ADHD: Getting Organized about Organization

By Jeff Copper, MBA, PCC, PCAC, CPCC, ACG – November 14, 2022

Organizing things is a real challenge, especially for those with ADHD. They think they’ll just jump in and start organizing until they get into a mess and then things seem to explode.

It has been said, if you don’t understand something as a process, you don’t understand it at all. I find this rings true for those with ADHD in the context of organization.

Most people don’t think of organization as a two-step process, but it is. Step one is to identify the organizational system you use. This is a trial-and-error process, because you have to identify many variables and analyze what system would address them. Step two is to organize within your chosen system.

In my video, “ADHD: Getting Organized about Organization,” I explain my anatomy of organizing, which I hope gives you some insights to understand the challenges and to encourage you to go about it with a different mindset.  Here’s the link:


Welcome, everybody, to this edition of Attention Talk Video. I’m your host, ADHD and attention coach Jeff Copper. I’m very excited about this video today. I want to talk to you about organization, analytically.

A lot of times we just think of organization and we think of rows like you go to the store and there’s rows and columns and everything’s labeled, it’s all nice and organized. But for you out there that have ADHD, when you get into organization, a lot of people don’t really think through what organization’s all about. So at a high level, I’m going to share with you what I call the anatomy of organization. And let me begin to explain. To me it’s a two-step process that most people don’t realize. Step number one is to find or choose the organizational system. Now, what you need to know about this, this is the tricky part, it’s a trial and error process.

I want to reiterate. It’s a trial and error process. Once you choose the organizational system, then you have to organize within it. So a really simple example of this is, let’s say you’re a company. You can organize yourself centrally with one main location or decentralize where you have maybe computer systems all over the place. They’re two separate organizational systems. They both have their pros and they both have their cons. There’s not one system that’s going to work with everybody. But what I encourage people to do is to problem solve. Think about the system first and think through it before you make a choice.

Now I want to take this another step further here. Okay, what I Windows Explorer and you have a file folder system of folders and sub folders. And what I’ve done here is imagine that you have sales. You can organize it, let’s say you have two regions, you have two products and you have prospects and clients. In this situation, you can organize it where sales is the main folder, regions are sub folders, products are sub folders under regions and prospects are sub folders on that. That’s one way of organizing it.

Another way is where you put product as the sub folder, prospect and client, and then the region. What I did is I reversed it; before, region was the sub folder, product was here, et cetera. So I just moved region to here and moved everything this direction. The third way of organizing this is where under sales, you have prospects and clients then region and then product. Okay? What I’d like you to take from this is it’s the same information. But how you think through this and how you find things is based maybe a little bit more on your thinking methodology.

So, for example, I’ve got a couple of virtual assistants and I use Dropbox and we share a lot of files, a lot of folders. And it’s very, very common where I’ll call one of my virtual assistants and say, “Hey, we’ve got something new. Logically, where would you file this?” And it’s pretty funny because often they come up with a different location than I do. The reason I’m sharing that with you is that a lot of times you have to think through this types of stuff of where you would find things logically. Now, for us, what’s funny is often we will put it in one folder and leave me a note, “Read me, Jeff it’s not in this folder.” And it tells me where to go find it in another folder. So it’s kind of like a little bit of a breadcrumb.

My point in this is, and what I’m trying to highlight in this video, is most people don’t think of organization as a two-step process. They think, they just jump in and they start organizing within it and they get a little bit of a mess. And the challenge of organization is that first step, that’s the hard step. Because you have to stop and you have to think. And if it’s really massive, you’re using your working memory, visual imagery, which is a challenge for ADHD. If you look through this channel and you listen to a lot of my videos, I talk a lot about working memory and the challenge of it. You have a hard time picturing this stuff in your mind.

So, a lot of people with ADHD, they jump in, they pick a tool and they start just throwing data in it. And it’s a mess because they didn’t back up and say, well how am I going to use this? And how am I going to find that? So understand, what I’m trying to message today is, organization’s a two-step process. First you pick the system and it’s a trial and error. When I talked about central versus decentralized companies, that’s a system. With the file folders that I just showed you is there’s different ways to arrange those file folders and how you find things is going to be dependent on your brain. So what you do is you run those scenarios in your mind to determine which one makes the most logical sense to you and to your brain. To do that, is an effortful exercise. You either have to map it all out with a piece of paper and a pencil, which is difficult for people with ADHD, or you’re using your visual imagery to picture it in your mind and run some simulations on, which is difficult for people with ADHD.

It’s usually a lot easier if you sit down with somebody and talk your way through this. What all too often people do is they skip over the process. They just find a tool and they start organizing within it. And it doesn’t work for them and explodes. Though, some of you out there who’s got apps all over the place. You’ve got an app for this and an app for that, blah, blah, blah. And you’ve never really figured out a centralized system. Personally, I have an email system I’ve been using… Well, I have an organizational system that I identified in my brain in 1988 and I’ve been using it ever since. I have a digital version and I have a paper version and it drives really everything I do.

So anyway, I’m rambling on at this point in time. But my point really is I really wanted to bring your awareness to how organization’s a two-step process. And the elephant in the room is the first step. People are not identifying that they have to choose an organizational system first. It is a trial and error process, trial and error, to work through what works. The best way to figure out what works is to begin to understand how your brain works. I’m a very categorical thinker. I’m a very compartmentalized thinker. Everything has got to go in a logical place. When you look at my hard drive, I look at the folders that are available and go, “Hmm, I’m looking for something. Will it be under my personal folder? Will it be under the secretary’s folder?” Et cetera. And then I click on it and then I’m presented with a bunch of other questions. And so I can go through 37 folders to find the logic where it is. Or I go to my bookshelf and I can see it, but I put my books on certain shelves because there’s a logic to it.

I hope this is giving you some insights to understand why some of the challenges you had with organization are there. I hope it’s given you pause to have a different mindset, to go about it differently to brainstorm or to problem solve. Which is what this channel is really all about. If you’re new to watching these videos and you liked this, please subscribe to our channel. If you’re watching this, please leave comments. Always love the comments and conversation. Does this make sense to you or do you have other thoughts? With that, I hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of Attention Talk Video. Take care.

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