Organizing… A New Way

Let’s look at organizing in a new way!

We can get caught up in paying attention to how we want things to be and lose sight of how things actually are. I’ve coached many teens and college students around organizations, and, I, too, thought they were very disorganized. But when I opened my mind, it all changed.

From my MBA and process class, I learned that one starts by mapping out the current system before making adjustments. The exercise can be very insightful and applies both to late teens and young adults. Let me illustrate.

Recently, I was coaching a college student on organizing and cleaning his room. His mother constantly complained to him about the mess. We started talking about how he needed to organize his clothes by hanging them or folding and sticking them in his drawers. This is often a challenge for those with ADHD because it’s a boring task and it has a lot of repetition. When deadlines and penalties were imposed, he would sometimes try to organize his room, but day to day, he struggled to keep it clean. Often he would take a shirt off the hanger, try it on, decide he didn’t want to wear it, then drop it on the floor because, as he acknowledged, he didn’t want the hassle of putting it back on the hanger and hanging it up in his overstuffed closet.

“What is your system to get your shirts back on a hanger?” I asked. He replied that he didn’t have a system. I then asked him to look in his closet and to let me know if he saw any hanging shirts. He replied that roughly 40 shirts were hanging. I responded, “It appears you have a system or you wouldn’t have anything there.”  This is when he got his Aha!

He acknowledged that his “system” was to drop the shirts on the floor or in the hamper and eventually his mother would wash and hang them. It was a flawless system. Certainly, his mother’s occasional nagging was a bit uncomfortable, but not negative enough to motivate him to override this “system.”

So, what is the Aha!? At the core of organizing is a choice around motivation and effort. You have a choice:

  1. Exert effort NOW to put things in their home and make retrieval effortless, i.e., “a place for everything, everything in its place,” or
  2. You can choose to exert effort LATER when you’re motivated to find what you want, i.e., putting shorts in a drawer takes effort but makes finding them easy, whereas leaving clothes in a pile is effortless up front, but but takes more effort as you search for shorts when you need them.

Notice that the effort in the second option is at the back end, at the point of performance, where the reward is finding your shorts. But the reward is at the front end in the first option because there is less effort required.

Action Steps: Take a page from the business process book and map out existing systems with an eye to recognizing that current “systems” are there for a reason. These systems work efficiently based on your own set of priorities. With this mindset, you can open your mind and incrementally make adjustments, that is, when you witness the impact effort plays in the systems that work, and then focus on new systems that minimize or balance effort. You will see that new, more efficient systems can emerge. Aha!

Open your mind to the possibilities.

6 thoughts on “Organizing… A New Way

  1. I have been diagnosed with ADHD for 8 years now and never realized how this applies to almost everything in my life. From appointments, to cleaning up, to homework. Awesome article!

  2. Jeff, how do you get past piles of clothes that are created gradually because my husband sorts the laundry and puts mine on the bottom of the bed on my side and I either wear them or put anything I don’t wear by the next laundry day in a pile on a cedar chest or an open bin. I put things away for awhile and it slips again and chaos reigns!

    1. Marcie, I’m not sure what you mean when you say “next laundry day in a pile.” That said, if you put them away for a while, I’m wondering… what enables you to put them away initially for a while? In other words, something works at first. I’m curious what it is.

      There is a saying I love… “I don’t know who invented water but I know it wasn’t a fish.” I love this saying because it is a great metaphor to understand self-observation. It isn’t easy because it is often so obvious that you have a hard time noticing.

      In trying to witness what enables you to put laundry away at first, just relax, be curious, and wonder. Self-observation is easiest when you have an open mind and let what works reveal itself to you.

  3. Good reinforcement of bringing a concept to the forefront of my mind. When I worked at IBM, in the training class they discussed the concept of “pay now or pay later.” It is what you describe here. Intellectually, it makes total sense what you describe, however, harder to implement unless the person is motivated to make the change. In your example, the mom needs to stop doing the “work” for her son because he’s not motivated to do it himself because it’s been done for him. She is inadvertently enabling him because she doesn’t like the mess but he apparently doesn’t mind. I will also say that the term ” cleaning ” your room is too general. My son’s interpretation and mine are completely different with that general term. I get very specific with him and make a list. My son’s interpretation could mean just take everything and put it in a pile on one side of the room so it looks clean. People don’t always like to do things on the time frame that the person is demanding of them. If the mom says clean your room it might be better if she said I need you to clean your room by dinner time or something like that to give the person some space in which to have control when it gets done so it feels less of a demand. Or can apply the Ross Green collaborative problem solving:Mom says, I have a problem in that you live in this house and I need you to keep your room clean. What are possibilities that work for both of us in getting this done that can solve this problem? Possibilities no matter how crazy are discussed and then together the solution is reached. Best to write it down so all can agree. The son has input in this so more likely to buy in than a directive from his mother. Gotta go. Thanks for your often insightful thoughts!

    1. There are so many insights in this story. I’m grateful for anyone who just gets a few of them. One insight I hoped readers would get is that the individual had a flawless system that worked perfectly. It might be selfish, but it was flawless and worked perfectly. Why would he change anything? In reality, when he witnessed his system and how selfish it was, he did develop a new system of putting things in bins. It wasn’t the prettiest but it was better than it had been.

      Another insight is in line with what Dr. Russell Barkley preaches. Those with ADHD need support or do things at point of performance. While the individual would never iron his shirts, he did iron one when he wanted to wear it for a special date after pulling it out of the bin. Often, he would be late for his date, but… while you and I might do something different… it was a perfect system for him.

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