace and find answers to my own questions. Otherwise I’m terribly bored and impatient. I scored 2 on Visual, 3 on Auditory, and 1 for Kinesthetic…but I’ve got a phonographic memory and nearly perfect pitch so I probably lean more towards that?

  39. posted by Mary on

    I’m extremely auditory, but more kinestetic than I would have imagined.

  40. posted by gigglechick on

    i didn’t even read past the visual/auditory the other day. just saw the tactile.

    i think i am more visual, followed by tactile coming in a close second (the “exercising before work” thing is what did me in.)

  41. posted by Yinna on

    @Michael Moncur, you’re describing me (save for the map reading)! I can remember my 5th grade PE teacher’s voice, but I would mess up if I had to describe my dad to a forensic artist! That has always struck me as very weird. I never recognize people because I don’t look at them, and I can’t focus on what someone is saying if I do.

    I remember numbers by their color (synesthesia) and I guess I’m very analytical. I score something like 3/2/3 on the test.

    I can easily understand graphics, but when I read what’s in them first, it doesn’t help at all with the understanding of the picture – I basically have to start over. Similarly, I understand mathematics only if there is no formula involved: as soon as logic is translated into Xes and Ys, it loses all its meaning (which is immensely frustrating). But I can keep very complex models in my head easily. Anyone else have all that?

  42. posted by Catherine on

    OK the bike question for Kinesthetic/Tactile really freaked me out. “How do it know?” 🙂 That’s TOTALLY me. 6 for K/T and only 2 for the others.

  43. posted by Michele on

    I scored equally on each. Not sure how this is going to help me now.

  44. posted by Anna N. on

    Yeah, I’m like Michele, I scored about equal on all of them. That’s useful…

  45. posted by Sandra on

    I tested with a high score in visual processing and in auditory. My biggest thing is I have to be looking at someone to understand what they are saying.

  46. posted by Another Deb on

    I have been using the learning styles theory for many years of teaching. Those of you who scored equally on the types are basically integrated in your learning style. This is a great thing! You can learn from various modalities.

    I would like to recommend the book “Organizing for the Creative Person: Right-Brain Styles for conquering clutter, mastering time, and reaching your goals” by Dorothy Lehmkuhl & Dolores Cotter Lamping, CSW.

    The book deals with the feeling of being a round peg in the square hole due to the way your brain processes information. My visual tendancies help explain why my things are piled instead of filed and how to make files that appeal to my visual needs.

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  53. posted by Jordan Greenaway on

    Thank you v. much. I’m completely audio, never realised before but it makes sense. I force friends to discuss the classes with me, and will stand in my room repeating what I have to learn over and over again.

    Surprised I hadn’t realised before.

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  58. posted by John on

    So what does it mean when I score zero in all three categories? Maybe an iffy 1 in the first two and a definite zero in the third. I guess this just proves I am an unorganized person. 😉

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  60. posted by Jeri Dansky on

    For those who want to probe this topic more, you might look at the VARK categories. VARK categories include visual, aural/auditory, and kinesthetic – but also read/write. Visual folks learn from maps, graphs, and such. Read/write folks prefer “information displayed as words.” Last time I took the test, I was a read/write, with aural as a close second.

    See http://www.vark-learn.com/engl.....categories

  61. posted by dwight on

    I scored 2-1-2… what’s that mean?

  62. posted by Brandon on

    I actually scored 5-5-4. Most of the time I need a combination of things to help me remember something. Most of the time I can only remember bits and pieces of information, but enough to get the bare essentials of what I’m looking for.

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  67. posted by middleroader12 on

    Great. I scored 5 in all three categories. Does that mean I’ll do well with any organizational method, or that I’ll fail all of them?

  68. posted by andy on

    great i score 3-3-3 – i’m no closer to understanding what i am! must be some kind of floater

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  70. posted by Claire on

    I was accussed of not listening yet I try my hardest to listen to people. Hence I found this sight. I am interested if our learning styles have a lot to do with how we we process information. I rated highest in kinethestic which I am not surprised. Sometimes when people are talking to me it is too much for me to process and remember. It is not because I am not listening. Would you have any suggestions for assisting with listening and processing of information for the various learning styles ie is in every day communication with people?

  71. posted by Jenny S. on

    Interesting article. I found many organization related products like Purse Organizers at PurseBling.com.

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